Although there are centuries-old misconceptions about angels, they do interact with mortals, and some of their characteristics can be determined by considering scriptural and historical accounts.
Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew Bible Studies at BYU, gave a presentation on the topic “The Lord’s Angels: Messengers of Love, Instruction, and Warning,” on Aug. 14 at BYU’s Campus Education Week.
Posing the question, “What are angels?” Brother Parry noted that misconceptions have existed among people generally, based in part on the symbolic description of the seraphim in Isaiah 6. He said that angels are messengers from God who bring messages to men and women of faith. The message may be spoken or it may be an “unspoken message of love.”
Angels, Brother Parry said, may have belonged to this earth or may yet belong to it.
Describing them as “co-workers with mortals” in the work of the Lord, Brother Parry said, “Their goals and objectives are the same as ours: to bring people to Christ, help people repent, save people, love people, minister to people and administer to people.”
“All angels from the Lord are beautiful,” he added.
Joseph Smith taught that angels do not have wings, Brother Parry noted, adding that the notion arises from the symbolism in Isaiah 6 and in the Book of Revelation, wherein John stated he saw “another angel fly in the midst of heaven.”
Angels are the offspring of God, Brother Parry said, contradicting the notion that they belong to a separate species apart from God the Father and the human family.
He said the scriptures indicate that there are innumerable angels, and that fact should bring comfort “so you do not fear in the face of enemies, evil power, warfare, evil people, the hosts of Satan and so on.”
Brother Parry listed four classes of angels: unembodied spirits (persons who have not yet obtained a body by being born into mortality); disembodied spirits (those who have lived and died on the earth but have not been resurrected with an immortal body); translated beings (such as the apostle John and the three Nephite disciples; see John 21:22 and 3 Nephi 28:6-10); and resurrected persons (such as John the Baptist, Peter and James when they appeared with John, a translated being, to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery).
Angels often appear as beings of light and glory, dressed in white, as recounted in Matthew 28 and John 20. They are sometimes described in the scriptures as wearing sacred vestments, Brother Parry said, referencing Exodus 20 and Exodus 39.
But he noted, “Angels can minister among us without us knowing it. If they have bodies, they can appear to us as mortals, wearing a mortal’s clothing. Paul taught that sometimes we entertain angels unaware. Considering that, we ought to say ‘hi’ to everyone that comes to Church and welcome newcomers.”