Calvin’s Angelology: Angels Appearing as Men in Scripture

The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). Calvin’s argues that the author of Hebrews commands his recipients to practice hospitality and then motivates them to obey by adding “that angels had sometimes been entertained by those who thought that they received only men.”[1] Calvin is referring to the time that angels appeared as men to Abraham. Disappointedly, Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 13:2 are rather brief regarding this particular topic—angels appearing as men. Nevertheless, Calvin’s comments in some of his other commentaries are much more extensive. This section will cover how Calvin understands angels occasionally appearing as men in Scripture.

God Clothed Angels with Human Bodies

Calvin elaborates on this topic in his comments on seven sections of Scripture (Gen 18:1-21; Dan 10:5-6; 12:5-7; Zech 2:1-4; Lk 24:43; Acts 10:30; Heb 13:2). In Calvin’s explanations of these passages, he repetitively emphasizes two truths: (1) the angels are clothed with human bodies, and (2) the angels do not actually become men. Moses “calls the angels men,” Calvin writes, “because, being clothed with human bodies they appeared to be nothing else than men.”[2] God, the creator of all things, gives the angels “bodies, for a time, in which they might fulfill the office enjoined them.”[3] While the angels are clothed in these bodies “they truly walked, spoke, and discharged other functions,”[4] but he also writes that angels “suffer no human thing” so long as they are in the shape of men.[5] In Genesis 18:1-21, the angels even ate, though Calvin does not believe “that the meat and drink yielded them that refreshment which the weakness of the flesh demands.”[6] After the angel was done with his ministerial task, “God speedily annihilated those bodies, which had been created for temporary use”[7] and restored angels to their own nature.[8]

Angels Never Actually Became Men

Nevertheless, even though angels were occasionally clothed with human bodies, Calvin continually mentions that angels did not actually become men. “If it be asked, whether angels did really put on human nature?” Calvin states, “the obvious answer is, that they never, strictly speaking, became really men.”[9] He says in another place, “We ought not to believe them to be really men, because they appeared under a human form.”[10] Calvin’s belief, that angels do not actually put on human nature, is also apparent when he emphasizes that the angels’ food and drink did not yield them any nourishment, and that the angels were unable to suffer when they were clothed with human bodies. Calvin wants his readers to understand that God occasionally clothed an angel with a body, but that God in no way truly added a human nature to the angel’s celestial nature. Why did Calvin care to highlight this so much?

The Incarnation is Unique

Calvin does this because he wants to preserve the uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Son of God. “Christ, indeed, was really man, in consequence of his springing from the seed of Abraham, David, and Adam,” Calvin says. He then argues, “But as regards to angels, God clothed them for a single day or short periods in bodies, for a distinct purpose and a special use.”[11] In his comments on Daniel 12:5-7, Calvin makes a similar argument: “For Christ took upon Him our flesh and was truly man, while he was God manifest in flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16) But this is not true of angels, who received only a temporary body while performing the duties of their office.”[12] In Calvin’s desire to maintain the mystery, wonder, and glory of the Incarnation of the Son of God, he insists that angels were occasionally clothed with human bodies, but that they in no way became fully and truly human.

Does this Still Happen Today?

Does Calvin think that this still happens today? Disappointedly, he does not even address this question in his comments on Hebrews 13:2. Instead, he thinks the author of Hebrews wants his readers to understand that God honors those who practice hospitality. However, based on his belief that angels no longer appear to individuals as emissaries, it is probably correct to assume that Calvin does not believe that angels still appear to men clothed in human bodies.

In Sum!

The previous section discussed how Calvin understands angels appearing as men throughout Scripture. God occasionally clothed an angel with a human body for a specific ministerial duty, but God never added a truly and fully human nature to an angel’s celestial nature. As he addresses this topic, Calvin remains fixed to the Scripture, but he occasionally goes beyond Scripture for the purpose of emphasizing the uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Son of God.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, ed. and trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software), 340.

[2] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:468-470.

[3] Ibid., 1:471-472.

[4] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:471-472.

[5] Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 1:434-435.

[6] Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 2:373-382.

[7] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:471-472.

[8] Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 1:434-435.

[9] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5:59.

[10] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:240-241.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 2:381.

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