In Acts 12:15, the Christians praying for Peter could not accept that Peter had somehow been released from prison (cf. Acts 12:6–11). When Rhoda announced that Peter was at the door, “They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’”
Why would they claim, “It is his angel”? Did they believe each person had an angel for some reason? Is this taught somewhere in Scripture?
In exploring the answer to this question, one “non-angelic” conclusion is that his “angel” could have been a human “messenger” since the Greek word angelos could be translated to mean one or the other (e.g., James 2:25). However, the Christians in the house were not keen to get up from their seats and receive a messenger, indicating that they thought no one was actually at the door and that “his angel” was perhaps some hopeful figment of Rhoda’s imagination.
Nonetheless, that they said “It is his angel!” may reflect something of an attempt to give a theologically satisfactory answer to Rhoda for what she saw while at the same time discounting that Peter was physically present at the door. What did their answer mean?
In the OT, angels occasionally protected people from death in some way (e.g., Gen 19:12–14; Dan 6:22) and were thus “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14). An angel like Michael can have “charge” of a nation (Dan 12:1), and Jesus said that children have angels “in heaven” who “always see the face of my Father,” interceding for them when they are despised (Matt 18:10). Jewish lore showed a popular belief in guardian angels and that they could even match the physical appearance of the person being protected.1
This brief survey shows us that Scripture does not explicitly tell us that people have guardian angels, let alone ones who mirror the appearance of the protected. Angels can minister on the behalf of children, the saints, and a nation. But these realities fall short of concluding that every person has an angel that represents or protects us as necessary.
Whatever one may make of Acts 12:15, it is a stretch to theologize about angels from an elusive comment made in the heat of the moment. If anything, maybe the occasional appearances of angels in Acts moved these Christians to describe something that Rhoda could accept while they could continue with their prayer meeting (ironically, praying for Peter). At the most, maybe they believed an angel had been sent to encourage the Christians to keep on praying for Peter. At the least, and more likely, perhaps they were saying whatever they could to pacify Rhoda. Either way, like the rest of Scripture, Acts 12:15 does not necessarily suggest a belief that each person has a personal angel.
- Darrell L. Bock, Acts (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 428–29.