Do Christians Have Guardian Angels?
Many religions hold that there are celestial or angelic beings who keep watch over individual people. Indeed, a strain of this belief has been part of Christian theology since at least the third century. For example, Origen writes in On the First Principles (AD 220–230) that “every human soul is put in subjection to some angel.”
There is also the common folk idea that each person has an angel to guard them and a demon to tempt them. This literary fancy has no biblical support, though there are surprisingly early expositions of such doctrine in nonbiblical Christian texts. The Shepherd of Hermas (AD 150) teaches that each person has two angels, one good and one evil, and gives instruction on how to tell the difference between them. In some texts, these good and bad angels seem to be metaphorical ways of describing the “two ways” of the wide and narrow gates in Matt. 7:13–14.
While speculation about guardian angels abounds, most of the speculation greatly outpaces what can be known from Scripture. The only text that may give ground for a belief in personal guardian angels is Matthew 18:10, where Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels [angeloi] always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (ESV). That Jesus speaks of their angels in heaven is thought to support the idea that angels watch over individual people. However, it is a difficult text to interpret.
First, no other text in Scripture clearly supports a belief in guardian angels. Certainly other texts suggest a particular angel has looked out for a particular person at a particular time. For example, an angel protects Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6:22), and another angel protects Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:28). But only in Matthew 18 do we have a statement that might imply that all believers have a guardian angel.
Further, though it is often taught that “these little ones” refers to children, Jesus is likely talking about the disciples. Jesus had just invited a child amidst the disciples (Matt. 18:2), but the phrase “these little ones” requires a plural referent, and the text is explicit that Jesus has invited a child (singular). The word that Jesus uses for “little ones” (mikroi) is also different than the earlier word used for children (paideia). Moreover, Jesus’s comments here come amid his teaching about the church, and Jesus and his apostles commonly refer to Christians as “little ones” or “children,” especially recent converts (Matt. 10:42; 1 John 2). The disciples of the Messiah are referred to as “little ones” in the Old Testament as well (Zech. 13:7).
What Do “Their Angels” Do?
Whoever “their angels” are, we are not given any clear idea about their activity in Matthew. Rather than describing angels, Jesus’s overall purpose in this teaching seems to be that the disciples matter greatly to the Father. The reference to angels is meant to accomplish this rhetorical purpose.
An important text regarding angelic activity is Hebrews 1:14, which notes that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (ESV). We also know that angels rejoice in salvation (Luke 15:10), carry the faithful departed to heaven (Luke 16:22), and desire to watch the gospel unfold (1 Peter 1:12). We cannot infer from these passages, however, that all believers have an angel nearby to guard them, or that each has his or her own personal angel.
Some Christians take great comfort in the idea that an angel is close by to guide them or protect them from harm. Many Christian books record stories about angelic guardians. Certainly the accounts are amazing. However, it is a mistake to overlook the promises that God has given us his own presence to comfort and guide Christians. Since such promises are explicit and repeated in Scripture, we should spend less time speculating about guardian angels and more time reflecting on God’s promises.
Christ himself has said, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20 ESV). He is all the guardian we need.