As early as the fifth century A.D., Roman Catholic theologians such as Jerome were teaching that each human had an angelic being assigned to him or her, from birth, in order to guard them (Catholic Encyclopedia article entitled "Guardian Angels"). In 1608, Pope Paul V set aside a special feast day on the Catholic religious calendar dedicated to honoring and venerating them. The belief in such spiritual protectors was reaffirmed, in recent history, in a March 1997 address on "Easter Monday" by Pope John Paul II.
|"The Easter proclamation which the divine messenger addressed to the women (the women who saw Christ alive after his resurrection) is repeated to each of us by our guardian angel . . ." ('Regina Caeli,' March 31, 1997)|
Judaism states that guardian angels do exist and that each person has one assigned to him or her (Adam Clarke's Commentary). Jews also teach that each of the seventy peoples or nations mentioned in Genesis 10 (the "table of nations") had an angelic being assigned to them, with the archangel Michael assigned the task of protecting Israel (Jewish Encyclopedia article on angelology). The responsibilities of such protectors to guide the affairs of humans is considered so important in Jewish tradition that it is believed God will punish them BEFORE the sinning humans under their care.
|"The destiny of the nations and of their heavenly princes is closely interwoven. God punishes no nation; nor will He, even in the time of the Messiah, punish any, until He shall have punished its guardian angel (Cant. R. viii. 14; Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah, ii.)" (ibid.)|
The term "guardian angels" cannot be found anywhere in the Old or New Testaments. The primary "proof text" used for this belief are Jesus' words in Matthew 18:10 (a parallel account in found in Mark 9:33 - 50). The context of the tenth verse is found at the beginning of the chapter, where Christ is asked an unusual question by his disciples.
1. At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is the GREATEST in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1, HBFV throughout).
The disciples wanted to know which among them, when the Lord rules the earth (which they expected to happen in their lifetimes - see Acts 1:6), would be consider greater (higher rank, more important, etc.) than the others. Jesus confronts their carnal attitudes of competition and vanity (which he would deal with again in Matthew 20:20 - 23 and Luke 22:24 - 27) by stating the following.
2. And after calling a little child to Him, Jesus set him in their midst, 3. And said, "Truly I say to you, unless YOU are converted (which they were not at this time!) and become as little children, there is no way that you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4. Therefore, whoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2 - 4)
Christ used a little child as a living illustration of the humility required for salvation. It is an attitude that must exist in those newly converted and deepened as they live their lives. He then continues to use children ("little ones") to symbolize true believers in him (especially new ones) when he warns of the following.
6. But whoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to offend, it would be better for him that a millstone be hung around his neck and he be sunk in the depths of the sea (verse 6).
This verse is not referring to young children who are Christians ("who believe in Me"), in part because Scripture does not condone the baptizing of "little ones." Jesus is, instead, calling attention to how ALL those in his church should not be treated, especially "little ones" (new believers) some may consider "the least." It is in this context that he makes the statement some use to show that God assigns guardian angels to children.
10. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that their angels in heaven continually look upon the face of My Father, Who is in heaven (verse 10)
Christ is reiterating again for the disciples the importance of how they treat each other and those in his church. EVERY believer, even a new one, is loved by God. In his eyes there is no rank or hierarchy, no one "greater or lesser" among his spiritual children. Because He cares for ALL those who have faith in him and his Son, he utilizes his angelic host to serve ALL those "who are about to inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).
What do the commentaries say?
While some Biblical commentaries seem to support the teaching of guardian angels (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Matthew Henry's Commentary, etc.), many others, some of which are below, do not.
"Though Scripture does not warrant us to affirm that each individual has his particular guardian angel, it teaches very explicitly that angels minister to every Christian" (People's Dictionary of the Bible)
"As an additional illustration of his indulgent mercy and compassion for our weakness, he represents those whom he has ready for our defense as being a numerous host; he does not assign one solitary angel to each saint, but commissions the whole armies of heaven to keep watch over every individual believer . . ." (Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament, Psalm 91:11)
"Neither of these texts (Matthew 18:10 and Hebrews 1:14), however - nor any other Scripture - teaches the idea of an individual guardian angel for every believer, as Jewish tradition in Jesus' day taught . . . " (MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Matthew 18:10)
"The passages (Psalm 34:7, Matthew 18:10) usually referred to in support of the idea that every individual has a particular guardian angel have no such meaning" (Easton's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
The primary responsibility of almost all righteous spirits (except, possibly, those specially dedicated to praising God) is to serve Christians who are to "inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Believers are watched over and protected by MANY righteous spirit beings, and not just one (Psalm 91:11 - 12), all of whom have direct access to the Father (see Revelation 5:11). Evidence proving guardian angels exist, and that God assigns one to every human upon his or her birth, is sorely lacking in Scripture.