Are angels more like us or God?

Sura 2 verse 30Angels versus humans

"When your master said to the angels, 'I will appoint a governor on earth.' They said: 'Do you want to order someone on her who will wreak havoc on her and shed blood, when we praise your praise and praise your holiness?' He said, 'I know what you don't know' "

This verse of the Koran describes a scene in the run-up to the creation of the first man Adam: Against God's intention to appoint a “governor” or “representative” on earth, the angels skeptically give consideration to the human potential for evil.

This can be understood as a reference to a human being's freedom of choice between good and evil: The rank of "representative" of God on earth does not honor those angels who sing God's praises with infallible reliability; Instead, a creature is called a "representative" of God, in whom the possibility is laid out to rebel against the will of its creator.

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A similar argument between God and the angels can already be found in a pre-Koranic Jewish tale. It begins with God's announcement of creation from Genesis 1 verse 26: "Let us make a man in our image and in our form; and he shall rule over the fish in the sea and over the birds under the sky".Nicolai Sinai teaches Islamic studies at the renowned Oxford University in England. (Photo: N.Sinai)

In response to this, the angels put a famous quote from Psalm 8 in their mouths: "What is man that you think of him?" Like the Quranic verse quoted at the beginning, the highness and lowliness of man are placed side by side. The Jewish tale ends with the angels being put in their place: God asks them to find names for the things he has created. The angels are unable to do this, but Adam copes with the task without difficulty and even finds suitable names for himself and for God. In contrast to this, in the Koranic story it is God who teaches the newly created Adam the names of all created things and thus endows him with a knowledge superior to the angels.

It is not unlikely that at least some of Mohammed's listeners were familiar with this Jewish tale. It is all the more important to note the deviating core statement of the Koranic version: It expressly makes it clear that Adam owes his superior knowledge solely to God. While the Jewish version is about emphasizing the cleverness inherent in man's nature, the Koran emphasizes the extensive and unsurpassable knowledge of God.

Another difference is noticeable. "Let us make man in our image and in our form," says the Bible. This leaves open the theologically problematic conclusion that God should be imagined as a corporeal being that has an anatomical similarity to man. The Koran avoids the difficulty by replacing the idea of ​​man being made in the image of God by the term governor: "I want to appoint a governor on earth".

By the way, behind the word "governor" hides the Arabic expression khalîfawhich can also mean "successor". In this second sense, the word became the familiar title of rulership "caliph", which in classical Islam denotes the successors of the prophet Mohammed in his political leadership role.