A Contrary Argument: Seeing the Reference as to Good Angels
Jack Douglas laid out some good points to argue for 1 Pet 2:11 to be evil angels. However, I do find some holes and things left unconsidered that for me seem to point to a contrary conclusion. The following is loosely based off both his original set of arguments offered, as well as some of his revisions.
The qualifying phrase of "sinned" (2 Pet 2:4)
Must this qualifying phrase point to evil angels in v.11? Note that in v.4 it is a specific reference noting the time of their fall, that is, they were good angels until this point "when they sinned."
Blasphemy of Good Angels?
Jack asks the question "If these angels are good angels, why would they blaspheme at all?" I would answer this question with the following thoughts:
- They didn't bring blasphemous judgement, that is part of the point of v.11. Though the angels were "greater in might and power" to mankind (including the good angels), these angels did not bring any slanderous reports or reviling against the "them," which I argue here is in reference to the ungodly of vv.9-10 (not the "glories" of v.10). The "greater" is in reference to mankind (compare Heb 2:7, 9 of Christ's incarnation as man compared to angels), the group from which the false prophets come.
- We know very little about the "testing" of angels in God's economy. What we do know is that some have failed and others have not. However, there is nothing preventing this verse as being a reference to such a test for the good angels, a test in which they have passed by not bringing judgment. Are they constantly "restraining themselves," or rather simply had to restrain at some testing point in the past? Of course God could have them under a constant testing such that they could fall at anytime--again, we do not know much about how God deals with angels. Perhaps their "election" (1 Tim 5:21) and being "holy" (Mt 25:31; Act 10:22; et. al.) is purely "works based" in maintaining constant self-control. Who knows? Not I, though based upon the present tense in the Greek of "do not bring," that implies a continuous action. The angels could bring such an accusation at any time, but do not. At any rate, I do not see a reason to dismiss the possibility that just because these may be "good" angels that we are talking about, that they cannot possibly still become "evil" ones if they choose the wrong path (or at least that they had that possibility at some point and chose not to).
- Point #2 about the angelic testing seems further supported by the notation above about 2 Pet 2:4 locating the time of the fall of the evil angels.
- Additionally, as Jack notes, the other two references in 1 Peter 1:12 and 3:22 are to good angels. Though 3:22 could be a reference to angelic kind (i.e. both good and evil angels) as Christ is over both.
What is Being Blasphemed by the False Prophets?
I agree with Jack that it is "the way of truth" that is being blasphemed by the false prophets in v.2. It is this same thing, and specifically the glories that come from God's work that the way of truth is testifying too, that is what is being blasphemed by the false prophets in v.10.
The above is in contrast to seeing the "glorious ones" as being believers, as Jack had originally argued. Though I believe he may have backed away from that now, he still implies that in his conclusion (emphasis added): "These fallen angels wish to pass judgement against those called to God's glory, but hold back from doing so, knowing that despite their might and power, it would be foolish." For the sake of argument here, let us assume "those called to glory" are the referents of 2 Pet 2:10 for the "glorious ones." If that is so, then we already have at least one example that disproves this, for Satan himself (assuming one believes him to be of the angelic order, which I do) brings exactly such accusations against Job (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5) and Joshua the high priest (Zech 3:1-2), for he is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). Whether he is the only angel to so accuse or not is unclear.
The important point here is that if the referent is to believers, a conclusion about evil angels restraining themselves from such accusation does not follow for at least this one evil angel who does not "hold back."
However, Satan does blaspheme God's truth in Gen 3:4, which I take as reference to Satan, but even if one balks at that being Satan, the Job passages are clear examples of Satan blaspheming what God just told him about Job's character. So while in that case he is blaspheming Job, Satan is also blaspheming "the way of truth," just as the false prophets do. The fact that 2 Pet 2:4 does not mention the specific sin of the angels, except in the context of...
- False teachers not holding to truth (2 Pet 2:1-3),
- Noah who believed God's truth about the coming flood (2 Pet 2:5; Gen 6:22),
- Lot who believed judgment was coming (2 Pet 2:7; Gen 19:13-14) even though a bit reluctant to leave (v.16), and
- These other angels here in 2 Pet 2:11 that trust God's judgment despite mankind's failure
...point to the fall of those angels being related to their own self-deception in rejecting God's "way of truth" and seeking to slander the way that God has planned; a way that God intends to show them is right (Eph 3:10) and the rejection of which they will be judged (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6).
Whose destruction? The αὐτῶν of v.12
Jack argues v.12 is referring to the false prophets being consumed in the angelic destruction. While it cannot be dogmatically affirmed that such a reading is not possible, it is unlikely. The topic of the passage is the false teachers, and the majority of plural references prior to this point back to the "unjust" of v.9. Since the topic is the danger of destruction facing these unjust teachers, that they "will utterly perish in their own corruption" (NKJV) would be the more natural reading; that is, the pronoun references are staying on topic as referring to this group, rather than "the angels" of v.11 (and indeed, if the other arguments are considered valid for seeing this reference as to "good angels," then it most certainly is not referring to "their destruction," because they are not going to be destroyed.
The angels of 2 Pet 2:11 are good angels that did not fall out in speech against even the ungodly who themselves blaspheme "the way of truth," and all that way's attesting to the "glories" God has planned. In contrast, the evil angels of v.4 had fallen to blaspheming the true way, as well as blaspheming even the godly, for which they had come to judgment. The false prophets were in great danger of falling to the same, and all of them are warned here by Peter not to fall into the ways of the false teachers.