1 Corinthians 6:3a New International Version
Do you not know that we will judge angels?
Does this mean that there are angels who commit sins?
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
1 Corinthians 6:3a New International Version
Do you not know that we will judge angels?
Does this mean that there are angels who commit sins?
2 Peter 2:4 explicitly states that angels have sinned.
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but rather, after he cast them into Tartarus into chains of darkness, He delivered [them] to be reserved for judgment.
Εἰ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο ἀλλὰ σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τετηρημένους·
There seems to be an allusion in Jude 1:6 to what Peter is describing in 2 Pet. 2:4.
There are several passages of scripture that reveal what happened such as Rev 12:7-9 -
7 Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. 9 And the great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
This great cosmic battle appears to be alluded to in a figurative/metaphorical way in other places such as Isa 14:12-15 and Eze 28:12-17. Paul uses this cosmic battle in his theology several times:
Peter also alludes to this as well -
The "judgement" is presumably, in part, the activity alluded to in two other places:
Just how one interprets these is an entirely separate matter but the idea of a group of angels (one third of them according to Rev 12:4) being sinful and requiring judgement is a definite theme in the NT.
Answer: Only if we accept the idea of "fallen angels."
It is very easy to adopt this concept because many passages, at first glance, seem to unequivocally support it. This is a deep subject worthy of thorough exploration because, as noted in the OP, it seems that the saints "will judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3b). Who are these "angels" exactly?
There are many questions that we must answer before we come to a conclusion. First, the verse preceding the one in the OP explains much:
1 Corinthians 6:2: "[Do] you not know that the saints will judge the world?"
What does this mean? It means that through our godly behavior in Christ, we are judging the world, just as Noah judged the world in his day:
Hebrews 11:7a: "By faith Noah... [prepared] an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world."
Now, with these in mind, just who are the angels in the following passage:
Matthew 25:41: “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels"
The “accursed ones” here are denounced for their absence of compassion. However, note this: All of the earlier examples of Matthew 25 contrast human beings (angels appear nowhere) who were prepared (Parable of the Ten Virgins), faithful and obedient (Parable of the Talents), with those (human beings) unprepared, unfaithful and disobedient.
Why would angels be part of this picture? Are we to believe that it is angels who are without compassion based on the context? It can hardly be argued that the “accursed ones” condemned by "the King" are not human beings. As stated, they would be those cast into the "eternal [fire] prepared for the Devil and his angels.” Otherwise, why does it not read: "The eternal fire prepared for the Devil and the fallen angelic host? And, if this is the destination for lost humans as well, why does it not state lost humans?
These (fallen human beings) are believed to be the "angels" that the faithful will judge based on the passage from 1 Corinthians 6:3a of the OP.
They are the "angels" or "messengers" of Satan. We should recognize that everyone with a hardened disposition against Christ — including those who teach false doctrine by (perhaps even "reviling angelic majesties" (Jd. vs. 8)) are those who appear in Matthew 25.41. Indeed, in Matthew 7:23, Christ will one day address "His messengers," those that disobeyed Him: "I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’"
We have assumed, based on a myriad of instances, that use of the word "angel" must refer to God's angelic host. But it this true? In Peter's Second Letter, he writes:
2 Peter 2:4-5, NIV: "For if God did not spare angels [messengers of God] when they sinned, but sent them to hell [Tartarus], putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;"
This appears to be a parallel statement to the Letter of Jude vs. 6, which I will get to in a moment. Many will claim that this is absolute proof that God's celestial host are in view. But is that correct?
While undoubtedly controversial, I will proceed on the basis that this is not what the passages are telling us. Earlier, in the Book of Genesis, we read about the godly lineage of Seth being polluted by the "daughters of men" — a reference to the faithless progeny of Cain (Gen. 6:1-2).
Now, we might wonder why we read about this at all. I suggest it is because this godly line of Seth (which began in Genesis 4:26) had long since fallen away by the time of Noah. These people, once the "sons [and daughters] of God," ("messengers of God") had been led to destruction through intermarriage with the faithless and ungodly.
I further suggest that is what Peter is referring to in 2 Peter 2:4a. The word "Hell" is actually "Tartarus" which cannot be Hell because Hell is an eternal realm; it does not yet exist (as far as we are concerned). If it is Hell, then why does the verse tell us its inhabitants are being held for judgment? Hell is the final destination of the judged!
Further, based on the Gospel of Luke (16:19+) we know that the faithless and ungodly reside in Hades, not Hell. And, they are languishing in this chasm of horrors at this very moment:
1 Pet. 3:19: "[Christ] went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison [at the time Peter wrote this letter], who once were disobedient [during the time Noah built the ark]."
It, therefore, seems plausible that the first mention of "angels" in 2 Peter 2:4 refers to these once holy-turned-apostate messengers of God. Indeed, soon after, we read of Noah and his righteousness — the only righteousness that existed in all the world. This is where the text states: "[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others [through the Flood]."
The point here is that just when we think the text is referring to celestial beings, this may not be the case at all. Suppose we now consider passages from the Letter of Jude:
Jude vs. 5b-7: "[After] saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as [the people of] Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them..." (emphasis added).
The first question we might ask is this: Why would God begin speaking about the people saved from Egypt, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, only to insert "angels" directly in the middle of the text? This seems to be a question that begs to be asked.
Would it not be prudent to consider that the "angels" mentioned here are actually people as well, perhaps those like Korah ("priests", "men of renown": Num. 16:2c) who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness? Surely, this qualifies as "not keeping one's proper domain" as priests of the Tabernacle?
These rebels were swallowed by the earth, and no doubt now reside in the prison of Hades. Where else would their spirits reside? If someone argues: "They are in the grave" I am afraid I cannot help them. No one spiritually exists in a grave although their physical bodies certainly do.
Some will insist: "We know that Satan is a fallen angel!" Really? Just how do we know that? Naturally, we may then be guided to at least two "go-to" sets of passages used to support the concept:
Isaiah 14:12: “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning (mistranslated "Lucifer" by Jerome), son of the dawn!"
"There you have it. Lucifer!" Everyone who believes in "fallen angels" seems to overlook the fact that the taunt in Isaiah was against the king of Babylon:
Isaiah 14:4: "[You] will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon"
Add to that, the fact that the "morning star" is merely a reference to the planet Venus, and it should become apparent that the verse is not describing "Lucifer" — the purported name of Satan, which itself is in error. Note how Christ describes Himself in the Book of Revelation:
Revelation 22:16: "I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
Would Christ ever identify Himself so distinctly with the Devil? Others will point to Ezekiel, chapter 28. What they too tend to overlook is that the taunt in that chapter is clearly to be spoken against the ruler of Tyre:
Ezekiel 28:2: "“Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre…"
It is a simple matter of fact that God often uses celestial imagery to describe His judgments on people and nations. We see this abundantly in the Book of Revelation, where such imagery is drawn from many verses in the Old Testament. There should be no mystery about this.
I would suggest that, upon closer inspection, all imprisoned spirits were at one time human. (I can only imagine the fury of comments that might follow if this ever sees the light of day. :-) )
Too often, we tend to overlook the fact that true celestial majesties reside under the sovereign control of Almighty God. Perhaps we should also consider these factors:
How could any angel in a paradise of absolute perfection, holiness, grandeur, and majesty, one who shares in the magnificence and intellect of an infinite God, possibly "fall"?
If they can do so, what does this say about our future with God? Could we, who are inferior to angels, not easily fall from heaven thus repeating the catastrophe in the Garden of Eden?
And, why would God ever allow His angels to fall? Is His power so limited that He simply cannot restraint them? After all, they are His servants, His ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14), not a band of traitorous, diabolical insurrectionists as so many would have us believe (cf. 2 Pet. 2:10, Jude vs. 8: "reviling angelic majesties").
Obviously, I have only scratched the surface of this deep subject. My intent is merely to point out that just when we start to believe we have isolated passages that speak of "fallen angels," caution is advised. To date, I have found a legitimate, biblical response to every claim of "fallen angels" that I have encountered.
Here are some of the other common instances where we (understandably) draw conclusions about "fallen" angels. Note the copious bracketed observations:
1 Peter 3:19-20: "[Christ was] made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and [preached through Noah to people whose] spirits [are now in prison as Peter writes his Letter], who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah."
Yes, disobedient human beings refused the message of Christ preached through Noah, and they were all lost, their spirits now languishing in the prison of Hades as Peter writes. This should demonstrate that there are, at this very moment, spirits in prison.
1 Peter 4:6: "For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are [now] dead [but were alive long enough to receive the Gospel], that though they are [were] judged in the flesh as men [all of us are], they may live in the spirit according to the will of God [because they were saved while still alive, and now departed]."
Job 4:18: "'He puts no trust even in His servants; And against His angels [messengers, priests, human leaders, etc.] He charges error."
Are we to leap to the conclusion that all such passages are referring to "fallen angels?" Why can these not be further references to God's human messengers, those that make mistakes (there is an abundance of examples)? Do heavenly, angelic majesties make the same mistakes as human beings? It is possible. But that proves nothing relative to the concept of "fallen angels."
The term "angel" is very elastic, often (as the bracketed notation above suggests) simply meaning messenger, priest, prince, etc. There are other variations. We tend to believe that every mention of angels is referring to God's angelic majesties. Sometimes they definitely are (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1). If we read a verse from Hebrews, it might at first appear that God gives no assistance to angels, which seems puzzling:
Hebrews 2:16: "For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham."
Someone might immediately exclaim: "Fallen angels! And these beings need help. Why? Because they 'fell'." Some will immediately claim that angels are somehow in need of help. But how do we know this?
I have reserved this final claim for last with embedded comments:
Revelation 12:7-9: "And there was war in heaven [this was a spiritual war between Christ and Satan on earth], Michael [Christ] and his angels [disciples, cf. Luke 10:17, etc.] waging war with the dragon [casting out demons]. The dragon and his angels [demons] waged war, and they were not strong enough [they were continually cast out], and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven [they had forever lost any chance of salvation, cf. Mk. 5:5]."
9"And the great dragon was thrown down [Satan was deprived of his authority over death], the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down [Christ envisions his fall: Lk. 10:18] to the earth [cf. Job 1:6, 2:1+ where he resides], and his angels were thrown down with him [ultimate judgment? cf. Matt. 25:41]."
If we carefully deconstruct passages in the Book of Revelation, the result can be quite illuminating. I will not take much time here to demonstrate that Michael (12:7) is, in fact, Christ, the Prince of Israel (cf. Dan. 10:21, Zech. 3:2+); suffice it to say that Christ ("Michael") argued over the body of Moses (Jude vs. 9) — the Law of Moses embodied by the nation of Israel. It is unfortunate that so many do not recognize this amazing symbolism.
There is no doubt there are many other passages we can find that tend to advance the concept of "fallen angels" as I have already noted.
I believe many are making unwarranted assumptions without due consideration. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing something because you have heard it so many times before.
Campbell, Alexander. "Address on Demonology," Delivered before the Popular Lecture Club, Nashville, TN, March 10, 1811. In this treatise Campbell argues that demons may be none other than the spirits of lost human beings. If he is correct, what might this say about our devoted commitment, one which I shared, that fallen angels are the demons we read about in Scripture? (cf. Mk. 5:5, Lk. 8:26-33, etc.)