In chapter 2 of 2 Peter, angelic beings, who "do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment..." are contrasted with 'false teachers' (also referred to as 'the unrighteous'), who "do not tremble as they blaspheme...". This contrast is a positive one, but the question remains about what kind of angels are being referred to here, good or evil?

9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 2 Peter 2, ESV

2 Answers 2

  1. The angels mentioned earlier in 2 Peter are evil1

    Angels are only explicitly mentioned twice in 2 Peter. The other mention is near the start of the same logical section in verse 4:

    4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; ESV

  2. If these angels are good angels, why would they blaspheme at all?

    It seems strange to choose 'good' angels for the contrast, especially with the wording chosen:

    11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. ESV

    the text lends itself to the inference that it these angels are restraining themselves from 'pronounc[ing] a blasphemous judgment', because they are afraid of the consequences. This fits better with fallen angels than the "ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation" who are so close to God that is is sometimes hard to separate them.

  3. "their destruction" in v12 refers to the destruction of angels

    10bBold and willful, they [the false teachers] do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12But these [the false teachers], like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their [the angels] destruction, ESV

    This interpretation is open to us2 and fits better with the parallel between the sin/judgement of angels and of the 'false teachers' that begins before...:

    2:4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them [the angels] to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; ESV

    ...and ends after this section:

    2:17These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them [the false teachers] the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. ESV

    3:7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly [the false teachers]. ESV

    The ongoing parallel emphasizes the similarity between the judgment against the angels who sinned and the false teachers, but also communicates a "how much more" type of literary contrast: the sin of the false teachers is even worse than that of the false teachers and the punishment is not just in "gloomy darkness" but "the gloom of utter darkness".

  4. Conclusion: these angels are evil

    Peter expects us to understand that these angels are one and the same angels he refers to a few verses earlier. 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. The 'false teachers' show no such restraint and will be punished accordingly.

1 though it is worth noting that the two references in 1 Peter are positive

2 the NET Bible notes say: "This cryptic expression has been variously interpreted. (1) It could involve a simple cognate dative in which case the idea is “they will be utterly destroyed.” But the presence of αὐτῶν (autwn; their, of them) is problematic for this view. Other, more plausible views are: (2) the false teachers will be destroyed at the same time as the irrational beasts, or (3) in the same manner as these creatures (i.e., by being caught); or (4) the false teachers will be destroyed together with the evil angels whom they insult. Because of the difficulties of the text, it was thought best to leave it ambiguous, as the Greek has it."

  • @JackDouglas-Your logic is flawless, +1
    – Tau
    Apr 6, 2014 at 1:27
  • @user2479: I would agree some good points were made, but I could not agree the "logic" was "flawless" (as my answer points out the weaknesses I see).
    – ScottS
    Apr 6, 2014 at 18:59
  • @ScottS-Exception taken; however it is clear from the context that "those who railed" were evil angels, if they were not good. There is no 'middle ground', or plan of redemption for angels; they are either are part of the great army of heaven with Miichael, casting out Satan(Rev. 12:7), or part of Satan. Satan is not divided against himself(Matt. 12:26), and those who have left their former habitation, are reserved in "chains of darkness"(2 Pet. 2:4). They saw the Glory of God-unlike us, and refused to abide in it. Therefore, as Peter says, their judgement is certain.
    – Tau
    Apr 6, 2014 at 23:02
  • 2
    This is a great answer, though I think it could benefit by checking into the 2 Peter—Jude relationship. In another question, I answered that 2 Peter draws on Jude; if this is the case, Jude 8-9 may help in better understanding 2 Peter 2.10-11.
    – user2910
    Apr 26, 2014 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Mark coming from you I consider that high praise, thanks. I'll look at Jude and see if there is anything I feel I can add... Apr 26, 2014 at 17:20

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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...

  1. False teachers not holding to truth (2 Pet 2:1-3),
  2. Noah who believed God's truth about the coming flood (2 Pet 2:5; Gen 6:22),
  3. Lot who believed judgment was coming (2 Pet 2:7; Gen 19:13-14) even though a bit reluctant to leave (v.16), and
  4. 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.

My Conclusion

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.

  • +1, plenty to chew on here and I'm very grateful for it, thank you. Apr 6, 2014 at 19:14
  • 1
    @JackDouglas You are welcome. Thank you for posting the question and offering up your answer as it made me "chew" on it as well.
    – ScottS
    Apr 6, 2014 at 19:24
  • you might be interested in the update I've made to my answer (point 3 is new), and in particular the NET Bible note on verse 12 I've quoted. Not that it proves anything of course but it's useful I think. Apr 26, 2014 at 10:57

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