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Who are the fallen angels referred to in 2 Peter and Jude?

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Introduction to 2 Peter Introduction to Jude
Fallen Angels

In their letters, both Peter and Jude refer to a rather mysterious account of angels who have sinned, and as a consequence have lost their position and are waiting for judgement.

2 Peter 2:4

"For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgement."

Peter refers to this event as a one of three examples of judgement and deliverance from the Book of Genesis given in chronological order:
1. Angels who had sinned judged and not spared (v4, Gen 6),
2. The ancient world judged by a flood, but Noah spared (v5, Gen 6-8),
3. Sodom and Gomorrah judged, but Lot spared (v6-8, Gen 19).

Peter has an emphasis on the mercy of God here, especially on the salvation of the righteous (v9-10). Peter's basic message from this is that God's judgement and deliverance will come. The false teachers will be judged and the righteous will be delivered. The sin of the false teachers was lust and rebellion as summarised in v10.

Peter describes the angels as being 'confined them into hell' (Greek: 'Tartarus') (v4). In classical mythology Tartarus was the subterranean abyss where rebellious gods were confined. In the book of Enoch, it is the place where fallen angels were confined.
"And these are the names of the holy angels who watch. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and over Tartarus. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men. Raguel, one of the holy angels who takes vengeance on the world of the luminaries. Michael, one of the holy angels, to wit, he that is set over the best part of mankind and over chaos. Saraqael, one of the holy angels, who is set over the spirits, who sin in the spirit. Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is over Paradise and the serpents and the Cherubim. Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God set over those who rise. (1 Enoch 20:2)

Jude 6

"And the angels who did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgement of the great day.

In a slightly different way to Peter, Jude uses this event as a warning to the false teachers as one of three examples of people called by God in the OT who were judged:
1. The Exodus (v5) - The Israelites were saved out of Egypt, but were later destroyed (Num 14).
2. The fallen angels (v6) - will be punished.
3. Sodom and Gomorrah (v7) - punished for their immorality.

In his letter, Jude is saying that the false teachers will also be judged. He does not take the examples in chronological order and does not have the emphasis on salvation of the righteous that Peter gave.

In both these passages, the angels are punished in chains now, waiting for their final judgement on the Day of Judgement.

1 Pet 3:18b-20

It is likely that Peter also referred to these fallen angels in his first letter
He (Christ) was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

Fallen angels

Great caution is needed when seeking to interpret these passages, as so few details are given and there are very few relevant cross-references. It is more important to catch the spirit of what Peter and Jude are saying as warnings to the false teachers by looking at the verses in context, rather than to take these passages as giving doctrinal teaching about fallen angels.

Both Peter and Jude appear to be alluding to the rather mysterious account in Genesis chapter 6, when the sons of God took the daughters of men as their wives.

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the LORD said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward - when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created - people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favour in the sight of the LORD. (Gen 6:1-8)

It is not at all easy to determine exactly what happened. The idea of angelic beings being able to have sexual relations with human women seems extremely unusual and even weird. However, whatever happened, as a result there appears to have been a great increase in evil in the human population. Because of this, God decided to reduce the human lifespan to 120 years (the 120 years could otherwise indicate the time remaining before the flood), and to destroy the whole of humanity through the flood, while preserving Noah and his family.

The Nephilim are normally considered to be giants, and are mentioned in other places in the OT. The account in Genesis merely mentions the Nephilim, rather than specifically describing them as the offspring of the angels and women.

Both Peter and Jude make a connection between these fallen angels and the false teachers. Both the angels and the false teachers were motivated by lust and pride. These sins caused the judgement on the angels, and on Sodom and Gomorrah, and in turn God's judgement will be applied to the false teachers.

From other Jewish writings

A significant number of Jewish writings from the inter-testamental period refer to this event. A selection of these are given here.

Josephus Ant 1:3:1

Josephus gives a similar account to that in Genesis, but makes a stronger identification between the sons of the angels and the giants.

Now this prosterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in the process of time they were perverted, and forsook the practices of their forefathers, and did neither pay those honours to God where were appointed them, nor had they any concern to do justice towards men. But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shown for virtue, they now showed by their actions a double degree of wickedness; whereby they made God to be their enemy, for many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, That these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants. But Noah was very uneasy at what they did; and, being displeased at their conduct, persuaded them to change their dispositions and their acts for the better; - but, seeing that they did yield to him, but were slaves to their wicked pleasures, he was afraid they would kill him, together with his wife and children, and those they had married; so he departed out of that land.

Book of Enoch 6-9

During the inter-testamental period, Jewish Rabbis had a great interest in angels, and greatly elaborated the story about the fallen angels, especially in the book of 1 Enoch, which is part of the non-canonical pseudepigrapha. Later in his book, Jude quoted 1 Enoch directly (Jude 14) and Peter almost certainly alluded to it.

Chapter 6

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: 'I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.' And they all answered him and said: 'Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.' Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.

Chapter 7

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.

Chapter 8

And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, 'Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven ...

Chapter 9

And then Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel looked down from heaven and saw much blood being shed upon the earth, and all lawlessness being wrought upon the earth. And they said one to another: 'The earth made without inhabitant cries the voice of their cryingst up to the gates of heaven. And now to you, the holy ones of heaven, the souls of men make their suit, saying, "Bring our cause before the Most High."' And they said to the Lord of the ages: 'Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings, and God of the ages, the throne of Thy glory (standeth) unto all the generations of the ages, and Thy name holy and glorious and blessed unto all the ages! Thou hast made all things, and power over all things hast Thou: and all things are naked and open in Thy sight, and Thou seest all things, and nothing can hide itself from Thee. Thou seest what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were (preserved) in heaven, which men were striving to learn: And Semjaza, to whom Thou hast given authority to bear rule over his associates. And they have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women, and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins. And the women have borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness. And now, behold, the souls of those who have died are crying and making their suit to the gates of heaven, and their lamentations have ascended: and cannot cease because of the lawless deeds which are wrought on the earth. And Thou knowest all things before they come to pass, and Thou seest these things and Thou dost suffer them, and Thou dost not say to us what we are to do to them in regard to these.'

Book of Jubilees (5:1-10)

The Book of Jubilees has a similar account to that in 1 Enoch, expanding on the account in the Book of Genesis. The angels of God had sons with the daughters of men, bearing giants. This led to a great increase of wickedness, so God sent the flood as judgement.

And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. And lawlessness increased on the earth and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds and everything that walks on the earth -all of them corrupted their ways and their orders, and they began to devour each other, and lawlessness increased on the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of all men (was) thus evil continually. And God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt, and all flesh had corrupted its orders, and all that were upon the earth had wrought all manner of evil before His eyes. And He said that He would destroy man and all flesh upon the face of the earth which He had created. But Noah found grace before the eyes of the Lord. And against the angels whom He had sent upon the earth, He was exceedingly wroth, and He gave commandment to root them out of all their dominion, and He bade us to bind them in the depths of the earth, and behold they are bound in the midst of them, and are (kept) separate. And against their sons went forth a command from before His face that they should be smitten with the sword, and be removed from under heaven. And He said 'My spirit shall not always abide on man; for they also are flesh and their days shall be one hundred and twenty years'. And He sent His sword into their midst that each should slay his neighbour, and they began to slay each other till they all fell by the sword and were destroyed from the earth. And their fathers were witnesses (of their destruction), and after this they were bound in the depths of the earth for ever, until the day of the great condemnation, when judgment is executed on all those who have corrupted their ways and their works before the Lord.

Testament of Reuben (5:5-7)

The Testament of Reuben is the first of the Testaments of the Patriarchs. The writer urges his readers to avoid fornication, referring to the angels (or Watchers) who lusted after human women and gave birth to giants.

Flee, therefore, fornication, my children, and command your wives and your daughters, that they adorn not their heads and faces to deceive the mind: because every woman who useth these wiles hath been reserved for eternal punishment. For thus they allured the Watchers who were before the flood; for as these continually beheld them, they lusted after them, and they conceived the act in their mind; for they changed themselves into the shape of men, and appeared to them when they were with their husbands. And the women lusting in their minds after their forms, gave birth to giants, for the Watchers appeared to them as reaching even unto heaven.

2 Baruch (56:9-16)

In this document Baruch has a vision of black and bright waters which symbolise the history of the world from Adam to the coming of the Messiah. He also describes angels who mingled with women, leading to the flood.

This is the beginning of the black waters which you have seen. And from these black (waters) again were black derived, and the darkness of darkness was produced. For he became a danger to his own soul: even to the angels. For, moreover, at that time when he was created, they enjoyed liberty. And became he a danger some of them descended, and mingled with the women. And then those who did so were tormented in chains. But the rest of the multitude of the angels, of which there is (no) number, restrained themselves. And those who dwelt on the earth perished together (with them) through the waters of the deluge. These are the black first waters.

2 Enoch (18:1-4)

The second book of Enoch has a similar account where he calls the fallen angels the Grigori, who took human women as their wives, leading to God's judgement.

The men took me on to the fifth heaven and placed me, and there I saw many and countless soldiers, called Grigori, of human appearance, and their size (was) greater than that of great giants and their faces withered, and the silence of their mouths perpetual, and their was no service on the fifth heaven, and I said to the men who were with me: Wherefore are these very withered and their faces melancholy, and their mouths silent, and (wherefore) is there no service on this heaven? And they said to me: These are the Grigori, who with their prince Satanail (Satan) rejected the Lord of light, and after them are those who are held in great darkness on the second heaven, and three of them went down on to earth from the Lord’s throne, to the place Ermon, and broke through their vows on the shoulder of the hill Ermon and saw the daughters of men how good they are, and took to themselves wives, and befouled the earth with their deeds, who in all times of their age made lawlessness and mixing, and giants are born and marvellous big men and great enmity. And therefore God judged them with great judgement, and they weep for their brethren and they will be punished on the Lord’s great day.

Related articles

Introduction to 2 Peter Introduction to Jude
Fallen Angels