When angels desert

This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from the MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here.


The identity of certain angels in Jude 6 is a matter of much debate. Unlike Satan and most demons, who roam the earth in search of mischief, these angels are kept “with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling.”

While many views have emerged, two seem to be most popular – and both views are tied, at least in part, to Gen. 6:1-4, and to a lesser extent the apocryphal Book of Enoch.

Cohabiting angels

One popular interpretation ties directly to Gen. 6:1-4, where the “sons of God” are identified as rebellious angels who cohabitate with the “daughters of man,” producing a race of giants God destroys in the great flood. Advocates of this view generally note the following:

(1) Jewish tradition supports it. For example, the Book of Enoch offers an extensive depiction of evil angels fornicating with women (1 Enoch 10:11).

(2) Based on Jude 14-15, where the author references a prophecy of Enoch, we may conclude that Jude is familiar with 1 Enoch and is influenced by it.

(3) Jude draws a parallel between the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the rebellion of deserting angels. Verse 7 begins, “In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah … committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions” (emphasis added). Therefore, it seems clear that sexual sin is prominent in both instances.

Angels breaking rank

Proponents of the second popular view contend that the angels’ sin is one of breaking rank, not cohabitating with women. Instead of being content with the dignity assigned them under their Creator (Jesus), they aspire to higher ranks and thus rebel, meddling directly in human affairs.

Supporters of this position note the following:

(1) Jude may not have Gen. 6:1-4 in mind at all.

(2) Angels are a different class of creature than human beings. They are greater in power and intelligence, but they lack physical bodies. In the Old Testament, angels sometimes appear in human form (see Genesis 18-19), but there is no evidence they actually take on flesh and blood.

(3) Angels do not have sexual intercourse. Jesus makes this clear in His rebuttal of the Sadducees’ arguments against the resurrection (Matt. 22:30).

(4) God sent the flood because of man’s wickedness, not angelic mischief (Gen. 6:3, 5-6).

(5) The phrase, “In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah …” (Jude 7), does not necessarily mean the angels sinned in the same way (sexually) as the citizens of Lot’s city. Another way to understand this phrase is that God’s judgment of rebellious angels is the same sort of judgment He brings to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Another alternative?

If Jude is referring to Gen. 6:1-4 (it seems a more familiar reference to his readers than 1 Enoch), let’s consider the possibility that the “sons of God” are neither angels engaging directly in sexual relations with women, nor angels breaking rank with the rest.

A third option has much to commend it. What if, by “sons of God,” Moses is referring to demons who possess powerful earthly rulers determined to engage in widespread mischief?

Allen Ross, in his commentary on Genesis, describes the sons of God in Gen. 6:1-4 “probably … [as] powerful rulers who were controlled (indwelt) by fallen angels. It may be that fallen angels left their habitation and inhabited bodies of human despot warriors, the mighty ones of the earth.”

After all, the phrase “sons of God” almost without exception in the Old Testament refers to angelic beings, not people. It’s not until we get to the New Testament that followers of Jesus are depicted as adopted children of God – a term denoting relationship, not deity.

So, this passage, rather than confirming sexual relations between fallen angels and humans, refutes these pagan beliefs with divine truth. The “sons of God” are demons who indwell and control mighty men of earth. These demon-possessed men marry as many women as they please to satisfy their baser instincts. But in the end, these “powerful men of old … famous men” are flesh, and they die as all men do.

In the final analysis, Gen. 6:1-4 and Jude may be common references to the first recorded instance of demon possession, resulting in a special place of punishment for the angels who “deserted their proper dwelling.”

Gen. 6:1-4 and Jude 6 are difficult passages of Scripture. Godly men and women wrestle with their meaning and come to different conclusions. It’s wise to approach these verses with humility. Even better, let’s make sure we grasp Jude’s primary point in sharing this story: God judges not only wicked people, but rebellious angels as well.

Next: Who is Michael the Archangel?

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