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No. 1: Who Were the Angels of Jude 6?

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 1
January, 1989
Copyright 1989, Biblical Horizons

The prophecy of Jude concerns apostasy. An illustration of apostasy and its consequences is found in verse 6, which the New American Standard Bible translates this way: "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." Verse 7 continues, "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire."

"In the same way as these" seems to refer to the "angels" of verse 6. "These" is masculine, and thus cannot refer to the "cities" (feminine) of verse 7. Calvin argues in his comments on these verses that "these" refers to the men of the cities, and not to the "angels" of verse 6. Most modern commentators see it as a reference to the "angels," however.

With this link established, modern commentators generally go to Genesis 6:1-4, and assert that this passage speaks of angels cohabiting with human females. This is the "strange flesh" sin of the angels, and God judged these demons at the Flood. This band of demons is reserved under darkness, while the demons (fallen angels) who did not engage in cohabitation with human females are still at large in the world.

These commentators point to the fact that the phrase "sons of God" is used in Job 1 for angels. Thus, when the sons of God married the daughters of men, the reference is to angelic-human marriages. They support this interpretation by referring to the pseudepigraphical Book of Enoch, from which Jude is supposedly deriving his information.

Jude and Jewish Myths

Let’s dispose of the Book of Enoch first of all. The argument that Jude is leaning on Enoch here and elsewhere (vv. 14-15) is wholly gratuitous. Why not say that both Jude and Enoch are citing a common tradition? Jude, under Divine inspiration, tells us of the prophet Enoch in verses 14-15 of his letter. The Book of Enoch gives us the same information, but not under Divine inspiration. There is in fact absolutely no evidence to suggest that Jude was leaning on Enoch for anything, and thus no reason to tie Jude 6 with Enoch‘s speculations concerning the sons of God and the daughters of men in Genesis 6.

Jude is also accused of leaning on the pseudepigraphical Assumption of Moses in v. 9, "But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses. . . ." This is assumed to refer to a legendary event, the removal of Moses’ dead body from the earth into heaven. This is not the Biblical meaning of Jude 9 at all. In the Bible, the "body of Christ" is the Church. Just so, the "body of Moses" is the Old Covenant people of God. Compare the "house of Moses" and the "house of Christ" in Hebrews 3. I agree with many older commentaries that Michael’s dispute with Satan over the Old Covenant church is recorded in Zechariah 3:2, with other similar instances referred to in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1.

There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Moses’ corpse was taken into heaven. This is only a Jewish legend. New Testament commentators would do better to consult the Old Testament as the background to the New, instead of leaping into myths and apocalyptic fairy tales. There is nothing in Jude that indicates any dependence, literary or conceptual, on any apocryphal or pseudepigraphical works. His writing and his concepts are firmly grounded in Biblical theology.

Genesis 6

We read in Genesis 6 that "when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were good; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose" (vv. 1-2).

Numerous interpretations have been suggested for these verses. Some have felt that the "sons of God" were fallen angels, though how angels could intermarry with men has never been explained. Jesus expressly states that angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30), and there is no evidence that angels have gender. Until recently, the angelic-marriage interpretation of Genesis 6 has been regarded as Jewish myth by Catholic and Protestant expositors. A few have suggested "demon-possessed men" as an alternative, but this is still rather unsatisfactory, because neither of these interpretations offer anything of relevance to the historical situation described in Genesis.

One other suggestion is that the "sons of God" are tyrannical rulers, engaged in rapine against defenseless women. This interpretation also fails because it is irrelevant to the context.

In the context of Genesis, we need an explanation for what happened to the Godly line of Seth, and why no one but Noah was preserved. We need an explanation of the "fall" of the Sethites. If the "sons of God" are Sethites, as most classical conservative commentators believe, then we have that explanation. Just as Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was good (Gen. 3:6), so here the Sethites saw that the forbidden daughters of Cain were good, and willfully intermarried with them, putting their own desires before holiness. As a result, the Sethites were also corrupted, and violence became well nigh universal.

The fact that the expression "sons of God" is used for angels in Job does not change the fact that it is also used for human beings frequently in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Adam is called the "son of God" in Luke 3:38. Also, in Genesis 11:5 the wicked are called "sons of men," which indicates that the "daughters of men" in Genesis 6 would be those of the culture of Cain. Notice also the language of Psalm 82:6-7, where righteous rulers are spoken of as "sons of the Most High," while those under judgment "die like men."

Thus, in context of Genesis 6 it is far more likely that the fall of the line of Seth is in view. The sons of God (Sethites) committed the sin of taking forbidden fruit by marrying into the culture of Cain (the daughters of men). As a result, the Godly line of Seth was corrupted, and eventually only Noah and his family were left.

Jude 6

With this in mind, we return to Jude 6. What is the fall of the "angels" spoken of here? Most classical commentators, rejecting the Genesis 6 approach, simply take this verse and its parallel in 2 Peter 2:4 to be a reference to the primordial fall of the wicked angels under the leadership of Lucifer. This creates a problem, however. Clearly not all the demonized angels are "cast into hell, committed to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment," as Peter writes. This same Peter says that Satan is still somewhat loose, and prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8).

The simplest way to resolve this problem is to take the "angels" in this passage as a reference to the Godly line of Seth. This is not at all a strained interpretation, and it does full justice to the context.

J. Marcellus Kik has written that "the Greek term aggelos does not always refer to such heavenly spirits. The meaning of the term must be determined by the context. In the following passages the Greek word aggelos is translated by the word messenger: Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24, 27; 9:52; Mark 1:2; James 2:25. John the Baptist is called an aggelos. The disciples of John the Baptist were also described as angels. And this was true in regard to the disciples of Christ. In James 2:25 the messengers sent to Rahab were called `angels.’" [J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1971), p. 147f.]

David Chilton makes the same point, showing that in the Old Testament the word mal’ak, often translated "angel," is used for human prophets in 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Haggai 1:13; and Malachi 3:1. The "angels of the seven churches" in Revelation are surely human leaders, since it makes no sense to write a letter to a spirit angel. Spirit angels are members of God’s heavenly Council, and so are human prophets (and in the New Covenant, all believers). Thus, the term "angel" sometimes refers to a human prophet or messenger, and not always to spirit angels. [See David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 81-83; and Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), pp. 57-96.] This line of approach may well be significant also for our understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:10, as many older commentaries point out.

With this in mind, we can take the "angels" of Jude 6 to be the "sons of God." This makes a great deal of sense. According to Genesis 4:26, the line of Seth initiated public worship, and therefore public proclamation, into the world. They were messengers–angels–for God. Jude himself calls attention to this angelic-prophetic-messenger task of the pre-deluvian patriarchs in verses 14-15 of his letter, where he quotes the heart of the prophetic message of the "angel" Enoch. Thus, Genesis presents the "sons of God" as messengers (angels), and Jude also presents the Sethites (Enoch) as messengers (angels). These two facts provide strong contextual reinforcement for the interpretation I am suggesting.

Additional reinforcement comes from 2 Peter 2:4-5, which reads "For if God did not spare angels [prophets, messengers] when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. . . ." In one breath Peter speaks of Noah as a preacher and of the "angels" who fell.


In summary, the angelic-human marriage interpretation is to be rejected because it is irrelevant to the context of Genesis 6, and because it seems to contradict our Lord’s statement than angels do not marry. The primordial fall of the angels interpretation is also to be rejected because the sinners of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 are shut up in hell, and this is not true of the entire company of fallen angels. A resolution of this difficulty that is free of such contradictions is to allow "angels" here to refer to the messengers of the Covenant who were operating before the Flood: the Godly line of Seth. When these "angels" sinned by seeking strange flesh (women outside the covenant; forbidden fruit), they were judged in the Flood, and since that time have been reserved in hell for the day of Final Judgment.