Rebellious Angels & Demons

The other angels who joined Satan in rebellion were, just as he was, expelled from heaven. What these angels did next in their outcast status changed the course of events that eventually birthed demons. The text used to determine this in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity was Genesis 6:1–4.

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

This passage spoke to the ancient audience of the comingling between divine and earthly figures—something that violated God’s creative purposes and was thus sinful.

The Hebrew linguist, Robert Alter, notes that this passage, in following the rejection by God of the intermingling of divine angels and humans, looks back at humanity’s partaking from the tree of life. Back in Genesis 3:22 when God stated that man had become like one of the heavenly entourage—so Alter suggests by the first-person plural “Us”—the mixing of the divine and earthly by eating from the tree of life was a violation of God’s created order and purpose. The earthly was to have remained such while the heavenly was to have remained as such. God’s response, so states Alter was to limit human life thus, again, affirming human mortality in specifically quantitative terms.[1] Of course, differing views could be cited that would disagree with Alter and those who share his view on this passage. Nevertheless, since our goal here is to understand the material as the earliest Christians would have, we look to sources in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity to decipher how they might have concluded as they did.

The early Christians used as their Old Testament Scriptures, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament. A reading of Old Testament citations in the New Testament demonstrates that they readily cited from the Septuagint as Scripture.[2] In the Septuagint, this passage has in the place of “sons of God,” “angels” in Genesis 6:2. In place of Nephilim (“fallen ones”), the Septuagint has “Giants” in Genesis 6:4. Therefore, the Old Testament of the early church believed this passage to speak regarding fallen angels who had copulated with women and produced as offspring a race of Giants. Because of the commingling of earthly and divine beings, God would eventually judge the earth and destroy it by the flood due to the subsequent corruption that arose on the earth because of the intermingling of angels and humans.

However, if God were to destroy all except for Noah and his family by flood, one might assume that the offspring of angels and women (Giants) as a whole would be destroyed and that would be an end to the matter. The case is, as will be shown, that the disembodied spirits of the offspring (Giants) produced by angels and women became what we regard today as “demons.” These demons, as seen in the New Testament, often sought to possess bodies to once more enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that brought God’s judgment on the earth in the days of Noah.[3] Furthermore, we also read about Giants post-flood (Numbers 13:33) which may lead us to believe that Noah and his family were among the race or that some survived that was not highlighted by the Bible.[4] Whatever the conclusion may be as to their post-flood survival is conjecture, but the disembodied spirits were sort of left to wonder aimlessly after the Giants died in flood. Hence they sought to inhabit bodies as we see in the New Testament, and this might be related to what Jesus had to say in Luke 11:24–26.

Origen interpreted Jesus’ words in the passage from Luke to mean that if we serve God and are faithful to Him, He lives in us. However, if we give ourselves to sectarianism and the flesh, evil spirits take up residence in our bodies. Origen invoked the Pauline passage referring to the body as the Temple of God and noted that the Temple has no fellowship with idols. For Origen, he seemed to imply that either Christ lives in us, or an evil spirit has taken up residence (Hom. Exod. 8.4). Once we obey the gospel, the evil spirit(s) are purged so that the Holy Spirit may live within us and give life to our bodies, but if we return to sinful ways, we grieve the Holy Spirit so that He abandons our bodies and even more evil spirits come to dwell in us. This would seem to be how Origen understood the matter.

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When one looks to 2 Peter 2:4–5, we note the mention of disobedient angels immediately before reading about the flood of the ancient world. I might mention that the Greek term translated as “hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is only used here in all of the New Testament. It is not the term Jesus used in the Gospels when He spoke about hell (gehenna). The term used in 2 Peter is Tartarus. Those familiar with Greek mythology will know that this place was where divine figures were sent, and it was depicted in Greek writings, as in 2 Peter, as a prison. In Greek mythology, the Titans—gods of old—were sent to this deepest part of the underworld—deeper even than Hades. It may very well be that the Titans of Greek mythology had their underpinnings in the story of the rebellious angels who produced giants in Genesis 6.

What’s peculiar to note is that the author of 2 Peter mentions that these angels are sent to hell to be reserved for judgment, but if this is so, how do demons work in creation if they’re entrapped until judgment? Cyril of Alexandria, the fifth-century patriarch, wrote that those particular angels sent to hell were the leaders of the demons (Catena), but he appears to be the only one who made this precise distinction. The Giants were the offspring of rebellious angels, and the Giants’ disembodied spirits as a result of the flood became what we call demons as already mentioned. The sons of God mentioned in Genesis 6 were the leaders of this rebellion. They would be those 2 Peter intended to communicate as who were reserved in chains in hell until the judgment.

A complementing passage to 2 Peter 2:4 is Jude 1:6. Jude states pretty much the same as 2 Peter, but one variation exists that seems to be of interest. Jude wrote that the angels did not keep their “proper domain” (NKJV). The term used here for “domain” (archen) is used elsewhere of angels in a similar vain. Paul wrote that we wrestled against “principalities” (Ephesians 6:12), the same word used here and translated “principalities” again in Romans 8:38. In 1 Corinthians 15:24, the term is used by Paul and translated as “rule,” and in each of these contexts, celestial beings are the subjects.

When we reflect back on Genesis 6, the commingling of angels and mortals essentially amount to 2 Peter’s mention of the “angels who sinned,” and Jude informs us that this was done by angels leaving their “proper domain”—perhaps an innuendo referring to their intermingling with mortals. They had already rebelled and were cast from heaven, but rather than keep what remained of their angelic status, they mixed with the mortals, and the Bible allows for this interpretation because angels often appeared as humans. This same sin was what Eve had done in the sense that she sought to mix her mortality with the divinity found in the Tree of Life. In both cases, the sins of the demons and humanity amount to violating God’s created order via this intermingling of two spheres God intended to be separate on some level.

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When we survey literature from around the time of the first century into which Christianity was born, both immediately before and after, we see a continuity of belief that the Genesis 6:1–4 narrative regarded angels copulating with mortal women. The Book of Enoch which has already been mentioned is perhaps the central text on this topic if only for the purpose that it is rather extensive in the treatment of fallen angels and seems to be the second earliest source behind the Septuagint. It was written sometime in the second century BC, and for nearly 500 years this text was unanimously popular.[5] In Epistle of Barnabas, written somewhere between the late first and early second centuries, the book of Enoch is treated as Scripture. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, among others, supported this text and used it, some of them ascribing it a status of Scripture. Even to this day, the Ethiopic Orthodox Church regards the Book of Enoch as canonical.

While we may not view the work as divinely inspired, we can certainly concede that it was influential to Second Temple Jews and the early church. The Book of Enoch is made up of several works that comprise the whole, and the Book of Watchers (3.1–2) follows the Septuagint in its lead in interpreting Genesis 6:1–4. The sin wasn’t only that angels commingled with women, but that they also, and their offspring, taught charms and enchantments among other bouts of unrighteousness.

Also in the Book of Watchers appears other angels who serve God and are named (e.g. Uriel, Raphael). These angels are preparing to wage war against the rebellious hosts who’ve violated God’s holy creation. Enoch was the prophet sent to communicate to the rebellious angels their crime and the sentence necessitated by it. “For from thenceforward they could not speak with Him nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned” (4.28; cf. 5.5). Of the offspring of the angels and women

And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble. They take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offenses. (5.28–30)

These evil spirits, demons, would eventually become idols that would lead the nations astray to sacrifice to the created elements (6.22; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19–21).

The book of Jubilees, roughly written somewhere around 100 BC, read much like the Septuagint in identifying those who in Hebrew are “sons of God” as “angels” (5.1). Jubilees went on to say that God was upset with the angels whom He had sent upon the earth for their sin with women. Therefore, He was going to have them bound in the depths of the earth (5.6, 10), likely a reference to Tartarus, or corresponding to it, as contained in 2 Peter 2:4.

Philo was a first-century BC–AD Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt. When he evaluated the account from Genesis 6:1–4, he used a text that suggested that the sons of God were angels much like the Septuagint (De Gig. 6). In another of his works, Quaestiones et solutions in Genesim (1.92), he asked why giants were born from angels and women, which only corroborates the already mentioned interpretations of this passage as regarding angels copulating with women. Even Josephus, the Jewish historian living in the second half of the first century shared Philo’s belief. In his Antiquities of the Jews, he also identified the passage under question here as about fallen angels copulating with mortal women (1.3.1).

When we go into early Christianity, we must hold that the early Christians were aware of this belief and the sources from which I quoted in this section. Therefore, a continuity of belief is witnessed. The second-century bishop of Gaul, Irenaeus, held the same view of this passage as those before him (Adv. Haer. 4.36.4).

In his treatise On the Veiling of Virgins, Tertullian spent considerable time addressing Paul’s passage to the Corinthians about women wearing veils (1 Corinthians 11:2–16). Paul had mentioned the purpose of veiling oneself, among other reasons, for the sake of angels. Paul urged that the men not wear veils in this passage, while conversely urging the women to wear veils. Men wearing veils may have been connected to Roman religious life. For example, in the foundational epic of Rome, Virgil’s Aeneid, we read that the purpose of a man veiling his head was to preserve the omens of sacrifice. This also, we read, was to be bound to as a perpetual observance throughout time (Aen. 3.405–10). Since a man wore a veil in the first century, attention was drawn to the man himself while in Christian worship, attention should have been directed to the head of a man, namely, Christ.

When Tertullian turned to the Pauline passage to the Corinthians, he addressed the purpose of veiling for the sake of angels. According to him, the reason that it was for the sake of angels was due to the angelic lust of women that resulted in angels sinning. He interpreted the sons of God from Genesis 6:1–2. For a woman to veil herself for the angels’ sake was for her to avoid tempting the angels with her beauty lest more abandon their domain for the sake of copulating with women (Veiling 7). Tertullian used this same argument regarding women veiling their heads for the sake of angels in On Prayer 22.

Here on out, Tertullian interpreted “woman” rather than “wife” from 1 Corinthians 11. Some translations insert “wife” as the translation of gyne (ESV) while others use “woman” (NKJV). There is no Greek term for “wife” itself, but “wife” is usually translated whenever, in Greek, the woman is shown to be possessed by the man. An example of this would read, “She is the woman of him.” When phrased as such in Greek, “woman” would be translated as “wife” since she belongs to him. I realize that this sounds rather chauvinistic, but remember that women were the possessions of men, either of their fathers or their husbands, in Roman antiquity.

The reason that Tertullian understood gyne as “woman” as opposed to “wife” was so that it could encompass all women: mothers, daughters, wives, virgins, etc. Because he chose such an interpretation, women were to wear veils (in worship only?) as a symbol of authority on their heads (Veiling 8). He went on to write,

I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin-daughter … veil your head … Put on the panoply of modesty; surround yourself with the stockade of bashfulness; rear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow your own eyes egress nor ingress to other people’s. Wear the full garb of woman, to preserve the standing of virgin. Belie somewhat of our inward consciousness, in order to exhibit the truth to God alone. (Veiling 16)

For Tertullian, his whole purpose of this treatise was to argue against custom and for truth. He saw this issue as a truth to God alone, and not a custom (Veiling 1–3). Tertullian went on to conclude his treatise on the matter by writing,

But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who, amid (the recital of) the Psalms, and at any mention of (the name of) God, continue uncovered; (who) even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness place a fringe, or a tuft, or any thread whatever, on the crown of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered? (Veiling 17)

John Chrysostom (ca. AD 347–409) concluded similarly to Tertullian in his 26th homily in 1 Corinthians.

Ephrem the Syrian (Gen. 6.3.1), a contemporary of John Chrysostom, as well as Augustine (City of God 15.23), did not interpret “sons of God” from Genesis 6:4 as angels. Rather, they believed them to have been the sons of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. However, they were not the first to posit this interpretation. A contemporary of Irenaeus, Julius Africanus believed the “sons of God” to have been the sons of Seth. Nevertheless, the church’s Bible, the Septuagint, as well as the Judaism of the New Testament held Genesis 6:1–4 to have been about angels and women.


[1] Alter, The Five Books of Moses, 38–39.

[2] See, for example, Law, When God Spoke Greek.

3] Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 15–16.

[4] Ibid., 4, 11.

[5] Jay Winter, The Complete Book of Enoch: Standard Version (Kindle Edition: Winter Publications, 2015), Loc. 55.

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