By Charles H. Welch
ANGELS, FALLEN. An examination of the early chapters of Genesis most surely justifies the primeval prophecy concerning the enmity that should exist between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. In this article we hope to exhibit as far as possible the teaching and meaning of Genesis 6.
The fifth chapter of Genesis is ‘The book of the generations of Adam’
and his sons together with their ages are given down to Noah and his three
sons ‘And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham and
Japheth’ (verse 32). At verse 9 of chapter 6 the book of the ‘generations
of Noah’ is introduced which extends to Genesis 9:29 where it ends with
the words: ‘And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years:
and he died’. The first eight verses of Genesis 6 belong to the previous
section, ‘The book of the generations of Adam’ as the following structure
given in The Companion Bible will show:
It will be seen that this book of the generations of Adam falls into two parts. Genesis 5:1-32 recording the genealogy of the natural descendants of Adam, while Genesis 6:1-8 introduces the abnormal and the unnatural. In the structure given above it is already assumed that ‘the sons of God’ are ‘fallen angels’ and that the progeny of their illicit marriage were the Nephilim - a word left unexplained in the structure. These subjects we must now consider, and the following sequence seems to be the most helpful.
Our first question is, ‘has there been a fall among the angels?’ While the word ‘angel’ is often used without qualification, there are a number of occasions where the writer says ‘the holy angels’, ‘the angels of God’, ‘the angel of the Lord’, ‘His angel’, etc., that at least make it possible that there are angels, that could not be thus indicated. We read in Matthew 25:41 of a place of punishment ‘prepared for the Devil and his angels’ and in Revelation 12:7 we read of war in heaven, Michael and his angels, fighting with the Devil and his angels, and by reason of their defeat Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven into the earth (Rev. 12:7-13). Unless, therefore we are to believe the monstrous doctrine that God actually created the Devil and his angels in their present state, there must have been a ‘fall’ among angelic beings.
Further, when the Devil and his angels
were expelled from heaven, it does not say in Revelation 12 that they
dispersed themselves throughout the limitless spaces of the universe,
it tells us that Satan at least ‘came down’ to the inhabiters of the earth,
‘having great wrath’. It is not only a fact that angels fell, but it seems
fairly certain that fallen angels find an abode in the earth among the
sons of men. The book of the Revelation deals with the Day of the Lord
and the time of the end, and like the passage in Ephesians 2:1-3, it shows
that Satan, though fallen, was not bound. With this knowledge we approach
two other passages of Scripture which speak of a fall among the angels,
which, by reason of the context, compel us to fix upon Genesis 6 as the
date and occasion of their fall. The two passages are here set out side
by side that they may be the better compared:
Let us note in some measure of detail the extraordinary features of these two passages. These angels ‘sinned’, they also ‘kept not their first estate but left their own habitation’. The reader is aware that the basic meaning of ‘sin’ is ‘to miss the mark’ (Judges 20:16), and it is evident by the expansion given by Jude, that some of the angels appear to have ‘kept not’ and ‘left’ the position allotted to them by God and to have transgressed bounds which He, the Creator, had set. The word translated ‘to keep’ in Jude 6 is tereo. It is employed by Paul when he speaks of keeping one’s virginity (1 Cor. 7:37), keeping one’s self pure (1 Tim. 5:22), being preserved blameless (1 Thess. 5:23). Jude uses the word five times, as follows, ‘preserved in Jesus Christ’, ‘the angels which kept not’, ‘He hath reserved in everlasting chains’, ‘to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness’ and ‘keep yourselves in the love of God’.
The angels therefore failed to keep themselves pure, they failed to preserve their integrity, they failed to keep the trust committed to them. Jude specifies the particular failure that was their sin, thus: ‘they kept not their first estate’. Alford translates this, ‘those which kept not their own dignity’. Weymouth reads: ‘Those who did not keep the position originally assigned to them’, and Moffatt renders the passage ‘the angels who abandoned their own domain’. The word translated in these various ways is the Greek arche ‘beginning’ (John 1:1) and in the plural ‘principalities’ (Eph. 1:21).
These angels ‘left their own habitation’. There are two words that are translated ‘to leave’ in the New Testament. One aphiemi, which means ‘to send away or dismiss’, the other, various compounds of leipo, which mean lack, forsake, abandon, leave behind. The word used by Jude is apoleipo ‘to leave away from one’s self, to leave behind’. Paul uses the word of ‘the cloak’ that he had left at Troas (2 Tim. 4:13), and of Trophimus, who had been left at Miletum, sick (2 Tim. 4:20). The word translated ‘habitation’ is oiketerion, a derivative of oikos ‘a house’ or ‘a home’, and occurs in 2 Corinthians 5:2 where it refers to the resurrection body:
The apostle contrasts ‘the earthly house of this tabernacle’ with ‘the house which is in heaven’, and earnestly desired the exchange. The angels that sinned left their ‘own body’, and the apostle speaking of the resurrection says ‘to every seed its own body’ (1 Cor. 15:38). Before the seed is sown it is likened to ‘bare’ grain, gymnos ‘naked’ (1 Cor. 15:37); before the oiketerion is entered, the believer is looked upon as unclothed or ‘naked’ (2 Cor. 5:3) and these, apart from Hebrews 4:13, are the only occurrences of gymnos in Paul’s epistles. The angels, therefore, when they left their ‘own’ (idios) body, the one that was ‘proper’ (1 Cor. 7:7), ‘private’ (2 Pet. 1:20), they descended to an ‘unclothed’ condition, or were ‘naked’.
The reader will now appreciate something of what is intended in Genesis 3:1 where we read, ‘Now the serpent was more subtil’ remembering that the word translated ‘subtil’ is the Hebrew arum, and the word translated ‘naked’ of our unclothed parents is the Hebrew word arom, both words being derived from the same root. It would appear from the use made of such words as ‘naked grain’, ‘not being found naked’ and the conception of the resurrection as a condition that can be described as ‘clothed upon’, that man at his creation must be thought of likewise as ‘naked grain’, and that he would have continued as such without shame, until the transformation took place, equivalent to resurrection, when being glorified and given his destined place above the angels, he would then be clothed upon.
The coming in of sin and death however exposed man to the attack of the enemy, and so the Lord ‘clothed’ our first parents with coats of skin, symbols of the redemptive covering made by Christ until resurrection is attained. All mankind from Adam to the end of the race are conceived of as being ‘naked’, all need the covering provided by redeeming love, and all who attain unto the resurrection of life and righteousness will at last find themselves fully clothed.
The fact that oiketerion is used to speak of the resurrection body of the believer and of that which the angels sinfully left, raises a question. In what way can we speak of the ‘body’ of an angel? We must remember that the apostle declares that ‘flesh and blood’ cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and that consequently at the resurrection we shall all be changed. We shall not, however, exchange a body to become pure spirit, we shall exchange the body of our humiliation, for a body like unto the Lord’s body of glory:
At this, the apostle paused, realizing apparently the need for explanation, so he adds ‘there is (such a thing as) a natural body, and there is (such a thing as) a spiritual body’. ‘A creature without any bodily form is wholly inconceivable, since that which is created, can only work and subsist within the limits of time and space, and since it is corporeality alone that confines the creature to time and space. God alone is infinite, an absolute Spirit. He alone exists above and beyond time and space’ (Kurtz). ‘Only combining itself with matter, can mind bring itself into alliance with the various properties of the external world: only thus can it find and be found, be known or employed, be detained or set at large ... an unembodied spirit, or sheer mind is NOWHERE’ (Fleming). ‘We might as well say of a pure spirit, that it is hard, heavy, or red, or that it is a cubic foot in dimensions, as say that it is here or there, and that it has come and it is gone’ (Taylor).
Amongst the ‘Fathers’ who ascribed corporeality to angels, are Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Caesarius and Tertullian. Now if it is possible for those whose bodies are at present flesh and blood to be translated to a plane ‘like unto the angels’, then it seems equally possible for angels to descend into the lower plane and possess bodies like unto men. When we read of the visit of the angels in Genesis 18, they are described as ‘men’, whose ‘feet’ could be washed, and who could partake of a meal composed of ‘butter, milk, cakes made on the hearth and a young calf’ (Gen. 18:1-8). Two of these ‘men’ turned their faces towards Sodom, and are called ‘two angels’ in Genesis 19. Abraham, according to Hebrews 13:2, entertained angels unawares. There is no indication of make-believe about the record, and this and other appearances of angels in both the Old and the New Testament confirm the fact that they have bodies, but bodies which in their ordinary sphere are invisible to the eye of man, but which can become visible when occasion so demands.
We have therefore arrived at the following conclusion. Angels have sinned. The sin of the angels associated with Noah and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha is partly to do with the forsaking of their own proper sphere, and of leaving the body natural to their state, and of descending to the human plane, with bodies to all appearance at least like those of mankind. The fact that Peter connects the sin of these angels with the flood, God ‘spared not’ the angels, He ‘spared not’ the old world, establishes one link with Genesis 6. The sons of God who saw the daughters of men could have been angels. The items numbered 3 to 5 on page 74 are treated under the headings GIANTS and NEPHILIM which should be consulted. For another aspect of this teaching, see IN ADAM.