The Imprisoned Angels

The Imprisoned Angels

(1 Enoch 10)

By Philip Esler and Angus Pryor

The earth’s cry of distress, the subject of Painting 4, The Earth Cries Out (1 Enoch 7:6), reached the gates of heaven, where Michael, Sariel, Raphael and Gabriel, heard it and also the souls of human beings raising their petition:

Bring in our judgment to the Most High, and our destruction before the glory of the majesty, before the Lord of all lords in majesty (9:3).

These four archangels responded by reminding God of what was happening on earth, caused by the Watchers taking human wives who produced Giants who ravaged the earth and by the revelation of secret knowledge by Shemihazah and Asael that caused iniquity everywhere (9:4-10). At the end of their address they actually complain that, although God knows all of this, he has not given them instructions to do something about it (9:11)! Perhaps stung by this rebuke, God issues instructions in turn to each of the four archangels: he sends Sariel to Noah with instructions on preparing for the coming flood (10:1-3); he orders Raphael to deal with Asael, with a subsidiary injunction to heal the earth (10:4-8); he directs Gabriel to kill the sons of the Watchers, presumably meaning the Giants (10:9-10); he tells Michael what to do in relation to binding Shemihazah and the other Watchers, as well as killing the Giants (10:11-15); and, finally, he gives Michael another commission, that of renovating the earth (10:16-22).

The dramatic date for this narrative is shortly before the events of the flood and its aftermath (Genesis 6-9). In the biblical chronology, the survival of Noah and his family would lead to another period of human history, in which wickedness would again become rampant and which would end with the Last Judgment when God will finally deal with evil.59 This broad timetable of salvation, to which the author(s) of 1 Enoch fully subscribed, determined the punishment God prescribed for the rebellious Watchers, who were immortal, since it meant providing for the two relevant periods, between the flood and the Last Judgment and then from the Last Judgment onwards. The means chosen by God was to constrain them under the earth until the Judgment and then to consign them to the eternal fire of punishment.

Asael is singled out for special treatment. Although he shared in the Watchers’ common enterprise of descending to earth to take human wives, which led to the birth of giants who ravaged the earth, he compounded his sin by teaching humanity forbidden technology, which comprised ‘eternal mysteries that are in heaven’ (9:5) (see Painting no. 3, ‘Asael Teaching Metalwork (1 Enoch 8:1’). Raphael was instructed to bind him, cast him into darkness and put him under60 sharp rocks in the wilderness of Dudael until the final judgment when he would be led away to the burning conflagration. Just as the Enochic scribes had inherited astronomical law from Babylonia gained during the period of Israel’s exile there in the sixth century BCE, the details of Asael’s punishment may ultimately derive from punishment prescribed for witches in Babylon.61 Immediately after these instructions concerning Asael, God instructed Raphael to ‘heal the earth, which the Watchers have devastated’, an instruction without particulars yet given in such close proximity to the detailed punishment of Asael as to raise the question of whether the two events are to be seen as connected.62 As for Shemihazah and the other Watchers, God tells Michael that when they have seen their sons perish, he is to bind them in the valleys of the earth, until the day of judgment when they will be led away to the fiery abyss, to imprisonment and eternal torture.

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Of the two descriptions of the punishment of the Watchers in the text (10:4-8 and 10:11-13), the artist has chosen in his painting to focus on the former, when Raphael, having bound Asael hand and foot and cast him into the darkness—meaning (in the artist’s conception) blind-folding him—carves an opening in the desert in Dudael and throws him there, covering him with sharp stones. Within the painting we see Asael still in the form of a golden angel, no longer beautiful but not quite human. He still has his angel’s wings but his facial expression shows that he has lost God as his saviour and has forfeited his angelic rights as he is made to suffer in a penal manner. His liberty and position must be sacrificed as punishment. The desert here is a ring made of sand and we see that snakes are beginning to enter the ring to encircle Asael. On the dark sand beetles, cockroaches and a giant scorpion begin to gather as if a plague is upon him.  

Asael is beginning to sink into the rough and jagged rocks of Dudael; terror is all around him. Within moments he will be engulfed in darkness and no light will be able to enter. He will remain there till judgment day, when he will be cast into the fire to help in healing the earth. The theme of these rocks is echoed throughout the series as a vision of what is to come. The pain and suffering are apparent in the red rocks that symbolise earth and the destruction of humanity, because Asael taught them secrets from heaven. The ecological dimension asserts itself, as the devastated earth—its hilly peaks like an agonised mouth—cries out (the subject of a later painting in the series), with the punishment of Asael functioning to aid its regeneration. 

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The two Nagars bear witness, so that all generations will know what happened here. The two angelic birds are Watchers who remained loyal to God, overseeing the event in order to report to God that his instructions have been successfully carried out. Flies buzz around Asael’s head as if he has become infected by what he taught human beings. The red glass jewels represent payment in rubies like a dirty manna from heaven—as if he was receiving ironical payment for his actions. They also represent the blood of humanity, forever soaked in the earth as a reminder of his sins against God. This depiction is a brutal reminder that everyone (even the Watchers) can be punished by God for their sins. This scene will float eternally through the universe within a celestial bubble until the End Time.

The artist has used a human impression to depict Asael as not-quite-human, not-quite-angel. The Rocks are real and represent the brutality of our servitude. The colours act out the pathos of the situation, what one has given up for a lustful act—an act against God. The Ethiopian cross bears witness to the event, so that this story is not lost to the world but can be reclaimed by scholars years later.

Who were the spirits in prison?

The “spirits in prison” are mentioned in the broader context of suffering righteously. First Peter 3:18–20 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark” (NASB95). Some people use this passage to infer what Jesus did during the time that His body was in the grave. As background, please read our article on “Where was Jesus for the three days between His death and resurrection?”

We know three things for sure about the spirits mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19. They are incorporeal, they are imprisoned, and their sin was committed before the Flood. Their relation to Jesus and the nature of His announcement to them are open to speculation. Who exactly these spirits are has been the subject of some debate through the years. Here are two theories:

1) The spirits in prison are fallen angels or demons. The spirits in prison cannot be holy angels because the holy angels have not sinned and are not imprisoned. And not all the fallen angels are imprisoned, of course, for the New Testament gives many examples of demonic activity on earth. That leaves a select group of demons who, unlike the their fellow demons, are held captive.

What might be a reason for some, but not all, of the demons to be imprisoned? Jude 1:6 gives us an important clue: “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” Some fallen angels committed an egregious crime of some kind; Jude 1:6 does not give details, but the demons’ sin was related to how they “did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling.” Revelation 9:1–1214–15, and 2 Peter 2:4 also speak of a group of wicked angels that are currently bound.

If the spirits in prison are fallen angels, the sin they committed could be the one in Genesis 6:1–4, which records the “sons of God” mating with the “daughters of men” and producing a race of giants, the Nephilim. If the “sons of God” were fallen angels, then the sin of Genesis 6 involved angels leaving the place where they belonged in an act of disobedience before the Flood—and that corresponds to what the apostle mentions in 1 Peter 3:19. It could be that the demons who cohabited with human women were imprisoned by God to prevent them from repeating that sin and to discourage other demons from trying it.

According to 1 Peter 3:19, Jesus “made proclamation” to these spirits in prison. The Greek word translated “proclaimed” or “preached” means “to publicly declare” or “to herald.” If the spirits are demons, then Peter says that Jesus went to the Abyss and proclaimed His victory to the fallen angels imprisoned there. They had lost, and He had won. The cross triumphs over all evil (see Colossians 2:15).

2) The spirits in prison are the human spirits of those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day. As for Christ preaching to them, there are three possible interpretations: a) Christ preached to them figuratively, in and through Noah, while they were in the flesh; b) Christ preached to them literally, being present with Noah through the Holy Spirit who inspired Noah to proclaim the message of coming judgment; and c) Christ preached to them literally in between His death and resurrection. According to each of these interpretations, the spirits are called such because they existed in a spiritual condition when Peter wrote; they were no longer in the flesh but lived in Hades/hell.

Are the demons the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim?

As a background, please read our articles on “Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?”, and “Who were the Nephilim?” With the understanding that the sons of God were the fallen angels, and that the Nephilim were the hybrid offspring of the union between the fallen angels and human women, the question then arises: What happened to the spirits of the Nephilim after they were killed, whether by the flood, or in the case of the possible post-flood Nephilim (Genesis 6:4Numbers 13:33), after the flood?

Some speculate that the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim remained on the earth and became what we now refer to as demons. The presumption is that, as angelic-human hybrids, the spirits of the Nephilim would have been different from the human soul-spirit, having the ability to remain present in this world despite no longer having a physical body. This would possibly explain the desire the demons have to possess human beings, thus gaining control over a physical body. This would also make some sense from the perspective of the fallen angels, who are outnumbered 2-1 by the holy angels (see Revelation 12:4), giving them a good reason to seek to increase their ranks.

The Nephilim explanation for the origin of the demons is partly the result of a misunderstanding of who exactly are the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19 (see also Jude 6). Many misunderstand the “spirits in prison” to be all of the fallen angels who rebelled against God. If all of the fallen angels are imprisoned, then there must be an alternate explanation for the existence of demons; thus, the need for the Nephilim explanation. However, clearly, not all of the fallen angels are imprisoned. Satan, the leader of the angelic rebellion against God, is not imprisoned. Why would God allow the rebel leader to remain free but then confine the angels who followed Satan in the rebellion? No, it makes more sense to understand the “spirits in prison” as the fallen angels who participated in an additional rebellion, viz., the sons-of-God/daughters–of-men incident. The fallen angels who mated with human females are the ones who are imprisoned. There is no solid biblical reason to reject the idea that the demons are the same beings as the fallen angels.

The idea that the demons are the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim is also drawn from the book of Enoch, which goes into great detail regarding the Nephilim. We have to remember that, while the book of Enoch contains some truth (Jude 14), it is not the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God. We should never base a belief exclusively, or even primarily, on extra-biblical literature. So, with no need to explain the existence of demons outside of the fallen angels, and with no clear evidence in Scripture for the spirits of the Nephilim continuing on Earth, there is no solid basis on which to identify the demons with the spirits of the Nephilim. While the idea is possible, it cannot be derived explicitly from Scripture, and therefore should not be considered the best explanation of the origin of the demons.

Who / what were the Nephilim?

The Nephilim (“fallen ones, giants”) were the offspring of sexual relationships between the sons of God and daughters of men in Genesis 6:1–4. There is much debate as to the identity of the “sons of God.” It is our opinion that the “sons of God” were fallen angels (demons) who mated with human females or possessed human males who then mated with human females. These unions resulted in offspring, the Nephilim, who were “heroes of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4). For a discussion of the various interpretations, please read our article on identity of the sons of God and daughters of men.

Why would the demons do such a thing? The Bible does not specifically give us the answer. Demons are evil, twisted beings—so nothing they do should surprise us. As to a distinct motivation, one speculation is that the demons were attempting to pollute the human bloodline in order to prevent the coming of the Messiah. God had promised that the Messiah would one day crush the head of the serpent, Satan (Genesis 3:15). The demons in Genesis 6 were possibly attempting to prevent the crushing of the serpent and make it impossible for a sinless “seed of the woman” to be born. Again, this is not a specifically biblical answer, but it is biblically plausible.

What were the Nephilim? According to Hebraic and other legends (the Book of Enoch and other non-biblical writings), they were a race of giants and super-heroes who did acts of great evil. Their great size and power likely came from the mixture of demonic “DNA” with human genetics. According to the movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe (reviewed by us here), the Nephilim were fallen angels encased in rock. All that the Bible directly says about them is that they were “heroes of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4). The Nephilim were not aliens, angels, “Watchers,” or rock monsters; they were literal, physical beings produced from the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1–4).

What happened to the Nephilim? The Nephilim were one of the primary reasons for the great flood in Noah’s time. Immediately after the mention of Nephilim, God’s Word says, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them’” (Genesis 6:5–7). God proceeded to flood the entire earth, killing everyone and everything other than Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. All else perished, including the Nephilim (Genesis 6:11–22).

Were there Nephilim after the flood? Genesis 6:4 tells us, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward.” It seems that the demons repeated their sin sometime after the flood as well. However, it likely took place to a much lesser extent than it did prior to the flood. When the Israelites spied out the land of Canaan, they reported back to Moses: “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33). This passage does not say the Nephilim were genuinely there, only that the spies thought they saw the Nephilim. It is more likely that the spies witnessed very large people in Canaan and in their fear believed them to be the Nephilim. Or it is possible that after the flood the demons again mated with human females, producing more Nephilim. It is even possible that some traits of the Nephilim were passed on through the heredity of one of Noah’s daughters-in-law. Whatever the case, these “giants” were destroyed by the Israelites during their invasion of Canaan (Joshua 11:21–22) and later in their history (Deuteronomy 3:111 Samuel 17).

What prevents the demons from producing more Nephilim today? It seems that God put an end to demons mating with humans by placing all the demons who committed such an act in isolation. Jude verse 6 tells us, “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” Obviously, not all demons are in “prison” today, so there must have been a group of demons who committed further grievous sin beyond the original fall. Presumably, the demons who mated with human females are the ones who are “bound with everlasting chains.” This would prevent any more demons from attempting such sin.

Are the Anunnaki in the Epic of Gilgamesh the Nephilim mentioned in the Bible?

Ancient Sumer-Babylon, like many cultures of antiquity, produced mythologies to explain the world around them. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one such mythology. Several versions of the epic poem exist, but the 12-tablet Akkadian version is the best known. The story centers on the friendship between the principal character, Gilgamesh, and Enkidu. Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, is two-thirds god and one-third man. He has oppressed the people of Uruk, so the gods create Enkidu to distract Gilgamesh. Their unlikely friendship results in a journey of fantastical adventures resulting in the death of Enkidu.

An important feature of this epic is a “flood” story in which a character named Utnapishtim and his wife survive a great flood and obtain immortality. The existence of this flood story, with its many similarities to the Genesis account, indicates a common source. Rather than the Genesis flood account being copied from the Epic of Gilgamesh, both accounts are entirely separate records of something that actually occurred, namely, a global flood.

The gods who appear in the Epic of Gilgamesh are the Anunnaki, a name that probably means “those of royal blood” or “princely offspring” in the ancient Sumerian language. In contrast to this pagan mythology is the biblical account of the Nephilim. Who were the Nephilim? Biblically speaking, the Nephilim were the descendants of the sons of God and daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4). While there are differing interpretations of this passage, GotQuestions.org believes it involves the fallen angels (sons of God) taking on human form and mating with the daughters of men (human females), thereby producing a race of angelic-human half-breeds.

Is there a connection between the Anunnaki and the Nephilim? Perhaps. It is definitely interesting to note that both the biblical flood account and the Epic of Gilgamesh mention supernatural, god-like beings interacting with humanity in connection with a global flood. So, it is possible that the myths regarding the Anunnaki originate in the reality that was the Nephilim.

Are there descendants of the Nephilim in the world today?

There is much mystery surrounding the Nephilim. Most of the information about them comes from Genesis 6:4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Almost everything about this verse is difficult to understand. Is Nephilim a specific technical term, or does it mean what the word means? And what the word means is uncertain. It seems to have something to do with falling—possibly “fallen ones” or “ones who cause others to fall.” Also, who are the “sons of God”? Are they human or some kind of angelic beings? If the sons of God are angelic, then is the angelic/human cross what accounts for the greatness of the Nephilim?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, we would assume that all of the Nephilim alive at the time of Noah perished in the flood. However, Genesis 6:4 also seems to indicate that the Nephilim reappeared after the flood: they were “on the earth in those days—and also afterward”—that is, after the flood.

In Moses’ day, the spies brought back a report about the Promised Land. All the spies agreed that the land was good with bounty to offer; however, ten of the spies also were fearful that Israel could not take the land because of the people living in it: “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32–33). Here the Nephilim are described as the descendants of Anak and are associated with men of great size. This is similar to Genesis 6:4 where they are associated with “heroes of old, men of renown.” In each case, they would seem to be formidable opponents, especially in the kind of hand-to-hand combat that would have been involved in taking the Promised Land.

The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) translated Nephilim with the Greek word for “giants.” This is not a direct translation of the word but an attempt to communicate the idea of what the Nephilim were. We do know that giants are found in the Old Testament several times, especially in conjunction with the Philistines—Goliath being the most prominent. These were not human-angel hybrids, but very large men (see Deuteronomy 3:11).

It is quite possible that Nephilim simply became a semi-technical term for “giant warrior.” It may have had some nebulous overtones of mystery as well. It might be similar to the modern term monster. That word can be used to refer to size, as in monster truck or monster candy bar. It can also have dark overtones. When someone is described as a monster, it can refer to an evil character. And finally, a monster might be some kind of supernatural creature or even something of a hybrid like a vampire, a werewolf or Frankenstein’s monster. With our limited knowledge of the word Nephilim, it appears the Nephilim were gigantic, mysterious warriors of uncertain DNA (to use a modern term). To the people who observed them, they seemed to be unnatural. Even today we have “giants” among us—the average NBA or NFL player is freakishly gigantic compared to most of us. This does not mean there is a race of human/angel hybrids who are secretly in our midst.

It seems that the Nephilim, at least in the time of Moses and Joshua, were simply descendants of Anak who were extremely large and fearsome. If so, then it is possible that there are descendants of them today, just as today there could be distant descendants of Moabites, Amalekites, Hittites, and Babylonians.

Who were the Rephaim?

There are several passages in the Old Testament that speak of the Rephaim (or Rephaites), and the context describes them as giants. The name of these people literally means “terrible ones.”

The Hebrew word Rephaim has two distinct meanings: first, in poetic literature it refers to departed spirits whose dwelling place was Sheol. It is a figurative description of the dead, similar to our concept of a ghost. The second meaning of Rephaim is “a mighty people with tall stature who lived in Canaan.” The word doesn’t seem to be ethno-centric like “Jew” or “Egyptian” but is more of a descriptive term. This second meaning will be the focus of this article.

The first reference to the Rephaim is Genesis 14:5, when the Rephaim, Zuzim and Emim people were defeated in a battle with Kedorlaomer and his allies. When the Israelites first approached the Promised Land after the Exodus from Egypt, they were afraid to enter the land because it was filled with “giants” (the word used in Numbers 13:33 is Nephilim), the sons of Anak. Giants were widely scattered through Canaan, but were known by different local names, including Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, and Anakim. Deuteronomy 2:20–21 says the Rephaim were strong and tall, like the Anakites. Og, king of Bashan, was described as the last of the Rephaim in his land (Deuteronomy 3:11), and his bed was thirteen feet long and six feet wide.

Is it possible that the Rephaim were literal giants? The Septuagint uses the Greek words gigas and titanes (the source of the English titan) to translate these and other verses, so the ancient Jews certainly considered them to be giants. They are described generally as being between 7 and 10 feet tall and are called “mighty men.” The Egyptians wrote about giants who lived in the land of Canaan, and the folklore of other nations is full of such references. The people of the ancient world accepted the presence of giants as a fact of history, and the Bible presents them as enemies who were destroyed either by the judgment of God or in battle with men.

So where did these giants come from? One theory, based on Genesis 6:1–4, is that fallen angels (the sons of God) had sexual relations with women, resulting in the birth of giants. This is remarkably similar to Greek and Roman myths about demi-gods, but the theory has some theological and biological obstacles. Another theory, also based on Genesis 6, is that the fallen angels, having knowledge of human genetics, indwelt certain men and women who would have the right traits to produce a race of giants and induced them to cohabit with each other. A third theory is that the giants were simply the result of normal genetic variability within a society. Whatever the origin of the Rephaim, it is certain that a race of “giants”—strong, tall people—did exist at one time, and many cultures had dealings with them. Even today, there are people who grow to extreme sizes, whether through genetic disorders like gigantism or through normal heredity.

Who were the Anakim / Anakites?

he Anakim/Anakites were a formidable race of giant, warlike people (Deuteronomy 2:10219:2) who occupied the lands of southern Israel near Hebron before the arrival of the Israelites (Joshua 15:13). The Anakim’s ancestry has been traced back to Anak, the son of Arba (Joshua 15:1321:11), who at that time was regarded as the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Joshua 14:15).

The name “Anakim” most likely means “long-necked,” i.e., “tall.” The Hebrews thought them to be descendants of the Nephilim, a powerful race who dominated the pre-Flood world (Genesis 6:4Numbers 13:33). When the twelve Israelite spies returned from exploring the Promised Land, they gave a frightening report of “people great and tall” whom they identified as the sons of Anak (Deuteronomy 9:2). The Israelites, seized with fear and believing themselves to be mere “grasshoppers . . . in their sight” (Numbers 13:33), rebelled against God (Deuteronomy 1:26-28) and refused to enter the land God had promised them.

The Israelites were exhorted by Moses (Deuteronomy 1:19) not to fear the Anakim, but they refused to trust God’s promises (Deuteronomy 1:32-33). As a result, God became angry (Deuteronomy 1:34-39) and prohibited the “evil generation” from entering the Promised Land; Joshua and Caleb were the only exceptions (Deuteronomy 1:35-36). Because of their fear of the Anakim and their rebellion against God, the children of Israel were forced to wander for another 38 years in the wilderness.

During the conquest of Canaan, Joshua expelled the Anakim from the hill country, and Caleb finally drove them out of Hebron completely. However, a small remnant found refuge in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22). Many Bible scholars speculate that the Anakim’s descendants were the Philistine giants David encountered (2 Samuel 21:15-22), including Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17:4-7).

Who were the sons of God and daughters of men in Genesis 6:1-4?

Genesis 6:1-4 refers to the sons of God and the daughters of men. There have been several suggestions as to who the sons of God were and why the children they had with daughters of men grew into a race of giants (that is what the word Nephilim seems to indicate).

The three primary views on the identity of the sons of God are 1) they were fallen angels, 2) they were powerful human rulers, or 3) they were godly descendants of Seth intermarrying with wicked descendants of Cain. Giving weight to the first theory is the fact that in the Old Testament the phrase “sons of God” always refers to angels (Job 1:62:138:7). A potential problem with this is in Matthew 22:30, which indicates that angels do not marry. The Bible gives us no reason to believe that angels have a gender or are able to reproduce. The other two views do not present this problem.

The weakness of views 2) and 3) is that ordinary human males marrying ordinary human females does not account for why the offspring were “giants” or “heroes of old, men of renown.” Further, why would God decide to bring the flood on the earth (Genesis 6:5-7) when God had never forbidden powerful human males or descendants of Seth to marry ordinary human females or descendants of Cain? The oncoming judgment of Genesis 6:5-7 is linked to what took place in Genesis 6:1-4. Only the obscene, perverse marriage of fallen angels with human females would seem to justify such a harsh judgment.

As previously noted, the weakness of the first view is that Matthew 22:30 declares, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” However, the text does not say “angels are not able to marry.” Rather, it indicates only that angels do not marry. Second, Matthew 22:30 is referring to the “angels in heaven.” It is not referring to fallen angels, who do not care about God’s created order and actively seek ways to disrupt God’s plan. The fact that God’s holy angels do not marry or engage in sexual relations does not mean the same is true of Satan and his demons.

View 1) is the most likely position. Yes, it is an interesting “contradiction” to say that angels are sexless and then to say that the “sons of God” were fallen angels who procreated with human females. However, while angels are spiritual beings (Hebrews 1:14), they can appear in human, physical form (Mark 16:5). The men of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to have sex with the two angels who were with Lot (Genesis 19:1-5). It is plausible that angels are capable of taking on human form, even to the point of replicating human sexuality and possibly even reproduction. Why do the fallen angels not do this more often? It seems that God imprisoned the fallen angels who committed this evil sin, so that the other fallen angels would not do the same (as described in Jude 6). Earlier Hebrew interpreters and apocryphal and pseudopigraphal writings are unanimous in holding to the view that fallen angels are the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. This by no means closes the debate. However, the view that Genesis 6:1-4 involves fallen angels mating with human females has a strong contextual, grammatical, and historical basis.

Who were the spirits in prison?

The “spirits in prison” are mentioned in the broader context of suffering righteously. First Peter 3:18–20 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark” (NASB95). Some people use this passage to infer what Jesus did during the time that His body was in the grave. As background, please read our article on “Where was Jesus for the three days between His death and resurrection?”

We know three things for sure about the spirits mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19. They are incorporeal, they are imprisoned, and their sin was committed before the Flood. Their relation to Jesus and the nature of His announcement to them are open to speculation. Who exactly these spirits are has been the subject of some debate through the years. Here are two theories:

1) The spirits in prison are fallen angels or demons. The spirits in prison cannot be holy angels because the holy angels have not sinned and are not imprisoned. And not all the fallen angels are imprisoned, of course, for the New Testament gives many examples of demonic activity on earth. That leaves a select group of demons who, unlike the their fellow demons, are held captive.

What might be a reason for some, but not all, of the demons to be imprisoned? Jude 1:6 gives us an important clue: “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” Some fallen angels committed an egregious crime of some kind; Jude 1:6 does not give details, but the demons’ sin was related to how they “did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling.” Revelation 9:1–1214–15, and 2 Peter 2:4 also speak of a group of wicked angels that are currently bound.

If the spirits in prison are fallen angels, the sin they committed could be the one in Genesis 6:1–4, which records the “sons of God” mating with the “daughters of men” and producing a race of giants, the Nephilim. If the “sons of God” were fallen angels, then the sin of Genesis 6 involved angels leaving the place where they belonged in an act of disobedience before the Flood—and that corresponds to what the apostle mentions in 1 Peter 3:19. It could be that the demons who cohabited with human women were imprisoned by God to prevent them from repeating that sin and to discourage other demons from trying it.

According to 1 Peter 3:19, Jesus “made proclamation” to these spirits in prison. The Greek word translated “proclaimed” or “preached” means “to publicly declare” or “to herald.” If the spirits are demons, then Peter says that Jesus went to the Abyss and proclaimed His victory to the fallen angels imprisoned there. They had lost, and He had won. The cross triumphs over all evil (see Colossians 2:15).

2) The spirits in prison are the human spirits of those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day. As for Christ preaching to them, there are three possible interpretations: a) Christ preached to them figuratively, in and through Noah, while they were in the flesh; b) Christ preached to them literally, being present with Noah through the Holy Spirit who inspired Noah to proclaim the message of coming judgment; and c) Christ preached to them literally in between His death and resurrection. According to each of these interpretations, the spirits are called such because they existed in a spiritual condition when Peter wrote; they were no longer in the flesh but lived in Hades/hell.

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