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.
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.
- Alter, The Five Books of Moses, 38–39.
- See, for example, Law, When God Spoke Greek.
- 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.
- Ibid., 4, 11.