Do Angels Sin, and Do They ‘Go to Jail’?

statue of an angel for a post answering the question "Do angels sin?"

Most Bible study resources describe fallen angels as demons who joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God. But what if I told you that the only place in the New Testament that describes angels sinning does not call them demons, has no connection to Lucifer, and has them in jail? Welcome to the world of 2 Peter and Jude.

For . . . God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. (Jude 6)

Second Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 are nearly identical in their description of angels doing time, but there are differences that help us figure out “what in the spiritual world is going on.”

Jude 6 defines what 2 Peter 2:4 means by the angelic sin. These sinning angels “left their proper dwelling.” Second Peter doesn’t say they were in cahoots with Satan, or that they did anything in Eden. It tells us they left their designated realm of existence and did something in another realm. But what did they do?

Both 2 Peter and Jude compare the sin of these angels with the Sodom and Gomorrah incident, where the sin involved sexual immorality (2 Pet 2:7; Jude 7). Second Peter also connects it to the time of Noah. There is only one sin involving a group of angelic beings in the entire Bible, and it coincides with Noah and is sexual in nature. That incident is Genesis 6:1–4, where the “sons of God” leave heaven, their normal abode, and come to earth and father children (the Nephilim giants) by human women.

Who are the “sons of God” who sinned?

Two features in these passages in 2 Peter and Jude point to Genesis 6:1–4.

First, “sons of God” is a specific phrase used elsewhere in the Old Testament of angelic beings (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psa 89:6; Deut 32:8).*

Second, both 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 explicitly tell us that these angels are imprisoned in chains of gloomy darkness—in “hell” until judgment day.

While it is true that Genesis 6:1–4 never tells us what happened to the sons of God who sinned, Jewish writings from between the Testaments do. All Jewish writings that comment on Genesis 6:1–4 agree that it was angelic beings who sinned and who were bound and thrown into the Netherworld (e.g., 1 Enoch 18:14–19:3).

Most English translations say the angels were thrown into “hell”—the most frequent translation of the Greek word “Hades.” However, 2 Peter has the angels chained in “Tartarus” (Τάρταρος). This is the name of the prison of the divine giants in the classical Greek story, Hesiod’s Theogony. Jewish writers also used this word for the dark, gloomy Netherworld.

While these passages are certainly strange, they telegraph that angelology and demonology are more complex than we might think. They are also the key to understanding Genesis 6:1–4—and the New Testament doctrine of baptism.

*The ESV and NRSV properly adopt the manuscript reading in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint.

Discover more fascinating aspects of the Bible with Dr. Heiser

Keep exploring the strange, perplexing, and mysterious aspects of the Bible with these excerpts from Dr. Michael S. Heiser’s The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Or dive deeper into the supernatural world of the Bible and pick up a copy of The Unseen Realm today.

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Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He is a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

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Written by Michael S. Heiser