Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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Fallen, sinning, incarcerated angels

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5 minutes to read A further exchange with Steve Hays in which I defend the Enochian interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4, Jude 6–7 and 2 Peter 2:4–10.

I wasn’t going to blog on this again because I don’t think it’s all that theologically useful or important. But when I tried to comment on Steve’s latest post in our discussion, Blogger told me that my comment was too long. So I’m posting it here instead.

Steve i) There’s the circular reasoning which denies that 2 Pet 2:4 & Jude 6 can refer to the fall of angels because “there is nowhere that scripture that describes such a fall.” That preemptively discounts the possibility that 2 Peter 2:4 & Jude 6 could bear witness to an angelic fall. What if this is precisely where that’s explicitly referred to? How does the alleged absence of that motif elsewhere in Scripture preclude 2 Peter and Jude from describing the very event in question?

ii) Indeed, Bnonn’s objection is self-defeating. For we could just as well discount his appeal to Gen 6:1–4 by saying that can’t describe an angelic fall inasmuch as there is nowhere in scripture which describes such a fall.


I do, of course, think that Peter and Jude are referring to angelic sin. That much is obvious. Referring to it as an angelic fall seems to bring far more theological baggage to the text than is warranted.


Either way, my comment should obviously be taken to read that there’s nowhere else that Scripture describes such a fall on your view. The point being that writers don’t usually introduce new material without explaining it. Since Peter and Jude don’t trouble themselves to explain their references—as evidenced by the puzzlement most Christians evince over these passages—they are evidently making a high-context allusion. The question is, to what? And the first place to look is for prior scriptural accounts. But the only plausible candidate is Genesis 6:1–4.


For the record, I don’t think Peter or Jude are alluding to 1 Enoch 6–7. I think they are alluding to Genesis 6:1–4—but they are doing so in a cultural context which understood that passage as referring to an angelic fall. 1 Enoch 6–7 is, in some respects, incidental to that. It’s a bit (a bit) like me making an allusion to Bruce Wayne. Even if the source I happen to have in mind is the Batman animated series—which as far as I know is not canonical, though it should be—that’s incidental to the fact that we all know Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Steve By contrast, extrabiblical Judaism doesn’t regard Gen 3 as narrating the fall of man. Likewise, extrabiblical Judaism doesn’t identify Satan as the Tempter in Gen 3. Hence, extrabiblical Judaism was free to date the angelic fall to the eve of the Flood. That, however, would introduces an intolerable anachronism into Biblical theology. The angelic fall is too late on Enochic interpretation of Gen 6 to supply a fallen angelic Tempter for Gen 3. It skews the chronological origin of sin.


I take a fall, theologically, to be an initial sin from a sinless state. It’s an unrepeatable event since you can only be sinless once. However, things are complicated with respect to angelic beings because (to our knowledge) they are not federally represented by their leader(s). If one falls, others don’t necessarily fall with him. So plausibly, individual angels may fall at different times. For example, it is in principle possible that some angels were on the fence in Genesis 3, but then fell in Genesis 6.


That said, I doubt Satan was alone when he rebelled. He probably had a posse. I’m just staking out some possibilities.


I think, of the sons of God who were going to go bad, they probably all went bad between Genesis 2 and 3. Reading between the lines, the angelic fall occurred when some of the sons of God, incited by Satan, got their noses bent out of shape that a lower being (Adam) was given dominion over the earth rather than being put under their authority.


Needless to say, this doesn’t preclude their continuing to sin, or exacerbating their sin, by cohabiting with human women. Supposing Jude and Peter take the Enochian view of Genesis 6, neither of them link that to a “fall” in the theological sense. That’s not a biblical gloss.

Steve To my knowledge, the purpose of incarceration in the ancient world is often not punitive, but to temporarily detain the accused until trial. Take Paul’s house-arrest in Acts. He clearly retains considerable freedom of action.

In terms of what the figurative imagery signifies, I think that means, not that fallen angels can’t “roam free,” but that they have been prejudged. Summary judgment. They are still bound to face the Final Judgment. Their ultimate condemnation and punishment is a foregone conclusion. There’s no escaping that.


Paul’s situation in Acts 28 seems unusual for a prisoner. Compare Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12. The normal mode of incarceration—as today—was not at home, but in a prison. It is special pleading to interpret a passage about incarceration with reference to extraordinary, rather than ordinary, forms of such.


Apropos (8), your interpretation simply ignores the meaning of the words that Peter and Jude use. If we were to take their language and ask which kind of imprisonment it seems to represent—Acts 12 or Acts 28—which would it be? The angels in 2 Peter and Jude have been “cast into” Tartarus (“held captive” as the NET puts it), where they are kept in eternal chains or possibly pits, under utter darkness and gloom. This is dungeon language. Tartarus in Greek mythology was a subterranean dungeon of torment lower than Hades, where divine punishment was meted out—a belief which largely extended to Israelite apocalyptic theology too. Now, even if we think it is not literally under the earth, and even if we think it is a holding cell rather than a place of punishment, clearly it is a dungeon. It is separated from the world of man. Reinterpreting Peter and Jude to be making a metaphorical comment that God “has the demons’ number” simply doesn’t take the text seriously. It defies the meaning of the words they use to argue that these beings are afforded considerable freedom, given that the precise point of the phraseology is that they have no freedom. They are, in fact, in prison. Whatever that means for a spiritual being, it can’t be so loosely understood as to mean the opposite.

Steve According to the available evidence, the Enochic interpretation only emerged in the 2C BC. So, yes, that’s a late Jewish innovation. You can postulate that it extends further back in time, but that goes beyond the available evidence.


Postulating that the Enochian interpretation goes back further than the second century BC is speculative. But so is postulating otherwise. So calling it a late Jewish innovation begs the question. My point was simply that this is the earliest interpretation we have. Compared to the other evidence in its favor, I don’t think this pedigree counts for much. But it is nonetheless a factor to consider.

Steve Finally, his reference to Dante appears to be misplaced.


I misspoke. Milton it is.

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Jude mentions Enoch. So other comments in Jude could at least possibly be related to Enoch.

If we have the Angelic Fall antedating man’s Fall, could not some of these angels subsequently misbehave to create the Nephilim? I take it that Genesis 6 was not universal to fallen angels and thus casting to Tartarus could easily involve the subset who were particularly rebellious in cohabitating with humans.

Thus the Flood in part destroys the Nephilim and the angels are bound till the end of the age.

I am not certain that the incarceration discussion is relevant. Men are held so their innocence or guilt can be established by finite men. God is certain of the angelic guilt and they await their full punishment.