A few weeks ago I was standing in a local christian bookshop, nearby another customer was asking about a book on angels as she wanted to study the topic with a friend of hers. The saleswoman was trying to think of a new book on angels that had been published and asked me if I knew the author (I’m well-known in the shop as I studied in the Bible College attached to it). I told her the book title and author, but they didn’t have it. Anyway, that got me thinking about a question someone asked me a while ago that’s been sitting in my notes app on my phone and I thought I’d have a stab at it here for you. The question was in two parts; 1) can angels sin? and 2) if they can what’s preventing them from sinning/rebelling again?
It’s important before we dive into this topic to say that whilst we do know some information about angels and heavenly beings, we do not have all of the answers that we might want to the questions we have. But based on the information we know, I think that we can have a little grasp of the situation.
Before we can dive into the questions above, we need to do a little bit of work behind the scenes, I’d encourage you to go to the Bible references below and think about the implications of them for our understanding of angels.
What are angels?
Angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:14), they are created being (Colossians 1:15-16), they are powerful (Job 1:6, Psalm 103:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:7), they are servants of God (Psalm 103:20-21, Luke 2:19). There’s plenty more that could be said, but I think that’s enough to set us up for what we need to think about now.
Can angels sin?
Yes, angels have the ability to sin, I don’t think you can read the Bible and come away with a different conclusion. Some of the passages that would spring to mind are Ezekiel 28:12-19, where God is addressing the King of Tyre. But as you continue in the chapter it becomes obvious that there may be a double reference here, one to the King of Tyre (probably Ithobaal II) but also another reference to Satan himself. Another reference would be Revelation 12:4-9 which speaks about the dragon and his fallen angels fighting against the angels of God. Finally, 2 Peter 2:4 makes reference to God’s judgment on angels because they had sinned. There’s plenty more that could be discussed here, but I think that the Bible is clear that angels have the ability to sin.
What’s preventing the angels from sinning again?
This is where it gets a bit trickier. We know that there were angels who sinned, as we have seen, but what implications does that have for our view of angels now? Do they sin now? What about the angels who didn’t side with Satan when he fell, are they still able to sin and rebel?
If you came here for a definitive answer, I’m sorry, you won’t get one. The Bible doesn’t give us the answers to that questions and so any response to the question is speculation. So, let’s try to speculate together.
Angels are not like humans, they do not suffer from original sin. Adam was not their head representative, as he was for humanity, and so his sin did not become their sin. It could be that angels are a bit like Adam and Eve were before the Fall, where sin didn’t cross their minds, where the idea of rebelling against God wasn’t an option for them. It could be that like Adam and Eve, some angels rebelled and sinned because they were tempted by Satan to rebel, but the idea might not have crossed their mind before that moment.
It could be that angels are enjoying their life with God in heaven, worshipping Him (Revelation 5:13) and because of their satisfaction with God, and possibly because Satan is more interested in distracting humanity from Christ and the gospel, that they have no desire to sin.
There’s also another Bible reference that could support the idea that angels won’t sin and that’s 1 Timothy 5:21 which speaks of the ‘elect angels’. The elect angels, in contrast to fallen angels, remained true to God when Satan fell and their election was proved by their obedience to God, meaning that now their obedience to God is permanent.
As I say, I don’t have all the answers and it’s something I am still thinking about and there will always be questions or parts of the Bible that we will wrestle with until our dying day. But I take confidence in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God has made some thing plain and clear for us to know and understand, other things are left unexplained and unanswered and that shows us the wonderful truth that God is God and we are not. We might find out the answers in glory, but I suspect we’ll be too busy working and being amazed at the presence of Jesus.