Who are the angels that sinned in II Peter 2:4?

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

Question or Topic

The verse reads: "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment".


II Peter 2:4


As we consider this question, we look first at some of the meanings of the words involved.

The word angel in this passage is from the Greek aggelos {ang'-el-os}, and refers to someone who brings tidings, or a messenger, and by implication a pastor. The word "sinned" comes from hamartano {ham-ar-tan'-o} and it means to offend, trespass or miss the mark. There is nothing unusual in the use of these words. The word "hell" in this verse however, is the one word that is unusual. We will discuss this later.

Mortal Messengers

It should be obvious that the context is not talking about the immortal angels. We are aware that the errors of Christendom astray allow for immortal messengers to fall from heaven. However, we are not interested in these vain philosophies. It would be very inconsistent to suggest that the holy angels could be "reserved unto judgment", thus implying that the wonderful gift of eternal life is still subject to review.

Peter is most certainly talking about mortal men. These individuals were evidently in a position of leadership as messengers of the word. Our task will be to attempt to identify who these men were.

Sequence of Events?

One of the elements adding to the difficulty in identifying these messengers, is the manner in which Peter has sequenced his account. He places these "angels that sinned" first in his story, followed by the story of Noah and then Lot. This sequence would suggest that we place the incident into the period between the Creation and the Flood.

Further study on this matter reveals that there is a parallel account to the story. This record is in the Book of Jude, and it suggests a different sequence of events. Jude 5-7 reads:

Jude 1:5-7 (NIV)Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.And 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.In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (This quotation is from the NIV, which is easier to understand than the KJV. The KJV, or Authorized Version uses the phrase "first estate" instead of "positions of authority").

Jude then, has indicated that these "angels" were either with the people when they came out of Egypt, or that they lived after that time period. We are inclined to think that the arrangement in Jude is the most logical, and therefore we suggest that our "angels" were contemporary with Moses.

Reserved in Chains

Both Peter and Jude mention that these messengers were delivered to be reserved in chains and in darkness for judgment. The word "chains" is from seira {si-rah'} which implies to fasten or bind. This language may be intended to make it clear that they are securely imprisoned or bound for the entire period of darkness.

Peter also tells us that they were cast "down to hell", which is taken in this case from the Greek tartaroo {tar-tar-o'-o}. This is the only word that may provide us with a real clue. The word tartaroo occurs only once in the Bible. It is commonly understood as referring to "the deepest abyss of Hades", but there is very little conclusive support for this or any other definition. I found one other definition among the writings of those men who search for their answers in the fables and superstitions of ancient Greece. That phrase defined tartaroo as "the bowels of the earth". The source is questionable and yet this definition seems the most reasonable.

Korah, Datham and Abiram

The many brethren who are already convinced that the "angels that sinned" were Korah, Datham and Abiram, will find additional support for their case through the following application of the word tartaroo to the story of the rebellion in Numbers 16. We are told in the NIV version of that account:

Numbers 16:1-3 (NIV)Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites – Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth – became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron ... (Messengers who sinned, leaving their positions of authority, in an attempted rebellion against Moses?)

A New Thing in the Earth?

We are well aware of the terrible consequences of their sin as they became an example for all who would follow their ungodly ways. Their judgment and their burial was unique. Moses had said,

Numbers 16:30-33 (NIV)If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.

An Example

Peter had said that these angels were Acast them down to "hell", (to tartaroo, the bowels of the earth) to be reserved unto judgment. "All the men that appertained unto Korah" were swallowed up in a single unique event. The word tartaroo is also unique. It is appropriately linked with these men who were swallowed alive into a very unusual tomb, deep in the earth.

Their judgment should provide a stern warning for all who "walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities" (II Peter 2:10).

We do well to remember that respect for the authority of God begins with respect for our parents, for our teachers, for our leaders and rulers. We are instructed to "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2).

We hope to learn from this example, trusting in the assurance that "the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (II Peter 2:9).