Recently a friend sent me an email concerning an argument that, if accurate, would refute my entire thesis. The email happened to quote another friend of mine who holds a different view on the identities of the sons of God and the Nephilim in Genesis 6. Obviously, I was interested to see if he had developed an argument that would repudiate the countless hours of research and writing that I put into my thesis. Alas, this idea was something I have heard before, but did not deal directly with it in my thesis, because it does not appear in scholarly work (and my thesis could only deal with academic arguments).
So what was this big idea that the writer confidently proclaimed that would render the fallen angel view untenable, even claiming that the fallen angel view was easy to refute?
This person claimed that fallen angels are incapable of manifesting in physical form, which is by no means a new argument, but the two reasons given for this conclusion are what led me to write this blog post. First, he argued that Jesus said they could not do it. Second, he claimed that if they could do it, then we could not know if the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ were merely tricks of Satan or genuine. Let’s take a look at both of these arguments.
Did Jesus Say that Fallen Angels Cannot Appear in Human Form?
The short answer to this question is a resounding “No.” According to this person, Jesus allegedly made this claim during one of His appearances.
Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24:36–39, NKJV)
As is clear from this statement, Jesus demonstrated to His followers that He was physically present in front of them. That is, He was not a spirit. My friend argued that since angels are called “ministering spirits” in Hebrews 1:14, then Jesus was claiming that angels could not take on flesh and bones. There are several problems with this argument.
First and foremost, there are numerous definitions for the word translated as spirit (pneuma) in this passage. It can refer to breath, wind, the Holy Spirit, angels, the spirits of people, ghosts, and more. So we need to understand how Jesus used this word in this passage. In order for my friend to be correct, angels must have been in view. However, this interpretation is extremely doubtful.
While there may be some out there, I could not find a single commentary that took the Lord’s statement as a reference to angels. The most common understanding is that Jesus was assuring His disciples that He was not a ghost (see New American Commentary, Pulpit Commentary, Evangelical Commentary, Holman NT Commentary, etc.). Another view that I found in one resource (New International Commentary on Luke by Geldenhuys) was that the disciples thought they were seeing the human spirit of Jesus (the one that He “gave up” on the Cross when He died, see John 19:30). The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines the term in this passage as “an apparition—’ghost.'” Consider how the NIV translates this passage:
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “…a ghost does not have flesh and bones…” (Luke 24:36–39, NIV)
The NET Bible renders it this way:
But they were startled and terrified, thinking they saw a ghost. Then he said to them, “…Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones like you see I have.” (Luke 24:36–39, NET)
The NET Bible also includes a translator’s note explaining why the word “ghost” was chosen, and cites BDAG for this decision, which is widely considered to be the most well-respected Greek lexicon.
So the vast majority of scholarship is against the idea that the Lord’s disciples thought they were seeing an angel. In fact, this is why this idea was never treated in my thesis: I couldn’t find any biblical scholar who would make this claim.
Could Demons Fake the Resurrection of Christ?
The second argument my friend used was to say that if fallen angels could manifest in physical form, then they could have faked the Resurrection of Christ, and we wouldn’t know for sure if Jesus really appeared to the disciples. From a biblical perspective (and especially from the presuppositional perspective that my friend holds) this claim simply falls flat.
First, the Bible is very clear that it was Jesus who appeared to the disciples. For the presuppositionalist, that should be good enough. Since they presuppose the truth of the entire Bible, then they should have complete confidence that Jesus did appear, regardless if fallen angels have the capability of manifesting physically or not. However, my friend uncharacteristically resorted to a highly evidential argument in making this claim.
Second, even if fallen angels can appear physically (as I contend), it does not mean that they could have faked the Resurrection. Even in their state of rebellion, fallen angels can only go as far as God allows them to go. If He didn’t allow them to fake the Resurrection, then there is no way they could have done it. Think of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenged those prophets to have their god ignite the offering on their altar. We know that Satan is capable of performing such a feat (see Job 1:16 and Revelation 13:13), but he did not do it here. Why not? Perhaps he wasn’t present. I find it doubtful that he would have been absent from such a showdown. I think the better answer is that God did not allow him to perform such an act at the time.
Other Faulty Claims
My friend made a few more faulty claims. He stated that if the fallen angel view were correct, then Jesus could not be God (because, in my friend’s mind, then Jesus would have used faulty reasoning, but God cannot use faulty reasoning, so Jesus wouldn’t have been God). However, there was no problem with the Lord’s statement regardless of whether fallen angels can manifest, because He was not even talking about them.
My friend also repeated the same old misleading argument that “sons of God” can refer to both angels and humans. It’s true that Christians are called “sons of God” in the New Testament because we have been adopted by God. However, this is misleading, because the Hebrew term translated as “sons of God” (Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; see also Deuteronomy 32:8 in the NET or ESV) is a specific Hebrew term (bene ‘elohim) that only refers to heavenly beings. I have written about this in other posts so I won’t rehash the information here, but you can follow one of the links provided at the end of the post for more details.
He also claimed that fallen angels cannot take physical form. While I could list many problems with this statement, I simply raise three objections to it at this time. First, nothing in Scripture states that they cannot do this. In fact, we see that godly angels occasionally have manifested (as my friend admits), so why couldn’t fallen angels also perform this action (after all, they were once holy angels too, with similar or the same power). Furthermore, if Jesus was really talking about angels (which He wasn’t), He doesn’t make a distinction between the holy and fallen angels. So from my friend’s reasoning, Jesus was mistaken since holy angels have appeared physically, or the Bible was wrong when reporting these appearances. Second, while it is not expressly stated in the text, it sure seems as though Satan physically appeared to Jesus during the temptations recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Third, Revelation 9 describes creatures that come up from the bottomless pit that appear physically and physically harm people. The bottomless pit is another name for the abyss, which is the place that certain demons begged Jesus not to send them to (Luke 8:31). So there are very good reasons to think that these creatures in Revelation 9 are demons that can appear physically.
My friend also claimed that the power to create or resurrect a body belongs to God alone. But how does he know this? Where does the Bible teach this? While I would like to agree with him, I simply see too much in Scripture that seems to support the contrary. Paul told the Thessalonians that the “coming of the lawless one [Antichrist] is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Read that again carefully to see just how much power this man will be given. Also, the Bible states the Pharaoh’s magicians were able to turn their rods into serpents, the water to blood, and generate the plague of frogs. They did these through their secret arts (or occult powers). For more details about this issue, please see my blog post from November 11, 2011 titled “Is God the Only One Who Can Create Life?”
I think one of the major problems in this debate is that far too many people have become too Westernized in their thinking about the supernatural. This is not to say that they don’t believe in God or spiritual beings, but when it comes to spiritual beings (with whom we war against according to Paul in Ephesians 6:12), these folks severely underestimate angelic abilities by placing restrictions on their powers that Scripture does not. Also, too many people reach their decision on this subject simply by going with their emotions (another trait popular in Western societies today). They believe the fallen angel view is utterly repulsive (and rightly so), so they think that it could never have happened. But this simply doesn’t follow, since many utterly repulsive things do occur on a regular basis around the world (rape, abortion, etc.). Whether we like it or not, the fact is that Genesis 6 states that fallen angels (the bene ‘elohim, “sons of God”) took wives and sired children (in all likelihood, these were the Nephilim).
Finally, I realize this may come across as a bit arrogant, and I don’t mean it to sound that way, but quite frankly, most people who comment on this subject know very little about it. That goes for people from each of the different views. I have read many books from people who agree with my position, but use some very poor arguments. I have also read a great deal from those who disagree, and they also use some very poor arguments. For a good summary of this subject, please see my seven-part blog series. Here’s a link to the first article in the series: “The Sons of God and the Nephilim.” If you really want to go in-depth on the subject, then you can order my thesis on Kindle for only $5 or get a printed copy from my web store.
While this is a fascinating subject, it is by no means one that should cause division or strife within the church.