By Spencer D Gear
Jacob wrestling an angel (image courtesy ChristArt)
A friend at our Bible study group asked me this question: ‘Do angels have free will? He said that he was chastised by a member of a Christian group gathering (after the group) for saying that angels have free will. What do you believe?’
Before we pursue the ‘free will’ or otherwise of angels, we will make a brief excursus into the ministry of angels.
Who are angels and what is their ministry?
We don’t have an ABC of angelology that is provided for us in one chapter of the Bible. I’m grateful for the biblical scholars in systematic theology who have gathered the information about angels and provided an analysis for us. They’ve done the hard word and I reap their labours.
This is how we are introduced to angels as the Scriptures unfold:
Colossians 1:16: ‘For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him’.
Nehemiah 9:6, ‘You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you’.
Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’.
Genesis 2:1, ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them’.
Thus we learn that angels, ‘the hosts’, were created beings. They are not eternal and they are invisible. So they are spirits but may take on physical form as we learn from Genesis 18. Hebrews 1:13-14 states: ‘And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?’ We learn from Jesus’ words after his resurrection, according to Luke 24:39, ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’.
So angels are unseen ministers of God among us. They do not have gender and never die (Matt 22:30; 25L41; Luke 20:35-36); have great wisdom and knowledge (2 Sam 14:20; Mark 13:32); exercise enormous power (Gen 19:10-11; Ps 103:20; Matt 24:31; 1 Thess 1:7; 2 Pt 2:11); have feelings (Lk 15:10) and are beings of beauty (Isa 6:1-2; Matt 28:3; 2 Cor 11:14).
For what reason are there angels? Norman Geisler (2003:479-480) has summarised their purposes as:
To glorify God (Ps 148:2; Rev 4:11);
To serve God (Col 1:16; Job 1:6; 2:1);
To reflect God’s attributes (Isa 6:3; Ezek 1:5, 28);
To learn God’s wisdom and grace (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12);
· To minister to God’s elect (Heb 1:14; Matt 18:10).
Norm Geisler summarised some further ministry of angels:
Angels come regularly as “sons of God” to present themselves before the Lord (Job 1:6; 2:1 NKJV; cf. Ps. 91:11). They are constantly seen throughout the Bible running errands for God (Gen. 18:2ff; Den. 10:1ff; Matt. 1:20-24; Luke 1:11ff.). They eventually escort believers into the presence of the Holy One (Luke 16:22). But, most fundamentally, angels are God’s servants, and all their service is for His glory. Meanwhile, some angels are assigned to fight evil angels in a cosmic spiritual warfare (Dan. 10:13-21; 12:1; cf. Eph. 6:12) [Geisler 2003:480].
What about angels and free will?
My immediate response to my friend when he asked about whether or not angels had free wills, was to say that I had not considered this issue in recent times, but we live in a free will universe where Adam has the opportunity to choose between two alternatives – from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or not to eat (see Genesis 2:16-17,’ And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (ESV).
The following is the result of my further investigations.
The fall of angels into sin
Evangelical theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote the following concerning the fall of angels and the problem of the origin of evil:
Evil originated in heaven and not on earth….
There is every reason for believing that the angels were created perfect. When we come to the account of creation in Gen. 1, we are told seven times over that all that God made was good. In the last verse of this chapter we read “and God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good.” Surely that includes the perfection of the angels in holiness when originally created. Some think that Ezekiel 28:15 refers to Satan. If this be so then he is definitely said to have been created perfect. But various Scriptures represent some of the angels as evil (Ps. 78:49; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 9:11; 12:7-9). This is because they left their own principality and proper abode (Jude 6), and sinned (2 Pet. 2:4). Satan no doubt was the leader in the apostasy. Isa. 14:12 seems to speak of him as the Day Star and the Son of the Morning and to bewail his fall. Ezek. 28:15-17 likewise seems to describe his fall. There can be no question, therefore, as to the fact that there was a definite fall for some of the angels (Thiessen 1949:194-195).
However, when did the angels fall? Thiessen continues, ‘Scripture is silent on this point; but it is clear that the fall of the angels occurred before the fall of man, since Satan entered the Garden in the form of a serpent and induced Eve to sin’ (Thiessen 1949:195).
Thiessen reached the very controversial view that Genesis 1:2 ‘represents the outcome of some great catastrophe’ and ‘the fall of the angels [came] somewhere between vss. 1 and 2…. We suggest that it occurred some time after the creation of the heavens and the earth and that it was a chief cause in bringing about the condition described in Gen. 1:2’ (Thiessen 1949:195). This is known as the Gap Theory which is explained:
The gap theory postulates that an indefinite span of time exists between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. This time span is usually considered to be quite large (millions of years) and is also reputed to encompass the so-called “geologic ages.” Proponents of the gap theory also postulate that a cataclysmic judgment was pronounced upon the earth during this period as the result of the fall of Lucifer (Satan) and that the ensuing verses of Genesis chapter 1 describe a re-creation or reforming of the earth from a chaotic state and not an initial creative effort on the part of God (Sofield 2004).
Edward Rice’s comments on Thiessen’s view were:
Gaptists place the fall in a fictitious and great catastrophe after Genesis 1:1
And Gen 1:2. Thiessen prefers such folly…. In literal Bible interpretation the fall had to occur after the 6 day creation when every thing created was good, and the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden (Rice n d:7).
Thiessen concluded that
the fall of angels was due to their deliberate, self-determined revolt against God. It was their choice of self and its interests in preference to the choice of God and His interests. If we ask what particular motive may have been back of this revolt, we seem to get several replies from Scripture. Great prosperity and beauty seem to be thrown out as possible hints in this respect. The “Tyrian king seems to symbolize Satan in Ezek. 28:11-19; and he is said to have fallen because of these things (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6). Undue ambition and the desire to surpass God seems to be another hint. The king of Babylon is charged with this ambition, and he, too, seems to symbolize Satan (Isa. 14:13, 14). It will be seen that in any case it was selfishness, discontentment with what he had and the craving to get all that anyone else had. No doubt the cause of the fall of Satan was also the cause of the fall of the other evil angels and the demons (Thiessen 1949:196, emphasis added).
Norman Geisler in his Systematic Theology, vol 2, had this heading and brief exposition:
Angels have free will
Paul spoke of Satan, who chose to rebel against God, saying, “[Do not place] a recent convert [in a position of spiritual leadership], or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Jude added, “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 ” (Jude 6). Peter noted that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4) [Geisler 2003:478, emphasis added].
I highly recommend chapter 20 in Geisler (2003), titled, ‘The creation of spiritual creatures (angels).
Angels are created beings who are good and evil as a result of their choices. They are free-will, unseen beings who are ministering spirits to human beings and for the glory of God.
Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology, vol 2: God, creation. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.
Rice, E G n d. Coursework for TH502 Systematic Theology II angelology, anthropology: A project submitted to Louisiana Baptist University Seminary Dean, Dr Steven R Petty, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the course TH502 Systematic Theology II. Available at: http://gsbaptistchurch.com/seminary/lbts/th502_course.pdf (Accessed 8 August 2013).
Sofield, J C 2004. The gap theory of Genesis chapter one, 5 May. Bible.org, available at: https://bible.org/article/gap-theory-genesis-chapter-one (Accessed 8 August 2013).
Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture is from the English Standard Version (ESV).
 Gaptists is a pun on Baptists who believe the Gap Theory.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.