Judging Angels

cs_lewisIt would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

~C.S. Lewis

When the church read they are destined to judge the world and even angels, they must have been shocked – that is unless they were Old Testament students like Paul. His teaching is squarely based on Jesus as Messiah, and that spoke volumes to a scholar who understood the entire word of God to be a story of Messiah’s incarnation, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection and coming return.

Throughout scripture, and particularly from passages like Daniel 7, God’s people are the church triumphant. As N.T. Wright said “If God’s true people at the moment look a very unlikely crew to be judging anyone or anything, well then, they must shape up and come into line. They must become, through moral reflection and discipline in the present time, the people they actually are ‘in the Messiah’ and in the purposes of God.”


1 Corinthians 6:2–3

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?

Dig Deeper

Paul’s main point in 1 Cor 6:2–3 is simple: Judging ordinary matters among fellow Christians should not be a problem for those destined for the high calling and responsibility of judging much greater things (see Ciampa and Rosner 2010, 228). To make this point, Paul rhetorically asks the Corinthians whether they know that the saints will judge “the world” (ton kosmon) and the “angels” (angelous). This statement is perplexing for modern readers, and it was probably surprising for the Corinthians. In what sense does Paul think believers will judge the world? According to Ciampa and Rosner (2010, 227–28), the OT serves as the source of Paul’s theology of final judgment. In particular, they suggest that Paul’s conviction represents a Christian appropriation of the Jewish belief that God’s people will participate in judgment in the final days. This belief is evident in OT passages such as Dan 7:22, but it is also found in the writings of the Second Temple Jewish period (e.g., Wisdom of Solomon 3:7–8; Jubilees 24:29; 1 Enoch 1:9, 38) and the NT (e.g., Matt 19:28; Jude 14–15; Rev 2:26–27). Verbrugge (2008, 306–07) thinks Paul is referring to an eschatological judgment rather than judgment in the present (see also Soards 2011, 122). Regarding the use of the term kosmos (“world”), Barnett (2000, 90) argues that Paul means the people of the world—and in particular those outside the church—not the physical world.

The idea of judging angels also seems to be rooted in the eschatology of apocalyptic Judaism (e.g., 1 Enoch 1:10–12; on this issue, see Fee 1987, 234–36; Fitzmyer 2008, 252). There is also some debate as to which angels 1 Cor 6:3 refers to (note the anarthrous angelous). Fitzmyer (2008, 252) thinks that both good and evil angels will be judged, whereas Ciampa and Rosner (2010, 228–29) argue that good angels will join the saints in the judgment of evil (or fallen) angels. Thiselton (2000, 430–32) notes two additional interpretations of the identity of the “angels” in 1 Cor 6:3. The NT also mentions the participation of angels in the eschatological judgment (see Matt 13:41; 16:27; 25:31).

Derek R. Brown and E. Tod Twist, 1 Corinthians, ed. John D. Barry and Douglas Mangum, Lexham Bible Guide (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 1 Co 6:2–3.

• Baker (2009, 88) claims that even if Paul only has fallen angels in mind, his notion of “the world” certainly includes both good and evil angels as well as Satan and his demons.
“1 Corinthians 6:1–11” Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Volume 15: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians

• Barrett (1968, 137) interprets the reference to judging angels in the context of the relationship between the state and angels in Rom 13:1.
“1 Corinthians 6:2–5” BNTC: The First Epistle to the Corinthians

• Bray (1999, 51) notes that Severian of Gabala, a respected preacher and contemporary of Chrysostom (ca. AD 400), believed Paul was not speaking about literal angels but about false priests and teachers.
“1 Corinthians 6:3” ACCS: 1–2 Corinthians

• Fitzmyer (2008, 252) adamantly argues that angelous (“angels”) must be interpreted comprehensively to include good and bad angels since Paul is thinking of every “higher order of God’s creatures.”
“1 Corinthians 6:3” AYBC: First Corinthians

• Garland’s commentary (2003, 201–04) provides a comprehensive discussion of the Jewish background to the notion of participatory judgment, though he defines “judgment” in terms of ruling. He also examines the various proposals on the identity and nature of the angels in 1 Cor 6:3.
“1 Corinthians 6:2–3” BECNT: 1 Corinthians

• According to Hays (1997, 94), Paul’s idea of judging the world was common in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings, but his “matter-of-fact statement” about judging angels is “unprecedented.” In Hays’ view, the comment about judging angels is derived from Paul’s convictions that Christ will subject all things under Him so that those who are “in Christ” will share in His rule (see 1 Cor 15:24–28).
“1 Corinthians 6:1–11” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: First Corinthians

• Lenski (1963, 236) recognizes the saints’ judgment of the world as a “fundamental” teaching of Christianity. He argues that while Christians exercise a certain level of judgment in the present, they will serve as Christ’s “associate judges” in the final judgment.
“1 Corinthians 6:2–3” The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians

• Pratt (2000, 86) traces the notion of judging the world back to both the Greek OT (Dan 7:22) and the teachings of Jesus (Matt 19:28). He suggests that this role is given to believers as part of their share in Christ’s victory and rule. In his view, the saints will judge angels who have rebelled against God (see 2 Pet 2:4).
“1 Corinthians 6:2–3” Holman New Testament Commentary: I & II Corinthians

• Thiselton (2000, 425–31) attempts to demonstrate the Jewish apocalyptic background to the judgment described in 1 Cor 6:2–3, noting that texts from this tradition say God will judge the nations through the elect (1QpHab 5:4; compare Rev 2:26; 20:4). Additionally, he identifies verses in the Synoptic Gospels that draw on this concept (e.g., Luke 22:30). Thiselton identifies the following three interpretations of the concept of judging the world: (1) It means that Christians will not need a judge; (2) Christians will share in Christ’s judgment as their share in His resurrection; and (3) the question is an ad hominem argument against the Corinthians’ “self-congratulatory” view of their role in the final judgment. He also lists four main interpretations of the identity of the angels: (1) angels of “the nations”; (2) wicked angels or demons; (3) good and bad angels; and (4) one of the several rulers and authorities that Christ will subject (1 Cor 15:24).
“1 Corinthians 6:2–3” NIGTC: The First Epistle to the Corinthians

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