h) 1 Pet 3:19–20: The standard ancient Jewish interpretation of this verse equates the spirits with fallen angels who engaged in sexual relations with women during the time of Noah (Gen 6:1–4).[1]

After the third century AD,[2] the earliest record of this view attributed to a Christian commentator appeared in 1890.[3] Among the scholars cited in this chapter, only Schreiner holds this view.[4]

During the era of the New Testament authors, popular concepts included demons seducing women, producing evil offspring, and being held captive (Cf. 2 Pet 2:4–5, 9–10; Jude 6–7).[5]

Scholars recognize that the basis for this Jewish tradition stems from apocryphal literature concerning the patriarch Enoch (Gen 5:21–24).[6]

Notably, Peter failed to quote from or refer to 1 Enoch (2nd century BC–first century AD). This indicates that he did not cite it as authoritative but simply used a tradition familiar to his original audience.[7]

Note that in 1 Enoch, the terms “angels, spirits, stars, and Watchers” refer to the same entities.[8]

Consider these passages:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters.

And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another, “Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.”

…And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared [Gen 5:18–20].[9]

Before these things Enoch was hidden, and no one of the children of men knew where he was hidden, and where he abode, and what had become of him. And his activities had to do with the Watchers, and his days were with the holy ones.

And I, Enoch, was blessing the Lord…and lo! the Watchers called me…“Enoch, thou scribe of righteousness, go, declare to the Watchers of the heaven who have left the high heaven, the holy eternal place, and have defiled themselves with women, and have done as the children of earth do, and have taken unto themselves wives, ‘Ye have wrought great destruction on the earth. And ye shall have no peace, nor forgiveness of sin.’”[10]

And I saw there something horrible: I saw neither a heaven above nor a firmly founded earth, but a place chaotic and horrible. And there I saw seven stars of the heaven bound together in it, like great mountains and burning with fire.

Then I said, “For what sin are they bound, and on what account have they been cast in hither?”

Then said Uriel, one of the holy angels…“These are of the number of the stars of heaven, which have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and are bound here till ten thousand years, the time entailed by their sins, are consummated.”

And from thence I went to another place, which was still more horrible…a great fire there which burnt and blazed, and the place was cleft as far as the abyss, being full of great descending columns of fire: neither its extent or magnitude could I see, nor could I conjecture…

Then Uriel answered me, “This place is the prison of the angels, and here they will be imprisoned forever.”[11]

According to 1 Enoch, the demons who roam the earth initially inhabited the giant offspring, the Nephilim, who resulted from those unholy unions (Gen 6:4):[12]

Though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh…And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling.[13]

Several difficulties occur with this view. First, angels do not marry (Luke 20:34–36).[14] In fact, this conviction led Jewish scholars to abandon this interpretation a century after Peter wrote this letter.[15] Christian commentators soon joined them.[16]

We can translate “the sons of God” as “the sons of the gods” (Ps 29:1; Ps 89:7).[17]

This occurs because the generic name of God (El) usually appears in the Old Testament as a plural (Elohim) even though it denotes only one God.[18]

Due to archaeological evidence,[19] we now know that “the sons of the gods” consisted of kings and other rulers (Gen 6:1–2).[20]

In their arrogance, many of them practiced the “right of the first night.” This heinous practice allowed a king or other government official to demand that he spend a woman’s bridal night with her before he released her to her husband.[21]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:19–20. Why did this interpretation gain popularity? What difficulties does it encounter? List the pros and cons for this view in the Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20.




Go to Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20


[Related posts include Overview of 1 Peter 3:18–22Death in the Flesh but Life in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18); Interpretive Issues in 1 Pet 3:19–20; Early Church Fathers’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Augustine’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Pet 3:19–20; John Calvin’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Salvation through Water (1 Pet 3:20); An Appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21); and Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)]

[Walking with God (Gen 5:21–24); Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); Rebellious Angels (Jude 6–7); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)]


[1]Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 Pet 3:18–9.

[2]Walton, Genesis, 291.

[3]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 139, n 32.

[4]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 188–9.

[5]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:19.

[6]Michaels, 1 Peter, 207.

[7]Jobes, 1 Peter, 245.

[8]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 140.

[9]Charles, “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 6:1–2, 13–5, http://archive.org/stream/cu31924067146773#page/n127/mode/2up.

[10]Charles, “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 12:1–5, 27–9, http://archive.org/stream/cu31924067146773#page/n141/mode/2up. Italics mine.

[11]Charles, “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 21:2–10, 44–5, http://archive.org/stream/cu31924067146773#page/n159/mode/2up.

[12]Michaels, 1 Peter, 208.

[13]Charles, “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 15:4, 8, 35–6, http://archive.org/stream/cu31924067146773#page/n149/mode/2up.

[14]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 262.

[15]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 139–40.

[16]Walton, Genesis, 291.

[17] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 139.

[18]Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 399, https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/398/mode/2up.

[19]Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate, 205.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 139–40.

[21]Walton, Genesis, 293.