(Awhile back I got a comment from a very intelligent friend telling me that they had just finished reading through my Rethinking the Atonement series, and they had a number of apparent problems that they found with the Christus Victor view. So this is part 4 of a series where we take some time to engage their objections. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section below!)
The video introducing Christus Victor talks about the flood, saying, “God caged a number of fallen ones during the great flood in the underworld…” What? Is this presumed based on the existence of Nephilim?
Very perceptive… kinda. While the notion of God using the flood to imprison fallen angels is not directly concerned with the issue of the Nephilim, the two come from the same tradition. But first let’s take some time to talk about this tradition, often called the Watcher tradition.
According to the book of 1 Enoch (3rd century BC), a number of angelic beings known as Watchers fell in love with human women and took them as wives, which resulted in the birth of “great giants” who were supposedly 3,000 ells tall.1 When men could no longer sustain the appetites of these giants, the giants turned on mankind and began to consume people. In addition to the siring of these monsters, the angels taught mankind “charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants” (1 Enoch 7:1-2). They also “taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all coloring tinctures” (8:1-2). Apparently fostering such advancements in human civilization was considered by God to be a bad thing because, as a result of all this, He decides to destroy everything on earth with a great deluge (10:1-3). While this flood is clearly an act of judgment against wicked man, much of the rest of 1 Enoch describes the interaction of the Watchers with God’s messenger as these fallen angels unsuccessfully seek forgiveness for their actions. As you read through the story it is clear that the flood is meant also (perhaps primarily) as a punishment against the Watchers for their actions.
Now, most Protestants don’t lend much credibility to the book of Enoch. However, I don’t think that we should be so quick to discount this story offhand. After all, with some variation, the verses leading up to the flood story in Genesis (6:1-8) actually presuppose the events of 1 Enoch. Here we read, “the sons of God2 saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose… The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”3 Not only do we find the Watcher tradition here in Genesis, but the apostle Peter also alludes to this story in a couple of his letters. In fact, it is in Peter’s writings that we get the strongest indication that the flood imprisoned the Watchers. Peter writes…
“…God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…”4
The New Testament author Jude (traditionally assumed to be the brother of Jesus) is even more explicit when he writes that “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, [God] has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”5 The idea that there are demonic spirits in bondage awaiting judgment might also be suggested by the demons’ inquest to Jesus, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”6
Bearing in mind this idea of imprisoned spiritual beings, especially in such close connection with the great flood, really helps us understand other passages that at first glance seem rather cryptic. In agreement with the Christus Victor narrative, Peter writes that, having been put to death, Christ “went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark.”7 Those unfamiliar with the Watcher tradition often identify these “spirits in prison” as those people who died before Jesus’ incarnation. However, not only does this not makes sense of the close connection with “the days of Noah,” it fails to acknowledge that, unless explicitly stated otherwise, the word “spirit” (pneuma) in Scripture always refers to a spiritual being and not a human.
So this is what the video is getting at when it talks about God caging fallen angels with the flood. I hope that helps! If you would like to learn more about Nephilim and the Watcher tradition, click here, here, and here.
1: An obviously hyperbolic description since an ell (approximate to a cubit) is roughly 18 inches long.
2: While there is some disagreement, the general consensus among biblical scholars is that “sons of God” is an ancient term used in reference to angelic beings (see for example Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 29:1; cf. the Book of Jubilees). Despite modern debate on this point, this is the interpretation that all ancient authors give to this term.
3: Gen 6:2, 4
4: 2 Pet 2:4-10
5: Jude 6
6: Mt 4:29
7: 1 Pet 3:18-20; cf. Eph 4:9