Some Brief Thoughts on the “Fall of the Angels Hypothesis”

(Preamble: Along with some other enthusiastic people in Newbury, I have been reading Michael Lloyd’s Café Theology recently as part of a course in foundational Christian theology. This post offers some brief thoughts on a position that Michael Lloyd takes with respect to the Fall, which he terms as the “Fall of the Angels Hypothesis”. The position presented in Café Theology is a simplification for laypeople of his PhD thesis, The Cosmic Fall and the Free Will Defence (1997: not published as such; but available from the Bodleian Library, Oxford), so is naturally abbreviated, but presumably indicative of his general position.)

As with most views in Christian theology, Michael Lloyd’s take on the Fall is not unique. He recognises that others arrive at the same general position; although, of course, no one person’s argument is the same – others iron out different creases. In Café Theology, he humbly recognises that there are other ways through the woods apart from this perspective. Indeed, some do not even think that that creation is “fallen” but in view of the patent evil and suffering in the world, this is hard to maintain.

The “Fall of the Angels Hypothesis” posits that there was a fall before the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden. This view reasonably assumes the reality of a multi-dimensional universe and the existence of earthly and heavenly realms. Before the fall of Adam and Eve, there was an angelic fall in the heavenly realms, where a group of angels disobeyed God, rendering themselves demonic, and thus creation became fallen. Given that this hypothesis upholds the notion of an all-loving God, among other things,[1] it is an attractive account of how creation became fallen.

Lloyd, however, readily admits that it is not formally described in Scripture and so we might ask how it can be defended and countered on a scriptural basis. The presence of the serpent in the garden is adduced as evidence that creation was fallen before Adam and Eve came into being. Genesis 3:1 states that: “the snake was more crafty than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made” (NIV). Unlike most languages, however, Hebrew does not employ a comparative adjective form. A more literal translation would be “the serpent, out of all the animals, was crafty”, implying, perhaps, it was the only crafty – and so imperfect – animal in creation.[2] In John’s vision in Revelation, there is an account of the fight between Michael, along with the angels, and the dragon, who is identified as Satan: “the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev 12:9, NIV). The adjective “ancient” (Greek: archaios) suggests that Satan has been around for a long time, maybe even from the beginning. I think Lloyd goes too far when he says that the peace and harmony in Eden does not imply the same peace and harmony for the rest of Creation (p.84), but I think it is generally helpful to think that even if Creation was originally “very good”, it quickly became imperfect because of a cosmic struggle between angelic and demonic forces, represented by the serpent. This helps to explain some elements of the Fall.

I am surprised that more is not made of the beginning of the Job. Here, the presence of Satan is acknowledged. Yet, Satan is distinct from the angels (1:6), which suggests some form of cosmic fall, and powerless (1:7) – all he can do is wander around the earth.[3] One of the central messages of Job is despite his so-called comforters’ accusations, he has not sinned. He is on the end of an extraordinary lecture from God (Job 38-41) for inquiring into the Creator’s purposes, but Job himself is never deemed to be sinful. The disasters that befall him are not as a result of his sin, but are Satan’s doing. These disasters are more to do with natural evil than moral evil. Personally, I would accept most elements of the Fall of the Angels hypothesis from the perspective of natural evil: that the fallenness of creation can be accounted for by an angelic fall, which in turn, accounts for the natural evil in the world.

When it comes to moral evil, however, there are perhaps more issues with this hypothesis. Lloyd rightly anticipates the critique that if the Fall is not the fault of the humanity, then this “denies human responsibility” (p.84). Yet in Café Theology, he does not really confront this critique.[4] Some might feel that the chapter addresses Christian understandings of sin (hamartiology) and the law in surprisingly little detail. Lloyd acknowledges the well-known verse, Romans 5:12, that would appear to indicate Adamic, hence human responsibility, but (probably intentionally) does not explicitly quote it: “just as sin entered into the world through one man [Adam]…” (NIV). He adduces N. T. Wright’s judicious reading of the passage concerning the intrusion of sin (p.65) but does not go much further down this route.

There are numerous ways of reading these key opening chapters in Romans. Personally, I think they represent some of Paul’s most developed thinking and constitute a highly crystallised sermon. He discusses the other major Genesis figure of Abraham in chapter 4, showing that he is the forefather of both Jews and Gentiles, and moves onto Adam in chapter 5 to show the sufficiency and graciousness of the other one man, Jesus Christ, who caused grace to abound for the many (Romans 5:15). Adam is the figure by which the apostle explicitly reintroduces Christ into the letter, but the human transgression en route between the two figures is a serious reality in Pauline thought. This Pauline perspective in Romans is not the only biblical one, but it is perhaps one which needs to be reckoned with further, if the Fall of the Angels Hypothesis is to be totally accepted. There is, surely, a human element to the Fall as well, where as Augustine said, we have curved in on ourselves…

[1] See Café Theology, pp.87-89.

[2] Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “crafty” (arum) is used frequently in the Wisdom Literature to describe someone who is “wise”. “Crafty” is almost certainly right in this context; the serpent is clearly out to deceive (Genesis 3:5).

[3] The Septuagint (LXX) translates as “that which is under heaven”

[4] I would imagine he does so in his more academic, scholarly work!

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