What does judge angels mean in 1 Corinthians 6:3?

What does judge angels mean in 1 Corinthians 6:3?                          by Jack Kettler

“Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” – (1 Corinthians 6:3 NKJV)

How is this passage to be understood? Are the angels good or bad? When does this judging take place? In this brief study, several classical commentators will be surveyed, followed by a contemporary scholar. 

As seen from the first entry, there is some disagreement on what the Apostle means by angels.

In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, one reads:

“(3) We shall judge angels. — Many conjectures have been made as to the exact significance of the word “angels” here. Some suggest that it must signify bad angels; but this would be an unusual use of the word without any qualifying adjective. It is better, perhaps, to regard the passage as a climax arising out of the Apostle’s intense realisation of the unity of Christ and His Church triumphant—a point which seems ever present to the mind of St. Paul when he speaks of the dignity of Christianity. In this sense, redeemed humanity will be superior to, and judges of, the spiritual world. That the words have some such large significance, and are not the expression of a hard and literal fact regarding some members of the angelic host, is, I think, borne out by the subsequent words, where the contrast to “angels” is not “men,” but “things” relating to this life.” (1)

 The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides additional thoughts:

“3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? Cf. 2 Peter 2:4, and Judges 6. Some have thought that good angels are here meant. But it is difficult to see how (1) men could pronounce sentence upon their conduct openly, or (2) acquit or censure them by the silent sentence of a consistent life. For in the first case there would be no sentence to pronounce, and in the second it would be they who would judge the holiest man that ever lived, and not he who would judge them. “The interpretation squares well with the argument. We shall judge devils, who not only were so noble in their original condition but are still even when fallen immortal beings. What then! shall the paltry things which concern the belly be withdrawn from our decision?”—Calvin. “The good angels are not hereafter to be judged, but they will form a part of Christ’s glorious retinue when He comes to judgment.”—Wordsworth.” (2)

 Calvin is quoted and essentially makes the point that those good angels will not be judged. In the next entry, Poole explains why evil angels are in the Apostle’s view.

 Matthew Poole’s Commentary provides another insight:

“That the saints shall judge angels, is here so plainly asserted, as a thing within their knowledge, that none can doubt it; but how, or when, or what angels, is not so easily determined. The best interpreters understand it of the evil angels, that is, the devils, whom the saints shall judge at the last day, agreeing with the Judge of the whole earth in the sentence which he shall then give against the evil angels, confining them to the bottomless pit, who, while this world lasteth, have a greater liberty as princes of the air, to rove abroad in the air, and to work mightily in the children of disobedience. Others understand the judging of angels here mentioned, of the spoiling of the devils of the kingdom that they exercise in the world, in the places where the gospel hath not prevailed, by lying oracles, and seducing men to idolatry, and the worshipping of devils: in which sense Christ said: Now shall the prince of this world be cast out, Jos 12:31. From hence the apostle argues the competency of their brethren to judge of and to determine those little matters which were in difference between them, being but things concerning this life, and so of far less consequence than the judging of the world and the evil angels at the last day.” (3)

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary adds this:

“3. judge angels—namely, bad angels. We who are now “a spectacle to angels” shall then “judge angels.” The saints shall join in approving the final sentence of the Judge on them (Jude 6). Believers shall, as administrators of the kingdom under Jesus, put down all rule that is hostile to God. Perhaps, too, good angels shall then receive from the Judge, with the approval of the saints, higher honors.” (4)

 Jamieson-Fausset-Brown concurs with Poole and others that it is evil angels that the Apostle is speaking.

 However, when consulting the Greek, another possibility is possible.

 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:

“angel, messenger.

From aggello (probably derived from ago; compare agele) (to bring tidings); a messenger; especially an “angel”; by implication, a pastor — angel, messenger.

see GREEK ago see GREEK agele

 It would be plausible that “angel” or messenger is a false minister of God. There are many warnings and exhortations in the Scriptures to be on guard against deceivers, and “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).

 Similar to the Strong’s Concordance, Chrysostom did not believe it but understood that some did hold that the Apostle was referring to priests:

“1 Corinthians 6:3

“Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things which pertain to this life?”

Some say that here the priests are hinted at, but away with this. His speech is about demons. For had he been speaking about corrupt priests, he would have meant them above when he said, “the world is judged in you:” (for the Scripture is wont to call evil men also “The world:”) and he would not have said the same thing twice, nor would he, as if he was saying something of greater consequence, have put it down afterwards. But he speaks concerning those angels about whom Christ says, “Depart ye into the fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41 And Paul, “his angels fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 11:15 For when the very incorporeal powers shall be found inferior to us who are clothed with flesh, they shall suffer heavier punishment.

But if some should still contend that he speaks of priests, “What sort of priests?” let us ask. Those whose walk in life has been worldly, of course. In what sense then does he say, “We shall judge angels, much more things that relate to this life?” He mentions the angels, in contradistinction to “things relating to this life”: likely enough; for they are removed from the need of these things, because of the superior excellence of their nature.” Homily 16 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11” (5)

 1 Corinthians 6:3 from a contemporary commentator Simon J. Kistemaker:

“3. Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more ordinary matters?

Note that Paul includes himself when he writes the first person plural. He probably had earlier spoken about the fall of the angels and that God would judge them (compare Isa. 24:21–22; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:10). We presume, however, that Paul is speaking about both the angels who left their former positions of authority and those who in purity and faithfulness continue to serve God. God’s children are greater and higher in rank than the angels, for these reasons: First, man is created in God’s image and has been redeemed by Christ. Next, because angels lack a physical body, they are not created in God’s image and are not helped by Christ (Heb. 2:16). Third, God sends angels forth to serve man, who is about to inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14). While fallen angels receive their just punishment, holy angels continue in their glorious service.

Once again, Paul uses the familiar literary device of reasoning from the greatest to the smallest. Holy angels surround God’s throne and as such are far above earthly woes and cares, while we mortals cope with ordinary matters on a daily basis. The comparison is unique, because this comparison occurs only here in Scripture. How much more, therefore, should we be able to settle commonplace concerns?” (6)            

 In conclusion:

With the Greek meaning of angel being a messenger, it should not be dismissed entirely out of hand that corrupt pastors or priests are in view. However, it appears from the preponderance of commentary evidence surveyed, evil angels or devils (demons) are in view. The time of this judging will be in the hereafter. 

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)


1.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, 1 Corinthians, Vol. 2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 303.

2.      Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, John James Lias, 1Corinthians, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1881), p. 64.

3.      Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 555.

4.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1198.

5.      St. Chrysostom, Homily 16 on 1 Corinthians, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI), First Series, Volume XII, p. 91-92.

6.      Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), p. 180.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com

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