Who Are the “Elect Angels” in 1 Timothy 5:21?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 2:55pm
QUERY: Today I came across 1 Timothy 5:21, which refers to “the elect angels.” This seems to say that angels are elect. How does this tie in with elect humans in regards to Calvinism? Are there any verses that say that angels had/have free will and made their own decisions?
ANSWER: We know relatively little about angels in general, but we do know that there is an invisible and a visible creation (Col. 1:16), which probably refer to this physical universe in which human beings are the primary inhabitants, and the spiritual universe in which angels are the primary inhabitants. We also know that some of the angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4), just as our original human beings sinned, which implies that they had free will, just as human beings do. Thus just as human beings are divided into two categories—the saved and the lost, so it seems that there are two categories of angels: those who sinned and those who did not. This gives us reason to think that there are some parallels between angels and human beings, and this may enable us to make some inferences about angels based on what we know about human beings.
How does this apply to the question of the “elect angels” in 1 Timothy 5:21? It seems reasonable to think that the general truths about election as it applies to human beings may also apply to angels. Here I will suggest two such truths. First, regarding human beings, election (very closely related to predestination) is of two kinds: election to service, and election to salvation. Regarding the former (election to service), God chooses certain individuals or groups to fulfill particular functions within his overall plan of salvation. He chose individuals such as Abraham, Moses, Pharaoh, David, and Paul for specific roles in his plan. He also chose the nation of Israel, as a nation, to play a starring role in this plan. It may be (we can only speculate here) that the “elect angels” are selected angelic beings that God chose for specific acts of service related to His working with human beings.
Second, regarding human beings, God has elected (predestined) some to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), which means that he has chosen them to participate in Christ’s glorified resurrection state marked by the reception of a glorified body on the day of resurrection, a body just like the one Jesus has now (Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:21). Romans 8:29 makes it very clear that this predestination to glory is based on God’s foreknowledge of something about the individuals in this category. The best understanding here is that those sinners whom God foreknew would meet the conditions for salvation were designated ahead of time to share in Christ’s glory. These are the ELECT human beings, as contrasted with those whom God foreknew would NOT meet these conditions. God does not arbitrarily choose some sinners to become saved while leaving the rest to perish for eternity, apart from any free-will choices on our part.
In my judgment we can assume that God’s decisions about all the angels he created are the same as with human beings. Since some angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4), we infer that all angels originally had free will and could individually choose to submit to God or to rebel against Him. Some (now identified as Satan and his demons) chose to rebel, and the rest did not. Since God’s foreknowledge would apply to his angelic creation just as it applies to our human creation, we infer that God FOREKNEW those angels who would not sin against Him, and would thus CHOOSE (elect) them to a confirmed state of sinlessness for eternity. In this sense the ELECT angels (chosen according to divine foreknowledge) in 1 Timothy 5:21 would simply be the entire category of holy angels, or angels who did not use their free will to sin against God in the first place. They are his “elect angels,” in contrast to the angels who sinned, in the same sense that believers in Christ are “the elect” among human beings, in contrast with the entire category of unrepentant and lost sinners.
In his commentary on this verse, R. C. H. Lenski says, “The word EKLEKTOI, which is here applied to angels, is certainly to be understood in the same sense as when it is applied to God’s ‘elect’ among men. It is plain that the angels who kept their own principality (Jude 6) are referred to. Like the elect among men, they are God’s own forever. We find no other meaning for the word when it is applied to angels” (p. 687).