Do Angels Have Free Will?

Angels are God’s ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14). They are intelligent, moral, worshipful, protective of God’s holiness, and serve his plan for the world. Angels exist in various classifications, like cherubim and seraphim. The Bible even mentions two angels by name: Gabriel and Michael. Yet one question many people have about angels is whether or not they have free will.

Christian theologians generally agree that every angel chose for or against God at the time of Satan’s rebellion. Calvinists believe God predetermined their choice; Arminians don’t. After the Fall, God fixed their decisions. Righteous angels are secure in their holiness. Fallen angels are unredeemable.

What is free will? Is angelic free will different than the free will that some believe people have? Do Calvinist or Reformed believers think angels have free will? Do Arminian Christians? Can fallen angels respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ and obtain eternal salvation? What did Paul mean when he referred to “elect angels”? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Do Angels Have Wings? to learn more.

angels free will
Did God predestine angels? See below

The Angelic Rebellion Against God In Heaven

In Christian theology, “free will” refers to the capacity of a person or angel to decide for or against God without coercion or force. [1] Whether or not people and angels have free will, and how exactly “free” is defined, is one of the most debated doctrines in the history of Christianity.

The discussion among some Christians for centuries is whether or not an individual’s visible and sometimes audible choices are exclusively their decision or if God decided beforehand what their answer would be. The debate isn’t if people make choices but if God has decided their decisions beforehand.

Arminianism (and other non-Calvinists) on the free choice of angels

On the one hand, Arminianism is a perspective of Christian theology that argues that no factors determine a person’s decisions, including their embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, other than their individual choice. In this view, a person could have made a different choice but didn’t.

Concerning fallen angels, Arminians believe their decision came from their free will. Yet Arminians aren’t the only ones who believe those who rebelled against God acted according to their own volition.

A Baptist theologian reflects this view: “It was obviously Satan and the angels who chose to sin… They were conscious only of their own desires and planned their wretched rebellion in light of all they knew of the greatness and goodness of God. Everywhere in the Bible, they are treated as fully responsible.” [2]

Calvinism on the predestination of angels

On the other hand, Calvinism, also called Reformed theology, teaches that God acts upon the will of certain people to guarantee their choices regarding salvation. In this view, a person couldn’t have made a different choice other than the one they did.

Concerning fallen angels, Calvinism teaches that God predestined some for permanent, eternal holiness and neglected to choose others who subsequently followed Satan in his rebellion. The Westminster Confession, a Reformed statement of faith, includes angels in its statement about predestination.

Westminster ConfessionOn God’s Eternal Decrees
3.3By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
3.4These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished. [3]

Also, see Can Babies See Angels? to learn more.

fallen angel
Can fallen angels be saved? See below

Fallen Angels Are Unable to Respond to the Gospel

When Satan sinned against God, some angels remained faithful to their Creator, while one-third joined the rebellion (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:4). The Bible commonly refers to fallen angels as “demons” (e.g., Luke 4:41) and “evil spirits” (e.g., Matt. 12:43). At the end of time, God will judge them (Matt. 25:41).

In Christian theology, the debate over whether or not angels have free will differs from the one that concerns people. While the broad meaning of free will regarding angels and people is the same — i.e., individual choice without coercion, force, or predetermination — the implications for salvation are unlike.

Concerning people, the discussion of free will is connected to salvation. Can a person freely choose to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Would they respond to it if God didn’t persuade them?

However, the questions regarding angels differ because the issue isn’t if the rebellious ones can respond to the gospel. Arminians and Calvinists agree that fallen angels are unredeemable. Instead, the conversation surrounds why some angels followed Satan and others didn’t.

Therefore, since the status of holy and fallen angels is fixed, even Arminians maintain that neither side is “free” to the extent that they can change the eternal fate that God has assigned them.

Also, see Are Angels Aliens? to learn more.

angels Bible
What did Calvin write about elect angels? See below

Why Does Paul Refer To “Elects Angels”?

In 1 Timothy 5:21-25, Paul is giving instructions to his apprentice in ministry. The Apostle encourages Timothy to serve the church, knowing that God and his angels are watching him.

He writes, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Timothy 5:21, ESV).

Many readers ask why Paul writes “elect angels,” not just “angels.” The Greek word translated as “elect” is eklektos (ἐκλεκτός). In other verses, it’s translated as “chosen” (e.g., Matt. 22:14; Luke 23:35). Strong’s Concordance defines it as “picked out” by God. [4]

Calvinism interprets the phrase according to the doctrine of predestination. John Calvin wrote, “He calls them ‘elect angels,’ not only to distinguish them from the reprobate angels, but on account of their excellence, in order that their testimony may awaken deeper reverence.” [5]

The non-Calvinist explanation for the phrase suggests that “elect” refers to the particular task Paul is referring to, which is exercising oversight over the church.

Commentator William Mounce writes, “By ‘elect angels’ Paul means those angels whom God chooses to do his special tasks (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 4:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 2:1) and who will be part of the final judgment.” [6]

Also, see Do Jews Believe In Angels? to learn more.

[1] The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms. p. 88.
[2] Angels: Elect and Evil by C. Fred Dickason. p. 144.
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Pastoral Epistles by William D. Mounce. WBC. p. 316.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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