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Can Angels Sin?

Can Angels Sin?


At first glance the answer seems simple enough. After all, did we not receive the Torah precisely because angels cannot sin? As Moses retorted in his winning argument to the angels during his epic debate in heaven over who should receive the Torah. "It is written in the Torah 'Thou shall not murder,' 'Thou shall not commit adultery,' 'Thou shall not steal.'" Moses said. "Is there jealousy among you!? Do you have an evil inclination!? Obviously the Torah is not meant for you."1

In other words, only man has been endowed with the inclination for both good and bad. And only man has been given free choice to choose either one. An angel, on other hand, has no evil inclination and therefore no free choice. This would seem to mean that an angel is something like a robot, which cannot rebel or sin.

Even the oft-cited example of the Satan as a rogue angel is a gross misunderstanding. Satan is merely the name of an angel whose divinely assigned task is to seduce people towards sin. This angel is also the prosecutor who levels charges in front of the heavenly court against those who succumb to his crafty seductions. The word satan simply means prosecutor in Hebrew. If the Heavenly court decides that it is time for someone to die, then the Satan is the one sent down to take his life. In fact, the Talmud tells us that, "Satan, the urge to do evil, and the Angel of Death are all one."2 All these titles are simply multiple job descriptions for one angel. An angel fulfilling its divine duty is hardly in conflict with its own Creator.3

All this, however, is seemingly contradicted by the verse in Job which states:

Can a mortal be more righteous than God, or can a man be purer than his Maker? Behold, He does not trust His servants and He casts reproach upon His angels.4

And we say in the liturgy of Yom Kippur:

The angels are dismayed, they are seized by fear and trembling as they proclaim: Behold the Day of Judgment! For all the hosts of heaven are brought for judgment. They shall not be guiltless in Your eyes.

Both of these quotes clearly imply that in spite of what we have said, angels do somehow manage to sin even without having an evil inclination, and are judged on Yom Kippur.

Furthermore, we find various instances in the Midrash and Talmud of angels being punished. A punishment implies that one had a choice in the matter.

For example, the Midrash seeks an explanation for the verse concerning Jacob's dream, "And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it."5 This seems to be in reverse order. Shouldn't the angels have been descending first into this world from the place of their origin, and only afterward ascend?

Rabbi Chomah the son of Rabbi Chanina interpreted this reverse sequence as follows: When the angels who were sent down to save Lot and destroy Sodom, they were haughty and attributed the act to themselves, saying, "For we are destroying this place, because their cry has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it."6 Subsequently, they were punished and left to wander the world for 138 years. Only now, at the time of Jacob's dream,7 were they permitted to return. This is why the verse first says they were ascending and only afterwards descending.8 9

Punishment implies sin. If so, the above cited Midrash implies that angels can indeed and in fact did sin.

Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz in his classic Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Shelah), provides an explanation. He concedes that angels do not have an evil inclination and, therefore, cannot sin in the conventional meaning of the word, deliberately contravening the will of their Creator. However, angels are creations of G‑d just like any other creation, albeit more spiritual and intellectually inclined creatures who live on a much higher plain than we do. By definition, there is no creation that is perfect; the only one that is perfect is the Creator. Every created being, even the highest intellect, in some way conceals the ultimate reality. Therefore, although an angel cannot sin, it can nevertheless make a mistake or at least present a distortion of the truth.10

An angel is not merely a robot; it is something like a robot with its own intelligence. Perhaps the best analogy would be one of those androids in sci-fi which have their own intelligence and yet are incapable of deliberately doing something contrary to the function for which they were designed—but nevertheless make mistakes.

This is how the angels who were sent to destroy Sodom sinned. When an angel is sent on a divine mission, it is meant to fulfill that duty while putting its own identity totally aside. However, when the angels went to destroy Sodom, they spoke as if they themselves were going to destroy the city. While this had no impact upon the actual mission, it nevertheless was considered a sin in that it distorted the truth of their role in that mission. This was an error due to their imperfections, rather than a failure to fulfill a divine mission.

Additionally, Rabbi Yonatan Eibshitz11 explains that there are two types of sins. The first is the most common kind, a sin that comes through the evil inclination enticing us to do wrong. But there is another sort of sin which does not come through the evil inclination; on the contrary, this sin is transgressed out of "holiness."

Every person—and every angel—has his or her level of understanding and holiness. A person is meant to strive to reach higher and higher along an ordered path. The problem arises when a being (whether human or angel) tries to rise too rapidly and reaches a level of revelation or understanding that acutely transcends his objective state of being. This, Rabbi Eibishitz writes, can be compared to one who drinks too much wine too fast, or "more than he can hold," which causes him—at best—to fall asleep, while if he would have sipped his wine slowly not only would nothing negative have happened, it would have even been beneficial to his health.12

This then sheds new light upon the meaning of the above cited verse in Job. The angels are reproached not so much for sins that they may have committed in the conventional sense. Rather, it is for sins done out of purity and righteousness, by seeking to rise to a level that is higher than their objective state of being, as the verse states, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God, or can a man be purer than his Maker?"13

So in answer to your question, yes angels can sin. However, they can only sin through mistaking their mission or trying to reach levels of revelation where they do not belong.


Talmud, Shabbat 88b-89a; For an in-depth elaboration on this epic debate, see The Sinai Files.


Talmud, Bava Batra 16a.


With regards to the bnei elokim or nephilim in Genesis 6:2, while some do indeed interpret it as referring to angels, it is only once they were upon this earth and assumed the characteristics of human beings—effectively ceasing to be angels—that they sinned.


Some explain that this is because they were the angels that escorted Jacob from his father's house.


Midrash, Breishit Rabah 68:12. See there for alternative answers; see also Rashi to Genesis 19:22.


Another example of angels being punished can be found in the Talmud (Chagigah 15a) where the archangel Metatron received "sixty strokes from a fiery rod" as a punishment. However, some commentaries explain that he was not actually punished for any sins he had committed. Rather in heavens they "put on a show" of punishing him, in order to teach others a lesson. See Maharsha ibid.


Shnei Luchot Habrit, Beit Yisroel; see also Igrot Kodesh, vol. 14 p. 147.


Yaarot Devash, vol. 1 lecture 2.


See Talmud, Yuma 76a.


Job ibid.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Anonymous December 18, 2014

Are you saying then that a righteous God who is described as being holy- pure, clean, and had no injustice in Him, has assigned an angel to tempt humans and then punishes said humans when they do succumb? Sounds like entraptment to me. The vs in Job was said by one of his accusers who were propogating the wrong idea and was later corrected, it is being used out of context. All intelligent creation have free will, to choose what they want to do- there are consequences which we are warned about but the choice is still there. Angels included. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, New York October 31, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

G-d created said angel or “evil inclination” purely for the sake of rewarding humans when they do not succumb. Reply

zile St.Lucia December 15, 2014

When i read this article i see that people have no understanding of free will,free will is all about making choices ,and ability to act on ones own choices ,if angels have ability to ask questions just by doing that they are making a choice ,a robot which is programmed to do tasks has no free will nor it is able to ask questions because it is just a puppet ,but if you give that robot an ability to ask questions and to learn from the answers it gets it will also gain ability to make choices on the basis of what he learns and by doing that it will gain free will. Reply

Frank morris August 28, 2014

sin of a angel. This was a very good understanding of angels until the end of this article , man now i am confused, they can sin wow, some one help me on this. Reply

Anonymous WASHINGTON October 31, 2017
in response to Frank morris:

It made sense to me that an angel is like a robot with his own intelligence. How he decides to do God's intension or command is where he could sin. If he elevates his own position too high too fast-- that's where he could sin. Reply

Pam Maryland July 18, 2014

do they know the difference If angels can do what's wrong and get punished for it, does that mean they know good from evil? knowing good from evil is different from having free will; if there's no free will among angels, they don't necessarily know that what they do is wrong, all they know is they are doing Gd's will. In that case, if they didn't know any better, what is the purpose of the punishment? Reply

Anonymous April 14, 2014

If angels are here to help us, and there sins are due to misunderstanding GODs intentions, then it seems to reason that some our misdirected decisions, not sins, are due to angels misunderstandings in trying to help us?
This is a question, thats why it starts w/the word "if" and is not a negative directed toward GOD or angels! Reply

Gershom Hong Kong November 25, 2012

Clarification of note 3 When you say that " some do indeed interpret as referring to angels ", do you refer to some Jewish source or some as in some Non Jewish sources? Reply

Gershom Spain October 29, 2012

Angels atonement So if an angel can sin in some ways, my question is how can an angel get atonement for his mistake or fault or sin? Someone suggested that our prayers atone for their sins but that is not convincing for me. I asked the person to give me a reference to rabbinic literature but he never did. I find the article very refreshing and it answers some questions that did not get complete answer before. Thanks Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via August 24, 2012

So, nu? Please define what you mean When you say the word "Angel" and when you say the word "sin". By the way, since when did the Angels get the ten commandments or any other commandment? Reply

Anonymous Fairfax August 23, 2012

interesting comments The only creations that have free choice is humans. What you described as angels having a will to choose evil is the definition of a true Human Tzaddik of whom the evil inclination has no power and therefor does not affect this individual. While people may call him/her an angel, in fact is still human. Reply

Anonymous Fairfax August 23, 2012

innocent mistakes and punishment No, the nephillim were not angels according to Rashi although it is tempting to interpret this way. I was not referring to Nephillim. Satan is not a rogue angel. His purpose among others is to prosecute in the heavenly court and to provide the choice of evil that we must not choose. He is a creation of Hashem for His purposes Shem Yisroael Hashem Elokim Hashem Ehud - Listen Isreal, our merciful Hashem is also The One who Judges and tests us. There is no one else. He creates Light and makes darkness. There is no other. All creations do His bidding. Reply

Jeff Springfield, MO/USA August 21, 2012

Angels and sinning Questions occured reading this: If the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was set in the Garden, but Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of it "lest they become like angels knowing good and evil" who was the tree for? Further why was the serpent there if given to tempting Man? Was the serpent Satan sent to deliberately tempt Eve? If so why and how does G-d cursing it make sense? If not Satan, why did G-d create a creature with free will enough to tempt Man and flummox G-d's plans? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via February 12, 2012

This answer gives credence to the atheistic Philosophy of there being no G-d, and that all thing spiritual are mythology and superstition. I don't believe the answer given. I can't, because I believe in G-d. I can not reconcile the answer with a belief in G-d. Reply

Anonymous Fairfax, VA February 12, 2012

Angels - Free Choice? Please consider the reason for our free choice. We are charged with the mission of completing the world. In order to do that we must have to choice to do good in the face of evil for the purpose of fixing the physical world. This is not the mission of angels. Their charge is to do HaShem's bidding without choice. They do not fix the physical world and therefore do not need choice of good and evil Reply

Giordano February 9, 2012

Reaching beyond one's objective state There are many G-dly individuals who have fallen into this trap. Those who have sought knowledge where it is regarded as forbidden may also cause the sin of the angel willing to divulge such secrets...but, of course, the temptation to reach beyond ourselves is a great one and the promise of arcane and secret knowledge still lures thousands of young people to abandon the wisdom of Torah, Kabbalah and its commentators and waste years in fruitless searching. That's why we need great clarity and outreach at this time, to all who search for knowledge without understanding what they are really searching for. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin (Author) July 19, 2011

Re: I don't get it about angels For a discussion about when the angels were created see When were the angels created Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via July 18, 2011

I don't get it about angels. When were they created? They are not listed in the 7 days of creation. Reply

Jack Jones Huntsville, Alabama September 5, 2010

Re:Chaya I am not advocating a Christian view (which is full of Roman/Pagan mythological imagery and influence) I am simply saying as above "all created beings have free will" But that Angels, because of the rank which is their attainment in creation, are not tempted in the way that we are, and thus do not make the same mistakes typical of human beings with HUMAN evil inclinations! Actually though, all freedom is limited freedom; that goes for humans AND Angels! So from a relative point of view, we are all ultimately under The Creators control fulfilling a divine plan. As for a "rebellion" among Angelic ranks, free will + a flawed spiritual understanding = what? A rebellion? Perhaps... But as I mentioned above "The circumstances needed to test an Angel are way beyond our current level of understanding" By the way, the Hebrew word Angel simply means "messenger", so what IS an Angel? Can I be one? Can you be one? I think we are talking about The Higher Beings though. I hope this helps out! Shalom ! Reply

Chaya Atlanta September 2, 2010

Perhaps, but Thanks for your comment Jack. Are you then saying that the christian idea of an angel rebellion is possible? I've come to believe that if everything is ultimately in control by the Creator, then angels would not be 'rebelling'. Interested in your ideas about it.

Any scriptural or rabbinic support for either theory? Reply

Jack Jones Huntsville, Alabama July 22, 2010

Interesting comments It's nice to see such interesting debate on this subject. Everyone sees something different. So I will leave my thoughts as well. First of all, The Higher Beings sometimes called Angels are definitely not "Robots." All created beings have free will, but do not "sin" (as we understand the word) because of their level of intelligence. I, for example, am free to stick my hand in a meat grinder, but I don't because it's STUPID. The Higher Beings can err, but (because of their level of intelligence) what is sin for them is not something we can understand from our perspective. An Angel SEES something from a MUCH broader perspective and therefore could, but will not, do something we might do out of our ignorance. The circumstances needed to test an Angel are way beyond our current level of understanding. Ignorance is really the cause of sin and error in the first place. After all nobody would ever sin or err if they understood the long-term consequences of their actions, believe me. Reply

Raj usa May 15, 2017
in response to Jack Jones:

Absolutely right! if we understand the long term consequences of our actions we would not sin. However, others will like to sin deliberately knowing the consequences. To the angels i was surprise to read that they can also commit sin thanks for the article that put in some light on the level or nature of sin they commit not in the human perspective. Beyond our comprehension. Still a bit confused about their sins. Was it sin that made Satan and other angels thrown out from heaven? nor what. Are we human once an angel too Reply

Anonymous Fairfax, VA December 22, 2009

innocent mistakes and punishment In the interest of justice, why would an innocent mistake be punished so severely? If an innocnet mistake yields 138 years of exile, how can a poor misfortunate who gave in to the evil inclination due to weakness bear the punishment as Cain lamented his punishment. Shouldn't mercy be extended to the angel that made an innocent mistake Reply

raj usa May 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

138 years could be just 13 day and 8hrs in the sight of the angels. We don't have the same calendar type of year. A 1000 years could be just 1 day. Interesting! Reply