What is 1 Corinthians 6:3 saying? How will Christians judge angels?
Here’s the context of the passage:
1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (ESV) 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
“Angels” (angelos in Greek – literally “messengers”) are primarily referred to as celestial beings in Scripture, which is how we commonly think of them. (There are cases, however, when the term angelos is used to refer to human messengers of God’s message; the angels of the seven churches in Revelation are one such case – Rev. 2-3).
In 1 Corinthians 6:3, it seems Paul is referring to angels as celestial beings. He is in the process of rebuking the church at Corinth for not having the spiritual maturity to settle disputes among themselves over trivial cases within the church rather than “airing the church’s dirty laundry” before unbelievers by taking each other to court. In verse 2 he tells the church that the saints – Christians in general – will judge the world. Exactly how will Christians in general judge the world? Consider how the Hebrew writer said that Noah’s faith in God, expressed in his obedience to God’s commands, “condemned the world” (Heb. 11:7), or how the men of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba will “rise up at the judgment” with Jesus’ generation “and condemn it” because they repented at Jonah’s preaching and recognized the wisdom of Solomon…whereas Jesus’ generation had the actual Son of God among their midst and was not willing to listen to him. In like manner, we Christians – by our faithful, penitent obedience to God – will stand out in comparison above the world’s rebellious disobedience and lack of faith and thus “judge the world.”
Since Paul immediately says in the next verse that we will judge angels, then there’s a good chance he means that by our faithful, penitent obedience to God we will stand out above those disobedient angels who rebelled against God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) and thus “judge” them.
Granted, this interpretation is somewhat ambiguous because Paul doesn’t out and out express what he means here. By examining what is meant in these other passages which are similar, we have a good guess as to what is meant. It’s probably best to not take this meaning and hold to it in a dogmatic way, however.