Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6?
William Arnold III
Genesis 6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. 4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6? This has been a highly disputed passage for many years now, although it apparently was not originally. To the early Jews, this was referring to angels. For a few thousand years this was the favored interpretation, and it was not until only a few hundred years ago that rationalism and the modern mind has ruled this out as being impossible. First I must say that I think it may be a little presumptuous to make such a dogmatic claim about something we know so little about, especially when the evidence is so strongly in favor of this view. The only thing I can find that would seem to oppose this would be Jesus' statement that angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30). But Jesus does not say that they cannot reproduce. Now to us, reproduction without marriage seems like it must be wrong, and for us it is. Marriage is the institution that God gave man to reproduce life here on earth. But we do not know what type of system God has ordained for the angels in heaven. Animals mate and reproduce without marriage, so it would seem at least feasible that angels may do so. We just do not have enough knowledge of the angelic realm to make hard statements of what they do and do not do based merely on our assumptions.
The alternative interpretation of this verse is that the daughters of men referred to Cain's descendants and the sons of God refereed to Seth's descendants. It would seem strange that the phrase, "the daughters of men (adam)", would refer to the specific sinful lineage of Cain when even Jesus himself is called the Son of Man. Consider the words of this commentary:
The literal translation of this verse is, "And the sons of the Elohim saw the daughters of the adam that they were good (beautiful); and they took to them wives whomsoever they chose." . . . Now, it seems undeniable that the adam here spoken of were the Sethites. The phrase occurs in the history of Noah, just after giving his descent from Adam; Cain is absolutely passed over, even in the account of the birth of Seth, who is described as Adam's firstborn, such as legally he was. . . . The Cainites have already been depicted as violent and lustful, and their history has been brought to an end. Moreover, in verse 3, "the adam with whom God will not always strive" is certainly the family of Seth, who, though the chosen people and possessors of the birthright, are nevertheless described as falling into evil ways.1
Furthermore, it does not seem likely that the sons of God would refer to men in the Old Testament who had not been redeemed. It is by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Spirit of adoption, Romans 8:15) that we are adopted as the sons of God. Israel was seen as being a corporate son of God (Ex. 4:22,23), but never as sons individually. But we do see clearly that angels are called the sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).
This chapter goes on to say that when God looked upon the earth that, "behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth." (v. 12, 13) All flesh was corrupt, but it says that, "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations" (emphasis added). Could this be saying that Noah and his family had not interbred with these others, and that one of the reasons that God destroyed the earth was so that he could start mankind over with an uncorrupted race?
II Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
Now another fall than that of about Satan and his angels must be in view here. They are still awaiting their imprisonment, and are now free to roam the earth (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10). So where does Peter get this idea from? The most probable interpretation is that this is in line with the following two verses. If that is the case then it is interesting that he speaks of the flood in the very next verse, which is recorded right after the account of the sons of God in Genesis. When God decided to take action and he "spared not the angels", he also took action on the world and "spared not the old world." He goes on to talk of Sodom and Gomorrah which story also follow afterwards in chronology. Furthermore, this entire chapter has much to say about lust and fornication, as does Jude.
Jude 6 You also know that the angels who did not keep within their proper domain but abandoned their own place of residence, he has kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up for the judgment of the great Day. 7 So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet these men, as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones. – NET Bible (emphasis added)
This passage seems to me to give the most credence to the belief that the sons of God in Genesis were indeed angels. Jude says that they kept not their first estate (arche, principality),2 but left their own habitation (oiketerion, habitation, dwelling place).3 Now what other realms do we know of but the spiritual and the physical? It appears that these angels left the heavenly region that God had appointed for them and ventured into the realm of man in a way that was forbidden. The next verse says that Sodom and Gomorrha did "in like manner with them"4 giving themselves over to fornication and going after "strange flesh." The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was the same as "them", the angels. We see the people of Sodom and Gomorrah going after "strange flesh" when the angels came to destroy the cities (Gen. 19:24).
The next verse also states that, "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh." Each time, sexual immorality with the "flesh" is involved with their sin, and as in II Peter, the theme, or context of the chapter has more to say about lust. Now it seems that both Peter and Jude get this fuller story from the book of Enoch, which Jude actually quotes from in verses 14 and 15, and Peter may allude to elsewhere. The book of Enoch tells the story of the angels interbreeding with people in great detail, even giving the name of several of them. The apocryphal book of Tobit presents this story also. Now although these books may not be scripture, that is no reason to dismiss them as not being accurate accounts of history. Their story, coupled with everything previously mentioned seems to build a strong case for the idea that the sons of God in Genesis 6 actually were angels.
1. _______ A Bible Commentary for English Readers, (London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited, ncd.), vol. 1, p. 35. <back>
2. W. E. Vine, The Expanded Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 434. <back>
3. Vine, 517. <back>
4.George R. Berry, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 621. <back>
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