Saturday, June 9, 2018
Who Were the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6?
This article will attempt to answer the question, “Who were the 'sons of God' and the 'daughters of men' of Genesis Chapter 6:1-4?" I posted the original version of this article on 3 January 2015, but since that time I felt the need to include more information and delete the commentary on the nephilim (who will be addressed in another article).
Bible passages will be from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted, beginning with the subject passage.
“When mankind began to multiply on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were beautiful, and they took any they chose as wives for themselves. And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because the are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterwards, when the sons of God came to the daughters of man, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men of old, the famous men.”
Let’s look at the phrase “sons of God” and see where it appears in the Bible, and what the Hebrew actually says (from Wikipedia):
Gen. 6:2: bənê hāʼĕlōhîm — the sons of Elohim
Job 1:6, 2:1: bənê hāʼĕlōhîm — the sons of Elohim
Job 38:7: bənê ĕlōhîm — (lacking the definite article) sons of godly beings
Now let’s look at them in context:
Job 1:6, 2:1: "One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.” 2:1 adds the word “again.”
Job 38:6-7: "What supports its [earth's] foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
In Job 1:6 and 2:1 we can easily see that the “sons of God” are heavenly beings, i.e. “angels” of some type. It says that when they came to God, Satan was with them. This seems to be saying that Satan is one of the “sons of God.”
Job 38:6-7 is an example of Hebrew parallelism, where the “morning stars” are the same as “sons of God.” The allusion is to angels who watched God creating the earth, and therefore had to be created first.
So, with the two passages in Job it appears that the term “sons of God” refers to angels. Other passages are similar: In Daniel 3:25 the person in the furnace [angel] is described as looking like “a son of the gods” or “the son of God” (KJV). A similar term is “sons of the mighty” (or “heavenly beings”) in Psalm 29:1 and 89:6.
There have traditionally been four main theories to who these "sons of God” of Genesis are:
1. ”Godly" descendants of Seth.
2. Kings or rulers described as "gods."
3. Fallen angels
4. Humans possessed by demonic fallen angels.
1. ”Godly" descendants of Seth. This really doesn’t make sense, and in my opinion is totally untenable. This claim makes the only “godly” people those who descended from Seth. This view also (usually) says that the “daughters of men” were descended from Cain — as if everyone who descended from Cain was evil! The Hebrew literally says “daughters of Adam,” which refers to all women. If all the descendants of Seth were so godly, why weren’t anyone but Noah and his family saved? Yet Matthew Henry subscribed to this theory, as do Kenneth Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III in their “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.”
The International Bible Commentary, with F.F. Bruce as general editor, states that “very early the Church Fathers, followed by many of the Reformers, referred [the term] to the descendants of Seth.”
2. Kings or rulers described as “gods." While some ancient rulers declared themselves to be gods, the context does not allow for this interpretation.
The International Bible Commentary, with F.F. Bruce as general editor, states that “It was only because the possibility of sexual relationships contradicted the general concepts of angels, that early rabbinic expositors understood it to mean persons of high social class, i.e. there was a disregard of social differences.”
3. Fallen angels. This theory apparently was the belief of the Jews and ancient Christians. Remember, the passage in Genesis said that the sons of God “took” the women they wanted — the implication being that they had the power to take what they wanted without question.
In his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 3, historian Josephus said “for many angels of God accompanied with women…”.
In his Second Apology of Justin, chapter 5, Justin Martyr stated: God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly to man . . . committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat children. . . .
The NKJV Study Bible: It may be that in this isolated case, fallen angels did assume human form and marry human women. . . . Here it appears that some of Satan’s angels, spirit beings, took on human form…and, out of a perverted lust, seduced women.
Charles Ryrie: … a group of fallen angels who, because of this unique sin, were confined …. The phrase “sons of God” is used in the O.T. almost exclusively of angels… Angels do not procreate after their kind (Mark 12:25), but if these were angels, they did on this unique occasion cohabit with human women to produce human offspring.
The International Bible Commentary, with F.F. Bruce as general editor, states that, “The earliest Jewish interpretation was of angelic beings; so LXX, Jubiliees, Enoch, Josephus (cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6).”
Arnold Fruchtenbaum, in his commentary on the book of Genesis, also supports this view, and points out that Augustine and Chrysostom were the first to posit the purely human view, and that before that Christians believed fallen angels mated with human women. He questions the idea of “godly men” marrying “ungodly women,” as the Sethite/Cainite view suggests. I highly recommend Fruchtenbaum’s examination.
William MacDonald also seems to support this view in his Believer’s Bible Commentary.
The main objection to this happens to be based on Jesus’ statement that there won’t be marriage or marrying in heaven in the resurrection, and that they will be like the angels in heaven (Mattthew 22:30, Mark 12:25). That does not say that angels were never capable of marrying, or that they were not capable of sexual unions with humans. And it only addresses the angels in heaven, not on earth. Neither of these passages say the angels are sexless. In every event with angels in the Bible, they appear in physical bodies in the form of men, and in Gen.18 even ate food, so the idea that they might also be sexual beings at that point shouldn’t seem far-fetched.
4. Humans possessed by demonic fallen angels. This is similar to idea number 1 in that the sons of God are angels, but in this case they possessed human men and so would have normal human function for sexual relations, and the offspring would be normal humans, but probably possessed.
Henry Morris, in his “Defender’s Study Bible” subscribes to this view, as does John MacArthur, as well as the pastor of the church I currently attend.
The New Testament addresses this issue from the standpoint of the “sons of God” being angels—but whether they were angels taking on human form or possessing men is not clear:
Jude 6 says, “and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling.” This has been explained by many commentators as pointing to the incident with the “sons of God,” as well as other fallen angels (demons).
Likewise, 2 Peter 2:4-5 says, “For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment…” These are most likely the same angels Jude is referring to.
The NET Bible essentially states that they may have been either the fallen angels or the angels possessing men: Since the passage speaks of these beings cohabiting with women, they must have taken physical form or possessed the bodies of men.
Many commentaries I’ve read (including those in my library) do not take a stance, but give all four theories as possibilities.
I believe that the only theory about the “sons of God” which makes sense is that they were fallen angels.