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Who are the "Sons of God" in Genesis 6?

Q. Who were the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:2-4?

A. There are two main views concerning the identity of those “sons of God.”  They were either fallen angels, i.e. demons, or they were men descended from Adam’s grandson, Enosh, who were faithful to the LORD (YAWEH).

First, let’s consider the view that they were fallen angels.  In the Old Testament angels are sometimes referred to as “sons of God” (cf. Job 1:6 KJV or NASB).  So, in Genesis 6 if the “sons of God” were angels, what was happening was some of the angels were taking human women, “the daughters of men,” and they were bearing offspring together (Gen 6:4).  Such an unnatural union is truly bizarre, and that interpretation is supported by the notion that these offspring were quite unusual.  They were “giants” as the KJV translates, or “Nephilim” in the NASB and NIV.  There are also two passages in the New Testament which seem to refer to the circumstances described in Genesis 6, they are 2nd Peter 2:4-8 and Jude 5-8.  We are told in these epistles, “angels when they sinned” (Peter), and “angels who did not keep their own domain” (Jude) were judged by God.  In Jude especially, the comparison is drawn between the angels’ improper activity and the gross immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah when they “went after strange flesh.”  These observations, taken together with what is recorded about the wicked conditions, which resulted on Earth in the days of Noah, form a convincing argument for the interpretation that the “sons of God” are fallen angels.

Second, let’s consider the view that they were the descendants of Enosh, men who were faithful to God.  The Bible tells us that in the days of Enosh, “men began to call upon the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26).”  This interpretation explains that it was these men who were being referred to as the “sons (children) of God” in Genesis 6, in the same sense that John describes those who are born of God (John 1:12-13).  Paul also explains the true identity of the sons/children of God in Romans 8:14 and 9:4-8, even applying that description to the Israelites of the Old Testament times (cf. Moses’ description, Deut 32:5-6).  So, in Genesis 6, if the “sons of God” are men, what is happening is God’s people, the believers we might say, are intermarrying with unbelievers.  The tragic result was the dilution of the influence of righteousness in society until, in the days of Noah, God said to Noah, “you alone I have seen righteous before Me in this generation (Gen 7:1).”  This interpretation has the advantage of not having to explain how demons, spirit-beings with no material substance (e.g. no DNA or cellular components), could procreate with human beings.  It also is consistent with and forms the foundation for a principle taught throughout God’s Word, the extreme importance of marrying only within the family of God (Exo 34:11-16, 2nd Cor 6:14-18).  The Bible relates many tragic lessons from the lives of those who did not heed God’s prohibition of “spiritual intermarriage,” e.g. Esau, Samson, Solomon.  If the “sons of God” were indeed men, Genesis 6 teaches us the sobering lesson that mankind didn’t require the “help” of demons to plunge into such debauchery and violence that God said of Man, “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).” 

Many excellent, Bible believing scholars and students of the Word agree with either one or the other of these two interpretations.  In years past, I adhered to the first interpretation discussed above, that the “sons of God” were fallen angels.  I have great respect for that opinion, however, I have come to think that the best interpretation of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 is that they were human beings, descendants of Enosh.  What concerned me most about the “fallen angel” interpretation, I must admit, comes from my background in biology, and more specifically genetics.  The idea of angels which are purely spiritual beings (they have no corporeal substance) being able to produce offspring with human beings (who have material bodies requiring material egg and sperm for reproduction) seemed untenable to me.  Demon possession is one thing, demons creating new life forms is quite different.  So even with the notion that somehow such offspring were indeed “different,” i.e. they were giants, I do not think such procreation is possible in God’s creation, especially given the uniqueness and importance of the bearer of the divine image, Man.

I also considered how the “hybrid offspring hypothesis” was influenced by the notion that these offspring were “giants.”  At least for me, that idea did indeed make the fallen angel interpretation somehow more reasonable.  But were those “mighty men who were of old, men of renown” described in Genesis 6:4 necessarily giants, or in other words, physically unusual?  The term giants found in the KJV is a translation of the Hebrew term which transliterated in English is Nephilim.  The term Nephilim occurs only three times in the Bible, in Genesis 6:4 and twice in Numbers 13:33,  "There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight (NASB)."  The reason for translating Nephilim as “giants” in the KJV is because the sons of Anak (part of the Nephilim) were the giants in the land of Canaan in the days of Moses (Numbers 13).  The most famous giant was Goliath (1st Sam 17) who was just one of many giants still living in the days of David (1st Chron 20:4-8).  What needs to be remembered, though, is the sons of Anak were not descendants of the Nephilim recorded in Genesis 6, for they were all destroyed in the flood.  The Nephilim in Moses day must have been given that descriptive name in remembrance of those “mighty men of old,” but there is no necessary correlation between the gigantism of the sons of Anak and the “men of renown” in Noah’s day.  I think our best understanding of what the Nephilim of the pre-flood era were like is given to us right there in Genesis 6:4, “Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”  They were the princes, the conquerors, the heroes of those days.  As God’s people observed the ways of the world, they tragically were lured away from a relationship with God by the riches and beauty of the women of the world, and all that the world offered.  And so, equipped with the blessings of a Godly heritage combined with the skillful application of worldly methods--for a while--the unholy alliance of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” resulted in greatness for the offspring.  The “Nephilim” apparently ruled the world, but of all mankind only “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:8).”

Finally, there still is the question of the apparent references to angels in 2nd Peter and Jude.  If the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are not fallen angels, to whom are Peter and Jude referring?  I suggest that as we see demonic activity recorded in the Bible during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and as we see evidence of demonic possession even today, so similar activity was taking place, perhaps even more commonly, before the flood.  Peter and Jude are citing God’s judgment of sin in days past, whether the sin of men or angels, and warn us that God will judge sin again.  Praise God for His warnings, and most especially, praise God for providing the Substitute, Jesus, Who has taken upon Himself the judgment we sinners deserve.  It is my hope that because you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you do not have to fear the coming judgment of God, but rather, you have the hope of eternal life.  “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become sons of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).”

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