The Sons of God and Daughters of Men

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. – Genesis 6:1-4

This is one of those passages in the Bible which is somewhat cryptic and has produced a variety of views. Some men are all to happy to come up with fantasy from the shadows of their minds to explain what this verse is saying. The phrases ‘the sons of God’ (verses 2,4), ‘the daughters of men’ (verses 2,4), and the ‘Nephilim’ (verse 4) are the focus of many fables. There are three basic interpretations to consider.

The Despotic Rulers Interpretation

Meredith G. Kline wrote, “The sons of God could be translated ‘the sons of the gods’. Ancient texts attest to an ideology of divine kingship; human kings were called sons of various gods.” (Kline 1970, 87; cf. 1962, 187–204). Kline, M. G. 1970. “Genesis.” In The New Bible Commentary. 3rd ed. Edited by D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, 79–114. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). For example, in Egypt, the king was called the son of Re. Therefore, these “sons of God” are believed to be greedy, wicked rulers.

According to this view the “daughters of men” would be commoners. The rulers would take as many of them as he found to be beautiful. Lamech, a descendent of Cain, takes two wives (Gen. 4:19-24). John Walton does not believe it was the practicing of polygamy. “An alternate understanding may be found in a practice noted in the Gilgamesh Epic as the prime example of Gilgamesh’s tyranny, namely, his exercising of the right of first night with a new bride: ‘He will couple with the wife-to-be, he first of all, the bridegroom after.’ (Walton, J. H. 2001.

Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan) and (Walton, J. H. 2009. “Genesis.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 1. Edited by J. H. Walton, 2–159. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan).

Thus, the Nephilim are the children born to the union of rulers and commoners. A new race of mixed peoples. “However, in Genesis 6:4 the word is not just Nephilim as in Numbers 13:33, it is Nephlim-Gibborim. Gibbor, meaning “a mighty man of valor, strength, wealth or power.” Nimrod in Gen. 10:8 was such a gibbor.” The Nephilim are the wicked and violent men who are the born of an evil union.

There are a couple problems with this view. First, it defines “Nephilim” is such a way that it is too limited to be compatible with how it is used 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. Second there is no proof that “sons of God” was every used of wicked rulers.

The Fallen Angels Interpretation

The next explanation of this passages tells us that the “sons of God” were fallen angels who cohabited with humans to produce a hybrid race called “Nephilim” (Gen 6:4). This is one of the oldest and popular views of this passage. Josephus, the Jewish historian and contemporary of the apostle John, wrote, “For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.” Philo, a Jewish philosopher, who lived during the time of Christ also accepted this interpretation.

Further, within the Dead Sea scrolls this view appears. Some early Christian writers post-New Testament era held this opinion. Justin Martyr says God “evidently made for 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 who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings.” Around 177 AD in his treatise A Plea for the Christians Athenagoras showed support.

Commodianus explained, “When Almighty God, to beautify the nature of the world, willed that that earth should be visited by angels, when they were sent down they despised His laws. Such was the beauty of women, that it turned them aside; so that, being contaminated, they could not return to heaven.” There are a plethora of modern scholars who also hold to this interpretation.

Support for the “sons of God” being angels can be found in the Old Testament. The Hebrew phrase for sons of God is bene elohim found in Job 1:6; 2:1 and 38:7. Each time it refers to angels. An Aramaic phrase that is equivalent to the Hebrew is found in Daniel 3:25 where Nebuchadnezzar looks into the burning fiery furnace where he has cast Daniel’s three friends and notice there are four men and then says, “The fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Angels are called “sons of the Mighty” in Psalms 29:1 and 89:6.

Even the New Testament has been appealed to for supporting this interpretation. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:18-20).

Peter seems to be saying that subsequent to His resurrection, Christ went to proclaim His victory over sin and death to the angelic beings who sinned in Noah’s day. In his other letter Peter wrote, “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” (2 Peter. 2:4). “Hell” in this verse is “Tartarus” which is a place in the Hadean realm for the wicked dead to suffer and await Judgment Day.

Similarly, Jude wrote that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:5b-7). Jude is quoting from the Jewish literature called 1 Enoch. It says,

“And He answered and said to me, and I heard His voice: ‘Fear not, Enoch. . . . And go, say to the Watchers of heaven [angels], who have sent thee to intercede for them: “You should intercede for men, and not men for you: Wherefore have ye left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of earth, and begotten giants (as your) sons. . . ? And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin. . . . And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them [Book of Enoch 15].

Thus, the opinion is that “the sons of God” in Genesis 6 are these fallen angels. They sinned by assuming human form and marrying human females called the “daughters of men”. As a result of this marriage their offspring are known as “nephilim” which are half-angel and half’ human. They are giant in size compared to mere humans. Now there was a new race of men on the earth. It is true that there are legends of giants in most ancient cultures around the world. The Old Testament speaks existence of giants at an historical fact.

Although the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 being fallen angels marrying human females is very popular and seems to have a great deal of support, it is fraught with many problems. First, the book of Enoch is not inspired scripture. It is from the Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature of the intertestamental period. Jude and the rest of the Jews did not believe it was written by Enoch inspired by God. Notice Jude does not even quote the part about angels coming to earth and marrying women. The point of Jude is God’s judgment upon the ungodly and not an interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4. If God created the angels and they were punished for their rebellion, He will certainly punish ungodly men. The story of Genesis 6:1-4 simply is not compatible with the context of Jude: damnation of false teachers; disbelieving Israelites destroyed; deserting angels detained in darkness; and the destination of deviant homosexuals.

Likewise, 2 Peter 2:4 is not discussing Genesis 6:1-4. He is telling how the fallen angels ended up losing their place with God and were kept chained in darkness until Judgment Day.

Another fact often overlooked, is Jesus clearly pointed out that angels do not marry. “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30; also see Mark 12:25 and Luke 20:34-36). When God created man and woman and placed them in the Garden, He commanded them “to be fruitful and multiply.” That command was never given to angels. Nowhere are angels said to marry and have children. Even if angels did become flesh and marry women how would that be a violation of God’s will for marriage. Men are to marry women.

According to Numbers 13:33 the Nephlim are giant humans not half-breeds of human and angels. How can they be offspring of angels, if they existed both before and after the worldwide flood?

Nowhere in the writings of Moses are angels equivalent to the phrase “sons of God.” Job’s mention of the “sons of God” is in contrast to Satan who was likely a fallen angel. Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzch maintain that the angel view is “not warranted by the usages of the language” and is “altogether unscriptural” (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 The Pentateuch, (Grand Rapids Eerdmans), 128). In the New Testament the phrase “sons of God” is used for all believers. It is used of Adam in Luke 3:38: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

The punishment for the “sons of God” marrying “the daughters of men” was the sending of the flood upon the earth to destroy all living men. Nothing is said about punishing angels who came to live as men on the earth. God regretted creating man not angels.

The Mixed-Marriage Interpretation

An alternate interpretation is gaining popularity today. It is not a new view but is found in the writings of Julius Africanus from 160 to 240 AD. He believed the “sons of God” were the decedents of righteous Seth who began to marry the ungodly offspring of Cain just because of their physical beauty. The context is the most important fact in determining the meaning of a word or phrase. For example, in the Old Testament the phrase “Son of Man” is used in reference to the prophet, Ezekiel. However, in the New Testament is refers to Jesus Christ.

Less than two thousand years had passed from the time of Creation to the sending of the Flood. Chapters five and six are tied together by the phrase “and it came to pass.” A contrast between the wicked line of Cain and the righteous men of Seth’s lineage is found in chapters four and five. The descendants of Seth “began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26), “walked with God” (5:24), and “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). These are the “sons of God.”

In the New Testament all men can be sons of God spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). Jesus said, “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). Paul explained, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26; also see Romans 8:14,19; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 3:1,2; Matthew 5:9).

These righteous sons of God in Genesis six saw the outwardly beautiful “daughters of men” and began to choose these types of men to be their wives. This does not imply that godly women are not attractive. There may have been something about the loose character of these women which tempted the men to choose them. Samson was to be a man chosen by God but due to his lust chose to chase after Philistine women. This of course led to his downfall.

So, then who are the Nephilim? These are not the offspring of the union of righteous men and worldly women. They are giants as mentioned in Numbers 13:33 in the report given by the twelve spies: “There we saw the giants [lit. nephilim, DRV] (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” While Moses was writing his five books, he was leading the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey. This land also had giants. Moses is explaining that these men were part of God’s creation. They were men – just bigger.

Godly men or women marrying the ungodly women or men will bring wickedness upon the earth. This spiritual mixed marriage situation resulted in the worldwide flood and the destruction of all life except Noah and his family. It is still a grave problem today when a child of God falls for a child of the Devil. Such a marriage often results in the wicked pulling the righteous away from God. Furthermore, the children of this union are often influenced away from following God.

Far too often the Christian will be heard making the argument for marrying a worldly person in a vain attempt to win that person to Christ. What happens most of the time is that the worldly spouse will pull them down and away from God. While a camp counselor years ago, I had a bunch of ten-year-olds. When they claimed one can lead a child of the Devil to God through marriage, I gave a little demonstration as to how difficult that could be. I had them pick the biggest boy out of the group. He was to stand on the cement slab picnic table top and try to pull me up from where I was setting on the bench. He could not even budge me an inch. I then preceded to give him a little pull and he immediately came down off the table to land on the ground. It is hard to pull someone up and much easier to bring them down. Francis Schaeffer observed, “There is a constant prohibition…against the people of God marrying those who are not of the people of God.” (Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 126). Remember, King Solomon was the smartest man of his day and built the Temple in Jerusalem for God. Yet his 1000 wives lead him away from God to worship idols (1 Kings 11:4). So, if you are insistent on marrying a child of the Devil, you can expect a great deal of trouble from you father-in-law.

– Daniel R. Vess

2024-05-05 - The Gospel in Fifteen Words
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