One of the most interesting and difficult passages to interpret is Genesis 6:1-8. Generally speaking it explains the reason why God brought the flood to wipe out mankind and the animals. It explains why the flood was necessary. This article will focus on the question, “Who are the sons of God” mentioned in verse 2? Before I get started let me make a couple of observations.
- The meaning of this passage has been debated for centuries. There are highly intelligent and Bible believing scholars who hold to different views. There are two primary views. I will present the case for one and then mention the other view along with a few others you will encounter in your study of this subject.
- Do not let this become a point of division between you and other believers. You may have a strong opinion regarding this matter, but it is not worth conflict between you and another fellow Christian.
- Even though my view will be clear, I cannot be dogmatic about this passage other than whatever happened it was so grievous that God decided in all His wisdom the best course of action was to eliminate mankind except for Noah’s family.
- Two important aspects in interpreting this passage is context (scripture-beside-scripture) and what other Scriptures say about it (scripture-with-scripture). Scripture-beside-scripture examines what is said immediately before and after the text. Scripture-with-scripture examines what the rest of the Bible says about the text. In this article I will attempt to do both, along with evaluating the original language used.
With that said, let’s begin with Genesis 6:1-8,
When mankind began to multiply on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful, and they took any they chose as wives for themselves. 3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men of old, the famous men. 5 When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time, 6 the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and he was deeply grieved. 7 Then the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I created, off the face of the earth, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I regret that I made them.” 8 Noah, however, found favor with the Lord. (CSB)
Most Biblical scholars would agree that this is one of the most difficult passages of Scripture in the Old Testament to interpret. The main problem revolves around the identification of the “sons of God” in verse two.
To get us started, let’s take a look at a statement from Jesus. A couple of days before Jesus’ crucifixion, His disciples asked, “What is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 22:3, CSB). His answer included various signs to look for, but Jesus summarized His answer when He said, “As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be” (vs. 37-39, CSB). By saying this, Jesus confirmed the historical accuracy of the great Flood, but also encouraged His disciples, including us, to study closely the characteristics of the days before the Flood if we want a better understanding of what the days would be like prior to His return.
In the generations and days leading up to the Flood there arose a great moral and spiritual decline. Materialism, ungodliness, and violence abounded. It came in like a tidal wave of depravity. It was during this time the “sons of God” saw the “daughters of mankind” and took them as their wives, the children of such unions became the giants on the earth, mighty men of renown.
I will present the case for the “sons of God” to be fallen angels. After presenting my case, I will also present other views you will come across as you study this amazing subject. As I present my view, along with the other views, you will have questions. Each view has its own weaknesses and struggles. By the end of the article you may have more questions than answers, but at least the journey has begun. One of my goals for this article is to bring clarity to the text and give you a greater desire to study the Word of God for yourself.
Summary Description: The fallen angels view interprets this passage to teach that certain fallen angels (“sons of God”) took on the form of men, had relationships and intercourse with the “daughters of mankind” which resulted in giants called Nephilim. This horrible sin and rebellion against God was an attempt by Satan to contaminate mankind’s genepool to prevent the Messiah from being born and caused a world-wide generation of extreme wickedness that had never been seen before nor since resulting in God taking action of judgement against the entire planet.
What is the Biblical foundation and evidence for this view? That question is answered by defining “sons of God,” examining what light the Old Testament and New Testament shed on the subject, understanding who the Nephilim are, and addressing a few objections.
The phrase “sons of God”
The phrase “sons of God” throughout the Bible refers to those directly created by God. This is why Adam, angels, Jesus, and Christians are all called the sons of God or the son of God. Let me explain.
- Adam was a son of God because he was directly created by God. According to Luke 3:38 “Seth [who was the] son of Adam [who was the] Son of God” (CSB). Adam is the only human being who was created from nothing by God.
- Angels are sons of God because they were directly created by God. They were also given this title in Job (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). Angels would include fallen angels, who were also direct creations of God and at one time served God in Heaven, according to His created purpose.
- Jesus is called the son of God because He was directly created by God. Here me carefully, I do not mean that Jesus was a created being like angels or humans, because the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is eternal in His divinity. By saying that Jesus was “created” I mean created in the womb of Mary as a human by God when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. As God, Jesus had no beginning or end, but as a man, he had a beginning. He was born into the world by God the Father making Jesus the Son of God (1 John 5:20; Matt. 4:3, 6; 8:29; 14:33; 16:16; 27:54; Gal. 2:20; Heb. 4:14; 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:12).
- Christians are the sons of God because they are directly created by God (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 8:14; 9:26; Gal. 3:26; 4:6). When a person is born again the Bible says they become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). God’s Word teaches that all Christians have died to self (Gal. 2:20) and been “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). As Christians, we are direct creations of God, therefore we can be called sons of God.
Since the phrase “sons of God” refers to those who are directly created by God then the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 can only be one of the four options mentioned above. Well then, it can’t be Adam, he is already dead by Genesis 6. It can’t be Jesus, He hasn’t arrived yet. It can’t be Christians because being born again and regenerated in Christ can’t happen until after the resurrection of Christ. That only leaves one option, angels – more specifically fallen angels.
This is the first time the Bible uses the phrase “sons of God” (bene elohim).[i] To help us understand that phrase we need to apply the principle of interpretation of scripture-with-scripture. When a statement in the Bible is not clear the first thing you want to do is to see if the subject appears anywhere else in the Bible to help shed light on its meaning. In this case, the exact phrase “sons of God” (bene elohim) appears three times (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).[ii] A similar phrase (bar elohim) is used in Daniel 3:25 and another similar phrase (bene elim) is used twice in Psalms (Psalm 29:1; Psalm 89:6). All of them refer to some type of supernatural or divine being. Let’s examine each one.
Look carefully at Job 1:6, “One day the sons of God (bene elohim) came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them” (CSB). In this scene you have the LORD, Satan, and the sons of God. This is a meeting between spiritual and supernatural beings. It is interesting to look at other translations to see how they try to capture the meaning of bene elohim: “heavenly court” (NLT), “angels” (NIV), and “sons of God” (ESV, KJV, NASB, NET). Whoever these “sons of God” are, they are not human. They are supernatural beings according to Job 1:6. Remember, this is the same phrase (bene elohim) used in Genesis 6:2.
Now consider Job 2:1, “One day the sons of God (bene elohim) came again to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before the Lord” (CSB). Here we have another meeting between these supernatural beings. Of course, they are not equal with God but they are having a conversation with God about Job, which God initiated. Again, the context and scene of this encounter causes one to view these “sons of God” as some type of divine beings, probably the fallen angels.
These “sons of God” appear one more time in Job. Job is about to receive a serious lesson from God himself and about who God is. Beginning in Job 38:1, we read,
“Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words? 3 Get ready to answer me like a man; when I question you, you will inform me. 4 Where were you when I established the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God (bene elohim) shouted for joy?” (CSB).
If you look closely these “sons of God” were present when God “laid [the] cornerstone” for the creation of the earth. They appear to be the angels who witnessed creation.
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar has thrown three men into a large fire pit because they would not worship his god. After they were placed in the fire Nebuchadnezzar counted four people in the fire and shouted, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods (bar elohim)” (CSB). Bar elohim can also be translated divine being, a very similar Hebrew phrase referring to an angelic being.
In Psalm 29:1 David begins his praise to God by saying, “Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings (bene elim), ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” (CSB). This can also be translated as “sons of the gods.”[iii] Again, another Old Testament reference that identifies the “sons of God” as some type of heavenly or spiritual being.
Psalm 89 is another praise regarding how great God truly is and in verse 5 we read, “Lord, the heavens praise your wonders— your faithfulness also— in the assembly of the holy ones. 6 For who in the skies can compare with the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings (bene elim) is like the Lord? 7 God is greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, more awe-inspiring than all who surround him” (CSB). Bene elim can be translated as heavenly beings, angels or sons of the mighty.[iv]
After examining these Old Testament passages, there seems to be no reasonable doubt that, in so far as the language itself is concerned, the intent of the writer in Genesis 6 was to convey the thought of angels (fallen angels, heavenly beings) in Genesis 6. In addition, Genesis 6 seems to be making a contrast between “the sons of God” and “the daughters of mankind” which makes more sense if “the sons of God” are not really “the sons of mankind.”
1 Peter 3:19
Read carefully what 1 Peter 3 says, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (vs. 18-20, CSB).
The text adds the idea of a special declaration of Christ to these fallen angels during his descent to hell between the times of his death and resurrection. It does not mean that he offered the gospel to them; that would suggest that after death there is a “second chance” for salvation – a doctrine rejected elsewhere (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 6:2). It is rather that Christ proclaimed his victory over sin, death, and Satan to these “spirits in prison.” Basically, Jesus went to declare, “You lose, I win!”
Who are these “spirits in prison”? This is not referring to human beings, but to angelic spirits that rebelled against God.[v] Peter even refers to them as those “who in the past were disobedient.” Then Peter specifically mentions the time he is referring to as “when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared.” Could it be that these “spirits in prison” are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6? I think so.
2 Peter 2:4-6
We are told 2 Peter 2:4-10, “For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned but cast them into hell (tartarus) and delivered them in chains of utter darkness to be kept for judgment; 5 and if he didn’t spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others, when he brought the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and if he reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes and condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is coming to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, distressed by the depraved behavior of the immoral 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day by day, his righteous soul was tormented by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh and despise authority” (CSB).
The “angels who sinned” (what most believers see as demons) were cast into “hell” (tartarus). This is significant. The normal word for “hell” is ghenna or hades, but this very unique word, tartarus, is used instead. These “angels who sinned” have been placed in “chains of utter darkness to be kept for judgment.” There are some demons that still have freedom. They still roam the earth creating havoc. Jesus confronted them multiple times in His ministry, as well as the apostles. However, there seems to be a select group of demons that have been locked up until the final judgment to come. They are locked up in utter darkness in a place called tartartus. Let me be clear on this point, there are some demons who have been locked up and some who have not. What did “the angels who sinned” (demons) do that was so terrible and horrible that God decided to chain them in utter darkness? Could it be the sin was the sin of mating with humans and producing an ungodly hybrid of human and angel? Whatever it was it must be something outside of normal demonic activity.
Tartarus may explain the reaction some demons had to Jesus in Luke 8. Jesus was confronted by a man who was demon possessed by many demons. He had incredible strength and from time to time the people were able to restrain him with “chains and shackles” however he was able to “snap the restraints” (Luke 8:29). Then Luke tells us Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” The demons replied, “Legion,” and Luke adds “because many demons had entered him.” Then “they begged him not to banish them to the abyss” (Luke 8:31, CSB). Is it possible the “abyss” the demons are referring to is tartarus, the place where “the angels who had sinned” have been imprisoned by God? Is it also possible this prison is the same prison Peter mentions in 1 Peter 3:19? As one begins to connect the dots regarding the events around Genesis 6 regarding the “sons of God” the scriptural evidence for the “sons of God” being fallen angelic beings becomes clearer.
Let’s take a look at Jude 5, “Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe; 6 and the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day. 7 Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns committed sexual immorality and perversions, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (vs. 5-7, CSB). The Christian Standard Bible adds in the footnote that “perversions” can also mean went after other flesh.
In this verse the comparison is not in the matter of judgment itself. Jude does not say, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah were judged.” The comparison is rather in the area of the sin that occasioned the judgment, and this, as Jude shows, was a sexual sin of a particular kind. In some translations this is hidden by such wording as “sexual immorality and perversion” (NIV, Phillips) or “unnatural lusts” (RSV, NEB). But the Authorized Version is closer to the Greek text when it speaks of the Sodomites as “giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh [sarkos heteras].” Could it be that this “strange flesh” is the flesh of the angelic men who visited Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-11). The men of Sodom did this in desiring sexual relations with the angels who had come to visit Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18-19). The implication would be that in doing so they repeated the sin of the angels of Genesis 6, who “in a similar way” had desired relationships with women. If this is the case then it’s possible that when angels appear in human form they also have reproductive organs just like they would have a mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and hands.
John MacArthur makes some interesting comments,
Jude [is referring] to an extraordinarily heinous infraction by some of the fallen angels. That sin, recorded in the Old Testament (Gen. 6:1-4), was so severe that God placed the offending demons in chains to prevent them from committing such perversity ever again…. Peter said they sinned, whereas Jude described two closely related aspects of the fallen angels’ sin. First, they “did not keep their own domain.” Instead of staying in their own realm of authority given by God, they went outside it. Second, they “abandoned their proper abode.” With Lucifer they rebelled against their created role and place in heaven (cf. Isa. 14:12, NKJV). When God expelled them from heaven for that rebellion (cf. Rev. 12:4, 9), some continued their downward fall to the point of taking masculine human form and cohabitating with human women to produce a generation of demon-influenced, thoroughly corrupt children (cf. Gen. 6:11-13). God sent those particular apostate angels (demons) to a place under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Peter wrote that God “committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).[vi]
Another piece of evidence for the angel view of Genesis 6 is the reference to the giants or Nephilim in Genesis 6:4; The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men of old, the famous men (CSB). Let’s break this verse down into sections.
Who are these Nephilim? Let’s start with the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. However, as more and more non-Hebrew speaking people became followers of Jesus they wanted to be able to read the Old Testament. Around the 2nd century (about 200 years after Christ) about 70 scholars gathered together and translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek so more people could read it. It was quickly adopted by the early Christian churches.
When the scholars came to Genesis 6:4 to the word “Nephilim” (which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word) they chose the Greek word “gigantes” which we get our English word giant from. Those who were the closest to understanding the text in the original meaning decided that the word giant best described these Nephilim.
These Nephilim must have been impressive giants. In Numbers 13 some of the scouts looking at the future promise land returned with a negative report saying, “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (vs. 32-33, CSB).[vii]
To put the Nephilim in perspective let’s consider Goliath. We are told in 1 Samuel 17:4, “Then a champion named Goliath, from Gath, came out from the Philistine camp. He was nine feet, nine inches tall” (CSB). He was huge. We are not told whether or not he was a Nephilim, but if he was we are looking at incredibly large and strong men. If he was not a Nephilim and the Nephilim were even bigger and stronger then you can see why the scouts in Numbers 13 came back with the report about appearing as grasshoppers compared to them.
were on the earth both in those days and afterward,
There were giants (Nephilim) “afterward,” after the flood during the days of the Canaanites, and these were likewise known as the Nephilim (Num. 13:33). Humanly speaking, they were descended from Anak, and were also known as the Anakim. These people were known to Moses and it was probably he who editorially inserted the word “afterward” into Noah’s original record here in Genesis 6:4. What this seems to be telling us is that there were other times that other fallen angels had intercourse with women and the Nephilim were born. However, these were isolated events and not world-wide like in the days of Noah.
when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind,
This is another way of saying the “sons of God” (fallen angels) decided to have sex with “daughters of mankind.” This is most likely what Peter is referring to when he wrote, “the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared” (1 Peter 3:20). This is also what he could have been referring to when he wrote about “the angels who sinned” during the time of Noah (2 Peter 2:4-5). In addition, this is probably what Jude is referring to when he wrote about “the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). This is the sin, between fallen angels and humans, that caused God to become “deeply grieved” (Gen. 6:6) to the point that He decided to eliminate both mankind and animals from the earth.
who bore children to them.
Where did the Nephilim come from? It is difficult to say with certainty, but it appears they came from the union between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” Even though the wording in Genesis 6:4 is strange and difficult to translate, the implication seems to be that the “sons of God” (fallen angels) had sex with “daughters of men” and their children were the Nephilim (giants). (The question dealing with fallen angels having the ability to reproduce is dealt with below).
As a note of clarification, Genesis 6:2 states the sons of God took daughters of mankind “as wives for themselves.” This implies some of the unions were agreed upon by the daughters and parents. Some Bible interpreters view the Hebrew language to mean they took other men’s wives for themselves. If this is the case then you have rape and possibly adultery taking place. However, it should not surprise anyone if those horrible sins occurred on a regular basis since the very next verse states that “human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5).
They were the powerful men of old, the famous men.
If they were giants, then it should not be surprising that Genesis also tells us that they were “the powerful men of old” (6:4, CSB). They were strong, mighty, and renowned. They became famous due to their strength and abilities. Their acts of strength and violence made them famous in song and stories in all the nations following the Flood. To rebellious people of later times, they would have been revered as great heroes; but in God’s sight they were merely ungodly men of violence and evil.[viii]
Why would the Angels commit this horrible act?
Was this simply an act of lust or something more sinister? We are not told, but we can surmise based on what God’s Word tells us. It is possible that this unholy union between fallen angels and humans was a satanic attempt by Lucifer to nullify the first promise of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15 which states, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (CSB). This was said by God to Satan who was in the form of a serpent regarding his involvement and punishment for the fall of mankind into sin (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). This is a prophetic statement about the coming Messiah who would “strike” the serpent’s head and destroy His kingdom. This Messiah would come through the humans. It would be one of her (generically speaking, not Eve specifically) children. Eventually, that child was miraculously delivered to us through Mary and the virgin birth. Throughout history the devil has tried to stop the birth of this Messiah. You see this in the Pharaoh’s ordering the all the babies to be killed and Herod trying to kill the future King of Jews by having all the boys executed that were two years old or younger. The devil has tried every means possible to stop the arrival of the Messiah. Could it be possible the Devil also tried to stop the Messiah’s arrival through contaminating the seed and offspring of the “daughters of men” in an attempt to block the genealogical possibility of a Messiah ever being born?
If the devil and his demons were successful in contaminating the offspring with this hideous sin between fallen angels and humans then we begin to see why God would need to destroy the entire human race with a flood except for Noah’s family (who could have possibly avoided this contamination, which made he and his family pure in the eyes of the Lord among his generations).
Sexuality of Angels
One objection deals with the sexuality of angels. Some object to the fallen angel view because they believe angels are neither male nor female (sexless). They base this on a statement found in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus was asked a question about marriage after death and whose wife would a woman be if she had been married several times. Part of Jesus’ answer is in Matthew 22:30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven” (CSB). Several observations:
- The text does not say “angels are not able to marry.” Rather, it indicates only that angels do not marry.
- Also, the text is referring specifically to “angels in heaven.” It is not referring to fallen angels, who do not care about God’s created order and actively seek ways to disrupt God’s plan. The fact that God’s holy angels do not marry or engage in sexual relations does not mean the same is true of Satan and his demons.
While angels are spiritual beings (Heb. 1:14), they can appear in human, physical form (Mark 16:5). When you study the human characteristics of angels you discover them to be very human like when in human form. For example, in Genesis 19 “two angels” come to the city entrance of Sodom where Lot was sitting (v.1). Lot takes them to his home where their feet are washed (v.2). He prepares “a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast and they ate” (v.3). These angels were so humanlike they had feet to wash and they had stomachs to fill. In Hebrews 13:2 we are told, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it” (NLT). They are so human like that you think they are a normal person. Is it possible that when angels take human form they are completely human in the biological sense (they have eyes, mouth, nose, ears, hands, feet, hair), including reproductive organs? If so, then fallen angels who don’t care for God’s created order could use these bodies in ungodly ways.
Why do the fallen angels not attempt this sin more often? It seems that God imprisoned the fallen angels who committed this evil sin, so that the other fallen angels would not do the same (as described in Jude 6). Also, since the Messiah has been born and resurrected from the grave there is no need to aggressively pursue the “daughters of mankind” in order to stop the Messiah. Earlier Hebrew interpreters and apocryphal and pseudopigraphal writings are unanimous in holding to the view that fallen angels are the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. This by no means closes the debate. However, the view that Genesis 6:1-4 involves fallen angels mating with human females has a strong contextual, grammatical, and historical basis.
Salvation of Nephilim?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the bene elohim (“sons of God”) were, indeed angels, and that angels can assume such a total human form that they actually have male reproductive systems, then an important question would have to be asked relative to the nature of the offspring that would result from their sexual intercourse with human women. The identity of the “giants” is discussed above, but the seriousness of their problem does have a bearing on how we should interpret these unions. Fallen angels have no possibility of salvation, but fallen men and women do have at least this possibility. What, then, would be the case with “people” who were half-angel, half-men? I don’t have an answer to this question, I just present it.
There are several other views that people have held over the years. Below is a brief description of some of them.
The line of Seth
The “line of Seth” view believes the “sons of God” are the descendants of Seth and the “daughters of mankind” refer to the descendants of Cain. There are several reasons they hold this view: (1) Based on context, they see a connection between Cain’s descendants in Genesis 4 and Seth’s descendants in Genesis 5 with the “sons of God” and the “daughters of mankind” with a natural progression and summary of what happened between the two in Genesis 6:1-8. (2) They understand the line of Seth to represent the godly and the line of Cain to represent the ungodly. The law of Moses warns Israel against mixed marriages (Duet. 7:3). Some Christians have often attempted to make the story more easily understood by explaining the line of Seth represents believers and the line of Cain represents unbelievers.
The weakness of this view is that ordinary human males from the line of Seth marrying human females from the line of Cain does not account for why the offspring were the “Nephilim” or giants. It also doesn’t explain why their offspring would be “the powerful men of old, the famous men” (Genesis 6:4). Further, why would God decide to bring the flood on the earth (Genesis 6:5-7) when God had never forbidden marriage between Seth’s line and Cain’s line up to this time? In addition, why would the marriage between these two groups create a world where “every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5)? Although Scripture does teach that believers should not wed unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14; 1 cor. 7:39), there is no indication that this particular sin is unforgivable or more productive of general moral deterioration than other sins. Regardless of intellectual difficulties, it does seem clear that something beyond the normal and natural is described here in these verses.
Legend and Superstition
One view is simply to see this event as a legend and superstition, including the Flood. Some approach this event like they approach the fairy tales of old with ogres and dragons, and the myths of the gods consorting with people. Most who hold this view will dismiss the Flood all together.
Powerful Human Rulers
Another view is they were powerful human rulers. There are those who understand elohim (God or gods) in the sense of judges or rulers (see Exod. 21:6; Psalm 82:1, 6). Although rulers are sometimes called “gods,” they are not referred to in the plural as “sons of God.” For those who hold this view they still insist the “sons of God” (bene elohim) in Genesis 6 would refer to high-ranking men or princes who obtained wives creating a harem.
This view has very little Biblical support and avoids any supernatural implications. It comes with several unanswered questions such as: How does this produce the Nephilim? Why would this produce such a great level of wickedness that God would decide to devastate the earth with a Flood? The bottom line, this view is no more than merely an account of royalty marrying commoners. It doesn’t fit the context or have much Biblical support.
Rulers possessed by angelic beings
This view sees the “sons of God” as rulers who were possessed by angelic beings (demons). Their reasoning is based primarily on the following: (1) In the ancient pagan world kings were regarded as offspring of the gods and called “sons of the gods.” Supernatural evil powers could have been in league with those who exercised authority in those days (Daniel 10:13, 20; Ephesians 6:12), thereby possessing these rulers and leading them to engage in all kinds of sexual immorality with the “daughters of mankind.” (2) This view also sees a connection between the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 where the words “saw,” “beautiful” and “took” from Genesis 6:2 seem very similar to Eve’s transgression. In addition, as Adam complied in his wife’s sin, so the daughters and their parents was party to these sinful unions in Genesis 6. (3) When you mix demon-possessed rulers having sex with the daughters, parents agreeing to these acts with their daughters, and the line of Seth and the line of Cain adding their own sin to the mix one might be able to see how the wickedness on the planet could go from bad to worse. (4) This view believes the union between the demon-possessed rulers and the daughters of mankind produced this ungodly and violent race of men called the Nephilim.
Demon possession probably was occurring at a high level during the days of Noah but there are some concerns about this view. The weakness of this view is the little Biblical support it has, along with some unanswered questions such as: If the demon-possessed ruler’s union with a female produces Nephilim then why are we not seeing more and more of them today? Surely demon-possessed men are having sex with women still today? Why would this union produce such an ungodly atmosphere? If this is still occurring today, why wouldn’t God bring about another form of destruction on the earth if this was the case?
This view believes there is nothing abnormal happening in Genesis 6:1-8 except the amount of sin and wickedness. It simply sees the “sons of God” as men in general and the “daughters of mankind” as women in general. For this view, there is no involvement by fallen angels (demons) and no emphasis on the line of Seth or the line of Cain and no focus on earthly rulers. This view simply believes mankind was following the command to go be fruitful and multiply upon the earth (Gen. 1:28). In Genesis 6:1 the Bible states they were doing just that, “When mankind began to multiply on the earth….” For this view, Genesis 6:2 is saying no more than men found women attractive and married them and had children by them. The phrase “they took any they chose as wives for themselves” (v.2) is seen as the normal way of referring to marriage (Genesis 4:19; 11:29; 12:19; 25:1). When describing the events prior to the Flood, Jesus does not mention anything out of the ordinary. It was precisely the ordinariness of these activities that was highlighted by Him: “For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be” (Matthew 24:38-39, CSB). Life at that time went on as normal, but in arrogant independence of God.
The statement “who bore children to them” (Gen. 6:4), completes the picture that in those days people were having babies. These children grew to become the famous and mighty men of that period. The indication of the “Nephilim” on the earth may be no more than an indication of time, highlighting when the flood arrived. There are a number of asides in the writings of Moses and this may well be one of them (see Deut. 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:11, 13-14). Therefore this view holds that the text does not actually state that the giants were the fruit of the union between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of mankind.” Rather, these giants were normal people who did great and giant things and therefore became famous.
One of the primary weaknesses of this view is you must disregard what the Bible says about the “sons of God” (bene elohim) and “Nephilim” in other parts of the Bible. It is also does not answer why the strange wording of “sons of God” and “daughters of mankind,” why not simply say “men” and “women.” Man’s logic and reason may lead them to this view, but it will not hold together when held up to the light of Scripture.
Copyrighted 2021, Jeff Stott
[i] In addition to the arguments for the fallen angels I have provided in this article I also summit the following consideration by Henry Morris from “The Genesis Record: A Scientific & Devotional Commentary on the book of Beginnings.” He writes, “The interpretation of the passage obviously turns on the meaning of the phrase ‘sons of God’ (bene elohim). In the New Testament, of course, this term is used with reference to all who have been born again through personal faith in Christ (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; etc.), and the concept of the spiritual relationship of believers to God as analogous to that of children to a father is also found in the Old Testament (Psalm 73:15; Hosea 1:10; Deuteronomy 32:5; Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 43:6). Not one of these examples, however, uses the same phrase as Genesis 6:2, 4; furthermore, in each case the meaning is not really parallel to the meaning here in Genesis. Neither the descendants of Seth nor true believers of any sort have been previously referred to in Genesis as sons of God in any kind of spiritual sense and, except for Adam himself; they could not have been sons of God in a physical sense. In context, such a meaning would be strained, to say the least, in the absence of any kind of explanation. The only obvious and natural meaning without such clarification is that these beings were sons of God, rather than of men, because they had been created, not born. Such a description, of course, would apply only to Adam (Luke 3:38) and to the angels, whom God had directly created (Psalm 148:2, 5; Psalm 104:4; Colossians 1:16)” (165).
[ii] In the Old Testament a kindred expression is used, “sons of Jehovah,” and that would have been an ideal expression to use in Genesis 6, had it been the intention in that passage simply to differentiate between Cain’s descendants and Seth’s. In fact, it would have been a particularly appropriate expression because Genesis 4:26 records that, since the days of Enos, men had begun to call upon “the name of Jehovah.” Instead of using the expression “sons of Jehovah,” however, the text uses an expression elsewhere in the Old Testament as descriptive of supernatural beings. (Phillips, John; Exploring Genesis, 79).
[iii] Some Bible, like the Christian Standard Bible, will place a footnote stating that this can be translated as “sons of the gods.”
[iv] Like the other verses on this subject many of the other translations will footnote the Hebrew phrase bene elim can be translated as heavenly beings, angels, or sons of the mighty (See Christian Standard Bible).
[v] Christ directed His proclamation “to the spirits,” not human beings, otherwise he would have used psuchai (“souls”) instead of pneumasin, a word the New Testament never uses to refer to people except when qualified by a genitive (e.g., Heb. 12:23; “the spirits of the righteous”). (MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Peter, 209).
[vi] MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Peter & Jude, 164-165.
[vii] When, centuries later, the Israelites set out to conquer Canaan they had to face the Anakim, a race of giants. There was evidently a further outbreak of the same kind of lawlessness that produced the Flood, only that time in Canaan. That helps explain Noah’s cure upon his grandson, Canaan. Perhaps the second eruption was known to Moses (Deuteronomy 2:20-3:11). He notes it here, knowing Israel would have to face the problem in Canaan. (Phillips, John; Exploring Genesis, 80).
[viii] This may account for the countless legends and stories from Greek mythology, the half-man and half-god like humans or creatures with incredible strength or superhuman like powers.