Who Were the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6?
Genesis 6 is a cryptic passage of Scripture which precedes the historical account of the worldwide Flood. The event of Genesis 6:2-5 was one of the primary factors contributing to the wickedness before the Flood. Moses wrote that the “sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took then wives of all which they chose,” (Gen 6:2). The offspring from this union became a race called the Nephilim.
Three theories are generally proposed as to the identity of the “sons of God.” The least likely theory is that the “sons of God” were dynastic rulers. The appeal of this position is that it eliminates the difficulty of the passage rather easily. The “daughters of men” would be commoners, thus the reason for God’s judgment was the sin of polygamy. The Aramaic targums favor this interpretation.
Evidence given that great men--rulers and kings--took commoners to themselves in polygamous relationships is that magistrates and rulers often are referenced as gods (Ex. 21:6; 22:8-9, 28; Ps 82:1, 6). Another evidence is that kings are sometimes called the sons of deities. The problem with this interpretation is that kingship is not expressed in such a manner. Additionally, the Bible never considers kings to be sons of deity. The only possible exception to this would be Psalm 2:6-7, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. 7 I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." But even this passage poses a problem for adherents of this view since the passage is a prophetic reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. A final problem is that this theory fails to consider the association of verse 4: the “men of renown” are the Nephilim--not the children of the union.
A second view affirms that the “sons of God” were fallen angels who cohabited with humans to produce a hybrid race called “Nephilim” (Gen 6:4). The sin of Genesis 6 is the marriage between angelic creatures and mortals. The support for such an interpretation would be the plain reading of the biblical text, and the fact that the phrase “sons of God” is used of angels in such passages as Job 2:1,1 38:7, Psalm 29:1, and 89:7. New Testament passages such as 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Jude 6-7 are also cited as evidence since those texts seem to indicate that fallen angels abandoned their natural habitat to marry mortals. The angelic and human act is believed to have contributed significantly to the wickedness of Noah’s day. The Book of Enoch upheld this belief.
"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].2
The King James Version of the Bible renders the Hebrew as “giants” (rather than “fallen ones” as it should be translated). Consequently, the mention of “giants” is argued to support the notion that a superhuman race emerged from intermarriage between angels and mortals since ungodly men and godly women might sinfully marry today, yet their offspring will not produce giants. Additional support for the second view is that Christ said angels do not marry in heaven, but He did not say that they cannot marry (Matt 22:30).
Welsh preacher I.D.E. Thomas contended that the current UFO activity is best explained by comparing the account of Genesis 6 with the Lord’s prophecy in the Olivet Discourse: “as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt 24:37). Thomas believes that UFOs are demons (“fallen angels”); thus, similar to how they invaded the human race in Noah’s day, these fallen beings may attempt to repeat their actions prior to Christ’s second coming. 3 Jesus’ statement has no reference to the events of Genesis 6 occurring again; rather, He merely stated that in the days of Noah the unrighteous peoples were unconcerned regarding the coming judgment of the Flood; and there will be a similar lack of concern among unbelievers when He returns to the earth in judgment (cf. Matt 24:38, 39).
A major factor against both of the previous views is the context. Genesis 4 lists the ungodly line of Cain, and chapter 5 traces the godly line of Seth. In chapter 6, there is a marriage of the ungodly and godly lines, which would be the specific sin. Therefore, the “sons of God” would be the godly line of Seth, and the “daughters of men” would be the line of Cain. The context is the furthermost argument for this interpretation since the concept of a godly line is clearly established. Furthermore, the Hebrew (“and it came to pass, when men began to multiply”) would indicate continuity in thought between Genesis 5 and chapter 6. The sin that God’s people committed was intermarrying with the ungodly races, which is a common theme throughout the history of the Old Testament.
Admittedly, there are problems with such a view since the term “sons of God” never means a godly line anywhere else in Scripture. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the lines of Cain and Seth were completely separate from intermarriage. At the time of Genesis 6, the Lord had not chosen to distinguish one line from the other (i.e. Gen 12:1-3). The classification of “men” in Genesis 6 is quite general and would need more evidence to be understood otherwise. However, one shouldunderstand that "Nephilim" means “fallen ones” from Nephal, which means "to fall". Leupold translated the word as “attackers,” “robbers,” or “bandits." 4
The last two views seem to have the most biblical evidence; albeit both have problems. The New Testament references (1 Pet 3:18-22; Jude 6-7) do seem to imply uncommon demonic activity, but it would need more significant evidence to propose that the Nephilim were a hybrid race of some sort. Another important matter to consider is that Nephilim are mentioned again in Numbers 13:33 although it could also be that the spies lied when they reported there were giants.
- 1. The Septuagint reads, οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ (“the angels of God”).
- 2. CARM does not consider the Book of Enoch, to be Inspired Scripture. Translated by R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913; reprint, Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2004) 2:198.
- 3. I.D.E. Thomas, The Omega Conspiracy (Herndon, VA: Growth Publishing, 1986) 236-38.
- 4. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1950) 1:258.
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