WHO ARE THE SONS OF GOD? (Genesis 6:1-2)
Today’s message is a direct response to one of our readers who posted a comment and asked the above question after reading our message last week title, “GAINING KNOWLEDGE OF THE TWO ASPECTS OF GOD.” You can read his entire comments and question by clicking on this message. We thank the reader for this very important question, and we welcome all questions and comments from our members and readers.
Now here is the answer to this very important question from Genesis 6:1-2. When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
First, who are the “sons of God” and the “Nephilim”? There are three proposed interpretations:
- “Sons of God” refers to fallen angels who lived on earth and married human women. The Nephilim are giants of extra-human strength who were the offspring of these marriages.
- “Sons of God” refers to descendents of Seth, who were godly men who sinned by marrying descendents of Cain, who would have been pagans. The Nephilim were simply “heroes”, not giants, and may or may not have been the offspring of the mixed marriages.
- “Sons of God” is better translated as “kings” or “sons of nobles” and “Nephilim” is best translated as “princes” or “great men.” That is, the “sons of God” were royalty or aristocrats who were generally immoral and married common women, possibly against their will or despite their already being married.
Arguments for view 1:
- The phrase “sons of God” is used in Job 1:6 and 2:1 to describe angels, and apparently early Jewish writers interpreted this passage as referring to angels.
- In support of the idea that angels came to live on earth and married human women, Jude 6 refers to “angels who…abandoned their own home,” and other passages describe angels as being able to assume human form (Heb 13:2, Gen 19:1-3).
- In Numbers 13:33, the Nephilim are described as giants.
Arguments against view 1:
- “Sons of God” in the Job passages refers to “good” angels, and distinguishes them from Satan, the fallen angel. Since only fallen angels would be marrying humans, they wouldn’t be referred to as “sons of God.”
- Mark 12:25 and Matthew 22:30 state that angels don’t marry. (Supporters of this view respond that these passages say that angels don’t marry in heaven, not that they can’t marry on earth.)
- Num 13:33 could be an exaggeration of the faithless spies.
- God seems to condemn mankind for the intermarrying in Gen 6:3, but says nothing about the angels, though they were at least as responsible for it as the humans.
Arguments for view 2:
- Humans are referred to as children of God elsewhere in the Bible (Deut 14:1, Is 43:6, etc.)
- Genesis 5 describes godly descendents of Seth (Enoch, Noah), while Lamech, one of Cain’s descendents, was also a murderer (Gen 4:23).
- To support the “Nephilim weren’t offspring of the marriages” view: Gen 6:4 doesn’t explicitly say the Nephilim were offspring, only that they showed up at the same time the intermarriage was happening.
Arguments against view 2:
- The Sethites don’t sound very godly, since only Noah and his family were spared from the flood. (However, “sons of God” may refer to generations previous to those whose sin brought about the flood.)
- This interpretation requires that the phrases “men” and “daughters of men” have two different meanings within the same sentence. “Men” and “daughters of men” in v.1 would refer to all mankind and their daughters, but “daughters of men” in v. 2 would refer to Cainite women.
Arguments for view 3:
- Contemporary rulers referred to themselves as sons of God – the Egyptian king was called “son of Re.”
- The Hebrew word in the phrase “sons of God” is Elohim, which is elsewhere in the Bible translated as “judge” or other human authority (Ex 21:6, Ps 82:1)
- Early translations of “sons of Elohim” rendered it as it as “sons of nobles” or “sons of kings”
- The word “Nephilim” is associated in Gen 6:4 with “gibborim”, which means “mighty man of valor, strength, wealth, or power.”
Arguments against view 3:
- While pagans referred to royalty as sons of God, Israelites did not, and nobles were not referred to as “sons of God.”
- This interpretation seems “forced” – a stretching of the meaning of the text.
- It seems unlikely to me, especially considering the last argument against it. In addition, it seems clear that “sons of God” does not have to refer to angels, fallen or not.
- It further seems the most natural, but the arguments against it do present legitimate problems.
- It does seem rather strange, but the arguments against it are not very strong.
Regardless of which interpretation one accepts, there is no contradiction in the Nephilim appearing both before and after the Flood. Genesis 6:4 does say, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward.” If the Nephilim were giant offspring of humans and fallen angels, the fallen angels could have come back after the Flood and had more offspring. If the Nephilim were heroes or nobles, society after the Flood could produce heroes and nobles just as well as society before the Flood.