WHO WERE THE “SONS OF GOD” IN GENESIS 6?
By: Andre Bustanoby
Who were the “sons of God” in Genesis 6? It’s another perennial baffler for many Christians.
There were giants in the earth in those days: and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughter of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown (Gen. 6:4).
WHO ARE the “sons of God” in Genesis 6? Able expositors offer a theory known as “the angel hypothesis.” This view holds “the sons of God” are angels who through union with human women produced a race of gigantic offspring.
The argument is supported by a correlation of Genesis 6, Jude 6 and II Peter 2:4. The New Testament passages speak of a distinct group of fallen angels imprisoned because they left their own sphere of habitation. Supporters of the angel hypothesis maintain the angels left their sphere to cohabit with human women and they are “the sons of God” in Genesis 6.
Another argument is the use of word “giants.” Supporters of the angel hypothesis maintain the unusual union of angels and human women produced the “gigantic” creatures.
I don’t pass off this view lightly. It’s defended by well-known expositors, and for a long time, I held it. But four key factors resulted in my conversion from “the angel hypothesis.” they are the crux interpretum.
ARE THEY ANGELS?
The Meaning of “Sons of God.” First, proponents of the angel hypothesis hold “sons of God” is a technical phrase used only of angels. They point to Job 1:6, 2:1 and Psalm 39:6, which all refer to angels as sons of God or sons of the Mighty, But Hosea 1:10 calls Israel “sons of the living God.”
Now if you’re going to argue the technicality that “sons of the living God” isn’t the same as “sons of God.” then I’ll argue the technicality that “sons of God” (sons of Elohim –Job 1:6; 2:1) isn’t the same as “sons of the Mighty” (sons of Elim –Ps. 89:6).
The point is this: If different technical forms are used to call angels “sons of God,” then we can’t object to a different technical form for Israel as “sons of God.” I’m simply saying this: “sons of God” is not a technical expression used only of angels. Therefore, it’s not necessary to see angels here.
The Meaning of “Giants.” Second, the translation “giants” is unfortunate. The Hebrew word is Nephelim. The noun comes from the verb, naphal, “to fall upon.” The word carries a sense of violence. When bandits pillaged villages they “naphaled” them; they fell upon them. From this verb we get the noun Nephelim, “those who fall upon.”
The Nephelim aren’t men of gigantic stature. They are men of violence. We have here an antediluvian Mafia.
Someone will ask how “giants” got into the King James Version. It’s taken from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint translated Nephelim; “giants,” and this was picked up by others.
Now some will argue that Numbers 13:33 proves that Nephelim are gigantic in stature. We read:
And there we saw the giants (Nephelim), the sons of Anak, which come of the giants (Nephelim); and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
But the only thing Numbers 13 proves is these Nephelim are giants. It doesn’t prove all Nephelim are giants any more than you can prove all Frenchmen are great lovers.
Now if nephelim doesn’t mean “giants,” then one of the major arguments of the angel hypothesis evaporates. Their parents aren’t necessarily superhuman.
A Time Problem. The third factor is a time problem. This isn’t so obvious, but when it hits you, it’s devastating.
Verses 1-3 tell the story of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men and the condemnation of God on the union. Verse 4 begins a new paragraph placing the time in which the marriages took place.
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown (Gen. 6:4).
Not that there were already giants in the earth when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men. The period of history in which these Nephelim lived was so noteworthy that other historical events were marked by them. This inter-marriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men takes place when the Nephelim are at the height of their notoriety. It’s impossible to make the giants or Nephelim children of the sons of God when the Nephelim were already there. “There were giants in the earth in those day: and also after that” the sons of God and daughters of men had children of renown.
The plain fact is, the union of the sons of God and daughters of men had children of renown.
The plain fact is, the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men didn’t produce the giants. They were already on the scene.
The Context. Now I have said all this to lay the ground work for a simple explanation of the context.
The story really begins in Genesis 5. Verses 6-32 give a detailed chronology and description of Seth’s line. This description stresses the godly nature of that line. For example, we read how Enoch walked with God and was translated (vs. 22-24). Lamech publicly confessed God (v. 29).
Right after the description of this godly line of Seth we come to a case of intermarriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men. The daughters of men are the daughters of all mankind regardless of race. Since it’s not necessary to take “sons of God” as angels, we ought to follow the clue Genesis 5 gives us; the “sons of God” are the Sethites.
Now the problem is this; when they went wife hunting they no longer looked for Sethites. They looked over all the daughters of men to pick out the “fair” or “good-looking” ones. They chose the wives that pleased them in appearance, but their godly character was wanting.
This was a tragic mistake. It was then and is now. Whenever the godly begin to choose mates because they’re good-looking and forget spiritual qualities, there’s trouble ahead.
The young Sethite said, “What do I care if my girl-friend is a Cainite? She’s got looks, money and a powder blue chariot.”
But God was greatly disturbed. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years (Gen. 6:3).
“Flesh” carries a carnal connotation. The basis of wife choosing was carnal.
Now as we have already seen, these things took place in the days when the Nephelim or “giants” were in the earth. These violent men had already made their mark on history. But now on top of this unprecedented violence, the once godly Sethites intermarry indiscriminately, and the result of that union is children who “become mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” They were “men of the name,” and the connotation is unfavorable. The children of the Sethites became “notorious.”
The situation is this on top of the violence of the “giants” (Nephelim), the world is burdened with the children of the mixed marriages who are violent in their own right. The situation is violence upon violence. It was this that precipitated the Flood.
Now to recap, I say “the sons of God” are not angels. They are the godly Sethites who indiscriminately marry whomever they please. Four things seem to lead to this conclusions; first, “sons of God” is not a technical expression for angels. It may be used of godly men. Second, “giants” doesn’t have anything to do with gigantic offspring. They are “violent men.” Third, the “giants” were already on the scene before the “sons of God” intermarried with the daughters of men. Fourth, the context gives us every reason to believe the “sons of God” are the godly Sethites.
Let this be a rebuke to Christian young people who are dating and are engaged to unsaved people. It’s bad enough to have Nephelim around, but when Christians marry the ungodly, they’ll only make more trouble for an already troubled world.
(The above article appeared in an issue of Baffling Biblical Passages a New Series.)
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