The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men (Genesis 6:1-8)
Attempts to produce a master race did not begin with Adolf Hitler, nor have they ended with him. Our generation seems to have a fixation on super human. Superman, the Bionic Man, the Bionic Woman, Hulk, and many other television characters contribute to the same theme. And this super-race is not to be understood as dominating only the realm of fiction. It is almost frightening to realize that genetic scientists are seriously working to create the master humans, while abortions can be employed to systematically eliminate the undesirables. I read an article in the paper the other day which gave an account of one organization that makes available to certain women the sperm of contributing Nobel Prize winners.
It is much more difficult to determine the ultimate outcome of these attempts than it is to find the origin of the movement. It’s inception is recorded in the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis. I must say as we begin to study these verses that there is more disagreement here per square inch than almost anywhere in the Bible. By-and-large it is the conservative scholars who have the most difficulty with this passage. That is because those who don’t take the Bible either literally or seriously are quick to call the account a myth. Conservative scholars must explain the event for what Moses claimed it to be, an historical event. While great differences arise in the interpretation of this passage, the issue is not one that is fundamental—one that will affect the critica1 issues which underlie one’s eternal salvation. Those with whom I most heartily disagree here are usually my brothers in Christ.
Who are the ‘Sons of God’?
The interpretation of verses 1-8 hinges upon the definition of three key terms, ‘the sons of God’ (verses 2,4), ‘the daughters of men’ (verses 2,4), and the ‘Nephilim’ (verse 4). There are three major interpretations of these terms which I will attempt to describe, beginning with that which, in my mind is the least likely, and ending with the one that is most satisfactory.
View 1: The Merging of the Ungodly Cainite with the Godly Sethites
The ‘sons of God’ are generally said by those who hold this view to be the godly men of the Sethite line. The ‘daughters of men’ are thought to be the daughters of the ungodly Cainite. The Nephilim are the ungodly and violent men who are the product of this unholy union.
The major support for this interpretation is the context of chapters 4 and 5. Chapter four describes the ungodly generation of Cain, while in chapter five we see the godly Sethite line. In Israel, separation was a vital part of the religious responsibility of those who truly worshipped God. What took place in chapter six was the breakdown in the separation which threatened the godly seed through whom Messiah was to be born. This breakdown was the cause of the flood which would follow. It destroyed the ungodly world and preserved righteous Noah and his family, through whom the promise of Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled.
While this interpretation has the commendable feature of explaining the passage without creating any doctrinal or theological problems, what it offers in terms of orthodoxy, it does at the expense of accepted exegetical practices.
First and foremost this interpretation does not provide definitions that arise from within the passage or which even adapt well to the text. Nowhere are the Sethites called the ‘the sons of God.’
The contrast between the godly line of Seth and the ungodly line of Cain may well be overemphasized. I am not at all certain that the line of Seth, as a whole, was godly. While all of the Cainite line appears to be godless, only a handful of the Sethites are said to be godly. The point which Moses makes in chapter 5 is that God has preserved a righteous remnant through whom His promises to Adam and Eve will be accomplished. One has the distinct impression that few were godly in these days (cf. 6:5-7, 12). It seems that only Noah and his family could be called righteous at the time of the flood. Would God have failed to deliver any who were righteous?
Also, the ‘daughters of men’ can hardly be restricted to only the daughters of the Cainites. In verse 1 Moses wrote, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them” (Genesis 6:1).
It is difficult to conclude that the ‘men’ here are not men in general or mankind. It would follow that the reference to their ‘daughters’ would be equally general. To conclude that the ‘daughters of men’ in verse two is some different, more restrictive group is to ignore the context of the passage.
For these reasons and others,83 I must conclude that this view is exegetically unacceptable. While it meets the test of orthodoxy it fails to submit to the laws of interpretation.
View 2: The Despot Interpretation
Recognizing the deficiencies of the first view, some scholars have sought to define the expression ‘the sons of God’ by comparing it with the languages of the Ancient Near East. It is interesting to learn that some rulers were identified as the son of a particular god. In Egypt, for example, the king was called the son of Re.84
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is used for men in positions of authority:
Then his master shall bring him unto the judges who acted in God’s name (Exodus 21:6, following the marginal reading of the NASV).
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers (literally, the gods, Psalm 82:1, cf. also 82:6).
This interpretation, like the fallen angel view, has its roots in antiquity.85 According to this approach the ‘sons of God’ are nobles, aristocrats, and kings.
These ambitious despots lusted after power and wealth and desired to become ‘men of a name’ that is, somebodies (cf. 11:4)! Their sin was ‘not intermarriage between two groups—whether two worlds, (angels and man), two religious communities (Sethite and Cainite), or two social classes (royal and common)—but that the sin was polygamy.’ It was the same type of sin that the Cainite Lamech practiced, the sin of polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the harem, the characteristic institution of the ancient oriental despot’s court. In this transgression the ‘sons of God’ frequently violated the sacred trust of their office as guardians of the general ordinances of God for human conduct.86
In the context of Genesis 4 and 5 we do find some evidence which could be interpreted as supportive of the despot view. Cain did establish a city, named after his son Enoch (verse 4:17). Dynasties would be more easily established in an urban setting. So, also, we know that Lamech did have two wives (verse 4:19). Although this is far from a harem, it could be viewed as a step in that direction. Also the view defines ‘the daughters of men’ as womankind, and not just the daughters of the Cainite line.
In spite of these factors, this interpretation would probably never have been considered had it not been for the ‘problems’ which the fallen angel view is said to create. While pagan kings were referred to as sons of a foreign deity, no Israelite king was so designated. True, nobles and those in authority were occasionally called ‘gods,’ but not the ‘sons of God.’ This definition chooses to ignore the precise definition given by the Scriptures themselves.
Further, the whole idea of power hungry men, seeking to establish a dynasty by the acquisition of a harem seems forced on the passage. Who would ever have found this idea in the text itself, unless it were imposed upon it? Also, the definition of the Nephilim as being merely violent and tyrannical men seems inadequate. Why should these men be sorted out for special consideration if they were merely like all the other men of that day (cf. 6:11,12)? While the despot view does less violence to the text than does the Cainite/Sethite view, it seems to me to be inadequate.
View 3: The Fallen Angel Interpretation
According to this view, the ‘sons of God’ of verses 2 and 4 are fallen angels, which have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures. These angels married women of the human race (either Cainites or Sethites) and the resulting offspring were the Nephilim. The Nephilim were giants with physical superiority and therefore established themselves as men of renown for their physical prowess and military might. This race of half human creatures was wiped out by the flood, along with mankind in general, who were sinners in their own right (verse 6:11,12).
My basic presupposition in approaching our text is that we should let the Bible define its own terms. If biblical definitions are not to be found then we must look at the language and culture of contemporary peoples. But the Bible does define the term ‘the sons of God’ for us.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them (Job 1:6).
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came among them to present himself before the Lord (Job 2:1).
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7, cf. Psalm 89:6; Daniel 3:25).
Scholars who reject this view readily acknowledge the fact that the precise term is clearly defined in Scripture.87 The reason for rejecting the fallen angel interpretation is that such a view is said to be in violation of both reason and Scripture.
The primary passage which is said to be problematical is that found in Matthew’s gospel, where our Lord said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30).
We are told that here our Lord said that angels are sexless, but is this really true? Jesus compared men in heaven to angels in heaven. Neither men nor angels are said to be sexless in heaven but we are told that in heaven there will be no marriage. There are no female angels with whom angels can generate offspring. Angels were never told to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as was man.
When we find angels described in the book of Genesis, it is clear that they can assume a human-like form, and that their sex is masculine. The writer to the Hebrews mentions that angels can be entertained without man’s knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). Surely angels must be convincingly like men. The homosexual men of Sodom were very capable of judging sexuality. They were attracted by the ‘male’ angels who came to destroy the city (cf. Genesis 19:1ff, especially verse 5).
In the New Testament, two passages seem to refer to this incident in Genesis 6, and to support the angel view:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (II Peter 2:4).
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day (Jude 6).
These verses would indicate that some of the angels who fell with Satan were not content with their ‘proper abode’ and therefore began to live among men (and women) as men. God’s judgment upon them was to place them in bonds88 so that they can no longer promote Satan’s purposes on earth as do the unbound fallen angels who continue to do his bidding.
The result of the union between fallen angels and women is rather clearly implied to be the Nephilim. While word studies have produced numerous suggestions for the meaning of this term, the biblical definition of this word comes from its only other instance in Scripture, 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.
I therefore understand the Nephilim to be a race of super-humans who are the product of this angelic invasion of the earth.89
This view not only conforms to the biblical use of the expression ‘sons of God,’ it also best fits the context of the passage. The effects of the fall were seen in the godly offspring of Cain (chapter 4). While Cain and his descendants were ‘in Satan’s pocket,’ Satan knew from God’s words in Genesis 3:15 that through the seed of the woman God was going to bring forth a Messiah who would destroy him. We do not know that the entire line of Seth was God-fearing. In fact we would assume otherwise. Noah and his immediate family alone seem to be righteous at the time of the flood.
Genesis 6 describes a desperate attempt on the part of Satan to attack the godly remnant that is named in chapter 5. So long as a righteous seed is preserved, God’s promise of salvation hangs over the head of Satan, threatening of his impending doom.
The daughters of men were not raped or seduced as such. They simply chose their husbands on the same basis that the angels selected them—physical appeal. Now if you were an eligible woman in those days, who would you choose? Would you select a handsome, muscle-bulging specimen of a man, who had a reputation for his strength and accomplishments, or what seemed to be in comparison a ninety-pound weakling?
Women looked for the hope of being the mother of the Savior. Who would be the most likely father of such a child? Would it not be a ‘mighty man of renown,’ who would also be able to boast of immortality? Some of the godly Sethites did live to be nearly 1000 years old, but the Nephilim did not die, if they were angels. And so the new race began.
Does God Change His Mind?
While verses 1-4 highlight the angelic invasion in the beginning of a new super-race, verses 5-7 serve notice that mankind in general was deserving of God’s destructive intervention into history—the flood. But it is here that we come upon a very serious problem, for it would almost appear that God changed His mind, as though the creation of man was a colossal error on His part. Let us, then, address the question, “Does God change His mind?” Several factors must be considered.
First, God is immutable, unchanging in His person, His perfections, His purposes, and His promises.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19).
And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind, for He is not a man that He should change His mind (I Samuel 15:29, cf. also Psalm 33:11; 102:26-28; Hebrews 1:11-12; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).
Second, there are passages in which God “appears” to change His mind.
And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation. So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus 32:9-10,14).
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God repented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord. The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘This too shall not be,’ said the Lord God (Amos 7:3,6).
Third, in those cases where God “appears” to change His mind, one or more of these considerations may apply:
a. The expression, “God repented” is an anthropomorphism, that is, a description of God which likens God’s actions to man’s. How else can man understand then by thinking of God in human terms and comparisons? God’s ‘change of mind’ may only be the way it looks from man’s perspective. In both Genesis 22 (cf. verses 2, 11-12) and Exodus 32, that which God proposed was a test. In both cases, His eternal purpose did not change.
b. In cases where either judgment or blessing are promised, there may be an implied or stated condition. The message preached by Jonah to the Ninevites was one such instance:
Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes. And he issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?’ (Jonah 3:4-9).
What the Ninevites hoped for Jonah knew for a fact. They cried for mercy and forgiveness in case God might hear and forgive. When the Ninevites repented and God relented, Jonah was hopping mad:
But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.’ (Jonah 4:1,2).
Jonah knew God to be loving and forgiving. The message he preached implied one exception. If Nineveh repented, God would forgive them. This is what Jeremiah had written, saying,
At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
c. While God’s decree cannot be altered, we must grant that God is free to act as He chooses. While God’s program may change His purposes do not, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
God promised to bring His people into the land of Canaan. Due to their unbelief the first generation did not possess the land, but the second generation did. When Jesus came He offered Himself to Israel as the Messiah. Her rejection has made possible the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, when God’s purposes for the Gentiles have been accomplished, God will once again pour out His grace and salvation upon the Jews. God’s program changes, but not His purposes (cf. Romans 9-11).
d. While God’s will (His decree) cannot and does not change, He is free to change His emotions. Genesis 6:6-7 describes the response of God to human sin. Grief is love’s response to sin. God is no stoic; He is a person Who rejoices in men’s salvation and obedience, and Who grieves at unbelief and disobedience. While the purpose of God for mankind never changed, His attitude did. Surely a Holy God must feel differently about sin than about obedience. That is the point of verses 6 and 7. God is grieved about man’s sin and its consequences. But God will accomplish His purposes regardless. While such a state was ordained from eternity past, God could never rejoice in it, but only regret man’s wickedness and willfulness.
A similar illustration is the emotional response of our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36ff). The Lord Jesus had in eternity past, purposed to go to the cross to purchase man’s salvation. Yet when the moment for His agony drew near He dreaded it. His purpose did not change, but His emotions did.
The Meaning of this
Passage for Ancient Israel
For the Israelites of old this passage would teach several valuable lessons. First, it provided them with an adequate explanation for the flood. We can see that this super-race had to be eliminated. The flood was not only God’s way of judging sinful men, but of fulfilling His promise to bring salvation through the seed of the woman. Had the intermingling of angels and men gone unchecked, the godly remnant would have ceased to exist (humanly speaking). Second, this passage would illustrate the word of God to the serpent, Adam and Eve: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;” (Genesis 3:15a).
Israel dared not forget that there was an intense struggle going on, not just between the Cainites and the Sethites, but between Satan and the seed of the woman. While we are accustomed to such emphasis in the New Testament, the Old has few direct references to Satan or his demonic assistants (cf. Genesis 3; Deuteronomy 32:17; I Chronicles 21:1; Job 1,2; Psalm 106:37; Daniel 10:13; Zechariah 3:1,2). This passage would be a vivid reminder of the accuracy of God’s word.
Third, it underscored the importance of maintaining their racial and spiritual purity. God’s believing remnant must be preserved. When men failed to perceive the importance of this, God had to judge them severely. As the nation entered the land of Canaan, few lessons could be more vital than that of the need for separation.
The Meaning of
Genesis 6 for Christians Today
While the New Testament has much more to say about the activities of Satan and his demons, few of us seem to take our spiritual warfare seriously. We really believe that the church can operate on human strength and wisdom alone, or with a little help from God. We often attempt to live the spiritual life in the power of the flesh. We urge people to rededicate their lives and redouble their efforts, but we fail to remind them that our only strength is that which God supplies.
The battle today between the sons of Satan and the sons of God (in the New Testament sense—John 1:12; Romans 8:14,19) is even more intense than it was in the days of old. Satan’s doom is sealed, and his days are numbered (cf. Matthew 8:29). Let us, then, put on the spiritual armor by which God equips us for the spiritual warfare of which we are a part (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Second, let us learn that Satan attacks us through similar instruments today. I am not aware of any instances in our times when fallen angelic beings have invaded the earth in human form to further Satan’s cause. Nevertheless Satan still works through men.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Just as Satan sought to corrupt men by disclosing himself (or rather, his angels) in the form of superior human beings, so he works through ‘angels of light’ today. We are inclined to suppose that Satan works most often and most effectively through the reprobate. We almost expect to find Satan in the pathetic demonic or in the hopeless derelict. It is easy to attribute such tragedy to Satan. But Satan’s best work and, in my estimation, his most frequent work is through those seemingly moral, devout, and pious talking men who stand behind the pulpit or sit on the governing board and talk about salvation in terms of society rather than souls, and by means of works rather than faith. Satan continues to advance his cause through men who are not what they appear to be.
Finally, notice that Satan does his best work in the very areas where men and women place their hope of salvation. When the angel-men proposed to the daughters of men they appeared to be the most promising fathers. If these creatures were immortal, then would their offspring not be so also? Was this the way God was going to overrule the fall and the curse? So it must have seemed to these women.
That is precisely what Satan does today. Oh, he is not above promoting himself through atheism or other ‘ism’s,’ but he finds great success in the arena of religion. He wears his most pious expression and uses religious terminology. He does not seek to abolish religion only to abort it by cutting out its essential element, faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the substitute for sinful men. He will readily join any religious cause so long as this ingredient is omitted, or distorted, or lost in a maze of legalism or libertinism. Watch out, my friend, for Satan in the realm of religion. What better way to sidetrack souls and to blind the minds of men (II Corinthians 4:4)?
Where is your hope for immortality? Is it in your offspring? That way did not work for Cain. Is it in your work? Do you wish to build an empire or to erect a monument to your name? It will not last. All of these things perished in the flood of God’s judgment. Only faith in the God of the Bible and, specifically, faith in the Son He has sent will give you immortality and liberate you from the curse. The only way to become a son of God is through the Son of God.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
83 A more serious problem for this prevalent view is posed by verse 4. From all appearances, the giants (nephilim) and mighty men (gibborim) are the offspring of the marriages of the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men.’ As Kline says:
“It is not at all clear why the offspring of religiously mixed marriages should be Nephilim-Gibborim, however these be understood within the range of feasible interpretation . . . But his (the biblical author’s) reference to the conjugal act and to childbearing finds justification only if he is describing the origin of the Nephilim-Gibborim. Unless the difficulty which follows from this conclusion can be overcome, the religiously mixed marriage interpretation of the passage ought to be definitely abandoned.”
To summarize the problem: “Why does one find the kind of offspring mentioned in verse 4 if these are just religiously mixed marriages?” Manfred E. Kober, The Sons of God of Genesis 6: Demons, Degenerates, or Despots?, p. 15. Kober quotes here Meredith G. Kline, “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4,” Westminster Theological Journal, XXIV, Nov. 1961-May 1962, p. 190.
84 “In Egypt the king was called the son of Re (the sun god). The Sumero-Akkadian king was considered the offspring of the goddess and one of the gods, and this identification with the deity goes back to the earliest times according to Engell. In one inscription he is referred to as ‘the king, the son of his god.’ The Hittite king was called ‘son of the weather-god,’ and the title of his mother was Tawannannas (mother-of-the-god). In the northwest Semitic area the king was directly called the son of the god and the god was called the father of the king. The Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) Krt text refers to the god as the king’s father and to king Krt as Krt bn il, the son of el or the son of god. Thus, on the basis of Semitic usage, the term be ne ha elohim, the ‘sons of god’ or the ‘sons of gods,’ very likely refers to dynastic rulers in Genesis 6.” “An Exegetical Study of Genesis 6:1-4,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, XIII, winter 1970, pp. 47-48, as quoted by Kober, p. 19.
85 “In an excellent article presenting this view, Kline writes that this view anciently rose among the Jews that the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6 were men of the aristocracy, princes, and nobles, in contrast to the socially inferior ‘daughters of men.’ This interpretation came to expression, for example, in the Aramaic Targums (the Targums of Onkelos rendered the term as ‘sons of nobles’) and in the Greek translation of Symmachus (which reads ‘the sons of the kings or lords’) and it has been followed by many Jewish authorities down to the present.” Kober, pp. 16-17, referring to Kline, p. 194.
“Verse 2 speaks of the union of the two lines by inter-marriage. Some writers regard the phrase ‘sons of God’ as referring to the angels, and it is urged that in other passages--e.g. Job i. 6; Ps. xxix. 1; Dan. iii. 25--and, indeed, always elsewhere in Scripture, the phrase invariably means angels.” Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 65.
89 Does the fact that the Nephilim are mentioned after the flood mean that this practice continued after the flood? Some have thought so, emphasizing the phrase ‘and also afterward’ (Genesis 6:4). If so, we would have to say that this practice did not threaten the promise of God at this time. It would intensify the importance of not intermarrying with any of the Canaanites, among whom the Nephilim were to be found.
Personally, I do not think the super-race ever appeared after the flood. The expression Nephilim, as I view it, is not synonymous with this, super race, but descriptive of it. It simply refers to the fact of great physical stature, just as the other expressions (‘mighty men,’ ‘men of renown’) refer to their reputation and military prowess. I do not think that we must find super-human creatures in Numbers 13:33, but only giants. The word Nephilim is thus defined in Numbers by Moses as referring to great physical stature. No technical name is given to the super-race, only descriptions which could be used elsewhere for other non-angelic creatures.
Related Topics: Angelology