Who were “the sons of God” that married daughters of men in Gen 6:1?

by DrWinn on August 1, 2011

The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men (6.1-4)

Genesis 6.1. The function of these verses is to link the genealogy of Adam in the preceding chapter with the following event. Chapter 5 focuses only on the sons born before the flood, while Genesis 6.1 focuses on the daughters born to men. To say the least, Genesis 6.1-4 has been and appears to remain a baffling passage of Scripture. Some questions that are often asked include: Does this story indicate the reason for the judgment that follows the story, i.e., the flood? Who are the sons of God? What does it mean for God to say “My spirit shall not contend with man forever…”? Who are the Nephilim? Are they the same or different from “the mighty men?” Were the Nephilim contemporary with the mentioned cohabitation or the product of such cohabitation? There have been many answers to questions such as these.

The author of Genesis 1-11, traditionally held to be Moses, intended to produce a readable story for the first readers. This story was to demonstrate the increase of wickedness that occurred after the fall of man. He had interest in the reader knowing that God had created everything good and that nothing evil could be laid at the feet of God. Evil had not come from God but had occurred when man decided to disobey God.

The effects of evil started with Adam and Eve, continued with Cain with the murder of his brother, and within the line of Cain. Lamech sang a song boasting of how many men he had slain-from one murder to multiple murders. It is at this point in the story of Genesis 1-11 that the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” story appears.

Literary Genre
One of the questions that should always be asked by a student of Scripture is: In what kind of literature is the passage under consideration written? This is the most important question that you can ask of Genesis 1-11. Most interpretations center around two views: Historical and Mythological. The normal Christian reaction to using the word “myth” as related to Biblical text is often that of disdain. One should not jump to conclusions that the word myth is all bad until some research is done by the student of Scripture on the concept of myth in the ancient world. We might ask, “Is myth bad?”

Myth. Myth is usually defined as “stories about gods which have been narrated in a communal setting as occurrences of permanent significance, and which normally presuppose a given view of the world.” For more information read the following article: “Myth, Mythology,” in Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 4:333 (ISBN: 0310331889).

The main characteristics of myth that most writers agree on are:

  1. The story is set in a narrative form that expresses ideas or events as tales that embody imaginative features.
  2. The stories are never generalizations or analyses.
  3. They emerge in a communal setting.
  4. In their community setting, myths possess the status of believed truth.

As a Bible student you need to decide if this story is “mythological” or “historical” using the above information. Again, remember to try to lay aside your presuppositions as best you can that may often be emotional, and try to view the passage as objectively as possible.

Sons of God
There are three different views of the meaning of the phrase “sons of God.”

View #1. The “sons of God” were sons of princes. This is the view of orthodox rabbinical Judaism. This is the starting place for an interpretation which suggests that the key to the identity of the “sons of God” is provided by the sacral kings who are so much in the center of interest in studies concerning the ancient near Eastern life and culture. Kings were often regarded as divine, in one way or another, and they were often called the “sons” of various gods. In Genesis 6.1-4 the phrase “sons of God” is a designation for the antediluvian kings and should be translated “sons of the gods.”

View #2. The “sons of God” were angels. This view is defended in the following way: The language elsewhere in the Old Testament is unquestionably understood as “angels” (Job 1.6, 2.1, 38.6-7; cf. Psalm 29.1, 89.7). The strength of this position is based on its desire to allow the language of the passage to take its full weight.

View #3. The “sons of God” was the line of Cain and the line of Seth. This view presupposes that Seth’s line was the godly line while Cain’s line was the ungodly line. The intermarriage between the lines is seen as a breach of covenant.

The second view was a common way for this passage to be explained during the life of Jesus and his disciples. This seems to be the opinion of Jude in his New Testament book. Jude’s references are dependent on 1 Enoch 6-11. He was certainly familiar with these chapters. These chapters in 1 Enoch tell of two hundred angels under the leadership of Semihazah and Asael, who were filled with lust for the beauty of human women. They descended on Mount Hermon and took human wives. Their children, the giants, ravaged the earth, and the fallen angels taught men forbidden knowledge of all kinds of sin. They were responsible for the destruction of the world by the flood that God sent. It should be said that we should not become dogmatic about the identification of the “sons of God” in this passage. At best, we should consider the options.

The stimulus for the behavior of the sons of God was the attractiveness of the daughters of men. Scripture has no shortage of stories about human beauty (Gen. 12.11, 14; 24.16; 29.17; Deut. 21.10-11; Judges 15.2; 2 Sam. 11.2-3; 13.1; 14.27; 1 Kings 1.3-4; Esther 1.10-11, 2.7; Job 42.15) not to mention the bride in the Song of Songs.

Verse 3 “My spirit shall not remain in man forever…” should be contrasted with Genesis 3.22 where eating of the tree of life would produce immortality. The attempt of this angelic-human intercourse was like eating of the tree of life. It was intended to produce eternal life for humankind. As an attempt to appropriate what belongs only to God, it is severely condemned. Instead of humankind living forever, they are now reduced to 120 years. There seems to be ample evidence that in the post-flood, the recorded ages steadily decline (Jacob: 110 years, Gen. 50.26; Moses: 120 years, Deut. 34.7; Joshua. 110 years, Jos. 24.29; only Aaron exceeds 120 years and lived till 123 years of age, Num. 33.39).

Who are the Nephilim?
The only other reference in Scripture to the Nephilim is in Numbers 13.33. The spies who entered the Promised Land said they saw the Nephilim and in their midst they felt like mere grasshoppers. In the Genesis passage the Nephilim appear to be the offspring of this combination who continue to generate Nephilim in the course of their married lives. The passage in Numbers implies that the people that the spies saw were people of extraordinary physical stature and thus understood as giants. It would be contrary to Scripture to suggest that this race survived the flood whose purpose may have been to destroy such a race. The other name Genesis gives these offspring is mighty men.

The placement of this story in Genesis is certainly to introduce the Flood story.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ruben musni August 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I was confused in some other way about the interpretation of the sons of God and daughters of men, because some are saying that the sons of God are the fallen angels as they said Gen. 6:1. My question is, can an angel be a human being? Do they have the power to live as human being, like they have married the daughters of men as what stated in the Bible (Gen 6 )? We all knew that God created the us in his likeness, and in Genesis 2 when He created man and woman that was the beginning of the race of men. And in some instance in the new Testament it says there that the sons of God are those people who has the Spirit of God. Like Noah, and his children who were walking in the light of God! Is it not that the sons of God in Gen.6:1 are those ancestors of Noah who walked with God for 300 years? That at Noah’s time the intermarried the daughters of men? That God Almighty became upset of their actions and started to wipe them out by means of :”flood”? Please help me in prayers to give me a clear understanding of God’s message pertaining to this issue. I believed that God Almighty will reveal His Word to everyone out there. God bless

DrWinn August 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Rubin,

The original questions that was asked was: who were “the sons of God” that married daughters of men in Gen 6:1?

I offered the three main views that are often held in regard to this question.

Your question comes from View #2: “can an angel be a human being?” This view was held by some in the ancient world and even today. Remember, this is a view, an opinion, not necessarily what the text means. The best I can say is that throughout history these are the views that have been offered to understand Genesis 6.1ff. It doesn’t mean that any one of them is correct, or that any one of them is not correct. It only means that they have been offered. As a reader of the sacred text, your job is to take on the task of reading widely about this issue and see the arguments that are offered for this passage. You might want to take a look at: Genesis in “The NIV Application Commentary Series” (pp. 290-303, ISBN: 0316206170).

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