Who Are the Sons of God?

Introduction

There is a controversial passage of the Bible in the book of Genesis. The passage is as follows, Genesis 6:1-4:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.  Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

The controversy is a threefold question, best summarized as follows: Who are the “sons of God”, what are the “Nephilim” and what are the effects of the answers to these questions?

There are many answers to this three-fold question and they fall roughly into three basic viewpoints. (1) The Angel View (2) The Seth Line View (3) The Sociology View.

The Angel View

Adherents to this view claim that the phrase “Sons of God” in these verses refers to fallen angels, or demons as they are often called. They arrive at this conclusion based mostly on the use of the phrase “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and 38:7. In the context of Job, the phrase clearly means angels and not men.  In Genesis, these demons took on a human form and slept with human women producing offspring of super human size and strength, due to their half demonic genetics. These offspring are what Genesis refers to as “The Nephilim,” which is also translated “giants.”

The question of motive on the parts of the Demons is often brought into play in this view. It says that throughout biblical history the devil or the head demon or serpent who originally tempted man into falling from fellowship with God, had been trying to eliminate the pure human line from which the messiah would come to destroy him as prophesied in Genesis 3:15. Proponents of the angel view often point to the demonic dilution of the human gene as one of those attempts to keep the messiah from being born.

This view also, then, informs its adherents about angels and some powers that they possess when it comes to taking a human form, and their ability to reproduce. These “facts” about angels are also the biggest deterrents of this view, as other passages clearly indicate that the opposite is true of angels. For example, angles are spirits, not material creatures (Heb 1:14) and Angels do not marry (Matt 22:30). The angel view’s answers to the threefold question can be summarized: (1) The “sons of God” are fallen angels. (2) “The Nephilim” are the offspring of fallen angels mating with humans. (3) The effects of the angel view call into question what we know about angels, as well as Satan’s ultimate prompting motive behind huge events of evil in the OT. [1]

The Seth Line View

Adherents to this view claim that the “sons of God” must refer to the godly line of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son, and that these descendants of Seth intermarried with the ungodly descendants of the line of Cain. According to this view, the word “men” in the phrase “daughters of men” refers to Cain’s descendants. This view then states that the Nephilim are the offspring, or product of this unholy mixture of lines. It offers no definite statement on whether these offspring are giants in physical form, or powerful, dangerous, deadly men in character. The repercussion of this mixture is then the necessary wiping out of the world in the Noahic flood, due to the evil produced from the mixture.[2]

Thus, the answers to the threefold question therefore can be summarized as: (1) The “sons of God” are some of the descendants of Seth. (2) “The Nephilim” are the offspring of Seth and Cain’s descendants’ intermarriages. (3) The effects of the Seth Line View are minimal in terms of theology and it merely provides another reason for the necessity of the flood. [3]

The Sociology View (Polygamy View)

Adherents to this view claim that the “sons of God” merely refers to rulers and despots, the nobles and rich men on the age who had economic and sociological power. In this view, these nobles took what they wanted from the land, including many wives. This view gives no supposition on what family these rulers came from, or from what line they were descended.

The “Nephilim” are therefore, the offspring of these rulers who married the women of lower social classes. The proponents of this view make most of their arguments from the Hebrew root of the word “Nephilim” and of its association with the word “Gibborim” used later in the passage to say “the mighty men.” They make the case that “Nephilim” describes the giant nature of their personality and power more than that of their physical bodies. They also point out the infrequent use of the word in scripture to say that the meaning of the word, whether figurative or literal, is indeterminable by the context. This view then, like the Seth Line View, has little effect on Theology as a whole and merely supplies another account for the reason behind the Noahic flood.

So, the Sociology View’s answers to the threefold question can be summarized: (1) The “sons of God” are mighty rulers and despots on the earth at the time. (2) “The Nephilim” are the offspring of these despots’ polygamous marriages with women of lower socioeconomic classes. (3) The effects of the Sociology View are minimal in terms of theology and it merely provides another reason for the necessity of the flood. [4]

Analysis Introduction

The question of which view is right, seems to be futile, as the only truly knowable fact about the situation is this: the flood in Genesis chapters seven and eight set right whatever wrong was done in chapter six, verses one through four. First, however, an analysis of the problems with each view must be established.

Analysis of The Angel View

While this view is undoubtedly the oldest view of the passage, dating back to the writings of the extra-canonical work of 1 Enoch, it seems to be the one with the most problems when approached from a systematic theology point of view. The use of 1 Enoch to support this view is even a hindrance to the view holders, as it describes the Nephilim’s height as “three-thousand ells,”  which in today’s terms would be 11,250 feet high.[5] While this isn’t necessarily impossible, since very little is known about angels, it seems highly unlikely that human women could bear children that could grow to that height, no matter what sort of demonic influence their genes possessed. In fact, Mt. Ararat is only 16,854 feet, so it seems plausible that a worldwide flood wouldn’t have affected such giants as they could migrate to a mountain and wait out the storm.

All facetiousness aside, the problems inherent in the angel view persist onward. How did these angels, spiritual creatures, mate with human women? Why did their genes cause giant growth in their offspring? Can angels still rape human women? If so, has it happened and why aren’t those offspring growing enormously? It seems to generate more questions than it answers.

On top of all this, the two main problems for the Angel View lie in two contradictions of context. Firstly, the Angel view tacks on an extra motive for the angels to procreate with the human women. This motive is not mentioned anywhere in the bible, and it is not needed, as a motive was presented in the original text itself. “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful.” It tells the reader why these angels, if they were angels, married the daughters of men: they were beautiful. For the same reason that a rapist in today’s context needs no other motive than the beauty of woman and the pleasure of sin, these angelic rapists, if they were angelic rapists, need no other motive as well.

Secondly, The Genesis text clearly states that the sons of God took the women as wives. While some parts of this contradiction may be cleared up by translation issues, the fact still remains that the bible states that angels do not marry. Mark 12:25, “For when they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” If the angels in heaven don’t marry, then why did they marry according to the Angel view? All of this evidence together seems to place the Angel view on the bottom rung of the plausibility ladder.

Analysis of the Seth Line View

The Seth line view seems to be the least accurate in terms of contextual coherence. The three main factors that lead to the unreliability of the Seth Line View are as follows.

Firstly, in order to agree with this view, one must change interpretations of the word “men” between verses one and two. While this isn’t necessarily always wrong to do, it seems obvious, based on this context, that it is in this instance. By this view, the phrase “men began to multiply” is describing all men on earth, but then the phrase “daughters of men” is describing only the women from the line of Cain. This is highly unlikely.

Secondly, this view presumes too much in limiting these two groups by their ancestry. The word Toledot is key to understanding the book of Genesis. Toledot means genealogy. This fact is brought up to make the point that Genesis is very clear when it speaks of people and from where, or from whom, they come. It seems that based on the repetitive use of ancestry in the previous and following chapters that if “the sons of God” were meant to refer to a specific human’s descendants, Moses would have said so, or would have avoided the vague language and just said, “the descendants of Seth.” The same is true of “daughters of men.”

Thirdly, the Seth Line View does not account for the word Nephilim very well. It does not really explain why the word would be used to describe the offspring. If the adherents of this view think it means literal physical giants, there is no support that moral good mixing with moral bad produces gigantism. If they adhere to a more figurative interpretation of the word, they do not attempt to explain why it was used to describe them. For these reason, it seems highly unlikely that the Seth Line view is accurate.

Analysis of The Sociology View

The Sociology View seems to be the best option if forced to accept one of the main three. The Sociology View explains most clearly and rationally what the “sons of God” means in a way that does not contradict what we tend to know or assume about angels, as well as answers more questions that it generates. It also harmonizes most succinctly with the phrase that none of the views points out in its support, but which the sociology and Seth Line views should.

Verses three and six tend to suggest that the “sons of God” should be interpreted as human beings, not angelic beings. In both instances, God expresses his disappointment with humanity and the evil that he chases. Both of these expressions of disappointment follow a description of the actions of the sons of God and their marital immorality. Much in the same way that Genesis one and Genesis two are poetic repetitions accounting the same actions, Genesis 6:1-3 and Genesis 6:4-6 are poetic repetitions accounting the same actions. This is very common, as, in Hebrew, rhymes are done with ideas not words. This repetition is a literary device that Moses was fond of using. When we recognize this, it is clear that God considers the sons of God to be humans, not angels. Contextually, it makes much more sense for God to be reacting to the actions that were just described, then to be lamenting the actions that aren’t described at all. If the angel view is correct, Genesis 6:3 and Genesis 6:6 have no contextual significance and should not appear where they do.[6]

Conclusion

In conclusion, the three views available to us on the actions recorded in Genesis 6:1-4 are varied greatly. Many great scholars have had many great debates on the various interpretations and no consensus in the church has been reached. However, based on a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of the text, it seems that the Sociology View is the most viable of interpretations.

Bibliography

Charles, R. H. The Book of Enoch: Ancient Texts and Translations. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Walvoord, John F ed., Zuck, Roy B ed. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000.

[1] Walter C. Kaiser Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 106.

[2] John F Walvoord, ed., Roy B Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000), 36.

[3] Kaiser, 107.

[4]Kaiser, 108.

[5] R. H. Charles, The Book of Enoch: Ancient Texts and Translations (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 65.

[6] Kaiser, 108.

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