Genesis 6: The “Sons of God”

Published by DonDavidson on

Genesis chapter 6 has this odd statement about “the sons of God” and the “Nephilim”:

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. . . . 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.

—Genesis 6:1-2 and 6:4

Who were these “sons of God”? (We’ll talk about the Nephilim next week.)

The book of Job has two references to the “sons of God.” Job 1:6 says:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.

Then we read this in Job chapter 38:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

“Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
“Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . .

When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

—Job 38:1-4 and 38:7

The Hebrew for “sons of God” is benê ‘Elohîm. ‘Elohîm is plural. It is usually translated “God,” but can also be translated “gods,” referring to the pagan gods of Israel’s neighbors. It can also denote the residents of Heaven—that is, angels—as in Job 1:6.

So one explanation is that the “sons of God” were fallen angels, meaning demons.  2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 both talk about such fallen angels.

2 Peter 2:4: “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. . . .”

Jude 6: “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. . . .”

But an alternate explanation is based on Genesis 4:25-26:

Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.

These descendants of Seth who “began to call upon the name of the Lord” were “sons of God” in the same sense that John and Paul use the phrase:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

—John 1:12-13

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

—Romans 8:14

If Genesis 6 is using the phrase “sons of God” to refer to the men who “began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26), then it simply means those descendants of Seth who were faithful to the Lord. When those descendants intermarried with unbelievers—perhaps the descendants of Cain[1]—mankind became corrupted, eventually prompting God to send a flood to destroy everyone except Noah and his family.

Those who see the “sons of God” as Seth’s faithful descendants argue that the phrase cannot refer to demons because they are spirit beings who are incapable of mating with humans. Yet the obvious retort to this argument would be the incarnation of Jesus, for Mary did not conceive Jesus in the normal human way by having intercourse with Joseph, but through the Holy Spirit.

So either interpretation seems possible. I’ll let the reader decide.

[1] Another possibility is that humans existed before Adam and Eve, but that Adam and Eve were the first humans with a soul. This is based on Genesis 2:7, which says: “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person.” The Hebrew which is translated “person” can also mean “soul”—thus, “the man became a living soul.” This could indicate that the men and women who lived before Adam and Eve were like animals in that they lacked an eternal soul, and these would be the “daughters of men” with whom Seth’s descendants mated.  


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