Q117 : Who are the “sons of god” in Genesis 6?

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Q117 : Who are the “sons of god” in Genesis 6?

As the story of Noah begins, it briefly mentions that "there were giants in those days" because the sons of God came and procreated with the women. I have heard theories that say these "sons of God" were actually fallen angels. This doesn't make sense to me since I wouldn't imagine a super-natural being such as an angel being given the ability to procreate. Angels live forever; therefore, they have no need to reproduce. What do you think of this passage?

A117 : by Tony Garland

There are two main views regarding the identification of the "sons of God," בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים [benê hāʾělōhîm], in the Genesis 6 passage. From my point of view, one is exegetical (derived from a study of the Biblical text). The other is plainly contrived with almost no Biblical support out of a response of disbelief often combined with revulsion for what the passage would otherwise seem to teach.

The contrived view would have us take the "sons of God" to be descendants of the godly line of Shem. These men then intermarried with the "daughters of men," בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם [benôṯ hāʾāḏām], (presumed to be daughters of ungodly people). Why this would be of particular importance in the story of the Flood—and why it would be associated with "giants" (more correctly "fallen ones," נְּפִלִים [nep̄ilîm]) is difficult to explain since the offspring should simply be normal men.

Some attempt to say that there is nothing physically unusual here—that "fallen ones" merely refers to their moral stature. But the same נְּפִלִים [nep̄ilîm] are mentioned in Numbers 13:33 ("giants") where they are described as "men of great stature" who made the Israelites seem "like grasshoppers" by comparison. The passage also mentions that the "descendants of Anak came from these נְּפִלִים [nep̄ilîm]." So there is strong support for the idea of physical descent carrying characteristics of a race of men much larger and more powerful than average. Then too, the idea that the Shemites are in view here has absolutely no Biblical basis—as popular as it might be.

The exegetical view allows the text to speak for itself. The phrase "son of God" is specifically used to denote those whose origin is directly of God. Thus, it is used of Adam (Luke 3:38), angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), Jesus (Pr. 30:4, Mat. 4:3, 6, etc. and possibly Dan. 3:25), and born-again believers (Mat. 5:9; Luke 20:36; John 1:12; Rom. 8:14,19; Gal. 3:26). In the Old Testament, aside from the passage in question, it is used exclusively of angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). Moreover, the Septuagint in combination with fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls infer an early Jewish interpretation of these "sons of God" as angels:

A fragment from [Dea Sea Scroll] Cave IV containing Deu. 32:8 reads, "according to the number of the sons of God," which is translated "angels of God" by the LXX, as in Genesis 6:4 (margin); Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7. The Masoretic Text reads, "according to the number of the children of Israel."
— Normal L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction To The Biblea, p. 367.

To their credit, those who hold to the Shemite explanation rightly point to the same passage you mentioned in support of the idea that angels in heaven, being eternal spiritual beings, do not reproduce (Mat. 22:30; Mark 12:25). So if angels were involved, we know that their motivation was not reproduction. Yet can the passages where Jesus mentions elect angels as an example of the lack of marriage in heaven be used to conclude that fallen angels in horrific rebellion against God could not possibly ever physically intermingle with women? As we'll see, the preponderance of evidence from the rest of the New Testament indicates this is in fact what took place.

So what would be the possible motive of these angels? Some have suggested that, aside from general rebellion against god and an intentional perversion of His created sexual order—common among the rebellious even as seen in our day—the answer may lie in an understanding of the significance of Genesis 3:15. At the curse, God promised that a redeemer would come from the "seed of the woman." Is it possible that the angelic act of Genesis 6:4 was, in part, with the intention of perverting the lines of physical descent through which the promised redeemer would one day come? Some interpreters note that Noah is said to be "a just man," צַדִּיק [ṣaddîq], and "perfect in his generations" (Gen. 6:9). Although the term "perfect," תָּמִים [tāmîm], may simply refer to his moral character, it is an additional characteristic mentioned beyond the fact that he is "righteous." Within the semantic range of תָּמִים [tāmîm] we find its use to refer to something being whole (Jos. 10:13), intact (Eze. 15:5), or free of blemish (Ex. 12:5). Some interpreters have seen this description of Noah as being twofold: he was righteous morally as well as free of blemish in his physical generations—untainted by the event recorded just a few verses earlier: "unlike others of his generation, he was not contaminated by the intermarriage" (Fruchtenbaum, Genesisb). We also note that the only line of descent which survived the Flood is Noah and his offspring.

The next question is a practical one: when angels manifest themselves as men, how physiologically complete is that manifestation? We don't really know the answer. But we do have some disturbing evidence that it could be more accurate than we imagine. I'm speaking of the sorry situation where two angels enter Sodom only to be physically accosted by Sodomites (Gen. 19:5). This aspect must remain a mystery, but we cannot rule out the possibility that fallen angels, wishing to pervert the plan of God and being rebellious in general, are able to manifest a physical presence which includes the ability to intermingle. After all, other externally visible complex bodily characteristics of men seem to be within the ability of angels to manifest since they can appear in settings where they are indiscernible from men (Heb. 13:2).

Add to this the considerable New Testament evidence that a specific group of angels, associated with the time of the Flood, participated in a specifically heinous activity with sexual overtones which led to their being held in bondage, and the evidence becomes much stronger that angels are indeed in view.

In 1 Peter 3:19-20, Peter informs us about "spirits in prison who formerly were disobedient" during the days leading up to the Flood. In 2 Peter 2:4, he also mentions "angels who sinned" which are in "chains of darkness" being "reserved for judgment" and this all in relation to the Flood. These angels who sinned are mentioned in connection with Sodom and Gomorrah. This passage is analogous to Jude (Jude 1:6-8) where we learn of angels "who did not keep their proper domain, but left their abode" who are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day." Jude tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, in a similar manner to the angels, went "after strange flesh." The word "strange" here is ἑτὲρος [heteros] which denotes, "a different kind." Thus the angels left their proper place and went after flesh which was of a different kind.

If this event involving the angels is not Genesis 6, then we have no other information about it. But both passages in Peter and the one in Jude associate the event with the Flood and this is strong evidence that the Genesis 6 incident is in view.

Also consider that the majority of unclean spirits such as demons are not presently bound as these angels are—although they evidently know about the chained angels and expect to eventually share their destiny (Luke 8:31). Just how wicked are demons? Incredibly wicked! Yet they are not bound as these! This would seem to indicate that whatever act the bound angels participated in, it was incredibly evil. So much so, that God felt it necessary to directly intervene to judge their activities.

Some try to evade the implication of the passage in Jude by suggesting that the "these" in, "a similar manner to these" is saying that the cities of the plain went after strange flesh in a similar manner to Sodom and Gomorrah. An analysis of the Greek grammar shows that this interpretation is flawed. Here's how it works out when one examines the gender of the passage:

And the [angels (masculine plural)] who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as [Sodom (neuter plural)] and [Gomorrah (feminine singular)], and the [cities (feminine plural)] around them in a similar manner to [these (masculine plural)], [having given themselves over to sexual immorality (feminine plural)] and [gone after (feminine plural)] strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Notice that the cities (feminine) = "went after" (feminine) . . . in a similar manner to "these" (masculine plural) = "angels" (masculine plural). The homosexual activities of the men of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain is said to be analogous to the preceding act of the angels.

NT Greek expert Kenneth Wuest reaches a similar conclusion by examining the case of words in the passage:

The words "in like manner," are associated grammatically, not with the words "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" and "the cities," which are in the nominative case, but with the two verbal forms, the participles "giving themselves over to fornication" and "going after strange flesh." A word in the accusative case in Greek is not associated grammatically with the word in the nominative case, but the verb. . . . Now to what do the words "in like manner," refer? The text, punctuated as we have just indicated, would refer the words to the angels of verse 6. That is, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, in like manner to the angels, committed fornication. And that is correct. But the Greek text gives us further help. The demonstrative pronoun τοὺτοις [toutois] appears immediately after the words "in like manner." . . . That is, those cities gave themselves over to fornication in like manner to these, namely, the angels. Thus we have a clear statement in the Greek text that angels committed fornication and went after strange flesh. One such statement in the Word of God is enough to establish the fact. . . . One will have to accept the fact of the angels committing fornication, repugnant and unexplainable as it is, or reject the verbal inspiration of the New Testament and the rules of Greek syntax.
— Kenneth S. Wuest, The Practical Use of the Greek New Testamentc (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1982), pp. 32-35.

It is the view of some interpreters, myself included, that these particular angels are bound for two reasons: 1) to preclude their particularly heinous activities; and 2) to hold them in reserve until their future release as instruments of judgment (Rev. 9:1-3; 14-16) during the time of tribulation before they themselves will be judged (1Cor. 6:3).

When interpreting this challenging passage in Genesis 6, believers have a choice: we either follow the text and related passages where they clearly lead or we walk the path of unbelief, reject the plain teaching of Scripture, and substitute some other explanation in an attempt to avoid a disturbing reality we'd prefer to ignore.

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