The Sons of God: People, Angels, or Something More?

In the first part of Genesis 6, there was an event that took place that seems to be the catalyst for God sending the great flood to destroy the people He had created.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

-Gen 6:1-4

So what is going on here… well, there are three groups:

  1. Sons of God
  2. Daughters of Men
  3. Nephilim

The Nephilim are the “mighty men of old” who were great warriors and had great reputations. These are the offspring of the “Sons of God” and the “Daughters of Men.”

There is a tradition that the Nephilim were giants, super-humans who were able to do supernatural things. Think of Goliath, or Sampson in the Bible.

The key to understanding this passage is to come to a decision on who the “Sons of God” (SOG) and the “Daughters of Men” (DOM).

There are three options that I think are viable to defining these folks.

OPTION 1: Breakdown/Separation of Fellowship

This is a way of saying the “godly” married the “ungodly.” It is simply a picture of intermarrying between those who have faith and those who do not. In this senario the SOG = the descendants of Seth who remained the People of God, and the DOM = the descendants of Cain who ran from God. There may be a lot of things going on here, continuing on the theme that Eve is the one who sinned so the “daughters” are the ungodly, they follow the ways of “man” and not the ways of God. This view basically focus on the fact that they “godly” got yoked together with “ungodly.”

The strength of this view is that it is very broad and speaks to the general principle that God does not want His people to marry people who don’t believe in Him. Certainly, that point is being made here. The weakness of this view (I think) is that it’s not quite specific enough to deal with what seems to be happening here. God seems very upset about this event, there’s got to be more going on here…

OPTION #2: Angelic Hypothesis

This view sees the SOG as angelic beings. This means that angels, actual creatures who are messengers of God, came to earth and took DOM (that is human beings) as their wives.

This is very SciFi, but it’s a view that I think has more merit than we might initially think (simply because it sounds strange to us).

There are a few things that this view has going for it:

  1. Throughout the rest of the OT this term “SOG” seems to always be referring to Angels.
  2. Historically, this was the interpretation of the Jews on this text. Not until Philo of Alexandria (20BC-AD50) was there any other view (that we know of). Even with this descent by Philo, the “Angelic Hypothesis” was the majority view for over 300 years after Jesus until Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430).
  3. This seems to be how some NT writers view this text:
  • Jude 6-7 “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural flesh, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
  • 2Peter 2:4-5 “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly”

This view, to me, is very persuasive and one that I held for a long time. In all honesty it is still very close to my way of thinking… but at the end of the day, I think it falls short.

Realize that 2Peter 2 and the book of Jude are very similar. In fact, almost everyone realizes that one used the other as a source. Me personally, I believe that Peter used Jude’s book when he wrote 2Peter, but that’s beside the point. The thing to keep in mind is that this is one source that is written twice.

Additionally, much of Jude/2Peter 2 is an allusion to Jewish writings just before the first century known as the “Pseudepigrapha.” These are Jewish writings (in Greek) that give a lot of “back-story” to many of the OT writings and give a window into Jewish belief and mysticism for some sects of the Jewish faith around the time of Christ.

Just because the NT alludes to these writings does not mean that these writings are correct, they are certainly not the inspired Word of God (like the OT/NT).

A great example of this is Jesus’ teaching of “Lazarus and the Rich Man” in Luke 16. Jesus paints the classic picture of the “afterlife” as presented in many writings of the Pseudepigrapha. Actually, it most likely came into the Pseudepigrapha from an Egyptian folk tale about Si-Osiris. Obviously, this picture of “hades” is not rooted in a truly “biblical worldview” but consider who Jesus is talking to. He is talking to the Pharisees and so He is using a method of communication that they will understand. He is telling them a parable to illustrate the point. The point is that even if someone (read “Jesus”) comes back from the dead, it won’t convince certain people. It does not matter that a parable is a fictions story, all parables are made-up stories. Was the sower an actual person Jesus was thinking of? Was the prodigal son a real historical figure? Probably not, and it doesn’t matter…

In the same way, Jude and Peter use allusions to Jewish belief from the Pseudepigrapha to “speak their language” so to speak. It doesn’t mean the Pseudepigrapha was right, in fact the NT writers don’t condone its teaching. At the same time, their use of the Pseudepigrapha for illustrative purposes doesn’t diminish their point. They are not trying to prove that Angels slept with Humans, so we shouldn’t use this passage to do that either.

OPTION #3: Pagan Kings

In the Ancient Near East (ANE) kings often referred to themselves as gods or the sons of gods. (think of Daniel in the lion’s den and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego while they were guests of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon).

I think this view hits the mark, or at least does the best job.

This would mean that the SOG in Gen are pagan kings or princes who took for themselves wives from the DOM (i.e. the daughters from among God’s chosen people).

Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to Himself more than any other title, and so it seems to have a religious/positive connotation. It seems unlikely that the Bible would describe someone as the offspring of man and intend it as a derogatory term and yet use it of the prophets and Jesus himself. So, I think that knocks out “Option #1” at least in specifics, although, the general idea remains that the “ungodly” intermarried with the “godly.”

So, are common people who marry other common people that big of an offense? How wold this produce the “super-race” of Nephilim?

What I think is happening is not that Angelic beings are marring God’s people, but Pagan kings/princes are.

Obviously, in the ancient world, how you became a king was by being a great warrior, brave, attractive, and the “best of the best” in general (think King David). These pagan kings tended to have ego problems as well as superior genetics.

So, the biggest and strongest from among the pagans took (that is by force) God’s people, and no one did anything about it. God decided to wipe them out. He offered ANYONE who believed in him to be spared, and only Noah and his family took him up on the offer.

So, I opt for “Option #3” but options 1 & 2 have elements of truth as well. It is about only marrying within the faith (Option 1) and it is about “superior beings” who don’t obey God marrying women from among His people.

At the end of the day though, good Christian people have disagreed on how to interpret this text, and that’s okay. I hope this has been helpful.

Which option do you think is best? What else have you heard other than these three?

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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  • Stephanie

    I came across this article several years ago. Apparently some people believe that they might be aliens.

  • I’ve heard of that too, like I said, there are three viable options 😉

    Maybe I’ll do a post on aliens and a biblical world view… spoiler alert, I don’t believe in aliens.

  • Enoch I, which is referenced in the New Testament and is the third most frequent book found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, goes into more detail. It says the Nephilim are the offspring of angels (the “Watchers”) and the daughters of men. And the angels that did this are now known as the “fallen angels”.

  • Bob Bertels

    Oddly ,I just listened to Adrian Rogers 3 term president at SBC on Bott Radio . He stands by option 2 and quoted the same passage in Jude .

  • You are correct! As a part of some of the studies I’ve done at school, I’ve done some extensive readings in the Pseudepigrapha. That puts Enoch in “Option 2” category. But then again… Enoch was written thousands of years after the events of Genesis. I don’t know that the author (not Enoch, btw) would be in a better position to know. Also, remember that these books are more a revelation of Inter-Testamental 2nd Temple beliefs, not a revelation of God’s word.

    On the other hand, I did hold this view for a long time and it might, indeed, be correct. The “Pagan Kings” just seems to make more since, because much of Genesis seems to be a “mirror” showing how the Hebrew God (YHWH) is superior to the pagan Gods.

    At least it makes us think…

  • I think most preachers, especially the more “seasoned” ones, hold to #2. It very well could be right.

  • But then pagan gods, fallen angels, and “aliens” as Stephanie mentioned, could all be different names for the same thing.

  • I’ve heard people who think that. I don’t believe in aliens though, at least not in extraterrestrial life like human life. “Ancient Aleians” is one such theory to explain the whole idea of angels etc. seems kinda hokey to me.