The identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 has been a topic of debate for many centuries. There are three main theories to define who these men are. This paper will discuss the different opinions and give a conclusion as to which is most biblically accurate.
The “Sons of God” as Angels
The term “sons of God” occurs many times in the Bible but doesn’t always refer to the same type of being. It is used three times outside of Genesis to mean angelic bodies which is why Ayantunde Olaoluwa Meshach writes in his article, “The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-6” that it may also mean “angels” in Genesis 6:21. Most early church fathers accepted this to be the correct interpretation largely because the Septuagint translated “sons of God” as angels, spirits, or even Satan himself. Meshach describes how these non-human men lusted after human women and took them as wives. Many would argue that Jesus states in Matthew 22:30 that angels in Heaven do not marry but it does not say they cannot marry, not to mention these were fallen angels not heavenly ones2. The Nephilim were likely mysterious mythological offspring born from these unions, corrupting the human race. God become very angry at the intermingling and punished the wickedness with the flood.
The “Sons of God” as Ancient Rulers
According to Stephen Hre Kio in his article entitled, “Revisiting ‘The Sons of God’ in Genesis 6.1-4” the best possible explanation of who the “sons of God” are is what he calls the “ruling class ‘harem’ view”3. In this interpretation, the term “sons of God” should be translated as rulers in human societies. The reasoning for this theory is the fact that there is biblical support for the word “Elohim” to be translated not just as “God” but also as “gods” in Exodus 21:6 and “judges” in 2 Samuel 7:14. He claims the expression was never used to designate a relationship with God prior to this passage so the author was trying to differentiate gods of the earth from the Creator of the earth. The ancient Aramaic Targum of Onkelos and the Greek translation of the Old Testament by Symmachus both translate this passage of Scripture as “sons of nobles”. The sin that angered God was that these rules had harems, or multiple wives. The arrogance that came with the power they held caused them to believe they could possess any woman they found beautiful. That was not God’s design for marriage. The children born from these relationships were called Nephilim, a term that describes heroic warriors, princes, or men of great stature. The consequences of earthly rulers abusing their power by taking so many wives led to the flood of Noah’s time.
The “Sons of God” as Descendants of Seth
Matthew Henry explains in his commentary of Genesis 6 that the “sons of God” were godly men from the line of Seth4. These men should have preserved their purity by marrying equally yoked women. Unfortunately, they lusted after beautiful women and married them despite the fact they were strangers to God because they were from the excommunicated line of Cain. This was something forbidden according to Deuteronomy 7:3-4. These religious men should have sided with the Spirit but instead allowed their carnal flesh to rule. The intermingling between the godly men and ungodly women caused a wicked generation of people. These families turned away from God causing Him great anger. The children born from these unions, called Nephilim, were a degenerate race of sinners who were honored for their evil ways. Their principles were corrupt, so the judgement God brought upon them was the great flood.
This debate is very interesting, and I have to admit that the evidence leaves a lot of uncertainty. Prior to doing this research, I would have stated the “sons of God” were fallen angels. Jude 6 does tell us about angels who did not keep their proper dwelling but left their own habitation and then immediately starts speaking about sexual immorality and perversion. The book of 1 Enoch, which is not a part of the canon but is considered Jewish historical literature, tells a story of angels who lusted after earthly women, so they chose some for themselves and impregnated them with giants5. We know from the story of Adam and Eve how Satan wanted to destroy mankind and sending his angels to intermarry with humans would definitely corrupt their offspring. The biggest question I now have is why God would punish mankind for the sins of angels. The other problem with this theory is that we must assume to marry human women the angels must have taken a human body which is not something specifically discussed in Scripture. While the other theories have some noteworthy references and justifications, I believe none of them are conclusive. Despite the questions above, I believe the theory that the “sons of God” were fallen angels is still the best explanation.
- Ayantunde Olaoluwa Meshach, “The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-6,” Pharos Journal of Theology 100, no. 7 (2019): 1-7, accessed January 31, 2020, https://www.pharosjot.com/uploads/7/1/6/3/7163688/article_7_vol_100_2019_nigeria.pdf
- Unless otherwise noted all biblical references are from the New International Version
- Stephen Hre Kio, “Revisiting ‘The Sons of God’ in Genesis 6.1-4,” The Bible Translator 52, no. 2 (April 2001): 234-239, accessed January 31, 2020, https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/026009430105200206.
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Genesis 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).
- David Guzik, “Study Guide for Genesis 6,” The Enduring Word Commentary, March 10, 2017