Who Were the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? [Part 1]

GENESIS 6:1-4

1 And it happened, when man began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of man – that they were beautiful. And they took for themselves wives from any that they chose. 3 So Yahweh said, “My Spirit shall not abide with man forever, because he is flesh. And his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were upon the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God went in to the daughters of man, and they bore children to them.

INTRODUCTION

The “sons of God” of Genesis chapter six have long been the subject of much controversy. Theologians and pastors (both historical and modern) for whom I have much respect, differ drastically on their understanding of the identity of these beings – so there’s no way I’m going to resolve it incontrovertibly today! Unfortunately, there are so many separate issues at play in this debate, and so many different aspects of the passage that can be examined, that I simply cannot get to it all in any semblance of a timely fashion. So, my goal here will be simply to provide some brief overviews of the various positions.

And even though I will present my own position, and hold firmly to it, I do not want to come across as though the other positions don’t have their strengths, or as though my own position does not have any weaknesses. This passage has been the subject of much debate for centuries for good reason – it’s difficult, and strange! That being said, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to come to an understanding of this important passage.

There are four basic interpretations regarding the identity of the sons of God: 1) They were polygamous kings or rulers; 2) They were regular men marrying regular women; 3) They were the godly descendents of Seth, who married the wicked descendents of Cain; 4) They were fallen angelic beings who cohabited with human women.

POLYGAMOUS DESPOTS

The first view, which will be called “the Despot view,” is the view that the sons of God were ambitious kings or nobles[1] who acquired for themselves harems of women, and sought to make a name for themselves[2] as “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (Genesis 6:4, esv).[3] The sin then, according to this interpretation, was polygamy.[4]

Allen Ross, arguing for this view, suggests that Genesis 6:1-4 is a sort of polemic against the pagan notion that kings were of a supernatural origin. The teaching of Genesis six, Ross claims, is that these kings were merely people. However, throughout the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, the term “sons of God” always refers clearly to angels (as will be discussed later) (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Daniel 3:25; Ps. 29:1; Ps 89:5).[5]

His argument for a polemic against the pagan view of kings as offspring of divine beings is contextually weak, as well as exegetically unstable. A far better explanation, given by such men as Chuck Swindoll, Drue Freeman, John MacArthur, and others, of this connection between the pagan notion and the Genesis record is that the pagan view is a distortion of a true event that Genesis records accurately. This would explain where such mythological views could arise from—as simply a corruption of a true event.[6][7]

Ross seems to view (as most others do) the “mighty men” and “men of renown”[8] as the offspring of the rulers and their women. He says that Genesis six is teaching that the rulers’ offspring, “despite pagan notions, were not god-kings. Though heroes and ‘men of renown,’ they were flesh; and they died, in due course, like all members of the human race.”[9] However, if Genesis 6:1-4 is connected with Genesis 6:5-8:22 — in other words, if Genesis 6:1-4 is the introduction to the flood account—then these “men of renown” did not simply die “in due course.” Rather, they were cut off by God in the judgment of the global flood because of their transgression![10]

Furthermore, if these mighty men were in fact the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men, then the Despot view is insufficient in explaining the notability of this offspring. In other words, why would the offspring of polygamous rulers necessarily result in famous, mighty men known as “the fallen?” It seems likely there was a significant reason for the producing of mighty men, and the Despot view fails to provide a sufficient answer for this.[11]

Finally, this view fails to account for God’s judgment upon all of humanity.[12] The context is clearly one of dealing with the whole of humanity. And yet, if it were merely polygamous rulers marrying women, would God not have simply destroyed them and their offspring? However, in Genesis, God grieves that He made humans at all (verse 6) and clearly decides to destroy all people. Noah is saved from this destruction because he walked with God. It seems from the context that Noah, and Noah alone, was found righteous on the earth.[13]

I hope I’ve brought out just a few points for thought. In short, it seems to me that the argument of the Despot view that Genesis 6:1-4 is a polemic against a pagan concept is weak contextually; the argument that “sons of God” refers to mere human rulers, is weak exegetically; and the view that these rulers and their harems universally produced offspring who became mighty warriors is weak logically.

Next time, I’ll talk about a view that is new to me, but has some interesting strengths. But for now, what do you think of the Despot view of Genesis 6?

____________________________________________________________

SOURCES

[1] It is significant to note that ancient cultures, such as Egypt, Canaan, Phoenicia, and others, did refer to their kings as “sons of the gods” and viewed them as semi-divine (Ross, Allen P. “Genesis.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: OT, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983. 36).

[2] Much like the people of Babel wished to make a name for themselves in Gen 11.

[3] Swindoll, Charles R. Understanding Christian Theology. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003. 589.

[4] Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990. 263.

[5] Ibid., 262.

[6] Swindoll, 590.

[7] Freeman, Drue. The Angelic Conflict: The Missing Link. Trinity Bible Church, 2014. 37.

[8] “Mighty men” and “men of renown” are descriptors of the “Nephilim,” or “fallen ones.” As such, the three terms may be used interchangeably throughout this paper.

[9] Ross, 36.

[10] MacArthur, John. 1 Peter. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004. 215.

[11] Swindoll, 590.

[12] Wechsler, 55.

[13] Freeman, 142.

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One Response to Who Were the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? [Part 1]

  1. Pingback: The “Sons of God” [part 2] | The Tavern

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