The “Sons of God” [Part 3]


We’ve looked at two interpretations so far regarding the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6. The first was that the sons of God were polygamous human rulers or kings; the second was that the term “sons of God” merely refers, poetically, to regular men marrying regular women. Another view, and perhaps the most popular interpretation today, is that the sons of God were the godly descendents of Seth, while the daughters of men were of the more sinful descendents of Cain.[1] According to this view, the sin committed by mankind is an ungodly, forbidden union.[2] That is, the godly, “saved” men from the family line of Seth (called the sons of God) married the ungodly, non-believing women from the family line of Cain (the daughters of men).[3]

According to Wayne Grudem, the term “sons of God” has to do with one’s disposition. That is, if one is walking with God, he is a son of God.[4] Combining this with the preceding two chapters containing records of the descendents of Seth and Cain, Grudem argues that the context shows that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are those godly descendents of Seth.

However, there is a grave contradiction in this interpretation. If believing men were en masse marrying unsaved, ungodly women, would this not mean that those men were not very godly after all?[5] Coincidentally, it seems that such a respected Calvinistic theologian as Grudem would recognize this incongruity in his theology. This view of the sons of God inconsistently suggests that the descendents of Seth are called “sons of God” because they are believing, godly men, but then that God had to flood the earth to destroy mankind because of the wickedness being spread from these “godly” men intermarrying with wicked descendents of Cain.[6]

In fact, another problem with this view is that there simply is no substantial support for the idea that the descendents of Seth were, even in a majority, godly, while the descendents of Cain were wicked. Why would it be that the male descendents of Seth were godly, while the female descendents of Cain were ungodly, and that these were the two groups who intermarried? Why would not the “sons of men” (the sinful male descendents of Cain) take wives for themselves from the “daughters of God” (the godly female descendents of Seth)? Or perhaps there were godly male descendents of Cain who married ungodly female descendents of Seth, which also would have been sinful. The Sethite/Cainite interpretation is simply weak, inconsistent, and careless at this point.[7]

Here is an especially important point exegetically. This interpretation also forces two different meanings onto the same word within the span of two verses.[8] In verse one, “man” must refer to all of humanity.[9] Verse one then says that this group—humans in general—had daughters; of course, they presumably had sons as well, but the sons are not mentioned now because they are not pertinent to the particular narrative, as the ensuing event only involves primarily the women from this initial group­, that is, mankind. Then in verse two, the men of another group, a group distinct from the one just discussed (mankind), looks on the daughters of the first group (mankind) with lust.[10]

Yet those who hold to the Sethite/Cainite view must see an immediate change in the referent of the word “man” from verse one (where it refers to humanity) to verse two (where it refers only to the descendents of Cain), when a new group introduced (the sons of God) are now also part of the original “man” (established as all of mankind in verse one). This inconsistent hermeneutic is one of the weakest points of this view.[11]

Another issue with the Sethite/Cainite interpretation is that not only do the sons of God appear to be a distinct group from mankind, but, again, the term “sons of God” itself identifies who that second group is, as it has already been shown to be a term referring to angelic beings.[12] It is especially important to note here that the book of Job was written long (centuries) before the book of Genesis,[13] so the referent of “sons of God” has already been established by Scripture to be angels. As Robert Deffinbaugh puts it,

“while this interpretation has the commendable feature of explaining the passage without creating any doctrinal or theological problems, what it offers in terms of orthodoxy, it does at the expense of accepted exegetical practices.”[14]

Next time, we’ll look at an interpretation that seems bizarre to many, and may raise certain theological questions, but to which one is almost certainly driven by a careful and intentional adherence to the authority of Scripture, and faithful exegesis.


[1] Jeremiah, 195.

[2] It is important to note that God does indeed desire believers to only marry believers (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

[3] Hamilton, 264.

[4] Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. 414.

[5] Swindoll, 590

[6] Wechsler, 55.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hamilton, 264.

[9] If it does not refer to all mankind, then it must be explained why only the Cainites began to multiply, and not the godly Sethites, who surely would have obeyed the command to “be fruitful and Multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Most who hold to the Sethite/Cainite view do in fact split the definitions as discussed here—Kenneth Matthews in The New American Commentary, for example.

[10] Heron, Patrick. The Nephilim and the Pyramid of the Apocalypse. Xulon Press, 2005. 22.

[11] Hamilton, 264.

[12] Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Daniel 3:25; Ps. 29:1; Ps 89:5

[13] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011.

[14] Deffinbaugh, Robert. “The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men.” Accessed May 3, 2015.


About Tweed Tavern

We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
This entry was posted in Bible Study, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s