The “Sons of God” [Part 4]

We’ve looked at three interpretations so far regarding the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6. The first view was that the sons of God were polygamous human rulers; the second was that the term “sons of God” merely refers, poetically, to regular men marrying regular women; the third view was that the sons of God were the godly male descendents of Seth, and the daughters of men were the wicked female descendents of Cain. In my opinion, these three views all have too many difficulties and inconsistencies to provide a sufficient answer. In this post, I”ll cover the fourth view, which, though it still has its challenges, provides the most cohesive interpretation of this difficult passage.

FALLEN ANGELS

The final view to be examined is the view that “the sons of God” refers to fallen angels. In this view, a certain group from among the fallen angels abandoned the created natural order and cohabited with human women, seeking to corrupt the human race.[1] They succeeded to a great extent—so much so that God had to wipe mankind off the face of the earth.

Perhaps the most often raised objection to this view is the idea that angels are not capable of reproduction. Grudem, Wechsler, Sailhamer, and others appeal to Matthew 22:30, where Jesus says that the angels in heaven do not marry.[2] Millard Erickson says that the suggestion that angels could mate with human women and bear children “runs counter to what Jesus taught us about angels.”[3] However, in this verse in Matthew Jesus speaks of the condition of the holy “angels in heaven,” and does not speak to the potential ontological ability of angels, especially fallen angels intent on destroying the purposes of God. Jesus merely states that angels do not marry each other. This does not mean that they do not have the ability to cohabit with human women.[4] It is clear throughout Scripture that angels do at times step into the physical realm with bodies, and can eat, sleep, and genuinely participate in human activities (Genesis 18-19; Joshua 5:13-15; Hebrews 13:2).[5]

One problem with the opposing three views is that none sufficiently answer the question of why there is a distinction between the men who began to multiply (and their daughters), and the “men” who were the sons of God. Exegetically, it is clear that Genesis six is making a distinction between mankind, and another group. This group, according to the angel interpretation, are fallen angels who came into the physical realm to corrupt mankind.[6] As David Kidner emphasizes, while this view seems strange and foreign to the modern reader, the fact remains that other interpretations are foreign to a faithfully literal interpretation of the text.[7]

Another issue with each of the other views of Genesis six is that they do not answer the issue of certain angels being confined to prison in direct connection with the days of the flood (1 Peter 3:19-20; 2 Peter 2:4).[8] A benefit of the angel view of Genesis six is that it helps explain several New Testament passages which otherwise can be confusing and difficult to interpret.[9] For example, in Jude 6-7, Jude speaks of a group of angels whom God has kept in chains for a sin they committed that was somehow similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels referred to are not simply all fallen angels, for not all fallen angels are chained in a prison pit.[10] Thus, this cannot simply refer to the original rebellion against heaven led by Satan. So Jude is referring to a subset of angles—but what subset? Genesis six helps in identifying who these angels are. These angels chained in darkness are the ones who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. That is, they left their spiritual domain and abandoned the proper function of their being, going after “strange flesh.”

Verse seven immediately connects the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah to the sin of the Angels. That is, they were committing acts which were unnatural and, furthermore, of a sexual nature. In Greek, this verse says that Sodom and Gomorrah “in like manner to them… indulged in unnatural flesh.”[11] The Holman Christian Standard Bible clarifies the referent of “them” by rendering it as “just as angels did” (Jude 7). So these particular angels, who are now being held in chains in darkness, committed some kind of sexual sin involving going after unnatural flesh.[12]

2 Peter 2:4 also connects angels who sinned with the time of the flood, and says that because of this, God cast them into Tartarus to be held in chains until judgment. According to some theologians, these demons may also be the spirits to whom Christ proclaimed victory over after His crucifixion, as referenced in 1 Peter 3:19.[13]

Norman Geisler, John MacArthur, and others also relate Genesis 6 to 1 Peter 3:19. Some struggle with this passage because it can sound as though Jesus is preaching the Gospel to dead unbelievers. However, the word is not the word for “evangelize,” but for proclaiming or heralding a message, and does not refer to Jesus offering salvation, but Jesus proclaiming victory over them.[14] As Dr. Geisler points out, “spirits” is never used to refer to human souls in hell. Rather, a better explanation is that this refers to the sons of God—fallen angels—who infiltrated humanity before the flood in order to corrupt humanity, and who God threw into prison because of this heinous, unnatural rebellion against the Creator.[15]

The interpretation of the sons of God as fallen angels is also the historic rabbinical interpretation of Genesis six.[16] The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, actually translates the phrase “sons of God” as “angels of God.”[17] The early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Jerome, all held the view that the sons of God were indeed fallen angels. As Michael Oppenheimer from Let Us Reason Ministries puts it:

“It has been the opinion of the majority of Rabbis that this event had actually occurred, and that the sons of God were indeed angels. Ancient rabbinical sources, and the Septuagint translators in the 3rd century before Christ all upheld this view. Josephus believed them to be angels. As did the early church. They agreed with this view almost to the end of the fourth century (Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athenagoras, Eusebius, Philo, Theodoret, Jerome and Judeaus accepted this traditional view). While we should not let tradition be the final say in doctrinal matters we can learn from their statements why they considered this view). What changed this view is only speculated but it very well could have been from an anti supernatural out look.”[18]

Of course as Oppenheimer says, we don’t arrive at our conclusions ultimately because of tradition However, the historic position of the church can often be a weighty factor when added to all the other evidences for this position.

There are so many other perspectives to look at, and avenues to go down, and issues to consider. But this is all that time will allow. In the next and final post in this series though, I’ll give you a few helpful resources that delve into the various issues in much more detail. I hope you will take the time to consider this passage and its implications, and that the resources next time will help you arrive at an informed conclusion.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Perhaps so that the Messiah could not come into the world as a pure human to redeem mankind (MacArthur. 1 Peter, 211).

[2] Grudem, 414; Wechsler, 55; Sailhamer 113.

[3] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

[4] Swindoll, 291.

[5] Clearly this is not a normal occurrence, and holy angles would most likely only find the need to do this upon a command from God. However, the contention here is that fallen angels had the ability to do it before the flood without God’s permission (though ultimately of course He allowed it). Perhaps after the flood God disallowed this from happening again.

[6] Heron, 22.

[7] Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967. 89.

[8] Swindoll, 290.

[9] Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967. 90.

[10] MacArthur. Christians and Demons, 4.

[11] Hamilton, 271.

[12] Hamilton, 272.

[13] MacArthur. 1 Peter, 212.

[14] MacArthur. 1 Peter, 209.

[15] Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002. 959.

[16] MacArthur. 1 Peter, 209.

[17] Hamilton, 262.

[18] Oppenheimer, Michael. “The Sons of God in Genesis 6.” Let Us Reason. 2013. Accessed May 14, 2015.

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