Who Were The Sons of God From Genesis 6?

QUESTION: What is your take on the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:2?

ANSWER: Thanks, for the question. There’s been a ton of speculation about this cryptic little passage.  Basically there’s three viable answers to the identity of the “Sons of God”:

  • Sons of Seth
  • Sons of Mighty Rulers
  • Fallen Angels

Some scholars think that the reference to the “sons of God” means the descendants of Seth. He was the father of the “good” line of descendants from Adam. These scholars assume that a reference is being made to this “good line” (Semites) by calling them “sons of God”. And so the author is saying that the Semites polluted their progeny by intermarriage with women of Cain’s tribes outside of Seth’s line. The children of these unions were great, but their alliance with the “daughters of men” were clearly unholy. Support for this view comes from the story in the children of Israel, when similarly many of their men were seduced by the women of Moab, which brings God’s swift judgment. (Numbers 25:1-4)

Other scholars don’t accept the Seth interpretation because no mention is made of Seth in the passage… and so they opt for a “Mighty Rulers” view.  This theory says great rulers, or kings married commoners and perhaps acquired large harems to demonstrate their power.  These intermarries corrupted them, even though their progeny were great princes of renown.

Both of these views have the advantage of not requiring us to accept the difficult idea that angels actually copulated with human beings.  But their weakness is that neither deals well with the text.

For example, “sons of God” is never a euphemism for people in Scripture – except when David is one time called “God’s son” Psalm 2:7 – a passage that has big messianic overtones.  It is rather used almost exclusively as a euphemism for angels.  (Job 1:6, 2:1, Ps 82:6 etc).

There are a few places where the word “God” in the Old Testament is used loosely to refer to rulers/judges, but these are rare and never include the “Son of” piece which uniquely refers to angelic beings in all other cases.  And what makes this case stronger is that “sons of GOD” are juxtaposed with “daughters of MEN” in this passage – to draw a contrast and to underline the unnaturalness of the union and the reason why the offspring of these unions are clearly not normal people (6:4).

Some reject this interpretation because Jesus said “angels are not given in marriage” (Matt 22:30) so angels, they say, must be sexless.  You can probably dismiss this objection, however, for two reasons.  First, because Jesus is talking about unfallen angels in their natural state, whereas Genesis is clearly taking about fallen angels in their “unnatural” state – that is, they’ve fallen from their position of authority and goodness (Jude 6) even though they keep much of their delegated power.  Secondly, Jesus point is probably not about the gender or sexuality of people or angels at all… it’s about the institution of marriage being obsolete in heaven.

So the most natural interpretation, despite the “weirdness” of it’s conclusion, is that “sons of God” refers to mighty spirit beings, angels.

Almost ALL ancient Jewish and Christian commentators throughout history thought this way about the passage.  What you’ll note is that this is a very sober and unadorned version of similar ideas in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, where the gods do copulate with men and produce heroic offspring who are famous and do great deeds (Hercules, Achilles etc.)   Perhaps such a thing really happened in a different time – some hideous interplay between the physical and spiritual.  The difference is that the Bible’s record has no “once upon a time” feel to it, thus has a ring of authenticity, unadorned and straight forward.

If we accept the angel interpretation, we can’t know how this was possible.  We do know angels appear in human form in other places – sometimes people don’t even know the interaction is angelic until after the fact (Judges 6:12 & 22, Heb 13:2).  The Genesis text seems to open up the possibility that this ability extends past “visionary human appearance” to the angels adopting human genetics, since copulation happened and the human genome was clearly altered in their not-normal progeny.

Unquestionably this is strange!  But let’s remember that today we are quickly coming to a place of being able to tinker with the human genome ourselves.  If mighty powers exist beyond us, they surely also possess this knowledge.  If you think such interference in our genetic destiny (if possible) seems proud and dangerous (as is our current forays into human genetic engineering), God seems to have agreed, as it coincided with his swift judgment.  And from that time on, it seems, the interplay between “the Powers” and humans was greatly curtailed.

So while we can’t know how this happened, what we can know is that the result of these unholy unions is not just a curious oddity for the author.  The crossing of this line by the angels was something unspeakably evil – as it lead directly to the devastating judgment of the flood.