If you haven’t read the Introduction to this series, I really encourage you to do that. That post lays out the purpose and structure of this series as well as my view of scripture and my own struggles in Genesis. This work is important to me. I want this series to be genuinely helpful to other people. So go and have a look at the intro before diving in, alright? It will only take a few minutes, and I think you’ll start off with a clearer picture of how this is all supposed to work.
I want to start the Issues in Genesis series off with a real doozie. The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men is a tiny little story contained within 4 verses of Genesis. It’s easy to miss entirely if you’re not paying attention, and most studies of Genesis just skip right over it as though it were not there.
I know why they skip it. They skip it because it’s weird. They skip it because it brushes up against supernatural concepts that make Western people intensely uncomfortable. We’re only down with the supernatural program to a certain point. If you put one toe over the line, however, we get so angsty about it that we will fill super-fat tomes with all kinds of logical and linguistic acrobatics to deny that the text says what it says.
Angels? Cool. We like angels.
Demons? Well…okay. Sure, why not?
Virgin birth? Well, it’s in the “good” Testament, and it’s just the one time, and it’s God. So…I’ll accept it, but let’s not talk about it except once per year on Christmas. By the way, can we call her a maiden or a “young woman,” instead? The word “virgin” makes me feel dirty, and there are children present, for crying out loud.
Genesis, Chapter 6. Divine beings impregnating human women with half-human giant babies that cause wickedness to flourish on the earth so abundantly that God regrets making us and destroys every creature on the planet with a flood? Nope. I’m off the train. You’ve gone too far. That’s crazy and you should be medicated. I’m sure it means something else. What is wrong with you?
Okay…so let’s just skip that part.
Sadly, even though I’m being a wee bit disrespectful here, it’s not too far off from the truth. This is how the body of Christ handles Genesis 6:1-6 for the most part. I read this passage with intent for the first time in 2017. I saw it. I didn’t skip it. I wanted to believe in this book. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. You shouldn’t either. For better or for worse, that passage is there. The author of Genesis put it there for a reason. Don’t you want to know what that reason is? Don’t you want to know what he’s trying to show us?
So, let’s do this.
I’m breaking out the King James Version today because, “why not?” The language of the KJV has a beautiful rhythm and flow of its own, and I think the mystery and controversy of today’s passage from Genesis is well-served by reading it from this translation. As you go through this text with me, however, you can use any translation of the Bible you like. You’ll find that it says exactly the same thing (I know because I cheated and compared five of them next to each other while going through this. /wink).
With that, here’s our passage of scripture for this Issue in Genesis:
Genesis Chapter 6, Verses 1-6
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
Genesis 6:1-6, KJV
The first reaction people generally have when they read this passage for the first time (especially if they didn’t already know it was coming) is something like, “What was that? What did that just say?” Well, since the question is naturally, “What?!!,” our course of action should be to take a breath, look at it again, and read what it says.
What Does The Biblical Text Actually Say?
Before we can start talking about what the text means, what it means for us, or anything about what we’re supposed to do with the text…we first have to simply read it. We need to look at the words and assess what the words actually say. That’s it. Simple, right?
Oh, good heavens, no.
Reading from scripture without projecting our own mental garbage into it is much, much harder than it sounds. It takes practice, so let’s practice this one together, a single verse at a time.
Figure Out Where You Are.
Open your Bible, whatever translation you’re using, to Genesis, chapter 5. Our text today is Genesis, chapter 6:1-6, but in order to read it rightly, we’re going to orient ourselves, first. What just happened before our text begins? Where is it in the larger narrative? This step is utterly crucial, so don’t ever skip it. When you are dedicating yourself to working through/wrestling with a difficult passage, you should always start by orienting yourself by what comes before and after it.
In your Bible, Genesis 5 probably has a heading like, “The Line of Seth.” My King James Bible does not include sub-headings, but I can look at Chapter 5 and see quickly that it is a series of names in a list. It’s a list of “begats.” Skim the first verse: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.” Okay, so it starts with Adam. Skim the last verse: “And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Jā’pheth.”
Okay. So our text comes right after a listing of names–a genealogy–that starts with Adam and ends with the sons of Noah. We’re being introduced to Noah. We know that name, and we’re being introduced to him and his family right before our passage starts.
So what comes after it? Flip to Genesis 6, and move to verse 7, which comes right after the text we’re trying to look at. “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…” Look at verse 8. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
Noah again. So we know where we are, now, right? We are coming in right after the list of names that shows us lineage from Adam to Noah’s sons. We are coming in right before God declares that he is going to destroy all of mankind, and Noah finds grace with Him. Our passage is right in the middle of Noah and Noah.
What should that tell us before we go in? Well, I think it should clue us in that we’re supposed to keep Noah in the back of our minds as we read. We could also keep in mind that something really bad must be coming in our passage, because somewhere between Noah and Noah–somewhere in these verses we’re about to read–God will decide that he is going to destroy all of mankind.
Make sense? Do you see why this step was important?
Read the Text
Get back 6:1, now. We’re ready to focus on our key passage. Read these verses with me, and remember that our only goal at this stage is to read what it says.
Gen 6:1 – And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
It says that, after the events of Genesis 1-5, a time came when men were really starting to grow in number, in population. There were more men, now…and there were a lot of daughters being born. This verse is telling us that some time has passed since the events of Cain and Abel (chapter 4), and humanity is growing in number.
Gen 6:2 – that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
In this time of growing human population, a group of beings called “the sons of God” happened to notice that these “daughters of men” looked good/appealing, so they picked out which ever of these women they liked and “took” them as “wives.”
Caution: Refrain from making any judgments or indulging any preconceived images you have about who these “sons of God” are at this stage. I know I didn’t help with the massive painting up under the title, but humor me. The word “angel” doesn’t appear in this verse. The word “demon” doesn’t appear in this verse. No commentary of any kind is offered by the author about who these “sons of God” are. All it says in our English translations…is that the sons of God saw the human ladies, found them appealing, and took them as wives.
Gen 6:3 – And the Lord said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
God said his spirit will not forever strive with man because (“for that” means “because“)* they are flesh (mortal, corrupted, not eternal). God’s spirit will not always be with humans because they are corrupted, and so human lives will now be limited to 120 years instead of the lengthy, multi-century lives we’ve been seeing in the genealogy lists of previous chapters.
*I often take a red pen and underline every word in my Bible readings that mean “because.” These words indicate that we’re being given a “why.” We’re being told why God is doing something or why a human in the Bible is doing something or why a particular event/consequence/blessing is happening. Words like because, for, therefore, etc. When you see a word in the Bible that indicates a “why,” consider highlighting it or underlining it.
Gen 6:4 – There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
There were giants* on the earth during this time we’re talking about, and there continued to be giants on the earth afterward. At the same time that the sons of God were taking daughters of men as wives, there were giants.
The sons of God had sex with the wives they took. The wives gave birth to their offspring. These babies became mighty men, and those mighty men became famous in the world.
*Depending on whether your English translation comes from a Greek or Hebrew manuscript, the word giant here might be translated “Nephilim,” instead. Neither is incorrect. Don’t freak out about it. No one was trying to hide anything, lie, or confuse the reader with this translation choice. We’ll get into it later on in the process.
Gen 6:5 – And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
God is paying attention, now. God is assessing the situation. He sees that mankind has become wicked, and He sees that there is nothing good in the hearts and minds of human beings, anymore. There is only evil. All the time. No good. Nothing righteous. Only evil. Only wicked behavior. Continually.
One more verse. Don’t stop to think more thinks. Keep reading what it says, first. You’re almost done.
Gen 6:6 – And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
“And IT* repented the Lord.” What is “it?” In English grammar, the word “it” refers back to something. Look back at 6:5. “It” in verse 6 is identifying “the wickedness of man” and “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” from verse 5. So what is the “it” that is repenting the Lord that he had made man on earth? Verse 5. Verse 5 is the “it.”
*Most modern translations don’t have the word “it” in the English translation of this verse (thank you, Jack). So what is the point? The point is that God sees that man has become utterly and continually evil. And he is sad about it. It makes the heart of God…hurt. He is grieving, and the grief brings Him to say that he is sorry he made human beings on the earth.
Figuring Out What It Means
Together, you and I have just done the easy part. We read it. We know what it says. Figuring out what it means will be more difficult, and it will require more from us. It will require time, mental energy, and some patience that people of our day are not particularly good at exercising.
So before we get into that, I want you to appreciate what you’ve already accomplished for just a minute. I want to show you a few benefits of having gotten this far. Be encouraged.
1.) You know exactly what Genesis 6:1-6 says now, and you know what it does not say.
2.) No one with false commentary on this passage can pull one over on you by inserting words or phrases. You are now equipped to exercise a little discernment when you read commentary (including mine) on this piece of scripture.
3.) You know where this passage falls in the context of what came before and after it, now. You can no longer be taken in by an argument made over this text that twists it by pulling it out of context.
That is huge.
Don’t dismiss it or disdain it.
It’s so huge that it makes your next step possible. What we did with the text here is what makes the next step “doable.”
Before Next Time – the “Homework”
Between now and part 2, I want you to read some things. Our goal is to identify who and/or what the “sons of God” are. As you can imagine, the wild world of the internet is full of ideas about this. The answers people have come up with run the gamut from ridiculous to hysterical, and very few of them are biblical.
I would like you to start where I started.
*Google “Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6?” Look for three distinctly different answers to that question. And think about them. Compare them to what Genesis says about them. Pick your favorite out of the three answers. Ask yourself why you lean that way. Is it a preconceived notion? Is it imagery that you have from something you’ve been told, something you watched, something you read?
This is not an exercise in deep research, yet. This is an exercise in thought. Don’t spend a week listening to hour-long lectures on the subject (that’s after part 2). Don’t bury yourself in books that dig deep into this subject. You need to figure out what you think, first, with no other input besides scripture and your own pre-conceived ideas.
You. The text. That’s it.
Just. Google it. Find three different “identities” that have been given to the sons of God. Mull over what you think about what and who they are for a while.
*Resist the urge to read 1Enoch for now. As you poke around the internet for information about the sons of God, the book of 1Enoch will be thrust into your line of sight many times. Hold off on it until next time. Just trust me.
*Look up every instance in scripture where the term “sons of God” appears. The Hebrew words that are translated into English as “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are transliterated as: bənê hāʼĕlōhîm. Bnei ha elohim…more or less. I don’t know anything about Ancient Hebrew and must rely on other resources for this stuff. So always double check me on these things. /wink
Look up this phrase, and see where else it appears in the Bible. There are online options abounding to help you do this. Make a list. Develop some leanings and thoughts and opinions, but don’t get those thoughts and opinions from someone else.
You. The text. That’s it.
Well…there is one other person you should consult with.
Don’t forget to ask our Father in Heaven to open your mind to understand His Word.
40 As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he ate it as they watched. 44 Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Luke 24:40-45, NLT (emphasis added)
See you next time.