Welcome to the final post on Issues in Genesis: The Sons of God and Daughters of Men. I hope this has been a helpful series. I can’t really tell. Ha ha! I have tried to show you an orderly way to consider stories like this one, and then I have tried to share the logic I followed/sources I used to arrive at my own understanding of Genesis 6.
I chose to write about Genesis 6 first in this series because it is was the least troubling to me and comes earliest out of all the passages I intend to cover. It seemed like a no-brainer for me to start here. It’s such a small piece of text, but it has so many connections to other scriptures and so many ramifications for how we choose to engage with supernatural references in the Bible as a whole. People have feelings about this text, and so I deeply hope my scribbles are actually helpful to someone instead of causing more grief. Time will tell, I suppose. 🙂
I’m going to close out my examination of the Sons of God and Daughters of men by picking up where we left off in Part 3. We’ve talked about how the pagan cultures viewed the events of Genesis 6 and the Flood. Now, I want to move to looking at New Testament references to Genesis 6 and other literature from 2nd Temple Period Judaism.
Let’s dive right in with the Epistles of 2 Peter and Jude.
How the New Testament Authors Speak of Genesis 6
When you read the epistles of 2 Peter and Jude for the first time, you’ll immediately notice that they share a lot of phrases, word choices, and images. Chapter 2 of 2 Peter is so very like the book of Jude that the only rational conclusion is: one was written to echo the other. Both men are referencing the same sort of people and issuing the same warning to preserve the church from false teachers. Peter is warning of false teachers who will come. Jude is warning of false teachers who have already infiltrated the church. For that reason, I tend to think Jude probably came later than 2 Peter. The verses that concern our discussion today will be readily apparent.
4 For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned but cast them into hell and delivered them in chains of utter darkness to be kept for judgment; 5 and if he didn’t spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others, when he brought the flood on the world of the ungodly
2 Peter 2:4-5, CSB
6 and the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day.
Jude 6, CSB
It is almost universally accepted that both Peter and Jude are referring back to Genesis 6 and the sons of God with these verses. They are using the rebellious angels who sinned as an example of sexual immorality and an example of distorting God’s will. We know they are referring to the angels of Genesis 6 because they are referring to the Book of Enoch, known to us today as 1 Enoch. I’ll quote and link the relevant portions in the next section.
Enoch, the man introduced in Genesis 5:21-22, categorically did not write 1 Enoch. The book comes out of the Intertestamental Period (about 400 years that ran between the close of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ). Scholars seem to prefer calling this the Second Temple Period, and they include the years between the construction of the second temple and 70 A.D., when Rome sacked Jerusalem.
1 Enoch is not canon scripture, and I don’t handle it as such. I treat 1 Enoch, in my own mind, as historical commentary. It was commentary that 2nd Temple period Jews were familiar with and held in high esteem. It was commentary that our New Testament authors (also 2nd Temple Jews) were familiar with and held in high esteem. In light of that, and at the very least, I consider it useful.
(1) When the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. (2) And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, “Come, let us choose for ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget children for ourselves.” (3) And Shemihazah, their chief, said to them, “I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin.” (4) And they all answered him and said, “Let us all swear an oath, and let us all bind one another with a curse, that none of us turn back from this counsel until we fulfill it and do this deed.”
~1 Enoch 6:1-4 ( from the Hermeneia Translation)
The story goes on to describe the number and names of the groups of these sons of heaven that join together in this pact. There are two important things here: 1.) They knew that what they were about to do was a sin. 2.) It is taken for granted that they will be able to make offspring with the daughters of men. We pick back up in chapter 7.
(1) These and all the others with them took for themselves wives from among them such as they chose. And they began to go in to them, and to defile themselves through them, and to teach them sorcery and charms, and to reveal to them the cutting of roots and plants. (2) And they conceived from them and bore to them great giants. And the giants begot Nephilim, and to the Nephilim were born Elioud. And they were growing in accordance with their greatness. (3) They were devouring the labor of all the sons of men, and men were not able to supply them. (4) And the giants began to kill men and devour them. (5) And they began to sin against the birds and beasts and creeping things and the fish, and to devour on another’s flesh. And they drank the blood. (6) Then the earth brought accusation against the lawless.
~1 Enoch 7:1-6 ( from the Hermeneia Translation)
From this section, I make note of several things.
1 Enoch says that the sons of heaven defiled themselves with this sin, not the women they took. Remember that humanity was already defiled after the Garden of Eden. The women were already corrupted by original sin. These sons of heaven were not corrupted until they sinned. In committing the sin, they became defiled. This note is important because it counters the argument that this story was written to excuse man’s responsibility for The Fall and blame it on angels. The story doesn’t support that motive because man’s flesh was already corrupt. In this story, we see angels consciously choosing to join us in that corruption. The sons of heaven didn’t corrupt our flesh. We did that ourselves. In this story, our defilement spreads to the angels–not the other way around–and the result of this double rebellion, this betrayal of God from both of His families, is disaster (the Great Flood).
The author of 1 Enoch believes that the “giants” were the original offspring of the sons and daughters. He believes the Nephilim to be half-giants, and he believes the Elioud to be 1/4 giants. He’s showing here that these Nephilim and their offspring remained with humanity over generations and also reproduced, both with each other and with humans. The Apkallu stories also mention concerns with “how much apkallu blood” vs. human blood various descendants possess. It’s just another correlation with the worldview of non-Hebrew peoples on this subject, and it strengthens the idea that the people groups all agreed about how this story went down except in their understanding of who God is. That is where the biblical story is different.
The sons of heaven began teaching the humans all sorts of things. Chapter 8 goes even deeper into detail on this, and you should read it if you have the time and inclination. This is about introducing warfare, seduction, and technology that accelerates the self-destruction of an already corrupt humanity.
The Nephilim here are demonstrated to be consummately evil and destructive to God’s Creation. They are gluttonous, unsatisfied with the food God gave to us in the seeds and fruit and plants. They eat men first, and then sin against the other creatures of creation, introducing the violence of eating animal flesh to the world. They also drink blood (symbol of life that belongs to God alone).
Creation cries out against these Nephilim, and a pattern I see in the Bible is that God responds when he hears his people “cry out.” I view the Flood as God’s response to this outcry. He hears the cry, sees the wickedness, feels the grief, and sends the Flood to wash it away. That’s what I see here. Other readers’ mileage may vary, and I really think we all ought to be a little humbler and more open about that.
The Jews of the Second Temple period were busy. They were surviving wars and trying to maintain their culture as the world changed hands from empire to empire. They were also writing…a lot. They were gathering up and organizing their scripture. They were writing down their histories. They were translating scripture into Greek as Ancient Hebrew fell out of common use. They were writing down their thoughts about the political movements of the day. 1 Enoch comes out of all of this, and it’s useful because it shows us what Ancient Israel actually thought about a lot of things. Another writer that emerged from the very end of this era was Titus Flavius Josephus.
I look at this sculpture (pictured above), and I try to imagine a man with the black hair and brown skin of his people. You can see his beard, a hallmark of the Semitic peoples of his day (and ours). This man was born right around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. He walked the streets of Rome and Jerusalem when Paul and James and Peter were there, but he did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. His name was Joseph, son of Mattathias. He was a 2nd Temple period Jew, and he fought both for and against his people during his lifetime. He fought against the Jews in the battle of 70 A.D. that destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. So much about him makes me sad, but his writing has been a treasure for biblical apologists and historians. Its value is inestimable and undeniable. God seems to love using the most stubborn among his children to accomplish his work.
Josephus was a prolific writer, and he recorded many things that are still available to us today. I’ll quote here a portion relevant to Genesis 6.
“Now this priestly posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in process of time they were perverted and forsook the practices of their forefathers, and did neither pay those honors to God which were appointed them, nor had they any concern to do justice towards men. But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shown for virtue, they now showed by their actions a double degree of wickedness; whereby they made God to be their enemy, for many angels of God kept company with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, That these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.”
The Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 3, Section 1:72-73, Josephus (translated to English by William Whiston).
Like 1 Enoch, Josephus is useful for context and understanding what Jews of this period believed the story was about. It is clear that our New Testament authors and their contemporaries believed Genesis 6 was referring to angels who came to earth without God’s blessing, that they taught humans destructive skills and ideas against God’s will, and that they lowered themselves in sexually immoral congress with human women.
So Here We Are
I have spent roughly three years going back and forth on Genesis 6, who the sons are, and what the Bible might be trying to tell me by including it. I’ve considered (and found merit in) all three mainstream interpretations. I am convinced that the supernatural view comes closest to what the Bible is trying to tell us in this story.
What I Believe
What I have arrived at believing is that Genesis 1-11 is a story written to explain our history from the beginning of the world through the calling of Abraham (in Genesis 12). Genesis 1 & 2 show us God creating the earth and ordering it. It shows us the picture of what God intended for mankind and our role in an edenic world.
I believe that Genesis 3 & 4 show us the divine and human rebellions that first separated us from God’s holiness. The first evil committed in the Garden of Eden was the serpent’s malicious deception, and we chose the rebellious serpent over our God. We did this of own free will. Human sin escalates to violence and evil in the space of two generations. We go from Adam (desiring to be God’s equal) to Lamech (polygamy, wrath, and remorseless mass murder) with astonishing speed.
I believe that Genesis 6 tells us of a second divine rebellion that encouraged a second human rebellion and hastened our descent into total depravity. Like our choice to believe in the serpent, our acceptance of the sons of God was a choice we made of our own free will. They may have “taken” the women, which men in that era of human history universally felt entitled to do, but the overall picture here is one of humanity reveling in the divine “knowledge of evil” that the sons of God bestowed upon us.
God looked down at our desire to esteem others before Him (the serpent, the sons of God, the men of reknown, the “divine” kings, and our own names)–our idolatry and pride–so he sent the Great Flood to wash it all away. He saved Noah as a second chance, a second Adam, to draw mankind back to Himself.
I believe that Genesis 11 (the Tower of Babel) shows us a third human rebellion when, yet again, we attempt to make ourselves into God’s equal. We attempt to divest ourselves of submission and obligation to the Creator. God scatters us into smaller tribes, causing us to disperse. This paves the way for Him to pluck out yet another man (Abraham), a third Adam, that he can use to start over for a third time.
Three “In the Beginning” stories (Eden, Noah, and the Call of Abraham) that all serve to show us who God is and who we are. God is Good. God is Creator. God is Love. God is Just. God is Merciful. God is Sovereign.
The Bible is a book about God. Genesis 1-11 tells us who God is and what he wants. He is God of Creation, God of the serpent, God of humanity, and God of the heavenly host. The creatures of heaven are no more powerful against God than we are. They are not to be made objects of worship. They are not worthy. We are not worthy. Only He is.
I see all of that in Genesis 6 and the larger Genesis 1-11 story.
Genesis 1-11 is the story of God’s holiness, our rebellion, and God’s relentless pursuit of us in love and mercy. He will stop at nothing to bring us home to him. He does this even when we are his enemies. He does this even when we deserve to be abandoned and erased. He loves us anyway, and that’s what I believe this whole thing is about.
What I Believe about Genesis 6, in Particular
In light of all the sources I’ve shown you and all of the ways I’ve been introduced to this story from different angles, I’ve come to some conclusions.
- I believe the Sons of God are being depicted as divine beings/members of the heavenly host.
- I believe the nephilim of Genesis 6 and Numbers, the giant clans of Joshua, and the giants King David fought (including Goliath) were probably tribes of people who were physically taller and bigger than most people groups Israel encountered.I don’t know whether or not I believe these people were actually half-divine products of angels and humans (remember that Genesis 6:1-6 never says that they are), but I do believe that Ancient Israel thought that’s what they were.I don’t see this as a “Bible telling the truth” or an inerrancy issue. Nobody was lying here, and the image God wants us to see in the Genesis 6 story is still relevant and true, whether the giants were actual demigods or not. Again, many Christians will strongly disagree with my view of this, and again, I don’t think we have to agree on this one to be in harmony together.
- This story literally takes place near the dawn of creation. Nobody can confirm any of it with bones and fossils, you guys. Trying to do that, in my opinion, is to misplace one’s energy. If God felt this story was crucial for us to understand, I think scripture would be clearer and more detailed on it, but it isn’t. The image of our eternal, incorruptible God as the sovereign Creator, with angels and humans shown to be created and lesser beings, corruptible and in need of God’s headship…is true. That image is present in the story, and it stands firm, even if the giants were just tall dudes with zero angel blood in their veins.
If the sons of God were actually angels, and if divine beings actually came down from heaven and made abominable demigod children with human women–what does that change about who God is and how he wants us to relate with him? Nothing. The answer is: nothing.
I am not heavily invested in who the nephilim were. It doesn’t affect how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, or how we receive salvation through faith in Jesus.
But since all scripture is God-breathed and useful to teach us…what do I take from Genesis 6:1-6?
Pastors and Bible teachers all tell me to “keep the main thing the main thing” in bible study. The main thing in Genesis 6 is: we became so wicked and corrupt that God’s heart was broken, and he limited our lives as a result of it. He washed away the wickedness we’d fallen into, and he redeemed Noah to start afresh. That is the “main thing” in the story.
1.) Don’t worship the serpent or the angels, for they are merely created and limited beings, just like mankind.
2.) God will defend his creation, his image, and his name.
3.) God will continue to pursue humanity, whom he loves. He works tirelessly and patiently to draw us back into fellowship with him.
I don’t consider myself an authority on anything scriptural. I’m not qualified to teach. I really am just a lady who loves Jesus on the internet. Give my writing no more weight or value than that. Promise me, okay? Lean on me for fellowship and sharing enthusiasm about God’s Word, but lean on the proper authorities that God has placed over your spiritual life for actual guidance.