The Sons of God in Genesis
How do we get the idea that the "sons of God" are fallen angels?
Who Are the Sons of God?
Genesis 6:1-4 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.
From ancient times, Bible scholars have argued over the identity of the “sons of God” in this passage. Three different views have been taken. According to these views, the sons of God are:
- The sons of princes
- The godly male descendants of Seth
- Fallen angels
The tradition view in orthodox rabbinical Judaism (according to Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil and Delitzsch) is that they were the sons of princes. However, this view requires such a stretch of logic that few hold to it today. We will simply dismiss this view as wrong.
Most Popular View:
The popular view among evangelicals today is that the sons of God are the godly male descendants of Seth. The “daughters of men” are generally thought to be the ungodly female descendants of Cain. The intermarriage of the good line and the evil line caused such a perversion in the human race that it eventually brought about their destruction.
The popularity of this teaching is not based on strong support in the text. In fact, it is almost as much of a stretch as the view that the sons of God were sons of princes. This view is popular because the only other choice is that the sons of God are fallen angels and such a mixture seems so bizarre and outside our experience that most people cannot fathom it today.
Consider carefully what this view proposes. It assumes that God placed a prohibition on intermarriage between the line of Seth and the line of Cain. However, some of the men in the line of Seth fell in love with some of the women in the line of Cain (though nothing is said of the sons of Cain marrying the daughters of Seth). This is the last straw with God and He therefore determines to destroy the inhabitants of the earth because of this intermarriage (read Genesis 6:3 in context). This intermarriage of godly men and wicked women resulted in giants (though this translation is disputed) who were mighty men (Genesis 6:4). At the least, the intermarriage of godly men and wicked women produced superior men.
The teaching that the sons of God are fallen angels is attacked today as if it was some bizarre fantasy, but what is this? What are we saying if we teach that the marriage of the godly with the ungodly leads to superior sons? Why would only the godly men want to marry the ungodly women? Where else is the phrase “sons of God” used for the physical descendants of a mere man? Where is the evidence that this is what this passage is talking about? This is a very thin argument.
Objections to Fallen Angels:
So who are the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4? You now know where this article is going. But how could anyone believe that these are fallen angels? That is just too far out. Besides, the Bible says that angels cannot marry. Let us start with this objection, for it is a good and honest one. In Matthew 22:23-30 (and Mark 12:18-25), Jesus answered a question by the Sadducees in which they attacked the resurrection. Their problem was that a woman lawfully had seven consecutive husbands on earth. Which one would be her husband in the resurrection? Jesus answered:
Matthew 22:29-30 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
Jesus stated that they were as the angels of God in heaven. Therefore, they do not marry, neither are they given in marriage. But Jesus is very careful to add—“in heaven.” In heaven, they are spirits. However, when they appear on earth, they appear as men. The “two angels” who come to rescue Lot out of Sodom (Genesis 19:1) were sought by the sodomites of the city as “the men which came in to thee this night” so that they might “know them” (Genesis 19:5). This does not prove that such a union was possible, but it does prove that the angels looked and acted like men.
This pattern of calling angels men is so common in the Bible that it is not necessary to pile proof upon proof. Most likely, the major objection to the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 being fallen angels is the traditional picture of angels as women with wings. But in the Bible, angels never have wings and they are always men. Tradition is wrong. Angels do not marry in heaven, but this does not prove that they cannot marry when they take on the form of a male body for their appearance on earth. They are spirits (Psalm 104:4). As such, they do not need food for strength and probably do not eat in heaven. However, the angels who met with Abram in Genesis 18:1-8 ate a meal of steak, bread, butter, and milk. What they do in heaven does not determine what they can do on earth.
Biblical Use of Sons of God:
But how can we know that “sons of God” refers to angels? It is true that the phrase is used several ways in the Bible. Adam is called “the son of God” by way of creation (Luke 3:38). Jesus Christ is the Son of God by right of His relationship to the Father (John 10:36). Those who are redeemed today are the sons of God by new birth and adoption (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; Philippians 2:15; 1John 3:1-2).
Notice that none of these are the sons of God because they were descendants of a righteous man. But this interpretation is required if the “sons of God” refer to the line of Seth. In fact, just the opposite is taught. The Bible states that Adam was made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). This would explain how he came to be called the “son of God” (Luke 3:38). However, when Adam bears his son Seth, the Bible clearly states that he was born in Adam’s own likeness, “after his image” (Genesis 5:3). Seth has no right to be called the son of God by natural birth and neither do his descendants.
So, where does the idea come from that the “sons of God” are angels? Consider the following verses: • Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. • Job 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD. • Job 38:7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
The phrase, sons of God, is found five times in the Old Testament. Two times, the phrase is found in Genesis 6 (v.2, 4). The other three times, it is found in Job (see above). Few dispute the identity of the sons of God in the passages in Job. They are angels. The use of sons of God to refer to saved people is a New Testament practice. Old Testament sons of God are angels. At least they are in Job. Angels are sons of God by means of immediate creation. This is a proven title for them in the Old Testament. It is strange that those who believe this phrase refers to angels in Genesis are attacked as if they denied scripture.
Context of Genesis 6:1-4:
Now, we will go back to the text in Genesis and see how fallen angels might fit into the scenario. Genesis 6:1 states that the time came that men (not an exclusive reference to Cain) began to multiply and that daughters were born to them. The sons of God were attracted to the daughters of men and took them wives according to their choice. The resulting children from these unions were giants and mighty men of renown. Could this be fallen angels? In fact, the Bible does refer to a special class of fallen angel. They are a special class because, although most fallen angels are free to serve the devil in his work on earth, these fallen angels are held in chains. What they did was especially perverse in the eyes of God.
2Peter 2:4-5 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
These angels are already cast into hell, delivered into chains of darkness, and reserved unto judgment. They committed some special sin and God did not spare them. Could these be the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4? Notice also how this event is paralleled with the flood of Noah’s day (v.5). It is not a statement of mutual cause, but the parallel is suggestive of a connection.
Jude 1:6-7 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Here, the angels that sinned “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.” Their habitation was heaven. Where did they go? In Revelation 12:9, the angels who follow Satan will be “cast out” of heaven, but the angels of Jude 1:6 freely left their habitation—evidently to inhabit another place. This would perfectly match the record of Genesis 6:1-4. Their first estate was in heaven. They left that habitation in order to inhabit the earth and take the daughters of men as wives.
Consider also the next verse. Jude 1:7 deals with Sodom and Gomorrah. Their sin is described as “going after strange flesh.” That is, a man normally wants to marry a woman and have normal relations with her. However, these sodomites were so perverted that they wanted other men. The “men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Romans 1:27). Sodom was judged because of sexual perversion. In a like vein, angels are not meant to marry or have sexual relations. To do so is a perversion of their “estate.” The perversion of this divine order brought the judgment of God on them.
Giants in the Earth:
This union of angelic beings and humans produced offspring that excelled normal humans. They were giants. This word is disputed by modern scholars. Giant must be the wrong translation because the Septuagint translated it as giant. So what? This may not be a reason to believe it correct, but neither is it a reason to believe it wrong. The modern versions are so confused that they simply refuse to translate the word and leave it transliterated as Nephilim (see NIV, RSV, and others). But this is not a superior translation. It is a refusal to translate.
Genesis 6:4 states that these giants were “in the earth in those days; and also after that.” Did giants come at a later time as well?
Numbers 13:32-33 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
This passage comes from when the twelve men of Israel spied out the land of Canaan. The first use of “giants” in verse 33 is the same word as found in Genesis 6:4. Though scholars argue to the contrary, consider what is said of these giants. They were men of “great stature.” The Israelites were as grasshoppers in their sight. They sound like giants. The scholars would have them be a human race of people—the Nephilim. But this does not fit. How could a race of men jump from before the flood to after the flood? But giants could appear both before and after.
Preservation of the Generations:
These giants were mighty men of renown (Genesis 6:4). They became a super race of men. Mixed marriages between the godly and the ungodly do not bring forth a super race, but marriages between fallen angels and men might. This now explains the urgency of God to destroy all mankind. The race had been corrupted by a mixture with angelic beings. The seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) could not come from the seed of angels, but must be fully man. However, the entire human race was quickly being corrupted. Something had to be done. Mankind had to be destroyed.
Thankfully, one man and his family had not been tainted. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8) not only because he was just and walked with God, but also because he was perfect in his generations (Genesis 6:9). His genealogical line was uncorrupted with the seed of fallen angels. This was required to preserve the future seed of the woman. The redeemer could not come as the “second man” (1Corinthians 15:47) and the “last Adam” (1Corinthians 15:45) if He had the unnatural advantage of humanity improved by the seed of angels. The purity of the human race had to be preserved. This was not a purity of the human races from one another. This has never been fully maintained. This was a purity that kept man as truly man. Otherwise, the God-man could not be truly man.
When we take the sons of God to be fallen angels, everything falls into place. This interpretation agrees with the textual reading, with the doctrine of fallen angels in the Bible, and with parallel statements elsewhere in the Bible. Next to this, the teaching that the sons of God are the godly male descendants of Seth is artificial and contrived. Evidently, the real problem is in simply believing what the Bible says.