The fall of the Sethites in Genesis 6 is the third fall of mankind, or the third degree of Adam’s original fall. Adam sinned in a Garden against his Father by stealing something he was supposed to wait to obtain. (“Every tree shall be food for you” Genesis 1:29.) Cain sinned in a land or “field” against his Divine brother by murdering his earthly brother. The Sethites sinned against the striving Spirit in the world, the place between lands, by the sin of cultural intermarriage.
This progression of three sins is repeated over and over in the Bible. At no point is the third a sin of trying to get immortality by letting your daughters marry angels, or any such thing. The third sin is always one of intermarriage wherein the wicked dominate the righteous and have the major say in how the children are reared.
What follows is set out in more detail in my small book Crisis, Opportunity and the Christian Future. Here is a slightly modified extract:
1. Adam was placed in the Garden, with the two trees at the center, the place of worship. Adam’s first day was the day of worship, the sabbath day, for Adam was made on the sixth day. Adam rebelled against God’s supreme authority, His Fatherhood, by stealing from God and by trying to make himself on a par with God. Adam rebelled against God the Father and destroyed the worship in the garden.
2. Cain and Abel lived in a Land outside the Garden. They formed a society of brothers in the land. Cain rebelled against God’s worship, and then went a step further. Frustrated, he sought a scapegoat to “take it out on.” He killed Abel, destroying society and rejecting his role as the guardian of his younger brother. Then, having relieved his frustration by human sacrifice, he went out and built a city, a counterfeit society. Cain rebelled against God the Brother and destroyed the society of the land.
3. Garden; Land; and now World: In Genesis 5 we have the godly line of Seth, but when we come to Genesis 6 we find that all have apostatized except for Noah. The “sons of God” Sethites had intermarried with the “daughters of men” Cainites. The Matchmaking Spirit, who is the Forger of Bonds, sought to prevent this evil bonding, but the Sethites resisted the Spirit and committed the sin of intermarriage, lending their strength to the wicked (Genesis 6:3-4). Thus, the Sethites rebelled against God the Spirit and destroyed the world.
Before going further, let us take a brief look at the three large historical eras that come after the Law, where we find the same progression:
1. From Moses to David. During this time the sin of the people was rebellion against the worship of the only true God. We find them repeatedly worshiping the gods of the tribes round about them. Their sin was primarily against the worship of God the Father.
2. From David to the Exile. During this time the sin of the people, as the prophets repeatedly charge, was oppression of the brethren. Solomon enslaved the people. Ahab took Naboth’s vineyard. The prophets repeatedly charge them with oppressing the widow and fatherless. We do not find this as the sin in the book of Judges, but it is the major emphasis of the prophets during the Kingdom era. Moreover, the very division of the people into two hostile nations signifies the destruction of the brother-brother relationship. Their sin was primarily against the society of God the Brother/Son.
3. After the Exile. If we look at Ezra and Nehemiah, we find that the primary sin was the sin of intermarriage. Both books (which are really two parts of the whole Book of Chronicles) end with a discussion of this problem. Malachi also focuses on this sin. Moreover, true witness before the world is the theme of Esther. Thus, the sin of the people at this time was primarily against God the Spirit.
We have looked at the three rebellions of humanity against God the Father, God the Brother, and God the Matchmaker. We can apply this model to the period after the Flood, but that is for another, more extended study. For now, let us consider the model as it applies to Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.
1. Abram’s history displays God the Father. Abram is a human father; his name means “father,” and his actions show us the qualities of right human fatherhood. He must leave behind an old world. He builds altars and sets up worship wherever he goes. He must see all of his future through one and only one son. Finally, he must confess that he is not really adequate to be father in the fullest sense, and so he must offer his son to God the Father. To offer his only son, his beloved son, to God is the exact opposite of Adam’s sin of stealing the one fruit God had held back as His private possession.
2. Jacob’s history displays God the Son/Brother. The notion that Jacob was a rotten character is a myth that cannot be sustained from an examination of the text. Even though Isaac is mean and sinful, Jacob does not rebel against him. Jacob submits to God’s prophecy and to his mother’s faith-full plan to carry it out. Jacob shows us true sonship: A true son submits to his parents as much as possible, but submits to God the Father always. Moreover, Jacob wrestles with false brothers: starting with Esau in the womb, then with Isaac, and finally with Laban. Jacob manages to wrestle wisely, and is delivered from these new Cains. Finally, Jacob wrestles with God the Brother, and God the Brother states that Jacob has won the match (Genesis 32:28), which means that Jacob has become mature and is ready to enter the land (Genesis 32:31). Thus, while the Abraham history focuses on worship and the God-man relationship, the Jacob history focuses on society and the brother-brother relationship. When Jacob offers to give Esau all his possessions (Genesis 33), he is doing the opposite of what Cain did in murdering Abel.
3. Finally, Joseph’s history puts us into a world context. The bonding work of the Spirit is primary in Genesis 38-50. Judah falsely bonds with the Canaanites and is almost completely sucked into their sinful culture, but Joseph refuses any false bonding with Potiphar’s wife. Joseph maintains a true witness before the Egyptians, with the result that they convert and Joseph can enter into a true bond with an Egyptian woman. Joseph then restores the broken bond with his brethren. Genesis 41:38 is the third mention of the Spirit in Genesis, after chapters 1 and 6, and comes as the Pharaoh bonds with Joseph and submits to his wisdom: true intermarriage.
(End of Citation.)
This cycle of three sins repeats throughout the Bible. When Israel came out of Egypt, God set up a new world in their midst. Exodus 25-40 repeatedly cycle through sets of seven speeches or events that replay the themes of Genesis 1. Leviticus 1-16 is set in a new symbolic garden, in which the establishment of the priesthood recapitulates at a symbolic level the events of Genesis 2; and then the sin of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, repeat at a symbolic level the presumption of Adam (ch. 1-10). Chapters 11-16 repeat at a symbolic level the judgments passed in Genesis 3. Violating these rules results in being excluded from the garden-sanctuary.
Then we move into a land setting, with abominations that cause the people to be spat out of the land (Leviticus 18:27; 20:22). It is precisely in this context that we find a recapitulation of the sin of Cain, when two men fight, one blasphemes and is put to death, and God gives laws governing capital murder (ch. 24). Leviticus continues with more land laws, and leads us into Numbers, where the camp of Israel is set out in chapters 1-10.
Numbers moves us into the “world” context, because we are in the space between cultures. How will the Israelites relate to the “daughters of men”? In Numbers 11, God gives quails, but only outside the camp where the gentiles were living. When the Israelites, rejecting manna, go outside the camp to get quail, God plagues them as He had plagued the Egyptians. Then in Numbers 12 we find that Moses has married a righteous Gentile, but Aaron and Miriam object and are judged. Then in Numbers 13-14 we find Israel unwilling to fight the Canaanites, submitting to their power instead of trusting Yahweh. This causes God to condemn them to 38 years of wandering. Yet, when they start out to conquer the land again after this time, their signal sin is to fornicate with Midianite women (ch. 25).
At this point I need to make a point relevant to the Genesis 6 question. In the book of Numbers there are two censuses of the Israelite people by tribes. The census numbers obtained at these musterings correspond to the synodical periods of the moon, sun, and visible planets, the seven ruling stars that move through the sky and oversee the world. When the Israelite men fall into sin with the Midianite women, what we see is a group of heavenly messengers coming “down” to cohabit with human women. Now, of interest is the fact that the lifespans of the Sethites in Genesis 5 also correspond to these planetary periods. The sin of the Sethites means that heavenly messengers leave their high estate and come down to marry the Cainites, thereby corrupting their callings. We can see from this symbolism, which might be obscure to modern readers but would have been quickly recognized by ancient Israelite astronomer-priests, that ancient Jewish theologians might readily say that heavenly beings intermarried with human women. It is only ignorance of the theological context of such a statement that causes modern people to think they were saying that spirit-angels married human women.
(The work done on this was by M. Barnouin, and the easiest summaries of it for English readers is in Gordon Wenham’s commentary on The Book of Leviticus and on Numbers. A partial summary of Barnouin is here).
Our point is that repeatedly the sins of Genesis 3-6 are recapitulated in the history of the Bible, and never is the third sin some kind of angel-human marriage. It is always cultural compromise signaled by intermarriage.
The pivot of the book of Judges is in 8:22-27. Gideon proclaims that he will not be king; Yahweh is king. But then Gideon makes an ephod, a false sanctuary, and Israel played the harlot with it (spiritually, of course). This repeat of Adam’s sin leads to fratricide among Gideon’s sons (chap. 9). The next story, of Jephthah, is about brother-brother relations (11:2, 7; 12:1-6). The final story, of Samson, is all about intermarriage. Samson works out a scheme to convert the woman that the Spirit tells him to marry, but she does not trust him (chap. 14). Later, Samson falls into sin with Delilah, a “daughter of men” to be sure. (For more details, see my Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary).
When Saul was chosen king, the narrative in 1 Samuel 9-10 recapitulates Genesis 2 again, this time for a king rather than as in Leviticus for a priest. Then Saul falls three times: he offers sacrifice without waiting (chap. 13), seeks to kill a fellow “brother” warrior (chap. 14), and seeks to spare a wicked pagan king and form an alliance (chap. 15).
At the end of Nehemiah, after he has rebuilt the walls, we find again the three sins in chapter 13: letting a devil occupy the Temple; oppressing workers on the sabbath; and intermarrying with foreign women in such a way that they, not the Jews, reared the children.
Now, I could go on with examples, but I think the point is clear. Genesis 6 fits fully with a Trinitarian theology of the fall in which men sin against Father (in worship), Son (in society), and Spirit (in cross-cultural relations). The third sin, the third area of historical development, is not about marrying angels. Exciting as such a notion is, it is not found in the theology and teaching of the Bible.
Even though good friends of mine still may think it.
James B. Jordan is Founder and Director of Biblical Horizons.