The recent fantasy film Noah and a slightly related blog comment by my friend Douglas Wilson have stirred up again the question of whether the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 who married the “daughters of men” were fallen angels or the priestly line of Seth. Doug argues for angels, though in the Reformed world his is very much a minority opinion, as I’m sure he would agree. Reformed expositors have usually seen the sons of God as the Sethites. An accompanying essay by myself, published in 1989 and reprinted on this blog, gives the evidence from Jude. My purpose here is to expand on the matter from an Biblical Theological viewpoint. That way readers can decide for themselves whether Doug is right or I am right. (By the way, I am right.)
To begin with, the angel interpretation gives us a rather fanciful explanation for the reason for the Flood: Noah alone was still a human being of pure human blood; everyone else had angel DNA. Is it possible in a mere few centuries for all the human beings on earth to be corrupted by angel blood? Well, maybe not, but if not, then we have left a question of what became of the priestly line of Seth that led people in worship of Yahweh (Genesis 4:26)?
The traditional explanation gives a good reason: these sons of the godly committed the sin of intermarriage with the women of the Cainite culture because of its outwardly cultural superiority (based on violence and conquest, as the names of the Cainite kings shows; see below). The prophecy of Enoch, summarized in Jude 14-15 shows when this started (i.e., during his days). Enoch says that their actions were against what it means to be on God’s side, to be sons of God. They were “un-Godly,” a word he uses four times in one sentence. Jude’s letter is precisely written against apostates who are leaving the Christian church. That is what Enoch was prophesying about, and that is who the messengers who departed from their calling in Jude 6 were.
Second, the sin of the Sethites, compromise or intermarriage, was the sin against the Spirit, who strove with men to cause the sons of God to marry the daughters of God – Godly women (Genesis 6:3). The Spirit is the Divine Matchmaker, the Love who unites Father and Son and who draws together true marriages, such as the marriage of Christ and the Church. The Spirit’s striving has nothing to do with preventing angels from marrying (or raping) human women. That is simply off the charts.
Some think that the offspring of these marriages were Nephilim, men of renown, mighty men. The KJV mistranslates this as “giants,” but it means “those who fall upon [others].” Genesis 6:4, however, says that the Nephilim were already in the earth, and also later on when these marriages began to take place. A glance at the line of Cain will show from the names of the kings who these earlier Nephilim were. As I wrote in Trees and Thorns, chapter 142:
Irad (`irad) may mean “wild ass,” but also seems to come from the word for city (`ir, as in v. 17), and perhaps means “city-dweller.” In that case, the Hebrew listener to the text might hear something like this: “The Man who Dwells in a City like a Wild Ass” or even: “Man of the Untamed (by God) City.”
Mehujael (Mehhu-ya-‘el), whose name is written Mehijayel (Mehhii-ya-‘el) when it appears the second time in v. 18, might be heard as “He Who Strikes Out Against Ya(hweh)-El(ohim)” or “He Who Blots Out Ya(hweh) El(ohim)” (mahha’ – strike; mahhahh – strike; mahhah – wipe out). We know from v. 26 that in the third generation from Adam through Seth, men became to pray by the name Yahweh. Since this name was in circulation among the godly Sethites, the anti-god Cainites are pictured as opposed to both Elohim (God the creator) and Yahweh (God the covenant-keeper), either lashing out against Him or seeking to blot out His name (or both).
Methushael (Methu-sha-‘el) might be heard as “He Who Kills the Peace of God.” It is related to the godly name Methuselah (Methu-shalahh), which may mean “His Death is Peaceful” (or may mean “His Death is a Putting Forth (of God’s Hand).” The root seems to be shalah. If Mehujael struck out against God, Methushael seems to be one who kills the people of God, who live in peace and quietness.
The name Lamech (Lamekh) is difficult. I suggest that just as Rebekah is a play on barak (blessing) by reversing the first two letters, so Lamekh is a play on melekh (king). It is also the name of Noah’s father, and the two men are opposites, as by implication are their sons: The godly Lamech looks to God for comfort and vengeance upon the wicked; the wicked Lamech takes his own vengeance as a murderer.
Reading Genesis 4:18 as a Hebrew might have heard it, then, we hear: “And to the Dedicated One was born the Rebellious-City-Dweller. And the Rebellious-City-Dweller begat the One Who Strikes Out Against Yahweh-Elohim. And the One Who Strikes Out Against Yahweh-Elohim begat the One Who Kills the Peace of Elohim. And the One Who Kills the Peace of Elohim begat the King.”
(End Of Quotation.)
The evil King Lamech takes two wives and sings to them a song about how much he enjoyed killing some young man. Clearly Lamech was one of the Nephilim. Lamech was the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, and Enoch was seventh in the line of Seth. By Lamech’s time, the Cainite culture had developed agriculture, metallurgy, and music, and because of its violence was culturally dominant. As a superior culture it was attractive to faithless Sethites, who wanted to marry into it. This evidently started to happen in the time of Lamech and Enoch, as we have seen.
Now, in Numbers 13:33, the giant Anakim are said to have been part of the post-Flood Nephilim, which probably accounts for the KJV mistranslation. But Nephilim don’t have to be giants, and are not by definition the offspring of intermarriage of Sethites and Cainites, or angels and women. They are mighty warriors. Compare the use of naphal in Joshua 11:7, where Joshua’s army suddenly fell upon the enemy.
In an online discussion the Rev. John Barach has added some other insights:
In Genesis 5:1-6:8, which is one connected passage (a single toledoth), we hear about Adam’s being made in the image of God and then having a son in his image. That establishes the link between image and sonship: Adam is the image of God and therefore Adam is the son of God (cf. Luke 3). Seth is Adam’s son and image, and Adam is God’s image (and son), and so therefore Seth is God’s image/son. We then carry it on through the rest of the list. Seth has a son, and we understand that that son was in Seth’s image (= he is God’s image/son). And so on. In this passage, we are told who the sons of God are. There’s no need to jump to Job. We’re told already. Given the info in Genesis 5, why would any reader assume that Genesis 6 — the last verses of the same section — were now talking about angels?
In addition, Barach makes the following points:
*The judgment is judgment on humans for their sin, not on angels. If Genesis 6 was reporting some sort of angelic sin, a new fall of the angels, it’s odd that nothing at all is said about judgment on them. (Are we really supposed to believe that these were holy angels who sinned for the first time at this point in history? Can angels continue to fall?)
*There’s no indication in the text that the nephilim were somehow the product of these marriages; even if they were, there’s no indication that they were some sort of human/angel hybrids. (Jesus didn’t die for the angels, so … does that mean that there was no possibility that these critters could ever be saved . . . or that the human part of each of them could be, but not the demon part or . . . ?).
*Even given Job’s use of “sons of God” for angels, it doesn’t use the phrase for demons; he says that when the sons of God gathered, Satan was among them . . . but that falls short of identifying Satan as a “son of God.” It’s certainly not as if the phrase “son of God” would, by itself, make a reader of Genesis 6 think “Oh, these are demons.”
*Furthermore, this isn’t about demons (or demon-possessed people) having sexual relations with human women — and how bizarre is it to think that an angel/demon might find human beings sexually attractive?! — but about “sons of God” marrying these women, taking them as their wives, settling down with them, which implies that they were living on earth day after day, year after year, in human form, having kids, raising their families … and all the while being fallen angels disguised as humans. That’s really strange, too strange, I think.
*If these angels looked like humans, what would be the problem in having your daughter marry one? How would you know they were angels? But again, the judgment is on people, not on angels here.
*Why would it happen just once in history and never ever again?
*Angels are male and have sperm and therefore can mate with human females in such a way that they can impregnate them? Why would God create angels male only, with the capability of mating and with seed, but with the requirement that they never ever mate with anyone — so that the seed is a completely useless feature? On the other hand, if they are male and have seed, then what would be so wrong with them mating with human women (given that there are no angelic women) and having offspring (which is what seed is for)?
(End Of Quotation.)
One point to be added to Rev. Barach’s summary. Adam and Eve were told to rule the earth (Genesis 1:28). They did not start out as rulers, but as children in the Garden. When they left the Garden, God clothed them in “tunics” (3:21). Tunics are royal garments worn by princes and princesses, children of rulers (Joseph, Genesis 37:3; God’s palace servants, Exodus 28:4, etc.; princess Tamar, 2 Samuel 13:18-19; Solomon’s queen, Canticles 5:3). “Sons of God” is precisely the right name for God’s princely servants, and that is what it means in Genesis 6.
James B. Jordan is Founder and Director of Biblical Horizons.