The "Sons of God" of Genesis 6 ---
We have to deal with this in demonology.
If you haven't already, listen to our first episode on "Demonology."
A common question we’ll often get is related to what the Nephilim were, in Genesis 6.
There’s a myriad of thought and theory as to what the Nephilim were, but the answer is tightly connected to where you land on the Sons of God.
So it’s important to first answer that question.
There are 3 main views on this text. And we’re going to take a problem/solution (or weakness/strength) approach to show the various views; and then show why we land where we do.
(1) Desposts/warlords from the Cainite line (i.e., Dynastic Rulers).
-- Magistrates are at times called elohim (gods) in the OT (Ex. 22:8 is translated as ‘judges’).
-- There is a similar story in the Babylonian story of the flood that speaks of a rise of powerful judges.
-- In ANE writings, kings are considered son of deities/gods; therefore, this would simply be an idiom that was clearly understood by the people during the time of its writing.
-- There is no evidence at all in the text that there was a system of kings and powerful judges during this time. There is certainly no mention of Cain’s lineage having some rise to a ruling power.
If it is speaking of judges or kings, then it is the first occurence of that fact, and seems strange that it would be in such an indirect manner.
-- There is absolutely no archeological information that would support the idea that the actual term, ‘sons of God’ was a term that was borrowed from writings of that time period.
-- There is no textual evidence within the context that these were a unique subgroup of humans that were simply very powerful and feared.
This view does not explain why the offspring of this union were so powerful.
(2) They were of the godly line of Seth. (Note: the implication is that if the “sons of God” are from the godly line of Seth, then the “daughters of men” are then the wicked line of Cain.)
-- The concept of a godly line is obvious from Genesis 4:26.
God’s electing work among mankind is at times linked with the language of sonship in the OT
(Ex. 4:22; Deut. 14: 32:5-6).
-- There are warnings throughout the Pentateuch against mixed marriages
(Genesis 24:-4, 27:36).
-- This view prevents a simply monstrous view that speaks of fallen angels having sexual relations with humans. So it’s a more naturalistic reading.
-- The concept of a godly line is not obvious in chapters 4-5. What is obvious from chapters 4-6 is that the sinful nature of man was abundantly manifest. It is also clear form Genesis 5:4 that Adam had many other sons.
-- The argument for the “Son of God” to be referring to the godly line of Seth (or “Sethites”) is more a result of a theological system that originated with Augustine, who was the preeminent early proponent of this view (which was then picked up by Luther and Calvin).
Augustine argued for two “cities” or societies that have always occurred in humanity: those who love God and those who love self. This is also picked up in Covenant Theology with the idea of the people of God. It sounds good, but when you examine the exegetical evidence it is simply lacking.
-- This view fails to explain how the term “sons of God” can be used in such a unique way, as no other time in the OT does it refer to humans. And this is important, because to do so would require strong exegetical evidence.
-- The idea of sonship is clearly a theme in the OT, but never does that theme extend to the degree that they are called “sons of God.” In fact, this would be the only time.
So, it would require some seriously strong exegetical support to show why it is the exception.
(3) They were fallen angels (hence why we’re tackling this in demonology).
-- Oldest view both in Jewish and Christian writings. Until the rise of Augustine’s “The City of God,” it was almost without exception the only view.
-- The phrase “Sons of God” is only used of angelic begins in every other occurrence in the OT (e.g., Job 1:6; 2:1, note that Satan is among the “Sons of God,” presenting themselves to God).
--So again, to take a very different understanding of the term requires substantial exegetical date.
The burden of proof must be on those who take a different position to prove why it can’t be referring to angelic begins.
-- It appears that there is a connection between this ungodly alliance and the presence of the Nephilim. Note that the “and afterward” (in 6:4) refers to after the flood. So not only were they on the earth pre-flood, but also post-flood.
-- The term Nephilim is hard to be precise as to its meaning. However, the bulk of data indicates these were giants (Goliath? 2 Sam. 21:16, 21:18, 21:20, 21:22; 1 Chr. 20:4, 20:6, 20:8).
How could mixed marriages produce such an offspring?
This fits with the passages in the NT that speak of spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:19), angels that sinned (2 Pet. 2:4-5), and angels who did not keep their own domain (Jude 6 -- this fits well with idea of them going after “strange flesh” in v. 7).
-- Angelic beings, when they appear on earth, are always males (never female); they’re also seen as “young men.” They’re known for their strength (Ps. 103:30).
Also, they don’t simply “appear” to be physical, but truly are able to be physically seen and touched; they also eat and sleep (Gen. 19).
Note: Whenever studying this issue in the commentaries, over and over again, you come across those who see this view as too mythical or “monstrous” (as opposed to a serpent talking to Eve?). So they simply dismiss it out of hand.
-- Those who reject this view, see the first two points we gave, as being assumptions without any merit from Scripture. Therefore, they have to be discarded. They also say the third point is not consistent with the data throughout the bible regarding angelic visitations.
-- The most common argument against this view from Scripture is not from this text, but from Matthew 22:30 -- angels can’t marry).
Matthew 22:30 - “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
But it’s important to note from the text what it does say, and what it does not say.
The only realm in which marriage does not occur is “in heaven.”
Also, it does not say they can’t (or unable) to marry. Rather, it says we will not be given in marriage (women), or marry (men) when we are “in heaven.” But we certainly do in this realm on earth.
Conclusion: It’s not something that can be absolutely determined. However, the view that they are fallen angels has the best support from the text, and it’s relevant cross-references.
So this was a bit of an excursus in demonology, but a necessary one. We hope was of some help, and interest to you.
Next time we’ll finish out demonology. We’ll talk about some of the activities of demons; demon possession and exorcism.
As well as their final fate -- which should be no surprise.