Sex, Women, and the Sons of God

(Genesis Study Series)

Imagine a time in the distant past, not long after the creation of mankind, when humans began to multiply across the surface of the Earth. It was during these times that the lesser gods began to take notice of human women; these divine beings burned in their lust for the beautiful daughters of mankind. The leader of these lesser gods said, “Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.”

Two hundred of these gods, in defiance of Yahweh, bound themselves together with an oath to journey to Earth and take human wives. They descended to the top of Mount Hermon and there took human form. They all took human wives, each one as he chose, and went into them defiling both themselves and the wives they had taken. They taught their women the secret knowledge of charms, and enchantments and how to beautify the eyelids and adorn themselves with jewelry and precious stones. Their wives became pregnant and bore offspring who became great giants.

They taught men about the metals of the Earth and how to form them into weapons of swords, knives and spears and how to make breastplates and shields. In this way did the gods spread violence upon the earth and corrupt the ways of mankind. The giants also turned against mankind when humans could no longer sustain them for they had devoured all which the humans possessed. Thus was the earth filled with evil and and with the cries of men as they perished.

If you are thinking this sounds like something straight out of pagan mythology, you are not wrong (more about this later). Yet, there are those who believe that the above story is the explanation of the events leading up to the flood of Noah. They say that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 were angelic beings (the “lesser gods”) and the Nephilim were the hybrid offspring of these angels and human women. This is a very old idea which has seen a resurgence in recent years. There are three main arguments the supporters of this view base their conclusion on:

  1. They claim the phrase “sons of God” always refers to spiritual beings everywhere it is used in the Bible.
  2. Jewish literature from the Second Temple period contains origin stories about demons, giants and angels who left Heaven which purports to explain Gen 6:1-4.
  3. Peter and Jude endorsed the veracity of the Second Temple period literature by quoting from it.

Based on the above, there is a perception that intermarriage between divine beings and humans explain the origins of the Nephilim and the great evil on the earth which caused God to send the flood. Let’s examine these arguments to see if there is any scriptural support for this fantastic tale.

The “sons of God” in context

“1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” (Gen. 6:1–4 ESV)

“The sons of God” comes from the Hebrew “bene ha’elohim” (בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙). Those who affirm that the sons of God in Gen 6:2 were spiritual beings claim that everywhere else the phrase appears it always refers to angelic beings. They therefore conclude that the sons of God in Gen 6:2 must mean the same thing.

There is ample biblical evidence to show that “sons of God” is a description used of both humans and spiritual beings. In fact, this phrase and its equivalents refers to humans more often than to angels.

This is a misleading claim since this exact wording only appears in two other verses in the entire Old Testament (Job 1:6, 2:1). The phrase “sons of God” (without the definite article) also appears in Job 38:7. It is true that the phrase is describing angelic beings in Job as is made clear by the context, but is that enough evidence to conclude that “sons of God” in Gen 6 means the same thing? Context is the overriding consideration when determining what a word or phrase actually means. We all know from everyday experience that a single word or phrase can have very different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

Everywhere else in the Bible where “sons of God” appears, it is referring to humans. Therefore, “sons of God,” is not a technical phrase which refers to the same beings everywhere it is used. It is one of several phrases the Bible uses to describe a group of humans and/or angels (depending on the context):

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

“for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:36 ESV)

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14 ESV)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19 ESV)

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26 ESV)

There are also variations of wording which describe the same relationship and status:

“You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. (Deut. 14:1 ESV)

Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And in the place Where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” (Hos. 1:10 NASB)

““But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35 NASB)

We shouldn’t get hung up on an exact phrase (i.e. sons of God) when what the text is trying to communicate is relationship or status. Other equivalent terms, as shown above, communicate this also. It is quite clear from the above passages that the phrase includes humans and is carried right into his New Testament. Followers of Jesus are now privileged with this status. What is this status? To be a son of God is to have membership in a class or group of beings, whether human or angels, who have pledged loyalty to God, have been accepted by Him, and have been assigned a role or responsibility to fulfill.

As the Bible uses the phrase, a son of God may be either a spiritual being or a human; the context the phrase is found in will allow us to make the determination of who is being discussed. This Hebrew phrase is not a technical expression which only refers to divine beings.

A contrast between humans and the sons of God?

It is also argued that Gen 6:1-4 creates a contrast between two classes of beings. Proponents of the divine/human marriage interpretation say humans (the “daughters of men” in verse 1) are being contrasted with a group that is not human (the sons of God in verse 2). It is true that a contrast is being expressed, but nothing in this text forces us to a conclusion that there are any beings other than human beings under discussion. How can we know for sure who or what is being discussed? We can know by observing the context in which Gen 6:1-4 is found. Many people assume that Gen 6:1-4 is the introduction to the flood story. However, the context reveals this is not the case and these verses instead comprise an epilogue of chapters 4 & 5.

The two prior chapters document two separate lines of people. Chapter 4 documents the descendants of Cain and chapter 5 documents Seth’s line. A contrast is being established between these two branches of Adam and Eve’s family. Seth’s branch describes the line God chose which would ultimately produce the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) who would defeat the serpent and the serpent’s offspring. The genealogies pause to give us a glimpse of the characters of the seventh descendants of Adam from both lines: Lamech (Gen 4:19-24) and Enoch (Gen 5:21-24). The author of Genesis is highlighting these two men as representatives of their respective branches of the family. By comparing the character traits of these two representatives, the text is subtly suggesting that Seth’s line was the more godly of the two.

The objection that the sons of God cannot be human, since in Gen. 6:2 they are contrasted with humans (the daughters of men), ignores the immediate context of chapters 4-5 entirely! Similar contrasts comparing different groups of humans are evident in other Old Testament passages. For example, in Judges 20:3, Benjamites are contrasted with the Israelites. Does this mean the sons of Benjamin were not Israelites? Of course not, the contrast is between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Likewise, in Jer 32:20 Israel is contrasted with “all mankind.” Were the citizens of Israel not part of “all mankind,” or are we meant to understand that Israel is being compared to the rest of humanity? Obviously the latter is correct. A little closer to home is Noah right here in Genesis 6:5-8. God saw that the wickedness of humankind was great, but Noah was found to be righteous (Gen 7:1). Does this mean that Noah was not human?

Other examples can be given but the point is clear: when groups are contrasted, one group is often a subset of a larger group. The sons of God in Genesis 6 were followers of God who were contrasted with the remainder of Adam’s offspring who were not followers of God.

Conclusion

There is ample biblical evidence to show that “sons of God” is a description used of both humans and spiritual beings. In fact, this phrase and its equivalents refers to humans more often than to angels. We cannot ignore the context in which words and phrases are found because the meaning of words is heavily influenced by the context in which they are spoken or written. In the next article in this series, we’ll examine the relevant stories contained in Jewish Second Temple Period literature.