1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty 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 men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6 tells us what occurred as mankind multiplied on the face of the Earth. Gen 5 tell us the generations of Adam and roughly 1056 years from the creation of Adam to the year of Noah’s birth. (In that millennium, given the life span of individuals, it would not be a stretch to assume that even if each patriarch had a minimum of 10 children there would be millions of people on the Earth.) By the later days of Noah’s life mankind had grown so corrupt that the “sons of God” took wives of the “daughters of men”. This is an important acknowledgement. They took wives of “whomever they chose” even from the daughters of men. They didn’t merely produce offspring with them, but actively cohabitated with them making them wives.
With this background we can approach the real question, what is the identity of the “sons of God” who took wives of the “daughters of men”?
Angelic Offspring Theory
Some believe that these “sons of God” were angelic beings who procreated with human women, producing an offspring of supernatural ability. Some even suggest that the reason for this was that Satan wanted to corrupt the race of mankind through the introduction of angelic seed. Verse 4 introduces to us the legendary Nephilim, of which the Bible says very little. The King James version translated Nephilim to “giants”, the Hebrew word Nephilim apparently comes from the word for “fall”. Some have believed this to be because men fell before them, or perhaps they were giants. Some, who view the “sons of God” as being fallen angels, view the Nephilim as supernaturally endowed strongmen and giants. This has led many to assume that the “sons of God” had to be more than mere humans. Those who hold this view point to the book of Job wherein the “sons of God” are described presenting themselves before God when Satan “also came among them.” Job 38:7 indicates that these “sons of God” were present during creation as well thus it is reasonable to identify the “sons of God” (at least in the book of Job) as angels. This view is often imported then into other passages of the Bible, namely 1 Peter 3 in which we read:
1 Peter 3:18-21
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Some see the “spirits [now] in prison” who were disobedient “days of Noah” as identifying those same “sons of God”. Thus, they believe, after Christ died he entered hell and made proclamation to these disobedient angels. Those who hold this view often point to Jude 1:6 “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,” Another iteration of this theory adopts the “Abraham’s Bosom” (Luke 16:22-23) concept, believing that the dead of the Old Testament existed in a form of prison-like limbo, perhaps with these same angels. At Christ’s death, it is believed, he went to hell (adopting the language of the Apostle’s Creed) and preached to them there, saving those who would believe. Those who adopt this viewpoint then transfer this view into Ephesians 4 wherein it is written,
8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Believing that there were people in some limbo state, they believe this is referring to Christ taking them from prison to heaven. This is particularly true of dispensational viewpoints who cannot conceive of a salvation of grace gospel prior to the death of Christ.
Before offering an alternative theory, let me note that not everyone who adopts one or more of these concepts accepts all the others.
The Problem & Solution
As I mentioned earlier, some of these views come from aberrant beliefs such as extreme dispensationalism wherein the plan and purpose of the sovereign God is muddled with misinterpretations and false inferences. Not understanding that the Bible presents one plan of salvation for all men, they cannot conceive of a means for believing Old Testament saints to be ushered into Heaven apart from the temporal crucifixion. The Bible however presents one Gospel throughout the Old and New Testaments (which is in actuality an artificial division) though revealed partially in the Old and revealed fully in Christ.
One need only point to Galatians where we are told that Abraham heard and believed in the same Gospel which saves today. Gal 3:8 states that the gospel was preached “beforehand to Abraham, saying, ” ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”” Thus Paul writes, that it was evident that God would justify the Gentiles by faith (as Abraham was originally a Gentile) and “it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Thus Christ, the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8, KJV), saved men and women who believed in the Gospel, no matter how veiled, since the beginning. Therefore we must understand that the salvation of men through has always been by faith in the Savior, be it the Savior to come or the Risen Savior, and this has been the only means of salvation in all of history. Paul states clearly that no one was saved by the Law since “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” and as the author of Hebrews informs us “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” With this understanding in mind, we can proceed to review the texts in question again.
The Alternative – Sons of God
First it must be noted While Gen 6:4 may seem to suggest that the Nephilim were the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men”, it doesn’t actually state that, rather it only puts these two facts together in the same timeline. Even if the Nephilim were the offspring of said union, it doesn’t mean they are giants, rather they could be kings or otherwise merciless men. The Nephilim are again referred to in Numbers 13:33, where the spies sent into the land of Canaan reported back that in Canaan lived the legendary Nephilim who are identified as the men of Anak. This is declared by Scripture to be a “bad report”, however, given by men frightened by the task at hand. They say “all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size”, this is of course not the case. Clarification comes in Deut 1:28 wherein we discover that the ‘Nephilim’, Anakim, reported in Num 13:33 were simply “bigger and taller” and from Deut 2:10 “numerous”. We might consider these people like some consider those of Germanic offspring, naturally tall and muscular in build, but by no means supernatural giants. Calvin believed the Nephilim to be so called because men fell before them like wheat before storm winds, laying waste and bringing destruction. When the children of Israel finally take Canaan, actual giants are few and far between and not mentioned again until 1 Chronicles 20:1 where we meet the giants of Gath who certainly do fit our frightening picture of legendary giants. However, neither the brothers from Gath nor the Anakim can be actual Nephilim, who must have been destroyed in the Noahic flood. If the “Nephilim” be their offspring, then it is because they are ruthless unbelieving men striking fear in the hearts of their victims. As reasonable as it is to identify the “sons of God” as angels in Job, it is not as reasonable to import that connection into Genesis.
Consider that Psalm 82:6 declares “I said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.” This verse, quoted by Christ, is addressing unjust human rulers, it is therefore just as acceptable (and as I hope to explain, more acceptable) that the term “sons of God” in Genesis refers to humans, rather than angels. Thus, along with many other respectable commentators, I suggest that the “sons of God” in this passage be those like Solomon, who while believers in the truth, took wives of pagans. Some have appealed to Gen 19:1-5 to show that angels can procreate, but the fact that the sinful men of Sodom desired to have sex with angels who appeared as men cannot lend any support to this view.
One commentator goes so far as to proclaim: “Only the obscene, perverse marriage of fallen angels with human females would seem to justify such a harsh judgment.” But this is not the reason given by Scripture, rather it is the fact that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” that causes God to obliterate and recreate the Earth. Finally the Bible indicates that angels are non-corporeal beings who cannot procreate. There is no discussion anywhere (other than this view of Gen 6) of angels procreating, yet the Bible does tell us that angels in heaven “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. Believing otherwise brings up a whole host of problems relating to the potential DNA of angels, the ability of them to procreate with human women, and the possibility of it occurring again. The idea that Satan engineered these events to somehow pollute the bloodline of Christ is, in my opinion, without exegetical support once the verses in question are seriously examined.
1 Peter 3:18-21
This brings us to 1 Peter 3:18-21 where we must read the text with a different lens given our understanding of the universal historical proclamation of the Gospel. It was “in the Spirit” that Christ made the gospel proclamation to the spirits who are now in prison. The “spirits” are in prison now, that doesn’t mean they were in prison when the proclamation was made. The proclamation was made “in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark”, and not after Christ’s death in some form of limbo. Thus when we read that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) we must understand that Noah preached the Gospel, however veiled, which would save none-the-less if believed, as proven by the salvation of himself and his family from the flood. This is clear from the context of Peter’s letters, especially the passage just mentioned (2 Pet 2:5). It was by the Spirit that Christ in Noah preached the Gospel to the unbelievers until only 8 were saved from the flood by the Ark. Peter makes mention of the flood and the ark and likens them to baptism in which we are cleansed just as the world was cleansed. (There is obviously much more to this point, which I’ll save for a later date.) The “spirits” in this passage then are not angels but unbelieving individuals who rejected the Gospel then and are in now in prison. This then removes this passage from our consideration in determining who the “sons of God” are.
The “captives” Christ leads into heaven in Eph 4 then are not souls who were waiting in limbo for the crucifixion to occur, rather this language describes a conquering general who leads a train of captives away to his kingdom from a defeated city. Rather than receiving gifts from the Father (though we are considered His inheritance) Christ gives gifts to men. These captives then are the souls whom Christ won from the bondage of sin, leading them into heaven by His victory on the cross. Christ’s “decent” into hell has been historically understood not as a physical appearance in some Dante-esque hell wherein he made proclamation to angels or Old Testament.
It is interesting the various verses and authors appealed to in order to support the angelic offspring belief. Jude 1:6 perhaps provides the best evidence, but it fails for lack of support. While it is true that Jude 1:6 describes fallen angels, it doesn’t state that they procreated with men, rather that they “left their abode”. This was all part of the plan and purpose of God.
The “sons of God” in Gen 6 are the believers and offspring of believers who wrongly marry unbelieving women. The Nephilim may be (though it is not a sure thing) the offspring of such unions, but the Nephilim are by no means supernatural giants but mere men. Nothing in Scripture suggests that angels can procreate, especially with human women. Genesis 6 then is an expression of the sinfulness of mankind, not angels, and the reason for God’s destruction and recreation of the world both in the flood and in the apocalypse to come is due not to the sinfulness of angels, nor their supposed procreation with men, but solely on the basis of the corruption of human sin. 1 Peter 3:18-21 presents us with a picture of God’s graciousness to the family of Noah who (as explained in 2 Peter) preached the Gospel to unbelievers by the Spirit of Christ within him.
Those who disobeyed and rejected Noah’s plea are now in hell. Ephesians 4 speaks not of Christ’s decent into Dante’s inferno to declare to angels or Old Testament saints but rather of Christ’s victorious ascent into heaven from Earth with a train of captives, namely the saints. Jude 1:6 does express the falleness of angels, but speaks nothing of their ability nor the possibility of their procreating with human women.
The views which I am rejecting here I believe present a corrupted anthropology and theology in regards to the nature of angels, men and God’s sovereign plan. Whether taken together or apart, they all stem from misunderstandings of God’s plan and historical revelation, be it dispensationalistic views of pre-crucifixion salvation or false teaching regarding angels and pre-flood sexual practices. I would go so far as to say that the angel/human procreation view stems not from Biblical exegesis but from post-Exodus Hebrew mythology especially found in the apocryphal works specifically the book called Jubilees and other rabbinic writings sometimes referred to as the Kenite doctrines. The end result of such views can alter a person’s understanding of salvation, especially in a covenantal framework, and lead them to adopt other aberrant views. The beauty of the alternative view is that it harmonizes all of Scripture, not being informed by Jewish mythological texts, but rather accepting a God who is truly Sovereign over all that occurs in His created order, including the potential sexual practices of demons, and destroyed the Earth not on a whim or because the demons got out of hand, but as a striking example of His wrath, grace and prefiguring the work of His Son and the baptism of regeneration in which He saves us from our sins. Of this theory of angelic intercourse with humans, Calvin writes:
That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious. The opinion also of the Chaldean paraphrase is frigid; namely, that promiscuous marriages between the sons of nobles, and the daughters of plebeians, is condemned. Moses, then, does not distinguish the sons of God from the daughters of men, because they were of dissimilar nature, or of different origin; but because they were the sons of God by adoption, whom he had set apart for himself; while the rest remained in their original condition. Should any one object, that they who had shamefully departed from the faith, and the obedience which God required, were unworthy to be accounted the sons of God; the answer is easy, that the honor is not ascribed to them, but to the grace of God, which had hitherto been conspicuous in their families. For when Scripture speaks of the sons of God, sometimes it has respect to eternal election, which extends only to the lawful heirs; sometimes to external vocations according to which many wolves are within the fold; and thought in fact, they are strangers, yet they obtain the name of sons, until the Lord shall disown them. Yea, even by giving them a title so honorable, Moses reproves their ingratitude, because, leaving their heavenly Father, they prostituted themselves as deserters. – John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Volume I, Baker 1996, Trans: Rev John King
I look forward to your comments.