The Sons of God & the Daughters of Men (Gen. 6:1-4)

The Sons of God & the Daughters of Men (Gen. 6:1-4)

“Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants 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” (Gen. 6:1-4).

Some passages of Scripture are more difficult to interpret than others. God Himself tells us this in His Word (1 Pet. 3:16). One of the greatest challenges a pastor faces in weekly sermon preparation is deciding how much to bring from his study into the pulpit. That challenge is particularly difficult when we come to a passage like the one we will be considering this Lord’s Day in our series of sermons in the book of Genesis.

What I hope to do in this post is share with you some of the reasons I have chosen to preach the passage as I have. I hope this will lead you to further study of your own.

John Murray addresses the identity of the “sons of God and the daughters of men” in an appendix to his excellent textbook on Christian ethics, Principles of Conduct. He draws from other resources, one of which I will share with you below. Let me first summarize Murray’s arguments for the “sons of God” as descendants of Adam’s son, Seth, who fell into sexual sin and apostasy.

1. It is often suggested that the “sons of God and the daughters of men” must be referring to two distinct kinds of creatures. Murray notes that this is not required by the grammar of the Hebrew of Gen. 6:1-2. According to Murray, “usage indicates that there is no necessity to suppose that, because the ‘sons of God’ are distinguished from ‘the daughters of men,’  ‘the sons of God’ cannot belong to the genus humanity. They may also be men; only they are called ‘sons of God’ to distinguish them from other men who do not belong to the classification by which the former are distinguished” (p. 245).

2. The preceding context emphasizes a clear and sharp distinction between two groups of humanity, the believing children of God (Sethites) and the unbelieving children of this world (Cainites). The distinguishing mark of the children of God is that, in contrast to the descendants of Cain, they ‘began to call upon the name of the LORD’ (Gen. 4:26). This distinction is continued in the genealogy of Gen. 5, identifying the line of those who have become heirs of the promise of salvation through their covenantal connection to believing Adam. In that line are two particular examples of men who “walked with God,” Enoch and Noah. The line of the godly seed culminates in Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:8). As Murray puts it, “We are thus definitely prepared for distinctions, drawn within the human family, in respect of the very relationship which the title ‘sons of God’ might be expected to connote or specify” (p. 245). When the preceding context is taken into account, the distinction being drawn between the children of God and the children of this world is unmistakeable and emphatic. In fact, that distinction is the whole point of the chapters immediately preceding Gen. 6.

3. The marriages described in Gen. 6:1-4 involve a horrific departure from God’s ordinance of marriage. While those who regard “the sons of God” as angelic or demonic beings also emphasize this point, their view is weakened by the fact that in v. 3 God’s displeasure is directed at man. In Gen. 3, the serpent who tempted Eve was the first to be condemned by God, a condemnation which was really directed at the devil who was using the serpent as his agent. In Gen. 6:3, it is man whom God refuses to strive with, and it is man who will be judged after the 120-year period of Noah’s prophetic ministry is completed (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5). The fact that only mankind is mentioned with respect to God’s judgment seems to suggest that those being judged were “flesh” and nothing more (Gen. 6: 3).

4. The Bible nowhere presents angelic beings as capable of sexual intercourse with human women. This is not to say there are no passages in the Bible that might seem to suggest this, particularly if we have some prior commitment to that interpretation. But Scripture does not teach that angels are capable of procreation. In fact, there are passages that would seem to teach otherwise. For example, Jesus teaches that the angels in heaven do not marry (Matt. 22:30). Now, to be fair, I know there are those who will point out that this text only mentions “the angels in heaven.” The angels who fell “left their first estate,” (Jude 6). However, Jesus is not teaching about angels and demons in Matt. 22. He is teaching about the condition of men during the resurrection. He is making the point that we will be like angelic beings in the sense that we will no longer marry or procreate. Jesus’ teaching, at least by implication, appears to strongly suggest that angelic beings do not marry or procreate either. On this point, however, I will concede that the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, though I believe there is a strong presumption in favor of the “sons of God” = apostate Sethites view.

5. The nature of marriage itself is at stake in this debate. This is actually something many commentators fail to take notice of, but I believe it is one of the most significant points to be made. Murray points to the phrase, “and they took wives for themselves” (Gen. 6:2). This is the ordinary Hebrew expression that describes marriages between men and women, those created in God’s image and likeness, and the only ones we ever see entering into the estate of marriage in the Bible. Marriage, because of what it is, can only be a union of a human male and a human female. Anything else is not marriage. Usually what its envisioned in the “angel/demon” view is something more akin to rape. However, this is not what the phrase, “took wives for themselves” ever means in Scripture. This is a description of human marriage in the ordinary language of the Hebrew Bible. The real problem with these marriages is that they transgress a different kind of boundary. Believers in every generation are called to “marry only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

6. The Bible actually uses the term “sons of God” far more in reference to God’s people than it does of angels. Often, a few references to the phrase in Job and the Psalms seem persuasive that angels are in view. Even so, those references are to holy angels, not angels who left their first estate. This alone should give us much pause. But the overwhelming usage of the phrase “sons of God,” and similar phrases, such as “children of God,” etc. lend strong support to the interpretation of “sons of God” as those in the line of the covenant. See, for example, Ex. 4:22, 23; Deut. 14:1; 32:5, 6; Ps. 73:15; 82:6; Has. 1:10; Mal. 1:6. In the New Testament, the phrase “children of God” or “sons of God” is part of the very fabric of what it means to be in saving union with Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:1-2).

7. A simple reading of Gen. 6:1-4 does not give any ground for importing an entire theology into a passage that flows much more naturally when interpreted in light of its preceding context. As Murray points out, “The supposition [of angelic/human marriages] is an importation which the syntax does not support and against which the terms definitely militate. All that is stated is that the nephilim [a word perhaps clumsily translated “giants”] were in the earth in the days when the sons of God took wives from the daughters of men. And the natural construction is that they were already in the earth when these marriages took place…” (p. 247). In other words, whatever we think of these nephilim, they too were human (see Num. 13:33), and it is not even necessary to conclude that they were the product of the marriages being described.

The real point of the passage is to demonstrate how, even among the godly, unless God preserves for Himself a godly remnant, even the “sons of God” are capable of the worst forms of idolatry and apostasy. It required a miracle of God’s grace in the heart of believing Noah to preserve eight souls alive on the ark. We ought to guard our hearts and look to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, as we await the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwell.

For further study, you may want to read the following article published in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review in 1894. William Henry Green was a reliable Old Testament scholar who stood against the theological liberalism and “higher criticism” of his day. Just click on the image below to access the article.

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