I love when Read the Hard Parts readers let me know when they come across a difficult Bible passage.
Recently, I was emailing with my friend Suzanne Shera, author of LightLab: Lessons for Kids to Explore the Nature of Light and to Know Jesus, and she mentioned Genesis 6:1-4.
Genesis 6:1-4 says,
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Suzanne wondered: who are the “sons of God” mentioned in this passage?
I told her the truth.
I didn’t know 🙂
So I did some digging in some commentaries. All commentators agreed that this was a difficult passage and no Bible scholar felt absolutely certain about any interpretation, but all explored three possible meanings. The “sons of God” could be angels, descendants of Seth, or earthly kings or rulers.
Here’s the explanation of each possibility:
The sons of God are angels.
This is the answer favored by most of the commentators including GotQuestions.org because the only other times the phrase “sons of God” is used in the Old Testament, it refers to angels. The problem with this view is that the phrase “sons of God” is only used in Job in the Old Testament which is not really enough times to make a strong case that that is what that phrase always should mean. The other problem is that in Matthew 22:30, it mentions that angels are not given in marriage. However, this does not mean angels are not capable of reproduction especially when they appear in human form.
The sons of God are descendants of Seth.
This view was not as popular among commentators, but all commentators mentioned it as a possibility. Since Cain was marked as wicked some believe that Seth’s line was, therefore, God-followers hence the title sons of God. The problem with the descendants of Seth view is if the writer was referring to the descendants of Seth, why wouldn’t the writer just say “descendants of Seth”? Family relationships are often mentioned in the book of Genesis. Plus, unlike later in the Biblical narrative when God forbids the Israelites to intermarry with other people groups who do not worship him, up to this point there had been no such command given.
The sons of God are earthly rulers.
John Walton, author of the Genesis NIV Application Commentary, makes a strong case the sons of God are earthly rulers.
First of all, earthly rulers make sense in the narrative flow of escalating sin on the earth. In the beginning, sin corrupted individuals (Adam and Eve) then it corrupted the family (Cain and Abel). If the sons of God are earthly rulers, this passage shows how society was corrupted before the next section of Genesis 6 where everyone on the earth is corrupted.
Secondly, strong, powerful earthly rulers fit the description of this time period. This was a heroic age with Nephilim (giants), heroes of old, and men of renown. John Walton makes the case that during this time period in history, many kings or rulers practiced the right of first night. (Remember Braveheart?) In this society, the king or ruler gets to sleep with any new bride before the bridegroom gets to in order to show their dominion and authority.
This interpretation doesn’t totally explain why the phrase “sons of God” is used. Perhaps because it was common in the Ancient Middle East for kings to believe that they were divine.
So what’s the point?
The bottom line, no matter which interpretation you prefer for the phrase sons of God, is this world is wicked. Sin corrupts, escalates, and spreads.
It’s tempting to believe that there is natural goodness in humans and if we just inspire people enough or give them freedom, they will choose the right thing. But that is not true. We are sinful as individuals, as families, as a society, and as the world as a whole. Without God’s holy and righteous intervention in our lives, we are left in sin.
The wickedness was so bad by Noah’s day that God intervened through the flood and wiping away the wickedness.
God also intervened by saving Noah and his family.
God intervenes in our lives through salvation in Christ. At the end of time, God’s intervention prevents believers from being swept away in the destruction. God saves us and keeps us. He is the only rescue available from our sinful selves, sinful families, and sinful societies.
What should we do?
Don’t try to beat sin on your own. Trust in Christ for eternal salvation. Trust in Christ for daily victory over sin.
How has Christ given you victory over sin? Which interpretation of “sons of God” do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
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John Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations, 1854, available on preceptaustin.org
John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary Genesis, Zondervan, 2001.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, available on preceptaustin.org
Barnes’ Notes, available on preceptaustin.org