“Sons of God” and “Daughters of Men” – An Exegetical Approach to Genesis 6 – Part 1

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.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

- Genesis 6:1-8

Why Not Exegesis?

There can be little doubt that Genesis 6:1-4 has raised much speculation regarding the identity of the “sons of God,” “daughters of men,” and “Nephilim.” What is bothersome is that for many who are attempting to answer these questions of identity, even Christians, a thorough examination of the text itself is rarely, if ever, used in the formulation of their proposed answers. Instead, what we encounter are interpretations that look outside of the text of the Flood Narrative, disregard the immediate context practically altogether, and typically reference the non-canonical Book of Enoch. The “sons of God” are, on this basis, interpreted to mean “angels,” the “daughters of men” are human women with whom these sons of God mated, and the Nephilim (or, “giants” as the New King James Version translates it) are, therefore, nothing else but the product of this unholy union between fallen angels and women.

Because the Old Testament refers to angels as ben elohim, or sons of God, in a variety of places in the Old Testament, there is some exegetical basis to raising the possibility that ben elohim is to be understood as being synonymous with angels. However, a closer examination of  the literary structure of the book of Genesis in general, and Gen. 6:1-8 in particular show us that such an interpretation is not allowable.

Moses and Parallelism

From the beginning, we can note that Moses’ writing evidences a rather frequent use of parallel structures. For instance, consider the six days of creation in Genesis 1 run parallel to one another.

Day 1Light –> Day 4Sun, Moon, and Stars

Day 2Firmament/Waters –> Day 5Birds/Fish

Day 3 - Land/Vegetation –> Day 6Land animals/Humans

Moses’ parallel structure isn’t limited to this chapter, however. Another example can be found in two parallel characters named in the genealogies of Cain and Adam in Genesis 4 & 5. The first parallel of these  character names is, somewhat ironically, “Enoch.”

Enoch [4:17-18] Enoch [5:18-24]
i. Son of unrighteous Cain

ii. City named after him

iii. Earthly (ungodly)

iv. Great-great grandfather of Lamech the murderer [4:18-24]

v. Descendants destroyed by God in flood (impl.)

i. Son of righteous Seth

ii. No city mentioned

iii. Spiritual (godly)

iv. Grandfather of Lamech, the father of Noah [5:21-25]

v. Descendants saved by God from flood

While I have no doubt that these men were historical personages, I don’t Moses haphazardly placed these two men in diametrically opposed lineages for no good reason. Rather, Moses is contrasting the lineage of Cain with that of Seth by the use of these opposite parallels. Another parallel occurs in the two Lamechs of each genealogy.

Lamech [4:18-24]

Lamech [5:28-31]

i. Descendant of ungodly Enoch

ii. Murderer

iii. Polygamist

iv. Earthly (ungodly)

v. Sons associated with bronze and iron work

vi. Poetically speaks of avenging himself through violence

i. Descendant of godly Enoch

ii. Not a murderer

iii. Monogamous

iv. Spiritual (godly)

v. Son was a carpenter

vi. Prophetically speaks of Noah bringing rest from the toil and curse posterior to the fall

This is another clear example of how Moses used parallels to further emphasize certain themes in the beginning chapters of Genesis. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see that he follows this same pattern in Genesis 6:1-12. Let’s look at the parallels that appear in this passage.

Earthly Spiritual
i. “daughters of men”[v. 2]

ii. Man’s flesh -“he is but flesh” [v. 3]

iii. Man’s heart – “was only evil continually”[v. 5]

iv. All flesh “corrupted”

[vv. 11-12]

i. “sons of God” [v. 2]ii. God’s Spirit – “my Spirit shall not strive with man” [v.3]

iii. God’s heart – “…was grieved”[v. 6]

iv. Noah was “pure” in his generations [v. 10]

Beginning with chapter 4, although one could possibly argue that the entire Pentateuch follows suit, and ending, for our purposes, in chapter 6, we see that Moses is fond of parallels. He is comparing the earthly/sinful to the spiritual/righteous; he is comparing the ungodly lineage of Cain to the godly lineage of Adam/Seth.

Then What About Sex?

To further bring this point out, we need  only look to (i.) the sins that were explicitly committed by the Cainites, and (ii.) the sins because of which God is bringing about judgment upon the earth.

Cainite Sin Sins Being Judged by God
i. Murder – cf. Cain and Lamechii. Polygamy/Sexual Immorality – cf. Lamech i. Violenceii. Sexual Indiscriminateness/Sexual Immorality (Corruption)

What is present in the Cainite lineage of chapter 4 has now reached full fruition in chapter 6, infecting even the “sons of God,” i.e. the godly lineage of Adam/Seth. This is an interpretation that requires that we do only one thing: Treat the text with humility and respect. Referencing external books which came much later (see here), without first consulting the Pentateuch as a whole, the book of Genesis as a whole, and Genesis 6 as it stands in relationship to the entire narrative, which all scholars recognize begins in chapter 1 and ends in chapter 11 – well, it’s just poor analysis.

Further, consider the emphasis in chapter 7 not only on clean and unclean animals being separate unto themselves, but also this curious phrase:

You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female

- Gen. 7:2a

Is the word “his” just occupying space? Not at all. In light of the “sons of God” intermingling with “the daughters of men” – that is to say, the clean humans intermingling with the unclean humans – God’s specification of the clean males having their own clean female mate, and applying the same rule to the unclean animals makes complete sense. God isn’t giving Noah unneccessary details, He is underscoring that the clean and the unclean are not to intermix (this is also a consistent theme throughout the entire Pentateuch).

These animals point us back to Gen. 4, 5 & 6: God’s people are to remain pure; they are not to corrupt themselves with that which is unclean. The more extreme claims that would like to call these “Nephilim” half-alien/half-human hybrids are, therefore, seriously unfounded.

The “sons of God” are, according to the text, godly men who corrupted themselves with the “daughters of men” (or Cainite women).

Then What About 2 Peter 2:4 and the Jude 1:6?

Those who attempt to make the sons of God = angels, without referencing the Book of Enoch, point to 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 in order to establish their case. However, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 are not direct references to the Book of Enoch, nor do they claim to be, and may in fact be referring to the fall of Satan, as relayed by Ezekiel 28:11-19.

Here are the verses.

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…

- 2 Peter 2:4

And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day

- Jude 1:6

Concerning these matters, John H. Sailhamer writes:

“Drawing on lessons from the O[ld] T[estament], Peter argues that, though it may delay, God’s judgment always falls on the ungodly. The pages of the OT that he turns to concern the fallen angels in the Garden of Eden (v.4; cf. Eze. 28:11-19), the flood of Noah (v.5; cf. Gen. 6-9)…

It should be noted that Peter follows the sequence of divine judgments as they are presented in the OT. He begins with the fall of Satan and his angels in Eden. The primary biblical source for Peter is the prophecy against the king of Tyre in Eze. 28. Ezekiel, threatening the swift destruction of the king of Tyre, much like Peter, drew on a close reading of the Garden of Eden narratives in Gen. 2-3 to show that the fate of the king of Tyre would be the same as that of the fallen angels. According to Peter, when the angels ‘sinned’ (v. 4a; Ezze. 28:16a), they were expelled from the Garden of God (v. 4b; cf. Eze. 28:16b) and cast into a consuming fire (v. 4b; cf. Eze. 28:18).”

NIV Compact Bible Commentary, pp. 580-581

Conclusion

The story isn’t about angels having sex with women and producing some hybrid race of alien/giant/demon-people. It’s about godly men corrupting themselves and their lineage with ungodly women.

-h.

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9 thoughts on ““Sons of God” and “Daughters of Men” – An Exegetical Approach to Genesis 6 – Part 1

  1. I read your post with interest, While you present a well thought-out, reasonable argument, I disagree with your conclusion.
    The choice of words used by the writers of the Bible are very precise, for the purpose of clarity. ‘God is not the author of confusion”.
    What you present is nothing more than the”sons of Seth and an daughters of Cain” theory.
    “Good men procreating with bad women dose not lead to a race of giants” I believe the Bible means precisely what the words indicate.

  2. Thanks for reading!

    I agree that God isn’t the author of confusion, that’s why I wrote this post up. The varying interpretations that involve fallen angels breeding with women has no real Scriptural support.

    But, regarding the phrase “the sons of God” I have another post to put up hopefully by tonight.

    As far as whether or not godly men having sex with ungodly women leads to a race of giants, I think there are some factors to consider.

    1. The Bible says: “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. 6:4).

    The remark is a historical indicator. Moses is, in effect, saying:

    There were giants when these things took place, and afterward (that is, when the sons of God came into the daughters of men). Those (the giants, not the sons-of-God/daughters-of-men offspring) were the mighty men of old, men of renown. The Nephilim, according to this verse, pre-existed this event, and continued to exist afterward.

    2. “Good men procreating with bad women dose not lead to a race of giants” –

    Assuming that the Nephilim are the offspring of the sons-of-God and daughters-of-men, this still doesn’t mean that they (i.e. the Nephilim) cannot be the byproduct of natural, althoughhuman sexual intercourse. There is no Scriptural support for saying that godly men having sex with ungodly women doesn’t produce giants.

    There are many short parents who have children that tower over them. Why would this event be any different?

    Again, thanks for reading. I’ll post the next blog link, when I’m done writing it up.

    Peace.

    -h.

  3. Hiram, you establish a very good defense for your position. I went back to read again your post. i admit to having some of my opinion gleaned from reading the book of Enoch, and You are correct concerning Peter 2:4, However, Jude 6, is a direct quote from Enoch.
    Also, what i understand Moses to be writing about here is the flood. When he writes “There were giants on the earth in those days(meaning, before the flood) and also afterward” (meaning after the flood). He announces immediately after this, God’s intention to destroy mankind.
    Then he speaks of Noah, as being “a just man and perfect (Meaning unblemished) in his generation. I take this, “perfect” to mean he was not contaminated with the hybrid seed, as in the angel-women offspring. Given the fact, Moses was well aware that nephilim existed after the flood, having to deal with them during their initial approach Canaan.
    Anyway, I realize, it’s possible I could be mistaken, and you may well be right. And, My salvation is not dependent upon my being correct, However I’m not ready to change my opinion at this point.
    For me, it answers to many questions, that always concerned me, such as, why was it necessary to kill every man, woman and child, when the Children of Israel entered Canaan. If they were some kind of Demon seed, it becomes much more palatable to me personally, and much easier to defend, against Biblical critics. by the way, let me add, I in no way intended my previous comment to be offensive. yet after reading again what i wrote, I can see how it could be taken to be. If you were offended I sincerely apologize.
    If I had no particular opinion on the subject of Nephilim and what they were, I could possibly, be convinced by your explanation.

  4. Hey Bobby!

    I appreciate you stopping by and engaging in dialogue with me. I post here to “speculate” and rummage through my mind, grapple with various topics, etc so all discussion is welcome!
    I know that this is a hot topic that many have wrestled with in the past, and that one’s interpretation has some theological consequences (although, thankfully, not regarding one’s salvation :)), so I didn’t take offense to your comments.

    The other post will be up soon, so if you wanna stop by, check it out and leave me your thoughts, feel free to do so. It would be good to be challenged to go back to the Word and get a better grip on things.

    -h.

  5. Pingback: “Sons of God” and “Daughters of Men” – An Exegetical Approach to Genesis 6 – Part 2 « Involuted Speculations

  6. Hi Hiram,
    I am not a scholar per se though enjoy reading and studying texts. In the spirit of open discussion on this topic I would like you (and your readers such as Bobby) to check out the following link which presents a different view to the issue of the ‘sons of god’.

    http://ancientdays.net/sonsofgod.htm

    http://ancientdays.net/mooncity.htm (shows parallels used in early scripture, the destruction of rebellious men and nations who had set themselves up as gods *against* YHWH)

    I have difficulties with angels/women – in this theory we’re confusing the spiritual with the physical, and the concept of angels and humans intermingling is a much greater ‘confusion’ than any other theory.

    I have difficulties with your theory (though I prefer it as the usually there is a simple explanation to even the greatest mysteries) because scripture does pointedly make a reference to giants and the subsequent rise of power and influence of these men, and the sexual immorality of these ‘sons of god’ which has been the main determinant in the self-debasement of humans thoughout history. The greater the rebellion against God, the greater the sexual immorality and perversion of the people. (Even God’s chosen were not exempt from the ramifications of sexual digress – sexual immorality or excess eventually brought down a number of Jewish Kingdoms).

    The links I have provided relate to an alternative approach to this and the overall issue of the ‘sons of god’, one which dodges both these deficiencies and fits best with the overview of the Bible, God’s plan for redemption of mankind and His definite plan to cast down all rebellion to Him. And it fits strongly within the premise set out by you, Hiram, in that there are parallels all the way through scripture of God’s way versus the pagan way. ‘Divine kings’ being the sons of god (see Ezekiel 28:2 for the way that men set themselves up as gods on earth).)

  7. Hiram,
    I’d say I agree with the gist of what you’re saying. I did have a passage that many people bring up concerning this: 1 Peter 3:19ff. You mentioned Jude and 2 Peter, but concerning Noah and the spirits, many people like to show the relevant (albeit confusing) passage here about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison from the days of Noah. Curious as to your thoughts on that.

  8. I am shocked to know how tenaciously people hold on their varied views of the interpretation of verses 1-4 of Genesis chapter 6 without understanding the verses themselves. The meaning of those verses are clearly within the verses and scarsely call for using other parts of the scripture to explain them. This is what I mean:
    VERSE 1: Says that men multiplied greatly
    VERSE 2: Says Sons of God and Daughters of men got married
    VERSE 3: Says God was displeased and said
    ……..He will not strive with MAN which is FLESH
    ……..He reduced the age of MAN to 120 years
    VERSE 4: Says there WERE giants in the earth BEFORE and AFTER the marriage of the Sons of God and the Daughters of men.
    Also that the offsprings of thier union became mighty men (NOT A STRANGE BREED IN SIZE OR NOBILITY)

    The people that multiplied were men(female and male) who eventually got married and lived together certainly in the traditional family setting of couples dwelling together. Among these were giants before and after their unions. Out of these relationships (marrital not fornication or adultery)came forth children that became mighty and renown.
    What in this narrative will be offensive to God? that there must have been somthing defiling about this union. Could it be union of ANGELS and Human Daughters? Could it be union of obedient and disobedient children of men? Lets look at it again this way:

    ANGELS? Angels of GOD will be so identified only if they are godly. If they are fallen angels then could they not be angels of GOD. All scriptural references to SONS OF GOD agree with this! Thesame way man that is fallen is ‘son of man’ and in man’s ‘likeness’.Lucifer fell and became Satan. If Angels in Heaven did lust after women, then there are far more beautiful women now many who even go about naked so that ‘Son’s of God’ can fall for them.
    This view is clearly not consistent with Christian theology and is extra-Biblical by all standard! If you say that these were fallen angels of Satan (demons) then there are abundant of them today and their activity should include marrying the daughters of men today!

    There is nothing mystic about the events of these four verses. Humans to humans of whatever lineage offended God in their choice of spouses and brought judgement upon themselves not angels. The severity of the judgement of God does not always measure with the offence of men. Our offenses God weighs differently (eg Moses failed to enter Canaan)

  9. Jesus the Son of God was born on earth as man seeded by the power of the Holy Spirit born of the Woman according to the law. Like wise for an angel to be born on earth & to mix & even breed with man need to be born by the two criteria 1) Seeded by the power of the Holy Spirit 2) Born of women. Now to the Sons of God the words “Saw” “Chose” does not refer to as angels born as men but Men themselves which but points to the sons of God as the Godly line of Seth & the daughters of men to the ungodly line of Cain eventually corrupting the generations unto the Judgement. In the words of St. Jude is of the manner “Just as the angels who left their abode(not to the will of God teaching men things that ought not to be taught) are reserved for judgement so also are the people of Sodom reserved for the same, denoting the seriousness of their respective crimes but not to any inter breeding. The error of the sons of God/daughters of men also reflect the fall of Israel through the forbidden intermixing with the heathen by their gods & the greatest of them being Solomon. This core of these errors point to sexual corruptions,
    Now the NT in Rom 8:19 mention of eager anticipation of the Manifestation(revelation) of the sons of God. These are the Elect of God sealed with His name/ the remnant seed of the Woman, the lamb itself the first/ the first fruits of the lamb for they led by the lamb concerns the salvation of man. About them is said-are not defiled by women (unlike the other two previous instances) meaning averse to any form of sexual corruptions, the core of which is Sodom.
    To conclude, all of man are Physically the children of Adam & Eve & the sons of God refer to spiritual children even the words of Jesus unto the Scribes & Pharisees “Ye are of your father the devil” pertains to spiritual children.. It is also to understand that in Job is mentioned the sons of God, they who are the Elohim(sons of God in heaven) one of whom (Archangel Michael) wrestled with the patriarch Jacob introducing the name Israel meaning Inheritance of God

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