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 1 – Light –> Day 4 – Sun, Moon, and Stars
Day 2 – Firmament/Waters –> Day 5 – Birds/Fish
Day 3 – Land/Vegetation –> Day 6 – Land 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.
|i. Descendant of ungodly Enoch
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
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.
|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”
|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
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.