Who Are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? (Part 2)

See part 1 here.

First, a quick reminder about the two questions I am asking in this series:

(1) Who are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 who intermarry with the “daughters of men”?

(2) What is the nature of the sin involved in this text, which apparently leads to the judgment of the flood?

In addition to the angelic interpretation of the “sons of God” is the “Sethite” interpretation. A number of interpreters have argued that what is actually going on in Genesis 6:1-4 is intermarriage between godly men (i.e., “sons of God,” compare Hosea 1:10) of the line of Seth (a line traced in the genealogy of Genesis 5) with ungodly women from outside of the Sethite line, whether that be specifically the ungodly line of Cain (genealogy in Genesis 4) or, more broadly, with idolatrous women who are from any line of descent that does not call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25-26). There are two main advantages to this reading:

  1. It certainly ties Genesis 6:1-4 tightly to the context of Genesis 4-5.
  2. It makes clear that the sin involved is intermarriage with unbelievers, which is a concern in both the Old Testament (with the prohibition on Israelites marrying worshipers of other gods) and in the New Testament (with the command for Christian believers not to marry unbelievers). If the line of Seth, the only godly line left on the earth at this point, lapsed in this particular way, it would explain why God decided to wipe out the human race and start over.

However, this view also suffers from some major weaknesses:

  1. It requires us to understand the “daughters of man” as women who are explicitly not in the line of Seth. They may be from Cain’s line, or any other line of humanity, but they cannot be Sethite daughters. Yet the specific term used to mean “man” in Genesis 6 in the phrase “daugthers of man” is adam. That is significant because Genesis 5:1-3 (the beginning of Adam’s genealogy traced through Seth) actually reads this way:

    This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he created him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man [Hebrew: Adam] when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

    In other words, the Hebrew term adam is closely associated with the line of Seth in Genesis 5:1-3. Yet this interpretation requires us to read the phrase “daughters of adam” in the very next chapter as specifically excluding any daughters from the line of Seth. The fact that many “daughters” are referred to in Seth’s genealogy in Genesis 5 (whereas none are mentioned in Cain’s genealogy in Genesis 4) only further compounds the difficulty. It appears this reading is not as tight a fit with the context as a first glance might suggest.

  2. Who among the “sons of God” are we to imagine actually marrying idolatrous, pagan wives? Would it be any of the men who are specifically mentioned in Genesis 5? Surely Noah wasn’t involved in this sin. Who in the genealogy would have been, then? The genealogy reads to me like a list of godly men. Should we assume that it was Sethite men who are not mentioned in the genealogy (that is, descendants of Seth traced through other lines than are mentioned there)? If that is the case, haven’t we started to drift from the tight connection this interpretation offers with the context of Genesis 4-5?
  3. This interpretation does not seem to sit well with what Jude 6-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-5 (and possibly 1 Peter 3:18-20) seem to say about an angelic rebellion that is associated with the days of Noah and involved some kind of sexual sin.

I’ll look at one more interpretation in the next installment. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.



4 thoughts on “Who Are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? (Part 2)

  1. I don’t think the use of “Adam” in the phrase “daughters of men” necessitates a linkage with Seth, for this same Hebrew word is used for generic man in other places, as some say in Hosea when speaking about breaking the covenant.


    • I think the reference in Hosea 6:7 probably does refer to the man Adam. But the key issue for me is not how the word may be used in other places, but how it is used in the near context of Genesis 6. I would regard it strange indeed to refer to “Adam” in connection with Seth’s line, only immediately to refer to the “daughters of Adam” as those who are specifically not from Seth’s line. The discord is a bit too jarring for me to opt for this view.


      • Genesis 6:1-2 (ESV) When man (Adam) began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man (Adam) were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

        I don’t see conflict in these two verses. I see generic man in verse one giving birth to sons and daughters. These daughters of generic man (verse) were attractive to the sons of God (Seth’s line?) and the son of God took daughters of Adam as wives.

        What am I missing?


      • I think there are two things to note:

        (1) On the “Sethite” reading, “daughters of man” actually cannot be a purely generic statement. It has to be a statement that excludes any daughters from the line of Seth, or else what would make it sinful? So there is difficulty for me in reading “daughters of man” as “daughters of all lines of descent from Adam except Seth.”

        (2) Compounding the difficulty is the fact that Genesis 5:1-6:8 is one unit (notice how it begins with “This is the book of the generations of…” in 5:1; compare 6:9, which begins a new unit). Reading that section as a single unit, we see that the word “Adam” is tightly connected to Seth’s line in 5:1-3, making it all the more unlikely that “daughters of Adam” in 6:2 would be used to refer to all women except those descended from Seth.


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