Once again, a quick review of the two main questions I am posing about Genesis 6:1-4:
(1) Who are the “sons of God” in this passage?
(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 view that the sons of God are angels and the view that they are godly descendants of Seth is a third view, which holds that they are tyrant kings of the ancient world who sinned by taking as their wives “any they chose” (v. 2) meaning they forcibly took women into their harems. There are a number of strong arguments for this view:
- The title “sons of God” makes good sense as a reference to kings. It was a widespread assumption in the ancient world that human kings were the sons of territorial deities who ruled on behalf of those deities as their representatives. The biblical teaching that humanity was created in the image of God and given dominion as a result (Gen. 1:26-28; 5:1-2) fits into this ancient worldview while also challenging the notion of mere territorial deities. God’s promise that the son of David would also be God’s son (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7) likewise pictures a human king as one who represents God in his rule.
- The Hebrew of verse 2 literally reads, “And they took as their wives from all whom they chose.” The particular wording seems to suggest a multiplicity of wives.
- This reading fits well contextually, being in close proximity to the account of Lamech, the descendant of Cain (4:19-24), who, as a violent man and the first recorded polygamist, may be the prototype of the tyrant kings described in 6:1-4.
- This reading explains well how the sin described in 6:1-4 is a sinful act of humanity that merits judgment on humanity. It likewise avoids all of the difficulties involved with the angelic view and the Sethite view.
However, this view suffers from one major weakness, which is this: the most natural reading of Jude 6-7 seems to indicate that there was some kind of angelic rebellion, specifically of a sexual nature, in history. Second Peter 2:4-5 ties this rebellion to the days of Noah, and 1 Peter 3:18-20, with its reference to the “spirits in prison” may likewise be a reference to the angels who sinned in Genesis 6. In other words, I think the New Testament makes a very strong case for seeing an angelic rebellion in Genesis 6.
Is there some way to cut the gordian knot by reading the text in a way that makes good sense of Genesis 6 in its own context while also allowing Peter and Jude to have their say? Bruce Waltke has argued that, if we understand that the tyrant kings were demon-possessed, we can. This proposal would maintain that there is both angelic and human rebellion going on in Genesis 6, specifically with angelic rebellion operating through the means of sinful human beings. This view avoids all of the problems associated with half-breed human/angelic offspring, as well as the problem of seeing how a rebellion on the part of angels would lead to a judgment against humanity. Having considered all of the options I am aware of, I think this one represents the best reading on the table at this point.
One could opt for this reading while understanding the “sons of God” either as (a) angels who rebel by taking possession of human tyrant kings; (b) human tyrant kings who are possessed by angels; or (c) a reference to demon-possessed tyrant kings, without making a clear distinction between angel and human. My sense is that option (c) works best here.
Again, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.