Who Are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? (Part 3)

See Part 1 and Part 2 before reading.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  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.

4 thoughts on “Who Are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6? (Part 3)

  1. Hi Aaron,

    I like that solution, but it’s too clever.

    My problems with it are these:

    1. Nowhere else does the Bible deal with demon-possessed humans and demons as co-belligerents. The human is always seen as a victim, though also morally responsible. The demon is the driver of evil. To read this passage as referring to demon-possessed rulers does not fit that pattern.

    2. The reason Jews and ancient commentators understood this passage to refer to fallen angels is because of the phrase, “Sons of God”. However, to understand this passage as referring to human kings or rulers, “Sons of God” must be read as rulers. In other words, the only way this could work would be for “Sons of God” to refer both to fallen angels and rulers at the same time. There is no indication of this in the NT passages.

    3. There are demon-possessed people in the world doing terrible things, even fathering children through illegitimate sexual relationships, right now. The passage seems to suggest, however, (and Christ implies this in Matt 24:37) that the evil in the world had reached an extreme level. Perhaps it is your view that we have reached that situation again, but certainly there are periods in history where things have been as bad or worse.

    So, while I think it’s a good suggestion, I think Waltke’s solution ultimately fails.

    What it has done, however, is suggest to me how angelic sin could bring about judgement on humans (without solving all the other problems with that view). It does require reading into the passage, but every interpretation does to some degree.

    My thought is that if fallen angels took daughters of men as wives, then it would likely require acceptance on the part of fathers and perhaps even daughters. The fact that these Nephilim were “men of renown” indicates that these people were praised and honoured by humanity.

    Humans who are possessed by demons are morally culpable for the sin they commit while so influenced. How much more a society who has been so influenced that they accept fallen angels into their families and praise the offspring who, by the sounds of the judgement God handed down, were not praise-worthy at all.

    Hence, you have humans who are willingly influenced by the sins of fallen angels to extremes of sinfulness, where evil is spoken of as good and angelic enemies of God are openly accepted without repentance into society and households.

    So, I still lean toward the angelic interpretation, though I acknowledge difficulties still remain.


    • Thanks so much for your thoughts. Here are my thoughts about your thoughts:

      1. I do believe we have examples of demonic/human co-belligerents in the Bible, where humans are viewed as active participants in evil, not merely passive victims. John 13:27 comes to mind, as does 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 (cf. Revelation 12-13). I think the reason we see so many examples of demonic oppression of human victims is because most of the occurrences of demon possession in Scripture are found in the Gospels, where the purpose of the narrative is to show Jesus’ authority to cast out demons and deliver those oppressed by them. But Genesis 6, of course, is a different context altogether, and perhaps more aligned with the kind of rebellion we see in Judas and in the antichrist.

      2. I agree that the NT does not give us an indication that the “sons of God” are demon-possessed human rulers, and that is probably the weakest part of the Waltke view. But I regard the disadvantages of the other views as worse, so I am opting here for what I regard as the least bad option.

      Furthermore, I think the OT/NT dynamic entailed by the Waltke view is similar to what we see when we compare Psalm 104:4 in its original context with the quotation of Psalm 104:4 in Hebrews 1:7. The author of Hebrews draws a conclusion about angels based on the use of the word “messengers” in Psalm 104:4, which in its original context seems to refer, not to angels, but to the winds as God’s metaphorical “messengers.” However, the author of Hebrews, drawing on the term, could be making a valid theological point about the fact that God directs the winds, at least in part, through the agency of angels. Putting the two verses together, in other words, gives you a “surround sound” effect, producing a larger picture through synthesis than either passage delivers on its own. If we understand that God is the author of all Scripture, I don’t think this presents a hermeneutical problem.

      3. I do tend to agree that the sin of Noah’s day had reached an extreme level, but not because of Matthew 24:37. I think Jesus’ point there is simply to affirm that the coming judgment he is predicting will take the world by surprise, just as it did in the days of Noah, when people were living their daily lives (eating, drinking, marrying, giving in marriage) with no inclination that it was all about to be swept away.

      The extreme nature of the sin in Noah’s day is evident in Genesis 6:5, which seems to indicate that God had withdrawn the restraining power of common grace. The earth was ruled by demon-possessed tyrants who amassed harems for themselves and who, we can assume, had no regard for justice but ruled according to their own self-interest. The result would have been a widespread tribalism, a kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest,” leading to widespread violence and hostility. The structures of government established in the Noahic covenant of Gen. 9 (i.e., the institution of capital punishment) represents a new structure for the operation of God’s common grace in the restraint of sin. So, I do regard the time of Noah as unique, but not unique merely for the sake of demonic activity but rather demonic activity in the particular circumstances that created a Darwinian society.

      That is a good insight on the culpability of humans even on the purely angelic interpretation. However, I wonder if it coheres well with the language of verse 2, particularly the verb “took” and the phraseology that goes with it, which I read as implying the actions of a dominant male over a number of women.

      But then again, I am no Hebrew scholar, so I could be wrong.


      • My thoughts on your thoughts on my thoughts.

        Ok, I accept your point no.1.

        I accept your point no. 2 less, but I appreciate your argument. I guess I’d actually like something from the NT to support the contention that “Sons of God” has a dual referent. (I also would like to think about the Psalm 104:4 a bit more. On a quick reading, I don’t think a plain reading negates the use of angels in the original… but your point is still valid).

        It occurred to me that purely from a theological point of view, you could argue that the actions of fallen angels necessarily require human cooperation, and that there is no need for them to be rulers. Another question that arises for me is How would a demon possessed person father Nephilim? Do demons manipulate genes?

        As you have mentioned, Nephilim are not necessarily the children of the Sons of God, but I’m of the opinoin that they are.

        Still a mystery…


  2. Pingback: First mention of a solution against death 6 Authority given to the send one from God coming out of the woman – Messiah For All

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