Life, Hope & Truth

Sons of God in Genesis 6: Who Are They?

Who were the “sons of God”? Was the earth visited by aliens? Did fallen angels—spirit beings—cohabit with women and produce a race of “superhumans”?

Genesis 6 contains a phrase that has puzzled both readers of the Bible and scholars for generations. It says 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 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” (Genesis 6:2, 4, emphasis added throughout).

Who were these mysterious-sounding “sons of God”? What does this unusual story mean?

This is a much-debated passage, as the following comment from The NKJV Study Bible illustrates:

“This passage is one of the most debated in the OT. Three principal interpretations are: (1) The sons of God represent the godly line of Seth, and the daughters of men represent the ungodly line of Cain; their intermarriage led to apostasy, compromise, and sin. (2) The sons of God are powerful kings who practiced an enforced polygamy by taking wives of all whom they chose leading to other wicked practices. (3) The sons of God are fallen angels who cohabited with human women (the daughters of men), producing offspring that were tyrants” (2007, comments on Genesis 6:1-4).

Some even claim the involvement of “aliens” that supposedly changed the human genetic code to produce a superrace.

Fallen angels

Could the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 be fallen angels or demons? (According to verses 4 and 7 of Revelation 12, Satan led a rebellion against God and His righteous angels, during which the devil persuaded one-third of the angelic realm to join him. These “fallen angels” became demons.) You can find speculation about fallen angels in numerous writings.

God created the angels, making them, in a sense, “sons of God.” Job’s writings confirm this. In Job 1:6 and 2:1 “sons of God” clearly refers to angels, both righteous angels and demons for Satan was among the assembly.

Job 38:7 also refers to angels as “sons of God,” rejoicing at the creation of the world. In neither example could “sons of God” refer to humans, for no human could literally appear before God’s heavenly throne. And, in the second instance, humans had yet to be created!

Therefore, one way the Bible uses “sons of God” is to refer to angels. But could angels have married women and reproduced?

Ancient mythology is rife with weird claims of “gods” cohabiting with humans. Not surprisingly, in this world fascinated with the supernatural, there are countless books, movies and Internet sites that play on the same theme. Caution! You will not find the truth in any of these resources! In fact, they are guaranteed to mislead you.

The Bible is the sole authority on the spirit world. It may surprise you to learn that Christ Himself put to rest the question of whether spirits could “marry” or otherwise cohabit with humans. The answer is no. Presented with a trick question meant to trip Him up, Jesus pointed out the ignorance of His questioners. A group of Sadducees presented a ridiculous scenario in which a woman, following the levirate law found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, ends up marrying seven brothers, when one after another dies. The question: Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?

Now, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection; their only intention in asking this question was to try to embarrass Christ.

Jesus settles the question!

Jesus answered, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Mark 12:24-25). Resurrected righteous humans will be spirit beings (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)—even above angels (Hebrews 1:5-14).

Christ declared that the resurrected saints would not marry! And in the same answer He clearly showed that angels do not marry! Angels do not procreate. They are created beings.

In addition, the context of Genesis 6 proves that it was not speaking of spirit beings. “And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh’” (Genesis 6:3). The subject was human beings, not demons and not aliens.

What about “giants”?

In their rush to read some exotic meaning into the Bible, some seize upon the word “giants” in Genesis 6:4. From this one word, they extrapolate the idea of marriages that produced a race of “superhumans.” But read the verse carefully! “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.” The marriages of Genesis 6 did not bring the “giants” into existence. They already existed!

The Hebrew word translated “giants” is nephilim. Gigantism is not strange or unique; there are people of unusually large stature today. But there may be even more we can glean by studying this word. Strong’s Concordance offers alternate translations of “a bully or a tyrant.” The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, adds: “The term in Hebrew implies not so much the idea of great stature as of reckless ferocity, impious and daring characters, who spread devastation and carnage far and wide.”

In other words, nephilim could refer not only to size, but also to character. These “giants” could have been violent bullies who oppressed people. Certainly, they were not righteous men, for their character was far from godly.

The root word for Nephilim is napal, which also carries the meaning of a fugitive. Certainly this would fit well with the understanding that there were people in ancient times who were far from God.

Humans as “sons of God”

Just as angels were sons of God by creation, the phrase could also refer to humans. This logically follows the point from Genesis 6:3 made above, that this segment is talking about human beings.

An Old Testament example of this can be found in Malachi 2:10, which speaks of humanity having one Father—another way of saying that all humans are the “sons of God.” Luke 3:38 calls Adam “the son of God,” implying that Adam was God’s son by creation.

There is yet a third meaning the Bible gives to “sons of God,” people who become the spiritual sons of God through conversion. Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:14). This meaning is confirmed in many references, including Galatians 3:26; Matthew 5:9; and Romans 9:26. There are also several references to humans becoming God’s children through conversion (John 1:12; 11:52; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:16-17, 21; and Philippians 2:15).

Sons of Seth, righteous sons of God?

Were the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 converted people, the descendants of a righteous Seth? There are problems with this interpretation too. First, examine the brief comment the Bible makes about this in Genesis 4:26, “And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.” First, the Bible does not say which men began to call on the name of the LORD. It would be an assumption to deduce that these were the descendants of Seth.

Second, the phrase “call on the name of the LORD” does not mean that they called themselves “sons of God.” The NKJV Study Bible comments: “These words can hardly mean that only now did people begin to pray to God. Rather, the verb call means ‘to make proclamation.’ That is, this is the beginning of preaching, of witnessing, and testifying in the name of the Lord (12:8)” (comments on Genesis 4:26).

The word for “giants” implies bullying and violence and not being subject to God.A third problem is the assumption that if Seth and even some of his offspring were righteous, that all were righteous. That simply is not realistic. Even in the Church age, when the Holy Spirit became available to individuals, the children and grandchildren of a righteous person make their own decisions about whether to worship God. Some offspring of righteous people choose the pathway that leads to their conversion, whereas others choose the way of this world.

The fourth problem with this theory is what the context of Genesis 6 portrays—an environment filled with behavior so coarse and contrary to God’s way of life that He was in the process of deciding to eradicate all humankind, save for Noah and part of his family! Assuming that “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4 were righteous men is inconsistent with the context.

The likely meaning of Genesis 6:4

The context shows that God was fed up with human behavior (Genesis 6:3). The word for “giants” implies bullying and violence and not being subject to God. There is no special significance to the words “the daughters of men.” The NKJV Study Bible comments: “The term daughters clearly means female children of human parents. The daughters were simply women” (comments on Genesis 6:1).

Verse 5 continues the same theme: “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.” This is all leading up to the conclusion of God sending a flood to wipe out all of humankind except for Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives. God was ready to start over with the human race through Noah’s family.

The New English Translation lends further clarity: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this) when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.” In whatever way they were defying God by these marriages, their attitude was one of cockiness; their children were famous, held up as heroes, because they were born to parents who defied God. That is so like today, when famous people are often idolized for their outlandish and hedonistic behavior.

Given all of the facts about Genesis 6, the most reasonable conclusion about the meaning of verse 4 is that these marriages were further acts of defiance against God’s will. There is no evidence of supernatural beings marrying humans or of a race of half-human and half-spirit beings!

About the Author

Phil Sandilands

Phil Sandilands

Phil Sandilands was born and raised in Indiana. After high school he moved to Pasadena, California, to attend Ambassador College. He married Marlys Strommen after graduating in 1981 and together they have two children and two granddaughters.

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