Life, Hope & Truth

Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6?

Genesis 6 talks about the “sons of God” marrying and having children with “the daughters of men.” Were these “sons of God” angels or men? How can we know?

Genesis 6 has puzzled Bible readers and scholars for generations. In the early part of the chapter we read 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).

Who were these “sons of God”? Who were the “daughters of men”? What is the meaning of this unusual story? 

Some believe that the “sons of God” in this chapter were fallen angels who came down to earth and had sex with human women—producing a race of superhuman giants. Others even claim these were “aliens” that supposedly changed the human genetic code to produce a superrace.

These explanations might make for tantalizing science fiction. But are they true? Does the rest of the Bible support the idea that angels, or aliens, came to earth and reproduced with human women?

What is the correct understanding of the sons of God and daughters of men in Genesis 6?

Are the “sons of God” fallen angels?

One common explanation of Genesis 6 is that the “sons of God” are fallen angels or demons who came to earth and reproduced with human women. Is this interpretation correct?

People who believe this correctly point out that one-third of the angels did follow Lucifer and became demons (Revelation 12:4, 7) and that there are places in the Bible where angels are referred to as “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).

Angels are “sons of God” in the sense that they were directly created by God, but they are not “sons of God” in the sense of having the potential to live at God’s level of existence in His family. To learn more about this distinction, read the sidebar “Were You Born to Become an Angel?” on page 29 of our booklet God’s Purpose for You.

Even though it is true that there are fallen angels (demons) and that they are sometimes called “the sons of God,” is it possible that these beings could have married women and reproduced?

Ancient mythology is rife with strange stories of “gods” cohabiting with human beings. For instance, the Macedonian emperor Alexander the Great came to believe that he was the son of the Greek god Zeus.

However, the Bible is the only real authority on the spirit world. So does the Bible teach that angelic beings can marry and procreate with human women?

Jesus Christ answered this question directly during His ministry. A group of Sadducees tried to trip Him up by presenting Him with 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 they tried to get Him to answer was, Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?

The Sadducees did not actually believe in a resurrection from the dead; their real intention was to try to embarrass Christ. But Jesus’ response addressed their incorrect beliefs.

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, emphasis added).

Christ was saying that when people are resurrected and become spirit beings, they will be like the angels in the sense that they won’t be married or procreate. So, from Jesus’ own mouth, we know that angels do not marry.

It’s important to note that even though Jesus likened a certain aspect of resurrected spirit life to angelic life, human beings won’t become angels when they are resurrected. They will be spirit beings in the family of God and be above the angels (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; Hebrews 1:5-14). God’s glorified children will actually rule over angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

So the “sons of God” who married and reproduced with human women cannot be fallen angels because that would contradict the words of Jesus Christ.

In addition, the context of these verses in Genesis 6 proves that they are not speaking of angels. Notice who God was angry with for this: “And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh’” (verse 3, emphasis added). The subject of God’s disappointment was not angels or demons—it was human beings.

Beings can only reproduce with their own kind

An additional proof that the “sons of God” were not angels is the biblical principle that reproduction can only occur between creatures of the same kind.

In the book of Genesis, we read that God created everything “each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:24). This law is confirmed by science. Everything God created is able to reproduce only with others like it. For instance, canines can reproduce only with other canines, while human beings can reproduce only with other human beings.

Angels are not the same “kind” as human beings. Human beings were made in God’s image (verse 27). Angels were not created in God’s image. They were created to be servants—not children. Right now, human beings are made “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7), but they have the potential to be elevated above the angelic level.

The idea that angels or demons (nonhumans) could reproduce with human beings is impossible because it breaks this natural law God built into the created order.

Some would counter this point by suggesting that perhaps the angels inhabited, or possessed, human bodies and married and reproduced with human women through a human body. However, the biblical text does not say this. It is dangerous to read this kind of detail and speculation into the inspired text of Scripture.

Again, if this had been the case, God would have been angry at the angels, but the text clearly says He was angry at men (Genesis 6:3).

Who are the “giants” in Genesis 6?

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 gigantic superhuman beings. 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!

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

The root word for nephilim is naphal, which also carries the meaning of a fugitive, a person of a fallen and debased, or violent, character. Understanding the nephilim as violent people who oppressed others fits the context better than the interpretation that they were physical giants. They are also described as “mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (verse 4). “Mighty men” can also mean “warriors.” They were people who gained a reputation and fame for violently reigning over other people.

God would not be angry with people because of their physical height (which is outside of their control). But He can be angry with them because of their evil and violent character.

Could the “sons of God” be human beings?

Just as “sons of God” could refer to angels, who 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 passage 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.

Acts 17:26 also refers to all of humanity being of, in a sense, one family (“from one blood”)—because we are all made by God. There are other scriptures that refer to human beings as God’s children in a general sense (Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 43:6; Hosea 11:1).

So there is scriptural support for human beings to be referred to as “sons of God.”

Of course, human beings can also be referred to as “sons of God” in the sense of being converted and having God’s Spirit (Romans 8:14). But it’s very unlikely that Genesis 6 is referring to men as God’s sons in this sense.

Who were the “sons of God” of Genesis 6?

Now that we’ve seen that the “sons of God” can’t be angels or demons and that the term can describe human beings, we’re still left with the question: Who exactly were these “sons of God”?

We can’t give a dogmatic answer, since Genesis 6 doesn’t explain who they were in detail. But here are two possible explanations for the identity of these people:

  1. The “sons of God” were descendants of Seth.

Earlier in the book of Genesis, three sons of Adam and Eve are named: Abel, Cain and Seth. Abel was righteous, but was ruthlessly murdered by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:8). Cain went on to have children, and it seems that those who descended from him had a propensity for wickedness and evil (verses 17-24).

But after Abel’s death, Adam and Eve had another son named Seth (verse 25). It is in the context of discussing Seth’s descendants that we read, “Then men began to call on the name of the LORD” (verse 26). Genesis 5:21-24 tells us righteous Enoch was a descendant of Seth. Verses 28-29 also show that Noah was a descendant of Seth. It seems that among those in this family line, at least for a time, there may have been a greater propensity for fearing and trusting in God.

According to this explanation, the phrase sons of God refers to men of Seth’s line who became increasingly wicked and then began to intermarry with women of the line of Cain. The increasing wickedness of Seth’s descendants and their intermarriage with Cain’s progeny produced even greater violence and wickedness. By the time God decided to flood the earth and start over, Noah was the only righteous man remaining.

  1. The “sons of God” represented generally evil men.

According to this interpretation, “sons of God” refers to men in general who lived without any fear of God. These men were violent tyrants who married and procreated with women. This view sees “daughters of men” as a general term for women. The NKJV Study Bible states: “The term daughters clearly means female children of human parents. The daughters were simply women” (comments on Genesis 6:1).

These marriages not only defied God in some way, but also produced offspring that were raised with the same godless and violent tendencies. The multiplication of human beings who lived this way led to God’s looking down and seeing “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every thought of his heart was only evil continually” (verse 5).

Because of their increasingly wicked and evil ways, God made the decision to destroy men—not angels or demons—and restart humanity through Noah and his family (verse 8).

What is the meaning of Genesis 6?

We can’t be dogmatic about who the “sons of God” were and why these marriages to “the daughters of men” were so reprehensible to God. The Bible simply doesn’t give us enough details. But it does give us clues. We’ve covered two reasonable explanations above.

What we can dogmatically state is that these “sons of God” were not angels or demons who came to earth and reproduced with human women. This idea contradicts not only the words of Jesus Christ, but other clear biblical truths. Angels do not marry or reproduce. Even if they could, they are not of the human kind—hence they could not reproduce with human beings. God’s anger was with the wickedness of men, not angels or half-human and half-angelic 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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