Who are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4? By Jack Kettler
“And it came to pass when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men, which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:1-5)
Three main views of the text:
1. They were fallen angels or demons.
2. They were powerful and even tyrannical human rulers.
3. They were godly descendants of Seth intermarrying with wicked descendants of Cain.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, and commentary evidence for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.
The first view has a long history of support for the position.
However, in light of Christ’s teaching on marriage, and others it is becoming increasingly problematic.
For example, Jesus says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). The text from Matthew seemingly rules out the first view, because angels are spiritual beings (Hebrews 1:13-14) and this is problematic for reproduction with humans. To support this problem for the first view, we know that God is a spirit and does not have a body. See John 4:24 and Luke 24:39. Hence, angels, spiritual beings do not have bodies of flesh and bones although at times they have appeared in human form. See (Gen. 19:1-22).
In the next passage from the book of Hebrews sets angels and men apart into two different groups.
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)
Therefore, it can be deduced; women are human beings, and angels are spirit beings. Angels and women are two different kinds of created beings. According to Genesis, each kind reproduces after its kind. See (Genesis 1:24). Angels do not reproduce sexually and cannot with humans.
The second view that “the sons of God” are powerful human rulers or even tyrants has scriptural merit.
For example, the phrase “sons of God” is understood as referring to actual humans in some passages:
“You are the ‘sons of the LORD’ your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead.” (Deuteronomy 14:1 ESV)
“For in Christ Jesus, you are all ‘sons of God,’ through faith.” (Galatians 3:26 ESV)
These two above texts make it impossible to conclude that “sons of God” must always be angels. Therefore, the second view is entirely possible.
The third view that the “sons of God” are the Godly line of Seth has the advantage of being consistent with the theme of God’s warning His people of idolatry throughout history.
When the Israelite intermarried with pagans, these marriages brought the temptation of the Israelite people to follow other gods or idolatry. This ungodly intermarriage happened in Israel’s history.
Consider God’s warnings:
“And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.” (Exodus 34:16)
“Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2Corinthians 6:14)
Who exactly are the “sons of God” we read about in verse Genesis 6:4?
From Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament we learn:
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: these are the heroes (הגּבּרים) who from the olden time (מעולם, as in Psalm 25:6; 1Samuel 27:8) are the men of name” (i.e., noted, renowned or notorious men). נפילים, from נפל to fall upon (Job 1:15; Joshua 11:7), signifies the invaders (ἐπιπίπτοντες Aq., βιαῖοι Sym.). Luther gives the correct meaning, “tyrants:” they were called Nephilim because they fell upon the people and oppressed them.
(Note: The notion that the Nephilim were giants, to which the Sept. rendering γίγαντες has given rise, was rejected even by Luther as fabulous. He bases his view upon Joshua 11:7: “Nephilim non dictos a magnitudine corporum, sicut Rabbini putant, sed a tyrannide et oppressione quod vi grassati sint, nulla habita ratione legum aut honestatis, sed simpliciter indulgentes suis voluptatibus et cupiditatibus.” The opinion that giants are intended derives no support from Numbers 13:32-33. When the spies describe the land of Canaan as “a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof,” and then add (Numbers 13:33), “and there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak among (מן lit., from, out of, in a partitive sense) the Nephilim,” by the side of whom they were as grasshoppers; the term Nephilim cannot signify giants, since the spies not only mention them especially along with the inhabitants of the land, who are described as people of great stature, but single out only a portion of the Nephilim as “sons of Anak” ענק בּני), i.e., long-necked people or giants. The explanation “fallen from heaven” needs no refutation; inasmuch as the main element, “from heaven,” is a purely arbitrary addition.)
The meaning of the verse is a subject of dispute. To an unprejudiced mind, the words, as they stand, represent the Nephilim, who were on the earth in those days, as existing before the sons of God began to marry the daughters of men, and clearly distinguish them from the fruits of these marriages. היוּ can no more be rendered “they became, or arose,” in this connection, than היה in Genesis 1:2. ויּהיוּ would have been the proper word. The expression “in those days” refers most naturally to the time when God pronounced the sentence upon the degenerate race; but it is so general and comprehensive a term, that it must not be confined exclusively to that time, not merely because the divine sentence was first pronounced after these marriages were contracted, and the marriages, if they did not produce the corruption, raised it to that fulness of iniquity which was ripe for the judgment, but still more because the words “after that” represent the marriages which drew down the judgment as an event that followed the appearance of the Nephilim. “The same were mighty men:” this might point back to the Nephilim; but it is a more natural supposition, that it refers to the children born to the sons of God. “These,” i.e., the sons sprung from those marriages, “are the heroes, those renowned heroes of old.”
Now if, according to the simple meaning of the passage, the Nephilim were in existence at the very time when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, the appearance of the Nephilim cannot afford the slightest evidence that the “sons of God” were angels, by whom a family of monsters were begotten, whether demigods, daemons, or angel-men.
(Note: How thoroughly irreconcilable the contents of this verse are with the angel-hypothesis is evident from the strenuous efforts of its supporters to bring them into harmony with it. Thus, in Reuter’s Repert., p. 7, Del. observes that the verse cannot be rendered in any but the following manner: “The giants were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards, when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, these they bare to them, or rather, and these bare to them;” but, for all that, he gives this as the meaning of the words, “At the time of the divine determination to inflict punishment the giants arose, and also afterwards, when this unnatural connection between super-terrestrial and human beings continued, there arose such giants;” not only substituting “arose” for “were,” but changing “when they connected themselves with them” into “when this connection continued.” Nevertheless he is obliged to confess that “it is strange that this unnatural connection, which I also suppose to be the intermediate cause of the origin of the giants, should not be mentioned in the first clause of Genesis 6:4.” This is an admission that the text says nothing about the origin of the giants being traceable to the marriages of the sons of God, but that the commentators have been obliged to insert it in the text to save their angel marriages. Kurtz has tried three different explanations of this verse but they are all opposed to the rules of the language.) (1) In the History of the Old Covenant he gives this rendering: “Nephilim were on earth in these days, and that even after the sons of God had formed connections with the daughters of men;” in which he not only gives to גּם the unsupportable meaning, “even, just,” but takes the imperfect יבאוּ in the sense of the perfect בּאוּ. (2) In his Ehen der Sצhne Gottes (p. 80) he gives the choice of this and the following rendering: “The Nephilim were on earth in those days, and also after this had happened, that the sons of God came to the daughters of men and begat children,” were the ungrammatical rendering of the imperfect as the perfect is artfully concealed by the interpolation of “after this had happened.” (3) In “die Sצhne Gottes,” p. 85: “In these days and also afterwards, when the sons of God came (continued to come) to the daughters of men, they bare to them (sc., Nephilim),” where יבאוּ, they came, is arbitrarily altered into לבוא יוסיפוּ, they continued to come. But when he observes in defence of this quid pro quo, that “the imperfect denotes here, as Hengstenberg has correctly affirmed, and as so often is the case, an action frequently repeated in past times,” this remark only shows that he has neither understood the nature of the usage to which H. refers, nor what Ewald has said (136) concerning the force and use of the imperfect.)” (1)
From the Pulpit Commentary on verse Genesis 6:4 we read:
“Verse 4. – There were. Not became, or arose, as if the giants were the fruit of the previously mentioned misalliances; but already existed contemporaneously with the sons of God (cf. Keil, Havernick, and Lange). Giants. Nephilim, from naphal, to fall; hence supposed to describe the offspring of the daughters of men and the fallen angels (Hoffman, Delitzsch). The LXX, translate by γίγαντες; whence the “giants” of the A.V. and Vulgate, which Luther rejects as fabulous; but Kalisch, on the strength of Numbers 13:33, accepts as the certain import of the term. More probable is the interpretation which understands them as men of violence, roving, lawless gallants, “who fall on others;” robbers, or tyrants (Aquila, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Luther, Calvin, Kurtz, Keil, Murphy, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). That they were “monsters, prodigies” (Tueh, Knobel), may be rejected, though it is not unlikely they were men of large physical stature, like the Anakim, Rephaim, and others (cf. Numbers 13:33). In the earth. Not merely on it, but largely occupying the populated region. In those days. Previously referred to, i.e. of the mixed marriages. And also – i.e. in addition to these nephilim – after that, – i.e. after their up-rising – when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men. Ha’gibborim, literally, the strong, impetuous, heroes (cf. Genesis 10:8). “They were probably more refined in manners and exalted in thought than their predecessors of pure Cainite descent” (Murphy). Which were of old. Not “of the world,” as a note of character, taking olam as equivalent αἰὼν to but a note of time, the narrator reporting from his own standpoint. Men of renown. Literally, men of the name; “the first nobility of the world, honorable robbers, who boasted of their wickedness” (Calvin) or gallants, whose names were often in men’s mouths (Murphy). For contrary phrase, “men of no name,” see Job 30:8.” (2)
As seen, both Luther and Calvin were convinced the second view were powerful tyrannical rulers.
“Sons of God” from the Fausset Bible Dictionary:
“Son of Lamech, grandson of Methuselah; tenth from Adam in Seth’s line. In contrast to the Cainite Lamech’s boast of violence with impunity, the Sethite Lamech, playing on Noah’s (“rest”) name, piously looks for “comfort” (nachum) through him from Jehovah who had “cursed the ground.” (See LAMECH.) At 500 years old Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The phrase, “these are the generations of Noah” (Genesis 6:9) marks him as the patriarch of his day. The cause of the flood is stated Genesis 6:1-3, etc. “The sons of God (the Sethites, adopted by grace, alone keeping themselves separate from the world’s defilements, ‘called by the name of Jehovah’ as His sons: Genesis 4:26 margin, or as KJV; while the Cainites by erecting a city and developing worldly arts were laying the foundation for the kingdom of this world, the Sethites by unitedly ‘calling on Jehovah’s name’ founded the church made up of God’s children, Galatians 3:26) saw the daughters of men (Cainites) and they took them wives of all which they chose” (fancy and lust, instead of the fear of God, being their ruling motive).” (3)
The Fausset Bible Dictionary supports the third view that there was an intermingling of the Cainites and the Sethites.
What does the word giant mean in verse Genesis 6:4?
From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on giants in verse 4:
“4. Giants – 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.” (4)
Giants are incidental in the texts, and has no bearing on the identity of “sons of God.”
Modern commentary entries:
Who were the “sons of God” by Trevor J. Major?
“Instead, the overall context suggests that the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” exist as an antithetical parallelism, and refer to the godly Sethites (Genesis 4:26) and worldly Cainites (4:11), respectively. The un-sanctioned and improperly motivated marriages between these two groups (6:2) led to the total moral breakdown of the existing world order (6:5), the exception among them being Noah and his family (6:8).” (5)
Who Were The Nephilim by R. Daly?
“Genesis 6:4 says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they gave birth to children by them. These were heroes of old, the men of renown.”
Nephilim is the “translation” or rather transliteration (bringing over the letters of one language to another; in this instance from Hebrew in to English) that we find in the ASV, RSV, NIV, TANAKH, NRSV, NET, ESV, and TNIV. The reason they transliterate is, there is some uncertainty as to the meaning of the Hebrew word. Efforts to interpret the Hebrew word Ne’pilim go back at least as far as the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX translator(s) uses the Greek words
hoi gigantes twice in the text. According to the Greek-English Lexicon Of The Septuagint, Revised Edition, complied by J. Lust, E. Eynikel, and K. Hauspie, page 120, gigantes means “giant, mighty one.”
The likely reason that both the LXX and the KJV translate Ne’ pelim as “giants” is the fact that Num. 13:33 indicates the Ne’pelim, associated with the sons of Anak were men of imposing stature. The context makes that clear. The spies said, “…all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” There is no certainty that the description of the Ne’pilim in Num. 13:33 applies to Gen. 6:4.
Actually, there is a growing scholarly consensus that Ne’pelim means “fallen ones.” The Dictionary Of Classical Hebrew, edited by David J.A. Clines, published by Sheffield Academic Press, volume 5, page 723, “giant” is given as a meaning, but he adds, “perhaps fallen ones, i.e. dead.” Some have assumed they were fallen angels who cohabited with women and produced sort of a superhuman race. The evidence for this view is as strong as the evidence that there are snowflakes on the sun. First, the expression “sons of God” probably refers to the righteous people who “walked with God” (Gen. 4:26; 5:22, 24; 6:9) The “daughters of men” seem to have been worldly, ungodly women driven by materialism, lust, and greed. (Isa. 3:16-4:1) Based on the context, since Gen. 6:1-4 immediately follows the genealogical lists of Cain and Seth, it is most likely that “the sons of God” are the righteous descendants of Seth (Gen. 4:25-5:32),
and “the daughters of men” are the descendants of Cain. (Gen. 4:17-24) Second, we can be sure that Gen. 6 is not describing sexual relations between fallen angels and humans because Jesus taught that angels have no such inclination or capability. (Matt. 22:30) Furthermore, the descendants of the union of the “sons of God” and “the daughters of men” are called “men of renown” (‘anse hassem). They were human beings, mortals, not part angel and part human. They were mere men.
It seems therefore, that the Nephilim were men who had fallen into moral corruption. They were notorious for their wickedness. They were oppressors and as the result of their incorrigibly wicked state, Yahweh would bring catastrophic global destruction upon the human race, except for righteous Noah and his family.” (6)
Did Demons Have Sexual Relations with Women in Genesis 6:4? By Hank Hanegraaff
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:4
Genesis 6:4 is one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. As with any difficult section of Scripture, it has been open to a wide variety of interpretations. It is my conviction, however, that those who hold consistently to a Biblical worldview must reject the notion that women and demons can engage in sexual relations. I reject this interjection of pagan superstition into the Scriptures for the following reasons.
First and foremost, the notion that demons can “produce” real bodies and have real sex with real women would invalidate Jesus’ argument for the authenticity of His resurrection. Jesus assured His disciples that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39, NKJV). If indeed a demon could produce flesh and bones, Jesus’ argument would not only be flawed, it would be misleading. In fact, it might be logically argued that the disciples did not see the post-resurrection appearances of Christ but rather a demon masquerading as the resurrected Christ.
Furthermore, demons are nonsexual, nonphysical beings and, as such, are incapable of having sexual relations and producing physical offspring. To say that demons can create bodies with DNA and fertile sperm is to say that demons have creative power — which is an exclusively divine prerogative. If demons could have sex with women in ancient times, we would have no assurance they could not do so in modern times. Nor would we have any guarantee that the people we encounter every day are fully human. While a Biblical worldview does allow for fallen angels to possess unsaved human beings, it does not support the notion that a demon-possessed person can produce offspring that are part-demon, part-human. Genesis 1 makes it clear that all of God’s living creations are designed to reproduce “according to their own kinds.”
Finally, the mutant theory creates serious questions pertaining to the spiritual accountability of hypothetical demon-humans and their relation to humanity’s redemption. Angels rebelled individually, are judged individually, and are offered no plan of redemption in Scripture. On the other hand, humans fell corporately in Adam, are judged corporately in Adam, and are redeemed corporately through Jesus Christ. We have no Biblical way of determining what category the demon-humans would fit into — whether they would be judged as angels or as men, or more significantly, whether they might even be among those for whom Christ died. I believe the better interpretation is that “sons of God” simply refers to the godly descendants of Seth, and “daughters of men” to the ungodly descendants of Cain. Their cohabitation caused humanity to fall into such utter depravity that God said, “ ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:7-8).” (8)
The three modern commentators provide compelling reasons to accept the third view. However, it should be noted that the second view and third views are not necessarily in conflict. If Luther and Calvin are correct, these “tyrant” rulers were not godly and would be fundamentally no different from the Cainites.
“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (1Corinthians 10:7)
“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1Corinthians 10:14)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
1. Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Genesis, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 137-138.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol.1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 103.
3. Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, 1878.
4. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 22.
5. Trevor J. Major, M.Sc., M.A., THE MEANING OF “SONS OF GOD” IN GENESIS 6:1-4 by Apologetics Press, Montgomery, Alabama), p. 9.
6. R. Daly, Who Were The Nephilim? Exegetical Essays, (Indianapolis, Indiana, http://exegeticalessays.blogspot.com/)
7. Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, 2008), pp. 480-482.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
For more study:
A RESPONSE TO CHUCK MISSLER Who Are the Sons of God in Genesis 6? http://richardghowe.com/…/WhoAretheSonsofGodinGenesisSix.pdf