Who are the Sons of God? (Genesis 6)
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There’s a fascinating and mysterious story in Genesis chapter 6 that has been the subject of much debate and conjecture. It concerns the increase of the human population in the ancient world. Verses 2 and 4 are particularly intriguing:
“The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose…The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” The following few verses describe why God decided to judge the ancient world with a flood. There’s nothing to suggest the two stories are linked.
Who were these Nephilim that were on the earth before and after the Flood? They pop up again in Numbers 13:33, “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Nephilim is from the Hebrew word “Naphal,” which refers to bullies and tyrants. Nephilim is translated as “giants” in KJV. The author of this part of Genesis tells us they were the heroes [powerful men] of old, men of renown (infamous or base). These giants appear to be the offspring of sexual relations between the sons of God and the daughters of humans.
The Sons of God
There are several theories as to who these sons of God are:
- The sons of God are angels that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
- The sons of God are demons that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
- Demons are the spirits of the Nephilim that perished in the Flood. Because they were part human, they are restricted to the earth, continuing to create havoc.
- The sons of God are extra-terrestrials that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
- The sons of God are human men who had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
- Genesis 6 is an ancient myth, a story to teach truth (parable).
The first four appear far-fetched and unbiblical, so I’ll go for either options 5 & 6 for the following reasons:
- God has created each species to procreate after their kind (not people and angels). Incubus, demons posing as men and having sex with women, and succubus, demons posing as women and having sex with men, is the stuff of legend.
- Nowhere does the Bible call demons “sons of God.” The phrase refers either to angels or people, as in “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
- Angels don’t marry and have intercourse or procreate. Jesus taught, “At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
- 10,000 years ago, men’s average height was 162 cm (5′ 4″). But there would have been exceptions, but to little men (by today’s standards), a man of 190 cm would appear to be a giant. Maybe these men called “sons of God” were physically exceptional. The Bible says they chose any woman they wanted. It figures they would have selected outstanding women.
As for option 6. It’s important to realise that the content of Genesis chapters 1 to 11 are classed as “memory.” In the ancient world, there was no writing. Stories were transmitted orally from one generation to another. Imagine a primitive nomadic tribe sitting around a campfire at night, entertaining themselves by telling their much-loved stories. It wasn’t until 1200 BCE that Jewish scribes decided they should begin to write the stories down ~ a process that took one thousand years.
Modern Day Learnings
And here we are in the twenty-first century, reading these accounts and trying to work out exactly what was happening. No wonder there’s so much discussion and conjecture.
My rabbi friend tells me that to Jews, Genesis 1-11 are “stories chock full of truth with little factual evidence.” I prefer the word “parable.” They are stories that communicate truth.
And why would we find this so strange? We have our own stories that are told and retold over decades and centuries. Our stories are entertaining and keep memories alive. We have no problem with accounts being changed to be appropriate to different people for various purposes.
How Stories Change
Consider the Titanic as an example. The first film, “Saved from the Titanic,” is a 1912 American silent motion picture short starring Dorothy Gibson, an American film actress who survived the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.
The first sound film was released in 1929 and was a highly fictionalised account. The 1933 movie, Cavalcade, featured two fictional main characters who perish in the sinking. The 1943 film, Titanic, was a German Nazi propaganda film.
In 1953 Titanic centred on an estranged couple sailing on the ill-fated ship. The 1958 film “A night to remember” was historically accurate, unlike “The unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), which was a musical.
1992’s “Titanica” was a documentary on the discovery and exploration of the wreck. Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy narrated. We remember 1997’s Titanic, which combined a romantic myth (Jack and Rose) with some characters based on historical figures. Since that time, a further 6 movies have been made, plus numerous documentaries.
Imagine someone in a few thousand years trying to make sense of the Titanic story with all those resources. That’s how we look back to the ancient world and attempt to understand precisely what was going on.
Today’s stories are in many forms (books, streaming, radio, newspapers, internet, television, and social media). In the ancient world, storytelling was the most used form of entertainment. It was all truth-telling, keeping collective memories alive, speaking into where the community was at any given time, and answering questions about why something happened.
The Western mind gets bogged down on details. For example, the flood ~ did it happen, was it worldwide, when did it occur, is Noah’s ark still on Mount Ararat, how did all those animals live on an ark for all that time, where did they store the food? The Hebrew mind asks who are the people in the story and what are they doing? Is this terminology used anywhere else in the scriptures? What does this mean to me today?
My Rabbi friend says, “We spend time in “that” world, and it gives us a fresh perspective on “this world.” In Scripture, we enjoy holy spiritual moments that we carry back to our everyday lives.