In Genesis 6:1-4, what were the identities of the sons of God and daughters of men?
In Genesis 6:1-4 is an account that refers to the sons of God and the daughters of men. Many options have been suggested regarding the identities of these individuals, leading to much speculation regarding the true nature of those involved.
Three main views have emerged regarding the identities of these sons of God. First, some argue these "sons of God" were fallen angels. Second, others believe they were people who served as powerful human rulers. Third, still others suggest these people describe the godly descendants of Seth who intermarried with the ungodly descendants of Cain.
The evidence offered to argue that these beings were fallen angels is primarily based on the grammar of the phrase "sons of God." In the Old Testament, "sons of God" elsewhere refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). While this offers evidence for the "sons of God" as fallen angels, there are two main problems with this theory. First, Matthew 22:30 notes that angels do not marry. Those who argue for this position realize this but suggest Genesis 6 is different since these would be fallen angels and that Matthew 22:30 refers to marriage in heaven. Second, and a more important concern, is that just because other places in the Bible use "sons of God" to refer to angels does not require that the same usage is necessary here. The larger context must also be taken into account, a context that seems to suggest sin taking place among humans, not angels.
Another question is whether angels can even appear in human form and produce offspring. Proponents of this view cite the example of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to have sex with the two angels who were with Lot, though such physical acts did not take place (Genesis 19:1-5). Also, an angel appeared in human form in Mark 16:5.
The second view that suggests these "sons of God" and "daughters of men" refers to relationships involving powerful human rulers fits the context. However, there remains the difficulty of how their children would become "Nephilim," a term that could mean either giants or men of old or even men of renown.
The third view suggests these "sons of God" and "daughters of men" refer to marriages between the godly family line of Seth and the ungodly family line of Cain, who had killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4). This could also fit the context, yet also does not easily account for children who would become giants or men of renown. In addition, there was never a direct command for Seth's descendants to avoid marriage with the family descendants of Cain.
Another concern is the phrase in Genesis 6:4 that, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown." Whoever these Nephilim were, they also continued for some time, likely after the global flood of Noah's era. In Numbers 13:33 we find: "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." The focus here is on the physical height of these Nephilim.
While there is no perfect scenario that accounts for all of the above factors, a case can be made for human offspring who were known for their great height (as Numbers 13:33 emphasizes). These offspring were mentioned in Genesis 6 as those who lived in sin against God while also having special physical features that were noted. This is also consistent with Numbers 13 that discusses the Nephilim as very tall people who lived in rebellion to God's ways.
Again, there appears to be no perfect explanation at present that encompasses all details of this age-old debate, yet any of these three options could encompass an explanation that served as the background to God's judgment upon the earth through a flood.
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