Jul 22, 2010

Sons of God and Daughters of Men

Tony Garland

Dr. Tony Garland

Q. I don't know how you feel/or what you think about the 'sons of God' issue in Genesis 6:1,... As you know there are 2 [predominant] beliefs about who these 'sons of God' are. If you would be so kind, would you let me know which belief you hold?

[I hold the view that the text indicates that the 'sons of God' are fallen angels] but I can't come to grips with the chromosome issue. Simple possession of human males would not create the Nephilim described in the bible, so how is it that angels are able to produce sperm? This is where my question lies. Either God, as part of His grand plan, would have had to create them such; or Satan in some sort of distorted creative ability would had to have done it. As far as the later concept is concerned, Satan, by his evil nature, did 'create' many things not in existence prior, i.e. death, evil, sin, illness, etc. Somehow this tainted fallen angelic seed was able to join with human female eggs to create these creatures.

Please respond back with your thoughts on the chromosome issue, which is my stumbling block to what I believe the Bible teaches.

Sons of God

The "Sons of God"

A. As bizarre as it might seem, it is my belief that both the language and context of Genesis 6, along with related passages (e.g., Jude) clearly indicate that the phrase 'sons of God' there can only refer to angelic beings who were able to produce offspring with 'daughters of men' which the passage implies were 'mighty men of old, men of renown' and which are denoted 'giants' ('nephilim' from the Hebrew for 'fallen ones').

Some who oppose this interpretation offer Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:24 as evidence that angels do not procreate—with which we would agree: elect angels do not procreate. Neither are they given in marriage. Note that this teaching also applies to glorified humans in heaven. But before their arrival in heaven, humans are able to procreate. Thus, the activities and restrictions upon beings in their elect glorification in heaven, need not apply to every possibility in other situations. That it is possible for some of the most malevolently destructive and perverse beings in all creation—fallen angels—to go after 'strange flesh', Jude seems to make abundantly clear:

And the [angels (masculine plural)] who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as [Sodom (neuter plural)] and [Gomorrah (feminine singular)], and the [cities (feminine plural)] around them in a similar manner to [these (masculine plural)], [having given themselves over to sexual immorality (feminine plural)] and [gone after (feminine plural)] strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 1:6-7).

I discuss the implications of this passage from Jude in my commentary on Revelation concerning Revelation chapter 9 and verse 1. Notice the genders of nouns, pronouns, and participles which establish the following associations:

  • masculine plural = angels, these
  • feminine plural = cities, the ones given over to sexual immorality, the ones who went after strange flesh

Jude seems to be teaching that Sodom, Gomorrah and the related cities went after strange flesh in a manner comparable to the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode and are now reserved for the judgment of the great day. These particular angels must have performed some especially heinous crime comparable to the homosexuality recorded of Sodom—a profane act which crosses sexual boundaries established by God's created order.

Calvin, in his commentary on Jude 7, argues that the male pronoun these refers to the male inhabitants of the cities, not the angels. But the participles which refer to the actions of the cities inhabitants—'having given themselves over to sexual immorality' and 'going after strange flesh'—are in the feminine plural. It seems more consistent that the male plural pronoun refers to the angels while the feminine plural participles refer to the cities (and by inference, their inhabitants).

The sons of God, identified elsewhere almost exclusively as angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), saw and took wives of the human race. This produced an unnatural union which violated the God-ordained order of human marriage and procreation (Gen. 2:24). Some have argued that the sons of God were the sons of Seth who cohabited with the daughters of Cain; others suggest they were perhaps human kings wanting to build harems. But the passage puts strong emphasis on the angelic vs. human contrast. The NT places this account in sequence with other Genesis events and identifies it as involving fallen angels who indwelt men (see notes on 2 Pet. 2:4,5; Jude 6). Matthew 22:30 does not necessarily negate the possibility that angels are capable of procreation, but just that they do not marry. To procreate physically, they had to possess human, male bodies. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed., Ge 6:2 (Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997).

Those who hold the view that Genesis 6:1 is merely teaching natural human offspring between a godly line of men and ungodly line of women are unable to convincingly explain numerous aspects of the teaching:

  • The use of the phrase 'sons of God' in the Old Testament to denote angelic beings.

    The first key phrase is, "sons of God." The term "sons of God" is a general term which means "to be brought into existence by God's creative act." Because the term carries this meaning, it is used very selectively. Throughout the Old Testament the term "sons of God" is always used of angels. This is very clear when the usages of the term are compared in the Old Testament. Elsewhere, the term is used in Job 1:6; 2:1, and 38:7. No one debates that the other places where "sons of God" is found in the Old Testament clearly refer to angels. But some want to make Genesis 6:1–4 the one exception, and there is simply no warrant for making an exception here. (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology : A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah, 118 (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998).

  • Why relations between human men and women would result in offspring with unusual physical characteristics (e.g., considered to be mighty 'giants;' Num. 13:33) as inferred by the text.
  • Related passages in Jude and Peter which refer to angels who, at the time of the Flood, participated in a particularly heinous act which are compared with 'going after strange flesh'—the homosexual acts of those in Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities.

In short, I find the disturbing witness of the text consistent on this matter whereas the idea that 'sons of God' denotes a godly Sethite line while 'daughters of men' refers to an ungodly line of woman an unnatural explanation which is brought to the text in an attempt to reinterpret it.

By the former [son's of God] is meant the family of Seth, who were professedly religious; by the latter [daughters of men], the descendants of apostate Cain. Mixed marriages between parties of opposite principles and practice were necessarily sources of extensive corruption. The women, religious themselves, would as wives and mothers exert an influence fatal to the existence of religion in their household, and consequently the people of that later age sank to the lowest depravity. (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., Ge 6:2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

It is my view that the 'line of Seth' explanation, is not derived from the text itself, but comes about primarily out of an unwillingness to accept the disturbing possibilities related in the passage.

That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious. (John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries: Genesis, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries, Ge 6:1.

When approaching Scripture, we want to let the text speak for itself. Even when it describes things which we cannot explain or understand (e.g., Predestination, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Hypostatic Union). Context, grammar, and the teaching of related passages should have priority over alternative ideas not mentioned in the text.

"Strange Flesh"

Regarding the issue of how the angels could reproduce with human women, I would certainly agree that this is not a simple issue! There are complex questions raised when taking these passages at their face value. One possibility which is offered is that of angelic possession of men. But this doesn't seem to do justice to the physical results (e.g., Nephilim—assuming they are the offspring as implied by their mention). It may even be that the text, in explaining important reasons for the judgment of the flood and revealing the incredible depravity of corrupt humanity, raises as many (or more) questions than it answers!

I don't struggle over the possibility that malevolent beings with great powers could achieve what is described. It is clear throughout scripture that there are numerous situations in which God allows evil agents great latitude in their attempt to thwart His plans. God could step in at any moment and completely rid creation of all sin—yet He chooses not to. He has reasons for allowing sin to continue, even heinous sin, until His inscrutable purposes are achieved.

It is clear that the elect angels can manifest themselves physically as men (e.g., Gen. 18:2), even to the extent of being seen as sexually desirable by the men of Sodom (Gen. 19:5). Exactly how angels physically manifest themselves as men and the accuracy of their anatomy or physiology while doing so is simply not revealed by Scripture. Add to that the mystery concerning demons (presumably fallen angels) who are evidently limited in their ability to manifest in physical form and now continually seek embodiment (Matt. 12:43) and one can only conclude that this issue is beyond our capability to investigate in detail and constrain to the limits of human comprehension. Assertions about what fallen angels may or may not be capable of within the latitude of God's inscrutable allowance in the outworking of sin are simply unhelpful—we lack knowledge of many aspects of demonology because God has simply chosen not to provide additional information. We need to learn to rest in that.

The tension here is much like that which people express regarding the revival of the beast in Revelation. There is an ongoing disagreement about whether the beast is actually slain and raised again our just appears to have been slain. (It is my view that he is actually slain and raised) To me, this is the key: there are frequent situations where God allows less-capable beings to perform miracles so long as those miracles suit His ultimate purposes. Elijah, Peter, and Paul all raised people from the dead. They are mere men, but they raised people from the dead! Similarly, God will one day allow Satan to raise Antichrist from the abyss and restore him to life. But this is not saying that Satan, or Elijah, or Peter, or Paul have the ability themselves to perform these works—they all have their source in God.

So the question changes from How is this possible? to Does scripture reveal this truth and could it serve God's ultimate purpose to permit it?

As an aside, some (e.g., the 'Bible Answer Man') have suggested that if God were to have allowed fallen angels to impregnate human women, then this would have negated the witness of the virgin birth in identifying Jesus as the Messiah. However, this does not necessarily follow.

Scripture records that both Joseph (Matt. 1:18-19) and the Pharisees (John 8:41) interpreted Mary's pregnancy as being of natural origin. It was only after an angel revealed to Joseph in a dream that Mary's pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit that he came to understand that Jesus was to be virgin born. Even Joseph, who was perhaps the person best positioned to verify the virgin birth based on physical evidence alone initially suspected Mary's infidelity and assumed a natural cause—until God revealed otherwise. Clearly, physical evidence of the virgin birth was insufficient on its own to lead Joseph to understand the reality of what had happened. Rather, it was the testimony and prediction of God (Matt. 1:20-24d Joseph t. Isa. 7:14).

Like many supernatural acts of God which are unprovable to men through human investigation alone (e.g., Genesis 1:1), the validity of the virgin birth as a witness to the unique identity of Jesus is not derived from objective human investigation alone. Otherwise, why would there have been a need for God to provide special revelation to Joseph in a dream in order to counteract his naturalistic interpretation of the means of Mary's pregnancy? Although predicted in Scripture, the virgin birth and its identifying witness to Jesus is ultimately a matter which can only be accepted by faith in additional revelation provided by God. Therefore, we conclude that the physical evidence of the pregnancy of Mary was insufficient on its own as evidence of how Jesus was conceived and, ultimately, Who He was. Due to the nature of sexual relations, it required the additional testimony of God (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:20-24) before it was understood and accepted.

So we need not conclude that relations in Genesis 6 involving angels and humans undermines the scriptural and physical witness of the virgin birth—especially since the 'daughters of men' did not produce offspring on their own. The 'sons of God' were also involved in some physical manner which Scripture does not specify.

I would also suggest that the very fact that scripture offers only the most basic explanation of the 'strange flesh' episode as recorded in Genesis 6 is that it is God's purpose for us to be aware of it, but not His purpose to subject its details to reduction to the limits of human comprehension.

This is an aspect of faith: we accept the clear witness of scripture whether or not we understand how God brings what is described therein to pass. We can rest in what He has shown of His inscrutable will. Nor is it advisable or productive to attempt to press beyond that which Scripture reveals:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu. 29:29 NKJV)

Having stated my personal view, I should point out that this may not be the view held by all teachers represented on our website. Since this view is not specified within our doctrinal statement, individual teachers may hold varied views on the meaning of the 'sons of God' and 'daughters of men' in Genesis 6. Moreover, this is a particularly difficult passage so considerable grace should be extended for difference in understanding concerning what took place.