“The sons of God saw the daughters of men, and they took wives for themselves.” Genesis 6:2
By Genesis 6, God had kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden for their disobedience. Shortly after, their son, Cain, killed their other son, Abel. Meanwhile, their other sons were busy populating the earth, some having sons and some having daughters. Eventually, the “sons of God” in verse two took notice of the daughters.
Who are the “sons of God?” No one truly knows; there are only speculative theories. However, we find in each theory that God is extraordinarily upset about how His command to multiply (Genesis 1:28) was being fulfilled. It clearly violates Genesis 2:24, which tells us, “A man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.”
Three particular theories about the sons of God are popular in theological circles, but conservative scholars tend to favor one more than the others.
The first theory is the ancient and still popular Jewish position that the sons of God are angels. As evidence, supporters cite the book of Job, which refers to them as angels.
“To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)
Matthew 22 presents a problem with this theory, however. In this portion of Scripture, the Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus into false teaching concerning which brother, during the time of resurrection, can claim the woman they all married as their wife (see Deuteronomy 25:5–10).
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.’” (Matthew 22:29–30)
In answering the Sadducees, Jesus reveals that angels do not marry. If this is so (and it is), how do the sons of God in Genesis 6 marry and reproduce?
The answer appears to lie in the distinction of which angels are which — angels of heaven or fallen angels.
Fallen Angels vs. Angels in Heaven
According to Jesus, angels in heaven do not marry, so the beings in Genesis 6 theoretically could be fallen angels. Several biblical passages prove that such angels exist after Satan lured them and God cast them out of heaven because of their rebellion.
“[Satan’s] tail drew a third of the stars of heaven (angels) and threw them to the earth. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12:4,9, my addition)
“For if God did not spare the angels who sinned but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved for judgment….” (2 Peter 2:4)
“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)
Even though angels in heaven do not marry and reproduce, it does not mean they cannot. The Bible only tells us they do not. Perhaps it is because they are busy worshiping around the throne of heaven (see multiple examples in Revelation) and going about the Father’s business, such as delivering messages (Daniel 10:18–21, Luke 1).
However, if Genesis 6 refers to fallen angels, we can be sure that God has contained them so they cannot repeat their sinful behavior.
“And the angels 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.” (Jude 6)
Nephilim, Sons of the Sons of God?
Genesis 6 then tells us the sons of God married the daughters of men and bore children with them, an unnatural union between the supernatural and the mortal. As we then see, God condemned their wickedness and flooded the earth later in chapter seven.
Some believe the children of these unholy unions were giants, also known as Nephilim. Their name comes from a transliterated (not mistranslated) Hebrew word that means “fallen ones.” Theologically, they could be either morally or physically degraded people or fallen angels. In this case, Genesis 6 refers to the former. But verse four tells us the Nephilim were already on the earth when the sons of God married the daughters of men.
“The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind.”
We see an example in Numbers 13:33, where Caleb and the twelve spies had just returned from their reconnaissance trip of Canaan, the Promised Land. They reported to Moses that they saw giants occupying the land, which is why some people conclude that fallen angels and human women gave birth to giants. But this theory is incorrect.
None of the Nephilim (or anyone else except Noah, for that matter) survived the Great Flood (Genesis 7:22–23), and the Bible does not mention them as one of the groups of people wiped out by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. What Caleb and his group probably saw were simply very tall and powerful men, and their recollection of them was distorted, perhaps by fear.
Another reason why the Nephilim are not the product of the sons of God and human women is that Genesis 6:4 says they were already on the earth before their sinful union.
Given this, the theory of the sons of God and human women giving birth to giants cannot be correct. Their origins were elsewhere, which may lead us to a second theory regarding the identity of the sons of God.
Human Sons of God
A second theory about the sons of God is they were human kings and rulers. Verse four tells us,
“Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”
Archaeological evidence suggests that “sons of God” refers to powerful kings, as seen in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8 and Psalm 82:6-7. Also, the Hebrew for “God” is Elohim, a common word sometimes applied to men with great social power (John 10:34–35).
Supporters of this theory argue the daughters of men were women of low social status. If the sons of God were of high social status, it would seem to indicate violent abuse of these women. The men were immoral and used their power to take as many women as they wanted for their wicked pleasure.
However, this theory somewhat depends on the belief that the kings and their women gave birth to the Nephilim.
Remember that Nephilim means “fallen ones.” The term is often associated with violence, which means they were likely large, vicious men who overpowered and “fell” on others during the pre-flood era. Such a disposition would further describe an irreverent and disrespectful culture, especially toward women.
The Bible never describes human kings as any form of deity. For this reason, this theory is not very popular among conservative scholars, though it seems to be gaining attention as more archaeological evidence is uncovered.
Sons of Seth?
A third and more accepted theory among conservatives is that the sons of God are descendants of the godly line of Seth, and the daughters of men came from the ungodly line of Cain. They consider the union sinful because Cain’s line contaminated Seth’s godly line. The holy had become unholy. The apostle Paul later warned the Corinthian church about this sin, that followers of Christ should not marry unbelievers.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Such sexual sin was contradictory to God’s will, and the result was the total corruption of humanity, which the Nephilim represented. Eventually, God’s patience wore thin. Genesis 6:5–7 describes the Lord’s anger with these men.
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of men was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Then the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth.’”
God always punishes sin, and the judgment is always death (Romans 6:23), which is why God soon sent the Great Flood. The Flood destroyed every living being on the earth and physically reshaped it. Only Noah and his family were spared (Genesis 7).
The Bible seems to support the theory that the sons of God were fallen angels. Genesis 6 places a strong emphasis on the angelic vs. human contrast. Conservative scholars, however, are more inclined to believe they were descendants of Seth, primarily because it is difficult to believe there can be any possibility of the supernatural mating with the mortal. As for the theory about them being human kings, there is little scholarly support.
Regardless of which theory one believes, it is clear controversy and debate over the identity of the sons of God vigorously continue.