This post is overdue. I’ve been meaning to write it. I just haven’t.
Honestly, it’s a strange topic. But here we go…
I have changed my understanding of Genesis six and the question of angels having sexual relations with humans.
What I Thought
The passage in question reads this way:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 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. (Genesis 6:1-4, ESV)
The details from the text are so scant that it seems excessive to read into this brief allusion a story of demonic, half-breed angel children. This interpretation would also introduce all kinds of theological complications with regards to materiality/immateriality of angels and the fate of these offspring. As renowned Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch point out, “the expression ‘sons of God’ cannot be elucidated by philological means, but must be interpreted by theology alone.5 In other words, there’s more to consider here than just vocabulary and grammar. We must consider if our interpretation is in keeping with the theology of the whole Bible.6
So who were the Nephilim? It seems most likely the Nephilim were not giants or superhumanish angel offspring. They were simply a mighty warrior clan.
But there was a problem with my reading of the text. I was reading it independent of Jude.
What I Now Think
Nearly a year later, I found myself preparing to teach Jude for a college retreat. As I immersed myself in Jude, I became convinced my previous interpretation of Genesis six could not be right. This is a great example of “Me versus the Bible.” Sometimes I want the Bible to say something else, but I can’t, with intellectual, integrity get it to bend. As much as I’d prefer a neater, less weird explanation, I can’t get there, not reading Jude at least.
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:6-7 ESV)
So several details became apparent in looking at Jude. Thomas Schreiner in his commentary of Jude provides an excellent summary of these points (my formatting):
We can be almost certain that Jude referred here to the sin of the angels in Gen 6:1-4. The sin the angels committed, according to the Jewish tradition, was sexual intercourse with the daughters of men. Apparently Jude also understood Gen 6:1-4 in the same way. Three reasons support such a conclusion. First, Jewish tradition consistently understood Gen 6:1-4 in this way (1 En. 6-19; 21; 86-88; 106:13-17; Jub 4:15, 22; 5:1; CD 2:17-19; 1QapGen 2:1; T. Reu. 5:6-7; T. Naph. 3:5; 2 Bar. 56:10-14; cf. Josephus, Ant. 1.73). Second, we know from vv. 14-15 that Jude was influenced by 1 Enoch, and 1 Enoch goes into great detail about the sin and punishment of these angels. Jude almost certainly would need to explain that he departed form the customary Jewish view of Gen 6:1-4 if he disagreed with Jewish tradition. The brevity of the verse supports the idea that he concurred with Jewish tradition. Third, the text forges a parallel between the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the angels (“In a similar way,” v. 7; hos and ton homoion tropon toutois). The implication is that sexual sin was prominent in both instances. (Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 447-448.)
I wish I could quote the full discussion that follows in his commentary. Some great stuff in there. He even mentions the origins of the now-famous “Watchers” in Jewish literature. But you’ll have to buy his book. Anyway, the short of the discussion is simply that there’s no way Jude didn’t think angels had sexual relations with humans.
A couple quick side notes.
This explains in part why antediluvian earth was so exceedingly wicked and worthy of total destruction. As for the reference to the Nephilim in Numbers 13, it is likely this is a hyperbolic comparison. The Israelites compare themselves to grasshoppers and the Canaanites to giants (Nephilim). And for those who wonder if this kind of unnatural union could still occur, the answer is most certainly no. Remember, Jude said these offenders were locked up until the day of judgment.
Who are the Nephilim? I don’t know. Maybe they are the product of the unnatural union between angels and humans. Or maybe they were just mighty warriors as MacArthur supposes (which would explain Numbers 13 in a different way). But regardless, Jude clearly affirms that at one point in human history angels had sexual relations with women. Does this seem a little farfetched? Yes. But this is what the Bible teaches, and “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”