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)
In a previous post, which, interestingly enough, has become the most viewed post of all-time at Hobo Theology (probably in part because of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie), I said:
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.”
Gabriel Elijah says
As someone who wrote his thesis on angelology & demonology- I saw your originally post that identified the ‘sons of God’ in Gen 6 as ‘humans’ & thought– here goes someone who doesn’t have a clue– making a statement about something he hasn’t studied enough to be talking about in public. But after seeing your update with the ‘fallen angel’ identification; I was greatly impressed with your ability to reconsider the biblical facts & come to the right conclusion. It takes someone who truly desires God’s truth to do what you have done here. God bless & keep up your research!
Thanks so much, Gabriel! It was an interesting research journey, one that challenged my own biases.
I am curious. Do you have your work anywhere online? I would be interested in seeing some of your research.
Anyway, thanks for chiming in! Appreciate it!
S.T. Ranger says
One of the questions I would pose would be “…how would we reconcile the presence of the offspring of such a union…when all of mankind was destroyed?”
In other words, if we take the position that the Nephilim were the offspring of demons and women, they would have died in the flood.
That we have a Biblical basis for identifying men as “sons of God” is found here…
King James Version (KJV)
38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
A few other considerations in interpreting this passage would be…
the Lord’s displeasure is with men (not demons), and God being Just would not, I feel, bring penalty upon men for the actions of demons (who we know of which there are those demons punished for their sin), though we do see animals destroyed as well as men in the judgment;
Giants were already in existence when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men (v.4);
It is men that are born unto the daughters (v.4);
It is men that gain the Lord’s displeasure (v.4);
It is man’s wickedness which brings judgment.
While we see Angels take on human form (i.e., Genesis 18), and demons being fallen angels likely having that same capability, it is unlikely that such a union would result in children. The position that demon possession of men is also, in my view, unlikely, because it would still result in human offspring.
Lastly, in regards to the “estate” of Angels, their estate would have been Heaven, or, the Spiritual Realm from which they fell. Not earth. So I take the position that this…
King James Version (KJV)
6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Actually clarifies that a union between demons and women are not in view, because if it was, then they, being punished and confined for their sin, would not have had the opportunity to once again commit the same sin whereby we would have the Nephilim in a post-Flood environment. Rather, it makes more sense to reconcile this with what we know of demons which would have their first estate, not on the earth with access to the daughters of man, but likely a Heavenly/Spiritual existence which they left, thus becoming the fallen beings they are now. If we place the “first estate” as their already fallen state, that would not really track, in my view.
Jay Adams says
I agree with S.T. Ranger. While I agree with brother J. McArthur 95% of the time I think his exegesis was not fully complete. I even missed some things on my first few readings and cross-reference passages. As ST said God’s wrath was upon man, not Fallen Angels. Why would he wait until Jude was written to suggest that these Fallen Angels were punished in a separate prison? It doesn’t line up with God’s message of wrath here.
A very strong verse that really brings this fuller into perspective is Hebrews 1:5
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”
So if we go back to Job 1:6 & 2:1 to tie up those knots, if we make a careful reading of both of them “the sons of God came to present themselves to the Lord”, and Satan also came among them. Since Job was living at this time, Satan had already been cast out of heaven and there are no supporting scriptures that suggest he had access to the Throne of God any more. But we see that the Lord did come down to earth many times in the Old Testament. So these 2 scenes are happening here on Earth and Satan appoints himself to come along too.
I do realized Job 38:7 is 1 other passage that presents some difficulty and I’m still working on that one. But in light of the Hebrews 1:5 passage that I have seen from a handful of websites including Jason Lisle from the Institute of Creation Research there seems to be a nullification that sons of God could ever be used to describe angels, definitely not Fallen Angels.
The bible does not teach or imply anywhere that demons and fallen angels are the same thing. That is a cultural misconception, not a biblical idea, and to assume that just muddies the water needlessly. Obscure passages like this begin to make so much more sense if we start with the more biblical idea that angels actually have physical bodies of their own (even the fallen ones), and demons are something altogether different (bodiless, unclean spirits). Strangely enough, Enoch’s explanation for the unclean spirits makes the most sense of the Biblical evidence and narrative (unclean spirits/demons are disembodied souls of the nephilim destroyed in the flood, for whom there is no resurrection, doomed to wreak havoc on the earth until their time of judgment). The fallen angels who created the nephilim are being held in deep chains of gloomy darkness in the depths of Tartarus awaiting their judgment. At least that’s what the Bible says, anyway.