In part 1, we surveyed two common interpretations for what “sons of God” signifies in Genesis 6:2. Now I will provide my reasons for accepting the traditional view–that these sons of God are supernatural beings
(I refrain from using “angels” for two reasons: the term is hackneyed and the phrase, “sons of God,” is too specialized and nuanced to mask it with the more common terminology we all know).
The issue most people have with this predominant view is that it attributes reproductive faculties to beings about which we know little, ontologically. Regarding the mysteries of supernatural beings (SB), the Bible illuminates a few details. What may be significant is that there appears to be different types of SB. Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Exod. 25:18; Ezek. 10), Seraphim (Isa. 6:2, 6) and the “four living creatures” (Rev. 4:6b-11) are not explicitly said to be angels (especially the latter), but their presence in the Bible seems to indicate a richer supernatural reality than what we commonly conceive. The “heavenly host” motif is also peculiar, and implies a higher dimension (Deut. 33:2b; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Neh. 9:6; Psa. 82:1; Isa. 45:12; Dan. 7:10), but this does little to assuage the mystery about the reproductive capabilities of SB.
As for the more specific mentions of “angels” in the Bible, we know that their chief purpose is to act as God’s messengers (Dan. 8:16; Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:19) or ministers (Heb. 1:14). Purportedly, they do not marry (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25), which is significant for our study in Genesis 6 on the “sons of God,” since the text says they both married women and had intercourse (“came in to”; the Hebrew is quite blunt), resulting in children. Obviously, this interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 causes friction with what’s stated elsewhere concerning SB, which is a big reason why the other interpretations hold weight.
Even so, I believe there’s enough merit to the traditional view. For Christians who believe in the power of the supernatural in general, it shouldn’t be too much of a mental stretch to see how SB can find a loophole in God’s design, especially if such SB are malevolent and want to destroy what God has made. The most logical target for SB to attack in humanity is the most precious and fragile element: sexuality.
Sexuality: The Critical Target
It’s quite obvious from the sex crimes we hear about in newspaper or from in-depth psychological studies of human sexuality that humans don’t know what to do with sexuality. Forms as “mild” as polyamory and polygamy to ones as “severe” as bestiality, pedophilia, masochism and necrophilia show that humans are eager to experiment wherever the itch leads. Like unmoored ships, human sexuality has let deviations grab the lines and lead us wherever they please.
Now if such sexual confusion is true in our world today, how much more corrupt would the antediluvian world have been when it had already reached the need for judgment? I believe it’s comparing dusk to night; what we have today, in terms of depravity, is nowhere near the pre-flood world.
This adds credence to the SB view because only the abomination of this sort–sexual relations between evil SB/humans–fits what we would expect from a culture where “every thought of their heart was evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The other views fall short in providing the necessary grounds for the need for divine judgment on a global scale (whether the flood was local or global will not be discussed here due to space; I do grant that this may be a significant part of the discussion, but this platform is not suitable for an extensive survey of every detail).
If it is true that there exists a supernatural entity that opposes God and his creation, why would such an entity not capitalize on the very heart of our existence? Reproduction and unity (“one flesh”) was the core of God’s original design because without it there would be no unified mass of stewards to control the Earth and its creatures. In sex, then, the opponents of God find a convenient foothold with which to dissuade humanity from doing their duty because humanity subsequently became too occupied with the means, which left the end unreached.
Another objection to this view is that the cause for the flood is placed on humanity’s wickedness (Gen. 6:5-7), not on the “sons of God.” This objection is weak when one remembers that a “marriage” requires two willing parties, each responsible for the union (even in a patriarchal society this is true, for the fathers of the daughters given in marriage are held responsible). And to think that the sons of God “ravished” or forced their way upon the daughters of men is not compatible with the language used here.
The key is to remember humanity’s place in the scheme of Heaven and Earth: we were made “a little lower than the angels” (Psa. 8:5) for the purpose of being stewards of the Earth (Gen. 1:28).
The author’s intent in this context is to describe the need for judgment of “all flesh” (Gen. 6:7, 12). Does this include animals? The grammar points in that direction; but if so, why would animals be incorporated into a judgment for which humans are responsible (6:5)? We find a clue in Genesis 1:28, where God’s mandate to Adam and Eve includes a responsibility to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Ask those who have been around an abused animal, and they’ll tell you that fear and violence dictate most of its behavior. If humans were responsible for the proper care of animals, and if the level of their depravity was great enough to impact their creation mandate (including the treatment of animals), and if animals were thoroughly abused and mistreated due to humanity’s depravity (the earth was filled with violence and all flesh had corrupted their way; Gen. 6:11-12), then the animals would be directly affected by the judgment on humanity’s depravity even though they were not responsible.
The main difference, of course, between animals and humans is that humans deliberately chose depravity (Gen. 3:6). Animals are merely “mobilized constructions of dirt” that react and act to stimuli, while humans are endowed with a conscience.
If the responsibility of SB was to minister to humans, would it not make sense to say that the depravity of SB affected humanity in the same way that humanity’s depravity affected animals?
The link between the supernatural and natural realms is stated previously (Gen. 3:1-15), so what we have in chapter 6 is the culmination of total disarray in Heaven and Earth.
The language in Genesis 3:6 to describe Eve’s fall (“saw…good…”) is the same sequence used to describe the “sons of God” in 6:2. So in chapter 3 we discover how humankind went outside their earthly bounds by pursuing a heavenly direction, while in chapter 6 we see another fall: the “heavenly” going outside their bounds in the earthly direction. What’s implied by the language is that both humans and SB have gone astray, but the emphasis here is on the “sons of God” since we already discovered humanity’s fall in Genesis 3. Genesis 6 is merely describing the natural progression of sin.
The reason for the flood, then, was on humanity’s shoulders because of the depravity that originated in chapter 3, but when the text of chapter 6 makes a point to say the “sons of God” were freely marrying and reproducing with human women, it’s illustrating the fact that humanity was letting it happen–not unlike how Adam let Eve fall into temptation.
The problem was that humanity wasn’t trying to repair its own damage; it didn’t even knew it was damaged–or worse, it knew it was damaged but enjoyed it. The language of Genesis 6 shows that humanity was persistently choosing the evil over the good, not making any effort to repent or resist the “sons of God” from interacting with them in abominable ways. They were more than eager to let the SB have their way because they simply didn’t care about the will of God. They were callous, lost and ready for judgment because that was all that was left for them.
There are a few more elements to consider in refuting the weaknesses of the SB view. But for the sake of space, I’ll briefly state them.
The angels that visited Lot in Sodom ate the food set before them (Gen. 19:3), and the wicked men wanted to have sex with them (19:4-5). Here is an example where SB clearly operate on the physical level, making procreation possible.
When Jesus says that angels “do not marry” (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25), he did not say they cannot marry. Jesus was simply saying that the original design didn’t have angels marrying because it wasn’t necessary for a heavenly being. If this is true, then the depravity described in Genesis 6 is indeed one of surpassing boundaries.
The idea of angelic sexuality was not uncommon in the ancient world. Many Jewish texts parallel Genesis 6:2 (1 Enoch 6-7; 19:1; 86:1-6; 106:13-17; Jub. 4:14, 22; 5:1-11; 2 Bar. 56:12), and ancient Greek mythology is riddled with SB marrying and procreating with humans (example: Zeus and Alcmene begetting Hercules). If the Genesis account is factual and historical, then it provides a reasonable antecedent for the prevalent sexuality divinity and humanity in ancient mythologies.
For Part 3…
Even if one is uncomfortable thinking that SB could procreate with humans, there is yet another angle to the SB view that could alleviate this discomfort without adopting a rare meaning of “sons of God.” This will be discussed in Part 3 along with the survey of the Nephilim.
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.