First Hypothesis Refuted
The Book of Enoch is given credit as the “earliest interpretation” of this passage,23 and the early
Christians such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria are supposed to have been
influenced by these writings.24 Even Jude and Peter are purported to refer to Enoch as if it was Holy
Scripture. However, the validity of Enoch is highly questionable, and its interpretation cannot be given
credence as the inspired Word of God for the following reasons. First, while the book may be named after
Enoch, it was not written by him. In fact, it probably was written by a number of people in early-
Maccabean to late pre-Christian times.25 Enoch is believed to reflect events surrounding the Maccabean
revolt, and was used extensively by Essenes (as is evinced by the findings at Qumran),
26 perhaps because
of the many references to a coming Messianic kingdom.
27 And second, because of the inconsistencies and contradictions that permeate Enoch and the other pseudepigraphal books, their canonicity was accepted
by neither the New Testament writers nor the early Church Fathers. The latter may have drawn upon the
books for homiletical or devotional purposes, but that was all.
28 Jude 14-15 may be a reference to Enoch
and the Assumption of Moses, although the latter cannot be checked because the book no longer exists
and its origin is unknown.
29 However, such usage by inspired writers does not prove the inspiration of
non-biblical sources. Green makes the very pertinent point that Paul quoted from the Greek poets Aratus,
Menander, and Epimenides, but this obviously was done for preaching purposes in order to facilitate his
outreach to his audience. Yet neither Paul nor Jude uses the quotes in the manner of “it is written” or “the
Scriptures say.” As Geisler and Nix observed: “Truth is truth no matter where it is found, whether uttered
by a heathen poet, a pagan prophet…, or even a dumb animal
In further support of the angel explanation, writers quote Jude 6-7 and 2 Peter 4,5, both of which discuss
rebellious angels and their consignment to a dark prison until the day of judgment. It is apparent,
however, that if Jude and Peter are referring to Genesis 6, it is only on the prior assumption that the latter
passage is in fact about fallen angels. In fact, these New Testament passages nowhere refer to angels partaking
in earthly marriages and having children. Even if one suggests that the word “these” in Jude 7 has
its precedent in verse six (which may not be a correct interpretation
31), the passage clearly refers to fornication
and homosexuality, whereas Genesis 6:2 refers to proper marriage. In addition, other parts of
Enoch do not include the marriage element in the stories surrounding the fall of angels, and so it is inconsistent
to say that Jude is attempting to teach doctrine from one part of Enoch while ignoring contradictory
statements in other parts. Keil argues in detail to the effect that Peter and Jude are not condoning the
stories in Enoch, and “give no credence to these fables of a Jewish gnosticizing tradition.”
Attempts to substantiate a second fall of angels (i.e., in addition to that which can be inferred from
the appearance of Satan in Genesis 3:1-6) violate Scripture in every way, apart from the violence done to
Jude and Peter. An explanation can be acceptable only if it is logically consistent with biblical teaching on
angels. Thus, an answer must be found in theology, not philology. Note the following:
(a) Prior to Genesis 6:1-4, no mention is made of angels—not even their creation (although
this does not mean to say they were not included in the acts of creation in Genesis 1);
(b) Jesus taught (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:34) that angels neither marry nor are
given in marriage. While they often take on a male form while acting as messengers of
God on Earth, they do not function as physical or sexual beings. Angels have been observed
to eat (Genesis 18:8; 19:3), but this is a far cry from breeding, and besides, who is
to say that their eating was not simply for purposes of courtesy, rather than for sustenance?
It is impossible to imagine how angels could have acquired totally new characteristics
merely by virtue of their fall. Interpretations of Genesis 6 aside, there is no instance of angel/
human interbreeding in the Bible;
(c) The judgment in verse three specifically refers to men and not “sons of God” or angels. It is
inconsistent to argue that God would punish the tempted and not the tempters. If Genesis
6:1-4 is paralleled to chapter three, as Willis suggests,33 one can see that Satan (the tempter)
is judged or cursed first, and then Adam and Eve (the tempted). For the sentence to be universal,
those who are judged must refer to all humanity (
‘adham), thus incorporating both
“sons of God” and “daughters of men”;
(d) Angels never are called “sons of God” in Genesis,
34 or anywhere else in the Pentateuch;35
(e) The reference to angels as “sons of God” in Job 1:6 is contrasted with Satan; good spiritual
beings are thus contrasted with evil spiritual beings, not with earthly beings. Further, it is
incongruent to suggest that Satan’s minions, the demons of hell, should be described as sons
of God in the same manner as angels are described in Job. Therefore, the “sons of
comparison between Job and Genesis should not be viewed as a direct analogy;
(f) The Alexandrine text of the Greek Old Testament translates
bene-ha’elohim as “angels of God,”36
which certainly demonstrates the pervading view of Jews in Alexandria during the
B.C. However, other versions read “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1,2, while
nearly all versions read “angels of God” in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7.37 Thus, if any power of definition
is ascribed to the Septuagint at all, it would seem to contradict the claims concerning
the consensus of Jewish opinion, some of whom obviously thought that Genesis 6 did not
refer to angels.
While interpreting “sons of God” as divine beings may at first seem an obvious and attractive option (especially
given the references in Job), this view cannot be substantiated with regard to the total biblical
teaching on angels. Neither does it provide a satisfactory explanation in the context of these first few
chapters of Genesis.
Second Hypothesis Discussed Briefly
Before discussing what may be considered the conservative view on this subject, it is important to
mention an interpretation that is unpopular today, but is not insignificant in the examination of this passage.
Early Targums and certain orthodox Jewish authorities considered (and some still do even today)
that the “sons of God” were an aristocratic class of rulers who, believing themselves to be autocratic, married
whom they wished from the people of lower orders called the “daughters of men.” The references in
verse four to men of renown is ascribed to these rulers, whose evil supposedly was evident in their lust for
a name of glory.
38 Kline sees this view as essentially “on the right track” and attempts to refine the theory
by finding a royalty/commoner distinction in Genesis 6 from genealogies in the preceding chapters. Many
of his arguments, however, merely substantiate the moral descent of man in general into the ways of the
Cainites—a view that will be considered in the following section.
In addition, there are some problems with the interpretation in general. First, distinction between
royalty and commoners does not occur in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, and second, nowhere does
the Old Testament forbid marriage between these two classes of people. Even if these kings are thought of
as pagan rulers, who through their example led to profane marriages in the lower classes, it still reduces
the explanatory power of Genesis 6:1-3. One must seek an answer that explains how the ungodly influenced
the righteous to such an extent that the whole of humanity became wicked. A few kings practicing
tyranny, and advocating polygamy and paganism, hardly seems warrant for a global flood that destroyed
every living thing. As Willis has noted, if this interpretation were applied, it would give no adequate
cause for the occurrence of a universal destruction.39
Alternative Explanation Proposed
The first hypothesis described above rests its case almost entirely on a defense of the definition of
“sons of God” as angels. However, such an interpretation can be shown to be inconsistent both contextually
and doctrinally, and the definition an unnecessary imposition. The key to this passage, therefore, is to
determine its relationship to the characteristics of the antediluvian generations described in preceding
chapters, and the ensuing judgment in the form of the Noahic Flood.
Notice, as Thomas does,
40 the contrast between the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth
(refer back, also, to the section on Overall Context). Through their activities, it can be seen that the Cainites
possessed characteristics of cleverness, culture, and civilization. Furthermore, by the ungodly behavior
of Lamech, they generally are portrayed as earthly, selfish, sensual, and an authority unto themselves.
Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the professions associated with the Cainites, and
Lamech is the only one (apart from Cain) specifically cited as sinful, but note that nothing positive is said
of them in a spiritual sense. One therefore cannot help but notice the contrast given in 4:26 with the arrival
of Seth. Maars, wishing to avoid such a comparison, maintains that there is no basis in the belief that
the Sethites were known for their godliness,
41 but as can be seen, this is simply not true. The Sethites were
noted by their devotion (4:25), consecration (26), fellowship (5:22), testimony (Hebrews 9:5), service
(5:29), and righteousness (6:8) in the sight of God.
Thus, after the generations of Cain and Seth have been outlined in chapters four and five, and 6:2
then speaks of two groups of people, is it not reasonable to conclude that the earlier familial division is
being carried on into the later discussion? If this is the case, the “sons of God” expression is used in a
spiritual or covenantal sense, that is, referring to those who possessed characteristics of faithful service to
God. The “daughters of men” would then be those of a worldly disposition. Given the contrasting nature
of the two lines of descendants described previously, I suggest that the “sons of God” were the godly
Sethites, while the “daughters of men” were the worldly, ungodly Cainites. Such a distinction also parallels
the Israelites of the Old Covenant and the Christians in the New. If this explanation is applied, the
events of those times fall logically into place.
For example, and most important, the reason for the Flood becomes evident. One could conclude that
the judgment was delivered purely on the basis of mixed and/or indiscriminate marriage on the part of the
Sethites. Indeed, morally mixed marriages are reprobated repeatedly throughout the Old Testament (e.g.,
Genesis 24:3,4; 28:1; Exodus 34:15,16; Deuteronomy 7:3). However, it probably is better to consider that
the judgment was given not merely on the basis of mixed marriages, but also on the failure of the sons of
God and the daughters of men to maintain their spiritual integrity
despite those marriages. Thus, universal
destruction is prescribed for universal sinfulness. It is easy to see how this situation may have arisen,
especially if the phrase “multiply on the face of the ground” indicates that the Cainites were increasing in
great numbers, in which case the influence of the numerically superior Cainites may have been overwhelming.
Through intermarriage, the Sethites would have become subsumed both racially and morally:
it would be easier for the Sethites to descend to the moral level of their newly acquired relatives than for
the converse to occur.
God already had promised a way of overcoming sin through a descendant of Adam and Eve (Genesis
3:15), and hence must have decided that unless He intervened in a miraculous way, the integrity of the
messianic line would be defiled, and man would have no chance of redemption. Therefore, the sons of
God departing from their mission and marrying in an improper manner, leading to an overwhelming apostasy,
provides the appropriate connection between the parallel genealogies of Genesis 1-5 and the Noahic
Flood of Genesis 6-9.
120 years—Life Span or Probationary Period?
While the meaning of the phrase “yet shall his days be a hundred and twenty years” has no direct
relevance to the “sons of God” expression, it is convenient at this time to discuss this part of verse three
before moving on to an analysis of verse four.
Most scholars, liberal and conservative alike, support the idea that 120 years refers to a period of
grace or probation in between God giving Noah his instructions, and the Flood finally coming upon the
Earth. Von Rad
42 is practically alone in supporting the view that the time represents the life span of longer
than 120 years for many generations after the Flood, at least until Abram. Also, there were at least one
hundred years between Noah receiving his instructions from God soon after his sons were born, at which
time he was 500 years old (Genesis 5:32), and the Flood commencing when Noah was 600 years old
(Genesis 7:6). Thus, the time frame separating these two events is consistent with the “period of grace”
THE “NEPHILIM” OF VERSE FOUR
The diversity of interpretations of the nature of the nephilim in verse four makes it evident that the
preceding three verses exert only minor constraining power on the definition of these antediluvian men.
Probably because the Septuagint translates the word
nephilim as giant, and the King James Version
carried this definition through, the majority of scholars are inclined to the view that these were men of
gigantic stature. This also appears consistent with the only other occurrence of the word in Numbers
13:33, where the returning spies describe themselves as being “grasshoppers” by comparison with the
nephilim. The word itself generally is considered to be derived from the verb
naphal meaning “to fall.”43
From this, liberal critics interpret
nephilim to mean “those fallen from heaven,” in reference to their progenitors’
angelic origins. Thus, in this line of thinking, the nephilim must be a fantastic race of some description because they are the offspring of the mythological marriages described in verse two.44 Or, extrapolating
in the reverse direction, it is argued that the “sons of God” must be angels because the word
means fallen from heaven. In either case, as Archer aptly argues, no one proposes that Goliath or
the sons of Anak had angelic forbears, so why suggest it here?
45 Note also that the “from heaven” part has
to be provided artificially. In fact, Brown, Driver, and Briggs provide several definitions, including to fall
by accident—by violent death; in prostration—upon (attack), and others.
Although there is nothing wrong in proposing that a tribe of tall peoples lived in those days, the full
explanation may lie beyond a mere physical interpretation. The whole problem with verse four is relating
the allusion to these men who were mighty or strong and “men of renown [name]” to the context of the
degradation of humanity. An answer may lie in the reference to
nephilim in Numbers 33. Note that when
the spies returned from Canaan, they reported that the people were strong and the cities fortified, and the
descendants of Anak lived there (vs. 28). But when Caleb challenged the people to possess the land, the
spies resorted to hyperbole, saying the inhabitants were stronger and bigger than they, “the land eateth its
inhabitants,” and the nephilim, sons of Anak were there, with the Israelites being as grasshoppers in their
sight (vss. 30-33). So, while these nephilim could have been tall and strong (with some exaggeration by
the spies being considered), their obvious military prowess may have struck fear into the Israelites. This
encounter could have been an early reference to the Philistines who occupied that region, who often were
portrayed as fearsome fighters, and later included the champions Goliath and Saph. Thus,
not have been a reference to a racial group as such, but rather to those of a fearsome character.
With the above interpretation applied to Genesis 6:4, I find myself in agreement with Carroll, Stigers,
Leupold, and Keil, who propose that the “nephilim” were a group of people who were violent attackers,
invaders, and the like, based on the idea that
naphal might be interpreted “to fall upon.”47 This
would also be consistent with the description of the
nephilim in the latter half of verse four in terms often
used for military heroes or champions, warriors, and tyrants.48 The difficulty of the expression “in the
earth in those days, and also after that” also may be overcome. To some, it means that these nephilim existed
prior to the marriages, and afterwards as well,
49 most adding that the Nephilim belonged to the Cainite
line, but who also resulted from mixed marriages. The purpose of the verse would be, in this case, to
give an example of the terrible conditions in those times, showing how men were given to war and making
a name for themselves, rather than pursuing righteousness. But again, what would be the purpose of
mentioning at this point that such ungodliness existed prior to and after the union mentioned in verse two
and reiterated in verse four? The idea that mankind had descended into ungodliness had been well stated
in the preceding verses.
An alternative interpretation, and the one that I favor, ascribes the comment “after that” to a reflection
on the perspective of Moses who was noting that those sort of men lived prior to the flood, and also
afterward in the land of Canaan.
50 In the antediluvian world, the Sethites may have become warring as
part of their assimilation into the Cainites, or perhaps they allowed themselves to be subjugated by tyrants.
Thus, one should consider not so much the
fact of the nephilim, but the effect they had on the
population. Moses, writing through inspiration, may be making a comparison between the influence of the
godless before the Flood, and their influence at the time when the Israelites were supposed to occupy the
land. The result in the former was a universal Flood, and in the latter, Yahweh’s chosen people were condemned
to forty years’ wandering in the wilderness. On each occasion, perhaps, these fierce warriors
caused the faithful to stumble through lack of courage, rather than trusting in God and acting according to
In conclusion, it is preferable to seek an explanation that considers more than the mere existence and
physical attributes of the men mentioned in verse four. Just as the mere fact of the marriages is not the
key problem in verse two, but rather the effect of those marriages on those who should be faithful, so also
the effect of the tyrannical warrior-type people should be given a spiritual, rather than wholly physical,
While Genesis 6:1-4 possesses many difficult aspects of interpretation, its general meaning may be
ascertained by the examination of the peripheral context and doctrinal principles in both the Old and New
Testaments. The latter procedure eliminates a popular explanation that defines the “sons of God” as angels,
and refutes another interpretation which attributes the same expression to a class of nobility. Instead,
the overall context suggests that the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” exist as an antithetical parallelism,
and refer to the godly Sethites (Genesis 4:26) and worldly Cainites (4:11), respectively. The unsanctioned
and improperly motivated marriages between these two groups (6:2) led to the total moral
breakdown of the existing world order (6:5), the exception among them being Noah and his family (6:8).
Further, the nephilim should not be considered the strange, mythological offspring of this union, but
rather as a class of tyrannical warriors who maintained a faith-breaking reign of terror. In this respect,
they serve as a deliberate parallel to the nephilim of Numbers 33, who also caused God’s people to stumble.
Problems in the interpretation of the phrase “sons of God and daughters of men,” and difficulties in
defining the nature of the
nephilim in verse four, can be overcome through consideration of the influence
of an overwhelming majority of ungodly on the spiritual integrity of a lesser group of worshipful people.
Thus, rather than examining merely the act of marriage, or the presence of
nephilim, one should consider
the effect of these evil influences in order to provide sufficient cause for the corresponding divine judgment.
The cleansing Flood of Noah was brought about to maintain the sacred messianic lineage, and thus
a single generation was left to repopulate the earth (9:1). Although man still was capable of evil and a life
devoted to ungodliness (e.g., 9:22), God promised that there would never be a flood to destroy the Earth
again (9:11). Through the descendants of Noah’s son Shem (9:26), Jesus Christ the Son of God came to
complete the Christocentric them of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17).
by,Trevor J. Major, M.Sc., M.A.
Apologetics Press, Inc.