Who are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2?

Genesis 6:1-2 reads: “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.”[1]

There seems to be a distinction between normal men and what the passage calls “sons of God.” There is however no explanation of who the “sons of God” are or where they come from. Since there is no introduction or explanation of who they are it is probable that the original audience knew who they were, however this information has been lost.[2] There are three different possible interpretations of who these “sons of God” are.

  • The sons of God are angels. Evidence for this view is seen in the fact that ancient Bible versions/translations like the LXX translate the phrase “hoi aggeloi tou theou” (angels of God).[3] Other places in the Old Testament the phrase “sons of God” can and does refer to heavenly beings (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psa. 29:1; 82:6; 89:7; Dan. 3:25).[4]
  • The sons of God are royal rulers and are therefore named “sons of God.” The sin therefore would be polygamy since the rulers would have taken the daughters of men as wives and made royal harems. This advantage of this view is that it takes away the mythological and historical problems and questions that the first view rises.[5]
  • The sons of God are the godly line of Sethites whereas the daughters of man are from the ungodly line of Cainites. The sin therefore is the forbidden intermarriage between believers and unbelievers.[6]

While these are three good possibilities there are problems with each interpretation. It is best therefore to consider each option fully and look at both the evidences and problems with each before deciding an interpretation.

So, the possibilities for the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are three: (1) They are angels, (2) royal rulers, or (3) they are godly Sethites. While it is not possible to be completely dogmatic about identifying who these “sons of God” are, I believe the most likely interpretation is the first. This is due to the fact that in other places in the Old Testament the phrase “sons of God” does refer to heavenly beings (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psa. 29:1; 82:6; 89:7; Dan. 3:25).[7] It is also clear that in Genesis 6:1-4 there is a contrast being made between “sons of God” and “daughters of man.” The second and third interpretation options require this phrase to mean “the sons of some men” took as wives “the daughters of other men,” this does not seem to be the most natural interpretation. It is also possible that the author of Genesis uses the phrase “sons of God” in the same meaning as Ugaritic literature does where the phrase refers to members of the divine pantheon. Lastly, the angel interpretation is the oldest view, assumed in the earliest Jewish exegesis, and also the view taken by most modern commentators.[8]

 

[1] Genesis 6:1–2 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 262.

[3] “οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ” Genesis 6:2 The Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 262.

[5] Ibid, 263-264.

[6] Ibid, 264

[7] Ibid, 262.

[8] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC 1; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 139.

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