Recently a friend shared that he was having a conversation with a skeptic who was questioning the Bible’s reliability. His friend said he couldn’t trust the Bible because of ridiculous passages like Genesis 6:1-4,
1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
My friend, understandably finding it hard to disagree with the weirdness of angels having sex with humans, asked for my thoughts about this passage. Here goes…
At first glance this passage really does seem to be about angels having intercourse with humans. The typical interpretation goes something like this:
- The “sons of God” are angels.
- One day an angel got bored, looked down from heaven and noticed Kim Kardashian.
- The angel wined and dined her, probably showed off his mad flying skills, and eventually got her in the sack. He went back up to heaven and bragged about it to its friends, and they followed suit.
- Before anyone realized it there were giant Kanye babies roaming about that nobody wanted to mess with. They were given the nickname “Nephilim,” which in Hebrew meant “to fall” (or “causing others to fall”) aka “giants.”
If this was, in fact, what this verse was talking about, then that indeed would be weird. It’s hard to imagine what earth would look like with more than one Kanye running around, let alone a bunch of giant Kanyes.
A better option
This passage is an example of what biblical scholars call an “etiology,” which is nothing more than an attempt to explain how someone or something came about. In numerous places in the Old Testament you’ll read a story and at the end it will say something like, “And this is why this place is called such and such” or “this is how this person became known as so and so.” That’s an etiology.
Genesis 6:1-4 is the author of Genesis’ way of explaining why God was grieved by human sinfulness, ultimately causing him to destroy humankind through the flood. My two cents is that skeptics would have greater cause to doubt the Bible’s reliability (and God’s goodness) because of the flood, rather than this passage. This particular passage was nothing more than an etiology explaining (1) why a tribe of tall people called “the Nephilim” existed (see Numbers 13:33) and (2) why God chose to destroy the world.
The verses immediately following Genesis 6:1-4 give us our first clue who the Nephilim were,
5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
Verse 5 tells us that God saw “the wickedness of the human race” (described in Genesis 6:1-4) and freaked. That’s the first clue: the human race caused him to flip out.
Genesis 6:1-4 does not refer to angels, but to humans. It was human sin that angered God so much. We know that not just because of verses 5, but also because:
- There is no mention of angels in this passage.
- Angels are always asexual in the Bible, they have no genitalia. No junk in the trunk = no angel babies.
- This would have become the plot for the worst Nicholas Cage movie EVER. God loves us and surely would not have allowed this to happen.
People automatically think that the Nephilim were angels because they mistakenly assume that the phrase “Sons of God” implied something supernatural (usually because Jesus was called “Son of God” in the New Testament). What people don’t realize, especially if they’ve never read the Old Testament or other Ancient Near Eastern literature, is that the phrase “Son of God” was frequently used for humans, especially royalty.
The most notable example in the Bible is Psalm 2:7, “I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”
To say that someone was God’s son at that time was to imply that that person possessed a special relationship with God, or displayed certain traits that were god-like. No one, however, would have assumed that just because the phrase “Son of God” was used to describe the Nephilim that the author was implying they were God’s literal sons (in the sense that they were the result of God procreating with a human).
Putting it all together
In the end we don’t know for certain who the “Sons of God” were.
More than likely they were the descendants of Cain, the first son of Adam. Cain was the very first human child, and maybe because of his proximity to his father, who actually walked with God, that people back then presumed that his descendants possessed a certain closeness to God. We’re simply not sure, but this does seem to be the consensus among biblical scholars.
If this is the case, then one can understand a bit easier the overall logic of Genesis 6:1-4:
- God created human beings who walked with him.
- Human sin took his creation far away from their original design.
- Every thought of theirs was evil.
- They even began recklessly marrying whomever they wanted, for whatever reason.
- In fact, humans became so evil that even Cain’s descendants acted in this fashion.
- This broke God’s heart that humankind fell so far from where they started.
- So he decided to wipe humanity from the face of the planet, and start over through Noah.
Like I said, if skeptics want something of substance to argue about, then I suggest they take issue with Genesis 6:5-7 (God deciding to kill all humankind) rather than Genesis 6:1-4. That way they’ll be biblically correct AND they won’t tick off Kanye in the process.
How about you? What do you think this passage means?