In Genesis 6:1-4, prior to the Flood of Noah’s day, did heavenly or fallen angels cohabit with women on earth to produce an angelic-human hybrid race of giants?
In the broader context, the lineage of Adam is traced through his sons Cain and Seth (Gen. 4:16–5:32). The development of godless civilization emanates from Cain, who “went out from the presence of Yahweh …” (4:16), compared to Seth and his progeny who “began to call on the name of Yahweh” (4:26).1
In chap. 6 the “men” and the “daughters of men” are contrasted with the “sons of God” (vv. 1-2). Nothing is said here about angels or other spirit beings. In fact, Jesus alludes to “those before the flood … marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38), while also affirming that angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25). In view of the future resurrection and in contrast to the “sons of this age,” the Lord compares angels, who are not subject to death, to “sons of the resurrection” who are also called “sons of God” (Luke 20:34-36).
In the ancient Near East the word “son” was commonly used to describe one’s character, disposition, nature, or conduct (e.g. Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12; Psa. 29:1; 89:6, 22; Isa. 57:3; Mark 3:17; John 8:33; Acts 13:10). The righteous people of God are therefore “sons of God” (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 8:14, 19; 9:26; Gal. 3:26; 4:6).
In the context of Genesis 6, the “sons of God” appear to be the godly descendants of Seth, while the “men” and their “daughters” are the worldly (godless) descendants of Cain. In a patriarchal society, where males are dominant and in control, marriage is typically initiated by the males (cf. Gen. 4:19; 6:18; Ezra 9:2, 12; Neh. 10:30; etc.). The otherwise righteous “sons of God” made the foolish choice of seeking wives among the godless “daughters of men” (cp. Deut. 7:3-4; 1 Kings 11:1-4), whose offspring became mighty, valiant men of renown (Gen. 6:4b).
The nephilim (v. 4a) are not said to have been the offspring of anyone in particular. Rather, they were already existing “in those days” before the sons of God took wives among the daughters of men. Adam, through multiple other children (Gen. 5:4), had more descendants than just those of Cain and Seth.
The word nephilim here is probably descriptive of a violent, tyrannical, oppressive people,2 presumably of imposing stature and strength (cp. Num. 13:33). When the Sethite sons of God and the Cainite daughters of men reproduced, their offspring were more refined than the nephilim but apparently got caught up in their wicked ways. “And Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth …” (Gen. 6:5), eventually bringing about the global flood (vv. 7ff.).
The long-held belief that angelic beings mated with earthly women, producing a race of superhuman giants, is based more on imaginative misinterpretation than solid biblical exegesis. The overarching lesson here is the spiritual danger and devastating consequences of the righteous people of God flirting with and commingling with those uncommitted to the loftier ways of the Lord (cf. Gen. 24:3; 28:1; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
2 Fred R. Coulter’s A Faithful Version renders the word “tyrants,” while Young’s Literal Translation reads “the fallen ones.”
Image credit: https://soundcloud.com/tinfoilhatwithsamtripoli/258-the-nephilim-bigfoot-ufos-and-satanist-with-tony-merkel