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Who Were the "sons of God" Referred to in Genesis 6?

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The identity of the “sons of God” in the sixth chapter of Genesis has always been and still is the subject of a longstanding debate among biblical scholars. Whatever view one takes, there seems to be always question marks surrounding the preferred outcome. In other words there is no one absolute view that is agreed upon among the different scholars and this draws a very interesting conclusion.

The term “sons of God” is mentioned in Genesis 6:2 for the first time and then in Genesis 6:4 for the second time. The term is mentioned again three times in the book of Job (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7) meaning that the term appears five times in the Old Testament.

In my opinion, the key to unlock and understand the sons of God is in the first two verses of Genesis 6. Genesis 6:1 clearly states that as men began to multiply on the earth (before the flood) daughters were born to them. The daughters were a result of men (human race) increasing through mating and procreation. Whilst men were increasing and daughters being born to them in Genesis 6:1, Genesis 6:2 introduces the sons of God and contrasts them with the daughters of men that we first encounter in Genesis 6:1. What is clear to me is that, in Genesis 6:1, as men were multiplying and daughters being born to them, the sons of God (whoever they were) were not part of that process. It appears to me that they were not involved in the multiplication of men articulated in Genesis 6:1. It’s like they were just observers. However, when they saw that the daughters of men were beautiful they became interested and married them.

It is interesting to note that we don’t hear of giants/Nephilim in Genesis 6:1 as men began to multiply. We hear of daughters being born. Giants were born when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men in Genesis 6:4 and thereafter we hear of man’s wickedness in Genesis 6:5 and then God’s subsequent grief, wrath and judgement in Genesis 6:6 and 6:7. It is also interesting to note that before the giants/Nephilim (offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men) we do not hear of any problem. As a matter of fact, what we see is God only reducing man’s lifespan to 120 years and there was no mention of wickedness and judgement whatsoever. The introduction of giants/Nephilim saw the beginning of trouble and I attribute this trouble to the sons of God’s involvement in the affairs of man.

All of the above are pointers to the fact that had the sons of God not mated with the daughters of men, who knows the flood could not have happened. Now it then brings the question, who were these sons of God who were not part of Genesis 6:1, who produced giants/Nephilim, who championed wickedness and changed the course of human history, who caused grief to God, who led God to pronounce judgement and destroy every other living thing save for Noah’s family and animals in the ark and finally who made God to start a new generation of human beings through Noah after the flood.

In my answer I will give my personal opinion and explanation, but before I do, I will briefly outline the 3 main interpretations given for the sons of God in Genesis 6. I shall then proceed to give reasons for my rejection of views 2 and 3. After this I will conclude with my preferred interpretation. I will also attempt to give my responses to the objections which are raised against my preferred interpretation. The 3 main interpretations are as follows:

1. The “sons of God” are angels/spirits.

This view advocates that fallen angels/angelic beings cohabited with humans. According to this view, the ‘sons of God’ of verses 2 and 4 are fallen angels, which have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures. These angels married women of the human race (either Cainites or Sethites) and the resulting offspring were the Nephilim. The Nephilim were giants with physical superiority and therefore established themselves as men of renown for their physical prowess and military might. This race of half human creatures was wiped out by the flood, along with mankind in general, who were sinners in their own right (Genesis 6:11,12).

2. The “sons of God” are Sethites.

What is involved is the mixing of the godly Sethite line with the ungodly line of Cain. This polluting of the line of the promised seed is what provoked God to call for the Flood. The ‘sons of God’ are generally said by those who hold this view to be the godly men of the Sethite line. The ‘daughters of men’ are thought to be the daughters of the ungodly Cainite. The Nephilim are the ungodly and violent men who are the product of this unholy union.

The major support for this interpretation is the context of Genesis chapters 4 and 5. Chapter four describes the ungodly generation of Cain, while in chapter five we see the godly Sethite line. In Israel, separation was a vital part of the religious responsibility of those who truly worshipped God. What took place in chapter six was the breakdown in the separation which threatened the godly seed through whom Messiah was to be born. This breakdown was the cause of the flood which would follow. It destroyed the ungodly world and preserved righteous Noah and his family, through whom the promise of Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled.

3. The “sons of God” are Princely Rulers/Dynastic Rulers.

Men of noble birth or princely genealogy married below themselves. According to this approach the ‘sons of God’ are nobles, aristocrats, and kings. These ambitious despots lusted after power and wealth and desired to become ‘men of a name’. Their sin was ‘not intermarriage between two groups—whether two worlds, (angels and man), two religious communities (Sethite and Cainite), or two social classes (royal and common) but that the sin was polygamy.’ It was the same type of sin that the Cainite Lamech practiced, the sin of polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the harem, the characteristic institution of the ancient oriental despot’s court. In this transgression the ‘sons of God’ frequently violated the sacred trust of their office as guardians of the general ordinances of God for human conduct.

Before coming to my preferred interpretation, I will give my reasons for rejecting views 2 and 3.

Reasons for rejecting view 2:

• This is not what first suggests itself to the reader who has just finished reading chapter 5.

• In the delineation of the Sethite line in Genesis 5, we read repeatedly “he begat sons and daughters.” Contextually, if the “daughters of men” belong not to mankind but a specific group or line, that line must be that of Seth, not the line of Cain.

• Furthermore,

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