Genesis 6:1-2 (ESV emphasis mine):

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.

Who are these "sons of God" (bene elohim) in Genesis 6:2? Are these some kind of divine being or angels that are intermarrying with human women? I've heard some people claim that they are the men in the godly line of Seth, while the daughters are from the line of Cain. What leads people to this interpretation? Are there other ideas?

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There are three common views on the identity of the 'sons of God' marrying the 'daughters of men' in Genesis 6.1-4:

  1. Descendants of Seth married descendants of Cain
  2. Nobles married commoners
  3. Angels married human women

1. Descendants of Seth married descendants of Cain

This view was popularized by Augustine (City of God, chapter 23), and the argument amounts to the following: the 'sons of God' designates people who are faithful to God (e.g. Romans 8.14), and hence are being contrasted to people not-faithful to God.

The account in Genesis 6.1-4, then, is telling us that there was a mingling of righteous men with unrighteous women, leading directly to the wickedness that prompted God to flood the world. Because Cain's descendants in Genesis 4 are inferred to be more wicked (based on the progression of Genesis 4.8-24), while Seth's descendants are inferred to be more righteous (based almost entirely on Genesis 4.25-26), it is common for adherents of this view to further identify the righteous 'sons of God' with Seth's offspring and the 'daughters of men' with Cain's.

A common criticism of this view is that Genesis 6.1-4 mentions neither Seth nor Cain, so identifying the 'sons of God' and the 'daughters of men' as their descendants, respectively, is accused of presupposing too much about the author's intentions.

2. Nobles married commoners

Another view, originating in 2nd century AD rabbinic thought, is that 'sons of God' designates members of nobility. We know from a variety of texts from the Ancient Near East that rulers were regularly perceived as the 'sons of God'. For biblical examples, see 2 Samuel 7.14 or Psalm 2, where God identifies the king of Israel as his 'son'.

In this case, the 'sons of God' — the rulers of the ancient world — are forcefully taking women from the common folk, which is also attested in ancient Near Eastern culture. The biblical book of Esther depicts such an occasion.

While the 'sons of God' label could indeed refer to nobility, both of views 1 and 2 suffer from the particular designation of the women as being 'daughters of men'. This epithet, which is contrasted to the 'of God', seems completely unnecessary if both the 'sons' and 'daughters' are humans.

3. Angels married human women

The third view is that a group of angels (the 'sons of God') descended upon the earth and married human women (the 'daughters of men'). I would argue this is the most accurate interpretation of the text (see my 'personal thought' below), and it seems to have been the earliest view as evident in both Jewish and Christian texts:

1 Enoch's Book of Watchers (3rd century BC)

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' ... And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon. (R.H. Charles translation)

Jubilees 4.15-5.7 (2nd century BC)

in [Jared's] days the angels of the Lord descended on the earth, those who are named the Watchers, that they should instruct the children of men ... And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. (R.H. Charles translation)

LXX Genesis 6.2-5 (2nd-1st century BC)

Some copies of the Septuagint chose to translate the Hebrew 'sons of God' into the Greek 'angels of God'.

Philo, On the Giants (1st century AD)

"And when the angels of God saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, they took unto themselves wives of all of them whom they Chose." Those beings, whom other philosophers call demons, Moses usually calls angels; and they are souls hovering in the air.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 1.3.1 (1st century AD)

For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants. (William Whiston translation)

Jude 6-7 (1st century AD)

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day: just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (ESV translation)

The epistle of Jude draws extensively upon 1 Enoch; with that textual transmission in mind, it is clear Jude is referring to the episode in Genesis 6.1-4. Jude 6-7 is further repeated in 2 Peter 2.4.

By the second century AD, the Jewish authorities were moving away from the 'angels' interpretation because of the growing view that angels could not, by nature, defy God's will. See, for example, Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho, chapter 79. In this text, Justin (allegedly) debated a Jewish man named Trypho, who said:

The utterances of God are holy, but your expositions are mere contrivances, as is plain from what has been explained by you; nay, even blasphemies, for you assert that angels sinned and revolted from God. (Philip Schaff translation)

Meanwhile, Christian authorities favored it until about the fourth or fifth century, with Augustine being the main contributor to a shift in popular opinion.

Personal thought

As an aside, my personal thought is that Genesis 6.1-4 was written as an etiology for the tribes of 'giants' found in the narrative between the exodus and the rise of David: the Rephaim, the Emim, and the Anakim, all groups remembered for their extreme size (e.g. Numbers 13.33; Deuteronomy 1.28; 2.10,21; 9.2).

The last group, the offspring of Anak, are explicitly said to come from the nephilim (Numbers 13.33). A few 'giants' in particular survived in Israel's social memory: Og of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3.11), Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17.4), and a group of six Philistines from Gath (2 Samuel 21.18-22).

By the exilic period, memory of 'giants' who fought against Israel's ancestors was retained in the social consciousness. With this, as the scribes were compiling the larger narrative of Genesis—2 Kings, they wrote a story explaining the immense size and violence of those ancient enemies: Og, Goliath, et al, were offspring of the Rephaim, the Emim, and the Anakim, who were all descendants of the nephilim, the 'mighty men of ancient times, men of fame', who owed their great stature to angelic fathers.

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    Where would the "Sons of God" or heavenly council mentioned in the Book of Job (Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 38) fit in your explanation? What constitutes one (whether angel or man) to be call "Son of God" in the Bible? For example, Adam was "the Son of God" (Luke 3:38). Why would angels, Adam, and finally Jesus be termed "Sons of God" in the Bible? Thanks in advance. – Joseph Apr 15 '14 at 16:25
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    Those are all separate questions, because they were all written in different historical and theological contexts apart from that of the Genesis 6.1-4 pericope. – Mark Edward Apr 15 '14 at 16:41
  • I was just curious why you did not cite Job in your research, when it is the only other place in the Hebrew Bible where "sons of God" appear; and secondly, the events of Job (the person of Job) pre-existed Moses, so the term "sons of God" had reference to angels in the (proto-)Hebrew language at that time. Why you make no mention of intra-Biblical references (to the Book of Job) as part of your research is thus my question. – Joseph Apr 16 '14 at 10:25
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    I don't mention them because: 1. None of those texts is related to the specific episode of Genesis 6.1-4 (whereas all the texts I cited were), and 2. I don't assume a systematic connection between every biblical text, and hence their vocabulary. If that is the kind of answer you prefer, perhaps you could be the one to provide it for us? – Mark Edward Apr 16 '14 at 16:00
  • Oh! Also, 'sons of God' is found in variants of Deuteronomy 32.8-9, and was likely the original text. – Mark Edward Apr 16 '14 at 16:04

The first part of the term "Bene Ha'elohim" simply means sons of. Therefore, the question really revolves around what "elohim" refers to here. In that vein, there are a couple of different translations for "elohim". In the Bible, it is typically used to refer to Yahewh (God,) however elohim can also refer to gods; the mighty, great or powerful (so, lords or aristocracy); or rulers/judges. Many have used the book of Enoch, an apocryphal text to fill in the blank here and say that these were angels, however I find it helpful to consider the idea that the Bene Ha'elohim were simply mesopotamian rulers or aristocracy (who would qualify as "men of old" and "renown") and see how this impacts the narrative in Genesis. Nephilim means (roughly) the fallen ones - so perhaps these sons of the powers or lords fell in battle.

First, In Genesis 6:5-8 it is revealed that the relationships between the Bene Ha'elohim. (Literally, sons of the powers) and the daughters of man is the reason for the great flood.

Secondly, at the time, the Hebrews were a nomadic people who lived in the hills near Ur and surrounding areas of the Fertile Crescent. At that time the major powers and empires (aka kings or lords) were either the Sumerians, Akkadians, Hittites or Mitannis depending on when you date this story and/or the flood.

Lastly, in the pericope, it seems like the daughters of man are the daughters of God's people (the Hebrews) based on context. So what do we get if we assemble all of these pieces? This paints the picture of the Israelites and people of God marrying into neighboring cultures with all their gods, customs and religious practices because these people were wealthy and powerful. So suddenly, a familiar theme emerges - the theme that is presented in the story of the tower of Babel, the theme presented in Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and the most common theme throughout the entire Old Testament: Idoaltry.

With this understanding, what comes into relief is that with the intermarriage of races (especially for the purposes of materialism) comes the intermarriage of religions also and a temptation of the Israelite people to follow other gods which is unacceptable to Yahweh as he is Jealous God. Having this idolatry as the reason behind the flood makes a ton more sense than to obliterate the earth because there were some half-breed little green men from outer space or some mulatto angels running around. This may be more mundane, but it is also more sensical and fits more neatly into the story arc of the text.

While the book of Enoch is a respected and quoted widely to bring the view that angels were sons of God, the view does not align with the rest of the scripture. We read in the book of Hebrews: “Hebrews 1:5

5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?“ Angels were not sons of God but ministering spirits sent to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation: “ Hebrews 1:13,14

13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” By these scriptures, it is the heirs of salvation that are the sons of God. Adam who was created in the image of God was refered to as a son of God We read in the geneology thus of Adam: “Luke 3:37,38

37 Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan, 38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.” As pertaining to the heirs of salvation we read: Hebrews 2:6-11

6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? 7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,

“Galatians 4:4-7

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. 6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Adams seed, thou fallen from grace were still sons of God for to redeem means to buy back, to restore to the original owner/condition. Through Christ we are restored back to the original condition. Howbeit even in our fallen condition were were called sons of God. We can get our backing of this from the scripture:

“Psalm 82:6

6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. In the words of Jesus: John 10:34,35

34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? 35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;”

By these scriptures we find the sons of God were of the lineage of Adam. Of seth it is said:

Genesis 4:25,26

25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. 26 And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.

But of Cain it is said: “1 John 3:12

12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.” Cain was serpents seed by carefully reading of the scripture below:

"Matthew 23:33-35

33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? 34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar."

Thus the scripture identifies to lines of people from Genesis to revelation, the line of the wicked one and that of the righteous one. By the above lines of scriptural thought and mind we see that the sons of God were of the line of righteous Seth and the other line was that of Cain. The descendants of Seth married the descendants of Cain.

  • Thank you. I would add Rom. 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Those who were led by the Spirit of God were listed in Gen. c 5. Gen. c6 begins by calling them sons of God. Angels cannot procreate (Matt. 22:30) no matter whether they are in heaven or on earth. – Gina Dec 7 '17 at 15:55
  • Samuel please do not use the "Community Wiki" checkbox when you post answers. It's not relevant to the kinds of posts you are making. All posts on this site are already editable by the community anyway. Only in the case of prearranged collaborations where you are not the primary author and the other authors are on the site would I consider using that feature here. – Caleb Dec 7 '17 at 19:52
  • Ihave to say that you have me swayed here. I have pondered this question many times and generaly favored the idea of Angels but you have made an interesting case here. My only concern is that the New Testament rendering of some terms have dispensational connotations, So while the Angel of the Lord may have been a manifestation of Jesus in the OT, in the NT they are just Angels and cannot be a manifestation of God himself. I wonder if this can be applied to the term Sons of God to mean one thing in the OT and something else in the NT. – Dr.Apell Aug 11 at 3:00

I am not a theological expert so forgive my lack of scholarly exposition. However according to Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 in the KJV & NKJV we see the Angels being called sons of God. Couple that with the book of Jude 6 - 7 that says Angels that did not keep their principality..... but descended to the earth... to commit fornication as in Sodom and Gommorrah. Some have rightly argued that Angels cannot marry and engage corporeal intercourse which is reserved for fleshly beings. This is a worthy point of note, however could it be that these Angels occuppied human flesh and commited fornication? It is possible that some were capable of tranforming themselves and even possesing humans as evil spirits to commit a forbidden act. Finally, I beg to ask if these Sons of God were simply descendants of Seth, what is so special about that the Bible takes time to talk about them and why would Seths line be the oly one producing men who are over 13 feet tall? What Biblical evidence do we have ( except in the Pseudepigraphia such as Cave of Treasures & the Life of Adma and Eve) that the descendants of Seth or the Sons of any acients nobles had some genetic abnormality that would produce giants?

The Bene elohim or 'sons of God' are also the order of angels that emanate from the sephiroth Hod in the jewish Kabbalah. The bible is based on the Kabbalah. The magical vision of this sephiroth is that of an hermaphrodite. This sephiroth is also associated with the hemisphere of the brain that regulates books and learning. Its opposite on the tree of life is Netzach which is typified by the magical image of a beautiful naked woman. Nezach also represents the hemisphere of the brain that regulates art and nature. Perhaps this passage is suggesting that the unification of these sephiroth teachings, or the equal use of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, is to be desired.

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. In particular, be sure to read the section on what constitutes a good answer and revise your post to either cite references that back your position or to more thoroughly explain how you get this interpretation from the text itself. Please note that "showing your work" is required for answers to be considered "good" and get upvotes from the community on this Stack Exchange. – James Shewey Nov 11 '15 at 21:32
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    The bible is based on the Kabbalah. Considering that the Kabbalah texts were committed to writing around the 12th century AD and the Old Testament was certainly complete no later than the 2nd century BC, that is quite a bold statement. – ThaddeusB Nov 11 '15 at 21:47

protected by James Shewey Apr 13 '17 at 15:10

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