Book of Genesis Chapter 6:2 : Who were the “Sons of God”?

John Calvin
Genesis 6:1
1.And it came to pass, when men began to multiply. Moses, having enumerated in order, ten patriarchs, with whom the worship of God remained pure, now relates, that their families also were corrupted. But this narration must be traced to an earlier period than the five hundredth year of Noah. For, in order to make a transition to the history of the deluge, he prefaces it by declaring the whole world to have been so corrupt, that scarcely anything was left to God, out of the widely spread defection. That this may be the more apparent, the principle is to be kept in memory, that the world was then as if divided into two parts; because the family of Seth cherished the pure and lawful worship of Good, from which the rest had fallen. Now, although all mankind had been formed for the worship of God, and therefore sincere religion ought everywhere to have reigned; yet since the greater part had prostituted itself, either to an entire contempt of God, or to depraved superstitions; it was fitting that the small portion which God had adopted, by special privilege, to himself, should remain separate from others. It was, therefore, base ingratitude in the posterity of Seth, to mingle themselves with the children of Cain, and with other profane races; because they voluntarily deprived themselves of the inestimable grace of God. For it was an intolerable profanation, to pervert, and to confound, the order appointed by God. It seems at first sight frivolous, that the sons of God should be so severely condemned, for having chosen for themselves beautiful wives from the daughters of men. But we must know first, that it is not a light crime to violate a distinction established by the Lord; secondly, that for the worshippers of God to be separated from profane nations, was a sacred appointment which ought reverently to have been observed, in order that a Church of God might exist upon earth; thirdly, that the disease was desperate, seeing that men rejected the remedy divinely prescribed for them. In short, Moses points it out as the most extreme disorder; when the sons of the pious, whom God had separated to himself from others, as a peculiar and hidden treasure, became degenerate.

That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious. The opinion also of the Chaldean paraphrase is frigid; namely, that promiscuous marriages between the sons of nobles, and the daughters of plebeians, is condemned. Moses, then, does not distinguish the sons of God from the daughters of men, because they were of dissimilar nature, or of different origin; but because they were the sons of God by adoption, whom he had set apart for himself; while the rest remained in their original condition. Should any one object, that they who had shamefully departed from the faith, and the obedience which God required, were unworthy to be accounted the sons of God; the answer is easy, that the honor is not ascribed to them, but to the grace of God, which had hitherto been conspicuous in their families. For when Scripture speaks of the sons of God, sometimes it has respect to eternal election, which extends only to the lawful heirs; sometimes to external vocations according to which many wolves are within the fold; and thought in fact, they are strangers, yet they obtain the name of sons, until the Lord shall disown them. Yea, even by giving them a title so honorable, Moses reproves their ingratitude, because, leaving their heavenly Father, they prostituted themselves as deserters.

Adam Clarke
Genesis 6:1
When men began to multiply – It was not at this time that men began to multiply, but the inspired penman speaks now of a fact which had taken place long before. As there is a distinction made here between men and those called the sons of God, it is generally supposed that the immediate posterity of Cain and that of Seth are intended. The first were mere men, such as fallen nature may produce, degenerate sons of a degenerate father, governed by the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life. The others were sons of God, not angels, as some have dreamed, but such as were, according to our Lord’s doctrine, born again, born from above, Joh_3:3, Joh_3:5,Joh_3:6, etc., and made children of God by the influence of the Holy Spirit, Gal_5:6. The former were apostates from the true religion, the latter were those among whom it was preserved and cultivated. Dr. Wall supposes the first verses of this chapter should be paraphrased thus: “When men began to multiply on the earth, the chief men took wives of all the handsome poor women they chose. There were tyrants in the earth in those days; and also after the antediluvian days powerful men had unlawful connections with the inferior women, and the children which sprang from this illicit commerce were the renowned heroes of antiquity, of whom the heathens made their gods.”

Keil & Delitzsch
Gen_6:1-2
Gen_6:1-2 relates to the increase of men generally (הָאָדָם, without any restriction), i.e., of the whole human race; and whilst the moral corruption is represented as universal, the whole human race, with the exception of Noah, who found grace before God (Gen_6:8), is described as ripe for destruction (Gen_6:3 and Gen_6:5-8). To understand this section, and appreciate the causes of this complete degeneracy of the race, we must first obtain a correct interpretation of the expressions “sons of God” (האלהים בני) and “daughters of men” (האדם בנות).

Three different views have been entertained from the very earliest times: the “sons of God” being regarded as

(a) the sons of princes,

(b) angels,

(c) the Sethites or godly men;

and the “daughters of men,” as the daughters

(a) of people of the lower orders,

(b) of mankind generally,

(c) of the Cainites, or of the rest of mankind as contrasted with the godly or the children of God.

Of these three views, the first, although it has become the traditional one in orthodox rabbinical Judaism, may be dismissed at once as not warranted by the usages of the language, and as altogether unscriptural. The second, on the contrary, may be defended on two plausible grounds: first, the fact that the “sons of God,” in Job_1:6; Job_2:1, and Job_38:7, and in Dan_3:25, are unquestionably angels (also אֵלִים בְּנֵי in Psa_29:1 and Psa_89:7); and secondly, the antithesis, “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Apart from the context and tenor of the passage, these two points would lead us most naturally to regard the “sons of God” as angels, in distinction from men and the daughters of men. But this explanation, though the first to suggest itself, can only lay claim to be received as the correct one, provided the language itself admits of no other. Now that is not the case. For it is not to angels only that the term “sons of Elohim,” or “sons of Elim,” is applied; but in Psa_73:15, in an address to Elohim, the godly are called “the generation of Thy sons,” i.e., sons of Elohim; in Deu_32:5 the Israelites are called His (God’s) sons, and in Hos_1:10, “sons of the living God;” and in Psa_80:17, Israel is spoken of as the son, whom Elohim has made strong.

These passages show that the expression “sons of God” cannot be elucidated by philological means, but must be interpreted by theology alone. Moreover, even when it is applied to the angels, it is questionable whether it is to be understood in a physical or ethical sense. The notion that “it is employed in a physical sense as nomen naturae, instead of angels as nomen officii, and presupposes generation of a physical kind,” we must reject as an unscriptural and gnostic error. According to the scriptural view, the heavenly spirits are creatures of God, and not begotten from the divine essence. Moreover, all the other terms applied to the angels are ethical in their character. But if the title “sons of God” cannot involve the notion of physical generation, it cannot be restricted to celestial spirits, but is applicable to all beings which bear the image of God, or by virtue of their likeness to God participate in the glory, power, and blessedness of the divine life, – to men therefore as well as angels, since God has caused man to “want but little of Elohim,” or to stand but a little behind Elohim (Psa_8:5), so that even magistrates are designated “Elohim, and sons of the Most High” (Psa_82:6).

When Delitzsch objects to the application of the expression “sons of Elohim” to pious men, because, “although the idea of a child of God may indeed have pointed, even in the O.T., beyond its theocratic limitation to Israel (Exo_4:22; Deu_14:1) towards a wider ethical signification (Psa_73:15; Pro_14:26), yet this extension and expansion were not so completed, that in historical prose the terms ‘sons of God’ (for which ‘sons of Jehovah’ should have been used to prevent mistake), and ‘sons (or daughters) of men,’ could be used to distinguish the children of God and the children of the world,” – this argument rests upon the erroneous supposition, that the expression “sons of God” was introduced by Jehovah for the first time when He selected Israel to be the covenant nation. So much is true, indeed, that before the adoption of Israel as the first-born son of Jehovah (Exo_4:22), it would have been out of place to speak of sons of Jehovah; but the notion is false, or at least incapable of proof, that there were not children of God in the olden time, long before Abraham’s call, and that, if there were, they could not have been called “sons of Elohim.” The idea was not first introduced in connection with the theocracy, and extended thence to a more universal signification. It had its roots in the divine image, and therefore was general in its application from the very first; and it was not till God in the character of Jehovah chose Abraham and his seed to be the vehicles of salvation, and left the heathen nations to go their own way, that the expression received the specifically theocratic signification of “son of Jehovah,” to be again liberated and expanded into the more comprehensive idea of νἱοθεσία τοῦ Θεοῦ (i.e., Elohim, not τοῦ κυρίου = Jehovah), at the coming of Christ, the Saviour of all nations. If in the olden time there were pious men who, like Enoch and Noah, walked with Elohim, or who, even if they did not stand in this close priestly relation to God, made the divine image a reality through their piety and fear of God, then there were sons (children) of God, for whom the only correct appellation was “sons of Elohim,” since sonship to Jehovah was introduced with the call of Israel, so that it could only have been proleptically that the children of God in the old world could be called “sons of Jehovah.” But if it be still argued, that in mere prose the term “sons of God” could not have been applied to children of God, or pious men, this would be equally applicable to “sons of Jehovah.” On the other hand, there is this objection to our applying it to angels, that the pious, who walked with God and called upon the name of the Lord, had been mentioned just before, whereas no allusion had been made to angels, not even to their creation.

Again, the antithesis “sons of God” and “daughters of men” does not prove that the former were angels. It by no means follows, that because in Gen_6:1 האדם denotes man as a genus, i.e., the whole human race, it must do the same in Gen_6:2, where the expression “daughters of men” is determined by the antithesis “sons of God.” And with reasons existing for understanding by the sons of God and the daughters of men two species of the genus האדם, mentioned in Gen_6:1, no valid objection can be offered to the restriction of האדם, through the antithesis Elohim, to all men with the exception of the sons of God; since this mode of expression is by no means unusual in Hebrew. “From the expression ‘daughters of men,” as Dettinger observes, “it by no means follows that the sons of God were not men; any more than it follows from Jer_32:20, where it is said that God had done miracles ‘in Israel, and among men,’ or from Isa_43:4, where God says He will give men for the Israelites, or from Jdg_16:7, where Samson says, that if he is bound with seven green withs he shall be as weak as a man, for from Psa_73:5, where it is said of the ungodly they are not in trouble as men, that the Israelites, or Samson, or the ungodly, were not men at all. In all these passages אדם (men) denotes the remainder of mankind in distinction from those who are especially named.” Cases occur, too, even in simple prose, in which the same term is used, first in a general, and then directly afterwards in a more restricted sense. We need cite only one, which occurs in Judg. In Jdg_19:30 reference is made to the coming of the children of Israel (i.e., of the twelve tribes) out of Egypt; and directly afterwards (Jdg_20:1-2) it is related that “all the children of Israel,” “all the tribes of Israel,” assembled together (to make war, as we learn from Jdg_20:3., upon Benjamin); and in the whole account of the war, Judges 20 and 21, the tribes of Israel are distinguished from the tribe of Benjamin: so that the expression “tribes of Israel” really means the rest of the tribes with the exception of Benjamin. And yet the Benjamites were Israelites. Why then should the fact that the sons of God are distinguished from the daughters of men prove that the former could not be men? There is not force enough in these two objections to compel us to adopt the conclusion that the sons of God were angels.

The question whether the “sons of Elohim” were celestial or terrestrial sons of God (angels or pious men of the family of Seth) can only be determined from the context, and from the substance of the passage itself, that is to say, from what is related respecting the conduct of the sons of God and its results. That the connection does not favour the idea of their being angels, is acknowledged even by those who adopt this view. “It cannot be denied,” says Delitzsch, “that the connection of Gen_6:1-8 with Gen 4 necessitates the assumption, that such intermarriages (of the Sethite and Cainite families) did take place about the time of the flood (cf. Mat_24:38; Luk_17:27); and the prohibition of mixed marriages under the law (Exo_34:16; cf. Gen_27:46; Gen_28:1.) also favours the same idea.” But this “assumption” is placed beyond all doubt, by what is here related of the sons of God. In Gen_6:2 it is stated that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose,” i.e., of any with whose beauty they were charmed; and these wives bare children to them (Gen_6:4). Now אִשָּׁה לָקַח (to take a wife) is a standing expression throughout the whole of the Old Testament for the marriage relation established by God at the creation, and is never applied to πορνεία, or the simple act of physical connection. This is quite sufficient of itself to exclude any reference to angels. For Christ Himself distinctly states that the angels cannot marry (Mat_22:30; Mar_12:25; cf. Luk_20:34.). And when Kurtz endeavours to weaken the force of these words of Christ, by arguing that they do not prove that it is impossible for angels so to fall from their original holiness as to sink into an unnatural state; this phrase has no meaning, unless by conclusive analogies, or the clear testimony of Scripture,

(Note: We cannot admit that there is any force in Hoffmann’s argument in his Schriftbeweis 1, p. 426, that “the begetting of children on the part of angels is not more irreconcilable with a nature that is not organized, like that of man, on the basis of sexual distinctions, than partaking of food is with a nature that is altogether spiritual; and yet food was eaten by the angels who visited Abraham.” For, in the first place, the eating in this case was a miracle wrought through the condescending grace of the omnipotent God, and furnishes no standard for judging what angels can do by their own power in rebellion against God. And in the second place, there is a considerable difference between the act of eating on the part of the angels of God who appeared in human shape, and the taking of wives and begetting of children on the part of sinning angels. We are quite unable also to accept as historical testimony, the myths of the heathen respecting demigods, sons of gods, and the begetting of children on the part of their gods, or the fables of the book of Enoch (ch. 6ff.) about the 200 angels, with their leaders, who lusted after the beautiful and delicate daughters of men, and who came down from heaven and took to themselves wives, with whom they begat giants of 3000 (or according to one MS 300) cubits in height.

Nor do 2Pe_2:4 and Jud_1:6 furnish any evidence of angel marriages. Peter is merely speaking of sinning angels in general (ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων) whom God did not spare, and not of any particular sin on the part of a small number of angels; and Jude describes these angels as τοὺς μὴ τηρήσαντας τὴν ἑαυτῶν ἀρχήν ἀλλὰ ἀπολιπόντας τὸ ἴδιον οἰκητήριον, those who kept not their princedom, their position as rulers, but left their own habitation. There is nothing here about marriages with the daughters of men or the begetting of children, even if we refer the word τούτοις in the clause τὸν ὅμοιον τούτοις τρόπον ἐκπορνεύσασαι in Jud_1:7 to the angels mentioned in Jud_1:6; for ἐκπορνεύειν, the commission of fornication, would be altogether different from marriage, that is to say, from a conjugal bond that was permanent even though unnatural. But it is neither certain nor probable that this is the connection of τούτοις. Huther, the latest commentator upon this Epistle, who gives the preference to this explanation of τούτοις, and therefore cannot be accused of being biassed by doctrinal prejudices, says distinctly in the 2nd Ed. of his commentary, “τούτοις may be grammatically construed as referring to Sodom and Gomorrah, or per synesin to the inhabitants of these cities; but in that case the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah would only be mentioned indirectly.” There is nothing in the rules of syntax, therefore, to prevent our connecting the word with Sodom and Gomorrah; and it is not a fact, that “grammaticae et logicae praecepta compel us to refer this word to the angels,” as G. v. Zeschwitz says. But the very same reason which Huther assigns for not connecting it with Sodom and Gomorrah, may be also assigned for not connecting it with the angels, namely, that in that case the sin of the angels would only be mentioned indirectly. We regard Philippi’s explanation (in his Glaubenslehre iii. p. 303) as a possible one, viz., that the word τούτοις refers back to the ἄνθρωποι ἀσελγεῖς mentioned in Jud_1:4, and as by no means set aside by De Wette’s objection, that the thought of Jud_1:8 would be anticipated in that case; for this objection is fully met by the circumstance, that not only does the word οὗτοι, which is repeated five times from Jud_1:8 onwards, refer back to these men, but even the word τούτοις in Jud_1:14 also. On the other hand, the reference of τούτοις to the angels is altogether precluded by the clause καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας, which follows the word ἐκπορνεύσασαι. For fornication on the part of the angels could only consist in their going after flesh, or, as Hoffmann expresses it, “having to do with flesh, for which they were not created,” but not in their going after other, or foreign flesh. There would be no sense in the word ἑτέρας unless those who were ἐκπορνεύσαντες were themselves possessed of σάρξ; so that this is the only alternative, either we must attribute to the angels a σάρξ or fleshly body, or the idea of referring τούτοις to the angels must be given up. When Kurtz replies to this by saying that “to angels human bodies are quite as much a ἑτέρα σάρξ, i.e., a means of sensual gratification opposed to their nature and calling, as man can be to human man,” he hides the difficulty, but does not remove it, by the ambiguous expression “opposed to their nature and calling.” The ἑτέρα σάρξ must necessarily presuppose an ἰδία σάρξ.

But it is thought by some, that even if τούτοις in Jud_1:7 do not refer to the angels in Jud_1:6, the words of Jude agree so thoroughly with the tradition of the book of Enoch respecting the fall of the angels, that we must admit the allusion to the Enoch legend, and so indirectly to Gen 6, since Jude could not have expressed himself more clearly to persons who possessed the book of Enoch, or were acquainted with the tradition it contained. Now this conclusion would certainly be irresistible, if the only sin of the angels mentioned in the book of Enoch, as that for which they were kept in chains of darkness still the judgment-day, had been their intercourse with human wives. For the fact that Jude was acquainted with the legend of Enoch, and took for granted that the readers of his Epistle were so too, is evident from his introducing a prediction of Enoch in Jud_1:14, Jud_1:15, which is to be found in ch. i. 9 of Dillmann’s edition of the book of Enoch. But it is admitted by all critical writers upon this book, that in the book of Enoch which has been edited by Dillmann, and is only to be found in an Ethiopic version, there are contradictory legends concerning the fall and judgment of the angels; that the book itself is composed of earlier and later materials; and that those very sections (ch. 6-16:106, etc.) in which the legend of the angel marriages is given without ambiguity, belong to the so-called book of Noah, i.e., to a later portion of the Enoch legend, which is opposed in many passages to the earlier legend. The fall of the angels is certainly often referred to in the earlier portions of the work; but among all the passages adduced by Dillmann in proof of this, there is only one (19:1) which mentions the angels who had taken wives. In the others, the only thing mentioned as the sin of the angels or of the hosts of Azazel, is the fact that they were subject to Satan, and seduced those who dwelt on the earth (54:3-6), or that they came down from heaven to earth, and revealed to the children of men what was hidden from them, and then led them astray to the commission of sin (64:2). There is nothing at all here about their taking wives. Moreover, in the earlier portions of the book, besides the fall of the angels, there is frequent reference made to a fall, i.e., an act of sin, on the part of the stars of heaven and the army of heaven, which transgressed the commandment of God before they rose, by not appearing at their appointed time (vid., 18:14-15; 21:3; 90:21, 24, etc.); and their punishment and place of punishment are described, in just the same manner as in the case of the wicked angels, as a prison, a lofty and horrible place in which the seven stars of heaven lie bound like great mountains and flaming with fire (21:2-3), as an abyss, narrow and deep, dreadful and dark, in which the star which fell first from heaven is lying, bound hand and foot (88:1, cf. 90:24). From these passages it is quite evident, that the legend concerning the fall of the angels and stars sprang out of Isa_24:21-22 (“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall visit the host of the height [הַמָּרֹום צְבָא, the host of heaven, by which stars and angels are to be understood on high i.e., the spiritual powers of the heavens] and the kings of the earth upon the earth, and they shall be gathered together, bound in the dungeon, and shut up in prison, and after many days they shall be punished”), along with Isa_14:12 (“How art thou fallen from heaven, thou beautiful morning star!”), and that the account of the sons of God in Gen 6, as interpreted by those who refer it to the angels, was afterwards combined and amalgamated with it.

Now if these different legends, describing the judgment upon the stars that fell from heaven, and the angels that followed Satan in seducing man, in just the same manner as the judgment upon the angels who begot giants from women, were in circulation at the time when the Epistle of Jude was written; we must not interpret the sin of the angels, referred to by Peter and Jude, in a one-sided manner, and arbitrarily connect it with only such passages of the book of Enoch as speak of angel marriages, to the entire disregard of all the other passages, which mention totally different sins as committed by the angels, that are punished with bands of darkness; but we must interpret it from what Jude himself has said concerning this sin, as Peter gives no further explanation of what he means by ἁμαρτῆσαι. Now the only sins that Jude mentions are μὴ τηρῆσαι τὴν ἑαυτῶν ἀρχήν and ἀπολιπεῖν τὸ ἴδιον οἰκητήριον. The two are closely connected. Through not keeping the ἀρχή (i.e., the position as rulers in heaven) which belonged to them, and was assigned them at their creation, the angels left “their own habitation” (ἴδιον οἰκητήριον); just as man, when he broke the commandment of God and failed to keep his position as ruler on earth, also lost “his own habitation” (ἴδιον οἰκητήριον), that is to say, not paradise alone, but the holy body of innocence also, so that he needed a covering for his nakedness, and will continue to need it, until we are “clothed upon with our hose which is from heaven” (οἰκητήριον ἡμῶν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ). In this description of the angels’ sin, there is not the slightest allusion to their leaving heaven to woo the beautiful daughters of men. The words may be very well interpreted, as they were by the earlier Christian theologians, as relating to the fall of Satan and his angels, to whom all that is said concerning their punishment fully applies. If Jude had had the πορνεία of the angels, mentioned in the Enoch legends, in his mind, he would have stated this distinctly, just as he does in v. 9 in the case of the legend concerning Michael and the devil, and in v. 11 in that of Enoch’s prophecy. There was all the more reason for his doing this, because not only to contradictory accounts of the sin of the angels occur in the Enoch legends, but a comparison of the parallels cited from the book of Enoch proves that he deviated from the Enoch legend in points of no little importance. Thus, for example, according to Enoch 54:3, “iron chains of immense weight” are prepared for the hosts of Azazel, to put them into the lowest hell, and cast them on that great day into the furnace with flaming fire. Now Jude and Peter say nothing about iron chains, and merely mention “everlasting chains under darkness” and “chains of darkness.” Again, according to Enoch 10:12, the angel sinners are “bound fast under the earth for seventy generations, till the day of judgment and their completion, till the last judgment shall be held for all eternity.” Peter and Jude make no allusion to this point of time, and the supporters of the angel marriages, therefore, have thought well to leave it out when quoting this parallel to Jud_1:6. Under these circumstances, the silence of the apostles as to either marriages or fornication on the part of the sinful angels, is a sure sign that they gave no credence to these fables of a Jewish gnosticizing tradition.)

it can be proved that the angels either possess by nature a material corporeality adequate to the contraction of a human marriage, or that by rebellion against their Creator they can acquire it, or that there are some creatures in heaven and on earth which, through sinful degeneracy, or by sinking into an unnatural state, can become possessed of the power, which they have not by nature, of generating and propagating their species. As man could indeed destroy by sin the nature which he had received from his Creator, but could not by his own power restore it when destroyed, to say nothing of implanting an organ or a power that was wanting before; so we cannot believe that angels, through apostasy from God, could acquire sexual power of which they had previously been destitute.

Pulpit Commentary
Vers. 1, 2.—And it came to pass. Literally, it was; not in immediate sequence to the preceding chapter, but at some earlier point in the antediluvian period; perhaps about the time of Enoch (corresponding to that of Lamech the Cainite), if not in the days of Enos. Hävernick joins the passage with ch. 4:26. When men—ha’adham, i. e. the human race in general, and not the posterity of Cain in particular (Ainsworth, Rosenmüller, Bush)—began to multiply—in virtue of the Divine blessing (ch. 1:28)—on (or over) the face of the earth. “Alluding to the population spreading itself out as well as increasing” (Bonar). And daughters were born unto them. Not referring to any special increase of the female sex (Lange), but simply indicating the cuartor whence the danger to the pious Sethites rose: “who became snares to the race of Seth” (Wordsworth).

That the sons of God. Bene-ha Elohim. 1. Not young men of the upper ranks, as distinguished from maidens of humble birth (Onk., Jon., Sym., Aben Ezra); an opinion which “may now be regarded as exploded” (Lange). 2. Still less the angels (LXX.,—some MSS. having ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ,—Philo, Josephus, Justin Martyr, Clement, Tertullian, Luther, Gesenius, Rosen-müller, Von Bohlen, Ewald, Baumgarten, Delitzach, Kurtz, Hengstenberg, Alford); for

(1) they are either good angels, in which case they might be rightly styled sons of God. (Ps. 29:1; 89:7; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25), though it is doubtful if this expression does not denote their official rather than natural relationship to God, but it is certain they would not be guilty of the sin here referred to; or they are bad angels, in which case they might readily enough commit the sin, if it were possible, but certainly they would not be called, “the sons of God.”

(2) The statement of Jude (vers. 6, 7), though seemingly in favour of this interpretation, does not necessarily require it; since (α) it is uncertain whether the phrase “ρὸν ὅμοιον τούτοις τρόπον ἐκπορνεύσασαι καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτἐρας” refers to the angels or to “αἰ περὶ αὐτὰς πόλεις”, in which case the antecedent of τούτοις will not be the ἀγγέλοι of ver. 6, but Σόδομα καὶ Γόμοῤῥα of ver. 7; (β) if even it refers to the angels it does not follow that the parallel between the cities and the angels consisted in the “going after strange flesh,” and not rather in the fact that both departed from God, “the sin of the apostate angels being in God’s view a sin of like kind spiritually with Sodom’s going away from God’s order of nature after strange flesh” (Fausset); (γ) again, granting that Jude’s language describes the sin of the angels as one of carnal fornication with the daughters of men, the sin of which the sons of Elohim are represented as guilty is not πορνεία, but the forming of unhallowed matrimonial alliances. Hence

(3) the assertion of our Lord in Luke 20:35 is inconsistent with the hypothesis that by the sons of God are meant the angels; and

(4) consistent exegesis requires that only extreme urgency, in fact absolute necessity (neither of which can be alleged here), should cause the sons of God to be looked for elsewhere than among the members of the human race.

3. The third interpretation, therefore, which regards the sons of God as the pious Sethites (Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, Augustine, Jerome, Calvin, Keil, Häver-nick, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth, Quarry, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), though not without its difficulties, has the most to recommend it.

(1) It is natural, and not monstrous.

(2) It is Scriptural, and not mythical (cf. Numbers 25; Judges 3; 1 Kings 11, 16; Rev. 2, for sins a of a similar description).

(3) It accords with the designation subsequently given to the pious followers of God (cf. Deut 14:1; 32:5; Ps. 73:15; Prov. 14:26; Luke 3:38; Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26).

(4) It has a historical basis in the fact that Seth was regarded by his mother as a son from God (ch. 4:25), and in the circumstance that already the Sethites had begun to call themselves by the name of Jehovah (ch. 4:26). Dathius translates, “qui de nomine Dei voca-bantur.”

(5) It is sufficient as an hypothesis, and therefore is entitled to the preference.

Saw the daughters of men (not of the Cainitic race exclusively, but of men generally) that they were fair, and had regard to this alone in contracting marriages. “Instead of looking at the spiritual kinsmanship, they had an eye only to the pleasure of sense” (Lange). “What the historian condemns is not that regard was had to beauty, but that mera libido regnaverit in the choice of wives” (Calvin). And they took them wives. Lakachish”, “a standing expression throughout the Old Testament for the marriage relationship established by God at the creation, is never applied to πορνεία, or the simple act of physical connection, which is sufficient of itself to exclude any reference to angels” (Keil; cf.ch. 4:19; 12:19; 19:14; Exod. 6:25; 1 Sam. 25:43).

Of all whom they chose. The emphasis on טִכֹּל (of all) signifies that, guided by a love of merely sensual attractions, they did not confine themselves to the beautiful daughters of the Sethite race, but selected their brides from the fair women of the Cainites, and perhaps with a preference for these. The opinion that they selected “both virgins and wives, they cared not whom,” and “took them by violence” (Willet), is not warranted by the language of the historian. The sons of God were neither the Nephilim nor the Gibborim afterwards described, but the parents of the latter. The evil indicated is simply that of promiscuous marriages without regard to spiritual character.

Albert Barnes
Gen_6:1-4
There are two stages of evil set forth in Gen_6:1-4 – the one contained in the present four verses, and the other in the following. The former refers to the apostasy of the descendants of Sheth, and the cause and consequences of it. When man began to multiply, the separate families of Cain and Sheth would come into contact. The daughters of the stirring Cainites, distinguished by the graces of nature, the embellishments of art, and the charms of music and song, even though destitute of the loftier qualities of likemindedness with God, would attract attention and prompt to unholy alliances. The phrase “sons of God,” means an order of intelligent beings who “retain the purity of moral character” originally communicated, or subsequently restored, by their Creator. They are called the sons of God, because they have his spirit or disposition. The sons of God mentioned in Job_38:7, are an order of rational beings existing before the creation of man, and joining in the symphony of the universe, when the earth and all things were called into being. Then all were holy, for all are styled the sons of God. Such, however, are not meant in the present passage. For they were not created as a race, have no distinction of sex, and therefore no sexual desire; they “neither marry nor are given in marriage” Mat_22:30. It is contrary to the law of nature for different species even on earth to cohabit in a carnal way; much more for those in the body, and those who have not a body of flesh. Moreover, we are here in the region of humanity, and not in the sphere of superhuman spirits; and the historian has not given the slightest intimation of the existence of spiritual beings different from man.

The sons of God, therefore, are those who are on the Lord’s side, who approach him with duly significant offerings, who call upon him by his proper name, and who walk with God in their daily conversation. The figurative use of the word “son” to denote a variety of relations incidental, and moral as well as natural, was not unfamiliar to the early speaker. Thus, Noah is called “the son of five hundred years” Gen_5:32. Abraham calls Eliezer בן־בותי ben-bēytı̂y, “son of my house” Gen_15:3. The dying Rachel names her son Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow,” while his father called him Benjamin, “son of thy right hand” Gen_35:18. An obvious parallel to the moral application is presented in the phrases “the seed of the woman” and “the seed of the serpent.” The word “generations” תולדות tôledot, Gen_5:1) exhibits a similar freedom and elasticity of meaning, being applied to the whole doings of a rational being, and even to the physical changes of the material world Gen_2:4. The occasion for the present designation is furnished in the remark of Eve on the birth of Sheth. God hath given me another seed instead of Habel. Her son Sheth she therefore regarded as the son of God. Accordingly, about the birth of his son Enosh, was begun the custom calling upon the name of the Lord, no doubt in the family circle of Adam, with whom Sheth continued to dwell. And Enok, the seventh from Adam in the same line, exhibited the first striking example of a true believer walking with God in all the intercourse of life. These descendants of Sheth, among whom were also Lamek who spoke of the Lord, and Noah who walked with God, are therefore by a natural transition called the sons of God, the godlike in a moral sense, being born of the Spirit, and walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit Psa_82:6; Hos_2:1.

Some take “the daughters of man” to be the daughters of the Cainites only. But it is sufficient to understand by this phrase, the daughters of man in general, without any distinction of a moral or spiritual kind, and therefore including both Cainite and Shethite females. “And they took them wives of all whom they chose.” The evil here described is that of promiscuous intermarriage, without regard to spiritual character. The godly took them wives of all; that is, of the ungodly as well as the godly families, without any discrimination. “Whom they chose,” not for the godliness of their lives, but for the goodliness of their looks. Ungodly mothers will not train up children in the way they should go; and husbands who have taken the wrong step of marrying ungodly wives cannot prove to be very exemplary or authoritative fathers. Up to this time they may have been consistent as the sons of God in their outward conduct. But a laxity of choice proves a corresponding laxity of principle. The first inlet of sin prepares the way for the flood-gates of iniquity. It is easy to see that now the degeneracy of the whole race will go on at a rapid pace.

Cambridge Bible
2. that the sons of God, &c.] This is one of the most disputed passages in the book. But the difficulty, in a great measure, disappears, if it is frankly recognized, that the verse must be allowed to have its literal meaning. According to the legend which it preserves, intermarriages took place between Heavenly Beings and mortal women.

Commentators have often shrunk from the admission that this piece of mythology could have a place in the Hebrew Scriptures. Accordingly, very fanciful explanations have sometimes found favour; e.g. (a) “the sons of God” are the men of the upper classes, “the daughters of men” are “the women of the lower classes”; (b) “the sons of God” are “the sons of the god-fearing,” “the daughters of men” are “the daughters of the impious”; (c) “the sons of God” are “the descendants of Seth,” “the daughters of men” are “the women of the Cainite race.” Such interpretations may be dismissed as arbitrary and non-natural: and they furnish no explanation of the inference in v. 4, that a race of giants or heroes was the progeny of these marriages.

the sons of God] Heb. B’nê Elohim, “sons of Elohim,” i.e. beings partaking of the Divine nature. It has been pointed out above (see note on 1:26), that the Israelites believed the Almighty to be surrounded by a court of beings who were subordinate to Him in authority, office, and rank: their dwelling-place was in Heaven; their duty was to perform the tasks appointed them by the Almighty. They were “angels” or “messengers,” Heb. mal’âkhîm, Gr. ἄγγελοι. The sons of God are mentioned in Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, Ps. 29:1, 89:1, Dan. 3:25, 28.

The expression must be judged in accordance with Hebrew, not English, idiom. “The sons of the prophets” (1 Kings 20:35: cf. Amos 7:14) are persons who belong to the guild of the prophets, members, as we should say, of the prophet’s calling. No family relationship is implied. Similarly “the sons of God” are not “sons of gods,” in the sense of being their children, but “sons of Elohim” in the sense of belonging to the class of super-natural, or heavenly, beings.

There is no reference, on the one hand, to Oriental speculations respecting emanations from the Deity; nor to actual sonship, or generation. The description is quite general. Nowhere do we find in the O.T. mention of the “sons of Jehovah” instead of the “sons of Elohim.”

of all that they chose] i.e. whomsoever they chose. The sons of God are represented as being irresistible. The sons of men could offer no effective opposition. The marriages, contracted in this way, are evidently implied to be wrong, and the result of mere unbridled passion. The men were powerless to defend their women folk.

In the later days of Judaism, this passage became the source of the strange legends respecting “fallen angels,” of which we find traces in the N.T.: 2 Pet. 2:4, “for if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to Hell”; Jude 6, “angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation”; and in the Book of Enoch.

There is no trace, however, in the Book of Genesis of any tradition respecting either the fall, or the rebellion, of members of the angel-host. Unquestionably English ideas are profoundly affected by the influence of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and by the vague impression that a great and noble religious poem must have been founded upon literal facts.

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