17 September 2008

Genesis 6, Sons of God, & Nephilim (Pt 1)

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. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
(Genesis 6:1-4)
I have read numerous commentaries and small articles set forth to attempt to explain away the historical understanding of these verses, that the "sons of God" referred to were angels, and the offspring produced were giants called Nephilim. I have read very little so far though, that states why commentators are so opposed to this view, however. What is gained or lost with accepting this view?

Historically, per many other extra-biblical Jewish writings, the angel view is predominant, and if accepted, opens up and reveals much more detail to the biblical record from these non-canonical writings. Sometimes I wonder if some of these other writings got denied as canon due to including these views of the angelic realm (the book of Enoch for example).
The earliest datable exposition of Genesis 6 known is 1 Enoch 6-11, usually dated c. 200 B.C. It clearly identifies the "sons of God" as angels. This interpretation could in fact have originated long before 1 Enoch was written. It continued without challenge for the next three hundred years.

The book of Jubilees (dated no later than 100 B.C.) describes the "sons of God" as angels sent to earth to help mankind. They became consumed with lust, cohabited with women, and fathered a race of giants...Other early exponents of the belief that Genesis 6:1-4 describes a supernatural-human union include Philo of Alexandria (early first century A.D.), Flavius Josephus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Lactantius, Ireaneus, Cyprian, and Ambrose. (F.B. Huey, Jr., "Are the 'Sons of God' in Geneis 6 Angels? - Yess," The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 189, 190.
So, we have a long history of this belief in Jewish and church history, by some of the big names in the early church fathers. And if we accept the teaching, then through the many other writings surrounding the teaching, we fill in gaps to Genesis 6 that have caused many people to question and misinterpret these verses, the flood, and more.

The Septuagint is one of the translations that makes the verse more plain by saying:

that the angels of God having seen the daughters of men that they were beautiful, took to themselves wives of all whom they chose.
As mentioned, the early church fathers held to the same belief that was historically the position. Let us now look at some of their quotes:
From the seed [of the fallen angels and women], giants are said to have been born. By them, arts were made known to the earth. They taught the dyeing of wool and everything that is done. Yet, because they were of an evil seed, the Almighty did not approve of their being brought back from death when they had died. For that reason, they wander and they now subvert many bodied. And it is they whom the [pagans] presently worship and pray to as gods. Commodianus (c.240, W), 4.203.

However, those who were born from [the relations of angels and women] - because they were neither angels nor men, but had mixed nature - were not admitted into Hades [when they died]. Similarly, their fathers had not been admitted into heaven either. Thus their came to be two kinds of demons; one of heaven, the other of earth. The latter are the wicked spirits, who are the author of all the evils that are done. Lactantius (c. 304-313, W) 7.64

The angels are likewise possesed of personal freedom. For we can be sure that if the angels had not possessed personal freedom, they would not have consorted with the daughters of men, thereby sinning and falling from their places. Bardesanes (c.222, E), 8.725

By the power of those angels, they conceived the giants as their children, by whom wickedness reached its peak on earth. Finally God decreed that the whole of the living should perish in their impiety by the deluge. Julius Africanus (c. 245, E) 6.131.

All of these things [i.e. the making of jewelry] the sinning and apostate angels put forth by their arts, when, lowered to the contagious of earth, they forsook their heavenly vigor. They also taught women to paint their eyes with blackness drawn around them in a circle and to stain their cheeks with a deceitful red. Cyprian (c.250, W) 5.434.
There are more, but this should be enough to see that the general consensus in the early church was that angels had indeed procreated with women, and their offspring were later killed and became what is known as demons.

In part two we will take a look at the way the story plays out in the Book of Enoch.

Click HERE to continue to part two


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