Who Were the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis?

Who were the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis? Were they fallen angels or heroic men from the godly line of Seth? This post also covers the “sons of the Most High” in Psalm 82 and the “sons of God” in Job 1-2 and other verses.

In Gen. 6:2, the “sons of God” saw that the “daughters of humans” were beautiful and married them. Because of the sharp contrast in the phrasing—sons of God v. daughters of humans—many Bible teachers say that these were fallen angels. Some of these interpreters even speculate that the fallen angels were given male body parts by which to procreate. One fiery TV preacher claimed that their fallen, angelic bodies were somehow transformed or reconstituted, so they could breed!

Let’s look at the phrase “sons of God” throughout the Bible. The upshot: It means either angels or men (but never fallen angels).

1.. The phrase “sons of God” means angels.

In Pss. 29:1 and 89:6 “sons of God” refers to either powerful men or angels. Most translations assume they are heavenly beings (e.g. NIV and ESV). But no fallen angels are envisioned here.

Job 1:6 and 2:1 say that Satan appeared with the sons of God, and they were angels. How do we know? The next passage supports this claim.

Job 38:4-7 says, God speaking:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels [sons of God] shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7, NIV)

The word angels in v. 7 could be more literally translated as “sons of God.” So this means that the sons of God in Job 1:6 and 2:1 were probably angels because humans were not around when God created the heavens. Note that the phrase here does not say or imply “fallen angels.” And in Job the sons of God are never shown to have bred with women. But Satan does appear among them (1:6 and 2:1). He is never called a “son of God,” and in fact was distinguished from them. He didn’t belong.

In Dan. 3 the three Hebrew men were thrown into the fiery furnace and king Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person in the flames:

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:25, NIV)

We have to be careful about building theology on a pagan king’s exclamation, but this is either the Son of God or an angel of God. The Hebrew reads the “son of elohim” or “the son of God” (or “son of the gods”). There is no fallen angel and no breeding in the furnace!

Please note: In 1 Kings 22, a spirit appeared before the throne of the LORD, and he volunteered to deceive King Ahab. But this spirit is never referred to as a “son of God,” but simply as a “lying spirit.” He is not said to have the ability to breed.

Further, Matt. 22:30 says that humans in heaven will not marry or be given in marriage, but will be like the angels, with the natural implication that angels don’t marry or are given in marriage, either. It is true that these angels whom Jesus mentioned were faithfully performing their roles in heaven, but it is convoluted and forced reasoning to say that after being thrown out of heaven the bodies of fallen angels were transformed or reconstituted, so they could breed. And there is no word on their marrying human women and raising families and the doing the daily grind of agricultural labor or such like.

2.. The phrase “sons of God” means men.

In Ex. 4:22 God says Israel is his firstborn son.

Deut. 14:1 calls the people of God “sons of the Lord.”

Is. 43:6 says that God calls his sons and daughters back to the land of Israel.

In Jer. 31:9 God again says Israel (Ephraim) is his firstborn son.

In Hos. 1:10 the restored Israelites will be called “sons of God.”

In Hos. 11:1 Israel is yet again called God’s son, when the LORD led them out of Egypt.

Ps. 73:15 clearly refer to ordinary sons of the Almighty who are men, neither angels or fallen angels.

Prov. 14:26 says that the sons of the LORD can take refuge in him. This does not refer to angels or fallen angels, but to men.

Let’s go to the New Testament. In Luke 20:34-36, men of the resurrection and of that age (the age to come) are called sons of God, while in contrast angels are just called … angels.

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:34-36, ESV)

Other verses that say the “sons of God” are men: Rom. 8:14, 19; Gal. 3:26. I only included Luke 20:34-36 because of the resurrection and the kingdom age and the angels.

In this section the evidence is that the titles “sons of God” or “of the Lord” or “son of God” refers to men, and never fallen angels. 

How should we interpret Psalm 82?

Some interpreters speculate that “the sons of the Most High” in Ps. 82:6 refers to angels or even Canaanite deities. Here is the psalm in its entirety:

God presides in the great assembly;
    he renders judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you defend the unjust
    and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
    They walk about in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
    you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere mortals;
    you will fall like every other ruler.”
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
    for all the nations are your inheritance. (Ps. 82, NIV)

Surprisingly, some interpreters, specifically the New English Translation (NET), say that in Ps. 82 God presided over some sort of a Canaanite Deity Council. However, this is not likely since God tells these Canaanite deities that they need to judge justly and uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed and rescue the weak and needy. Thus this interpretation gives legitimacy to these gods to rule over Israel. However, all throughout the Old Testament, these deities have no legitimacy and the ancient Israelites were told never to worship or obey their ways.

But what if the “gods” are angels or fallen angels? They can’t be angels because angels don’t die (v. 7). And how could unfallen angels judge unjustly? And why would God have to tell unfallen angels to get their act together? And why would he set up fallen or unfallen angels as a council of judges over humans in the first place? None of this makes sense.

Therefore, the best answer says that the Hebrew word elohim (plural) has a flexible meaning. It is most often translated as “God,” but in a few places it elevates humans. In these next passages the elohim are human rulers and judges: Ex. 21:6; 22:8-9; Ps. 45:6. In Psalm. 82, the context teaches that the judges thought of themselves as gods, but they will die like every other ruler. They were earthly judges who presided over human disputes and dispensed injustice. Their unjust rulings will catch up to them after they die like the humans they were. Therefore, they were not angels or fallen angels or Canaanite deities. They were mortal men, rulers over Israel.

Finally, in John 10:34-36 Jesus refers to Ps. 82:6 and says that God called men “gods,” so why were his listeners, the Jews, upset when he said that he is God’s son? If Jesus thought these elohim were men, then who am I to disagree with him?

What about 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 and sinning angels?

First, 2 Peter 2:4 refers to angels that were thrown into hell: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” …. (ESV)

Second, Jude 6 repeats what Peter wrote: “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” (ESV).

In both verses, God kept these angels in eternal chains in gloomy darkness. Whatever or whoever these angelic beings were, and wherever they are kept, whether literally in chains and gloomy darkness or metaphorical, spiritual chains and darkness (note the phrasing “eternal chains until”), it is hard to see how they could have had time to marry and breed and raise a family with the daughters of men and do agricultural labor or order commoners to do it. Stated differently, if they were angelic sons of God in Genesis who did not keep their station, God would not allow them to marry and raise families, for it seems he would put a stop to this sinning before then. The evidence in the previous section would not allow fallen angels to be called “sons of God.”

In short, the two verses are silent on their having sex with women by first getting the “right body parts” after they fell, because in heaven they don’t marry or are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). Retrofitting their bodies by some strange, supernatural process is farfetched.

Conclusion

Based on all of the above evidence, the most likely explanation is that in the biblical worldview the sons of God in Gen. 6:2 are the sons of Seth, the godly line descending from Adam and Eve’s named son. And the daughters of humans were probably the ungodly line descending from Cain.

The “sons of God” have a special relationship with God, though this relationship is not clarified beyond just their title. They might have been mighty warriors of sorts, to maintain peace on earth (cf. Gen. 6:4), though they could not hold back all the ungodliness, so the flood was sent in judgment. Evil and violence eventually prevailed. On the other hand, maybe it can be surmised that this marital intermixing was a strong factor in God’s judgment through the flood. Human degradation.

The honorific title “sons of God” simply signifies Seth’s godly descendants. Note that Luke in his genealogy calls Adam “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). And Adam was no angel, fallen or otherwise!

In no instance throughout the Bible does the title “sons of God” refer to fallen angels (unless one assumes that Gen. 6:2 does, but the rest of Scripture says no).

And therefore, it is very probable that the phrase “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2 refers to heroic or a special class of men. This has the beauty of simplicity and other biblical support. All the Scriptures in the above points match this conclusion.

Boiled down:

Either:

Sons of God = Angels

Or:

Sons of God = Men

Never:

Sons of God = Fallen Angels

Those terms are mutually exclusive, by definition.

Restated:

Fallen Angels ≠ Sons of God

The opposite would be odd and contradictory

How does this post help me know God better?

This post is for specialists. It does not affect your salvation and your guarantee of heaven by remaining in Christ. The NT takes over the phrase “sons of God” and applies it to believers in Christ who are adopted by God the Father.

This post indicates that Bible interpreters can have differences and still remain in Christ. You are allowed to come up with your own interpretation or are free to accept the standard one that the sons of God in Gen. 6:2 were specially called men who married beautiful women You can even believe, contrary to evidence, that they were in fact “fallen angels” (of sorts).

Christ alone is central to your salvation, not disputes about such secondary, peripheral issues.

ADDENDUM

Some interpreters point to the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha to secure their interpretation that the sons of God in Gen. 6:2 were fallen angels (see, e.g., 1 Enoch 6-7 and Testament of Reuben 5). However, the Pseudepigrapha were written much later than Genesis and even embellish on the older text. The chronology is all wrong.

Second, the Pseudepigrapha hold no authority greater than the Bible, at least not to me. These writers let their imagination run wild with speculations like that. So appealing to these spurious writings does not influence my interpretation here. Once again, there is no verse in the Scriptures where the phrase “sons of God” clearly means fallen angels. The author or authors of these fake writings did not get their biblical theology straightened out. The terms “sons of God” and “fallen angels” are mutually exclusive.

SOURCES

Works Cited

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