In Genesis, we find the following record of events before the Flood:
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
In verse 2, it says that the sons of God began to intermarry with the daughters of men. This development was evidently displeasing to God, for in the next verse it says that God responded by giving man only 120 years. According to some, the meaning is that God would give man another 120 years to repent before He destroyed all mankind in a Flood. According to others, the meaning is that whereas men until now had lifetimes of over 900 years, they would in the future be limited to a maximum longevity of 120 years. Both interpretations may be correct. It is certainly true that, if viewed as a rounded number, 120 is the upper limit of a man's age. There is no documented case of a human being living beyond 124.
So, whatever verse 2 is talking about, we see in verse 3 that it was displeasing to God. Who were the sons of God? There are two common answers.
Some say that the sons of God were male descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. The first two were Cain and Abel. Abel was a godly man who provoked such jealousy in his brother Cain that Cain rose up and killed him. Afterward Cain was banished from the family of his parents and, as an outcast, became the ancestor of an ungodly race. Seth, the third son, followed in Abel's footsteps and became the ancestor of a race that preserved their allegiance to God. According to those who identify the sons of God with the male descendants of Seth, the puzzling statement in Genesis 6:2 means that men from Seth's line began to intermarry with daughters from Cain's line. Yet this interpretation of the verse encounters many difficulties.
- If Sethite men took Cainite wives, then Cainite men probably also took Sethite wives. Yet Scripture says nothing about the second kind of intermarriage, although it would have wrought no less evil. Either way of mixing the two races would have corrupted a godly heritage.
- It would be strange to call men "sons of God" who acted in flagrant disobedience of God's will by taking ungodly wives.
- In Genesis 6:1, it says that the daughters taken by the sons of God were born when men began to multiply. It speaks of men in general, not just one line of men. It seems to be speaking of daughters from both the Sethites and the Cainites.
The second answer to the question seeking to identify the sons of God is that they were angels. Therefore, Genesis 6:2 is saying that angels left their heavenly estate, assumed human form, and took human wives. When Christians today hear this interpretation, most find it incredible, but it was the accepted interpretation among Jews in the ancient world and among Christians throughout most of church history. It rests squarely on many Scriptural passages showing that angels are capable of taking human form. For example, Genesis 18 records that Abraham was visited by three men who ate with him.
1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
One of the three men was the Lord (v. 3; see also v. 22, quoted below). Two were angels, as we discover later in the narrative:
And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
To what extent can an angel become human? If the second interpretation is correct, some angels in the time before the Flood were able to materialize in a body so completely human that they were capable of sexual relations with human women. The Genesis account gives the results of such interbreeding.
4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
The first result was an unusual race of offspring. It says these were giants, also "mighty men of renown." The word for giants is Nephilim. Some deny that "giants" is a necessary translation, but the ten spies used the same word when they described the most terrible inhabitants of Canaan.
And there we saw the giants [Nephilim], the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
There can be little doubt that the men they saw were giants, for in comparison the spies felt like grasshoppers. The Genesis account of events before the Flood adds that there were also Nephilim "after that" (Gen. 6:4). It means that there were Nephilim after the Flood. Some appeared in Palestine, the last representatives being the family of Goliath.
The second result of interbreeding between the sons of God and the daughters of men was a plague of wickedness so great that God was left with no option but to judge the world by a great Flood.
Both results make sense if the sons of God were extraordinary beings in rebellion against God. Neither makes sense if they were just men.
Other References in Scripture to Sons of God
We gain further light on who the sons of God were by considering how the term "son of God" is used elsewhere in Scripture.
- It is used of Adam (Luke 3:38).
- It is used of any born-again believer (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:6).
- It is used of any angel (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).
- When "son" is capitalized, the phrase refers to Jesus.
In no instance does "son of God' refer to someone with a godly heritage. All who are called God's sons have one thing in common. They have all been directly created by God. God made Adam. God made the angels. Jesus was begotten by the power of God (. And believers are born again and made sons of God by the Spirit of God.
To employ the term "son of God" for men merely derived from a godly man would be out of line with other uses in Scripture. The Sethite men came from human parentage rather than divine creation, and they were not even sons of God in a spiritual sense, if they disobeyed God and married pagan women. Thus, considering all the evidence, we conclude that the traditional interpretation is correct. The sons of God were angels.
We read about their fate in several New Testament passages.
And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Here, the writer speaks of angels leaving their first estate and their own habitation. An explanation of their first estate appears in the Psalm 8.
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Their first estate was their exalted position above men. In becoming like men, they surrendered a higher standing. Their original habitation was the heavenly realm, which they lost through the same folly. In consequence, they fell under the wrath of God and were enchained in a place of darkness, where they will remain "unto the judgment of the great day." The great day is the day of the Lord, the day when God will send plagues on the earth. One of these will be a horde of wicked angels released from the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1-11).
Peter furnishes more information about the angels that fell.
4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
2 Peter 2:4-5
From this we harvest two insights:
- Since Peter seems to put events in order, it appears that the corruption of these angels occurred before the Flood.
- These angels are now in "hell." The Greek word for hell in this verse is Tartarus, which is not the usual word so translated. Nowhere does Scripture say that any human dead go to Tartarus. Presently, the saved dead are under the throne of God in heaven, and the unsaved dead are in Hades. After the Great White Throne Judgment, the unsaved dead will be cast into the lake of fire, or Gehenna. Thus, Tartarus is a compartment of hell used solely for the confinement of angels.
Elsewhere, Peter elaborates.
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
1 Peter 3:18-20
This passage affords definite confirmation that the fall of the angels preceded the Flood. Also, it yields two facts of great importance.
- The angels being punished are spirits; that is, they have been deprived of bodily forms. When they reappear during the Tribulation, God will clothe them with the bodies of monsters, so that they might bring untold suffering on all who still refuse righteousness and cling tenaciously to their sins (Rev. 9:1-12). God will torment the ungodly in mercy, giving them a taste of hell while they have a chance to repent.
- When Jesus descended into hell between His death and resurrection, He visited the regions of Tartarus and preached to the imprisoned angels. "Preached" here does not mean that they were offered salvation. Rather, it means that He announced their decisive defeat at Calvary.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.