There is quite a bit of theological discussion and debate surrounding the book of Genesis, chapter 6, where it’s said that the “sons of God” took as wives, the daughters of men, as they chose.
Genesis 6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them,2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
Who are the sons of God?
Some people argue that the sons of God in question is the godly familial line of Seth, the sons of Seth. They often say this is based on the notion that Seth was appointed as a replacement for Abel, whom Cain had slain, as well as that this context should be considered alongside New Testament teachings about children of God (Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:10). They also generally see the daughters of man as being the daughters of Cain, the ungodly daughters of mankind.
So why can’t they be the godly sons of Seth?
This is an awkward understanding because it is said that man, meaning mankind in general, began to multiple on the face of the land and daughters were born to man, again in general. And yet in verse 2, it mentions, obviously the same daughters of man again, only this time it’s supposedly understood as the daughters of Cain.
On the other hand, if man, in this context, is said to refer to the line of Cain (ungodly mankind by extension) even from the start of the passage, we’re left with the awkwardness of that notion being read into the rest of the passage, where we see that man is definitely referring to all mankind, including the sons of Seth.
Genesis 6:3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
So who really are the sons of God?
I will herein contend for what is arguably the oldest understanding of the phrase (which understanding was held earliest historically by both Jews and Christians), that the sons of God is referring to angels. Job 1 gives us a clear basis by which to say that could be the case, as it uses the phrase, obviously in regard to angels presenting themselves before God.
Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
However, I won’t be focusing on the bare possibility of the phrase designating angels. I generally dislike such argumentation myself. Instead, I would like to turn to the New Testament, to the book of Jude. In chapter 1, Jude says that he wants to remind his audience of, though they once fully knew, the things noted in verse 5.
Jude 1:5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
By way of the conjunction, “and”, what is said in verses 6 and 7 also pertain to the things about which Jude is reminding his audience. Again, these are things they once fully knew.
Jude 1:6 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—7 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.
Because these things were once fully known to Jude’s audience, we must have a Biblical basis for understanding them. These things are being brought to remembrance, they’re not new teachings.
Among these things is the mention of angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling. Setting aside the note that these angels have been kept in eternal chains (this is clarified in the article linked to below), we see that by way of extension (the “just as” in verse 7), these angels “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire”.
Where does the Bible mention angels doing such things?
So Jude is saying there are angels who left their position of authority and pursued unnatural desires. And this, he is bringing to remembrance to his audience. Yet, we can’t find such a teaching in Scripture unless we understand the sons of God from Genesis 6 to be those angels.
Going with that, the sons of God of Genesis 6 being angels, we see that they pursued unnatural desires, desires for strange flesh, that of human women. And their pursuit was similar to the men of Sodom pursuing unnatural desires for the angels who visited Lot.
Genesis 19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”
The word “know” in this context is referring to sexual intercourse, as indicated in the NIV rendering, based on the word carrying that meaning Biblically in Genesis 4:1.
Genesis 4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”
The men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the angels. And in that same way, fallen angels had known human women previously, as recorded in Genesis 6.
I’m arguing that the sons of God of Genesis 6 must be fallen angels because otherwise, we’d have no Biblical reference for Jude 1. Yet there must be a Biblical reference because Jude is bringing those the things he’s saying to remembrance.
The argument is summarized thus:
P1: If the sons of God of Genesis 6 are not fallen angels, then it can’t be known what Jude 1:6-7 is referring to.
P2: It can be known what Jude 1:6-7 is referring to (really, it must be known, because he’s bringing it to remembrance).
C: Therefore, the sons of God of Genesis 6 are fallen angels.
I’ve tried to focus on just that argument, but there’s far more to be said of this topic. And on that note, the following article covers that in remarkable detail.
Further reading: Genesis 6 Sons of God