If I told you that I kicked my two-year-old son, you might frown at me. But if I told you my son was jumping on the couch, lost his footing, and began falling to his death with his head aligned perfectly with the corner of the coffee table, and I (as gently as possible) kicked him out of the way so that he landed on the soft carpeted floor instead, your frown might turn upside down. Context matters. And we’ll see that in our story today.
This is a 3-part series on confusing questions from the book of Genesis. Part 1 was called “how questioning Genesis 1 might save your faith“. Today I want to talk about another story from Genesis that has furrowed many brows.
The “why” behind the flood.
“The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose… 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. 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.”
This story is the intro to the Great Flood narrative where God drowned everyone except Noah and his family (we’ll talk more about that in part 3). The “why” behind the flood is attributed to these five verses. So we have some questions to answer. Who were the sons of God? Who were the women they married? And who were the Nephilim?
There are several possible answers to these questions, but the most popular answers seem to be the strangest ones.
Half human, half something else.
Many people believe that the Sons of God are fallen angles (demons) who slept with the daughters of men (humans), and had offspring called the Nephilim, which were basically giant warrior alien half-breeds.
While this idea sounds like it would make an interesting movie, it leaves me with more questions than answers.
- “Sons of God” (vs. 2)
There are two reasons people believe the “sons of God” are demons. First, this is actually the traditional Jewish interpretation of the passage which was taught in the apocryphal book of Enoch (the traditional Christian interpretation is the one I’ll share with you in a minute). And second, the Bible uses the term “sons of God” to refer to angels in the book of Job (Job 1:6). The idea goes, if angels are sometimes called “sons of God,” then perhaps fallen angels, or demons, could be as well.
- “They took as wives…” (vs. 2)
I don’t know if it’s even possible for a demon to have sex with someone. But if it is, would they really be able to reproduce? I’ve always thought that only God could create life. Besides that, this verse doesn’t just say they slept with women and had kids, it says they married them. So these demons didn’t just have sex, they settled down and started families. That seems like a pretty big stretch to me.
- “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great…” (vs. 5)
But if demons did have sex with women and had children with them, then why was God mad at humans? Shouldn’t He just drown the demons instead? Some say God was trying to destroy the half-breeds—the Nephilim—but if that were the case, then it still shouldn’t say that God saw “the wickedness of man.” It should say He saw the wickedness of the Nephilim. It’s also odd that Jesus makes no mention of the Nephilim or demons when He references the story of Noah in the gospels, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).
A different perspective.
I have too many unanswered questions with this interpretation. But here is the interpretation that, not only makes more sense to me, but I believe also gives us some insight into God’s design and desire for the family.
- Who were the “sons of God”?
Let’s look at the context. Genesis 4, two chapters earlier, is about Adam’s two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain becomes jealous of his brother Abel, and eventually kills him. Then scripture begins to list Cain’s family line, and they are an evil bunch of men like their ancestor, Cain. Cain’s lineage climaxes with a man named Lamech who says, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.” So all of Cain’s descendants are bad news. But in the next verse Adam and Eve have another son named Seth who sort of replaces Abel. When it begins to list Seth’s descendants it says, “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). Seth’s descendants were righteous.
So now we have two family lines. Cain’s descendants are mostly wicked, and Seth’s descendants are mostly righteous. Seth’s lineage continues through chapter 5 with a whole family line of righteous men and women. Two highlights it gives us are Enoch who “walked with God,” and Noah, whose dad prophesied about him, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief…”
Finally, we get to Genesis chapter 6 and things take a turn for the worst. Where there were once godly men from the lineage of Seth and wicked men from the lineage of Cain, now even Seth’s godly descendants are turning wicked by marrying Cain’s wicked descendants. Or as the Bible says it, “The sons of God (Seth’s righteous descendants) saw that the daughters of men (Cain’s wicked descendants) were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose…”
- Who were the “Nephilim”?
But this still begs the question, who were the Nephilim? The Bible describes them as, “The mighty men who were of old, the men of renown,” (Gen. 6:4). Some translations replace the word Nephilim with the word “giants,” but this is conjecture. The word Nephilim literally translates “fallen ones,” and no one really knows why they were called that. It could refer to their fate in the flood. Or it might describe how they “fell upon” people and overpowered them. Or it could simply be describing how wicked they were. In either case, what we do know is that these men were bad news. The sons of Seth turned from good to evil by marrying wicked women and being lead away from God by them. And their children went from bad to worse, becoming such vicious and ruthless criminals that they were known as the “mighty men of old” who you didn’t want to mess with. So God had to put an end to it.
- God’s heart for the family.
When we read this story in light of the rest of Scripture we see that it is actually about God’s heart for the family. In Deuteronomy 7:2-5 God says to Israel, concerning the other nations they would encounter on their journey to the Promised Land, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” Some people have used verses like this to teach that interracial marriage is wrong. This is false. God loves diversity (Rev. 7:9-10), and hates racial division (Eph. 2:14, Col. 3:11). But there is a kind of mixed marriage that God does forbid. It’s the mixing of faiths. This idea is clear throughout Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 7:39 we are told that we can marry whoever we want, but “only in the Lord,” (i.e. only other Christians). And Malachi 2:14-15 says about marriage, “Did He (God) not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” God’s heart is for the family. He cares about who you marry, and He cares about how you raise your children. The “half-breeds” in Genesis 6 are not the offspring of demonic and human parents, but the offspring of godly and ungodly parents. And that is the reason we are told God decided to flood the earth.
Read the rest of this series:
Credit: This post is largely influenced by Hank Hanegraaff’s teaching on the topic. You can read his short post on the subject, or get his “Creation Answer Book” which answers many questions from the book of Genesis (I highly recommend it).
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