The opening verses of Genesis 6 throw up one of the most intriguing Bible passages and one that has led to much debate. As it is difficult from our position to come to certain conclusions about the details, it is tempting to skip over this and get onto the Flood narrative proper. However, if “all Scripture is God breathed” then we would do well to pause and pay attention to trickier details such as this.
Read Genesis 6:1-4
Genesis 6 continues the account of what became of Adam. Humanity has been multiplying in line with the creation mandate to fill and subdue the earth, Adam’s naming of Eve as the mother of life is coming true. The emphasis at the start of this chapter is on daughters (v1). We are told that the “daughters of man” were attractive to “the sons of God” (v2). So, who is who in this passage. A few options have been suggested.
- The daughters of man are human descendants of Cain, Seth and Adam’s other children. The Sons of God are spiritual beings, either angels or fallen angels (demons).
- The daughters of man are the descendants of Cain and the sons of God are the descendants of Seth.
- The reverse is the case with the daughters being descended from Seth and the sons from Cain.
Of the latter two, I think given the Luke 4 genealogy which traces a more godly line through Seth,, that the former option with Seth’s line being the sons of God is more likely, although perhaps there is an ironic reference to Cain as purchased or acquired of/by God. If we are dealing with either of these two options then we are purely dealing with other humans when children come. However, I the Sons of God are angels/demons then their offspring will have potentially had supernatural qualities. This would mean that reference to giants (Nephilim) is not incidental. Each of the different options have their merits as well as their draw backs. However, I don’t think we can come to a definitive decision looking at the text on its own.
The reference in v2 to the sons of God seeing, desiring and taking echoes back to Genesis 3 and the temptation to Eve so that we might see in those echoes a clear indication that they are crossing a boundary, either by using their additional strength as angelical beings to cross a species boundary and to take what they like, confusing the distinction between humans and spirit beings, or because the descendants of Seth have compromised their pursuit of godliness by aligning with Cain.
This boundary crossing prompts a response from God. He is not going to allow humanity to continue on its present course. He now limits their days. 120 years here could either indicate a limited life expectancy compared to the 900 plus years of the antediluvian generation, or it might point to a fixed period of time, another 120 years before judgement (The Flood) comes. Again, either way, the point is that humans are finite and limited. They cannot avoid a reckoning with God (v3).
The Nephilim were there. The word seems to refer to strong, giant like men. It cannot refer to a specific race, as the word is used again in Numbers 13:33. The descriptor is sometimes connected with the children resulting from the relationships in verse 2, though this is not stated and whilst the consequences of breeding between fallen angels and human women might result in superhuman like offspring, it also possible that, again, as with the long ages, that a closeness to creation meant that some humans were simply fitter and stronger too. These men are described as “the mighty men of old” and so, the implication is that they are to be identified with the heroes of ancient mythology (v4).
Crossings, compromise and complacency
So what can we take away from this passage. I want to suggest that there are few potential lessons and they remain true regardless of the specific exegetical choices we make. First of all there’s the issue of boundaries or lines being crossed. It is clear, that whatever exactly happened in v1-2, it crossed a line for God. The Sons of God see, desire and take what is not theirs to claim. The compliance of the daughters of men and by implication the men with this indicates compromise. Human complacency may well have been encouraged by the fact, that life seemed to continue and people enjoyed long years and great success. However, death and judgement was coming. God had set a day for general judgement and a day for each person to face him.
We too should know that we will one day stand before God. This knowledge should guard us against the temptation to push the boundaries and blur the lines. We are called to be obedient to God and there is no place for compromise whether in the doctrines and practices of our churches or in our daily lives.