Renewalists believe angels are real and have a ministry today. But who were the “sons of God” mentioned in those two ancient books of the Bible?
This post argues, tentatively, that they were not angels. This post is exploratory.
Here’s the evidence, as I see things.
Sons of God in Genesis
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 sons were angels. Some of these interpreters even speculate that the angels had male body parts by which to procreate. One TV preacher claimed that their angelic bodies were somehow transformed or reconstituted, so they could breed!
However, 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 convoluted reasoning to say their bodies were transformed once they hit the earth.
Some interpreters speculate that these sons of God are fallen or disobedient angels in some way. If so, then why are they called by the honorific “sons of God”? That speculation does not fit.
The most likely explanation is that in the biblical worldview these are the sons of Seth, the godly line descending from Adam and Eve’s named son. And the daughters of humans were 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, though they could not hold back all the ungodliness, so the flood was sent in judgment. Maybe it can be surmised that this marital intermixing was a strong factor in God’s judgment through the flood. Human degradation.
Most likely, as noted, the honorific 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!
So what is the moral lesson for later Israelite and Jewish readers? The holy nation of Israel should not marry pagan women, mixing their religions and customs, which was a factor in God’s judgment (Ezr. 10:2; Neh. 13:27; Mal. 2:11).
Sons of God in Job
Most scholars believe that the sons of God in Job 1:6 and 2:1 were angels. The New International Version translates the honorific phrase like that, but also notes that the Hebrew literally says “sons of God.” Supposedly they presented themselves before the LORD in some sort of heavenly council meeting.
However, my interpretation says that they were not angels, either, and the council meeting was not in heaven, but on earth in some sort of sacred space in an unspecified location.
Let’s check out some other texts that support my interpretation.
The Hebrew verb “to present” (when the sons of God “presented” themselves before the LORD in Job 1:6 and 2:1) is yaṣab.
This verb is used when the LORD told Moses to “present” himself and Joshua before the tent of meeting, where the LORD was going to commission Joshua (Deut. 31:14). The tent of meeting is where the presence of the Lord was.
Jos. 24:1 says that Joshua summoned the elders, judges, and officials of Israel to “present” themselves before God to renew the covenant at Shechem.
Judg. 20:2 says that the leaders of Israel “took their places” in the assembly of God’s people.
In 1 Sam. 3:10 the LORD himself “stood” on earth and called the boy Samuel (1 Sam. 3:10). In Job 1:6 and 2:1, why can’t the LORD “stand” in the assembly of the sons of God, probably as the preincarnate Christ?
The LORD told Samuel to gather Israel by tribes and clans (presumably represented by the leaders) to “present” themselves at Mizpah to commission Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Sam. 10:19).
Finally, in Zech. 6:5, angels were “standing” (yaṣab) in the presence of the LORD and went out from there to do his bidding. Here the Hebrew noun is angels (mal’ak), not sons of God. Perhaps we can draw the conclusion that sons of God do not qualify to visit the Lord in his presence in heaven, but angels do. And recall that nowhere does it say in Job that sons of God were angels. This is just assumed. And when Satan appeared in Zech. 3, nowhere does it say this meeting was in heaven. In fact, the entire scene was played out before the angel of the LORD, in Zechariah’s vision.
This earthly location in Job would explain why Satan had access to the council meeting. When the LORD asked Satan where he had been, the evil spirit being replied that he was wandering the earth (Job 1:7; 2:2). This does not mean the council scene was in heaven in contrast to the earth, because Satan could have still been wandering the earth and attended the council which was also on earth.
And yes, if the sons of God were special humans and not angels, and Satan was visible to them, he must have been manifested in some way. But this does not pose a problem, since Satan tempted Jesus, while both were on earth, though the attacks may have taken place by thoughts.
For these reasons, the sons of God were not angels, but mighty men who had a special relationship with God, hence their name “sons of God.” Perhaps they were specially appointed leaders of their days, much like the leaders in later Israel. Most likely, they were the descendants of Seth, the godly line from Adam, who was also called the “son of God” (Luke 3:38).
I also conclude that the assembly before the LORD in the book of Job was on earth, much like the other assemblies before the LORD were on earth; and in one instance the LORD himself, probably as the preincarnate Christ, “stood” (yaṣab) on earth to call the boy Samuel.
One last note: However, this post was exploratory and tentative. If they really were angels, then so be it.
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. It does reveal, however, 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 were angels or specially called men. God uses angels to do his will.
Addendum no. 1
It could be objected that if the sons of God were humans, and the flood wiped out all of humanity except seven, then how did they appear in Job? The evidence says that the flood was local. In the world of the author of Genesis, the flood happened in their whole world, but his knowledge of the whole world did not and could not include Australia and North and South Americas. In comparison, Paul said the faith of Romans was being reported around the “whole world” (Rom. 1:8). Paul’s knowledge of the “whole world” was limited. It could not or did not include those other continents. How could it? We should not put a ton of modern geography on Genesis (and other biblical authors) when it can carry only fifty pounds. For the author of Genesis, it was the whole world; for us it was local. The cause of the different perspectives? We now know how big the world was; he did not. Or else how did the kangaroos and slow koalas get on the ark? And there are other reasons for concluding that the flood was local.
And we don’t know when Job was written. It was probably written long after the flood.
Addendum no. 2
Rather than getting bogged down in our literal assumptions about the book of Job, like where the council meeting took place, and Satan manifesting himself before special humans, we could interpret the entire book of Job as one extended poetic parable with a high degree of verisimilitude (life-like, true-to-life details) that reveals higher moral and theological truths about God and humankind, much like the parables of Jesus were true to life, but also just verbal creations that told higher moral and theological truths. Jews interpret Job in that way. Maybe they have a better interpretation than that of Christians. So Satan becomes a literary character in Job (though he is certainly a real, evil spirit being in the Gospels).
However, this post assumes, just for the sake of argument, that Job and the others was real.
Written by James Malcolm