Who were the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis? Were they angels or heroic men from the godly line of Seth? This post also covers the “sons of the Most High” in Psalm 82 and the “sons of God” in Job 1-2
Here’s the evidence, as I see things.
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.
One Bible interpreter says that every time the phrase “sons of God” appears in the OT, the phrase refers only to angels. But this is not true, for in Hos. 1:10 Israelites will be called “sons of God.” And these were men who could breed. If one replies that the context In Hos. 1 clearly refers to men, then so does the context in Gen. 6. There’s a match between the two passages. Only men breed.
Some interpreters could speculate that “the sons of the Most High” in Ps. 82:6 refers to angels. However, the Hebrew word elohim (plural) has a flexible meaning. It is most often translated as “God,” but in a few places it elevates humans, sometimes in in an ironic manner. In Psalm. 82, the context teaches they were earthly judges, as follows.
he renders judgment among the “gods”:
and show partiality to the wicked?
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Ps. 82:1-4, NIV)
And note that this verse says they will die like mortals:
But you will die like mere mortals;
you will fall like every other ruler.” (Ps. 82:7)
Angels don’t die. Those judges thought of themselves as gods, but they will die like every other ruler, so in context they were earthly judges who unjustly presided over human disputes; they were not angels or fallen angels. Their unjust rulings will catch up to them after they die like the humans they were.
Job 1:6 and 2:1 say that Satan appeared with the sons of God, and they are probably angels. How do we know? The next passage supports this claim that they were angels.
Job 38:4-7 says, God speaking:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels [sons of God] shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
The word angels in v. 7 could be more literally translated as “sons of God.” So this means that the sons of God in Job 1:6 and 2:1 were probably angels because humans were not around when God created the heavens. Note that the phrase here does not imply “fallen angels.” And in Job the sons of God never bred with women, so they are of a different class than the sons of God in Gen. 6. Angels, whether fallen or loyal to God, simply do not breed with humans or anyone else.
In Dan. 3 the three Hebrew men were thrown into the fiery furnace and king Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person in the flames:
He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:25, NIV)
We have to be careful about building theology on a pagan king’s exclamation, but this is either the Son of God or an angel of God. The Hebrew reads the “son of elohim” or “the son of God.” Here is there is no ambiguity and no breeding!.
Now let’s return to Gen. 6.
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 (cf. Gen. 6:4), though they could not hold back all the ungodliness, so the flood was sent in judgment. On the other hand, 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).
Psalm 82 and Hos. 1:10 confirms that the sons of God in Gen. 6 were humans. The sons of God in Job 1:6 and 2:1 and 38:7 and Dan. 3:7 are clearly angels who appeared at creation or to help the three Hebrew men. They were never shown to breed with women. This indirectly confirms Jesus’s teaching that angels don’t breed (Matt. 22:30).
Therefore the sons of God in Gen. 6 were not angels or fallen angels, but mighty men who had a special relationship with God, hence their name “sons of God” (fallen angels do not get that exalted title). 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).
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.
Written by James Malcolm