[As of 11/5/11 my thesis is now available in print or for Amazon Kindle.] The first post in this series briefly summarized the various positions on the Sons of God and the Nephilim and I shared my thesis statement on this topic. The second post critiqued the Sethite position while the third post offered a critique of the Royalty view. In this fourth post, I will lay out some of the strengths of the Fallen Angel view. In fact, the next few posts on this topic will cover the Fallen Angel position. It has the greatest textual support, but it also has the most objections to address. So if I don’t cover a particular issue in this post, please be patient. I will probably get to it in a future post.
The Fallen Angel position is the most popular theory concerning the identity of the sons of God. This is clearly the earliest position that we know of. It was promoted in apocryphal works written before the time of Christ and by every church father who commented on it until the 3rd century. Here again is the key passage from Genesis:
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4, NASB)
The Fallen Angel view proposes that the “sons of God” (verses 2, 4) were fallen angels who materialized (probably as humans), married women, and sired children by them. The offspring of these unions were “the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (v. 4). Most intepreters believe that the Nephilim were the offspring, but some argue that they were already on the earth when these marriages took place. A derivative of this view is that these fallen angels possessed men who then had children. Many modern scholars hold to this derivative view, and I believe it is a possibility. However, the text does not say that they possessed men to do this, so before accepting this position, I think it is wise to see if the ancient view can stand up to the various objections.
Although the Fallen Angel view is repulsive to most, it is important to understand what the text actually states. The term “sons of God” is from the Hebrew bene ha ‘elohim. This particular term is only used three other times in Scripture and in each case, it clearly refers to heavenly beings. Here are the three passages—all from the Book of Job.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6)
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. (Job 2:1)
[Job, where were you] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7)
In each of these verses, the term “sons of God” definitely refers to heavenly beings of some sort. Why should we interpret this term any differently in Genesis 6? While there are a handful of similar Hebrew phrases used in Scripture, these are the only four passages that mention this specific term. The closest any other passage comes is from a Dead Sea Scroll manuscript of Deuteronomy which uses bene ‘elohim in Deuteronomy 32:8, which I believe should also be translated as “sons of God” as the ESV has it. Most other translations were completed before this document was well-known and so they translated this verse with “sons of Israel.” While this is what the more recent manuscripts state, this wording makes little sense of the context.
Three New Testament passages also seem to support this position. 1 Peter 3:19–20 speaks of a particular group of “spirits in prison” (probably angels) who sinned during the days of Noah. 2 Peter 2:4 mentions angels who sinned and are currently held in “chains of darkness” and reserved for judgment. The surrounding context of this verse speaks of the wickedness that existed before the Flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude 6 refers to “angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, [God] has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” The surrounding context of this passage also discusses the wickedness and sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah.
So these three New Testament passages refer to angels who sinned during the days of Noah and are now being held in chains (prison) until the day of judgment. If Genesis 6 speaks of fallen angels, then these three verses make perfect sense. However, if the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 refer to certain groups of men, then we really have no idea what these passages in the New Testament are about. While these verses should not be seen as a watertight argument for the Fallen Angel position, they do give strong support to it.
The short book of Jude offers another interesting tidbit in relation to this subject. Verses 14–15 states, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them…” This quotation does not appear in the Old Testament, but is from the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Jude’s quote of this book does not mean we should view Enoch as part of the canon. However, it does mean that this particular statement from Enoch is inspired, and it also shows that Jude was quite familiar with the Book of Enoch. Why is this important? Because the Book of Enoch also promotes the Fallen Angel position (this will be examined in a future post). Since Jude was familiar with Enoch, and he also wrote about angels who sinned and are being held in chains until the day of judgment, then it is extremely likely that he had the Fallen Angel view in mind when he wrote.
There is much more to discuss on this issue. There are other arguments that will be raised to support this position and, there are many objections that need to be addressed. In the next post, I plan to provide some more of the strengths. The objections will also be addressed in a future post.