Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Sons of God (Genesis 6:2)

To answer the question of the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6, it seems that most of the older theologians agree that they were the “godly.” That is, men who were followers of the one true God as opposed to the world around them. Beza comments simply that the sons of God were, “The children of the godly who began to degenerate,”[1] while leaving the daughters of men to be, “Those that had wicked parents, as if from Cain.”1 Gill agrees with this conclusion as his own statements are that, “those ‘sons of God’ were not angels either good or bad…nor the sons of judges, magistrates, and great personages…but rather this is to be understood of the posterity of Seth, who from the times of Enos, when then began to be called by the name of the Lord, (Genesis 4:25) had the title of the sons of God, in distinction from the children of men.”[2] Not only does Gill identify who he believes the sons of God to be, but he also identifies who he believes they are not: Angels or great personages.
Continuing in the same fashion as these two men, Henry indicates that the sons of God are, “the professors of religion, who were called by the name of the Lord, and called upon that name.”[3] Henry further establishes the details of these unions when identifying them as mixed marriages, noting that, “The posterity of Seth did not keep by themselves, as they ought to have done, both for the preservation of their own purity and in detestation of the apostasy. They intermingled themselves with the excommunicated race of Cain.”3 This is an important point as the language of Genesis 6:2 indicates that, “they took wives for themselves;” that is, this is not simply an act of fornication with ungodly women, but rather becoming yoked unequally with them in marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14) prior to having sexual relations with them (Genesis 6:4).
As a last representative of this group of older theologians, we come to Calvin. His remarks regarding the situation as a whole, rather than specifically commenting on the identity of the sons of God, are the following: “For marriage is a thing too sacred to allow that men should be induced to it by the lust of the eyes…Therefore our appetite becomes brutal, when we are so ravished with the charms of beauty, that those things which are chief are not taken into the account. Moses more clearly describes the violent impetuosity of their lust, when he says, that they took wives of all that they chose; by which he signifies, that the sons of God did not make their choice from those possessed of necessary endowments, but wandered without discrimination, rushing onward according to their lust.”[4] In spite of specifically stating their identity, Calvin does indicate through his comments that he too believes that the sons of God were “godly” men. There is also clarification brought beyond Henry’s comments about the nature of the union, even to the motivation of the union itself: Lustful desire.
Moving beyond the general consensus of men such as Beza, Gill, Henry, and Calvin, we come to MacArthur. His argument identifies the sons of God as fallen angels. MacArthur states, “The sons of God, identified elsewhere almost exclusively as angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), saw and took wives of the human race. This produced an unnatural union which violated the God-ordained order of human marriage and procreation (Ge 2:24). Some have argued that the sons of God were the sons of Seth who cohabited with the daughters of Cain; others suggest they were perhaps human kings wanting to build harems. But the passage puts strong emphasis on the angelic vs. human contrast. The NT places this account in sequence with other Genesis events and identifies it as involving fallen angels who indwelt men (see notes on 2Pe 2:4,5; Jude 6). Matthew 22:30 does not necessarily negate the possibility that angels are capable of procreation, but just that they do not marry. To procreate physically, they had to possess human, male bodies.”[5] MacArthur makes several points that help to support his argument: First, the sons of God are identified almost exclusively as angels; second, the New Testament seems to confirm this conclusion based upon two passages of Scripture (2 Peter 2:4,5 and Jude 6); and third, Matthew 22:30 only dictates that angels in heaven cannot marry.
In spite of these arguments, Davis points out that, “the concept of sonship, based on God’s election, is common to the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; 32:5, 6, 18, 19; Hos. 1:10; Isa. 1:2; 11:1; 43:6; 45:11; Jer. 31:20; Ps. 73:15).”[6] This means that, while the particular term “sons of God” refers primarily to angels, the concept of being a son of God does not. Davis also indicates that, “As for the passage in Jude, Keil argues that it is not referring to the passage in Genesis 6:1-4; Jude 6, 7 are concerned with fornication, Genesis 6:2 with marriage.”[7] It seems from the text of Jude that this could be understood either way, as “in the same way as these” could refer to either the cities surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah, or perhaps the fallen angels. Addressing MacArthur’s third point, while it is true that, “Matthew 22:30 does not necessarily negate the possibility that angels are capable of procreation, but just that they do not marry,”5 it is also true that angels, not having physical bodies, are in fact incapable of said procreation.
Considering the variety in commentary over the issue, I agree with Davis that, “It seems to this author [Davis] that the third view [dynastic rulers in the Cainite line] is the least likely, and that either of the first two [angels and the godly line of Seth, respectively] is credible, given the evidence currently available.”[8] Because of the context of Genesis 6:1-4, God’s design revealed in Genesis 1 (“after their kind”) and Genesis 2:24, the straightforward hermeneutic of Matthew 22:30, the possible interpretation of Jude 6,7, and the context of 2 Peter 2:4,5, I believe the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6:2 to be the godly line of Seth. I hold this view with reservations, because of MacArthur’s arguments, particularly the possible interpretation of Jude 6,7, coupled with 2 Peter 2:4,5 (particularly the use of “Tartarus” for Hell). Further, MacArthur holds this view in the only manner I see able to remain consistent with orthodoxy: “To procreate physically, they had to possess human, male bodies.”5 That is, because fallen angels are incorporeal beings incapable of producing their own physical bodies (this seems to be possible only in the case of the preincarnate Christ as the Angel of the Lord or angels in association with the will and ministry of God [cf. Genesis 19:1-11 with Scripture references to the Angel of the Lord]), the only way for them to be identified with the sons of God in Genesis 6:4 would be through demonizing (possessing) men.

[1] Theodore Beza, Commentary on Genesis 6, The 1599 Geneva Study Bible, . 1599-1645.
[2] John Gill, Commentary on Genesis 6:2, The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible, . 1999.
[3] Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on Genesis 6, Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, . 1706.
[4] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1, Translated by Rev. John King, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2008. [5] John F. MacArthur, Genesis 6:2 notes, The MacArthur Study Bible (Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006), 24.
[6] John J. Davis, The Degeneration of Man, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Sheffield Publishing Company: Salem, 1998), 113.
[7] John J. Davis, The Degeneration of Man, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Sheffield Publishing Company: Salem, 1998), 112.
[8] John J. Davis, The Degeneration of Man, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Sheffield Publishing Company: Salem, 1998), 114.

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