Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sons of God?

Genesis 6v1-4

[1] When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, [2] the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. [3] Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." [4] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

What is this all about? Many ancient religions had stories of their gods having children with human women, where the children grew up to be great heroes. For example the Greek god Zeus had loads of children with human women, including Hercules. But we don't believe this today, right?

Here we have a biblical passage with the same story - some divine beings, the 'sons of God', marry and have children with mortal women, producing heroic children.

So who were these 'sons of God' and how can they possibly fit into a contemporary theology?

The new testament is pretty clear cut - God only has one Son; Jesus. So if that is true then the 'sons of God' can't actually be the sons of God. But the passage makes clear that these 'sons of God' were significantly different from ordinary mortals. Indeed, even their half-ordinary offspring were heroic, suggesting that these folk were super-heroic in some way. So who were they? Here are the options as I see it (feel free to suggest more):
  1. The new testament is wrong, God had more than one Son...
  2. The old testament is wrong, this never happened...
  3. 'Sons of God' means angels, and angels and humans produced hybrid offspring...
  4. This is just a myth, a bolt-on from another religion added into the bible...
  5. It is a myth, adapted over time, based on some real event where two tribal groups (one generally bigger and stronger than the other, the other possibly generally more beautiful) met for the first time...
  6. 'Sons of God' = offspring of Seth / 'Daughters of man' = offspring of Cain (see Chris's comment, below)
So which is it? The problem I face is that you simply cannot just take the bible at face value here. There has to be some explanation to the story that is not contained in the bible. In other words this bible story, as we have it, is out of context and the context itself has been lost.

If this is true for this one story, it could be true for others. How many other stories in the bible are we musunderstanding because we have lost the context?


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

6. Sons of God = Male descendants of Seth.
Daughters of man = Female descendants of Cain.

There is no indication other than the title "sons of God" to indicate that those who took these women as wives were anything other than mortal men. It makes more sense given that no further elobaration is given, that these are the descendants of the line of faith from Seth, rather than the line of rebellion from Cain. The offspring are explicitly described as men, rather than anything other or inbetween. They were bigger and braver, nothing more. (This could be explained by the recombination of the separated gene-pools.)

What we have here is the corruption caused by intermarriage. The descendants of Seth did not raise their wives to follow the ways of God, but were rather seduced to follow their wives' Godless ways.

cf. Dt 7:3-4, Ez 9:14, 2Co 6:14

Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks for that Chris. I'd never considered that possibility. It makes sense.

Although why the children of Seth are referred to on that occasion as 'sons of God' and not at any other point in the narrative is unclear.

I still think it is likely that the context is lost and therfore we can't fully understand the meaning.

storyguy said...

The term "sons of God" also is used to refer to angels. There is reference in the Book of Jude to those angels who left their first estate. Also in 2 Peter 2:4 it speaks of angels who sinned. The following verse then speaks of the Flood which was God's judgment on a wicked world and a world of disobedient spirits whose offspring were called mighty men. The theological problem was this: The father of children passes on to them a basic characteristic. The mortal descendants of Adam inherited the seed of a sinful nature. God removed from Adam the Tree of Life so that Adam and his descendants could not live forever in their sinful state. The angels would have passed on their offspring an eternal nature to their sinful flesh which was displeasing to God. So in the Flood these descendants were destroyed. Apparently something like this happened again as reference to giants continued down to the days of King David when the last ones were killed.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hmmm. That theory causes all sorts of theological problems for me. Cats cannot procreate with dogs as the species are too far apart, genetically. If angels and humans can procreate together then the two species must be very closely genetically linked. Maybe we are supernatural beings after all...?

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Ricky, you are right. The idea that angels and men could procreate is bonkers, and contrary to clear New Testament teaching (Mt 22:30).

Although "Sons of God" is used in the book of Job to refer to the angels, it is not used in Genesis this way (nor any other OT book). In the New Testament, "sons of God" is used to refer to those who are being saved (Ro 8:14,19 Gal 3:26).

In Luke's genealogy (Luke 3) Adam is described as the son of God. Thus all in this genealogy could be called the sons [descendants] of God. (Son / descendant is the same word in the OT, e.g. Son of David.) This is the best fit IMO with the Genesis 6 account.

Anonymous said...

Re: your comment on context. Whilst we may not have the context of this one narrative, the context we do have is the whole Bible. Interpreting the part in light of the whole is always important.

Yes the Bible does leave seemingly important information out when we read any one passage, but God always intended us to read any passage of the Bible in the light of the Whole, and that whole in the light of Jesus' incarnation.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Matthew,

I guess you've come here via Chris. Thanks for commenting.

This is one of those bible passages that doesn't quite seem to fit in the context of the overall biblical narrative.

In fact, it looks to me like the author was working backwards as follows:

* There was a flood
* therefore God must have been angry
* why was God so angry as to want to destroy everyone?
* hmmm, there must have been some people that he didn't want to continue to live.
* Angel-human hybrids sounds like something God might not want...
* and so on.

On re-reading the story with Chris's interpretation, no justification is given as to why Seth's decendents marrying Cain's decendants would be a bad thing. There were no chosen people at this point, there is no indication that there were two groups of 'children of God' and 'children of man' here.

Of course, I am happy to accept this as one of those "we just don't know" issues, but is does demonstrate to me that there are bits in the bible which are not greatly edifying and not really of any direct relevance to my life today.

What if some of the bits that some folk believe to be relevant actually aren't relevant to them or me?

Ricky Carvel said...

Dear Monica,

I'm a bit confused by your reply. Are you saying this?:

God gave you personal revelation regarding the passage which explained that the whole point of the flood was to destroy angel-human hybrids and unnaturally cross-bred animals (that angels had shown man how to do). And the main point of this exercise was to purify the gene-pool so that ultimately Christ would have a purely human bloodline...

I'm really not sure about this, however:

I've just scanned through an online translation of the Book of Enoch - it does state clearly that angels interbred with humans.

So what you're saying is consistent with pre-Christian, Jewish belief. But that does not (in my opinion) make it true.

I'm not really convinced about the bloodline arguement. For a start, the genealogies of Jesus in the NT both lead to Joseph, not Mary, and then the claim is made that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. So what's the point? Also, the two genealogies disagree. I've always taken the genealogies to be there essentailly to define Jesus's place in history, to show where he fits. But they're not actually Jesus's genealogies unless Jesus was actually Joseph's son.

And even if the human gene pool got tainted with angelic blood, I'm pretty sure God could have ensured that Jesus was born of pure stock without wiping almost all of humaity out in a flood.


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

A couple of additional points of information:

1) The book of Enoch is not canonical to either Christians or Jews. It is not even part of the Apocrypha. It is generally considered to have been written during the inter-testament era. It is full of bizarre and fanciful visions and accounts - like caves in the east where the stars and moon come out from at night to run along wires that run through the sky to corresponding caves in the west.

The fact that Jude quotes from it does not make it authoritative anymore than Paul quoting from pagan poetry.

You are right that this book describes the interbreeding of men and angles to explain the Genesis 6 account, which is probably where this crazy idea came from.

2) The differences in genealogies can be attributed to Dt 25:5-6. And whether they follow the natural father or the legal father. Both genealogies make it clear that Joseph was not Jesus natural father.

Ricky Carvel said...

Regarding the genealogy issue, I heard a good explanation of that apparent contradiction the other day...

If you look at the story in Matthew, the whole thing is told from Joseph's point of view - it recounts the visitation that Joseph had and addresses Joseph's doubts. It would therefore make sense that the genealogy presented is that of Joseph.

Luke on the other hand tells the whole story from Mary's point of view. It records her visitations, etc. It would make sense if the genealogy presented in Luke was Mary's.

Apparently the original text of Luke is ambiguous as to who 'Heli' was. It could read as "Jesus was thought to be of Joseph, son of Heli...", as presented in many translations, but it could equally be read as "Jesus was thought to be of Joseph, BUT was of Heli...". Being 'of Heli' could mean that Heli was Jesus maternal grandfather.


Regarding the 'Canon' of scripture, I still have my doubts about this one. I am of the opinion that the canon was compiled by believing, well meaning, but human (and therefore fallible), people. I believe they included the books that they felt had the 'hallmark' of the inspiration of the Spirit in them. But I believe they could have got it wrong.

There may be stuff in the canon which is not inspired (whatever that actually means) and there may be inspired material which did not make it into the canon.

So I can't bring myself to believe every word in the bible, just beacuse its in the bible. But conversely, I can't bring myself to reject everything that's not in the bible, just because its not.

But the book of Enoch does look like a heap of nonsense to me...

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

> But the book of Enoch does look like a heap of nonsense to me...

LOL. So true! :-) Not much discerning required there.

Perhaps one of your next posts could be on the canon of scripture...?

Ricky Carvel said...

I've been thinking about that one Chris, but I am feeling the need to post something about Adam & Eve and 'Original Sin' next, so it may not be soon. And life is just way too busy these days for much blogging...