Sons of God and the Daughters of Men: Approval or Disapproval?

I’ve been reading @jongarvey’s newly published book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth. Something stood out to me in one of Jon’s arguments (p. 38) regarding the intermarriage of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:1-8).

It is unnecessary to read disapproval into this event [the intermarriage of the two groups] simply because it introduces the flood narrative, for it also follows naturally after the genealogy of Adam. The offspring described are “mighty men of old, men of renown” rather than men of infamy. “Son of God” is also a designation for the Davidic king in Scripture, probably for the same reason, that he is royally elected by God to rule Israel, just as Adam was to rule earth. This royal allusion would fit in with the passage at hand, and also with the heroic status of the offspring of these unions. Adam’s special status brings some new element of power and glory to mankind, whether for good (furthering the rule of the earth) or ill (introducing sinful tyranny) or both. This reading is also consistent with the modern Jewish view, shared by a few Christian commentators, that the “sons of God (elohim)” actually means here “sons of rulers.”

I’m not sure I’m convinced with this narrative. To quote the passage:

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

What Jon doesn’t seem to address is verse 3, which seems to connect the lessening of the average age (from centuries to “only” 120 years) to the intermarriage described in vv. 1-2. If the argument is that vv. 1-2 is actually part of the passage in chapter 5 (the genealogies), that still only leaves a puzzle as to what made God lessen the ages of people, if this intermarriage was just “business as usual”, or something expected (even more curious if we believe that Adam was meant to intermarry with these people outside the Garden from the beginning, as is proposed in some GAE models).

In addition, the succeeding verses (vv. 5-8) seem to further confirm that both the intermarriage and the presence of the Nephilim (whether or not they are connected) is related to the “wickedness” that cause the Flood to be sent.

While this might seem to be a minor interpretive issue, I think it may affect our conclusion as to whether the prohibition against incest applied in Genesis 1-11. If God disapproved of exogamy with people outside the Garden, then it seems that Adam & Eve’s family was meant to marry only endogamously. Do you have any thoughts, @jongarvey?

Secondly, and perhaps more peripheral, I would be curious to know what you think about the old but not crazily old ages of the patriarchs (e.g. people having an average age of 120 years, or Abraham dying at 175 years). We can think of Adam’s 930 years of age as not being literal, but that’s a more difficult argument to make with Abraham.

Sorry if any of these issues are explained later in the book (since I haven’t finished it!).


I’ve heard this from other exegetes too, for the record.

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Who are the exegetes who would support it? I’d be interested to read their commentaries.

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Well, I’m speaking from the feedback I got on the book. Apparently, the grammar in Hebrew is exceedingly ambiguous in this verse, as is the nouns being used. It is an inherently vague passage, that probably made sense to the original readers due to their cultural context, but is lost on us.

The text, moreover, doesn’t directly say the interbreeding was bad. It just says there was interbreeding, and then says wickedness was increasing, and so on.


Hi Daniel

I think I point out in the book that the Genesis 6 passage is heavily abbreviated from what would, in all probability, have been a familiar tale (which is why the author could abbreviate it). That makes all modern interpretations fraught with risk.

I take my non-judgemental approach to the intermarriage from writers like Richard Middleton, who in The Liberating Image points to 6:1 as humanity “literally fulfilling the injunction of 1:28 to ‘increase’ or ‘be great’ (the verb raba) on the earth,” but suggests that is ironically contrasted in 6:5 with their simultaneous increase in wickedness.

Verse 3 could refer to either side of that contrast, and if one takes on board Middleton’s analysis of the whole protohistory, of which this is a part, then it will be related to man’s (bad) sin rather than his (good) obedience to the creation ordinance.

Neither need v3 refer to the curtailing of patriarchal age: way back in time Augustine interpreted v3 not as a reduction in age, but as a pronouncement that the Flood would occur in 120 years.

I’d say the question of incest is only part of the importance of this: in my understanding via GAE, the purpose of Adam’s calling was to spread the new covenant relationship with God through the whole race, mainly through procreation. If ch6 is about human intermarriage of “gardenites” and “outside the gardenites,” rather than angels, then what God intended was either (a) if 6:1-2 represents an evil, an incestuous new race excluding those outside the garden from the blessing or (b) if 6:1-2 represents a good, a filling of the world with Adam’s seed for mankind’s blessing (but contingently, sharing the curse of sin). In the latter case, of course, incest is neither necessary nor desirable.

As too the patriarchal ages, as you’ll read further on, it remains a matter in question. The text itself (barring one of the interpretations of 6:3) says nothing about the significance of any of its ages, but simply records them. As readers, we note that the ages are less further on, but as point out in Generations, the Table of Nations shows that Adam’s line came to include most of the ANE at a time when ages are still recorded as being impossibly high by today’s standard. yet there is no archaeological or historical evidence that life expectancy in bronze age Asia and Africa was any greater than now - in fact, it’s universally agreed to be far less. Remember that, apart from his election, Abraham’s genealogical heritage from Noah was no different from someone in Put or Libya or Gomer.

For this and other reasons, I take the patriarchal ages to be either literary device of forgotten significance, or (preferable to me) a set of transmission errors possibly occasioned by transferring ancient Mesopotamian traditions to newer numbering systems.


John Sailhamer is the first scholar I came across (like 25 years ago) where I first came across a non-negative view. (@jongarvey )


Other biblical scholars who support the view that Genesis 6:1-4 refers to sons of human rulers and daughters of humans would include:
Meredith G. Kline (per Henri Blocher, “In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis” (Downers Grove: IVP, 1984), p. 201-202),
Bruce K. Waltke ( “Genesis: A Commentary” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), pp. 115-117), and
John H. Walton ( “The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), pp. 291-297).


Do all of them also think that the intermarriage is not morally disapproved in the narrative?

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I think that all three of them expressed a negative view toward the intermarriages.


To some extent, approval/disapproval is predicated upon whom one understands as intermarrying.

Clearly, nobody’s keen on angels intermarrying with people, but traditionally the only candidates have been Seth’s line and Cain’s line - both, of course, arising from Adam (or in Jewish tradition, according to Walton in his NIV commentary, rulers taking non-royal women, a view which he qualifies by assuming it as exploitative). For the story to be noteworthy at all, it would almost have to be expressing disapproval in either case…

But Walton’s “Lost World” view is closer to GAE is positing Adam and Eve as a subset of H. sapiens, the latter being described in Gen 1, and the former in Gen 2. I’m not aware that he ever applies that idea to Gen 6, but if he did it might, of course, change the ethical spin he puts on it.

By the way, genealogical science (rather than GAE per se) puts a disturbing implication on the “angelic” interpretation - given the pervasiveness of intermarriage it reveals, we would all be partly descended from fallen angels by now, of which Scripture, or theology, give no hint.

What about leprechauns? Would we all be descended from leprechauns, or just the Irish?

We Irish would be descended both from angels and leprachauns, though there might be traces of human DNA. :smiley:

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When you say “we”, this seems like an ontological identification with the biological form God created; “Man”, I wonder if the definitions here aren’t the issue re Man, Spirit and Soul. Could you define what you are and what you think the boundaries of “we” (I assume “humans”) would involve? Is it limited to a genome, or specific genetic sequence of a biological machine? How do you define “Spirit” and how is this different (if it is) from “Soul”? I’m new here, so this might have been addressed previously, if so, my apologies.


Toward the topic the text which comes to mind is: Mat 13: 37He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.

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Hi Thacker, and welcome.

The context of the discussion (or my part in it, anyway) is Genealogical Adam and Eve, and so “we” refers to all living people now, the genealogical descendants of Adam.

I don’t think one can press the text of Gen 6 to make it the origin of a distinction between the “sons of Satan/the serpent” and “the sons of God” seen in the NT, for these are spiritual distinctions that Jesus and John the Baptist (for example) make on the basis of willingness to believe the gospel, or not. Scripture seems to deal with such a distinction on the basis of election, but not of any kind of gnostic ontological distinction, genetic or otherwise.

This is shown by Paul’s description of the gospel in Ephesians 2, where he says, of believers, that “like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath…” and in ch 5 that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” So the idea of election in Christ is there, not favoured breeding, and I think that is also implicit (in the kind of Christological biblical theology I favour) in Gen 3:15.

So my point in the previous post is that genealogical science would predict that, were the “sons of God” angels in ch 6, the whole race would be descended from them, which I regard as an absurdity, and even more so when Scripture makes no such claim. Hence I don’t take the story as being about angels at all - but Adam’s line and those “outside the garden” are a real possibility. Nevertheless, any interbreeding would have brought the “outsiders” into Adam’s line, erasing any distinctions there might, or might not, have been before.

hello jongarvey, thx for the reply.

So, I would disagree, this seems to indicate an otological distinction between the individual elect and damned; wheat vs tares, two distinct species, and a conscious intent wrt individual placement here; where/when, by two identified entities; Jesus and “the wicked one”, I assume the Devil.

But that aside, are you ontologically human, is your existence contingent upon the biological machine “man”? And could you explain your notion or definition of “Spirit” and “Soul” and how they differ, if at all?

Negatively, I refer you again to Paul’s statement in Ephesians that the lost and the saved are of the same (fallen) nature - and indeed, that is also his argument at the beginning of Romans, when the condemnation of all alike is his theme for several chapters, to which the gospel is his answer.

Positively, the basis of election cannot be separated from the eternal purposes of God in Christ. The best exposition of this key point, placing election in God’s secret purposes, not in man’s nature or character, is that of John Calvin in his lectures on Ephesians. A good, solid read!

To begin to discuss that, I need to refer you back to a core theme in both Josh’s book, and mine, on the slippery question of what “human” means. As Josh (the working scientist) points out, there is no satisfactory and agreed scientific definition of man.

In theology too there are different definitions, depending on whether one starts from philosophy, experience or whatever. But biblically (which is what counts in a discussion on the Bible’s meaning) there is no way that any Bible writer would view man as merely “a biological machine,” and neither would I: ontologically, I am human because created in the image of God, and (simultaneously) because I am of the seed of Adam. That origin encompasses, but is not restricted to, my biological origins.

In fact I discussed “spirit” and “soul” on a recent thread here, if I could only find it, but my biblical view is that of Genesis 2, that man is a unity, a “living soul.” I discussed in my comment on that other thread why I think the Bible is using descriptive language in its anthropology, and not using words like “soul” and spirit" as termini technici.

Philosophically I’m inclined to see that unity rather in terms of Thomistic hylemorphism - that of “soul” as the form of man, in his totality both physical and spiritual. That, I consider, lets me off the hook of pretending too much knowledge about what I only understand subjectively, by being a man, and also avoids the problems I see arising from positions like Cartesian dualism, and even more from materialistic naturalism.

What a joy this is, I do apologize for drifting to an ancillary subject, though I believe its connected to the title of this thread in a round about way, and I do appreciate your time (and timeliness) of your response…

  1. I referenced the “elect”, which were known in him before the foundation of the world, intentionally. Where it is true that all are born here condemned, this doesn’t undermine God’s predetermined “sowing” of his elect as he sees fit; where and when. We could drill into the calvinistic decretive will of God; the lapsarian theories including notions of original sin if you like but I don’t think they will matter much, at least at this point, to our conversation.
  1. Re Genesis, the phrase “breath of life” applies to all, at least, mammals, and likely all animated creatures, including man. Beyond this, “soul” or nephesh applies to the same class of constructs mentioned above, which I’ve referenced as bio-machines. That is, beyond the image of God, there is nothing inherently different about the body/soul of man from any other animal, or so it seems.

I would like to see that thread, and if I can figure out how to work this interface…

  1. Given we will leave this body, this tent, house, coat, and (I believe, per Paul and Jesus) still exist, we cannot be contingent upon the physical body, in any regard, for existence; all that is man is dust and will “return” to dust, but we will continue.

So, I would argue that the soul/body; man, is a special creation, where each element is contingent upon the other for animation; life, which is distinct from the spiritual entity which is clearly not; with or without a functional body we will continue.

I agree - which is why I think tying election to any inherited characteristics - especially from fallen angels - won’t run! You’d have, somehow, to account biologically for why one twin is converted, and the other not.

Yup - in the “lost thread” I referenced the fact that Scripture once or twice refers to the “souls” of animals, as well as their having “the breath of life”. That shows it’s a mistake, in biblical interpretation, to put a technical meaning like “eternal intellective principle” on the word nephesh, though that doesn’t make it wrong for theologians to play around with such ideas philosophically.

But neither does the shared use of the word imply biological (or any other) equality of man to animals. Loosely, one could translate the word nephesh as “life”, the word we commonly use in English, which still usually divides sharply between sacrosanct human life, and more dispensible animal life. We are currently busting the world economy ostensibly to save human lives, because they are rightly considered special - in Christian terms, created in God’s image, but one might also say it is because, unlike the lives of animals, human lives are “spiritual.” Suddenly human life becomes more than animal biology, though it includes it.

There’s no reason why the Bible should not be considering the “human soul” as fundamentally distinct from those of animals, whether that be in terms of the “image” of Gen 1, the call of Adam to kingship/priesthood in Genesis 2, or the intrinsic possession of an immortal principle as in traditional theology (which, as I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t believe is taught in Scripture, least of all Genesis).

After all, it would seem that the “soul” of a lion is pretty distinct from the “soul” of a locust, so why should that not be even true of people?

Which leads me to:

N T Wright has an excellent discussion of the development of Hebrew/Christian afterlife understanding in The Resurrection of the Son of God, and a decent but shorter one in *Surprised by Hope."

Various OT passages indicate the shadowy survival of individuals in the state of Sheol, but the prophetic hope became progressively focused on the resurrection of the body, culminating of course in the full-blown Christian hope in a new kind of resurrection life exemplified by Christ. Wright points out that the idea of being out of the body and (in gospel terms) with Christ arose subsidiary to that final eschatological hope, which is why little is said about it in the Bible - as Wright says, the Bible is interested in “life after life after death.”

In late 2nd temple times, the influence of Platonism lent itself, for some Jews, to the idea of the disembodied soul as the reality, and the body as a mere shell, and that was picked up by a good part of the later Christian tradition, ending up with the full-blooded hope of general resurrection, for many nowadays, getting lost in an idea of disembodied souls floating around in heaven, and something of a disdain for the body as “mere biology.”

Aquinas preferred the unified hylemorphic idea of anthropology he got from Aristotle, but had to factor in both the Scriptural hints of continued life apart from the body, and the Catholic tradition of the immortal soul. He did this by positing the intellect as, fundamentally, immaterial and therefore, in his view, eternal. But because of his hylemorphism, he saw the “disembodied soul” as being in a very limited, temporary kind of existence, and awaiting with longing bodily resurrection: quite different from the Platonic idea of being freed from the dark physical prison of the flesh.

Given the need for such spiritual things to be shown by revelation, and given the Bible’s lack of much in the way of such revelation, I’m happy to be pretty agnostic about exactly how we’re put together. But I’m pretty sure it can’t be explained in simplistic terms of a soul/spirit occupying and controlling a body - nor in the more complicated tripartite soil-spirit-body mixtures attempted by some.

So, if we differentiate the Spirit (agent) from the Body/Soul (machine) construct, this question, imo, becomes quite simple, the bio-machine is utterly disconnected from the Agent’s eternal orientation or disposition toward or against God. I realize this needs to be fleshed out to avoid the gnostic implications, but the distinction in both legal obligation; God’s law vs Nature’s law, and duration; Eternal consequence vs temporal consequence, of these two elements; Spirit and Body/Soul, biblically require it, imo.

As such, the biological connection between twins is utterly irrelevant to the respective agent’s disposition re God.

I saw that in the interview with WLC and Joshua, this introduction of “intelligence” or “reason” wrt that quality being essential to our elevation from animals. From my perspective, in this age of AI, I doubt intelligence is a germane distinction. That is, with or without a possessor agent, the bio-machine “man” would be just as rational, just as curious, innovative, and would be virtually indistinguishable from any other bio-machine with a possessor agent. The only difference would be the elevation of the temporal production into the jurisdiction of God’s law and its assessment of and consequences for the Spiritual Agent.

I think here its important to clarify my model’s definitions regarding “soul”, as I understand it (again within the biblical context) its an animation software, an OS which enables function of the hardware; Body. As software, ancient descriptions had difficulty describing it, its immaterial, storable, causative, and yet not physical; you can’t weigh it, or measure it, or hold it, and w/o it, for some reason, the body dies. With this, the only difference between man and animals is scale, not principle.

I can’t remember who said it, maybe Heisenberg “the only way for physics to progress is for the old physicists to die”.

The natural state of a Spiritual being, necessarily, is not in a physical state. The anomalous state of a Spiritual being then isn’t w/o a physical form, its with one. The traditional boundaries and definitions for this subject were limited to the richness (or lack thereof) of their lexicon, coupled with a notion of piety; essentially the same piety exhibited by the Jews in John 10. An observation which, of course, leads to the assessment of this model reflecting my arrogance… which may be true.

I would argue there is massive evidence for the model I’ve just argued, both in the physical world and the Bible. This seems to me, and I could be very wrong, a subject where very ambigious definitions meets arbitrary, perhaps contrived boundaries spinning off incoherent, and mysterious results.