“The Nephilim (giants) 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.”(Genesis 6:4)
The Fall of Man
One doesn’t need to read very far into the Genesis account to discover the the fall of man. Genesis 3 vividly describes how the serpent, the adversary of God, seduced Eve with cunning lies, subverted Adam’s authority as God’s representative on earth, and led the entire human race down the tragic path of sin and death. As a result God cast man out of the garden, cut off Adam and Eve from their very Source of life, and cursed the whole creation. The fall of man caused utter spiritual ruin for the human race, and we continue to suffer the devastating consequences to this very day.
Most people operating from a Biblical worldview understand the significance of Adam’s sin and the consequent fall of the entire human race. After all, the doctrine of original sin is foundational to the orthodox teachings of the church. For example, the Apostle Paul writes … “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12), and also he says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
There has always been a theological connection between Adam, the son of God (Luke 3:38), with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the “second Adam,” who came to undo what the first Adam had done and to do what the first Adam could not. That is why there truly are only two kinds of people in the world — those who still are in Adam (i.e. separated from God in their sins) and those who are in Christ (i.e. saved by God’s grace through faith). The mission of Jesus from the very beginning has always been to redeem what was lost in the garden. But there is more to the mission of Jesus.
The Fall of the “sons of God”
The fall of man is not the only fall that we read about in the early chapters of Genesis. If we aren’t attentive students of the Word of God, we can easily gloss over one of the most significant events ever to take place in human history. In Genesis 6, we read about another fall — a celestial fall. And this one brief but theologically charged passage of Scripture is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the origin of evil and ultimately of the greater mission of Jesus Christ.
Inherent in the Genesis account is a heavenly rebellion, a satanic subversion of the throne of God. These heavenly beings are called the “sons of God,” and their wicked rebellion in the days of Noah must not be overlooked. The sons of God did that which was forbidden in the sight of God and further corrupted the earth to a point of no return.
Before we take time to discuss what these fallen sons of God had done in Noah’s day, let us take a minute to properly identify who they were.
Descendants of Seth or heavenly beings?
If one were to pick up a modern study Bible today and read the study notes on Genesis 6:1-4, he would likely discover that the interpretation of the term, “sons of God,” alludes to the godly human lineage of Seth, son of Adam, and the “daughters of men” refers to the ungodly offspring of Cain. The problem with this interpretation is that the Old Testament never connects the sons of God with the offspring of Seth. This “Sethite” view of Genesis 6 is a man-made construct that first emerged in the 1500s to try to explain away the plain reading of the Biblical text and give a more palatable interpretation. The orthodox traditional view of both the Jews and the early church was that the sons of God in Genesis 6 were referring to the fall of the angelic host of heaven. [I will address the problems with the Sethite view in detail in a later post.]
When we harmonize the Genesis 6 account with other references to the sons of God in the Old Testament, it is clear that these were no ordinary human beings. For example, the book of Job uses the term, “sons of God,” when describing a heavenly assembly.
“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)
Furthermore, we read in Job 38 the rebuke of the LORD, where He rhetorically asks Job a series of questions to silence Job’s complaint. Consider the LORD’s description of the creation account …
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7)
According to the LORD, the sons of God were singing and shouting for joy as witnesses to God’s creation. These are clearly divine beings in the heavenly realm, not humans in the earthly realm. Likewise, what we read in Genesis 6 depicts much more than the descendants of Seth intermarrying with the descendants of Cain, and to force this view onto Genesis 6 clearly violates the text. But what about the New Testament? How did the New Testament writers interpret Genesis 6? I’m glad you asked.
New Testament Interpretation of Genesis 6
Both Peter and Jude make clear references to this heavenly rebellion in the New Testament. Let’s first consider what Peter had to say about Noah’s day.
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.” (2 Peter 2:4-5)
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” (1 Peter 3:18-20)
Peter clearly connects this heavenly rebellion of the past — where the angels “sinned” and “formally did not obey” — with the days of Noah.
Jude also makes this very same connection. He writes, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day… Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:6-7)
Jude explains that the true interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 involves the angelic host who did not keep their proper domain but abandoned their proper abode in the heavenly realm and entered into the earthly realm to carry out profane and grotesque acts of sexual immorality and pursue unnatural desire. This is what is clearly implied when it says “the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.” (Genesis 6:4) It is also interesting to note that Jude quotes from the ancient book of Enoch (Jude 1:14), which provides a detailed account of the Watchers who came down in Genesis 6.
So what was the result of this unholy act of immorality? What kind of offspring was produced through this intermingling of the sons of God with the daughters of men? The Bible says that this perverse angelic incursion produced an entirely new race of giants, called Nephilim, which became the mighty men of old and heroes of renown. That’s right. Giants. There were giants on the earth in Noah’s day, and even after that. As bizarre as that may seem to some, it is true.
And as I will share next time, the giants unlock many ancient mysteries that also will help us understand the future. For the truth is much heavier than fiction.