When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then Yahweh said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." The Nephilim (giants) were on the earth in those days--and also afterwards--when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown (Gen. 6:1-4, NRSV with Yahweh substituted for the LORD).Most versions of the Bible refer to the beings in this passage who took wives of the daughters of men as "the sons of God," but the expression (beni ha-elohim) in Hebrew literally meant "sons of the gods" and is so translated in The Revised English Bible. So a definite hint of mythology is seen in the very language that was used to tell this fanciful tale of angels marrying earthly women, because any modern reader encountering a story that referred to gods and the sons of gods would immediately know that it was fantasy fiction or mythology, especially if it involved gods consorting with earthly women.
Bibliolaters will quickly protest that the Hebrews used the plural word elohim when referring to their god Yahweh. They call it "the plurality of dignity," a way of expressing the majesty and greatness of God. Some even think they see an early recognition of the triune godhead in the plural term elohim. These matters were discussed in my exchange of articles with Mac Deaver in the summer issue of TSR, so I won't get involved in rehashing them here. Readers who keep their back issues, however, might want to read the exchange again to review biblical passages that clearly show the early Hebrews were polytheistic. They believed that the gods of the nations around them were entities just as real as their own god Yahweh but that Yahweh was vastly superior to the others, a God of gods, a sort of supergod whose powers exceeded all the others.
Suffice it to say at this point that Genesis 6:1-4 literally refers to beni ha-elohim (the sons of the gods) rather than "the sons of God" as it has been deceptively rendered in most English translations. This fact alone gives us our first clue that this passage is an ancient one that managed to survive the piecemeal editing of the monotheistic era in which the J, E, P, R, and D documents were patched together to give the Tanach (Hebrew scriptures) their final structure. It reflects the thinking of a time when people saw the world as a place ruled by gods (many) rather than Yahweh, the one and only God.
Anyone who has studied the mythology of prescientific times knows that giants figured prominently in the literature of that era. The Greeks had their Hercules, who was so big and powerful that he supported the world on his shoulders. Even the relatively modern fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk involved an encounter with a giant. The prescientific Hebrews were no different from the other nations of superstitious times. They had their mythology, and giants were part of their mythology.
As indicated in the Genesis 6 passage, the Hebrews called their giants nephilim, which both Strong and Young define as "fellers," "fallen ones," or "giants." (Why they were perceived as "fellers" or "fallen ones" will become very clear as I proceed.) After the men whom Moses sent ahead to spy out Canaan returned to camp, they reported having seen "the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers" (Num. 13:33). Upon hearing this, the people were terrified and wept all night, fearing that Moses had led them out of Egypt only to face certain death at the hands of the Nephilim (Num. 14:1-3). To their superstitious minds, these Nephilim, sons of Anak, known also as Anakim, were "a people great and tall" of whom they had heard said, "Who can stand before the sons of Anak?"
The Hebrews designated giants by other names too. Deuteronomy 2:10 spoke of "a people great, and many, and tall" known as Emim, who had "aforetime" dwelt in the land of Moab. The passage called them Rephaim and compared them to the Anakim. Joshua 11:21-23 credited Joshua with the total destruction of the Anakim from the hill-country of Israel so that none were left in the land except in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod, which were all Philistine strongholds that the Israelites were never able to control. David came to prominence in Israel as a result of his famous battle with Goliath of Gath, a giant whose height was "six cubits and a span" or about ten feet (1 Sam. 17:4), and battles with giants (Heb. raphaim) are mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:16-22 and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8. Other references to giants (rephaim or anakim) were made in Deuteronomy 2:20-21; 3:11,13 and Joshua 12:4; 13:12; 15:8; 17:15; 18:16. Many post-KJV translations have attempted to veil these superstitious allusions to giants in "God's inspired word" by transliterating the Hebrew terms Nephilim, Anakim, and Rephaim rather than translating them to convey the idea of giantism. To unsuspecting English readers, the terms simply become tribal or nationalistic designations like Syrian or Amorite rather than mythological allusions to giants.
Wading through all of these references may be tedious, but they do obviously establish that the Hebrews, like the superstitious nations around them, believed in the existence of giants. Genesis 6:1-4 appears to be a mythological attempt to explain the existence of giants, just as Genesis 3:14-15 was an obvious mythological attempt to explain the natural enmity that exists between man and snakes. To the prescientific Hebrew mind, giants existed because "the sons of the gods," had seen the fairness of "the daughters of men" and had taken them for wives. In other words, giants had resulted from the sexual union of angels and human women.
In my debate with Bill Jackson, I made brief mention of this passage just to make a point about another matter, and he built it into a straw man that he could knock around to avoid dealing with the issue being debated:
His (Till's) view is that Moses believed angels intermarried with earthly women. And he is the one, mind you, who speaks of the need for evidence! Wonder where he found angels in Genesis 6:1-4? This from a character who doesn't even know if he believes in God, having said the greater evidence lies on the side of the atheist (Jackson-Till Debate, p. 19)!From then on, Mr. Jackson made frequent derogatory remarks about my interpretation of this passage, as if it were perfectly ridiculous for anyone to see the intermarriage of angels and women in it. Before his death in April, Mr. Jackson had agreed to write a reply to this article for simultaneous publication in TSR. I sincerely regret not only his untimely death but the opportunity he has missed to see just where I found angels in this passage.
They weren't at all hard to find.
The key to understanding the passage is the proper interpretation of beni ha-elohim (the sons of the gods). Let bibliolaters believe that this expression meant only "the sons of God" if they want to. That still will not help their case, because usage of the expression, although infrequent in the Old Testament, clearly establishes it as a reference to celestial beings or spiritual entities. Besides the Genesis 6 passage, this exact expression was used only three other times in the OT, all three in the book of Job. In the beginning of this book, reference was twice made to the day "when the sons of God (beni ha-elohim) came to present themselves before Yahweh" (1:6; 2:1). On both occasions, Satan "came also among them (the sons of God) to present himself."
Now where did the writer of Job expect us to believe that these scenes had taken place, on earth or in heaven? Surely, he didn't intend for us to think that these were scenes that had happened on earth, for on both occasions, after discussing Job's character with Yahweh, "Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh" (1:12; 2:7). To the Hebrew mind, "the presence of Yahweh" would have been a location in heaven where Yahweh sat on his throne (1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 11:4; 103:19; Is. 66:1), so whoever these "sons of God" were, they were creatures who came to present themselves to Yahweh in heaven.
Confirmation of this conclusion can be found in the third reference in Job to the "sons of God" (beni ha-elohim). Here Yahweh himself was speaking and applied the term to entities who already existed when he began creating the world:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding. Who determined the measure of it, if you know? Or who stretched the line upon it? Upon what were the foundations of it fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone of it, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of Elohim (God) shouted for joy (38:4-7, Bethel Bible)?Obviously these "sons of God" who shouted for joy on this occasion were not humans, because man had not yet been created. So whoever these "sons of God" (beni ha-elohim) were, they were beings who were already in existence when God began his work of creation. The conclusion is unavoidable: the writer of Job intended for us to understand that these "sons of God" were spiritual or celestial beings.
So if the "sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair" and "took them wives of all that they chose" (Gen. 6:2), whoever wrote this must have believed that he was describing something more than just ordinary marriages between human men and women, and especially so since "when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men" (v:4), the sexual unions resulted in children who "were the mighty men that were of old"--the Nephilim. To say that the writer meant nothing more here than when he wrote, "And so-and-so knew his wife and she bore a son" is to stretch credulity to the limits.
A striking but enlightening parallel to Genesis 6:1-4 can be found in the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch:
In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born unto them handsome and beautiful daughters. And the angels, the children of heaven, saw them and desired them; and they said to one another, "Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of man and beget us children" (6:1-2, Isaac Translation).The passage goes on to explain that 200 angels took an oath and bound one another to a curse to carry out the proposal. Under the leadership of Semyaz, they then descended upon Mount Hermon to execute their plan:
And they took wives unto themselves, and everyone (respec- tively) chose one woman for himself, and they began to go unto them. And they taught them magical medicine, incantations, the cutting of roots, and taught them (about) plants. And the women became pregnant and gave birth to great giants whose heights were three hundred cubits. These (giants) consumed the produce of all the people until the people detested feeding them. So the giants turned against (the people) in order to eat them (7:1-4).Giants three hundred cubits (450 feet) tall--this is obviously mythology, bibliolaters will no doubt say. And that is the point exactly; it is obviously mythology. Yet the similarity of Genesis 6:1 and 1 Enoch 6:1 is so striking that it cannot be lightly dismissed. If both passages were in secular books, no reasonable critic would deny that the two had been derived from the same source, either written or oral. Bibliolaters, however, are unwilling to apply to the Bible the same common sense critical reasoning that they routinely apply to secular works. The writer of 1 Enoch said that "the angels, the children of heaven, saw them (the daughters of men) and desired them" and later took them as wives, and bibliolaters agree that this is mythology. The writer of Genesis said that "the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair... and took them wives of all that they chose," and bibliolaters say that this is the inspired truth of God! By what reasoning process does one arrive at conclusions so patently incongruous?
Inerrantists may react with "What do I care what the book of First Enoch says?" all that they wish, but to do so is to flagrantly ignore the stamp of approval that New Testament writers put on this "apocryphal" book. In his introduction to the book, the translator (Isaac) commented on the esteem that both apocryphal writers and early Christians had for it:
It was used by the authors of Jubilees, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Assumption of Moses, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra. Some New Testament authors seem to have been acquainted with the work, and were influenced by it, including Jude, who quotes it explicitly (1:14f.). At any rate, it is clear that Enoch- ic concepts are found in various New Testament books, including the Gospels and Revelation.With a critical reputation like this, whatever is in the book of 1 Enoch cannot be waved aside with a disdainful, "What do I care what the book of First Enoch says?" Even if one chooses to think that the preceding quotation greatly exaggerates the influence of 1 Enoch on the formation of the New Testament, he cannot deny what was twice noted in the quotation, i.e., the writer of Jude explicitly quoted the book, and in a way that attributed prophetic powers to its author:
... Many church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria, either knew 1 Enoch or were inspired by it. Among those who were familiar with 1 Enoch, Tertullian had an exceptionally high regard for it.... (F)ew other apocryphal books so indelibly marked the religious history and thought of the time of Jesus.
... (E)ven though Charles (R. H.) may have exaggerated when he claimed that "nearly all" the writers of the New Testament were familiar with 1 Enoch, there is no doubt that the New Testament world was influenced by its language and thought. It influenced Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 John, Jude (which quotes it directly) and Revelation (with numerous points of contact). There is little doubt that 1 Enoch was influential in molding New Testament doctrines concerning the nature of the Messiah, the Son of Man, the messianic kingdom, demonology, the future, resurrection, final judgment, the whole eschatological theater, and symbolism. No wonder, therefore, that the book was highly regarded by many of the earliest apostolic and Church Fathers (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, "1 Enoch: a New Translation and Introduction," pp. 8,10).
And to these (ungodly men troubling the church) also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (vv:14-15).This is obviously a direct quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9, a fact that, to say the least, should give believers in the divine inspiration of Jude ample reason to respect the book. After all, if the Holy Spirit deemed the book important enough to direct Jude to quote it, they surely couldn't ask for a better recommendation than that.
Furthermore, the "inspired" Jude identified the author of this quotation as "Enoch, the seventh from Adam," so if Jude thought that Enoch had made this statement, he must have been endorsing the Enochian authorship of the book. And if the Holy Spirit (as the doctrine of verbal inspiration teaches) was directing Jude in what he wrote, then the Holy Spirit must have actually known that Enoch had written the book. The inerrantists, then, have nowhere to go except to conclude that 1 Enoch was actually written by Enoch, the seventh-generation descendant of Adam who "walked with God" and "was not, for God took him" (Gen. 5:24). So if bibliolaters are looking for something to give credibility to 1 Enoch, they surely have it in these facts. They have to believe that the book was written by a man who was so righteous that he was translated directly to heaven without seeing death (Heb. 11:5). Yet with all that to commend it, the book is not even in the holy canon. But that's another article for another time.
After telling us that angels, the children of heaven, married human women and produced a race of giants 450 feet tall, this book (which Jude said was written by Enoch, the seventh from Adam) tells of the earthly corruption that was caused by these celestial half-breeds. Their angelic fathers taught them "eternal secrets which are performed in heaven" (9:6), and as a result the earth became corrupt:
(Moreover) Semyaz, to whom you have given power to rule over his companions, co-operating, they went in unto the daugh- ters of the people on earth, and they lay together with them--with those women--and defiled themselves, and revealed to them every (kind of) sin. As for the women, they gave birth to giants to the degree that the whole earth was filled with blood and oppression (9:7-9).This corruption became Enoch's explanation for the flood. "The Most High, the great and Holy One," sent an angel to the son of Lamech (Noah) to warn him of a great deluge that would destroy all upon the earth except his seed (10:1-3). In this, we see another obvious parallel between this account and the Genesis record, for immediately after telling of the "sons of God" marrying the daughters of men, the Genesis writer said that "Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth" and determined to destroy all life on earth, except for Noah who had "found favor in the eyes of Yahweh" (6:5-8). Both writers saw the flood as a consequence of wickedness resulting from the "sons of God" (children of heaven) marrying "daughters of men," so both obviously relied on the same source or tradition, the only essential difference being that Enoch gave many more details about the corruption that had been caused by the intermarriages.
Prior to telling the story of the flood and Noah's salvation in the ark, Enoch devoted much more space to a description of man's wickedness than did the Genesis writer. Man's corruption had been caused by the intermarriage of angels and earthly women, so God instructed the archangels Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael to punish the fallen angels for what they had done:
And secondly the Lord said to Raphael, "Bind Azaz'el (a leader of the fallen angels) hand and foot (and) throw him into the darkness." And he made a hole in the desert which was in Duda'el and cast him there; he threw on top of him rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered his face in order that he may not see light, and in order that he may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment.... And to Gabriel the Lord said, "Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates and against the children of adultery; and destroy the children of adultery and expel the children of the Watchers (see Dan. 4:13,17,23, FT) from among the people...." And to Michael God said, "Make known to Semyaza and the others who are with him, who fornicated with the women, that they will die together with them in all their defilement. And when they and all their children have battled with each other, and when they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment and of their consummation, until the eternal judgment is concluded. In those days they will lead them into the bottom of the fire--and in torment--in the prison (where) they will be locked up forever. And at the time when they will burn and die, those who collaborated with them will be bound together with them from henceforth unto the end of (all) generations" (10:4-6, 9, 11-14).Several times after this, Enoch mentioned the condemnation that God had pronounced upon the Watchers (angels) for "begetting giant sons" upon wives of "the children of the earth" (15:4). He told how that they would be "put in bonds" and "imprisoned inside the earth" to be "detained here forever" until "the great day of judgment in which they shall be judged until they are finished" (13:2; 14:5; 21:10; 19:2).
God's pronouncement of judgment upon the fallen ones went on and on, and if it all sounds vaguely familiar, that is because it is familiar to all students of the New Testament. I have already noted that Jude (vv:l4-15) quoted directly from 1 Enoch 1:9. Prior to this, he referred to the archangel Michael's contention with the devil over the body of Moses (v:9), an allusion to a scene in an apocryphal book known as the Assumption of Moses. Obvi- ously, then, Jude was familiar with apocryphal works, and it was in this context that he warned his readers of the ever present danger of apostasy by referring to the section of 1 Enoch summarized above:
And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing punishment by eternal fire (vv:6-7, NRSV).That Jude was here referring to angels who had engaged in sexual immorality after leaving "their proper dwelling" is apparent from his comparison of their sin with the wickedness of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. What could he have possibly had in mind regarding these fallen angels except the situation that Enoch wrote about in the section of his book summarized above? To deny this is to grasp in desperation for any straw in sight to preserve an untenable belief in Bible inerrancy.
The writer of 2 Peter made a similar allusion to the damnation of fallen angels:
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment... then the Lord knows how to... keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment--especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust (2:4-10, NRSV).So Enoch told of fallen angels whom God imprisoned in darkness inside the earth to await judgment for having taken wives from the daughters of men. Both Jude and Peter wrote about fallen angels who have been imprisoned in chains in deep darkness to await judgment for having engaged in sexual immorality. The similarity is too striking to deny. The sin of the angels whom Enoch wrote about had produced a race of giants. Can there be any doubt, then, that the Genesis writer believed exactly as Enoch did, that angels (sons of God) had come down from heaven, married human women, and produced giants on the earth?
We have all heard an adage that tells a reliable way to settle
controversy. "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you
can be reasonably sure it is a duck." Genesis 6:1-4
looks like mythology, sounds like mythology, and reads like mythology.
What else is there to conclude but that it is mythology? Who would
believe otherwise if this were in any book but the Bible?