The first four verses of Genesis 6 is one of the more puzzling passages of Scripture and has led to considerable speculation.  Standing as it does just prior to the flood narrative, it sets the stage for the judgment that is to follow.





            Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. (Genesis 6:1-2).


The word for "wife" (Ishah) in Genesis 6:2 can also be translat­ed "woman" and does not indicate whether she was married or not.  By the same token, the verb "they TOOK wives" is used in Genesis 34:2 to describe an act of rape.

We have two groups of individuals that are mentioned in this passage. The first are the daughters of men.  This seems quite straightforward as the history of Genesis to this point has been the history of mankind as descended from Adam and Eve.  The other group is described as the sons of God.  The Hebrew calls this the Beni‑haElohim.  Several interpretations have been offered.


1.         Fallen Angels.


This is the view held by the translators of the Septuagint as well as by Josephus.  It says that certain angels sinned by entering into physical relations with humans (Jude 6; 2 Peter 3:19‑20; 2 Peter 2:4).


a.         The phrase Beni‑haElohim is only found three other times in the rest of the Old Testament (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).  In each of those instances, it seems to refer to angels.  On the other hand, the Old Testament DOES describe Israel as the son of God (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1).


b.         The phrase Beni‑haElohim denotes a direct creation from God.  Such were the angels and such was Adam (Luke 3:38).  However, Adam's natural descendants are not the special creation of God and can only become "sons of God" through a new birth.


Some have argued that angels do not marry and are not given in marriage, but this is only said to be true of the elect angels who are in heaven (Matthew 22:30).


On the other hand, the Scriptures indicate that angels often appear to be undistinguishable from men (case of Lot entertaining angels in Sodom).


The major problem with this view is the context.  Up to this point in the Genesis narrative there has been no mention made of angels, fallen or unfallen.  To introduce them at this point in the narrative is contrary to a natural reading of the text.  Furthermore, the cause of the flood will be said to be due to the wickedness of men and there will be no mention of the actions of angels in bringing this judgment.


2.         The Line of Seth.


A second view of this passage is that the "sons of God" are a reference to the line of Seth.  This view sees the male descendants of Seth taking wives from among the daughters of the descendants of Cain.


a.         The previous two chapters which form the context of these verses are taken up in detailing a contrast between the two lines of Cain and Seth.  This passage then serves as the culmination and the conclusion of those two lines, showing how they were joined together to bring out the worst in both groups.


b.         Genesis 4:26 says that after Seth began his line "men began to call upon the name of the Lord."  This is said to reflect the spiritual relationship that would lead to them being described in chapter 6 as “sons of God.”


c.         Warnings against marriage between believers and unbelievers is a common theme in Genesis (24:3‑4; 27:46; 28:1‑3).  This motif is seen in Isaac and Jacob who take great care to choose for themselves godly wives in contrast to Ishmael and Esau who take for themselves wives outside of the covenant community.


d.         In addition to the passages in Job where the Beni‑haElohim do indeed seem to refer to angels, we find the use of Beni El ("sons of God") in Hosea 1:10 where we read that, in the place where it is said to them, "You are not My people," It will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God (Beni El‑hai) ."


The problem with this interpretation is that there is no specific mention made of the line of Seth or the line of Cain and we are forced to take the reference to “daughters of men” and to make it refer only to those daughters of Cain when the term itself begs a more general understanding.  The other interpretations have the advantage of being able to take this term at face value.


3.         The Dynastic Interpretation.


One of the interpretations suggested by certain rabbinic sources points to these “sons of God” as being a reference to rulers or princes.  Along these lines, Meredith Kline suggested that the “sons of God” was a designation similar to that which was used among the Sumerians to refer to their kings who were considered to have been divine.[1]   These kings rose up in the tradition of Cain and Lamech, rejecting the authority of God and proclaiming their own deification as well as that of their ensuing dynasty.


Each of these various kings established his own city-state from which he reigned with absolute authority, forcibly taking whatever woman might suit his fancy since he would consider them to be his property.


This sort of action is reflected in the Gilgamesh Epic where the people of the city complain of how the mighty king Gilgamesh has ravished their wives and daughters.


                        Gilgamesh watches the flocks of Uruk himself

as if he were a loose bull, nose up in open field.

No one else could come close to fighting like that.

His clan is roused by howling dreams

And with them all he goes howling through sanctuaries.

But would he ever let his child come

To see him ravish others?

"Is this shepherd of Uruk's flocks,

our strength, our light, our reason,

who hoards the girls of other men for his own purpose?" (Tablet 1). [2]


This same theme continues in Genesis when the pharaoh of Egypt takes Sarah, the wife of Abraham to become a part of his harem (Genesis 12:15) and again at the end of Abraham’s life when Abimelech king of Gerar takes her (Genesis 20:2).  These incidents reflect a culture where the strength of the king will not permit a common man to deny a king’s demand for his daughter or sister.


This interpretation sees the actions of these tyrants as following the temptation offered by Satan in the garden when he had told Eve, “You shall be as Elohim -- as gods.”  In their actions, these men take for themselves the prerogatives of God as they elevate themselves to the position of the divine and take for themselves whatever wives suit their fancy.


These three views are summarized in the following chart:



Descendants of Seth

Kings and Rulers

• Septuagint supports this interpretation

• Sons of God are angels in Job

• Angels in heaven do not marry, but these angels were not in heaven

• The resulting offspring produced giants

• Supported in Apocryphal book of Enoch as well as in Jude 6.

• Nephilim are giants elsewhere in the Old Testament

• Preceding chapters set forth contrast of two lines

• Men began to call on the name of the Lord

• It is mankind that is punished in the flood

• Sonship is a common theme in the Old Testament

• Marriage of godly seed to ungodly people is a common theme in Genesis

• Aramaic lends itself to this interpretation

• Elohim refers to human judges in Ex 21:6; 22:8-9 and in Psalm 82:1, 6

• Similar use in Babylonian texts

• Kings often referred to as Elohim in east

• Actions paralleled in Lamech

• Nephilim refer to fallen ones





            Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." (Genesis 6:3).


The statement of the Lord regards the ministry of His striving Spirit.  It is a prophecy that His Spirit would not always continue to strive with man.  There would come a time when the striving would cease.


This brings us to a question.  What kind of striving does this describe?  It is the striving that takes place when the Spirit of God convicts mankind.  Jesus speaks in John 16:7-8 of the Helper that would come to convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.  What we find in the Genesis account is that there was a similar convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament era, though the power of the cross had not unleashed that ministry to the extent we see today.


When the Lord speaks of how man’s days shall be one hundred and twenty years, there have been two interpretations set forth.


1.         Some have seen this as a lowering of man’s longevity and that, as a rule, mankind would no longer enjoy the very long lives that were reflected in the ten generations listed in Genesis 5.  The problem with this view is that we continue to see people living in excess of 120 years after the flood, though it is true that the average life span is greatly reduced.


2.         A more reasonable interpretation is to see this as a prophecy of the coming judgment upon mankind.  It would be 120 years from this point that the judgment of the flood would take place.  In keeping with this view, we read in 1 Peter 3:20 how the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah.





            The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:4).


Our English text comes to this word Nephilim (translated “giants” in the King James Version) and merely gives us a transliteration, transposing the Hebrew letters into an English rendition of Nephilim.


Who or what are the Nephilim?  The exact derivation of this word is unknown.  Several possibilities have been suggested.


           Naphal - To fall or lie down.  It is this passive sense from which we derive our term for the Niphal stem that brings the passive idea to a verb.


           Nephel - An untimely birth or an abortion.


The Septuagint translates this with the Greek word gigantes, referring to big people.  Interestingly, the Septuagint uses this same word to also translate the Hebrew Rephaim.  There are several passages that can be used to indicate that both of these Hebrew terms can refer to people of unusually large size.





Who were these Nephilim in Genesis 6?  We are not told.  What is suggested is that the world was a difficult place in those days.  There were Nephilim.  Whether these were fallen ones or giants, they made the land dangerous and difficult.  It was into this scene that these sons of God came to the daughters of men and raised up from them the mighty men who were of old, men of renown -- literally, “men of the name.”





            5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 And the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 3:6-8).


The culmination of the mighty age of mighty men and of men of renown is described here in terms of great wickedness.  This is in contrast to the way in which man had originally been created.


The Way Man had been Created

The Way Man had now Become

Man was created to glorify God.

Man turned away from God and rebelled against his Creator.

Man was to multiply and fill the earth.

The earth was filled with wickedness.

Let Us make man in Our image.

I will destroy man whom I have created.


1.         The Repentance of God:  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart (6:6).


When we read of God’s sorrow and God’s grief, we cannot help but to wonder how we are to understand this in light of what the Bible teaches us of God’s foreknowledge and sovereign election.  How can God be sorry that He had made man when He knew all along what would be the result of that creation?


On the one hand, we understand that this description of God contains a degree of anthropomorphic language.  In other words, God is being ascribed with human-like characteristics and we should take care not to read human-like failings in that description.  On the other hand, we should not go to the opposite extreme of de-personalizing God to the point that He is seen as uncaring or unfeeling.  God is the Creator of emotion and this suggests that God Himself possesses the strongest possible emotion.  It is not an emotion without control and it is not an emotion that lends itself to sinful actions, but we should not water down the Scriptural references to God’s sorrow, His grief or His joy.


2.         The Grace of God:  Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (6:8).


This is the first use of the Hebrew word chen.  It is rendered in the Septuagint by the Greek charis, the word we normally translate as “grace.”  Noah was the recipient of grace in the eyes of the Lord.  As such, he is the perfect picture of the Christian.


We live in a world that is under the condemnation and the promise of judgment.  Yet we have found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  This grace is not earned or deserved.  That would not be grace.  By its very definition, grace involves that which is given apart from merit.


When we read that Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, it is not that Noah was deserving of such favor.  Instead, we read that he became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Hebrews 11:7).  Noah was saved in the same way that you are saved.  It is through faith in the Lord who has made provision on your behalf.


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[1] Meredith G. Kline, "Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4," Westminster Theological Journal 24 (1962).

[2] Gilgamesh Epic, translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, Electronic Edition by Wolf Carnahan, 1998.