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Hermeneutics and Creation: What Happened in Genesis 6

August 13, 2013

A popular topic of interest is the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, what seems very strange to our modern naturalist minds.  Certainly some can take too much interest in the idea of the Nephilim, and as S. Lewis Johnson well observed (in his Systematic Theology series, angelology section):  Isn’t it interesting that Christians are more interested in the evil angels than they are in the good angels, because there’s just a lot of good interesting material in the Bible about Satan and his demons?  And, it’s I guess part of our human nature to be more curious about the evil than about the good. 

Still, as part of God’s word the teaching itself is worth some consideration, something we can apply good hermeneutics to and determine the basic understanding of.  From the standpoint of hermeneutics as well as the importance of the doctrine of creation and the Flood, Genesis 6:1-4 should not be neglected on the basis of what fanatics and extremists may do.

The original understanding of this passage, along with other New Testament references (in Jude and 2 Peter) and the content of the book of Enoch that Jude referenced, was clearly that the “sons of God” refer to fallen angelic beings.  Both Jewish and Christian expositors through the first 400 years of the church likewise understood this meaning.  Some hold that the angels actually took on human form (which would seem to present difficulties with the DNA of angels), while others (and here I concur; including John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson) see this as demons cohabiting with human men, demonic possession of human bodies.  Starting in about the 5th century this view fell into disfavor, for the alternative explanation that all it’s talking about is the godly line of Seth versus the wicked line of Cain: a view found in many commentaries since the Reformation, including commentaries from John Gill and Alfred Edersheim.

Yet both for hermeneutical and logical reasons, as well as for understanding the teaching about the creation and the flood, that explanation falls short for many reasons.  As Henry Morris points out (Biblical Creationism):

Such an idea, while more amenable to our modern naturalistic environment, is certainly not the obvious meaning of the text — Noah could easily have said “sons of Seth” if that were his intent. Such a more-than-human state of global evil, violence, and giantism, capable of being remedied only by a worldwide hydraulic cataclysm, must have had a more sinister cause than believers marrying unbelievers!

Also from S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series, the following exegesis of Genesis 6:1-4 (this message):

Hermeneutical problem with the “Sethite view”:  Genesis 6:1 uses the term “men” as a reference to both men and women, that daughters were born to men.  Then verse 2 also has the word “men”:  “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive.” According to the Seth/Cain view, verse 2 is referring to the Cainites – usually in the precise local context, words have similar senses, and if we give them different senses we tend at times to make the text unintelligible.

Exegetical / logical questions and problems with this view:

  • Why are the Nephilim associated with such a natural union as Sethites and Cainites marrying?
  • Why would giants be the product of that particular kind of union?
  • Why are God’s people associated with the male sex only?  The sons of God the Sethites, they are males, saw of the daughters of men, the Cainites, they are all females.
  • If the Sethites were all godly, then why did they all perish in the flood?

When the flood came there is only Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives and that’s all, only eight souls.  So, you can see that it’s not so easy as it sounds to say that this is the union of Sethites, godly men and Cainites, ungodly women.

The Old Testament term “sons of God” in the Bible always refers to angelic beings

the precise form that is found here in the Hebrew text is found several times in the Old Testament, but in every place in which this precise form is found, that precise form is used only of angelic beings in the Old Testament.

  • Job: three references
  • Daniel 3

The New Testament references to this event are clear:

Jude notes the similarities between the event in Noah’s day, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

He says that Sodom and Gomorrah just like the angels indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh.  Now in the Bible, we have two words for different.  In fact we have something similar in English.  Now in Greek, there is the word that means essentially “another of the same kind.”  Now, that word is not the word that is used here, but there is another word that means another but it’s another of a different kind.  It’s the word from which we get heterodoxy, for example, as over against orthodoxy, a different kind of opinion and usually associated with the wrong opinion.

Now that word in Greek is ordinarily heteros.  Not always but generally that’s the meaning, a different kind.  Well that’s the word that’s translated strange here: strange flesh.  So, what Jude is saying is that, the angels just as Sodom and Gomorrah went after strange flesh.

We all recognize what happened at Sodom: homosexuality.  Jude here is saying that the angels, likewise, went after strange flesh, different flesh.

Here we see the judgment of the fallen angels connected with the time of the flood.

  • 1 Peter 3:18-20:  The word “spirits” in only used of angelic spirits in the New Testament.  Again this has reference to the time of the Flood.

Again, and what cannot be emphasized enough, is the unique nature of whatever happened, that it corrupted the genetic pool of the human race (the second of Satan’s seven attempts to thwart God’s plan for the coming Redeemer), that it was necessary for God to send the flood to wipe out humanity and begin again with the eight people on the Ark. This unnatural union created offspring with genetic mutations such that the human race was no longer pure.  Of course we do not know the specifics of it, other than the reasonable possibility that demonic possession has the power to affect genetic structure.  As SLJ observed, we know that simple things like LSD have had strange effects upon the human body.  Epidemiology studies have even found that a person’s privations and malnutrition during childhood affect the DNA of his or her children a generation later.

An idea never thought of until the 5th century AD.,the reproduction involving humans who were godly with those who were wicked (and assuming that all the men in the Seth line were in fact godly and all the women in the line of Cain were wicked), does not explain something of such importance as to bring about the Genesis flood.

  1. Pauline
    August 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    This has become such an obsession with some Bible teachers. I agree with S Lewis Johnson and MacArthur about this view. It was a sure way satan could infiltrate the human line for a corrupted race. A very interesting article Lynda.

    • August 14, 2013 at 8:03 am

      Thanks, Pauline. Yes the subject is interesting, and some people have very strong opinions in upholding the other, naturalistic view.

  2. August 14, 2013 at 1:19 am

    Thank you for this balance study that is conscious of hermenutics, historical interpretation and being cautious of naturalistic presuppositions in interpreting Genesis 6:1-4

    • August 14, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thanks, Jim. Yes, this topic is related to all these important issues regarding normal language, textual interpretation, and history.

  3. August 14, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I did not see where SLJ addressed the problems with his view concerning angelic half-breeds, while he does present the problems with the opposing “Seth = godly line” view.

  4. August 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

    In SLJ’s sermon on Gen. 6:1-8 he does present objections based on the strengths of the Sethite-Cainite view:

    “But we must admit from the context that might make sense because have we not just been speaking about the Sethites in chapter 5, that line of men who died but in which line was Enoch, Lamech, that is the second Lamech and Noah, and did we not have mention of Seth in chapter 4 verse 25, so that we do have the line of Seth in the preceding context and did we not have just before that the discussion of the Cainatic civilization? So, it is possible to reason that what we have here is a marriage between the descendants of Cain, the wicked man, the man who evidently were not believers in Jehovah and did not take it upon themselves to begin to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Sethites, the sons of God, the God blame in, the descendants of Seth, they are on through Enoch and Methuselah and Lamech, the good Lamech and Noah. So, the context might seem to be suitable for that interpretation. I would have to agree that is a good argument, if I were to hold that view I would have to argue laying stress upon that.

    A second support for this view is the fact that the expression in verse 2, “They took wives for themselves.” The Hebrew expression is laqach Ish-ah, that expression, those two words are always used in the Old Testament with reference to an ordinary marriage. So, the use of the term “took wives for themselves” might suggest an ordinary marriage. And it surely could not be true of angelic beings cohabiting with the daughters of men.

    And, finally to select the strongest support for this view, did not the Lord Jesus Christ in answering our question that concerned the resurrections say that in the resurrection they neither marry now or given in marriage but or as the angels in heaven. And does not that suggest the angels are sexless beings, and therefore they do not marry and consequently how could we possibly have?”

    • August 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Yes. And to complete the quote where you ended it above:

      “Then it said that the sons of God were angels and that they married the daughters of men. Now I ask you just to remember this, that the Lord Jesus, did not say all the angels. There are two classes of angels just as there are two classes of men. There are elect angels and there are non-elect angels. And he said they are as the angels of God in Heaven. His statement has no reference to the fallen angels of the past, either group: the demons or the special group here in Genesis Chapter 6.

      SLJ’s view is not that fallen angels took on human form themselves, but that demonic possession of human men occurred, and the subsequent demonic possession affected the genetics of the human race.

    • August 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

      And yes, the point about the peoples marrying is well noted, that it is referring to actual humans involved, not angels taking on human form. I first learned this from John MacArthur’s series (Genesis 1-11): the fact that they are said to marry, does mean that this involved demonic possession of human bodies rather than demons in human form somehow creating their own genes/DNA.

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