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Hermeneutics and Creation: What Happened in Genesis 6

August 13, 2013 8 comments

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.