Grace Theological Journal 5.1 (1984) 13-36
Copyright © 1984 by Grace Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF
GENESIS 6:2, 4
ROBERT C. NEWMAN
The exegesis of Gen 6:2, 4 in ancient times is surveyed among
extant sources, both Jewish and Christian. These interpretations are
categorized as either "supernatural" or "nonsupernatural" depending
upon the identification of the "sons of God." It is observed that the
interpretation of "sons of God" as angels and "Nephilim" as giants
dominates. This interpretation also seems to be that of the NT:
almost certainly in Jude 6 and 2 Pet 2:4, and probably in 1 Cor
and Matt . Some suggestions regarding the source of this interpre-
tation and its validity are made.
* * *
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the
land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that
the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves,
whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive
with men forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be
one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on 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 (Gen 6:1-4 NASB).
This passage has been a center of controversy for at least two
millennia. The present form of the dispute is rather paradoxical. On
the one hand, liberal theologians, who deny the miraculous, claim the
account pictures a supernatural liason between divine beings and
humans.1 Conservative theologians, though believing implicitly in
angels and demons, tend to deny the passage any such import.2 The
1E.g., A. Richardson, Genesis 1-11 (London: SCM, 1953); E. A. Speiser, Genesis
City: Doubleday, 1964); D. Vawter, On Genesis: A
Doubleday, 1977); G. von Rad, Genesis: A
Commentary (rev. ed.;
2E.g., G. Ch. Aalders, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981); H. G. Stigers, A
Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976); J. Murray, Principles of
Conduct (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957) 243-49.
14 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
liberal position is more understandable with the realization that they
deny the historicity of the incident and see it as a borrowing from
pagan mythology. The rationale behind the conservative view is more
complex: though partially a reaction to liberalism, the view is older
than liberal theology. Moreover, the conservative camp is not unani-
mous in this interpretation; several expositors see supernatural liasons
here, but ones which really occurred.3
The concern in this article, however, is not to trace the history of
interpretation of this passage, nor (basically) to discuss modern argu-
ments for and against various views. Rather, the concern is to see
how it was understood in antiquity and (if possible) why it was so
Gen 6:1-4 seems to be something of an "erratic boulder" for all
interpreters, standing apart to some extent from its context. The
preceding chapter consists of a 32-verse genealogy extending from
Adam through his son Seth to Noah and his sons. God is mentioned
in three connections only: he creates man (5:1), walks with Enoch
(, 24) and curses the ground (). If we include the last two
verses of chapter 4, we pick up two more references: Seth is God's
replacement for Abel (); and men begin to call upon the LORD at
the time of Enosh (). Following our passage, the context leads
quickly into the flood, beginning with God's observation that both
man and beast must be wiped out because man's wickedness has
become very great.
From the passage and its context a number of questions arise. Who
are the "sons of God" mention in 6:2, 4? The phrase occurs nowhere
else in the context or even in Genesis. Who are the "daughters of
men"? This phrase at least seems to be related to v 1, where "men"
have "daughters" born to them. Why does the text say "sons of God"
and "daughters of men" rather than "sons of men" and "daughters of
God"? How is God's reaction in vv 3 and 5 related to all this? Are
these marriages the last straw in a series of sins leading to the flood or
not? Who are the "Nephilim" in v 4? Are they the offspring of the
sons of God and the daughters of men or not? Are they the "mighty
men" mentioned in the same verse? Is it their sin which brings on the
The scope of this article does not permit an investigation of all
these matters. We shall concentrate on two: the phrase Myhlxh ynb,
usually translated "sons of God" (vv 2, 4) and the word Mylpn, here
transliterated "Nephilim" (v 4). Though other matters are of interest
3U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part I: From Adam to
Noah. Gen 1-68 (Jerusalem: Magnes and Hebrew University, 1961); H. M. Morris, The
Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976); W. A. Van Gemeren, "The Sons of God
in Genesis 6:1-4," WTJ 43 (1981) 320-48.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 15
and will influence one's interpretation, these two seem to constitute
an interpretive watershed.
For ease of discussion we shall divide the various interpretive
schemes into two broad categories which we label "supernatural" and
"nonsupernatural" (this rather clumsy term being used to avoid the
connotation of "proper" which "natural" would give). The super-
natural category will include any views in which the sons of God are
not human, and the nonsupernatural those in which they are human.
Within each category we shall proceed more or less chronologically
from the earliest extant examples to late antiquity, giving greater
attention to earlier materials. The NT will be omitted from this
preliminary survey, but we shall return to it later to see if it favors
one of these interpretations. Thereafter we shall examine possible
exegetical bases for the various views and seek to draw some conclu-
sions regarding not only what was done in antiquity but how we
should interpret the passage. We hope also to provide some general
THE SUPERNATURAL INTERPRETATION
Among extant materials interpreting Gen 6:2, 4, the supernatural
view is older, though we cannot be sure in which work it appears
first, the LXX or I Enoch.
The Old Greek version of the Pentateuch, traditionally known
as the LXX, was probably produced in the middle of the 3rd century
B.C.4 Extant MSS of Genesis render Myhlxh ynb variously as ui[oi< tou?
qeou? and a@ggeloi tou? qeou?.5 The latter alternative clearly moves the
4J. W. Wevers, "Septuagint," IDB 4 (1962) 273; E. M. Blaiklock, "Septuagint,"
ZPEB 5 (1976) 343-44.
5See the relevant textual
footnotes in A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta
Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1962) 8, and especially in J. W. Wevers, Genesis
(Gottingen LXX: Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1974) 108. The variant
a@ggeloi is the minority reading among extant MSS and versions, but it is supported by
many witnesses, including Codex Alexandrinus (4th century A.D.), as well as Philo and
Josephus, both writing in the 1st century A.D. though extant only in much later MSS.
These latter comment on the passage in such a way that their reading cannot be
dismissed as a scribal error from later Christian copyists. ui[oi< is the majority reading,
for which the most important witnesses are papyrus 911 (3rd century A.D.) and Codex
Coislinianus (7th century). The Gottingen LXX favors the latter reading since it is
supported by all the MS groups, though none are as early as Philo and Josephus. Yet
the influence of the MT on the transmission of the LXX might well explain ui[oi<, even
if a@ggeloi were the original translation. It is therefore impossible to be certain whether
a@ggeloi was the original translation or an early midrashic corruption.
16 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
text in a supernatural direction, even though a@ggeloj sometimes
means a human messenger (e.g., Gen 32:3, 6). This variant is already
cited and discussed by Philo,6 so apparently predates the 1st century
A.D. In Gen 6:4 Mylpn is translated gi<gantej; without textual variation.
The Greek word, usually rendered "giant," indicates a warrior of
large stature7 and translates rbg in Gen 10:8, 9.
Possibly older than the LXX is the book of Enoch, an apocalyptic
work of great diversity organized around revelations allegedly given
to the patriarch of this name. The particular material we are concerned
with is thought to be pre-Maccabean by Charles and from the early
2nd century B.C. by Eissfeldt. In any case, fragments from this part of
Enoch have been found at
dates to the pre-Christian era.8
The first five chaps. of Enoch present a mostly poetic picture of
the coming of God to earth in judgment and what this will mean for
the wicked and the righteous. Chap. 6 begins:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied, in those
days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the
angels, the children of heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to
one another: 'Come, let us choose wives from among the children of
men and beget us children.' (1 Enoch 6:1-2)
The account goes on (chaps. 6-8) to tell how two hundred angels
came down on
taught them science, magic and technology, and begot by them giants
over a mile high! Along with Semjaza, principal attention is given to
the angel Azazel, who taught mankind metallurgy for weapons and
The good angels report these things to God (chap. 9), who sends
Uriel to warn Noah of the coming flood, Gabriel to destroy the
giants, Raphael to take charge of Azazel, and Michael to deal with
6Philo, On the Giants 6.
7H. G. Liddell, R. Scott and H. Drissler, A Greek-English Lexicon. Based on the
German Work of Francis Passow (New York: Harper and Bros., 1879) 292. [Not in
8R. H. Charles, Apocrypha
and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (
1913), 2. 163; O. Eissfeldt,
The Old Testament: An Introduction (
Blackwell, 1965) 618-19. M. Rist ("Enoch, Book of," IDB 2  104) would date
this section later, ca. 100 B.C. In any case, fragments of this part of Enoch have been
Qumran: see O. Betz, "
Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 17
Semjaza and his fellows. The instructions given to Raphael and
Michael are of particular interest:
Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into darkness: and make an
opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And
place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness,
and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see
light. And on the great day of judgment he shall be cast into the fire.
(1 Enoch 10:4-6)
Go, bind Semjaza and his associates who have united themselves
with women so as to have defiled themselves with them in all their
uncleanness. And when their sons [the giants] have slain one another,
and they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them
fast for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, till the day of
their judgment and of the consummation, till the judgment that is for
ever and ever is consummated. (1 Enoch 10:11-12)
Thus Enoch presents an interpretation of Gen 6 in terms of
angelic cohabitation with women, resulting in gigantic offspring. The
angels who sinned are bound to await the final judgment.
The Book of Jubilees [Jub.] is an expanded retelling of Genesis
and part of Exodus. It provides an elaborate chronology based on
sabbatical cycles and jubilees, plus a theory that the patriarchs ob-
served various Mosaic regulations even before they were given at
Sinai. Charles and Tedesche date the book in the last half of the 2nd
century B.C., while Eissfeldt puts it about 100 B.C. More recently
VanderKam has presented detailed arguments for a somewhat earlier
date, around 150 B.C.9
Though apparently dependent on 1 Enoch or one of its sources,
Jub. differs from Enoch on the reason for the angels' descent to earth:
...and he called his name Jared; for in his days the angels of the Lord
descended on the earth, those who are named the Watchers, that they
should instruct the children of men, and that they should do judgment
and uprightness on the earth. (Jub. 4:15)
Chap. 5 follows with an expansion of Gen 6, in which these Watchers
cohabit with women and the offspring produced are giants. The
sinning angels are not named, but God's response to their sin is
9Charles, Pseudepigrapha 6; S. Tedesche, "Jubilees, Book of, " IDB 2 (1962) 1002;
Eissfeldt, OT Introduction 608; J. C. VanderKam, Textual and Historical Studies in
the Book of Jubilees (HSM 14; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977) 283-84.
18 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
And against the angels whom He had sent upon the earth, He was
exceedingly wroth, and He gave command to root them out of all their
dominion, and He made us [one of the good angels is speaking] to bind
them in the depths of the earth, and behold they are bound in the midst
of them and are (kept) separate. (Jub. 5:6)
The other works included in Jewish pseudepigrapha which refer
to this view are late. Both 2 Enoch 18 and 2 Baruch [Bar] 56 mention
the angels of Gen 6 as being punished by torment, the former indicat-
ing that they are under earth, the latter as being in chains.
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs [T. 12 Patr.] make
reference to this view more than once, but the date and nature of
these works are problematical since they are Christian in their present
form. Whether the Testaments are basically pre-Christian with some
later editing, or basically Christian using some older Jewish materials,
is still hotly debated.10 In any case T. Reub. 5:5-7 presents an
unusual variant of the supernatural view: the actual cohabitation is
between humans, but the spiritual influence of the angels produces
Flee, therefore, fornication, my children, and command your wives and
your daughters, that they adorn not their heads and faces to deceive
the mind: because every woman who uses these wiles hath been reserved
for eternal punishment. For thus they allured the Watchers who were
before the flood; for as these continually beheld them, they lusted after
them, and they conceived the act in their mind; for they changed
themselves into the shape of men, and appeared to them when they
were with their husbands. And the women lusting in their minds after
their forms, gave birth to giants, for the Watchers appeared to them as
reaching even unto heaven.
T. Naph. 3:3-5 gives a supernatural interpretation of Gen 6: 1-4
in a grouping of examples which parallels those in Jude and 2 Pet:
The Gentiles went astray, and forsook the Lord, and changed their
order, and obeyed stocks and stones, spirits of deceit. But ye shall not
be so, my children, recognizing in the firmament, in the earth, and in
the sea, and in all created things, the Lord who made all things, that ye
become not as
manner the Watchers also changed the order of their nature, whom the
Lord cursed at the flood, on whose account he made the earth without
inhabitants and fruitless.
10Eissfeldt, OT Introduction 631-36; M. Smith, "Testaments of the Twelve Patri-
archs," IDB 4 (1962) 575-79; M. E. Stone, "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs," IDB
Supp (1976) 877.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 19
Among the materials found in caves near
Genesis Apocryphon [IQapGen] and the
refer to the supernatural interpretation. The former is a retelling of
Genesis in popular style, extant only in one fragmented MS, which has
been dated paleographically to the late 1st century B.C. or early 1st
century A.D.11 On the basis of a detailed comparison of contents with
1 Enoch and Jub., Vermes believes that apGen is older and a source
for both, "the most ancient midrash of all." Fitzmyer disagrees,
dating apGen in the same era as the extant MS.12 Certainly it is no
the Roman destruction of
little remains of the scroll's col. 2, Lamech is fearful that his wife's
pregnancy (her child will be Noah) is due to "the Watchers and the
Holy Ones," but she stoutly denies it.
The CD is a sort of covenant-renewal document: the history of
are exhorted to covenant faithfulness. Cross and Vermes date the
work to about 100 B.C.13 Speaking of the "guilty inclination" and
"eyes of lust," the author says:
For through them, great men have gone astray and mighty heroes have
stumbled from former times until now. Because they walked in the
stubbornness of their heart the Heavenly Watchers fell; they were
caught because they did not keep the commandments of God. And
their sons also fell who were tall as cedar trees and whose bodies were
like mountains. (CD 2:16-19)
In his treatise On the Giants, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher
Philo (20 B.C.-A.D. 50)14 quotes the Old Greek version of this passage
with the readings a@ggeloi tou? qeou? and gi<gantej. Unfortunately
Philo is not always a clear writer. Apparently he takes the literal
meaning of the verses to refer to angels and women since, immediately
after quoting Gen 6:2, he says:
It is Moses' custom to give the name of angels to those whom other
11J. A. Fitzmyer,
The Genesis Apocryphon of
(BibOr 18A; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1971) 15.
12G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies (SPB 4;
13F. M. Cross, Jr., The
Ancient Library of
Garden City: Doubleday, 1961) 81-82n; G. Vermes, The
English (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968) 95.
14All dates are approximate throughout.
20 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
philosophers call demons [or spirits], souls that is which fly and hover
in the air. And let no one suppose that what is here said is a myth.15
After a lengthy discussion arguing for the existence of non-corporeal
spirits, however, Philo proceeds to allegorize the passage:
So, then, it is no myth at all of giants that he [Moses] sets before us;
rather he wishes to show you that some men are earth-born, some
heaven-born, and some God-born.16
Roughly speaking, these three categories Philo enumerates correspond
to people primarily concerned about the physical, the intellectual and
the mystical, respectively. Philo's sympathies definitely lie with the
second and third. He has no interest in stories about physical mating,
and is probably best understood as rejecting the literal meaning of
this passage.17 If so, we have in Philo a literal exegesis which gives the
supernatural interpretation and an allegorical exegesis which provides
a very unusual sort of nonsupernatural view.
From late in the 1st century A.D. comes the Jewish Antiquities of
Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100). The first eleven books of the Antiqui-
ties retell the biblical history with various elaborations based on
Jewish traditions. In book one, just before recounting the flood,
For many angels of God now consorted with women and begat sons
who were overbearing and disdainful of every virtue, such confidence
had they in their strength; in fact, the deeds that tradition ascribes to
them resemble the audacious exploits told by the Greeks of the
In addition to this clearly supernatural interpretation, Franxman
sees evidence for a nonsupernatural interpretation involving Sethite-
Cainite intermarriage: in the immediately preceding sentences of
Josephus, we are told that the Sethites continue virtuous for seven
generations and then turn away from God and become zealous for
wickedness, a feature of later Sethite-Cainite views.19 Yet nothing
about intermarriage of Sethites and Cainites appears in the extant
15Philo, Giants 6-7.
notes that Philo denies the historicity of Sarah and Hagar in On Mating 180.
18 Josephus, Antiquities 1.73.
19T. W. Franxman, Genesis and the 'Jewish Antiquities' of Flavius Josephus
(BibOr 35; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1979) 80-81.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGE,SIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 21
copies of Josephus, so Franxman must postulate this in a non-extant
source he used.
It is difficult to know where to place the targumim. These
Aramaic translations of Scripture (often paraphrases or even commen-
taries) have an oral background in the synagogue services of pre-
Christian times, but their extant written forms seem to be much
later.20 Among these, the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan [Tg. Ps.-J.] pre-
sents at least a partially supernatural interpretation. Although in its
extant form this targum is later than the rise of Islam in the 7th
century A.D., early materials also appear in it.21 In view of the
rabbinic reactions to the supernatural view by the 2nd century A.D.
(see below), our passage is probably one of its early parts:
And it came to pass when the sons of men began to multiply on the
face of the ground, and beautiful daughters were born to them, that the
sons of the great ones saw that the daughters of men were beautiful,
with eyes painted and hair curled, walking in nakedness of flesh, and
they conceived lustful thoughts; and they took them wives of all they
chose. . . . Shamhazai and Azael fell from heaven and were on earth in
those days, and also after that, when the sons of the great ones came in
unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: the same
are called men of the world, the men of renown. (Tg. Ps.-J. 6:1-2,4)
Here the phrase "sons of the great ones" may reflect a nonsuper-
natural interpretation, but the reference to Shamhazai and Azael
falling from heaven certainly does not. The names given are close to
those in 1 Enoch, considering that the latter has gone through two
translations to reach its extant Ethiopic version. Notice also that the
Nephilim are here identified with the angels rather than their offspring
as in Enoch, Jub., and Josephus.
As we shall see below, the supernatural interpretation was even-
tually superceded in Jewish circles by a nonsupernatural one, probably
century following the fall of
former can still be seen in later rabbinic literature.
Early Christian References
Passing over the NT for the time being, we find abundant early
evidence for the supernatural interpretation in Christian circles. Justin
Martyr (A.D. 100-160) says, in his Second Apology:
20J. Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: University, 1969)
14; M. McNamara, Targum and Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 86-89.
21Bowker, Targums 26; McNamara, Targum and Testament 178.
22 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly
to man, . . . committed the care of men and of all things under heaven
to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed
this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat
children who are those that are called demons.22
Justin goes on to tell how the human race was subdued to the angels
by being introduced to magic, fear, false worship and lust, and how
they were trained in all sorts of wickedness. Justin accepts the pagan
mythologies as having some historical veracity, describing the acts of
these angels and demons rather than the gods.
interpretation in his Miscellanies: ". . . the angels who had obtained
the superior rank, having sunk into pleasures, told to the women the
secrets which had come to their knowledge. . . ."23
Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) speaks of the incident several times. In
On Idolatry 9, he says that "those angels, the deserters from God, the
lovers of women," revealed astrology to mankind. In his work
Against Marcion 5.18 he argues that Paul's reference to "spiritual
wickedness in the heavenlies" (Eph ) does not refer to Marcion's
wicked creator-god, but to the time "when angels were entrapped into
sin by the daughters of men." And in his treatise On the Veiling of
Virgins 7, he argues that Paul's reference to veiling "because of the
angels" (I Cor ) refers to this incident.
Lactantius (A.D. 240-320), in his Divine Institutes 2.15, teaches
that God sent the angels to earth to teach mankind and protect them
from Satan, but that Satan "enticed them to vices, and polluted them
by intercourse with women." This is closer to Jub. than Enoch. The
sinning angels, Lactantius continues, could not return to heaven, so
they became demons of the air. Their half-breed offspring could not
enter hell (hades?), so they became demons of the earth. All of this
Lactantius connects with pagan mythology and the occult.
Similar materials are found in the Clementine Homilies 8.11-15
and the Instructions of Commodianus (chap. 3), neither of which is
likely to predate the 3rd century.24 The Homilies add the unusual idea
that the angels had first transformed themselves into jewels and
animals to convict mankind of covetousness. Perhaps this was derived
from some of the stories about Zeus, as the writer says: "These things
also the poets among yourselves, by reason of fearlessness, sing, as
they befell, attributing to one the many and diverse doings of all"
22Justin, Apology 2.5.
23Clement, Miscellanies 5.1.10.
24See the relevant articles in
F. L. Cross, The
Church (London: Oxford, 1958).
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 23
THE NONSUPERNATURAL INTERPRETATION
The earliest extant examples of the nonsupernatural interpreta-
tions of Gen 6:2, 4 come from the 1st century A.D. and thus are later
than the earliest specimens of the supernatural interpretation. Since
all come centuries after Genesis was written, it is not possible to be
sure which is the oldest.
First Century Sources
As mentioned previously, Philo prefers an allegorical interpreta-
tion of Gen 6:1-4 in which God-oriented persons (sons of God) may
fall and become earth-centered (beget giants, the "earth-born") by
consorting with vice and passion (daughters of men).
The Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo is another work which
retells biblical history, in this case from Adam to Saul. By an
unknown writer, it was attributed to Philo because it circulated with
his genuine works. It is usually dated shortly before or after the fall of
Jerusalem.25 Chap. 3 begins:
And it came to pass when men had begun to multiply on the earth, that
beautiful daughters were born unto them. And the sons of God saw the
daughters of men that they were exceeding fair, and took them wives of
all that they had chosen. And God said: My spirit shall not judge
among all these men forever, because they are of flesh; but their years
shall be 120. (Bib. Ant. 3:1-2)
On the surface this does not appear to be an interpretation at all,
and perhaps it is not. The writer does not mention the Nephilim, but
this may be merely a case of epitomizing. Yet the rendering of the
biblical Nvdy (Gen 6:3) by "judge" at least foreshadows Targum Neofiti,
to be discussed below. Likewise the rabbinical exegesis of Gen
6:2--"they took wives of all they chose"--is anticipated in an earlier
remark of Pseudo-Philo: "And at that time, when they had begun to
do evil, everyone with his neighbor's wife, defiling them, God was
Second Century Sources
Three translations of the OT into Greek were made in the 2nd
A.D.: one by
another by Symmachus, said to be an Ebionite, late in the century;27
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 265-68.
26J. W. Weyers,
27J. W. Weyers, "Symmachus," IDB 4 (1962) 476.
24 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
and a third by Theodotion, of whom little is known. Theodotion
reads ui[oi> tou? qeou? and gi<gantej like many MSS of the LXX, adding
nothing new and not clearly either supernatural or nonsupernatural.28
the problem of the one true God having sons than it does a preference
for either of the interpretations we are considering. Symmachus has
ui[oi> tw?n dunasteu<ontwn, meaning either "sons of the powerful" or
"sons of the rulers," rather like the targumic views to be discussed
that of Meredith Kline.29 For
e]pipi<ptontej, meaning "those who fall upon," which might be either
supernatural "those who fall upon (earth)" or nonsupernatural "those
who attack." Symmachus has bi<aioi, "violent ones." Both the second
-- "the earth was filled with violence."
Targum Neofiti [Targ. Neof] is the only complete extant MS of
the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch. The MS is from the 16th
century, but its text has been variously dated from the 1st to the 4th
centuries A.D.30 In place of the Hebrew Myhlxh ynb is the Aramaic ynb
xynyyd, "sons of the judges," using a cognate noun to the verb Nvry
appearing in the MT of Gen 6:3.31 Nephilim is rendered by hyrbyg,
"warriors." The text of the targum seems to reflect a nonsupernatural
interpretation, unless we press the last sentence of 6:4--"these are the
warriors that (were there) from the beginning of the world, warriors
of wondrous renown"--so as to exclude human beings. However, the
MS has many marginal notes, which presumably represent one or
more other MSS of the Palestinian Targum.32 One such note occurs at
6:4 and reads: "There were warriors dwelling on earth in those days,
and also afterwards, after the sons of the angels had joined (in
wedlock) the daughters of the sons."33 Thus the text of Targ. Neof
seems to be nonsupernatural while a marginal note is clearly super-
28See the lower set of footnotes in the Gottingen LXX for the readings of these
other Greek versions.
29M. G. Kline, "Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4," WTJ 24 (1962) 187-204.
30See Bowker, Targums 16-20; McNamara, Targum and Testament 186; M. McNa-
mara, "Targum," [DB Supp (1976) 858-59; R. LeDeaut, "The Current State of Tar-
gumic Studies," BTB 4 (1974) 5, 22-24.
31 A. Diez
Macho, Neophyti 1.. Genesis (
de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1968) 33, 511.
Neofiti 1 (SBLASP 2; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977) 12, 14; our passage and marginal
note are not discussed.
33Diez Macho, Neophyti 511.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 25
The Targum of Onqelos [Tg. Onq.] became the official targum to
the Pentateuch for Judaism. According to the Babylonian Talmud
[Bab. Talm.] (Meg. 3a) it was composed early in the 2nd century A.D.,
seems to be a confusion with the Greek translation of
Although the relations between the various targumim are complicated
by mutual influence in transmission, Onq. was probably completed
In our passage Onq. reads xybrbr ynb, "sons of the great ones,"
probably referring to rulers.35 For Nephilim it has xyrbyg. Etheridge's
translation "giants" for this is possible, but not necessary, as Aberbach
and Grossfeld prefer "mighty ones."36
Meanwhile, the nonsupernatural interpretation begins to show
up in Christian circles. Julius Africanus (A.D. 160-240) wrote a
History of the World which has survived only in fragments quoted by
later authors. In one of these Julius says:
When men multiplied on earth, the angels of heaven came together
with the daughters of men. In some copies I found "sons of God."
What is meant by the Spirit in my opinion, is that the descendants of
Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and
patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Saviour
Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of man,
as having nothing divine in them. . . .37
There is no context to work with here, but it sounds as though Julius
has derived this view on his own.
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) discusses Gen
6:1-4 in his City of
His basic approach is seen in 15.22:
It was the order of this love, then, this charity or attachment, which the
sons of God disturbed when they forsook God and were enamored of
the daughters of men. And by these two names (sons of God and
daughters of men) the two cities [city of
sufficiently distinguished. For though the former were by nature chil-
dren of men, they had come into possession of another name by grace.
34Bowker, Targums 22-26; McNamara. Targum and Testament 173-76.
35A. Sperber, The Bible in Aramaic; I: Targum Onkelos (Leiden: Brill, 1959) 9.
36J. W. Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and of Jonathan ben Uzziel on the
with the Fragments of the
Genesis (New York: Ktav, 1982) 52.
37A. Roberts. J. Donaldson. A. C. Coxe and A. Menzies, The Ante-Nicene Fathers
(Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1886), 6. 131.
26 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Augustine goes on (15.23) to admit that angels do appear in bodies,
and that stories were at this time being told of women being assaulted
by sylvans and fauns, but he says "I could by no means believe that
God's holy angels could at that time have so fallen." He interprets
2 Pet 2:4 as referring to the primeval fall of Satan. The word "angel,"
he points out, can with scriptural warrant be applied to men. Besides,
the giants were already on earth when these things happened, and so
not the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men. Also the
giants need not be of enormous stature but only so large as sometimes
seen today. God's response in Gen 6:3 is directed against men, so that
is what the "angels" were. He dismisses with contempt "the fables of
those scriptures which are called apocryphal."
The Mishnah is a concise topical summary of the oral rabbinic
legal traditions written about A.D. 200. It contains no reference to
Gen 6: 1-4 to the best of my knowledge, but this is not surprising in
view of the preponderance of halakah rather than haggadah.
The Midrash Rabbah [Midr. Rab.] is a collection of interpretive
comments on the Pentateuch and the five Megillot (Ruth, Esther,
Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Lamentations). The earliest of
these is Genesis Rabbah [Gen. Rab.], which Strack puts "not much
later than the Palestinian Talmud" (ca. A.D. 400) and Epstein sees as
mainly from the 3rd century A.D.38 We have an extended discussion of
our passage in Gen. Rab. 26.5-7. R. Simeon b. Yohai (A.D. 130-160)
is quoted as identifying the "sons of God" as "sons of nobles" and as
cursing all who call them "sons of God." The reason for their title
"sons of God" is their long lifespans. To explain why marrying
women would be such a sin as the context indicates, R. Judan (A.D.
325) explains that tbF, "beautiful" (Gen 6:2), should be taken as a
singular adjective: the noblemen enjoyed the bride before the bride-
groom could. The phrase "they were beautiful" meant they took
virgins; "they took wives for themselves" meant they took married
women; "whomever they chose" meant they indulged in homosexuality
and bestiality. Regarding the interpretation of "Nephilim," the rabbis
apparently used Num , where the term is associated with the
Anakim at the time of the Exodus. With this hint and the aid of Deut
2:10-11, 20-21, they obtained five other names for the Nephilim by
which to describe them using etymological word-play. Two of these
are rather supernatural sounding: "Gibborim: . . . the marrow of each
one's thigh bone was eighteen cubits long"; "Anakim: . . . their necks
38H. L. Strack, Introduction to Talmud and Midrash (Philadelphia: JPS, 1931)
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 27
reached the globe of the sun." The term "Nephilim" is understood as
teaching that "they hurled (vlyph) the world down, themselves fell
(vlpn) from the world, and filled the world with abortions (Mylypn)
through their immorality."
A few scattered references occur in the Babylonian Talmud, a
compilation of the Mishnah and its commentary finished in the 6th
century A.D. A relatively clear allusion to the nonsupernatural view
occurs in Sanh. 108a, in a context of the corruption of the generation
at the time of the flood. R. Jose (A.D. 130-160) is quoted:
They waxed haughty only on account of covetousness of the eyeball,
which is like water, as it is written, And they took wives from all they
chose. Therefore he punished them by water, which is like the eyeball,
as it is written, All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and
the windows of heaven were opened.
There is a word-play here on Nyf, which can mean either "fountain" or
"eye." The main point, however, is that the punishment was designed
to fit the crime. Thus those who died in the flood are understood to
be those who took the wives. If the attribution to R. Jose here is
trustworthy, then this view was in circulation by the middle of the
2nd century A.D., in agreement with the testimony of Symmachus and
Elsewhere in the Talmud there are scattered remnants of the
supernatural view. Yoma 67b refers to the scapegoat being called
Azazel because it atones for the "affair of Uza and Aza'el," probably
a reference to the Shamhazai and Azael of 1 Enoch and Tg. PS.-J.39
Nid. 61a speaks of an Ahijah, son of Shamhazai.
The supernatural interpretation clearly existed before NT times,
as did Philo's peculiar nonsupernatural view. Whether or not the later
rabbinic view (that the sons of God were judges or noblemen) or the
later Christian view (that the sons of God were Sethites) existed at
this time, we cannot say, but there is no positive evidence for them.
What does the NT have to say? Does it refer to Gen 6:2, 4 at all?
If so, how does it interpret the passage? First, unlike hundreds of
other OT passages, the NT nowhere explicitly quotes this passage.
Any NT reference will therefore have to be merely an allusion. What
will count as an allusion? Proponents of a nonsupernatural view will
be at something of a disadvantage: references to the wickedness of
men at the flood are not decisive in favor of the nonsupernatural
39L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: JPS, 1937),5, 152, explains
how "Shamhazai" may be derived from "Uza,"
28 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
view, but references to wicked angels will have to be assigned to some
other event if this view is to stand.
2 Pet 2:4
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into
hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment . . .
Is this a reference to Gen 6 or to the primeval fall of Satan
the flood and to
would be chronological in either case. It is given as an example of
judgment to the readers of the epistle, and examples, when not
explained, can be presumed well-known to the original readers. The
other two examples are both well-known because they occur in Scrip-
ture. The primeval fall, however, would be almost totally inference,
whereas the supernatural view would see this as a popular understand-
ing of Scripture at the time. Certainly some measure of popularity is
inferred from its occurrence in the pseudepigrapha,
Scrolls, Philo and Josephus.
The word "pits" (siroi?j) is a variant; some MSS read seirai?j,
"chains." Either word would fit the description of the angels' punish-
ment in 1 Enoch and Jub., but this must be a new revelation (which
happens to match an old view of Gen 6!) on the nonsupernatural
view. Similarly for the details about "darkness" and the angels' being
"reserved for judgment." The verb translated "cast into hell" is tar-
taro<w, derived from Tartarus, "a subterranean place lower than
Hades where divine punishment was meted out."40
This passage seems strongly to support the supernatural interpre-
tation of Gen 6, even though it raises problems regarding the extra
detail it shares with Enoch and Jub. not found in Genesis. We will
address this question later.
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.
Jude 14-15 contains a quotation that appears almost word-for-
word in 1 Enoch 1:9,41 so it is difficult to argue that Jude knew
nothing of 1 Enoch 6. All the features of Jude 6 fit 1 Enoch better
41With attestation in the
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 29
than they do Jub., where the angels were on earth before sinning, and
were even sent there by God. To explain Jude 6 of the primeval fall,
one must see further new revelation here also, namely that this fall
involved leaving their oi]khth<rion, "dwelling" or "abode." On the
other hand, this is not necessary for the supernatural view, as the
angels would at least have to come to earth to get their wives (Gen
6:2) and their offspring the Nephilim are explicitly said to be "on
earth" (Gen 6:4).
In addition, Jude's next example (v 7) of
refer back to this example when it says "they [
immorality and went after strange flesh." One might seek to avoid
reading "they [the cities around
same way as
is tou<toij, which more naturally refers to the angels (masculine) than
the same verse by the feminine pronoun au]ta<j. Likewise "gross
immorality" and "strange flesh" are two points of real parallelism
violent homosexuality of
liasons of the supernatural interpretation. It seems that Jude 6 strongly
indicates a supernatural interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.
Therefore the woman ought to have (a symbol of) authority on her
head, because of the angels.
This verse has puzzling elements for any interpreter because of
its briefness and lack of explanation. So little is known about the
activity of angels that one cannot rule out some obscure allusion to
the presence of good angels at Christian worship who would be
offended by unsubmissive women.42 Yet one can easily find more
serious offenses for the angels to be upset about in the Corinthian
worship services, e.g., misuse of tongues (chaps. 12-14) and disorderly
conduct at the Lord's Supper (-34). Yet the supernatural inter-
pretation of Gen 6 would supply an excellent reason why this phrase
would occur in this context and the statement would become far less
cryptic. Tertullian so understood the passage by A.D. 200. This context
might also fit the context tangentially, with woman being made for
man (v 9) perhaps suggesting she was not made for angels, and the
veiling indicating she was under the authority of father or husband.
42E.g., R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians (
30 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
I Pet -20
For Christ also died for sins. . . that He might bring us to God, having
been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit, in which
also He went and made proclamation to the spirits (now) in prison,
who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in
the days of Noah. . . .
This, too, is a puzzling passage which bristles with uncertainties
no matter how one interprets Gen 6: 1-4. Yet it seems clearly to point
to spirits disobedient at the time of Noah. The word "spirit" may
have been chosen by Peter to picture disembodied men (cf. Luke ;
Acts ), but it could also refer to or include non-humans. If the
passage concerns a "descent into hell," the supernatural interpretation
might at least suggest a rationale for singling out those particular
spirits associated with the time of Noah: the events of Gen 6:1-4 may
have been an attempt to thwart or pre-empt the incarnation. By itself
the passage hardly proves the NT favors the supernatural interpre-
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage,
but are like the angels in heaven.
This is probably the most common passage on which the super-
natural interpretation is refuted.43 It is quite naturally understood to
teach that angels cannot marry and therefore they never have. Like-
wise, the terminology recalls Gen 6:2, since "to take a wife to oneself"
is a standard OT idiom for marriage. But perhaps the term "angels" is
intentionally qualified by the phrase "in heaven." In the supernatural
interpretation it was not the angels in heaven that took wives, but
those who left heaven (cf. Jude 6: "abandoned their abode") and
came to earth to do so. This would not be so obscure an allusion in
NT times as it seems to us today if the supernatural interpretation
were then common knowledge as the evidence indicates. The same
phrase "in heaven" occurs in the parallel passage in Mark (). It
does not occur in Luke (), but the context strongly implies good
angels are in view.
Other NT Passages
No other passages strongly favor either interpretation. References
to the abyss-as an unpleasant abode for demons (Luke ), as a
F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch (1875;
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 31
prison for some sort of supernatural locusts (Rev 9:1-11), and as the
source for the beast (Rev 11:7)--are consistent with either view,
though somewhat parallel to the binding beneath the earth described
in 1 Enoch and Jub. So is the reference to the binding of Satan in
Rev 20. A Sethite-Cainite view of Gen 6:1-4 might serve as a basis
for Paul's remarks about mixed marriages in I Cor 7:9, 15, but these
could easily be generalized from OT regulations against intermarriage
with Gentiles. In spite of the interpretation commonly given to Matt
and parallels, the evidence seems strong that the NT adopts a
supernatural interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.
SOURCES OF THE INTERPRETATIONS
Here we move from the solid ground of extant sources to the
thin ice of speculation. Since the authors rarely write anything directly
about their sources or methods, we are left to inferences from what
summarizes the situation nicely for the
At first one wonders what is the actual relationship between the biblical
text quoted and its interpretation, The author is giving us the results of
his use of Scripture without emphasizing the process itself.44
Studies in the NT and the intertestamental literature indicate that this
not confined to
Several sources for these interpretations can be imagined: (I) pure
invention; (2) borrowing from another source, whether an earlier
writing, an oral tradition, or even pagan mythology; (3) extra-biblical
revelation, whether divine or occult; and (4) influence from other OT
passages thought to be relevant. This list is probably not exhaustive.
The first category is doubtless important: new ideas for the
interpretation of a given passage will continue to arise until at least
the simpler alternatives are exhausted. Borrowing from an earlier
written or oral source may also be important. As long as these
sources are interpretations of the passage at hand, this will merely
serve to push the origin of the interpretation back into non-extant
sources. Charles believes this is what happened for our passage in
1 Enoch, which he attributes to a non-extant Book of Noah.45 The
idea that the Jews borrowed from pagan myth is popular among
liberals. Where Jews believed that the event reported in a pagan myth
really happened, they might have done so, though this is hard to
imagine for the Pharisees or Essenes. Indeed, in some of these cases,
the events reported may actually have happened!
Early Jewish Hermeneutic in
Scholars, 1975) 303.
45Charles, Pseudepigraph 163.
32 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Regarding extra-biblical revelation, Patte and Russell believe
that some of the apocalyptic literature may be based on actual visions
experienced by the author.46 Whether Patte accepts the miraculous or
not is not altogether clear: he speaks of these visions as "psychical"47
yet also as being put together by "creative imagination" from materials
in the author's memory.48 Frederic Gardiner favors earlier unrecorded
divine revelation as a source for some of the materials in 2 Pet and
Particulars of their [fallen angels'] history may have been from time to
time incidentally revealed which have not been mentioned in the volume
of inspiration, but may nevertheless form a true basis for various
traditions concerning them. This seems probable from the way in
which both St. Peter and St. Jude speak of them, citing certain facts of
the history, not elsewhere revealed, as well-known truths.49
Neither should occult activity be ruled out in some Jewish sectarian
circles at this period.
Yet some of the interpretations which we see here may be based
on other OT passages thought to be relevant to Gen 6:1-4. Both the
NT and the Jewish literature throughout this period often weave
together OT passages from various locations.50 This may even be the
case when it is not so obvious:
. . . in many cases where we cannot understand the reason for a
targumic interpretation, one should resist the temptation to conclude
that it is the product of the mere fancy of either the targumist or of the
community. . . . On the contrary, we should assume that in most
instances the targumic interpretations are the result of an explanation
of Scripture by means of Scripture.51
This fourth category is the most easily investigated since the OT is
Consider first the interpretation of Myhlxh ynb, "sons of God."
The various interpretations are most easily seen as a combination of
categories (1) and (4) above, working out the simple alternatives on
the basis of Scriptural parallels. The phrase occurs in Job 1:6 and 2:2
in a heavenly context, and Satan is associated with them. Thus the
46Patte, Hermeneutic 182; D. S. Russell, Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyp-
tic (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964) 172.
47Patte, Hermeneutic 183, 201.
49F. Gardiner, The Last of the Epistles: A Commentary Upon the Epistle of St.
Jude (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1856) 72.
50See Patte, Hermeneutic 184, and throughout, on anthological style.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 33
supernatural view "angels" arises easily. On the other hand, Myhlx is
occasionally used of rulers and judges in the OT (e.g., Exod 22:8, 9),
from which the Jewish nonsupernatural interpretation may be derived.
It is possible that the targumic rendering "sons of the great ones" in
Tg. Ps.-J. and Tg. Onq. may have another origin--an etymological
translation to protect the transcendence of God by denying that he
has any sons. Philo's mystical and moralizing exegesis of Gen 6:1-4 is
a general characteristic of his technique. It is borrowed from the
ethical and anti-historical, anti-physical side of hellenistic Greek
philosophy. Perhaps it might be said to be influenced by pagan
mythology by way of negative reaction. The Christian nonsupernatural
view--"sons of Seth" or believers--is most likely based on the NT use
of "sons of God" for believers (e.g., in John ), coupled with Gen
The interpretation of Mylpn by "giants" is easily understandable
for both the supernatural and nonsupernatural views. The word
Nephilim only occurs elsewhere in the OT in Num 13:33, where it is
associated with the large size of the Anakim. Perhaps the reference
here to the Israelites being like grasshoppers in their sight explains
the rabbinic remark (Gen. Rab. 26.7) that the "marrow of each one's
thigh was eighteen cubits long." If we take the grasshopper's "thigh"
as one inch long and the human thigh as one cubit long (ca. 18
inches), the proportion is exact!
Regarding the binding of the angels mentioned in 1 Enoch, Jub.,
2 Pet and Jude, this feature may depend on an earlier source going
back to explicit revelation, or it may be derived from Isa 24:21-22:
So it will happen on that day,
That the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high
And the kings of the earth, on earth.
And they will be gathered together
Like prisoners in the dungeon [lit. "pit"]
And will be confined in prison
And after many days they will be punished.
We would normally interpret this passage eschatologically because of
the context. Yet it might be understood as the eschatological punish-
ment for an earlier sin, especially if we follow the Qumran Isaiah MS
lQIsaa, which reads vpsx (perfect) instead of the usual vpsxv (perfect
with waw), giving a past tense instead of future:52
They were gathered together . . .
And will be confined . . .
And after many days they will be punished.
34 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
In any case the passage refers to the confinement in a pit of what
appear to be angelic beings, like prisoners (chained?), with an eschato-
logical punishment after many days. The reference in the context (Isa
24:18-19) to "windows above" being opened and the earth being split
is certainly reminiscent of events at the beginning of the flood (Gen
), though the terminology is not identical. Even if this passage is
seen as strictly eschatological, its parallels with the flood may have
suggested a parallel mode of punishment to interpreters favoring a
supernatural view of Gen 6:1-4.
Most of the angelic names in Enoch are modeled on the biblical
angelic names "Michael" and "Gabriel," using the theophoric element
"El" for God and either angelic spheres of authority or divine
attributes.53 One exception is "Shamhazai," but Ginzberg sees the
first syllable as Mw, "name," a common targumic substitute for the
divine name. "Azazel," too, is of special interest, and it may suggest
that other angelic names are derived from OT texts. The name (or
something close to it) occurs in the scapegoat passage in Lev 16:8.
One goat is for the LORD, the other for Azazel, taking lzxzf as a
proper noun instead of a term meaning "entire removal."54 The word
may well have been puzzling, and the reference in Lev 17:7 to goats as
objects of worship might have led early interpreters to speculate that
there was something supernatural about "Azazel." Charles notes that
"Dudael," the place of Azazel's binding in 1 Enoch 10:4, is in the
wilderness and on "rough and jagged rocks" just like the place to
which the scapegoat is taken in Tg. Ps.-J.55
Thus it appears that a number of details appearing in the various
interpretations of Gen 6:2, 4 can be derived--rightly or wrongly--from
other OT passages. This does not prove that they actually arose in
We have now examined the ancient interpretation of Gen 6:2, 4
in Jewish literature, in Christian literature and in the NT in particular.
The earliest extant view is the supernatural one, that the "sons of
God" were angels and that the "Nephilim" were their gigantic off-
spring. The sin in this case was the unnatural union between angels
and humans. Going beyond the text of Genesis, this view pictures the
offending angels as being bound and cast into dark pits until the day
of judgment. This interpretation seems to have been popular at the
time of Christ. The nonsupernatural interpretations are not extant
53See Charles, Pseudepigrapha 191; Ginzberg, Legends, 5, 152-53; Milik, Books of
Enoch, on 4QEna,
55Charles, Pseudepigrapha 193.
NEWMAN: THE ANCIENT EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 6:2, 4 35
until later and take two basic forms which we may for convenience
label "Jewish" and "Christian." The Jewish view sees the "sons of
God" as judges or noblemen and the "Nephilim" as violent warriors.
The sin involved is unrestrained lust, rape, and bestiality. The Chris-
tian view sees the "sons of God" as Sethites or believers in general,
the "daughters of men" as Cainites or unbelievers, and the sin as
After investigating possible NT references to this passage, it
appears highly likely that the NT does refer to this incident, almost
certainly in Jude 6 and 2 Pet 2:4. Other passages are less certain, but
1 Cor 11: 10 and Matt 22:30 are probable. Though serious questions
can be raised whether Matt and parallels endorse or oppose the
supernatural interpretation, Jude and 2 Pet clearly favor the super-
Do Jude and 2 Pet endorse this interpretation or only mention
it? One might be inclined to dismiss Jude's reference as an ad
hominem argument against opponents who accepted the OT pseude-
pigrapha since he apparently quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 in v 14 and cites a
no longer extant portion of the Assumption of Moses in v 9.56 Yet
there is no hint in the context that Jude in any way distances himself
from these citations. In 2 Pet 2, the whole structure of the argument
(vv 4-9) indicates that Peter endorses the historicity of this angelic
sin: if God judged those notorious sinners of antiquity, then he will
judge these current false prophets who engage in similar activities.
Not only do Jude and 2 Peter seem to endorse the supernatural
interpretation of Gen 6, they also mention some of the details found
in 1 Enoch and Jub. which do not occur in the Genesis account.
Liberal theologians have no difficulty here, since they treat all of this
as superstitious nonsense, but how are those who believe in the Bible
Although part of the evangelical resistance to the supernatural
interpretation is exegetical and part is theological, some resistance
seems to be due to rationalistic assumptions. Especially in the fields
of science, history and Biblical studies, a "minimal-miracle" stance
may be adopted, if for no other reason than that miracles pose a
roadblock to investigation. However, whenever a minimal-miracle
approach begins to produce a crop of problem passages, we should
consider the possibility that we are wresting Scripture or other data.
It is also possible that evangelicals along with liberals have
adopted too readily the enlightenment-evolutionary view that the
56For ancient patristic evidence that this incident appeared in the Assumption of
Moses in their times, see C. Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the
Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (ICC; New York: Scribners, 1909) 331; a complete
list of texts is given in R. H. Charles, The Assumption of Moses (London: Black, 1897)
36 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
ancients were ignorant and superstitious. Perhaps an over-reaction to
the excesses of the medieval Catholic Church is also to blame. Of
course the ancients (except in the case of inspiration) were fallible and
influenced by the dominant worldviews of their times, but so are we.
They did not have the leisure, technology, communications, and
libraries that we have, so we should not expect their scholarship to be
as impressive as ours. But they weren't fools! When all of human
history testifies against our times to the reality of the supernatural
and the occult, we evangelicals (of all people) would be foolish to
dismiss this testimony out of hand, especially when it corroborates
May it not be possible that we enlightened, 20th-century Chris-
tians can learn something positive from the ancient exegetes? Perhaps
they were right in seeing an angelic incursion in Gen 6:1-4 and we are
wrong in denying it. Perhaps with a great interest in the supernatural
and angels some ancient interpreters scoured the Scriptures to locate
any hints it might contain on this subject. In such a case, they might
well have reached some valid insights which God preserved by
inscripturation in the NT.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com