Grace Theological Journal 5.1 (1984) 13-36

Copyright 1984 by Grace Theological Seminary, cited with permission.




GENESIS 6:2, 4





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 11:10

and Matt 22:30. 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

(AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1964); D. Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (Garden

City: Doubleday, 1977); G. von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (rev. ed.; Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1973).

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.



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

(5:22, 24) and curses the ground (5:29). If we include the last two

verses of chapter 4, we pick up two more references: Seth is God's

replacement for Abel (4:25); and men begin to call upon the LORD at

the time of Enosh (4:26). 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.



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

methodological suggestions.




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 (7th ed.; Stuttgart:

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.



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.


I Enoch

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 Qumran in a style of handwriting that

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 Mt. Hermon, led by their chief Semjaza, took wives,

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

recent edition.]

8R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford:

Clarendon, 1913), 2. 163; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Oxford:

Blackwell, 1965) 618-19. M. Rist ("Enoch, Book of," IDB 2 [1962] 104) would date

this section later, ca. 100 B.C. In any case, fragments of this part of Enoch have been

found at Qumran: see O. Betz, "Dead Sea Scrolls," IDB I (1962) 796; J. T. Milik, The

Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976) 6,

139-40, 164.



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.



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)


Other Pseudepigrapha


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 Sodom, which changed the order of nature. In like

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.




Among the materials found in caves near the Dead Sea, both the

Genesis Apocryphon [IQapGen] and the Damascus Document [CD]

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

later than the Roman destruction of Qumran about A.D. 68. In what

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

the community (presumably Qumran) is sketched, and its members

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 Qumran Cave I: A Commentary

(BibOr 18A; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1971) 15.

12G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies (SPB 4;

Leiden: Brill, 1973) 124-25; Fitzmyer, Genesis Apocryphon 16-19.

13F. M. Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies

(rev. ed.; Garden City: Doubleday, 1961) 81-82n; G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in

English (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968) 95.

14All dates are approximate throughout.



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,

Josephus says:

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.

16Ibid., 60.

17See S. Sandmel, Philo of Alexandria (New York: Oxford, 1979) 150, 162, who

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.



copies of Josephus, so Franxman must postulate this in a non-extant

source he used.


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

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

in the century following the fall of Jerusalem. Yet remnants of the

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.



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.

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) alludes to the supernatural

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 6:12) 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 11:10) 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 Oxford Dictionary of the Christian

Church (London: Oxford, 1958).






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

angry" (2:8).


Second Century Sources

Three translations of the OT into Greek were made in the 2nd

century A.D.: one by Aquila, a student of R. Akiba, about A.D. 130;26

another by Symmachus, said to be an Ebionite, late in the century;27


25G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 265-68.

26J. W. Weyers, "Aquila's Version," IDB I (1962) 176.

27J. W. Weyers, "Symmachus," IDB 4 (1962) 476.



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

Aquila has ui[oi> tw?n qew?n, which looks more like an attempt to avoid

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

below and that of Meredith Kline.29 For the Nephilim, Aquila has

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

translation of Aquila's rendering and that of Symmachus fit Gen

6:11 -- "the earth was filled with violence."


The Targumim

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 (Madrid and Barcelona: Consejo Superior

de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1968) 33, 511.

32S. Lund and J. Foster, Variant Versions of Targumic Traditions Within Codex

Neofiti 1 (SBLASP 2; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977) 12, 14; our passage and marginal

note are not discussed.

33Diez Macho, Neophyti 511.



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.,

but this seems to be a confusion with the Greek translation of Aquila.

Although the relations between the various targumim are complicated

by mutual influence in transmission, Onq. was probably completed

before A.D. 400 in Babylonia using Palestinian materials as a basis.34

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


Christian Interpretations

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 God.

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 God and city of man] are

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

Pentateuch with the Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum (London: 1862-65; reprinted

New York: Ktav, 1968), 1. 46; M. Aberbach and B. Grossfeld, Targum Onkelos to

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.



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."


Rabbinic Literature

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 13:33, 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)

218, 65; I. Epstein, "Midrash," IDB 3 (1962) 376.



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

Gen. Rab.

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,"



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

before Eden as proposed by Augustine? This example precedes a

reference to the flood and to Sodom and Gomorrah, so the order

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

to be inferred from its occurrence in the pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea

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.


Jude 6

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


40BAGD, 805.

41With attestation in the Qumran fragments; see Milik, Books of Enoch, on




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 Sodom and Gomorrah

seems to refer back to this example when it says "they [Sodom and

Gomorrah] in the same way as these [angels] indulged in gross

immorality and went after strange flesh." One might seek to avoid

this by reading "they [the cities around Sodom and Gomorrah] in the

same way as these [Sodom and Gomorrah] indulged. . . ." But "these"

is tou<toij, which more naturally refers to the angels (masculine) than

to Sodom and Gomorrah, as the latter have just been referred to in

the same verse by the feminine pronoun au]ta<j. Likewise "gross

immorality" and "strange flesh" are two points of real parallelism

between the violent homosexuality of Sodom and the angel-human

liasons of the supernatural interpretation. It seems that Jude 6 strongly

indicates a supernatural interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.


1 Cor 11:10

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 (11:17-34). 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 (Minneapolis:

Augsburg. 1961) 445.



I Pet 3:19-20


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 8:55;

Acts 7:59), 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-



Matt 22:30

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 (12:25). It

does not occur in Luke (20:36), 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 8:31), as a


43E.g., Murray, Principles of Conduct 246; Stigers, Genesis 97; C. F. Keil and

F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch (1875;

reprinted Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 1. 131.



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

22:30 and parallels, the evidence seems strong that the NT adopts a

supernatural interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.




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

they do write. Patte summarizes the situation nicely for the Qumran



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

situation is not confined to Qumran.

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!


44D. Patte, Early Jewish Hermeneutic in Palestine (SBLDS 22; Missoula, MT:

Scholars, 1975) 303.

45Charles, Pseudepigraph 163.



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.

48Ibid., 183.

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.

51Ibid., 67.



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 1:12), coupled with Gen

4:26 and 5:24.

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.


52BHK, 64ln.



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

7:11), 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

this way.



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,

54BDB, 736.

55Charles, Pseudepigrapha 193.



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

mixed marriage.

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 22:30 and parallels endorse or oppose the

supernatural interpretation, Jude and 2 Pet clearly favor the super-

natural position.

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

to respond?

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)




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

biblical testimony.

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

200 Seminary Dr.

Winona Lake, IN 46590

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: