The Sons of God and the Nephilim – Part Four: The Fallen Angel View
In this series we have already looked at two of the major positions among Christians regarding the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6. The Sethite and Royalty views have their fair share of supporters, but as we have seen in part 2 and part 3, they suffer from a host of problems and fail to adequately explain the passage in question. Here it is again.
And it came about, when mankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful. And they took for themselves wives from any they chose. And Yahweh said, “My spirit will not remain with man indefinitely, in that he is flesh; his days will be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—whenever the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore to them children. They were the mighty men of antiquity, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4)
This post will provide an overview of the Fallen Angel View, which states that the sons of God mentioned above were angelic beings that left the heavenly realm and sired children with women. As strange as this view sounds, it has by far the greatest number of strengths and the greatest number of objections.
Supporting Arguments for the Fallen Angel View
The Hebrew Term in Context
The Hebrew term translated as “sons of God” in this passage is bene ha’elohim. This term appears four more times in the Old Testament, and in each of these instances it refers to heavenly beings. Job 38:7 is the clearest example since it equates the “sons of God” with the “morning stars” and refers to a point in time when humans did not even exist (i.e., while God created the earth). The term also shows up in Job 1:6 and 2:1 in the context of a discussion between God and Satan, so it is natural to view this as taking place in the heavenly realm. The other place it appears is Deuteronomy 32:8, although many English Bibles follow a later variant which speaks of God dividing the nations at Babel according to the “sons of Israel.” However, “sons of Israel” does not make sense in context since Israel did not exist at the time of Babel, and Israel (Jacob) had 12 sons while approximately 70 groups split from Babel. Also, the earliest Hebrew texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls have “sons of God.” This is backed up by the Septuagint’s translation, which mentions the “angels of God” (aggelon theou).
A nearly identical term, bene ’elim, appears twice in the Psalms. Psalm 29:1 instructs the “heavenly beings” [bene ’elim] to praise God for His glory and strength. Psalm 89:5–8 also speaks of these “heavenly beings” and the entire context is about the angelic beings who praise God and cannot compare to their Creator. The Aramaic equivalent of bene ha’elohim is bar elahin, and it shows up in Daniel 3:25 referring to the fourth person in the fiery furnace whom Nebuchadnezzar identifies as an “angel” in verse 28.
’elohim Does Not Refer to Humans
The fact that these entities are called bene ha’elohim is a strong indicator that they were not human beings. It is highly debatable if ’elohim is ever used in reference to a living human. Instead, it seems to be limited to beings from the spiritual realm (God, pagan gods, angels, demons, and the departed spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28). The Hebrew term translated “son of” (bene) does not necessarily imply physical descent. It can also show that one belongs to a certain class. Thus, the “sons of the prophets” in Elisha’s time were not necessarily all descendants of prophets. Instead, these men belonged to the class of people known as prophets. In the same way, the bene ha’elohim were not the offspring of God, but they belong to the same class of being in the sense that they are all from the spiritual realm.
New Testament Support
At least three New Testament passages were likely written with this perspective in the mind of the author. First Peter 3:19–20 speaks of a particular group of “spirits in prison” (likely angelic beings) who sinned during the days of Noah. Second Peter 2:4 mentions angels who sinned and are currently held in “chains of darkness” and reserved for judgment. The surrounding context of this verse speaks of the wickedness that existed before the Flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise, Jude 6 refers to “angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode,” and then states that God has reserved them “in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” The surrounding context of this passage also discusses the wickedness and sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah. These verses make perfect sense in light of the Fallen Angel View, but those who reject the Fallen Angel View resort to strange and strained interpretations of these New Testament passages.
Giants Before and After the Flood
The Fallen Angel view accounts for the Nephilim being giants and for them existing both before and after the Flood, as verse 4 states they were. The Sethite and Royalty Views give no explanation as to why the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men would have been giants, though verse 4 clearly states that they were. Since angelic beings would not have been killed by the Flood, the Fallen Angel View accounts for the fact that the “sons of God” could have engaged in this sinful behavior again after the Flood.
Earliest Known View
The Fallen Angel view is unquestionably the earliest surviving view among ancient Jewish and Christian writers. It is promoted in a variety of Jewish writings before the time of Christ, such as the Genesis Apocryphon, Testament of Reuben, Jubilees, and Enoch. These rebellious angels were often referred to as watchers during this period of history, a term used in Daniel 4 in reference to angelic beings. As far as we know, every Christian writer who wrote on the topic until the third century held the Fallen Angel View.
Objections to the Fallen Angel View and Addressing the Nephilim
There are several more arguments that can be cited for the Fallen Angel View, but these should suffice to demonstrate that a variety of biblical and historical arguments can be raised to support it. Nevertheless, this view has generated several objections that must be addressed. We will save those for our next article in the series. After that, we will move beyond the sons of God and address questions about the Nephilim.
For the most detailed treatment available on the sons of God and the Nephilim, see Tim Chaffey’s new book, Fallen, available at www.nephilimbook.com.