Our first two articles in this series introduced the topic and addressed the first of three major views on the sons of God in Genesis 6:1–4. If you missed those, you can read them at these links:
For a bit of context, here is our passage again.
The Royalty View
In this third article, we provide an overview of the second major view, which has been called the Dynastic Rulers or the Royalty View. Those espousing this position claim that the sons of God were kings or other nobles who considered themselves as divine or were regarded as divine by their subjects. These tyrants forced women (“the daughters of men”) to join their harems. Thus, their major sin was polygamy.
Within this view, the Nephilim are usually believed to be the offspring of these unions, so they were princes or sons of other powerful men. As such, they could rightly be called mighty men and men of renown. However, this does not account for the Nephilim being described as giants, and those holding this opinion do not usually consider them to have been giants.
This position has been the least common of the three throughout church history, although it has grown in popularity over the past few decades as the Sethite view seems to have faded a bit. A few of the arguments given by supporters are based on proposed similarities between the first eleven chapters of Genesis and ancient Near Eastern cultures. For example, one of this position’s best-known defenders, Meredith Kline, pointed to the famous Sumerian King List and claimed that the kings in that list were considered divine. Because this list has some similarities to the genealogy in Genesis 5, Kline asserted that the Genesis 5 list must also be about kings who were considered divine. With this genealogy leading right up to Genesis 6, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that verses 1–4 also refer to royalty.
Perhaps the two most common Royalty View arguments center on two potential clues from within the Bible. First, Nimrod is called a gibbor (“mighty one” or “mighty man”), the singular form of the term used to describe the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4 (gibborim – “mighty men”). We know that Nimrod was also a ruler (Genesis 10:10–12), so there is a connection in Genesis 10 between a king and the term for “mighty one.”
Second, the term for sons of God in Genesis 6:2 and 4 is bene ha’elohim. Some Bibles have occasionally translated the term ’elohim as judges in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8–9 (NKJV) or rulers in Psalm 82:1 (NASB). So if ’elohim can rightly be translated as rulers or judges, then the sons of these individuals would likely become rulers as well.
Problems with the Royalty View
These arguments may seem compelling at first glance, but things are not always what they appear. The assertion that ancient Near Eastern kings pronounced themselves as divine is not as solid as many claim. The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the concept of kingship came from heaven, but they did not, for the most part, view their kings as divine.
Second, it is true that Nimrod is called a gibbor (“mighty one”) but so were many of David’s fighting men along with thousands of soldiers in Israel’s army centuries later. The Nephilim were indeed mighty men, but not all mighty men were Nephilim. Thus, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Nimrod can be linked with the sons of God. He may have simply been a mighty warrior who became a ruler. Incidentally, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, describes Nimrod with the term gigas (“giant”) in place of gibbor in Genesis 10:8. So maybe he was a giant and was connected to the sons of God, but this would not prove the Royalty View, since it would also fit nicely with the Fallen Angel View.
Third, the Royalty View depends upon a highly improbable translation of ’elohim as “rulers” or “judges.” In the verses cited above (Exodus 21:6 and 22:8–9, Psalm 82:1), many Bibles translate the term as “God” or “gods,” which is consistent with how it is used in nearly every other place. In fact, a very strong case can be made that ’elohim should never be understood as referring to human beings prior to death. This is why Douglas Stuart, in the New American Commentary of Exodus stated, “The idea that ʾelohim could mean ‘judges’ or ‘leaders’ at even a single place in the OT has always been conjectural and, in our opinion, unconvincing.” Instead, the term always refers to an entity from the spiritual realm (e.g., God, gods, angels, demons, and the departed spirit of a human being).
This final problem with the Royalty View we cite here is quite devastating to its premise. The context of Psalm 82:1 demonstrates that ’elohim cannot be referring to human rulers or judges. Here, God had taken His stand in the divine council, and He pronounced judgment on the gods. The remainder of the psalm and Jesus’ citation of it in John 10 demonstrates that these “gods” were heavenly beings who were being judged for their failure to carry out God’s orders. If ’elohim cannot legitimately be understood as referring to human rulers or judges, then the Royalty View loses its best argument and cannot provide a plausible interpretation of Genesis 6.
Conclusion on the Royalty View
The Royalty View handles the text in a more consistent manner than the Sethite View discussed in our previous article. However, like the Sethite View, it has serious shortcomings. These two views are appealing to many readers who strongly object to the Fallen Angel View, but they cannot be substantiated by a careful study of the biblical text. In our next installment, we will look at the most popular and most controversial position, the Fallen Angel View.