Books on Bible prophecy are getting crazy. And what’s even crazier is that a legitimate news site is promoting them. There’s David Flynn’s Temple at the Center of Time: Newton’s Bible Codex Finally Deciphered and the Year 2012. The latest end-time speculative prophecy book is Thomas Horn’s Nephilim Stargates: The Year 2012 and the Return of the Watchers. Horn claims that “new experiments in genetic engineering could open the doors for the return of fearsome ‘giants’ described in the Bible-the offspring of human women and fallen angels.” The basis for this and other theories is Genesis 6:1-7 and the identity of “the sons of God” and the “Nephilim.”
One of the most popular interpretations of Genesis 6:1-6 is that the “sons of God” are fallen angels who impregnated women and created a super race of beings called the “Nephilim.” This interpretation is the basis of all Nephilim speculation whether it’s demons, aliens, or some other fantasy. Chuck Missler and Mark Eastman argue in Alien Encounters that “the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6 was understood as referring to (fallen) angels by the ancient rabbinical sources, the Septuagint translators, and by the early Church fathers.” The sources used by these Christian authors, by their own admission, are non-canonical books, for example, the “Book of Enoch, the Syriac Version of the Old Testament, as well as the Testimony of the 12 Patriarchs and the Little Genesis.”
Missler and Eastman claim that “the Hebrew term translated ‘sons of God’ is . . . a term consistently used in the Old Testament for angels.” Even the well respected Hebrew scholar Umberto Cassuto takes this position. He argues that “whenever bene (ha)’elohim or bene ‘elim [literally, ‘sons of Gods’] occurs (Psalm 29:1; 89:7 [Eng. 6]; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; also Deuteronomy 32:8 according to the text of the Septuagint) angels are referred to.”
For the moment, let’s assume these advocates for the angel view are correct. Does this mean that in Genesis 6 the “sons of God” are fallen angels? Why would fallen angels be described as “sons of God”? Three times the phrase bene elohim is used in the Old Testament, all in the book of Job (1:6; 2:1; 38:7). There is no indication they are fallen angels. A similar phrase (bar elohim, “son of God”) is used in Daniel 3:25. It is not a reference to a fallen angel. The term “sons of the mighty” (bene elim) is used in Psalm 29:1 and also Psalm 89:6. These verses do not describe fallen angels. In fact, the “sons of the mighty” is a reference to humans not angels. Psalm 29:11 reads: “The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace.” This last verse of this chiastic Psalm is in chiastic parallel with the first verse: “sons of the mighty” = “His people.”
Consider the use of “sons of God” in the New Testament. Adam is described as “the son of God”: “The son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). He is neither a good nor a fallen angel. “Peacemakers” are described as “sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). The “sons of the resurrection” are “like angels” (because they cannot die) and are called “sons of God” (Luke 20:36). Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26). Then there’s the “anxious longing of the creation [that] waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). In fact, every time the phrase “sons of God” is used in the New Testament, it never refers to angels, either good or bad.
Let’s look at the use of the phrase “sons of God” in Job. Author Gary Bates argues, as do many others, “In the [Old Testament] passages outside of Genesis,” [the phrase ‘sons of God’] . . . is always clearly used of angels.” The appeal is made to the three uses of “sons of God” found in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7. Part of the confusion arises because a number of modern translations translate the Hebrew bene as “angels,” following the Septuagint, rather than “sons,” which is the literal translation. Unfortunately, this is an interpretation rather than a translation of the Hebrew. Job 38:7 is the only example where “sons of God” could refer to angels, but not fallen angels. It appears in a passage of symbolism and is paralleled with “the morning stars sang together.” Compare this with Judges 5:20 where we read “the stars fought from heaven.” The stars here are a reference to rulers based on the parallel passage in 5:19: “The kings came and fought; then fought the kings of Canaan at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; they took no plunder in silver.”
A number of commentators contend that the “sons of God” are godly men (Job 1:1), possibly even prominent civil rulers, who “came to present themselves before the Lord” (1:6) for counsel because they are judges of the people. (The Hebrew word elohim is used in this way in Exodus 22:8-9 and Psalm 82:6. Most Bible versions translate elohim as “judges” in the Exodus passages.) Notice the Bible’s description of Job: “His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east” (1:3). The passage can read “sons of the east” since the Hebrew bene is used. This means that there were many “sons of the east.” Compare this with Genesis 6:4 where the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” are described as “the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” Notice in Job 1:5 that Job is concerned about his relationship with God and that of his sons. It’s in 1:6 that the “sons of God . . . present themselves before the LORD.” Job is one of the “sons of God.”
But how does Satan, a fallen angel, fit in with this interpretation? Satan is described in the Bible as “the accuser of our brethren . . . who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10). In the case of Job, Satan interjects himself among the godly rulers-”sons of God”-and accuses Job before God. He did a similar thing when Jesus went out into the wilderness. “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matt. 4:3). George Rapkin’s comments in his Genesis in Harmony with Itself and Science are helpful:
The story of Job opens by telling of a devout father, who, when he knew his children were feasting, offered sacrifice for them, lest they should have blasphemed God. Then came the day of appearing before God, and of Satan being granted the permission to harass the father.
The “sons of God” were the godly men of the time who came for worship in the presence of the Lord. They came before the Lord just as David later urged the congregation to do, when urging thanksgiving. Coming before the Lord and entering into His presence is not so striking when we find the Bible speaking of men and congregations doing this. Nimrod is said to have been a “mighty hunter before the Lord,” but we do not stretch our fanciful imagination to the extent of saying he must have been an angel. Now Job and his sons, with other righteous men, were the sons of God who presented themselves before the Lord for the act of worship and sacrifice, the father then acting as the head, or priest, of the family worship and sacrifice.
Even the phrase “present themselves before the LORD” (Job 1:6) is not a tip off that the scene in Job is describing angels in heaven. In 1 Samuel 10:19 we read, “But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘No, but set a king over us!’ Now therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.” Similarly, Joshua 24:1 states, “Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God.” Notice that it’s the leaders, including judges, who present themselves before God. The situation is identical to what is taking place in Job 1:6 and 2:1. Psalm 2:2 shows the negative side of this principle: “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed.” (”presented themselves before” and “take their stand” use the same Hebrew construction.) None of these presentations take place in a spiritual realm where angels reside. God’s heavenly host is described differently (see 1 Kings 22:19; Acts 7:55-56).
While the Hebrew is different, the idea is similar when Cain is said to have gone “out from the presence of the LORD” to settle “in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (4:16). Jonah flees to “Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” by a ship “going to Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3). The men on the ship knew Jonah “was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them” (1:10). How does one flee from the physical presence of the Lord by ship? “Presence of the LORD,” as these verses indicate, does not mean angels in the physical presence of God and neither does “presented themselves before God.” The “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are like the sons of God found elsewhere in Scripture: they had at one time identified themselves with God’s covenant. They are not fallen angels or demons.
Missler and Eastman, Alien Encounters, 207. Here’s another example: “The Apocryphal books of Enoch, 2 Esdras, Genesis Aprocryphon and Jasher support the Genesis story, adding that the sin of the angels grew to include genetic modification of animals as well as humans. The Book of Jasher, mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, says, ‘After the fallen angels went into the daughters of men, the sons of men taught the mixture of animals of one species with the other, in order to provoke the Lord’ (4:18).” (”Are Bible’s ‘giants’ set for return? Author warns genetic engineering could bring back ‘Nephilim’ [September 19, 2008]: http://tinyurl.com/4guw2t).
Missler and Eastman, Alien Encounters, 205.
The Masoretic Text reads “sons of Israel.” “Sons of God” is probably the better translation. It seems obvious that both “sons of man” and “sons of God” are referring to human beings. Deuteronomy 32:9 reads: “For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.”
Umberto Cassuto, “The Episode of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Man,” Biblical and Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1973), 21-22. Quoted in John H. Walton, “Are the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6 Angels?-No,” The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 189.
The Hebrew word for “son” is ben; in Aramaic it is bar. The passage in Daniel 3:24 is written in Aramaic.
The phrase “like a son of the gods” or simply “like a son of God” is used in Daniel 3:25, but it is King Nebuchadnezzar who describes the fourth man in the furnace this way.
Gary Bates, Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004), 352.
George Rapkin, Genesis in Harmony with Itself and Science (1899). Quoted in J. Sidlow Baxter, Studies in Problem Texts: Being a Short Series of Elucidatory and Applicatory Expositions of Certain Scripture Passages Which Have Occassioned Perplexity (London: Marshal, Morgan & Scott, 1963), 188.