Genesis 6:1-4 and Christian Marriage

August 5, 2011 at 8:24 am 1 comment


The other day, I received a question regarding the opening verses of Genesis 6:

When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4)

This passage is a perennially puzzling one because it immediately raises a host of questions.  Who are the sons of God?  Who are the daughters of men?  Who are the Nephilim?  To add to the perplexing nature of this passage, commentaries offer a whole array of conflicting interpretations, perhaps the most famous of which is that the “sons of God” are fallen angels who are perverting the daughters of men by intermarrying with them and allying themselves with an evil race of giants called the Nephilim.

I’m not sure that the interpretation of this passage needs to be nearly so esoteric.  Indeed, the interpretation proffered above flatly contradicts what Jesus says about the nature of angels:  “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25).  Jesus here makes it clear that angels are not the marrying kind. Thus, when Moses writes about the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2, he seems to be referring simply those who follow God and believe in His promise of a Messiah.  Most likely, the sons of God are from the line of Seth who replaced his late brother Abel as an heir of righteousness (cf. Genesis 4:25).  Conversely, the “daughters of men” seem to be those who do not follow God, most likely from the line of Cain, and are prone to wickedness and violence (cf. Genesis 4:17-24).  Thus, essentially what is going on here is that righteousness is intermingling with wickedness.

The sons of God intermarrying with daughters of men is paired with a reference to the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4.  Most often, the Nephilim are portrayed as giants, thanks in large part to the description of them in Numbers 13, when Moses sends out a team of spies to scout out the land of Canaan before the Israelites are supposed to enter and settle there.  The spies return with this report: “We saw the Nephilim there…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).  Interestingly, this is the only other reference to the Nephilim in the Old Testament.  Because the spies compare themselves to “grasshoppers” in light the stature of the Nephilim, the Nephilim are often assumed to be giants.  Indeed, in the Latin Vulgate, Jerome translates the word Nephilim as gigantes, or “giants.”  But what Moses seems to be referring to in Genesis 6:4 is not so much the physical stature of the Nephilim, but their spiritual state.  “Nephilim” is a Hebrew word meaning, “fallen ones.”  That is, the Nephilim are wicked tyrants who care not for God and His Word.  They have fallen into sin. In the scope of four short verses, then, we find the sons of God intermarrying with the daughters of men, an act which is portrayed as sinful, and we hear of the Nephilim, renowned as evil thugs.  Sin is on the move in Genesis 6.  And it is spreading like gangrene.  This is why in the subsequent verses, Moses writes, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).  What follows is the story of Noah and God’s judgment on wickedness by means of a worldwide flood.

So why would I spend all this time trying to sort out the exegetical puzzle of Genesis 6:1-4?  Is it out of mere theological curiosity?  Though I am always theologically curious, the practical implications of a proper interpretation of this passage are enormous.  For it gives us a down-to-earth look at what happens when righteousness intermingles with wickedness.  For when righteousness intermingles with wickedness, wickedness all too often seems to prevail.  This is why the apostle Paul later warns:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul is crystal clear here:  Our God does not want His sons and daughters to yoke themselves to the sons and daughters of this world.  This has an especially poignant application to Christian marriage.  Christians should not marry non-Christians…period.  To do so is to try to yoke righteousness to wickedness.  So to the Christian singles I say, “Marry inside the faith.” Follow Paul’s admonition:  The person you marry “must belong to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Now, certainly it is good to share your faith with others.  Certainly it is even fine to have friends who do not share your same faith commitment.  But to yoke yourself to these people is a different matter entirely.  For to yoke yourself to someone is to declare your solidarity and agreement with them.  And solidarity and agreement with unfaith is something you cannot and should not declare.

Thus, this little passage from Genesis 6 has weighty practical implications for how we relate to others, especially in the context of marriage, and puts us on notice that the results of righteousness intermingling with wickedness are never good.  Righteousness should never merely intermingle with wickedness.  Rather, it should overcome it!  As Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  May you overcome the evil you encounter with the goodness of Christ!

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Entry filed under: Theological Questions. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mary Johnson  |  August 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I like your take on that passage. After years of people speculating that the Nephillim were giants, your interpretation sounds much more reasonable. I hadn’t thought about Seth’s line coming to replace Abel’s and being the sons of God. Makes perfect sense! (It usually does if you don’t go for the far out, left field explanations)

    Reply

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