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What does Genesis 6 mean when it talks of the sons of God? Who are they?
Thank you for your question, although it is unfortunately a tough one. As such I can't offer a firm conclusion because the truth is nobody knows for sure!
I can however provide you with the two most common viewpoints that have both been held by excellent Bible teachers.
The first view is that these 'sons of God' were fallen angels. That is, they were angelic beings which were bad. They took human form, married human women and impregnated them. In this view, this produced a race of almost super-humans, thought to be the 'Nephilim' in Genesis 6:1-4.
In support of this view, Job 1:6 speaks of 'sons of God' who come with Satan to approach God. In Job 1:6, these 'sons of God' were very likely fallen angels. Another interesting argument for this view is this: if fallen angels did have relations with human women, this would reasonably account for the super-human race of men who came afterwards. Numbers 13:33 suggests of giants in Canaan during Moses' day, many years after Genesis 6. Well, where did these giants come from? Perhaps they did in fact come from this union of angels and people in Genesis 6.
However, there are some serious problems with this first view. First, 'sons of God' in Genesis 6 doesn't have to mean fallen angels just because that's what it means in Job 1:6. In Exodus 4:22-23, the people of Israel – human beings – are called God's son. And in the New Testament, Christians – humans – are called 'sons of God' (see Galatians 3:26).
The second problem with this view is that we don't know exactly what the 'Nephilim' were. They might well have been giants, as Numbers 13:33 indicates when it uses this word 'Nephilim'. Some Bible translations translate this word as 'giants', but this may not be correct. Other translations of the Bible indicate that they don't know, and simply leave the word 'Nephilim' in the text. So we don't know if giants actually came from this union of angels and people, because we don't know that the 'Nephilim' were giants!
Finally, the biggest problem for this view is that it forces us to believe that angelic beings took human form, married human women and had relations with them. We cannot see any support for this elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 22:30 that in heaven people will be like angels, who don't marry (and by extension, can't have sexual relationships).
The second view is that these 'sons of God' were simply human beings. Some Bible teachers take them to have been exceptionally powerful rulers. Others think they were the descendants of the godly Seth, who replaced Abel after he was killed by Cain.
In this latter view, the point of Genesis 6 is that the godly line of Seth is becoming evil. They are supposed to be living like Seth, godly, walking faithfully with God. Instead, these 'sons of God' are now seen taking women as and when they please and being overtaken by lust and selfish desire, none of which God can approve.
The main weakness in this view is that the whole question arises: if these were simply ordinary men (not fallen angels) marrying ordinary women, then how can we account for Genesis 6:4? This verse tells us that when these men married women, they produced an apparently special race of powerful and famous heroes of the past. That cannot be disputed (whatever 'Nephilim' actually means).
A possible answer to this criticism is that when these 'sons of God' began to take what they wanted by force, and become evil, who was there to stand against them? If the only godly line that existed had now become wicked, who was left to stop them from growing mighty in power and exerting terrifying influence upon mankind? In fact, this neatly explains what happens next. Things got so out of hand that God felt sorry He had made mankind (verse 6). God then chose to send that awful flood as a result, to wipe out mankind. The only righteous person left was Noah. Notice, mankind is to blame for all of this – not fallen angels (Genesis 6:5-6).
But in summary, I refer you again to the fact that we don't know for sure. God has chosen to not reveal to us some things, especially things that aren't important for our eternal salvation. What is exceptionally clear is that God wants us to come into the spiritual light of His Son, Jesus, and to be saved from Hell and darkness through Christ.
Jesus said: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
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