Does “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 refer to angels?
Genesis 6:1–2 reads: “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: (NIV). The term “sons of God” (benê ʾelōhím) is used in the Old Testament of either angels or men who ware true believers, committed to the service of God. Passages that refer to angels as benê ʾelōhîm include Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalms 29:1; 89:6 (89:7 MT). The Masoretic text (MT) does not contain this phrase in Deuteronomy 32:43, but a fragment of a Hebrew text found in Qumran Cave Four reads: “Shout joyously, O heavens, with Him, and worship Him, O sons of God [benê ʾelōhîm], and ascribe to Him might, all you sons of the mighty [benê ʾēlîm]. Shout joyously, O nations, concerning His people, and accord strength to Him, all you angels of God [kol-malʾakê ʾēl].” This is considerably more expanded than the received Hebrew text (MT) of this verse, but it may possibly be the original wording. It was probably the passage quoted in Hebrews 1:6—though Psalm 97:7 may also be the source of that verse.
But the occurrences of benê ʾelōhîm referring to men standing in covenant relationship to God are fully as numerous in the Old Testament as those referring to angels (cf. Deut. 14:1; 32:5; Ps. 73:15; Hos. 1:10 [MT=2:1]—and, we believe, Gen. 6:2 as well). The reasons for understanding Genesis 6:2 as referring to members of the covenant family, descendants of the line of Seth, are quite compelling. Scripture clearly teaches that angels are spirits, “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14 NIV). While they may on occasion appear in bodily form in the semblance of men, they have no physical bodies, and are therefore utterly incapable of carnal relations with women. The rabbinic speculation that angels are referred to in Genesis 6:2 is a curious intrusion of pagan superstition that has no basis at all in the rest of Scripture. The fact that some children of gigantic stature (nepilîm, v.4) resulted from these marriages offers no evidence whatever of angelic paternity. No one claims that the sons of Anak, Goliath, and his brothers had any angelic forbears because of their great stature; nor is there any reason to suppose that the antediluvian giants and supernatural forbears.
What Genesis 6:1–2,4 records is the first occurrence of mixed marriage between believers and unbelievers, with the characteristic result of such unions: complete loss of testimony for the Lord and a total surrender of moral standards. In other words, the “sons of God” in this passage were descendants of the godly line of Seth. Instead of remaining true to God and loyal to their spiritual heritage, they allowed themselves to be enticed by the beauty of ungodly women who were “daughters of men”—that is, of the tradition and example of Cain. The natural result of such marriages was a debasement of nature on the part of the younger generations, until the entire antediluvian civilization sank to the lowest depths of depravity. “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” (Gen. 6:5, NIV). The inevitable result was judgment, the terrible destruction of the Great Flood.
Perhaps one last comment regarding angels would be in order here. If we were to concede that spirits could somehow enter into sexual relations with human beings—which they cannot—then they could not even so be fitted in with this passage here. If they were minions of Satan, that is, fallen angels, then they could not have been referred to as “sons of God.” Demons of hell would never be so designated in Scripture. Nor could they have been angels of God, since God’s angels always live in total obedience to Him and have no other yearning or desire but to do God’s will and glorify His name. A sordid involvement with godless young women would therefore be completely out of character for angels as “sons of God.” the only viable explanation, therefore, is the one offered in the previous paragraph.