It’s been a while since I read Augustine’s City of God, but I recently read a few selections in preparation for a class and came across his discussion of Genesis 6 and the sons of God and the giants that were on the earth in those days. And not too long ago, I had a fun little chat with some friends who disagreed with my view of Genesis 6, and lo and behold, I find Augustine saying the same thing as I said.
Augustine asks: “Are we to believe that angels mated with women, and that the giants resulted from these unions?” (Bk. XV, ch. 23)
Augustine basically says maybe they have but that’s not what Genesis 6 is talking about.
Augustine grants that biblically speaking it is certainly true that angels can appear in the form of men and so could perhaps go so far as to lust and “mate” with a woman. (And the opposite is at least suggested in the story of Lot in Gen. 18.) And Augustine references extra biblical mythology which gives us far more information on that sort of thing than we need.
Nevertheless, Augustine is not persuaded that that is what is going on in Genesis 6. First, he notes that he doesn’t think this story is what Peter is referring to in 2 Peter 2. Rather, he says Peter is referring to the fall of the angels before or at the creation of the world, the same fall in which the devil fell and began tempting Adam and Eve to sin.
Augustine also points out that the description “sons of God” certainly can and does refer to men in the Bible, but realizes that the stumbling block for this view seems to be the fact that the text says that there were “giants” in the earth in those days. But Augustine says that the text seems to indicate that there were giants before and after the intermarriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men. And besides, Augustine notes, there have been giants born throughout human history at various points and this does not require angelic/human sexual unions every time a giant is born.
We know that the sons of Anak and the Rephaim in the days of the conquest were giants (Num. 13:22-33, Dt. 2:11), and David eventually killed Goliath, and David’s mighty men struck down others, apparently descendants of the same giants (Dt. 3:11, 2 Sam. 21:16-22). But we have no biblical basis for blaming fallen angels for these big men.
Furthermore, the linguistic connection between the giants in Canaan and the giants in Genesis 6 is the word “nephilim” used only in Gen. 6:6 and Num. 13:33. But this actually proves too much since the “nephilim” of Genesis 6 were apparently destroyed in the flood. If we want “nephilim” to be a technical term for the half-breed offspring of angelic/human intermarriage, then we have to insist that it happened again after the flood, in spite of the fact that there is no mention of it.
The strongest case in my view for not viewing the “sons of God” as angels in Genesis 6 is that it simply doesn’t fit the story. The story for the first 5 chapters of Genesis is all about Adam and Adam’s family. And we know that Adam was the first “son of God” because he was made in God’s image and likeness. Sons look like their fathers. And if you don’t believe me, ask Luke (Lk. 3:38). Luke says that Adam was the “son of God” and implies that his genealogy is the genealogy of the sons of God because Jesus too is the “son of God” (Lk. 4:3). But Luke is getting this from Moses.
Moses said that Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam who was made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 5:1-3). This means that Seth was a son of God just like Adam who was a son of God. And then Moses proceeds to tell us the genealogy of this family, these “sons of God” (Gen. 5). When the story picks up in Genesis 6 it makes no sense to think of anyone else other than this line of Seth as the “sons of God.” Furthermore, it makes no sense for God to be angry with people if it was unruly angels who screwed this world up. God sent the flood to destroy all flesh because human beings sinned, because the descendants of Seth, the sons of God who had begun to call on the name of the Lord, fell into sin like their father Adam. And so God judged them and destroyed them.
Of course some modernist types deny the possibility of angelic/human unions because they don’t believe in angels, fairies, magic, or dragons to begin with. And they are well on their way to doubting the virgin birth and the resurrection. And I have no interest in bowing to their small imaginations. But neither would a man like Augustine who was willing to speculate on a whole host of issues.
All that to say, like Augustine, I grant the possibility of some occurrence of a weird angelic/human union, and the abundance of such stories in the mythologies at least invites that sort of speculation. But I don’t see it in Genesis 6 and neither does my boy Augustine.
It’s funny how you wrote about this 11 yrs ago but the nephilim, due to Chuck Messler and other protestant theologians, have exploded in this misconception throughout the internet, vis YouTube. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. The key is in what you wrote. They were here after the flood and yet the angels are not mentioned.
Brandon Corley says
I know this is a really old post, but what confuses me about Augustine’s interpretation is that the devil and the fallen angels are being kept in chains of darkness ever since the fall? Peter appears to be speaking of the prison of Sheol, yet the devil and his angels are free.
John Hutchison says
I like your post. It is interesting that Martin Luther basically says the same thing. Read his commentaries on Genesis. Luther is a master at interpretation. Reading his commentaries is like taking a class on Biblical interpretation.