The puzzle of Genesis 6:1-4

Like many people, I've started off the new year with a commitment to read the Scriptures. There are various reading plans available. I'm using the "chronological" reading plan.

A few days back, came across the cryptic passage Genesis 6:1-4.
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “Mversus y spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Over the years, the explanation I have heard most frequently was that the "sons of God" were angels and that they mated with the "daughters of men" resulting in the "Nephilim."

I have to say I have never been all that satisfied with that explanation. After all, angels are not humans! They aren't just a different species of animal life, they are a completely different kind of being.

Anyway, having read the passage again because of the reading plan, I found myself scratching that itch of what is this passage about. I went to my copy of the Reformation Study Bible and saw the following interpretation offered: "sons of God. These have been identified as Sethites (the traditional Christian interpretation), as angels (the earliest Jewish interpretation; cf. Job 1:6), and as royal tyrannical successors to Lamech who gathered harems (proposed by rabbis of the second-century AD). All three interpretations can be defended linguistically. On the surface, the first interpretation best fits the immediate preceding context (a contrast of the curse-laden line of Cain with the godly line of Seth), but it fails to explain adequately how “daughters of man” refers specifically to Cainite women. The second view has ancient support, but seems to contradict Jesus’ statement that angels do not marry (Mark 12:25) and does not explain why the focus is on mortals (v. 3) and the judgment on them (vv. 5–7). The third interpretation best explains the phrase “any they chose” (12:10–20; 20:1; 1 Sam. 11) but lacks as much ancient support. The best solution is probably a combination of the last two. These human offspring are also the spiritual offspring of Satan (3:15), empowered by demons (cf. Deut. 32:17)."

What do you think?

Seems to me if one is going to invoke fallen angels then they would have to have "taken" possession of the men in the passage rather than angels who take human form. Or as the notes suggest, the fallen angels took possession of the offspring. This is really the only way around the whole "angels aren't just a different species of animal life, they are a completely different kind of being" problem.

Explanation one has some appeal as that doesn't require invoking angels. As noted, in context, Genesis 4 followed the descendants of Cain while Genesis 5 follows the line of Seth.

It would be simplistic to say Cain's line though cursed was without any "good." If you look at some of his descendants, they are said to have been involved with nomadic herding (Jabal), music (Jubal), and metalworking (Tubal-Cain). I think these can be viewed as positive contributions to society.

Likewise, though Seth's line was chosen to be the ancestors of the People of Israel and ultimately of Jesus, the Christ, it would be simplistic to say that line was "good." In that genealogy, Enoch is explicitly described as walking with God (Genesis 5:24) while that description is sadly absent from the others in list.

The one glimmer of hope can be found in Genesis 4:26, "Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord."

Who were these "people?"

Were they limited to the descendants of Seth?

The text doesn't demand that conclusion and I would feel more strongly toward that view if more of the Seth genealogy were positive like Enoch.

Perhaps, the weight isn't on figuring out who are the "sons of god" and "daughters of men" but rather on simply describing the "spirit of that age." Note the two interesting phrases: "they took wives for themselves of all that they chose" and "These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown."

What do we make of that?

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The "taking" of wives and the "all that they chose" language sounds bad. Makes me think of what is happening with the male ISIS fighters taking wives. I have no knowledge of the Biblical Hebrew language to know if the original language points to this kind of oppression. But in the English translation, it sounds coercive.

As for "heroes" and "warriors of renown," that sounds sort of positive? But then warriors would suggest violence. The archetype of the heroic warrior is the reluctant warrior combating evil. However, what was the nature of the conflict in this context?

What we do know is that after this text, we have the story of Noah where God is in despair over the evil and violence that has filled the earth.

See Genesis 6:11-13: Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 

Perhaps Genesis 6:1-4 is a very terse description to sum up what had happened to humanity?

If so, then invoking angels mating with humans might not really be necessary. Perhaps, the text is simply describing the ethos of the time: the oppressive taking of wives and venerating of those who were violent?

Makes you wonder if Noah would recognize something familiar about the passing scene in the 21st Century?

After I wrote all the material here, I did a search on the phrase "sons of god and daughters of men" and found this analysis by R.C. Sproul.

What do you think?

We share a similar discontentment with the explanations that invoke angels mating with humans. Sproul makes the specific argument that the "sons of god" and "daughters of men" are covenantal terms.