This is one of the most mysterious chapters in the Bible. Who were the Sons of God? Who were the Nephilim? What about the “powerful men of old” or “men of renown” as some translations put it?
I’ve heard teaching that the Sons of God represent the godly line of Seth, and the daughters of man, the ungodly line of Cain. But why not just say that? And why would that make them famous or powerful? More importantly, this sets up a dichotomy among mankind, as if some of us descend from the “godly” line and others do not. That contradicts the full counsel of scripture that tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It also makes me scratch my head as I consider some of the behavior we see in the “godly” line.
Others suggest that the Sons of God and Nephilim are one and the same, and that they are the angels who followed Lucifer in rebellion against God. Their procreation with human women, according to this view, produced giants, or men of power, by virtue of their being “half-angel.” But this appears to contradict the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.” That certainly suggests that angels do not marry.
But Genesis 6 doesn’t actually say that the Sons of God marry the daughters of man. It says the Sons of God took some of the daughters of man as wives, yet the footnote in some translations indicate that the word translated as “wives” is the same as that translated as “women.” Taking some of them “as their women” certainly has a different connotation than marriage.
Some writers suggest that the notion is that mankind is continuing the effort begun in the garden to “be like gods” by procreating with these angels. They also suggest that the “men of renown” or, literally, “the men of name,” foreshadows both the Tower of Babel, where mankind sought to reach heaven and to build a name for themselves, and the power of God’s pronouncement to Abraham that “I will make your name great.”
I’m not qualified to pronounce an answer as to who exactly these Sons of God were, and I trust that if it were critical to fully understand this, God would reveal it to us. But the more important point is that it provides the backdrop of God’s judgment. Something related to these relationships led to God saying, “My Spirit will not live in human beings forever, for they too are flesh; therefore their life span is to be 120 years.”
Just a few other quick notes:
We often think that Noah was spared because he was more righteous than those around him, but that isn’t really what the scripture says. It says that he found favor with God. Other translations say that he found grace in the sight of God.
God’s grace is never about how good we are, but about how good God is. Noah was more righteous than those around him because of the grace he received from God.
Verse 12 is one that I have never paid particular note to before: God saw how corrupt the earth was, for every creature had corrupted its way on the earth.
Not only had sin corrupted mankind, but it had crept into the entirety of creation. We often wonder when thinking of Noah’s flood, “Why wouldn’t God just judge the people? Why make animals suffer and die?” But this verse tells us that animals, too, were corrupted. Our modern notion of animals and nature as innocent and undefiled point back to an innate longing for the garden, but they don’t reflect the current state (or the state at the time of Noah).