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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

An Analysis of the "Sons Of Seth" View of Genesis 6:4

Updated: Jan 27


An Analysis of the "Sons of Seth" View of Genesis 6:4

In our previous two articles on this subject, we've endeavored to take a sound, Biblical look into what was happening back in Genesis 6 with the "sons of God" entering into relations with human women, producing "Nephilim," or giants. In one of these articles, we touched on the subject of Biblical hermeneutics (or methods of interpretation). We discussed the foundational principles of properly interpreting the text of the Bible – including the need to take the text literally unless the text itself makes it obvious that a figure of speech is being used. We also mentioned the fact that the Bible is the best interpreter of itself. In other words, we should not feel free to impose our own interpretations on a particular passage when the Bible clearly defines it elsewhere. These are some of the foundational principles of sound Biblical hermeneutics.


When we utilize these principles and apply them to Genesis 6:4, the only resulting interpretation that demonstrates coherence is the one we’ve been advocating thus far – that the sons of God should be understood as angels, and that they married and had sexual relations with human women, producing a hybrid offspring of giants that the Bible calls the Nephilim. But as clear as this is, we should recognize the existence of a prominent, alternative view of Genesis 6:1-4, which we need to more closely address.


First, we should point out that even if you’ve grown up in a Christian church, there’s a very good possibility that the information we’re presenting in this article is new to you. If you fit this description, you may be wondering "Why haven't I heard this before?” The answer is that, unfortunately, around the fifth century AD, an alternative view (referred to as the “Sons of Seth view”) became prevalent.


The popularity of this newly proposed Sons of Seth view of Genesis 6:1-4 eventually surpassed the earlier traditional “angel view” for which we’re advocating. This alternative view then became accepted by the mainstream (Catholic) church at the time, and has remained the dominant – and in many cases the only – view taught in many churches and seminaries today. This is especially true in Catholic and Reformed circles. In this article, we will take a deeper and more critical look at this interpretation and see if it holds up to scrutiny.


So, what is this “Sons of Seth” view, and what exactly does it claim? Steve Schmutzer, writing in a multi-part series on this topic, summarizes it as follows.


Its premise rests on the claim that the "sons of God" in Genesis 6:1-4 were ordinary men from the "godly line of Seth," and the "daughters of men" were ordinary women from the "ungodly line of Cain." In other words, the first gender group was righteous and the second gender group was unrighteous. The assumption is, they were alike in their physical nature, though different in their spiritual one. This theory argues that the joining of these two genetically homogenous groups of humans produced offspring of such deviant character and unnatural physical proportions that God was compelled to wipe the slate clean. [1]

So, the Sons of Seth view really boils down to an attempt to substitute subjective meanings for clear Biblical terms in Genesis 6:4. Let’s review this passage before we look deeper into this.


There were giants [Nephilim] in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. -Genesis 6:4

Make note of the phrase “sons of God” (which in an earlier article, we clearly defined as “angels,” based upon how this term is always used elsewhere in scripture). Also make note also of the phrase “the daughters of men.” Proponents of the Sons of Seth view subjectively define the phrase “sons of God” to mean the supposedly righteous "sons of Seth” (a group the Bible never even mentions as existing). They then also subjectively define the phrase “daughters of men” to mean the supposedly wicked "daughters of Cain” (whom the Bible also never mentions). Of course, this is not at all what the text reads, and it contradicts how the phrase “sons of God” is clearly defined elsewhere in scripture!


As mentioned, in an earlier article, we conclusively showed that “sons of God” (benei ha Elohim) always means "angels" in the Hebrew scriptures. “Daughters of men” is the translation of the Hebrew “benoth ha adam” (or “daughters of Adam”). [2]


The text gives no indication that these are specifically daughters of Cain, nor does it say they’re wicked. Instead, by the Hebrew reading – “daughters of Adam” – the intention of the text is obviously to refer to the general population of mankind. There is no way (in Hebrew or in English) to interpret it to mean the daughters of a particular subset, such as those of Cain. This is why the Bible translators rendered it simply as “daughters of men” in English.


And so, it is easy to see how the proponents of this view have to radically alter the Biblical text and infer completely different meanings in order to establish their interpretation. In other words, they rely on eisegesis instead of exegesis. They read their predetermined interpretation into the text rather than relying on the text to form their interpretation.


Also, make note of the fact that proponents of this view fabricate a scenario in which the sin being described in Verse 4 is the failure to maintain separation between “believers” and “unbelievers”. However, again, the text simply does not say that! First of all, it’s important to note that nowhere in scripture does it state that the descendants of Seth were godly and the descendants of Cain were ungodly. This is a total assumption made by the Sons of Seth interpreters. Furthermore, the Biblical record doesn’t require “separation” until much later in Genesis!


They then attempt to create a scenario in which these two fictional groups intermarried, producing the Nephilim. According to their view, these alleged groups were not supposed to marry, but did. In other words, righteous people marrying unrighteous people can somehow produce Nephilim giants. As you can surely see already, this interpretation goes far beyond poor exegesis and finds its way into pure absurdity.


So then, how did this Sons of Seth view originate? In the centuries following the Apostolic era, the growth of Christianity brought the Old Testament into the pagan Gentile (or non-Jewish) nations. When this took place, it brought about a clashing of religious and philosophical worldviews that gave rise to many attacks of pagan Greco-Roman philosophers against Christianity and the Bible. This in turn gave rise to the era of the Christian apologists – early church fathers who attempted to provide a defense of Christianity against these attacks. [3]


One of the ways some of the pagan critics began to attack the Old Testament was by focusing on the Genesis 6 story, which at that time was universally understood by Jews and Christians to describe the cohabitation of angels with human women. The Sons of Seth view then surfaced as a way for the apologists to fend off these attacks and provide an alternate explanation of these “uncomfortable facts” of Genesis 6. But let’s emphasize that this in itself is proof that the “angel view” was the original! The traditional Jewish understanding was always the “angel view” – and then the earliest Christians (which of course, first arose as a sect of Judaism) also upheld this view. Author Bryan Huie echoes this historical fact, writing:


The first and oldest belief is that "the sons of God" were fallen angels who consorted with human women, producing giant offspring called Nephilim. This view was widely held in the Judaic world of the first century, and was supported by many of the [Christian] "Ante-Nicene Fathers," including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Eusebius. [4]

Schmutzer adds to this perspective, stating:


Early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Lactantius, and Ambrose were proponents of [the angel view] in their own writings. The historical record is clear enough to suggest that a straightforward reading and interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 was the official position of the early church up through the fourth century. This is even recorded in Volume 8 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. [5]

But like we said, as Christianity began to spread into the pagan world, subjects like Genesis 6 became fodder for the attacks of pagan critics. They viewed the traditional “angel view” as ridiculous, and used it to disparage Christianity and the Bible. Chuck Missler summarizes these attacks of the pagan critics and the subsequent development of the Sons of Seth view.


Celsus and Julian the Apostate used the traditional "angel" belief to attack Christianity. Julius Africanus resorted to the Sethite interpretation as a more comfortable ground. Cyril of Alexandria also repudiated the orthodox "angel" position with the "line of Seth" interpretation. Augustine also embraced the Sethite theory and thus it prevailed into the Middle Ages. It is still widely taught today among many churches who find the literal "angel" view a bit disturbing. [6]

Let’s back up a bit and focus on Julius Africanus, who seems to be the first to advocate the Sons of Seth theory. As we read the following quote of what he stated, notice how he (in typical fashion of the apologists) abandons the literal interpretation in order to embrace an allegorical interpretation that feels “more comfortable.”


When men multiplied on the earth, the angels of heaven came together with the daughters of men. In some copies I found "the sons of God." What is meant by the Spirit, in my opinion, is that the descendants of Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Saviour Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of men, as having nothing divine in them, on account of the wickedness of their race and the inequality of their nature, being a mixed people, and having stirred the indignation of God. But if it is thought that these refer to angels, we must take them to be those who deal with magic and jugglery, who taught the women the motions of the stars and the knowledge of things celestial, by whose power they conceived the giants as their children, by whom wickedness came to its height on the earth, until God decreed that the whole race of the living should perish in their impiety by the deluge. [7]

Let’s take note that in the beginning of this quote, Julius Africanus implies that some copies of Genesis that he had access to in the first several centuries AD actually read “angels of heaven” in place of “sons of God” – demonstrating the universality of the angel view in antiquity. But we then see the way he interjects his interpretive technique of allegorism because he doesn’t like the conclusion that a literal interpretation brings. Notice how he says, “what is meant by the Spirit”.


In other words, the allegorist believes it’s his duty to ignore the plain meaning of the text and instead substitute a meaning of his own choice. This is the main problem with an allegorical hermeneutic – the control is in the hands of the interpreter’s subjective imagination instead of in the actual words of the author.


Huie expands upon this history even further, specifically focusing on how the early church father Augustine’s embracing of the Sons of Seth view resulted in its formal acceptance by the Catholic Church, and its subsequent dominance in the mainstream even up to the present-day.


[The Sons of Seth view] is one which was advocated by Saint Augustine, the Catholic Bishop of Hippo. He rejected the concept of the fallen host having committed fornication with women. In his early fifth century book The City of God, he advanced the theory that "the sons of God" simply referred to the genealogical line of Seth, who were committed to preserving the true worship of God. He interpreted Genesis 6 to mean that the offspring of Adam through Seth were "the sons of God," and the offspring of Adam through Cain were "the daughters of men." He wrote that the problem was that the family of Seth had interbred with the family of Cain, intermingling the bloodlines and corrupting the pure religion. This view has become the dominant one among most modern biblical scholars. [8]

Remember that it was also Augustine (in his famous book The City of God) who embraced and advocated for the allegorical interpretation of much of the Bible (instead of a literal hermeneutic). Although much of his allegorization was aimed at reinterpreting prophetic portions of scripture, he also used this method to interpret passages that he found uncomfortable or dissatisfying. His views were then embraced by the Catholic Church at large, and the Sons of Seth view became the mainstream interpretation going into the Middle Ages.


Even the great Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin failed to reexamine this error, and consequentially, this view found its way into the teachings of the Protestant churches. Most of the denominations that are an outworking of the Reformation still hold to this view, stemming from the Catholic tradition that the Reformers failed to reexamine. [9] So, unfortunately, the Sons of Seth view is still widely taught in churches today, with many people simply being unaware that any alternative even exists.


Let’s now review thirteen key points (many of which we’ve already touched upon) that highlight the problems with the Sethite theory and summarize why this view should be rejected.


1.) The text simply doesn’t say what the Sons of Seth view would require. Substantial liberties must be taken with the literal text to propose the “Sethite” view. In the Old Testament, the term “sons of God” is never used to refer to human beings, and certainly never to “believers” or “the righteous.” Interpreting it to mean “righteous sons of Seth” is based on subjective inference, not the text.


2.) Seth was not God, and Cain was not Adam. The “Daughters of Adam” does not mean the descendants of Cain, but rather, the whole human race is clearly intended. It is obvious from the text that these daughters were not limited to a particular family or subset, but were, indeed, from (all) the “benoth ha adam”, or the “daughters of Adam”. Interpreting it to mean “daughters of Cain” is based on subjective inference, not the text.


3.) There is no Biblical mention of “daughters of God” or “sons of Adam”. Were the sons of Seth only attracted to the daughters of Cain? Were the daughters of Seth so unattractive? In other words, why does it only go one way with the genders (only sons of Seth with daughters of Cain and not the other way around)?


4.) The concept of separate “lines” itself is suspect and contrary to scripture. There is no Biblical suggestion that the lines of Seth and Cain kept themselves separate, nor were even instructed to. The injunction to remain separate was given much later, and was given to Israel upon entry into Canaan (an area that the Bible tells us happened to be filled with Nephilim descendants, according to Numbers 13:33).


5.) The inferred godliness of Seth’s descendants cannot be substantiated. There is no evidence that the line of Seth was godly. To the contrary, the son of Seth himself was Enosh, about whom there is textual evidence indicating that rather than having a reputation for righteousness, he instead seems to have initiated the profaning of the name of God. Genesis 4:26 is likely mistranslated in many English Bibles; According to virtually every early Jewish source (for example, Targum of Onkelos, Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, Kimchi, Rashi, Maimonides, et. al.), Enosh initiated the profaning of God, not “calling upon” God as many translations render it. The early Christian scholar Jerome also testified that the Jews of his day believed this as well. [10] So, there is no evidence that Seth’s line was godly – but to the contrary, there is Biblical evidence that his own son actually warranted special mention in the Genesis record for his wickedness in profaning God.


6.) The inferred wickedness of Cain’s descendants cannot be substantiated. Cainites were not necessarily wicked. Yes, as we know, Cain murdered his brother, but when looking at his genealogy, it is clear that his descendants had the name of God (El) in their names (“Mehujael” and “Methusael” as we see in Gen. 4:18). It is possible that Cain was a repentant believer! At the very least, we don’t know for sure, and to imply that all of his descendants were godless is reading into the text instead of drawing out from the text.


7.) What made Noah’s genealogy in Genesis 6:9 so distinctive? If he's described as being “unblemished” in this passage, what is everyone else “blemished” by? Proponents of the Sons of Seth theory are forced to believe that if separation is the issue here, then everyone else on the planet was “corrupted” by the intermarrying of so-called “believers” and “unbelievers”, which caused God to destroy the planet in a worldwide Flood! Think about that for a moment. That is the “Sunday-school” level of Bible interpretation that causes so many to view God as a cruel mass-murderer.


8.) If you assume the Sons of Seth theory is true, then who are the Nephilim? In other words, a believer marrying an unbeliever and then having children doesn’t produce giants! Their offspring isn’t going to be genetically distinctive! From where then did this unique group called the Nephilim originate? And how are they then also found inhabiting the Land of Canaan after the Flood? Even if you accept that there were so-called “righteous sons of Seth” and “wicked daughters of Cain” living as distinct groups before the Flood, you of course cannot believe they could still be around after the Flood. So again, what produced the post-Flood Nephilim giants? The Sons of Seth view has no satisfactory answer for this. And again, this simplistic Sethite view is another cause for people to view God as some sort of genocidal ethnic-cleanser, as the Israelites were given instructions to wipe out entire people groups in Canaan.


9.) Who are the angels that are described in Job 4:18 – which describes a certain group of angels as being charged with “folly” (in the KJV)? Since the Bible self-interprets that “folly” is an antiquated way of referring to illicit sexual activity (cf. Genesis 34:1-2, 7; Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 19:22-23; 2 Samuel 13:1-2; 11-12) then this passage in Job clearly supports the angel view of Genesis 6.


10.) Given the Sons of Seth theory, who then are the imprisoned angels described in 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude? Here, we have three clear New Testament confirmations of the angel view of Genesis 6 (to be described in a future article). If the Sethite view is correct, what did these angels do to get imprisoned, and where does the Bible tell us about this? The authors of these passages wrote them assuming their audiences were well aware of the context. The only context provided earlier in the Bible is the Genesis 6 story, which was well-known by not only the Jewish culture, but all ancient cultures worldwide. Proponents of the “Sethite” theory have nothing to which they can ascribe these New Testament passages.


11.) All of the ancient Greek and Hebrew sources are in agreement that the Nephilim were the offspring of angels and women. What evidence can those who believe in the Sons of Seth theory use to refute this unanimous agreement? And why does the Sons of Seth view only seem to date back to Julius Africanus at the earliest (who lived during the second and third centuries AD)? [11]


12.) How could a God who calls all people to repentance, and who is willing to forgive even the most depraved sinners and cultures (think Ninevah in the book of Jonah) issue forth mandates to systematically wipe out certain tribes, as in Canaan? God judges nations, but Scripturally, only seems to order their complete annihilation when His natural order is violated in a way that threatens His ultimate plan to save mankind.


13.) All of the world’s ancient cultures share similar stories of gods, angels, star people, etc., coming to earth early on in history and mating with women. How is this story universally agreed upon if it was really just wicked people marrying righteous people?


In sum, these thirteen points completely dismantle the Sons of Seth view of Genesis 6:4. When proponents of this theory make their case, they do not and cannot provide scriptural support or exegesis in the way we have throughout this article series. In fact, all three of our articles on this subject up to this point have been solely focused on the proper scriptural exegesis of Genesis 6:4.


Proponents of the Sethite view do, however, offer several claims that are intended to puncture the angel view. We address these objections in our study "The Identity Of The Nephilim".


 

[1] Steve Schmutzer, “Who are the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis Chapter 6? – Part 3,” June 26, 2018, RaptureForums.com. (https://www.raptureforums.com/bible-study/who-are-the-sons-of-god-in-genesis-chapter-6-part-3/ - Retrieved 4/19/21)

[2] NASB Lexicon, entry “Genesis 6:4,” BibleHub.com. (https://biblehub.com/lexicon/genesis/6-4.htm - Retrieved 4/18/21)

[3] John N.D. Kelly, article “Apologist,” Oct. 20, 2021, in Encyclopedia Britannica. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apologist - Retrieved 8/19/21)

[4] Bryan T. Huie, “Sons of God,” DouglasJacoby.com (https://www.douglasjacoby.com/sons-of-god-by-bryan-t-huie/ - Retrieved 4/18/21)

[5] Schmutzer.

[6] Chuck Missler, “Textual Controversy: Mischievous Angels or Sethites?” Aug. 1, 1997, Koinonia House. (https://khouse.org/articles/1997/110/ - Retrieved 4/18/21)

[7] Julius Africanus, Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (https://ccel.org/ccel/juliusafricanus/extant_fragments/anf06.v.v.ii.html - Retrieved 5/14/21)

[8] Huie.

[9] Lee Anderson Jr., “Is the “Sons of God” Passage in Genesis 6 Adapted Pagan Mythology?” Answers Research Journal, 8 (2015):261–271. (https://answersingenesis.org/genesis/is-sons-of-god-passage-genesis-6-adapted-pagan-mythology/ - Retrieved 4/14/21)

[10] Appendix 21 To The Companion Bible, “Enos (Genesis 4:26.) ‘Calling On The Name Of The Lord,’” TheRain.org. (https://therain.org/appendixes/app21.html - Retrieved 4/22/21)

[11] Anderson Jr.


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