Why Do Some People Think “Sons of God” Mean Fallen Angels?
When one looks at the phrase “sons of God” in Genesis 6, it is the Hebrew words bene ha ‘elohim. Bene means “sons” and Elohim is one of the names of God that He has revealed to us in the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, Elohim is used in Genesis 1:1. But this phrase translates as “sons of God”.
From here, people logically decided to look in the Old Testament to see if this Hebrew phrase is used elsewhere. And it is in three places in the book of Job: Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7. There has been some debate among commentators over the meaning of “sons of God” in Job 1 and 2 – whether they are angels or godly men. But if one turns to Job 38:7, it says:
When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Clearly, “sons of God” in this instance is not in reference to godly people since this is speaking in the context of creation week and specifically during the phase where God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7). Let’s face it, when God created the foundations of the earth (be it Day 1 [creation of earth] or Day 3 [solid foundation of land] of Creation Week), man did not exist to shout for joy!
Commentators are almost unanimous that “sons of God” is a metaphorical use of angels or otherwise heavenly beings in this context. And this is consistent as angels are often spoken of as luminaries (e.g., Judges 5:20; Daniel 8:10; Jude 13; Revelation 1:20).
Some copies of the ancient Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek about 200-250 B.C. called the Alexandrine Septuagint (or LXX) translated Genesis 6:2 (6:3 in the LXX) to say:
that the angels of God having seen the daughters of men that they were beautiful, took to themselves wives of all whom they chose.
From this point forward, many Jews and early Christians reading the LXX followed suit with the “sons of God” being fallen angels in this context. In Scripture when angels materialized such as those at Sodom, they appeared as men. These are the primary reasons why people commonly say that the “sons of God” are fallen angels in Genesis 6.
So why doesn’t everyone buy into the fallen angels arguments for the “sons
of God being angels then?
Using poetry as the absolute to interpret literal history?
First, there is the issue of interpreting literal history in
light of a poetic book. Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fuz Rana (as well as their
ministry Reasons to Believe) are
well-known for their tact at taking poetic/metaphorical passages in the Bible
as the baseline to reinterpret historical accounts.
Mr. Tim Chaffey and Dr. Jason Lisle refute this notion in the book Old Earth Creationism on Trial, when
“It has become popular lately for old-earthers to try and use
poetic sections of the Bible to override the plain teachings of historical
sections. Since a straightforward reading of Genesis does not support their
view, some old-earth creationists hope to reinforce their position by
selectively quoting poetic passages like Psalms or Proverbs. Hugh Ross states:
. . .
not all the answers are in Genesis. And in particular, there’s three of them: Proverbs 8,
and Job 38 and 39
that actually take you through each of the six creation days of Genesis 1.
And when you do that (integrate those four in particular) you discover that
it’s not possible to take that word “yom” in any context other than a long
period of time. (“Heart and Soul” BBC radio broadcast. (Hugh Ross is
interviewed by Eugenie Scott.) Accessed March 30, 2007. 19:46–20:12. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/heart_and_soul.shtml>.
But, when read in context, there is nothing in these poetic
sections of Scripture that would contradict a straightforward reading of
Genesis: that God did indeed create in six literal days. After all, the same
God that inspired Genesis also inspired these sections of the Bible. But since
poetic books, like the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, contain figures of speech,
metaphors, and other non-literal imagery, many people feel a greater liberty to
interpret these passages as they wish, rather than according to the standard
rules of biblical interpretation. Some old-earth creationists have even
mislabeled poetic passages as “accounts of creation,” presumably in an attempt
to revise the biblical history by pulling certain poetic sections out of
In one of his more recent books, Hugh Ross lists 21 “major
creation accounts in the Bible.” (Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado
Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), p. 66.) Many of the passages are from poetic
sections of the Bible; four of the listed passages are from the Psalms, two are
from Job. (For that matter, many of the narrative passages Ross cites do not
pertain to the initial creation at all, such as Genesis 6–9; these
verses describe the Flood.) Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also included.
Sections of the Bible such as the Psalms are not “accounts” at all, but rather
poetic songs of praise to God. They are just as inspired and true as the rest
of God’s Word; however, they require knowledge of the historic narrative
sections of the Bible in order to fully understand and properly interpret the
One of the most important rules of hermeneutics is that the
unclear should be interpreted in light of the clear; therefore, poetic sections
using symbolism and literary imagery should be interpreted in light of the more
straightforward historical narratives. This is not to say that poetic sections
never shed light on narratives; they can. But they should never be used to
override the clear teaching of historical narratives.”
Essentially, there exists a problem of taking interpretive poetic and metaphorical passages as the absolute literal standard and reinterpreting historical narratives. This problem persists in the instance of taking Job 38, which has a clearly allegorical/metaphorical nature and reinterpreting Genesis 6, a historical narrative. Such a fallacious methodology should be questioned. We should be able to get our understanding of Job 38 due to historical accounts and not vice versa. Let’s view the context of Job 38:
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you
5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you
know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who
laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together, And all
the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 "Or who shut in the sea with doors, When
it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick
darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars
11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’
It should be notable that there is immense imagery here as God is speaking to Job. This is not a historical narrative. Job 38:7 appears to be in reference to some form of heavenly host, singing during creation week being called “morning stars” or as “sons of God” shouting for joy. That is if this interpretation is correct, which seems proper. Even so, by the power of God even stones can cry out (Luke 19:40), bones can speak (Ezekiel 37:1-11), donkeys can talk (Numbers 22:21-33), and so on! For all we know, the stars really did sing! This is something to ponder, although I do think contextually this is angelic host in this instance.
But the point at hand is, should Job 38 be interpreted in light of Genesis or Genesis in light of Job 38? In other words, should historic narrative supersede poetic, metaphorical, imagery or vice versa? Do you realize that Satan tried using this methodology when tempting Christ: using poetic passages to supersede historical narrative accounts? Christ pointed out this error.
Consider the historical situation between Satan and Christ in Matthew 4. Christ was fasting and hungry. When Satan tried tempting Him, Jesus appealed to an historical book of the Bible (Deuteronomy 8:3) that was in the context of hunger regarding the Israelites and the manna God provided for them. As a response, Satan quoted from a Psalm (91:11-12) to refute Christ’s use of Deuteronomy. Christ then used a passage that teaches the correct theology about His current situation that is built on another historical account (again referring to history in Deuteronomy 6:16).
Essentially, Satan tried to counter Christ by trying to reinterpret the situation by taking a Psalm that was metaphorical in nature to supersede the straightforward interpretation that Christ used which was not of metaphorical nature but historical narrative. Of course, Christ saw through this and re-quoted from Deuteronomy again (historical narrative passage).
We need to have extra care when someone uses a song/allegory/metaphor/ etc. to reinterpret historical narratives, because that is exactly what Satan did to confuse the situation. Do Psalms and Job have their place? Absolutely; but it should not be as a means of taking metaphors as the absolute over literal historical narratives. Rather, it would be better to have looked to other historical narratives in Scripture first so that you can better reason from the clear to the unclear passages.
But should this interpretation based on Job 38:7 be used to override historical narratives as to their meaning in Genesis 6 with the “sons of God”? Therein lies the problem. It would be better to interpret historical narratives with common uses in other historical narratives (like what Jesus did) and not forget about the New Testament where God gives His sufficient and complete Word.
Should “sons of God” in Job 38 which seems to be talking of holy, unfallen, angels, be used to interpret Genesis 6:2 as fallen angels?
If this is talking of angelic or heavenly beings, then it is obviously prior to sin which would have occurred after Day 6 of creation because God declared all things “very good” at the end of creation week (Genesis 1:31)—and sin is not very good! Deuteronomy 32:4 confirms that God’s creation during Creation Week was indeed perfect since every work of God is perfect.
So “sons of God” in Job 38:7 is used of holy angels or holy heavenly host at best in this context. But anytime we interpret something in a psalm or metaphor, we need to be cautious because this is after all, how WE, as fallible, sinful, human beings perceive it.
Furthermore, there is a big theological problem here if we go ahead and grant that “sons of God” are angels in this instance. Job 38:7 is referring to godly angels, so there is a big jump to say that ungodly angels are also called “sons of God”. Is Satan, for instance, rightly called the “son of God”? May it never be! Such a godly title should not be the inheritance of the ungodly who have forfeited their right to the title.
Do we call ungodly people godly titles like “sons of God” or “children of God”? If such a title is transferable upon high treason from God (as fallen angels and Satan have done), then every man [who has sinned and not repented] should also retain that godly title; for we were in Adam (Hebrews 7:9-10) when He sinned and he was originally called the “son of God” upon his creation (Luke 3:38).
Biblically, are unbelievers counted among the “sons of God”? Not according to the New Testament (e.g., 1 John 3:8-10)! Neither were the scribes and Pharisees in John 8:44 where their title had become sons of their “father the devil”. There is a sharp contrast between ungodly people who are termed “sons of this world/age”, “sons of disobedience”, or “sons of the wicked one” vs. those godly people who are “sons of light”, “sons of the kingdom”, “sons of the resurrection”, and of course, “sons of God” (e.g., Matthew 13:38, Luke 16:8, Luke 20:34-36, John 12:36, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:5). There is also a sharp contrast between those born of God and sinners who are dubbed the “children of the devil” (1 John 3:8-10).
Furthermore, if one is going to interpret Genesis with Job’s poetry, they should say that godly angels were marrying women. Of course, such a thing is impossible among the godly and obedient angels according to Jesus (Matthew 22:30).
Poor translation of LXX in Genesis
Another problem presents itself. It is a common misconception that the Alexandrine LXX translated “sons of God” as angels. This is a common argument presented by fallen angel adherents.
However, if you look closely, the LXX translates “sons” [Hebrew word ben] as “angels”—not “sons of God” as angels. This is a serious mistake by modern commentators. Consider if the translator kept this hermeneutic throughout the rest of Genesis. Noah would have begot three angels (e.g., sons) in Genesis 6:10. Adam would have begotten angels (Genesis 5:4).
The LXX not only made this error, but the surrounding context failed to accurately translate the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis 5 immediately prior to Genesis 6:1-4. If you tally these inflated ages up in the LXX, then Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, would have been living over a decade after the Flood without being on the Ark!
In some cases, the LXX translator(s) for Genesis had also bought into the common Greek philosophies of the day. Consider, the translation of raqiya in Genesis 1:6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 17, and 20. The LXX translates it as στερεωμα or stereoma in Greek. And from this, we get the word “firmament” in some English translations. This was derived from the Latin Vulgate which used firmamentum which itself is a translation of the LXX’s stereoma. Essentially, stereoma, firmamentum, or firmament means something solid or firm but raqiya is something more akin to being stretched or an expanse. The NASB translates it as expanse (see below):
1:6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,
and let it separate the waters from the waters."
1:7 God made the expanse, and separated
the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the
expanse; and it was so.
1:8 God called the expanse heaven. And
there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
1:14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to
separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and
for days and years;
1:15 and let them be for lights in the
expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so.
Genesis 1:17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,
Many other translations, going back to Hebrew in the Old Testament, follow suit and translate raqiya as expanse (e.g., ESV, NET, YLT, etc.) So why did the LXX translators use stereoma meaning something solid?
Here is why. The common Greek philosophy of the day was that the heavens were basically solid and the stars were largely stationary in it. The sky was viewed by the Greeks and those they influenced as a predominantly solid/firm fixture above the earth. Certain objects could move through this solid sky but they did it slowly, which is why it was seen as a solid dome—or more properly a series of hard spheres. The Jewish translators bought into the Greek philosophies of the day and used that to reinterpret Genesis, or more properly to “retranslate” it to another meaning instead of expanse.
Why is this important? Keep in mind other views that the Greeks held to. They believed in “demi-gods” which were the children of their pagan gods who came down from heavenly places and married or had offspring by mortal women. Sound familiar? Having a Jewish translator use “angels” instead of demi-gods, shows how the Jews of the day were influenced by the their Greek conquerors.
Historically this is nothing new. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelite nation was known to walk away from God’s plain Word and be influenced by the pagans around them. How often did they engage in Baal worship, sacrifice to Molech, set up high places to foreign and pagan “gods” After Moses presented the Law and the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they began deviating from God and serving false gods, idols, and following false beliefs. Even Solomon’s wisdom couldn’t keep him from sacrificing to pagan gods as he was led astray (1 Kings 11:7-8, Nehemiah 13:26).
When they crucified Christ, the Jews in unison rejected God as their king and said they had no king but Caesar—placing a pagan Emperor Tiberius above the Creator! Even the modern Jewish calendar today is influenced by Babylonian paganism from the days of Captivity (e.g. Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god, for instance, is one month on the Jewish Calendar). Much of the Old Testament is calling Israelites and their leaders out for such deviant sin to return to God and His Word.
We need to realize that the Jewish translator of the LXX was influenced by the Greek religion of the day. But like any translation, the LXX needs to be judged by original language texts. Clearly, the LXX cannot be trusted as the absolute standard on this issue of translation of “sons” as “angels” of God in Genesis 6 but should itself be subjected to Hebrew texts.
The use of “sons of God” by the Jews in their literature elsewhere
shows this title being used of people—not
exclusively of angels. The apocryphal literature, though not Scripture and
written in Greek near in time to the LXX, does provide a valuable understanding
of events from ~400 B.C. to the birth of Christ. This Jewish literature
mentions the “sons of God” in Wisdom 18:13 as humans. So a Jewish understanding
of “sons of God” is by no means limited to Job 38’s interpretive meaning of
angels and the LXX’s use of angels for “sons” in Genesis 6.
The foundations of the earth are either discussing the day the earth was
created (Day 1) or potentially the day God made dry land. In either case, man
was not around yet.
The Vaticanus text of the LXX that Brenton primarily used still translated this
phrase as “sons of God”.
Greek was the common trade language in that time due to Alexander the Great,
the Greek Macedonian, who conquered most of these lands years before. Josephus,
for example a Jewish historian near the time of Christ also appealed to this
viewpoint as he used the LXX quite often.
you would like to see this from their own words please watch their
presentations on reinterpreting Genesis at the Fullerton debate, entitled: A Question of Age: Conference on Creation,
the Bible and Science. http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/A-Question-of-Age-Conference-on-Creation-the-Bible-and-Science,5633,229.aspx
16:8 "So the master commended the
unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are
more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (NAS)
Younker and R. Davidson, The Myth Of The Solid Heavenly Dome: Another Look At
The Hebrew Raqia, Andrews University Seminary Studies, No. 1, pp. 125-147,