Weren’t the Earliest Views of “Sons of God” Almost Always Leaning to Angels?
B. Hodge, Biblical Authority Ministries, November 12, 2020
It is often pointed out that the earliest records about the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 by the Jews were viewed as angels (predominantly but not exclusively). The earliest we have is about 250-200 B.C. as shown in the deviations in the LXX Jewish translation from Hebrew into Greek.
Nevertheless, Jews writing in the Apocrypha, though not Scripture, also yielded “sons of God” as people/men from 400 B.C. to the opening pages of Matthew. So even the earliest Jewish thought on this was actually split.
One thing needs to be noted up front. All the recorded views of the “sons of God” originated long after the original events took place by nearly 1500 years. So if one were to argue that the true account is the one view that showed up slightly earlier than another, this would be fallacious. Consider:
The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17 NKJV
Think of it this way: we are disconnected from Christ’s earthly ministry by about 2,000 years. Imagine if someone today published that Jesus had orange ears and began promoting that idea. And a few others buy into it too. Since no one else commented on His ears up to this point and this would essentially be the first reference, does this mean this is the truth—that Jesus had orange ears? By no means.
The earliest we have been able to determine anyone’s viewpoint on the Genesis “sons of God” was with some copies of the LXX that was originally translated about 200-250 B.C. This is about 2,250 years after the Flood (where the original issue of the “sons of God” was well before the Flood). Even from Moses's record of it in Genesis, it is still very disconnected.
Also, consider that it has been well over 1400 years since Moses penned these words in Genesis 6 as well. To make things worse, the Jews, in their history had walked away from the Lord on numerous occasions and in one grossly negligent instance, even had to find a copy of the Scriptures (in 2 Kings 22:8-13) because no one knew God’s Word anymore! Furthermore, the Jews had been conquered and put into captivity and the Old Temple had been destroyed with many precious documents and items that were carried away.
For the Lord was not pleased with the Jews for quite some time now. And the Lord sent them no prophet for 400 years and the LXX translation occurred in the midst of this time and therefore, was not overseen by a prophet. Don’t get me wrong, the LXX is very useful, but not inerrant and not without its problems.
The Jews, if they would have understood the Old Testament better, should have been expecting Jesus Christ—for the whole Old Testament points to Him. But due to many errant theologies among the Jews of that day, be it Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or others, most missed Jesus Christ when He stood amongst them and had it preached by apostles.
So how good has the Jewish record and transmission of events, theology, people, and angels been in the translation of the LXX and their traditions? It is not the best. Even Jesus disputed with them over their traditions and defended the Word of God that had been distorted by traditions (Matthew 15:1-6, Mark 7:1-13). But due to the translation of “sons” as angels in the LXX in some copies, this influenced many reading Greek to follow suit with this poor translation, simply because they didn’t know better.
But take note that some copies of the LXX did retain “sons of God”, not “angels of God.” It is possible that the original retained the “sons of God” and later this change was made due to the fallen angel theology during copying. The earliest copies we have of the LXX is around the 4th century A.D. So somewhere in these 600 years or so of Greek copies of the LXX, we find that some had the change of “sons” to “angels” or vice versa where someone had corrected it in accordance with the Hebrew text.
So why did some Jews feel the need to change “sons” to “angels”? Though we may never know for certain, one possible reason is that a “son” carries the weight of the father. For example, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Jews wanted to stone Him for claiming equality with God (e.g., John 10:29-39).
A “son” of God would be near blasphemy to many Jews during this intertestamental period (because of some deviant theology). So rendering “sons” as metaphorical for “angels” was more acceptable in their theology. If this were the case, why didn’t the LXX do this with the “sons of God” in Job? This would become a Jewish theology that is elevated in stature to a position above the plain meaning of the Word of God.
Why the shift from fallen angels?
Beginning about A.D 400, we find a major shift in theology from the fallen angels view to fallen men views? This view persisted through the Reformation and until modern times. But why?
Consider that many LXX copies translated “sons” as “angels” in Genesis 6:4 from about 200 B.C. until about A.D. 400. So the average reader, without consulting the Hebrew text, would have naturally thought this to be angels because the common trade language that dominated the area was Greek during much of this time.
However, Koine Greek was rapidly becoming obsolete by about A.D. 400. Most readers were already utilizing translations that were in Latin, the common vulgar tongue (pre-Latin Vulgate translations) throughout the Roman Empire. But there existed no standardized translation yet. Then Jerome, the famous scholar, was commissioned to translate the Bible into Latin for an official translation.
Jerome began translating the Bible from original language texts but still consulting translations like the LXX (OT: Hebrew and some Aramaic and NT: Koine Greek) into Latin. This was completed about A.D. 400. In it, Jerome translated the “sons” properly as “sons”, instead of as “angels” in Genesis 6:4.
So the translational bias was now removed. Naturally, people were not reading into the text that angels bred with women anymore. And the context of godly men given in the lineage immediately prior to Genesis 6 was now read naturally.
Few Christians felt the need to take the Jewish myth that had persisted for so long. Hence, the fallen angel view died a quick death with a more accurate translation. Even influential theologians of the time (e.g., Augustine) began promoting the view that “sons of God” were just as they were in most of the Scripture, godly men.
But this a lesson to learn. An errant theology, imposed on Scripture in translation can cause false belief to linger for a long time if not checked. The error of the firmament has persisted much longer because Jerome also took the Greek view of the heavens being solid and put it into the Latin Vulgate (firmamentum) which was the dominant translation that influenced early English translations which made the same error (firmament). Only in recent times have people really gone back to the Hebrew for raqia to arrive at expanse, which deviates from the Greek view of the heavens to a better understanding of the sky.