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The phrase “sons of God” is found eleven times in scripture. Five of those usages occur in the OT; six of them in the NT. The question that arises is: “Does the phrase always refer to the same group of people?” In other words, can we assume that “sons of God” refers to the same group every time we find it, or does the context in which it's found determine its meaning? The purpose of this document is to provide a brief interpretive analysis of the phrase and arrive at sound biblical conclusions.
We begin with the easiest task. The phrase “sons of God” in the NT always and without fail refers to those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, have been born again by God's grace and have a relationship with God as their spiritual Father. The references are:
(1) John 1:12 – God grants the authority to believers to become the SONS OF GOD.
(2) Romans 8:14 – Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the SONS OF GOD.
(3) Romans 8:19 – The SONS OF GOD will one day see their full manifestation as sons.
(4) Philippians 2:15 – The SONS OF GOD are meant to be lights in the world, harmless and blameless.
(5) 1 John 3:1 – The Father has bestowed his love upon believers by calling them SONS OF GOD.
(6) 1 John 3:2 – Believers are SONS OF GOD now and will one day be as he is in his glory!
Reference to Adam
Before examining the five “sons of God” usages in the OT, it's instructive to understand that Luke, in his gospel, refers to Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). This was an applicable designation before Adam sinned. As the direct creation of God, he walked with God in innocence, enjoyed spiritual fellowship. While the phrase “born again” did not apply to Adam in his pre-Fall innocence, we can safely say he was a “son of God” inasmuch as he was the creative handiwork of God.
In analyzing the OT passages, we begin at Job 38:7. In this context, we find God asking Job if he can explain the unseen wonders of creation when, in fact, he was nowhere to be found when God laid the foundations. He asked Job where he was “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” If we assume God created these “stars” and “sons” on the same day, it must have been the fourth day. The “sons of God” here refers to angels—all of them in their first estate. While the angels are distinct from Adam (son of God) and NT believers (sons of God), they do share in common the fact they ALL represent God's creative handiwork. In this regard, they can be said to be his sons.
It's worth noting Job and Genesis were the first two OT books. Many scholars believe Job lived in the Patriarchal period, perhaps pre-Flood and certainly pre-Mosaic. If these two books were written in chronological proximity, it explains why the phrase “sons of God” only appears in these two OT books.
In the first chapters of Job, we find two distinct occasions when the “sons of God” came together to present themselves before the Lord. Satan came with them to present himself (Job 1:6; 2:1). There are two possible (viable) interpretations for the “sons of God” in these verses:
The elect angels – the “sons of God” in 38:7 includes ALL the angels in its creation context. If the “sons of God” in 1:6 and 2:1 refers to angels, they are “elect” angels AFTER the Fall. The text may give us a brief glimpse into the worship habits of angels. The scripture gives us few clues as to why Satan would come among them except to resist them (see Zechariah 3:1).
Yahweh worshipers – the context cites Job's activity in offering sacrifice for his sons (1:5). In the very next verse, we find the “sons of God” presenting themselves before the Lord (1:6). In 1:8, the Lord asks Satan if he has considered Job. The phrases “there was a day” (1:6; 2:1) and “in the earth” (1:7,8; 2:2,3) suggest an earthly venue for these “sons of God” coming together, not a heavenly one. If a reference to Yahweh worshipers, the context strongly suggests Job was one of the “sons of God” who came together with his brethren. There's biblical evidence to support the fact that Satan was there to accuse them before their God (see Revelation 12:10).
The “sons of God” in 1:6; 2:1 are identical groups. The “sons of God” in 38:7 are angels in their first estate. If we take the “sons of God” in 1:6; 2:1 to be Yahweh worshipers, the apparent contradiction with the angels of 38:7 is resolved by seeing both groups as the handiwork of God. In that regard, both groups are the sons of God. If one maintains the “sons of God” are the same angels of 38:7, no violence is done to the text. An argument can be made for both positions although the second is better supported.
We conclude our analysis by considering the last two OT references in Genesis 6:2,4. Thus far we have seen that “sons of God” can refer to either angels or believers. The “sons of God” who saw “the daughters of men” and came in unto them clearly represents one of these two groups. Interpreters disagree on the meaning.
Some believe these “sons of God” represent the godly line of Seth, who (1) approached God after the example of Abel, (2) called upon the name of the Lord after the example of Enoch, and (3) abandoned the idea of exclusivity with regard to marrying a fellow Yahweh worshiper (believer).
Others believe the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are fallen angels. They allege these fallen angels cohabited with the “daughters of men” and polluted the human race, producing “giants” (freaks) in the process. The corruption of humanity by angelic intrusion ultimately led to God destroying all but eight souls by the Flood. This argument is impossible to make for the following reasons:
(1) The phrase “sons of God” is never used of anything ungodly in its nature, whether human or angelic. Fallen angels are demonic spirits. In no biblical sense can we call them the “sons of God”!
(2) If the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are fallen angels, why are they still called “sons of God” and when did they fall? If fallen angels, it signifies a second wave of angelic rebellion, the first coming with Lucifer's rebellion and the second when these “sons of God” fell by their lust for women.
The biblical evidence supports just one angelic rebellion, which took place under Lucifer at some point between Genesis 2 and 3. The once-unified angelic band broke into two factions, the elect angels and the fallen angels. There's no biblical support for the notion that elect angels can fall, which is what happened if Genesis 6 refers to fallen angels.
(3) Since angels, including fallen ones, do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25), have no ability to procreate and possess no human DNA, from whence did these fallen angels acquire the ability to impregnate women and produce offspring?
(4) The text of Genesis 6 does NOT directly link “giants” (nephilim) with the sexual union of the “sons of God” with “daughters of men.” It simply mentions “giants” in addition to “men of reknown (fame)” in describing the chaotic condition of the human race. The giant Goliath and his four brothers were also nephilim, or genetic anomalies. Fallen angels had no more to do with Goliath than they did the giants of Genesis 6.
The “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are inarguably those in the godly line of Seth, whose indiscriminate marriages with the ungodly over time polluted the godly line. The spiritual kinship that was to be the primary allure for a marriage partner was supplanted by physical attributes without regard for proper worship. As fewer men offered up sacrifices, called upon the name of the Lord and walked with God, the earth became more violent and wicked. By the time God sent the Flood, the number of the “sons of God” had been reduced to Noah, the last righteous man standing. The spiritual tragedy of mixed marriages is the great truth taught in Genesis 6. A “fallen angels” interpretation for the “sons of God” obscures this great truth and introduces a doctrine that is untenable.