Forbidden Marriages

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Gen. 6:1–2).

- Genesis 6:1–2

Undoubtedly, Moses describes the devotion of men like Enoch (Gen. 5:24) in order to relate basic facts about primeval peoples. Yet if we do not consider how this story applies to later generations of the church, we do not do justice to Moses’ intent. Enoch motivates our piety today; he illustrates the destiny of those who obediently walk coram Deo, before the face of God (Deut. 5:32–33).

If chapter 5 reveals the rewards faithful covenant keepers can expect, the first eight verses of chapter 6 warn us about the consequences covenant breakers will find. Today’s passage begins a narrative that has been the subject of intense speculation throughout history. Therefore, with many others in history we ask, “What does it mean that ‘the sons of God’ took ‘daughters of men’ as wives?”

Many interpretations have been proposed. Some think the “sons of God” are angels since the same phrase refers to the heavenly court elsewhere in Scripture (see Job 1:6). Ancient pseudepigraphical texts like 1 Enoch, a favorite of the Dead Sea sect, take this position, and some believe 2 Peter 2:4 assumes it as well.

However, there are compelling reasons to reject this understanding. “Son” need not refer to an angel; Moses also uses it for the nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22). Moreover, it is hard to conceive of beings as different as angels and humans producing children (Gen. 6:4), especially when this idea seems more mythological than biblical.

The immediate context of 6:1–8 provides the best reason to affirm instead the traditional Christian interpretation of these verses held by John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and R.C. Sproul, among many others. Genesis 4:17–26 emphasizes the wickedness of Cain’s line while chapter 5 singles out the devout members of Seth’s family (vv. 21–24; 28–31). With this in mind, and because “son of God” can be used of the covenant nation, we should probably identify the “sons of God” with the Sethites and the “daughters of men” with the Cainites. Though not without its difficulties, this view maintains that just before the flood, the covenant line began intermarrying with pagan women, bowing steadily to rampant evil (6:5).

Coram Deo

We cannot assume all of the Sethites who intermarried had true faith, but if they did, the disastrous results of their marriage to unbelievers confirm the stories and commands that warn us against this elsewhere in Scripture (for example, 1 Kings 11:1–8). If you are dating somebody who is not a believer, it is time to reconsider your relationship. If you are married to a non-believer, you may not initiate a divorce. Instead, pray for their salvation (1 Cor. 7:12–16).

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 23:3
Judges 16
1 Kings 16:29–34
2 Cor. 6:14–7:1

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