Q: At the beginning of Genesis, chapter six, the expressions “sons of God” and “daughters of men” are used. What is meant by these expressions, and why would Moses have used these designations?
A: Bible interpreters have put forth different views. Some have speculated that “sons of God” means angels, since Scripture elsewhere uses the phrase to refer to angels (e.g., Job 1:6 in the Hebrew). But no place in the Bible hints of angels having sexual relations with humans. In fact, Jesus ruled out this possibility when He described the angels as being “sexless.” For when the Sadducees questioned Jesus about the resurrection, He answered in part by saying: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Admittedly, Jesus was speaking about holy angels, yet we have no reason to think that demonic angels have had sexual relations with humans either. The context of Genesis 6:2 does not allude to angels-whether good or bad-as active participants in causing the Flood.
The best explanation applies the phrase “sons of God” to the descendants of Seth. These were the believers, through whom God would fulfill His promise of a Savior-the Offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15). “Sons of God” is used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe those who believe in Jesus Christ as the true Son of God and the Savior of the world. (See Deuteronomy 32:5, John 1:12, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1 and elsewhere.)
The context of the expression “daughters of men” very likely points to the unbelieving descendants of Cain. When “mixed marriages” took place between the believers and the unbelievers, those believers (except for eight people!) lost their precious faith. The influence which believers should have exerted on the unbelievers went in the opposite direction. This is what provoked God’s righteous anger, as described in the following verse: “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years’ ” (Genesis 6:3). Mixed with His righteous judgment upon the world is God’s gracious patience of 120 years during which Noah preached repentance to the people before He sent the flood waters upon the earth.
Why did Moses use these specific phrases? Because the Bible deals with man’s relationship to God, it pleased God to name believers the “sons of God” as Paul does: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. . . and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26, 29b). Just as the daughters of Moab “invited the people to the sacrifice of their gods,” as Balaam had advised them to do (Numbers 25:1-3), so the “daughters of men” used their physical beauty to turn believing men from the faith. Yet four of the eight people saved on the ark were not “daughters of men” but “daughters of God,” that is, believers in the promise of a Savior. The Scriptures also use the term “Daughter of Zion” to describe the Church as it is wedded to Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom (Zechariah 9:9).