I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
We have begun a new series I am entitling, “The Days of Noah.” By way of review, last time we shared a statement of Jesus in the sermon commonly referred to as, “The Olivet Discourse”, where He made (at least to us), a somewhat cryptic statement, when He prophesied, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” [Matthew 24:37 NKJV] As we pointed out last time, Jesus went on to describe the day to day life of people in Noah’s day. How they, “…were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” [Matthew 24:38, 39 NKJV]
As we said last time, many commentators you read after would say that Jesus was warning us to watch out for getting so burdened down and involved in day to day living that we become oblivious to spiritual things, and the day of judgment catch us unaware and unprepared. And, I am certain that in part anyway, Jesus probably was warning us concerning this. However, there is something else at play here I believe we need to understand. Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience. In fact, the gospel of Matthew is the most Jewish of the synoptic gospels (Matthew – Luke), and there has been some evidence surface in recent years suggesting Matthew’s gospel was originally written in Hebrew, and later translated into koine’ (or common) Greek. Now, whether that is the case or not, Jesus certainly was speaking to a Jewish audience when He originally gave this sermon on the Mount of Olives.
It is important for us to understand that the Bible is an eastern book. It is a Jewish book. The message of the Bible was given to about forty Jewish men, over a period of time spanning about one-thousand five-hundred years. This means to properly understand the message of scripture, we have to see through eastern not western eyes. In other words, we need to learn some things about Hebraic (Hebrew or Jewish) hermeneutics. Herman who? Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. A few years ago I was introduced to the concept of how rabbis and Jewish scholars interpret and view scripture (at least the Torah). It can be understood by the acronym: PaRDeS. Interestingly, pardes (Par-days), is the Hebrew word for, paradise. In the Jewish mind, a proper understanding of the Torah and its message, is the way to paradise. At any rate, the four consonants: PRDS, show the four levels that scripture (at least the Torah, and I am inclined to think all scripture), operates on simultaneously.
- Peshat – This is the clear, apparent, and literal meaning of the text.
- Remez – This is the implied meaning of the text.
- Drash – This is the meaning of the text arrived at by comparing scripture with scripture, discussion, and other writings.
- Sod – This is the deep, implied, spiritual, or one could even say mystic application of the text.
It is important to remember that none of the other levels of meaning and understanding, ever replace the peshat, or literal, apparent meaning of a text.
I share all of this to show that there is indeed often more going on in the biblical text than that which is apparent. I believe that is the case in Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:37. I believe Jesus’ original audience would have thought back to bereshit, or the “book of beginnings”, Genesis, and thought about how the, “Days of Noah” were. Last time we looked at this in Genesis 6. Lets go back there by way of review.
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” [Genesis 6:5 – 7 NKJV]
We did a detailed word study of this passage last time, so I won’t take the time to reiterate all of that material here. However, it is clear from this text that the situation in Noah’s day was dire to say the least. I do want you to notice two words in this passage that we did not look at last time.
- Sorry – This is translated variously as, “repented” (KJV), and “regretted” (CJB, ESV, and LEB). All of these translate the Hebrew word, nacham, and it is to be sorry in the literal sense. It also carries the idea of regret, but it has the thought of comfort and compassion in it as well. So, while God regretted creating man, and was deeply grieved by the conditions on the earth, He was also comforted by His plan for man that was going to be carried out through His man Noah and his family.
- Grieved in His heart – This translates the Hebrew, atsab, and in the context of Genesis 6:6, it means to hurt deeply, be grieved, and pained. Yes, human sinfulness literally hurts the heart of God.
The conditions on the earth in Noah’s day were so bad that God vowed to wipe out all human and animal life, with the exception of Noah and his family, and the animals aboard the Ark. Now, this begs the question, what in the world caused this situation? What was so evil, horrible, and disgusting on the earth to move God to take such drastic measures? Some of you of course know the answer. It is found in the first four verses of Genesis 6.
“Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” [Genesis 6:1 – 4 NKJV]
I really don’t want to unpack all of these verses. I do however want to look at some key words. I think it is first important to understand that we are not looking at a continuation of the genealogy of the previous chapter. Verse 1 begins to set up the “why” of the judgment of God that came in the form of the flood. The first verse of chapter 6 gives an overview of the antediluvian (before the flood) age. It is interesting to note that the OT normally refers to the birth of male children when listing a generation. Here it is daughters, and it seems to be in direct contrast to this other group, the Sons of God. “Men” here is the general Hebrew word for mankind, adam (aw-dahm). So, I submit to you we see humanity contrasted here with, well, something else.
It is not difficult to identify the, “daughters of men.” All scholars would agree that we are looking at human women here. The difficulty and the debate arises from trying to identify this second group, “the Sons of God.” Before we examine what this term means, lets take a moment and look at what it does not mean. I submit to you that we are not looking at a group of righteous men, marrying unrighteous women, thus becoming, “unequally yoked.” That is what is taught in the majority of theological seminaries however. That is what I was taught while taking my Bible college training through The Christian Bible Institute. This is widely known as the, “Sethite Theory.”
This teaching regarding the first four verses of Genesis 6, basically says that the, “Sons of God” were the righteous descendants of Adam’s son Seth, whereas the, “Daughters of men” were the unrighteous descendants of Cain. I submit to you this particular view assumes a great deal that is not in the biblical text. Consider,
- In this theory concerning the meaning of Genesis 6:1 – 4, no explanation is given as to why these marriages would produce giants (Hebrew nefal or nephilim)
- It presumes something that is not written in the text. The text says, “…daughters of men (Heb. Adam), not “daughters of Cain”. This would be the daughters of humanity in general, not the daughters of only one line, Cain.
- “Sons of God” does not mean, “Sons of Seth”, that is assumed. “Sons of God” translates the Hebrew, benai ha elohim, and in every other place in the Old Testament it is used it refers to divine beings, never humans.
- The events of Genesis 6:1 – 4 are also spoken of in the non-canonical books of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, and appear in the legends and myths of virtually every ancient culture around the world, including ancient Greece, Egypt, the Hindus, South Sea Islanders, and American Indian, to name a few.
Add to all of this the fact that Seth didn’t have a son until 235 years after creation, and his son Enosh, didn’t have a son until 325 years after creation, yet these marriages began to occur when men began to multiply on the earth, before Seth would have had any sons of marriageable age. So, I think we can rule out the, “Sons of God” being the “Sons of Seth.” Before we look at exactly who these, “Sons of God” were, where exactly did this Sethite view originate?
We need to understand that for the first three-hundred years or so of the Christian Church, this view really was not how the events of Genesis 6:1 – 4 were interpreted. Both Jewish and Christian scholars for the first three-hundred years of the Christian Church taught that the, “Sons of God” were divine beings, angels, if you will.
By the fifth century A.D., the angel interpretation of Genesis 6 was increasingly viewed as an embarrassment when attacked by critics. Add to this that the worship of angels had begun in some sectors of the Church, as well as celibacy for priests becoming an institution in the organized church, so the angel view of Genesis 6 was viewed as impacting these things. Celsus and Julian the Apostate also began using the angel view to attack the Church at about this time as well. So from a purely natural perspective, I can see why some Church leaders began seeking an alternate view to make Genesis 6:1 – 4 a bit more sanitized and palatable, even though I disagree with what they did. After all, what the text actually teaches is pretty troubling.
As near as we can determine from history, the Sethite view was first introduced by a Christian traveler and theologian by the name of Sextus Julius Africanus (AD 160 – 240). In the work titled, The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus, section II he wrote, “When men multiplied on the earth, the angels of heaven came together with the daughters of men. In some copies I found “the sons of God.” What is meant by the Spirit, in my opinion, is that the descendants of Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Saviour Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of men, as having nothing divine in them, on account of the wickedness of their race and the inequality of their nature, being a mixed people, and having stirred the indignation of God.”
Julius Africanus stated this view was his opinion, yet his interpretation was also picked up and taught by Cyril of Alexandria who repudiated the traditional “angel” interpretation with the Sethite view, as well as Augustine and a few others, and thus it prevailed into the Middle Ages, and is still the prevalent view of much of Christian scholarship, and is taught in the majority of theological seminaries, as we said earlier. While the Sethite view is more comfortable, I submit to you it does violence to the actual text, and strips the Word of a supernatural world-view. So how should we view the events of Genesis 6:1 – 4? Lets look a bit at that now.
While the book of Genesis is the first book in our Bibles, as well as in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach, it is not the first book written or the oldest book in the Bible; that honor goes to the book of Job. Job mentions, “The Sons of God” three different times. Lets look at all three.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” [Job 1:6 emphasis added]
“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.” [Job 2:1 emphasis added]
“To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” [Job 38:6, 7 emphasis added]
I wanted to share these three references from the book of Job for two reasons. First, it is clear in all three of these verses that we are dealing with divine, not human beings. Second, by law of first mention, which is a method of biblical interpretation, a meaning of a phrase or thing as it is first mentioned in the Bible, shows us how we should view that phrase or thing other places in the Bible. Since “Sons of God” refers to divine beings first in Job, I submit to you we should view this phrase in this light in Genesis 6:1 – 4 as well. We have no biblical precedent to view it in any other way.
This is not my opinion, but again reflects the prevalent view held by both Christian and Jewish scholars for the first three-hundred years of the history of the Christian Church. The term, “Sons of God” proves they were the product of God, not man. This view is expressed in 1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1 – 7; as well as in the Bible used by Jesus and all of the Apostles, the Septuagint (LXX), the writings of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews book 3), and the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Vol. VIII, page 273).
What is the backstory here? What was the end-game of these “Sons of God”? Why did God have to move to shut down this incursion of the “Sons of God”?
We will attempt to answer these questions and more next time.
Until next time,
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson