Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Genesis 6 Wrap-up Part 1

I wanted to get back in the habit of looking back at the chapters from Sunday's sermons and trying to address any unpreached situations here on the blog. So, let's take a look back at Genesis 6, shall we?

Genesis 6:1-2 cause some people no end of grief in sorting out the details here. Why? Because of the phrase "sons of God" in it. There are three major views of who the "sons of God" referenced in this passage are, so let's take a look at these "sons." A word about the discussion first: the Hebrew phrase that is translated sons of God is literally sons of God (or gods: monotheistic Israel used a plural of majesty for God: He is referred to in plural terms).

The difficulty stems from this: Christian theology guides us to understand that there is one "Son of God," namely the Lord Jesus Christ, and many "sons of God," all those adopted by His gracious election (John 1:12). So, to understand this we turn to other uses of the phrase bene 'elohim in Hebrew (that's "sons of God/gods"). This phrase shows up in Job and in Psalms where the context strongly suggests angels as the answer: the "sons of God" are angelic, supernatural beings in these other passages.

When you're trying to understand Scripture the first place to turn is this one, after all. We should try to see if other places in Scripture shed light on the passages that seem darkened. So, angels is the answer, right?

Not so fast. First, the Lord Jesus says that in the resurrection, we will be like the angels and not be given in marriage or marry (Luke 20:33-36). Second, there are other areas where similar phrases occur, such as "sons of YHWH (God's covenant name in the Old Testament)" and it refers to people. Deuteronomy 14:1 is one of the places. It's not uncommon in Scripture to see bene used to depict ancestry, but it sometimes shows similarity instead.

So, the first theory is that the bene 'elohim are angels. The second is that the bene 'elohim summarizes the descendants of Seth compared to the descendants of Cain. While the implication of Genesis 4 is that Cain moved away, the likelihood is that there wasn't a huge distance between where Cain's progeny and Seth's progeny are living at this point. The view that Genesis 4 records the ungodly line of Cain and Genesis 5 records the godly line of Seth is reasonably held, and so Genesis 6:1-2 is held as a summary statement announcing the intermarriage of the godly men of Seth's line with the beautiful, but ungodly, women of Cain's line.

This shows not only a future for depravity but the present state of it. The godly are marrying only based on appearance and are taking wives, whomever they choose. The phrasing here indicates a breakdown of monogamy and a breakdown of respect between men and women. This is not good.

So, the second theory makes the bene 'elohim godly descendants of Seth. The third is based more on translating 'elohim as gods rather than God. It was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East (Israel and surrounding lands, such as Egypt, Babylon, Assyria; east of Greece, west of Persia) to refer to "kings" as "gods." They ruled with power and authority. This theory places the answer as kings or princes of the ruling class marrying women, possibly multiple women, from the lower classes and wrecking the social order.

The third answer, to me, comes across a little to class-structure society centered. There remains no Biblical evidence that anyone was a king or prince at the time and no evidence that such kings would have been prohibited from marrying "common" women. Moreover, there is not much (I can't find any) Biblical evidence of elohim as earthly kings. It's not uncommon, as I said, in other sources, but it's not in the Bible. To me, that's a pretty big strike against this view.

The additional support for the first view comes from rabbinic sources and Jewish non-Scriptural writings that predate Christ. That's a pretty good witness to what later scholars of the Torah took Moses to mean. Whether they were right is the question at hand. These same scholars are generally responsible for the Septuagint (LXX, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek), so the LXX translation echoes that sentiment.

There are other scholars that come down on the inter-mingling of Seth and Cain's lines side of the debate. These focus on a few other ancient witnesses, including Jewish Rabbis.

It's really about who is intermarrying with whom here. Personally, I like the simplest solution: there is no Scripture that indicates that angelic beings have the ability to procreate with humanity. None whatsoever. The Lord Jesus spoke of angels as not being married and could be understood to mean basically non-sexual.

So, I take what I've called the second view: this intermarriage is between the godly and the ungodly. The effect is that the hearts of all turn against God.

That makes it a little tougher for me to explain the Nephilim and all that about giants. Those explanations run a lot simpler if you're dealing with supernatural beings. However, the passage itself says the Nephilim are on the earth in those days and afterwards. That seems to show that post-flood there's some Nephilim that show up. So, what happened? Did they survive? Or are Nephilim simply heroic people whose lives pass into legend bigger than they are? I'd go with that.

A final note then I'll close, since I've doubled my target word count. Genesis 6:4 introduces and dismisses Greco-Roman mythology---probably much of Egyptian mythology as well. Here the author accounts for all of those great legends of the past: they were mighty men, and now they're gone. But all those bedtime stories? They fit here. Somewhere between Adam and the Flood. Could those stories have basis in fact? Genesis hints here that they do---but that this history is irrelevant because Noah alone finds favor in the eyes of the Lord. The rest of those heroes? Not so much.


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