Article 3: Hermeneutical Look at Genesis 6:1-8 
By Nicholas I Ward

I.  Introduction
     In  this article I will take an interpretive look at Genesis 6:1-8 to determine the original author's meaning in the original historical context. 

     When man began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.  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," 
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days--and also afterward -- when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
     The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made."  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (NIV). 


II.  Background Study
     Little is known about the origin and authorship of the book of Genesis.  Jewish tradition ascribes the book to Moses.  The New Testament agrees (John1:17;  5:46;  7:19,23).  The author shows knowledge of the Egypt (13:10) and the Egyptian language (41:43-45).
However it is generally understood to mean that much of his work was compilation.  Ancient customs recorded in are paralleled in some of the other cultures of the day.  The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish also tells a creation story.  Although Genesis and Enuma Elish are vastly different, some believe that the Genesis accounts are dependent upon the latter.  The Babylonian account depicts the Creation as taking place as result of the sexual union of the gods Apsu` and Ti`amat (IDB 380).  Genesis is believed to be a compilation of "J" writer and "P" writer.  P gave the first account of Creation (1:1-2:4), and J gave the second account (2:4-25). 
     Genesis shows continuity and a lack of unity at the same time.  Although narratives are disconnected in style, they follow the same format of introduction and closing.  Genesis should be seen in its compositional strategy as a whole rather than a smooth and uniform narrative.  The Pentateuch which comes to us as an anonymous work and was apparently meant to be read as such (EBC 4). 
     If the author was Moses, he would have written to the new nation of Israel -- recording the beginning of the world and the beginning of their nation.  The nation of Israel had been living in a foreign land for several generations.  They were slaves set free.  At the most likely time of authorship, the Israelites would be grumbling in the desert en route to a country only spoken of by their grandparents. 
     Israel needed an identity.  That identity was found in the beginning of their culture as recorded in the Pentateuch.  The law would establish order in this nomadic nation.  The narratives depict texts that give its final shape.  It is this shaping that a compositional scheme lies behind.  These compilations are a clear indication of the meaning of the author.  He tells narratives of past events with great attention to detail.  Each one is introduced with a warning to the future revealing that there is a lesson (49:1).  In other words, in the past is seen a lesson for the future (EBC 8). 
     Genesis 20 and 26 are narratives given in almost the same format and not accidentally.  There is throughout Genesis a narrative typology.  Genesis contains both historical and eschatological elements.  As the book is a historical narrative, there are always two dimensions at work.  The course of the historical event itself and the view point of the author who recounts the events.  Finally, Genesis was written with outside sources, under inspiration, it has order, and should be thought of as many pieces of information put together to give meaning. 

III.  Contextual Study
.Introduction to the patriarchs and the Sinai Covenant (1:1-11:26)
. The land and the Blessing (1:1-2:25)
. The land and the Exile (2:25-4:26)
. Life in Exile (4:1-26)
. Story of Noah (5:1-10:32)
. Abraham (11:27-32)
. The line of Abraham (11:27-32)
. The call of Abraham (12:1-9)
. Abraham in Egypt
. The Lot Narratives (13:5-19:38)
. Abraham and Abimelech (20:1-18)
. Abraham and Isaac (21:1-25:11)
. The Account of Ishmael (25:12-18)
. the Account of Isaac (21:1-25:11)
. The Birth of Jacob and Esau (25:19-28)
. Isaac and Abimelech (26:1-35)
. The Stolen Blessing (27:1-40)
. Jacob at Bethel (28:10-22)
. Jacob's Marriages (29:14b-30)
. The Birth of Jacob's Sons (29:31-30:24)
. Jacob's Flight from Laban (31;1-21)
. Jacob's Meeting with Angels (32:1-2)
. Jacob's Wrestling Match (32:23-32)
. Jacob's Meeting with Esau (33:1-17)
. The death of Isaac (35:27-29)
. The Account of Esau (36:1-43)
. The Account of Jacob(37:1-49:33)
. Jacob in the Land (37:1)
. Joseph's Dreams (37:2-11)
. Joseph's Journey to Egypt (37:12-36)
. Judah and Tamar (38:1-30)
. Joseph in the house of Potiphar (39:1-23)
. Joseph in Jail (40:1-23)
. Joseph's Brothers in Egypt (42:1-28)
. Joseph's Identity (43:1-45:28)
. Jacob's Sons in Egypt (46:8-27)
. Settling in Goshen (46:28-47:12)
. Joseph's Rule in Egypt (47:28-49:33)
. Jacob's Death and Burial (50:1-14)
. The Final Joseph Narrative (50:1-14) (EBC 17, 18)
     The general context of our passage is between a genealogy and the narrative of Noah.  The author moves from the murder of Cain to the destruction of the planet.  For Noah to be the hero in the narrative that follows our passage, his lineage must be shown pure to first creation Adam.  This genealogy may prove most important as there is an explanation following to explain why it is there. 

IV. Interpreting the Passage
6:1  We learn the setting in which this is taking place.  The passage has a definite change in style and direction from the previous chapter.  The author has selected only part of the story he wished to use (Johnson 184).  Men began to increase in number would suggest that families were being formed.  People were getting married and having children.  This appears to fulfill the command given in 1:28.  Two groups are identified -- Men (mankind) and their Daughters.  The sentence continues.
6:2  This is probably one of the most disputed verses in church history as to how it should be interpreted.  There are three possibilities.  The "sons of God" are (1)angels, (2)royalty, (3)pious men from the line of Seth.  The "sons of God" is translated literally from the Hebrew:  bene` ha'elohim, bene` 'elohim, or bene` 'elim "the sons of Gods."  It should be noted this is not the "sons of YHWH" used in Job (TIB 533).  In any case we have a new group. 
     The first interpretation is the oldest and most literal.  It is supported by many unconnanical texts including Enoch 6-7 and Jubilees 5 (Johnson 184).  This theory was still common during the time of the early church fathers as evidenced in the writings of Josephus.  However, it seems to be in conflict with Matthew 22:30.  Could it be that there is not supposed to be marriage among the angels and that is why the world was destroyed? 
     The second view is also very old.  It comes from the Targum Onkelos "sons of lords" and the codex Neophyti "sons of judges."  Still both of these interpretations lean to an angelic possibility. 
     The final view is the commonly accepted view as it is sure not to upset anyone.  Calvin stated that it was "base ingratitude, in the prosperity of Seth, to mingle themselves in the with the children of Cain (Calvin 238).  This interpretation is originated from the assumption that verses 1-4 are an introduction to the flood account, and therefore, to be understood as the cause of the flood.  If, however we read 1-4 as the conclusion of chapter 5, there is little to arouse suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary (EBC 76).
     There is no sense of reprobation of the conduct of the "sons of God" and the daughters of men.  This sentence is simply a scientific notice of origins, an objective statement of fact (TIB 533).
6:3  This is the first time God has said any thing since 5:2, or conversationally since 4:15.  It may be that this is pulled from another narrative not mentioned in the story of Noah.  So again it appears as if there is much more going on at the time than is revealed in the text alone. 
     It has been interpreted that the 120 days signify years.  From there the interpretations split.  Obvious is the number of years from the issue of the warning to coming of the flood. 
In context with rest of the book, the author records the ages of the men of the book and notes that generally their ages grow increasingly shorter.  Only Moses is specifically mentioned as the dying at the age of 120 years (EBC 77).  Could the author be writing of his own expiration in this verse?
6:4  Now the author introduces a new group called the Nephilim.  I would like to note that the Hebraic suffix -im  and -el denotes divine nature in the plural.  Elohim-God.  Raphael- an angel.  Nephilim, literally, is the noun for "fallens" or those who have fallen.  The connotations are that of a dark spirit, "thinking only of evil," and an opposition to God's plan.  These Nephilim were apparently big.  It is almost a contradiction to think of giants as being fallen or shorter.  Is it possible that their falling was spiritual in nature?
     We see some of our earlier groups come in to the picture again.  The Nephilim are a direct result of the union of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men."  Verse 1:20-26 tells us repeatedly that every thing reproduces after its own kind.  It becomes more and more interesting how two humans of average height not more than 10 generations from first man can suddenly produce extremely tall people.  In order for the theory that the Nephilim were entirely human to work, we must then consider that only tall people were allowed to marry, but it seems people married whom ever they pleased anyway (Matt. 24:37-38 ).  This explanation does not account for the reoccurrence of giants later in the Old Testament. 
6:5  The author introduces yet another group, God -- this time not as an observer but as active participant in the story.  Mankind is used a second time.  They had become evil like the Nephilim.  The author tells of the wickedness that had come on mankind, but gives no detail as to what man was doing.  We must rely upon the former verses to understand their actions.  We do understand that it was evil and widespread. 
     It was before the fall that God continually saw the good in every thing.  After the fall, however, man now having the knowledge of good and evil is on his own to find the good.  Instead we see that his heart is only evil all the time (EBC 80).
6:6  If this thought is not disconnected from 6:4 then the ramifications of the Nephilim conception are such an abomination that God the Father is sick.  Literally, God was angry in His heart (GREEN 5 5).  The word used for God here and in 6:5 is YHWH.  How does an omnipotent being repent (turn away from, head the other way) from His decision to create the earth?  If He merely wills, it is so. 
6:7  Again God speaks.  This is seemingly from another source.  Possibly pulled from the same account that recorded God's words in 6:3.  In this speech, we find not just a bereavement over the waywardness of man's heart but the ground creatures and birds have seemingly disobeyed him as well.  We return to 1:20-26 to find their only command was to multiply after their own kind.  Bestiality is one interpretation as to why God had to kill the animals as well.  God now states that He is repentant about His creation. 
6:8  The introduction of the last group.  God has repented and must destroy the earth as He has said.  Yet, there is one ray of hope:  Noah has found favor in God's eyes (Johnson 184).  The actual word is grace (Brown 5).  Noah has found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  Suddenly, the genealogy of Chapter 5 makes sense.  Noah's lineage was pure.  He had not been involved in the fornication of his generation.  The fornication  becomes less important as we understand the author's meaning.  He uses a narrative of the past to teach of God's grace upon faithfulness. 
V. Interpretive Paraphrase
     When mankind began to multiply, the sons of God saw that the human daughters were beautiful and fornicated with them as they chose. 
     Then the Lord said, "I will not allow this to continue.  Their days will be 120 years."
     It was then that the Nephilim appeared.  They were the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men.  And their name was known throughout the world. 
     The Lord saw how corrupt mankind had become for their every thought was evil. 
     The Lord was furious.  He repented for having made man.
     He said, "I will destroy mankind, that I may undo this evil, and the beasts and the birds, that I may undo this evil." 
     But Noah found grace in the eyes of the lord.
VI. Application
     Again, we live in wicked times.  The world thinks only of evil all the time.  Their actions grieve the very heart of God.  He is about to destroy mankind.  The end is coming.  The final judgment is approaching.  This world will not survive.
     However, there are those who will find grace in the eyes of the Lord.  They are the people who have been faithful.  These people must have the right lineage.  They must have a pure blood line.  That blood line is found through Jesus Christ.  Only with His blood can we find favor and grace in the eyes of the Father; for when the Father looks at our heritage, He only sees the blood of His Son. 

Works Cited

Bowie, Walter Russell;  and Simpson, Cuthbert A.  The Interpreters Bible. Vol. 1.  1952.  533-535. 
Brown, Francis.  The Hebrew English Lexicon.  Hendrickson.  1979. 
Calvin, John.  Calvin's Commentaries.  Baker Book House.  1979.  238
Expositer's Bible Commentary Vol.2.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1990.
Green , Jay P., Sr.  The Interlinear Hebrew Bible.  Hendrickson.  1985. 
Johnson, Leonard, STL, LSS.  The New Catholic Commentary on Scripture.  Nelson and Sons Ltd.  1953. 
McComiskey, Thomas Edward.  The New International Dictionary of the Bible.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1987. 
New International Version of the Bible, The.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1984. 
Sources
Bowie, Walter Russell;  and Simpson, Cuthbert A.  The Interpreters Bible. Vol. 1.  1952.  533-535. 
Brown, Francis.  The Hebrew English Lexicon.  Hendrickson.  1979. 
Brueggeman, Walter.  Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  John Knox Press.  1982.
Calvin, John.  Calvin's Commentaries.  Baker Book House.  1979.  238
Expositer's Bible Commentary Vol.2.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1990.
Green , Jay P., Sr.  The Interlinear Hebrew Bible.  Hendrickson.  1985. 
Halley, Henry H.  Halley's Bible Handbook.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1962, 1965. 
Johnson, Leonard, STL, LSS.  The New Catholic Commentary on Scripture.  Nelson and Sons Ltd.  1953. 
Komonchack, Joseph A.;  Collins, Mary;  and Lane, Dermot A.  The New Dictionary of Theology.  Micheal Glazier, Inc.  1987
McComiskey, Thomas Edward.  The New International Dictionary of the Bible.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1987. 
New International Version of the Bible, The.  Zondervan Publishing House.  1984. 
Unger, Merrill F.  The New Unger's Bible Handbook.  Moody Press.  1966.
Wigoder, Geoffrey, Editor-in Chief.  The encyclopedia of Judaism.  Jeruselem Publishing House Ltd.  1989. 

 
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