I received the following question based on a message where I used parts of Psalm 82 and Genesis 6:1-4:
Please describe the Sons of God referenced in Psalm 82. I don’t understand how these spiritual beings were able to come into the earth and mate with humans! How is that possible? Did they take on the form of flesh and blood to do so? Why aren’t they (or are they) able to do so today? It’s a frightening thought. Did they stay in human form or were they half man half angel? What is their role in the fall of mankind? How much power do they have? Is there any record of their offspring continuing until the days of Jesus Christ?
These are all fantastic questions!
Let’s begin with the “sons of God.” The term “sons of God” (Hebrew: בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים, beni Elohim) is used six times in the Old Testament: Gen 6:2, 6:4, Deut 32:8, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7. In each case, the reference is to what we would in our time call “angels.” In fact, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) uses the word “angel” in a few of these verses. They are created, heavenly, spiritual beings. Jesus uses the same terminology in Luke 20:36 when He promises that we will be like the angels when we are resurrected (see below). The other major term used for the heavenly beings in the Old Testament is “gods” (Hebrew אֱלֹהִים, elohim). This is used in the Old Testament to refer to pagan gods or the idols that represent them. This is the term used in Psalm 82. It refers to the same beings. This word is used of YHWH (the plural use being a method of showing honor to the ultimate being of any class) most often, but it is also used of these other heavenly beings. The elohim that God reprimands in Psalm 82 are the “gods” of the nations (see Deut 32:8) that became corrupt. So the term, when not applied to God, appears to always refer to what we would call “fallen angels.”
As I said, angels are spiritual beings. However, we will be like them at our resurrection. And our resurrection will be physical. We will not be what we are now, but there will be a physical element to our “spiritual body.” Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. In the same way, these angels (that we will be like at our resurrection) are spiritual, but there is also a physical element to them. This is how they were able to mate with humans (Gen 6:1-4).
Now, there is an alternative interpretation to Genesis 6:1-4 that became popular in the 4th century AD (it was championed by St. Augustine). This alternate view believes the “sons of God” here are the godly offspring of Seth, and the “daughters of men” are the ungodly offspring of Cain. There are too many problems with this view. First, it doesn’t explain why the children born to these women were giants (the Nephilim). Second, it ignores the older Greek translation of the Old Testament. Third, verse 4 tells us that this happened again (see also Num 13:33), but Cain’s line was destroyed in the Flood. Fourth, this interpretation ignores the Jewish interpretation of this event. In Jewish belief, these beings (a class of heavenly beings called “Watchers” – see Dan 4:17) left their proper place, descended Mt. Hermon, defied God through this act, and were banished to hell (Tartarus). The book of 1 Enoch has much to say about this, and that is where Peter (2 Pet 2:4) and Jude (Jude 6) pull from in their epistles. This means Peter and Jude believed, and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that these “sons of God” were angels.
As Jewish writings explain it, the Nephilim had human/angel hybrid bodies (hence the giants) and spirits. When the body died, the spirit (being angelic) did not go to Hades, but remained on the earth. These are the “demons” that possessed people (because remember, all the angelic beings already had a physical element to their existence). Jewish literature through the time of Christ is pretty consistent in this belief. It would stand to reason that these spirits still exist today, and will until the final judgment. That idea is so foreign to many, even Christians, because we dismiss the spiritual so readily. To the world, the idea is ridiculous. Anyone unsaved reading this has now dismissed me as insane or extremely stupid. The powers of darkness are good at what they do. Go look up the Babylonian myth of the Apkallu and the Greek myth of the Titans. Nothing like taking the truth and putting it in various myth forms to convince people the Bible is full of myths…
As far as whether this can happen today, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say one way or the other. In my opinion, the answer is yes and no. Yes, spiritual beings (“angels”) could theoretically still mate with humans. But those that did have been condemned to hell. Not all “angels” fell for the same reason. Satan turned man against God, the wicked Watchers mated with humans, and the other elohim became corrupt in their rule over mankind (Deut 32:8 and Psalm 82). And Christ, I believe, draws a contrast between the condemned Watchers and righteous angels in Matthew 22:30 when He says we will not marry or be given in marriage like the “angels in heaven.” The righteous angels would not do what those particular Watchers did. In addition, the whole storyline from Genesis 6, to Genesis 11, through the Old Testament, Christ’s ministry, the mission of the church, and the vision in Revelation leads me to believe that our struggle is against the established powers of darkness. In other words, sides have been chosen. So, no, this cannot happen again.
The role of heavenly beings in the Fall of mankind is significant. To an ancient Jew, there were three major events that led to the corruption of creation: the first sin in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, the sin of the fallen Watchers in Genesis 6, and the sin of mankind in Genesis 11 (the Babel event). Note that these all involve the fall of angels. Satan in the Garden, the Watchers incident, and the unrighteous rule of the angels given authority over the nations at Babel. In addition, 1 Enoch (and other Jewish literature) states that offspring of the fallen angels (the Nephilim) taught humans how to do black magic and practice things like fortune telling, enchantments, and necromancy (all really the deceit of the powers of darkness). But they also taught humans how to make war against each other. Note that in Genesis 6, the Nephilim are called “mighty men” (Hebrew: גִּבּוֹר gibbor). In the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, we are introduced to Nimrod (Gen 10:8) who is the first human to be a “mighty man” (gibbor). In modern Christianity, we look solely at Genesis 3 as the reason for the corruption of the creation. While that is the start of it, it isn’t the whole story. There are many ways I can illustrate this, but I will offer one. After the flood, Noah is given the same commission as Adam, but now animals are part of the human diet. Why? Go back and read Genesis 10:9 and see what the Nephilim taught us.
So the power of these Nephilim is in their physical strength and instruction in sin. The powers of darkness behind them are capable of deceit through all types of “magic” and making themselves false gods. The spirits of the Nephilim are behind “demonic possession.” All of this is real (black magic, other “gods,” demonic possession) but even Christians by-and-large don’t believe it, except maybe in theory. The world doesn’t, and the powers of darkness are not about to prove themselves to be real.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:10–12 (ESV)