The Identity of the Sons of God in Genesis 6.2, Part 2: The Dynastic Ruler Interpretation

In our previous post, we looked at the interpretation that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.2 are angels. I came to the conclusion that this interpretation is inadequate for a number of reasons. With this post we will look at another view that has gained in popularity over the years, the Dynastic Ruler Interpretation.

In 1962, Meredith Kline suggested the view that the “sons of God” are kings or dynastic rulers and the “daughters of men” were the harems possessed by the kings. This would make the chief sin on the passage polygamy.  “The sin was that of Cainite Lamech, the sin of polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the harem, characteristic institution of the ancient oriental despot’s court.”[1]

This is the view also taken by the Bible Knowledge Commentary: “The incident is one of hubris, the proud overstepping of bounds. Here it applies to ‘the sons of God,’ a lusty, powerful lot striving for fame and fertility. They were probably powerful rulers who were controlled (indwelt) by fallen angels. It may be that fallen angels left their habitation and inhabited bodies of human despots and warriors, the mighty ones of the earth.”[2] (Note that while the Bible Knowledge Commentary suggests that the rulers were demon possessed, this is not a necessary element to this interpretation.)

I. Evidence in support of the dynastic ruler interpretation.

1. The word elohim can have a broader meaning than just “God” or “divine.”

In Psalm 82.1, we see God holding a divine council in the midst of “gods” (elohim). Later in the chapter (vs. 6, 7) it is shown that the “gods” are actually “sons of the Most High” and that like fellow man, they will die. 

Exodus 22.8, 9, speaks of a test by which judgement would be rendered on an individual who had his neighbors goods stolen while they were in his care. The word for “God” here is the word elohim and could be translated as “judge.”

2. In other Ancient Near Eastern traditions, kings would be referred to as a son of a particular deity. 

In Egypt, the pharaoh is outright considered to be divine.

“In the Ugaritic myth of King Keret, for example, Keret is identified as ‘the son of El’ (bn ‘il)”[3]

In the Old Testament, Solomon is called God’s son because he would succeed David as king (2 Sam. 7.14). From this point on there does seem to be a special father son relationship between God and the Kings. Though this only happens until about 1000 BC and is difficult to read back into Gen. 6.

3. Those who hold to this view argue that the passage is not just meant to tell biblical history, but also act as a polemic against pagan beliefs. 

“It is also a polemic against the pagan belief that giants (‘Nephilim’; cf. Num. 13.32-33) and ‘men of renown’ (Gen. 6.4) were of divine origin, and that immortality was achieved by immorality. The Canaanite cult (and most cults in the ancient Near East) included fertility rites involving sympathetic magic, based on the assumption that people are supernaturally affected through an object which represents them. Israel was warned to resist this because it was completely corrupt and erroneous. The passage, then, refutes pagan beliefs by declaring the truth. ‘The sons of God’ were not divine; they were demon-controlled. Their marrying as many women as they wished (possibly this is the origin of harems) was to satisfy their baser instincts. They were just another low order of creatures, though powerful and demon-influenced. ‘Children’ of these marriages, despite pagan ideas, were not god-kings. Though ‘heroes’ and ‘men of renown,’ they were flesh; and they died, in due course, like all members of the human race. When God judges the world – as He was about to – no giant, no deity, no human has any power against Him. God simply allots one’s days and brings his end.”[4]

4. Those who hold this view would argue that the proper background of 6.1 is the genealogy of Cain in 4.17-24. The lineage of Cain gives us the origin of city organization, music, metal working, violence, and polygamy. 

II. Evidence against the Dynastic Ruler interpretation.

Why does Moses not just refer to the “sons of God” as kings? Related to this, why does the larger context not make reference to any kings or rulers?

If the sin in question is indeed polygamy, why is it referred to in such an indirect and roundabout way? The phrase “they took as their wives any they chose” is ambiguous as to wether the women were forced into the marriages. The word for “took” is laqah, and seems to be better translated as “married” (as in the NIV) since this word is the common Hebrew expression for marriage.[5]

III. Conclusion

This view has its merits, and it doesn’t suffer from any of the difficulties of the angel interpretation. I would be content to settle with this interpretation if were not for the fact that the next interpretation fits better with the overall text of Genesis

[1] Kline. “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4,” Westminster Theological Journal, 24:2 (1962).

[2] Ross. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. 36.

[3] Mathews. New American Commentary Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11.26. 328. 

[4] Ross. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. 36. 

[5] Mathews. The New American Commentary, Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11.26. 329. 

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