What Does Genesis 6 Have to Do with Healthy Male/Female Friendships?
Recently, I had a fascinating email interaction initiated by my friend Henry Rouse, a theologian in Australia, about the narrative in Genesis leading up to the Flood. The text in view seems to reveal something important about man and woman in God’s story.
The text we discussed was not Genesis 1 (origin of humanity) nor Genesis 2 (the man’s nap, the woman’s creation) nor Genesis 3 (the Fall)—the usual pericopes from the book of Beginnings mentioned in conversations about men and women. Rather, we were talking about Genesis 6. I’ve combined our conversation into what follows, which includes work from both of us. Here’s the biblical text:
“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were beautiful. And they took as their wives whomever of all the wives they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”
Notice the men “took” wives. With that detail in view, let’s rewind to previous chapters for context and to notice some emphases:
“Took” appears in the beginning: “God took the man and placed him in the garden” (Gen. 2:15). So “took” can have a good, or at least neutral, meaning.
Man was alone. But God created woman and brought (not “gave,” implying ownership) her to the man (2:22). The two, woman and man, become one-flesh—implying unity, equality, intimacy.
In the Garden, the woman “took” (without permission that which wasn’t hers to take) the fruit and gave to her husband, who was with her (3:6). This “took” is bad, as it demonstrates disobedience.
After the Fall, Adam does not “take his wife and make her pregnant.” Rather, he “knows” her (4:1), implying intimacy in the relationship. This knowing goes far beyond performing the “act” required for reproduction.
When Cain grows up, he also “knows” his wife, who conceives (4:17). Contrast Cain’s action of knowing with that of Lamech, who “took” for himself not one woman but two (v. 19).
Following Lamech’s action, Moses traces the genealogy of Adam to Noah (Gen. 5). In this chapter, the author describes Adam’s descendants consistently in this way: “he had other sons and daughters.”
Then we read this: “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (emphasis ours).
If chapter 6 merely continues the same story, which it seems to do, it seems “the sons of God” and the “daughters of men” are those whom Moses has just spent considerable time writing about: humans. God made the man directly from the ground, but God made female from man: so, sons of God, daughters of man. That is not to say man is better since “God” is better than “man.” Starting with Cain, every man comes “from woman.” The descriptions just highlight origins.
Moses is about to show the reason for God’s decision to deal with humanity. Humans have made the earth such an evil place that God declares he will wipe the slate clean, leaving only Noah’s family as a remnant. This is how the writer sets up the scene:
“men began to multiply” (6:1) – that’s good: “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28)
“daughters were born to them” (6:1) – also a blessing
“the sons of God” (6:2) – those whom Moses just talked about in Gen 5 (because
context is king)
“saw the daughters of men” – the daughters just mentioned (see Gen. 5: 4, 7, 10, 13,
16, 19, 26, 30,
“they were beautiful” – (v. 2) being beautiful is not a sin
“and they [the men] took women [or wives? The words are the same in the Hebrew] for themselves whomever they wanted” – “WHAT!? This is just like Lamech! And the opposite of the one-flesh ‘knowing’ that God intended” (A direct quote from Henry).
It appears that sin has resulted in men ruling over women—a fulfillment of what God said sin would do to man and woman: “but he shall rule over you” (3:15).
The wrong of men reported here, the “taking” of whatever women they wanted (5:2), leads to a consequence (v. 3). The NET renders Genesis 6:1–4 this way: “When humankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus, they took wives for themselves from any they chose. So the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years.’”
It looks like we have here the “straw that broke the camel’s back” that led to God’s judgment through the Flood: the violent distortion of God’s intended one-flesh relationship. It seems Moses is saying the image of God has become so disfigured in humanity that man treats woman as a possession and object rather than equal image-bearer of their Creator.
Here’s what happens next: The text says “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also after this— when the sons of God would come to/enter [not “know”] the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.”
Wait. Who are the “Nephilim”?
Great question. Much ink has been spilled over the meaning of “Nephilim.” Here’s what the NET Bible note says about them: “The Hebrew word נְפִילִים (nefilim) is simply a transliterated here, because the meaning of the term is uncertain. According to the text, the Nephilim became mighty warriors and gained great fame in the antediluvian world. The text may imply they were the offspring of the sexual union of the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of humankind’ (v. 2), but it stops short of saying this in a direct manner. The Nephilim are mentioned in the OT only here and in Numbers 13:33, where it is stated that they were giants.”
These giants or rulers or warriors or whatever they are do not have to be supernatural beings, like fallen angels, whom Moses has never even mentioned. Maybe they’re just really big people. Like Goliath.
Some think the text says here that angels sired offspring from human women. We know from Jesus that angels do not marry (Mt. 22:23). But angels can do some things humans, do such as talk, and eat (Gen. 18:7,) and fight (Jude 1:9). So could they have sex? We don’t know the make-up of their physical bodies. But we do know their “flesh” differs from that of humans, so angels could not become “one flesh” with human women. The suggestion that they might do so sounds a lot like ancient mythology stories. Sure, it’s possible the Nephililm are non-human creatures. But they could also be human. Which seems to better fit the context. Moses says a lot about humans, but nothing about supernatural beings.
Whatever the Nephilim are and do, there appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship between their actions and the Flood. The Flood might seem a rather extreme reaction to fallen angels having babies with human women. Why not just punish the fallen angels? But what about humans? The text has already suggested humans needed no help in becoming corrupt.
Adding up 1) men “taking” women and 2) the actions of the Nephilim, and we see God drawing a conclusion: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).
So we have the Flood.
After the Flood, humanity seems to get worse. But God had promised not to destroy the earth via another worldwide flood (see the rainbow promise, Gen. 9:13–16).
But fast forward a few millennia for a major difference: The second Adam ushers in the priesthood of all believers. And the apostle Paul writes, “In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God” (1 Cor. 11:11–12, italics ours).
So God does something extremely different from the worldwide flood. He sends his Son to reconcile humans to himself and to each other. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that (read that again!) “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Cor. 11:11–12). That little phrase “in the Lord” makes all the difference. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live interdependently, male and female. In the Lord we can love one another deeply from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). We can ditch power struggles, recognize our need for each other, and walk in love.