Who were they?
Fallen angles I guess
I’ve wondered this a lot myself. There’s got to be a better answer than the late-night radio speculations of giant alien visitors.
The earliest Christian writers tend to agree that they were angels. This might be a carry-over from the contemporary Jewish tradition, since, to name one example, Josephus says that this passage refers to the offspring of women and angels. On the other hand, Ss. Augustine, John Chrysostom, Ephraim and other later writers rejected this opinion, saying instead that they referred to the sons of Seth (being the godly lineage) intermingling with the sons of Cain. I think this is the better explanation. Otherwise, we have the question of how angels would produce children with humans. Here is what St. Thomas says in the Summa Theologica.
As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xv): “Many persons affirm that they have had the experience, or have heard from such as have experienced it, that the Satyrs and Fauns, whom the common folk call incubi, have often presented themselves before women, and have sought and procured intercourse with them. Hence it is folly to deny it. But God’s holy angels could not fall in such fashion before the deluge. Hence by the sons of God are to be understood the sons of Seth, who were good; while by the daughters of men the Scripture designates those who sprang from the race of Cain. Nor is it to be wondered at that giants should be born of them; for they were not all giants, albeit there were many more before than after the deluge.” Still if some are occasionally begotten from demons, it is not from the seed of such demons, nor from their assumed bodies, but from the seed of men taken for the purpose; as when the demon assumes first the form of a woman, and afterwards of a man; just as they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes, as Augustine says (De Trin. ii.), so that the person born is not the child of a demon, but of a man.
(I, q. 51, a. 3, ad. 5)
To give an example of the angel position, St. Justin Martyr writes thus in Chapter 5 of his Second Apology:
But if this idea take possession of some one, that if we acknowledge God as our helper, we should not, as we say, be oppressed and persecuted by the wicked; this, too, I will solve. God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly to man, and arranged the heavenly elements for the increase of fruits and rotation of the seasons, and appointed this divine law— for these things also He evidently made for man— committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begot children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness. Whence also the poets and mythologists, not knowing that it was the angels and those demons who had been begotten by them that did these things to men, and women, and cities, and nations, which they related, ascribed them to god himself, and to those who were accounted to be his very offspring, and to the offspring of those who were called his brothers, Neptune and Pluto, and to the children again of these their offspring. For whatever name each of the angels had given to himself and his children, by that name they called them.
I’ve always found it hard to believe that ‘‘The sons of God’’ refers to angels, and I’ve wondered how angels, with a non-corporeal body, could mate with women.
One day, as I was reading Jesus’ genealogy as recorded in the Book of Luke, I happened upon this in chapter 3, verse 38: …’'the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.’'
This started me wondering: Adam was created directly by God, so were all men considered the sons of God? Women were created from Adam (God taking his rib), so were all women considered to be the daughters of men? Is this the answer to the question?
‘‘The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, so they took for their wives as many of them as they chose.’’ (Genesis 42). This sounds, to me, as the beginning of multiple wives for men. It’s right after this that the Lord said He wasn’t pleased with men and He would number their days upon earth.
Then in verse 4 it goes on to say that the Nephelim appeared on earth. Nowhere does it actually say that they were the direct result of the mating between the sons of God and the daughters of men. If a race of people were extremely tall (giants), why does it have to be assumed that this is supernatural?
I realize that, throughout history, ‘‘The sons of God’’ has always been interpreted as ‘‘angels’’, but I just don’t believe it. (but who am I among all the great theologians?)