All posts by Pastor Tony Hicks

About Pastor Tony Hicks

I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Southeastern Louisiana.

What’s in a Number?

666

If there is ever a number that triggers a variety of reactions, it is this one. It appears four times the Bible, two of which are in accounting documents of Solomon’s yearly income (1 Kgs 10:14; 2 Chr 9:13) and once in Ezra in the numbering of the 666 descendants of Adonikim (Ezra 2:13). Lastly, and most significantly for us, this number is in Revelation 13:18 as what is called the “Mark of the Beast.”

I have often been amused by the fear and loathing that this number engenders. When I was a young naval officer at one of my training sites, my locker number was 666. I had other equally young officers who said, “I wouldn’t want that locker.” I laughed at them.

Later, as a naval training officer, I taught about a serious radiological incident that occurred onboard the submarine USS Hawkbill whose hull number happened to be—you guessed it—666. Not surprisingly, the ship became known as the “devil boat.”

Incidentally, the sail of the Hawkbill, with the dreaded numbers emblazoned upon its side, is now on public display in Arco, Idaho, just a few miles from the location of my old locker with the same number. Equally strange is that this was the site of the only nuclear accident on US soil that resulted in direct fatalities. So the ship with the radiological incident and the dreaded number is now joined in location with the fatal nuclear accident in close proximity with my old 666 locker (if it is still there after 37 years). Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. 

Historical anomalies aside, what should we as believers think about this number that is shrouded in mystery but yet has a seeming stranglehold on our interest? Christians who contemplate such things have a variety of responses, seeing the number somewhere in the spectrum between totally literal and totally symbolic. 

I will look briefly at these two perspectives and attempt to provide a path forward for understanding how we should see this number.

The Literal View

Many, if not most, evangelical Christians have been taught (at least in some part of their lives) that the “mark” is quite literal. Well, not totally literal because no one really expects the actual number “666” to be imprinted on anyone’s hand or forehead (except in the movies) but they do see it as something that will actually be put onto the bodies of those who submit to the “beast” depicted in Revelation 13. 

Among the literalists and up until our modern age, the mark was usually taken to be a symbol of loyalty to the Beast.  However, as human life has increasingly become identified by numbers, the idea arose of the mark being an individual numerical identifier for a world economic system, much like a bank account number.

A story arose in the 1970s of a three-story computer in Belgium (named “the Beast”)  that was programmed to number everyone on the earth with three-six digit numbers.  That story, which was very convenient for the literal view of the mark, went viral (in a 1970s sense) in certain segments of society. There was only one problem; the story was fiction. 

The “Beast” computer was the invention of Christian fiction author Joe Musser in his 1970 book, Behold a Pale Horse. This book became the basis for the 1972 movie, The Rapture. As a promotion for the movie, the producers seized upon the idea of producing a fictional newspaper as a souvenir for the moviegoers. In this fake newspaper was the story of the “Beast” computer in Brussels. A reporter for a Pennsylvania newspaper took the souvenir article to be real and wrote a story about it. The story later found its way into the August 1976 issue of Christian Life Magazine. 1

Fake news, 1970s style. 

With the advent of microcircuit technology, it is increasingly common today to hear of the “mark” being a microchip inserted under the skin that will not only number each person but also keep track of their whereabouts. This supposedly “literal” interpretation  has the advantage of closely adapting to modern times while straining a literal interpretation of a “mark.” However if you do an internet search, you will see people promoting their theories of how this will come about. 

Without a doubt the technology now exists for such numbering and tracking but is the Bible predicting a world numbering system that will track us all through subcutaneous microchips?

Those who hold to a symbolic view of the mark would say no. 

The Symbolic View

The Bible often speaks in symbolic language. God is said to “come down,” although He is everywhere. He is depicted as covering us with his feathers (the image of a mother hen) even though we know God is not a chicken. God’s anger (in the Hebrew) is called “the burning of His nostrils.” 

 All who read the Bible recognize that there are many symbolic representations in it but many Christians grow concerned when someone speaks of a passage being “symbolic” and not “literal.” To them, that sounds as if you are saying it is not true. 

However, the literal approach runs into difficulty when you are dealing with the book of Revelation, the book with more symbolism than any other book in the Bible. Despite claims of “literal interpretation,” no one takes that book in a completely literal sense. That does not mean that they do not regard it as true. 

For example, I know of no one who thinks that a creature with seven heads will crawl out of the Mediterranean Sea or that a dragon will sweep down a third of the stars in the sky with its tail. We all recognize that these images are depicting something else, though we may disagree on what they actually symbolize. Many believers though, while accepting many symbols in Revelation, blanch at the idea that the “mark of of the beast” might also be symbolic and not an actual mark that people will receive. 

Calling something symbolic does not mean that it is not true. We realize that the seven-headed beast of Revelation 13 is a symbol but one of a frightening reality. Why can the “mark” also not be a symbol?

Unraveling  the Symbol

My intent is not a complete explanation of this passage in this short article. I would feel quite inadequate for that. However, I would be remiss in not dealing with some more obvious facets of this symbol. Let’s look at the passage:

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Rev. 13:16-17)

The mark is said to be the “name of the beast or the number of his name.” This gives us a strong clue about the symbolism. The mark, the number, represents the “beast” and his authority. Of course, this raises the question of who or what is the “beast.” Interpretations of this have filled books and have ranged from a man to an evil organization to a wicked government or even a timeless symbol of rebellion against God. I will avoid that subject for the present.

A few things we can see about this symbol:

(1) Man Falling Short of God

The number seven is used in the Bible in general and Revelation in particular as a number of completeness or perfection. In such a context, God would be represented as 777, a totality of perfection. “666” then shows man attempting to be like God but falling short. The threefold repetition of the number of incompleteness would represent, as Bruce Metzger wrote, “the greatest imperfection.” 2 This is certainly spoken about the man called the “Antichrist,” but really it is true about mankind in general. Man replaces the worship of God with the worship of created things, specifically himself. 

As Paul wrote:

because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

Man’s attempts to deify himself always fail. The Caesars desired to be called “lord” as a symbol of their personal power and that of the empire but the men died and the empire collapsed while God’s reign continues unimpeded. 

As the psalmist wrote: 

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, 
but the Lord made the heavens. (Psalm 96:5)

(2) The Symbol of a Prototypical Man of Evil

Another view of the mark of Revelation 13 sees the number as representing the name of a man. John invites the reader to decipher the number. 

This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Rev. 13:18)

The reader is called upon  to “calculate the number of the beast,” which he previously wrote was the “number of its name.” This is a strong hint that not only is the practice of gematria in use but that the name is one that John’s readers could determine for themselves. 

Gematria was common in the time of the New Testament. It is the assigning of a numerical value to letters in a word or name and the summation of those values to arrive at a number that represents the word. 

Here is an example of that with the common English word, cat: A=1, C=3, T=20; C-a-t= 24. 

This seems awkward and unnecessary to us because we already have a numbering system but not so for those who spoke Greek, Latin, or even Hebrew in the first century. Their letters were their numbers because the Arabic numbering system that we employ had not yet come into use by them. 

If it was John’s intention that his readers calculate a name from the numbers, what would that name be? As Metzger notes, Nero Caesar is the best option although not without problems. 3 When “Neron Kaisar” (the Greek form of his name) is transliterated into Hebrew, the number is 666. If the ‘n’ is dropped, as in Latin, the result is 616, which is a textual variant that appears in the manuscripts. 4, 5

Why would John use Nero, or any other Roman ruler (Domitian has been suggested)? Nero represented the worst of a false godless system that glorified power and man-worship. You could even say that Nero was the pinnacle of that depravity. Though he desired to be remembered for greatness, the Roman historian Suetonius wrote that his rule (as well as that of his predecessors Tiberius and Caligula) was characterized by the “most abominable lust, the most extravagant luxury, the most shameful rapaciousness, and the most inhuman cruelty.” 6

Thus to those first century Christians to whom John originally wrote, Nero represented the ultimate folly of men exalting themselves against their creator yet demonstrating the sinful depravity that was their undoing. It is a self-replicating pattern among mankind and serves as a timeless example. 

The flawed 666 of Nero falls far short of the perfect man, Jesus Christ, whose name by the same method of computation is 888. 

Summary

Christians often get distracted by the wrong things. One of those is fear and loathing of the number 666 and the things that modern commentators have proposed that it represents, holding the Bible in one hand and the latest news in the other. We would do well to remember that the message of the book of Revelation is not to give us a detailed prediction of future events to satisfy our curiosity. Rather, we are shown that, regardless of what we may be experiencing or suffering at the present time, we are promised the ultimate victory over all evil forces, evil systems, and evil people in Christ. We do not have a fearful foreboding of the future but a joyous anticipation of being a part of Christ’s glorious triumph. 

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

References

1. McCue, Andy, (2003, July 24). IT Myths: Does the ‘Beast of Brussels’ know everything about us?. Retrieved on August 19, 2020, from https://www.zdnet.com/article/it-myths-does-the-beast-of-brussels-know-everything-about-us/

2. Metzger, Bruce M. (1993), Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (pp. 76-77), Nashville, TN, Abingdon

3. ibid., 77.

4. Osborne, Grant R. (2002), Revelation (pp. 520-21), Grand Rapids, MI, Baker. 

5. Beale, G. K. (1999), The Book of Revelation (pp. 718-728), Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans. 

6. Suetonius, C. Tranquillus (2007), The Twelve Caesars (p. 268), Translated by Alexander Thomson, Stilwell, KS, Digireads.com Publishing. 

Scriptures are from the English Standard Version

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Review: The Great Sex Rescue

The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky

Not long ago, the thought of publicly reviewing a book titled, The Great Sex Rescue, would not have been on my radar. Especially since I am a pastor and this review is aimed at a conservative evangelical audience. Even the title is off-putting for many of us. In corresponding with a friend, I referred to the publication as, “The Gregoire book, ” avoiding the s-word. Even if we see ourselves as detached and academically-minded, we often cannot escape cultural taboos inculcated in us over time.

However, I see such value in this book that I’m willing to put aside any feelings of discomfort to raise awareness of what I see to be a very good and needed resource for married Christian couples in our time. Sexuality is a part of us. It is the way God created us and, as in all things of His creation, it is “very good.” (Gen. 1:31)

Sadly, in conservative Christian churches, we have often avoided the topic of sex altogether or, at the very least, given it short shrift. I think the reasons for this are varied but basically it comes down to the fact that most of us have been raised to see sex as a very private matter and there is great resistance to speaking publicly about it. I think there is also the subconscious feeling that public emphasis upon sex in the church could open a veritable “Pandora’s box” and cause more problems that it would solve.

Certainly there are valid concerns but the problem with that line of thinking is that we live in a world where matters of sex are constantly and explicitly on display. Whether it is through movies or television, literature or art, or through online activity, sexual matters are constantly dealt with and rarely, if ever, from a biblical perspective. In such a cultural environment, the attitude of many in the church in preferring silence on matters of sex amounts to that of the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

Not only is the world talking about sex, our people within the church are regularly dealing with sex in their own personal lives. For married couples, sex is a significant part of that relationship. We need good biblical teaching on this issue just as assuredly as we need sound teaching on raising our children and managing our money.

Good resources are vital in helping Christians wisely deal with the practical matters of our own sexuality and to help us to not only avoid sexual problems within marriage but also to maintain a committed and chaste sexual life in the midst of a sex-crazed culture.

This is where The Great Sex Rescue provides great value. I can give this book an almost unqualified endorsement. The authors had, first of all, a proper biblical focus and applied it throughout to the issue of married human sexuality.

The authors are unapologetically evangelical and Scripture-focused. They display a heartfelt desire that sex should be done rightly as the Bible teaches it. They also hold a mirror up to things that have been erroneously taught about sex in evangelical Christianity in well-known books and other documented teaching.

Personally, I was appalled at how bad was some advice in some of the most popular evangelical books about sex. The only book that I had read on their list was The Act of Marriage and that was over 40 years ago (1981). Many of the books were known to me by title but I had never read them.

Part of the reason is that I have not been a part of the evangelical purity culture so I did not know about many of the things that had been taught in that movement. What struck me was how one-sided the books were on some subjects and frankly the disrespect they showed to both women and men. The authors only used selected quotes from the popular books and acknowledged that most had helpful things in them. However, on the matters discussed in their book, the teaching they cited was very bad and, in my opinion, quite unredeemable. The authors were courageous taking on some powerful interests and well-recommended books and they acknowledged that they had suffered for it.

I think it is fair to say that The Great Sex Rescue is very woman-focused but, in view of some of the one-sided advice in the other books, that is perhaps unavoidable. I had no problem with that as it was an eye-opener to me in a lot of ways. It even caused me to do some self-examination in my own life.  

The authors relate how The Great Sex Rescue came about as the result of a massive survey they conducted on sex in Christian marriages. The survey results are reported throughout the book. The personal testimonies they provide from survey participants also give the book tremendous supporting documentation and buttress the critiques they offer.

The value of The Great Sex Rescue is not only the criticism it offers of bad teaching and practice in very popular books; it also has positive instruction and seeks to offer a way forward for married couples. There are questions throughout the book that lead the reader think about his or her marriage. Each chapter closes with exercises to help married couples navigate the waters of their own sexual relationship.  

There is another thing about The Great Sex Rescue and this might throw some people off. The authors do not avoid explicit language. I do not mean that the book contains foul language but it deals with sexual matters very frankly. We seem to often want to avoid direct talk about sex in our Christian circles, and understandably so. We often use euphemisms and circumlocutions to talk about sexual matters. In fact, as the authors point out, some of the highly-recommended books that they critique go to comical lengths sometimes to have substitute names for body parts and such. To resort to such indirect ways of speaking in a sexually-explicit culture such as ours is not merely quaint; it is naïve and even tone-deaf.

The authors of this book do not shy away from bluntness. Sometimes the language intentionally borders on crass. I actually think this works well for the book. Their use of indelicate language cuts though the clutter and gets the reader’s attention. For example, you do not expect to see the word “nookie” in a Christian book but I think it provides a small amount of shock value to drive their point home.

It is similar to Paul’s use of “dung” in the book of Philippians. (Phil. 3:8) The word gets softened to “rubbish” in a lot of our modern translations. The closest English translation of the Greek word that Paul used (skubalon) is “crap.” Paul was writing to get the attention of the Philippians and used an indelicate word to do it. Paul did the same thing in the book of Galatians in wishing that the Judaizer heretics would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12)

The authors of The Great Sex Rescue do a similar thing but, in my opinion, never cross the line into the coarse or vulgar. It was obvious (to me at least) that they were using hyperbolic language to get everyone’s attention. Still, if someone is offended by an explicit discussion of matters of sex, they might have a problem with this book.

I read a lot of books and do not say this very often, but this book blew me away. I believe it should  be read by conservative Christians as it is absolutely biblical and does not shy away from important issues with which each married couple must deal.

I do have a few qualms and qualifications that I would offer with my endorsement of this book. I consider these quite slight and none of them a deal-breaker. In fact, most readers would not even notice the questions I raise. (Maybe not even some pastors) Most people will be more upset at the frank language used in the book and its critique of popular books than the problems that I saw.

My concerns are:  

(1) The authors are definitely egalitarian in their approach. For those not familiar with that term, let me explain. “Egalitarianism” is the belief that God created men and women not only equal in standing before Him but also equal in all functions. The opposing view, “complementarianism,” states that God created men and women in equal standing before Him but created them to serve different functions. Thus, the man and the woman are to complement one another.

As I stated, the authors of this book are clearly egalitarian and I certainly disagree with that. This is not a major emphasis in the book. They make some statements regarding egalitarianism but then move on. I felt that they dealt with the complementarian view in a straw-man fashion.

Clearly, some people have distorted complementarianism and it has been used in some circles as a cloak for domination and abuse. By the same reasoning, egalitarianism has been an excuse for rebellion and as cover for male unwillingness to lead. In short, sin and fallenness lead us to abuse anything. I wish the authors had emphasized that more rather than dealing with complementarianism loosely and inaccurately. Despite that, egalitarianism was not a major emphasis in this book so it does not cause me to hesitate in recommending it.

(2) There were some cringe-worthy moments in the book for me. I am a somewhat of a biblical and theological stickler. Sometimes the authors stretched the meaning of Scripture in their use (especially in chapter headings). I do not think this is a major problem because they did not distort the overall message of the passages. In fact, they always kept to the spirit of the passage being used even if they departed from precise exegesis. This is not a major problem because I actually found the book to be wonderfully biblical. 

(3) In their chapter on “duty sex,” the authors referenced the movie Bruce Almighty in a way that really gave me pause. Admittedly, most people would have passed it by without notice but it could not escape my theological lens. I have never seen Bruce Almighty but I have real problems with movies, or any other form of art, that flippantly depict God. God takes the Third Commandment quite seriously.

Additionally, in making an excellent point about duty sex, they depicted God has having the challenge of getting us to love Him of our own free will. This was kind of an epic theological fail for me because it spoke nothing of human fallenness nor of our enmity against God as shown in the Scriptures. I do realize that the authors are not theologians and this was such a small part of the book (one paragraph or two) that it does not affect my recommendation at all.   

(4) The thing that frustrated me the most was when they spoke of Abraham sexually assaulting Hagar. This was the only place in the book where they really distorted Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible that even implies that Abraham was sexually abusive to Hagar. Scripture is plain that Hagar was given to Abraham as his wife. (Gen. 16:3) Most likely she was a concubine but Hagar would have seen it as a promotion from being Sarah’s slave.

I am not defending the ancient system but the authors problematically interpreted an ancient phenomenon through 21st century Western eyes. In doing so, they come to a conclusion not at all supported by Scripture. We are seeing the same thing today in some discussions of David and Bathsheba where David, in modern Western reasoning, was a man with power over Bathsheba and therefore guilty of sexual abuse. The Bible certainly shows David as guilty of sin but this modern conclusion is not at all supported by the Scriptural text.

To be fair to the authors of The Great Sex Rescue, this was also a small matter of discussion in the book and would probably not even be noticed by most people. 

All of these qualifications come from my own view of things. None of these change my opinion that the book is of immense value and should be read by Christians.

In summary, the authors of The Great Sex Rescue have given us a great resource for dealing with sexual problems in marriage from a very biblical perspective and in a manner that does not trivialize the matter nor avoids direct speech. In a time where most public conversation about sex is from a secular and ungodly perspective, this book with its strong biblical focus is very needed.

The Great Sex Rescue has my highest recommendation.

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John Calvin: A Tribute

I originally wrote this article in 2009 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. I soon realized that my desire to do Calvin justice was an impossible task. Books have been written about the man and continue to be written. There are seminary classes that cover his life and doctrine. It would have been folly for me to think that I could sum up the life of such a man in a simple article. So, with less ambitious aims, I would like to celebrate Calvin’s contributions in what small way I can.

It is a testimony to our times that the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth passed with little notice and no fanfare because few Christians and fewer Americans today even know who he was. Even though Calvin was one of the most important men in history and has profoundly influenced the lives of all Americans, and especially all Christians, he is primarily, and incorrectly, known as the founder of the doctrines that bear his name.

Calvinism, as it is called, is a body of doctrine that exalts the sovereignty of God in salvation and contains such controversial teachings as sovereign election and predestination. These doctrines were the teachings of the Protestant Reformation but became associated with John Calvin because he taught them and was the primary theologian of the Reformation. The doctrines had their post-biblical origin with Augustine in the 4th century but adherents will say that they reach back to the teachings of Jesus and Paul in Scripture. Calvin’s main notoriety today then comes from something that many wrongly believe him to have invented.

John Calvin’s importance goes far beyond doctrinal controversy though. He was a giant in Christian history and left a legacy that no extra-biblical figure can surpass and few, perhaps only Augustine, can equal. His contributions reached beyond theology and doctrine to government and even commerce. Though physically weak and sickly, he was tireless in his work for the church and the Gospel of Christ, burning himself out and dying an early death at the age of 54.

I would like to briefly enumerate some of the ways that Calvin has influenced our modern world.

Interpretation of Scripture
Calvin was first and foremost a preacher and teacher of the Scriptures. In many ways, he taught us all how to do it. He shunned the allegorical methods that were so prevalent in the Middle Ages and sought the meaning of the text through history, grammar and, more importantly, the other Scriptures. Calvin was a great believer in “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” To read Calvin is to see a very modern method of scriptural interpretation at work.

Protestant Doctrine
Calvin was not the first of the reformers but did more than any other to enunciate the theology of the Reformation. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was a massive work of theology that he continually expanded until it reached its final form in 1559, five years before his death. This great work is profitable reading today but also laid the foundation for the great books of theology that followed and that would exert profound influence upon Protestant Christianity.

Church and State
Calvin believed that church and state operated in two different spheres. In other words, he believed that church and state should be separate. These views were in opposition to the state church concept of Roman Catholicism and even of some other Protestant groups coming out of the Reformation. Calvin was not always consistent in his application of this principle because he exercised considerable authority (some would say domination) over secular society in Geneva. Despite Calvin’s inconsistency, his views were radical for their day and paved the way for such monumental events as the founding of the United States upon the principle of church-state separation.

Democracy
With his love for order, Calvin believed that the church’s ministers should exercise strong authority within the church but also recognized their need to be accountable to the people. Pastors were “ministers and helpers” to the congregation and the laity had the obligation to examine what their ministers were teaching. Calvin believed that ministers should be elected by the people. To prevent abuse of this privilege, the elections should be supervised by other ministers. It was not congregational government in the modern sense but it was a radical change from the rule of priests within Catholicism. This democratic innovation had a great influence upon political thinking and many today credit Calvin as being one of the prime architects of the modern democratic age in Europe and America.

Free Enterprise
Calvin was a strong believer in the importance of private property, thinking it fundamental to the order of society. He valued free enterprise and commerce though he recognized that men could abuse it. He was totally opposed to early forms of communism which he said would “turn all the world into a forest of brigands where, without reckoning of paying, each one takes for himself what he can get.” Calvin believed that society was bettered when all men work hard to improve themselves saying that there was “nothing more disgraceful than a lazy good-for-nothing who is of no use either to himself or to others.”

No discussion of John Calvin would be complete without mention of the incident for which he receives his harshest criticism, the burning of the heretic Servetus. While scholars debate just how responsible Calvin was for the way Servetus died (strong evidence exists that he argued for a more humane means of punishment), there can be no doubt that he fully approved of his execution for heresy. In sixteenth century Europe, societal order was highly valued and closely guarded. Heresies and non-orthodox religions were considered to be threats to that order and greatly injurious to societal stability. Calvin and his contemporaries (Catholic and Protestant) were fully prepared to use force when necessary to eliminate those threats to order. Calvin was very far from our modern ideas of religious liberty. On this issue, He was very much a man of the sixteenth century.

In conclusion, a man of John Calvin’s talents sometimes defies definition but possibly the most accurate assessment of him came from R. L. Dabney, Presbyterian theologian from the 19th century, who said that Calvin “was a very gifted, learned, and, in the main, godly man, who still had his faults.” John Calvin’s contributions to the church and modern society were immense. He loved Christ; he loved the Scriptures and wanted to see God glorified in all areas of human existence. He was not a perfect man; his great flaws reflected the times in which he lived, but Calvin desired to glorify God in all that he did.

John Calvin was both a man of his day and a man who was ahead of his time. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him for the legacy he left and the world he helped to create.

Review: A Crack in Creation

For a few decades now, the prospect of genetic engineering has, at the same time, offered the promise of great advances and the fear of unforeseen consequences. These fears have been reflected in both literature and film.

The 1982 movie Star Trek II presented the genetically-engineered superman Khan (created in the 1960s original series with the warning that “superior ability breeds superior ambition”). No one liked the thought of a genetically-superior Alexander the Great being released upon the world.

The 1997 film Gattaca showed this from the opposite perspective, a non-engineered man trying to live and thrive in a world where everyone else had been genetically enhanced. It was a cautionary tale of the dangers of a genetically stratified society, with the unthinkable consequence of a new caste system.

The subject of this book, genetic engineering, or the new term ‘gene editing,’ is perhaps the greatest power in our time and certainly a subject that few outside of the field of biology know very much about. Despite the ignorance of most of the public in these matters, the science continues to advance and to surmount barriers once thought to be impossible. A quote from the prologue of this book speaks to the enormous potential of this technology:

And with the newest and arguable most effective genetic engineering tool…, the genome—an organism’s entire DNA content, including its genes—has become almost as editable as a simple piece of text.” (p. xiii)

Amazing but also ominous.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna has written this book for the very purpose of explaining the science and to caution about its potential misuse.

Dr. Doudna is at the forefront of the gene editing field, having received the 2020 Nobel Prize for her discovery of the techniques by which the CRISPR gene editing technology could be used to accurately cut a selected portion of DNA and incorporate new code into the gap, thus editing the genetic code.

This book, written with her collaborator and fellow researcher Dr. Sanuel H. Sternberg, intends to inform the general reader about what the new technology is, what great potential it has, but also the potential dangers it could pose.

After relating a history of genetic alteration technology, Dr. Doudna chronicles the development of CRISPR technology and the discovery of how it could be used to edit any part of the genome of any organism, even that of human beings.

The great advantage of this technology is not only its accuracy but also its ease of use and low cost. In other words, it makes genetic engineering far more user friendly, for better or for worse.

Almost Unlimited Potential

Without a doubt, this technology offers tremendous potential for human health and the alleviation of suffering from rare genetic diseases. Dr. Doudna gives several examples of serious diseases (such as sickle cell anemia) that result from small congenital errors in the genetic code, errors that gene editing technology offers the opportunity to correct.

It is with little doubt that Dr. Doudna and most of the people working in the field of genetic alteration have the highest of ideals and the desire to see the technology improve the condition of human beings.

The application of this technology is very broad and also goes to the animal world where gene editing could cause more robust cows or pigs, increasing the production of food meats with no loss of nutritional value.

Another extension of the technology is the use of gene editing in plants. The code of food plants can be altered to make them less susceptible to disease and blight or even to increase yield.

This seemingly unlimited potential is however balanced by great concerns that arise from the very nature of genetic alteration itself.

The Danger of Permanent Changes

There are two basic ways in which gene editing is applied to organisms. Dr. Doudna explains the difference between somatic cell gene editing and that of germline cell editing. Somatic cells are cells of the body. The editing of the genes of those cells affects only the person in whose body the genes are edited.

However, it is with germline cell gene editing that the greatest danger lies. Germ cells are those that pass on their genetic information to the next generation. Human egg and sperm cells are examples. Changes in germline genetic code would pass on to successive generations and would permanently change the organism.

It is this kind of gene editing that gave Dr. Doudna her greatest concerns, even causing her nightmares and fears that she would become a “Dr. Frankenstein.”

Shortly after her breakthrough with CRISPR technology, Dr. Doudna worked to start discussions among the scientific community and the public at large to consider whether germline cell edited should be prohibited or, if it was allowed, what restrictions should be placed upon it.

Even as she was doing this, others were making moves to use the technology for purposes other than the healing of congenital diseases. Some of these involved proposals to alter the code of unborn children to make them less susceptible to disease. There also concerns that others would use the technology to try for human enhancement, to create a better breed of human being.

The canary was indeed out of the cage.

The Value of This Book

The book is written in very accessible prose for the informed general reader. The obviously very complicated scientific processes are explained in a way that is easily understandable (something for which Dr. Doudna gives great credit to her editor).

Even though the principle writing seems to have been done by Dr. Sternberg (from the acknowledgments), the account is told from Dr. Doudna’s perspective. However, she never fails to emphasize how the discovery and advancement of gene editing technology has, and continues to be, a team effort, with team members from all across the globe.

To Dr. Doudna’s credit, she sees not only the great potential of gene editing but also the possible abuses. Her book was written to inform the public and to hopefully spur dialog about setting parameters under which a civilized society can allow the technology to proceed while also reigning in the possible abuses.

She acknowledges that due to the rapidly with which the technology is advancing, time may be running out on reaching a consensus on how to limit the science.

She is not naïve. She compares this technology to the development of the atomic bomb. Once the canary is out of the cage then it is impossible to put back in. What she hopes is to inform the public so that a proper societal decision can be made about a moral way forward.

The name of the book, ‘A Crack in Creation,’ reflects the desire for a catchy, alliterative title to capture the imagination. There is nothing about biblical creation in this book nor even anything that can remotely be considered theistic. The only thing in the book that is transcendent is “evolution” and “nature.” Written from the pure naturalism of modern science, the book sees nothing in human development but chance variation and an unguided process.

The same can be said for the moral principles discussed. While Dr. Doudna displays compassion for those sick and a concern about the potential misuse of her work, these concerns do not arise from the moral teachings of Scripture (or frankly any other human religion) but from a broad humanism. We can applaud her for her ethics and compassion while being concerned that this enormously powerful technology is separated from any God-ordered morality.

I highly recommend the book. It is informative and accessible.

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God, Giants and Genesis (Part Two)

Looking at Genesis 6:1-4

I began this examination of Genesis 6:1-4 in Part One. For review, the passage is rendered in the King James Version as: 

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 KJV)

I used the King James Version because of its reference in verse 4 to “giants.” Virtually all modern Bible translations use the transliterated Hebrew word, Nephilim, instead of “giants.”

In the previous segment, I raised three questions about this passage:

(1) Who were the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men?’

(2) Who were the Nephilim?

(3) Is there a connection between the Nephilim and giants?

I dealt with the question about the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men’ in Part One of this study. In this concluding article, I will address the final two questions and attempt an overall explanation of the passage and the issues associated with it.

Who Were the Nephilim?

Before we can arrive at the identity of the Nephilim we must first determine the meaning of the word, and that is part of the problem. The most probable root of nephilim is the Hebrew verb, naphal¸which means, “to fall.” Hence, some take the plural noun in Genesis 6:4 to mean, “fallen ones,” with the implication that they had fallen from heaven.1

However, that interpretation is not certain. The verb can also speak of someone falling, or dying, in battle. In another use, naphal can speak of “falling upon” others in the sense of attacking them. In that case, Nephilim could refer to those who ruthlessly attacked others.2

To further complicate matters, it has been proposed that nephilim is related to the Hebrew noun nephel, which means “miscarriage” or “deformed baby” and speaks of the children born to the angel-human relations discussed in Part One.3

Since the noun nephilim occurs in only one other biblical passage (Numbers 13:33), and that passage refers back to Genesis 6:4, we gain little from investigating other biblical uses of the word. 

In short, it is difficult to determine the precise meaning of the Hebrew word nephilim. It was used to refer to a mysterious and noteworthy group of ancient people. However, not being able to nail down the exact lexical meaning of the word does not mean that we cannot identify those to whom the word refers.

Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB), the venerable Hebrew lexicon, defines nephilim as “giants.” The newer and well-respected Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) gives, “giant, monster, deformed baby.” Even though the term “giants” is not in our modern translations in this passage, it is never far away from the meaning. We will further examine the issue of the Nephilim and giants in answering the last question of this study.

There is another issue that must also be resolved. Does the passage in focus allow us to determine the origin of the Nephilim?

The English Standard Version gives a quite literal translation of the Hebrew of verse 4.

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. (Genesis 6:4)

In Part One, I argued that the clearest meaning of “sons of God” and “daughters of men” was that of fallen angels cohabitating with human women. Genesis 6:4 states that the children born to these marriages became, from the standpoint of the writer of Genesis, the mighty warriors of antiquity (literally ‘mighty men’). They were “men of renown,” known and celebrated in legend and story.

Were the Nephilim the children produced by the marriages of angels and human women? That question is not explicitly answered by the text but it is implied. Literally, v. 4 says that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days when the marriages occurred and also “afterward,” which speaks of the time after the flood. It must be remembered that Moses wrote Genesis long after the flood. 

Does this mean that the Nephilim were the children of the illicit unions? I think that it does. Otherwise, the use of Nephilim alone as a mythical group makes little sense. Gordon Wenham, in writing of the “mighty men who were of old,” offers that they were the Nephilim and indeed that is the implied meaning.4

Genesis 6:1-4 speaks of a time when fallen angels took human women to themselves and “went in” to them (a euphemism for sexual relations). The form of the Hebrew verb implies something that was a continuous activity.5 The children born from these relations were given the name Nephilim—possibly because of their fallen nature—and were mighty warriors that had been enshrined in legends of the past.

All ancient cultures have legends of mythical warriors. One of the oldest is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian tale from over 4,000 years ago. The heroic warrior-king. Gilgamesh was purportedly one-third god and two-thirds man. The Greeks had many legends of heroes who were the offspring of gods and human women. Examples of this are Heracles (Hercules) and Achilles, half-gods who were legendary warriors. None of this is to give full credence to ancient pagan legends but to demonstrate that a common narrative appears across cultures and even religions of mythical and renowned warriors who had both divine and human origins.

Hesiod, the 8th century BC Greek poet, wrote that the “giants” (gigantes) came from the interaction of heaven (Ouranos) and earth (Gaia), another image of a heaven-earth encounter even though Gaia was believed to be a god.6

An interesting anecdote in this discussion is the use of Nephilim in Numbers 13:32-33.

So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:32–33)

The twelve spies were sent into the promised land. The passage gives the report of the ten spies who saw only problems. The spies speak in the Hebrew of “men of great height” (anishi middot) and called them Nephilim. Some commentators see this as the spies bringing up a frightful term from the past to make their point. Ronald Allen wrote:

The use of the term Nephilim seems to be deliberately provocative of fear, a term not unlike the concept of bogeymen and hobgoblins.”7

That is an understandable interpretation but it is complicated by the parenthetical note in the text, “The sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim.” If true—and it was written by Moses—then it allows only one of two interpretations. (1) Either some of the Nephilim survived the flood or (2) the activity before the flood that produced the Nephilim continued for a time after the flood.8

Clearly, (1) is incorrect as only Noah and his family survived the flood. (2) would seem to have support from Genesis 6:1:

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. (Genesis 6:4)

If, for a period of time after the flood, further interactions took place between fallen angels and human women, it would go far to explain these passages as well as account for legends of semi-divine mythical heroes in many cultures.

It must be stated that God has chosen to limit the biblical account of this primeval time so very little can be stated with absolute certainty.

Is There a Connection Between the Nephilim and Giants?

The last question to examine is the connection, if any exists, between the Nephilim and the mention of giants in the Scripture. As related, modern translations do not have “giants” in Genesis 6:4 but the word appears elsewhere in almost all modern translations.

Did Giants Exist?

The Bible speaks of men of great stature but how can we account for such height from a time when people were generally shorter than they are today? It is usually explained in one of three ways.

(1) Skeptics, not accepting the Bible as inspired, see the gigantic height as an exaggeration much as appears in many ancient tales.

Those who accept the authority of Scripture either try to explain it (2) in accordance with a modern understanding or (3) as something unique to that time.

Many are quick to note that the account of Goliath given in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) gives his height as four cubits and a span (about 6 ft. 9 in.). That is more acceptable to the modern mind. In 1 Chronicles 11:23, we have the account of one of David’s warriors killing an Egyptian with a height of five cubits (7 ft. 6 in.).

Those uncomfortable with the great height and seemingly unique nature of the giants of the Old Testament would point to the condition known today as giantism or acromegaly. Giantism is a condition where the pituitary gland has uncontrolled secretions of growth hormones usually due to a tumor.

The tallest person in the world today is Sultan Kosen from Turkey who has this condition and is 8 ft. 3 in. tall. The tallest man in modern recorded history was an American, Robert Wadlow, who died in 1940 and grew to be 8 ft. 11 in. Modern giants with this disorder have many health issues and certainly do not fit the biblical description of fearsome ancient warriors.

Giants in Scripture were not singular people but existed in groups. There were tribes of giants and giants were born to giant ancestors. The Bible testifies to this.

After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. (2 Samuel 21:18–22)

Giants in the Promised Land

Encounters with peoples of great height happened as soon as the Israelites entered the promised land. I have noted the report of the spies but it is not the only mention of giant people.

The twelve spies returned with stories of a fearsome and gigantic people named the “sons of Anak,” sometimes called the “Anakim.” This was not the only name that appears. The original inhabitants of Moab were the Emim, who were said to be “as great and as many and as tall as the Anakim.” (Dt. 2:10) Likewise, there were former giant inhabitants of Ammon with the ponderous name, Zamzummim, also a people as tall as the Anakim. (Dt. 2:20-21).

These passages in the second chapter of Deuteronomy introduce a new name to the discussion, Rephaim. All of these giant tribes were said to be Rephaim.

Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. (Deuteronomy 2:11)

This name bears study. It first appears in Genesis 14:5

In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. (Genesis 14:5–6)

This passage speaks of events that took place in the time of Abraham, several centuries before the Israelites entered the promised land. All of the peoples mentioned are those also written of in the second chapter of Deuteronomy. They are not called giants in Genesis but Moses, who wrote Genesis, refers to them as giants in Deuteronomy.

Rephaim appears many times in the Old Testament and usually refers to the spirits of dead men in the underworld (Sheol). Isaiah, writing of the fall of the king of Babylon wrote:

Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades (Rephaim) to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations. (Isaiah 14:9)

One cannot make a conclusive case connecting the words Nephilim (if it is taken as “fallen ones”) and Rephaim (dead spirits) but it seems less than coincidental that the terms are co-joined with respect to the same group of people, descendants of wicked angels sentenced to judgment.

The word Rephaim and its related term, Rapha, became synonymous with the giant inhabitants of the land of Canaan and is translated as such by all modern versions of the Bible with the exception of the NIV (which uses the transliterated name, Rapha).

The Holy War in the promised land was not only against Canaanites but also the Rephaim, resulting in their near eradication. The mention of Og of Bashan is noteworthy not only for his status as part of the Rephaim but also for his great size.

(For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit.) (Deuteronomy 3:11)

Taking the cubit to be 18 inches, Og’s bed was 13.5 feet long.

At the end of the war, the few Rephaim remaining fled to familiar places.

There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. (Joshua 11:22)

It is hardly coincidental that the remnant of the giants fled to Gath and that Goliath the giant came from Gath. What is interesting is that three to four centuries after Joshua’s defeat of the giants and their flight to Gath, in the time of David the giants are still there.

Summary

In concluding my study of this fascinating but mysterious passage, I have reached several conclusions over the two articles:

(1) The “sons of God” of Genesis 6:1 were fallen angels who (through means that we cannot know) took to themselves wives from human women and produced children.

(2) These children were given the mysterious name, Nephilim, which, coming from the Hebrew verb which means, “to fall,” could refer to their fallen status as descendants of angels who had fallen. They were later referred to as Rephaim, a word meaning dead spirits, perhaps because of their origins.

(3) These strange offspring were giants and also mighty warriors from antiquity, known in legend, at the time Moses was writing.

(4) The Nephilim of Genesis 6:1 were destroyed in the flood but giants were also seen after the food, perhaps indicating that the illicit activity between fallen angels and humans continued for a time after the flood.

(5) Giants were indeed upon the earth but not from pituitary disorders among individuals. There were giant tribes and families. There was a giant king, Og, whose enormous bed became famous.

(6) One of the tasks of Joshua as he entered the promised land was to defeat the Rephiam Some survived and fled to cities that would later be occupied by the Philistines. Among those was Gath, from which came Goliath, the opponent of David. Goliath was among the last of the Rephaim.

References

1 Mathews, Kenneth A, (1996) Genesis 1-11:26, (p. 336), Nashville, Broadman & Holman. Mathews notes that the interpretation as “fallen ones” is itself ambiguous. “…does this refer to their expulsion from heaven, their death as ‘fallen’ in battle, or to their moral degeneracy?”

2 The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testamant, Logos version.

3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 587. Also, Brown-Driver-Briggs.

4 Wenham, Gordon J., Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (1987), Waco, p. 143.

5 Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Ge 6:4). Biblical Studies Press, Logos Version. “The Hebrew imperfect verbal form draws attention to the ongoing nature of such sexual unions during the time before the flood.

6 Hesiod, Theogony, Trans. by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, (1983), Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 17.
Lines 176-188 read:
Ouranos came dragging with him the night, longing for Gaia’s love,
and he embraced her and lay stretched out upon her.
Then his son reached out from his hiding place and seized him
with his left hand, while with his right he grasped
the huge, long, and sharp-toothed sickle and swiftly hacked off
his father’s genitals and tossed them behind him—
and they were not flung from his hand in vain.
Gaia took in all the bloody drops that spattered off,
and as the seasons of the year turned around
she bore the potent Furies and the Giants, immense,
dazzling in their armor, holding long spears in their hands
and then she bore the Ash Tree Nymphs of the boundless earth.

7 Allen, Ronald B., Numbers, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2 (1990), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, p. 812.

8 Mathews, op. cit., p. 336. The phrase, “the sons of Anak who come from the Nephilim,” appears in the MT but is absent from the LXX.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

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God, Giants and Genesis (Part One)

Looking at Genesis 6:1-4

I must confess that I have an interest in somewhat obscure and difficult to understand portions of the Bible. The Scriptures are a treasure trove of knowledge for us. We gain knowledge about God. We learn of His dealings with mankind over the centuries. More importantly for us, as the Apostle wrote, the Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15) But in the midst of this wonder book of God’s revelation, there are passages that are harder to interpret and that cause us some difficulties in understanding their meanings.

To me, one of these fascinating but difficult passages of scripture is the pre-flood account of the ‘sons of God’ related in Genesis 6:1-4. To many, this is an obscure portion of Scripture that they pass over quickly in proceeding to the flood story. But, to many others, this passage holds a great interest. If you do an internet search with the relevant keywords of this passage, you will find much discussion and even several books that have been written on the topic.

I will give the passage in the Kings James Version for reasons that I will explain later:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 KJV)

Chief among the interpretive challenges of this passage is the identification of the ‘sons of God’ mentioned here who take wives of the ‘daughters of men.’ These marriages resulted in the birth of those referred to as, “mighty men” and “men of renown.” Also of note—and the reason why I chose the King James Version—is the mention of “giants in the earth.” The word “giants” does not appear in the vast majority of our modern translations who substitute a transliteration of the actual Hebrew word, Nephilim.

There are several things to investigate in this passage:

(1) Who were the ‘Sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men?’

(2) Who were the Nephilim?

(3) Is there a connection between the Nephilim and giants spoken of in the Bible?

I will deal with the first question in Part One of this study and reserve the other two for the conclusion.

Who were the ‘Sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men?’

It is appropriate that we examine this question first. It is the first challenge for interpreting the passage. The actions of the ‘sons of God’ appear to be the occasion for God’s statement of judgment. Over the centuries, there have been different answers offered to solve the identity of the participants in the marriages that resulted in judgment. 

Fallen Angels and Human Offspring

The oldest traditional identification of the ‘sons of God’ is that they were angels who cohabitated with human women to produce offspring. This viewpoint has its origin in Jewish tradition from as early as the second century BC where it was advocated in the book of 1 Enoch.

In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born unto them handsome and beautiful daughters. And the angels, the children of heaven, saw them and desired them; and they said to one another, “Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of man and beget us children.” (1 Enoch 6:2) 1

1 Enoch was not written by the biblical character Enoch but is from a collection of books that scholars call “pseudepigrapha.” 2 The book of Enoch bears the name of the ancient godly man but was written sometime in the second century BC. It is not canonical, meaning that it is not inspired Scripture. Its value is that it reflects ideas and traditions that existed among the Jews of that period.

It is likely that the interpretation that the ‘sons of God’ were angels goes back to at least the third century BC. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, have the reading “angels of God” instead of “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. 3

Several early Christian writers held to this position (Justin, Irenaeus, Ps.-Clement, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian). Many liberal/critical commentators in the modern day have adopted this view but see it as a mythological story from an earlier polytheistic era. 4,5 It must be remembered that in liberal scholarship, the Jewish belief in a single God is believed to have evolved from the surrounding paganism rather than paganism having come from a rebellion against God, as the Bible attests.

In summary, the view that the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6 were angels who took human women has an ancient pedigree.

Men from the Genealogical Line of Seth

Another popular interpretation is that ‘sons of God’ were the descendants of the righteous line of Adam’s son Seth while the ‘daughters of men’ came from the wicked line of Cain. Several of the church fathers and many of the Reformers held to this viewpoint (Julius Africanus, John Chrysostom, Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther).

An example comes from John Calvin:

It was, therefore, base ingratitude in the posterity of Seth, to mingle themselves with the children of Cain, and with other profane races; because they voluntarily deprived themselves of the inestimable grace of God. 6

Calvin thought the fallen angel viewpoint so difficult to believe that he would not even try to refute it. He was unsparing in his criticism.

That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious. 7

Even today, commentators are divided between these two opinions. Kenneth Mathews, in his excellent commentary on Genesis, wrote favorably of this interpretation.

Although this view has its share of difficulties, we find that it is the most attractive. 7

Human Judges or Rulers

Later Jewish interpreters viewed the ‘sons of God’ as human judges or rulers. This distinction between the two parties was a social one depicting the marriage of rulers and princes with commoners. Lately, a revision of this view depicts the ‘sons of God’ as human kings who terrorized the population and practiced polygamy. 9

Evaluation of Historic Interpretations

I will deal with the last option first. In no place in the Old Testament is the plural term, ‘sons of God,’ applied to human rulers. Literature from other ancient near eastern societies sometimes referred to their kings in this way but it was probably for the purpose of establishing a divine right to rule. Such a concept would have been avoided by biblical writers. Also, there is no evidence in near eastern tradition of a wicked kingship that resulted in punishment by a universal flood. 10

The view that the ’sons of God’ were the righteous line of Seth intermarrying with the sinful line of Cain has been very popular over the centuries because it eliminates the thorny issue of angels procreating with humans. It received its first known promotion by Julius Africanus who lived about AD 160-240. Augustine followed in the fifth century with the same viewpoint in Book XV of the City of God. This led to the general rejection of the angel-humans option by most early commentators. 11

In favor of this interpretation is that Genesis 4-5 contrast the respective lines of Cain and Seth. It has also been argued that in ‘sons of God,’ the word for God (Elohim) is a genitive of quality describing those descendants (i.e., “godly sons”) 12

In the taking of wives of “of all which they chose,” it is argued, the godly line of Seth  moved beyond the bounds God had set for them and intermarried with the ungodly. In joining with the descendants of Cain, “the Sethites, too, became so badly contaminated that the existing world order [had to be] definitely terminated. 13

For all its advantages, the Seth-Cain view is not without considerable difficulties. For one, in writing Genesis 6:1 of men multiplying upon the earth, Moses uses the generic Hebrew word for mankind, adam. He uses the term again in v. 2 in speaking of the ‘daughters of men’ that the ‘sons of God’ marry. Then again, in v. 3, God speaks of His spirit not striving with mankind (adam) forever. There is no reason to suspect that the word adam is used only for the line of Cain in v. 2 and then used for all of mankind in verses 1 and 3.

The interpretation that the ‘sons of God’ were angels has much stronger biblical support. In every place where the term appears, it refers to supernatural beings (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:8).14 As was noted before, this is the earliest known interpretation, appearing in the third century BC and possibly earlier. These two factors are the strongest arguments in favor of this viewpoint.

Also, there exists in the legends of ancient peoples stories of supernatural beings proposing marriage or having sexual relations with mortals (Greek mythology, Epic of Gilgamesh, etc.). It is thus probable that the true happenings recorded in Genesis were adapted by pagan peoples to form these legends.15

New Testament References

There is New Testament support for seeing ‘sons of God’ as angels. In 2 Peter 2:4, Peter speaks of angels who sinned and were cast into Tartarus,16 being held in chains of darkness to be reserved for judgment.

An almost identical statement appears in Jude 6:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 6)

Jude continued in v. 7 to speak of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. He writes that they “likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.”

The passage clearly shows that the sins of these angels were of the same nature as the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah.

This strong scriptural support is not without its detractors. It is pointed out that, with the exception of the cherubim guarding the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:24, no angel was shown in Scripture before Genesis 6. It is also argued that the flood judgment was against man with no indication in the Genesis account that angels were punished or held to be culpable.

Probably the strongest argument against the angelic viewpoint is that there is no biblical evidence for angels having the ability to procreate with humans or otherwise. Objectors point to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:30

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matt 22:30)

They would point out that Jesus’ words show something very different from the pagan conception of celestial beings procreating with humans.16

These objections are not insignificant and although it is argued from Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30 that angels cannot procreate, it reads too much into the passage. Jesus was not speaking about procreation but about relationships between men and women in the eternal state. The old order of husband and wife would not exist in that future existence.

Jesus spoke of “angels in heaven” not cohabitating but this says nothing about the actions of fallen angels with depraved and rebellious humans. As Richard Wolff said, “the angels in heaven neither marry or are given in marriage, but this does not automatically exclude the possibility of unnatural relationships of fallen angels.”18

It is true that Genesis says nothing about punishment of angels but this was an account written for men. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 seem to provide the missing information that the angels were and are being punished for their transgressions.

Summary

The identity of the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6:1-4 is one of those issues for which it is impossible to be overly dogmatic and we should never let it divide us. However, as difficult as it may be for us to understand, the biblical evidence favors the identity of the ‘sons of God’ as being angels who sinned in taking human wives. These actions spoke to the general corruption of humankind at that time to which God responded with the punishment of the flood.

In part two of this article, I will deal with the Nephilim and their relationship to the mention of giants in the Bible.

References

1  1 Enoch 6:1-2, (1983) The Old Testament Pseudipigrapha, Vol 1, ed. by James H. Charlesworth (p 15)

2  The term Pseudepigrapha refers to anonymous works written under the name of a biblical heroes long after that hero lived. These writings appeared in Judea between the Second Century BC and the Second Century AD.

3  Mathews, Kenneth A, (1996) Genesis 1-11:26, (p. 327), Nashville, Broadman & Holman.

4  Huey, F. B. Jr, The Sons of God, The Genesis Debate (1986), ed. by Ronald F. Youngblood, (p. 185), Grand Rapids, Baker.

5  Speiser, E. A., Genesis, (1964) The Anchor Bible, (p. 45-46), Garden City, Doubleday. Speiser notes the similarity between this account and the Greek mythological tales of battles between the gods. Uranus was defeated by his son Cronus which, in turn, was beaten by his son, Zeus. Zeus then battled a group of giants known as the Titans. He speculates that the Genesis and Greek accounts had their basis in a Hurrian mythological tale from the second millennium BC.

6  Calvin, John, The Book of Genesis (2005), (p. I:238), Grand Rapids, Baker.

Ibid.

8  Mathews, op. cit., p. 329.   

9  Huey, op. cit., p. 185.

10  ibid., pp. 195-196.

11 ibid., p. 190.

12  Mathews, op. cit., pp. 329-33.

13  Leupold, H. C., Exposition of Genesis (1942), (p. 249), Grand Rapids, Baker.

14  Huey, op. cit., pp 193-194.

15  Mathews, op. cit., pp 325-326.

16  The Greeks believed that Tartarus was the lowest part of the underworld where divine punishment was meted out. The giant Titans were in Tartarus, according to Greek mythology.

17  Mathew, op. cit., pp. 326-327.

18  Wolff, Richard, quoted in Huey, op. cit., pp. 199-200.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

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Review: Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy

Adrian Goldsworthy’s biography of Julius Caesar is a massive undertaking. To adequately cover the life of a man as renown and influential as Caesar would demand nothing less. The author does not disappoint and delivers a tour de force.

Julius Caesar lived in challenging, transitional times. The Roman republic was dying with the empire on the horizon. The death throes of the great republic were having reverberations throughout the entire Roman world. It was a maelstrom that Caesar and his contemporaries were caught up in. The times were very ironic in that there was eloquent oratory and great literature coexisting with political payoffs, violent death, and civil war. Rome was a civilized society with a very violent undercurrent.

Caesar is sometimes viewed as the destroyer of the Roman republic, the founder of the empire, and its first emperor but he was hardly any of those things. He was a major player in the period when the republic collapsed. He was neither better nor worse than any of the other players but, being more talented and more fortunate, he ended up on top. In reality, it is almost certain that neither he nor his opponents wanted the republic to die but the combination of strong personalities and great ambition among the rivals meant that there had to be winners and losers in the conflict. Caesar made sure he won.

After consolidating power, Caesar tried to govern fairly. He refused to do the violent proscriptions (purges) that previous Roman victors had done. Though commendable, that decision probably led to his assassination by rivals who detested him and resented his accumulation of power. His death led to more civil war whereby the Roman Empire was established with Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, as its first emperor and with more power than Caesar ever had. The Law of Unintended Consequences at work.

Julius Caesar was an extremely talented man. He was a great writer, a good orator (in a time when great oratory was valued), a gifted politician, and one of the greatest generals in military history. Nowhere in the world today do we see this combination of ability in a single person. Perhaps, that is a good thing.

This is a highly recommended book.

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Why Another Blog?

About ten years ago, I made the the following comment about blog-writing: 

“Never have so many with so little to say written so much to so few people”

I meant that tongue-in-cheek because, after all, I was engaged in blogging at the time. The writing that I did then was “of little note nor long-remembered” as the saying goes (although it is all still out there in the nether regions of cyberspace). Still, with that inauspicious beginning, I now find myself drawn back to the idea of writing something to post online. I will leave it to my readers (if there are any) to determine whether or not I have anything worthwhile to say. 

The blog, or the personal web site associated with it, will consist of three parts. First, there will be a blog that deals primarily with topics related to the Bible and history (and usually that as it intersects with Scripture). My intent is to delve into topics that will take us beyond just a devotional reading of the Bible. I hope to find that sweet spot between the simple and the academic for those who want a little bit more.

I have called the second part of the blog, “Christ and Culture.” This is really a broad category that will allow me to write on a variety of subjects, from devotional to even cultural commentary. This part will be a discovery even for me to see how it turns out.

Lastly, I have a section where I will post reviews, mostly of books that have benefited me. It will give me a chance to share my reading and give recommendations to those with similar interests as me.

I hope the site (and blogs) are beneficial and challenging. As a pastor I have a conviction that many Christians really want to know more about God’s word and are sometimes not challenged enough. If I reach my goal, the readers of this blog will gain a greater understanding of God’s word and the world of Scripture while not being forced to understand things that are above their level of training. 

As I begin this journey, please give me your feedback. There is a contact form which will enable that.

Soli Deo Gloria

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