How do you Interpret the Bible?

During a recent discussion at Jason’s blog, the subject of biblical interpretation and children came up. Jason started the conversation with a thought on the interpretation of Genesis 6.1-4. Many use this passage, mixed with the non-canonical, but important, book of Enoch I. They use the understanding found in those pages and apply it to Genesis to create what I consider a very bad doctrine – human/angel copulation. For these people, ‘sons of God’ literally mean those children produced by this act. (This is also the beginning of the Serpent Seed doctrine).

T.C. brought up explaining things to children.

In explaining the difficult passages in the Old Testament to children – how do you do it?

This is mine -

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 NLT)

I interpret (understand, there is a difference between the Old Testament in History and the Old Testament of Faith) the phrase ‘sons of God’ through this singular verse. All things, in my opinion, point to Christ.

What is your hermeneutical principle?

Post By Joel Watts (10,051 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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40 thoughts on How do you Interpret the Bible?

  1. “Sons of God” are not the kids produced.  “Sons of God” were the angels.  Your response is beside the point consequently.  Assuming a ‘Son of God’  (esp. in the Hebrew bible) is such by special creation – such is our birth from above – then these beings, these ‘Sons of God’ could well be angels…watchers specially created.
    Why do you regard human/angel copulation a ‘bad doctrine’?

  2. Sticking to the party line, eh?  Angels are referred to in the OT as Sons of God.  The sons of Seth are not.  Are you suggesting that yours is the only plausible interpretation?

  3. The doctrine of election has led to hyper-calvinism.  Would you reject it because it has been misused?  If the idea of angels and humans copulating is abhorrent to you, look at how God felt about it.  He regretted (an interesting word in itself) having made any of them!!

  4. I view everything not simply through the lens of the NT, but through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ…even more restrictive and unpopular.

  5. yeah, yeah, yeah….  this bothers me.  Are you suggesting the references to ‘Sons of God’ in Job referred to the sons of Seth?  …or to humans at all?  does the NT really require this?  This is, after all, about HOW we interpret the Bible.  Insisting on unequivical meaning in linguistic structures that are (only) similar seems like an illegitimate hermeneutical principle to me…  Does context mean nothing?

  6. I tend to go with the “angels” interpretation. The ancient Near East had stories about human-divine figures, and I think Genesis 6 is an attempt to account for them, for it mentions “mighty men of old” (I don’t have my Bible in front of me).

    Plus, although I’m not the biggest fan of interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New, Jude and II Peter (I think) seem to nod to the story in the book of Enoch.

    As far as Arnold Murray goes, I don’t think accepting the “angels” view means we must treat any group alive today as sub-human, for the giants were wiped out in the flood, and another batch in the Conquest.

  7. Interpreting the OT in light of the NT in no way determines the interpretation of Gen 6 unless I am missing something.   It is perfectly permissable to reject an interpretation because you don’t like it and all it implies.  But once one invokes personal opinion as a sufficient hermeneutical princliple, one loses all right to question another’s personal opinion.
    In fact, Gen 6 implies – if it doesn’t state outright – that the Nephillim – giants, mighty men of old – came about as a result of the union.  Doesn’t sound like regular progeny.  God’s reaction seems to be over the top as well if this was ‘normal’ sexual relations.  We have no reason to assume the sons of Seth were not to marry the daughters of Cain.

  8. Because, it has lead to such things as the serpent seed doctrine of Arnold Murray. I understand that it is assumed that the sons of God were angels in the Hebrew Bible, but the point of this post was that we should interpret things through the New Testament. Of course, I understand that to be somewhat controversial, but that doesn’t concern me much.

    I am of the opinion that the sons of God were those of the line of Seth while the daughters of men were of the line of Cain. (Not going to get into a debate upon the literal understanding of Genesis).

  9. Of course it’s the only plausible interpretation!

    Seriously, however, while Enoch does easily state that the ‘sons of God’ are angels (watchers?), I do not think that it is the only interpretation available. I would prefer to see things through the New Testament.

  10. Depends on what ‘election’ you mean? I see your point, Gadfly, but for me, by viewing the ‘sons of God’ through the lens of the New Testament – which may not be popular – I find an interpretation that I can believe in.

  11. Context does mean a great deal, Sonny, and no, sons of God in Job doesn’t mean the line of Seth. There is one passage in Job which I think possibly could mean angels, but again, it could be those that followed God.

    I think context plays a large part, as does the interpreter. I don’t believe that the NT ‘requires’ anything of the sort, but it is my personal choice to interpret rather difficult passages – against, separating history and faith – through the NT. Historically, yes, I do believe that ‘sons of God’ were thought of as angels, as we see in Rabbinic writings as well as some Church Fathers, but in the end, because the outcome of that peculiar doctrine, I see a better interpretation through John’s prologue.

    Context means a great deal – take the reference about women being saved through child birth. Because of Roman laws at the time, it might very well mean physical redemption rather than salvational.

  12. Perhaps, but I prefer to find a better consensus on interpretation than I have seen produced through this peculiar doctrine.

  13. Well, I guess that does ease the pain a bit in accepting the historic interpretation as angels. (I believe Irenaeus accepted that interpretation without causing him harm.)

  14. I’m not sure when the “sons of God are sons of Seth” idea came into being, though it does seem as if the Reformers (i.e., Luther) held to it.

  15. Isn’t it all personal opinion, Gadfly?

    I reject the historical position – and I do know full well that the historical interpretation does explicitly state that the sons of God in Gen. 6.1-4 were angels – because I see it through the lens of John 1.13, where in we could all become the children of God.

    Of course, if you use the LXX, the historical position becomes more sure, as twice ‘sons of God’ in the Hebrew is clearly seen as ‘angels’.

    I am not alone in my interpretation – although perhaps from a different starting point – in that both Chryostom and Cassian deny the angel/human copulation side of this passage.

  16. Actually, I believe that Cassian did as well, referring to the sons of Seth as ‘angelic’ become of their obedience to God. I wonder where Augustine would fit into this at?

  17. ezinearticles.com has an article by Meredith Lee Miller (who has a doctorate in religion) entitled, “Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6?” It doesn’t cite specific sourced, but it offers a decent summary of the history of interpretation of Genesis 6. According to her, Augustine fell in the “Sons of Seth” camp.

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