Genesis 6: Fallen Angels in the Early Church (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this study, Genesis 6: Corrupted Earth (Part 1), we took a look at who the sons of God described in Genesis were and how they reproduced with human females, producing offspring known as giants causing continual evil and violence on the earth. I also quickly touched upon the idea that this is a DNA issue. In part 2, we’ll take a look at the history behind these ideas.

Historic Context

The idea that fallen angels came to earth and reproduced with women isn’t a new idea and certainly isn’t something I came up with just to give you an interesting read. It has roots dating back to early church history. Below are examples of church fathers who believed that the sons of God talked about in Genesis 6, were actually fallen angels.

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Saint Justin Martyr was a Greek Christian philosopher and apologist of the 2nd century AD; hailed as one of the most important philosopher-apologists of the early church and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos. In his Second Apology he writes about the transgression of the angels and the negative impact they’ve had on mankind,

  • “…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.” – Second Apology; Chapter V.

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Saint Iraneus was a bishop of Lyon and Christian theologian of the 2nd century and is well known for his role in the development of Christian theology. He also talks about angels in his book, A Discourse in the Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching. 

  • “And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants.” – A Discourse in the Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching; 18.

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Saint Ambrose, is one of the four original doctors of the Church. He was the Bishop of Milan and became one of the most important theological figures of the 4th century. He’s known for his literary works as well as his contributions to music. He’s also remembered as the teacher who converted St. Augustine of Hippo. He also believed fall angels had a role to play in the pre-flood world

  • “The giants (Nephilim) were on the Earth in those days.” The author of the divine Scripture does not mean that those giants must be considered, according to the tradition of poets, as sons of the earth but asserts that those whom he defines with such a name because of the extraordinary size of their body were generated by angels and women.” – Ambrose, On Noah, 4.8. Genesis 1-11, Volume 1

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Saint Clement was a bishop in Rome in the first century. Bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyon lists him as a contemporary of the Apostles and a witness of their preaching. The Letter to the Church of Corinth, considered to be the most important 1st-century document other than the New Testament, has been traditionally ascribed to him. It was written to settle a controversy among the Corinthians against their church leaders. It was highly regarded to the point that it was seen as scripture by many 3rd and 4th-century Christians. In his work, Clementine Homilies, he shares his opinions on what could’ve occurred in early Genesis,

  • “But when, having assumed these forms, they convicted as covetous those who stole them, and changed themselves into the nature of men, in order that, living holily, and showing the possibility of so living, they might subject the ungrateful to punishment, yet having become in all respects men, they also partook of human lust, and being brought under its subjection they fell into cohabitation with women; and being involved with them, and sunk in defilement and altogether emptied of their first power, were unable to turn back to the first purity of their proper nature, their members turned away from their fiery substance: for the fire itself, being extinguished by the weight of lust, and changed into flesh, they trode the impious path downward. For they themselves, being fettered with the bonds of flesh, were constrained and strongly bound; wherefore they have no more been able to ascend into the heavens.” – Clementine Homilies, Homily VIII, Chapter XIII.

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Lucius Lactantius was a Christian apologist in the early 4th century. His work Divinae institutiones (“Divine Precepts”), was the first systematic Latin account of the Christian attitude toward life and was often referred to as the “Christian Cicero” by Renaissance humanists. He states in his book, Divine Institutes, that,

  • “When, therefore, the number of men had begun to increase, God in His forethought, lest the devil, to whom from the beginning He had given power over the earth, should by his subtlety either corrupt or destroy men, as he had done at first, sent angels for the protection and improvement of the human race; and inasmuch as He had given these a free will, He enjoined them above all things not to defile themselves with contamination from the earth, and thus lose the dignity of their heavenly nature. He plainly prohibited them from doing that which He knew that they would do, that they might entertain no hope of pardon. Therefore, while they abode among men, that most deceitful ruler of the earth, by his very association, gradually enticed them to vices, and polluted them by intercourse with women.” – Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book II, Ch. XV

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Tertullian was an African Christian theologian from the Roman province of Carthage of the 2nd century who was instrumental in shaping the vocabulary and thought of Western Christianity. In chapter 22 of his book Apology, he starts off the chapter about the common knowledge and belief in demonic entities at the time even amongst learned philosophers such as Socrates and Plato, but then goes into what Christians believe to be truth,

  • “We are instructed, moreover, by our sacred books how from certain angels, who fell of their own free-will, there sprang a more wicked demon-brood, condemned of God along with the authors of their race, and that chief we have referred to. It will for the present be enough, however, that some account is given of their work. Their great business is the ruin of mankind. So, from the very first, spiritual wickedness sought our destruction. They inflict, accordingly, upon our bodies diseases and other grievous calamities, while by violent assaults they hurry the soul into sudden and extraordinary excesses.” – Apology, Ch. XXII.

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Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Jewish priest, scholar and historian described as an “invaluable” historical source, writes in his book, The Works of Flavius Josephus, that

  • “For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.” – Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 3:1, Flavius Josephus, as recorded in The Works of Flavius Josephus, William Whiston, Vol. 1, 1843, p. 16.

We can see that many early church fathers and notable individuals who had a lasting impact on Christianity interpreted the events of Genesis 6 in light of angels who sinned and were later punished. This viewpoint is thousands of years old and has stood the test of time because it’s rooted in biblical truth, as strange as it might seem. Now that we know the major “players” of Genesis 6 as well as the reason for the flood, in the next part of this study, I’ll begin shifting focus to the greater purpose the flood played as God’s act of mercy towards mankind.

Sources:

  1. Saint Justin Martyr
  2. Saint Irenaeus
  3. Saint Ambrose
  4. Saint Clement
  5. Clementine Homilies
  6. Lucius Lactantius
  7. Divine Institutes
  8. Tertullian
  9. Tertullian’s Apology
  10. Flavius Josephus

5 thoughts on “Genesis 6: Fallen Angels in the Early Church (Part 2)

  1. I really enjoyed your post. It is very informative and interesting. In one of my seminary classes, Early Christian History, I studied many of these people you refer to. I found the class fascinating and I loved learning about their writing and insights into the faith. But I was unfamiliar with their writing that focused on this topic so I really enjoyed reading about their perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

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