What was the "sin" of those demons referred to in 2 Pt. 2:4 and Jude 6 (and poss. 1 Pt. 3:18-20) for which they are now confined in hell? This "sin" was not their original rebellion, for why, then, would only some be confined and not all? It can't be that only the more wicked were permanently confined, for Satan, the most wicked of all, is still free. The context in both 2 Pt. 4 and Jude 6 links this "sin" with the flood of Noah (cf. 1 Pt. 3:18-20). This takes us back to Genesis 6. Possible interpretations:
(1) The "sons of God" were humans, the godly male descendants of Seth, whereas the "daughters of men" were ungodly female descendants of Cain. There are several reasons why this view is unlikely. First, the phrase is "daughters of men" not "daughters of Cain," which on the surface seems more likely to describe daughters of men in general. Second, surely not all the daughters (female descendants) of Cain are to be thought of as significantly more evil than other females in the earth. Third, whereas the phrase "sons of God" is used to describe the nation as a whole, it is never used in the OT to refer to a particular group within humanity noted for their piety. Fourth, on the other hand, it is used specifically of celestial beings.
(2) The "sons of God" were men of nobility (kings, rulers, princes) who because of lust married outside and well below their rank and status (their sin was polygamy). But as Oropeza observes, "it is not clear . . . why God would abhor polygamy enough to destroy the entire earth by the flood. Long after the flood, the Israelites engaged in polygamy without incurring God's displeasure" (61).
(3) This text describes a massive intrusion of the demonic into the domain of humanity. This was the interpretation dominant in the patristic period until Augustine (354-430) argued for View 1 above. Arguments in support of this interpretation: First, the phrase "sons of God" is used in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Pss. 29:1; 89:6; and probably Deut. 32:8 to refer to angelic beings. [Although we should not give it too much weight, it is worth noting that the phrase "sons of God" was understood to refer to angels in the earliest known exposition of Gen. 6, that is, in 1 Enoch 6-11.] Second, the contrast between "sons of God" and "daughters of men" suggests that the former are to be distinguished from human beings. The contrast is most naturally taken to be between beings who are not human and beings who are. Third, Jude 6-7 imply that the sin of these angels was sexual in nature.
The most frequently cited objection to this view is that angels/demons do not marry or procreate (Mt. 22:30), thus it is inconceivable that demons could engage humans in any kind of sexual relationship. But in Mt. 22 Jesus is describing the heavenly behavior of holy angels, not the earthly misbehavior of evil angels. Also, the point of Mt. 22 is that angels do not intermarry with each other, i.e., they are not a race that propagates itself. But they still might seek sexual interaction with humans. We should also remember that in Gen. 18-19 angels appeared in human form, ate solid food, and were pursued by the homosexual community of S & G. Clearly, "an angel's involvement in sexual activity was not foreign to the Pentateuch's world of thought" (Page, 49). When we add to this that the NT portrays demons as longing to inhabit human bodies, it suggests that Gen. 6 is describing not so much demons per se but demonized humans, i.e., humans in whom demons are dwelling. Page summarizes as follows:
"The sin had a sexual nature, yet it was not simply a sexual sin. More fundamentally, it was a sin of rejecting the order created by God and violating distinctions he had instituted between the various kinds of creatures he had made. Not content to live within the parameters established by Yahweh, the angels formed unnatural unions with human women. The ancient Israelites may well have preserved this story because they saw in it a warning to shun the fertility religions with their sacred marriages between gods and humans" (53).
Oropeza suggests that these were not in fact demonized humans but "incarnated demons" (for lack of a better term). He then asks the question: "If angels really did manifest themselves in human form, how is it that they were able to duplicate the human DNA structure necessary to produce offspring (if indeed our current understandings of human structuring are correct)? Even if angels are supernatural and were intelligent enough to do so, creating human life seems to be a work that is reserved only for God" (64). He goes on to suggest that perhaps "the sons of God saw the wickedness of humans and asked God to clothe them with bodies so that they could come to earth to teach men laws and morals. . . . It was at this time that angels descended from heaven to earth. After they were clothed with human flesh, however, they fell to the same passions as do all humans, and so they gave themselves over to the lusts of the flesh, desiring earthly women" (65).
Two final observations:
- Contrary to what many assume, the text does not explicitly state that the Nephilim were the offspring of the intermarriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men. [The word Nephilim recurs in Num. 13:33 in reference to the Canaanite giants who intimidated the Israelites into not entering the promised land.]
- The language of Gen. 6:2 echoes the account of the temptation in Gen. 3. The Hebrew words for "saw", "good", and "took" in Gen. 3:6 which describes how Eve "saw" that the forbidden fruit was "good" and therefore "took" some to eat, are found here in Gen. 6:2. "The author seems to have deliberately represented the action of the sons of God as a repetition of the sin in the garden" (Page, 53).
In summary, I believe that Gen. 6 describes the "sin" mentioned in 2 Pt. 2:4 and Jude 6 (and 1 Pt. 3:18-20). Subsequent to their fall from heaven, and as an expression of their moral depravity, an unspecified number of those demons inhabited (took up residence in) human bodies and contracted marriage relationships with the "daughters of men." Thus we are reading about a case of demonized men entering into marriage with women and contributing greatly to the increase of depravity and corruption in the earth (Gen. 6:5-7). These demons were, at some later time, consigned to permanent imprisonment until the day of final judgment.]