Who Are the Three Men in Genesis 18?

Genesis 18:1-5 (ESV)
1 And the LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. abraham-and-the-three-angels
2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth
3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.
4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,
5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on- since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Who are these “three men” from verse two who were standing in front of Abraham? We know that at a minimum in some way these three men represented the LORD to Abraham since verse 1 tells us that “the LORD appeared to” Abraham. These “men” weren’t human men as the text of Genesis 18-19 make clear. They were heavenly beings.

But could one of these men have actually been “the LORD”? John Sailhamer argues that this could raise difficult questions since the Pentateuch specifically forbids any presentation of God in any physical form.

Moses spoke to God’s people in Deuteronomy 4:15, “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire.”

This, of course, is a reference against idolatry, but does this mean that God would never appear in a physical form before man? The incarnation of the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth would appear to argue against that conclusion.

The second commandment (see Exodus 20:4) prohibits human beings from making an image of God. It doesn’t prohibit God from showing up in physical image. But, then again, God did tell Moses that no man could see God and live (see Exodus 33:20).

This, of course, brings us back to the incarnation. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and we believe that he was God in the flesh (see John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4; etc.). Jesus of Nazareth was clearly seen by others, even though he was (and is!) God.

Bruce Waltke argues that the three men of Genesis 18 are “actually the Lord and two angels” (page 266). He continues, “The later identifications of the ‘men’ (18:10, 13, 16-17, 33; 19:1) confirm their manifest difference. One man is none other than the Lord, as 18:2-3 and especially 10, 13-15 make explicit” (266-67).

This “Lord” would be none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

What are the 120 years of Genesis 6:3?

     When we read the accounts of our antediluvian (before the Flood) ancestors, we 120 yearsmay be shocked by how long these men lived.

  • Adam — 930-years-old
  • Seth — 912-years-old
  • Enosh — 905-years-old
  • Kenan — 910-years-old
  • Mahalalel — 895-years-old
  • Jared — 962-years-old
  • Enoch — 365-years-old
  • Methuselah — 969-years-old
  • Lamech — 777-years-old

These ages are found in Genesis 5, and, yes, they are “real” years. How was it possible for a person to live multiple centuries? They were able to live multiple centuries not because they had better genes than we have, but because God’s Spirit abode with them (Genesis 6:3).

But then in Genesis 6:3 we read,

“Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.'”

There are a couple of different prominent positions about what these 120 years mean.

First, theologians as prominent as Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin have argued that these 120 years refer to a reprieve of sorts. In other words, the Lord was granting mankind a reprieve of 120 years before he would send the Flood. This is certainly a possible interpretation of this passage.

A second interpretation of this passage, however, is that the 120 years refers to the length of time God was going to allow individuals to live. In other words, individuals would no longer live for centuries (as above), but their lifespan would no longer exceed 120 years.

But, one might object, do we not have accounts of people living more than 120 years even after the Flood? And, yes, we do have such accounts. Noah, for example, lived to be 950-years-old (Genesis 9:29) — and 350 of those years were after the Flood (Genesis 9:28)! And Genesis 11 is full of men who lived multiple centuries. So, can the 120 years possibly refer to the length of an individual’s life? Yes, it can. Let’s keep a couple of important points in mind.

First, just because individuals didn’t immediately start living only 120 years, it doesn’t mean that the process of the shortening of an individual’s lifespan wasn’t in place. Consider, for example, what happened in the Fall. God told Adam and Eve that in the day they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would surely die (Genesis 2:17, emphasis added). But we learn in Genesis 3:6 that when they in fact ate from the tree, they did not drop dead. Certainly they experienced spiritual death immediately, but physical death proved to be a process. As we saw above, Adam would live to ripe old age of 930-years-old.

And, second, we also need to keep in mind that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was written as one piece of literature. God’s statement in Genesis 6:3, “his days shall be 120 years,” isn’t brought to fulfillment until the conclusion of the Pentateuch.

John Sailhamer writes,

“In keeping with this point, the author continues to show the ages of the men of the book and notes that generally their ages grow increasingly shorter (cf. 11:10-26). It is only at the close of the Pentateuch that we finally reach an individual who is specifically mentioned as dying at the age of 120 years, Moses, who was in the wilderness and who died as a result of unbelief and divine punishment (Num 20) — he died though he was still in good strength (Deut 34:7)” (page 77).

With the Flood, the process of the shortening of an individual’s lifespan had begun. One hundred twenty years would be the limit.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian


Context Is King

In my last post I addressed the “sons of God” from the perspective of Genesis Context is king6:1-4. But what about the phrase “sons of God” as it is found in other biblical texts. For example, who are the “sons of God” in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7? This is an important question, but first a quick word about biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) .

One basic principle of biblical interpretation is to allow the clearer passages in the Bible to interpret the less clear passages in the Bible. In other words, as we saw in my last post about “sons of God,” the sons of God in Genesis 6 are not likely angels since the Scriptures explicitly teach that angels neither marry nor are they given in marriage (Matthew 22:30).

But there is a second principle of biblical interpretation that is also important. Context is king. Just as a realtor cries out, “Location, location, location,” so, too, when we read the Bible, we ought to cry out, “Context, context, context.” In other words, just because a word or phrase is translated or means one thing in one passage, it does not follow that the same word or phrase means the same thing in another passage. We must allow the context of the passage determine its meaning, and when the context isn’t clear, we allow passages that are clearer to help us understand. Allow me to illustrate with some English sentences.

“The board of directors voted to approve the new project.”

“We need to board up the windows before the hurricane makes landfall.”

These are just two simple examples of how the word “board” can be used in a sentence. No native English reader would think that these two uses of the word “board” were referring to the same thing. It’s the same word, but the context determines its meaning. Now, back to our discussion about “sons of God.”

The phrase “sons of God” is used a total of five times in the Old Testament and five times in the New Testament. Here are the verses (all verses are from the ESV). [NOTE: There is one textual variant in Deuteronomy 32:8 that is translated in the ESV as “sons of God.” All other major translations have “sons of Israel.”]

Genesis 6:2 “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.”

Genesis 6:4 “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.”

Job 1:6 “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.”

Job 2:1 “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.”

Job 38:7 “when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Luke 20:36 “for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Romans 8:19 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Galatians 3:26 “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

The context of some of these passages tell us straightforwardly that the “sons of God” are Christians (e.g., Romans 8:14 and Galatians 3:26) or at least human beings (Genesis 6:2, 4) while the context of other passages indicates that the “sons of God” are something other than Christians or humans beings (e.g., Job 1:6; 2:1). Job is clearly saying that these “sons of God” are a type of angelic being.

So, when reading your Bible, always remember! CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT! As D. A. Carson has said, “A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text!”

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian


Who Are the “Sons of God”?

Anyone who reads Genesis 6 will ask themselves the question, “Who are these nephilim‘sons of God’?” Most English translations of the Bible simply translate the Hebrew as “sons of God,” but some translations add to the confusion by not only translating the Hebrew, but also interpreting the Hebrew in their translations. Consider the following translations of Genesis 6:1-4.

English Standard Version (ESV)
1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 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.

Contemporary English Version (CEV)
1-2 More and more people were born, until finally they spread all over the earth. Some of their daughters were so beautiful that supernatural beings came down and married the ones they wanted. 3 Then the Lord said, “I won’t let my life-giving breath remain in anyone forever. No one will live for more than one hundred twenty years.” 4 The children of the supernatural beings who had married these women became famous heroes and warriors. They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.

The ESV and the CEV use different methods of translation. The ESV falls into the formal equivalence camp and the CEV falls into the dynamic (or functional) equivalence camp. (For more on the difference between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence see here.)

A close look at these two translations lets the reader immediately see the issue. Are the “sons of God” (ESV) really “supernatural beings” (CEV)? So who are these “sons of God”?

According to John Sailhamer, who is a recognized expert on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, which includes Genesis), the “sons of God” have been understood three different ways historically.

First, the “sons of God” could be angels. This view is not widely held since it appears to contradict Jesus’ own words that angels do not marry (see Matthew 22:30). Second, the sons of God” could be royalty.  Or, third, the “sons of God” could be pious men from the line of Seth.

But Sailhamer writes,

All such interpretations, however, originate from the assumption that vv. 1-4 are an introduction to the account of the Flood and are therefore to be understood as the cause of the Flood. If, on the other hand, we read vv. 1-4 as the summary of chapter 5, there is little to arouse our suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary. As a summary of the preceding chapter, this little narrative is a reminder that the sons and daughters of Adam had greatly increased in number, had married, and had continued to have children. The impression it gives is that of an interlude, a calm before the storm.
[John Sailhamer, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 2, 76.]

So, these “sons of God” are not “supernatural beings.” They are the extraordinary men (i.e., the men of renown) who lived from the time of Adam until the time of the Flood.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

What does Genesis 1 tell us about creation?

When we think about how the universe came into being, Francis Schaeffer, inGenesis 1 Genesis in Space and Time, argued that there are basically four options.

  1. Once there was absolutely nothing, and now there is something.
  2. Everything began with an impersonal something.
  3. Everything began with a personal something.
  4. There is and always has been something.

Genesis 1 gives us a great deal of information about creation. For the purposes of this post, we will define creation as follows. God created the entire universe out of nothing; it was originally very good; and he created it to glorify himself.

What is the relationship between Scripture and the findings of modern science?

Many people (both Christians and non-Christians) argue that modern science and Scripture cannot be reconciled with one another, but, as Schaeffer wrote, there is no final conflict between modern scientific findings and Scripture. All truth is ultimately God’s truth so when Scripture and science are properly understood, there will be no final conflict.

How might we reconcile the appearance of great age in the universe (i.e., billions of years) that modern science asserts with the relatively young age of the universe (i.e., thousands of years) that many Bible students believe? [NOTE: This is not to say that all Christians believe in a young earth.]

Many Christians disagree about the age of the earth, but in our disagreements, we must be careful not to adopt a theory of origin that would be incompatible with a high view of Scripture. For example, theories such as the “Big Bang,” Darwinian Evolution, and even Theistic Evolution must be rejected by those who hold a high view of Scripture.

So, what then are some theories of origin that still allow for a high view of Scripture?

“Old Earth” Theories of Creation

Here are two theories of origin that account for an “old earth.” The purpose of this blog is not to “expose” the strengths or weaknesses of any of these theories. There are other resources that do this quite well.

First, we have the “Gap” Theory. No, I’m not talking about the clothing store from the 1980s! In its most basic form, the gap theory suggests that there is lengthy (think billions of years) gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 (or between Genesis 1:2 and 1:3). This lengthy period of time would account for the ancient fossil record and the carbon-dating of the world.

According to this theory, this would also allow for the time when Satan and his angels rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. During this “gap,” Satan and his angels rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. During this period the earth underwent great cataclysm and was left “formless and void” (Genesis 1:2). God then re-created and reconstituted the earth in six literal days that are described in the rest of Genesis 1.

Second, there is the day-age theory. According the day-age theory, again in its most basic form, the “days” mentioned in Genesis 1 are not six 24-hour days but rather each of these “days” represent a lengthy period of time (think millions or billions of years). During each phase of creation God created what Genesis 1 said was being created on that day.

“Young Earth” Theories of Creation

Here are two theories that account for a “young earth.” Again, the purpose here is not to highlight the strengths and weakness of each of these theories.

First, some people argue that God created everything with with the appearance of age. For example, God created Adam and Eve as fully grown adults. This theory is sometimes called Mature Creationism. So, according the this theory, the apparent age of the earth is just that — it’s only an “appearance.” Those holding this theory would say that God created the fossils as fossils to give the appearance of age.

Second, there is the Flood Geology Theory. This theory would argue that the flood described in Genesis 6-8 would have been so cataclysmic that it would be impossible to use many of our modern dating processes to get an accurate picture of how old the earth is. For example, the age of some fossils is determined by the layer of rock in which they are found. Flood Geology Theory would say that the various layers of rock are unreliable because the flood would have disrupted the various layers.

Either “Old Earth” or “Young Earth” Theories

Finally, there are two theories that can be used to argue for either an “old earth” or a “young earth.”

First, there is the Literary Framework Theory. This theory would argue that the purpose of Genesis 1 was not to describe God’s process of creation, but rather, Genesis 1 actually has a literary framework. Days 1, 2, and 3 are the “form” of creation, and days 4, 5, and 6 are the “filling” of creation. For example, day one of creation corresponds to day four of creation since day one separates the day and night and on day four the sun and moon are set to govern the day and night. Day two corresponds to day five. On day two God separates the sky and the sea and on day five God creates sky animals and sea animals. And day three and day six correspond to one another. On day three God separates the land and sea, and on day six God creates the land animals and human beings.

Second, there is the  Historic Creationism (Preformative) Theory. According to this theory, Genesis 1:1-2 is about God creating the entire universe, and then Genesis 1:3-2:4 is about God preparing the “land” for human habitation and flourishing. This view is propounded by John Sailhamer in his book, Genesis Unbound.

These are a few of the various viewpoints about the creation of the universe. I hope this brief overview has been helpful.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian



Chronological Reading Plan

I hope you are already enjoying your start to 2015 as we read through the God's Grand StoryScriptures together. Some of you have already come up to me to ask me insightful questions about the stories you’ve been reading.

One church member suggested that I write up the answers to the various questions from our reading. This blog is designed to do just that. I will be blogging answers to your questions from our Bible reading.

What does it mean to read the Bible “chronologically”?

So you’ve decided to read through the Bible in a “chronological” fashion. What in the world does that mean?

Chronological Reading of the Bible

Well, there are at least two ways in which we can think chronologically about the Bible. First, we can think about the chronological order in which the texts of the Bible were written.

For example, it is widely understood that the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles were written toward the end of the Old Testament period even though these books describe events that occurred many years earlier. So, these two books provide a type of commentary about how we should think about these events.

NOTE: For a technical and detailed discussion about the difference between “text” and “event” you can read the Introduction to John Sailhamer’s book, The Pentatuech as Narrative.

A second way in which a person may read through the Bible in a chronological fashion is to read the Bible in the order that the events themselves took place. So, for example, while reading through the books of 1 & 2 Kings, the reader would also read many Psalms that were written during this period of history.

As a church this year (2015), Potomac Heights Baptist Church (PHBC) is reading through the Bible in the latter chronological fashion.

Are all chronological reading plans the same?

There are many ancient records that help us determine the order of the ancient events from the Bible. There are, of course, the records from the Bible itself, but we also have access to many different ancient histories that were written by ancient secular historians. With the use of these different sources, it is a fairly straightforward task to determine the actual chronological order of the events of the Bible.

There are, however, some areas in which we do not have accurate records with respect to timeline. For example, some people date the book of Job prior to the lifetime of Abram (Abraham) so in some chronological reading plans, the book of Job is read after Genesis 11 and before Genesis 12. Other plans place the book of Job at a different place.

PHBC is using the plan that places Job before the lifetime of Abram (Abraham).

Make sure to slow down a bit and enjoy the reading. This is not a race to see who will finish first. Let’s enjoy this ride together.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian