/ Angels & Demons / The Nephilim and the Sons of God in Genesis 6:4

The Nephilim and the Sons of God in Genesis 6:4

Craig Smith on April 4, 2013 - 9:06 am in Angels & Demons, Bible, Biblical Studies, Craig Smith, Featured, Genesis, Theology, Tough Questions

I get questions about the Nephilim from Genesis 6:4 all the time. With several recent book series and movies based on speculation about what it might mean that the “sons of God married daughters of men”, producing the Nephilim, I thought it was time to weigh in on this long-standing puzzle from the Bible. After some careful investigation, I believe that it is possible to give solid answers to most questions about the Nephilim based almost entirely on information to be found within the Bible itself, rather than turning to sensationalistic speculation and outright myth.

Perhaps one of the most puzzling passages in the book of Genesis is found in 6:4:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days– and also afterward– when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.

This enigmatic verse has caused no end of confusion, consternation and, of course, speculation. One of the most common speculations holds that this verse teaches that fallen angels (e.g. the “sons of God”) had sex with human women, giving rise to some kind of human/angel hybrid called the Nephilim. This view has been popularized in books, movies, TV shows and, most unfortunately of all, in sermons by irresponsible preachers.   This teaching depends on the fact that in the book of Job, the phrase “sons of God” is a clear reference to angelic spirits (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7) and assumes that the phrase must mean the same thing here in Genesis.  The fact that the Nephilim, who appear to be the offspring of this union, are said to be “heroes of old, men of renown” reinforces the idea that they are not mere mortals but had supernatural qualities.

This idea certainly feeds our appetites for sensationalism, but is it good biblical teaching?  No, it is not.  More importantly, it ends up causing people to miss the very point God was making when He inspired Moses to write these words!

Let’s deal first with why this popular idea of angel/human hybrids is almost certainly mistaken:

1. This union between the “sons of God” and the daughters of men” was clearly displeasing to God, which would mean that any angels who entered into such unions were rebelling against God.

The evidence for this is primarily to be found in the fact that, between the statement about the union (Gen 6:2) and the statement about the offspring of that union (Gen 6:4), we find this:  Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Gen 6:3). The Hebrew here is constructed in such a way that there can be no doubt that this statement about God’s displeasure was linked to the previous verse.[1] In other words, these marriages were not God’s will.

Now, if these “sons of God” were angels, then they would have been disobeying God by doing this and their disobedience would seem to constitute an angelic rebellion.  As there is no mention of Satan here in Gen 6 or any mention elsewhere in the Bible of Satan leading the rebellion by marrying a human woman, this would almost certainly have to be a different angelic rebellion than the one most of us are familiar with.  However, there is no mention anywhere in Scripture of a second angelic rebellion.  It would be very surprising, to say the least, that there would be no comment made about such a thing either here are elsewhere in the Bible.

So, if this is not a matter of previously loyal angels abandoning heaven, then the only other option would be to understand these “sons of God” as already-fallen angels, otherwise known as demons or evil spirits.  But if these are demons or evil spirits, then calling them “sons of God” would be a very strange thing to do…

2.  The Bible does not refer to rebellious angels as “sons of God.”

Some readers will probably think that this is so obvious that it needs no explanation.  After all, how could demons be called “sons of God”?  The Hebrew phrase here (beni ha elohim) and the Greek equivalent (huioi theou) used in the New Testament are most typically used to denote creatures who are faithful and obedient to God’s will.  We see this even in so near a context as Job 38:7 where the “sons of God” are angels who rejoice at God’s work…quite the opposite of a typical demonic response!  In the New Testament, we see the same positive association without exception (cf. Mat 5:9, Luk 20:36, Rom 8:14, Rom 8:19 and Gal 3:26).

However, it is clear that the use of this phrase in Gen 6:2 and 6:4 cannot easily be understood in so a positive light since God is obviously displeased by what they were doing.  Therefore its use in Gen 6 is somewhat anomalous.  In that sense, it could theoretically be a reference to angels who were rebelling at this moment, but as we mentioned above, there is no other biblical reference to what would have to be considered a second angelic rebellion.

Now, to be fair, there is a place in the Bible where the phrase “sons of God” might be easily misunderstood to include fallen angels as well as the still-loyal ones.  We do find this exact same phrase in Job 1:6 and 2:1, both of which say that the “sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came among them.”  While this might appear, at first glance, to say that Satan was counted among the “sons of God”, a closer looks makes this very unlikely.  The Hebrew word (gam) translated here as “also” (as in “Satan also came”) is typically used to indicate association with distinction; that is, it is not the word one would use to speak of a thing which was simply part of the larger whole.  For instance, you would not use this word to say “a bushel of apples and also an apple” but rather to say “a bushel of apples and also an orange.”  The use of this word sets Satan apart in an important sense from the assembly of the “sons of God”, though indicating that he was to be found “among” the crowd of them.  This same idea of association-with-distinction is also typical of the Hebrew word (tavek) translated here as “among”.  In summary, while Job 1:6 and 2:1 say that Satan came before God along with a crowd of angels, it does not say that he was one of these “sons of God”.  On the contrary, these verses seem to distinguish Satan from the group of angels called “sons of God.”  Apart from these two verses in Job, there is simply no evidence from Scripture that Satan or any other fallen angel was ever called a “son of God” and even these two verses, rightly understood, do not support such an understanding.

So, while “sons of God” can mean angelic spirits, it does not mean demonic spirits or rebellious angels, so it is very unlikely to have that meaning here in Gen 6.

3.  Angels don’t marry, but the language here is clearly that of marriage.

At various points in history, some scholars have attempted to dismiss the idea of angels marrying humans on the basis of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:30:  “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  This approach might be a bit too simplistic,[2] but that doesn’t mean that it is false or can be easily ignored. If the angelic nature is such that they do not marry one another, then the idea that they might be interested in marrying a completely different kind of creature is rather difficult to fathom.  This is all the more difficult a notion to accept when we consider the question of why non-physical spirits would find human women “beautiful.”

Perhaps more importantly, there is the problem of the essential nature of angels vs. the essential nature of human beings. Angels are spirits whereas humans are physical or, more properly embodied spirits.  To be fair, some angels may[3] be able to manifest with actual physical form (as opposed to simply being visible) for a time (cf. Gen 18:1 and 19:1), but it remains a fact that their normal state is non-physical.[4]  The idea of a “marriage” between a physical and a non-physical creature simply makes no sense, especially given the fact that marriage as instituted in Genesis has the effect of making the two partners “one flesh” (Gen 2:24), a concept which is meaningless if one of the partners has no flesh!

For an angel to really marry a human woman, it would have to take on physical form in a permanent or at least semi-permanent way which raises all sorts of additional problems.

4.  Angels having children with human women is both physiologically and theologically problematic.

First, to be blunt, as angels are by nature non-physical creatures, they do not naturally possess sperm with which to impregnate human women.  Even if we assume that angelic spirits can take physical form for a while, it is an assumption orders of magnitude greater to think that their temporary bodies possess DNA wrapped up in sex cells which can be introduced into a human woman, beginning the process of sexual reproduction and maintaining cellular meiosis even after the angelic spirit has returned to its natural, non-physical state.  Second, from a theological perspective, any child born from an angel/woman union would not be of Adam’s line and would therefore not be under the Adamic churse, yet as we will see in the next section, the Flood narrative seems to include the Nephilim in with the other, sinful descendants of Adam.

An alternative interpretation, one held by John Macarthur, is worth mentioning here:  it is held by some that demons did not directly impregnate women but rather, possessed human men who then impregnated women.  This view does not have the ontological or theological difficulties of the more popular view.  However, it remains problematic for different reasons.  First, there is no evidence for this in the passage itself; on the contrary, the passage explicitly says that the “sons of God” directly married the “daughters of men.”  If they had to do so via intermeidary bodies possessed for this purpose it is surprising that no mention of that fact is made.  Second, this view is apparently intended to explain the unusual physical nature of the Nephilim, but I cannot see how it does so.  Even if a man impregnates a woman while possessed, his sperm would still be entirely human.  If there is a reason why the offspring of a possessed man and a woman should have unusual physical capacities, it is never made clear (or even hinted at) in Scripture.

5.  God brought judgment on humanity for this sin, not on angels.

The context of Genesis 6 strongly suggests that this displeasing union between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” was part of God’s motivation in bringing the Flood upon the earth.  Note that Gen 5 concludes with the introduction of Noah and then Gen 6:8 returns to discussion of Noah and his righteousness.  The intervening verses, including the statements about the “sons of God” marrying “daughters of men” and the brief statement about the Nephilim, are all part of the declaration of humanity’s great wickedness.  Interestingly, Gen 6:12 says that God saw how bad things had gotten because (literally) “all flesh”[5] had become corrupt, a term closely associated with human beings throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  This is a clear indication that physical human beings are the focus of God’s judgment, not angelic spirits.

The result of this great wickedness was the Flood on earth, not a purging of the heavens, maintaining the focus on human sinfulness and punishment, but making no mention at all of the sin or punishment of angelic spirits. If the nephilim’s very existence is an abomination, then why are humans held responsible for it rather than the supposedly angelic “sons of God” who are explicitly identified as initiating these unholy unions?

Note:  some scholars, Sailhamer among them, argue that Gen 6:1-4 are intended to be a conclusion to the genaeology of Gen 5 rather than an introduction to the Flood narrative of Gen 6.  If this is correct, then it is possible that there is no particular judgment implied upon these unions.  Rather, in this view, Gen 6:1-4 could be simply a “calm before the storm”, though with an ominous statement that God’s judgment upon wickedness is coming.  If this view is correct, then the point I have made in this section becomes irrelevant to the larger discussion.  However, an alternative view is that Sailhamer is correct that Gen 6:1-3 belongs as the conclusion to chapter 5 and 6:4 actually begins the flood narrative.  I actually think this quite likely based on the fact that 6:1, 6:2 and 6:3 all have a waw/vav connector at their beginning but 6:4 does not, suggesting it is not so intimately connected to the preceding verses.  If this is the case, then the mention of the Nephilim are still part of the Flood narrative.

6.  The word “Nephilim” seems to mean “giant humans” and is not a proper noun.

The mysteriousness of Gen 6:4 is considerably heightened because most Bible versions have simply transliterated the Hebrew word rather than translating it.  This means that most versions have retained the sound of the original word using the closest letters in the target language, but in so doing they have treated the word as though it were a proper noun which it may not be.  This same word recurs in Num 13:33 where it appears to be a description rather than a proper noun:  “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

When we remember that the Flood wiped out all human beings but Noah and his family and realize that Anak was a descendent of Noah’s son Ham,[6] it becomes clear that these are two completely unconnected groups of people being described by the same Hebrew word.  This strongly suggests that Nephilim is not a proper noun at all but a descriptive noun meaning something like “giants”.  When read in this way, it becomes very likely that Genesis 6:4 is referring to human beings who possessed unusual physical size and strength which is why they were called “heroes of old, men of renown.”  (Note also that they are specifically called men of renown, a translation of the Hebrew term ish which is normally only used in reference to human males).[7]

7.  Genesis 6 does not focus on the nephilim as result of this union but rather cites them as evidence of the human wickedness of “those days.”

There are two distinct literary units in the first part of Gen 6.  The first is found in 6:1-3 and the second in 6:4-8.[8]  Both of them have a very similar function:  they emphasize the fact that wickedness on the earth was growing and about to be judged.  When this is understood, it becomes likely that the nephilim are cited as evidence of the prevalence of this wickedness; that is, they are mentioned because they contribute to the point Moses is making:  the Flood was justified because the world was full of terrible evil.  The nephilim are apparently an example of that evil.

Now, to be fair, there are at least two possible reasons why the nephilim would have been used as an example of rampant evil.  One option is that they were the unnatural offspring of angels and humans, but we have already seen several reasons why this is very unlikely.  The other option would be that the original audience of Genesis knew of some human example of nephilim that was closely associated with evil.  But that is precisely what the Bible tells us!

As we have already seen, the word nephilim which is probably a descriptive noun meaning “giants,” also occurs in Num 13:33 where it was used to describe some of the Canaanites the Israel were facing as they contemplated entering the Promised Land.  The Bible gives several horrifying descriptions of Canaanite evil and it would have been quite natural to fixate on the “giants” among them as a kind of representative archetype of these evil people, similar to the way that Goliath would later come to be a kind of archetype of the “giants” that oppose God’s people.  Given what they were facing, this is likely how the original audience of Genesis would have responded to the word nephilim when they encountered it in Gen 6:4.   They would have understood the presence of giants before the Flood as evidence of the great wickedness of “those days.”

Moses is not emphasizing the supernatural nature of these “giants” but merely citing them as evidence of the great wickedness of “those days”.  In this light, the statement that these nephilim were “heroes of old, men of renown” is likely not a positive thing.  Rather, it emphasizes the fact that these evil, violent – but undeniably powerful – men were looked up to![9]  This is probably supposed to be an indictment of those who looked up to these men rather than a statement about how great the nephilim were.

Further support for this understanding of Gen 6:4-8 comes from Jesus himself.  In one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, he spoke about the “days of Noah” (Mat 24:37-38, Luk 17:26-27) as an example of evil days when people are not paying any attention to God.  While he clearly refers to Gen 6 in this sermon, he never once mentions the nephilim, but he specifically mentions people “marrying and being given in marriage” which sounds suspiciously similar to what Moses said in Gen 6:1-2 and 6:4!  If the point of Gen 6:4 was the nephilim themselves, Jesus seems to have missed it.  Rather, he seems to think that the point of the entire section of Gen 6:1-8 is to describe how bad things had gotten.  The wicked, though much-admired, nephilim were simply one example of mankind’s evil in “those days.”

There is not a single good piece of evidence that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2-4 were angels, either of the previously-fallen or the fell-at-that-moment variety.  The nephilim were not angel/human hybrids but were rather men huge men with great strength admired by the rest of an increasingly wicked humanity.

But if the nephilim are not angel/human hybrids, then why are they mentioned in conjunction with the “sons of God”?  And if the “sons of God” were not angels, then what were they?  At this point, you may already have a pretty good idea what the answer is, but let’s look at the alternatives first:

Option 1 – The “sons of God” were ancient kings.

In the ancient Near East, it was not at all uncommon to describe rulers as descendants of the gods and some scholars have suspected something of that sort operating here in Gen 6:4.  However it is not at all clear why kings would be spoken of as a group (i.e. “sons of God”).  Nor does this view explain why God would have been displeased with the kings taking wives, unless the issue is that they took more than one, thus committing polygamy, which some scholars have suggested.

Option 2 – The “sons of God” are of the godly line of Seth.

In this view, the “sons of God” is a phrase used to distinguish between the godly line of Seth and the rest of humanity.  This does take the “sons of God” in a more positive light which seems natural, but it does not explain why the marriage to the daughters of men should have been received negatively, unless this is a veiled reference to marriages outside of tribes.  This is an intriguing possibility suggested by the statement that they “married any of them they chose” but there is not enough evidence to know for certain if this was what Moses meant.

Option 3 – The “sons of God” is simply a stylized way – and possibly an ironic one – of identifying human males.

One of the most important features of Hebrew literature was parallelism between elements in the first and second stichs (lines of poetry).  From that perspective, the simple “men” of 6:1 might simply be parallel to the more stylized “sons of God” in 6:2.  In support of this is the nearly certain observation that the simple “daughters” of 6:1 is parallel to the more stylized “daughters of men” in 6:2.  It seems very unlikely that “daughters” and “daughters of men” are intended to identify two different groups of women.  Therefore, it is also unlikely that “men” and “sons of God” are intended to identify two different groups of men but rather a single group; i.e. human males.  It should be noted that in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, he traces the family line back to Adam whom he identifies as being a son “of God” (Luk 3:38).[10]  Further support for this view comes from the genealogy in Gen 5 where the fact that Adam was made “in God’s likeness” (5:1) is reiterated and it is also said that Adam had a son, Seth, “in his own likeness” (5:3).  In other words, there are good biblical reasons to take the phrase “sons of God” to be some kind of reference to God’s initial creation of Adam as his image and likeness and a continuation of this thought to the male “sons” who were born to Adam.[11]

But why would men be called “sons of God” whereas women are called “daughters of men”?  The answer may simply be that Adam, the first man, had no human ancestor and was therefore a direct “son of God.”  Eve, however, was created from Adam’s rib and was therefore in some senses a descendent of Adam.  While this might seem on the surface to exalt men and denigrate women, no such slight is intended.  On the contrary, not only does Gen 1:27 explicitly state that both males and females were made as God’s image, but this truth is reiterated again 5:1-2.  In Hebrew, the phrase translated as “daughters of men” is literally “daughters of Adam” and likely points back to the direct connection between women and the first Adam.  In that sense it is simply an acknowledgement of the creative order by which God brought Adam and Eve into existence.

If “sons of God” (Gen 6:2) is merely a more stylized version of “men” (6:1) – as “daughters of men” (6:2) is merely a more stylized version of “daughters” (6:1) – then both terms simply identify human males.  Further evidence for this option emerges from Mat 24:38 where Jesus said that in the days before the Flood, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.” Here we have what appears to be a clear reference to all this marriage business that precedes the Flood account, yet it is also clear that it is human marriages that are in view.  In other words, Jesus seems to have understood Gen 6:1-3 to be referring to purely human marriages.  If Jesus thought there was something more spectacular going on here, he was completely silent about it.

But what is the point of this passage then?  Why should Moses have bothered to say that men were taking any women they chose as wives and having more kids?  And why would he have made this enigmatic mention of these nephilim who were “on the earth in those days”?  Both questions are easily answered when the context, both literary and cultural, is considered.

The nephilim were mentioned in order to encourage God’s people as they were learning to trust God after their exodus from Egypt.

The point of Gen 6:1-8 is simply that human wickedness spread like wildfire upon the earth, leading to God’s judgment exercised via the Flood.  The business about men taking any wives they wanted may simply be a statement of rampant procreation; more and more humans means more and more sin.  However, remember that Moses was giving this account to the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt, at precisely the same time that God was forbidding them from taking wives from among the Canaanite tribes they were encountering.  In that cultural context, the statement that men were taking any women they chose might well have been understood as a statement of their lawlessness and a warning that falling into similar sin was serious business.

Remembering this cultural context of the Exodus might also explain the reference to the nephilim. If, as I have already argued, nephilim, is a descriptive noun (i.e. giants), then Moses might have been drawing a connection between what happened back then and what the Israelites were facing in their present circumstances.  When the spies who explored the Promised Land returned, they reported that they saw “nephilim/giants…and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight” (Num 13:33).  As we might easily imagine, confronted with an enemy who had giant soldiers, the Israelites panicked.

What better way to encourage and strengthen them than to remind them that there had been wicked giants on the earth in the past, too, but that God had destroyed them along with all of the other evil-doers who had necessitated the Flood?  Remember that Gen 6:4 doesn’t simply say that there were giants “in those days”, it goes on to say “and also afterwards”.  What is the point of this if not to draw an explicit connection between the days of Noah and the situation the Israelites were facing when this was written?

In other words, Moses was saying something like this:  “Look, don’t be afraid of these giants in the land.  God will destroy the evil that threatens His people.  He’s done it in the past…remember the Flood?  And by the way, back when God sent the flood there had been giants too, powerful warriors of great renown, just like the ones you’re facing right now!  But what happened to those giants in the past?  They were powerless before God.  They were swept away by His might!  And so too will these giants threatening us now be swept away before Him!”

This mention of the nephilim back in Gen 6:4 was an encouragement to the Israelites facing giants as they contemplated entering the Promised Land.  That might seem like a complicated way to encourage someone, but it would have been quite powerful in those days.  Hebrew literature is rarely direct, preferring instead to make its point progressively by a carefully crafted telling of a story.  If nothing else, modern biblical scholarship has confirmed to us time and again that the Old Testament is not simply a random collection of historical anecdotes but rather a carefully crafted story intended to impart truth and encourage God’s people.  These are true stories, to be sure, but they are also carefully crafted so that the point of telling them is accomplished…as long as we remember how to read them.

 


[1] There is a waw/vav attached to the Hebrew verb amar at the beginning of v.3, tying v.3 back to v.2.

[2] The fact that angel-angel marriages do not occur does not necessarily mean that they would have no interest in angel-human marriages.  However there are other reasons why the idea of angel-human marriages is problematic.  I am simply acknowledging that Mat 22:30 does not completely preclude the possibility that angels might be interested in marrying human women.

[3] The texts listed above (Gen 18 & 19) are the primary ones which suggest that some angels can manifest in physical bodies and it may be that Heb. 13:2 is referring specifically to these accounts.  However, there are a number of interpretive difficulties with Gen 18 & 19, several of which make the identification of these visitors with spiritual angels (as opposed to, say, prophets) somewhat suspect.  The Hebrew word for angel (malak) can be used of both physical and spiritual messengers.  One must depend on context to know which is intended and the difficulties of interpretation in Gen 18 & 19 make certainty here impossible.

[4] The non-physical nature of angelic spirits is evidenced by the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit”, ruach and pneuma respectively.  Both terms literally mean “wind” or “breath,” emphasizing the fact that one may see the effects of such beings but not the beings themselves, precisely because they are non-corporeal entities.

[5] Basar.

[6] Anak is listed in Numbers, Joshua and Judges as the ancestor of a tribe of Canaanites who are all descended from Ham.

[7] As to the question of why most English versions choose to transliterate this term rather than translate it as “giants,” the answer is two-fold.  First, it follows a long-standing tradition of treating this term as a proper noun though there is not, as we have seen, any compelling reason to do so.  Still, tradition is difficult to ignore.  Second, nephilim is not the more common Hebrew word for giant.  In 2Sa 21:16,18,20, 22 and in 1Ch 20:4,6,8, we find the more common word rapha.  Since nephilim and rapha are not clearly related terms, translators may have been reluctant to translate nephilim as a synonym.  However, it seems likely that they are synonymous terms.  It may be that nephilim is based on an ancient Egyptian loan-word for giant and was employed by Moses (who had an Egyptian education) whereas later Hebrew writers opted for rapha which had roots in the Canaanite language which surrounded them in the Promised Land.

[8] This is partly accomplished by the presence of the Hebrew vav prefix (which indicates continuity between what came before and what now follows) at the beginning of 6:1, 2 and 3 but which is absent from 6:4.  The separation between the sections is further demonstrated by the divine pronouncement of judgment in 6:3.  It might even be that 6:1-3 more properly belongs to the preceding chapter than to this one.

[9] No pun intended…just a happy coincidence.

[10] The Greek word for son, huios, is not actually present in this final clause of the genealogy.  However, huios does appear in a governing capacity back in Luke 3:23 where Luke says that Jesus was “as was supposed, the son of Joseph, of Eli, of Matthat, of…etc.” All of the following ancestors are named without actually using huios again, but it is clearly assumed.  For this reason, the translation “Adam, the son of God” is accurate.

[11] It is important to note, however, that this was not intended to denigrate women in any way.  On the contrary, not only does Gen 1:27 explicitly state that both males and females were made as God’s image, but this truth is reiterated again 5:1-2.

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  • Pingback:The Nephilim and the Sons of God from Genesis 6 | Truth Told Slant

  • April 10, 2013

    Excellent read, Dr. Smith. I am so glad someone finally laid the whole thing out for others to understand and be able to move on and concentrate on God. As you have pointed out, people who are too preoccupied with secondary issues such as this miss the point God was making. Thanks!

    Daniel R. Gose
    Reply
  • April 17, 2013

    Dear Dr. Smith.

    Thank you for the article, I am not sure where I stand on who the Nephilim where or where they came from. Especially since Godly men that I respect such as John McArthur hold the view that they where demonic/human hybrids, and other such as yourself argue otherwise.

    Your point 5 (5. God brought judgment on humanity for this sin, not on angels.) seems to be negated by Jude 6

    How would you then interprete Jude 6?

    6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

    I have read that one of the reasons that Satan may have sent demons to procreate with women was to so distort the seed of man that it would make it impossible for God to fulfill His promise to Eve that from the seed of woman the serpent’s head would be crushed. (The darkness and the Glory by Greg Harris)

    What are your thoughts?

    Blessings, Sam Powell

    Sam Powell
    Reply
    • April 18, 2013

      Hi Sam, good question. First, let me just say that I have tremendous respect for John Macarthur as a teacher so it’s important to me that my interpretation not be seen as a casual dismissal of what Macarthur teaches on this passage. It’s also important to note that Macarthur’s view of the Nephilim is significantly different than the popular sensational view that demons sired children directly. Macarthur believes that demonic spirits possessed human men who then produced the offspring, making the children fully human…a much more reasonable interpretation in my opinion than any that holds the nephilim to be demon/human hybrids. I think that, if the “sons of God” are actually demonic spirits, then Macarthur’s view is likely the correct one. However, as I attempted to show in this post, I don’t think “sons of God” makes good sense as a reference to demonic spirits or angels who were rebelling against God by their actions at that moment.

      Regarding Jude 6: I don’t think this statement of judgment against fallen angels negates my fifth point. First, Jude 6 doesn’t have any discernible connection to Gen. 6, so there’s no particular reason to see them as being related. Second, Jude 6 explicity says that the cause of these angels’ condemnation was that they did not “keep their positions of authority bu abandoned their own home”. This most naturally seems to be a reference to their having been cast out of the presence of God because of their rebellion. It just seems to me too much of a stretch to connect this to Gen. 6.

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  • March 28, 2017

    Hi Craig,
    An interesting and enlightening treatise. However, your and the other alternatives suggested to Nephilim understanding do not appear to consider one other possibility. Is it not also possible, the Nephilim were the result of intentional Selective Breeding among humans, as has been carried on for thousands of years in animal husbandry? Perhaps I missed that part if you do mention it.

    Or maybe some King or other (Canaanite) concluded he could be more powerful given a genetically bred line of giants, continually taking (conscripting) the tallest among families for such a purpose. If we allow for such an alternative, would this not violate God’s commands in some way, thus reducing such breeding to a frowned upon, but identifiable nomenclature, thus warranting the proper noun? Do we not today still use such breeding in prize animals? But to do so with humans, seems to me to offend our Lord. Just as manipulating genetic embryos do. Blessings in Christ,

    Monte D Tucker

    Monte D Tucker
    Reply
  • May 9, 2017

    Hi Craig.

    I really like your hypothesis that the mention of Nephilim in Gen 6:4 would resonate with a later audience, the Israelites entering the land of Canaan. However, I’d like to present another, complementary hypothesis: the “sons of God” here WERE the descendants of Seth, but they were intermarrying with ungodly women.

    To explain why I think this is so, I’ll need to go into the textual structure of Gen 4:26-6:2.

    Are you familiar with chiasm?

    In Gen 6:22 we find a very simple and straightforward chiasmus (pl. chiasm):

    A – Thus did Noah
    B – According to all that God commanded him
    A’ – So he did.

    As you can see from the example, a chiasmus is a textual structure where phrases or ideas are repeated in a specific pattern. You can also have A – B – A’ – B’, etc.

    Gen 4:26 to Gen 6:2 is a long chiasmus, like so:

    A – …Then men began to call themselves by the name of the LORD (marginal rendering).
    B – Genealogy of Seth
    A’ – The sons of God took wives of the daughters of men, etc.

    The central point of emphasis here is the descendants of Seth. First we learn that they began calling themselves by the name of the LORD, and then we’re told that these same sons of God are doing something against God’s will.

    My next hypothesis, to go along with this one, is likely to get me in trouble with biblical literalists, but I propose that Adam and Eve were not the first humans. Not only that, but they were a distinct, much longer-lived subspecies from the rest of mankind. Hence God explaining that the natural result of their intermarriage will be shorter lifetimes capping out at 120 years.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • May 23, 2017

      Hi Damon, intriguing thoughts. Unrelated to the interpretive suggestion regarding Seth (which I agree is a complementary possibility), I have a couple of thoughts about the structural suggestions. Hope these don’t sound picky, but what you’re describing isn’t really a chiasm/chiasmus. A chiasm is a structure in which there are corresponding elements which recur in an inverted parallel fashion. So, A B C B’ A’, but never A B A B (that is another type of parallelism). In my professional opinion, A B A’ isn’t a chiasm either because it doesn’t have enough features to demonstrate intended inverted parallelism. A B A’ is an example of inclusio. Now, the use of inclusio may well be enough to give considerable weight to your point. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your point, just tweaking the language a bit. This is an area of particular interest for me since my Ph.D. dissertation was Chiasm of Design: Objective Means of Distinguishing Chiasm of Design from Accidental and False Chiasm. 🙂

      Reply
  • May 23, 2017

    Grace and peace to you in the name of YHWH God and His Beloved Son Yeshua/Jesus.

    I think your assessment and conclusion is wrong. Conspicuously not listed as an option are the offspring of fallen angels who somehow (we don’t know how because it is not made clear) cohabited with human women. The original Hebrew text is a number of places uses the word elohim which is [usually] translated Sons of God. I think Dr Michael Heiser’s work is thorough, informed and textually accurate.

    Clearly angelic (spiritual) beings have on many occasions taken a physical form and interacted with humans in a very physical way. Abraham cooked a meal and ate with them; Jacob wrestled with “the Angel of God” (YHWH/Christ in human form)…

    Why is it so difficult to accept what the original text clearly says? Even Paul believed this is what happened – this is why he made reference to the sin of the angels when speaking about a woman’s dress and hair. Jude believed it, because he wrote clearly about it.

    Reading the text with an eye on bloodlines and genetics (genes and genealogies) sheds the text, and more importantly the meaning of the resurrection into an ‘incorruptible’ body and the need for Christ to be TRULY HUMAN, into a whole new light. It shows that there was more going on that precipitated the flood than we have traditionally been taught.

    There is substantial (biblical and extra-biblical) evidence to suggest that Jesus, His disciples and their contemporaries believed that:
    > the Sons of God were divine beings who were direct creations of YHWH God and who held positions of authority in God’s divine household
    > some of them rebelled and took on human form (or a form in which they could somehow interact with humans)
    > those who ‘fell’ (from their “first habitation”, traditionally down ‘to’ Mt. Hermon) created offspring with human women (either the standard way, or perhaps by some kind of genetic manipulation – recall that they saw God create this world, so they likely had extraordinary knowledge of how this universe works – perhaps at the atomic/genetic level – not an unreasonable speculation)
    > they taught men to sin even more, they exacerbated the depravity of men’s hearts
    > therefore they not only corrupted humanity in the sense of sin, they corrupted humanity genetically – tracing various genealogies shows very interesting connections with the likes of Goliath and his brothers, the Amalekites, the Amorites, even the gods of Greek mythology etc.
    > not only did they corrupt humans, they likely corrupted animals and even plants – though we have not been taught from the Book of Enoch, it appears Jesus and His contemporaries were, and they all understood it and apparently accepted it

    When God sent the flood, He was dealing with two problems:
    > the corruption of the gene pool – His image plus others
    > the effect of that corruption, both genetically and with respect to the sinful condition

    One has to ask the question, why did Christ specifically make reference to “the days of Noah”? If the days of Noah were characterised only by sin, then it is reasonable to claim those days were no different from any other time in human history from a perspective of sin, which would render Jesus’ reference somewhat meaningless.

    Taking this ‘supernatural’ (perhaps esoteric or ‘wierd’) view is no more strange than believing in any of the other miracles or supernatural events in the rest of the text. Why reject this one?

    —-
    If you have read this, thank you, and may God bless you and give you truth, light, peace, grace and mercy.

    Steve
    Reply
    • October 6, 2017

      Hi Brothers and Sisters,

      I would like to say first and foremost that I think Dr. Craig Smith has done a very good job of exposition on this passage. Some of the commenters have done exceptional analysis as well and the best part is the fact that we are all digging deep into God’s Word!

      The views here I have thought long and hard on for a while and it very rare to see the conclusion that Dr. Smith has come to. It is in fact the very first conclusion I had when I read this passage without commentaries. However upon learning there was controversy in the interpretation I did further study and only found the 3 most common views were the Sethites, Angels, or the ancient Kings. None of these views sit well with me as they seem to beat up the text to force these interpretations, rather than what is contextually right there in the chapter. However too many respected biblical scholars have these views to just dismiss them and you almost feel compelled to just accept one of them. In any case it does seem that Dr. Smith’s view is natural, but it too does have it’s challenges and that is, why does Moses decide to call men “sons of God’ here and women “daughters of men”. Interestingly enough he does a great job answering this question, and the fact remains that regardless of which view you have, even the Angelic view, the question would still remain, why not just use “women” instead of the strange phrase “daughters of men”. So the fact that it is stylized does lend support for Dr. Smith’s view.

      In my own study, I find that it is too difficult to accept the Angelic view, purely based on what our Lord Jesus says about the days of Noah as well as the “angels in heaven”. You see if these really were angels, it seems like he would have mentioned that when speaking about the days of Noah as that is a very important detail regarding the corruption at the time. However it is missing. But that is not the biggest issue I have. The biggest hurdle for me is when Jesus says “They will not be marrying or giving in marriage, but be like the angels in heaven”. You see this seems to me to confirm that angels don’t marry. If that is the case then it would mean so much more concerning the Genesis 6 passage than most give it credit for. Let me explain:

      First we must assume and most agree that the angels in heaven are operating in the Will of God, are pious, and likely are still operating in their creative purposes. If this is true then it follows that if they don’t marry, then we should be able to safely assume that they were never created with the purpose or desire to marry as people were, and therefore were probably never given the ability to marry. Why is this a safe assumption? Because God has revealed something very interesting about His character to us and that is, everything He does has a purpose. When He created gender, He did so with the purpose of having marriages possible. this is told to us from the beginning right before He even creates women. So why would God create angels with the ability to marry, and then not have them marry? This would be purposeless and God does not do that. If they do have the ability to marry and don’t then they would not be obeying God’s will, since He would have made it for the purpose of marrying like when He told people to be “fruitful and multiply”. However since we are told they do not marry, and they are pious, then it follows that it is most likely the case that they were not created with the ability to marry, meaning they are genderless and sexless.

      If the first case is true, and many would agree with that, then it means something concerning the fallen angels. Most don’t make the connection for some reason because they say “well the angels in heaven are good so they wouldn’t become physical and mate with women, but that doesn’t mean evil angels wouldn’t do it.” This is a very good point I must admit, but it is missing something that is very key in logic. Although angels have been documented as appearing in physical forms and doing physical actions in scripture (at least in what we have interpreted), these were all angels that were operating in the Will of God and in most cases were with the “Angel of the Lord”. This means it is likely God who made them “appear” to people or allowed them to “appear” to people, or just opened people’s eyes to be able to see them. In any case whether or not they were actually physical is difficult to conclude 100% because spirit can affect physical, and it’s possible they appeared physical, even if they “ate” things. But back to the point, only pious angels have been shown to manifest/appear physically. But the biggest question is this, does “appearing” physical also give them new capabilities they were not created with? This would mean that instead of just an appearance, they were also new creations. I’m not saying this is impossible, especially for those operating in God’s will, but what about those who are disobedient? Do angels have the ability to make new creations on their own? I don’t think the scripture would support that notion. So we are left with the following conclusion if we take the angel view. Either angels were created with the ability to marry and when they manifest physically they can mate with people, or they were not created with the ability to marry and so create new things/beings (outside of God’s permission) only to corrupt them.

      Since either of these conclusions appear to not line up with scripture, I simply have to reject any view of the Angel’s mating with people since A) They were likely not created with the ability to marry, B)Since fallen angels were originally good angels, they too do not have the ability to marry/mate. This means that since they weren’t originally created with this ability, they can’t corrupt it and mate with people. They can however influence the corruption, just as they have influenced the corruption of many other things in the world.

      Many have said that the reason the devil had them mate with women was to contaminate the gene pool to prevent the Christ. However, this is also not scriptural as the Christ was a mystery to all except God, for the scripture says that “even the angels long to look into these things” Not only that, if the devil knew what the Christ would do and wanted to prevent it, couldn’t he and his angles have easily just killed all the good people, including Noah? Why go through all the trouble of mating with people when you can simply just take out those against you, especially if you’re a physical creature. In any case, I’ll conclude that I am not certain who the Sons of God were, but based on the context of Genesis 6 (all about wickedness of men), and the logic of scripture from Jesus’ words, they were not angels but men/people.

      Dr. Smith, please let me know your thoughts concerning this line of reasoning. I would especially like to hear your thoughts concerning if angels were created with the ability and if they were not this means that fallen angels also would not have it.

      In Him!

      DP

      DP
      Reply