Episode 16 – Ch 6:1-4 – The Nephilim
Thank you for joining me in our exploration through the book of Genesis. We are making our way, verse by verse through Genesis. In this episode, we are going to start Chapter 6. We are not going to get very far in this episode, because we have quite the controversial passage to deal with right off the bat!
As a reminder, in the last last episode we discussed the genealogy from Adam to Noah, and also looked at some of the possible ways to interpret and make sense of the long lifespans that are described in Chapter 5
And that brings us now to chapter 6. In this chapter, we are going to be introduced to the Nephilim. If you have never heard of the Nephilim, then hold on, because we are going on an interesting ride!
Before we get started, I would remind you of Acts 17:11, where Paul tells us “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”. IOW, receive the word with eagerness, but then you go and study the Bible to prove whether what is being taught is correct or not.
Remember also, that one of the barriers to truth is the assumption that you already have it!
Now in full disclosure, this very chapter, and a study of the Nephilim was what prompted me to begin studying the Bible more seriously over 15 years ago. I thought I knew the basics of the Bible, you know, creation, Adam and Eve, David & Goliath, Jonah and the whale, and then of course I was familiar with the main teachings of Jesus. I was already a Christian. But when I heard about the Nephilim, I was generally surprised that there was something like this that I had never heard of before. And then of course after learning of the possibilities surrounding these verses, it caused me to ask questions, and do some research, which led to answers, but then also to more questions. And the journey for me continues. But that is how a study of the Bible goes. It is similar to learning about many things, such as science. When you learn something, it answers a question, but then the problem is that it leads to two more questions.
So, with all of that said, we begin chapter 6. And I am going to read the first four verses
6 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.
What is quickly described is the rising population on the earth, as it says “when man began to multiply on the earth”
It also says that daughters were born to them. Ok, that makes sense. So far so good.
V2 is where it begins to get very interesting. It says that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive, or beautiful, and they took as their wives any that they chose”
You might ask, what’s the problem? That makes sense that men would see these women and want to marry them. And that would be fine, except that is not what it says! It says “the sons of God” saw the daughters of man, that they were beautiful. So the question becomes, ‘who are the sons of God” that are referred to here?
That is the crux of the problem here. It has been described as one of the thorniest issues in all of the OT. And for you to interpret these verses correctly, that is what you will have to decide. Who are the “sons of God” that are mentioned here? Why is it important who the “sons of God” are here? It’s important because as V4 reads “the sons of God” went in to the daughters of men, and had children by them”. So whoever these “sons of God” are, they are marrying women and fathering children by them
There are three primary interpretations, or views, as to who these sons of God were. These three views are typically referred to as the “angel” view, the “Sethite” view, and the “rulers” view
So let’s start with the “angel” view. This was the interpretation most favored by ancient Judaism and the early church. The earliest view of who the “sons of God” were, which was held unanimously as far as we know, until the 2nd or 3rd century, was that the “sons of God” were angelic beings. I will say that again. The earliest view was that these “sons of God” were fallen angels
Now that term “sons of God” in Hebrew is “b’nei ha-elohim”. And it means, just like it is translated, “sons of God”.
That same word, that same expression, is used three other times in the OT, and in each instance it is referring to angels.
One instance is Job 1:6, “Now there was a day when the (“b’nei ha-elohim”, the sons of God” came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
The next instance is found in Job 2:1, which reads “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” In the second example, it is again referring to angels
The last instance is also found in Job, in 38:7. In this chapter, which is one of my favorites in all of scripture, God is explaining to Job about creation, and how God was there at creation, but Job wasn’t. And so who was Job to be questioning God about anything.
So basically, God is letting Job have it! In that conversation, God says to Job “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? when the morning stars sang together and all the “b’nei ha-elohim” “sons of God” shouted for joy? Again, the “sons of God” here is referring to angels. And it makes sense if you think about it, as there were no humans around when God created the earth. So no humans could have shouted for joy as they witnessed creation
Now, as I said, this was the unanimous view up until the 2nd or 3rd century.
This interpretation also seems to make the most sense of Jude 6-7, “6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Jude is comparing those angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, in that they likewise indulged in sexual immorality and perversion
The Gr words that are translated here as “unnatural desire” are heteros (another, different, not of the same kind or nature) and sarx, which simply means “flesh” as we would think of it today.
So, Jude describes angels who did not stay within their proper habitat, their own proper dwelling, but pursued strange flesh, flesh that was not of the same kind as their own
Incidentally, the word used here by Jude in describing Sodom and Gomorrah, and their “indulging in sexual immorality” is the Gr word porneia (porneeyah),
One of the counterarguments to the “angel” view some people point to is what Jesus said in Matthew 22:29-30 , when he was asked about a woman who had been married and widowed multiple times, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
So, some people say, “see, look”, the angels in heaven do not marry. So they couldn’t have married women on earth.
But the problem with that argument is that the fallen angels aren’t in Heaven.
So that is the “angel” view. So, let’s take a quick look at the “Sethite” view. This view basically says that the “sons of God” are simply referring to the sons of, the descendents of, Seth.
Proponents of this view argue that what is in mind here is that the line of Seth, Seth’s descendents are the Godly line, whereas the descendents of Cain are an ungodly line. Remember, back over the last couple of episodes, we covered the descendents of Adam and Eve through Noah. One geneology mentioned the line of Cain, who killed Abel, and included Lamech, who boasted of being even more vengeful than Cain. There is nothing good said about any of Cain’s descendents
On the other hand, we also saw in the last episode, the genealogy of Seth, which ends with Noah. In this description, there is nothing bad mentioned about any of the descendents listed.
So you basically have two lines of descendents described – one godly, the other ungodly. And the thought here is that the “sons of God” mentioned here in Chapter 6 is referring to the godly line of Seth, which is why it is called the “Sethite” view, and the “daughters of men” are referring to the women from the ungodly line of Cain.
In this view, the “sons of God” are the descendants of Seth, and all that is being described here is that they saw the beautiful women from the line of Cain, and intermarried with the ungodly descendents of Cain. And so what you have here is simply a description of marriage between believers and unbelievers, which led to greater wickedness.
The strongest evidence for this position is that immediately prior to this chapter, we had a genealogy described of both Seth and Cain, so the fact that this description follows immediately afterwards may suggest that this is what is in view.
Some also argue that if this view is correct, it may help explain why in Exodus and Deuteronomy God forbade Israelites from marrying Caananite women.
Now, one of the problems with this interpretation is that nowhere are the lines of Seth referred to as “sons of God”. Remember, we saw examples of where angels are absolutely reffered to with that exact phrase. But nowhere are Sethites referred to like that
Another difficulty with this view is that it requires us to believe the entire line of Seth was godly, while the entire line of Cain was ungodly. Nowhere in scripture are we told that. In fact, when we get to the flood, we learn that there are no righteous people except for Noah and his family. IOW, if the Sethites are the “good guys”, why are the drowning in the flood along with everyone else?
And the last difficulty I will mention with the Sethite view is the description of the “daughters of men”. In this view, you are forced to assume that when the Bible says “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”, you are forced to assume that this is describing only the daughters from the line of Cain. But nowhere in scripture are we told that. These verses say that men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them. But nowhere does it say that these men are the men of Cain’s line, nor does it say that for the daughters of these men. So that is an assumption you must make in order to accept this view
So let’s take a look at the third view real quick. The third view is sometimes referred to as the ‘ruler” view, meaning that the phrase “sons of God” here is referring to rulers, kings, aristocrats, nobles, etc. They were men of position and power.
What is in view here is these men lusted for power and wealth, and desired to make a name for themselves. And their sin was not the intermarriage between groups, but polygamy. It was the same type of sin that Lamech committed. Remember, Lamech was from the line of Cain, and he is the first mentioned to have taken two wives. Although what is in view here is more akin to what we could consider a harem. So perhaps Lamech taking two wives was merely the first step in that direction
The problem though is similar to that of the Sethite view, in that you have to assume that the “daughters of men” is referring only to the daughters of Cain. Also, nowhere in scripture are nobles, kings, or rulers referred to using that same expression “sons of God”.
So the counter-argument is made that look, you would never come to this conclusion or interpretation simply by reading these verses. The motivation to come up with this interpretation is the fact that you don’t like the “angel” view, and you are searching for a way around it
So that is a brief summary of the three primary views of who the “sons of God” might be. And I encourage you to do your own research or study and see what conclusion you tend towards.
But I want to shift our focus now to the Nephilim- the offspring of the union between the “sons of God”, whoever they were, and the women
To remind you what the Bible says, I am going to re-read verse 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.
Now in some translations, such as the KJV, that word Nephilim is translated as “giants”. So it reads that there were “giants” on the earth in those days.
But the Hebrew word used there is actually napil, “nah-feel”, which is translated as Nephilim. Now, they did happen to be giants, but that is probably not the best translation.
The two Hebrew root words used for the word are actually nepal, which means “to fall”, and together with the Hebrew root “yim”, it has been suggested that Nephilim literally means “fallen ones”.
So the very name, Nephilim, some argue speaks to the nature of fallen angels. Others argue, however, that it is referring to ordinary humans and that they are morally flawed
Well what else do we know about the Nephilim? Well, the Nephilim are referred to only here and in one other passage in Numbers chapter 13:33.
Remember, this is where Caleb and Joshua went to spy out the land of Canaan that God had told Israel to take. The spies that went before Caleb and Joshua came back with a bad report. In numbers 13:32-33 says “32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers,..”
This is one of the reasons people consider the Nephilim to be giants. So scripture seems to indicate that the Nephilim are fighting for the ungodly Canaanites and Philistines.
Now, you are all probably familiar with the most famous Phillistine of all – Goliath.
Goliath is described as being at least 9 ft, 9 inches tall. He carried 250 pounds of armor and weapons. Now the Hebrews used 3 different cubits” for measuring, so depending on whether they were using the royal, the common, or the long cubit, Goliath could have been almost 12 feet tall
Now, there is a lot of literature outside of the Bible that refers to giants. The Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, Phoenecians, Egyptians, all told stories of great and terrible heroes, men of supernatural size and strength. Greek literature is especially rich in this literature.
In all of the accounts outside of the Bible, these “superhuman” types of men come from sexual unions between the immortal Gods and humans. And they certainly resemble the Nephilim in regards to their penchant for fighting and superhuman feats, and some even say birth defects
In 2 Samuel 21:20 we read “20 And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants.
Some suggest that the legends of Greek mythology originate with the Nephilim described in the Bible. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I am not in any way suggesting the Nephilim are mythological, and now the Bible is trying to make it real history. Not at all. In fact, what I am saying is that some people suggest just the opposite, that Greek mythology took real history and created its mythology!
But here is something to consider regarding the Nephilim, and whether you believe they were the offspring of angels or just two normal human beings.
From a scientific perspective, the size of the Nephilim and the feats ascribed to them goes beyond the limits of biological engineering. What I mean is, once you reach a certain size, you begin to lose mobility and agility. The bone mass required to support muscle and resist gravity increases geometrically. And so you start to experience a severe loss of mobility and stamina.
Modern NBA basketball players demonstrate that we can still be athletic, mobile, and agile at around 6.5 – 7.5 ft tall, but beyond that, it becomes a problem.
The point is, that natural bodies cannot manifest the combination of speed, power, agility, load-carrying capacity as is attributed to the Nephilim.
This may help explain why Saul, the King of Israel , who the Bible describes as “a soldier, an impressive young man”, and “was a head taller than any other Israelite “, he was so terrified of Goliath. If you know anything about Saul, I don’t think Saul would have been afraid or so intimidated by someone who was just very tall, but who was uncoordinated with no agility, or true fighting ability. No, these giants were something different. And so the question is, could offspring this different be produced by humans alone, or would it have required a supernatural influence.
Look, there is so much more that could be said or discussed around the Nephalim. But I hope this episode has at least served to peak your curiosity or motivates you to look back through these verses. But I will leave that up to you for further research and study.
And with that, I am going to close this episode, and we will pick it up from right here next week. I know your time is valuable, and there are many other things you could be listening to. So thank you so much for choosing to listen to this Bible study! And until next week, God bless!