The Nephilim in the Bible - Fallen Angels or Giants?
- Crosswalk Editorial Sponsored by Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning
- 2021 10 Feb
Who Were the Nephilim in the Bible? Sons of God, Daughters of Men
"When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown." (Genesis 6:1-4)
It is actually plausible the Nephilim were partly both fallen angels and giants. According to Genesis 6, the Nephilim were the children of the relations between the sons of God and daughters of men. Christian scholars have theorized that the “sons of God” were fallen angels (demons) who reproduced with human females or possessed human males who then bore children with human females. Being the offspring of partial angelic heredity, the Nephilim were considered "mighty men who were of old, the men of renown."
Why would fallen angels reproduce with humans? As to a clear motive, one consideration is that the fallen angels, or demons, were trying to distort the human lineage in order to stop the arrival of the Messiah. God had assured mankind that the Messiah would one day "crush the head" of Satan (Genesis 3:15). The fallen sons of God in Genesis 6 were perhaps seeking to prevent this and make it impossible for an innocent “seed of the woman” to be born.
The Nephilim in Theology
According to Hebrew doctrine like the Book of Enoch, the Nephilim were a breed of giants and super-humans who performed deeds of exceptional evil. Their large size and power probably came from the merger of (fallen) angelic “DNA” with human eugenics. There are actually only two explicit references to the Nephilim in the Biblical text. First in Genesis 6:4, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown." And second in Numbers 13:33, "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.”
The Nephilim and the Great Flood
It is speculated by Christian scholars that the Nephilim were one of the main causes for the great flood in Noah’s era. Promptly after the reference of Nephilim, Genesis 6:5-7 states, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them’”. God then flooded the whole earth, killing everyone and everything other than Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. All else died, even the Nephilim.
Were the Nephilim in the Land of Canaan?
Although the great flood in Genesis killed the Nephilim of that time, it is theorized that the demons continued their breeding with humans sometime after the flood as well. After the Hebrews scouted the land of Canaan, they told Moses: “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”. This scripture quote does not mention the Nephilim were actually there, only that the scouts believed they had seen the Nephilim. It is possible that they simply observed abnormally large people in Canaan and in fear thought them to be the Nephilim. Either way, these “giants” were defeated by the Israelites through their conquering of Canaan (Joshua 11:21-22).
Could the Nephilim Return?
According to scripture, God has stopped fallen angels from mating with humans by banishing all those who performed such an act to darkness. Jude 1:6 informs us, “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” It is presumed that fallen angels who bred with human females are the ones who are “bound with everlasting chains" making the return of Nephilim thankfully unlikely.
Additional Commentary and Questions Answered by James Emery White
What does the Bible say about Nephilim?
The Bible refers to the intermarriage between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” and then shortly thereafter, references that another antediluvian (before the flood) dynamic was the presence of the Nephilim.
The “sons of God” were not fallen angels, as their intermarriage with human women would not only have violated the created order, but it is highly doubtful that a demon (which is what a fallen angel would have been) would be referred to as a “son of God.” They would not have been righteous angels, either, for they would not have been sinning against God in this way. Jesus settled the matter, anyway, when he taught that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage.
Most would see the phrase “sons of God” as referring to godly men, and "daughters of men" referring to sinful women (note they are not called "daughters of God"), undoubtedly women from the line of Cain. So here you have the intermarriage of the men of Seth with the women of Cain - a loss of the purity of the people of God. You could also read the "sons of God" as royal figures, which kings were called in those days, who set themselves up as deities. The key is that here men were crossing God’s marital boundary lines.
So then who were the Nephilim? The Bible notes that they were the “heroes of old, men of renown.” Beyond the reference in the story of Noah in Genesis 6, they are also mentioned in Numbers 13 as the people of great size that Caleb and Joshua and the other spies encountered when they explored the Promised Land.
However, the mention of their size was clearly an exaggeration on the part of the spies who wanted to argue against the positive report offered by Caleb and Joshua. So here were simply mighty men of wealth, strength or valor. The Hebrew word literally means "the fallen ones" indicating that in the eyes of other men they were heroes and princes, but in God’s eyes they were those who chose a life of sin.
So where did the idea of the Nephilim being fallen angels, or the offspring of fallen angels and humans, originate? The pseudepigraphical and noncanonical writing is known as I Enoch (6:1-7:6). This legend was later picked up and promoted by the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 1.3.1). Also, a Greek translation of the Old Testament in the 3rd century erroneously translated “sons of God” as “angels of God.” And while “sons of God” can refer to “angels of God” in other contexts (e.g., Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7), it clearly does not fit here.
(excerpt from Dr. James Emery White's Blog - The 3 Biggest Questions People Have After Seeing 'Noah')
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