Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thursday Thoughts: Nephilim

I have a friend who is really curious about Nephilim. So curious is he, in fact, that when we read Genesis 6 during the young men's' Bible study I go to, I knew the subject was going to pop up at his prompting. I was right. After some discussion that night, our young men’s group collectively decided to do a study on this mysterious race called the Nephilim. I think my thoughts through much better on paper (hence why I am a writer), so below is my best shot at writing an article on the subject. Please note that this is not an issue I believe Christians need to be dogmatic on. As most of the arguments made for just who exactly the Nephilim were are based from the Bible, it is a subject I believe is interesting but not essential to have one set opinion on.

For God’s glory!
Nephilim: Mighty men of renown

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Gen 6:4 NASB

Nephilim are described as mighty men of old, men of renown; that much we know of them for certain. The views about the Nephilim do not differ on who these men were, per say, but by whom they were born. You see, the mystery of this text is not in the Nephilim, but in just who the “sons of God” are.  In Genesis 6:1-2 we learn that these sons of God took wives of the daughters of men (ungodly women), and this union would seem to have caused the offspring called the Nephilim. Were these sons of God more than ordinary men who produced mighty offspring with the daughters of men? I will focus my study on the sons of God, for if we can figure out who the sons of God are, then we will have figured out who the Nephilim were.
Fallen angels?
Perhaps the most popular view among Christians is that the Sons of God in Genesis 6 are fallen angels that had immoral sexual relations with ungodly female humans (daughter of men). Indeed, we do see angels called Sons of God elsewhere in the Bible. This verse from Job describes angels as sons of God shouting for joy during the Creation:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7 NASB

The first argument to this view is that Jesus indicated in Mathew 22 that angels do not marry.

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Mat 22:30 NASB

Those who hold to the view that the Sons of God in Gen 6 are fallen angels counter (correctly) that the angels described in Mathew 22 have not fallen. They argue that fallen angels, quite different from the angels still abiding in heaven, could be capable of having relations with a woman. So the argument of Mat 22:30 doesn’t effectively counter the view that the Sons of God could be angels. It only limits the Sons of God in Genesis 6 to fallen angels.

If the Sons of God were fallen angels, however, why are they not called such? We do not see anywhere else in the Bible fallen angels called sons of God. In fact, that seems like quite an oxymoron to me. This is one of the big problems to the fallen angel view.

Another argument against the fallen angel view is that it is really hard to explain Acts 17:26 if there were indeed “half-breed” offspring of angels and men.

"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.
Act 17:26 NKJV

There is only one race of men. You cannot reconcile a Nephilim of half-human and half-angel blood with this verse. The only way you could get around Acts 17:26 is if you argued that Nephilim were something entirely different than men. Scripture, though, makes it clear that Nephilim are men, so that argument is not Biblically sound.

Another argument is the fact that God explicitly says that he made everything “after its kind”. These kinds are incapable of cross-breeding and are distinct. For instance, you cannot breed a horse with a dog and get offspring (what would you call the offspring, a dorse?). It seems very unlikely that God would create angels to be able to produce offspring with humans.
What if fallen angels indwelt men?
It is probably this last point that led to another view about the sons of God. Some people believe that fallen angels indwelt men to have immoral relations with the daughter of men in Genesis 6. This indwelt-man theory has some traction, for it is obviously possible for men to be indwelt and controlled by demons (fallen angels) in scripture (see Mark 5:1-20 for a good example).  This view dodges all but one of the arguments I have listed above, but again we must circle back to the question: “why would demons or demon-possessed men be called sons of God?” It is true that the title sons of God is used to describe men as well, not just angels, but the men this title refers to are always righteous. There is not a single case of a righteous man being indwelt by a demon in the Bible, so though I do not completely discount this idea and think it might be closer to the truth then the "fallen angel" view, I find it unlikely that the sons of God could be referring to demon-possessed men in Genesis 6.

So who do I believe the sons of God are?

 After all the study I have done, I believe that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are godly men. They are not fallen angels or indwelt men, like a good amount of Christians believe. Though I am not saying that I know without a doubt that this view is correct, to me it is the most logical. Let me explain as best I can.

First off, the sons of God title fits much better with this view than any other. Sons of God is the title used in other places in the Bible for godly men, as in this verse for instance:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:26 NASB

It is not only in the New Testament that we see godly men called sons of God, for it is common in the Old Testament as well for God to refer to His faithful as His children. It is clear that sons of God can refer to godly men.

A strong case for this view is that the whole passage of Genesis 6:1-7 flows much better if you believe in the “godly men” view. This passage focusses on man and just how wicked they had become. So wicked had man become, in fact, that God was grieved and wished He had never created them. He plans to blot them off the face of the Earth in one complete judgment—a worldwide flood.

The wickedness that resulted in this judgment is partially detailed as the sons of God going into and marrying the daughters of men (unbelieving women). If this act was taking place on the account of fallen angels, why is God judging man for this sin? To me, this passage flows much better if you believe that the sons of God were godly men who married non-believing women at will, perhaps even taking multiple wives as the “whomever they chose” in Genesis verse 2 seems to imply.

Simply, I found that this “godly men” view is the most believable and has the least apparent problems. This view does not cause a contradiction with Acts 17:26, for instance, as the “fallen angel” view does. The one most prevalent problem to this view I will explain below.

But weren’t the Nephilim superhuman?

You have probably noticed this apparent contradiction with the “godly men” view from the get go. Though Nephilim are described as men, it would appear that they were massive—perhaps even superhuman—from their description as “mighty men of old, men of renown.” Indeed, it seems that most of my Christian friends immediately jump to this conclusion, that the Nephilim were some sort of breed of giants of half-human, half-angel stock. I would have to agree that they do appear to be right from this verse:

"There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."
Numbers 13:33 NASB

We must keep in mind that this verse is the report that ten out of the twelve spies of the Promised Land gave to try and convince the people that they would be destroyed if they entered the Promised Land. It is quite possible that they were exaggerating things quite a bit to try and scare the people into believing that they could not enter the land (and it worked). Indeed, it is pretty obvious that the spies were exaggerating things, as they say in the previous verse that “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”

First off in my defense of the “Godly men” view, let me make it clear that man does not need the partnership of an angel to produce giant offspring. Goliath, the famous giant of the Bible, was not a Nephilim, but (from all indications) was just an ordinary Philistine man who was quite large. It is invalid to say that a man could not have been the father of a Nephilim if they were indeed very large. I am not discounting that the Nephilim were "giants" (I do believe they were "mighty" as the Bible says); I am only pointing out a superhuman union was not needed to create them.

Also, let us keep in mind that “men of renown” refers to just ordinary men in the Bible as well. For instance, here is a passage that describes normal men as men of renown:

and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.
Num 16:2 NASB

Lastly, their title in itself gives no indication that the Nephilim were superhuman. The word Nephilim is derived from the Hebrew word “naphal”, the root meaning of which is “to fall”. This title, then, indicates one of two things: 1) That the Nephilim were men who “fell” on others in the sense of overpowering them, or 2) that the Nephilim “fell away” from God. Both these views are completely compatible with the “fallen man” view. In fact, the latter meaning of the title would seem to support it.

One other view

Another view that is similar to this one about godly men”is the “Sethite line” view. Basically, this view limits the godly men to just the line of Seth, which causes its own problems and is essentially in my opinion a downgrade from the “godly men” view. I have chosen not to go into much detail about this view just because I don’t understand why you would not believe in the “godly men” view if you believed in this “Sethite line” view. If you are curious about this view, you can do your own study on it. I do not discount it as being wrong, only that it has more problems than just believing that the sons of God were godly men.


So there you have it, friends, my view on the Nephilim as of 12/19/13. It is my belief that the Nephilim were not some sort of half-angel hybrid. I believe that Nephilim, offspring from the wrongful union between a godly man and an ungodly woman, were mighty men who "fell" away from God. Of course, there are many different Biblical views on the Nephilim, and I am not saying that you are  necessarily wrong if you believe in any of these other views (unless you believe the Nephilim were aliens, because then I will say you are wrong). I am also not saying that my opinion on Nephilim won’t change over time. There are so many different views on the Nephilim, and many of them can be backed up Biblically. Frankly, you could study this topic all your life and not have a definite answer. It is only my hope that this article may have helped you understand several of the views on Nephilim and the view I think is most likely true.

As always, I would love to hear your opinions, corrections, or comments on this subject. Comment below!

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