[NOTE: This article offers an introduction to my thesis on the sons of God and the Nephilim. If you came here looking for information on the Ancient Alien hypothesis, check out my Q & A article on that topic.]
Readers of this blog probably know that I have been very busy over the past eight months working on my thesis, and that I promised to write about it once I finished. Well, that day has finally come. I successfully completed and defended the thesis and earned a Th.M. in Church History and Theology. [As of 11/5/11 my thesis is now available in print or for Amazon Kindle.]
Obviously, I won’t be able to share all of the details of a 135 page thesis on this blog, but I will summarize some of my findings and conclusions over the next few weeks. For this first article, I will explain the subject of my thesis and give the reader an overview of the major views on the topic within the church.
One of the difficulties in writing my paper is the lack of scholarly work on the subject. There is a great deal of popular level literature on the sons of God and the Nephilim, and these often go off on bizarre “rabbit trails.” Since a thesis can only rely on scholarly work, it was difficult to find appropriate resources (somehow I still managed to find enough resources to have a ten page bibliography).
My thesis focused on two of the mysterious groups of beings discussed in Genesis 6.
Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.
And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants 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. (Genesis 6:1–4)
So who were the “sons of God” (vs. 2, 4) and the giants (v. 4)? The word “giants” in v. 4 is transliterated in some Bibles as “Nephilim.” This word is only found in one other verse in the Bible (Numbers 13:33) where it appears twice. The precise wording translated as “sons of God” shows up only three other times in Scripture, all in the book of Job (although similar Hebrew phrases are found in a few other places).
Genesis 6:1–4 is definitely one of the strangest passages in the Bible, and Christians are far from united on how to properly interpret these verses. There are three major views that conservative Christians have held concerning the identity of the sons of God, along with some derivatives of these positions.
The earliest surviving position is that the sons of God were fallen angels or some other heavenly beings. According to this position these angels materialized (or possessed men), married women, and sired children by them. This was the dominant view until the fourth century AD, and it is becoming more and more popular in modern times.
From the fourth century until the twentieth century, the most popular interpretation held that the sons of God were the male descendants of Adam’s son Seth, while the daughters of men were the female descendants of Cain. Known as the Sethite view, this position is not nearly as popular as it once was, but is still held by some scholars. A few people have switched this position around by claiming the sons of God were descendants of Cain and the daughters of men were female descendants of Seth.
The third view was promoted by some Jewish rabbis in the second century AD, but not really by any Christian scholars until the twentieth century. This interpretation views the sons of God as kings or despots who forcefully took common women to be a part of their harems.
One’s understanding of the identity of the sons of God usually determines how they view the Nephilim. The Nephilim may be the offspring of the unions of the sons of God and the daughters of men, but the text does not explicitly state this. As a result, some people from within each camp believe the Nephilim were already on the earth when these marriages took place.
Were the Nephilim giants? They are described this way in Numbers 13:33, and if they were the offspring of the ungodly marriages described in Genesis 6, then they are called “mighty men of old, men of renown.”
So which view is the right or best one? I believe the fallen angel view does the best job of explaining the actual text. Yet, this interpretation also brings some of the strongest objections. Nevertheless, it is the position I defended in my paper. Here is my thesis statement:
This thesis will demonstrate that the interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 which views the “sons of God” as fallen angels and the Nephilim as the resultant progeny of illicit unions between these angels and women is superior to the alternate views and is consistent with both the immediate context in Genesis and the overall context of Scripture.
In the coming weeks, I will provide some of the reasons why I believe this is the proper view. In my paper I show why those who hold the alternate views do not adequately account for all of the details in the text. Also, I will explain how plausible solutions can be given for every argument against the fallen angel position. My paper also included a survey of how people have interpreted this passage since the days of the early church.
I hope to rewrite the thesis as a popular level book in the next year. I guarantee it will make a fascinating read for anyone interested in this topic.
Thanks for reading.
[Click here for Part 2 of The Sons of God and the Nephilim—critique of Sethite view]
[Click here for Part 3 of The Sons of God and the Nephilim—critique of Royalty view]
[Click here for Part 4 of The Sons of God and the Nephilim—biblical support for Fallen Angel view]
[Click here for Part 5 of The Sons of God and the Nephilim—theological and historical support for Fallen Angel view]
[Click here for my thoughts on the Ancient Alien hypothesis and how it may be related to this issue.]