The Sons of God and the Nephilim—Part 5

Building on Genesis 6, the apocryphal Book of Enoch discusses the popular belief that fallen angels married women.

[As of 11/5/11 my thesis is now available in print or for Amazon Kindle.] The first four posts in this series have covered the following topics: a summary of my thesis on the sons of God and the Nephilim, a critique of the Sethite view, a critique of the Royalty view, and a summary of some of the biblical arguments for the Fallen Angel view. This post will continue with some of the strengths of the Fallen Angel view.

In addition to the passages that support the Fallen Angel view, there are some theological and historical arguments which favor this interpretation as well. We’ll consider three theological arguments in this post and then look briefly at the historical evidence for this view.

Theological Arguments

First, think about why these beings, who obviously did something wrong in Genesis 6, could be called the “sons of God.” The Sethite position makes some sense here. If the “sons of God” were godly descendents of Seth, then it is conceivable they could be given this title. However, we already saw in an earlier post many of the problems with this position, including the fact that if they were godly, they wouldn’t have continually married ungodly women. The Royalty position is quite weak on this point. The Fallen Angel position makes perfect sense here. Not only are heavenly beings called “sons of God” three times in Job, but there are some other reasons why they can be identified as such. Consider who else is given this term in Scripture: Adam, Jesus, and Christians. Christians are sons of God by adoption and we are given a new nature upon conversion (Romans 8:14), but both Adam and Jesus’ humanity were direct creations of God. The angels were also directly created by God, so maybe that is why both holy and fallen angels could be called this.

However, a far better explanation as to why fallen angels can be called “sons of God” has to do with the meaning of the term “elohim.” While it is most frequently used as a title (“God” in about 90% of occurrences), it can refer to other beings whose plane of existence is the spiritual realm. The term is also used of “angels” (Psalm 8:5), “demons” (the “gods” of Deuteronomy 32:17), the “spirit” of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:13), and the “gods” of the divine council (Psalm 82:1). So a “son” of elohim would refer to someone from the spiritual realm—it does not necessarily refer to one who is obediently following God.

Second, think about the various positions here and then ask which one provides the best rationale for the cataclysmic judgment of the Flood. Genesis 6:5 states, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Verse 11 adds, “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” God judged the earth with a worldwide Flood because of the extreme wickedness. While all three views agree on this point, only the Fallen Angel view truly makes sense, since the other two have occurred countless times throughout history and God has not judged it in such a severe manner. In other words, believers have married unbelievers, and noble men have married commoners throughout history. Why hasn’t God brought such a harsh judgment for these actions. However, what took place in Genesis 6 seems to have been quite unique so the Fallen Angel view makes better sense of this issue as well.

There are some who believe Luke 17:26–30 teach that these circumstances will be repeated just before Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus stated, “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Some people use this passage to claim that fallen angels will once again breed with humanity in the end times, and they point to the alien abduction phenomena as evidence of this. This connection is very intriguing and plausible, and I plan to write some more about the alien abduction phenomena and the possible parallels here. However, I think this claim misses the point of Christ’s words in this passage. Jesus was simply indicating the suddenness and severity of the judgment. He went on to compare His coming judgment to the suddenness of the judgment that fell on Sodom.

Finally, one’s view must be able to explain the existence of the Nephilim. There is no consensus in any of the views whether or not the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and women, although most people believe they were. If they were not, then there is little hope of identifying the Nephilim. If they were the offspring, then the Fallen Angel view makes the most sense.

Contrary to popular belief, the word “Nephilim” is not derived from the Hebrew verb “naphal” which can have the meaning “to fall.” It does not fit any of the proper forms (morphologies). So this is not primarily speaking about people who “fall on” others in the sense of being violent or about those who have “fallen” far from God, even though they were clearly in rebellion against God. Many use this line of argumentation to claim that the Nephilim were the “fallen ones.” Besides the fact that “Nephilim” does not mean “fallen ones,” it would not make a whole lot of sense to call the offspring “fallen ones” when in fact it would be their fathers (the “sons of God”) who were fallen.

The term “Nephilim” is in all likelihood not a Hebrew term at all. Instead, it is a plural form of the Aramaic noun (naphil) that means “giant.” (For a fairly easy-to-understand explanation of the origins of this term, please read Michael Heiser’s paper on the subject.) This is stated in the major Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons (Brown, Driver, Briggs / HALOT / NIDOTTE). This is why it is translated as giants in several translations and why the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) uses the term gigantes (giants). This also makes sense of Number 13:33 which tells us that the a race of giants known as the Anakim were part of the Nephilim. So why would the offspring of one group of humans marrying another group of humans result in giant offspring? Of course, it is genetically possible for a giant to be born if the parents had the appropriate genetics, but it seems highly unlikely that all of the offspring of these two groups would have been giants unless something more sinister was going on.

Historical Overview

Take a look at the following charts that show the history of the various positions on this subject. The first chart shows the earliest writings and commentators. The second shows views since the time of the Reformation. Notice that all of the early commentators and extant writings promote the Fallen Angel view. It wasn’t until the rise of the allegorical interpretation that other views began to be pushed. (If both “Angel” and “Human” are checked it signifies the offshoot of the Fallen Angel view, which posits that the sons of God were fallen angels who possessed men.)

Date Writer Angel Human Reference
c. 250 BC Various X Septuagint, Gen. 6:3
c. 165 BC Unknown X 1 Enoch 6-19
c. 150 BC Unknown X Jubilees 4:15, 22
c. 100 BC Unknown X Damascus Document 2:16–19
c. AD 50 Philo of Alexandria X Giants 6–7
AD 37–100 Josephus X Antiquities, Book 1.3.1 (73)
c. 70 Pseudo-Philo X Biblical Antiquities 3:1–2
Late 1st cen. Unknown X Genesis Apocryphon 2:1
Late 1st cen. Unknown X 2 Baruch 56:10–14
c.100–165 Justin Martyr X 1 Apology 5
c.115–202 Irenaeus of Lyons X Dem. 18; Heresies 16.2
c.130 Rabbi Akiba X Greek Translation of OT
130–160 Rabbi Yohai X Genesis Rabbah 26:5–7
130–160 Rabbi Jose X Babylonian Talmud, San. 108a
2nd century Athenagoras X A Plea for the Christians, 24
Late 2nd cen. Symmachus X Greek Translation of OT
c.150–215 Clement of Alex. X Miscellanies 5.1.10
c.160–225 Tertullian X Idolatry 9; Veiling 7
c.160–240 Julius Africanus X Chronology, Fragment 2
c.210–230? Pseudo-Clementine X Recognitions, I.29
c.200–250 Unknown X Acts of Holy Apostle Thomas
c.250 Commodianus X Instructions, §3
c.240–320 Lactantius X Divine Institutes 2.15
c.263–339 Eusebius of Caesarea X Preparation, 5.5
c.306–373 Ephrem the Syrian X Commentary on Genesis 6.3.1
c.340–397 Ambrose of Milan X Noah and the Ark 4.8
c.345–420 Jerome X Hebrew, 6.4
c.374–407 John Chrysostom X Homily on Genesis, 22.6–8
c.363–420 Sulpicius Severus X History, 1.2
c.360-435 John Cassian X Conferences, 8.21
c.354–430 Augustine of Hippo X City of God, 15:22–23
Date Writer Angel Human Reference
1483–1546 Martin Luther X Commentary on Genesis
1509–1564 John Calvin X Calvin’s Commentaries
1697–1771 John Gill X Exposition of Old Testament
1762–1832 Adam Clarke X Commentary on the Bible
1798–1870 Albert Barnes X Notes on the Old Testament
1807–18881813–1890 Karl Keil /         Franz Delitzsch X Commentary: Genesis
1892–1972 H. C. Leupold X Exposition of Genesis
1918–2006 Henry M. Morris X X Genesis Record
1922–2007 Meredith Kline X Divine Kingship
1913–2008 Derek Kidner X Genesis
1930– Bruce Waltke X X Genesis
1932– Millard Erickson X Christian Theology
1937– Paul Enns X Moody Handbook of Theology
1939– John MacArthur X X MacArthur Study Bible
1948– Wayne Grudem X Systematic Theology
????– Robert Culver X Systematic Theology
????– Kenneth Mathews X Genesis 1–11:32
????– Allen Ross X X Creation & Blessing
????– Willem VanGemeren X Westminster TJ 43:2
????– Duane Garrett X Angels & New Spirituality
????– R. Kent Hughes X X Genesis: Beginning & Blessing
????– Robert Lightner X “Excursus: Sons of God”

From the time of Augustine until the early 20th century, the Sethite view was the dominant position. This was largely due to Augustine’s tremendous influence, but as I have already shown, this view has virtually no biblical support and is the least popular today. Many of those who objected to the Fallen Angel view, such as Calvin, did so because they found it repulsive rather than for any textual reasons. The last century has seen a strong trending back to a supernatural position, and I think this is a move in the right direction.

The next post will address the objections to the Fallen Angel position and then I’ll move on to discussing the identity of the Nephilim. Thanks for reading.

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About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.


The Sons of God and the Nephilim—Part 5 — 4 Comments

  1. Is Part 5 the last of your writings on this subject? I find this intriguing, as of course, we all know the story of David and Goliath. Goliath may have been one of the “last” giants, as perhaps, The Philistines had quite a few of them. Then comes my question of studying in grade school, various peoples, Pygmies and Watusi, in particular. The Watusi were considered giants, or extremely tall. In today’s world we hear nothing if there are any pygmies left or Watusi. I have always tended to believe that there were angels who “possessed” men, and took for themselves human wives. That would involve an overtaking of a human body by a spiritual creature, such as someone being demon possessed. Therein lies my question…if they were angels, why did God permit that? We do know angels look upon humans in wonder, and probably wonder what it is like to be human, also what would be so special about humans to an angel who would be able to see God. I wonder, also, if fallen angels, as well as the obedient servant angels are in awe that God would provide a saviour for humans, but He does not provide a saviour for Lucifer and his followers. It is written that man is made in God’s Image, I don’t think that holds true for angels, He created them as special beings, totally spiritual, where humans have spiritual souls and human flesh. I am finding this wonderful reading, and am not sure if there is more or not? Please advise, and thank you ever so much!

    Karen A. Lech

    • Hi Karen,

      There are two more posts in this particular series. #6 can be found here:
      Also, I have plenty of other articles that discuss the sons of God and the Nephilim. The easiest way to find them is to click the word “Nephilim” in the tag cloud in the right margin. That will bring up all the blog posts I’ve done on the topic. Also, my thesis is available for purchase if you’d like to go much deeper into the topic.

  2. Hi, I was in search to look up what Franz Delitzsch view of fallen angels were. So, the chart above says any X under the ANGEL, they hold to the fallen angels, and any X under HUMAN they are against fallen angels? Reading the chart it would tell me Franz Delitzsch was again the view of fallen angels? Thanks!

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