[As of 11/5/11 my thesis is now available in print or for Amazon Kindle.] Although there is so much more I could discuss on this topic, I am planning for this to be my final post on this particular subject (at least until I finish writing my book on the topic). The first six posts have focused on the identity of the sons of God described in Genesis 6:1–4. In this post I am going to discuss the identity of the Nephilim.
There is some disagreement about whether or not the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and women or if they were already on the earth when the sons of God took wives for themselves. Let’s take another look at the passage in question.
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
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. (Genesis 6:1–4, NASB)
The language is somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not the Nephilim were the offspring of these unions. While some scholars believe they were not connected to these marriages at all, I think they were. I agree that this idea is not demanded by the words of verse four, but I think it logically follows from what has been stated. The “mighty men” of verse four were definitely the offspring of those marriages since the word “those” refers back to the children of the sons of God and the daughters of men. So if the Nephilim are the same as the “mighty men” in that verse, then they were the offspring of those marriages.
It is interesting that the only other place in which the term “Nephilim” appears, they are certainly described as mighty men. This description is found in the context of the report made by the men who spied out the Promised Land. After providing some details about the land, the spies talked about the people of the land and specifically mentioned seeing some members of a group of giants known as the Anakim. The report concluded with these words:
“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)
Many interpreters point out that this is part of an evil report made by the spies, so they were obviously lying about seeing the Nephilim in the Promised Land. There are several problems with this notion. First, Joshua and Caleb were with those spies and they refuted certain aspects of the report, but they never denied seeing giants in the land. Second, the parenthetical clause “the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim” does not seem to have been spoken by the spies, but was inserted by the author or editor of the text. So if this was Moses or perhaps Joshua, then we have their words to verify that they were in the land. Third, the Hebrew word dibbat, translated as “bad report,” does not imply falseness. This word also appears in Genesis 37:2 to describe the report that Joseph made about his brothers. He didn’t lie about them, but he told about their bad behavior. In Numbers, this was an evil report because the spies were trying to discourage the Israelites from doing what God had commanded.
Fourth, the existence of other groups of giants (sometimes called Rephaim) in the Promised Land is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture—the Emim in Deuteronomy 2:10, the Zamzummim in Deuteronomy 2:20, and the Amorites in Amos 2:9. Fifth, we have other historical records, such as the Egyptian Execration Texts from before the time of Moses, which speak of giants dwelling in the Promised Land whom the Egyptians greatly feared.
Finally, perhaps the strongest argument comes from a short phrase in Genesis 6:4 (see above). We are told that “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days” but then it goes on to say, “and also afterwards.” “Those days” refers to the days before the Flood, but the author (Moses) adds that they were also on the earth after the Flood. Since Moses was also the author of Numbers, it sure makes sense to see both the pre-Flood and post-Flood mentions of the Nephilim as referring to the same type of being.
So, just who were the Nephilim? As I’ve already stated in previous posts, I believe they were the offspring of fallen heavenly beings (“sons of God”) and human women. That is what the text strongly implies. The meaning of the word “Nephilim” is debated among scholars, but this is largely due to a misunderstanding. Many try to link it with the Hebrew verb naphal, which can be translated “to fall.” Hence, some try to argue that they were “fallen ones” in the sense that they “fell on” people as warriors or that they had fallen far from God. However, the term cannot be from this Hebrew verb because it does not fit any of the morphologies (it would either be nophelim or nephulim, see this excellent and easy-to-understand article by Ancient Near Eastern scholar Michael Heiser for details). The word actually is from the Aramaic word naphil, which means giant. So the Nephilim were definitely giants.
What were they doing prior to the Flood and in the Promised Land at the time of Moses? Since all of the Nephilim living prior to the Flood would have been destroyed in the Flood (unless one of Noah’s daughters-in-law was one, which I highly doubt), then it makes the most sense to me that some fallen angels once again had sexual relationships with women after the Flood to produce the Nephilim mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (although this is not clearly stated in Scripture following the Flood).
Although the Bible doesn’t really give us the motive for the existence of the Nephilim, other than the fact that the “sons of God” thought the daughters of men were beautiful, I think they were part of Satan’s efforts to thwart God’s promises. Some have argued that Satan attempted to dilute the human blood line prior to the Flood so that the promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15) could not be fulfilled. This is plausible, but I’m not convinced about it. Following the Flood, I find it interesting that the Nephilim were living in the Promised Land rather than any other place. More specifically, the father of the other groups of giants mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (the Anakim) was named Anak. His father was Arba (the Bible doesn’t give us any details about Arba’s lineage), and Arba just happened to live in Hebron. What’s so special about Hebron? Here is how I ended my chapter on why the Nephilim were on the earth.
The city of Hebron is of special interest in this study. The book of Joshua states five times that Hebron was formerly called Kiriath-arba (Josh. 14:15; 15:13, 54; 20:7; 21:11). Genesis 23:2 and 35:27 also provide this additional information. This name means the city of Arba. Joshua reveals that Arba was the father of Anak, who was the father of the Anakim. According to Numbers 13:33, the Anakim were part of the Nephilim. This becomes even more interesting when one considers that Hebron was where Abraham lived and built an altar to the Lord (Gen. 13:18), where Sarah died and was buried (Gen. 23:2), where Isaac lived (Gen. 35:27), where Jacob and his sons lived prior to moving to Egypt (Gen. 37:14), and where Jacob was buried (Gen. 50:13).
Satan could have known that God had promised the land to Abraham‘s descendants and that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all lived in Hebron. In fact, it was the last place the sons of Israel lived before going to Egypt and the place in which they buried their dead. Since Satan could have known that God had promised to bring Abraham‘s descendants back to the land in which they had lived, the most natural place for the devil to guard in his efforts to prevent this particular promise from being fulfilled would be the city of Hebron. This is exactly where Arba, the father of Anak lived. By the time of the conquest, Anak‘s descendants, Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, also lived in the city (Numbers 13:22).
Was this part of Satan‘s futile attempt to stop God from keeping His promises, or is this all just one big coincidence? Given that the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim (Num. 13:33), could Anak‘s father Arba actually have been a son of a fallen angel? Could he himself have been a fallen angel who became the progenitor of the post-flood Nephilim? Or is this just a giant conspiracy theory? Since the Bible does not reveal this information, one can only speculate. Man may never be able to solve this puzzle with certainty on this side of eternity, but the pieces fit together in an extremely intriguing manner.
A couple people have asked me why we don’t see any Nephilim today if they were so common during the time of Noah, and once again in Moses’ day. I think this is a fair question and there are a couple of plausible responses. First, since they were giants, and obviously very strong according to biblical accounts, then it makes sense why they were popular during times when battles were won or lost based on physical strength. With technological advances in weaponry, someone with tremendous strength does not have the same advantage as they would have had in the past. Second, there is a possibility that this sort of activity is going on once again (see my post on Ancient Aliens for details).
Once again, let me restate that even though I feel quite strongly about my position on this, I believe it would be unwise to be dogmatic about it. There is some mystery surrounding these issues, plus this issue is not related to salvation so it isn’t as crucial to get it right.
Thanks for reading.
I just stumbled on these blog posts, and they are very interesting. Speaking on the Israelites returning to the promised land after being freed from Egypt, I always found it tough to read that God commanded the Israelites to kill everyone in the promised land. Connecting it with the idea that the Nephilim were in the promised land at that time, this could be similar to a second judgement upon the earth (the Flood being the first). Just a random thought.
Thanks for taking the time to read the posts and for the nice comments. I agree that God used the Conquest as a similar judgment to the Flood, although it was nowhere near as grand in scope. God often used nations to bring judgment upon rebellious people, but in this case, there were specific instructions to kill everyone in some places but not others. I think it is far too convenient for it to be coincidental that the command to kill everyone was only mentioned where the Nephilim were known to live. Those places were under the order to be completely destroyed (the kherem), but the places where they were allowed to make treaties with the people were not under this order, and no Nephilim are mentioned in the latter areas.
Thanks for all your articles. One question concerning what you wrote:
“Although the Bible doesn’t really give us the motive for the existence of the Nephilim, other than the fact that the “sons of God” thought the daughters of men were beautiful, I think they were part of Satan’s efforts to thwart God’s promises. Some have argued that Satan attempted to dilute the human blood line prior to the Flood so that the promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15) could not be fulfilled. This is plausible, but I’m not convinced about it. Following the Flood, I find it interesting that the Nephilim were living in the Promised Land rather than any other place. More specifically, the father of the other groups of giants mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (the Anakim) was named Anak. His father was Arba (the Bible doesn’t give us any details about Arba’s lineage), and Arba just happened to live in Hebron.”
I do not understand you. Why are you not convinced about the diluting? In Genesis it is written that from Eva’s seed a Saviour will come that will crush the devil forever. It is because of Jesus we can receive all of God’s promises. The fact that Nephilim still pop up in Hebron and every where else in the Promised Land only affirms the fact that the devil is still trying to de-humanize God’s people.
Just my 2 cents. Thanks.
Thanks for reading the posts, for your kind words, and for your “2 cents.” To answer your question specifically — the reason I’m not convinced about the diluting is that this answer is based on my own (and others) “theologizing” about the text rather than the straightforward teaching of the text. I don’t think it contradicts the text in any way and it makes good sense in light of what the text does say, so I find it to be very plausible. I’m just not absolutely certain about it. That’s all I was saying.
Also, Genesis 3:15 is interesting. Although we take it as a given that this is a prophecy about the Messiah, it’s strange that the NT never makes this connection, nor does it seem that any other group of Christians or Jews view it that way until the past two or three centuries. There may have been a few believers here and there who did, but by and large, it wasn’t considered to be a Messianic prophecy. I do think it hints at what Jesus would do, but I’m not sure it’s as clear as many would like to make it. But regardless of whether it is a Messianic prophecy, if we take it in a straightforward manner, then it does seem to say that the serpent would have offspring. Of course, many (if not most) take this in a spiritual sense pointing to the passage where Jesus told the people that they were of their father the devil. But how would we take this in a physical way? Satan doesn’t seem to have directly participated in the sin of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1–4. If he had, then he certainly would have been imprisoned like the others (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Another verse that may support this view is Genesis 6:9 — Noah was blameless in his generations. I have had someone with many years’ experience in Hebrew tell me that this could very likely refer to him not being tainted by the corruption going on around him–in the physical sense, and not just the spiritual sense. In other words, he thinks there’s an indication that the rest of the world’s population was corrupted in their bloodline, which is what brought about such a severe and worldwide punishment. This would be consistent with the strong judgment against the inhabitants of the promised land when Joshua led the Israelites against them.
I find all of this plausible, but not watertight. For it to be watertight, we would have to show conclusively that Gen. 3:15 is a Messianic prophecy, and that Satan understood it as such. Also, the above interpretation of Genesis 6:9 would have to be on target, but I think there’s still some question about it.
I just try to be careful in pronouncing something as factual when it is based on my own “theologizing.” I’m not opposed to “theologizing” (I do it all the time), but I try to hold my conclusions from this more tentatively than I do the meaning of a properly exegeted passage.
I hope this helps.
Thank you for your fascinating articles! I really enjoyed them and found them quite convincing.
One small remark: You mention Gen. 6:9 “Noah was blameless in his generations” as possibly meaning that Noah was one of the very few people who was not corrupted in his bloodline. In this case, Lamech’s words at Noah’s birth become interesting: “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.”
Could it perhaps be that Lamech was thinking of the ‘woman’s seed” when he said this? If he knew that most people by that time were genetically corrupted, and if he believed that the promised “seed” would be purely human, then is it possible he was hoping that Noah would BE this long-awaited “seed” who would crush Satan’s head and perhaps make things right again between God and mankind?
As far as I know, the Bible does not mention this anywhere, but it seems to fit the context of the Fallen Angel hypothesis, and I was curious what you think.
Thanks for the kind words. I think your suggestion is quite reasonable, although I don’t know if there’s any way to prove it. You’re right that it would fit the context well too. Based on her words, it’s possible that Eve thought the same thing when Seth was born: “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed” (Genesis 4:25).
Thanks for reading!
Thank you for this, really easy to understand! Well done 🙂
Fantastic work, Tim! Kudos your direction.
Could you email me bullet points where you agree/ disagree with Gary Bates’ comments on Nephilim in Alien Intrusion (http://creation.com/images/pdfs/articles/sons-of-god-genesis-6.pdf)? Forgive me if you’ve already done this somewhere. Also, would you be thumbs up or down on icr’s A&F running a short article on giants? (Is that apologetically relevant?)
Thanks for the kind words Brian. Overall, I think that Gary Bates did a good job with the subject in his excellent book. I agree with his assessment about the various views, although more could be said about each of them (but obviously his book was not designed to be an entire thesis on the subject). I have one minor problem with what he’s written and two big issues. The major problems are related to his treatment of the Nephilim. I think he did a good job with the “sons of God.”
1) Minor problem – bene elohim in all likelihood also appears in Deuteronomy 32:8. Take a look at how the NET or ESV translate this verse compared to others. The difference is that the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that they the nations were divided (at Babel) according to the number of the bene elohim (sons of God) NOT bene yisrael (sons of Israel). Michael Heiser has an excellent paper discussing this from BibSac (available at http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf). The first time I read it, I strongly objected because I thought it promoted polytheism, but as I continued to study I saw how it makes perfect sense of that passage and the rest of the OT, especially Psalm 82.
2) Major problem #1 – much of his discussion on the Nephilim is based on the very popular, but mistaken notion that it is from the Hebrew verb “naphal.” However, according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, to transform that verb into a participle would require it to become “nophelim” or “nephulim.” It does not and cannot be from that word. But there is a perfect explanation of where that word comes from. The Aramaic noun “naphil” becomes “nephilin” when plural, and when brought into Hebrew, it becomes nephilim. That word means “giant” (of course, plural is “giants”) and is also the word for Orion, the giant hunter of mythology. People often go off in the wrong direction when trying to connect it to the Hebrew verb.
3) Major problem #2 – I don’t think he did a very good job with the post-Flood Nephilim in Numbers 13:33. He claims that the Hebrews didn’t encounter any Nephilim, but they clearly did since the Anakim were of the Nephilim. So if they faced any Anakim (which they did) then they faced Nephilim. Also, he relies upon the idea that the “bad report” was a “false report.” This is also a mistake. The same word (dibbat) is used to describe Joseph’s report of his brother’s bad behavior. Neither Joshua nor Caleb objected to the claims that they saw Nephilim and Anakim in the land. Also, the Anakim are mentioned in Hebron during the narrative reporting of the spies’ travels – (in addition to their bad report). He makes a point of saying that a parenthetical was added to the spies statement, but that would actually show that the writer/editor of that statement agreed that the Anakim and Nephilim were there.
There is a reasonable solution as to how the Nephilim were in the post-Flood world: they came about in the same manner as the pre-Flood Nephilim. Dr. S. Boyd and Dr. VanGemeren have made the point that “when the sons of God” in Gen. 6:4 should be rendered as “whenever the sons of God…” That would solve the problem, since it would then be telling us that the Nephilim were around “whenever” the sons of God came in to the daughters of men. Also, Moses would have known if the Nephilim were around pre-Flood “and also afterward” since He was the one reporting about them in Numbers 13:33. It’s true that the Bible doesn’t give us a specific verse that has them doing this again post-Flood, but if Boyd and VanGemeren are right about Gen. 6:4, then that verse does tell us that (the Bible also doesn’t tell us exactly when the bene elohim were imprisoned for their sinful activities in the days of Noah). There’s much more to this issue that I wrote about in my thesis that I won’t rehash here.
I’ll send you an email with some other ideas and with my thoughts about an article on giants for A&F.
Hey Great response on the Sons of God and Nephilim. There is book I would recommend it is called Beyond Science Ficiton. It is written by a dear friend of mine named Jim Wilhemsen. He has tons of scriptures to back up the connection with the sons of god and the nephilim to the modern day ufo/alien connection deception. The christian church needs to be aware of this subject.
i think we better move forward than analyze this subject from before Genesis and look onto 1 Samuel 15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” And we all know at verse 9 Saul spared Agag.. The reason God is wiping them out -the Amalekites – so that the “bloodline” will still be pure human..and Jesus will be pure “human blood” also..
I mean this topic- why God murdered those people-Atheist thrown at us and we just say Oh, because we all deserve of death anyway..
Thanks for this series. I enjoyed it.