What Is a Nephilim?
The term Nephilim, which is derived from the Greek word nephal, which means "to fall" is mentioned only twice in the bible. Once in Genesis 6, which is before the flood, and then again in Numbers 13, which refers to a time after the flood.
Unfortunately, many disagree as to what exactly a Nephilim is. Some non-biblical views are that the Nephilim are space aliens. Those who view it from the biblical perspective tend to fall into four categories, which is dependent on how they view who the "sons of God" are:
- The Fallen Angel View (believe that sons of God were angels)
- The Fallen Angels Took Over Men View (believe that sons of God were men overtaken by angels
- The Sethite View (believe that sons of God were descendants of Seth, Adam's son)
- The Fallen Men View (believe that sons of God were godly men who had fallen away from God)
From a biblical standpoint, understanding what a Nephilim is is not crucial to understanding God's message. Many associate them as mere giants, since the King James Version uses that term. This translation was in part because the early Latin translation by Jerome used the term gigantes. The Septuagint, which was the translation that would have been used around the time of Christ also used the Greek word gigentes. Therefore, it is safe to assume that regardless of what viewpoint you believe, Nephilim were abnormally large.
The Fallen Angels View
In order to understand each viewpoint, it is important to know the definition given to what the Bible refers to as the sons of God and how they view the Nephilim. For those who believe the Fallen Angels View they would interpret them as:
- Sons of God: Fallen angels
- Nephilim: Mix of human and angel
This is one of the most popular views. Many believe that sons of God refer to fallen angels since Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7 refers to angels as sons of God. Unfortunately, the exact wording is not used in each context, although the sentiment is the same.
Some feel that by understanding that Nephilim are half angel/ half human, other things in history begin to make sense, such as the lore of demi-gods or why God wanted to destroy entire nations. There is also support in ancient texts such as the Book of Enoch, which is not part of the Bible. I go into detail about this later on.
Some also point to 2 Peter 2:4 as proof when it says, "the angels who sinned." Although this is somewhat misleading as it does not state those fallen angels had sexual relationships with women nor procreated.
Jude 6 also points out angels "who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode," then Jude 7 goes onto compare them to Sodom and Gomorrah, where it states "in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh." Reading these back to back like that does show possible proof that the fallen angels had sexual immorality as well, but it does not implicitly say that.
Supporters of this view will also point to Genesis 19:5, where the men of Sodom request to have sex with the "two men" who had visited the night before. According to Genesis 19:1, these "men" were angels. Although the men of Sodom wanting to mate with angels is not the same as actually having intercourse with them.
One of the biggest criticisms of this theory is that angels being spiritual beings would not have DNA that could combine with a woman. Nowhere in the Bible do fallen angels ever appear to men nor does it ever state they have DNA like other living things on earth. Some argue that if angels can appear to man, then so can fallen angels. Yet, being able to appear to men and being able to reproduce with them are two different things altogether.
Another argument is that sometimes men are referred to as sons of God, such as in Luke 3:38, Matthew 5:9, Romans 8:14 and 19, and Galatians 3:26. Unfortunately, each of these is in Greek, and Genesis was written in Hebrew, so the exact root is not definite.
Another problem with this idea as that Jesus states that there is no marriage in Heaven (Matthew 22:30), which would mean there would not be procreating. So angels would not need the equipment needed to procreate.
The Fallen Angels Overtook Men View
Those who believe that the fallen angels overtook men use these definitions:
- Sons of God: Men overtaken by fallen angels/demons
- Nephilim: 100% human
Since Nephilim is derived from the verb "to fall" this would seem to be a possible fit. A possible interpretation of men being overtaken by fallen angels would be that they were possessed by demons. This would mean that the offspring or Nephilim were completely human, not hybrids like the first view. Mark 5:15, shows demon possession, which proves that it can truly happen, but would those possessed by demons be considered sons of God? Nowhere in the biblical texts is there a reference to such men being given that title.
Since possession did happen before and after the flood, this would allow for Nephilim to reappear after the Flood. Yet, one question that does arise with this theory is, then why aren't there Nephilim born today? During the time of Christ, there were demon possessions for certain, yet no references of Nephilim.
The Sethite view, unlike the others, does not believe angels were involved at all. Believers of this theory would use these definitions:
- Sons of God: 100% human
- Nephilim: 100% human
This viewpoint is probably the second most popular. Many feel that this definition of Nephilim fits the contexts best, specifically if you look at Genesis 5. There are different theories as to who the humans referred to as sons of God might be. Some believe that they were kings or rulers. Some believe that Psalm 82:1-6 supports this. Psalm 82 also clears up confusion about demi-gods if you take this interpretation.
Others believe that the humans that were referred to as sons of God, were from the godly lineage from Adam to Seth, down to Noah. That lineage goes: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, then finally Noah. It is believed that since these godly men married ungodly women, their unions had fallen from God's grace and their offspring were termed Nephilim. There is support for this definition in Psalm 72:15 as well as Hosea 1:10. Unfortunately, others believe since they are only similar in wording and not exact wording that this does not fully support the Sethite view.
Similar wording was also used in Job1:6, 2:1, 38:7 and Daniel 3:25, which referred to angels as pointed out earlier. Since both have been referred to as sons of Gods, without exact wording, many lean more on the context of the previous chapters to understand that definition.
The one problem with this view is that they assume that all of Seth's descendants were godly. We do know Enoch and Noah were, but what about their siblings and the others in the line. After the flood, they were all descendants of Seth, yet Nephilim still occurred.
The Fallen Men View
The Fallen Men View is very similar to the Sethite View and use these definitions:
- Sons of God: 100% human
- Nephilim: 100% human
This view is different than the Sethite view because it does not assume that all Seth's descendants were considered godly. It assumes sons of God to be all godly men of the time in Seth's line and outside of his line. It also assumes that not all in Seth's line were godly.
This implies that godly men were taking wives who were not godly and thus falling away from God's favor producing Nephilim. Unfortunately, this theory has the same problems as the Sethite view. Also, how marriages now that have one godly spouse and one that is not don't produce Nephilim.
Book of Enoch
When talking about Nephilim, it seems important to discuss the book of Enoch. The first and most important thing to point out is that the Book of Enoch is not part of the Bible. It is not the inspired Word of God. That being said it is historical and may reveal historical elements that should be considered. It is believed it was written by Enoch, who was in the lineage between Seth and Noah. He was cited as being so godly, he never died on this Earth, but God took him up to be with Him.
The chapters that give the most insight to the Nephilim debate is chapters 6 and 7. It tells of angels who "took unto themselves wives... and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments... And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells." It goes into more graphic detail, but definitely worth considering when studying the debate. This fully supports the Fallen Angel View, and is why that view is often most popular.
Keep in mind that this is not the Word of God and written by fallible man. What it does reveal though is that of the time, there were people who believed the Nephilim were produced from fallen angels.
Another thing to note is that it does mention Mount Sinai, which was not named until after the Flood, which causes one to question the age and validity of the Book of Enoch.
The most important thing to keep in consideration is that understanding who the Nephilim are is not integral to understanding the Word of God. There are many theories, and all possibilities are worth considering. Be wary of being caught up on things that may distract you from understanding who God is and why He sent His Son here.
- Brand, Miryam, PhD. "The Benei Elohim, the Watchers, and the Origins of Evil." TheTorah.com. 2017. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://thetorah.com/the-benei-elohim-the-watchers-and-the-origins-of-evil/.
- Hodge, Bodie. "Who Were the Nephilim?" Answers in Genesis. July 09, 2008. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/who-were-the-nephilim/.
- Livingston, David. "Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6?" The Human Race: A Young Species? February 04, 2011. Accessed May 21, 2018. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2011/02/04/Who-Were-the-Sons-of-God-in-Genesis-6.aspx?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI2b3U9_aX2wIVSNbACh20LgP-EAAYASAAEgIeKvD_BwE.
- White, Ellen, PhD. "Who Are the Nephilim?" Bible History Daily. June 13, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/hebrew-bible/who-are-the-nephilim/.
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© 2018 Angela Michelle Schultz