Sons of Earth & Sky: The Nephilim
Updated: Feb 13
There are many prodigious, provocative, intriguing and tantalizing passages in the Bible that as such, often cause the reader to react to, rationalize or reject them. When scripture doesn’t fit neatly in our box, instead of adjusting our box, we often adjust God’s Word. One such passage would be the first few verses of Genesis chapter 6 which records “the sons of God” marrying and having relations with “the daughters of men” right before the flood. This has been a curious passage for many who skim over it, don’t quite understand it and quickly move on, but those who are a bit more studious have tried to make sense of it– often within their own boxes. The passage in question says:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. -Genesis 6:1-4 (ESV)
Many have argued that the phrase “sons of God” in this passage is referring to the descendants of Seth (who was righteous) while the contrasting phrase “daughters of man” refers to women descended from Cain (who was unrighteous). The resulting offspring they argue were of “better stock” due to benefiting from a deeper gene pool and therefore were simply a hearty breed. This is a rather ridiculous explanation considering these events took place just nine generations after Adam—the human gene pool was not at all shallow at this point in time—which is why God didn't start forbidding marrying close relatives until roughly 1,000 years after the flood. Today—roughly 4,500 years after the flood—human genetic drift (loss of genetic information due to geographically isolated populations—aka, inbreeding) has progressed much further, but even now simply cross-breeding an Inuit with a Maori does not produce a genetically exceptional human being. But with this simple, scientific-sounding interpretation of the text, readers move on and little thought is given to the gravity and ramifications of this passage. However, that interpretation does not line up with what scripture has to say about this passage, let alone Jewish tradition and subsequent myths and legends told throughout the ages. There is so much paradigm-shifting information alluded to in this passage if we simply read scripture for what it says rather than what is most convenient or believable for us to accept.
The Sons of God
Scripture must be used to interpret scripture and if a word or phrase is used that we don’t fully understand within the given context, it helps to look for that word or phrase elsewhere in scripture to see if a different context can shed some light on it. As it so happens, this exact phrase, “sons of God” (ben Elohim in Hebrew), is also used in the book of Job and the context there makes the phrase very clear. In every occurrence of the phrase “sons of God” in Job (Job 1:6, Job 2:1, Job 38:7) it is clearly referring to angels. While the language switches from Hebrew to Greek in the New Testament, the phrase “sons of God” can also be found there and again it usually refers to angelic (spiritual) beings (e.g. Luke 20:36 & Romans 8:19). In Hebrew, to be a “son of” meant to carry the likeness and authority of one’s father– to be of his essence. This is why the Jewish religious elite balked at Jesus calling Himself the son of God, because it implied that Jesus was of God’s spirit and it is why we as believers are adopted sons of God, because we were not of His spirit, but we received His spirit. Angels are called “sons of God” because He created them and, like God, they are eternal spiritual beings.
There are occurrences of similar phrases found in scripture such as “children of God” or “sons of the living God” that are not referring to angels, but the phrase “sons of God” is definitely an idiom for angelic or spiritual beings and may very well be why similar phrases are also used of Godly men and women in other passages—likening them to angels. So the wording of Genesis 6 definitely hints at angelic beings, but is not conclusive. However the context of the passage offers further evidence, as do other passages of scripture.
Genesis 6:4 goes on to call the offspring or descendants of these “sons of God” a very particular name–it calls them “the Nephilim.” Some English Bibles translate this word as “giants”, which isn’t necessarily incorrect, it just isn’t the totality of the Hebrew word. The name Nephilim is a plural form of the Hebrew root nephal, which means ‘to fall, be divided, be cast down, be judged or to be overthrown.’ While the root word nephal is used many times in the Old Testament, the proper name Nephilim is used only twice–here in Genesis 6:4 and once more in Numbers 13:33. Both times it is referring to the same thing–a particular and terrifying breed of men known, among other qualities, by their exceedingly large stature. Numbers 13:33 is the report of the spies of the Promise Land and they claimed the sons of Anak, who occupied the land, to be descendants of the Nephilim– referencing the Genesis account. But the sons of Anak could not possibly be descendants of the Nephilim if these “fallen ones” were simply the offspring of men of Seth’s lineage and women of Cain’s lineage–because they were all long dead (Noah was a righteous man and of Seth’s lineage– all those of Cain’s lineage were destroyed by the flood).
However, Genesis 6:4 states that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days and afterward. So the sons of Anak could indeed be the descendants of the Nephilim as Numbers claims, but only if we accept that the Nephilim were a result of spiritual beings who were truly fallen, cast down, judged and overthrown from their heavenly abode. If we recognize that Nephilim are demonic offspring, then both of these passages make sense– it would account for the unnatural size of this race of people, their legendary and infamous reputation and the fact that they crop back up after the flood despite their bloodline being wiped out in the deluge. Other scriptures affirm this unsettling reality as well– look at 2nd Peter 2:2-10 and Jude 1:4-7.
And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones… -2 Peter 2:2-10 (ESV)
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day- just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. -Jude 1:4-7 (ESV)
Notice the context of both passages–sensuality, sexual immorality and unnatural desire. Notice also that both the pre-flood account and Sodom and Gomorrah are used as examples of this despicable behavior and that these angelic beings are said to be chained in the gloomy darkness. The Greek concept used here is that of Tartarus (which is the Greek word used in 2nd Peter, however English Bibles translate it improperly as “hell”), which is the deepest pit of Hades reserved for the Titans—fallen deities who were cast out of heaven by the Olympian gods (Zeus and family) and chained in utter darkness. In Greek mythology, the Titans were the giant immortal offspring of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky) who ruled the primeval world until they were overthrown by Zeus—so you can see the clear parallels between this later myth and the historical account of the Nephilim in Genesis. Both Peter and Jude used these parallels to their advantage in conveying biblical truth and historical events to a Greek culture—specifically the sexual relations between angels and men. This is why Sodom and Gomorrah is also invoked as an example as the people of those cities wanted to have sexual relations with the angels under Lot’s roof—though they did not succeed. That particular event also included homosexuality, so it is doubly a case of “unnatural desire."
Parallels in Greek mythology are used several times in the New Testament
But even the average believer is probably aware that not all demons or fallen angels are locked up in the deepest pit of Hades (in Hebrew known as Sheol). In fact, most demons appear to be quite free to roam the earth and stir up trouble and exert influence. These passages therefore only make sense if we recognize that they are referring to a specific group of fallen angels whose offspring were the Nephilim, not sinful or fallen angels in general. Peter and Jude are speaking of the angels who left the heavens (their proper abode), lusted after the daughters of men and, like the two angels in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, took on human form, were able to have sexual relations and even produce an unnatural hybrid offspring of earth and sky—like the Titans. Of course it should be noted that the myth of the Titans most likely was developed in Greek culture as a result of the ancient historical Nephilim just as hundreds of cultures around the world have their own version of the flood account—a single real historical event inspires many tales and legends. In fact, nearly every ancient culture developed legends of demigods (half human, half deity) such as the Sumerian Gilgamesh, Greek Hercules and English Merlin. Why are these legends so prevalent and universal in ancient civilizations and what was their inspiration?
Of course all this biblical evidence speaks nothing of the non-canonical literature on the topic. While these sources should not be taken with the same authority as the scriptures, neither should they be ignored. The apocryphal Book of Enoch describes a group of fallen angels known as the Watchers (Grigori in Greek) led by several chieftains—among them was Azazel who is also mentioned in the canonical book of Leviticus. This group of angelic beings are described as marrying and fornicating with human women as well as teaching mankind the ways of war, witchcraft, and abortion among other things. Azazel in particular is blamed for most of the sin and corruption in the Book of Enoch as well as the Jewish pseudepigraphal Second Book of Enoch and The Book of the Giants which was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
These early writings give much more detail of the account than the biblical text. They even name the location that these fallen ones descended upon—Mount Hermon—and the number of those involved—200. These traditions ascribe blame to Azazel and claim God had the archangel Raphael “bind Azazel hand and foot and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert—which is in Dudael—and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there forever, and cover his face that he may not see light.” -1 Enoch 10:4-5. This is most likely why in the book of Leviticus, the ritual of the scapegoat is depicted as sending the goat of blame out into the desert for Azazel (Leviticus 16:8-10) as he too in these traditions performed the role of a scapegoat of sorts as well as being known to be locked up in an abyss below the desert.
Regardless, these Jewish traditions and manuscripts quite clearly expound upon the brevity of the biblical passage and leave no room for doubt that these “sons of God” were angelic beings, not simply sons of Seth. The only question is that of the credibility of these manuscripts. But as both 2nd Peter and Jude appear to draw heavily from them and Jude 1:14-15 is actually a direct quote from the Book of Enoch, it would appear the biblical authors accepted these traditions as truth and at least the Book of Enoch was regarded as reliable. If the Book of Enoch is used as a source text and backdrop for two letters of the New Testament and is even quoted in one, I find it hard to dismiss it simply on the grounds that it isn’t Jewish canon. The apocryphal books of Maccabees aren’t Jewish canon either, but no one disputes the historical events that they record. Some might argue that Jesus warned against Jewish tradition (e.g. Mar 7:8-13), but He did not warn against Jewish tradition as a whole. In fact, Jesus often followed these traditions. For example, the Last Supper and the subsequent act of communion was based on the Passover meal, which was not Mosaic Law, but Jewish tradition.
By now you may be thinking why any of this matters. Well, according to major redemption themes in the Bible, it would matter quite a bit. Remember that Boaz was a type of Christ as a kinsman redeemer in the book of Ruth and that God had to become man in order to redeem us. It’s all about bloodlines. The Old Testament documents lineages, genealogies and bloodlines assiduously as they are of great theological importance. The bloodline of Adam was tainted with sin, which is why Christ (called the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:22) had to be born of a virgin- He could not be of Adam’s bloodline (prophesied in Gen 3:15). The bloodline of Cain was wiped out in the flood while the bloodline of Seth was preserved through Noah and his sons. The bloodline of Abraham was prophesied to be a blessing to all nations and through it the savior would be born. Christ had to become one of us in order to pay the penalty for us and we can only receive that grace by His blood. We then become adopted into His lineage and bloodline as we reject the lineage and bloodline of Adam. Sin brought death into the world, but God used death to bring about redemption—for if man were immortal, then we would be eternally damned in our sin, just like the fallen angels. So God, in His wisdom and mercy, removed the Tree of Life from fallen man’s reach (Gen 3:22-24) until after he had received the spirit of the living God in him so that he would have eternal life rather than eternal damnation (Rev 2:7, Rev 22:2, 14).
Because the savior must be a kinsmen redeemer (He must be related to us by blood), only mankind can be redeemed (1 Co 15:21, Rom 5:8-21). Angels are eternal beings and therefore when they sinned, they were eternally damned—there can be no redemption for them. Revelation 21 shows us that both mankind and angelic beings will be in the new heavens and new earth of eternity—those of the human bloodline that received Christ and those of the angelic order that remained loyal to their creator and did not let sin corrupt them. But only the bloodline of Adam can be redeemed. This stark reality of the scriptures dismisses a few common misconceptions that humanity has perpetuated, namely that angels can be brought to repentance and that intelligent life resides on other planets. Again, scripture is abundantly clear—only mankind can be redeemed and only mankind and angelic beings will be in eternity. In Genesis God created life on Earth and Earth alone. Genesis records the creation of all the heavenly bodies (stars, galaxies, planets etc.) as well, but is also equally clear on their purpose—to provide light, signs and seasons for those who dwell on Earth (Gen 1:14-19). Indeed Earth is the centerpiece of God’s creation and the center of His attention (Gen 1:1, Isa 66:1 et al.). Scripture is also clear that man’s sin brought death not just to mankind, not just to earth, but into all creation—the entire cosmos in Greek (Rom 8:19-22).
This leaves only a few possibilities for the question of life on other planets. Possibility 1: God created alien animals on other planets without an eternal soul, neglected to mention this in the Genesis account but it doesn’t really matter anyway because they will all be destroyed by fire before the new heavens and new Earth are created—just like the animals on Earth. Possibility 2: God created intelligent life on other planets with an eternal soul, neglected to mention this in the Genesis account and doesn’t care about the fact that Adam’s sin corrupted them and damned their souls to hell because He only became a man, only died for mankind’s redemption (Rom 6:10, 1 Pe 3:18) and only records mankind and the faithful angels in eternity with Him in Revelation chapter 21-22. Possibility 3: Genesis is an accurate and trustworthy account of creation and therefore God did not create any life other than here on Earth and therefore His dealings with mankind are unique and special. Which of these possibilities best fits the biblical text and what we know of God’s character? We are the bride of Christ and He is described over and over as a faithful husband despite our harlotry. This imagery and analogy would lose all meaning and God would lose all credibility if He had many brides on many planets and told each one of them that they were His one and only.
So we’ve established that bloodlines are very important in scripture and we’ve scratched the surface as to why, but what does this have to do with the Nephilim (a.k.a. the Watchers)? The answer is, quite simply, everything. Christ had to become man, a kinsmen redeemer, but what would happen if the redeemable, mortal bloodline of man intermixed with that of nonredeemable eternal angelic beings? You see, Satan’s plan may be multi-pronged, but every attack pushes toward a common goal—the corruption of mankind and preventing God’s redemptive plan from being fulfilled. That’s why the Jews have been persecuted throughout history, why Jesus was crucified (which really backfired), why the Eastern Gate was blocked up and why the Antichrist will wage war against Israel—all to thwart God’s redemptive plan. By the sons of God having sexual relations with human women, it produced a mixed breed, a corrupted bloodline and therefore could have thrown a monkey wrench in God’s redemptive plan.
But God’s plan was hardly foiled by the “fallen ones”. You’ll notice that after the Nephilim are introduced in Genesis, the very next passage speaks of the first world-wide judgment of God—Noah’s flood. The flood wiped the slate clean and ensured that only the righteous and human bloodline of Seth was preserved. However this judgment, while it seems to have largely dealt with the Nephilim problem, did not eradicate them completely. Again, Genesis 6:4 states that in those days and after, the Nephilim roamed the earth. They crop back up here and there, most notably as the descendants of Anak in the Old Testament—the most famous of all being Goliath.
While scripture does not explicitly identify Goliath as being a descendant of the Nephilim, it does state that Goliath was a giant (as were his three brothers) and that he was from Gath (1 Sam 17:4). Gath was one of the cities of Anak’s descendants that was not destroyed by Joshua, so the Nephilim bloodline would have been preserved there (Jos 11:22). Rabbinic tradition does hold that Goliath was of Nephilim descent and scripture does attribute three sets of sixes (his height was six cubits and a span, his spear head weighed 600 shekels and he had six fingers and toes) to Goliath which is always associated with the demonic—specifically the spirit of antichrist. This identification as an antichrist figure is not without warrant. Not only did Goliath speak arrogant words and blaspheme Israel and God (1 Sam 17:8-10, 1 Sam 17:43-45) and was thought to be undefeatable in battle, according to Rabbinical tradition, Goliath was the Philistine who stole the Ark of the Covenant (1 Sam 4) and placed it in the temple of Dagon. This is a foreshadow of the actions prophesied of the Antichrist when he will speak arrogant words and blaspheme God (Rev 13:5-6), be thought to be undefeatable in battle (Rev 13:4) and enter into the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant would be kept) and defy God by setting up the “abomination of desolation” (Mat 24:15).
Though the Nephilim bloodline was not completely eradicated after the flood, they seem to dwindle quickly in the Old Testament and are never mentioned at all in the New Testament—though this could be simply because very little of the New Testament is historical in nature as it focuses more on church doctrine. The judgment of the flood and the chaining up of (at least some of) the demons responsible in utter darkness until the day of judgment probably also acted as a fairly effective deterrent of this tactic for other demons. However as we shall see, demonic sexual encounters have persisted in various shapes and forms throughout history.
Besides the biblical, apocryphal, pseudepigraphal and legendary accounts of this phenomena, we also have evidence from more recent history. In early church history and throughout the Medieval period there were cases of demons having sexual relations with women and men, typically at night and against the victim’s will. A demon with male features who would rape or seduce women was called an Incubus while a demon with female features who would rape or seduce male victims was called a Succubus. In this age, the term “Cambion” was used rather than “Nephilim” of any resultant offspring (which were much more rare than the sexual encounters themselves). While there was much debate on the details and systems of classification of these encounters, they were widely recognized. Even church leaders such as Saint Augustine (354-430AD) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274AD) weighed in on the topic.
In his work De Civitate Dei, Augustine said, “There is also a very general rumor. Many have verified it by their own experience and trustworthy persons have corroborated the experience others told, that sylvans and fauns, commonly called incubi, have often made wicked assaults upon women.” Aquinas later, in his work Summa Theologica, debated the mechanisms by which these encounters could operate in stating, “Still, if some are occasionally begotten from demons, it is not from the seed of such demons, nor from their assumed bodies, but from the seed of men, taken for the purpose; as when the demon assumes first the form of a woman, and afterwards of a man; just so they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes.” While Aquinas was uncomfortable with the idea that demons were actually capable of producing offspring with humankind and therefore devised an explanation in which demons appeared as Succubi to men in order to harvest their seed and then turned around and appeared as Incubi to women in order to use that seed, he did not debate the veracity of the sexual encounters themselves.
What about physical evidence? If you don't trust the historical sources, you could turn to archaeology for evidence of giant humans in the ancient Near East. In the late 1950's, road construction in the Euphrates valley in Turkey, workers unearthed tombs containing several giants. A human femur bone was recovered measuring a little over 47" long (pictured at right)—making this individual 14-16' tall. That would dwarf Goliath who stood a little over 9' tall.
In even more recent history we have a plethora of cases involving alien abductions that include sexual abuse as well as the harvesting of human sperm and eggs. Some abductees even claim that while aboard the alien spacecraft they saw specimens of human genetic hybrids in jars and tubes. But as the Bible is pretty clear that alien life on other planets does not exist, science is pretty clear that even if they did, they would not be able to travel the incredible distances to Earth and the fact that an alarming majority of alien abductees become involved with the occult, it should be equally clear that these encounters are spiritual in nature. As our current culture is increasingly “scientific” (materialistic) and rejects traditional religious beliefs and spirituality while accepting an evolutionary explanation of the universe around them, the only context they have to explain such encounters with demons is that of alien life forms with greater technological advancements than that of our own species.
But these otherworldly visitors tip their hand occasionally when they give their names to their victims. Unsurprisingly they give names that are not otherworldly at all, but are actually names of demonic idols, gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East such as Ishtar and Molech. So either the exact same handful of aliens have been visiting Earth for thousands of years while constantly changing their appearance, aircraft, tactics and modus operandi or these visitors are spiritual, eternal beings that revel in deception. The evidence points to the latter, as does the biblical text as alien encounter case studies read exactly like demonic possession case studies. For an in depth and fascinating look at this phenomena, I highly recommend Gary Bates’ book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection.
This is not to say that all of the reports of these strange sexual encounters from antiquity to the present are true—it is very likely that many (possibly even most) are cries for attention or the result of an overactive imagination. But in light of the biblical narrative and the historical prevalence and persistence of these accounts, I find it much more difficult to dismiss all the evidence than to reconcile it. Though cultural contexts and perceptions have changed—particularly in Western nations—and therefore our rationalizations and explanations have changed, these frightening sexual encounters remain. What are we to make of them if we deny the biblical account of the Nephilim as demonic half breeds and instead interpret Genesis (and indeed the rest of the Bible) in ways which we are simply more comfortable with?
Information is only beneficial if it is relevant and applicable, so what can we take away from the Genesis 6 account of the Nephilim? First, especially for Western Christians who generally downplay or even reject the spiritual reality of the universe, it serves as a sobering reminder of the spiritual war we are engaged in. It also provides proper context for us as believers to place current accounts or stories of this nature in. Thirdly, it better equips us to be able to respond to those who have had these encounters or refer to these encounters—which, with the current UFO craze, is becoming more and more common. You or someone you know may have even had a personal experience with a sexual attack at night that you cannot explain or do not know how to deal with. Simply knowing that it was demonic in nature and validated in scripture can remove one from the category of a confused victim and on the path to overcoming and being healed of that experience or experiences. Satan relies upon confusion and fear to immobilize and victimize. Taking up our authority in Christ and rebuking the enemy in these situations is infinitely more effective than cowering and simply weathering the storm with growing doubt.
But if we don’t recognize these attacks are demonic in nature or we reject the spiritual reality around us, opting instead for pure materialism and choosing to be ignorant of the spiritual weapons God gave us, then Satan has already won by default. He cannot override your spiritual authority, so instead his tactic is to convince you that either you are in a situation in which your spiritual authority does not apply (aliens, overactive imagination etc.) or else that you do not have any spiritual authority in the first place. Both are a bluff, but he is hoping believers don’t call him on it. But of course he’d rather just avoid the risk altogether and attack non-believers. So it should be no surprise that UFO researchers who have studied abduction cases have recognized that people of every nation, language, social status and religious belief except one are susceptible to alien abductions. Indeed no one appears to be safe or immune to these experiences except, for some odd reason, Bible believing Christians. UFO researchers have even found that anyone who happens to call upon the name of Jesus (usually as a last resort due to fear) during an alleged alien abduction has claimed that the abduction immediately stops. This is a curiosity for UFO researchers, but shouldn't be for Christians—the name of Jesus is above all other names and in Him is power and authority over all things, even demonic beings.
So whether you are a Christian who has not recognized your spiritual authority or you know someone who has either experienced something spiritual which they do not have the correct frame of reference to understand or they believe in aliens and use all the sightings and abductions as evidence that they exist, understanding Genesis 6 can be greatly beneficial for you. Furthermore, scripture says that the spiritual climate will escalate and explode surrounding the time of Christ’s second coming. So as we draw nearer to the great and coming day of the Lord, the spiritual realm will only become more and more real for the average inhabitant of earth. While atheism and evolution may be the flavor of the day today for many, scripture is clear that in the last days the entire world will be very aware of spiritual realities and be deceived and follow one political and religious leader who will perform signs and wonders for the masses, uniting all the belief systems and religions of the world against the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. Spirituality is actually on the rise, but the rejection of the one true God is as well. Interest in Eastern religions, New Age and the occult has never been higher while religious belief systems—including Mormonism and Scientology—which idolize aliens and the salvation they will bring, are gaining more mainstream support. How will we answer them and how will we continue to be a witness for Christ if we ourselves do not know the truth and take a stand for it? The truth isn’t out there (yes, that was an X-Files reference)—it’s been in scripture all along.
Arguments Against Demonic Sexual Beings
There are at least four different interpretations of the Genesis 6 passage regarding the Nephilim and all of them have their proponents and arguments for and against. I have presented the two most popular in this article—the argument that the "sons of God" are fallen angels and the argument that they are the descendants of Seth. There are at least two others, though they are both much less popular. One view is that fallen angels simply possessed men and had relations with women vicariously through them (similar to Thomas Aquinas' view), the other is that godly men simply took ungodly wives. Both views are compromises between the two main views that this article has discussed and therefore bring the best and worst of both arguments to the table. I will not go into the details of these minority-held arguments, but I will address the main arguments against the fallen angels view which I have supported here.
While I maintain that the evidence, by far, best fits the view that the "sons of God" in Genesis chapter 6 were fallen angels who took on human form, there are arguments against this view. One is that demons are never ascribed the ability to take on human form in scripture. This is technically true, but we do know that angels took on human form in the Bible and we also know that demons are simply fallen angels, so there is no reason to think that they are any less in ability or capability—particularly as Satan is traditionally regarded as the greatest of all the angels.
Another argument is that demons are spiritual beings and therefore have no physical DNA to pass on in order to produce offspring. This is possibly true if they remained in spirit form, but if they took on human form as angels did several times in scripture, then we must assume they were more than hollow bodies with skin draped over them. But even if they were just skin covered spirits, how were they able to manifest skin? Even skin contains blood, cells and DNA! so this argument is a bit absurd. I cannot tell you how a powerful spiritual being is able to manifest itself as a physical being, but I can tell you that the Bible says that it is both possible and that it has happened—lest we disregard the biblical accounts of Abraham, Lot, Jacob and others.
It is also critically important to note that there is one theologically irrefutable example of a spiritual being producing offspring with a human woman in scripture—the conception of Jesus. So if a Christian argues that spirit and flesh are incapable of reproducing, they are unwittingly denying the foundation of their own faith. Now, I am not equating the two here—the circumstances are clearly different. God did not take on human form and come to Mary to have relations with her. But obviously God is a spirit and therefore according to this argument, does not have physical DNA to pass on via reproduction. However, Jesus was not the son of a man—God had to have provided the other half of the genetic information to Mary's egg in order for her to bear child. The unique miracle here is the virgin birth—no sexual relations took place. That unique miracle does not preclude spiritual beings from being able to sexually transmit DNA to a woman as was the case with the Nephilim.
Yet another argument critics use is Acts 17:26 which states that all nations (Greek ethnos, meaning people groups) came from one man or one blood (depending on the manuscript and translation). They argue that this verse would not be true if some men were descendants or of the bloodline of fallen angels. At first glance this verse does seem to be a serious blow to this view, but it actually does not contradict the fallen angels argument. All nations, or people groups have indeed descended from Adam and Eve (and later, Noah and family), but this does not preclude Nephilim from intermixing within those people groups. In Revelation 7:9 we see people from every tribe, nation and tongue in the throne room worshiping God, but that does not mean that every single person or even members from every single family will be present. In the same way, all nations and tribes can be of the Adamic bloodline while Nephilim can be small pockets within those populations. The sons of Anak were only a small family line within the greater Philistine people group after all. Even during the height of Nephilim offspring before the flood they were not described in Jewish traditions as going off and starting their own nation or city, but intermixed within the existing Sethite and Cainite people groups. So Acts 17:26 is correct in saying that all people groups are descended from Adam even though some individual families within those people groups may have been Nephilim or descendants of Nephilim.
Finally, the major argument that critics of the fallen angels view purport to be the strongest against it comes from Jesus’ own words in Luke.
But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. -Luke 24:37-43 (ESV)
Critics argue that Jesus said that spirits do not have flesh and bone and that this point was the major evidence of the miracle of the resurrection. Therefore, to assert that spirits can have flesh and bone would call into question the miracle of Christ’s resurrection and indeed the veracity of His words here in Luke. In my opinion this argument isn’t even as strong as the Acts argument—in fact I find this one even a bit silly. Again, a spirit does not have flesh and bone, but Jesus did not say that a spiritual being cannot manifest flesh and bone. The Book of Enoch does not claim that disembodied spirits had sexual relations with women, it claims angels took on human form and then fornicated with women. If Jesus is claiming that angels, who are spiritual beings, cannot manifest flesh and bone, then Jesus would be contradicting several biblical passages that claim they did just that. And what about God’s own appearance to Jacob in Genesis 32:24-30? Jacob wrestled with a man all night and as a result had his name changed to Israel—surely no one would argue he was wrestling with air, but with a physical, flesh and bone manifestation of a spiritual being.
This argument gets even more silly when you realize that just a few verses earlier in Luke 24:31, Jesus vanishes from sight and afterwards in Luke 24:51 ascended into heaven. In other words, though Jesus could manifest flesh and bone at times, He was a spiritual being who could disappear, walk through walls and float into heaven, which would contradict His own words according to this argument. The miracle of the resurrection was not that Jesus had flesh and bone—after all, many others had been resurrected before Jesus and they had flesh and bone as well (Lazarus being the most famous example). Indeed what made Jesus’ resurrection unique was the fact that He predicted it, performed the resurrection Himself, afterward was seemingly both a physical and spiritual being at the same time and after His resurrection, He never tasted death again. No other man has ever been able to accomplish those feats. Jesus is called the firstborn of the resurrection (1 Co 15:20, Col 1:18, Rev 1:5), not because He was the first ever to be resurrected, but because He was the first to be resurrected in a glorified eternal body and to have conquered death rather than to be resurrected—as Lazarus was—only to later succumb to death again.
So while there are certainly opponents of the fallen angel interpretation of Genesis 6, I hope that I have produced enough evidence and refuted their arguments satisfactorily in this article—or at least sparked your curiosity which will hopefully lead to further research, critical thinking and prayer on your part. At the very least, I hope that you will read all of the scripture references I have included as I am confident that the Word of God will challenge you, regardless if you agree or disagree with the view I presented. Scripture has an incredible and uncanny knack for taking us by surprise and opening our eyes to truths and wonders which we were ignorant of just moments earlier. So if nothing else, my prayer is that this article has encouraged you to dive into the Bible and make some discoveries of your own.
Additional Tantalizing Biblical Support
The details of this event in Genesis chapter 6 are scant and therefore it's quite easy to gloss over the implications and therefore not recognize the many supporting elements elsewhere in scripture. But the fact is that throughout scripture, giants were associated with evil and the demonic. It's also interesting that giants are much more common in scripture than the average reader is aware of. It is also true that scripture does not provide all the answers to this riddle, so some deductions and theories are necessary. I'll attempt to address some of these here.
It is important to note that the brief mention of the Nephilim in Genesis comes literally a single breath before God announces the flood as judgement. That event seems to have been the last straw for God and triggered a catastrophic cleansing of the earth. As soon as the Nephilim appeared, God pronounced His judgement of the flood and set the date for it—120 years from that day—which allowed Noah enough time to preach and warn everyone as well as build the ark. What is incredible, but completely overlooked, is the major reason why God chose Noah to preserve the human race. Let's look at Genesis 6 again:
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. -Gen 6:9-12 (ESV)
Scripture says that Noah was both righteous and "blameless in his generation." This last phrase is the particularly interesting one as the Hebrew word for "blameless" here is tamiym, which is the same word used for sacrificial animals in Levitical law—it means pure, without blemish, perfect, undefiled and whole. The context of this passage is dealing with Noah's "generations" or his descendants—his offspring. Genesis claims Noah and his immediate children were, like sacrificial animals, genetically pure without spot or blemish. It then contrasts that bloodline with that of all other flesh, which had been "corrupted" (Hebrew shachath, to decay, ruin, destroy, lose, mar, perish or waste). If this seems like a bit of a stretch of scripture, you only have to look to the Jewish traditions and apocryphal texts to remove all doubt. In the Book of Enoch and also in Jubilees, the texts spell it out for us that the human bloodline had been corrupted by the Nephilim and that there were few genetically pure humans left. In fact, Noah, his wife, and his sons were about all that was left of true humanity. The traditions go so far as to claim that even the animals had corrupted genetics, which is why it was so important for God to select two of every kind, which would reproduce after their kind, to enter the ark for preservation. Even Genesis hints at this reality when it states "all flesh" were corrupted (not just man, but the animal kingdom as well).
Second Incursion or Genetics?
The revelations of the extra-biblical texts also helps answer one of the biggest questions people have about the Nephilim—if the flood wiped out everyone not on the ark and Noah and his wife and children were not of the Nephilim bloodline, how did giants crop back up after the flood? There are two major theories that address that question. The first is that demonic beings once again took on flesh and reproduced with women after the flood. I find this theory less likely simply because of the judgement and wrath the Genesis 6 event incurred. Not only were the Nephilim seemingly wiped out in the flood, but harsh punishment was sentenced for the demons who participated according to both the extra-biblical texts as well as 2nd Peter and Jude. If a second incursion did happen, there should be a record of that event as well as a second punishment by God, but there is no such record.
It seems to me that the severity of the punishment would have been an effective deterrent for other demons. Being locked in utter darkness, solitary confinement style for thousands of years awaiting your final judgement of being thrown into the eternal fires of Hell would make any free-roaming demon think twice. That fact is alluded to in the Gospels when Jesus commands the legion of demons out of a man (Luke 8:27-39). They beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss (darkness, the pit—alluding to Tartarus where Azazel was locked up, not Hell). In other words, they begged Jesus for their freedom and not be locked up in chains in gloomy darkness—the exact punishment handed down in 2nd Peter and Jude. That event seems to have left a lasting impression on the remaining demons. In fact, the extra-biblical texts acknowledge this and state that the lustful demons were well aware that the punishment for their deed would be severe, so they made a pact together that none of them would deviate from the plan and would shoulder their share of the judgement.
This leaves the second theory which states that the reason some Nephilim (giants) popped up in future generations after the flood was due to genetics, not a second wave of demonic sexual encounters which produced hybrid offspring. This explanation fits the available evidence and texts much better. While the texts make it clear that Noah and his family were "pure", no such claim is made of his sons' wives, which according to the extra-biblical texts, were weddings of necessity rather than choice. From there, it simply becomes an exercise of Punnet squares and calculating the frequency of recessive traits cropping up in a population. But is there any biblical support for this theory?
Giants in the Land
The Nephilim bloodline appears to continue after the flood, this much is clear. What I find very interesting is that future generations of giants primarily crop up in the lineage of Ham—the son of Noah who was cursed for "looking upon his father's nakedness" (theologians speculate Ham may have done more than just look). Regardless of why, Ham and his son Canaan were subsequently cursed by Noah (Gen 9:20-27). Later, scripture highlights the Anakim, or the sons of Anak as being Nephilim or giants. Following the genealogies in scripture, we know that Anak was the son of Arba who was himself a giant Amorite and the Amorites were descendants of Canaan. A few other Nephilim sprung up out of the bloodline of Noah's other son, Japheth as well—most notably Goliath and his brothers who were Philistines. Interestingly there are no records of giants cropping up in the bloodline of Noah's oldest son, Shem. This is significant as Israel, the chosen people of God, were descendants of Shem (Shemites or Semites). In other words, their bloodline was pure.
This begins to makes the Canaanite (decendants of Canaan) conquest make more sense in light of the Nephilim and Genesis chapter 6. God wanted to wipe out the Nephilim bloodline and He began that process with the flood. He then wanted to complete that process by using the pure descendants of Shem to wipe out the several corrupted bloodlines of Ham and Japheth. When the Israelites spied out the land with Joshua and Caleb, their report was that the Nephilim were in the land and that they were like grasshoppers in their sight. Due to their lack of faith, God then had the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that faithless generation died off—only Joshua and Caleb, who had faith God would give them victory, were allowed to enter. But God wasn't just running down the clock. While the Israeilites were cowering in the wilderness, God was cleaning house in Canaan. In Amos 2:9-10, God claims that He destroyed the Amorites "though his height was like the height of cedars." Indeed, a generation later, when Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, few giants remained. Joshua 11:21 states that there were some Anakim (giants) in a few scattered hill countries and in Hebron, Debir and Anab, which Joshua destroyed. But the next verse states that Joshua didn't complete the task—giants remained in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod. Those were the cities of the Philistines, which would come back and bite Israel in the butt until David slew Goliath of Gath (pictured above) and later killed off the remaining giants in the land with his mighty men. Hence, David finished the task which God started in Genesis 6—killing off the Nephilim bloodline. A man after God's own heart indeed.
Other Giants in Scripture
The Amorites and Philistines weren't the only recorded populations of giants in scripture. It may surprise you, but there were other recorded events which included giants. In Genesis 10:8-10, Nimrod, the builder king of the ancient world responsible for the Tower of Babel, was labeled a gibbor in Hebrew which means giant. However most English Bibles translate gibbor here as "mighty man"—which would be a valid translation (a giant in a figurative, rather than literal sense) if other passages speaking of Nimrod allowed this figurative meaning. Nimrod was known by many names in different cultures including Sargon, Gilgamesh (mentioned earlier—a Sumerian demigod and pictured at right) and Amraphel. In Genesis 14 Abraham is caught in the crossfire of several kings of the Rephaim, Emim and Zuzim who are at war with each other—Amraphel (Nimrod) being named as one of them. Who are the Rephaim, Emim, and Zuzim? Thankfully we don't have to speculate—scripture spells it out for us in Deuteronomy.
The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. -Deu 2:10-11 (ESV)
We already know that the Anakim were specifically identified as giants, but the word Rephaim is a proper name in Hebrew for another people group. Look up the Hebrew definition of the word and you'll find it means giant. Interestingly, the root word rapha also means shades or departed spirits—yet another association with the Hebrew concept of who the Nephilim were—descendants of fallen spirits. So there can be no doubt or misinterpretation as to who these people were according to scripture. They were giants, and like the Anakim, were associated with the Nephilim.
Going back to Genesis 10, that means that kings of races of giants were at war with each other. Still unconvinced? Deuteronomy actually gives an approximate measurement of one of the kings involved in this passage, king Og. In Deu 3:11, scripture details the size and construction of king Og's bed—measuring 9 cubits long (13' 6") and 4 cubits wide (6') made of solid iron. The bed would need to be rather robust as a roughly 13 foot tall individual would have probably weighed around 800 pounds. With that in mind, these kings captured Abraham's nephew, Lot. Abraham would have none of that, so he led 318 men to pursue the kings and their armies of giants to reclaim him. Abraham defeated the kings, brought back Lot, all the people who were taken from Sodom and Gomorrah as well as all the loot—which he gave to the other giant kings as a bit of a peace offering. Yes, according to the Bible, Abraham battled against giants and won handily. That casts a new light on a patriarch we often view as rather meek and mild.
So while English translations may obfuscate the appearances of giants in scripture, it is clear that they were present in populations all over the ancient Near East and their bloodlines were pretty clearly identified. One final interesting point I'll leave you with: the most famous giants in scripture—of the Philistine people group—are said to have originally come from Crete. Coincidentally that is also where the legend of the Greek Titans originated—the primeval giants who were sons of earth and sky.