Who are the sons of God and the Nephilim?
Who are the "sons of God" and the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4? If the Nephilim were a race of giants, how could they
appear both before and after the Flood, which destroyed everyone except Noah and his family?
When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them,
the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a
hundred and twenty years."
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward - when the sons of God went to the daughters
of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the
ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
"We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers
in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
First, who are the "sons of God" and the "Nephilim"? There are three proposed interpretations:
- "Sons of God" refers to fallen angels who lived on
earth and married human women. The Nephilim are giants
of extra-human strength who were the offspring of
- "Sons of God" refers to descendents of Seth, who
were godly men who sinned by marrying descendents of
Cain, who would have been pagans. The Nephilim were
simply "heroes", not giants, and may or may not have
been the offspring of the mixed marriages.
- "Sons of God" is better translated as "kings" or
"sons of nobles" and "Nephilim" is best
translated as "princes" or "great men." That is, the "sons
of God" were royalty or aristocrats who were generally
immoral and married common women, possibly against
their will or despite their already being married.
Arguments for view 1:
- The phrase "sons of God" is used in Job 1:6 and
to describe angels, and apparently early Jewish
writers interpreted this passage as referring to
- In support of the idea that angels came to live on
earth and married human women, Jude 6 refers to
"angels who...left their proper dwelling," and other
passages describe angels as being able to assume human
form (Heb 13:2,
- In Numbers 13:33, the Nephilim are described as
Arguments against view 1:
- "Sons of God" in the Job passages refers to "good"
angels, and distinguishes them from Satan, the fallen
angel. Since only fallen angels would be marrying
humans, they wouldn't be referred to as "sons of God."
- Mark 12:25 and
Matthew 22:30 state that angels don't
marry. (Supporters of this view respond that these
passages say that angels don't marry in heaven,
not that they can't marry on earth.)
- Num 13:33 could be an exaggeration of the faithless spies.
- God seems to condemn mankind for the intermarrying
in Gen 6:1-3, but says nothing about the angels, though they
were at least as responsible for it as the humans.
Arguments for view 2:
- Humans are referred to as children of God elsewhere
in the Bible (Deut 14:1,
Is 43:6, etc.)
- Genesis 5 describes godly descendents of Seth
(Enoch, Noah), while Lamech, one of Cain's descendents, was
also a murderer (Gen 4:23).
- To support the "Nephilim weren't offspring of the
marriages" view: Gen 6:4 doesn't explicitly say the
Nephilim were offspring, only that they showed up at
the same time the intermarriage was happening.
Arguments against view 2:
- The Sethites don't sound very godly, since only Noah
and his family were spared from the flood. (However,
"sons of God" may refer to generations previous to those whose
sin brought about the flood.)
- This interpretation requires that the phrases "men"
and "daughters of men" have two different meanings
within the same sentence. "Men" and "daughters of
men" in v.1 would refer to all mankind and their
daughters, but "daughters of men" in v. 2 would refer
to Cainite women.
Arguments for view 3:
- Contemporary rulers referred to themselves as sons
of God - the Egyptian king was called "son of Re."
- The Hebrew word in the phrase "sons of God" is Elohim, which can be
translated as "judge" or other human authority, e.g. in the NIV translation of
- Early translations of "sons of Elohim" rendered it
as it as "sons of nobles" or "sons of kings"
- The word "Nephilim" is associated in Gen 6:4 with
"gibborim", which means "mighty man of valor,
strength, wealth, or power."
Arguments against view 3:
- While pagans referred to royalty as sons of God, Israelites did not, and nobles were not
referred to as "sons of God."
- This interpretation seems "forced" - a stretching of the meaning of the text.
1 seems unlikely to me, especially
considering the last argument against it. Also it
seems clear that "sons of God" does not have to refer
to angels, fallen or not. 2 seems the most natural,
but the arguments against it do present legitimate
problems. 3 does seem rather strange, but the arguments against it aren't very strong.
Regardless of which interpretation one accepts, there is no contradiction in the Nephilim appearing both before and
after the Flood. Genesis 6:4 does say, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward."
If the Nephilim were giant offspring of humans and fallen angels, the fallen angels could have come back after the Flood
and had more offspring. If the Nephilim were heroes or nobles, society after the Flood could produce heroes and nobles
just as well as society before the Flood.
Other responses (offsite)
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