Who Are the Nephilim?

Who are the Nephilim? That’s the question that I want to take a look at today. This is a question that keeps popping up in my ministry. The night before I posted this blog, an inmate in the jail asked me the question during Bible study. I know that a lot of people have the question, and that it is one that is very interesting to them. So, I’ll do my best to cover it. It is the kind of topic that makes great, late-night radio talk or maybe even science-fiction kind of movies. If you’re not following me on that, let me describe what I mean.

In Genesis 6:2 we read, “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” And then in verse 4:“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, men of renown.”(ESV).

Now, it’s in this ancient passage that we find the word Nephilim. The most popular way of understanding this passage is: the sons of God were fallen angels who had noticed that the daughters of men were attractive, and so they began to marry them. The Nephilim were a bi-product of these marriages, and were a strange, hybrid being, which became mighty and fearsome warriors. They were part fallen angel and part human, and they roamed the earth in ancient times, and may still roam the earth today.

Now, that’s the most popular belief. It is somewhat bolstered by the renewed interest in an old book called the “Book of Enoch.” In this Jewish book, written about 2 centuries before Christ, the author clearly interprets the Genesis 6 passage as fallen angels taking human wives and having children with them who were giants, and who terrorized humankind. The Book of Enoch was popular among both Jews and early Christians and it was even cited by Jude in Jude verse 9. This has caused many to believe that the account provided by Enoch must be reliable, and as I pointed out, this really bolsters the viewpoint that the Nephilim are the products of demons and people.

But in this blog, I’m not interested in holding the most popular opinion. I’m interested in knowing the truth. I like to set aside emotions and how I might feel about a topic and just take a look at Scripture and see where it leads. If it leads me to the most popular opinion – as it sometimes does – well, that’s fine. If it doesn’t lead me to the most popular opinion – as it sometimes doesn’t – that’s also fine. And, as always you are welcome to disagree with me on anything that I ever say because I have no authority whatsoever.

Okay, so let’s talk first about the word “Nephilim.” Some of your Bibles may contain a footnote when it uses this word that says something like “origin of the word is unknown.” And that’s exactly true. The word Nephilim is the English version of the Hebrew word that’s found in Genesis 6:4. It’s only found in one other place, which is Numbers 13:33. That passage is the account of the spies, who had been sent to spy out the land of Canaan, reporting back on what they had seen. They confirmed that the land was flowing with milk and honey, but that the Nephilim lived there and they said that they were like grasshoppers beside them. Apparently, ten of the twelves spies were very frightened by them.

Now, the problem is that we still don’t have a very good description of who or what the Nephilim were. The only thing we know from this passage is that they were around just prior to the Hebrew conquest of Canaan and that they were very large. How large were they? Well, we don’t know. I’m assuming that the people describing the Nephilim were using hyperbole when they said that they were like grasshoppers beside them. If a grasshopper stands on average an inch tall, and the average Hebrew spy was let’s say 5 feet tall – or 60 inches tall, then we could say that the average Hebrew was about 60 times taller than a grasshopper. In proportion then, the Nephilim would have been about 300 feet tall, which is about the height of the statue of Liberty! However, it’s my guess that the Hebrew spies were exaggerating and telling everyone what they felt when they saw the Nephilim, not what were their actual measurements.

Incidentally, it’s because of this passage that I believe the King James translators started using the word “giant” as a translation for the Hebrew word Nephilim. It’s not that the word Nephilim actually means giant, but rather the spies in Numbers appeared to be describing giant-like people.

Okay, so let’s get back to Genesis 6 and take a look at this very strange passage. First, let’s look at the idea that the ‘sons of God’ described there were fallen angels. Now, it does appear true that sons of God can possibly mean angels. For example, in Job 38:7 we read, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” In context, God is challenging Job, asking him where Job was when God laid out the foundations of the earth and determined its measurements. The passage that we just read seems to be a description of when God created the world and the sons of God shouted for joy. The sons of God here almost certainly has to be angels since no one else that we know of was around at creation.

However, although the phrase sons of God can mean angels, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Paul says in Romans 8:14 that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Obviously, in context, Paul is talking about people, not angels. In Galatians 3:26, Paul also says, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Clearly, he is not referring to angels in the passage, but to faithful people. Jesus Himself said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” I don’t know how anyone could attempt to sustain an argument that Jesus was referring to angels there. Clearly, he was talking about people.

Now, one of the passages that is often used to say that the phrase sons of God means angels is Job 1:6, which says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” We are assured that this is a clear reference to angels. But I’m not so sure. If all of the other references to sons of God meant faithful people, why couldn’t it mean that in Job 1? Isn’t the reading just as understandable to say, “Now there was a day when the faithful people came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them?” Isn’t it possible that that makes just as much sense? Couldn’t Satan sneak in on one of our worship services?

The point that I’m trying to make is that the phrase could possibly mean angels in one passage, but in many others it just means people who are faithful to God. And – and this is very important – in NO Passage whatsoever do we EVER find the phrase sons of God to refer to fallen angels. None. Zero. Zilch.

To say that this means fallen angels is to import into the Bible something that the Bible simply does not say, nor is it supported by any other passage in Scripture. So, if you’re going to tell others that the Nephilim are the bi-product of fallen angels and women, just do so knowing that you have absolutely no Biblical basis for that conclusion. I know that that would make me uncomfortable. But, I know not everyone is uncomfortable with teaching things that aren’t found in the Bible.

So, how do I understand Genesis 6? Well, I think a good possible rendering is that the writer is trying to tell us that while the population on earth was really growing, that faithful men probably began to drift from the recommended practice of marrying godly women to marrying women simply because they were good looking. And then in verse four we’re just told that the Nephilim were there at the time that these women were bearing children to these godly men. In fact, the writer actually tells us that the Nephilim were already present when these marriages were taking place, because we are told that “there were Nephilim in those days – and also afterward! So, it sounds like the Nephilim were present prior to the marriages, and therefore, not as a direct result of them.

Now, let me go back and comment on the book of Enoch. It is true that this book was popular among Jews and early Christians, and that Jude seems to quote from it. However, that does not mean that the book is inspired. Keep in mind that in Acts 17 Paul is preaching on Mars Hill and actually quotes a Cretan poet to make a point. No one assumes that Paul believes the poet to be inspired. Rather, he’s making a point by referring to something that his listeners are already familiar with. Preachers do this all of the time. They may refer to movies, books, even commercials that their listeners know, and which add to the point they’re making. Paul did it, and I believe that Jude was also doing it. Also, the book of Enoch is not part of our canon of scripture because the author was not being truthful about who he was. The book dates to around the 300 BC, and could not have been written by Enoch, just a few generations after Adam. We just aren’t interested in books in which the authors lies about himself. Therefore, there’s no good reason to feel that the book is inspired scripture.

So, in summary, I don’t see any connection between the Nephilim and the marriages in Genesis 6. I don’t see that sons of God can possibly mean fallen angels. Therefore, I don’t believe there’s any good reason to suspect that Nephilim are some half breed creature produced by some interbreeding of humans and fallen angels. I know that that’s the popular opinion but I don’t believe there’s good Biblical evidence to believe so.

But, what are the Nephilim, you may ask. And here’s where I have to back down a bit. Because I don’t know. I have some thoughts, but they’re just thoughts. First, we would know that whoever they were they would’ve been killed during Noah’s flood, yet they seem to have resurfaced (pun intended) later. This means that in a sense they survived the flood. It doesn’t sound like they were animals since the reference in Genesis 6:4 seems to describe them as mighty men.

I suspect that the Nephilim could describe a line of very large people whose recessive genes survived the flood in Noah’s family, and became predominate later.

Do you remember Goliath, whom David slew? He was remarkably large. Well, in 2 Samuel 21 we read of a war that Israel had with the Philistines and that there were several giants who were killed then by the Israelite’s. There is some hint in the passage to suggest that these men may have been brothers of Goliath, and some suspect that they were perhaps his sons. In either event, I think it’s possible that these very large-sized men could have been of the same type as the Nephilim. Goliath was large enough to keep an entire Israelite army at bay, so if the Israelite spies saw several of them it would be easy to see why they were so frightened.

So, as I said, I don’t have an explanation of who the Nephilim were, but I think I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence who they weren’t. Thanks for watching and I hope to see you next time on this channel.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.



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