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In my previous blog, I discussed the very strange reality that groups of giant people—or, the “Nephilim”—once existed in our history. We have found skeletal remains of these individuals, and they were almost deified within the artwork of many ancient cultures. More than that, I also exposed that giants are unarguably described in the Old Testament of the Bible.
They are there; take them or leave them.
However, I left off just short of discussing something equally important—where the Nephilim came from. If giants really did exist, how on earth could we account for them? In short, the biblical explanation for the origin of the Nephilim is even stranger than the Nephilim themselves. Trust me.
So, what is the biblical explanation? Answer: the “sons of God.” (not to be confused with the Son of God, Christ) These are the entities who are responsible for the giants, and there is no shortage of hypotheses about who the “sons of God” were. Two of the better-known views propose that these were actually mighty kings who took for themselves a harem of women, or that they might simply be men from the line of Seth (the “Sethite View”). When evaluating the issue, it will become apparent that neither of these views make sense of things.
What, then, do we know about these entities? For starters, we know that the sons of God had an incredible impact in our world. It could be argued that they still do. For one thing, we know that they are strongly linked to the issue of the Nephilim—the giant people of ancient history. You might actually say they served as parents to these beings. This could not be more apparent when we consider the account of the Great Flood in Genesis. Just prior to God’s annihilation of humanity (except Noah’s family), the sons of God show up:
“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” (Gen. 6:4).
Clearly, the sons of God joined themselves with human women and produced the Nephilim.
It appears that we have our culprits, but do we know anything about who they really are? Are they simply powerful human beings, perhaps connected to great kings or the line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s third son)? Are they something else entirely? First, notice the clear difference in terminology in 6:4: sons of God vs. daughters of men. This immediately suggests that one group has more of a heavenly origin, and the other has the typical earthly origin.
When we look closely at their titles, the mystery lifts considerably more. The phrase “sons of God” (bə·nê hā·’ĕ·lō·hîm) is exclusively used to discuss the angels. This is true in all ancient Semitic writings, not just Hebrew. This comes up clearly in Job 1:6, where Satan—who is unquestionably an angelic being—presents himself to God, along with other angels. They too were referred to as “sons of God.” This exact terminology also appears in Job 2:1 and 38:7, and Psalms 89:6 is almost assuredly a reference to the same beings (the angels).
This means that if Genesis 6:4 is talking about some normal tribe of human beings, it would be the only known time that humans were called “sons of God” in all of the ancient Semitic writings, the Old Testament certainly included.
So, the sons of God (the angels) “came upon” human women, which somehow brought about the existence of the Nephilim (giants). How did this transpire? There are really only two plausible options here: 1) This was procreation through some variety of sexual encounter, or 2) This was some type of advanced form of biological engineering or artificial insemination. While it would stun many of us to think this way, the former may make the most sense. As I will later discuss, Genesis 6 certainly describes their unions in sexual ways; the sons of God found the daughters of men to be beautiful, and took them as wives. That speaks volumes.
Furthermore, it has long been thought, by some, that the apostle Paul referenced this awkward relationship when writing to the church at Corinth. While instructing the women there to wear their hair long—which was almost certainly in part to separate them from the pagan temple prostitutes, whom often shaved their heads (see 1 Cor. 11:5)—Paul offered a rather obscure reason for doing so: “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). Because of the angels? Really?
In context, Paul was discussing the associations between men and women, both within the order of the church and in physical relationships. His point seems to be that women should be concealing their faces, as to not garner unwanted attention from the sons of God (the angels). The thinking may have been that certain individuals from among the sons of God would become attracted to these women, unless they somehow masked their beauty. This had occurred in the past, so it might be reasonable to suspect that it could happen to the women in Corinth as well. Paul’s talk of women being made for sake of men (1 Cor. 11:8-9) provides further reason to believe this, since it probably implied that women were not made for the angels. Hence, they were asked to make efforts to avoid attracting them.
Then again, perhaps this was just another one of those places the apostle Peter spoke about. Concerning Paul, Peter once remarked: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). True indeed. This may be one of those places. Regardless of our preferred interpretation of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 11:10, it is no doubt a very strange situation.
Also irrespective of our preferred interpretations is the simple fact that the sons of God are responsible for the entrance of the Nephilim into the world. From the point of view of the Bible, this was decisively a very bad thing. The context of Genesis 6 makes it clear that the Great Flood was at least in part necessary because of the existence of the Nephilim. As soon as they appeared on the scene—thanks to the sons of God, mind you—God pledged to flood the earth. The very next thing Genesis records after introducing the Nephilim reads as follows:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them’” (6:5-7).
This is not coincidental. The arrival of the Nephilim (through the sons of God) contributed to an increase of the corruption on the earth, so much so that God had to destroy it. Another curious thing is recorded in Genesis 6:2-3, and it directly affects humanity to the present-day. There, it is recorded that “. . . the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” This doesn’t exactly sound like the women had much of a say in the matter! As a result, God capped the human lifespan at “one hundred and twenty years.” First of all, it strikes me as fascinating that this age cap appears to hold true in reality; this seems to be about the absolute maximum number of years that any human being can live. Second, the link between the sons of God claiming human women and the subsequent result of a diminished life span for human beings is incontrovertible. The sons of God entered the picture, and everything fell completely apart.
Equally telling is the fact that Israel was always commanded to completely destroy those groups whom were associated with the Nephilim. Prior to Israel’s siege on the land of Canaan, God gave them these instructions: “Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them . . .” (Dt. 20:16-17). The Israelites were instructed to offer terms of peace to the other groups they encountered, sparing (to take as booty) the women, children, and animals, even if they refused the peace offering (Dt. 20:10-15). But what about all of those who were associated with the Nephilim? No such luck; all were condemned to death. It is abundantly obvious that God had a serious problem with these half man/half angel hybrids.
When you combine this information with the previous blog, we come to some pretty shocking conclusions.
- The Nephilim were indeed real. Groups of giant people actually existed.
- They came about through the union of the sons of God and human women.
- The sons of God and the angels are one in the same, as is apparent in both the language and the usages of the phrase throughout the Bible. However, there are clearly good and evil angels within that broader group.
- Both the Nephilim and the particular group of angels that produced them are tainted beings at best, and completely corrupt at worst.
- While the Nephilim are no longer with us—for reasons that are not altogether clear—the sons of God certainly are. Both the holy and unholy angels live, and continue to impact our world in myriad ways. (Check this blog, for an immediate example)
As is so often the case within the world of the Bible, the truth can be stranger than any fiction we could conjure up. The Nephilim and their supernatural entrance into our world certainly illustrates this fact.
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All Bible passages taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted.
Hodge, Bodie. “Who Were the Nephilim: Genesis 6 and Numbers 13—a Fresh Look.”AnswersinGenesis.Jul9,2008. https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/who-were-the-nephilim/
Rossiter, Brian M. God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact. Amazon, 2018. https://www.amazon.com/God-Made-Aliens-Extraterrestrial-Contact-ebook/dp/B07JVCRV8D/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=