The Nephilim (Hebrew: נפלים, Nefilīm) were a race that came to dominate the antediluvian (pre-flood) world, and are referred to in the Bible as the heroes of old, men of renown. They were reportedly the children born to the "Sons of God" by the "daughters of men", and are described as giants. It is also most important to note that they are mentioned almost simultaneous to God's statement that He would destroy the earth by flood, and it seems from this association that their effect upon mankind was one of the primary justifications that brought the destruction.
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. The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." - Genesis 6:1-7 (NIV)
"Nephilim" is rendered fallen, or possibly feller: a tyrant or bully. Several English translations, such as the King James Version rendered the word "giants". In the Greek Septuagint the word "nephilim" was also translated as "gigantes" (gigantic). This translation is undoubtedly used because the Nephilim later became known as giants to the ancient Hebrews, as illustrated by the manner in which they were referenced when the Israelite spies were sent into Canaan (Numbers 13:33 ).
The Sons of God
- Main Article: Sons of God
Identifying the Nephilim is reliant upon an understanding of the phrase "Sons of God". In the Bible, the Sons of God are contrasted with the daughters of men, and their children are referred to as the Nephilim. One view, held nearly unanimously by ancient writers prior to Augustine of Hippo, is that the "Sons of God" were certain fallen angels, called the Benei Ha'Elohim or The Watchers in extra-Biblical traditions. The Nephilim are argued to have been a hybrid race between human women and these fallen angels. While there has always been a minority of churchmen who followed this view, it has been promoted recently by popular writers such as Stephen Quayle .
|“||The only obvious and natural meaning without such clarification is that these beings were sons of God, rather than of men, because they had been created, not born. Such a description, of course, would apply only to Adam (Luke 3:38) and to the angels, whom God had directly created (Psalm 148:2, 5; Psalm 104:4; Colossians 1:16). The actual phrase bene elohim is used three other times, all in the very ancient book of Job (1:6; 2:1; 38:7). There is no doubt at all that, in these passages, the meaning applies exclusively to the angels. A very similar form (bar elohim) is used in Daniel 3:25, and also refers either to an angel or to a theophany. The term “sons of the mighty” (bene elim) is used in Psalm 29:1 and also Psalm 89:6, and again refers to angels. Thus, there seems no reasonable doubt that, in so far as the language itself is concerned, the intent of the writer was to convey the thought of angels - fallen angels, no doubt, since they were acting in opposition to God’s will.||”|
Another view posited by St. Augustine in the fourth century is that the Sons of God refers to the god-fearing line of Seth; and the daughters of men refers to the daughters of the unbelieving line of Cain. Variations on this theme include the idea, proposed by Meredith Kline, that the Sons of God were kings or priests who took any woman they chose to be their wife. However, this view is completely speculative with no direct support in Scripture. On the contrary, all of the people before the Flood were called "always and only evil", so Seth's line taking-of-wives hardly seems notable enough for the patriarchs to call it out. Nor does it explain how common human procreation would generate giants or even athletically superior humans. There is however a verse (Genesis 5:3) that tells us specifically that Seth was in the image of Adam, not in the image of God. This strongly separates Seth from ever being called a "son" of God or being (spiritually or physically) aligned with the "Sons of God" (see prior paragraph). According to Genesis 5:4, Adam had other sons and daughters; therefore, the viewpoint that the sons of God refers to Seth’s descendants line while the daughters of men refers to Cain’s descendants seems untenable; especially because there were other lines of descendants for the other sons of Adam, not mentioned by name in the Bible.
Still others hold that the Sons of God were other created men. It is argued that the Bible does not describe every person that was created, but only key individuals or situations are included within the text. Those holding to this position call into question the origin of Cain's wife or those whom he feared would kill him Genesis 4:14-17 . However, this view falls into conflict with Genesis, which states that Eve is the mother of all the living.
After the Flood
In Genesis 6 (where the flood is described) it states that the Nephilim were also on the Earth afterward, meaning after the flood. There is only one specific post-flood mention of the Nephilim by that name, but other associations are drawn. The spies sent by Moses into Canaan reported having seen Nephilim where in Numbers 13:33 it identifies that (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). That the analysis of the land reported by the spies is referred to as a "bad report" is suggested by some as meaning "erroneous", but it is more probable that it was simply "bad news" since the people occupying the land were formidable. The validity of their report is confirmed in Deuteronomy 1:28 and again in Deuteronomy 9:1-2 where Moses describes the Anakites.
Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?”. Deuteronomy 9:1-2
The Anakites are mentioned several other times in Deuteronomy and Joshua as having giant stature, and in Deut 2:11 it states that they are one of the people groups known as "Rephaites". From this context, many commentators view the Rephaim and Nephilim as synonymous.
|“||There were giants “also after that,” in the days of the Canaanites, and these were likewise known as, among other things, the Nephilim (Numbers 13:33). Humanly speaking, they were descended from Anak, and so were also known as the Anakim. These people were, of course, known to Moses and it was probably he who editorially inserted the phrase “and also after that” into Noah’s original record here in Genesis 6:4. Moses probably also inserted the information that these were the “mighty men of old, men of renown,” men whose exploits of strength and violence had made them famous in song and fable in all nations in the ages following the Flood. To rebellious men of later times, they were revered as great heroes; but in God’s sight they were merely ungodly men of violence and evil.||”|
Genesis 14 and Deuteronomy 2 name these tribes as the Rephaim ("titans", children of "Rapha"), Zuzim or Zamzummim ("terrible ones"), Emim, Horites, and Anakim ("crushing tyrants"). The tribe of the Anakim are directly connected with the Nephilim in the false report of the spies described in (Numbers 13:33 ). The context of the passages suggest that the other tribes of giants were relatives of the Anakim or other lines of Nephilim, particularly the Rephaim whose giant descendant is described as living in Gath along with the Anakim Goliath and Lahmi (see below). The Rephaim are giants (in fact these peoples are generally described as being tall or large) and seem to have been thus matched with the Nephilim based on the English rendering of "giants" in Genesis 6.
The tribe of the Anakim were descended from a giant named Anak, who was a son or grandson of a giant named "Arba", from which the ancient city of Hebron was originally called "Kiriath Arba" or "The City of Arba" because "Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim". This tribe was so tall, that the weak-kneed spies reported, "we are like grasshoppers to them."
Scripture describes how the tribes of giants were fought and destroyed by the tribes of normal men who replaced them, including the Israelites. Moses killed Og, king of the Rehpaim who lived on the Golan heights near Mt. Hermon. Og had a bed nine cubits long (13.5 to 15.5 feet, depending on which cubit was used) and was called "last of the remnant of the giants". Og may be the source of the word "ogre" in the English language.
Joshua drove the three remaining sons of Anak out of Hebron in his first campaign. They evidently reoccupied the city of Hebron while Joshua was waging his campaign against Canaanite cities in the North. Caleb later retook Hebron and killed the three giants.
Several tribes are encountered in the campaign of the Five Kings in Abraham's day that some argue might be Nephilim or hybrids of Nephilim. They are described as having become several tribes occupying the lands around the Valley of Siddim (Dead Sea) and evidently intermixed with the Canaanites.
Later David and Saul fought giants who had taken refuge in the Philistine city of Gath. They included Goliath, who was about nine feet tall, and his brother Lahmi "whose spear had a shaft like a weaver's rod". The last of the Gittite giants was slain, "In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha".
The last Scriptural reference to the giants may be Isaiah 45:14 , which prophecies that Sabean "men of stature" will become slaves in chains of the redeemed Israelites.
The characteristics of these tribes described in Scripture:
- Their height was two or three times the height of normal men.
- They were associated with some kind of unholy intermixing before the Flood.
- They were closely associated with the wicked Canaanites after the Flood.
- In one case they are described as having polydactyly (extra fingers and toes).
- Unlike the Canaanites, there are no examples of Nephilim who became followers of God.
The Nephilim are described in great detail in the Book of Jubilees and Book of Enoch. Both of these books have been traditionally rejected as apocryphal by the European Church. However, they were both considered canonical by the Ethiopic Church from the time of Christ until today, and the Book of Enoch was quoted in the Biblical Epistle of Jude.
Jubilees has the following to say about the sons of God and the Nephilim:
- "And in the second week of the tenth jubilee [449-55 A.M.] Mahalalel took unto him to wife Dinah, the daughter of Barakiel the daughter of his father's brother, and she bare him a son in the third week in the sixth year, [461 A.M.] and he called his name Jared, for in his days the angels of the Lord descended on the earth, those who are named the Watchers, that they should instruct the children of men, and that they should do judgment and uprightness on the earth." - Jubilees 4:15
- "And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. And lawlessness increased on the earth and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds and everything that walks on the earth -all of them corrupted their ways and their orders, and they began to devour each other, and lawlessness increased on the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of all men (was) thus evil continually. And God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt, and all flesh had corrupted its orders, and all that were upon the earth had wrought all manner of evil before His eyes. And He said that He would destroy man and all flesh upon the face of the earth which He had created. But Noah found grace before the eyes of the Lord. And against the angels whom He had sent upon the earth, He was exceedingly wroth, and He gave commandment to root them out of all their dominion, and He bade us to bind them in the depths of the earth, and behold they are bound in the midst of them, and are (kept) separate. And against their sons went forth a command from before His face that they should be smitten with the sword, and be removed from under heaven. And He said 'My spirit shall not always abide on man; for they also are flesh and their days shall be one hundred and twenty years'. And He sent His sword into their midst that each should slay his neighbour, and they began to slay each other till they all fell by the sword and were destroyed from the earth." - Jubilees 5:1-8
The Book of Enoch has the following to say about them:
- "It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children. Then their leader Samyaza said to them; I fear that you may perhaps be indisposed to the performance of this enterprise; And that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.
- But they answered him and said; We all swear;
- And bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our intention, but execute our projected undertaking. Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon Ardis, which is the top of mount Armon.
- That mountain therefore was called Armon, because they had sworn upon it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations. [Mt. Armon, or Mt. Hermon, derives its name from the Hebrew word herem, a curse.]
- These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader, Urakabarameel, Akibeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Saraknyal, Asael, Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael, Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the remainder were all with them.
- Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.
- And the women conceiving brought forth giants,
- Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them; When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them; And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, and to drink their blood. Their flesh one after another. [Or, "one another’s flesh." R.H. Charles notes that this phrase may refer to the destruction of one class of giants by another.]
- Then the earth reproved the unrighteous.
- Moreover Azazyel taught men to make swords, knives, shields, breastplates, the fabrication of mirrors, and the workmanship of bracelets and ornaments, the use of paint, the beautifying of the eyebrows, the use of stones of every valuable and select kind, and all sorts of dyes, so that the world became altered.
- Impiety increased; fornication multiplied; and they transgressed and corrupted all their ways.
- Amazarak taught all the sorcerers, and dividers of roots: Armers taught the solution of sorcery; Barkayal taught the observers of the stars, Akibeel taught signs; Tamiel taught astronomy; And Asaradel taught the motion of the moon,
- And men, being destroyed, cried out; and their voice reached to heaven." - Enoch 6-7.
Some argue that the Sons of God could not be angels because:
- A major theme of the Old Testament is the negative outcome of believers intermarrying with unbelievers.
- Angels are spiritual beings, and therefore not reproductively compatible with human women.
- Per Jesus Christ, there is no marrying in heaven, so angels cannot marry
Advocates of the Angel-hybrid position hold that:
- Angels are recorded on two occasions in Scripture as eating food, therefore they have some ability to interact with the material world.
- Angels have physicality, in that one explained to Daniel that he had been delayed for 21 days by the demon overlord of Persia and the archangel Michael had to be summoned to assist in his passage
- Angels can at times be indistinguishable from human beings, and "some have entertained angels unawares," (Hebrews 13:2)
- The sexual immorality of Sodom and Gommorah is described as "likewise" in comparison to the actions of the angels that "left their proper dwelling" and that Jesus has chained in darkness until Judgment(Jude 6 & 7).
- We really don't know all of what angels can and cannot do, as we lack the ability to capture and study them, and Scripture says little about them.
- To impregnate Mary, the Holy Ghost overshadowed her and she conceived. Not only can a spiritual being initiate conception, the whole creation is arguably centered on this capability. God clearly intended to enter humanity through human procreation. We may presume that the fallen Sons of God capitalized on this capability for their own uses, even if only to insult God by using it against its original purpose.
- The question should be decided by the context and evidence rather than a preconceived idea about the nature of angels.
- Per the above objections, that the Bible speaks against the negative outcome of intermarrying believers with unbelievers is not an argument against them being angels. Rather it is an argument in favor of them being angels because as the fallen, having rejected the holy law, they would naturally live in defiance of it and deliberately escalate negative outcomes, which the record clearly explains
- Also that there is no marrying in heaven, per Christ's assertion, is actually another argument in favor of them being angels. If they strongly desired to marry but could not without "leaving their first estate", then seeing them leave heaven to marry is perfectly understandable. It would be incompatible with Scripture if God had allowed or approved of their actions. He clearly did not and even gave them a special and unique punishment for it (bound in chains in the Abyss)
- The Augustinian position fails to explain the production of gigantic offspring from the union of believers and unbelievers.
- The unanimous position of Jewish and heathen authors prior to Philo of Alexandria is that the angels came down and sired children with women.
- The only other possible meaning of "Sons of God" would be humans that were especially righteous, yet this period is depicted as especially unrighteous, and their progeny are not hailed as a righteous accomplishment. Likewise they chose wives because of their looks, not their piety, so this whole exercise was based on fleshly desires and unrighteous motives.
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1976. p.172.
- Stephen Quayle, Genesis 6 Giants, http://stevequayle.com
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1976. p.165.
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1976. p.174.
- Joshua 14:15
- Deuteronomy 3:11
- Joshua 15:13
- 2 Samuel 21:20 & 1 Chronicles 20:6
- Bene-ha-elohim Biblaridion magazine. Deuteronomistic theology as an interpretive model for the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6:1-4.
- Who Were the Nephilim?: Genesis 6 and Numbers 13—a fresh look by Bodie Hodge. AiG–U.S. July 9, 2008