Who are the Nephilim?

The Nephilim are mentioned in Genesis 6 as part of an explanation of the time before the great flood when mankind grew exceedingly wicked. Within the text, there are three groups that require identification: 1. The sons of God; 2. The daughters of men; 3. The Nephilim. Let’s first read the passage carefully, and then we can discuss the meaning of each group of people addressed in the text.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, (2)  the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. (3)  Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (4)  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (5)  The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:1-5).

The purpose of this passage is to provide a brief history of the increase of wickedness on the earth which led to a universal judgment and destruction of the whole world by flood. The text simply explains why and how things got so bad. One major point of explanation is the outcome of bad marriages: the sons of God married the daughters of men. Many interpretations have been given concerning the identities of these sons and daughters. Some have said that the sons of God are the descendants of Seth, which makes the daughters of men the descendants of Cain. Others believe that the sons of God are the angels, and the daughters of men are human females. While the term “sons of God” is applied to angels on a couple of occasions, the term is usually used for those who hold the disposition of God. This is the description that Paul gave in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Angels, who are also of the same disposition, are not, however, like men; for they are spirits belonging to a non-physical realm. This is why Jesus describes the angels as beings that “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). A closer look at the text in Genesis 6 reveals that the sons of God in context were in fact marrying the daughters of men; this is against the ability and nature of non-human beings. So then, the sons of God in context must refer to men, men who were godly, living in accordance with the will of God, which again, is the most natural and common use of the term “sons of God” through the biblical record. As to these men belonging to the family of Seth, I see this as unprovable. Certainly, I acknowledge that our Lord came from Seth, but Adam and Eve had other children than just Cain and Seth (Genesis 5:4). We are not given a distinction in the text that the sons of God are all from Seth; the only thing that can be said with any degree of confidence is that the sons of God, no matter which branch of Adam’s family tree they came from, are those who were followers of the ways of God. Think about it this way, Genesis six is describing the growth of corruption spanning 1,500 years! A lot of changes are inevitable within that massive span of time. Looking at our own family trees, we will likely find vast differences within only a few past decades in terms of those who are sons of God and those who are sons of the world. So, it appears more believable to accept that these faithful men were likely from many branches of Adam’s family. Likewise, to say that the “daughters of men” are only the descendants of Cain is also unfounded. As we know that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, and the population before the flood is conservatively set at 10-15 billion people (that’s more than we have today), then it is rational to say that the “daughters of men” can be a term applied to any of the women who came from families that did not live by the virtues of God. The conclusion here is the same story seen time and time again still today, these sons of God looked no further than external beauty when selecting their mates and failed to observe the corruption within the hearts of these women. Nothing in the text demands that we understand that the sons of God necessarily left the Lord, but that their offspring grew wicked because the mothers were wicked.

After the discussion of these marriages, the text introduces the Nephilim. The KJV uses the word “giants” instead of Nephilim. It appears that the KJV’s mistranslation of the word is to blame for the erroneous views that exist today. The direction of such views goes something like this: the sons of God are angels who were attracted to the beauty of human females; these angels came to the earth and impregnated the women. The women conceived and bore hybrid mutant giants. There are many scriptural reasons why this view should be rejected, some of which we have already discussed in this article. First, the text makes it evident that the Nephilim did not come from the same situation as the sons of God marrying the daughters of men. The author merely adds that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days. So the Nephilim are not the product of the sons of God; they are only mentioned to provide a fuller understanding of the great wickedness on the earth in those days. The idea is that there were multiple factors that contributed to the great evil in the hearts of men; it was the corruption of evil influences in what should have been godly homes and the presence of another group of people who were enemies of goodness. These who are called “Nephilim” could be considered the product of daughters of men who married the sons of men, leading to even more corrupt children. So, in summary, the homes in those days had been either corrupted by a single evil parent or by both parents. The Nephilim were not giants, they were regular-sized worldly people. In fact, they were not “THE Nephilim”, for there is no definite article in the text. The word “Nephilim” means “assailants, men of violence.” The text, therefore, would read more literally as: “There were men of violence on the earth in those days.” And this is in harmony with the message of the text, which is explaining why God destroyed the population with a flood. Notice what God identifies as the cause for such a judgment: “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13). So then, altogether now, the ancient world was destroyed because wicked homes grew more violent while godly homes grew corrupt through uncircumspect decisions to marry based solely on flesh instead of on virtue.

Article by Tanner Campbell.