Who were the Nephilim?

The Nephilim have always been of interest to biblical scholars and theologians. We find the word Nephilim in two places within the bible. The first is Genesis 6:1-6 and the second is Numbers 13:33.

Answer: The word Nephilim is translated by commentators and scholars as giants or fallen ones. There is a debate with both of these translations. No one really knows exactly what were the Nephilim, but we get clues in scripture as to what these offsprings of the sons of God and daughters of men were or could be (Genesis 6:1-4). One of the reason scholars have translated the word Nephilim to mean Fallen ones is the relation to the word naphal (to fall) in Hebrew. One school of thought (view) would connect these beings with fallen angels or the offspring of them.

Some debate whether the Nephilim were giants as Genesis 6:1-6 never state they are, but when reading the description in Genesis 6:4 (“mighty men who were of old, the men of renown”) and Numbers 13:33 (And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”), we see that they were men larger than normal in other words, giants.

4 different views 

We will present the different views historically on what scholars from Judaism and Christianity have pondered for many centuries. The first view is that fallen angels were the ones that had relations with the daughters of men and this half human half supernatural being was created. Our second view historically has been that fallen angels overtook human men and had sex with the daughters of men. The third view is called Sethite view, this is the view that takes the sons of God to mean the righteous line of Seth. Lastly, the least popular view is that these sons of God were just fallen men.

Fallen Angels 

The most popular view today is the sons of God were fallen angels and the Nephilim was the by-product of them having relations with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-6). Job 1:6 says “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Also in Job 38:7 it tells us “when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Historically biblical scholars have interpreted the “sons of God” as angels which fit the context of Job 1:6, Job 38:7 and also Genesis 6:2.

The most powerful verse to defend this position is Jude 1:6-7 which reads “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” In this verses from the book of Jude, we read that these angels went after strange flesh and unnatural desires.

Descendants of Seth / Sethite view 

The second view that has grown among biblical scholars is called the Sethite view. This views the sons of God as the righteous line of Seth that rebelled. Here the view states that the men of Seth took women from Cain and married them (or other women that didn’t put God first). We can find Judaism literature holding to this view as early as the first century. Church fathers and leaders in history that have held to this view include John Calvin and the giant, St. Augustine. One of the arguments against the fallen angel’s position some scholars would argue that Jesus said in Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Here they would say that angels can’t marry but the rebuttal to this statement would be that it isn’t speaking of angels in heaven (heavenly angels can’t marry) but fallen angels (these fallen beings can marry) in the context of Genesis 6.

Fallen angels possessed men

This view sees the “sons of God” as men that were possessed by fallen angels. With this view, there wouldn’t be any problem with the post-flood debate we will cover at the end of this article. Here it is viewed that fallen angels possessed men and they had relations with the daughters of men. The result was %100 Nephilim (possibly giant).

The issues with this view are many. If the fallen angels possessed men, why would they be called the “sons of God”? Secondly, why would giants come from common men and human women? This view has parts that can possibly make sense but I think the foundation is broken as it reads too much into the text.

Fallen men strictly

In this position or view, it sees the “sons of God” as godly men not exclusive to the line of Seth but in general. Godly men married women that were ungodly and it resulted in the Nephilim. This view relies heavily on the verb series “naphal” which means fallen or to fall. Advocates of this position are consistent in using this related verb as a connection to say that the Nephilim are fallen men that fell from God. This view also explains why the Nephilim were named in Numbers 13:33 (after the flood). In other words, the Nephilim” before the flood were simply fallen men. The Nephilim after the flood were “other” fallen men, both were fallen. All that the Nephilim are is fallen men. Again, the word Nephilim today among scholars isn’t really clear. Some view it as strictly fallen men, and others see it as giants (Numbers 13:33).

Pre-flood / post-flood 

An issue that many have had regarding the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-6 is as follows: If God wiped out all the humans in the Flood (pre-flood) including the Nephilim, why are they mentioned in Numbers 13:33 (post-flood)? There are a few response to this. The first will consider the Fallen angel’s view. If these Nephilim are giants that were the result of fallen angels having intercourse with human women, then why can’t they have done it again post-flood? Secondly, if we view this through the eyes of the Fallen men position, then simply the Nephilim (in this Nephilim is seen as “fallen’) pre-flood were different men from the post-flood men, both again were fallen.