WITWpt2 (shorts!): Nephilim

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

Currently, on Sunday mornings, we are doing our What in the World Part 2 series to answer your questions in sermon form, but some of these questions were too short for a whole sermon so we are answering the shorter ones in our blog. While today isn’t actually a shorter question, we covered it back in our Genesis series in 2012, so I thought I could shorten my answer up a bit here. Here is the question: “Who were the Nephilim and what happened to them?”
This question comes out of Genesis 6:1-4 V1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, V2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. V3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” V4The 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, the men of renown.
Because of how the paragraph is broken up in the English text, people want to connect the Nephilim with “sons of God and daughters of men” and make this into some sort of Halloween scenario where fallen angels are making half demon babies with humans; THAT IS NOT THE CASE! Verse 1 of Genesis 6 is taking what was just said in the last two chapters and bringing it together before moving on, this is why context is important. When Moses says, “sons of God,” it means descendants from Seth’s line (from Gen 5), those who followed God, marrying those from Cain’s line (Genesis 4). It essentially says that people who claimed to love God married those who hated God and acted like it was no big deal (sounds much like our culture today).
When people mix things in the Scriptures without context it tends to lead to some crazy ideas. Because of how people have connected “sons of God,” daughters of men, and “Nephilim,” we get 3 views of who the Nephilim were. I will give you all three:

  • View 1: These are fallen angel half demon babies (yes, this isthe craziest one first). In the Old Testament "son's of God" can, at times, be interpreted as angels (Job 1:6 for example). In the New Testament Jesus says very clearly Matt 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Even if these were fallen angels, the purpose of putting it here in Genesis would be to combat polytheistic religions of the day (who had gods making demigods with humans all the time). The narrative goes on to tell you that no matter what offspring these beings produced they were merely mortal, NOT GODS, and they were subject to God's judgment like everyone else.
  • View 2: These are Kings or dynastic rulers who took wives from whomever they pleased. The sin is polygamy just like Lamech from Genesis 4. These would be the earth's rulers before the flood who were to administer justice but instead multiplied sin.
  • View 3 (as stated above) They are godly men descended from Seth. This again seems most likely in context. John Calvin commented about these verses: "It was, therefore, base ingratitude in the posterity of Seth, to mingle themselves with the children of Cain."

It is meant to simply show that the world is getting worse as men rebel against God.
In Genesis 6:4 The Nephilim were called “mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”  People get all weird with this verse because some translations will actually use the word "giants" and link it (again) to sons of God and daughters of men. Because we are a culture inundated with science fiction we start to say, “Who are these people? Giants? Wookies?”
The text uses the word "Nephilim" because in Hebrew this word is NEPHILIM. It is only used here and in Numbers 13:33 when God’s people go into the Promised Land and are too scared to fight. They use this word as an excuse "we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers." They are saying, “we were scared to do what God told us to do,” and they reference this.
In all honesty, we do not know WHAT it means except what they text tells us: They were the men of renown. The text doesn’t say they were giants, demon-possessed, or Thor, it says men of renown. It could simply be the popular people of the day who didn’t know God, but everyone knew of them and wanted to be them.
The point of the opening chapters of Genesis 6 is to show how far man had fallen and what God was going to do when he started fresh with man named Noah to whom God offered grace…just like He does to all of us.