The “Sons of God”, the “Daughters of Man”, and “The Nephilim”
“The 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” (Genesis 6:4).
There is a question as to the identity of the progenitors of what the Genesis account calls, in some English translations, the Giants, and in Hebrew, nephiyl or The Nephilim. These were the “mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4), who were begot when the “sons of God” cohabited with the “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:2). Some have assumed that men like Goliath, the champion of the Philistines whom the young Shepherd boy David defeated was of the same species.
The controversy is manifold, but lies primarily within the ambiguity surrounding the language, the difficulties arising from the translations of the original tongues, and the scant times that the term “sons of God” appears throughout Scripture.
The renowned King James Version, one of my favorite translations, gets it wrong this time when it encounters the word nephiyl, by substituting the word “giants”–which permeates within our minds all kinds of mythic images that are not necessarily helpful in understanding the true nature of the Nephilim. This has played into our subconscious a mythic image with its own modern connotations, since the old Hebrew word nephiyl had no English equivalent. The Nephilim were not only of a subject of physical prowess, as the word giants would suppose, but in all probability of something else altogether different.
Current, modern, conservative translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New American Standard Version (NASB), have been diligent to translate the word found in Genesis 6:4 as The Nephilim, thereby distinguishing the otherness of the sub-species found in the Genesis account. The Nephilim were not only ‘giant’, they were other.
The first obvious and most striking reason to believe that the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” were supernatural beings, and something more than just ‘giants’, takes form in the root of Biblical language itself. When one contrasts the words that were chosen to describe the parents of the Nephilim, “sons of God” vs. “daughters of men”, there is a divine reason that the writer of the Bible, who ultimately is the Author of Creation, selected the words that He did in this specific instance to describe such a cohabitation. The words, “sons of God”, connotes beings of spiritual capacity, whereas the phrase “daughters of men” implies earthly beings, the former consisting of a heavenly designation and the latter an earthly one.
Since little else is apparently available to us in determining the exact venue of meaning inherent in the term “sons of God”, we can turn to another known method of interpretation–the cross-referencing of other portions of holy Writ that employ the same language, ben (son) Elohim (God). Although this is still somewhat of a circumstantial method–since in all languages some words hold multiple meanings–yet we can add it to our existing list of growing evidences which point us toward the correct interpretation.
The Book of Job provides us with the best linguistic evidence. We see the employment of the words “sons of God” again, specifically the Hebrew ben Elohim in reference to angels who came to present themselves before God to make accusation against Job: “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD” (Job 2:1).
The Book of Job, in fact, is the only other place in the Old Testament that we find a reference to the “sons of God”. The term, “sons of God”, appears nowhere else in the Old Testament canon, although there is a reference by Nebuchadnezzar to the fourth figure in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s fiery furnace whom he describes as looking “like the son of God” (Daniel 3:25). The fourth figure, as the reader understands, is a spiritual being, a heavenly visitor who shields Daniel’s three friends from the burning fire. Insofar as the New Testament is concerned, there is an allusion to “sons of God” in which born-again believers are described as becoming “sons of God” through faith in the Son of God. But again, this is a supernatural designation of language, believers having been born again of the Spirit, rather than of the flesh (John 3:3-8).
Some of strongest evidence from Scripture that the “sons of God” are, in fact, fallen angels is the way in which the language describes the order of events surrounding the birth of the Nephilim. The Word says that the “sons of God” made wives out of the “daughters of men” and that Nephilim were born. Even if you prefer the translation of the King James’ giants, what kind of natural union produces offspring that are so distinctly other?
Some of the strongest evidence we have to this effect comes from two New Testament passages: 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 1:6-7.
Let us first grapple with the Second Epistle ascribed to Peter:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly … (2 Peter 2:4-5).
We first read about the “angels who sinned” and who as a result were cast down into hell and were committed to “chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment”, followed immediately by a reference to Noah and the Flood. It is evident in the chronology of events, that it was after the angels in question were bound in “chains of gloomy darkness” that God brought the Great Deluge which would wipe every seed of unrighteousness from the face of the earth, and preserve only Noah and his family.
In the Book of Jude, we witness the same proclamation, but add to it the sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here the King James is most enlightening in terms of language:
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 1:6-7, emphasis added).
Jude makes a similar proclamation regarding the fallen angels as did Peter in his epistle, but links this sexual misconduct to that of Sodom and Gomorrah in which the inhabitant of the cities lusted after “strange flesh”, and were destroyed to set forth an example. Could this “strange flesh” be that of supernatural beings, such as angels? The Greek term for “strange” can be translated “other” or “unnatural”, thereby giving us the meaning “unnatural or other flesh”. Although “strange flesh” is commonly accepted to mean homosexuality, there is at least circumstantial evidence to support the claim that the lustful citizens of Sodom demanded that Lot send his heavenly guests outside so that they can “know them” (Genesis 19:5), i.e. be carnal with the supernatural, angel visitors.
When we correlate these sequence of events and the order in which they appear, a clear linear history can be established: the “sons of God” married the “daughters of man” and the Nephilim came into existence, at which point God chained in darkness the fallen angels who had left their “proper dwelling” until they could be judged at the Final Judgment. God then “repents” for having made man (Genesis 6:6), and decides to bring about the Great Flood which would cleanse the earth of its former iniquity.
Opponents of this theory contend that the “sons of God” was a reference to the line of righteous Seth, through whom the Savior would be born, and that the sons of Seth intermingled with the “daughters of man”, who in turn are likened to the unfaithful line of Cain. The most obvious flaw, however, in this interpretation is why would the intermarriage of two natural, genetically normal human beings result in Giant or Nephilim offspring?
The strongest argument that the proponents of human with human cohabitation rather than demon with human cohabitation is the defense of Matthew 22:30: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”. This passage is referring to whether human beings will be married in heaven. It is true that according to this passage, we can state that angels do not marry. But that is within the realm of their “proper dwelling” in heaven–of Angels of God who have not fallen away from His glorious abode.
Are the “sons of God” truly fallen angels who at one time cohabited with human beings to create abominable and supernatural offspring, which we call the The Nephilim? Or are they simply the natural offspring of Seth and Cain? If the former is true, what was the reason for such demonic prerogative? Why would fallen angels choose to pollute the human gene with their wicked seed?
While the Word says that the “sons of God” saw that the “daughters of man” were “attractive” (Genesis 6:2), could there be another reason other than the lust of fallen angels? Although the answer is purely speculative, since the Bible itself does not speak directly of it, is it possible that the answer may lie within the third chapter of Genesis, in which God pronounces judgment against Satan, for deceiving humankind?
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
God had promised Eve that one day her ‘seed’ would claim the victory over Satan, that one of her offspring would one day redeem humanity from their fallen condition. Her seed would contain the Promise of the Messiah whose heel would be bruised (crucifixion), but whose resurrection would ultimately bruise the head of the Serpent.
It is from this moment of human history that Satan determined, if this theory is correct, to annihilate the seed of humankind, knowing that the Seed would contain the Covenant-Promise of the Messiah who would one day destroy him and chain him and his fallen angels in everlasting darkness. By polluting the DNA of Eve’s offspring with the seeds of his own demons, Satan could hope thereby to destroy any chance of the Messiah being born. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). God would again preserve the Messianic line which would lead, through the Ages, to Eve’s blessed Redeemer, and ours.