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In Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim are mentioned as being on the earth in the time of Noah. The passage reads: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
The identity of the Nephilim is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Some interpret the term as referring to a group of giant, superhuman beings who were the offspring of sexual relationships between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of humans.” Others believe that the term may refer to a group of people who were particularly wicked or corrupt. Still, others suggest that the term may have been used metaphorically to refer to some other group or concept. It is worth noting that the term “Nephilim” is not used elsewhere in the Bible, and so some would shy away from looking to being certain about their answer, saying, ‘its meaning and significance are not clearly explained in the text.’
Genesis 6:1-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 Now it came about when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3 Then Jehovah said, “My Spirit shall not remain with man forever, for he also is flesh; therefore, his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Some scholars have argued that the Nephilim are simply wicked men like Cain, but worse, nothing more. They base their argument on the statement of “and also afterward” in verse 4, as they say, 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.” In other words, the Nephilim were on the earth before the “sons of God had relations with “the daughters of man.”
Is Nephilim the Same as the Gibborim
This position does not outweigh the correct interpretation that the “sons of God,” who were rebel angels, took on human form, had relations with the “daughters of man,” and produced a mighty offspring of half-man, half-angelic. There are some translations which have moved the phrase “and also afterward” closer to the beginning of verse 4, which would identify the Nephilim with the “mighty men.” For example: “In those days, as well as afterward, there were giants [Heb., hannephilim] on the earth, who were born to the sons of the gods whenever they had intercourse with the daughters of men; these were the heroes [Heb., haggibborim] who were men of note in days of old.”―Genesis 6:4, AT and TEV.
|הַנְּפִלִים def.art.-n.m.p. (658) the Nephilim (fallen ones)
הָיוּ Qal pf. 3 c.p. (הָיָה 224) were
בָאָרֶץ prep.-def.art.-n.f.s. (75) on the earth
בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם prep.-def.art.-n.m.p. (398)-def.art.-demons.adj. m.p. (241) in those days
וְגַם conj.-adv. (168) and also
אַחֲרֵי־כֵן prep.-adv. (485) afterward
אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ rel. (81)-Qal impf. 3 m.p. (בּוֹא 97; GK 107e) when … came
בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים n.m.p. cstr. (119; GK 128v)-def.art.-n.m.p. (43) the sons of God
אֶל־בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם prep.-n.f.p. cstr. (123)-def.art.-n.m.s. (9) in to the daughters of men
וְיָלְדוּ conj.-Qal pf. 3 c.p. (יָלַד 408; GK 112e) and bore
לָהֶם prep.-3 m.p. sf. to them
הֵמָּה demons.adj. m.p. (241) these were
הַגִּבֹּרִים def.art.-n.m.p. (150) mighty men
אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם rel. (81)-prep.-n.m.s. (761) that were of old
אַנְשֵׁי n.m.p. cstr. (60; GK 128t) the men of
הַשֵּׁם def.art.-n.m.s. (1027) renownJohn Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 23.
Genesis 6:4 English Standard Version
4 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 [gibborim] who were of old, the men of renown.
Genesis 6:4 Lexham English Bible
4 The Nephilim were upon the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God went into the daughters of humankind, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty warriors [gibborim] that were from ancient times, men of renown.
Genesis 6:4 Christian Standard Bible
4 The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men [gibborim] of old, the famous men.
Genesis 6:4 Updated American Standard Version
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men [gibborim] who were of old, men of renown.
The Greek Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament made between 280 and 150 B.C.E., also agrees that both the “Nephilim” and “mighty men” are one and the same, using the word gigantes (giants) to translate both expressions. If we look at the context, we will see that in verses 1 through 3, the “sons of God” were taking wives for themselves and that God had tired of this rebellious behavior and said of man, “his days shall be 120 years.” Thus, in verse 4, we see that the Nephilim was in the earth “in those days.” “In those days” was obviously referring to when God made the statement. Therefore, it showed that this ongoing situation continued, “also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them.”
Old Testament Scholar Kenneth Gangel writes,
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. This statement has been taken either as describing the result of the union (but notice the Nephilim were on earth not only before the flood but also afterwards; Num. 13:33) or as the time when this type of marriage was taking place. It was a time when well-known heroes chose whoever they wanted to marry without considering the spiritual conditions of their marriage partner. It was improper, mixed marriage that was the catalyst for creating such an ungodly society that God was forced to act in judgment. – Kenneth Gangel, Holman Old Testament Commentary – Genesis: 6. B&H Publishing Group.
This is a common misconception. Thus, let’s walk through it one more time. In verse 4, we see that the Nephilim was in the earth “in those days.” “In those days” was obviously referring to when God made the statement in conjunction with the context of 6:3, which reads “his [man’s] days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” So, the understanding of 6:4 is that “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days [at the time the rebel angels began to have sexual relations with women and giving birth to the Nephilim], and also afterward [the 120 years up unto the time of the flood.]” All of the Nephilim were destroyed in the flood of Genesis 7.
Humanity was Put On Notice
- 6:1: Humanity was growing exponentially as men were having sexual relations with the women.
- 6:2: The sons of the true God, that is, angels, began to take the daughters of men as wives. Thus, we know that angels have the power to materialize as humans. We saw this with Abraham. This perversion brought about great wickedness.
- 6:3: The patience of God was getting close to its limits with mankind, and so they would be judged in 120 years from the time of this statement, and the flood will destroy all wicked humans and the Nephilim.
- 6:4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days [at the time the rebel angels began to have sexual relations with women and giving birth to the Nephilim], and also afterward [the 120 years up unto the time of the flood.]”
- 2 Peter 2:5: All of the ungodly were destroyed in Noah’s flood.
- FACT: Was Noah a Nephilim, his sons were they Nephimlim, or Noah’s wife and the wives of the sons? No. And those are only the people who survived the flood.
- FACT: After the flood, the rebel angels no longer had the power to materialize as humans. There is not one Bible verse after the flood that has rebel angels materializing and having sexual relations, so as to produce the Nephilim.
- FACT: The reason for the flood was not because of the wickedness of man but because of rebel angels and the Nephilim. If it was because man, a few thousand, had grown wicked, we have had that thousands of times worse after the flood.
- FACT: So, God used the flood to rid humanity of the demonic angels and the Nephilim. After the flood, he took the powers of the rebel angels so that they could no longer materialize.
- Fact: God brought about a global flood to destroy that violent ancient world that had been inundated with materialized rebel angels (demons) and the Nephilim, half-angel half-human. The materialized rebel angels dematerialized and went back to heaven. The Nephilim were destroyed along with all wicked people. On the contrary, Noah and his family walked with God, that is, declared righteous, and were the only ones who survived the flood at that time.—Genesis 6:9; 7:12, 13, 23; 2 Peter 2:5.
See also GENESIS 6:2: BDC: WHO WERE THE “SONS OF GOD”?
Who were the “sons of God” that fathered the Nephilim? Some have suggested that they were worshipers of God, as opposed to the other wicked men. This could hardly be the case if we follow the context. The account says that their marriage to “the daughters of man” caused the wickedness to increase substantially. Noah and his family of a wife, three sons, and their wives were the only ones walking with God at that time.―Genesis 6:9; 8:15, 16; 1Pe 3:20.
Therefore, if we were to suggest that these “sons of God” were merely men, this would beg the question, why would their offspring be referred to as “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown,” more so than the other wicked men, or especially Noah and his family? Moreover, the question arises as to what would be so special, if they were just men, for the account to mention their marriage to “the daughters of man” as though that was special in some way? Men had been marrying women and having children for some 1,500 years at this point.
The understanding that these “sons of God” were disobedient angels, an interpretation that has been around since the beginning is the best choice. The same expression “sons of God” is found in Job 1:6 and Job 38:7 and is applied to angels. This interpretation is supported by the apostle Peter as well, for he writes, “he [Jesus] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” (1 Pet. 3:19-20) Moreover, Jude adds weight to this position as well, when he writes, “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.” (Jude 6)
These rebel angels had the power at one time to materialize in human form, just like the ones that remain faithful to Jehovah God, as they delivered messages for Him. (Gen. 18:1, 2, 8, 20-22; 19:1-11; Josh. 5:13-15) The “proper dwelling” that Jude speaks of is heaven, to which these angels abandoned, to take on human form, and have relations that were contrary to nature with the “the daughters of man.” (Dan. 7:9-10) The Bible intimates that these rebel angels were stripped of their power to take on human form, as you never hear of it taking place again after the flood, only spirit possession after that. These disobedient angels are now “spirits in prison,” who had been thrown into “eternal chains under gloomy darkness,” which is more of a condition of limited powers, not so much a place, like a maximum-security prison.―1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.
Numbers 13:30-33 Was a Ruse to Scare the Israelites
30 And Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “Surely, let us go up and let us take possession of it because surely we will be able to overcome over it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of tall stature. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak came from the Nephilim and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their eyes.”
These faithless spies made a false account widely known to the Israelites that in Canaan they had “saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak came from the Nephilim and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their eyes.” (Nu 13:33) These men were of exceptional size, being described as the sons of Anak (likely meaning Long-Necked, which means of tall stature (אַנְשֵׁי מִדּוֹת)]). However, they were not truly the Nephilim or even descendants of the Nephilim as some scholars claim, and as the spies gave as a bad report (vs 32). They were simply unusually tall men when compared against others. It is similar today, genetically some countries have taller people than others where the average height is 5’8” (with many in that country being over 6 feet tall) and other countries the average height is 5’1”. In addition, the Nephilim were the offspring of angels and women as was established above (Gen. 6:4), and they died in the Flood.
Now, the claim by the faithless spies was absurd, with their purposely bad report, trying to use a ruse (deceit) because they feared the men of Canaan. Again, the Nephilim, the wicked hybrids had been completely destroyed in the flood many centuries earlier, which means it is impossible that there would have been a single descendant as some scholars have claimed. However, still, the most groundless, unfounded ideas can gain power over those who are weak in faith. As planned with their deceit, the bad report from those ten spies instantly sowed fear and panic in the hearts and minds of the people. It did not take long before most of the Israelites were certain that it would be a foolish idea to enter the Promised Land as God had instructed. The Israelites even wanted to go back to Egypt, the land where they had been slaves! Numbers 13:31–14:4.
K. A. Mathews writes,
Defining the term on the basis of Numbers 13 may be misleading since the spies were certainly exaggerating (“grasshoppers”) the opposition they encountered in Canaan. Actually the faithless spies counted all the inhabitants as formidable: “All the people we saw there are of great size” (Num 13:32). There is no intention in Numbers to equate the Nephilim of Moses’ day directly with the antediluvian Nephilim. When we consider the evidence of Deuteronomy’s recollection of these Canaanite peoples, it is better to understand the allusion to the Nephilim therefore in Numbers 13 as figurative, cited by the spies because of the violent reputation attributed to “Nephilim” from ancient times. – K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 337.
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