/ / Articles

Just Reached My Fill Of Nephilim

Speculating can glorify God. But some Christians go too far about supposedly demonic Nephilim.
| Aug 29, 2013 | No comments |

Speculating is enjoyable and can glorify God. But here is one area where it may go too far: when well-meaning Christians consider fringe archaeology, questionable theology, and extra-Biblical fiction not only crucial evidence for the faith, but the best evidence for faith.

ancientaliensguy_nephilimRecently a social-network acquaintance did this (again, surely well-intended). He/she went on a binge linking to videos about “Nephilim” — specifically, Nephilim-as-demons.1

Yes, that notion is still getting around. Recently it popped up, apparently lazily, in the recent movie The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in which the lead character is said to be a “child of the Nephilim.”2 Well, at least the majority of extra-Biblical and mystical material about supernatural “Nephilim” view them as the bad guys.

If you are sticking with the Bible alone — which I hope to do — that term comes from here:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 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: 1-4

Not long ago in a column generally about Story Shutdowns, I included Nephilim and said:

Evil demons having relations with victim humans is Biblically questionable, based more on myths about incubi than actual Scripture. Second, it makes Christians sound like little more than guests on late-night conspiracy-centered radio, or potential targets of a meme that mocks a certain History Channel program host. We can get our “whooo, it’s supernatural X-Files-fashion jollies in other ways.

Nephilim. Noah's flood. And spaceships. I was also surprised, but it works.

Nephilim. Noah’s flood. And spaceships. I was also surprised, but it works.

Here I reach some tender territory. SpecFaith endorses speculation and fantasy fiction, and that can include speculation about Biblical accounts. One of my favorite pulp-fantasy-style series is The Cradleland Chronicles by Douglas Hirt, a trilogy that explores the pre-Flood civilization as a fantastic land of technology, seeming magic, and yes, corruption of man not only from sinful hearts but from direct Satanic interference. I’m also overall enjoying Brian Godawa’s similarly premised Noah Primeval, which includes demonic Nephilim.3

Yes, I may be tired of Nephilim as a trope. But I don’t oppose sincere speculation, even the wild stuff. If you think later myths about incubi were based on factual, pre-Flood nastiness, I’m fine with that. And if you believe that would make a great fantasy story you could write, enjoy, but also get in line: Godawa and Hirt and even Madeleine L’Engle are ahead of you.

Instead I oppose taking Nephilim speculation too far for reasons such as these:

1. ‘Nephilim were demons’ is highly Biblically questionable.

Genesis 6 only touches on the “Nephilim.” It’s like a postscript: And by the way, if you have heard about the Nephilim, well, they were here too. Scripture says they were there, “and also afterward.” So: after the Flood? Was Nimrod (Gen. 10:8), a “mighty hunter before the Lord,” also a Nephilim? This seems to rule out worse demonic activity that the Flood destroyed; if the demonic Nephilim only popped up again post-Flood, God’s judgment for that evil failed.

Speculators make much of verse 1’s phrase “sons of God.” But that need not refer to angels who sinfully took human women. It could mean, simply, men. And later we also read what is surely a clearer definition of Nephilim: “These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”

Demons! It must be about demons?

No. “Nephilim” could be a warrior tribe.

Let’s avoid insisting that Nephilim = demons beyond all doubt, then parade any “evidence” from either the book of Enoch (it’s fascinating, but isn’t in canon) or elongated fossil skulls.

2. One could end up blaming demons, not humans, for sin then and now.

creationmuseumdiorama_arkinflood

Flood diorama from the Creation Museum.

I can count on one hand, possibly two, the cases of people I’ve encountered — including a Christian bookstore patron and a Pizza Hut manager — who act as if the sum total of the Bible’s message is that Demons Are Among Us, like the Nephilim.

That’s too many cases.

What’s the worst truth of Genesis 6? It’s not verse 4. It’s verse 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.” God in His Word draws no causal relationship between demons or Nephilim acting up and man’s evil. Sin here isn’t demons’ fault. It’s mankind’s.

Why then do people insist on treating Scripture as just another Ancient Text that holds the secret supernatural conspiracy secrets of ancient times? One answer: they’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) . Disregard Gospel, acquire conspiracy secrets.

3. You just end up wacky.

In response to my no-longer-current Facebook acquaintance’s link binge, I wrote:

I’ve seen so many people go off the rails into late-night conspiracy-radio-type stuff. I swear, the amount of times I’ve had people act as if antediluvian fallen angel/human sex, aliens, weirdness, demons, all that stuff, was the point of the Bible, rather than the one true God Who came Himself to set humans free from *their own slavery to sin* (which Satan and demons can only augment) — ugh, I see this only as a distraction from the true Gospel into plain mysticism. […]

There’s no reason to assume [the phrase “sons of God came in to the daughters of man”] refers to demons or some kind of demon/human sex spawn. That comes from mythology, not Scripture.

What’s your view of “Nephilim” in faith and fiction? Have you encountered those who do raid Scripture for spare parts for supernatural conspiracy machines? How can we avoid enabling such sins while also enjoying any fantasy explorations where Scripture is silent?

  1. One of those videos is here. I admit I could not watch it all the way through; the speaker’s video-editing and composite style is overdramatic and, frankly, his very speech tone is grating.
  2. The Mortal Instruments: A Dualistic Story of the Supernatural Without God, Brian Godawa on Aug. 23 at Godawa.com.
  3. Of note: Godawa says his goal is to “(weave) together Sumerian and other Mesopotamian mythology in with the Biblical story.” (Godawa, Brian. Noah Primeval, p. 5. Embedded Pictures Publishing. Kindle Edition.) Godawa concedes he is speculating about a supernatural origin for the Nephilim. I have my doubts, but Godawa does believe this could have occurred.

Join the conversation

Be the First to Comment!

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
elkjerkyforthesoul
Guest

This is excellent advice. I took another writer to task for misusing scriptural references to Nephilim, although it was actually a minor point in an otherwise good, spiritually uplifting story. Hubby and I also spend some time on “Who were the sons of God?” in a co-authored curriculum, including the fact that even Keil and Delitzch disagreed on the subject. Our tiny church’s pastor gave us a very well-reasoned argument for the “no, it’s not fallen angels” side we had never heard before. I almost wonder if it’s just another satanic deception to deflect attention from man’s responsibility for his own sin.

But just suppose the godly line of Seth had heroic stature, power, etc., because of their godliness, and corrupted it by falling into sin with Cain’s line. Wouldn’t that make a great story?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I almost wonder if it’s just another satanic deception to deflect attention from man’s responsibility for his own sin.

Lately I’ve become more certain that “it’s a Satanic deception!” is often itself a Satanic deception, intended to encourage Christians to focus more on Satan and fear of him (and fear of culture) than on Christ’s majesty and holiness. (Of course, in response to that, other Christians could minimize the dangers the devil does pose, in which case it’s a deception on top of a deception — I’m sure Satan uses whatever it takes to tempt, believing that any press about him is good press.)

elkjerkyforthesoul
Guest

Oh, I forgot to mention that when I told the author she had misused Scripture in her Nephilim reference, she said, “Well, it’s FICTION!” And gave me an lol. grrrrr. No, you don’t get to do that. Ever. Don’t use the Bible, then make stuff up contrary to it.

sarahdgrimm
Guest

I’ve always wondered if Nephilim are the very people who sparked the stories of the deities in Greek and Roman mythology. Of course, I’ve done no research on the topic, but I’ve always secretly wondered. I mean Zeus, Hercules, and Aries could certainly have been men of renown, and we all know how storytellers are. 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I have thought that also. And yet, if we’re discussing pre-Flood Nephilim, then all those accounts would have had to “filter” through only eight people who passed from the pre-Flood world to today’s post-Flood world: Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives. Perhaps it’s more likely that “mighty men” legends were passed down from the mighty men who came after the Flood, such as Nimrod. Either way, “superhumans” have always existed in myths, up to today’s superhero films. I’m certain many of the original myth-tellers knew they were telling fantasies.

Thom Mollohan
Guest

Personally, I think that the primary problem here is when speculation and facts blur: when we take a theory about something on which the Bible doesn’t elaborate (e.g., the “sons of God”, Nephilim, etc.) and make it a doctrine. Of course, the Nephilim are a popular topic because there are so few facts or lucid explanations as to their origins and overall role in the story of the pre-flood world: it is a vacuum waiting to be filled… which is all right although it may be overdone (but what popular theme isn’t eventually overdone?). Infinitely more serious a matter is when a premise of a storyline is in contradiction to a clear biblical teaching (our spiritual culpability for example). One must then, it is to be hoped, practice spiritual discernment – both in the writing, but also in the reading.

Phyllis Wheeler
Guest

I’m sick of them too.

Paul Lee
Member

I object to the “fringe” labeling. I object to dismissing certain theories as “late-night conspiracy-radio-type.” They might be wrong, maybe even plain drop-dead wrong, but I’m very sensitive to anything that even looks remotely like institutional exclusion or academic arrogance. Mainstream believers don’t get to define how the Bible ought to be interpreted, anymore than mainstream scientists or archaeologists have the authority to define truth in their fields. (And of course, “mainstream” is a generalization. There probably are no “mainstream believers,” and that reinforces my point.)

If you are sticking with the Bible alone — which I hope to do

In what sense is “sticking with the Bible alone” commendable? In the context of storytelling, I don’t think there is any need to “stick with the Bible alone.” In my opinion, that would undermine the whole essence of Christian speculative fiction, and the legacy of the Inklings. God created a vast and wonderful universe, not just the land where the Bible stories happened. God sent His Word not only in Scripture, but even more directly as a human Savior. God didn’t “stick with the Bible,” and neither should we, in our sub-creating.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

But I enjoy some of those Nephilim fiction. I’m not at all saying, “Keep it out of the storytelling.” I’m saying, “Keep it in the storytelling,” rather than insisting this fiction and speculation must be seen as reality, or even prime evangelism.

Yes, I may be tired of Nephilim as a [fiction] trope. But I don’t oppose sincere speculation, even the wild stuff. If you think later myths about incubi were based on factual, pre-Flood nastiness, I’m fine with that. […] Instead I oppose taking Nephilim speculation too far for reasons such as these …

Paul Lee
Member

I’m not at all saying, “Keep it out of the storytelling.” I’m saying, “Keep it in the storytelling,” rather than insisting this fiction and speculation must be seen as reality, or even prime evangelism.

Okay, I pretty much agree. Speculations should definitely be kept far away from evangelism and preaching. I wonder if much of the stigma that modern Evangelicals have attached to speculative fiction comes from preachers who wrongfully combine speculative wonder into their messages — Nephilim, rapture hype, etc.

Still, I don’t think it’s good to believe that the driest, most rationalistic interpretation of the Bible is necessarily the truest. The idea of Nephilim as demonic creatures appeals to a sense of myth and wonder. That appeal has surely been distorted and used for bad purposes, but myth has to have an application outside of storytelling. It’s rationalistic to decide that all myths must be false, and rationalism is no friend of Christianity.

Thom Mollohan
Guest

“… and rationalism is no friend of Christianity.”

I realize that this is probably not what you meant exactly, but some of the most effective speculators (Lewis in particular) possessed the quality of being able to blend rationalism, speculation, and Christianity. It is irrational to speculate in regard to the wonder of the yet-unknown aspects of Christianity (such as heaven, the “unseen” spiritual conflict surrounding us, and the like) apart from what the “foundational document of Christianity” – the Scriptures – have to say about such things… because we would then be caught up in blatant contradictions.

On the other hand, we are free to speculate in what is not concretely spelled out for us: after all, speculation is the practice of imagination… and imagination is the laboratory of wonder and awe (at least when it is not turned to “evil all day long” – Gen. 6:5).

And the most awe-inspiring types of speculation I’ve encountered are those things that flow along rationally, leaving me to think, “That makes sense! Even if it didn’t really work out that way, I can see that happening!”

Shannon McDermott
Guest

Well, I guess I’ll be the radical.

I believe that the “sons of God” at the beginning of Genesis 6 are fallen angels, and the Nephilim are their descendants.

I believe this primarily because “sons of God” is the literal rendering of the Hebrew normally translated “angels”. When the translators came across the phrase they thought meant “angels” – why did they translate it “sons of God”?

Because angels can’t have sexual relations with humans? We don’t know that. Our knowledge of angels is very scant. We know at least that they are capable of assuming bodies that can interact with the physical world.

Of course, Jesus makes it plain that procreation is not part of the nature of “the angels in heaven”; that’s why everyone has always said that if the “sons of God” are angels, they are fallen angels.

To speak to your point about the Nephilim being on the earth after the Flood – I believe they were. Because I agree with you that the Flood was about humanity, this doesn’t affect my view on the identity of the Nephilim.

In Numbers 13 the Israelites who explored Canaan said, “All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

This cannot be dismissed as only feverish anxiety. In Deuteronomy Moses tells the Israelites: “The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: ‘Who can stand up against the Anakites?’ ”

Notice that what the Israelites picked out to identify the Nephilim was not their social status or warrior prowess or any sort of accomplishment – but their size, a physical trait. If you study the Bible’s references to the Anakites – and the Rephaites, of which they were a part – you will see them distinguished by large size again and again. There’s a genetic component here.

Ultimately, what the Nephilim were and who “the sons of God” were are small matters. It’s fascinating, but – all these thousands of years later – no longer terribly important.

A. T. Ross
Member

Shannon,

I’m afraid not.

The Hebrew for “sons of God” is bane elohim, which is in no way “the literal rendering of the Hebrew normally translated ‘angels.'” This is 100% incorrect, and I’m sorry that someone told you it was right. In fact, the Hebrew word we render as “angel” is Malawk, and simply means “messenger,” and can refer equally to human or heavenly messengers.

The translators translated the Hebrew “Sons of God” because that’s what the Hebrew says – bane elohim. Sons of God. Taken by itself this does not tell us anything about the identity of those the term describes. You are probably thinking of the term “elohim” as referring to angels, except that this term, save for one or two references, is a name for God. Context is the only thing that can help us here.

So who was God’s son? Luke 3:38 describes Adam as “the son of God.” Most ANE (Ancient Near East) scholars today understand that Adam’s creation as the crown of creation means that he was God’s son, made in His image and set over all His creation. Later, Israel is known as God’s son: “Israel is my firstborn son,” (Ex. 4:22). “You are the sons of Yahweh,” (Deut. 14:1). “You, O Yahweh, are our Father,” (Isa. 63:16). “We have one Father – even God,” (John 8:41).

What was the context of the narrative in Genesis 6? Well, we cannot understand what is going on in Genesis 6 without considering what has come before and after. The central promise of the pre-flood narrative is found in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God promises that there will be two civilizations, the seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent. These two lines begin to separate when Cain kills Abel and goes off to start his own ungodly civilization. Seth replaces Abel, and the Sethites are faithful to Yahweh: “At that time people began to call upon the name of Yahweh,” (Gen. 4:26). Just as God made Adam “in the likeness of God,” so Adam produces a son “in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth,” (Gen. 5:1-3). At the start of Genesis 5, there is a faithful line, and chapter 5 traces this godly lineage out. When we come to Genesis 6:5, however, we find that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The faithlessness of man is so widespread that only Noah and his family are said to be exempt from God’s statement (Gen. 6:7). The question at play in the narrative is “What happened to the Sethites?” What happened to all the godly people. What falls between the end of Genesis 5 (which depicts the Godly line growing) and Genesis 6:5 (where all men save Noah are evil) is the narrative regarding the “Sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” What looms large in the passage is the question of what happened to the godly line, and moreover, what happened to the promises of God?

That the “sons of God” are the godly line of Seth corrupted and compromised with the world is the only reading which answers this question. Proposing that the “Sons of God” were angels who have sex with human woman not only does not answer this question, it raises more questions and throws the whole narrative into hopeless confusion. For instance, how can angels even *have* sex? “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven,” Matt. 22:30). Angels don’t reproduce. They were all created all at once on the fourth (or first) day of creation as a mature, adult host (Job 38:4-7).

Neil
Guest

I think the confusion comes from in Psalm 8 “mê·’ĕ·lō·hîm” is often translated “the angels” or “the heavenly beings” and only sometimes translated as “God”.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

“Bene elohim” is not the only Hebrew phrase/word translated into “angel”, but it is one of them. In the KJV, the Book of Job speaks of the sons of God presenting themselves before the LORD. In the NIV, they change this to angels – but the instances in the controversial Genesis passage they translate differently.

As for how angels can take human women – well, we could go in circles forever on this one. You ask, “How can they?” I ask, “Why couldn’t they?” Knowing as little as we do about angels, both questions are hard to answer.

I know from the Bible that angels can assume physical bodies; it doesn’t seem impossible to me that those bodies, capable of eating and touching, might also be capable of sexual activity. I know from the Bible that fallen angels have irreparably marred their created nature; it doesn’t seem impossible to me that they would mar it with unnatural lust. But if it seems impossible to you – well, where can the debate go from there?

A. T. Ross
Member

You are quite right to point out that the translators inconsistently translate bene elohim, but the words mean “sons of God,” not “angels.” When the NIV does this, it does it for theological, and not linguistic reasons (which the NIV often does).

Your argument depends upon ignoring our knowledge of ANE symbolism present in the Garden of Eden, and the long theme of God’s people being the “Son of God,” the people of Adam. The angels are *also* referred to occasionally as the “sons of God,” but this is a relatively minor thing in the grand sweep of Scripture. Moreover, introducing the concept of angels picking women up in ANE bars completely muddles the narrative which Genesis is at pains to establish.

Any and all ideas about angels mating must be treated as speculation and is entirely irrelevant anyway. The conversation continues because some people have decided before even coming to the evidence that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are angels and that’s what they want to believe, despite the methodological, linguistical, hermeneutical, and theological problems associated with it, and will favor anything they can find, even if it comes from extrabiblical documents (as someone did over on facebook the other day), to support their view.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

While agreeing with the hermeneutical challenges to the “Nephilim are demons” view, my main objection is that this interpretation simply doesn’t bear good “fruit.” It’s not true, of course, that every person who believes Nephilim were demons (or supernatural demon/human spawn) will end up wacky and distracted from the Gospel. But it is true that every wacky person I’ve met, who exchanges Gospel for conspiracy / “Coast to Coast AM”-style nonsense, is insanely into the “Nephilim were demons” view. And I say this is sufficient enough to call for an evaluation. Whereas I’ve seen no doctrinal or faith-practice harm in believing “we can’t know for sure” or “these were human warriors.”

Austin Gunderson
Member

As I don’t have a dog in this fight (whatever the Nephilim end up having been is cool by me), I wouldn’t normally have weighed in. But since you’re purporting to take Shannon to task for extrabiblical speculation while simultaneously stumping for an interpretation rife with speculations of your own, I can’t help but fling a few flags onto the field.

You claim that, in Genesis 3:15, “God promises that there will be two civilizations, the seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent.” But that’s pure speculation; God promises no such thing. In fact, if we allow scripture to interpret itself, it becomes clear that this initial, central messianic prophecy says nothing at all about civilizations. In Galatians 3:16, for instance, Paul makes a crucial distinction while referring to God’s later renewal of this prophecy: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” Likewise in Genesis 3, “seed” is singular. And we shouldn’t even require such a clarification: it’s impossible for the prophecy to refer to anything or anyone beyond Christ Himself. Did “the godly line of Seth” “crush the head of the serpent”? I don’t think so. Heck, after only a few hundred years, “every intention of the thoughts of [their hearts] was only evil continually”. So much for that “godly civilization”! The prophecy of Genesis 3:15 remained unfulfilled until Christ rose from the dead.

And in case scripture hasn’t been clear enough in regard to the nature of the dueling seeds prophesied during the pronouncement of the Curse, Jesus Himself reprimands Israel’s teachers over this very question. In John 8:34-47, He responds to their assertion that they are “children of Abraham” and “children of God” — that spiritual standing is determined by lineage — by upending those assumptions: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” But wait, how can this be? These descendants of Seth and Abraham … they are “the serpent’s seed”? Well, yes. Of course. Just like God’s punishment for those who ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was spiritual death (since Adam lived over 900 years in the flesh after that event), the serpent’s seed is spiritual, not carnal, in nature.

All of which means that there isn’t necessarily any scriptural basis for the belief that the phrases “Sons of God” and “daughters of men” both refer to human beings. It’s all a matter of speculation.

notleia
Guest

Y’know, you could say as much about most of angel-related fiction. We get most of our ideas about them from Milton, not so much the Bible. I have never, ever found the phrase “fallen angel” in the Bible, not even with a concordance. Come to think of it, the Bible doesn’t say much about them besides that they often look bizarre/terrifying and that they show up and do what they were sent to do. There’s even less about demons.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Eh, this is one dead horse that’s been beaten thoroughly. Chuck Missler explains all this Sons of God/Sethites/Nephilim stuff in detail, in the original Hebrew: http://www.khouse.org/articles/1997/110/

What all the Nephilim conspiracy people never, ever mention are the giants on the earth who came after the Flood. The Rephiam and the Anakim. Goliath who David killed was descended from the Anakim and had six fingers and six toes. So did his brothers, who David’s friends and family wipe out in the end of 2 Samuel. When the Israelites were trying to get into the promised land, they had to fight King Og, who was a giant and his bed was so huge it was put into a museum. Caleb, the other spy who went into the land with Joshua, took a bunch of guys and cleaned the giants out of their fortresses on Mt. Hebron, in Joshua. If you don’t believe me, just look up the names on bible.com.

It’s also interesting that the giants are always an -im, not an -ite. They fight the Canaanites and the Jebusites, etc, but only the giants are the Anakim and the Rephaim.

You know how scientists say that the neanderthals (with their enormous skulls, etc.) were similar to humans yet not quite human? I think that’s the remains of the giants, and their DNA is still with us today. Where did they come from? Who knows? Obviously not from Adam. Maybe those myths of Lilith, the giantess, were closer to the truth than we realize.

As for how did the stories come down through Noah–Noah brought preflood literature on the Ark. There’s some ancient king who Josephus mentions as saying how much he enjoyed reading preflood literature. So it kicked around for a while after the flood.

R. J. Anderson
Member

*loud and sustained applause*

I’ve always found the whole “sons of God” = “angels” argument weak at best, and the argument that “Well, these were FALLEN angels” really doesn’t explain how beings created without the need or desire for sexual reproduction would suddenly acquire a taste for human women simply because they had rebelled against God. I suppose they could have made a calculated, lust-free decision to take human guise and engage in sexual relations for some demonic purpose, but if so, you’d think the Bible would say SOMETHING about such a bold Satanic ploy?