The Bible includes the cryptic term Nephilim, which has been the subject of debate since the beginning of Christianity. There are several possible explanations as to the identity of the Nephilim, but the theory that I think has the strongest support is that they were a race of giants born of the sexual union between fallen angels and human women.
There’s room for doubt no matter which theory you choose. After all, the only two verses that include the Hebrew word Nephilim are Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, which doesn’t give us much to go on. This topic is not a core doctrine of Christianity, so please feel free to disagree with me if your study leads you to a different conclusion.
The Nephilim were giants
- Genesis 6 refers to the Nephilim as heroes of old, men of renown, and it also says that they were born of a unique union between sons of God and daughters of humans.
- Numbers 13:33 says that the Anakites come from the Nephilim, and the spies described the Anakites as powerful, even stronger than they are, and great in size. The spies even described themselves as grasshoppers in comparison to the Anakites. Deuteronomy 1:28 and Deuteronomy 9:2 confirm that the Anakites were strong and tall–true giants.
The Nephilim survived the flood (the legendary Goliath was one)
- According to Genesis 6, there were Nephilim after the Flood. Since we never hear about the union of sons of God and human women except before the Flood, we must consider the possibility that the Nephilim survived the Flood.
- Genesis 7:13, Genesis 8:18, Genesis 9:18, and 1 Peter 3:20 make it clear that there were only eight people who survived the Flood on board the ark: Noah, Noah’s wife, Noah’s three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth), and Noah’s sons wives. Noah is not a fallen angel, so none of his three sons would have been Nephilim, and Noah didn’t have any other children after the Flood so we don’t care about his wife’s genealogy. However, we don’t know the genealogy of Noah’s son’s wives, so one or more of them could have been Nephilim women, which would have continued the Nephilim bloodline after the Flood.
- From Genesis 10:15-19, we know that Ham’s son Canaan was the father of several clans that were scattered as far as the city of Gaza and also the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know that Canaan was the ancestor of the Amorites, who are described as being as tall as cedars (Amos 2:9). There’s also the curious account in Genesis 9:25 where Ham had uncovered his father’s nakedness, and Noah for some reason cursed Ham’s son Canaan rather than Ham himself. Presumably Noah cursed Canaan because Canaan had done something wicked which was not recorded in scripture, but perhaps the curse is mentioned here because it has something to do with the evil of the Nephilim bloodline that continued through Canaan. The curse on Canaan as well as his possible wicked Nephilim bloodline would explain how his descendants went on to found Sodom and Gomorrah.
- We see several groups of giants represented in the land of Canaan. Joshua 11:22 says that no Anakites were left in the land except in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Genesis 14:5 and Genesis 15:20 refer to the Rephaites and Emites in the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 2:10-11 says that the Emites were a people as strong and tall as the Anakites and that both the Emites and the Anakites were considered Rephaites. Deuteronomy 2:20 says that the Zamzummites were also Rephaites and that they were as strong and tall as the Anakites. Deuteronomy 3:11 says that King Og of Bashan was one of the Rephaites and that his bed was about 14 feet long and 6 feet wide.
- In 1 Samuel 17:4-7, Goliath from Gath is described as a giant about 9.75 feet tall with a spear shaft like a weaver’s rod and a spear head weighing about 15 pounds. Although David is confident in God’s ability to deliver him, it’s interesting that he grabs five smooth stones in 1 Samuel 17:40 before facing Goliath. Later we learn the reason for the extra four stones is that Goliath had four brothers who were also giants:
- The first brother was named Ishbi-Benob and had a spear head weighing about 7.5 pounds (2 Samuel 21:16).
- The second brother was named Saph or Sippai (2 Samuel 21:18 and 1 Chronicles 20:4).
- The third brother was named Lahmi with a spear shaft like a weaver’s rod (2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5).
- The fourth brother was not named, but was described as a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (2 Samuel 21:20, cf 1 Chronicles 20:6).
- Goliath and all four of his brothers were sons of Rapha (2 Samuel 21:22, cf 1 Chronicles 20:8). The name Rapha has the same word root as Rephaites/Rephaim.
The sons of God were fallen angels (demons)
- Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 use the term sons of God to refer to angels, and Satan appears in the same context. Luke 20:36 also compares sons of God to angels.
- Job 38:7 says that the sons of God (angels) were shouting for joy while God laid the foundations of the earth. It also says that the morning stars sang together, indicating that morning stars are angels. Revelation 12:4 also refers to Satan bringing a third of the stars (angels) down to earth with him when he fell, at which point these fallen angels became known as demons. Isaiah 14:12 refers to the king of Babylon (Satan) as morning star. Revelation 9:1 also refers to a fallen angel as a star.
- Deuteronomy 32:8 says that God divided the nations according to the number of the sons of God. Most likely the division referred to here is the one that happened right after the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:8-9. It makes sense that the nations were divided according to the number of the sons of God (angels and fallen angels), because it appears that each nation is led either by an angel (prince that leads Israel is Michael the archangel) or a fallen angel (Satan is the king of Babylon and other demons are the princes of Persia and Greece). See Isaiah 14:4, Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20-21, Daniel 12:1, Jude 1:9, and Revelation 12:7.
- Perhaps the demons were attempting to pollute human DNA to prevent Jesus Christ the Messiah from being born. This plan would fit with Satan’s other attempts to prevent the Messiah’s birth by corrupting and exterminating the Jewish people.
- Presumably angels don’t marry because they don’t have the necessary equipment to consummate a marriage with a wife.
- Even if angels did have the equipment, how can a spirit being produce offspring with a human? Wouldn’t human DNA be required?
- And why would God even allow such an unnatural sexual union to occur?
- Luke 3:38 refers to Adam, a human, as a son of God.
Therefore, the more likely theory is that the sons of God were righteous men from the line of Seth while the daughters of men were sinful women from the line of Cain, and the offspring resulting from this ungodly union were renowned for their sinfulness.
Allow me to rebut:
- Although Luke called Adam a son of God, he was simply referring to the fact that Adam was created directly by God rather than being the offspring of a woman. Angels are also direct creations of God, and all other uses of the phrase sons of God refer to angels, so there’s no reason to think that the sons of God mentioned just before the Flood were humans.
- I agree that angels are spirit beings, but they seem to be able to manifest themselves in a physical way:
- Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord (pre-incarnate Jesus Christ) in Genesis 32:24-30. Granted, this was Jesus and not just any ordinary angel.
- An angel struck Peter on his side to wake him up in Acts 12:7. Granted, the angel could have used a non-physical force to strike Peter rather than a physical slap.
- In Genesis 19:3, Abraham’s nephew Lot prepared a meal for two angels, and it says they ate. Of course, the pronoun “they” could be referring just to Lot’s family and not to the angels, but it’s just as reasonable to assume that the angels ate.
- Hebrews 13:2 warns us to show hospitality to strangers because some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Show hospitality could just mean to be kind, except that the word entertained means to receive as a guest and elsewhere is used in the context of providing lodging. Therefore, we could assume that others have provided a meal to angels without knowing it.
- Yes, angels do not marry, but nowhere does it say that they don’t marry because their rare physical manifestations lack genitals. It seems that when angels appear, they take the form of men (Genesis 18:2 and Mark 16:5), so it’s possible that this form includes all the parts of a man.
- Whether an angel’s physical manifestation includes the equipment necessary for reproduction is irrelevant, because we know that Jesus was conceived when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:35). Of course God the Holy Spirit conceiving God the Son as a human is a unique situation, but it does show that spirits can reproduce with humans. We have no idea how the DNA of Jesus would have compared to the DNA of Mary, but scripture is clear that Jesus was fully human (Hebrews 2:17). Therefore, the fallen angels could have reproduced with the human women either through a physical manifestation or through a spiritual infusion of some sort.
- We can never fully know the infinite mind of God, so it’s not clear why God would allow fallen angels to reproduce with human women. It certainly isn’t an everyday occurrence or else we’d see many more Nephilim running around today. However, we can find other occasions when God allows evil to exist in order to test the faith of His chosen people (Judges 2:22, Job 1:12, and James 1:2-4).
- My belief is that God allowed the fallen angels to reproduce with human women because He was giving both the fallen angels and the humans over to the sinful desires of their hearts (Romans 1:26) in order to judge them. This would be similar to how Pharaoh resisted God’s command to release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to judge Egypt with the ten plagues (Exodus 10:27). It seems that God pours out His wrath on certain people as an example to those whom He has saved (Romans 9:22-23).
- I also believe that God may have allowed the demons to try to pollute human DNA to prove to them that His plan cannot be stopped. This would be similar to they way that God allowed Satan to harm Job to demonstrate that once a person is saved, they can never be lost.
- Assuming that my beliefs are correct, it makes sense that God would choose to announce His plan to destroy the entire planet in Noah’s Flood immediately after mentioning that the fallen angels were reproducing with human women–He wanted to demonstrate just how depraved He considered that behavior to be as a warning to future generations. After all, people all throughout history have committed many horribly wicked acts including sexual abuse, child sacrifice, torture, and mass murder, yet God has never again destroyed the entire planet. What could people have been doing in the pre-Flood world that was even more depraved than any other generation since then?
- Another account that makes sense is in Genesis 19 when the two angels visited Lot in Sodom and ate a meal at his house. At that point, all the men of the city, both young and old, surrounded Lot’s house commanding him, under threat of violence, to send out the two angels to be gang raped. Immediately after that, the angels announce that Sodom will be destroyed. God already proved that He was willing to destroy humans for having unnatural sexual relations with angels, and the men of Sodom were attempting to do the same thing that led to Noah’s Flood. As I pointed out, the Nephilim bloodline may have been passed down through Canaan to the inhabitants of Sodom. Therefore, I assume that God allowed the Nephilim bloodline to survive the Flood in order to infect the people of Sodom with wicked thoughts so He could demonstrate his wrath against sin (but also his mercy in saving Lot’s family just as He saved Noah’s family from the Flood). After all, a very similar situation occurs in the city of Gibeah (Judges 19:22), but God doesn’t obliterate the city as He did to Sodom. The only difference that I can see is that the situation in Sodom involved angels while the situation in Gibeah did not.
- God may also have allowed the Nephilim bloodline to survive the Flood to test the faith of His chosen people the Israelites. Several times after the establishment of the Israelites in Canaan, they abandon their faith and follow after false idols. Each time this happens, God sends armies against the Israelites to punish them, and several times these armies include some of the giants from the Nephilim bloodline.
- The fallen angels didn’t get off easy either. Apparently God chained them in the Abyss (2 Peter 2:4-8 and Jude 1:6-7). Since we know that there are still demons running around the earth today, including Satan, that means that only the most wicked of the demons were imprisoned. These passages connect the actions of the fallen angels before the Flood to the sexual perversion of Sodom, so it’s clear that the most extreme sexual immorality results in immediate and total destruction. In Luke 8:31, the group of demons named Legion begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss, so clearly it’s not a fun place. In 1 Peter 3:19-20, we learn that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits (the fallen angels from before the Flood), presumably to proclaim His victory over death and evil. We also learn from Revelation 9 that all the fallen angels in the Abyss will be released during the Great Tribulation to punish humanity for following false idols. Verse 11 refers to the angel of the Abyss named Abaddon/Apollyon as king of those imprisoned in the Abyss. Notice that the text doesn’t say that Abaddon was necessarily imprisoned in the Abyss himself, but only that he is the angel of the Abyss. Since we know that Satan hasn’t been imprisoned, then it’s possible that Abaddon is simply another name for Satan.
It doesn’t make sense that God would destroy the entire planet in Noah’s Flood because some righteous men married some sinful women. I’m sure Christian men get married to non-Christian women all the time, and while the Bible warns against being unequally yoked (Numbers 25:3 and 2 Corinthians 6:14), it doesn’t say that God will destroy the earth if we disobey.
It doesn’t make sense that the offspring of the sexual union of righteous men and sinful women would be giants either. Why would their DNA have been altered suddenly? We don’t see that happen today, but the Bible makes it clear that it happened both before and after the Flood.
Finally, if sons of God marrying daughters of women only involves humans and not angels, then how do you explain all the passages about the fallen angels being chained in the Abyss? What else could they have done besides reproduce with humans to merit such extreme punishment? Why do those passages all make a connection to Noah’s Flood if angels had no part in the wickedness of the pre-Flood generation? Why do those passages all make a connection to the destruction of Sodom due to their extreme sexual perversion if the fallen angels in the Abyss were not also imprisoned for the same reason? The Bible makes it clear that God considers rape to be sinful since any type of sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful (Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4). However, rape occurs today all the time, and God doesn’t destroy entire cities. Therefore, it must have been a unique type of sexual perversion before the Flood and in Sodom to warrant such an immediate and extreme response from God.