Who were the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6?
Published: 12 May 2020 (GMT+10)
Editor’s note: The subject of the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6 is one of the most-asked questions we receive. For that reason, we are publishing this lightly-edited version of an article originally published as an appendix in Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the evolution connection. And although this chapter was written in the context of the alien/UFO phenomenon, it was a comprehensive study of the four main views of the often-debated Genesis 6:4 passage.
Probably the most often-used and controversial passage of Scripture by pro-ETH (extra-terrestrial hypothesis) UFOlogists is the account of “the sons of God” and their resultant offspring, the Nephilim. The description in Genesis 6:1–7 reads:
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 men 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.
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. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
For proponents of the ancient astronaut and astrogenesis theories, the “sons of God” or even the Nephilim refer to extraterrestrial visitors to Earth. Erich von Däniken and Zechariah Sitchin, among others, believe these interfering aliens had sexual union with humans and/or genetically engineered humans or prehuman creatures in an effort to oversee mankind’s evolution. This is a grand assumption based on an interpretation of the text that is clearly incorrect. These writers advocate, for example, that the “sons of God” is merely a description by ‘primitive’ biblical authors who did not understand the technology, describing alien visitors from the sky. However, the unity of Scripture, the Scripture test (where passages are cross-referenced with each other to ensure they are not used out of context), and the way that expressions were used similarly throughout all of the books of the Bible do not warrant one particular expression to be rendered differently to other cases where it appears.
The text itself readily refutes the ‘primitive authors’ idea. In the first chapter of Genesis, we read that God created mankind fully formed and intelligent. Adam was even given the job of naming all of the land animals (Genesis 2:19–20). In the subsequent chapters, we see Adam’s offspring described as musicians and craftsmen (Genesis 4:21–22), demonstrating they were not primitive. The Scriptures are full of detail to show that, prior to the account in Genesis 6, man was already fully human, vastly intelligent, and engaging in spiritual worship—facts so readily ignored by those looking for the slightest opportunity to squeeze a UFO or two into the Bible. Unlike their rejection of earlier passages in Genesis as being real history, they readily accept that the Nephilim incident in Genesis is based on true events. But their ‘primitive authors and UFO’ interpretation is impossible if we accept that the earlier descriptions in Genesis are also true.
However, even among Christians, the meaning of this passage is sometimes hotly debated. There are probably four major views regarding the expression “the sons of God” in Genesis 6, with some surprising connections to UFOlogy:
- It refers specifically to fallen angels.
- It represents the ‘godly’ descendants of Seth, one of Adam’s children.
- They were kings or rulers who were described as ‘gods’.
- They were human beings possessed by demonic fallen angels.
1. The fallen-angel view
The early verses in Genesis 6 serve as a prelude to the great Flood of Noah’s day. They give the wickedness of man on the earth as the reason that God invoked this global catastrophe. Noah and his family, who were aboard the Ark, were the only humans to survive this enormous world-destroying and land-reshaping cataclysm. (Many of the world’s present geological formations and fossils were laid down by the catastrophic effects of the Floodwater.) Although the ‘space brothers’ have told many UFO contactees that the Flood was a real event, in true counterfeit fashion they have also said that it was triggered by their intervention to cleanse the earth from its impurities.
In addition, some Christian commentators believe that another reason for the Flood was not only to destroy sinful mankind but also to wipe out the offspring that resulted from the sexual union of the sons of God and the daughters of men—the Nephilim (see later).
This view is common among those who believe that the sons of God are fallen angels. They argue that these angels cohabited with, or had sexual relationships with, human women. The strongest argument for this view comes from the simplest understanding of the text itself.
The term, “sons of God,” in Hebrew, is bene (ha)elohim. It is used five times in the Old Testament (twice in Genesis 6, and once each in Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, Authorized Version). In the passages outside of Genesis, it is always clearly used of angels. Some claim that a similar term is used in Hosea 1:10, but it is not exactly the same description because it refers specifically to the children of Israel being “sons of the living God.” One should not resort to exceptions unless there is a good reason, but in this case there is no Scriptural reason to do so. The angels are described as sons (bene) of God because He directly created them. Contrast this to the description of the “daughters of men.” The Hebrew used here is benot (ha)adam. If the sons of God were mortal human beings being born of humans, then the expression used should have been bene (ha)adam. The text itself draws a clear distinction between the offspring of humans and those directly created by God. In the New Testament, Adam, the first man, is called “the son of god” (Luke 3:38) because God also supernaturally created him. The New Testament also describes only Christian believers on numerous occasions as “sons of God” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26), but this makes sense because they have been “born again” and are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).3 There are similar expressions in the Old Testament. In Daniel 3:25, the term “son of the gods” or “like the Son of God” (bar elohim) is used, which describes either an angel or a theophany that appeared with the three men in the “fiery furnace.” (A theophany is where God appears as an angel or in human form.) The expression “sons of the mighty” (bene elim) is also used to describe angels in Psalms 29:1 and 89:6.
The fallen-angel view is a common view held by the translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament around 250 BC), ancient Jewish interpreters, the historian Josephus, the earliest Christian writers, and by many modern notable Christian apologists today.
The biggest objection to this view is the belief that it is impossible for angels to have sexual relations with humans because they are spirit beings. But as we have already seen in the UFO/abduction phenomenon, as well as in other parts of Scripture, they can also exist and manifest at a physical level.
This objection is often based on a passage in Mark 12:24–25 (repeated in Matthew 22:29–30). Here, Jesus was being questioned about a hypothetical woman who, according to Jewish law, should marry the brother of her dead husband. If there were seven brothers and they all eventually died, she would eventually have married all of them. Who would be her husband at the resurrection of the dead? Jesus replied:
Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Some use this passage to claim that angels are incapable of having sex or procreating, but this is not what the Scripture says. It does say specifically that the angels in heaven, or those angels who obey God, do not engage in this practice. In a parallel passage in Luke 20:34–36 the context is made clear:
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
He answered the question primarily to affirm the reality of the resurrection and the eternal life it will bring believers (like that of the angels), contradicting the beliefs of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and who were trying to trick Jesus.
In every biblical account where angels are sent by God and manifest in physical form, the Bible records them as appearing as males, therefore with gender (e.g., Gabriel, Michael). If masquerading angels are appearing as aliens, then the experiences of abductees suggest that fallen angels, at least, can manifest as female, too. An unwarranted extrapolation of the above text is used to suggest that because believers will not be married in the resurrection life, they will also be genderless (supposedly like the angels). Once again, the passage tells us only that people will not be married in heaven, although they do marry now. God’s ordained purpose for marriage was for procreation to populate the earth. Each of the angels was supernaturally created, so there was no need for procreation, and in this way we will be like them. Christians will not marry each other in the new heavens and Earth. They (the church) will be “married” to Christ, as His bride, throughout eternity. This expression is applied figuratively; Christ has redeemed His followers by His death and resurrection. Human beings have an individual identity, which they will never lose, and even angels are identified as individuals. It would seem strange that we would not retain our identities, of which being male or female is an integral part, in the resurrection life.
The fallen-angel view of the sons of God is a provocative concept, and thus it remains an unacceptable explanation to many. Some argue vehemently against it and have tried to explain the passage in other ways. Around the fifth century AD the fallen-angel view came increasingly under attack. Some theologians claimed that it was impossible for angels to father children by human women.1 Proponents of the fallen-angel view have often pointed out, however, that angels appeared in physical bodies, such as the three visitors to Abraham who sat, ate, and spoke with him (Genesis 18:1–15). We would presume then that they must have had the necessary digestive systems to be able to do this. In another example, angels appeared to the inhabitants of Sodom in such a form that the depraved Sodomites wanted them for homosexual relations (this is where the word sodomy comes from).
2. The Sethite view
The adherents to the Sethite view believe that the “sons of God” were a hereditary line descended from Seth, and that this was a God-fearing lineage. This view became popular in Reformed circles due to the opinion of John Calvin. The Scriptural support for this idea comes from Genesis 4:25–26, which describes the birth of Seth to his father Adam. It says:
Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.
It was assumed to be a godly line because the passage says that men began to call out to God. However, some Christian apologists, citing ancient biblical historians, claim that “call” has been mistranslated and should actually read “profane.”2 In any case, it doesn’t really matter. There were many generations after Enosh, and family heritage is not an automatic producer of piety.
This view also holds that the daughters of men were descended from the evil Cain (who murdered his brother Abel). If this were the case, however, one wonders why the Scripture did not say “sons of Seth” and “daughters of Cain.”3 There does not appear to be any textual basis for applying exclusivity to Seth’s or Cain’s lineage. If there is any distinctive human line at all, benoth Adam means the daughters of Adam, which ultimately means all women anyway. There is nothing to suggest that Seth’s line was any more pious than anyone else on the face of the earth, and conversely, there is no implication that any daughters of Cain would have been more sinful than anyone else. According to 1 John 3:12, Cain belonged to “the wicked one” because he murdered his brother Abel, but this passage does not refer to his offspring. If the remaining descendants of Seth were so “godly,” why were they not spared the judgment on sin that everyone received, except Noah and his family? Some have also claimed that when it says the sons of God “took” (Hebrew laqach) wives for themselves, the Hebrew implies a more violent “taking” than one usually associates with the normal process of betrothal. But to “take a wife” is a common term in Hebrew as well as in English. Strong’s Concordance says that the Hebrew verb can mean “to take, get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, receive, acquire, buy, bring, marry, take a wife, snatch or to take away” — such a range of meanings does not provide a strong argument to support the claim that this was a violent “taking.”
3. Kings and rulers
While it is true that many ancient rulers (and some modern ones, for that matter) have declared themselves to be gods, once again, it is hard to see any Scriptural support for this claim. The text does not imply this; it is an outside or eisegetical idea. The term “mighty men” is often used to suggest that they may have been kings or leaders, but as we shall see, this is not what the term means.
Also, the Nephilim (the offspring of this union) are always referred to in the masculine gender. Surely the offspring of human parents would occasionally produce female children as well.
The view that fallen angels, or demons (are they the same? — see later), possessed, or inhabited, the bodies of men, and perhaps women, is entirely possible, and we see this phenomenon throughout Scripture. The practices of channeling, automatic writing, and perhaps even the abduction experience itself are forms of demonic possession. This then begs the question of who are the Nephilim and why are they expressly mentioned as the offspring of this union? Nowhere else in Scripture are the offspring of demon-possessed people, or anybody else, for that matter, singled out and then automatically classified as “fallen.”
The offspring—“as in the days of Noah”
The word Nephilim was actually left untranslated by the English translators. In some earlier versions the word was rendered as “giants.” It is entirely possible that these beings were indeed very large, so in one sense this translation could be correct. But its literal meaning is “fallen ones,” from the Hebrew root word naphal, meaning “to fall or to be cast down.” Why were these offspring, if they were the progeny of human parents (whether kings, ungodly, or demonically possessed) automatically condemned by God and regarded as fallen? Being born into an ungodly family by unbelieving parents does not mean that one is excluded from the promises of God that arise from faith in Him.
Some have suggested that the Nephilim were condemned because they were not fully human. This comes from the view that the sons of God were angels that cohabited with women to produce half-angelic/half-human beings — a hybrid offspring. Another often-quoted Scripture to support the angel view is Jude 6–7:
And the angels who did not stay within their own positions of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire [emphasis added].
The passage clearly links the perverted sexual practices of Sodom and Gomorrah with fallen angels who have not “kept their place.” But what are the “everlasting chains for judgment?” The next passage describes angels who have been “locked up” awaiting their eternal and final punishment. Moreover, the word “hell” in this next passage is the Greek word tartarus, which occurs nowhere else in Scripture. The most common occurrence of the word hell is a translation from sheol in the Old Testament and hades in the New Testament, which describes a place of departed spirits. This distinctive treatment of fallen angels is also completely different to any other account in the Bible, because we know that even Satan himself and his minions are still allowed to roam about the earth. The aforementioned passages, read in isolation, are hard to understand, but they make sense when read with the view that the sons of God in Genesis 6 were possibly fallen angels.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [tartarus] 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; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly… (2 Peter 2:4–5).
But why was this group of miscreant angels kept in chains? In the aforementioned passage, once again, specific angels are juxtaposed to the time of Noah and the sinful practices of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the second specific reference to angels being imprisoned at the time of Noah. One can only presume that these particular angels did not play by the rules and that they stepped outside the boundaries of normal warfare engagement. In a sense, they had committed war crimes or acts of atrocity upon human beings. If these demonic angels had possessed human beings, why were they singled out for harsher treatment, since demonic possession occurred after that time and is apparently still occurring today? Some commentators also refer to 1 Peter 3:18–20, which says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he 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, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water [emphasis added].
This could possibly be a third mention of the fallen angels of Noah’s time. Although the word spirit(s) is used of angels, it can refer to man’s spirit also. However, the text does specify a “prison,” which fits with the idea of “chains” previously mentioned in relation to tartarus.
The whole concept of a certain group of angels participating in perverse acts is very thought-provoking because Jesus was asked about the signs that would precede His second coming. He said in Luke 17:26:
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
Of course, Jesus was warning His listeners that the people of Noah’s day did not expect the catastrophe that befell them. But Genesis 6:11–13 also tells us that the world at that time was violent and corrupt.
Some suggest the intriguing possibility that Jesus’ warning may have also referred to angelic sexual interference with humans. They also believe that this prophecy is being fulfilled today with “alien” abductions and their alleged associated sexual practices. In addition, some also believe that the modern hybrid alien/humans are real living offspring, similar to the Nephilim of Genesis 6. However, the difficulty with this view is that the original group of angels who procreated (as opposed to some who might just have engaged in sexual activity — if that is possible) were apparently locked up in tartarus to await judgment at the end of time. If the angels in Noah’s day were imprisoned for this sort of behavior, why wouldn’t all angels who partake in these practices today automatically be locked up by God as well? Unless, perhaps, it is a prelude to the “end times” (“just as in the days of Noah”) when literally “all hell breaks loose” before God finally deals with these matters on Judgment Day. At least this line of thought has some interesting parallels to our study.
A few apologists suggest that fallen angels are distinctly different from demons, based on the view that wherever demons are mentioned in Scripture, they seem to require embodiment in a biological creature, whereas angels do not. These apologists believe that demons are the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim destroyed in the Flood. Interestingly, the apocryphal (non-canonical) book of Enoch also describes the spirits of the Nephilim as evil spirits roaming about the earth. An account that would seem to support this idea is found in Mark 5. After Jesus crossed the lake in a boat, the chapter says:
And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. … When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” For he was saying to him, “Come out of this man, you unclean spirit!”
And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs (Mark 5:2, 6–13).
Note how the demons requested permission to possess the pigs. The view that the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim are demons is a radical view, but it does have some Scriptural support.
Although angels are described as spirits, so are human beings. Jesus was described as quickening spirit, there is the Holy Spirit, and God is spirit. It would appear the spirit is part of our being and not necessarily the sum of it. Additionally, in the New Testament, the expressions “demon” and “evil spirit” (as opposed to just “spirit” or even “ministering spirits”) seem to be interchangeable. Also note the following passage:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (emphasis mine 1 Timothy 4:1).
This seems to distinguish between spirits and demons. And elsewhere in the New Testament, we never see a single example where the angels and demons are interchangeable. However, the express terms “deceitful” and/or “deceitful spirits” and “demons” are interchangeable and seem to describe the one and the same entity.
As mentioned previously, some claim there was another reason for God invoking the Great Flood upon the whole earth. It served the purpose of destroying the Nephilim.
A popular view is that these half-human/half-angel beings retained some of the supernatural characteristics of their fathers. This made them effectively superhuman, and they thus wielded undue influence over human affairs with their superior knowledge and strength. This view arose because of the description of the Nephilim as the “mighty men of old” and “men of renown” in Genesis 6:4. God had already said that He was going to shorten the days of mankind because He could not tolerate their wickedness any longer. It has also been suggested that the angels created the Nephilim in order to infiltrate the human gene pool. Satan had been warned in the Garden of Eden that enmity or hostility would exist between his offspring and the offspring of the first woman (and obviously the first man, Adam). In Genesis 3:15, Satan is described as having offspring in the same context as that of the woman. Satan heard from God that the woman’s offspring was going to crush his head. This “offspring” may be understood generically as all humans, but more likely it is a specific reference to Christ, who, although God, was born of a woman. Interestingly, a deeper look at the expression “offspring” reveals that most translations render the word as “seed,” as in a child born in the normal manner—it can also literally refer to semen.
Is it possible that these “sons of God” were trying to corrupt the human line (through the daughters of Adam/men) from which the Messiah was to come, and that this was another reason that Noah and his family was spared? As well as their being God-fearing, does the Scripture also suggest that they were untainted genetically by any angelic influence? Genesis 6:9 also says that Noah was perfect in his generations:
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God (Authorized Version).
The first mention of the “generations” of Noah in this passage refers to his family line (Hebrew toledoth). The subsequent “perfect in his generations” means that he was without spot or blemish (tamiym) in his time or in the generation (dowr) in which he lived. The Hebrew word tamiym refers to physical, or bodily, perfection, and is the same word that was used for animals of sacrificial purity throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps it was not exclusively referring to Noah’s spiritual or moral perfection.
Satan has conspired on several occasions to circumvent God’s plan of salvation. At the time of the birth of Christ, Satan tried, through the evil king Herod, to kill all the male babies who were born at the predicted time and city of the birth of Christ. Satan, knowing the Old Testament prophecy in Micah 5:2, knew the time and place (Bethlehem) of the birth of Jesus. Moreover, on several occasions in history, attempts have been made to exterminate the Jewish race.
Taking this view a little further, Hebrews 2:16 (Authorized Version) talks about the act of saving grace of Jesus Christ and reminds us that this did not involve Jesus taking on the form of angels, but human form—as a physical descendant of Abraham:
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
There is no salvation for angels once they have rejected God and their heavenly abode. Only the physical descendants of the first Adam can be saved via the death and resurrection of the “last Adam.” Some adherents to the angelic view believe that once the human race had been genetically corrupted by angelic seed, they would have fallen outside of God’s plan of salvation for the human race (note Nephilim = “fallen ones”), since we need to be the literal descendants of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21–22), the first human who brought sin into the world.
If God sent the Flood and destroyed the world because of the extreme wickedness of man and because angels raised the intensity of the battle a notch or two, is it possible that fallen angels have crossed the line again? Some think that the enormous and increasing UFO/abduction activity we are seeing today is a manifestation of what Jesus foretold — “just as it was in the days of Noah.” However, it may just refer to a time when fallen angels increase their deceptive practices upon mankind. The people of Noah’s day ignored the warning and perished. They missed the way of escape through the Ark of salvation that God provided. Today, God has provided another Ark (figuratively) — that is Jesus Christ—for those who believe in His act of saving grace. Times similar to Noah’s, Christ said, would be a prelude to His return.
And “after that,” the land of the giants
The Authorized Version of Genesis 6:4 gives an important, but puzzling, description of Nephilim and other events before the Flood. The text says “and after that” (some translations say “afterwards”), but what is the order of events?
There were giants [Nephilim] in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
“Afterwards” is often presumed to mean after the Flood and include the mentioning of the Nephilim when the Hebrew nation was about to enter the Promised Land after 400 years of slavery in Egypt (Numbers 13:33). This interpretation would be a major blow to the view that God used the Flood to destroy the Nephilim.
Genesis 6:1 refers to a time “when men began to increase in number upon the earth.” According to rabbinical (Orthodox Jewish) interpretations of Genesis 6, the Nephilim were so named because they were fallen and caused the world to fall.4 It gives the impression that these events occurred at a time early in Earth’s history when mankind was starting to increase in number, and at this time the sons of God took for themselves any women that they wanted.
It should be clearly noted that the Nephilim in this passage cannot refer to any people group or human beings who survived the Flood in addition to Noah and his family. Those on the Ark were the only human survivors. The term “after that” simply contrasts to an initial time when the sons of God took women and then had children by them. The text says so — “and also after that, when … they bare children to them… .” Simply put, Genesis 6 describes how the sons of God started to take women, and after that, they had children by them.
The fact that only the Noahic line survived the Flood means that the Nephilim in Numbers 13 cannot be descended from a pre-Flood group. But a closer look might reveal why they are mentioned in this passage. Moses, who authored Genesis, was writing for the Jewish nation as it was preparing to enter the Promised Land (the land of Canaan).
Prior to entering and doing battle with its inhabitants, Moses sent 12 spies, one from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, on a reconnaissance mission. On their return, in verses 28 and 29, the spies commented that:
… the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan (Authorized Version).
And later a fuller explanation is given:
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants [Nephilim]: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:32–33, Authorized Version, emphasis added).
Most modern translations have replaced the word “giants” and have reverted back to the original “Nephilim” because the expression “giants” is based on tradition or beliefs rather than a literal meaning of the text (see later).
The descendants of Anak (the Anakim/Anakites) were obviously a group of large people. However, in verse 28 the spies also reported that many of the other people in the land were strong. There are several other passages that refer to the Anakim as a powerful group of people (Deuteronomy 9:2, for example), but verse 33 in Numbers 13 is the only passage that suggests any Anakite relationship to the Nephilim. Once again, it should be remembered that these Anakim were descendants of post-Flood people. They could not be descended from the pre-Flood Nephilim. Chapter 10 of Genesis records the “Table of Nations”; that is, the descendants of Noah’s sons, and there is no mention of Anak or the Nephilim, post-Flood.
It should be noted that the spies brought back a bad, or evil (Hebrew dibbah, “to slander, whisper, or defame”) report. That report included a parenthetic insertion that the large people known as the sons of Anak were descended from the Nephilim. The ESV simply puts it as:
And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim) … (Numbers 13:33).
At first reading, this may seem like a factual account, but it is part of the quoted false report of the spies. Of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb, trusting God, were keen to enter and take possession of the land; the other 10 did not want to. Because of the false report, the whole nation was too terrified to enter the Promised Land, and they turned against Moses for bringing them there. God responded:
And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me with? … I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them…” (Numbers 14:11–12).
How can we be sure that it was a false report? To start with, God intended to strike down all of the people with a plague for their unbelief, but Moses interceded on their behalf. However, there were some that were not going to escape God’s justice. Why? Because they brought back an untruthful report. Numbers 14:36–37 says:
And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report of the land—the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the LORD.
Some Christians have actually added to the (false) account of the Nephilim in the Promised Land. They say that during the time that the children of Israel wandered in the desert (38 years), fallen angels were once again cohabiting with women to produce more Nephilim as part of a satanic strategy to prevent the Hebrews entering the land. This is unlikely because, although they encountered the Anakim, they defeated them, as well as many other inhabiting tribes. When they eventually entered the land of Canaan many years later, there was no mention of the Nephilim or encounters with them. Surely, among the descriptions of all the battles that ensued, encounters with the Nephilim (Anakites) would have been mentioned if they occurred. After all, they possessed a whole country, but upon reentry they seem to have completely disappeared. And it should be remembered, according to the fallen-angel view, the original angels who stepped out of line in this manner were now in chains in tartarus. There is no account of these supposedly post-Flood Nephilim having been destroyed, so where are they today?
The post-Flood Nephilim advocates have now ‘discovered’ another passage to support their view. It is found in Amos 2:9, which reads:
Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath.
This would be a classic case of using a passage out of context. While some commentaries link them to the strength of Anakites of Numbers 14:14, there is no specific mention of same. It is an unwarranted extrapolation. Commentator Barnes notes:
Having compared each Amorite to a majestic tree, he compares the excision of the whole nation to the cutting down of that one tree, so swift, so entire, so irrecoverable. Yet the destruction of the Amorite, a mercy to Israel in the purpose of God, was a warning to Israel when it became as they.
Using a poetic analogy, and when one looks at the context of the surrounding passages, God is historically reminding the Hebrews of His majestic power and how He cast down nations before them. Thus, they should not forget this if they stray or they will also reap His mighty judgments.5
The “As in the days of Noah”, post-Flood Nephilim view, also creates a theological problem. If this angelic hybridization with humans is still occurring today, then it potentially implies that there are people (as in offspring) walking around on the earth today. But worse still, theologically it would mean that they cannot be saved by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 2:16), and also if using the advocates’ same logic that the reason God destroyed the earth in a Flood to destroy them once before. Is this far-fetched? Sadly, I recall meeting one young lady whose mother believed that her daughter was the result of a union with a fallen angel. Horrifically, for this young lady, she truly believed that God could do nothing for her. Needless to say, I am strongly opposed to the post-Flood Nephilim view.
The “giant” legend
It seems likely that the real Nephilim of Genesis 6 were given iconic status, in a sense, endorsing the “superhuman” view. In the “evil report,” it would appear that the spies gave the descendants of Anak an unwarranted embellishment as to their power by suggesting they were descended from the Nephilim. If the Nephilim were “super beings,” as traditional Jewish beliefs subscribe to,6 it is no wonder that the people were too scared to enter (some claim that the Nephilim “beliefs” are imaginary Jewish legends only).
The expression “the mighty men” in Hebrew is HaGibborim, and the rendering in English is a correct analogy of the Hebrew term. The same expression is used later for the mighty ruler and hunter Nimrod in Genesis 10, who built the great city of Nineveh, among others. Nimrod is commonly believed to have been the instigator behind the Tower of Babel, and possibly one of the worst offenders in the worship of false deities. The tower was an enormous structure, planned to reach into the sky (or “unto the sky,” as many similar structures of ancient Babylon were used as astrological observatories to foster the demonically inspired worship of the stars). Its builders intended it to symbolically usurp God’s authority, to be a focal point for humanity’s flouting of God’s command to disperse across the earth. So God punished the society with a confusion of languages, causing them to disperse anyway. Nimrod’s fame was legendary, and he is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (1 Chronicles 1:10). The term “men of renown” comes from the Hebrew shem, which describes men of reputation, well known, famous, or even infamous. So we can glean that the Nephilim were similarly well known by reputation for their deeds. Whoever or whatever they were, they had an influence, and created an impact, on the world.
For example, some Bible versions render the term Nephilim as “giants” because some of the words are derived from Greek translations of the Hebrew texts. In this case, the Greek word gigantes has been translated into English as giants. But this is not entirely accurate because gigantes is the Greek word for “Titans.” In Greek legend, the Titans were well known as the giant offspring of Uranus/Ouranos (the sky god/heaven) and Gaea (Earth), and were regarded as half-human and half-god. The most famous of the Titans was Cronus/Kronos (whose name is interestingly linked with Nimrod in some legends), who, legend has it, led the Titans in a war against Zeus, the most powerful of all the Olympians and the supreme ruler of all of the gods. Zeus defeated and punished the Titans by banishing them to tartarus.
The mention of tartarus is noteworthy, and these types of stories are not limited to Jewish and Greek cultures. The Romans had very similar legends — they knew Cronus/Kronos as Saturn, linked to the planet which bears that name today. (We saw in chapter 8 that various false deities worshiped in the Old Testament were also associated with this planet.) Egyptian and Indian legends abound with similar stories, and different cultures of the world all have tales of god-like visitors coming down and intermarrying with humans. In the same way, stories of the great Flood of Noah’s time can be found in practically every culture, although distorted from the original.
Some historical evidence?
There are other ancient texts that were not included in the common Protestant Bible, or the Canon of Scripture, as it is known, but were included in the Catholic Bible. These are collectively known as the Apocrypha.7 Although many in the early church had high regard for these apocryphal books, one of the reasons they were not included in the Bible8 is that no council of the entire early church favored them. Jesus Christ never once quoted from, or referred to, any of these books, although some of the Bible’s authors did. This does not mean that they are not of historical value, though. In a similar way, we can compare, for example, the writings of the historian Josephus, which have been useful for gleaning some extra information about historical events that were contemporary with biblical ones, while at the same time recognizing that they are not “inspired” Scripture (“God-breathed,” as Paul described it in 2 Timothy 3:16).
One book of this type is the book of Enoch. Protestants do not regard it as part of the Apocrypha as such (Roman Catholics do), but as belonging to the “wider Apocrypha.”9 Noah’s great-grandfather was a man called Enoch. We are told that he was a righteous man who enjoyed a close relationship with God. Genesis 5:24 says:
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Enoch did not see death because he was raptured or “snatched away” into God’s presence. The only explanation from the Scriptures is that “he walked with God” and therefore presumably found special favor with Him.
Although there are no early manuscripts to confirm the historicity of the book of Enoch, in the 18th century, fragments were found in the Dead Sea region dated to around the 2nd century BC, which predated any known texts of Enoch. This confirms at least that it was not a modern fraud. Despite this, the book of Enoch is regarded as pseudepigraphical, along with the other books of the wider Apocrypha. This means that, although it holds his name, it is thought that Enoch did not write it, though it may contain quotations from him or fragments of his writing. However, it does serve as an example of the beliefs that were held at the time. Interestingly, the Book of Jude (most likely the brother of Jesus) in the New Testament also refers to the book of Enoch. Jude 14–15 says:
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
Enoch 1:9 says:
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
This is an exact rendering of the book of Enoch by Jude, which also demonstrates that it must have been around at the time of the early church, which obviously believed in its historicity, although not its inspiration by God. In the light of this, let’s look at the following passages because it will be easy to see why traditional Jewish beliefs included the fallen-angel view of the sons of God of Genesis 6, and why the Nephilim were indeed men of (awful) renown. The book of Enoch is also a prophetic book that closely parallels the biblical texts on many occasions, particularly with regard to the predictions of the Flood of Noah’s time, and to the “end times” of Revelation. Enoch 6–7 says:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: “Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.” And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: “I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.” And they all answered him and said: “Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.” Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqlel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.
In graphic detail, this describes what the author says was occurring on the earth prior to the time of Noah with fallen angels. It subsequently shows that the offspring—the Nephilim–were ravaging the human race in more ways than one.10
It also names more fallen angels than we previously knew of. We have seen the biblically similar name of “Ashtar” appearing as an alien visitor today. Interestingly, the name Semjaza in the book of Enoch is almost identical to Semjase, the alien entity who regularly visited the “ultra famous” Billy Meier over many years. Semjase provided Meier with a “substitute theology” to the Bible. If this is only a brazen allusion, one wonders why Meier would have chosen a name from this little-known religious text. Semjase/Semjaza features abundantly in other UFO literature including the writings of the well-known Steigers.11
Also, the evil angels are described as descending from a mountain, in a context similar to the Greek mythological description. Elsewhere in this book, the fallen angels are credited with providing humans with greater technology than they possessed at the time, as well as enchantments (magic spells), which are reminiscent of the occult and paranormal activities that fallen angels today, masquerading as space brothers, teach.
Similarly, the lost book of Jasher (there are no early manuscripts—only later copies), which is referred to in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, also describes events like those in the book of Enoch. It also states that the animal kingdom was being defiled by the mixing of animals with one another “to provoke the Lord,” and that:
God saw the whole earth and it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon earth, all men and all animals (Jasher 4:18).
On occasions, Scripture references parts of such books that fall outside of inspiration. On such occasions we should presume that only the parts being cited are accurate. There are genetic limitations to the natural crossbreeding of different kinds of animals, so I am unsure how this could occur. However, modern technology is overcoming these natural boundaries through genetic implantation and enhancement, and these “extra books” suggest that many forms of ungodly practices were being taught to men. We can be sure that the state of the earth was so bad that God found it necessary to destroy it.
We have presented four common views of the identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6, and have investigated the Nephilim question with the evidence available. With some, there is little accompanying evidence to support the claims. Other evidence invokes much more discussion and can challenge our rational and traditional thought. Much more could be written, but the conclusion is the same: a long tradition of documents indicates that fallen angels have been deceiving mankind since the beginning of creation.
References and notes
- Morris, H., The Genesis Record, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1988, pp. 164–175. Return to text.
- So say Targum of Onkelos, Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, Kimchi, Rashi, Jerome, Maimonides, and the Commentary on the Mishnah according to “Return of the aliens? As the days of Noah were, khouse.org/articles/1996/43, 10 December 2002. Return to text.
- Mischievous angels or Sethites?, kouse.org/articles/1997/110, 29 January 2010. Return to text.
- Based on a study of Messianic Jewish writer Bill Bockleman, Who are the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6?, April 2009 Return to text.
- Barnes’ notes on the Bible, biblehub.com/commentaries/amos/2-9.htm, 27 April 2020. Return to text.
- For example, Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, book 1, ch. 3; Philo of Alexandria (1st century AD), The Works of Philo, p. 152; The Book of Jubilees, ch. 5, vs. 1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers “Justin Martyr–2ndCentury”, vol. 1, p. 363, The Instructions of Commodianus—3rd century, vol. 4, p. 435. Return to text.
- A collection of 14 books written after the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and before the first book of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It is accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the inspired canon of the Bible, but is rejected by most Protestant denominations. Source: religioustolerance.org/gl_a1.htm, 8 November 2003. Return to text.
- They were included in many early Bibles, including the Vulgate and many Greek manuscripts, but early canon lists routinely excluded them. Roman Catholics canonized them at the Council of Trent, hence why they are sometimes called the “Deuterocanon”, i.e., second canon.. Return to text.
- Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Chicago, Moody Press, 1986, Return to text.
- 3,000 ells would make these alleged giants many thousands of feet in height. It is likely that the copies of Enoch we have today suffered from scribal errors passed down in subsequent manuscripts. Names (possibly Elioud became ‘ells’) and numbers 3 became 3,000) are often the common errors by scribes. Additionally, the square-cube law places a limit on human size. See creation.com/giant-footprint, 27 April 2020. Return to text.
- William T. Alnor, UFOs in the New Age, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1992, pp. 29–30. Return to text.