A Little Context For Me

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Who Were The Nephilim? Part 1 Or: The Post I Did Not Want To Write

I do not want to write this post. I have literally been putting it off for years. Don’t get me wrong, my excuses were top notch: I needed to do more research, I didn’t want to disseminate false or inaccurate information, it’s a peripheral issue within the Bible, and I certainly didn’t want to be lumped with all the crazies out there who are going nuts over this. Yet, even as I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t a deadline on this, that I could wait to write about it until I felt more comfortable, I kept being bombarded with questions about this issue. Online, in the grocery store, sitting around the campfire, random phone calls, and at a friend’s wedding – someone every single week, and sometimes daily, asks me the same question: Who were the Nephilim?

Grab your Bibles, kids, and follow along. We start our journey in Genesis 6: 1-4:

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 were attractive. And they took as wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh and 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 of old, the men of renown.

Now if you pulled out your Bibles, which I hope you did, and you let your eyes wonder down to the sections heading you will know that these verse precede the Flood narrative. This is going to be a rather important bit of information, for now just file it away until we need it.

So let’s begin with the obvious questions first, and the one that must first be addressed before we can get into the Nephilim – who in the world are the “sons of God”?

The first rule of Biblical study is “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This means any time we run up against a word or phrase whose meaning is unclear, we find that word or phrase elsewhere in the Bible to see how it is used there. By doing this we keep our interpretations consistent, and it helps us approach the Bible with integrity while not allowing us to explain away uncomfortable truths.

Thus we begin by doing a search of the Scripture, where else do we find the term “Sons of God” and how is it used? We will begin by looking at how this phrase is used in the Hebrew Scripture. Later, we will consider it’s use in the New Testament.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. Job 1:6. (Job 2:1 says almost exactly the same thing.)

When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:7

Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of God, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Psalms 29:1 

Who among the sons of God is like the LORD? Psalms 89:7 

I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Psalms 82:6 (This verse does not contain the exact Hebrew phrase for “sons of God”, but I believe that intent conveyed is the same.)

But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods. Daniel 3:25

Now, I have only provided snippets, but I suggest that you go back and read the entire passages I have cited here. Ask yourself a few questions: Who presented themselves before God in Job? Who was present when God laid the foundations of the earth? What beings are also described as “morning stars” in Scripture? In your Bible, what differences do you see in the translations, does it say “sons of God” or “Heavenly beings”? Who was the fourth man in the fiery furnace? Was it just another man? Why would he be likened to a son of the gods?

I would be remiss not to note that there is some resistance to accepting this phrase as universal reference to supernatural beings. God refers to Israel as his son (we will address this point when we get to the section over the New Testament uses of sons of God), and some believe that this title can also refer to the judges of Israel, men not necessarily anything greater. However, I believe that in doing so the plain reading of the text is rejected in favor of explanations that are easier for us to accept. Furthermore, the entire Bible is a history of supernatural events, so why should we resist this one point as too far out there while accepting things like the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Daniel’s deliverance from the lion, a fish who found Jonah nauseating, or above all, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Aren’t they all just a little crazy if you really stop and think about it?

Proponents of the idea that the sons of God were simply men are adherents to what is known as the Sethite theory. In other words, they believe that the sons of God were descendants of Seth and the daughters of men were the descendants of Cain. This leads to some interesting questions that must be answered if anyone is to approach this passage with intellectual integrity. Why was it wrong for the sons of God to marry the daughters of men? There has been no Biblical prohibition against intermarriage at this point, and there will not be any for some time yet. Why did these union produce such noteworthy offspring? What is the biological and spiritual reasoning for such an event? Was there such a marked difference between the daughters of Seth and Cain? Was Cain inherently evil? Go back to Genesis 4:17-22, the names are interesting study in a person’s attitude towards God. (I discuss this in Leah's Romance.) I am not going to do an in-depth analysis of each name, but note how many end in “el” which is a direct reference to God.

As you can tell, this not a simply question to answer. Oh, sure, I could give you my thoughts, but I want you see more than just my opinion. I want you to be able to see the Biblical reasons I hold this view. We are going to be camping out here for a while, because as I have studied this, I have come to believe it is far more than a peripheral issue and has a significant bearing on how we read the Bible, how we view God, how we view the existence of good and evil, and even our own reality.

Be sure to post your questions in the comments. I will try to address each one in turn. Having them here, instead of scattered across the internet will help me not to miss any of them. I also welcome opposing views. I am more than willing to entertain the idea I might be wrong. Blessings, everyone.

For the next post in this series, click here: Who Were The Nephilim? Part 2


  1. The Bible IS full of supernatural occurrences ... and spiritual warfare is very alive and real. I'm finding as I live that the Bible becomes more alive each time I read it and as I mature in my walk with God and Jesus.

    Truth is stranger than fiction. So, Emily, please keep expounding on the truth ... as strange as it is!

  2. Love your "musing". Have you ever considered a women's only conference??? We could do it at jackson under a canopy. ... just a thought.

    1. Now there is thought! I would love to do one. Perhaps a collaboration to make it a reality?

    2. I would very much love to make this happen

  3. You could have just asked me. This is my favorite area of interest. I won't say more so as not to steel your thunder/enjoy cracking back on you if you get it wrong... ;) In all sincerity and fairness though, so far so good.
    This is Matthew, by the way.

    1. I think I have a pretty good idea of which Matthew, but for clarification....? Shoot me a PM on Facebook or the Questions box above. Just so I know what type of cracking back I might expect. lol

  4. The first rule of Biblical study is that "scripture interprets scripture". This is a new nugget of wisdom for me. I typically in my studies try to find commentaries that others have written, but this makes more sense. My question is how do you do this? How do you find all the references? And is there a certain translation that is better to use, I've always used NIV, but with my Bible app I've noticed there are many translations and they are all very different and some even seem contradictory.

    1. Angela, this is a really good question. The easiest way tot find the references is simply to use Google. You can enter a key phrase, like "sons of God" (be sure to put it in quotes), and then add the words "in the Bible" or "in the New Testament" (that last part does not need to be in quotes. You will find lists of verses all containing that key phrase.

      I would encourage you not to stop there. Follow up by going to your Bible and reading the entire chapter with that verse so you can see the context.

      The NIV is a good translation. My particular favorite is the ESV, but that is personal preference. I do recommend reading from several translations to get a fuller view of what a verse might mean. Translation is not like code breaking.

      In code breaking, a word or letter exactly equals another word or letter. It is very precise and there is no wiggle room, but once you break the code the answer is easy to find.

      Translation is more of an art. Language is always changing. (Think back to the days before we could "google" something. That's a whole new word and idea that has happened in our lifetimes.) So translators have to take this into account. For instance, if when the Bible talks about being stoned - we know that means that person is killed with stones or rocks. However, if we hear that phrase used some place else we are going to assume that someone is talking about drug use.

      The translators problem is how to communicate the idea and still remain true to the text. And one person may have a different idea than another about how best to communicate an idea or point. So they will use different words because in their minds it makes more sense. This why reading several translations at once is a good idea, by comparing several you get more of a feel for what the main idea being communicated is.

      And don't give commentaries. Many of them provide information on the time and place that a Scripture was written and all these things help you have a deeper understanding.

      Finally, realize that reading and understanding the Bible is an art. And just like any other art form, it takes practice. The more you study the more you will know, and the quicker make connections between on passage and another. You will be amazed how the Bible opens up for you if you persist.

      If I can help you in any way, feel free to contact me. Most of my blog posts come from readers questions, and if you are asking then you can bet someone else is too.

      I am also including a previous post that I wrote for people who wanted to know how to read the Bible. It sounds like you have moved beyond this, but just in case there might be something in here that helps, I wanted to make it available.


  5. Thank you! This all so very helpful and truly appreciated