Genesis 6 offers a cast of characters known as the Nephilim. Little is said about who or what they were. Speculations abound.
Some say the Nephilim were powerful humans. Yet, given the physiological limitations of the human body, the description of the Nephilim—if mere men—must be exaggerated and perhaps call into question the preciseness of weights and measures in biblical times.
Some suggest the Nephilim were giants possessing superhuman size and strength. Others claim they were strictly human descendants of Cain and Seth.
Still others speculate they were the offspring of fallen angels and mortal. In his forthcoming book, Navigating Genesis, Hugh Ross writes that the Hebrew root word of Nephilim (Nephal and yim) literally mean “fallen ones.” As Hugh sees it, the Nephilim were morally flawed beings who used their superhuman size and strength to fight for the ungodly Canaanites and Philistines.
The Nephilim, identified by various names including sons of Rapha, Rephaim, Anakites, and Anakim (KJV), raise questions as to the source of their size and strength. Goliath, a champion from the Philistine camp, stood about 9 feet 9 inches tall and wore a coat of armor weighing some 125 pounds. Og king of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaites, slept on an iron bed some 14 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Tales of giant men are not unique to the Bible. Extrabiblical sources suggest these “supermen” sprang from the sexual union between immortal “gods” and mortal humans. “Sons of God” is used throughout the New Testament and can refer to either humans or angels. However, in the Old Testament, “sons of God” seems to refer specifically to angels. For example, in Job 1:6 and 2:1, sons of god are said to have presented themselves before the Lord, with Satan alongside them. Job 38:7 says they witnessed the laying of Earth’s foundations. Neither of these activities fit within human limitations.
So, if “sons of God” refers to angels, then how does that fit with what Christ said about the angels in heaven: “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” Hugh suggests that the distinction “angels in heaven” implies that sons of god refers to fallen angels. He points to Jude 1:6–7a for further clarity. These rebellious angels “abandoned their proper dwelling” and “gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.”
According to Hugh, “the sons of God in Genesis 6 were humans invaded and possessed by fallen angels in such a way as to alter the genes transmitted via intercourse. In this way they produced offspring with the physiological characteristics associated with the Nephilim.” However, Hugh adds that this alternative view warrants further development and discussion.
In a recent episode of I Didn’t Know That! Fuz Rana and Kenneth Samples add their perspective to this controversial topic. Fuz comments that we remain uncertain about the identity of the Nephilim and even adds that some now speculate they were the product of human and Neanderthal interbreeding.
There are things that we don’t quite fully understand about the Bible, and the Nephilim are one of those things. And I think that that should lead all of us to say our knowledge of Scripture and our knowledge of the book nature is provisional. We’re working at it and I think it should lead us to be more humble or more accepting.
What a great reminder to remain patient (both with ourselves as others) as we continue to work at gaining a deeper understanding of Scripture.
Look for Navigating Genesis this Spring 2014. For more on the Nephilim check out
I Didn’t Know That! podcast – Did Whales Evolve; Has RTB’s Model Been Peer Reviwed; Could the Nephilim Have Been Neanderthals?
Creation Update, March 15, 2005 episode
Creation Update, March 14, 2006 episode