Did the Nephilim that are mentioned in Genesis 6:4 do anything beyond just existing?
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The Nephilim are a subject of much debate. There are a number of views on what they were, the two prominent views being the Sethite view and the Angelic view. Both are an opinion on who or what the "sons of God" are.
The Nephelim are most notably mentioned in Genesis and seem to be a driving decision to send the Flood of Noah.
A few things stand out in this one verse:
Generally, the Sethite view holds that the Sons of God were the righteous men descended from Seth; they praised and worshiped God. The daughters of men are women descended from Cain, who came from wickedness. This view contends that there is nothing particularly special about these persons and it is meant to highlight that the mixing of the righteous people of Seth with the wicked people of Cain led to further wickedness and their subsequent total destruction by the Flood.
Generally, the Angelic view holds that the Sons of God were angels or some other spiritual creatures that procreated with human women. This view contends that this act alone was wicked and an indication that these angelic beings were fallen from God's grace, therefore the offspring were inherently wicked. This view also contends that the offspring were giants and beyond human capabilities.
With both of these views, there is very little Biblical support. However, I find the suppositions and theories very interesting and even fun to research in a science fiction kind of way.
The extent to which your exact question is answered depends on which view you want to hear. From the Sethite view it pretty much stops at Goliath, if you call him a Nephilim because he was a giant. From the Angelic view, we can go all the way through Revelation. Outside of the Bible we can make many suppositions and links to mythology, but that is a bit outside of the scope of this site.
Here are some of the major points concerning the Nephilim:
Points from the scripture
Points from the Sethite View
Points from the Angelic View
Wikipedia has a fantastic article on the Nephilim, however, it seems very disorganized to me.
*I wrote an essay on the topic, but I could not find it. I did find my preliminary notes. Here they are.
The following are all the verses that are or might be related to the Nephilim.
Gen. 6:4—The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The following were preliminary conclusions. They are from a biblical literalist view.
The Nephilim were a real people who lived before and after the flood. That is very clear in the Scripture. They received the name Anakites from Anak who was a descendant to Arba who was "the greatest man among them." The land they lived in was called Kiriath Arba, but it was later called Hebron. The mention of the Emites leads me to conclude that these people were also from the Nephilim, but perhaps their lineage was lost or unknown. Dt. 2:10 shows the confusion of who they were, but it strongly asserts that they were also large and strong people. "Rephaites" is only mentioned in passing in a few areas. It is possible, that because of confusion and different people using different names, that Anakites, Emites, and Rephaites were all the same people; it is also possible that Gittites were the same people as well. Dt. 9:2 hints that there were other tribes of people who may have been related to the Nephilim through the Anakites, or they may be directly related to the Nephilim. Perhaps like Israel, they were divided into tribes, maybe from the sons of Arba or Anak. The mention of Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai in Nu. 13:28 and Jos. 15:13,14 hints at this possibility; it is not a stretch to assume that these three persons were chiefs, kings, or some other kind of leaders fr their people. When we look at Goliath the scriptures clearly call him and his family Rephaites, who are descendants of Anakites. There are quite a few details about them, and they are all surrounded by stories of war with the Philistines. The Philistines clearly were allied with them or perhaps the Rephaites were Philistines. Considering the Philistines were eventually completely destroyed, the last of the descendants of the Nephilim were either killed or integrated into other, normal races. If there were (or are) surviving Nephilim the Bible does not explicitly record it.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. - Genesis 6: 4
Over time, Genesis 6: 4 generated a mass of speculative oral traditions. The reasons are fanciful translations of the word 'Nephilim', and the terms 'sons of God' and 'daughters of men', and innovative interpretations of the verse. The correct translation for 'Nephilim' is 'giants' but there is a play on words as 'nephyl' means 'fallen', so giants that have 'fallen' or 'come down'. Using a bit of imagination the 'fallen' was turned into 'fallen angels', aliens in every form, and even the 'survivors of abortions'. 'Sons of God' can as easily be translated as 'sons of the gods', meaning, followers of the false gods or 'sons of royalty' with the explanation that the children of the rulers were the Nephilim. It was even taken to mean the descendents of Seth while 'daughters of men' has the obvious meaning of could mean 'the descendents of Cain'.
The wide variety of translations made it possible for a number of interpretations to emerge and some of them have even generated a new genre of fiction. One of the lesser known but still interesting explanations for the verse involves Neanderthal man.
Neanderthal man was very similar to humans except that they were much stronger with huge muscles and had great endurance. The other big difference was that he had a larger brain and the manner of his burial rites show spirituality, and care of the old and sickly shows social conscience. Neanderthal managed to survive in conditions so cold that even an Eskimo would freeze without knowing how to sew by making coats and duvets of feathers. (Tying feathers together to make a coat was well within their capabilities and from there the belief in angels with wings.) To primitive Homo sapiens, he must have seemed like a giant.
The Carmel Caves on Mount Carmel are amongst the most important of the prehistoric caves in Israel as they were continuously occupied for an incredible 150 000 years. Here prehistoric man went from cave dweller to a builder of homes. From a hunter-gatherer to a planter and domesticator. And most importantly here the remains of mixed humans were found - half Neanderthal, half Homo sapiens. (Some scholars called this ‘human’ Palaeanthropus Palestinensis (Ancient Palestinian Man)) Here was the beginning of ancient man using ‘modern’ (Mousterian) Neanderthal tools and adopting a 'modern' culture that contained the first religion.
For 90 000 years the two groups lived side by side without much interaction but eventually Neanderthal came down from the mountains and mixed with the humans resulting in the mighty men that were of old, a new people that had an advanced culture. From the Neanderthal, man learnt how to work metals and arrange flowers, how to hunt as a team, and how to make war, how to cure the sick and take care of the old, and most significantly man adopted their religion that centered on funeral rites. Eat the flesh; bury the bones. The bones for eternal life in the hereafter, and the flesh so the departed stays part of the survivors, and so enjoy eternal life on earth. To the humans this ritual must have looked like cannibalism and that explains Enoch 7: 4 (The giants turned against them and devoured mankind.)
From this idea, a more elaborate hypothesis evolved that has some sound science mixed with some very strange thinking. Humankind throughout its development split up (the Tower of Babel is an example) and individual groups developed for periods in isolation. From time to time, these groups would get together again and merge to form a new group. Genesis 6 describes such coming together of three groups and there is enough archeological evidence to make it believable that this happened in Israel. The three groups were:
• The 'sons of God' are those who served, or were supposed to serve, God. They were the descendents of Seth. The use of 'sons' is to show those that toil on the earth from generation to generation without much progress. From Seth came hope for the future, living for future generations, and belief in the unseen.
The new group that formed from the mixing of these three is what is called 'modern man', Homo sapiens sapiens, man aware and creative. There is a confirmation of 'man creative' in verse 5, if 'imagination' is taken to mean 'creative thinking'. (And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.) 'Imagination' is translated from the Hebrew 'yetzer' and there is 'yetzer hara' or creativity/imagination that leads to evil and 'yetzer tob', creativity/imagination that leads to good. In Genesis 8: 21, God said in His heart that no longer will humanity as a whole be punished for the sin of Adam (that is what made man aware) and neither will there be a group punishment for the 'yetzer hara' that had now become part of man.
What were the Nephilim?
They were simply "fallen ones", a descriptive way of saying "giant" fallen ones. The whole earth by chapter 6 had become fallen, but these were particularly of significance in size and symbolically were a representation of large the wickedness of man had become, "continually evil" in v. 5 as in the Totality of their hearts.
What role did they play?
As a symbol in Genesis 6, but in later books such as Numbers their role was to show how the Jews let the physical world, large in stature put more trust in their fears than the trust they should have had which was in the Lord who is Sovereign in all affairs. When the Israelites faced the Philistines they showed such great fear of Goliath, that it took a boy who was small in stature but great in Faith in the Lord that he showed no fear. David had already slain a Bear & a Lion. So Nephilim/Giants are symbolic of Great Tests for God's people. And David passed the test more than any of them.
To clear up some posts that are not accurate. Those of us who hold to the Sethite view are indeed Biblical Literalists when it comes to Literal language. There also is more biblical support for the Sethite view than any other view.
When interpreting difficult passages we have to use every biblical hermeneutic tool at our disposal and this take much time and careful study.
Our Holy Lord cannot tolerate wickedness of such magnitude forever.
Madeleine L'Engle gives a possible opinion in her novel Many Waters where she shows them interacting with the humans during the time of Noah.
Adding this at the prompting of David Stratton, though I think the Wikipedia entry will be more useful and factual for readers: as I recall (it's been a number of years since I read it), L'Engle portrays nephilim as shadowy, quasi-evil individuals of great beauty, power, and persuasion. There are examples of intermarriage with humans of the time and something about it being difficult to deliver the child of a nephil. When I read the book, I had not yet come across nephilim in any other context and remember wondering if she was portraying fallen angels.
Of course the Nephilim are the product of the marriage between the 'Daughters of Men' and the 'Sons of God' as we read in Genesis 6. We must first identify the two groups in order to find out who the Nephilim really were.
The 'Daughters of Men' (Hebrew; Ben-o Ha-Adam) is simply a term that means any of the human women or any daughter of Adam or his descendants. NIV translates the term as 'Human Women', ISV- 'Human Women', GWT - 'Daughters of the humans'.
It is widely recognised that the Sons of God are the angelic beings and many biblical translations render the term 'Sons of God' specifically as 'The Angels': NIV - 'Angels', NLT - 'Members of the Heavenly Court', ISV - 'Divine Beings'.
Many scholars try to claim that the Sons of God are the same as the children of God; whom they refer to as the 'Good Sons of Seth'. Notice how on numerous occasions in the Bible including the very first mention of the Sons of God in Genesis 6, these 'Sons of God' are always attributed as being propagators of WICKEDNESS - hardly the works of the 'Good Sons of Seth'!
In Job 1:6 and 2:1 that Satan presents himself alongside the other Sons of God - if these 'Sons of God' were the good sons of Seth, what business would Satan have (already fallen at this stage), accompanying them?
Also the first mention of the Sons of God in Genesis 6 tells us that they were guilty of atrocious sins including having sex with the 'daughters of men'. The daughters of Men are claimed by the 'Good sons of Seth' proponents to be the wicked daughters of Cain - but if theses 'Sons of God' were so good, why were they all marrying the wicked daughters of Cain?! The theory that the Sons of God are the Good Sons of Seth makes absolutely no sense whatsoever when applied to the biblical texts - in fact it is entirely contradictory.
Also Genesis 6:4 tells us that the result of the intermarriage between the two parties (Sons of God and Daughters of Man) resulted in the produce of diabolical beings who are referred to as the Nephilim who are claimed as being also 'Giants'. These beings were clearly supernatural and were subjugators of the human race. There is no reason why a human to human marriage would result in such a wicked and unnatural offspring.
Further information about these Nephilim is found in the book of Enoch where we are told these beings 'devoured the flesh', 'sinned against animals' and taught people many occult practices.
Here the 'Lawless Ones' are of course the Sons of God and their hybrid progeny - the Nephilim. Do these bizarre beings sound like 'GOOD sons of Seth' to you?
Also, 'Sons of God' is a general term for the Angelic Beings and does not designate whether they be rebellious or obedient angels - but rather that they are simply angels. The Bible tells us that a third of all the angels were cast out of heaven, which means about two thirds of the angels are still on Gods side. Rev. 12:4 - “And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth." Angelic beings are often referred to as stars.
Satan and his angels had no place being on the earth, because Lucifer's (Satan's) duty was primarily to protect the throne of God in the heavenly place.
Ezekiel 28:14 - "You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones." As part of his punishment for rebelling, Lucifer was cast out of the heavenly place and he and his angels have fled to the earth, where they hope to destroy Gods creation. Isaiah 14:12 - "How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!"
Job 1:7 - "The LORD said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' Then Satan answered the LORD and said, 'From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it'."
This is very hard for many people to accept as it is truly a bizarre and sinister occurrence. But freakish giant skeletons with elongated heads have been found all over the world, some with double rows of teeth and others with horns. Most common is a very flat and wide chin, often with a cleft in the middle. These beings looked to be truly frightening.