Genesis 6:1--4 tells about the "sons of God" marrying whomsoever they pleased, and the Nephilim---"the heroes of old, men of renown"---were begotten then. How is this to be interpreted?
Dr John Millam, on the Reasons to Believe website, has this to say on the Nephilim (about 1/2 way through, the section entitled The Sons of God/Giants):
Most people I have read on the matter agree that it is highly uncertain who these "Nephilim" actually were, and as a result, speculation abounds. In my thinking it seems problematic to consider that angels, who are purely spirit beings could mate and produce offspring with humans who are a distinct creation of body into which God breathed spirit.
From the wikipedia article:
While the ca. 6th century The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (a Christian pseudepigraphical work found in Ge'ez) says:
Which seems to make sense to me. Both wikipedia articles contain numerous references which may be of interest for further research and reading.
A second reference to Nephilim occurs in Numbers 13:32-33, but since all of mankind was destroyed in the flood of Gen 9 ff, I don't see how they could be of the same bloodline. So that suggests that Nephilim might be more of a general than specific descriptive term. It may be significant that both groups of men are described as "giants" (note also that Goliath and his kin, "descendants of Rapha in Gath" were described as having six fingers and six toes, which indicates some sort of genetic deformity).
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Others have noted the two keys theories: (a) angels mated with human women, or (b) descendants of the Godly line of Seth intermarried with the sinful line of Cain.
The Bible uses the phrase "sons of God" to refer to angels in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 28:7. It uses the phrase to refer to Christians in Matthew 5:9 (sort of) and Galations 3:26. It appears to use both meanings in the same sentence in Luke 20:36. Note that the exact meaning of the phrase in all these cases is debatable. I suppose advocates of the angels theory have an advantage here in that the phrase in Genesis and the phrase in Job are the exact same Hebrew words ("bni Elohim"), while the statements in the New Testament are in Greek, not Hebrew, and thus different words. Thus the connection is a little more tenuous.
Personally, I find both theories problematic.
RE angels: Is it physically possible for angels to interbreed with humans? I suppose an advocate of this theory could reply, Who can say? How do we know whether it's physically possible or not? In many cases in the Bible angels appeared to people as human males. Often people didn't realize they were not ordinary human males until the angel told them he was not or revealed himself in some way. If angels can appear as human males with apparently-functioning arms and legs, mouths that can speak, etc, perhaps they also have or can have other parts that function like a human male.
Yes, Jesus said that angels do not marry. But does this mean that they don't have sex, or that in Heaven there is some other institution for the expression of sexuality? That's a whole other question by itself.
Any Hebrew scholars here? The King James says that the sons of God "took wives" from the sons of men, but the Hebrew simply says "they took women". As I understand it, Hebrew does not have a word that specifically means "wife". Rather, a man refers to her as "my woman". (Likewise there is no word for husband, but a woman says "my man".) So I don't think this verse necessarily says that they married these women, just that they had sexual relations with them.
RE Godly line of Seth: There's some justification to say that "sons of God" might mean believers, and therefore perhaps by extension a tribe of believers. But I don't know of any place else in the Bible that uses the phrase "daughters of men" ("bnuth e adam") to refer to sinful people, i.e. that "daughters of men" means people who are not righteous. Perhaps the writer invented the phrase here as a natural contrast to "sons of God". But it's an awfully odd way to put it.
But more problematic, how would intermarriage between "good people" and "bad people" result in a race of heroes? (Whether "nephilim" means "giants" or more like the KJV translation, "mighty men", it still tells us that the result of this intermarriage was notable, famous men.) It makes a lot of sense to say that if angels could interbreed with humans, the result would be something extraordinary. But why would good people and bad people intermarrying result in notable offspring? They're both human, one would think their offspring would be ordinary humans.
IMHO, the angels theory is the more natural reading of the text. Instinctively I find it implausible, but it seems to be what the Bible is saying. The Seth/Cain theory just doesn't really make sense. Or maybe there's some totally different explanation.
The New Testament teaches us that the Sons of God are the righteous.
That last bit is instructive. "The world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." It hearkens back to the Savior's words:
So we see that the Sons of God are chosen out of the world and are different from "the world." So if the Sons of God married daughters of men, (ordinary women "of the world" who were not living in righteousness,) the children born to them may have been great and powerful, but without a righteous mother to raise them in the truth they would have fallen away from God. This was always a big deal in Old Testament times. In the Law of Moses, marrying outside the covenant was forbidden, and Solomon choosing to ignore this prohibition is explicitly blamed for the decay and downfall of his kingdom.
protected by Caleb♦ Oct 12 '12 at 8:53
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