“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.”
So says Genesis 6:4 in the ESV. But what does it mean, and who were the sons of God?
We basically have two sets of answers – the first is boring, and the second is exciting.
In what I would call the boring category, there is the Sethite view that the “sons of God” were descendants of the righteous line of Seth, son born to Adam and Eve after Cain murdered Abel in a fit of jealousy at two offerings – one that God accepted, and the other that God rejected.
In the Sethite view, the sons of God married “the daughters of men,” or the female descendants of Cain. And these led the righteous Sethites away from worship of Yahweh into wickedness.
But what is this about giants, and since when has the copulation of righteous men with pagan women consistently produced them? Certainly not in our day, at least to my knowledge. So that would not seem to fit except to make the Old Testament and ancient history as well as mythology far less fantastic.
Another popular theory in the boring category is that the “sons of God” spoken of in Genesis 6:4 were kings, since we know it was a common theme in ancient politics that the king of this or that nation claimed some god or another of their people as his notable ancestor. For that matter, those gods themselves may have been men.
Yet there remains the problem in that case of what to do with the references to “sons of God” in the book of Job, and how these are clearly not mere men, but rather what we would call angels, and what Michael Heiser would say were lesser deities, or “elohim” created by Yahweh God to have certain measures of authority and power over His created order, including the nations which He had not chosen.
And this brings us to the more exciting possibilities, which even Augustine in The City of God admitted many in his day favored. That is, that the “sons of God” were fallen angels, and that their offspring with beautiful human women were demons and giants.
From extended quotations of what Augustine and other early fathers of the Church wrote about this, we can learn much. But we know even just from the Biblical text that “there were giants in the earth in those days, and also afterward.” And sometimes the word is translated “giants” into English, and other times it’s translated “Nephilim.”
Either way, we do see giants in the account of Israel coming into the Promised Land, and also afterwards with David fighting Goliath. And one possible reason for this is that something of what we in our day would call supernatural or fantastic was happening beyond just good human boys and bad human girls getting together.
True and Unreal?
Dr. Jordan B. Cooper holds that there is no question that demons are involved in pagan worship, and that to engage in pagan worship is to open ourselves up to the demonic. Yet Cooper questions whether that means that Baal or Molech, for instance, are real beings.
But to that I would ask – if we believe the demonic is real, but we don’t believe demons are real beings – what we mean by saying that what is demonic is real. Moreover, it seems to me as though the Sethite view of the Nephilim is very similar to the day-age theory and theistic evolution in several important respects.
The same crowd that dismisses Young Earth Creationism also typically prefers to think of the Flood as being a regional rather than global event, for instance. And both alike are just the sort to put footnotes in that Behemoth and Leviathan were hippos and crocodiles, not dinosaurs.
In the interest of consistency, I disagree with all of that. Or how can we say we believe something to be true and not real at the same time? Some will think me simple for it, but that is what I keep coming back to.
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