Who were the Nephilim?

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    The Nephilim are often understood to be half-human, half-angel hybrids. Is this true? The Nephilim are mentioned in Genesis 6:4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” In order to identify the Nephilim it is necessary to identify the “sons of God.” The sons of God are referred to in the following verses: Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Dt 32:8; Ps 29:1, 82:6, 89:6; Dan 3:25. In these verses, the sons of God appear at first glance to be heavenly beings. However, it is not entirely clear as they could also be purely human. John 10:34 sheds a lot of light on these ambiguous verses. In John 10:34 Jesus reminds the Pharisees that tried to stone Jesus that they are called gods in Scripture: “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? In John 10:34 Jesus appears to be citing Psalm 82:6. In Psalm 82 “God presides in the great assembly” and “gives judgment among the gods” accusing them of injustice. Psalm 82:6 reads, “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” Since these “gods’ “fall like every other ruler.” we can, therefore, see that these “gods” are “mortal” “rulers.” Echoing this idea that the “sons of God” are regal humans, Galatians 3:26 says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” The way in which this the term “sons of God” is used in the above verses seems to be in relation to kingship. Recall the saints were to be given authority over all the kingdoms under heaven according to Daniel 7:27: “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.” We also see in Genesis 6:4 that the Nephilim are identified in similar ways as “heroes of old, men of renown.”

    If the “sons of God” is a term used to denote human kings or elites in the Bible, then the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4 appear to be the sons of these elites and rulers who, of course, are also themselves elites and rulers by birthright. Before, during and after Noah’s flood the kings of the ancient world were deified and thus considered gods or perhaps more precisely demigods. In other words, although fully man, these kings were thought by their subjects to also be in a sense partially or fully divine. The following is stated in a Wikipedia article on the “Sons of God”:

    There is also a large consensus within the scholarly community, that the “sons of God” were simply the deified kings of the various Canaanite city states. These would be the same Canaanite city states that the later proto-Israelites would eventually flee, and who would eventually resettle in the Judean highlands.

    When we look at ancient history while also using the Bible to interpret itself, it does not appear that the Nephilim are giant, supernatural angel, human hybrids similar to something out of a fairy tale or fantasy novel, but rather regal people who are fully human and yet in a sense believed to be partially or fully divine.

    It is often thought that the Nephilim were a race of giants. Were the Nephilim giants? Recall that Jesus is the son of God born of a virgin woman. Here we see that Jesus was the child of God. Was Jesus a giant? If Jesus, the son of God, was not a man of supernatural physical stature having been the child of God, does it seem likely that the Nephilim were giants when they were “merely” the children of angels and human women?

    The Nephilim were likely taller than the average man because in ancient times the social elites were generally taller than the peasant class. This height differential was largely nutritional as we can see when comparing the average height today versus what it was 120 years ago. There were certainly tall people in ancient times especially among the ruling class. But there is nothing in the Bible to suggest supernatural stature. Perhaps the tallest person in the Bible is Goliath:

    The Masoretic Text, written in Hebrew, tells us he was six cubits and a span—roughly nine feet, six inches. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament says Goliath’s height was four cubits and a span—about six feet, six inches tall. The Hebrew text found in the Dead Sea Scrolls tells us that Goliath was four cubits tall—which is about six feet. So which is it?
    It’s entirely possible that the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are older manuscripts, preserve something closer to Goliath’s actual height, and that the Masoretic Text reflects a later exaggeration. (https://www.logos.com/grow/everything-you-need-to-know-about-goliath/ 9/22/23)

    Another example used to support superhuman heights is found in Deuteronomy 3:11. Here Og the king of Bashan was said to have a bed that was nine by four cubits or about seventeen by seven feet. Perhaps Og was a tall man? But the fact that he had a large bed does not imply this fact. After all, kings of those times had harems and thus often took several of these women to bed at the same time and thus would have needed a large bed to accommodate all these women.

    What about Numbers 13:32?

    So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.

    Obviously, the Hebrew scouts were exaggerating when referring to themselves as grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites. If this were a literal statement the Canaanites would be at least 150 feet tall or about the height of a fifteen-story building. It is not a stretch to imagine the average Hebrew slave being about five foot six and if the average height of the people of Canaan were five foot ten to six feet tall, this is a huge difference in height. It is not hard to imagine the Hebrew slaves saying the same thing about the men of Germany who might have also averaged five foot ten to six feet at the time.

    What about verses like 2 Samuel 23:8? “These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: the Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time.” Where these men giants or is there a better explanation to explain these feats? In 2 Samuel 23:8 we see that these men were “chief among the captains.” In other words, these men that are responsible for all these kills were generals in David’s army. A general is not selected based on strength or physical stature. Generals are selected based on intellect, experience and know-how. It is unlikely that any of these generals killed these men themselves. Rather it was the armies that these generals led that racked-up these total kills.

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