Nephi-What?

Question
"Nephilim" is what exactly? I have been given several answers to this question. Is it a hybrid race born from a human-angel relationship, or is it just a race of "large" humans? If it is the first, then which was the mother: the humans, or the angels? Angels are said to have no gender, so which did/will they imitate? Or maybe they were of mixed gender? It sounds like a pretty inconsequential question, but It caught my attention. Also I seem to have read something about the Nephilim being one who will be giving birth to a certain messiah.
Answer
The identity of the nephilim is a fascinating subject to ponder. They are mentioned only twice in Scripture (Gen. 6:4; Num. 13:33). In Numbers 13:32-33 they may be of gigantic stature, or perhaps they are simply large men. The Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) translates the Hebrew word nephilim with the Greek word gigas, which means "giant." Following this tradition, the KJV and NKJV both translate nephilim as "giants." Other English translations, however, simply transliterate nephilim, being less sure that "giants" is an appropriate translation.

The idea that the nephilim are descendants of mixed-relationships between angels and humans probably comes from Genesis 6:2 which says that the "sons of God" had children by the "daughters of men," but in Genesis 6 the "sons of God" are only temporaly linked to the nephilim. That they were on the earth at the same time does not mean that they were related.

Perhaps the best explanation is that nephilim is a term for "fierce warriors," so that the phrase "mighty men of old, men of renown" which follows the mention of the nephilim in Genesis 6:4 is a description of their ferocity and skill. These descriptions are not positive in this context, but rather portray the nephilim as wicked and vicious men -- thus the comment about mankind in Genesis 6:5.

The appearance of nephilim in Numbers 13:32-33 may also be explained in these terms. The men of "great size" are not just the warriors, but rather they are all the inhabitants of the land. From Israel's later encounters with these people, it does not appear that they were all that gigantic. It is helpful to note in this regard that it is the unreliable spies' bad report that describes the Canaanites as men of "great size."

As far as the ancenstry of the nephilim goes, the Bible is silent on the issue. If the nephilim were just fierce warriors, then their ancestry is not really all that important. Also, since this definition refers to ferocity and not to lineage, it is easily applied to people both before and after the flood. This is especially appealing since the nephilim in Numbers could not possibly have been descended from those in Genesis (they all died in the flood). Finally, nowhere does the Bible suggest that a messiah will come from the nephilim.

The precise nature of angelic gender is another matter on which the Bible is silent, though every angel in the Bible is portrayed as male. There is no clear passage in the Bible which indicates that they are capable of reproducing on their own or by conjugating with humans. The passage generally used to suggest angel-human unions is Genesis 6:2-4 with its reference to the "sons of God," but the precise meaning of this passage is far from clear. "Sons of God" may simply refer to Seth's descendants as opposed to Cain's. In support of this reading, in Genesis 6:3 the Lord states that his Spirit will not always strive with men, and the context suggests that he makes this statement in response to the behavior of the "sons of God," implying that the "sons of God" are men. Further, Luke refers to Adam as the "son of God" (Luke 3:38), perhaps reflecting an older tradition that understood Adam in these terms (compare Gen. 1:26-27 and Gen. 5:3 where Adam's relationship to Seth is described with the same language as God's relationship to Adam and Eve).

A different explanation derives from the other Old Testament uses of the phrase "sons of God," in which the term seems to identify angelic beings (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).

A third explanation argues that the "sons of God" were unusual men. Specifically, they were kings. The "daughters of men," in turn, were common women whom the kings either took as wives or raped (Genesis 6:2,4 does not use the normal language for legitimate marriage). In support of this idea, elsewhere in the Bible "son of God" refers to human kings (e.g. Ps. 2:6-12). Further, the "men of renown" were not the offspring of these couplings, but rather they were the nephilim.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.