The Sons of God and the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4

Posted on Jan 4, 2022

Soon after my conversion to Christianity, my family and I moved from Montreal to Sydney and started going to a local Baptist church. Pastor Daryl took us under his spiritual wing and offered to walk us through the Bible to give us an overview of Christian beliefs. We agreed.

He’d give us a bunch of passages to read before we met every week to talk about what we read and ask questions. The first batch of passages included Genesis 6 and this is where I ran into my first what? moment. Let me quote the passage to refresh your memory (NASB text, Genesis 6:1-2; 4):

Now it came about, when mankind began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of mankind, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Two things puzzled me here – who were the sons of God and the Nephilim (some translations have “giants” for Nephilim). Naturally, I asked Daryl about this.

Today, 24 years later, I don’t remember exactly what he said. He suggested not to dwell too much on this obscure passage as it doesn’t add much to practical Christianity. He opined though, alluding to Job 1:6, that perhaps the sons of God are angels, fallen of course, for they have committed despicable acts with women. And the Nephilim, these are perhaps the offspring of these demonic fornications.

For more context, we jumped to Numbers 13:33, a passage describing the Israelites' spies' report after they returned from Canaan, where the Nephilim are mentioned again (We also saw the Nephilim there (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.)

I took Daryl’s advice and never tried to dig deeper into the sons of God and the Nephilim in that Genesis passage except sometimes I’d see it discussed in a book or on a random forum somewhere online.

The general consensus, as far as I knew, was that yes indeed, the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4 are fallen angels and the Nephilim are their offspring.

Once I found my path in the Christian forest to the Reformed neck of the woods, that general consensus about Genesis 6:1-4 stopped making sense for in that theological corner, the angelic rebellion took place in undetermined past before creation of man, hence the Eden’s snake that fooled Eve and led Adam to sin. From that point of view, calling fallen angels the sons of God didn’t make sense. To me anyway.

I left it at that until one day, now sitting in a pew of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia in Brisbane, I heard a new take on this mysterious passage, proposed, I learned later, by the forefather of all Reformers – Augustine.

This being a Scottish-flavored Presbyterian congregation, the minister would take Augustine’s view over any mainstream view every time. Nothing wrong with that. Presbyterians, historically, like their systematic theology where every piece fits nicely with other pieces. Augustine, apparently, gave them a way to fit Genesis 6:1-4 to the rest of the picture.

The pastor explained that the sons of God referred to the descendants of righteous Seth and the Nephilim to the part of his bloodline who turned way from God.

The way he went about connecting Seth to the sons of God didn’t impress me at all but he made a good point that sort of rescued his sermon from total failure (in my eyes). Being seminary-trained, he knew some Hebrew and pointed out that Nephilim is derived from a verb naphal meaning, among other things, to fall. Nephilim then are the fallen ones, explaining Augustine’s view of unbeliving bloodline of Seth.

Why Seth is because in Genesis 6:1-4 the sons of God and the Nephilim seem to be connected and if the sons of God are descendants of Seth, so are the Nephilim except these guys have fallen.

That was that except it still didn’t make sense because I didn’t see connection between Seth and the sons of God. Maybe I should have read the source (Augustine) to see the argument but I didn’t.

Two years ago I’m sitting with a friend at work drinking coffee and talking theology. At this point I have departed from Christianity, plunging full speed into Judaism. He doesn’t know that (he does now) and Nephilim come up in the conversation. We go back and forth and settle on the usual – this is interesting but we have no idea what to make of this passage.

Well, Matt, if you’re reading this, I think I have found the answer. At least this one makes, finally, sense to me.

Have to make a disclaimer though – I don’t know Hebrew and had to rely on Strong’s Concordance, lexicons, and rabbis to shed some light on this puzzle.

The key to unlock Genesis 6:1-4 is the Hebrew word elohim. All good Bible students know what it means. Elohim appears 2,600 times in the Hebrew Bible. Most of the time, 2,346 times in fact, it is translated as God in KJV. Other times, it is something else, not God.

If you search Strong’s, you’ll discover that elohim, a derivative of el (power), appears translated as judges 5 times in KJV. For example, in Exodus 21:6 (Then his master shall bring him unto the judges (elohim)) or in Exodus 22:8 (If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges (elohim)).

In Exodus 9:28 elohim appears as mighty (Intreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail) and in Exodus 7:1 we have: And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god (elohim) to Pharaoh. Here, I think, it would be better to translate it as “I gave you power over Pharaoh”, not “I have made you a god to Pharaoh” because elohim is a plural of eloah. But what do I know?

Back to Genesis 6:1-4. The second verse, where in English we have “the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful…”, Hebrew has “ben elohim…” – sons of elohim.

What if elohim here means the sons of the powerful ones, not God? For example, the sons of judges, kings (that is princes), generals, and the rich ones? If so, there is no mistery in this passage and everything makes sense.

Genesis 6:1-4 tells us that the spoiled punks of the rich and powerful have lost their ways and turned into sexual preditors raping women left and right. Nephilim, the fallen ones, are indeed the offspring of this rampage having grown up in this perverse world not knowing any better.

This interpretation fits perfectly with verse 5:

And GOD 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.

The wikedness of this lot had spread throughout the earth and the total wipeout followed by The Flood.