Let me start by asking four very pointed questions:
- Who were the Nephilim giants of Genesis 6?
- Were they the offspring of fallen angels and earthly women?
- In the Old Testament, does the phrase “sons of God” always apply to angels?
- Is this mysterious passage simply about polygamy or sexual contact with supernatural entities?
These are earth-shaking questions with theological aftershocks, no matter what answers you present as “the truth.”
Here’s the foundational passage: Genesis 6:1-4.
Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
The original Hebrew word translated “giants” in verse 4 is Nephilim (Nephil is the singular; Nephilim is the plural). The word “giants” is actually a debated rendering of the word. Strong’s Concordance offers that it means a feller (like someone who cuts down trees) and that it can mean “bullies” or “tyrants.”
Other theologians feel the word Nephilim means “fallen ones” (and that is the possible sense of the Hebrew root). Yet the “Nephilim” were not actually the “fallen ones.” If the “angel/women” theory is correct, the Nephilim were rather the offspring of the “fallen ones.” Of course, they could have inherited a “fallen” state from the corrupt and forbidden parental union that resulted in their conception, just as we have inherited a “fallen” state from Adam.
Many interpreters of this passage (Jew and Christian) feel that the “sons of God” were instead the offspring of Seth—and that they were “fallen” simply in the sense that they had “fallen” from the standard of repentance and righteousness that was associated with that line—the family tradition of walking with God. The subtleties of the meaning of the original words have been somewhat lost over time—and no one’s opinion is without question. No etymologist can fully prove his or her case.
The extra-biblical books of Enoch and Jubilees are more blatant in promoting this point of view—however, they cannot be trusted as reliable sources. (I normally urge believers who are not established theologically NOT to read these books, since they are not in the approved canon of Scripture.) But for the sake of this study, speaking of the daughters of the Adamic race, 1 Enoch 7:2-3 offers:
“And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamored of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.”
In addition to Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (7:21–25) also states that ridding the earth of these Nephilim was one of God’s purposes for causing the flood in Noah’s time. Both of these works describe the Nephilim as being evil giants.
That view raises two big questions:
The first question—If destroying the Nephilim was one of the primary reasons God sent the flood, why are the Nephilim mentioned again later in the Bible. After spying out the Land of Canaan, ten of the twelve spies brought back an “evil report” (a report of unbelief) saying in Number 13:32-33:
“There we saw the giants [Hebrew Nephilim] (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
The second question—How could that wicked seed line have survived when the Bible says that everyone except Noah’s family drowned? Remember God did tell that righteous patriarch, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13) The last time I checked, the word “all” means all—and I don’t think God was using hyperbole.
Admittedly, it was not God who called the sons of Anak “Nephilim”; it was the ten spies—and they could have gotten it wrong—but what if they didn’t?
Orthodox Judaism takes a stand against this view, “the classical Aggadah… rejecting the mythological interpretation and asserting that the marriages in Genesis 6 were human.” Other Jewish sources, like the Zohar of Kabbalism, entertain the idea of “fallen angels” being involved sexually with women. Who’s to say? Is there a logical way of breaking this down?
New Testament Passages
Some Christian theologians believe the fallen angels who begat the Nephilim were cast into a specific chamber of hell called Tartarus. They get that from 2 Peter 2:5-9 and Jude 1:5-7. Let me quote those two passages now:
The 2 Peter 2:5-9 passage:
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [Greek tartarus] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)—then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.
The original word translated “hell” in many Bible versions is Tartarus (Greek tartar-o-o), not the usual Hades—and could possibly be a reference to a specific section, possibly the bottomless pit spoken of in Revelation 9:1-11 and 20:1-3. The original Greek is translated “the Abyss” in the Complete Jewish Bible and could simply mean an indescribably deep pit. The “king”—over what appears to be demonic hordes that will come out of the pit in the last days—is an “angel” referred to as Abaddon in the Hebrew, or Apollyon in the Greek. Both of those words mean “the destroyer.” Could that be a reference to Satan who always comes “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Besides, we know that abode is ultimately a part of his destiny. Read Revelation 20:1-3:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
Two big questions that must be asked about the passage from Peter’s epistle also:
The first question—“Who were ‘the angels who sinned’?” Peter never said they were the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6. He could have been referring to those angels who sinned in Satan’s rebellion in the very beginning.
The second question—“What are the ‘chains of darkness’?” Does that mean a very deep place of separation from God: a place of great torment, total confusion, and complete delusion? If so, why are fallen angels (demons) still able to torment human beings on earth, if all of them that sinned in the beginning are bound in the Abyss? Or is that “deep darkness” not a place, but a mental state? Hmmm. Ponder that.
Next, we have Jude’s offering on this controversial issue:
The Jude 1:5-7 passage:
But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
This passage helps—though still raising questions.
What was their “proper domain”—their “abode”? Could the answer to that be that their “proper place” was submission to God and adoration of Him in the celestial world? There may be absolutely no connection between verse six and verse seven. Jude does not say that the angels were involved in “sexual” sin like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are three completely different stories of three different judgments of God highlighted in those three verses.
Let’s go back to the first two verses of the original passage (Genesis 6:1-2) and ask a few more critically important questions:
Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.
Who were “the sons of God”? The original Hebrew words are ben elohiym.
I have heard very respected teachers of the Bible say that phrase refers only to angels in the Old Testament. However, that is only true in certain popular English translations, but not in the original Hebrew. There are three times it seems to refer to angels in the book of Job:
Now there was a day when the sons of God (ben elohiym) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6, 2:1 is also same wording)
Of course, that chapter is about how Satan accused Job. But it doesn’t say that “the sons of God” were either righteous or evil angels. Toward the end of Job, this phrase appears again when God is questioning Job and says in Job 38:4-7:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
This reference, admittedly, could only be righteous angels, who apparently were created first before the natural worlds—or at least, it seems that way. So most likely, Job 1:6 and 2:1 are referencing angels also.
But are there passages in the Old Testament when “sons of God” can be a reference to humans? Absolutely, Yes!!! Deuteronomy 14:1 is speaking of all Israelites in the following verse (with the Hebrew indicated):
“You are the children of the LORD your God [ben YHWH elohiym]; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead.”
Also, in Psalms 82:6-7, God rebukes the unjust judges of Israel with the following statement:
“I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High [Hebrew ben Elyon]. But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.”
So all Israelites and their judges are called “sons of God” (ben elohiym) or something quite similar. It should be mentioned also that in the New Testament Adam is called “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). So this description is not assigned only to angels in that era.
The Biological Reason
Is there any natural, biological reason not to believe in angelic copulation with the “daughters of men”? Yes. There is a barrier between earthly species set up by God in Genesis. When He created the multitudes of animals God gave them reproductive powers “after their kind” (Genesis 1:21, 25). There is a barrier between species erected by God that prevents cross breeding. Nature itself works against the evolution of hybrid creatures. The rare times it does happen, the resulting animal cannot reproduce (such as a lion and a tiger producing a liger or a horse and donkey producing a mule). So, if this divinely installed barrier exists between animal species (and humans and animals as well), it seems preposterous to believe that this barrier did not and does not exist between angels and humans.
The All-important Words of Jesus
In Matthew 22:30, Jesus was instructing certain skeptical Sadducees about the afterlife and He said concerning those who inherit eternal life:
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. (See also Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35)
Why would He say that? Because two major parts of marriage are sexual union and reproduction. And evidently, angels do not have either capacity. Neither will we, in the glorified state that awaits us in the celestial world to come.
Who Was God Upset with Anyway?
Read Genesis 6:3 carefully:
And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
Don’t you think if it were angels in this Genesis story causing such spiritual disruption, that God would have said:
“My Spirit shall not always strive with angels.”
Or if the women had been partly to blame by seductively attracting the angels, God would have said:
“My Spirit shall not always strive with women.”
If the corrupt and lustful angel/women connection is right—if that were the case, then instead, God might have said:
“I am going to bless you men, but I’m getting rid of the angels and starting a new line of women (volunteers anyone—I need some new ribs).”
Are the Giants (in verse 4) and the “Sons of God” (in verse 2) Unrelated?
Read Genesis 6:4 carefully again:
There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
It did NOT say that “the giants” (the Nephilim) were the same as the “men or renown,” nor did it say that they resulted from a union between angels and women. Some translations (like the Complete Jewish Bible) say “ancient heroes” instead of “mighty men.” What? How could anything heroic and good result from satanic invasion of this earth through fallen angels copulating with corrupt women. That doesn’t make sense at all!
Could This Passage Just Be About Polygamy?
Of course, you cannot genetically pass on godliness, but many believe the offspring of Seth were taught how to “call on the name of the Lord” and walk with God (Genesis 4:26). Doesn’t it make more sense that some of the offspring of Seth denied the godly heritage they were given and began intermarrying polygamously with the daughters of Cain—mixing the two lines? Many early church fathers and later leaders like Augustine and Calvin believed this. And I do too.
A Final Thought About Incubus and Succubus
There is a supernatural phenomenon that some have experience that needs to be mentioned. Apparently, demons can simulate copulation, not physically but spiritually—especially in dreams (or more correctly, horrible nightmares). I have prayed deliverance for certain individuals who were plagued this way (and there is definitely power in the blood of Jesus to drive these demons out).
The evil spirit that impersonates a man simulating sexual union with a woman is called Incubus (pronounced in-kyuh-buhs). The evil spirit impersonating a female is called Succubus (pronounced suhk-yuh-bus). Why would I bring this up? Because even though the enemy can attempt to imitate this experience of sexual union (again, spiritually, not physically), demons do not have sperm cells or eggs and cannot sire children or be impregnated. To think so is utter absurdity.
If these strange unions were possible in ancient days producing giant tyrants, then it would still be possible now, and the human race would be plagued with weird, monstrous, hybrid, part angel/part human creatures. If that were the case, John 3:16 would probably have been spoken much differently. Instead of Jesus saying, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” He might have said something like, “God so loved the people in this world that are not contaminated with angelic DNA that He gave His only begotten Son.”
To believe such a thing complicates things grossly to the point where the Antichrist really could be “Rosemary’s baby” if you understand what I mean. In fact, there could be thousands of evil siblings too. Hmmm. Ponder that. Sounds like the substance of a horror flick to me, not precious truth to be embraced.
There Is One Important Thing We Should Emphasize
The most important thing that we all need to know is not the identity of “sons of God” in Genesis 6, but the promise given in John 1:12 (KJV). Speaking of Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah, John opened a wonderful door of opportunity when he declared:
But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.
Genesis 6:1-4 will probably remain a mystery until Jesus comes, but John 1:12 is not mysterious in nature—it is easily understood and easily implemented, and that’s what matters most. The key is to “believe”—in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, and His promised return. If you haven’t received Him as you Lord and Savior, do so today—and you will be blessed the rest of your life and for all eternity!