Let’s face it. There are some strange stories in the Bible, but this one takes the cake. It’s so strange in fact, it’s controversial. So controversial in fact, usually no one talks about it. What I am referring to is the Biblical text in Genesis 6.
“The story of Noah?” you ask. “What’s so strange about the story of Noah? (Well… other than the fact that God flooded the entire earth…)”
The story of Noah is part of what I want to share, but let’s back up to one of the most hotly contested pieces of scripture in the entire Bible as we dive back into God’s story.
“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
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.”
Now, I have to admit, I have read these verses time and time again. And time and time again, I asked this very scholarly question, “What the heck is going on here?”
Well, after much digging and research, what I’ve found is this: truth is often stranger than fiction, and the proper interpretation of this text provides a backdrop for understanding the rest of God’s Story.
There are many interpretations for understanding what is commonly called “the Genesis 6 account,” and while I’d love to give you a deep understanding of each and every theory, the explanations would probably be much longer than you would care to read. So here are the highlights:
Who are the Nephilim?
The term Nephilim (pronounced ‘nef-ill-eem’) is used twice in the Bible, here in Genesis 6 and also in Numbers 13:33. The simple explanation is this: the Nephilim were a race of giants. How big exactly? We don’t know, but we do know the Bible talks about giants and more often than you probably realize.
Familiar passages include the story of David and Goliath and the giants witnessed by the spies in the Promised Land before Israel invaded. But here are a few other references you may have missed: the Anakim, Emim, Zamzummim also called Zuzim, Amorites, Rephaim, and finally the Nephilim mentioned here in Genesis 6 were all clans of giants.
So here’s the real question, “How in the world did these giants get here?” Well to answer that question, we have to answer another question.
Who are the Sons of God?
There are three main views that try to explain the meaning of these verses, but only one truly fits.
1) The Sethite View claims that the “sons of God” were godly men in the lineage of Seth (one of Adam’s other sons born later). In this theory, the “daughters of men” are the ungodly women from the line of Cain (Adam’s first son who killed his brother Abel).
2) The Royalty View identifies the “sons of God” as pagan kings or nobles who saw themselves as gods. In this view, the “daughters of men” are common women.
3) The Fallen Angel View, as strange as it may seem, is the correct interpretation of Genesis 6. In this view, the “sons of God” are divine/celestial beings. Despite the name, they are technically not angels; remember we already established that there are multiple types of heavenly beings.
While Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the One True God, He is not the only divine being–divine meaning immortal and spiritual/non-physical. Though spiritual beings, these “sons of God” can manifest as physical beings from time to time, just as when angels appeared to humans in the Bible.
The “daughters of men” in this view are, literally, the daughters of men. They are human women. And when these human women and celestial beings…eh hem… cohabit… they produce a race of offspring who were half mortal, half divine, demi-gods if you will. They were giant in size, heroes of old, men of renown.
The Original Language Provides the Answers
There are several major flaws with the first two views, and in order to see them, we need to dive into the original language. The Hebrew for the term “sons of God” is “benè ha’ elohim.” Another variation is “bene ‘elim” or “bene elyon” (sons of the Most High). This Hebrew phrase appears multiple times in the Old Testament (OT), and every single time, it references celestial beings. (Gen. 6:2,4; Duet. 32:8; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Psalm 29:1, 82:1, 6-7, 89:6-7). “Benè ha’ elohim” is never used to reference human beings in the OT; the Sethites are also never referred to as the “sons of God.”
Views 1 & 2 are flawed for other reasons including the fact that they require giant offspring to be a product of humans reproducing with other humans. It doesn’t make sense. The Fallen Angel View, on the other hand, explains the origin of giants. Not to mention, this view is consistent with Jewish theology, other non-canonical texts, and also coincides with stories from many ancient cultures including Greek and Roman tales about the “gods” reproducing with human women to create demi-gods.
Now, the next few verses in Genesis 6 make sense:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)
How bad must it have been for God to flood the entire earth and start over?
Well, this answers the question: it was pretty bad. Rebellious angelic beings were taking willing women for wives, which they were never meant to do (Matthew 22:30). They were producing hybrid beings with humans and animals, many of whom were evil and only had evil intent for the human race. Why? We aren’t certain, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that a Savior was promised to come from the lineage of Eve. Perhaps their intent was to corrupt and taint the human race to thwart God’s plan to destroy them.
But one thing’s for sure: when the Bible says that, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generations, and Noah walked with God,” it wasn’t just saying that he was a “good guy.” Noah was pure in his lineage; his family line was untainted by rebellious beings. Noah was one of a kind, and because he walked faithfully with God, he was chosen to redeem humanity. His legacy would live on as a foreshadower of the ultimate Redeemer who would one day come to rescue God’s people and re-write His Story.
Want to Discover the Story and get a FREE Bible Reading Plan? Click here!