Nephilim and the Sons of God

Dr. Slyke, and I dare to say also St. Augustine (in the quotation referred in S. th. I, q. 51, art. 3, reply to obj. 6)) and St. Thomas Aquinas (as far as he implicitly in his reply endorses Augustine’s view) are not taking into account the crucial verse Luke 3:38, where Adam is called “son of God”.

Interpreting Scripture with Scripture I firstly claim that the term “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 is used in the same sense as Adam is called “son of God” in Luke 3:38.

Accordingly, the term means human persons who are begotten independently of any creature’s decision and therefore cannot be called son of another human person. By contrast, names different from Adam in Luke 3:23-38 are called “son of someone”: “son of David”, “son of Abraham”, son of Noah” etc.

As explained in this Essay I secondly assume that God created the first Image Bearers through transformation of human-like animals into human persons. From this I infer that the “sons of God” of Genesis 6:1-4 were created directly by God through a similar transformation independently of any human father’s decision.

Finally, I note that also angels can be said to be “persons who are begotten independently of any creature’s decision”, since they originate from God independently of any angel’s decision, and therefore this meaning of the term “sons of God” is suitable for angels too, no matter whether they are good or evil, as used for instance in Job 1:6; 2:1. And one could analogously even say that the Second Person of the Trinity is the proper Son of God since He is begotten from the Father independently of whatever decision, even a divine one.

In Conclusion:

According to Scripture “sons of God” means “persons who are begotten independently of any creature’s decision”. All angels can appropriately be called “sons of God”, but not all characters called “sons of God” in the Bible can appropriately be considered angels. The “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 are undoubtedly human, and it is fitting to consider that they were created directly by God through transformation of human-like animals into persons.

The “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 were not created “at the same time as Adam and Eve” but after “Adam and Eve” sinned (where ‘Adam and Eve’ refer to the ‘first human sinners’). This means according to my explanation “Transmission at generation”, that they shared in the state of original sin with all the bad propensities proper of and were not “holier” than the persons generated through conception after the Fall (as the Genesis narrative confirms).

I have changed my position on “sons of God” several times over my lifetime but I eventually went with some incredibly basic concepts in linguistics, folklore, and anthropology. That is, I believe “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 is simply a phrase that one often finds when one tribe is describing another tribe of much larger physical stature. Thus, hypothetically speaking, if one is a member of an African pygmy tribe and meets a band of Bantu warriors, their stature and obvious physical strength can be quite startling. So it is entirely natural to refer to such people as “sons of god”, meaning “They are so unnaturally large, they can’t be normal humans. They must surely be direct descendants of the gods!”

[[By the way, the Titans of Greek mythology (and other stories of “giants”) may also have come about through the same phenomenon. A storyteller speaks of “a people of enormous stature, who made our people look like ants in comparison” and is obviously using hyperbole—but over generations, it is natural for people to exaggerate even more and assume “Those Titans were giants over forty foot tall!” or whatever. (Of course, they had no grasp of the Square-Cube Law.]]

This can also help explain why the Nephilim also are mentioned in Canaan many centuries later. The word can simply refer to a much larger people, especially when those people are fierce and intimidating (as in “mighty men of renown.”)

There is a tendency in Biblical studies to assume that all words and phrases in the Biblical text are used consistently and with a similar meaning. In reality, humans re-use the same words and phrases (and their equivalents in related and unrelated languages) to express themselves according to similar patterns. (For example, tribes all over the earth have referred to themselves as “the people” while all others may be called “the others.” Likewise, they speak of their own language as some sort of “reasonable tongue” and all other languages as “babbling” or nonsense. It is part of being human.)

With the early chapter of Genesis, it is also important to recognize that these pericopes were probably developed from already ancient oral traditions, which may have been passed down through multiple languages and cultures before being written down in the Hebrew text. (Of course, that doesn’t make them any less inspired, significant, or meaningful. God can use what he wills for his purposes.)

Considering the passage of many centuries and the transmission through many cultures and tongues, we should be careful about defining such phrases/terms in the early chapters of Genesis based on what the words may have meant in later centuries.

I doubt that the Church Fathers had a good grasp of linguistics, folklore, and anthropology. I don’t blame them for finding terms like Nephilim confusing—nor do I blame anyone today. I too find such terminology fascinating and try not to get too dogmatic. My experiences in lexicography keep me humble.

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I think you are on the right track.

I am partial to the Tablet Theory, though I think it needs some reasonable tweaks to explain the structure of the toledots once you get to Abraham. That is just one step beyond those “oral traditions”.

Tablet theory, @swamidass , is virtually completely ignored by Jack Collins, and in my view, this omission is without warrant. This is the topic I couldn’t get him past being simply peremptory about. Perhaps, because, at one point, to even discuss it in the academy made you a target for ridicule or scorn, academically.
The theory is actually widely supported, both evidentially and literarily with newfound support across a spectrum of evangelical Protestant and Catholic scholars. Getting him to commit to a position on it could be vital to your case.

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Guy I liked your post because I agree that the tablet theory, with tweaks, is the very best explanation for early Genesis and winds up being a key point in how to view the flood account. You can’t reconcile a flood aimed only at the sons of Adam and scripture if Genesis 7 is God talking instead of Shem, Ham, and Japheth talking.

I don’t think Joshua should be side-tracked into that level of detail at this conference though. The main thing as it pertains to this thread is that the mysterious “Sons of God” fits perfectly with the idea that there were other humans outside the garden. The framework of Early Genesis in which GA is a possible solution to a theological issue the framework raises is supported by this view of the “Sons of God”.

The Tablet Theory is one of several optional aspects for the Genesis narrative. There’s nothing about the theory that makes it mandatory, especially if one takes a less literal approach to Genesis.

I believe it is important to refer to other uses throughout the Bible to interpret meaning. Most of the interpretation of meaning of the Nephilim have come from apocryphal text such as the Books of Enoch. The term Nephilim is also used in the book of Numbers where spies were sent to the land of Canaan prior to the Israelites taking the land. I don’t believe anyone thinks these people were a race of giants (if so they appear to be gone 40 years later), but were the perception of the spies that the people inhabiting the land were large and too strong to be overcome by the Israelites.

In terms of the sons of God and the daughters of man, we first need to check how the phrase “sons of God” is used in the other books:
• Job 1:6, 2:1 and 38:7
• Hosea 1:10
• John 1:12
• Romans 8:14, 19
• Philippians 2:15
• 1 John 3:1-2
Typically, the term “sons of God” refers to those who love God, are led by the Spirit of God and try to do His will.

Paul used the term twice, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” and “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world”

John wrote, “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”, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” and, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God”.

However, in Job the phrase appears to apply to angels based on the context. I do not believe the Genesis reference refers to angels based on what is stated in Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25:
• (Matthew 22:30) “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”
• (Mark 12:25) “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.”

It states clearly that angels do not marry. If these were angels that disobeyed God, then they would not “love God, be led by the Spirit of God nor try to do His will” therefore they would not be called “sons of God”.

An explanation proposed proposed by others is that the “sons of God” refer to the offspring of Seth and the “daughters of men” refer to the offspring of Cain. Adam’s sin is the “Original Sin” that separated man from God. Others had committed sins prior to the time of the flood as “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) so Cain’s sin was not unique among Noah’s ancestors nor did it add anything to Adam’s sin. I do not see why it would be critical that Noah not have any of Cain’s bloodline. Many of those in the genealogy of Jesus after Noah had done terrible acts, such as that done by Cain, but this did not eliminate them from the genealogy of Jesus.

The phrase “daughters of men” does not appear elsewhere in the Bible outside of Genesis 6.

Similar to the “daughters of men”, the phrase “sons of men” is used in Genesis chapter 11 to describe those who are following their own will apart from God.

Women from outside the nation of Israel are not excluded from the genealogy of Jesus, an example of this is Ruth the Moabite in Matthew 1:5.

I believe the “sons of God” refers to the offspring of Adam and Eve and the “daughters of men” are the offspring of the men and women created in Chapter 1 of Genesis. This would explain why it was important that Noah be “perfect in his generation”, as he was of the genealogy of Adam and Eve so this bloodline could be passed down to Jesus and to us.

In Luke 3:38, where the genealogy of Mary is given back to Adam, the scripture actually labels Adam as “the son of God”.

Sorry for the long post

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