Nephilim - The Human Hypothesis
There were giants (Nephilim) in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men (Gibbor) of old, men of renown. Genesis 6:4
In Nephilim – The Angel Answer, I looked at why the sons of God as angels was the best understanding of the passage. There are many, however, who believe that the sons of God were simply humans. To some they were the sons of Seth, to others, a religious cult, and to still others, rulers of the time.
Arguing from the New Testament
The main argument that the sons of God were human is based on Jesus’ reply to a question about a woman who consecutively married seven brothers. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, wanted to know whose wife she would be in the resurrection that Jesus taught. Jesus answered in part as follows:
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. Mark 12:25
From this verse, it is argued that angels cannot marry nor have sex. This is not what the verse says. On all occasions in the Bible in which we encounter angels they are referred to in the masculine gender. It therefore appears that all angels are male and therefore cannot marry other angels.
Reference is also made to Luke 3:38 where Adam is referred to as the son of God. This is supposed to show that men are therefore also called the sons of God. However, Adam, as the direct creation of God is a son of God; his descendants are known as the sons of their fathers. Nevertheless, this is where the arguments for the sons of God stem from.
The Sons of Seth
Why should we consider the sons of God to be synonymous with the sons of Seth? While Adam can be said to be have been a son of God because God directly created him, the sons of Seth were not direct creations of God. Nevertheless, the story says that these ordinary men from the line of Seth, married ordinary women of the line of Cain, and from their union giants were produced. The only logic here is that the sons of God could not have been angels.
Among the questions this line of reasoning raises is, what happened to Adam’s other sons? Why is it that only the line of Seth is considered to be the sons of God? Why is it that only the line of Cain produced the daughters of men? In addition, why is it that only the daughters of Cain were fair? Were the daughters of Adam’s other sons ugly?
It is suggested that the passage is teaching the importance of separation. The godly should not mix with the ungodly. In this case, the godly line of Seth should not have mixed with the ungodly line of Cain. Even as the fruit appeared as good to eat to Eve, so the fair daughters of men appeared as good for the godly men of Seth’s line to take as wives. The passage, however, goes further than this. They took wives of all that they chose; indicating multiple wives, both polygamy and the harem would be in view here. There is also the thought of violence in the taking, the women and their families had no choice in this matter. The language does not indicate that the sons of God were acting in any sort of godly manner.
An argument for the sons of God being human.
A different line of teaching is that the sons of God were a religious group. In Genesis 4:26 we learn that
Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.
This marks the beginning of organized religion. Prior to this individuals worshipped God, but as individuals. Now there rose up an organized worship. Some scholars suggest that this was a profaning of the name of the Lord, even the beginning of idolatry. From this religion there arose a group of priests or adherents who named themselves the sons of God. It is these men who then took them wives from the daughters of men, those women being any women without regard for lineage.
While this is a simpler and more logical view than the Sons of Seth, it still falls outside of proper exegesis. Nowhere else in the Old Testament do we find the Sons of God referring to a religious organization or group.
The Rulers or Aristocrats
Another line of reasoning is that the sons of God were despots or aristocrats. In the Ancient Near East it was common for rulers to claim descent from a god. Normally, a king would claim descent from a specific patron god. From Egypt, we have Akhenaton, Aton being the patron god; Tutankhamen, Amen being the patron. In Genesis 6 we have the ben Elohim, thus Elohim would be the patron. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. Elsewhere, the sons of God are only angels. While ancient kings most definitely called themselves the son of a god, and they took wives into harems, of all which they chose, nowhere in the Bible are they indicated as being the sons of God. Historically, this interpretation makes sense, but it is eisegesis, interpretation from outside of the text.
- Ancient Days :: Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6? :: by David Livingston
Traditional views that the sons of god and giants in Genesis 6 were alien or spiritual beings mating with human females is contrasted with the author's view that they were products of the ancient divine kingship system and fully man.
Do you believe the Sons of God were human?
Who then are the Nephilim? If they were descendants of the sons of Seth and the daughters of Cain, they were ordinary men. It is suggested that the word Nephilim could mean to overthrow or cause to fall. This would then mean that these men became bandits who caused people to fall in fear or death. By this definition they would not be giants, which makes the reference to Nephilim in Numbers 13:33 meaningless.
If the Nephilim were the sons of priests, they would also be merely human. They could also have been bandits and thieves as in the previous definition of Nephilim. The only reason for increased size in these men would be their place of privilege allowing perhaps a better diet and time for exercise rather than simply exertion. If this is the true meaning of Nephilim, I wonder why the term is not used in reference to the sons of Eli (1 Sam. 2:12) or the sons of Samuel (1 Sam. 8:3). The only other reference to Nephilim refers to size rather than conduct.
The Nephilim, as the sons of kings or despots has the same problems as mentioned above, they are mere men. Privileged men, it is true, but men nonetheless. There is no reason for these princes to have had extraordinary height or stature. Bandits they may have been, men of renown for their evil, but men of renown are known throughout the Old Testament as Gibborim, so why add the title Nephilim?
None of the Human Hypotheses adequately deals with the language of Genesis 6. All are dependent on a flawed understanding of the nature of angels from references in the New Testament, an understanding not shared by the Jewish authors of the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees, nor by Josephus. Proper exegesis still requires that the Nephilim be the offspring of angels with human bodies, and human women. And still we have not exhausted the explanations for who the Nephilim were.