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135. Why Are Some Christians So Curious About Nephilim?

Join us for this giant controversy about these “monsters,” who make such a quick cameo in Genesis 6 but get a starring role in many Christian speculations.
Fantastical Truth on Oct 26, 2022 · Series: · No comments

You’ve heard about them in sermons. You’ve seen their name in dozens of Christian-made fantastical books’ back covers. And now, I’m not saying our next monster for Monster Month was nephilim, but it was nephilim. Join us for this giant controversy. They get such a quick cameo in Genesis 6 but get a starring role in many Christian speculations. Who were these critters? Why do they appear in so many Christian fantasy novels? And do they even matter in the grand scheme of the gospel according to the Scripture?

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Quotes and notes

Concession stand

  • Stephen and Zack plan to monster-brawl about this one, on purpose.
  • But be forewarned: somehow, Stephen’s grown really sick of Nephilim.
  • In fact, nearly ten years ago, in 2013, he wrote this article about it.
  • Lots of Christian fans, however, seem really interested in these critters.
  • Stephen wants to respect that, also to be honest about his reactions.
  • If you’re new to this show, we support biblical speculation, even fantasy.
  • For instance, we like The Chosen, and don’t like the silly criticisms of it.
  • We have, however, four whole gospels about Jesus Christ to explore.
  • And we have only four short verses about the pre-Flood Nephilim.
  • We will ask: Should we base so much speculation on just a few verses?
  • Many Christian fans and authors we do respect write about Nephilim.
  • Some folks have even been on this show, like Brian Godawa in 2020.
  • Anyway, if I step on some clawed creature-toes, know it’s not personal!
  • We must assume truths about biblical canon and textual criticism.
  • Also, your view of these creatures might reflect your own church background.

1. What does the Bible say about Nephilim?

Let’s open God’s word to the book of Genesis, chapter 6:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4)

  • Here’s one other reference (with a name inspiring a Star Wars villain):

… Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy [the land of Canaan], for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him [to scout out the land] said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:30–33)

  • That’s it. That’s everything the Bible says about Nephilim by name.
  • In later Old Testament books, you do hear more about the giants.
  • These giants fight for the Philistines, killed by David and his mighty men.
  • The same words, “mighty men,” describe Nephilim and David’s soldiers.
  • Just to be clear: there’s nothing here about Satan, demons, or creatures.
  • On first reading, the Genesis text could be describing any kind of group.
  • On first reading, the Israelite spies could be likening giants to legends.
  • And that’s the idea given by the commentary of The ESV Study Bible:

Nephilim. The meaning of this term is uncertain. It occurs elsewhere in the OT only in Num. 13:33, where it denotes a group living in Canaan. If both passages refer to the same people, then the Israelite spies (Num. 13:33) are expressing their fears of the Canaanites by likening them to the ancient men of renown. Although in Hebrew Nepilim means “fallen ones,” the earliest Greek translators rendered it gigantes, “giants.” This idea may have been mistakenly deduced from Num. 13:33; one must be cautious about reading it back into the present passage. The Nephilim were mighty men or warriors and, as such, may well have contributed to the violence that filled the earth (see Gen. 6:13).

2. So where do we find Nephilim legends?

  • Christians this side of the Reformation accept 66 canonical Bible books.
  • But other Christians like to keep some extra books around.
  • One of these is the “Book of Enoch,” outside the Protestant canon.
  • This book describes a parallel/expanded narrative about the Flood.
  • It names angels and demons, and purports to give the whole backstory.
  • One part says that “angels, the children of heaven” were involved.
  • It says angels took human women as wives, who gave birth to giants.
  • This is seen as more corrupt: fornication, sorcery, and godlessness.
  • So that’s all there, if you want the angel/human hybrid giant account!
  • Enoch is a wild ride, but it’s not in the biblical canon.
  • On this we can just quote from Bodie Hodge at Answers in Genesis:

Paul and Christ warn us about Jewish tradition, and we need to keep in mind that the Book of Enoch is not the Word of God, but the words of fallible man (Titus 1:13–14; Mark 7:8–13; Colossians 2:8). What this passage and the Septuagint do tell us is that people of those days believed the sons of God to be fallen angels.

It is true that Jude 14–15 quotes from the book of Enoch (1:9). But that simply means that the quote used by Jude was inspired of God as Scripture. It gives no credence that any other verse in the book of Enoch is inspired.

So, is the book we have today really from pre-Flood Enoch? It wasn’t enough to make the Canon of Scripture—it mentions Mt. Sinai, which shouldn’t have existed until after the Flood, and Enoch lived long before the Flood. Rarely, if ever, do prophetic works reveal the future name of a place.

  • AiG takes no official position on Nephilim. Tim Chaffey takes this view:

I wrote a nearly 500-page book on the subject — Fallen: The Sons of God and the Nephilim. It includes a chapter near the end urging believers to avoid the fantastically speculative stuff. I think it’s important to teach the truth about the Nephilim, so it’s good to correct the sensationalism that is often tied to it. At the same time, we shouldn’t shy away what the Bible reveals about them, even if we aren’t comfortable with the subject. . . .

There is actually quite a bit in the Bible on the topic, and Scripture clearly indicates that the Nephilim were the descendants of the sons of God (angelic beings) and women. Nevertheless, this does not make them some sort of demon/human hybrid, as is often imagined. They were still considered to be “mighty men” and “men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). They are described as large men in Numbers 13 as well, when the narrator tells us that the spies saw the Anakim (who are of the Nephilim) in the land. They were not aliens, urban fantasy critters, etc. How could they be the offspring of rebellious angels and women and still be fully human? I think there are several ways to answer this. It could be that the angels took human form to accomplish this feat, which I think is very likely given that they married the women. I think one could make a strong case that angels are also made in God’s image (try thinking of one attribute we cite about man being made in God’s image that couldn’t also be applied to angels). Given what we know of Christ’s humanity, it could be that having a human mother is enough to qualify one as being fully human. Of course, in Jesus’ case, his conception was not sexual or sinful in any way, whereas, it would have been sinful and very likely sexual in the case of the rebellious angels and women. (from personal correspondence)

  • If Nephilim turn out to have supernatural origin, we’ll not lose sleep over it.
  • In fact, we’ll be rather happy that God took out these evil Andre the Giants.
  • But we emphasize proportion. This is a Bible cameo, not starring role.
  • As Stephen mentioned in his Nephilim-complaining article from 2013:

Genesis 6 only touches on the “Nephilim.” It’s like a postscript: And by the way, if you have heard about the Nephilim, well, they were here too. Scripture says they were there, “and also afterward.” So: after the Flood? Was Nimrod (Gen. 10:8), a “mighty hunter before the Lord,” also a Nephilim? This seems to rule out worse demonic activity that the Flood destroyed; if the demonic Nephilim only popped up again post-Flood, God’s judgment for that evil failed.

Speculators make much of verse 1’s phrase “sons of God.” But that need not refer to angels who sinfully took human women. It could mean, simply, men. And later we also read what is surely a clearer definition of Nephilim: “These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”

Demons! It must be about demons?

No. “Nephilim” could be a warrior tribe.

Let’s avoid insisting that Nephilim = demons beyond all doubt, then parade any “evidence” from either the book of Enoch (it’s fascinating, but isn’t in canon) or elongated fossil skulls.

3. What Nephilim do we find in fiction?

  • For a cameo monster, Stephen feels we have way too much Nephilim around.
  • This may be a job hazard. I see a lot of Christian fantasy back covers.
  • In the Lorehaven Library, nephilim are so common, they have a BookTag.
  • Most books sound similar: pre-Flood world, angels/humans, giants.
  • And I can’t complain. I still like one series, The Cradleland Chronicles.
  • Its author was Douglas Hirt, and this series blew my mind back then.
  • But now I’ve seen literally dozens of fiction titles with similar premises.

Nephilim stories can take us far from even the Enoch theories

  • Some secular stories will name-check the creatures just to add flavor.
  • But even some Christian stories pursue the angel/human romance trope.
  • Frankly, that’s not anywhere near the real-world roles of angels.
  • If fallen angels took humans as wives, that was back in ancient times.
  • And even then, the point is that they’re fallen. That’s evil of them to do.
  • Scripture never speaks about angels who fall and then get redeemed.
  • Scripture doesn’t support a lot of our supernatural urban-fantasy tropes.

Nephilim stories can take us into conspiracies and ‘secrets’

  • It’s not a book’s fault, but focusing on demons may minimize human sin.
  • Genesis wants us to focus on human rebellion, not Satan or demons.
  • Whereas we’ve met people who don’t want to talk about gospel reality.
  • If Enoch has value to us, it’s as commentary, not Scripture.
  • So we’ll not reject its contents—just treat it like a study Bible’s footnotes.
  • Whatever you think of Nephilim, Enoch uses them to show man’s guilt.
  • The best Christian-made fantasy will do the same with these creatures.
  • Genesis 6 is clear: man sinned, God punishes, yet God provides salvation.
  • Scripture is not about man versus demons, but man vs. sin, hero: Jesus.

Com station

daniela_faith_63 commented about episode 134:

Just listened! This made me recall an article about a scientist who was talking about genetically modifying children before they’re born. There’s a Sci-fi movie called Gattaca that tries to explore how this would affect society, and it is a disturbing picture.

Meanwhile at Lorehaven

Next on Fantastical Truth

We’ve defeated all the monsters—zombies, vampires, mad scientists, and Nephilim. Thank God. We have no more creatures left to slay. Yes, not even as we head into November, in the United States, in an even-numbered year, with all these elections and politics around! Of course, we’re kidding ourselves. But I think we’re kidding ourselves more if we try to ignore these realities. To start our next series, we will ask a different sort of question. Long ago, evangelical subcultures were about spiritual warfare, prairie romances, angels, Amish romances, and adult coloring books starring small boys who have afterlife visions. Now our subculture has been overtaken by another trend: politics. When did this happen? Why did this happen? What are the pros and cons? Will this dystopian doom ever change?

Fantastical Truth
Fantastical Truth

Lorehaven explores fantastical stories for God's glory: fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond.

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    In the Fantastical Truth podcast from Lorehaven, hosts E. Stephen Burnett and Zackary Russell explore fantastical stories for God's glory and apply their wonders to the real world Jesus calls us to serve.

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