I am currently writing an article dealing with my views of Genesis 1 and how we ought to interpret it correctly. A peripheral issue has come with with regard to the Nephilim in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13. I have spoken with many who hold that the Nephilim came to be when angels had sex with humans and created a quasi-angelic race of beings (which they associated with the Nephilim) that were giants. I do not accept this view. Here was my response:
First let’s cite the verse under discussion. Genesis 6:1-4 states:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 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.” 4 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.
Some observations about the context of Genesis 6:4:
1. The text is written by Moses during the encampment in the plains of Moab before the children of Israel entered Canaan.
2. One of the most predominate themes of Genesis (and thus later the Mosaic regulations) is the theme of the immorality of intermarriage between the people of God and the ungodly among the nations. The theme of the two seeds in Genesis (the godly seed and the ungodly seed) is seen throughout nearly every narrative leading up to the life of Joseph and the lineage of the 12 tribes. This theme will be a major emphasis for Moses before entering the land and will eventually be one of the largest stumbling blocks for the children of Israel during their time in the land.
3. In the plains of Moab, the spies had come back from scouting the land. We see their report in Numbers 13:33 – “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” Here the Nephilim are related to the Sons of Anak, a purely human tribe. And the spies we know, driven by fear, were exaggerating and that Aaron and Caleb had to rebuke them for their fear.
This brings us back to remembering that Moses is writing Genesis around the same time as the spies were reporting that there were Nephilim in the land and causing the people to be afraid. Here Moses is showing that there were Nephilim in the land before and God handled them easily then when he judged the ungodly seed and spared the godly seed. What do you think that would say to the children of Israel, the people of God, before entering in and fighting these mighty warriors?
4. Now let’s look directly at the passage. Firstly we should note that Nephilim does not mean “giants”. In fact most scholars aren’t even sure what the term means and the etymology itself is in question but what we can glean is that the root seems to be more along the lines of “vicious” or “fallen” and likely connotes their immoral yet ferocious warrior capabilities.
5. We also should notice that Moses does not say that the Nephilim are the results of the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men. What does he say? Well only that the Nephilim were in the land during that time period – again encouraging the Israelites that they didn’t stop God’s protection of his people in the past, and they will not in their near future.
6. So who does Moses say are the offspring of the union between the sons of God and the daughters of men? They are the “mighty men”. This is the same term used throughout the books of Samuel and Kings to describe mighty warriors, specifically David’s mighty men. Did David have quasi-angelic human warriors? Certainly not. So here we have two classes of mighty warriors (Nephilim and Gibborim) who could not stand in the way of God’s protection of his people.
7. Now should we read “sons of God” to mean angels? Well given the context given so far and the theme of the immoral union between the godly seed and the ungodly seen, that is hardly to be seen. But there is more reason to reject that interpretation than just that. Firstly is that angels are asexual. This reading would have us believe that angels were corporeal and not only that had compatible sexual organs and the needed chromosomal requirements to not only copulate with humans but also to reproduce with them. This is reminiscent of the pagan Greek Pantheon coming down and secretly having sex with women and giving birth to demi-gods.
In fact Jesus himself reject this in Matthew 22:30 where he says that angels are not like us and are not given in marriage (which in the Jewish mindset just was for the purpose of procreation.)
8. Another reason is that the phrase "sons of God" may designate rulers or sons of these rulers (Ps 138:1, 4; Ps 138:1; Ps 119:46; Ps 82:1, 6 and Exod 21:6; 22:8-9, 28). This would fit well with the context of Gen 4, where we see the triumph of sin leading to the boast of Lamech that he has become a mighty ruler. We could then read this as a condemnation of taking wives of any that they choose and may refer to the development of harems – something that Moses would also forbid for kings in the Law. So again we see a narrative parallel to a something that Moses will expressly address in the law later.
9. This may also refer to the immorality of the indiscriminate choosing of spouses is stressed in Gen 6:2 ("of all whom they chose") and may be a condemnation of a time when the godly line was not choosing in a discriminating way – another problem that would haunt the patriarch and the later Israel in the land. In fact repeatedly we see that the ungodly are designated by exactly the fact that though they were born in the godly line, they chose to marry someone from outside of it. (This is not ALWAYS the case but largely holds true, at least in Genesis.)
10. Up to this point, angels and demons and are no where mentioned in Genesis. Should we think that Moses would introduce a whole new class of being without any explanation whatsoever?
So as we have seen, the context, the Mosaic themes and future laws, the grammar of the verse itself, and simple angelology as taught to us by Jesus all mitigate against the view that this refers to fallen angels having sex with humans and producing demi-gods.