I’m loving angels instead (Part II)

11 06 2010

One more post on Genesis 6, and then I’ll get back to something less odd… I promise!

The Nephilim

If it is uncertain who the Sons of God are, the identity of the Nephilim is even more puzzling. Many assume they are the offspring of the Sons of God and the daughters of men, giant human/angel hybrids who appear in scripture only here and in Numbers 13.

On the other hand, some read the phrase ‘mighty men of old, the men of renown’ as simply indicating that they were honourable humans, perhaps valiant warriors. There are certainly occasions in scripture where this phrase means just that. See for example Num 16:1-2; Ezek 23:22-23.

Again, despite its apparent oddity, I tend to lean toward the human/angel hybrid interpretation, for the following reasons:

  • The term Nephilim comes from the Hebrew root ‘to fall’. This could indicate that they were the product of fallen angels sleeping with human women.
  • The Greek and ANE myths that speak of angels sleeping with humans culminate with the creation of a race of giants
  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was born to Lugalbanda and Ninsun, who was a goddess. Thus Gilgamesh is described as being two parts god and one man. As the offspring of a heavenly and earthly union, Gilgamesh is hailed as a hero. Perhaps here lies the origin of the phrase ‘men of renown’? An ironic title, for in Genesis 6 rather than producing heroes, the union brings about judgment.
  • If the Nephilim of Genesis 6 are the same as in Numbers 13, then the offspring of the illicit interspecies relationship become enemies of God’s people.

Having said all that, I have a number of unanswered questions about the Nephilim:

  • Genesis 6:4 says ‘they were there in those days… when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them’ which makes it sound like the Nephilim already existed when the Sons and Daughters were getting together.
  • How did the Nephilim survive the flood such that they reappear in Numbers 13?
  • It is worth noting that apocryphal texts like Jubilees include the story of Mastema pleading with God to allow one-tenth of the Nephilim to survive, which God grants (10:8-9). Clearly I’m not taking that as conclusive proof (!!) but it does demonstrate that even early Jewish writers were aware of the alleged discrepancy and sought to discover a solution.
  • As half-breeds, in what sense would the Nephilim still be considered to be ‘in the image of God?’

So although I do lean towards the angel/human hybrid option, I am still arguably left with more questions than I started with! However, a few final comments…

Application

I wouldn’t go to the wall for any of the interpretations I’ve sided with here. At the end of the day, it makes very little difference to me! But here are four thoughts that help me to hold these strange thoughts in my little head, and emerge with some semblance of applicable, nourishing, Biblical truth.

  • If the Sons of God are angels, then why does mankind get punished for their wrongdoing? Surely this is unfair? Gordon Wenham answers this question nicely, saying:

‘The narrative gives no hint that seduction or rape was involved. These unions are described in terms befitting perfectly normal marriages, which presupposes that the father of the girls gave their free assent to the arrangements.’ (Wenham, p146)

It would appear that humans were complicit in the sin; the women actively and knowingly entering into the relationships, and the fathers wilfully giving their daughters to the angels. It is therefore not unfair to judge mankind for our part in the process.

The author of Genesis is not putting the blame solely upon angels. v5 says that God saw the wickedness ‘of man.’ So this chapter is subordinated to Genesis 2 and 3. Angels may have sinned as well as humans, but it is man’s sin that brings about the judgment.

Thus Genesis 6 tells me that we are not pawns in the hands of heavenly beings. God still sees us as having free will, and expects us to take us responsibility for our actions. I doubt if any of us will ever face this kind of temptation! But so often we are tempted to sin, and it will not do for Christians to try to escape culpability by claiming ‘the enemy made me do it!’ It didn’t work in Genesis 3:13. It didn’t work here. It won’t work for us.

  • Verse 2 tells us that the Sons of God saw the women were good and took them. This echoes the language of Genesis 3:6, where Eve saw the fruit was good and took it.

I think here the author of Genesis intends us to see that the sin of seeing, assessing and taking has now spread from humans to angels. Both the physical human world and the spiritual angelic world are now fallen, and permeated by sinfulness.

  • Instead of simply punishing man and the angels, God inflicts judgment upon man, animals (v7) and the earth (v13). Why?

I would suggest there are two reasons. Firstly, it symbolises a complete reversal of creation; previously God separated the waters and created every living creature to cover the land. Now He brings the waters back to cover the earth again, and wipes out every creature living on the land. Secondly, it is a signpost toward God’s future plan for the earth. God is not only interested in redeeming human beings, but all of creation (Isaiah 65, Romans 8). So here He judges all of the earth, as a precursor for His plan to redeem all of the earth.

  • The Nephilim, as part human, part celestial creatures are a poor and pale shadow of Christ. When Heaven and Earth, in all their sinful deviousness come together to try to create a powerful, superior race, the best they can muster is a half-and-half, slightly oversized peculiarity. Jesus was not half human and half divine, but fully both. He is unique amongst all of creation, and nobody else in history comes anywhere close.

And finally…

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I will answer the questions you’ve all been waiting for:

  • Is it wrong to date angels?
  • Should I be wary of freakishly tall people?
  • What should I do if I think my boyfriend/girlfriend is a nephilim?

I jest…

Enough of this celestial speculating…

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3 responses

11 06 2010
Phil Duncalfe

Hi, I found your blog through newfrontiers bloggers. These two posts have been very helpful. I read that verse in Genesis the other day and haven’t had the time to look into it – always thought it a strange one. Thanks for blogging about it in a clear way.

I was almost looking forward to your future post about dating angels!

Phil

12 06 2010
liamthatcher

Thanks Phil, glad you found them helpful.

My advice re: dating angels is don’t do it. Paul says we’re going to judge them one day (1 Cor 6:3) so that could be awkward 😉

22 06 2010
Phil Duncalfe

Ha, I think my wife would have a problem with it as well lol. It just sounded like an interesting topic!

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