Beginnings: The Story Of Flood (1)

The Enigmatic Passage

Finally, after our long journey through Genesis 4 and 5, we are entering the story of the Flood. In chapter 6, we see the total moral failure of the human race. For many readers, however,  the beginning of this chapter presents one of the most enigmatic passages of the Bible:

The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose…  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.[1]

Remarkably, some translations (beginning with the King James Bible) have here the word ‘giants’, instead of ‘Nephilim’:  There were giants in the earth in those days.[2]

As if to make this story even more complicated, Scripture also mentions Nephilim after the Flood: in the well-known story in Numbers 13 Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land, and all the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched, saying:

 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.[3]

Once again, the King James Version translates the word “Nephilim” here as “giants”:

And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.[4]

For centuries, students of the Bible have debated who these Nephilim/giants were. As with many stories in Scripture, this story also gains much more clarity when read in Hebrew.

The Sons of God

First, let us try to understand who “the sons of God” were. The Hebrew words translated “the sons of God” are b’nai ha Elohim, ‎בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙. Does the Torah mean angels, or just “the sons of rulers”, or “the sons of the nobles”, as some Jewish translations translate b’nai ha Elohim here? The “angelic interpretation” (that “the sons of God” were angels, or some kind of divine beings) is almost non-existent in Judaism: we have “the sons of the princes” in Targumim, and “the sons of the Judges” in Midrashim[5].   Many of you probably know that the noun הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ (Elohim) is in a plural form, and it can be read not only as “God”, but also as “gods” or even “lords, rulers” – and this is exactly how the Jewish commentaries choose to read this word in this particular verse.

However, if we study the use of this expression   בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ in Tanach (Hebrew Bible), we see a completely different picture. There is no better commentary to the Bible than the Bible itself, and for that reason, we will compare our passage here with other similar passages.

The expression “sons of God” doesn’t occur many times in Tanach. The next time we encounter this expression is in Job 1:6:  Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. We have the same expression again in Job 2:1: Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.

 Nobody questions the meaning of “the sons of God” here: these verses describe the Divine Council – the meeting in Heaven – therefore, the “sons of God” here are obviously not humans, but angels, who are meeting with God.  Notice that the words in Hebrew translated as “the sons of God” here, are exactly the same as in Genesis 6:2: בְּנֵ֣י הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים  – b’nai ha Elohim.

The next (and the last, at least in this exact form[6]) reference to “the sons of God” in Tanach is again in the book of Job, in chapter 38. Speaking about the creation of the universe, God is saying: I laid the foundations of the earth… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.[7]

From this verse, we can clearly see that the sons of God existed even before the earth itself was created. It means that the term: b’nai ha Elohim or b’nai Elohim in the Old Testament, is in fact a reference to angelic beings. Thus, we can conclude that “the sons of God” in Genesis 6 refers to angels.

Nephilim

Now that we’ve established that “the sons of God” were heavenly beings, we can try to understand the story of the Nephilim. The group of angels in rebellion against the Lord came to Earth and took human women as wives to have illicit relations. The offspring from this ungodly union between angels and human women were Nephilim – giants, ‘men’ of superhuman ability and strength.

The fact that Nephilim were giants is itself a proof that their parentage was superhuman. But these giants were also evil. How do we know that? It is precisely at this point that the Hebrew will help us. The word Nephilim probably comes from the word נפל, fall; a suffix ‘im’ simply adds plurality, hence they were “fallen ones”. Having been born of corrupted, fallen, Satanic angels, Nephilim dominated the Earth and filled it with violence.

You may be aware that this “angelic interpretation” is not very popular in modern Christianity. I mentioned already that it is almost non-existent in modern Judaism. However, it was completely different in Second Temple Judaism. Second Temple Judaism saw in Genesis 6:1-4, not only the story of a supernatural rebellion, but one of the most important passages in biblical theology. While in Genesis it occupies just a few verses, during the Second Temple Period it receives great attention, as we can see from the First Book of Enoch, one of the most important texts of this period. Next time, we will try to see this story through the lens of Second Temple Judaism – and then we will dive together into the deep waters of the Flood.

 

[1] Gen.6:2,4, NIV

[2] Gen.6:4, KJV

[3] Num.13:33, NIV

[4] Num.13:33, KJV

[5] Gen. Rabbah 26:5

[6] In Ps 29:1, we have B’nai Elim (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) – sons of elim.

[7] Job 38:4,7

The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses[1] (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them   here. 

[1] At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course is offered also in Spanish and Portuguese.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (17 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Lanil Gunasekara

    How can angels recreate when Jesus said in Luke 20:36 In the resurrection we all be like the angels do not marry

    1. Chris Jempty

      not in heaven. Satan himself comes to earth more than once. He impregnated Eve with Cain( who belonged to the evil one.) 1 John 3:12

  2. Charles Arries

    Thank you for your blog. I am rather curious why you don’t conclude a topic. It is hard to follow an interesting article or blog which at the end leave a lot of detail . When everything is said and done, I still want to thank you for your blogs, you’ve got my attention and that is good.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Charles, the answer to your question is very simple: I have a certain format, certain requirements for my posts, and I can’t make my articles much longer than it’s required ( they are always longer anyway, but there is a limit). That’s why I love series: I just began with the story of Flood, so stay tuned, and maybe you will get your answers!

  3. Israel Adame

    Hi Julia, I read your blog, and it is very fascinating and insightful. In my research, by reading other authors and blogs, similar explanations are given. But my rationalization, tells me that this and other like explanations are still missing part of the whole truth. They open other questions and creates complications. Like does this mean that the devil can procreate? Can angels have children of their own? Can they be living now between us, not as giants but still as sons of the fallen ones with some angelical powers or gifts?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Israel, thank you for your comment and for your kind words. I think you would greatly benefit from reading an amazing book by Michael Heiser “Unseen Realm”. It’s very solid research, he is an amazing scholar and a brilliant author, I think you will both enjoy the book and get the answers to your questions!

    2. Julia Blum

      I just read Lois’ comment here, she read “Unseen Realm” when I recommended it a while ago, and she highly recommends it now as well.

  4. Tiong Ling

    Hi Julia, thanks for your interesting article. I learnt a lot from you. But i am not agreeing with you that the sons of God refers to the fallen angels. Jesus mentions that these heavenly beings will neither marry nor be given in marriage. If they could not marry and given in marriage, why after their fallen, they are able to marry and able to produce new generation? It it not consistent to the angels in heaven and fallen angel on the earth in the way that God had made them in the first place? If the sons of God is the angelic beings, why this does not happen again (marry with the daughters of men) in today’s world?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Tiong, thank you for the kind words and for the comment. As I just wrote, I am not trying to convince anyone in anything. I don’t believe that there is a single interpretation for every word of the Scripture. I am just presenting my own understanding (hoping to somehow enrich my readers on the way) – you are “not agreeing with” me, and I am absolutely fine with that. But I do encourage you to read my tomorrow’s (Thursday) post, it’s important you know how the first-century Jewish readers would understand these verses. Blessings!

  5. Gabriel Hakeem

    Thank you Julia for the interesting topics you publish online regularly. I do follow you and learn new things every time.
    Regarding this topic I feel deeply confused.
    Here is my comment:
    I can understand Gen.6:2 in a different way, the sons of God were the offspring of Seth (Gen. 4: 26), and the verse makes it clear that there were righteous people the in seed of Seth {take Enoch as an example} and I think that’s the reason they were called (sons of God בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙).

    The daughters of man were the offspring of Cain.

    Regarding the Giants or Nephilim, I don’t believe that they were the fallen angels, simply because angels whether saint ones or corrupt ones are spiritual creatures, not incarnated so how comes they marry and have children?

    I believe that the expression (the sons of God) can be applied or used for both humans and angels like in (Gen. 4: 26) and (Job. 2: 1).

    I hope I hear from you some answers to my standpoints.
    Thank you for this outstanding service and may Jesus bless you always.

    Gabriel Hakeem

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Gabriel, I know this is the way that many people understand these enigmatic verses. As I write in my next post, I am not trying to convince anyone in anything. I don’t believe that there is a single interpretation for every word of the Scripture. I am just presenting my own understanding (hoping to somehow enrich my readers on the way) – yours is completely different, and I am absolutely fine with that. But I do encourage you to read my tomorrow’s (Thursday) post, it’s important you know how the first century Jewish readers would understand these verses. Blessings!

  6. Luis

    Thank you again for a very interesting article that still leaves us with many questions.
    It’s not difficult to follow the logic of your article, but there is something about it that leaves the matter incomplete. In the case of humankind it’s not problematic to consider the sons of mankind as being unholy or evil; however, when it comes to the sons of God it’s a different story. How can God, the Almighty, the one who detests evil because He is holy, have sons that are unholy? Also, how can they be sons when we are also told they were created beings?
    It’s somewhat ironic that in our time those who are believers in Jesus Christ are said to be sons of God. Could it be that angels when they were created were not sons of God, but many became sons of God because they became one with God as Jesus himself was and is one with God? This would leave those rebellious angels who did not become one with God to marry the daughters of men and have Nephilim as sons, but why would these unholy angels still be called sons of God? Something is missing!

    1. Lois

      Sons of God simply can refer to direct creation by God . Adam was directly created ,angels were directly created. Perhaps other heavenly beings also. When Jesus refers to angels not being given in marriage, that doesn’t mean that they CAN’T procreate with man but that they don’t. No need for procreation in the heavenly places. They left the state they were created for….that was the fall. We won’t be given in marriage in the next life either. Jude quotes from Enoch , I believe when he says they left their first estate. They left heaven for their own purposes not God’s purposes for man. It is very clear that heavenly beings can take on the form of man…for example, Abraham’s three visitors.Julia, some time ago you recommended I read Michael Heiser, Unseen Realm, in regards to psalm 82. I recommend that the other commenters here also read him. I actually think that taking these Nephilim as heavenly beings that increased corruption of man is what makes sense of God’s command to completely obliterate certain peoples in the conquest of Canaan.

      1. Julia Blum

        Hi Lois! I just recommended this book in my reply to the previous comment, and then saw your comment. Great timing and great confirmation! Thank you so much!

        1. Lois

          I always enjoy reading your posts and have learned so much from you. I have downloaded most of your books also 🙂 just one thing: I am female …..noticed you referred to me as “he” up above. It is so similar to Luis, which is male But Lois is female. Many blessings to you!

          1. Julia Blum

            My apologies Lois! Thank you for correcting me, I also corrected my comment!

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Luis, thank you for your kind words and thank you for your comment. I think, there are two different issues involved in this story. Your main question is “why would these unholy angels still be called sons of God?” However, it’s not according to the moral criteria they are called “sons of God”; these words mean only that are spiritual beings, non-human, and in this sense, belong to God and His spiritual realm. Like in Job 38 where God is saying: “I laid the foundations of the earth… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”. They can be good or evil, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are spiritual beings.