Noah and the Nephilim

I watched Noah last weekend and it led me to re-read the Noah narratives in Genesis. One of the most fascinating (or bizarre) aspects of the movie is the appearance of the Watchers who are from the pseudepigraphal book of I Enoch and who are commonly tied to the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis. When you grow up Dispensational like I did, you are very familiar with the Nephilim, because they are alleged to be behind everything from UFOs to Greek gods. With all this in mind, I read John Sailhamer on Noah from his book The Pentateuch as Narrative. Quotes from Sailhamer’s commentary follow:

Historically, there have been three primary interpretations. The “sons of God” are (1) angels (the oldest view, e.g., Codex Alexandrinus, an early manuscript of the LXX); (2) royalty (also very old, e.g., Targum Onkelos, 1)Onkelos says, “And it was when the sons of men had begun to multiply upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the mighty [or “sons of the rulers”] saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, and took to them wives of all whom they pleased.”  though Levy suggests that these may be “angels” in Onkelos; see also Targum Neophyti I…(3) pious men from the “line of Seth.” The first view has not been widely held since it appears to contradict the statement in Matthew 22:30: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” The commonly accepted view is that the “sons of God” refer to the godly, pious line of Seth. All such interpretations, however, originate from the assumption that 6:1-4 is an introduction to the account of the Flood and is therefore to be understood as the cause of the Flood. If we read 6:1-4 as a summary of chapter 5, however, there is little to arouse our suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary. As a summary of the preceding chapter, this little patch of narrative is a reminder that the sons and daughters of Adam had greatly increased in number, had married, and had continued to have children. The impression it gives is that of an interlude, a calm before the storm. For a brief moment we see a picture of human beings in the midst of their everyday affairs “marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Mt 24:38-39).


The mention of the “Nephilim,” sometimes rendered “giants,” ties these verses to the preceding chapter. The author uses the term Nephilim elsewhere in the Pentateuch to refer to the great men who were in the land of Canaan at the time of the exodus (Nu 13:32-33). Here in Genesis 6:4 the term Nephilim also appears to refer to the great men of antiquity. In the light of the fact that the author has just completed a list of the names of ten great men from antiquity (chap. 5), it is possible that he has these ten men in mind in referring to the “men of name” (6:4). The mention of the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33, however, suggests that they still survived in the days of the Exodus, which would appear to conflict with our taking them as the ten great men of chapter 5.

So Sailhamer’s point is that the textual division in our Bibles is inaccurate. The portion outlined in blue below should be one unit, but as you can see, our versification and the placement of headings cause us to read the text incorrectly and break it up where it should not be broken. The “Increasing Corruption…” should be placed before 6.5:



It should be more like:



Contrasted to Sailhamer’s view is that of James B. Jordan who wrote:

Contrary to Jewish superstitions, the “ sons of God” were not angels who married human women. Nor were they “mighty kings” who grabbed all the pretty girls. In context, they were the descendants of Seth who intermarried with the line of Cain, since Genesis 5:1 – 6:8 is one story designed to tell us how the saints forsook their calling through intermarriage.

The meaning is that when Christians lend their strength to pagans, by any form of “intermarriage,” the result is a strong and powerful pagan civilization. The wicked, being in rebellion against God and His Spirit, can only become weaker and weaker, since they reject the Source of all life and strength.
When Christians lend them our strength, however, they can form a violent and powerful evil civilization.

After David, God’ s people no longer faced giants, but they did face Nephilim, for whenever God’ s people compromised with the wicked, they made the wicked strong. Jesus faced such a situation, as the Jews of His day had made their peace with all kinds of pagan ideas about law and philosophy. And we face the same kinds of Nephilim today.

References   [ + ]

1. Onkelos says, “And it was when the sons of men had begun to multiply upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the mighty [or “sons of the rulers”] saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, and took to them wives of all whom they pleased.” 

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