It’s one of those Bible questions that seems to stump us, asked either by curious children or gotcha-motivated adults. Who were the nephilim in Genesis 6:4? Personally, it doesn’t affect the way I view the inerrancy of the Bible. There are a lot of things in the Holy Scriptures that can’t be explained.
But I’ll try to explain this one:
I personally think that the sons of God (Genesis 6:4) were some type of created being along the line of angels, also fallen at that time in history, yet able to produce offspring with human women. This unholy union* produced a race of people that came to be known as the nephilim – giants. Job chapter 1 makes the same mention of the sons of God with Satan coming with them to present themselves to the Almighty. Job’s setting is more than likely somewhere in the timeline of Genesis, maybe even pre-Abraham. Remember also that the children of Israel were afraid to go into the land of Canaan where there were giants, the descendants of Anak, also known in Hebrew as the nephilim (Numbers 13).
The problem seems to arise in that one who believes the Bible is inerrant would think that the nephilim were destroyed in the Flood. As a race, they were. However, I maintain that the progeny of the nephilim was established in the line of Ham, Noah’s youngest son, who was the father of the Canaanites, from whom very likely the giants, that is, the nephilim, arose genetically. My apologetic for this is complicated so let me simplify it this way: When the animals entered the ark, there were at least some breed of dog, certainly not breeds like we have today like Chihuahuas and St. Bernards; yet from those ark-bound dogs came numerous breeds of canines (see Genesis 8:19), both domestic and wild, then and even still today produced (and reproduced) through natural breeding or select breeding (select breeding in that man has dominion over every created thing, see Genesis 1:28) – certainly not by the Darwinian view of natural selection. The same can be said for felines, raptors, snakes, and any other kind (Genesis 1:21, 24-25) of animals saved on the ark. In a similar fashion, and in a natural and Biblical way, the eight people saved on the ark populated the whole earth with people of every color and size (see Genesis 9:19): pygmies, aborigines, Masai, Nordic, red, yellow, black, and white, and any other race with specific genetic features. This included, I believe, the carrying on, through at least the lineage of Ham, the nephilim – the giants – which, by the way, were eventually conquered and who served the children of Noah’s two other sons, Shem and Japheth, just as Noah had prophesied in his curse on Ham’s family (Canaan) in Genesis 9:24-27.
This brings us to Goliath and his ilk. Whether or not he and his offspring and/or brothers were of the genetic breed of the nephilim, I can only speculate (again, Biblically) that they were. It is recorded in Joshua 14 & 15 that Joshua gave Hebron to Caleb, at Caleb’s request no less. Hebron was formerly known as Kirjath Arba, named after the greatest of the Anakim, Arba, the same strong and giant people that the children of Israel feared to conquer some 40 years prior. Yet, as we know, Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the 12 spies who held out that God would deliver that land to them, a fact that Caleb mentioned to Joshua and which persuaded Joshua to grant Hebron to his friend. Caleb and his tribe proceeded to drive out the Anakim from that mountainous region, a seemingly impossible task which Caleb led (still strong and faithful in his old age); yet the Bible does not say that they utterly destroyed the Anakim. (On a side note, Gath, from where Goliath and his fellow Philistines came, is just to the west of Hebron on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a logical if not strategic place to stop and mingle with other Canaanites.)
All of this is intertwined with the ebb and flow of history, and a few twists and turns and terminologies that follow a Biblically inerrant, historical timeline, much more complex than I can report here. Suffice it to say that the Philistines were eventually reduced to a maritime people known as the Phoenicians. Some speculate that certain modern-day Palestinians have their roots in Philistine ancestry. It is for certain, though, that the nephilim eventually died out as the land of Canaan was reduced to nearly nothing, bringing the genetic lineage of giants to an utter end. In other words, they went the way of the dodo which, as we know, was a bird that was annihilated by man and which cannot be reproduced either naturally or selectively. I might add that this has nothing to do with gigantism which is a hormonal imbalance.
All of this is merely speculation on my part but I do try to speculate Biblically.
Or maybe Bigfoot is the last of the nephilim…
* The unholy union might simply have been between ungodly human men who were possessed by fallen angels, i.e., demons that brought great strength and stature to their inhabitants. This serves to explain the super strong man from Gadarenes (Mark 5) who was able to break the bonds of chains as a result of demon possession. Further, if angels as spirits are incapable of sexual relations with humans, it would seem convenient for bad angels – those carrying out the work of Satan – to simply possess a man with the intent to bring malicious affect to his offspring, a retaliatory act on the penultimate creation of the Holy God they hate. Could this have resulted in a wholly carnal breed of humans with whom even God despaired to strive by His Holy Spirit (Genesis 6:3)? I think a partial answer can be found in Paul’s admonishment in Romans 1:18-32, though angels are not mentioned here. Still, one wonders if angels have the capacity to change the nature of humankind (genetically speaking). Since we know that man can do so today in the laboratory, what would prevent a supernatural being from being capable of doing so, especially one with much more power and knowledge than man (see Genesis 19:11 – angels can afflict humans physically).