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The sons of God and Nephilim in the NT (2 of 2) – Coffee Break Version

Part 2 of 2: Why the New Testament (NT) argues for Gen 6:1-4 as part of Noah’s story

This is the second post in an extended series on Noah and the Flood (Gen 6-9).  For the first post:

1) Click here for a discussion on the Nephilim and sons of God in Gen 6:1-4

This series is a summary series that focusses on broad findings.  For details, nuances, and debate, see the “geeky version” of this series over here.

(1) Historical interpretations of Gen 6:1-4: 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6

Nephilim, Sons of God, Noah, Flood

‘Sons of God’ as angels–Later understandings

The history of the sons of God and Nephilim recounted in 2 Peter and Jude come from a different textual tradition than that recorded in Gen 6.  It is found in many sources, going back as far as 600 BCE.  In fact, it appears to be a far more popular view of the history of humankind before the Flood than Gen 6:1-4, which appears only in the Bible.  By contrast, the pre-Flood history alluded to by 2 Peter and Jude comes from a textual tradition with well over a dozen distinct texts from before and during Jesus’ time.

While there are small differences in the details, the many sources together agree on this narrative in contrast to the one told in Gen 6:

Angels, more often called ‘Watchers’, often given personal names like Asahel and Semihazah, rebel hundreds of years before Noah, and not only take mortal women in illicit sex, but also actively and purposefully teach humankind all varieties of wickedness.  In response, God chains them up in utter darkness, in an abyss lower than hell, where they will remain chained until the Apocalypse.

The giants, their wicked offspring, are cursed by God to kill each other in battle.  Having wiped themselves out, their spirits roam the earth as the first demons in the world.  From the time of their death to the final Day of Judgment, all demons come from the dead spirits of the giants, and they are responsible for teaching and instigating all evils from the time of the Flood until the Day of Judgment.  The Flood itself is God’s response to humankind’s role in the sins of the Watchers and the giants.

Here’s a summary comparison of the history of the sons of God and Nephilim as told in Gen 6:1-4, and the reference to a different version of that same history in Jude and 2 Peter:

Nephilim, Sons of God, Noah, Flood

Contrasts between the good of Gen 6 and the evil of Jude/2 Peter

The reason we can be so confident that this is the tradition Jude and 2 Peter refer to will have to be referenced in the geeky version of this post, found here.  Long story short, the story of the Watchers/angels and the Giants travelled alone in many sources. But in at least 8 sources, this story was ‘packaged’ with other ‘ultimate evil’ stories from the OT, especially the sin of the exodus generation (condemned to live in the wilderness) and Sodom and Gomorrah.

Noah and the Flood - Nephilim - Giants in the Bible - Jude - 2 Peter

The ‘ultimate evil’ textual tradition of Jude/2 Peter

Nephilim, Sons of God, Noah, Flood

The popular notion of Nephilim as ‘giants’. Source:

What this means is that Jude and Peter weren’t so much alluding just to an alternate textual tradition of Gen 6:1-4 (where sons of God and Nephilim were replaced by Watchers/angels and giants), they were alluding to a textual tradition that bundled the ‘great sins’ of the OT into a collection that travelled together.  In other words, Jude 1:5-11 and 2 Peter 2:4-17 are alluding to a collection of ‘ultimate sin’ stories, of which the Watchers and giants are only one part.

Importantly, the differences between the textual tradition of Genesis versus the textual tradition of Jude and 2 Peter are not simply accounted for by translation issues.  The Greek translation of the OT Bible that is most often quoted by both Jesus and the NT writers, faithfully translates the Hebrew ‘sons of God’, and the marriage between them and mortal women, into Greek.  Jude and Peter would have been aware of this Greek translation of Genesis.  For reasons unknown to us, they instead chose to reference in their God-breathed works an alternate tradition of this history, one with angels and extra-marital sex (as Jude’s Greek indicates).

Noah and the Flood - Nephilim - Giants in the Bible - Jude - 2 Peter

The ‘ultimate evil’ textual tradition of Jude/2 Peter

Even if we say that the OT tradition should be viewed in the light of the NT tradition as ‘ultimate evil’ and the ’cause of the Flood’, it still doesn’t account for Jude’s changing of the history from ‘marital sex to extramarital sex’, or of Nephilim before and after the Flood with Nephilim destroyed before the Flood, their spirits now demons, or of the sons of God as those who act out God’s wishes with fallen angels chained in utter darkness, in a hell below hell, awaiting judgment during the Apocalypse.

(2) How do we gel the Genesis account with the NT account?

What a challenging problem.  I’m torn and, quite frankly, don’t know where I sit on this one.  The two traditions clearly refer to the same event, and clearly differ in how they see it.  If we adopt the NT view of Jude and 2 Peter, we must view the angels as committing extramarital sex with mortal women, and these sons of God must be envisioned not just in Gehenna, but specifically Tartarus.  Instead of the Nephilim being “mighty heroes of old, men of fame”, the Nephilim instead destroyed each other in battle, presumably before the Flood, and their evil spirits (no longer heroic or famous) now roam the earth as the very cause and origins of demons, causing, and being responsible, for all of the evil from the time of the Flood to the second coming of Christ.

The account of Jude and 2 Peter is a lot to handle for an evangelical protestant, seeming more at home in the world of Catholicism than the common view of angels and demons found in protestant Christianity.  Perhaps a resolution can be met by viewing Gen 6:1-4 as, after all, being a description of evil events, despite all of the indications we’ve just read that they aren’t.  Then at least both Jude/2 Peter and Genesis would agree with each other on the meaning of Gen 6:1-4.  This would be my preferred solution, because then both OT and NT would agree in the meaning of the passage.  But, even if they agreed with each other in meaning, the details are still not only different in what Gen is silent on and Jude, in its clear reference to Enoch, is explicit on, but they even differ in what details they have in common.

Nephilim, Sons of God, Noah, Flood

Biblical and extra-biblical version of the sons of God and Nephilim

I can’t deny that the NT speaks to this issue, and in a strange and, for me, uncomfortable way, tells a very different story.  That the NT references are so fleeting, and at the same time so clear in their reference makes them confusing accounts at the least, and were it not for their Canonicity, I wouldn’t hesitate to discard them altogether.

As a Christian with an infallible view of Scripture–albeit not an inerrant one–I’m forced to take 2 Peter and Jude’s references as being God-breathed (inspired).  The contradictions between the accounts (marriage vs. extra-marital) are not unique, but the tension here is difficult.  On top of that, the world of human-angel sex is hardly one that impacts me on a practical level, to say the least, nor for that matter do Jesus or Paul speak at all on the topic in general or in specifics–so the matter is clearly not of salvational importance, despite Jude and perhaps Peter’s apparent belief that it is of paramount importance.  I guess my personal problem with this issue is that viewing Gen 6:1-4 through the lens of Jude and 2 Peter–that it is a description of ‘ultimate evil’, doesn’t actually resolve the contradictions in the details.

Below is a table showing the positions of the major evangelical modern commentaries (as far as the 5 most popular commentaries on Genesis according to this site, only the NAC, unread by me, is missing from this list).  As can be seen, there is considerable disagreement on the topic, especially when we consider the favoured status of the WBC Genesis commentary:

Nephilim, Sons of God, Noah, Flood

Positions of the Major Modern Commentaries on this Topic

I admit I hold a minority view which makes me feel unsure about the interpretation that this passage is not about the evilness of the sons of God and Nephilim.  However, the view is attested by the EBC, and while this table doesn’t reflect it, all of the commentaries here agree that the ‘marriage’ of the sons of God and daughters of men is, in the Hebrew, not viewed as evil by the text.  I also clearly take a minority view on the supernatural nature of the sons of God.  While I’m humbled by how many commentaries go against this view, I cannot but argue that they are citing an extra-Biblical source and reason for the mortal nature of the sons of God, when the Bible provides a supernatural definition, and also that this seems to put their view on an even deeper (or at least similar) collision course with the NT view of the history of the sons of God and Nephilim, as does mine.

I’m certainly confused, and will have to file this one away as ‘unsure and unfinished’.  I’m apparently not alone in that (EBC sees the passage as positive, WBC as negative but as supernatural, NIVAC and NICOT see it as negative with the sons of God being mortal tyrant kings, and thus are at even worse odds with the NT).

What do you think?  Comment below or, if you want to dig into the details deeper, check out the geeky version of this post here and comment in that section instead.

By the way, for a good laugh, type in ‘Nephilim’ into Google images.  Yeesh.  Christian romance novels about the Nephilim?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Next post, we get a lot simpler as the story of the Flood leaves this controversial, unsettled issue and delves into more straightforward material.  Whew!

For more information, this is the second post in an extended series on Noah and the Flood (Gen 6-9).  For the first post:

1) Click here for a discussion on the Nephilim and sons of God in Gen 6:1-4

This series is a summary series that focusses on broad findings.  For details, nuances, and debate, see the “geeky version” of this series over here.