This is a transliteration of the Hebrew word nephi·limʹ, plural in all its three occurrences in the Bible. (Gen. 6:4; Num. 13:33 [twice]) It is believed to mean “fellers” or “those who cause others to fall down,” as it most likely stems from the Hebrew verb na·phalʹ (to fall) as found, for example, in Joshua 11:7.
The Bible account describing Jehovah’s displeasure with men in the days of Noah before the Flood relates that “the sons of the true God” took for themselves wives from among the attractive daughters of men. It then mentions the presence of “Nephilim,” saying: “The Nephilim proved to be in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of the true God continued to have relations with the daughters of men and they bore sons to them, they were the mighty ones [Heb., gib·bo·rimʹ] who were of old, the men of fame.”—Gen. 6:1-4.
Bible commentators, considering verse four, have offered several suggestions as to the identity of these Nephilim. Some have thought that the derivation of the name indicates that the Nephilim had fallen from heaven, that is, that they were ‘fallen angels’ who mated with women to produce “mighty ones . . . the men of fame.” Other scholars, focusing their attention particularly on the statement “and also after that” (verse 4), have said the Nephilim were not the ‘fallen angels’ or the “mighty ones,” since the Nephilim “proved to be in the earth in those days” before the sons of God had relations with women. These latter scholars hold the opinion that the Nephilim were simply wicked men like Cain—robbers, bullies and tyrants who roamed the earth until they were destroyed by the Flood. Still another group, taking into consideration the context of verse four, conclude that the Nephilim were not themselves angels, but were the hybrid offspring resulting from materialized angels having intercourse with the daughters of men.
Same as “gib·bo·rimʹ”
Certain Bible translations adjust the location of the phrase “and also after that,” placing it near the beginning of verse four, thus identifying the Nephilim with the “mighty ones,” the gib·bo·rimʹ, mentioned in the latter part of the verse. For example: “In those days, as well as afterward, there were giants [Heb., nephi·limʹ] on the earth, who were born to the sons of the gods whenever they had intercourse with the daughters of men; these were the heroes [Heb., gib·bo·rimʹ] who were men of note in days of old.”—Gen. 6:4, AT; see also Moffatt and Zürcher Bibel (German).
The Greek Septuagint also suggests that both the “Nephilim” and “mighty ones” are identical by using the same word giʹgan·tes (giants) to translate both expressions.
Reviewing the account, we see that verses one to three tell of “the sons of the true God” taking wives and of Jehovah’s statement (doubtless made to Noah) that he was going to end his patience with men after 120 years. Verse four then speaks of the Nephilim proving to be in the earth “in those days,” evidently the days when Jehovah made the statement. Then it shows that this situation continued “after that, when the sons of the true God continued to have relations with the daughters of men,” and describes in more detail the results of the union of “the sons of the true God” with women.
The fathers of the Nephilim
Who were “the sons of the true God” that were involved? Were they men who were worshipers of Jehovah (as distinguished from the general run of wicked mankind), as some claim? Evidently not. The Bible infers that their marriage to the daughters of men resulted in whipping up the badness in the earth. Noah and his three sons, along with their wives, were the only ones in God’s favor, and preserved through the Deluge.—Gen. 6:9; 8:15, 16; 1 Pet. 3:20.
Hence, if these “sons of the true God” were merely men, the question arises, Why were their offspring “men of renown” more than those of the wicked, or of faithful Noah? Also, the question might be asked, Why mention their marriage to the daughters of men as something special? Marriage and childbearing had been taking place for more than 1,500 years.
The sons of God mentioned at Genesis 6:2, therefore, must have been angels, spirit “sons of God.” This expression is applied to angels at Job 1:6; 38:7. This view is supported by Peter, who speaks of “the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days.” (1 Pet. 3:19, 20) Also Jude writes of “the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place.” (Jude 6) Angels had the power to materialize in human form, and some angels did so to bring messages from God. (Gen. 18:1, 2, 8, 20-22; 19:1-11; Josh. 5:13-15, and other texts) But heaven is the proper abode of spirit persons, and the angels there have positions of service under Jehovah. (Dan. 7:9, 10) To leave this abode to dwell on earth and to forsake their assigned service to have fleshly relations would be rebellion against God’s laws, and perversion.
The Bible states that the disobedient angels are now “spirits in prison,” having been thrown “into Tartarus” and “reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.” This seems to indicate that they are greatly restricted, unable again to materialize as they did prior to the Flood.—1 Pet. 3:19; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6.
The “mighty ones who were of old, men of fame” that were produced by these marriages were not men of fame with God, for they did not survive the Flood, as did Noah and his family, They were “Nephilim,” bullies, tyrants who no doubt helped to make conditions worse. Their angelic fathers, knowing the construction of the human body and being able to materialize, were not creating life, but lived in these human bodies and, cohabiting with women, brought forth children. Their children, “mighty ones,” were therefore unauthorized hybrids. Apparently the Nephilim did not, in turn, have children.
The fame and dread of the Nephilim, it appears, were the basis for many mythologies of heathen people who, after the confusion of languages at Babel, were scattered throughout the earth. Though the historical forms of the Genesis account were greatly distorted and embellished, yet there was a remarkable resemblance in these ancient mythologies (those of the Greeks being only one example), in which gods and goddesses mated with humans to produce superhu-man heroes and fearful demigods having god-man characteristics.—See GREECE, GREEKS (Greek Religion).
A REPORT INTENDED TO TERRORIZE
The ten spies who brought back to the Israelites in the wilderness a false report on the land of Canaan declared: “All the people whom we saw in the midst of it are men of extraordinary size. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who are from the Nephilim; so that we became in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and the same way we became in their eyes.” No doubt there were some large men in Canaan, as other scriptures show, but never except in this “bad report,” which was carefully couched in language designed to strike terror and cause panic among the Israelites, are they called Nephilim.—Num. 13:31-33; 14:36, 37.