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Question from Dave on 10/3/2001:

Is there any official Church teaching about what the "Nephilim" referred to in Genesis 6 are? I have heard many different theories on this. The Early Church Fathers even seemed to have varying views of this.

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 10/6/2001:

Genesis records a strange hybrid which resulted from sexual unions between the "daughters of men" and the “sons of God.

6:1 When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 6:2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. 6:3 Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

While many scholars prefer to dismiss this entirely as myth which is borrowed from pagans cultures of the ancient near east, it would seem more appropriate to look for some truth and reality behind this mythical sounding text. Some of the Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine, Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria suggested that the “sons of God” may refer to righteous descendants (men) of Seth who took descendants (women) of Cain as wives. In such a case, “sons of God” associates the men with the goodness of God whereas “daughters of men” would be intended as a contrast to this. This is typical of ancient Semitic expressions which must not be interpreted literally as we understand such constructions but in accord with the customary use of language at the time. Knowing the background of Cain as a killer and the bad blood of his descendants, it is no wonder that such unions would be regarded in a negative light, which unions led to a situation in which humanity was corrupted and unacceptable to God. On the other hand, it is said of Seth and his line that these were the first to reverence the Name of Yahweh. The word “Nephalim” literally means “fallen ones” which sense would be consistent with an interpretation that views this group as a corrupt mixture of good and bad blood. Other commentators have suggested that the “sons of God” were (fallen) angels who somehow mated with human women, but this does present metaphysical complications in light of the natures of each. For now, I find the Patristic solution--as noted above--the most satisfying. ©

Thanks, Luca

Father Echert


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