June 12th’s sermon was on Genesis 6, which meant we took a speed past Genesis 5. I also did not delve too deeply into the background questions of identity for the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” or the Nephilim. Except to point out that the Nephilim were *not* rock monsters. Sorry Russell Crowe.
Now, one reason to have left these issues aside is that they are not settled and definite issues. That is, there are debates among people who take the Bible seriously about what is really going on with the best way to translate and understand what we find in the text.
As an aside: you will find two basic groups of Biblical scholars: those who take the task of Biblical scholarship seriously and those who do not. Those who do not may not take the Bible part seriously—doubting that the Bible has any divine advantage in its existence—or they may not take the scholarship part seriously—never really studying or asking questions, just buying into the easiest understanding they can find. Those who take Biblical scholarship seriously do so by recognizing the Bible is God’s word to humanity and doing the work to understand what is present there. Those folks occasionally come to different conclusions, and that’s when I have learned to be less agitated about which conclusion a preacher has come to.
So, let’s take the first question: “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” The LES Septuagint cuts straight through it and takes “sons of God” as angels and “daughters of men” to be any human females. The other major view is that “sons of God” refers to the God-honoring offspring of Seth and the “daughters of men” refers to the less worshipful offspring of Cain, taking the idea that the two lines of descent had been separated between those who follow the LORD and those who did not. Then, the two lines mingled, and all of mankind turned to wickedness.
Now, which is the better one? In favor of the former view, the phrase “sons of God” only occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament in reference to angelic beings. In favor of the latter view, there is no indication anywhere else in the text of Scripture that it is possible for angelic beings to procreate with human beings—and the one passage that might touch on the idea would be understood to be against it. (Matthew 22:30)
These arguments then go on in a loop, with proponents of each view assuring you that the loop stops with them. This is why I did not bother with it in the sermon: there are scholars of both conclusions I respect. And the end result is irrelevant to the Christian life: God promises at the end of the Flood narrative not to destroy the world that way again, and I doubt any of us would show more love, joy, faith, or patience because that might be angel next door than we will because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If you would do more for an angel than you would for God…there’s a problem.
Now, on to the Nephilim: how you take the Nephilim may depend slightly on how you resolve the earlier dilemma: some who hold to the angelic beings mingled with human beings will say the Nephilim are the offspring of that union. I’d note you still have to deal with v. 4’s “and also after this” if you take this view: after what? The Flood? Nobody is supposed to make it there that is not on the boat.
The other way to take the Nephilim is the idea of “mighty ones,” that the point Moses is making is to anchor some of the legends of “old times” into the era around the Flood. This is my preferred understanding, but I have not studied it well enough to make a solid statement.
And again—how does resolving this impact the life of a believer? It really does not. You can love your neighbor as yourself without worrying whether he’s a Nephilim. It won’t matter. So you can have a good discussion over it, you can ask questions, you can leave it open…some issues are just not going to finalize, and being okay with that is good.
When I hit matters like this, I try to leave them out of the sermon, usually striving to focus on what we *do* know, and then what we follow that up with in action.