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Genesis 6:4 (NIV)Emphasis added
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

Is there an English equivalent for the word Nephilim here in Genesis 6:4? If not, then what exactly are the Nephilim?

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Related on Christianity.SE: Who were the "giants" mentioned in the Bible? –  Caleb Oct 5 '11 at 14:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The word "nephilim" as used in Gen 6:4 and Num 13:33 is simply an anglocizing of the Hebrew word nephiyl. If it were to be translated it would be simply "the fallen".

this opens up a whole new hermeneutical question about how then should we interpret these people described both before the flood in Gen 6 as "the fallen" and then again after the flood when the spies brought back their report about the promised land being filled with "the fallen" who are also described as giants.

Different interpretations have described the nephilim as fallen angels, others as fallen men, some have categorized only the sons of Cain as the nephilim in Gen 6, but then how are they reappearing after the flood? or if it is fallen angels, do we see the earth invaded by fallen angels not once but twice?

I think the most consistent view of the Nephilim would consist of those who have fallen away from faith and reliance upon God. Those who think that they can achieve greatness absent from God's presence. Here is Clarke's reference...

Genesis 6:4

[There were giants in the earth] n­piliym , from naaphal , "he fell." Those who had apostatized or fallen from the true religion. The Septuagint translate the original word by gigantes, which literally signifies earth-born, and which we, following them, term giants, without having any reference to the meaning of the word, which we generally conceive to signify persons of enormous stature. But the word when properly understood makes a very just disinction between the sons of men and the sons of God; those were the nephilim , the fallen earth-born men, with the animal and devilish mind. These were the sons of God, who were born from above, children of the kingdom, because children of God. Hence, we may suppose originated the different appellatives given to sinners and saints, the former were termed gigantes (Greek), "earth-born", and the latter, hagioi , i.e. saints, persons not of the earth, or separated from the earth.

[The same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.] giboriym , which we render "mighty men", signifies properly conquerors, heroes, from gaabar , "he prevailed, was victorious." and °ansheey hashem , "men of the name," anthroopoi onomastoi , Septuagint; the same as we render men of renown, renominati, twice named, as the word implies, having one name which they derived from their fathers, and another which they acquired by their daring exploits and enterprises.

It may be necessary to remark here that our translators have rendered seven different Hebrew words by the one term giants, viz., nephilim. gibborim, enachim, rephaim, emim, and zamzummim; by which appellatives are probably meant in general persons of great knowledge, piety, courage, wickedness, etc., and not men of enormous stature, as is generally conjectured. (from Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

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Nephilm "the fallen" may refer to Adam and Eve and Cain. They were the "notorious" fallen ones. They were 'renowned' weren't they still alive according to the genealogies? –  Bob Jones Oct 21 '11 at 14:04
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@BobJones - They may have been alive still at the time of Gen 6:4, but they were clearly not alive for the reference in Num 13:33. For the Gen passage to be refering to Adam, Eve and Cain in the context doesn't read smoothly for me. I suppose there could be a sense that they were alive when the "Sons of God" were marrying the daughters of men. I have always read it to say that the Nephilim were being equated with the "sons of God" which wouldn't make sense with Eve in the group. thanks for asking. –  David Boswell Oct 21 '11 at 19:43
    
I agree with your take on it. The word is only used twice. Interpreting it as 'giants' goes against the strongly rooted nature of the Hebrew language. 'Fallen" is what makes natural sense. It is also uncomfortable that 'Giants' is used by the 'rabbis'... the same ones that gave us 'giants' instead of 'fallen'... to introduce mythology: "Giants, children of Shamchazai and Azael, who fell from heaven in the days of Enosh." -Rashi –  Bob Jones Oct 22 '11 at 4:03
    
From the other side, Luke tells us that Adam was the son of God, implying that Jesus is the Son of God through the genealogy. As such, the sons of God would be the righteous. This affirms your position. –  Bob Jones Oct 22 '11 at 4:05
    
Consider that when the spies brought back their report about the promised land being filled with Nephilim (after the flood), they were lying (Numbers 14:26). Believing 10 false reports led to a punishment of 40 year desert life. Because after the deluge (flood) God himself come to earth and sow that all the Nephilim were gone. Word of God. –  Jeremiah G Aug 25 '13 at 14:15

The Sons of God are also in Psalms 82. When Almighty God is meeting with them.

Psalm 82:1 God stands in the congregation of the mighty; he judges among the gods. Said, "You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High". (From Dead Sea Scrolls.)

He judges in the council of gods and men. In the heights of the heavens (is) his reproach and in all the foundations of the earth the judgments of his hand. (4Q511, frg. 10, 11–12) 63

The Eternal One has made a covenant oath with us, Asherah has made (a pact) with us. And all the sons of El, And the great council of all the Holy Ones. 74 From Hebrew Text

Again Below

God [ʾĕlōhîm] takes his stand in the court of heaven [or "assembly of God"; ʿădat ʾēl] to deliver judgement among the gods themselves [bəqereb ʾĕlōhîm].

How long will you judge unjustly
   and show favour to the wicked?
You ought to give judgement for the weak and the orphan,
   and see right done to the destitute and downtrodden,
you ought to rescue the weak and the poor,
   and save them from the clutches of wicked men.
   But you know nothing, you understand nothing,
   you walk in the dark
   while earth's foundations are giving way.

This is my sentence: Gods [ʾĕlōhîm] you may be,
sons all of you of a high god [or "of the Most High"; bənê ʿelyôn],263
yet you shall die as men die;
princes fall, every one of them, and so shall you.

Arise, O God [ʾĕlōhîm], and judge the earth;
   for thou dost pass all nations through thy sieve. (Psalm 82)

The Nephilim are the offspring of the Sons Of God and Human woman. It means Earth born and that is why in next verse GOD Puts a life span of 120 years as that would most likely have these offspring living a long time, being of Heavenly fathers.

Now the reason some leave the translation as it is, is because they have been told it is not right. There has been many of a debate on the proper translation. Earth Born sounds correct because these offspring would be a Hybrid species of Divine beings Sons of God and Humans, so therefore they would be half Human and Half immortals (or whatever it is exactly). I think we have to take it as it is said, that they are Sons of God, for if they were angels he would have said Angels. Perhaps he had Heavenly Sons as it is alluded to in many other verses. Either way Nephilim is the offspring and they were Earth Born, Mighty Heroes of renown as they were called.

But I have edited this to add something that I cannot believe I have missed. The verse says there were Nephilim in those days and after when the Sons of God mated with daughters of man. These offspring of the mating were called heroes, perhaps another translation of Nephilim is correct then

Nephilim

The Nephilim are mysterious supermen from ancient times, men of name, who lived before (and after?) the flood of Noah. Before the flood they are mentioned in Genesis 6:4, and after in Numbers 13:33. The question this raises is: who are the Nephilim and how did they survive the flood? If Noah, his sons or any of their wives had been Nephilim, the text would have certainly mentioned it, and the Nephilim would have been treated more positively.

Genesis 6 tells us that the Nephilim were fathered by 'sons of Elohim' with human females. The phrase 'sons of God' may indicate angelic creatures but also the members of some very strong race. It seems that Nephilim were generated from human stock, not just once but often and separately, and not only before the flood but also after. The Bible basically states that biology allows that human females may be and have indeed been impregnated by spirit beings, a fact of course made ultimately evident in the conception of Jesus Christ.

The Nephilim seem to be divided into several sub-categories. The spies who were sent to Canaan reported seeing children of Anak, or the Anakim, who were Nephilim (Numbers 13:33). The word for children that is used in Numbers 13:28 is (yalad) and means 'born ones,' that means of regular birth and not of some 'son of Elohim.' The name of the father of Anak is Arba, and his city, Hebron, is given to Caleb (Joshua 15:13). Caleb subsequently drives out the three sons (perhaps again three subdivisions of the Anakim) of Anak, whose names are Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.

Deuteronomy 2:10 speaks of Emim, a people as great, numerous and tall as the Anakim. Deuteronomy counts both the Anakim (who are Nephilim) and the Emim among the so-called Rephaim, but in Genesis 14:5 the Rephaim and the Emim are listed separate. Genesis 14:5 also lists the Zuzim, which are likely the same as the Zamzuzim of Deuteronomy 2:20, who are a people like the Anakim and also counted among Rephaim.

It is not clear where the name Nephilim comes from. There are a few possibilities, and scholars argue about the likelihood of each of them. First of all, the word nephilim is a plural and the single form, (npl), does not occur in the Bible (which by itself is not at all unusual). In another context, however, the word (nepel) means untimely birth or abortion. It comes from the verb (napal), fall, lie down, be cast down, fail. The plural word means 'fallen ones,' mostly by the sword or fallen (failed) to obey, and occurs in Joshua 8:25, Judges 20:46, 2 Kings 25:11, Psalm 145:14, Jeremiah 39:9, 52:15, Ezekiel 32:22 and 24.

O, so we have them saying the Nephilim were here before and in the times that the divine mating were going on, and the offspring of the mating were called heroes. Perhaps they helped destroy some of these Nephilim, perhaps the Nephilim are not the offspring but something else.

Genesis 6:1-4
When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them. The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

It seems it is showing these Nephilim existed before the mating and after the mating. I always wondered what it meant they were mighty heroes and well. The verse after has God mad because of corruption, but this verse he called the offspring mighty heroes and famous men, so perhaps the Nephilim were what made him mad.

I am going to say either way could be correct.

Perhaps the Nephilim and offspring were not the same, as how could they be, if they existed before the Sons of God mated with Human woman and after...

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NEPHILIM

(Neph´i·lim) <Fellers; Those Who Cause [Others] to Fall Down>.
This is a transliteration of the Hebrew word nephi·lim´, plural in its three occurrences in the Bible. (Ge 6:4; Nu 13:33 [twice]) It evidently stems from the causative form of the Hebrew verb na·phal´ (fall) as found, for example, in 2 Kings 3:19; 19:7.

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., hag·gib·bo·rim´] who were of old, the men of fame.” —Ge 6:1-4.

Identity

(Then & Now)

Bible commentators, considering verse 4, 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” (vs 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 4, 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·rim´.” Certain Bible translations adjust the location of the phrase “and also after that”, placing it near the beginning of verse 4, thus identifying the Nephilim with the “mighty ones”, the gib·bo·rim´, mentioned in the latter part of the verse. For example: “In those days, as well as afterward, there were giants [Heb., han·nephi·lim´] 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., hag·gib·bo·rim´] who were men of note in days of old.” —Ge 6:4, AT; see also Mo, NIV, and TEV.

The Greek Septuagint also suggests that both the “Nephilim” and “mighty ones” are identical by using the same word gi´gan·tes (giants) to translate both expressions.

Reviewing the account, we see that verses 1 to 3 tell of “the sons of the true God” taking wives and of Jehovah’s statement that he was going to end his patience with men after 120 years. Verse 4 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.


Who were the "sons of God" that fathered 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 implies 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 were the only ones preserved through the Deluge. — Genesis 6:9; 8:1516; 1Pe 3:20.

Hence, if these “sons of the true God” were merely men, the question arises, Why were their offspring “men of fame” 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.” (1Pe 3:1920) 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. (Ge 18:1, 2, 8, 20-22; 19:1-11; Jos 5:13-15) But heaven is the proper abode of spirit persons, and the angels there have positions of service under Jehovah. (Daniel 7:910) 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. — 1Pe 3:19; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6.

Increased Wickedness.

“The mighty ones who were of old, the 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.

In Mythology.

The fame and dread of the Nephilim, it appears, gave rise to 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, 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 superhuman heroes and fearful demigods having god-man characteristics. — Google 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. — Numbers 13:31-33; 14:36, 37.


Source:

The Watchtower Library 2012; NWT Bible (online); Accurate knowledge & understanding of the Holy Scriptures (from Theocratic Ministry school).
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The Nephilim also appear in the Enochs.

They were devouring the sons of men, and men were not able to supply them. And the giants began to kill men and to devour them....Asael taught men to make swords of iron and weapons and shields and breastplates and every instrument of war. (7:3,8:1)

Thinking of Nephilim as the chieftains of the empires that the Israelites kept getting overrun by makes a lot of sense.

Goliath was descended from them.

they are the heroes, who, from of old, are the men of name.(Gen 6:4) Anticipating the Tower of Babel builders... Babylonians

"Son of God" was not an uncommon title for an imperial ruler to take.

Think what Native Americans must have thought when the Europeans started showing up or what a Marine in a Humvee looks like to an Afghanistani.

If you had to pick an English word... "Marine" would probably work.

Most of this answer poorly paraphrased from Wes Howard Brooks Come Out My People

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