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People seem to have an innate bias toward the mythical, preferring it over reality. The Hebrew word "nephilim," first used in Genesis 6:4, is no exception: many questions here are asked about its meaning.

Consider:

But the Hebrew root letters for "nephilim" appear clear: nun, peh, and lamed (the -im suffix puts the noun in masculine plural, but is not part of the root).

Based on the root letters, one can easily look up the word's meaning. And I have not found any resource that yields "giant" or "alien" or the like for this root. Here's what I found instead:

Pealim.com's search results for נפל

It means "to fall, to drop" (Pa'al) or "to throw down" (Hif'il).

This appears to point to the iniquitous, fallen state of these people--the same fallen nature that prompted the Flood.

So my questions are these:

  • Why is this not translated as "the fallen ones"?

  • What support, beyond mere mythology or tradition, is there for translating this as "giants"?

Note: If one claims that the "nephilim" are connected with the "annakim" (sons of Anak--the family of giants that included Goliath), the question yet remains, why would "nephilim" mean anything other than "fallen ones"--weren't the Canaanites dispossessed of their territory because they had fallen into Godlessness? Any contextual-based answers of this nature need to make sure they are not utilizing circular reasoning.

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    I'd point you to Chuck Missler. He is regarded as a Genesis 6 domain expert. khouse.org/articles/1997/110 Jul 9, 2023 at 5:43
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    @KeenanDiggs Thank you for the link. Chuck has made some astute observations, but has put them together in unsupportable ways; such as saying that "sons of God" is only used to refer to angels in the OT. The truth is, it is only used five times, twice in the passage in Genesis which we are trying to understand, and thrice in Job where it does refer to angels each time. To say the Genesis' occurrences must also mean the same as those in Job is a stretch, and more so when one learns from the NT that "as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12).
    – Biblasia
    Jul 9, 2023 at 5:53
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    To me, it makes sense that the "Sons of God" is an order/realm of heavenly beings. John 1:12 seems to indicate that Christ purchased the ability for the believer to be inducted into this heavenly order, if they choose to do so. (He gave them the power to become). I don't know that it makes sense to shoehorn eternal beings into a single discrete category without other expressions/manifestations of their being. Jul 9, 2023 at 6:07
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    @KeenanDiggs Only those who are obedient to God are His sons, whether angels or men. Remember that Jesus called the Pharisees sons of their father the devil because they did the works of the devil (see John 8:44). This neither meant the devil had physically fathered them, by copulating with their mothers, nor that they could not be reinstated as God's children if they would be obedient and loyal to God.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 9, 2023 at 6:17
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    @KeenanDiggs Do you refer to the Pharisees? Would you have me believe they were actually bastard children of the devil, whose mothers had unfaithfully slept with the Enemy of souls to bear nephilim children? If so, why does the Bible never call these Jews "nephilim"? Common sense tells us that if man and beast cannot copulate and produce offspring, being both made of flesh, much less so should angels, being spirits, and not flesh, have any possibility--even if they married among themselves (which Jesus negates)--of producing offspring with humans. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 9, 2023 at 6:39

6 Answers 6

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This is an old chestnut that has been chewed upon for centuries, indeed, millennia, because the book of 1 Enoch is based upon some misunderstandings of this text in Gen 6:2-4. So, let me list the indisputable facts and when we can reasonably conclude from this data.

  1. The term "Nephilim" occurs in only three places in the OT, Gen 6:4 and Numb 13:33 (twice).
  2. The noun נְפִיל (nephil) appears to be related to the verb נָפַל (naphal) meaning to fall or lie. Thus, the nephilim were understood (Strong's) to mean, "a feller, i.e. A bully or tyrant or giant". (this is disputed by some.)
  3. In Gen 62, 4, the Nephilim appear to be equated with the progeny of the union of sons of God and the daughters of men. Therefore, what is the meaning of the "son of God".
  4. The "sons of God" occurs in the OT with two distinct meanings:
  • heavenly beings of some sort, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, Dan 3:25, Ps 89:1.
  • Human beings who are faithful to God, Deut 32:8 (LXX), Ps 29:1. See also Luke 3:38 where Adam is called the "son of God". In the NT we only have "Son of God" applied to Christ, and "sons of God" in Matt 5:9, Luke 20, 36, Rom 8:14, 19, 9:26, Gal 3:26, 4:6 all applied to God's faithful people. However, "children of God" is also used often to mean God's faithful people, 1 John 3:1, 2, 10, Rom 8:16, 21, 9:8, Phil 2:15, John 1:12, 11:52, etc.
  1. Angels are not capable of procreation as Jesus clearly stated in Matt 22:30, Mark 12:25.
  2. "Nephilim" in Num 13:33 definitely refers to humans, specifically the sons of Anak, or Anakim, where definitely giants because the spies reported that they were like grasshoppers in comparison.

Thus, whatever, Gen 6:2, 4 refers to, it does not refer to angels.

What does "Nephilim" refer to Gen 6:4?

With all the above, it is not necessary, indeed, would be contrary to Scripture, to assume that the Nephilim in Gen 6:4 were angels. Further, it is not even necessary to assume that they were anything other than "men of renown", great men, or giants.

This appears to be consistent with all the Biblical data.

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  • Thank you. I agree with most of this; we see it much the same as I have researched most of those same passages. However, to get my vote, you will need to clarify more specifically why "nephilim" are thought to be "giants." (We agree that they are not angels.) As you said, the "giant" definition from Strong's is disputed. What evidence would lead a translator to choose "giants" over "fallen ones"? Note that this is a real question, as I am presently editing a Bible translation in another language, and I want to be as objective as possible, not merely opinionated.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 9, 2023 at 7:16
  • @Biblasia - I presented the main reason - Num 13:33 says that the Israelites were, "grasshoppers" in comparison.
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2023 at 8:47
  • Yours may be the best, and only, plausible answer as to why translators have chosen to represent nephilim as "giants." However, this line of reasoning is insufficient to pass such a translation from the realm of "subjective" to "tenable" in my estimation. (Not my DV, by the way.) I am hoping still for a more evidence-based, supportable answer, without which I cannot feel justified in doing as earlier translators have done.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 9, 2023 at 9:21
  • No where does it say that angels are incapable of procreation. Jesus merely and only says angels were not given in marriage and do not marry. That does NOT give you the liberty to assume they cannot procreate. G3:15 says they have seed especially and considering the NT speaks of the Old Serpent being Satan himself. So having seed means having the capacity to procreate. Please be more diligent in your study. Thank you. Jul 10, 2023 at 3:32
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    @NihilSineDeo - I think the "seed" of the devil is the same as having the devil as your father - moral progeny rather than biological progeny. (See John 8)
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2023 at 3:51
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Because “nephilim” looks like the plural form of the Hebrew “naphal,” which primarily means “to fall” (although it can also mean “miscarriage” and even “wonderful; mighty”), most commentators believe it refers to “Fallen Ones.” As such, some have gone to great lengths to convince people that these “Fallen Ones” actually “came down” from above and are the explanation of both ancient and modern alien astronauts and UFO accounts.

Yet in the form in which it is found in the Hebrew Bible, if the term nephilim came from Hebrew naphal, it would be spelled differently. So if the term truly meant “Fallen Ones,” the spelling would be nephulim, and “those who fall away” would be spelled nophelim. As Hebrew scholar Michael Heiser says, “The only way in Hebrew to get nephilim from naphal by the rules of Hebrew morphology (word formation) would be to presume a noun spelled naphil and then pluralize it. I say ‘presume’ since this noun does not exist in biblical Hebrew—unless one counts Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, the two occurrences of nephilim—but that would then be assuming what one is trying to prove!” That is begging the question.

A more precise explanation for nephilim is that it is an Aramaic term, a language very similar to Hebrew that uses the same alphabet. In Aramaic the noun naphil does exist, but it does not mean “fall,” it means “giant.” It is no wonder then that the LXX (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) translates nephilim as gigantes—“giants.” Heiser says, “It is most likely that nephilim is an Aramaic term imported into Hebrew during the final editing of the Hebrew Bible in Babylon (where Aramaic was the lingua franca) and then the ending was corrected to Hebrew rules of word formation. Both phenomena are known in the Hebrew Bible.
(Source: Harvest Bible Church: Commentary- The Mysterious Nephilim)

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  • I appreciate the lead regarding the Aramaic connection. However, if all of this is a "spelling" issue with the Hebrew, as your commentarians posit, can you tell me if this would still have been an issue before the Masoretes added their niqqud? You see, the Masoretes were among the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and all of their views, including whether to accept the Book of Enoch and other pseudepigrapha, are colored by this. Their interpretations on a matter of this nature must be assumed to be quite subjective. If the spelling issue requires niqqud, this theory is untenable.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 1:33
  • The basis of that interpretation is the fact that the word in Numbers 13:33 is spelled with an extra yod in the middle (vowel letter). It clarifies the presence of the long e in the spelling. "...the Masoretic text is generally the most conservative in its use of matres lectionis, with the Samaritan Pentateuch and its forebearers being more full and the Qumran tradition showing the most liberal use of vowel letters." Jul 10, 2023 at 18:31
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The name giants comes from the Septuagint γιγαντες the translation of the Hebrew Nephilim הנפלים and the aramaic Targum uses Gibborim, also translated as giants in English for the same reason, that’s where the translation of giants comes from in the English.

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  • This sounds like you are saying the Targum translates as "giants" because the Septuagint did. If the Septuagint hadn't, would the Targum still do the same? In other words, seeing how someone else translated the word, and then following it "monkey see, monkey do" style, does not sound like a proper methodology, nor support for continuing in that practice. If the Hebrew root letters clearly mean "fall" (as everyone else here so far has agreed), why suddenly "giants"? I appreciate your historical input--I'm looking for better evidence than mere tradition--as already noted in the OP.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 4:28
  • Are you deliberately being difficult? I said the LXX translates Nephilim as giants. Gibborim is also translated as giants by the LXX. LXX is not tradition. It’s a translation by 70 different translators who agreed on the translation of the LXX. They were also native ancient Hebrew speakers and scholars. They carry much weight. I answered your question where giants comes from with respect to Nephilim. If you had a different question maybe ask your question clearer. Jul 10, 2023 at 4:39
  • Again, the legend of the 70 translators is based on the Letter of Aristeas, which many deem a fraud. Why would God work a miracle to help them all translate identically when He had forbidden them from going to Egypt in the first place? Consider: "For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; As mine anger and my fury hath been poured forth upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so shall my fury be poured forth upon you, when ye shall enter into Egypt: and ye shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach; and ye shall see this place no more." (Jeremiah 42:18)
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 4:54
  • "The LORD hath said concerning you, O ye remnant of Judah; Go ye not into Egypt: know certainly that I have admonished you this day." (Jeremiah 42:19)
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 5:00
  • You understand what an admonishment is correct? You also understand that they disobeyed the admonishment, yes? “And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭28‬:‭68‬ ‭God said as the last of the curses that going back to sell themselves to the Egyptians would be parts of the curses. You also understand that JESUS Himself went to Egypt. Your argument doesn’t even hold on by a thread, it’s moot. Jul 10, 2023 at 12:00
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The translation is correct in the sense that the logic of LXX explains what happened and why they are indeed the earthly (γη, γηγενής) children of egregors. Egregors are tribal spirits κητοσ (English a kit) that were created on the fourth day with the (fish,) reptiles, and birds. Gen 1:21, Job 9:13 These are the spirits that make a school of fish or a flock of birds to move as one unit. So a group of giants was living, moving, and fighting as one unit with one soul.

The usual translation of κητοσ as whales is wrong. Whales are mammals that were not created on that day but only later. The Russian "кит" for whale is probably coming from the size of the animal that can so be mistaken for a school of fish and also hunting that school for food.

(Also compare the story of Iona saved by the whale(s) - it should be re-read in view of this translation).

This explains why defeating just Goliath was enough to defeat his whole army. Goliath was the soul of the whole formation (or in defeating him that soul was defeated).

David mentions them in his LXX Psalm 49/48:2 as inhabiting the living world and as a counterpart to the children of anthropos.

Ἀκούσατε ταῦτα, πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, ἐνωτίσασθε, πάντες οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν οἰκουμένην, 2 ▼οἵ τε γηγενεῖς καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πλούσιος καὶ πένης.

It also explains why no giant skeletons were found - they were not hundred (or fifty) cubits elbows/hands long in height (huge man) but rather were a group of a hundred men (man - mano - hand) fighting as one unit. Also, compare to Hecatoncheires who are also called giants. Greek ἑκατόν (hekaton, "hundred") and χείρ (cheir, "hand” or "arm").

As to the story of Heavenly Sons entering earthly women, the giants Hecatoncheires are said to be sons of Earth Gaia and of Heaven ο ορανωσ Uranus. In the book of Enoch, their stature is said to be three hundred cubits (elbows). There were also exactly three Hecatoncheires of a hundred hands/elbows each. This also fits quite well.

There is generally much to learn from this analogy of biblical giants and mythical Hecatoncheires and so from Titanomachy from the same context that also mentions Tartar (and by opposition Cosmos).

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  • I see mythology has the upper hand in many minds. Not much Biblical support for your conclusions, despite pointing at a couple of verses. You also believe, I suppose, that these giants were about 600 feet tall and were eating as ravenous monsters. That is what the Book of Enoch teaches. There is a reason that said book is not in the Bible.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 19:10
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    " You also believe, I suppose, that these giants were about 600 feet tall " I literally stated the opposite...
    – grammaplow
    Jul 10, 2023 at 19:48
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    A cubit means elbow, that's what I was referring to the hand/man/mano error in translation - not the distance of three hundred elbows, but a group of people of three hundred hands. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubit Also compare to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecatoncheires who are also called giants. I will add this to the text.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 10, 2023 at 21:51
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    It is also interesting that greek mythology lists three Hecatoncheires (Cottus, Briareusand Gyges) and in your quote there are three hundred-hands. Maybe this refers to the same thing exactly? They also sons of Earth Gaia (and of Heaven ο ορανωσ Uranus). This fits quite well, actually.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 10, 2023 at 21:59
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    This is the hermeneutics site. We study the text and it’s meaning. Though that the sun rises every day is a fact. That the earth rotates around its axis and around the sun is also a fact. It’s a matter of perspective which narrative makes it into the text as a myth and which as a history.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 13, 2023 at 14:49
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Pretty sure the Bible was crystal clear on who they were when it was defined the first time it appeared and it had nothing to do with gigantism.

Genesis 6:4 NIV

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of man and had children by them. They were the heroes [gibbôr] of old, men of renown [shêm].”

Since the Nephilim were on the earth after the flood, maybe that’s why the establishment keeps pushing this “gigantism” conflation that has nothing to do with the word. Maybe the Nephilim make up our modern-day false heroes and men of renown.

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Main question: What support is there for "nephilim" meaning "giants"?

  • Why is this not translated as "the fallen ones"?

Answer: "fallen ones" seems to be a fair translation. It is used by the YLT and a couple of others. It seems the majority of editors do not translate it, but keep the Hebrew word "Nephilim." This seems even better to me, precisely because of the controversy the OP mentions.

  • What support, beyond mere mythology or tradition, is there for translating this as "giants"?

Translating "nephilim" as "fallen ones" doesn't really some the problem. The "giants" (גִּבּוֹר) are mentioned in the next sentence, apparently as the offspring of the nephilim, not as nephilim themselves, who are usually thought of as huge fallen angels as described in the the Book of Enoch and Jubilees. The word גִּבּוֹר is usually translated by contemporary scholars as "heroes" or "mighty men." But in the Septuagint there is no ambiguity: γίγαντες means "giants." So rather than rejecting "giants" out of hand, I would suggest that the author of Genesis may have preserved an old legend; "giants" may be the right translation even if one doesn't believe the story literally.

Mythology and tradition are important sources of religious truth. Many point to the myth that woman was taken from man's side, or that the four-legged serpent instantly became a snake because of God's curse. Are these not myths merely because the translation is clear? The bottom line is that one person's mythological tradition is another's holy scripture. So the fact that something is "mere" myth does not mean translators must reject it. Nevertheless, I do agree that "fallen ones" is a legitimate translation of "nephilim."

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  • If one goes by the Book of Enoch, one should expect to see fossilized human femurs over 100 feet long (the giants were supposed to be 300 cubits tall). With the millions of fossils that have been discovered, these giants are simply absent in the record. Zero. And these mythical creatures were supposed to be taller than the tallest trees! Their bones would have stuck around an awful long time, even without becoming fossils! Obviously, the Book of Enoch is not in the Bible for a reason. And how could a human woman have even given birth to such a monster without dying in labor or pregnancy?
    – Biblasia
    Jul 10, 2023 at 20:04
  • I am not making a scientific argument. I accept the possibility that Genesis 6 is based on an old legend, not scientific truth. Neither do I believe that the millions of land-based animal and bird species that survived the Flood all went two by two (or seven by seven) onto Noah's ark, ;-) Jul 10, 2023 at 20:08

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