“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful and they married any of them they chose…The Nephilim were on the earth in those days…” (Genesis 6:1-2, 4).
Who were the “Nephilim”? There’s an ancient theory that the Nephilim were the offspring of improper relationships between angels and human women. And according to the 2014 movie Noah starring Russell Crow, the Nephilim were rock giants known as the Watchers. But for the believer who believes God is the author of both the Old and New Testaments, this interpretation is not possible. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels” (Matthew 22:30). In other words, angels don’t procreate. It’s impossible for an angel to have an intimate relationship with a human being.
The key to answering to this puzzling problem is in properly identifying “the sons of God” and the “daughters of humans.” In Genesis 4-5, we see the human race divided into two groups: a group of unbelievers (the descendants of Cain) and a group of believers (the descendants of Seth). The phrase “sons of God” refers to believing male descendants of Seth and “the daughters of men” refers to the female descendants of the unbelieving line. As the population of the earth grew, the men of the believing line (“the sons of God”) pushed their godly heritage to the background and chose their wives from women of the unbelieving line (“the daughters of humans”). Unfortunately, these “mixed marriages” led to the degeneration of the believing line, until it was impossible to distinguish between the two.
One of the characteristics of life in the pre-Flood world that was displeasing to God was violence. There were violent men on the earth in the days before the Flood – the offspring of the “mixed marriages” between the believing and unbelieving line – who were called the Nephilim. This word seems to come from the Hebrew word meaning “to fall upon, to attack,” and describes their violent behavior. The sad irony of this dark period of human history is that these Nephilim were looked up to as role models, as the type of person to be admired. This idealization of violence shows how far the moral compass of the human race had degenerated before the Flood. In fact, the moral decline of the believing line combined with the rise of violence on the earth was so serious that it put the promise of the Savior at risk. The Flood was God’s way of preserving the promise of the Savior in such a violent and sinful world that the very existence of the believing line was in jeopardy.