Demons having sex with human beings?
By Spencer D Gear PhD
The meaning of ‘Nephilim’ has caused quite a bit of theological uneasiness down through the centuries.
William Cook stated the issue well:
The interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 is difficult and controversial. The debate centers on the interpretation of the phrase “sons of God.” Who are they? The crucial question concerns whether the phrase refers to human beings or to spiritual beings (demons) [Cook 2020].
I refer particularly to Genesis 6:4 (ESV), ‘The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown’.
The Geneva Bible (1599), Douay-Rheims Bible (1609/1899), KJV (1611),The Good News Bible (1992), NKJV (1982), Wycliffe Bible (2001) unfortunately gave the primary meaning as ‘giants’. I say, ‘unfortunately’ because that diverts readers away from attempting to discover the essential meaning of the Nephilim.
Most contemporary English translations leave the Nephilim in its transliterated form as the meaning is somewhat obscure.
A few issues emerge from this verse:
A NET Bible footnote states:
The Hebrew word ????????? (nefilim) is simply transliterated here, because the meaning of the term is uncertain. According to the text, the Nephilim became mighty warriors and gained great fame in the antediluvian world. The text may imply they were the offspring of the sexual union of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of humankind” (v. 2), but it stops short of saying this in a direct manner. The Nephilim are mentioned in the OT only here and in Num 13:33, where it is stated that they were giants (thus KJV, TEV, NLT “giants” here).
1. The Nephilim
Adam Clarke stated that the Nephilim referred to those who
fell… Those who had apostatized or fallen from the true religion…. the word when properly understood makes a very just distinction 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.
Regarding the translation of ‘giants’ (KJV), Clarke’s exegesis was that the translation as ‘giants [was] without having any reference to the meaning of the word, which we generally conceive to signify persons of enormous stature’.
This is a contemporary interpretation that demands a response. It’s from Bill Perkins of Compass International (2020):
There was one specific and creepy sin that God pointed out:
… that the sons of God [angels] saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Gen. 6:2
The “Sons of God,” referring to angelic spirits (Job 1:6), took the form of humans (Heb. 13:2) and began mating with earthly humans and producing children. Ostensibly, the children had their human DNA compromised.
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. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Gen. 6:4 (Perkins 2020).
Perkins’ interpretation seems to be a throw-back to his view of what the preceding verses mean. If one has the premonition of angelic marriages, then ‘sons of God’ is a read phrase to flow in with that interpretation.
Verse 4 is not that difficult to interpret. The nephilim were the front-line men who stirred up fear as the only other OT passage that uses nephilim indicates: ‘And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’ (Num 13:33 ESV). The men of Anakim were of great stature.
Therefore, Kaiser Jr., et. al. (1996:108) conclude, ‘The meaning of nepilim/gibb?r?m is not “giants,” but something more like “princes,” “aristocrats” or “great men”’. Leupold favours an ‘awe-inspiring’ translation such as:
Following the Hebrew root naphal is by far the simplest. One meaning of this verb is to “fall upon = attack”: see Jer 48:32; Josh 11:7; and without any preposition, Job 1:15. This verb could readily yield this noun in the sense of “attackers,” “robbers,” “bandits.” So we have the thought: So we have the thought: the descendants of the godly patriarchs abandoned their spiritual heritage (v.1, 2) so that God was moved to determine upon their destruction (v.3); and there were also violent attackers and robbers abroad in those days (v.4) [Leupold 1942:258].
Luther translated nephilim as ‘tyrants’ (in Leupold 1942:258).
2. Were the ‘sons of God’ angels?
So, are the ‘sons of God’ really angels who had sex with human beings, according to Gen 6:4? In addition to the challenge of the meaning of nephilim, to what does the ‘sons of God’ refer?
The view of Jewish ancient historian, Josephus, was:
For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants (Antiquities 1.3.1).
There are times in Scripture when ‘sons of God’ refer to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Daniel 3:25; Psalm 29:1; 89:7). Perkins concludes that is the meaning here.
Cook’s (2020) conclusion of the meaning of ‘sons of God’ is that
in light of examples we see in the New Testament [Mark 5:1-20; John 13:27] it seems best to assume that these evil spirits took possession of the bodies of wicked men and used them for their own sinful purposes.
The New Testament gives us clear examples of demons—and even Satan himself—indwelling human beings and causing them to act in horrific ways.
However, he notes the oldest and most widely held interpretation is that ‘sons of God’ refers to demons (fallen angels). This interpretation was accepted by ancient Judaism and the early church.
Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165) wrote:
Justin Martyr (image courtesy Wikipedia)
The angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begot children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness (Second Apology, ch 5).
I find it strange exegesis of the passage that angels have sex with human beings and produce demons, especially when the context of 6:1-4 makes it clear who the ‘sons’ are. They are the Sethites from chapter 5, among whom were godly men such as Enoch (Gen 6:22) and men like Lamech who worshipped God, even when the going was tough (Gen 4:26).
It is appropriate these men should be called ‘sons of God’, a designation given to true followers of the Lord God (cf Deut 32:5; Hos 1:10). In this latter verse, there is a stronger emphasis:
Yet the number of the Israelites
will be like the sand of the sea,
which cannot be measured or counted.
And in the place where they were told:
You are not my people,
they will be called: Sons of the living God (Hos 1:10 CSB).
So, the description, ‘sons of God’, refers to those who truly follow the Lord God.
Yes, ‘sons of God’ is used to refer to angels in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7 and Dan 3:25. It is erroneous to state that in the OT ‘sons of God’ refers only to angels. As the above examples indicate, that is not so.
Hebrew, like English, can use the one word with several different meanings. Take the English, ‘wave’: I can move my hand back and forth to wave goodbye; the trees waved in the wind; my hair has waves in it (curly); he rides the monster waves at Hawaii on his surfboard, and a wave of sadness swept over me.
3. Did the angels have sex with each other?
No, the ‘sons of God’ were not angels but godly Sethites and others. They were godly men.
4. Who are the mighty men?
It is regrettable the KJV and some other translations read ‘giants’ for nephilim as the word refers to ‘the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown’. Angelic marriages are not indicated to produce this offspring.
The mistranslated ‘giants’ are villains – robbers, attackers, bandits, even tyrants (Luther).
(Image Chester Beatty XII, Greek manuscript of the Book of Enoch, 4th century, courtesy Wikipedia)
As I was concluding this article, I became aware of recent research by Cavan W. Concannon, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Southern California – a scholar of early Christianity. In The Conversation (12 August 2020) is found the article, The belief that demons have sex with humans runs deep in Christian and Jewish traditions. He cites ancient and contemporary supporters of this view, including Tertullian of Carthage who, in the third century BC, cited the “Book of the Watchers”[also called Book of Enoch, 1 Enoch] an apocalyptic vision written in the name of a mysterious character named Enoch mentioned in Genesis’.
Tertullian wrote: ‘I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order (of action) to angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either’ (On Apparel of Women, 1.3). Further,
And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness (Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 18)
It is evident that Tertullian and other early church fathers relied heavily on a book from the Pseudepigrapha – false identification of the author – Book of Enoch (chs 6-9) for their teaching on the interpretation of Gen 6:4.
Should it be included in Scripture? See:
- What is the book of Enoch and should it be in the Bible? | GotQuestions.org
- What Is The Book Of Enoch? Does It Belong In The Bible? (Jack Wellman, Prison Fellowship)
- What is the banned book of Enoch? (John Oakes, Evidence for Christianity).
7. Works consulted
Cook, W F 2020. The Gospel Coalition, U.S. edition (Online). Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6? 6 January. Available at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/who-are-sons-of-god-genesis-6/ (Accessed 7 August 2020).
Josephus F 2017. Project Gutenberg The antiquities of the Jews (online), W Whiston (ed), 2017. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#linknote-11 (Accessed 14 August 2020).
Kaiser Jr, W C, Davids, P H, Bruce, F F & Brauch, M T 1996. Hard sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Leupold H C 1942. Exposition of Genesis 1942. The Wartburg Press, also London: Evangelical Press. Also available online at CCEL at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/leupold/genesis.i.html (Accessed 14 August 2020).
Perkins, B 2020. Compass International (online), The return of the Nephilim, 28 July. Available at: https://compass.org/the-return-of-the-nephilim/ (Accessed 7 August 2020).
 The ESV has the footnote, ‘Or giants’.
 Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Gen+6%3A4&version=NET (Accessed 13 August 2020).
 At this point in the translation by William Whiston has the note: ‘This notion, that the fallen angels were, in some sense, the fathers of the old giants, was the constant opinion of antiquity’.
 Dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020. s.v. Justin Martyr). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Justin-Martyr (Accessed 7 August 2020).
(image courtesy SlideServe)
Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 August 2020.