TRANSCRIPT: Who were the Nephilim from the Noah movie?

April 29, 2014

Hello this is Questions and Ethics, and I’m Russell Moore. This is the program where we take your questions about ethical and moral issues and try to look at them from a gospel perspective. We are recording today here in the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission studios, and the question I have today isn’t so much about an ethical issue as it is about a theological one. But it has to do with something that is happening in the culture right now. Here is the question: “Dear Dr. Moore, I went to see the movie Noah, and it got me to thinking who do you think the Nephilim in Genesis 6 were?”

That’s a question that I got a lot when I used to guest host a radio program, and we would have a day where people could ask whatever questions they wanted. A lot of people, it seems, would ask this question repeatedly. And like you, I went to see the movie, Noah, and I was really, to be honest, disappointed in the Nephilim in the movie. I am not one of those guys screaming and carrying on, don’t go see Noah! Noah does have places in it—or actually a lot of it—that doesn’t cohere with the biblical text. But I don’t see it as a Christian presentation of the Noah story; I just see it as a point of view on the Noah story in a movie. But the Nephilim in the movie (if you haven’t seen it Spoiler Alert!), they are kind of big rock transformers. And so they are angels of light that are trapped in these rock facades or external skeletons, and they lumber about. And in the movie the Nephilim are presented as sort of good guys. They are the ones who are standing with Adam in the fall, or trying to protect him after the fall. And then they are helping to build the ark. They are guarding the ark and guarding Noah and the family from people who are trying to assault the ark.

But this is based upon something found in the scripture in Genesis chapter 6, right before the account of the flood. And this is what the scripture says, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, 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 great renown.”

Now that is the text, and so we have that text and then we have a few other texts that may or may not illuminate that. And that’s really all we have. And there are really two ways that this has been interpreted in the history of the church and then before that in the history of Israel. One of these is that the “sons of God” are the people of Seth, the faithful line coming from Adam. And the “daughters of men” are the line of Cain. And so the problem then is that there are people who are part of the covenant people of God marrying with people who are outside of the covenant. And the reason that that argument is persuasive to a lot of people is because this problem shows up in the history of Israel of course with the people of Israel marrying with those who are outside of the faith: people who don’t know Israel’s God, who follow after other gods.

But the second view, and the view that I think is probably more plausible biblically, even though it’s implausible in a naturalistic sort of mindset that we see around us in the current age, is the idea that the “sons of God” are angelic beings. That language is used elsewhere in the scriptures. “The sons of God shouted for joy,” the scripture says—the sons of God, that council of angels that we see in Job and in other places. This was some kind of a transgressing of the boundaries between the angelic and the human. Now, in the Noah movie, these are angelic beings, but it’s not clear to me that there is any sort of connection between them and the daughters of man. Instead it is just angels who are now connected somehow with the earth and with the elements of the earth.

But the reason that this argument in plausible to me, and I think the most plausible, is because the scripture references in some mysterious places this event. I Peter chapter 3, for instance, talks about the “spirits in prison.” Jude and Peter talk about those “angels who did not keep their original estate.” And of course there is a long tradition, a Jewish tradition of the “watchers.” That language did show up in the Noah movie of the “watchers,” of those angelic beings who are serving as principalities and powers transgressing those boundaries somehow with humanity. And the result is then these men of great renown, these mysterious figures found before the flood.

So that is one of those things that the scripture doesn’t speak to with the same sort of clarity that it speaks to other things, and so it is something that I would say we shouldn’t speculate about all that much. But we do need to say that the scripture clearly teaches us that there are angelic beings. Scripture clearly teaches us that there are evil angelic beings. And the scripture tells us that God judges wickedness, and he judges wickedness, human and angelic, in terms of, in the Genesis account, judging human wickedness through a flood, washing away wickedness with water. And that there will be a second judgment that happens upon the earth, not with water, but the fire next time as the saying goes. And so I think that that’s what we need to keep in mind.

So, with the Noah movie, we can have disagreements about whether someone ought to see the Noah movie. But the very fact that we are having this sort of conversation which I’ve had with some unbelievers who are asking about the Noah movie: Well what do you think about this? And what about those rock monsters? What are they? Is that really in the Bible? It’s a good opportunity to engage the people around you about the biblical text, and to say well, if you are interested in the Noah movie, actually the original version is even more interesting, and let me share that with you, which gives you then the opportunity to talk about what the scripture says, which is that this flood is prefigured by baptism, by those who find deliverance from the judgment of God by being found in Christ, which is signified in baptism, I Peter chapter 3. That’s a good opportunity to share the gospel.

What’s your question? Send me whatever is on your mind to [email protected]. Maybe it’s a situation that you are dealing with in your home or in your family or in your workplace. Maybe it’s something that you are seeing show up in culture. Or maybe it’s something like this question that you are reading in the Bible and you are saying I’m not sure how to interpret this or how to understand it; and we’ll talk about it here on Questions and Ethics. See you next time. This is Russell Moore.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24