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TRANSCRIPT: Who were the Nephilim from the Noah movie?

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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.