LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
"Hey Kuya Jeff, I was wondering if you could help me explain the concept of Nephilim to my friend. We had a pretty intense discussion earlier, and he strongly believes that Nephilim are the offspring of fallen angels and humans. This topic came up during our Bible Study at DBP, and I felt that the text was actually referring to the intermarriage between the descendants of Seth and Cain. However, I'm not sure how to address my friend's belief without making him feel like I'm attacking his perspective. I'd really appreciate it if you could share some Catholic documents and references that can shed light on this matter." - Yanyan G
Engaging in discussions with individuals holding different viewpoints can be quite beneficial. I appreciate your consideration of your friends' emotions while staying true to your convictions. Disagreements don't necessarily lead to negative outcomes. Engaging in a respectful conversation about biblical truths can actually fortify your friendship. As you requested, I'd like to provide you with some resources you can use to deepen your understanding of the Nephilim concept and share with your friend:
1. Genesis 6:1-4 mentions the Nephilim, describing them as being of significant size and strength. However, the passage is open to interpretation, and the true identity of the Nephilim is a subject of debate. The Hebrew term נְפִילִים (Nephilim) can be loosely translated as "giant," "mighty men," or "fallen ones." Other Bible scholars, such as Dr. Scott Hahn, have even translated Nephilim as "tyrants." Notably, the Catholic Church does not include any specific reference to this passage in the Catechism, possibly because it aims to emphasize more essential aspects of faith rather than delving into minor details.
2. A prevailing interpretation suggests that the "sons of God" are angels who marry human women and engage in sexual relations with these women, who are referred to as the daughters of men. This unholy union, it is said, results in the birth of the Nephilim. However, there is a counterargument against this view, based on scriptural, traditional, and theological sources. According to these sources, angels are pure spiritual beings and lack physical bodies. They are incapable of procreation or generating offspring, as it goes against their nature. Therefore, the notion that they possess the ability to generate offspring is metaphysically impossible and theologically incorrect. In essence, angels cannot produce any form of progeny.
3. Another point of view which I personally subscribe to is that the sons of God are descendants of Seth. They’re descendants of the righteous seed of Adam and of the culture that Adam gave rise to, whereas the daughters of men are the descendants of Cain, the culture that’s also described in Genesis 5. And the sin in question here is the intermarriage between the godly Sethites and the ungodly Cainites. The sons of God in this case are attracted by the women of the Cainite civilization and they intermarry with them and thereby fall into the sin and the idolatry of the Cainite culture. Read Genesis 4 and look at verses 17-23, which describe the descendants of Cain, his genealogy, who are warlike, murderers, violent and polygamous, and then contrast that with the descendants of Seth who are described in verse 26. The descendants of Seth are described in this way. It says they begin to call on the name of the Lord. So the Sethites are described as a liturgical civilization, whereas the Cainites are described as a polygamous, violent, technological civilization. And it’s basically these two cities: the godly city, and the ungodly city.
4. The Church Fathers are significant teachers from the early centuries of the Catholic Church. Their writings on Christian doctrine and morals are considered to have great weight and to be worthy of great respect. These men were also characterized by notable holiness. The early Church Fathers generally understood the “sons of God” to be the offspring of Seth, the righteous son of Adam, whereas “daughters of men” are understood be the offspring of Cain, the immoral son of Adam:
* St. Cyril of Alexandria (376 - 444), in his Commentary on the Pentateuch, repudiated the "angel" position with the "line of Seth" interpretation, “That we rightly understand this passage is also very much confirmed by the interpretation of the other translators. Aquila says: ‘When the sons of the gods saw the daughters of men’. On the other hand, instead of ‘sons of the gods’, Symmachus rendered the expression as ‘sons of the rulers’. They called the descendants of Seth and of Enosh sons of the gods, or better, sons of the rulers, because of the piety and godliness which was in them, and because they could defeat all adversaries: while God, I suppose, in all likelihood came to their aid, and made known all around this pious and holy generation, which was not mixed with that other one, that is to say, with the descendants from Cain and, what is more, from Lamech.”
* In his Passion of St. Symphorosa and Her Seven Sons, Sextus Julius Africanus (160 - 240) said in Fragment 2, “When men multiplied on the earth, the angels of heaven came together with the daughters of men. In some copies I found ‘the sons of God.’ What is meant by the Spirit, in my opinion, is that the descendants of Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Saviour Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of men, as having nothing divine in them, on account of the wickedness of their race and the inequality of their nature, being a mixed people, and having stirred the indignation of God.”
* In his Homilies on Genesis, St. John Chrysostom (347 - 407) said in Homily 22, “We made the point before in teaching you that it is customary with Scripture to call human beings sons of God. So, since these people took their origin from Seth and from his son named Enosh those descended from him in future were called sons of God by Sacred Scripture for the reason of their imitation of the virtue of their ancestors up to his time. On the other hand, he gave the name sons of men to those born after Seth, the descendants of Cain and those taking their descent from him.”
5. The Doctors of the Church are acknowledged for their exceptional contributions to the comprehension and interpretation of sacred Scriptures, as well as the advancement of Christian doctrine. Let's explore how two of the most prolific teachers of faith interprets Genesis 6:1-4:
* In The City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) said, “When the human race, in the exercise of this freedom of will, increased and advanced, there arose a mixture and confusion of the two cities by their participation in a common iniquity. And this calamity, as well as the first, was occasioned by woman, though not in the same way; for these women were not themselves betrayed, neither did they persuade the men to sin, but having belonged to the earthly city and society of the earthly, they had been of corrupt manners from the first, and were loved for their bodily beauty by the sons of God, or the citizens of the other city which sojourns in this world.”
* St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) also addresses this issue in the Summa Theologica, particularly in the section examining whether angels possess physical bodies and if they can engage in actions similar to those of humans, "But God's holy angels could not fall in such fashion before the deluge. Hence by the sons of God are to be understood the sons of Seth, who were good; while by the daughters of men the Scripture designates those who sprang from the race of Cain. Nor is it to be wondered at that giants should be born of them; for they were not all giants, albeit there were many more before than after the deluge."
6. Contemporary Bible scholar Dr. Scott Hahn in his book "A Father Who Keeps His Promises", elaborates further on the general position of the Fathers. When people began to multiply on the face of the earth, “the sons of God,” that is, the Sethite men, were seduced by the beauty of “the daughters of men,” that is, the Cainite women. The beauty of the wicked proved stronger than the resolve of the righteous. Sethite men found a new forbidden fruit, the beautiful but ungodly Cainite women, to be irresistible. And they didn’t just marry them; “they married as they chose,” which might imply that, along with mixed marriages, polygamy had now also entered into the line of Seth, the covenant family of God. Thus, violent men were born. When left unchecked, sin becomes institutionalized. In every age of salvation history, sexual immorality and violence go hand in hand, triggering the hard remedy of God’s judgment in the form of the covenant curses. And nothing institutionalizes sin more than marital infidelity. The whole culture gets clobbered, especially the children. And afterward only a remnant survives, barely.
In summary, it is a point of agreement among the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and modern Bible scholars like Dr. Scott Hahn that the Sethite-Cainite interpretation stands as a strong candidate for understanding Genesis 6:1-4. Nevertheless, it remains open to debate unless the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in its role as Mother and Teacher, makes a definitive pronouncement. Regardless of which interpretation ultimately prevails, the fundamental message is clear: humanity was descending further into sin and distancing itself from God.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum