What are demons? The Bible says they are unclean spirits, but what is an unclean spirit? What are the Nephilim? Are they angels, the sons of God (a divine council), or giants? Are they connected to demons somehow?
We first see Nephilim in Genesis 6, and it seems like Nephilim are distinct from but are related to these giants/mighty warriors. The word Nephilim ( נְפִיל) comes from the word naphal (נָפַל), which means to fall. Essential Nephilim means fallen ones. The word giants are translated from gibbor(גִּבּוֹר) which means mighty men. The term giants come from the Greek translation of the old testament which uses the word gigantes (γίγαντες). Some interpret this phrase to mean mighty warriors or tyrannical kings rather than literal giants. Meanwhile, others see them as literal because of descriptions of the size of being like Goliath and King Og. There is a theory that demons are the unclean spirits of those warriors/giants after they died in the flood. Gen 6:4 (kjv) says, “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the Sons of God (Nephilim) came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men (mighty warriors) which were of old, men of renown.”
The Sons of God are defined as either a separate set of heavenly beings making up a Divine Council (Job 1 & 2, Psalms 29 & 89) or a special class of angels (messengers). Many take, the fallen angel view, even though the word angel is never used in Gen 6:4. Meanwhile, others say that it is more likely that the Sons of God are another group in the host of heaven besides the cherubim, seraphim, and angels. “Angel” is the Greek word for messenger, and angels primarily came to earth with messages from God to humans earth in the Old Testament. The other heavenly hosts mainly appear in visions and divine revelations and are always in God’s presence rather than leaving heaven to go to earth because they are not messengers. In Genesis 6:4 some of these “Sons of God” acted in the rebellion of heaven and left their heavenly domain in rebelling against God (Jude 1:6). Whether or not they are classified as angels or a divine council, they fell from heaven, so they are spiritual rebels nonetheless and should be seen as antagonists.
There is a theory on a connection between giants and demons. The first mention of demons/unclean spirits is in Deuteronomy 32:17, not in Genesis, so maybe they first appeared post-flood? When the Giants died in the flood, it is suggested that their spirits (Rephaim) became demons. Since demons are also called unclean spirits and they can be distinguished from the fallen ones (Nephilim) because they are defined as spirits rather than angels which are called malak (מַלְאַךְ) which means messenger and unlike spirits, angels have bodies. Rephaim is the plural of raphah (רָפָה) which is often used in the bible to refer to the spirits of the dead (Isa 26:13-14, Isa 14:9, Ps 88:4-5,10). In addition, the tribes of giants in Deuteronomy 2:10-11 are collectively referred to as Rephaites and both come from the word rapha (רָפָא).
It’s hypothesized by some, that the Rephaim (spirits) wandered the earth rather than staying in Sheol (hell). It is possible this happened because they were hybrids, born from a heavenly being and a human, and this gave them special privileges to wander the earth as spirits. It kind of explains why demons can possess humans and animals. Angels have bodies and can even eat food (Genesis 18:1-8), but spirits however do not have bodies (2 Cor 5:3). Ever notice that angels never possess anyone in the bible? Could this be because they have bodies? Meanwhile, demons are bodiless spirits so they have to possess living beings to interact with the physical world directly. This theory could explain why demons possess people, maybe they long to be a part of the natural world again. It makes sense that they are compatible with living beings because are the shades of formerly living things. It also serves as an explanation for ancestral worship, because if they are the spirits of dead giants, then they are the ancestors of anyone from their lineage. The main idea for this theory is that angels have immortal heavenly bodies and can’t die and therefore can’t possess anyone, because they don’t become spirits. This means demons have to be separate beings that once had a body but lost them (through death) and wandered as unclean spirits. Although some believe that the fallen ones can’t die because of the threat God made to them in Ps 82:7, and when they did they became unclean spirits. I don’t know which of these theories is true, but I thought they were interesting.
There are many theories on how the giants were formed. Some object to the idea of angels having sex because of what Jesus says to the Sadducees about the marriage after the resurrections in Matthew 22:22-33, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:27-40. He said that after the resurrections of the righteous (when we get the new bodies for eternity), we will be like the angels in heaven not given in marriage. He says those who will inherit eternal life don’t become angels but will be “like them”. In other words, believers will have eternal heavenly bodies, free from sexual desire for all eternity (possibly as eternal prepubescent children). However, if the Sons of God are not angels but a different class of being then this may not apply to them, and they may have sexual urges. However, it is also possible their motives were not carnal pleasures at all, but an attempt to “save” humanity in their own ideas contradicting God’s plan.
The main understanding many believers have is that the Sons of God physically manifest on the earth, and then physically had sex with the women. We know angels come to earth in bodies, from many examples in the old testament like the two angels in Genesis 18 & 19 that rescue Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah, or the angels in Genesis 32:1, the one in Joshua 5:13-15. So there isn’t anything ruling out heavenly beings appearing on earth physically and engaging in physical activity like sex and producing these giants. On the topic of giants, some object to there being literal giants at all, and reject the idea that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are even supernatural beings, but rather they are just human warriors with great reputations. They say the giants are just figurative language referring to legends about great people. Meanwhile, the other side believes that they are literal giants like Goliath who measured to be about 9 feet (1 Samuel 17:4), as well as the King Og of Bashan of the Rephaites whose bed was 13 feet long (Deut 3:11).
Another idea is that the heavenly rebellious Sons of God taught human women advanced sciences like gene manipulation which caused them to produce giants and corrupt the gene pool. During pregnancy, the mother’s conditions like stress and intoxication can have gene-altering effects on the baby through epigenetics, so they could have been normal human babies that were genetically modified. Maybe using “witchcraft” with drugs, aka Pharmakia. Pharmakia is the Greek word for witchcraft, and it is where we get the English word Pharmacy. People who view them as celibate angels but also believe in literal giants would likely prefer a view like this.
The last idea is that it was spiritual sex, and this ties into a possible idea of their motives. This idea concept is that spiritual power overtook human women and got them pregnant, kind of like the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary in the gospels (Luke 2:35). This means that Genesis 6 involved “virgin births”, but these corrupt virgin births produce monsters instead of messiahs. This theory feeds into another theory about their motivation for mating with human women, which I will discuss now.
The main idea behind the heavenly rebel’s motivations throughout history is that they were just horny angels. This gets tracked in 1 Timothy 2:9 when Paul talks about women covering their hair for the sake of the angels. However the traditions of that culture were for only married women to cover their hair, so I don’t think this was a universal spiritual revelation since single women would be exposed. Otherwise, God would require all women everywhere to cover their hair lest giants appear on the earth again and again. However, there is another possibility that maybe these rebels were trying to “save” humanity. The idea is that the Sons of God thought Cain was “the woman’s seed” that was going to save humanity according to the prophecy in Gen 3:15. After he killed his brother it became clear that he was not the messiah, which may have led them to the true conclusion that it would need to a be sinless human born from a virgin who would defeat the serpent. While that is correct from the Christian messianic point of view, that doesn’t mean any heavenly spirit can just make a messiah with a virgin. None of the Sons of God or angels in heaven can replace the Holy Spirit who is a part of God himself. Doing this on their own would be a grievous act of rebellion. Their offspring end up being enhanced humans with the ability to stay on earth as unclean spirits (demons) even after their bodies are destroyed.
After the flood there were still some giant tribes like the ones mentioned in Deut 2, so demons (or other heavenly rebels) may have taught more women the same science, or more mated with them. One theory explaining the reappearance of giants is that Noah’s daughters-in-laws carried Nephilim genes. A curious thing is that there are no female giants mentioned in the bible, so maybe women are just carriers. This may play into why Jesus had to be born of a virgin, since many believe it is because male sperm carries sin nature, so Jesus had to bypass having an earthly father to be sin-free. It’s possible that the mechanics for a giant physically can only manifest on the Y chromosome, but can be carried by an X. This is the case for diseases like hemophilia and Hunter syndrome. The alternative though is that beings survived the flood. One may object because Gen 6:21-23 says everything that died that was not in Noah’s Ark. Some can interpret this in reference to only normal creations of God so these mutants were exceptions, or the flood was local so only everything in the ancient near east region died.
Whether or not it was through intercourse or gene editing is a mystery. I don’t think intercourse is completely out of the question though. Again angels can walk the earth in humanoid bodies and even eat food as they did with Abraham in Genesis 18. So if they can eat what else can they do? In Genesis 19 the men of Sodom tried to have sex with heavenly beings. Why would they think they could have sex with someone if it isn’t physically possible? Jude 1:6-7 compares Genesis 6 to Genesis 19 making a connection between spirit beings desiring to intermingle with humans in Gen 6 and vice versa from Sodom. Jude refers to the Sodomites craving “strange” flesh and some suggest that this implies they knew these men were otherworldly. Final Note: 2 Peter 2:4 mentions “fallen angels” as being held until the day of Judgment. This shows that demons can’t be the same as the fallen ones since demons are not in chains but rather wander the earth seeking to possess and oppress people (Luke 11:24-26). Meanwhile, according to Peter, these “fallen ones” are bound in Sheol (Tartarus or hell) awaiting Judgment day.
A possible link to the 120 years of Genesis 6:3:
Most theologians and such have interpreted Gen 6:3 to mean that humans only have 120 years to live, however, many post-flood people lived way longer than that, even Abraham: 175 years old (Gen 25:7) and Isaac: 180 years old (Gen 35:28), Job: 140 years old (Job 42:16). There is another possible interpretation of the 120-year limit mentioned in Genesis 6:3. Gen 6:3 God says his spirit will not dwell with man forever, he also is flesh, and his days will be 120 years. The idea is that when it says, “he also is flesh”, the also implies that this verse is not about humans but about the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of mankind. He suggests that is why the text says “he ALSO is flesh”. This is suggested to be a new kind of flesh that is separate and distinct from mankind because of the use of the word “also”.
Furthermore, it is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls that God said this when Noah was 480 years old. 120 years later Noah was 600 and that is when God sent the flood.
Source: [4Q252 1.1-3, see Devorah Dimant, “The Flood as Preamble: The Perspective of the Qumran Hebrew Texts,” pp. 110-122]: “In the year four hundred and eighty of Noah’s life, Noah reached the end of them. And God said: ‘My Spirit will not reside in man forever. Their days shall be fixed at one hundred and twenty years until the end of the waters of the flood.’”
This idea comes from the ancient Jewish sages from before Jesus’ time who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, so some may put this idea in the same category as Apocrypha and view it as uninspired by God. They believed that the 120 years was a time limit on how long the giants would physically be around to continue messing up the earth. They are the new kind of flesh that “also” existed alongside humans and they would be killed along with humans in the flood 120 years later than this decree.
Gen 6:4 in the Hebrew lexicon
Rapha (רָפָא) departed spirits
Rapha (רָפָא) Giant/Warriors tribes
The Bible Project podcast video on the subject
An article on Fallen Angels and Demons
Michael Heiser’s theories on demons
Genesis 6-11 Study
From Wikipedia (Rephaite):
“There are two main groups of etymological hypotheses explaining the origins of the biblical Rephaim. The first group proposes that this is a native Hebrew language term, which could be derived either from the root רפא or רפה. The first root, רפא, conveys the meaning of healing and is realized in words such as Hebrew rofe (a physician) or refuah (medicine). The second root, רפה, means being weak, and powerless.
The second group of etymological hypotheses treats the word rephaim as a loanword from some other ancient Semitic language. Among the proposals is the Akkadian rabu, a prince, but this explanation enjoys rather limited popularity. Far more support has been gained by the hypothesis which derives the Hebrew refaim from the Ugaritic rpum which denotes the semi-deified deceased ancestors who are mentioned in such sources as the so-called Rephaim Text (KTU 1:20–22).
Despite the clash between these hypotheses and although the modern translations clearly distinguish between Rephaites as one of the tribes (e.g. Book of Genesis 14:5; 15:18–21; Book of Deuteronomy 2:11–20) and rephaim as the inhabitants of the underworld (e.g. Book of Isaiah 14:9–11; 26:13–15), the same word is used in the original text. The use of rephaim in the Hebrew Bible suggests that behind the biblical narrative were the legends of some ancient indigenous peoples, who inhabited the valleys of the land of Canaan which was subject to the gradual Hebrew conquest.”