Nephilim, Anakim, and Why Andrew Wilson is Wrong

GrapesofEshcol-stained glass-CanterburyCathedral

Why do serious theologians persist with a story that reads like third-rate fan fiction?

This is a response to Andrew Wilson’s recent thinktheology post, “Nephilim, Anakim, and Why We Care.”

As the proponents of paedobaptism and full preterism doggedly continue to demonstrate, even the brightest theologians are susceptible to crazy ideas. Unsurprisingly, both of these erroneous doctrines – along with the “fallen angels” reading of Genesis 6 – are the result of a common flaw, and that flaw is a failure to put a finger on the pulse of the actual story.

Substandard fan fiction suffers from the same deficiency: while it is enthralled by the features of the original narratives, it mistakenly identifies these facets as the heart of the story rather than merely elements through which its genius is expressed. While paedobaptism, full preterism, and the “fallen angel” reading of Genesis 6 all manage to scrape together some semblance of support from the Scriptures, they seem oblivious to how “out-of-character” their stories are as intended explanations (or perhaps more correctly, adoring extensions) of the Bible. Many of the trappings of the sacred texts are present, which gives them a veneer of authenticity, but the internal logic – the unseen principle which governs the originals and makes them so captivating – is missing. As with the authors of substandard fan fiction, the driving force of the biblical narrative has not been comprehended by some of its most committed fans.

Ignorance of Covenant Structure

Wilson writes:

I take it as read that the Nephilim (Gen 6:1-4) were the results of sexual relations between angels and women. Many don’t, and I used not to, but I now find the Jewish and early Christian witness compelling, the alternatives (Sethites and Cainites? Kings and harems?) quite unconvincing, and the best counterargument something of a tangent. (For those who are counting, the best counterargument is that Jesus says in Matthew 22:30 that it is impossible for angels to have sex. The obvious response to which is simply: no, he doesn’t.)

Despite the fact that angels are never mentioned in Genesis 6, Wilson has mistakenly written off the intermarriage of Sethites and Cainites as being the best explanation of the story. This is because not only have modern theologians atomised the Bible, they have failed to comprehend the text as repeated iterations of the same sacred architecture. We do not have the freedom to treat the interpretation of Genesis 6 as a multiple choice question in an exam because all the questions in this exam have the same answer. Let me explain.

The history from Adam to Noah is a “macrocosmic” recapitulation of the testing of Adam. The step in the narrative where Adam and Eve grasp equality with God corresponds to the rise of these “god-like” mighty men in Genesis 6, the ultimate outcome of the “seed of the serpent.” This most likely explains the word nephilim which is derived from the word for fallen. These men were no more the offspring of angels than was Cain, who failed to “rule over sin” and instead established his own rival kingdom. Even more significantly, the step where the Lord covered Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 corresponds to the point where God revoked the Edenic atonement through animal blood and covered the entire world. The sin of Adam was “the one,” that is, the cultus, and the sin of the sons of God was “the many,” that is, the outcome of the same sin in the culture. The “fruit” that was stolen was the daughters of men, and they were not stolen by angels but by those, like Adam, who had access to the Sanctuary.

This raises another point: every biblical Covenant is a tour of duty, with a mission, a prize, and accountability. Adam faced blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The fivefold pattern of the commission in Genesis 2 establishes the sevenfold shape of the entire Edenic narrative.

God, the uncreated one, introduces Himself.
He then defines the relationship between Himself as the master and His chosen delegates,
the methods for carrying out the mission (Priesthood, Kingdom, Prophecy)
He outlines the possible outcomes – blessings or curses,
and then describes a future role with greater authority.

Although an angel was involved in the temptation, it was only its “bestial” earthly counterpart which suffered a humiliating curse, since it was part of the world which God had promised to put under Adam’s feet. The angel was actually exalted to a place in the heavenly court, not as an advocate for mankind but as an accuser, an office he held until the ascension of Christ. Thus, the flood was the curse upon those who had broken the “new covenant” established by God in the shedding of sacrificial blood. The angels were not under any Covenant obligation which is why, for angels, who are mere servants and not sons, there is no redemption.

This micro/macro relationship between Eden and the world is the reason why both narratives work through the pattern established in Genesis 1. To help us to understand it, this pattern is later expressed not only in the elements of the Tabernacle, but also in Israel’s annual festal calendar (Leviticus 23):

Creation (Sabbath/Adam)
Division (Passover/Cain and Abel)
ETHICS: Priesthood
Ascension (Firstfruits/Enoch taken)
ETHICS: Kingdom
Testing (Pentecost/Lamech-intermarriage),
ETHICS: Prophecy
Maturity (Trumpets/Noah: Prophecy)
Conquest (Atonement/Flood)
Glorification (Booths/New Creation)

Noah, whose name means rest, becomes the “Day 7” of the process, the first man to bear the sword on God’s behalf as the legal representative of heaven upon the earth. He entered into God’s rest and brought Sabbath to the entire world. Since Noah qualified, the word “covenant” is mentioned for the first time in the Bible.


This point concerning Covenant structure might seem obscure or perhaps even irrelevant to some but it is in fact the most potent argument against the “sons-of-God-were-angels” theory.1If you care to study the fundamentals of the Bible’s fractal “Covenant-literary” structure, there are some helpful links here. The purpose of this sevenfold process is spiritual maturity. The Lord calls all men to submit to Him that He might exalt us. Priesthood must precede kingdom, just as it did in the history of Israel, and in the ministry of Christ. This is the core of the entire Bible. If we are humble, we will be lifted up. Adam was promised a kingdom but he would only qualify for government if he first submitted to God. It was the same for Jesus, of course, who now possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. What Adam seized, Jesus was given as a gift.

Following Adam’s sin, this rivalry between priesthood and kingdom became incarnate in Cain and Abel. The result was the division of humanity into a priestly line (the Sethites) and a kingly line (the Cainites). The priestly line continued to shed the blood of sacrifices on behalf of sinful people, but the kingly line rejected the mercy of God and instead shed the blood of human beings in unmitigated vengeance. Thus, the intermarriage between priests and kings led to the end of God’s mercy and long-suffering. The ultimate irony is that God once again gathered animals, as He had in Eden, but He destroyed all those who rejected the ministry of substitutionary atonement via the blood of “priestly” domestic beasts.

This revoking of mercy explains the reference to there being “no more sacrifice for sins” in Hebrews 10:26. Almost all mankind had trampled underfoot the blood of the Covenant established in Eden, just as the Jews rejected the offering of Christ for the sins of the world. That is why this exact Adam-to-Noah pattern can be overlaid upon the history of the Apostolic Church. Jesus, as Abel, was slain, which led to the prophetic warnings of the Apostles, as Noah, and finally a judgment which Jesus warned would not only be as sudden as the flood in the days of Noah, but would also bring an end to the “kingly” sins of the Herods, including intermarriage for political gain:

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-40)

This rejection by Wilson of the Sethite/Cainite solution is due to an ignorance of the Bible’s consistency, which is governed by its Covenant-literary structure. However, it is also an outcome of a failure to understand the reason for the establishment of the Circumcision and the Law, which founded and set apart an entire nation as a priesthood which was prevented from intermarriage with the other “kingly” nations. This act by God was necessary to avoid another global judgment, and to maintain a faithful shedding of substitutionary blood on behalf of all nations. This gives us the context of the downfall of Solomon through intermarriage with idolaters, the destruction of the Temple, and of Ezra’s blunt condemnation of the Israelites’ marriages with pagans during the exile. This theme of the confusion of priestly and kingly offices through intermarriage runs throughout the Bible, and is an expression of the fundamental core: man’s unwillingness to humble himself before heaven and his theft of the promised dominion over the earth. If this were understood by most theologians, bogus theories like sex with angels would be relegated to the dust bin where they belong.

Fruit of Land and Womb

Wilson continues:

I also take it as read that the Anakim, the sons of Anak whom we meet in the book of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, are descended from the Nephilim: “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” (Numbers 13:33). Which is to say that, when Israel first spied out and then conquered the Land, there were very large individuals milling around, who could trace their lineage back to sexual relations between angels and women. Bizarre, admittedly. But biblical.

This claim by the Israelite spies looks like solid evidence only if we ignore the greater Covenant context. Firstly, it must be noted that the spies were executed for their “evil report,” so its veracity must be questioned. It is possible that they were exaggerating in an attempt to deceive their fellows, and simply threw in “of the nephilim” to terrify the Israelites. But does the word refer to an actual tribe whom everyone knew could trace their descent from the antediluvians, or does the Hebrew phrase simply mean “from among the giants”? After all, there were other over-sized warriors in and around the Land of Canaan.

Secondly, the notion that the nephilim as Nephilim, a separate people which somehow managed to survive interbreeding and was able to pass on its genetic attributes through the many centuries following the flood, is not only highly improbable, it also fails to explain how this people evaded inclusion in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, which contains no mention of Anak or Nephilim. Moreover, where were these Nephilim when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sojourned in the Land? The giant Goliath was a Philistine, and we know that the Philistines shared a common descent with the Egyptians as sons of Mizraim, a son of Ham (Genesis 10:6). It seems far more likely that the stature of these people was due more to the abundance of food now available in Canaan than merely genetic factors, just as the average height of various races throughout recent history has increased as diet has improved.

Thirdly, and related to the second point, are we also to assume that the size of the haul of grapes from the Valley of Eshcol is due to its lineage from antediluvian grapes? The point of these observations concerning size is that the barrenness of the land promised to Abraham had been reversed by God, along with the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. The Adamic curses (from Genesis 3) were placed upon Abraham on behalf of all nations that they might be reversed by faith, the kind of faith in God which Adam had not demonstrated. (For more discussion, see Stones and Fruit: Divination and Procreation.) After four centuries, not only would the numerous oak trees planted by Abraham now be fully grown, but the size of the fruit of the Land and the fruit of the womb in the Land (its people) showed that it was now ripe for the taking. The mighty people of the Land were to be crushed like grapes, and their houses and vineyards seized as an inheritance for the righteous. The strength and the possessions of these kingly usurpers would be possessed by a priestly people as a witness to the power of God. Israel would defeat the Canaanites just as David would later bring about the fall of Goliath, the one who had called down the Covenant curses upon the people of God, and ultimately (but indirectly) King Saul, who was also a giant bearing a spear. The mighty men (gibborim) of the earth (including its nephilim) would fall before the mighty men of heaven, those whose victories resulted not from the strength of their limbs but from their faith in God (Psalm 147:10). The grapes of Eshcol were a promise of the same kind of rest enjoyed by Noah, so it should be no surprise that the “heptateuch” (the narrative from Joshua to Judges) follows the sevenfold pattern above. Interestingly, just as the nephilim appear at the centre of the Adamic/Noahic narrative, so David and Solomon appear at the center of the Old Testament narrative (see Destroy This Temple).

Numbers 13:33 can only be regarded as evidence for angel-human sexual relations if we lose our grip on the metanarrative of the Torah, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy. Like many others, Wilson fails to interpret every text within the context of Covenant and thus misses the point of the story.

The End of all Flesh

The question is: why do we care? Besides being an intriguing sideshow that raises smirking questions on training courses, why does it matter? Let me suggest two reasons, both of them apologetic in nature.

The first is that they provide a biblical basis for biological continuity between antediluvians and postdiluvians. (Or, in English: they demonstrate that some people on earth, besides Noah’s family, survived the flood.) If everyone on earth apart from Noah’s family had died, then there would be nobody left who was descended from (min) the Nephilim—but the Anakim show that this is not the case. Therefore it is likely that, even from the perspective of Israelites in the Bronze Age, the cataclysmic flood did not wipe out every single person on planet earth outside the ark. Rather, it suggests that the scope of phrases like “the whole land” (qol erets) and “all mankind” (qol adam) is limited to the ancient Near East. Which, given that this was the entire world known to the writers at the time, is exactly what we would expect. It also indicates that attempts to demonstrate geologically that the flood covered the Himalayas are, at least, unnecessary.

I admire Wilson’s commitment to exegesis for the purpose of apologetics, but he fails on both counts.

Firstly, anyone who claims that the Great Flood was local has overlooked the fact that Adam was intended to be the legal representative of “all flesh.” Due to his failure, and the subsequent failure of the culture established by his offspring, “all flesh” was condemned to die “in him.” If anyone had survived the flood, then there were human beings who were outside of the jurisdiction of God. This also goes for those who claim (with a breathtaking cognitive dissonance and an even greater deficiency in basic logic) that the events in Genesis 2 are simply a “liturgical” description of Adam being chosen from among other human beings and given a special role or office before God. There were no “Adamites.” We are all Adamites. That is the foundation of Paul’s theology of the atonement. No one was outside the Noahic Covenant and no one is outside the jurisdiction of Christ. The separation of the human race came with the call of Abraham, not Adam. To claim otherwise is to pervert the narrative beyond recognition in a game of “kick the can.” Moreover, what was the “Covenantal” reason for the disinheritance of Adam’s contemporaries? Had they sinned in some way before Adam sinned? The miraculous integrity of the narrative exposes any tinkering for what it is: disingenuous theological posturing resulting from cowardice and unbelief. (For more discussion, see “Jenga Bible” in Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.)

The real reason behind any toleration of the notion of a local flood is a desire to bow to the paganism which currently masquerades as science, the monkey religion which underpins every corruption in Western culture, and is quickly bringing about its end. As a friend once said, evolutionary theory – the unscientific assertion that chaos, sex and death somehow constitute a creative force – is just “Enuma Elish baptised in post-Enlightenment balloon juice.” Any attempt to harmonise the Bible with an old earth, let alone evolution, is an exercise in futility, and requires basic logic to be sacrificed on the altar of a misplaced faith.

However, what really concerns me here is the failure to understand the Promised Land of Canaan as a microcosm of the “dry land” of Genesis. That is the reason why the same word is used. These “lands” were not equivalent in size any more than the Canaanites constituted all the people of the globe. Canaan was to be a sacrificial substitute for the actual “dry land,” serving as its legal representative before God (see Cosmic Language), and this representation was an act of mercy for the peoples of the world. The story of Abraham’s qualification is a local recapitulation of the global narrative from Adam to Noah (see Microcosmic Abram). To claim that these were both local not only misses the point of the ministry of Israel as a nation among nations, but also demonstrates an utter ignorance of the layered construction of Covenant history: the Abrahamic Covenant was not established in place of the Noahic Covenant but within it (see The Myth of Covenant Membership). The “floods” of troops which invaded Israel under the judgment of God were the reason floods of waters could be averted. Indeed, the original “flooding” of Canaan was the armies of Israel come to claim the Land promised to their fathers, and importantly, to execute God’s judgment upon its inhabitants. This brings us to Wilson’s second failure.

Genesis Matters

If we allow an extraneous theory such as angel-human sexual relations to skew our take on the narrative, we find that scales eventually grow over our eyes and we are unable to interpret the text faithfully. This is evident in Wilson’s (and Michael Heiser’s) erroneous explanation of the kherem warfare in the book of Joshua.

The second is that they provide vital context for the kherem warfare that took place in Canaan under Joshua. This is a point I had never seen until I read Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm recently, and in particular his description of the “Deuteronomy 32 worldview,” in which Yahweh has disinherited the nations and assigned them to the rule of lesser gods (Deut 32:8 etc). Heiser explains:

Israel is Yahweh’s elect portion of humanity, and the land of Canaan is the geography that Yahweh, as owner, specifically allotted to his people. In the view of the biblical writers, Israel is at war with enemies spawned by rival divine beings. The Nephilim bloodlines were not like the peoples of the disinherited nations … the target of kherem was the Anakim.

Heiser offers a number of clues that he is right about this. (1) The emphasis on giantism in the initial spying mission (for all that this has since been domesticated in contemporary preaching, the point is not just that the people are large, but that they are descended from rival deities). (2) The explicit statement that the Israelite spies had seen the Nephilim in the Land (Numbers 13:33). The giant-like descriptions of enemies of God who live in the land, from Og (Deuteronomy 3:11) to Goliath (1 Samuel 17) and beyond (2 Samuel 21; 1 Chronicles 20). (4) The way in which the summary of Joshua’s kherem conquests (Joshua 11:21-23) focuses on the obliteration of the Anakim: “And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel.” (5) The fact that the very next verse points forward to the ongoing presence of giants in the land of the Philistines, who of course will be the key enemy for Samson, Samuel, Saul and David for the next couple of centuries: “Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some [Anakim] remain. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Josh 11:22b-23). If Heiser is right here, then the motive for kherem warfare in Joshua was not merely the cleansing of God’s dwelling place, as we know, but the removal of the giant-like offspring of specific divinities.

So why should we care about the Nephilim and the Anakim? Partly because they help us think through the question of the global/local flood, and partly because they provide crucial context for our understanding of kherem warfare, which is one of the most pressing biblical challenges of our generation. And, of course, we should care about things that are in the Bible. There’s always that.

Wilson’s/Heiser’s misinterpretation of Genesis 6 (or failure to interpret it within the context of the biblical Covenants) renders them utterly clueless concerning the reason for the conquest of Canaan. And when I say clueless, I am not being cruel. They really have no idea what is going on. Instead of taking note of what is actually mentioned in the texts leading up to the kherem warfare, they seem totally oblivious to it, focussing instead on evidence for their bogus doctrine of some fictitious angelic bloodline within humanity. Not only does this lead to them offering a stupid “angel sex” explanation for “one of the most pressing biblical challenges of our generation,” they miss a golden opportunity to truly demonstrate the brilliance and integrity of the book of Genesis, and indeed the entire Bible.

The first and most heinous problem is the switch from the moral accountability of the people in the Promised Land to something which is merely racial or genetic. Modern skeptics love to level the charge of genocide against the nation of Israel (and the one true God) but that can only be done if all the previous texts are ignored. Asserting that the necessary context is found in their errant reading of Genesis 6 does nothing to help matters. The warfare is still genocide, but now the targets are giants. They are not destroyed because they have sinned, what they have done, but because of who they are. Besides the incredible theory concerning their origin, this does nothing at all for Christian apologetics.

When Abraham sojourned in the Land, he did not “call upon” the name of the Lord. He “proclaimed” it. He was an evangelist. The people of Canaan were accountable to God, just as later Gentile nations surrounding Israel became accountable once they heard the way of salvation. The books of the prophets all begin with judgment at the house of God (Garden), work their way out into the disobedient tribes of Israel (Land), then out again into the local Gentiles (World). This pattern originated in the history of Adam-to-Noah. As with that history, the process is chiastic, working back into the Land and then into worship established in a new Garden (Noah’s vineyard). The New Testament, as a Covenant lawsuit against first century Israel does exactly the same thing, which is why the letters to the Gentile Churches are placed before the final warnings to Christian Jews, followed by the book of Revelation which begins with a glorified “son of Adam” surrounded by fiery trees and ends with a barrage of Joshua imagery. Jerusalem would be circumcised – “cut around” with a Roman trench – just as Jericho was marched around by a newly circumcised Israelite army. Jericho was a devoted (kherem) firstfruits of the Land, and Jerusalem was a devoted firstfruits of the World.

But to understand the giving of Canaan to the children of Abraham as an inheritance, we must look further back than Abraham. Noah had cursed Canaan, the son of Ham, pronouncing that he would serve as a slave to both of his brothers (see Out of His Belly). So when we reach the book of Exodus, the fact that the Hebrews were serving as slaves in Egypt, “the Land of Ham,” is intended to strike us with horror. But once again, we are clueless as to what is going on because modern theology – which does not take Genesis seriously – has carved the living Word up as if it were a corpse requiring an autopsy. The descendants of Shem not only destroyed the Land of Ham, they also inherited the Land of Canaan. The context is Noahic, and the conflict in Egypt and the conquest of Canaan are both examples of the rivalry between priesthood and kingdom, and the constant attempts to cut off – not corrupt or hijack – the seed of the Woman. This not only renders the angelic bloodline theory redundant, but it also serves as a witness to those who doubt the integrity of the Bible.

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1. If you care to study the fundamentals of the Bible’s fractal “Covenant-literary” structure, there are some helpful links here.

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