Who are the sons of God and the Nephilim?

Who are the "sons of God" and the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4? If the Nephilim were a race of giants, how could they appear both before and after the Flood, which destroyed everyone except Noah and his family?

Genesis 6:1-4

When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward - when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

Genesis 7:23

Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

Numbers 13:33

"We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

First, who are the "sons of God" and the "Nephilim"? There are three proposed interpretations:

  1. "Sons of God" refers to fallen angels who lived on earth and married human women. The Nephilim are giants of extra-human strength who were the offspring of these marriages.
  2. "Sons of God" refers to descendents of Seth, who were godly men who sinned by marrying descendents of Cain, who would have been pagans. The Nephilim were simply "heroes", not giants, and may or may not have been the offspring of the mixed marriages.
  3. "Sons of God" is better translated as "kings" or "sons of nobles" and "Nephilim" is best translated as "princes" or "great men." That is, the "sons of God" were royalty or aristocrats who were generally immoral and married common women, possibly against their will or despite their already being married.

Arguments for view 1:

Arguments against view 1:

Arguments for view 2:

Arguments against view 2:

Arguments for view 3:

Arguments against view 3:

1 seems unlikely to me, especially considering the last argument against it. Also it seems clear that "sons of God" does not have to refer to angels, fallen or not. 2 seems the most natural, but the arguments against it do present legitimate problems. 3 does seem rather strange, but the arguments against it aren't very strong.

Regardless of which interpretation one accepts, there is no contradiction in the Nephilim appearing both before and after the Flood. Genesis 6:4 does say, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward." If the Nephilim were giant offspring of humans and fallen angels, the fallen angels could have come back after the Flood and had more offspring. If the Nephilim were heroes or nobles, society after the Flood could produce heroes and nobles just as well as society before the Flood.

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