Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who are the Nephilim?

A listener posted a good question on our Land and the Book Facebook page: "What's your take on the Nephilim theory? My husband and I have different opinions on it so I like to hear other people's thoughts."

Let me first share just a little background for those who might not be familiar with the issue. There are two major passages in the Bible that mention a group known as the Nephilim. The primary passage is Genesis 6, and the second is Numbers 13. I believe the Nephilim in these passages must refer to two different groups, so let me deal with the second passage first.

In Numbers 13:33 ten of the spies sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land were delivering their findings...and it was a discouraging report indeed! They noted that the land, though good, was occupied by "the descendants of Anak" who would be "too strong for us" (vv. 28, 31). They ended their report by comparing themselves to the foe they would have to defeat to occupy the land. "There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."

The spies compared the inhabitants of Canaan to the Nephilim. Though it looks from the text as if they were saying these inhabitants were physical descendants of the Nephilim, I don't believe that's possible. The Nephilim mentioned in the Book of Genesis (see below) were destroyed in the flood that God sent on the earth. The only humans to survive the flood were Noah and his family, and they were not part of the Nephilim. So I believe we need to take this passage as a descriptive comparison. To these frightened spies the Canaanites looked as physically strong and powerful as the Nephilim of old...while the spies felt as small as grasshoppers in comparison. It's an exaggeration for effect, and it had the intended results by getting the people to grumble against Moses and disobey God.

So then, who are the Nephilim of Genesis 6 to whom the spies compared the inhabitants of Canaan? Here's what the biblical text says. "The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose....The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown" (Genesis 6:2–4).

From the text, it appears that the Nephilim are the result of the intermarriage between the "sons of God" and the "daughters of man." And two major explanations have been let's evaluate each one.

Human Explanation
The two chapters preceding this passage describe the descendants of the wicked line of Cain (Genesis 4) and the godly line of Seth (Genesis 5). In the "human explanation," chapter 6 is then picturing the intermingling of the godly line of Seth with the ungodly line of Cain, resulting in a corrupted human line that now had to be judged by God through the flood.

This explanation does fit within the larger context since it immediately follows the genealogies of these two parallel lines of human ancestry that descended from Adam. And the interpretation is supported historically by a fragment from Qumran that refers to the "children of Seth" as well as by relatively early Jewish and Christian writings. For example, this is the view supported by Augustine.

But there are also some problems with this view. The first problem is the theological reality that every child born to Adam had a sin nature. It seems to be an oversimplification to refer to all the descendants from Seth as "sons of God" and all those from Cain as "daughters of men" when they were all born with the same Adamic nature. The second problem is that, if taken literally, the text is saying that only males from the line of Seth intermarried with females from the line of Cain. (One would expect men and women from both lines to intermarry.) And the third problem is that this view doesn't really explain the origin of the Nephilim since they are still the offspring of two humans. One could assume they are the product of some genetic mutation, but such a view seems foreign to the text.

Angelic Explanation
The second possible explanation is that the phrase "sons of God" refers to angels cohabiting with humans ("daughters of men"). In this explanation the Nephilim (giants/mighty men) are the product of this angelic/human cohabitation.

This explanation also seems to have some historic support in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch. And it could also help explain a passage in the Book of Jude that describes a special judgment on a certain group of fallen angels "who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode" (Jude 6). These angels were those confined to a place call "the Abyss"--a place to which even Satan was not sent following his rebellion against God. So what could these angels have done to bring such severe judgment on themselves? Since Jesus said that the angels of heaven "neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30), this type of cohabitation with humans could indeed fit the special nature of the sin pictured by Jude. One final reference in support of this explanation is that in the Book of Job angels are described as "sons of God" (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).

This position is not without its problems, however, First, it requires us to interject angels into the Genesis 6 account in a somewhat unnatural way. While the serpent/tempter has been mentioned (Genesis 3), Moses has presented nothing about the supernatural realm of angels up to this point in his account. As a result, the sudden appearance of angels--purely to explain the rise of Nephilim--seems rather abrupt. And Jude doesn't tell us specifically what the sin of these angels was that brought on their judgment, so there is a certain degree of speculation in saying it was cohabitation with humans.

Sorry for the long explanation! But I needed to share all of that before actually answering the initial question. So what's my take on the Nephilim in Genesis 6? I believe they were the product of angelic/human cohabitation...and that the product of this cohabitation is one of the key reasons God sought to destroy the earth through the flood. But I also believe the Bible isn't absolutely clear on this point, so I hold my position loosely. As I like to say to my students, "This is something I wouldn't start a new church over!"

And I hope I also haven't caused any problems between you and your husband with my answer!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Center of Attention

The city of Qom, Iran, is a center of Shi'ia scholarship. But just 18 miles to the north of the city is a site that's becoming a center of worldwide concern.

Iran is beginning the process of nuclear enrichment at the underground facility it built at Fordow. It appears they will use the facility to enrich uranium to 20%, which is far above the level of purity required to generate nuclear power.

The West has threatened to every available means, including military intervention, to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Iran responded by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz...choking off the world's flow of oil. Today a report surfaced indicating the West is readying plans to release up to 14 million barrels of oil per day from its strategic oil reserves which could make up for most of the oil passing through the Strait. The report also stated the West could sustain this level of supply for up to a month, which might indicate how long they anticipate it could take to eliminate Iran's ability to threaten shipping.

The two photos in this report are from Google Earth. The first shows the location of the Fordow facility in relation to the city of Qom. The second is a close-up of the facility itself. It doesn't look impressive, but the site has been the center of attention for the West...and might just become the bullseye for military intervention in the coming months.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Night at the Museum

Want to visit a cool museum...without leaving the comfort of your own living room?

Then browse the online collection at the Penn Museum! The museum has 326,000 items in its collection, which includes objects from Egypt, Babylon, Ur, and a number of other sites of interest to those who study the Bible. (This photo is a statue of a ram caught in a thicket...illustrating the ram caught in the thicket in Genesis 22.)

Enjoy your own night at the museum!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another amazing find in Jerusalem

It seems that new archaeological discoveries from Jerusalem are being reported almost weekly. The latest find is rather fascinating. It was humorously identified by the Israeli Antiquities Authority as the original "store credit." And that's probably a good way to describe it!

What they discovered was a clay seal containing two Hebrew words from the time of Herod's temple. The seal appears to have been a type of marker or "proof of purchase" used as part of the temple services. The inscription on the seal, written in Aramaic, reads "pure to the Lord," using the first two letters of the name Yahweh as the abbreviation for "Lord."

The seal illustrates a temple practice mentioned in the Mishnah, which reads in part, "Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps and give him money and would receive a stamp from him in return. He would then go to Ahiyah who was in charge over the libations, give him the stamp, and receive the libations from him."

In other words, a person would pay for a specific ritual sacrifice at the "cashier's office" and receive a "proof of purchase" token that he or she would then take to the priest to exchange for the actual offering. This seal appears to be the first actual example of the "stamp," or clay impression, that served as the "proof of purchase" token.

The find is significant for two reasons. First, it helps illustrate and visualize the day-to-day workings of the temple. And second, it serves as one more small reminder that a Jewish temple indeed stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. That seems obvious to those of us who believe the Bible. But in the convoluted world of Middle East politics, it helps counteract the propaganda claiming the Jews have no legitimate connection to the city or the Temple Mount.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Declaration of Religious War?

Earlier today Hamas issued a warning that Israel's closure of the Mugrabi Bridge to the Temple Mount is a "declaration of religious war on Muslim Holy Sites." Lest you think this is propaganda from a single extremist terrorist group, it follows an earlier statement by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat who said Israel's plan to replace the current bridge “shows their determination to Judaize Jerusalem and to take over the city’s Muslim holy places."

These statements are false and hypocritical, and those making them know that's the case. They're intended to inflame the Muslim world and put pressure on Israel. We've talked about this gate several times on our program, most recently this past weekend.
Here are the facts for those who don't know the full story.

The Mugrabi Gate is the only gateway unto the Temple Mount that is open to non-Muslims, and it's located next to the Western Wall plaza. In 2004 the ramp up to the gate partially collapsed after a heavy winter rain. Israel constructed a temporary wooden bridge to the site that sits on metal scaffolding. (See the picture above from, which provides an excellent visual of the structure!) The bridge was only intended to provide temporary access until a more permanent replacement was designed and built.

In 2007 Israel tried to replace the temporary bridge with a more permanent replacement, but work was halted when charges were made that Israel was damaging the Muslim holy sites. (Note in the picture that the bridge is outside the Western Wall and doesn't get close to any of the Muslim Holy sites!) Israel halted work while the UN investigated. They concluded the charges were false, but asked Israel to once again postpone work on the new bridge. Israel agreed, and the temporary structure remained in use for another four years.

The problem now is that Jerusalem's city engineer has declared the current temporary structure to be unsafe and in danger of collapse. Israel's most recent decision to close the current bridge and replace it with a more permanent structure centers on safety. Like any responsible government, their primary concern is that a bridge used by thousands of tourists every week has been shown to be structurally unsound. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership appears to care more about scoring political points than they are about the safety of those forced to use a bridge that is structurally unsound. But one can be sure that when the bridge finally does collapse, they will be quick to blame the Jews!

This is another example of the appalling lack of leadership that characterizes both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. My advice to both groups is simple: Stop acting like demagogues and start acting like responsible leaders. The bridge is unsafe and needs to be repaired, and it is outside the Temple Mount area. Get over the fact that Israel is the one fixing it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do the dots connect?

Iran's Fars News Agency is claiming that Iran brought down America's top-secret stealth spy drone through the use of a "cyberattack" by Iran's military forces.

Is this Iranian propaganda, or could there be some truth to the claim?

The United States has not officially commented on what happened, but there are some indications that Iran might indeed have used a cyberattack to bring down the drone. First, the pictures of the drone released from Iran show it to be remarkably intact...almost as if it had landed rather than crashed. Second, a report surfaced two months ago that the U.S. was struggling to control a computer virus that was infecting our Predator and Reaper drone fleet. The report only focused on these two specific drones...but one wouldn't expect it to identify other infected drones that are supposedly still top secret!

So could the Iranians have infected our drones with a virus that allowed them to intercept and override our control of this aircraft? It's certainly possible, and it raises two serious questions about the vulnerability of our entire fleet of drones. First, if Iran has the ability to hijack the RQ170, could they also intercept other drones, perhaps hijacking an armed predator and using it to attack our forces in the field? And second, what is the true level of electronic sophistication possessed by Iran? Do they really have the ability to infect and then control some of our most sensitive military hardware? And if they have that ability, who else might possess it?

To me, the larger story isn't the capture of the drone, as serious as that might be. It's determining how Iran was able to accomplish it...and making sure they can't do it again!

Friday, December 2, 2011

So what does happen when we die?

We've received several questions/comments on our toll-free Listener Comment Line (877-611-5282) and at our e-mail address ( dealing with the issue of what happens when someone dies. Most have centered around Jesus' raising of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus said Lazarus was "asleep" but then goes on to say Lazarus was really dead, indicating that "sleep" was a metaphor for death.

One recent e-mail took exception to the answer I gave on air. The writer said, in part:
Unfortunately, the first and most convincing lie ever told to humans continues to reverberate down through Earth’s chambers, from one generation to another, thousands of years later: Ye shall not surely die. This cunning lie is unknowingly repeated every time folks are convinced that although a love one dies, they really don’t die, rather they continue to live-on in the presence of God forever. While this may be comforting to each of us, it is a deceit of the devil. To believe that one continues to live forever is to give credence to the immortality of the “soul.” Humans are not immortal. We are mortal. See Job 4:17. Romans 6: 12. Romans 8: 11. 2 Corinthians 4: 11. Man does not have immortality. Immortality is granted to man only at the second coming of Christ. See 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53.
So do humans cease to have a conscious existence at enter into some kind of unconscious "soul sleep" or spiritual "suspended animation" that lasts until the second coming of Christ? The writer was sincere, but the verses cited don't teach such a belief. Here's my response to this person...and I hope it's an encouragement to you if you want to know what the Bible says happens to us once we die.
I have to disagree with your line of reasoning. Lazarus did indeed die, which I believe we all agree on since Jesus said that clearly. But he didn't cease to exist at that time. I base that statement on at least four specific passages that describe what happens when someone dies.

The first passage is Luke 16 where Jesus shared the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Though this is a parable, it is still an accurate description by Jesus of what happens to someone at death. Whether the rich man and Lazarus represented real people or were simply "fictitious" names supplied by Jesus as part of the story doesn't matter. A central truth of the parable is the reality of a conscious existence after death. Jesus said that after death righteous Lazarus went to "Abraham's bosom" (v. 22), while the rich man went to "Hades" (v. 23), which is a place of conscious torment. In the parable Jesus taught that both individuals had a conscious existence after death.

The second passage is 2 Corinthians 5:8. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Paul's clear point in the passage is that the moment someone dies (and is thus "absent from the body") that person is in Christ's presence in heaven. The person isn't experiencing "soul sleep" or some other form of suspended existence; he or she is transported into the presence of Christ…and Christ is in heaven! It would be hard to state this truth any more clearly than Paul does here.

The third passage is Philippians 1:21-24. Paul was facing the possibility of imminent death, and his prayer was that Christ will be exalted whether he lives or dies. He then explained why the choice was so difficult. To remain alive meant continued service for the Lord, though his personal preference was "to depart and be with Christ." In other words, were he to be put to death, Paul would "be with Christ." And again, where is Christ? He's in heaven!

The fourth passage is Revelation 6. This passage describes individuals who will be killed during the future tribulation period. In verses 9-11 we are introduced to a group who are said to be under the altar in heaven. Specifically it says they are the souls of those who have been slain in the tribulation period. That is, they are dead martyrs. But then the passage says they cry out to God and ask that their deaths be avenged. In response, they are given white robes and told they need to wait a little longer until the rest of their brethren who are to be martyred have also been killed. My point here is that these dead martyrs are said to be in heaven and are described as being conscious and able to communicate with God. They are not in some sort of soul sleep or lack of conscious existence.

This list of passages is not exhaustive. I could go on to mention the fact that Moses and Elijah (who were both dead) were able to return to earth to speak with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17) or that Stephen cried out as he was dying "Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!" in Acts 7. But my point is that numerous passages in the Bible clearly teach the conscious existence of humans after death.

While the Bible uses sleep as a metaphor to describe death, it also goes on to say much about the conscious existence of humans who have died. And their place of existence—in paradise/heaven or in hades/hell—depends on their personal relationship to God while in this life.

But what about your larger concern that the soul is not "immortal." I can partially agree with you that humans are not "eternal" (I prefer this word over "immortal") in the sense that we have not existed from eternity past. We have a specific "starting point" for our existence at conception. But the Bible does teach that we continue to exist after our physical death. And that existence continues throughout eternity, as Revelation 20 makes clear. We will experience eternal life or eternal death…but both are eternal!