In two weeks I will be able to sit down at the theater and enjoy (hopefully) the much anticipated film Noah. Noah is the first of a flurry of big budget Hollywood Bible films set for release in the next year. I am excited to watch the talented and distinguished Russell Crowe play the part of the title character under the direction of the often gloomy and neurotic mind of Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky will be taking artistic liberties with the story and some of these liberties are certain to annoy me a little, but they are even more certain to spark a flood (snicker) of interesting conversations. In light of the film’s upcoming release, I would like to begin a pre-discussion on the Biblical story of the Flood, its Christian interpretation, and some personal opinions regarding the story. As a coincidence, two Fridays before Noah’s release, the Orthodox Church began reading the scriptural account of the Flood in the Church’s lectionary—the annual cycle of scripture readings. Now seems to be a proper time to discuss this classic scriptural story.
The account of Noah and the Flood begins in the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis; the first book of the Bible. Up until this point, Genesis has told the story of the Creation, the Fall of Mankind and exile from Paradise, Cain’s murder of Abel and further exile, and then the genealogy connecting Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, to Noah. So far, the creation of a human race has not turned out well and God grieves He ever made them (Gn 6: 6). Genesis 6, verses 1-8, is one of the most confusing and debated passages in the whole of scriptures—the confusion revolving around the giants. Who were the giants? Some translations of the Bible use the term Nephilim instead. There are several possible theories, as well as some silly ones, about who these Nephilim were that have been debated throughout the centuries.
Most Christian scholars acknowledge two plausible explanations for the identity of the Nephilim and they both center around two verses.
So when the sons of God saw the daughters of men were beautiful, they took wives for themselves of all they chose (Gn 6:2 NKJV).
Now there were giants (Nephilim) 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 of old, men of renown (Gn 6:4 NKJV).
Before moving forward let me state that there is no consensus in the Church on this issue because it just can’t be known based on any evidence we have. Also, it is irrelevant to the story of the Flood—it really is. So for the most part, this is for entertainment purposes. Moving on.
The current popular theory about the Nephilim is that they are a hybrid between humans and fallen angels—fallen angels being “the sons of God” and humans being “daughters of men.” This theory can be supported by The Book of Enoch, which was considered canonical by much of the early Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church today. Incidentally the Ethiopian Orthodox Church does not hold this human/angel hybrid view despite their acceptance of Enoch. St. Iranaeus of Lyons also seems to support this theory:
For unlawful unions occurred on earth, as angels united themselves with daughters of men, who bore them sons who, because of their exaggerated height, were called giants (cf. Gen 6.2-4). The angels then gave their wives, as gifts, wicked teachings, for they taught them the powers of roots and herbs, of dyeing and cosmetics, and the discovery of precious material, love-potions, hatreds, loves, infatuations, seductions, bonds of witchcraft, and all kinds of divination and idolatry hateful to God (Iranaeus On The Apostolic Preaching 18).
The early Church tended toward this interpretation but it fell out of fashion by the fourth century. St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, Origen, and many others did not believe angels could procreate with humans. They seemed to agree with the words of Christ when He said:
For in the resurrection they will neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven (Mt 22:30 NKJV).
I also do not agree with this theory about the Nephilim. The mythological aspects of this view are too fantastical for my tastes for one thing. Also, angelology is quite extensive within the Church, clearly identifying angels as genderless, incorporeal beings. There is no indication anywhere in the scriptures that they are able to assume a body of flesh and interact with humans in a physically intimate way. This interpretation also begs some serious questions. Were these fallen angels early examples of incarnate spiritual beings? Did God allow demons free reign with our women at one point? These are issues I have with this theory and reasons I do not give credence to it. But like I said, who knows. There are greater arguments for this idea which I have not presented. These arguments still do not convince me, but if you are interested, I encourage you to research this further.
For those interested in another theory about the Nephilim, continue reading…