NEPHILIM nĕf’ ə lĭm (נְפִילִים, H5872). The word occurs in the Heb. Bible only in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, tr. in KJV as “giants,” as found in the LXX. The modern revisions have transliterated the Heb. word. Etymological derivation of the word from the נפל root does not lead to satisfactory solutions.
There are hints in the OT that great physical stature is implied in the word “nephilim.” Numbers 13:32 says the Nephilim were of “great stature,” and connects their descent with Anakim. Deuteronomy 2:21 compares yet another pre-Israelite people, the Rephaim, with the Anakim in physical stature.
A second tenuous indication of huge physical stature implied in Nephilim is the possibility that the words similar to Rephaim used in 2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22; 1 Chronicles 20:6, 8 (רָפָֽא, רָפָ֗ה) may be related to Rephaim, with the consequent implication of great physical stature which appeared in certain gigantic Philistines.
Further clues perhaps may be found in studies of the physical anthropology of Mediterranean peoples.
These indications of impressive physique and prowess would be consistent with what is said of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4, though there are obscurities in the passage.
The idea that the Nephilim sprang from cohabitation of angels and mortals does not fit other Biblical indications. Angels do not have sexual functions (Luke 20:34, 35). This interpretation is possible only if one puts the Scripture on a level with Gr. mythology where anthropomorphic polytheism makes possible unions between gods and men.
The Nephilim may be regarded as either contemporary with the marriages of Genesis 6:4, or as the product of the marriages.
If the Nephilim are simply contemporary and have no genetic connection with the marriages of v. 4, the mention of them merely gives additional information about conditions existing when the marriages occurred.
If they are considered to be products of the marriages, the nature of the marriages is more significant. The choice is between entirely proper marriages and those to which some stigma attaches. Leroy Birney (“An Exegetical Study of Genesis 6:1-4,” ETSB, Vol. XIII, Part I, pp. 43-52) argues that the Nephilim may be identified with “sons of God,” and so concludes “that the ‘daughters of men’ were women in general, the ‘sons of God’ were famous mighty rulers as shown by usage and described in v. 4, the sin was polygamy. Verse 4 refers not to the products of the polygamous marriages but to their perpetrators” (p. 52).
J. O. Buswell (Systematic Theology, I, 364, 365) concludes, “...there is nothing demonic or mythological in the entire passage. Moses is simply pointing out the fact that the mighty men of old, men of renown, were born of normal human marriage.” In a polytheistic world where mythological unions of gods and men were narrated, it is highly significant that Moses rejected the fanciful and degrading contemporary mythological speculations.
See Anak; Giants.
W. J. Beecher, “Nephilim,” HDB III, 512b (1900); T. K. Cheyne, “Nephilim,” EB, cols. 3391-3393 (1914); “Rephaim,” NBD (1962); H. F. Beck, “Nephilim,” IDB (1962), Vol. III, p. 536; “Giant,” NBD; J. O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2nd ed. (1968).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
This word, translated "giants" in the King James Version, but retained in the Revised Version (British and American), is found in two passages of the Old Testament--one in Ge 6:4, relating to the antediluvians; the other in Nu 13:33, relating to the sons of Anak in Canaan. In the former place the Nephilim are not necessarily to be identified with the children said to be borne "the daughters of men" to "the sons of God" (Ge 6:2,4); indeed, they seem to be distinguished from the latter as upon the earth before this unholy commingling took place (see Sons of God). But it is not easy to be certain as to the interpretation of this strange passage. In the second case they clearly represent men of gigantic stature, in comparison with whom the Israelites felt as if they were "grasshopers." This agrees with Ge 6:4, "the mighty men that were of old, the men of renow." Septuagint, therefore, was warranted in translating by gigantes.