Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


exchanges
Was Moses the first Asimov?

A commenter accuses me of turning Genesis 6:1-4 into science fiction.

In the comments of ‘What is Genesis 6:1-4 talking about?’ a fellow named Craig takes me to task. Although he says he isn’t motivated by Western incredulity, he goes on to refer to the traditional interpretation as the “scifi” reading and a “Tor” interpretation. Which doesn’t strike me as very even-handed—so I assume anything I say in response will fall on deaf ears.

Nonetheless, his comments make a good foil for expanding on the reasons for believing the traditional interpretation—and for illustrating some extra nuances I didn’t bring out in my initial post:

Craig Why are the nephilim refereed to as men, after all?

Because they were men. Even if the Nephilim had non-human spirits due to their divine fathers, they were nonetheless spirits incarnate in human flesh—men, by visual inspection.

Craig Were the nephilim giants, or were these warriors who “fall upon” others in battle?

(1)

I never argued that nephilim means “giants”. I said that the textual evidence of Deuteronomy 9:2 and Numbers 13:33 gives us good reason to believe they were giants. That’s what the text says. And that’s certainly what the Jews thought (cf Gen 6:4 in the LXX).

(2)

That said, there is a perfectly plausible morphological argument to be made that the root of nephilim is the Aramaic naphila, which does mean giant. This would give us the pointing on the Hebrew to produce the word nephilim. Contrariwise, if the root is the Hebrew naphal, meaning fallen, the pointing should produce either nephulim or nophelim—which is what we do find in Ezekiel 32:27 to refer to fallen warriors, suggesting a different root for nephilim.

(3)

Moreover, as Ezekiel 32:27 indicates, even if the root was naphal, the reading of nephilim would not be “those who fall upon”, as you have it, but “fallen ones” or “those made to fall”.

Craig Whether they were giants or not is actually immaterial to their being the offspring of the fallen angels.

On the contrary, Genesis 6 strongly implies that their might and stature is related to their parentage. It seems well within the realms of plausibility to suppose that divine beings would have mightier than average children if they reproduced with human women.

Craig Why would a giant (whatever height that means) necessitate a union of humans with fallen angels?

I never said it would necessitate it. I’m assessing the connection of ideas in Genesis 6, not the overall antecedent possibility of giantism in general. This is simply a red herring. (Moreover, I don’t think the sons of God are angels in the sense you are probably using that term.)

Craig If the nephilim is a specific race, why are they said to exist after the flood as well (v4)?

(1)

This is an objection which Genesis 6:4 seems to anticipate. When you’re making objections the Bible anticipates, that’s a clue that you’re on the wrong side of the text.

(2)

What’s especially ironic is that you don’t seem to have noticed how this objection accidentally concedes that nephilim must indeed refer to a specific race! After all, there’s no reason for verse 4 to explain that fallen warriors are still around after the flood. That doesn’t require an editorial aside to acknowledge a question that would naturally arise in the reader’s mind (“why are there still Nephilim today?”)

(3)

The author/redactor doesn’t explain why there are Nephilim after the flood. So that’s a matter of speculation. But so what? Are you making an argument from ignorance?

Craig Further, Genesis 6 does not necessarily read that the nephilim were the exclusive product of a union between the sons of God and daughters of men.

A point I specifically conceded. The question is not what the text can be saying, but what it is most likely saying. So this is completely unresponsive to my remarks on this point.

Craig It seems this is saying a number of things: 1) the sons of God co-existed with nephilim. 2) the sons of God took daughters of men for wives. 3) these same produced offspring which also became mighty men of renown – essentially, they became nephilim.

Of course, if nephilim means “giants”, then “becoming” one is something that happens by birth—which strongly implies something unusual about the nature of the sons of God. All of this is perfectly congruent with the traditional reading.

Craig No longer did they identify with God, rather, they identified with mighty warriors and became like them.

That’s a brazenly eisegetical reading. There’s nothing in the text that speaks of “identification” at all.

Craig 4) violence was increasing…which is something which is precisely emphasized in the chapter.

(1)

Not only is this irrelevant to the identity of the sons of God, and whether the Nephilim were giants, but it actually reinforces my reading. If the sons of God were divine, and the Nephilim were giants, then it is eminently plausible to imagine savage blood feuds between them and normal human beings. That would go a long way toward explaining the violence mentioned later in the chapter.

(2)

This would also seamlessly mesh Genesis 6 with Genesis 3—the promise that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Of course, we know that this promise terminates ultimately in a spiritual seed, but it is certainly read most straightforwardly as a physical statement. If the serpent is a divine being, as nachash suggests with its play on words (the noun is serpent, but taken as a verb it means “shining one”; cf Isaiah 14:12), then he represents the rebellious sons of God. Their seed and Adam’s seed are then directly in view in Genesis 6, with violence between naturally-born humans and the half-breed offspring of the sons of God. So again, this supports my view; not yours; and saying, “Well that’s just science fiction” does nothing to undermine how plausible it is exegetically—nor, indeed, how plausible it was to the original audience.

Craig the problem being, it would have to pattern precisely the sin of Sodom. If these were fallen angels copulating with women, their sin would be unlike Sodom’s since they were reproducing. Further, if they were fallen angels, it would also be unlike Sodom in that these are different beings at every level – one angelic, the other human.

(1)

You’re setting up a strawman to burn. Why would Genesis 6 have to “pattern precisely” the sin of Sodom? This is simply a non-sequitur. There only needs to be enough of a parallel to illustrate the point Jude and Peter are making.

(2)

Jude and Peter both tell us the parallel they see between Genesis 6 and Sodom. Jude 1:7 explains that both involved sexual immorality and unnatural desire. Similarly, 2 Peter 2:10 names the sins as the lust of defiling passion, and despising authority. This supports the traditional reading, since the issue was angels eschewing God’s authority by abandoning their place in the cosmos in order to cohabit with human women, due to their unnatural lusts.

(3)

You need to re-read Genesis 18-19. The parallel is precise—indeed, the very reason that Jude and Peter both choose Sodom as an illustration, rather than some other example of sexual sin, is that Sodom involves humans and angels! There is a precise reverse parallel between the sons of God lusting after the daughters of men, and the homosexuals of Sodom lusting after the angels of Yahweh. It could hardly be a more compelling and exact mirror. So again, this ends up strongly supporting my position; not yours.

Craig One puzzles over the reference to Michael if what preceded was exclusively about sexual sin.

Since it isn’t exclusively about sexual sin, and I never suggested it was, apparently the only puzzled one is you.

Craig This incident (Michael the Archangel) is important because it further elaborates that the point of Jude’s reference was to liken the rebellion of rank and order to the sin of sodomy.

This is confused. There is a parallel here, but it only really comes out on my reading. The sin of the Sodomites was not just lusting after strange flesh, but in presuming to take the angels of Yahweh by force—even though they were their superiors. The Sodomites were, in your exact words, “mutinous”. So once again, this just reinforces my position, rather than undermining it.

Craig A reading of Jude may *seem* to imply the nephilim were the product of fallen angels having sex with human women, but that rests on baggage brought to the text. It only becomes “necessary” insofar that one has committed himself to such a reading of Genesis 6.

Since that was the exclusive reading of Genesis 6 at the time that Jude and 2 Peter were written, this is an exceedingly adventurous line of argument for you to take. This is precisely the “baggage” that Jude and Peter’s readers would bring to the text—as Jude and Peter would have known.

Craig I have not even gotten into the theological and systematic problems a scifi reading of Genesis 6 introduces. Interpreting the text as I have shows no gymnastics and no “explaining away.”

This is ironic given that you haven’t bothered to interpret the text at all. You’ve given no actual positive exegesis. You haven’t explained what it means. You’ve only told us what you think it can’t mean. And your reasoning turns out to be confused and foot-shooting.

Craig In fact, it would serve to deepen one’s understanding and application of the text. You can’t do that with a Tor-inspired reading. Tor-inspired readings only serve to titillate.

(1)

This is demonstrably false. I have clearly shown how the traditional reading is actually the one that creates far deeper and more meaningful parallels between Genesis 3 and 6; and between Genesis 6, Jude, and 2 Peter 2.

(2)

Using a term like “Tor-inspired” is not only rankly prejudicial, but also just inept. Were the Jews avidly flipping through the pages of Tor for inspiration when they composed writings like 1 Enoch? Were the translators of the Septuagint fans of Asimov? You discredit your entire position with such childishness.

Craig Here are just a few theological problems after considering the above:
1. God created all things to reproduce after their own kind. Angels are of a different kind (and order) than man. Was God lying in Genesis 1?

(1)

Genesis 1 does not refer to the creation of divine beings at all.

(2)

You are simply assuming—as if it were patently obvious—that beings which are elsewhere referred to in the Bible as gods, and are shown to have the ability to take on flesh, as well as control both human behavior and even the weather, are incapable of devising a way to reproduce with humans. Not only is that an argument from ignorance, but it’s a laughably implausible one. Even on a human level, we are capable of genetic feats which are impossible in nature.

Craig 1a. Was Jesus mistaken re: angelic inability to reproduce? One might say marriage does not necessitate an inability to reproduce, but marriage is for reproduction…why create a capacity and desire that was forbidden?

This is simply jejune:

(1)

Jesus did not say that angels are incapable of reproducing, nor even that they are incapable of marriage—as you have conceded. You’re trying to get from “angels do not marry” to “angels can not reproduce”. So your argument trades on two layers of equivocation.

(2)

You failed to notice that Jesus refers specifically to the angels in heaven. Needless to say, that appears like a calculated reference to preclude the angels on earth, some of which his Jewish audience knew had taken wives and reproduced.

Craig 2. The flood narrative would cease focusing on the sin of man qua man and turn to a judgment of God against a metaphysical mixture – something that has more in common with a pagan order of being than a biblical one.

(1)

This is an assertion in search of an argument. Under the traditional view, Genesis 6 brings to a head the curse of Genesis 3 in order to prefigure the larger spiritual realities that will come to a head again at the cross.

(2)

You’re prejudicially discounting pagan myths as having no basis in fact. Needless to say, anyone who takes oral histories and traditions seriously, or thinks that pagan religions must intersect with the real spirit world described in the Bible, isn’t at liberty to be so blasé about dismissing widely-attested myths that have obvious parallels with a major, plausible and pedigreed interpretation of certain parts of the Bible. That’s no different than atheists who dismiss the fact that so many cultures incorporate flood myths.

Craig 3. Did fallen angels stop reproducing with human women? If they existed after the flood, what makes you think they stopped?

Jude and Peter indicate that these beings were restrained by God because of this sin. It doesn’t say when, or that there weren’t others. Nor that there won’t be others. You’re assuming a lot more about my position than I am.

Craig 4. Since we should assume they have not stopped reproducing, perhaps our battle is, in fact, against flesh and blood contra what the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 6:12)?

That’s your inept gloss, not mine. But by your falsely dichotomous logic, I suppose you think the beast and the false prophet are just symbols, and that the Bible never indicates we will have to deal with physical people energized by spiritual forces.

4 comments

  1. Kirk Skeptic

    “Needless to say, anyone who takes oral histories and traditions seriously, or thinks that pagan religions must intersect with the real spirit world described in the Bible, isn’t at liberty to be so blasé about dismissing widely-attested myths that have obvious parallels with a major, plausible and pedigreed interpretation of certain parts of the Bible.”

    Divine descent of kings and heroes is seen in Meso- and South America as well as in ANE and the Classical world. This would seem to give weight to the traditional interpretation under question.

    BTW to what would you attribute the loss of this view of the text?

  2. Craig

    You said: “Although he says he isn’t motivated by Western incredulity, he goes on to refer to the traditional interpretation as the “scifi” reading and a “Tor” interpretation. Which doesn’t strike me as very even-handed—so I assume anything I say in response will fall on deaf ears.”

    Craig responds: This was a bit of tongue in cheek. On the one hand, you suggest those who disagree with you are motivated by an incredulous sort of Western mindset. While some interpreters in recent decades have made movement back toward a fallen angels interpretation, that does not necessarily reflect the adoption of a more “ancient” mindset as much as it may simply reflect that that sort of take is more believable in light of the science fiction genre…a very Western one, at that. My point is the finger can go back in your direction. That doesn’t make it so, but neither does suggesting others simply dismiss it out of a Western incredulosity make it so, either.

    You said: This (the fact there were Nephilim after the flood) is an objection which Genesis 6:4 seems to anticipate. When you’re making objections the Bible anticipates, that’s a clue that you’re on the wrong side of the text.
    Craig responds: you use the word “seems” and “plausible” at times in your response. Lots of braggadocio and chest-pounding. Those are tentative, weak assertions in lieu of anything with cash value. You say it “seems” to anticipate. So what, I say it doesn’t. It only seems that way based on your take of the very points that are up for debate.

    You said: What’s especially ironic is that you don’t seem to have noticed how this objection accidentally concedes that nephilim must indeed refer to a specific race! After all, there’s no reason for verse 4 to explain that fallen warriors are still around after the flood. That doesn’t require an editorial aside to acknowledge a question that would naturally arise in the reader’s mind (“why are there still Nephilim today?”)

    Craig responds: It doesn’t require the Nephilim be a specific race. On my reading, they are might men, men of renown…warriors. Every nation has had such men.

    You said: The author/redactor doesn’t explain why there are Nephilim after the flood. So that’s a matter of speculation. But so what? Are you making an argument from ignorance?

    Craig responds: No. It would stand to reason that if God killed off all of men, save Noah’s family…this “race” would have been eliminated. The fact the Nephilim “reappear” would give credence to them being, not a race, but a certain class of man: warriors.

    You said: Of course, if nephilim means “giants”, then “becoming” one is something that happens by birth—which strongly implies something unusual about the nature of the sons of God. All of this is perfectly congruent with the traditional reading.

    Craig responds: That’s a big “if”, and that’s one of the points up for debate. Genesis 6 describes them as mighty men, and you can find such men in the same family tree as those who are weak.

    You said: That’s a brazenly eisegetical reading. There’s nothing in the text that speaks of “identification” at all.

    Craig responds: that’s an extreme reaction. The chapter says nearly nothing you have asserted, so try avoiding getting the selective vapors. The reading I offered would follow from my take on who the Nephilim were. If you think it’s a great leap, you have to do one of two things: 1) demonstrate it from my point of view, or 2) offer an interpretation that goes beyond plausibility on the surface.
    You said: Not only is this irrelevant to the identity of the sons of God, and whether the Nephilim were giants, but it actually reinforces my reading…

    Craig responds: It is relevant. If Nephilim is a class of warrior, and the sons of God are from the lineage of Seth, then on this interpretation it follows this is their self-identifying apart from God.

    You said: This would also seamlessly mesh Genesis 6 with Genesis 3—the promise that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Of course, we know that this promise terminates ultimately in a spiritual seed, but it is certainly read most straightforwardly as a physical statement. If the serpent is a divine being, as nachash suggests with its play on words (the noun is serpent, but taken as a verb it means “shining one”; cf Isaiah 14:12), then he represents the rebellious sons of God. Their seed and Adam’s seed are then directly in view in Genesis 6, with violence between naturally-born humans and the half-breed offspring of the sons of God. So again, this supports my view; not yours; and saying, “Well that’s just science fiction” does nothing to undermine how plausible it isexegetically—nor, indeed, how plausible it was to the original audience.

    Craig responds: I just got the vapors.

    You said: You’re setting up a strawman to burn. Why would Genesis 6 have to “pattern precisely” the sin of Sodom?

    Craig responds: You provide the reason below:

    You said: Jude and Peter both tell us the parallel they see between Genesis 6 and Sodom. Jude 1:7explains that both involved sexual immorality and unnatural desire.

    Craig responds: I offered an interpretation of this that destabilizes your take. If the sin is being likened, and both share purely sexual connotations, then the fact one is homosex and the other “angel” sex becomes problematic. Further, the aside on Michael becomes inexplicable if the similarity of the two are essentially sexual.

    You said: You need to re-read Genesis 18-19. The parallel is precise—indeed, the very reason that Jude and Peter both choose Sodom as an illustration, rather than some other example of sexual sin, is that Sodom involves humans and angels!

    Craig responds: This is an instance where you get especially muddled. The sodomites burned after the angels, not because they were angels, but because they thought they were men. For Sodom, it was business as usual…that’s why Lot knew to take them in. Unless you’re aware of Sodom having a fetish for angels prior to this visitation, your “mirror image” goes nowhere.

    You said: Since it isn’t exclusively about sexual sin, and I never suggested it was, apparently the only puzzled one is you.

    Craig responds: Why not connect the relevance of the reference to Michael in light of your take?

    You said: This is confused. There is a parallel here, but it only really comes out on my reading.

    Craig responds: Not really. The parallel comes out at the price of how Michael ties in. The fact the Sodomites had an impending judgment prior to the angelic visitation presents a major issue for your take. The incident was emblematic of what typified Sodom – love for homosex.

    You said: The sin of the Sodomites was not just lusting after strange flesh, but in presuming to take the angels of Yahweh by force…

    Craig responds: except, as I just noted, the angels were sent on a mission of judgment. To say the judgment rested on the fact they sought to have sex with angels (we have no reason to think there was a visible indication they presented themselves as angels) turns the text on its head. God was judging them for the homosex, which was confirmed when the angels arrived in the appearance of men.

    You said: Since that was the exclusive reading of Genesis 6 at the time that Jude and 2 Peter were written…

    Craig said: One might wonder how you know this…more overstatement of your case. This is precisely the “baggage” that Jude and Peter’s readers would bring to the text—as Jude and Peter would have known.

    You said: You haven’t explained what it means. You’ve only told us what you think it can’t mean. And your reasoning turns out to be confused and foot-shooting.

    Craig responds: I recommend you re-read my comments. Perhaps I could have written more clearly, but your response has been off base on nearly every point. I did explain what it means. I made a positive case.

    You said: This is demonstrably false. I have clearly shown how the traditional reading is actually the one that creates far deeper and more meaningful parallels between Genesis 3 and 6; and between Genesis 6, Jude, and 2 Peter 2.

    Craig responds: No, you simply ignored the difficulties your reading raises.

    You said: Genesis 1 does not refer to the creation of divine beings at all.

    Craig responds: So this is an argument from ignorance ;) Seriously, that inference is a stretch. One wonders why God emphasized this creational feature on your reading.

    You said: You are simply assuming—as if it were patently obvious—that beings which are elsewhere referred to in the Bible as gods, and are shown to have the ability to take on flesh…

    Craig responds: I don’t believe angelic beings can take on flesh. They can take on appearances, but that is far different than have a fully-functioning biological makeup fit for coitus with humans, including reproduction.

    You said: Jesus did not say that angels are incapable of reproducing, nor even that they are incapable of marriage—as you have conceded.

    Craig responds: I did not concede this. Not sure where you got that. I conceded that some might argue that angels might be able to reproduce, just that they don’t marry. I don’t believe that.

    The context of Jesus saying we would be like the angels was tied to marriage, and marriage (this side of the eschaton) is always tied to the expectation of offspring. At the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb, there will be no more giving in marriage since true Marriage will be realized. Since that is the case, and this marriage is not designed for copulation or further producing offspring, the parallel is obvious: angels neither marry nor can they reproduce. You may want to limit that to the angels in heaven, but to say Jesus consciously was excepting other angels who can by identifying the angels in heaven exclusively is ludicrous.

    Why would He need to expand the simile to include fallen angels? It would be ludicrous, and confusing. Obviously He chose heavenly angels because it would be confusingly stupid to use hell-bound ones. So Jesus was not limiting the inability/lack of freedom to marry reproduce to heavenly angels; He used them because it would be about as helpful as commending a janitor by likening his detail-oriented cleanup to organized criminals wiping down the scene of a crime to eliminate physical evidence. What is that simile saying? The janitor has something to hide?!?

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Kirk, to my knowledge, the traditional view started to be questioned in the mid-second century because it was thought that angels could not engage in sexual intercourse. I believe this was prooftexted from Matthew 22:30. I haven’t looked into it, but my suspicion is that it was a Gnostic influence which kick-started this view.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Craig, I don’t think we’re going to make any headway here, so I’ll just make a few observations:

    (1)

    You haven’t given us any reasons to prefer the Sethite view (which you seem to take) over the traditional one. So at best, you’ve just shown that all the interpretations suck. (Mind you, I think you’ve quite spectacularly failed.)

    (2)

    You need to distinguish between what the Sodomites knew about the angels, and what Jude and Peter knew about the angels. They can trade on the reverse parallel between Sodom and the sons of God without requiring the Sodomites themselves to be aware of the parallel.

    (3)

    The relevance of Michael is irrelevant. Jude, like Peter, has moved on from sexual sin to blasphemy when he brings Michael into the equation.

    (4)

    You need to harden up. Getting the vapors when someone offers a take on the connection between Genesis 3 and 6 which would have been eminently plausible to an ancient not only makes you look sheltered, but also ill-equipped to be assessing the text in the first place. The key question in understanding these texts is how would the original audience have understood them?

    (5)

    Apropos (4), you need to stop overreaching. To the best of my knowledge, it is simply a fact that no one before the middle of the second century AD interpreted Genesis 6 in any other way than the one I have proposed. So unless you have evidence to the contrary, you need to ranger up and deal with the fact that that is the context of Jude and 2 Peter 2.

    (6)

    Accusing someone of braggadocio when they attenuate their statements to avoid claiming a certainty that isn’t justified by the text is not only bizarre, but makes you look like a jerk.

    (7)

    If the Bible tells us that angelic beings can take on flesh, as I am arguing it does, then they can take on flesh. There’s no antecedent reason to doubt that. We really have no idea what angels even are, so taking a skeptical position here just looks like special pleading. In Genesis we see angels eating and drinking. Jesus does the same in the gospels to prove that his resurrection body is not a shade. On the face of it, it’s hard to imagine why we shouldn’t think angels can have real bodies.

    (8)

    You need to take a step back and re-assess some of your arguments. For example, saying it is “ludicrous” to imagine that Jesus says “the angels in heaven” to distinguish them from angels on earth, just makes you look foolish when we know his audience believed angels on earth had taken women as wives. Similarly, you gloss over the double equivocation I mention, as if simply observing that marriage is tied to procreation solves the problems I pointed out. It doesn’t.

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