There is much mystery surrounding the Nephilim. Most of the information about them comes from Genesis 6:4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Almost everything about this verse is difficult to understand. Is Nephilim a specific technical term, or does it mean what the word means? And what the word means is uncertain. It seems to have something to do with falling—possibly “fallen ones” or “ones who cause others to fall.” Also, who are the “sons of God”? Are they human or some kind of angelic beings? If the sons of God are angelic, then is the angelic/human cross what accounts for the greatness of the Nephilim?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, we would assume that all of the Nephilim alive at the time of Noah perished in the flood. However, Genesis 6:4 also seems to indicate that the Nephilim reappeared after the flood: they were “on the earth in those days—and also afterward”—that is, after the flood.
In Moses’ day, the spies brought back a report about the Promised Land. All the spies agreed that the land was good with bounty to offer; however, ten of the spies also were fearful that Israel could not take the land because of the people living in it: “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 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” (Numbers 13:32–33). Here the Nephilim are described as the descendants of Anak and are associated with men of great size. This is similar to Genesis 6:4 where they are associated with “heroes of old, men of renown.” In each case, they would seem to be formidable opponents, especially in the kind of hand-to-hand combat that would have been involved in taking the Promised Land.
The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) translated Nephilim with the Greek word for “giants.” This is not a direct translation of the word but an attempt to communicate the idea of what the Nephilim were. We do know that giants are found in the Old Testament several times, especially in conjunction with the Philistines—Goliath being the most prominent. These were not human-angel hybrids, but very large men (see Deuteronomy 3:11).
It is quite possible that Nephilim simply became a semi-technical term for “giant warrior.” It may have had some nebulous overtones of mystery as well. It might be similar to the modern term monster. That word can be used to refer to size, as in monster truck or monster candy bar. It can also have dark overtones. When someone is described as a monster, it can refer to an evil character. And finally, a monster might be some kind of supernatural creature or even something of a hybrid like a vampire, a werewolf or Frankenstein’s monster. With our limited knowledge of the word Nephilim, it appears the Nephilim were gigantic, mysterious warriors of uncertain DNA (to use a modern term). To the people who observed them, they seemed to be unnatural. Even today we have “giants” among us—the average NBA or NFL player is freakishly gigantic compared to most of us. This does not mean there is a race of human/angel hybrids who are secretly in our midst.
It seems that the Nephilim, at least in the time of Moses and Joshua, were simply descendants of Anak who were extremely large and fearsome. If so, then it is possible that there are descendants of them today, just as today there could be distant descendants of Moabites, Amalekites, Hittites, and Babylonians.