Bruce Waltke on the Nephilim

Although I am on sabbatical and working on a book project, I have been reading, here and there, Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007). Waltke’s book was the best-seller at the Zondervan exhibit during the 2007 SBL meeting in San Diego. I have not been able to dedicate much time to finish reading the book because of other commitments.

An Old Testament Theology is a very interesting book. Waltke is an evangelical scholar and professor emeritus at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes from an evangelical perspective and takes a very conservative approach to the Old Testament.

Waltke wrote that his book is more than an Old Testament theology; it is a biblical theology. If I had to classify his book, I would say that this book is a Christian perspective on the theology of the Old Testament. How else could one explain the fact that in his discussion of the creation of men and women in Genesis 1:26-28 he also discusses the role of women in ministry and issues of church government. On his discussion of Genesis 1:26-28, he wrote (p. 246):

Let us now turn to the question of whether the church should ordain women to the office of ruler/teacher (e.g. of priests, elders, and pastors in the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Baptist traditions respectively). Here we need to distinguish clearly between call to the ministry and appointment to an office since they are not the same.

He then concludes that the church should not appoint women to an office or a position in which she would have authority over her husband. He said (p. 246): “The Bible consistently and without exception teaches male hierarchical priority in government in texts that address the issue.” I do not believe such a discussion would be found in the Old Testament theologies written by Gerhard von Rad or by Walter Eichrodt.

At this time I do not want to address the issue of church government. The purpose of my post is to address another issue: his discussion of the Nephilim. Unfortunately, as I wrote this post, I did not have in front of me a copy of Waltke’s commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001). However, since his An Old Testament Theology was written in 2007, I took for granted that his view is the same or else, that his view in this latter book reflects a more recent perspective on the issue.

In examining Waltke’s view on the Nephilim, I presuppose that Waltke has an evangelical approach to the interpretation of the Old Testament, that is, that his view reflects the trustworthiness of Scriptures and that the flood had a global scope. This latter fact, that Waltke believes that there was a global flood I learned from reading a review of his commentary on Genesis.

In addition, I am not dealing with every aspect of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4. I have dealt with the issue of the Nephilim and the sons of God in one article, The Anakim and the Nephilim, and several posts: The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4, Rereading Genesis 6:4: Were They Really Giants?, and The Nephilim Again: A Response to Joe Cathey and Duane Smith.

In this post I just want to deal with Waltke’s statement on the Nephilim. Genesis 6:4 reads: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days– and also afterward– when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”

Referring to this verse, Waltke wrote (p. 285, n. 2):

The “sons of God” are best understood as demon-possessed kings. The perverted psyches of these tyrants allowed this entrance of the demonic. The Nephilim (i.e., “fallen ones”)–who also existed at the time of Moses (Num. 13:33)–were probably their offspring, also called “heroes.” They filled the earth with violence.

This interpretation is impossible. If the Nephilim existed in the time of Moses and if they were the offspring of the “sons of God,” then this means that they survived the flood. The biblical text is very clear that only Noah and his wife, their sons and their wives, eight people, survived the flood (1 Peter 3:20).

If all people died in the flood, except Noah and his family, then the Nephilim could not have survived the flood. If the Nephilim could not survive the flood, then, the Nephilim in the time of Moses could not have been the descendants of the “sons of God” since they also perished in the flood.

The interpretation that Waltke gives for the Nephilim in the time of Moses cannot be correct if only Noah and his family survived the flood. If this is so, how then must we understand the reference to the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33.

In my article on the Anakim and the Nephilim, I wrote:

After the people of Israel left Egypt, they came to the borders of Canaan, the land that Yahweh their God had promised to them. Before they entered the land, Moses sent 12 spies to investigate the land and its people (Num. 13). In a later passage Moses seems to place responsibility for the spies being sent on the people of Israel (Deut. 1:22). With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the spies brought back a pessimistic report of their survey of Canaan. To 10 of the spies, the fortified walls of the Canaanite cities were an overwhelming obstacle for their conquest of the land (13:28). The spies also were terrified by the size of the inhabitants of Canaan. “They said, ‘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’” (Num. 13:32-33 NIV). In their exaggeration of the situation, the spies spoke to the assembly of the leaders of Israel of the terrible predicament awaiting the people of Israel. The spies added that, in addition of being people of gigantic stature, the Anakim were the Nephilim, the dreadful people who lived on earth in the days before the flood.

*******
Although the spies were utterly afraid of the Anakim, the Anakim were conquered by Joshua and driven out of the land. Only a small remnant survived; they found refuge in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:21-22). Caleb conquered Hebron, the stronghold of the Anakim and drove out the three clans of the Anakim (Josh. 15:14). Thus, it is possible to conclude that when the Israelite spies said that saw the Nephilim in the land, they were using the word as a synonym for Anakim. Both words are used to describe the imposing physical condition of the original inhabitants of the promised land. Centuries later, the prophet Amos, referring to the overwhelming size of the original inhabitants of Canaan, said that the Canaanites were as “tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks” (Amos 2:9 NIV).

Thus, the spies did not see any Nephilim for the Nephilim had died in the flood. The spies saw the Anakim, tall people who lived in Canaan at the time Israel was preparing to enter the land. Dominated by fear and superstition, the spies identified the Anakim with the Nephilim of old. There were no Nephilim in Canaan, only Anakim.

On Bruce Waltke, read: Bruce K. Waltke Resigns Over the Issue of Evolution.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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9 Responses to Bruce Waltke on the Nephilim

  1. James Pate says:

    >Hi Dr. Mariottini,I’ve not read your other posts on the subject, but I’m eager to do so.E.W. Bullinger is not exactly a scholarly source, but one thing he pointed out was this: that passage in Genesis 6 says there were nephilim in those days, AND AFTERWARDS. For him, that means that they were destroyed in the flood, then a new batch of them emerged later on, after the flood. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there were Nephiliim after the flood. And Numbers 13:33 calls the inhabitants of Canaan Nephilim.I’ll probably read your other posts on this subject tonight.

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  2. Peter Kirk says:

    >There could have been demon-possessed kings both before and after the flood. So there could have been separate groups of Nephilim descended from them before and after the flood.Or, more simply, we can read ha’aretz in Genesis 7:21,23 as “the land” rather than “the earth”.

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  3. >Thanks for the post, I find Waltke to be very quirky at times. I also find his interpretation of this very problematic. From a linguistic point of view “sons of God” no where else in the Bible or cognate literature (to my knowledge) means “demon-possessed kings.” In my mind we should avoid creating brand new, unattested meanings for quite common constructions.

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  4. >James.Bullinger’s interpretation may not be wrong if the Nephilim were tall people. The KJV and theLXX translate the word Nephilim as “giants.” But the problem is that I do not think that the wordNephilim in Genesis 6:4 means tall people. It is clear that by the time Israel entered Canaan, theNephilim had become legendary and were associated with the Anakim, the tall people who livedin Canaan.Claude Mariottini

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  5. >Peter,The only problem with this possibility is that the idea that the Nephilim were “demon-possessedkings” is a very weak interpretation. Think for a moment: when the spies entered the land and saw those tall people in Canaan, how did they know they were “demon-possessed kings”? There must be another interpretation that better explains who the Nephilim were and demons-possessed kings is not it.Claude Mariottini

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  6. >Charles,The idea that the Nephilim were “demon-possessed kings” is very weak and it is not supportedby the text. This interpretation is not widely accepted by the majority of scholars but it isaccepted by many conservative scholars. If I remember correctly, a similar proposal was made by Meredith Kline several years ago but it has been rejected by most commentators. Thus, I agree with your proposal.Claude Mariottini

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  7. Jim Getz says:

    >I’ve heard the demons-possessed kings argument before but have been generally unimpressed. I generally take Job 1.6 and 1 Enoch as my guide in regards to the Nephilim’s ancestry.

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  8. >Jim,This is the generally accepted interpretation and probably the right one. This means that one equates the Nephilim with the sons of God.The issue in interpretation is whether the Nephilim are the sons of God, the children that were born out of the union between the sons of God and the daughters of men, or a third group of people.I believe Genesis 6:4 is one of the most difficult passages in the Hebrew Bible when it comes to the matter of interpretation.Claude Mariottini

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  9. Pingback: Bruce K. Waltke Resigns Over the Issue of Evolution | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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