Issue #439 -------
April 17, 2010
Happy Birthday to my Wife, Shelly
The same myths that enable some people
to accommodate themselves to the darkness
serve others as stepping stones to enlightenment.
Over the years I've had a number of people ask me about the race of "giants" who are said to have inhabited the earth in ancient days. Were they real? If so, who were they and from whence did they come? Last month a dear brother in Florida, who has served the Lord's people as a shepherd for a good many years, wrote, "Al, were there actually 'giants' living on the earth that made the people of Israel feel like 'grasshoppers,' or did they just make it all up to hide their true fear?" The passage to which he alluded is Num. 13:32-33. You might remember that as the people of Israel approached the "land of promise," Moses sent out twelve men to spy upon the land and its peoples. The report brought back by ten of them was quite negative (only Joshua and Caleb urged the people to trust God to deliver the land into their hands). Nevertheless, the other ten "spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored," saying, "The people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there ... and we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
There is significant debate among biblical scholars as to whether or not the spies sent out by Moses actually saw Nephilim dwelling in the land, or if they simply engaged in what the Expositor's Bible Commentary characterizes: "rhetorical exaggeration" [vol. 2, p. 812]. If the latter, as many believe, then it may have been a calculated effort to instill within their fellow Israelites such a sense of fear at any thought of taking the land that such a quest would be abandoned. Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann calls this "the exaggerations of cowards," with "their purpose being to fill the hearts of all the people with the same senseless fear which possessed their own hearts" [A Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 261]. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that their report was factual: they may indeed have seen there "people of great size." If indeed they saw such people, then in their minds they believed they were seeing the Nephilim, thus indicating the people of Israel were familiar with this people (or, at least, with stories about them). Whether they saw such people or not (and whether these were truly Nephilim or not) is not the real issue. The real problem was their lack of trust in God to fulfill His promise to give them this land. Like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat, they took their eyes off the Lord and thus became filled with dread at the seemingly overwhelming circumstances of their situation. It would cost them dearly.
But, we still haven't solved our difficult dilemma: exactly who were the Nephilim?! Clearly, the people of Israel had heard of them, but little in the way of a history is provided in Scripture. In fact, the word "Nephilim" only appears one other time: Genesis 6:4 -- "The Nephilim were 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 who were of old, men of renown." This puzzling statement is "antediluvian" in nature (referring to the time prior to the flood) --- in the days prior to the great destruction by water, the Nephilim were living on the earth. However, the passage also states they lived on the earth "afterward" as well, which has caused some degree of confusion. Did some survive the flood (which raises questions as to whether the flood was global or merely regional)? Were the Nephilim somehow able to "implant" themselves among men once again after the flood? Some very interesting possibilities are raised, with a number of theories to match, by this passage!! If, in fact, they did appear again after the flood, this would certainly explain what the spies saw in the land they were sent to explore (if, that is, their report was factual, and not just exaggeration, and if what they saw were really Nephilim).
"The etymology of nephilim is uncertain" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 518]. Many feel that it may derive from the Hebrew verb napal, which means, in its root form, "to fall." Thus, the Nephilim would be "the fallen ones" or "ones who fall upon others." The former, then, would have reference to their nature, whereas the latter would refer to their actions. As a "fallen" race, they were given to falling upon others for self-serving purposes, perhaps even falling upon others violently (as is suggested by the Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1017). Again, if the spies sent out by Moses had witnessed this violent, aggressive behavior as they spied out the land, it might have contributed to their state of fearfulness. Quite a few biblical scholars, both ancient and modern (Martin Luther and John Calvin among them), firmly believe the Nephilim to have been "men of violence; roving, lawless gallants, who 'fall upon' others; robbers and tyrants; men of large physical stature" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 103]. They were certainly not perceived favorably by the people of Israel. "The use of the term Nephilim seems to be deliberately provocative of fear, a term not unlike the concept of bogeymen and hobgoblins" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 812]. The KJV uses the word "giants" instead of "nephilim," following the lead of the Septuagint (where the Greek word "gigantes" is used). Although the transliteration of this word has resulted in our word "giant," the word originally signified "earth born" rather than one of enormous size. Thus, the word "giant" is somewhat misleading, although these persons may well have been of large stature (which is certainly implied in the Numbers 13 passage).
There are several major theories as to the identity and the origin of the Nephilim, none of which are without difficulties, and all of which are somewhat speculative in nature. The primary biblical basis behind the various theories can be found in Genesis 6:1-4 and how one understands the phrases "sons of God" and "daughters of men." In Gen. 6:2 we are informed that "the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose." This is further complicated by verse 4 -- "The Nephilim were 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." Does this mean that the Nephilim were already on the earth when the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" were marrying and producing offspring? Or, does it mean that the Nephilim were the offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men"? Both theories are advanced by equally reputable biblical scholars. If the former view is held, then this in no way explains their origin or identity. If the latter view is held, then the Nephilim are the children of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" (although we still have the problem of exactly who these two groups are). The majority view among scholars is that the Nephilim were the offspring of these two groups, and that they, in time, came to be "a renowned race of vicious tyrants," many of whom may well have been of large physical stature. They became so evil, and caused so many others to follow their lead, that God was compelled to destroy them all in a flood (which is why, it is declared, they are mentioned at the beginning of the flood account).
Those who do not accept this theory are left with the view that the Nephilim were already on the earth, and were a race of beings apart from both the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men." This has led some to believe they may have been aliens from another world, or that God had created many people to fill the earth at the beginning, and Adam & Eve, and their descendants, were merely representative of God's creative efforts. Thus, the "Nephilim" may have been some non-Adamic race on earth; a group so violent and so numerous that God felt the need to utterly remove them from the planet (via the flood) and preserve only those descended from Adam (or, so goes the theory). If this is correct, then the "Nephilim" the spies saw were not truly this now extinct race, but simply like them in either stature or nature (unless, of course, the story by the spies was a fabrication). Another fairly fanciful theory is that the "Nephilim" were a large band of surviving Neanderthals from pre-historic days. The majority of scholars, however, discount these views, and embrace the position that the Nephilim were the children of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men." Therefore, it becomes imperative we identify these two groups.
One view is that the "sons of God" (literally: "sons of gods") are aliens from another planet or galaxy, and that the "daughters of men" is a phrase that refers to human beings of planet earth. The Nephilim, therefore, would be half human and half extra-terrestrial. This is a rather fanciful theory, but it has some interesting tenets. For example, in Aramaic culture, the word "Nephila" had reference to the constellation Orion. It is speculated, therefore, that the offspring of these "sons of gods" (who descended from the skies) and the human women they found attractive were named "Nephilim" after the location of the home of their alien fathers. "In ancient Aram the constellation Orion was known as Nephila and Orion's descendants were known as Nephilim" [Peake's Commentary on the Bible]. Along somewhat similar lines, it's thought by a few scholars that the "sons of gods" had reference to the pagan pantheon of deities. There are many myths of the gods interacting sexually with humans, with offspring being born to them. In a footnote within the New American Bible, St. Joseph edition, the "sons of the gods" is said to be a reference to "the celestial beings of mythology." This same source also states, with regard to Genesis 6:1-4, "This apparently is a fragment of an old legend that had borrowed much from ancient mythology. The sacred author incorporates it here, not only in order to account for the prehistoric giants of Palestine whom the Israelites had called the Nephilim, but also to introduce the story of the flood with a moral orientation." The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible declares, "This interpretation is possible only if one puts Scripture on a level with Greek mythology where anthropomorphic polytheism makes possible unions between gods and men" [vol. 4, p. 409].
Far more believable, but still in keeping with the above "not of this world" theories, is the view that the phrase "sons of God" has reference to angels. These angels of God found human women to be beautiful, and, drawn to them sexually, decided to step outside their "proper abode" and mate with them, which produced a race of beings known as "Nephilim." This is probably the most popular and widely accepted of all the explanations of the Genesis 6:1-4 passage, although it is certainly not without its problems. The primary problem, according to those who oppose this view, is that Jesus said of the redeemed, "In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven" [Matt. 22:30]. This, it is alleged, proves angels are sexless. However, that is not what Jesus actually said. He merely indicated they did not marry. Their opponents come back with Jude 6 -- "Angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode..." Wouldn't these be the ones who left their abode and mated with human women? Doesn't the very next verse also speak of going after "strange flesh"? Perhaps Jude had a "theme" going here!
Bolstering this particular view is the fact that angels are sometimes called "sons of God" in the Scriptures. In fact, in Luke 20:36, after declaring that the redeemed, in the resurrection, will neither marry nor die, Jesus states, "they are like angels, and are sons of God." The people would have known that angels were known by this designation, and so also would they be in the resurrection. In Job 1:6 we read, "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them." Most scholars believe this is a reference to angels. The statement is repeated in Job 2:1. Job 38:7 speaks of the time when God laid the foundations of the earth, "and all the sons of God shouted for joy." During that time, mankind was not around ... but the angels (the sons of God) were. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were cast into the fiery furnace, king Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person in the fire, "and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." Again, this was a common designation for an angel. On the other hand, declare the opponents to this view, "sons of God" is a phrase also employed in Scripture with reference to men. In Hosea 1:10, for example, the people of Israel are referred to as "sons of the living God." Thus, one can debate this either way. Some contemporary versions of the Bible, however, have opted for the "angels theory" and have reflected this in their wording of the Genesis 6 passage. The Good News Bible states, "There were giants on the earth who were descendants of human women and the heavenly beings." In the Contemporary English Version we read that the Nephilim were "the children of the supernatural beings who had married these women" from earth.
This is also the view of ancient Jewish tradition, and detailed accounts of these interactions between fallen angels and human women may be read in such works as the Book of Enoch, Judith, Sirach, Baruch and the Wisdom of Solomon. Some perceive a sinister plot by these fallen angels to pollute the human blood line through which the Messiah would come, thus perhaps preventing that birth. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, "Shemhazai, an angel of high rank, led a sect of angels in a descent to earth to instruct humans in righteousness. The tutelage went on for a few centuries, but soon the angels pined for the human females. After lusting, the fallen angels instructed the women in magic and conjuring, mated with them, and produced hybrid offspring: the Nephilim." These Nephilim were all gigantic, and also quite vicious, and soon the world was filled with evil and chaos. It became so bad that God decided His only course of action was to place these lusting angels who had not kept their proper abode into Tartarus [2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6] so they could mate with no more human women, and then He sent a flood to wipe out all the Nephilim and the humans they had corrupted (with the exception of Noah and his family).
This is certainly a rather attractive and popular interpretation, but is it the correct one? We simply don't know. It has much to commend it, but it also leaves some questions unanswered. Another view, one that also has a tremendous scholarly following, is that the phrase "sons of God" refers to the descendants of Seth (one of the sons of Adam), men who chose to maintain their walk with God, and the "daughters of men" were the descendants of Cain (the son who murdered his brother Abel), who had abandoned any genuine relationship with God, thus becoming increasingly corrupt in their ways. When the former group began intermarrying with the latter group, the wicked ways of the latter began to corrupt them as well, and their offspring (the Nephilim) became even more skilled in viciousness and tyranny, becoming "men of renown" in such exploits -- indeed, such exploits becoming legendary (which may explain the statement in Gen. 6:4 -- "mighty men of old, men of renown" -- which could be perceived as a negative assessment). This view is preferred to the previous one by the scholars producing the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, who write, "The 'demigod' explanation of the Nephilim, so popular in some circles, seems less preferable than a non-mythological, sociological explanation which sees the people described as specifically human groups engaged in relationships of deteriorating social and spiritual quality" [vol. 3, p. 519]. The two groups of humans, then, would be the Sethites (the sons of God) and the Cainites (the daughters of men), with the Nephilim being their offspring. This is the view of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and it is also the view of several ancient extra-biblical works, such as the Second Book of Adam and Eve. In a footnote to the Gen. 6:4 passage in the Jerusalem Bible, we find, "From the fourth century onwards, as the idea of angelic nature becomes less material, the Church Fathers commonly take the 'sons of God' to be Seth's descendants and the 'daughters of men' to be those of Cain."
Johann Keil (1807-1888) and Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), two extremely well-known and highly respected scholars of the Old Testament writings, within their classic OT Commentary, declare the Genesis 6:1-4 passage to be descriptive of "intercourse or marriage of the Cainites with the Sethites." Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his massive Commentary, adopted the very same view, declaring, "The posterity of Seth did not keep by themselves, as they ought to have done, both for the preservation of their own purity ... but intermingled themselves with the excommunicated race of Cain." Albert Barnes (1798-1870), in his Notes on the Bible, observed, "The evil here described is that of promiscuous intermarriage, without regard to spiritual character." The women of the world (the descendants of Cain) seduced the sons of God (the descendants of Seth) into moral compromise, which in turn led to an overpopulation of ungodly offspring -- a condition that became so bad that God determined to destroy them all (except for the righteous Noah and his family). This is a theory that also has much to commend it, although it too is not without some difficulty. Nevertheless, it is one that is gaining popularity among a growing number of Christian scholars who're looking for an explanation "less fanciful" than some of those proffered above.
What is my view? I'll be honest with you -- the jury is still out. There is a part of me that wants to stay grounded in a view less fanciful, thus I see some rationale for the position that we have godly people mingling with ungodly people, resulting in horrendous chaos on a number of levels. This situation is certainly cautioned against throughout Scripture, and we defy this divine direction at great personal cost. On the other hand, there is a part of me that strongly favors the view that it may refer to angels who left their appointed place to cavort with the daughters of men. I realize there are strong and weak points to both, but if I absolutely had to choose one over the other, I would probably go with the latter! I would certainly never be dogmatic about this, however, as I simply don't have sufficient information at hand to make such a judgment. I suppose, in the final analysis, my answer would have to be much the same as that given by Origen (185-254 A.D.) when asked who wrote the book of Hebrews -- "God only knows!" And there we shall have to leave it.
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From a Reader in Maine:
Dear Brother Al, Last night my wife and I listened to all three of your Tulsa Workshop presentations on the three CDs we ordered from Workshop Multimedia. Your illustration in the first speech using Terry Clark, and your sequel at the beginning of the second speech, was one of the most powerful and moving we've ever heard! We only wish we could see the day when all denominational and heritage distinctions would dissolve into that one great assembly which Jesus said He would gather from the four corners of the earth.
From a Minister in Michigan:
Bro. Al, I really enjoyed listening to you, and also getting to meet you, at The Tulsa Workshop. I have been playing around in your Reflections archives and really appreciate all of the work you have put into them. I find myself nodding along as I read, and plan to subscribe to your weekly articles. May God bless you and your work. Know that you have friends up here in the frozen northlands of Michigan.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Dear Brother Al, I have Rick Atchley's great "chair sermon," so now I must have your "table sermon" for all those chairs to be seated around. I am assuming that a tape or CD was made of this sermon of yours from The Tulsa Workshop. Do you have a copy for sale?! If so, let me know how much and I'll cut you a check. By the way, that was a really great article on tattoos. We have a wonderful husband and wife here at our congregation who both have visible tattoos. A few years ago he asked me if he needed to have them removed due to the fact that some believed it was a "sin" to have them. I told him "NO." I'll reproduce your article and give it to them. Thanks!!
From a Missionary in Bulgaria:
Brother Al, thanks for your common sense approach to Scripture! I'm sure all of us have heard a preacher or "correct" brother condemn tattoos. Your Reflections article, however, was a no nonsense sound exegesis of the only biblical text on the subject. Brother Al, I really think this whole idea of a "common sense approach" to Scripture is foreign to many Christians, and this is one reason, I believe, why so many people reject the Scriptures! Humans need order in their lives -- and that includes in their thinking. Anything that doesn't make sense seems "out of order" to the human brain. When non-believers hear Christians pronounce condemnation on them for something that just doesn't make sense, they'll naturally reject both the person and the "source" of the condemnation. The real problem is that too many Christians don't search the Scriptures for themselves!! They just let their preacher or Bible teacher or elder tell them what it "says." Then they go running out into the world with a pocket full of condemnation. Our God is a God of order and sense. When we speak nonsense and call it Truth, then of course non-believers will reject our nonsense. Thanks again for your common sense articles.
From a New Reader in Nigeria, Africa:
Dear Brother Al, I have just read your Reflections on "Jephthah's Reckless Vow" (Issue #224). It was an explosive expository piece!! I would like to be included in your mailing list, please. Thank you and God bless you.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, "The Great Tattoo Taboo" was VERY eye-opening and insightful. Once again, you brought out some concepts I had not considered before. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to share your teachings with us!!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Brother Al, Thank you for your article on tattoos. When I first saw your title I was thinking, "Oh great! Here's something else I'm doing wrong!" But then I realized that I was just regressing to my upbringing in the Churches of Christ and all the "Thou shalt NOT" sermons I heard until they ran out my ears!! So, I was glad and relieved that this wasn't one of them! I have four tattoos, and plan to get more. I certainly believe this can get out of control, though (just like anything else). I surely wish I could have been at The Tulsa Workshop to meet you. Keep the faith, brother.
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, Your latest Reflections was excellent! Amazing what a little context will do for a verse, isn't it?!! Also, I enjoyed the readers' comments as much as the article. As you may or may not know, I am a huge Three Stooges fan, and the only tattoo I would ever have considered getting would be the three of them (I saw it on the massive forearm of a man I once met at a burger place a couple of years ago, and we've remained friends on Facebook as a result). I have dealt with a lot of church members over the years who were extremely hard on people with tattoos, displaying in their attitudes and actions much less Christlikeness than those who were sporting the tattoos! Thanks, as always, for the time and energy you spend in study for your Reflections. I enjoy them even more these days, now that I'm not doing as much of that type of study on my own for fulltime ministry.
From a Reader in California:
Dear Brother Al, I want to thank you for your article on tattoos, as we have some in the family who are tattooed. If we were to start in condemning them for this we would get nowhere with them when we try to present Jesus to them. Again, Thanks!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your study of tattooing. I've also seen all the proof-texting used to condemn this practice. I'm considering getting a tattoo: it is of a Byzantine representation of the cross with IC XC NIKA, because I'm spiritually "retarded" and need a reminder that in the end He will have the victory in my life. I want it on the inside of my wrist where I'll see it. I honestly see no problem with this. Bro. Al, I am really enjoying reading your Reflections. I was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church, converted at a Billy Graham crusade, and have spent a lifetime thinking and considering what is true and what will please my God. Many times my conclusions have not jibed with those of people around me. It is hard sometimes to stand by one's convictions!
From a Reader in Michigan:
Dear Bro. Al, Another great article!! I don't know how you find the time to do it all. My own attitude about tattoos has always been: I don't want bumper stickers on my car, so why would I want one on my body?! And yet, I do have an American flag decal on a rear side window of my car ... so there you go!
From a Reader in Washington:
Dear Bro. Al, We are so glad to know that we can listen to you online now! Please keep us aware each week on Facebook as to what your sermon is on, and we will tune in whenever we can. We are so blessed by your writings, and it will be even nicer to know that we can now hear you deliver your lessons. May God bless you, Al, with good health and long life. He obviously has His hand on you so that you may reach others for Him.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Brother Al, I am truly sorry that we were unable to make it to The Tulsa Workshop this year. A few from our congregation did make it, but I haven't been able to visit with them much about their trip yet. On the subject of tattoos --- I have taught along the lines of your reasoning for quite some time. In the wording of the KJV, we must "rightly divide" the Word. That means, at the very least, that we must understand what applies to whom, where and when. Clearly, as you stated, it is the motivation for doing such things to one's body that is the key. I have thought it rather odd when someone quotes that passage regarding tattoos, yet stands before me clean-shaven, with a crew-cut, with a trimmed/waxed mustache, accompanied by mutton chop sideburns. Inconsistency. I, for one, have never had a tattoo or piercing, and never will. But, I have seen some very beautiful body art -- some of it even done in prisons. My focus is on the person, and not on the way they might appear. How utterly sad that there are so many out there who focus more on appearances, thus becoming prejudiced against that which is different (which is just "ignorance gone to seed," in my book).
Top 25 Church of Christ Blog Sites --- Some very hard work has been done by Jay Guin and Matt Dabbs on the rankings of Church of Christ blog sites on the Internet. For a few years now various independent ranking organizations have been ranking various web sites based on the number of "hits" a site has. For the past few years Edward Fudge and I have been flip-flopping between #1 and #2 in the rankings. Most recently my Reflections were ranked #1, but in the new ranking I have slipped again to #2 behind Edward's GracEmail mailings. At The Tulsa Workshop Edward and I kidded one another about all this back-and-forth in the rankings. I think we're both just glad that people are thinking. Anyway, if you would like to see the March, 2010 list of the top 25 sites, just Click Here.
2010 Lucifer Lectures Update --- Many of you are aware of the abominable gathering in Spring, Texas from February 28 to March 3 at which the Contending for the Faith factionists held a lecture series titled "Profiles in Apostasy." Various ministers from this ultra legalistic, patternistic persuasion gathered before a crowd of about a hundred people to tear apart around 24 books written by authors within our faith-heritage. My book, as you all know, was one of them. See my review of this event in Reflections #434. According to the March, 2010 issue of Contending for the Faith magazine, all these talks are now compiled in a 614 page hardback book that may be purchased for $20 (plus $3 for shipping and handling). You may order your copy from them, if you would like to have one, at: (281) 350-5516 or email them at: email@example.com. I also found it interesting that in the past week or so there has been some "chatter" on the Contending for the Faith Yahoo discussion group about my above mentioned Reflections article reviewing their sad lectureship. On Wednesday, April 7, Daniel Denham, a minister from Newport News, VA, wrote, "Folks, Al Maxey, interestingly, took exception to some of my remarks at Spring about his false doctrine" [CFTF group, message #36152]. He then went on to further misrepresent my teaching. In response to that post on Friday, April 9, Doug Post, a minister in Vernon, CT, had this to say about that "horrid apostate" Al Maxey -- "In trying to persuade his scripturally illiterate audience with emotional rhetoric, he was simply trying to get the focus off his own damnable doctrine and place it upon you. The bad news is: he and his cult-like following will not see the implication of his false teaching because they are blinded by their satanic allegiance in tearing down the Lord's church with their sinful passions. The happy blind leading the happy blind will one day be very sad. The good news is this: through your review and the force of that resultant implication, Al's ridiculous false doctrine is forever exposed" [CFTF group, message #36157]. May God have mercy on the poor people who are exposed to such godless men. Brethren, there are souls to rescue; souls to save. We have much work to do!!
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