Several people have sent me a link to a video made by Dr. Peter Gentry about the Nephilim. Many of you will know that I know (and like) Peter. He’s a serious biblical scholar and good guy all around. You should all read his work. You’d learn something for sure. I have and do.
Peter accepts the supernatural view of the sons of God but is troubled by the matter of the Nephilim (taking them as giants at face value; i.e., as quasi-divine offspring). He doesn’t like the idea that they were the giant offspring of the sons of God. In an effort to put forth this objection, he argues that Peter and Jude don’t specifically mention the Nephilim in their “angels that sinned” comments (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). He presumes the absence of the Nephilim in Peter and Jude somehow warrants rejecting the giant offspring in Genesis 6.
I enjoy Peter, but this is an amazingly weak argument, especially coming from him. The reason is simple and straightforward: That a NT writer doesn’t give us all the details of an OT passage they cite or allude to does NOT mean that we are supposed to reject the parts in the OT passage that aren’t mentioned. In many (most?) instances where NT writers cite an OT passage they don’t do so with absolute, exhaustive precision. They cite part, or perhaps cite from memory, or a different text, or combine part of a passage with another part of a different passage, etc. Peter knows this well, as he is an expert on the use of the OT by NT writers. So it makes little sense to me why he would employ a method for Peter and Jude that would get him in serious trouble elsewhere.
As an example, take Jesus’s citation (via Luke) of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19. If you compare the two passages, one can see that Jesus / Luke omits this line from Luke 61:1:
“he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted”
Are we to conclude that we are free to disregard this part of the OT verse because the NT writer doesn’t include it? Of course not.
Another example, even more germane. Hebrews 11:17-19 reads as follows:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
This is the NT writer’s allusive citation of Genesis 22. But (O dear!) the writer of Hebrews doesn’t include the lines about the intervention of the angel of the Lord (Gen 22:10-12). Are we to conclude that there was no “real” angel on the scene when Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac? If we use Peter Gentry’s method, it would seem so.
I could cite numerous other analogous examples of how Peter’s approach and its underlying assumption aren’t workable. I presume you all get the point.
The issue here is that Peter apparently thinks he has an argument against taking the Nephilim portion of Gen 6:4 at face value because Peter and Jude don’t include it in their description of the angels’ sin. This isn’t coherent. My response is that (a) the NT frequently doesn’t cite an OT passage with complete precision, and (b) employing this approach yields some demonstrably poor results in other places.
My guess is that Peter is just uncomfortable with quasi-divine Nephilim, perhaps because he can’t explain that to himself or someone else. I understand completely. He’s not alone there. But it’s time we face the reality of the biblical text in this regard. We also can’t (biologically) explain the incarnation (how God became man in Jesus), or the hypostatic union (how Jesus was 100% God and 100% man at the same time), or how we are filled with the Holy Spirit, or how the death of Jesus affects not only our sin, but the entire cosmos (Col 1:16-20). To be blunt, most of what the Bible affirms that is core to our faith cannot be explained in any scientific, materialist way. That doesn’t mean it isn’t intellectually coherent. These ideas are coherent, not because they conform to biology or any other science, but because they extend from theism itself (e.g., Is there a God? If so, can that God do anything? If he can, could that God create beings like himself who, like him, could assume flesh? Note that there is no scriptural statement in Scripture that forbids this ability to lesser spiritual beings). Theism is demonstrably coherent in terms of logical analysis. That’s been born out by millennia of discussion. When the supernatural invades the natural, such things need to be weighed in light of the coherence of biblical theism. We do not need to abandon what the text says.