Does the Bible Promise Universal Physical Healing in Response to “Prayers of Faith”?

There is a very dangerous and false doctrine that is held, in many varying forms, which revolves around a select few Bible verses that seem to promise that God will heal anyone and everyone in response to the beseeching prayers of a faith-filled individual. I was raised in a religious sect who held one such variation, so I am in a unique position to have personally witnessed the severe damage caused in the lives of so many believers by this false teaching. This doctrine has torturously and tragically affected individuals near and dear to my heart. For this reason, I feel compelled to address what I consider to be a most grievous heresy.

Let me first clarify by making clear that I absolutely believe in the possibility of miraculous divine healing. I’ve seen it happen in the lives of others and I don’t doubt for a second that God has the ability to heal in instantaneous and miraculous ways as well as through more conventional and non-dramatic outlets- such as through current medical interventions that we have available to us. The heresy is the teaching that it is within God’s will to heal every single person stricken with an illness. First, let’s discuss the varying forms this false doctrine takes.

Variations of Misinterpretation

  1. Some attribute all sickness to demonic activity and employ exorcism as a tool of faith healing.- While some sickness can be the result of demonic activity, this would certainly be the exception and not the rule.
  2. Some (like the Word-Faith Movement, most notable example would be Kenneth Hagin Sr.) claim that all sickness is the result of sin or unbelief.
    • Again, while some sickness can be the result of sin and a means for God to draw one closer to Him, this is not the case universally.
  1. Some believe that certain individuals have a spiritual gift of the ability to heal anyone and everyone through the laying on of hands. (A well known example of this would be Benny Hinn)
    • I am not one of those individuals who necessarily believes that the “time of spiritual gifts” has passed. However, I do not believe that they are as common or prominent as some charismatic sects purport. Some individuals may very well have a special ability to heal (when it is within the will of God) by the laying on of hands- but not in the ludicrous circuses put on by so many televised and monetized “healing preachers.” It can and has been proven that these preachers can’t and don’t heal everyone who comes to them.
  1. Some believe that there is Biblical basis for the belief that faith (or prayers of faith) universally heal physical maladies: 1) verses such as James 4:2 (“you have not because you ask not”); James 5:14-16 (“the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up”); John 16:23-24 (“whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you”) John 14:13—14 (“Jesus says whatever you ask in My name I will do it) 2) Jesus healed everyone who came to Him.

I’m sure the variations could fill a novel, but these are a good representation of the basic concepts.

What Makes This False Doctrine So Dangerous?

In short- it is 100% faith destroying to those who believe the Bible teaches that we have this promise from God because real life application proves it to be unequivocally and undeniably false.

It creates anger and discord among fellow believers when they witness extremely pious and devoted individuals who “walk the walk” (so to speak) who fall ill, do not receive healing, and in some cases even die despite the intercession of faithful prayers, while visibly less pious individuals enjoy their health. In my experience, when such a circumstance arises within one of these sects, the non-healing is attributed to some unknown sin or an accusation that the individual has some secret, unrepentant sin in their lives that they are hiding from others (just imagine the shame that goes along with that false revelation). Or even that they are in a “cursed generation” in which they are suffering for the sins of their fathers (which is a misunderstanding and misapplication of Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; etc) In such a case, when the believer remains unanswered by God even after fervent prayer and fasting for Him to reveal their sin so that they may be made right with Him and be healed or effect healing for their loved one, the end result is anger with God. In the case of the “cursed generation,” the individual is left in complete hopelessness that nothing they could possibly do will gain God’s favor- they are doomed to suffer.

Some individuals end up making an ultimate, yet fruitless sacrifice to “prove” their faith. In the decades prior to about 1980, the “church” I grew up in taught that one should refuse all medical care. Seeking medical attention was an explicit declaration that one had no faith in God’s ability to heal. Many individuals (including children) died of completely treatable ailments. These people exhibited ultimate faith- Abrahamic even. They denied medical intervention- right up until the end- believing that God would reward their faith with healing (for themselves or in some cases for a loved one- even a child.) After all, God required Abraham to exhibit full willingness to lose his son as an indicator of his faith, and indeed saved Isaac at the last moment. When this amount of faith is demonstrated to be insufficient, the shattering of belief and hope and faith is practically audible. In worst case scenarios, (which I have also personally witnessed) this leads to the individual ultimately becoming agnostic or even atheist.

What Do We See Happening in Response to Prayers of Faith for Physical Healing in the World Around Us?

I can conclusively say without lifting a finger to research, the answer is that people die every single day amid fervent, ongoing prayers for healing by some of the most faith-filled believers to walk this earth.

Just last year, a friend of mine lost his beautiful 7 year old daughter to a rare, viciously aggressive brain cancer. In the 10 months that he and his wife fought in vain (with the help of medical professionals) to save her life, he and his wife exhibited the most unbelievably rock solid, awe-inspiring faith that I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Due to the infinite reach of social media and their supportive community, this little girl was being consistently lifted to the Lord in prayer by untold thousands. Despite all this, ultimately the Lord answered no to her physical healing. To this day, her parents continue to be two of the most inspirational, faithful believers I know- unceasing in their work for the Lord.

Here is a testimony that one missionary (going by the screen name of Mr Pete) wrote in response to a fellow missionary who preaches universal physical healing as a result of prayers of faith (and sells this theology via books on amazon by the way): “I myself have been miraculously healed. I was part of a huge global mission conference in South Africa in 1997. Among the 4000+ Christian leaders at that conference, there was a lot of spiritual warfare. Three fatal car accidents, one fatal heart attack. Same community, same people praying mightily. I was hit by a 50+ mph car, thrown high in the air, landed on my head. Big pool of blood, no breathing, no pulse. A doctor was the first stop; she checked my vitals and declared me dead at the scene. ‘Don’t bother with an ambulance or CPR. He’s done.’ Yet those who were there prayed. Long story short: after at least 8-9 minutes of no breathing or pulse, God brought me back. Not only that…I came back in very bad shape (smashed femur, left side of whole body not working, right ear half torn off, etc.) The surgeon confidently predicted I’d have5-6 weeks in the hospital + 3 months wheelchair + 3 months crutches before I could begin to walk again. Oh, and 2-3 years of excruciating pain (femur smashed). But God. Beginning a few days after the accident, I could literally feel him healing me for two weeks straight. Every doctor was in shock. The reality: discharged in one week. […] Yet…the others stayed dead. They too were prayed for. The community clearly had faith for healing. Since then I have seen and been involved in many miraculous healings. I have also seen the path of those, who DO have faith and DO believe for healing, yet are not healed. I have learned to have much humility about this.”

In 1998, Dr. Seth Asser (a Rhode Island pediatrician) conducted an investigation to evaluate the deaths of children from families in which faith healing was practiced and medical care denied. He found that between 1975 and 1995 172 children died due to their parents’ refusal of medical care due to belief in faith healing. After evaluating these deaths, Asser found that 140 of these deaths were from conditions that are medically treatable with a greater than 90% success rate and 18 more had died from conditions that have a greater than 50% survival rate with medical care. Only 3 deaths were determined to have been beyond the help of medical care.

What can we learn from this? Although He is beyond a shadow of a doubt capable, it is NOT always God’s will to grant physical healing.

Does the Bible Provide Corroboration for Universal Physical Healing?

The glaringly blatant truth is no.

Paul Kroll writes in his article James 5:14 and Healing, “Scripture also contradicts the idea of automatic divine healing. The Bible records numerous cases where righteous people were ill and were not healed. For example, Isaac and Jacob were blind in their later years. Elisha died of an illness (II Kings 13:14) . Timothy is spoken of as having ‘frequent illnesses’ (I Timothy 5:23). Paul said of one of his co-workers in the gospel, ‘I left Trophimus sick in Miletus’ (II Timothy 4:20). The apostle Paul himself suffered an infirmity that was not healed (II Corinthians 12:7-10). The continuance (rather than healing) of Paul’s illness or infirmity had a purpose- God’s strength could operate in him through this weakness.”

Why did Jesus heal all who came to Him, yet not heal everyone who comes to Him today in prayer? I believe that we should first consider the mission that Christ was on when He came. The article Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone? reminds us, “Wherever Christ went, He healed the sick, but this was not just because of kindness on His part; His healings were always a sign from heaven of Christ’s authority as Messiah (Luke 7:20-22). He was giving Israel a taste of the kingdom of God (Luke 11:20).”

What about the apostles, didn’t they heal everyone? Again, this is another example of a period of time in which God exhibited the veracity of the apostles’ gospel message through miraculous signs. Another quote from the article above, “The apostles were also given the specific power to heal the sick, and for thirty-seven years they went everywhere healing those who heard their message. Again, their miracles, including healing, were confirmation of the truth of the gospel the apostles proclaimed. The twelve apostles did not heal everyone either. Often, there were Christians left unwell in spite of the apostolic power. Paul says to Timothy, ‘Use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses’ (I Timothy 5:23). Why didn’t Paul just lay hands on Timothy and heal him? It wasn’t because Timothy didn’t have enough faith; it was because it was not God’s will to heal Timothy that way. The healing ministry was not for anyone’s personal convenience; rather, it was a sign from God- to the Jews of the Old Covenant primarily- of the validity of the apostles’ message.”

I’ll add one more here from Paul Kroll’s article above, “ Hebrews 9:27 tells us that human beings are appointed or ‘destined to die once.’ This proves that there is going to be a time when healing does not occur in a person’s life. Hence, it is a mistake to assume that James 5:14 gives us an absolute promise of healing. If that were so, it would contradict the most irrevocable fact of human life: every person eventually dies.”

A Closer Look at the Verses Cited by Proponents of Universal Healing

James 4:2: You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

Attempts to apply promises of universal healing to this verse require ripping it completely from its proper context.

David Guzik explains, “The reason these destructive desires exist among Christians is because they do not seek God for their needs (you do not ask). James reminds us here of the great power of prayer, and why one may live unnecessarily as a spiritual pauper, simply because they do not pray, or do not ask when they pray…After dealing with the problem of no prayer, now James addressed the problem of selfish prayer. These ones, when they did ask, they asked God with purely selfish motives… We must remember that the purpose of prayer is not to persuade a reluctant God to do our bidding. The purpose of prayer is to align our will with His, and in partnership with Him, to ask Him to accomplish His will on this earth (Matthew 6:10).” (emphasis mine)

Furthermore, if you read on down to James 4:13-15, you will find that James chastises his readers for even making future plans since they have no idea what life holds in store for them- that our lives are “a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” James instructs that they should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” Does that sound like James is proclaiming that if an individual prays for healing, they will receive it? No.

John 14:13-14: Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Again, this is a context disaster for those attempting to assert support for universal healing:

Guzik writes, “Jesus further explained how greater works would be possible for His followers. It would be possible because Jesus would do His work through His prayerful people, who asked and acted in His name. He promised to do anything that His trusting followers asked for in His name; that is, according to His character and authority…These greater works Jesus promised would bring glory to both the Father and the Son. Prayers prayed with a passion for the glory of Jesus and God the Father will truly be in the name of Jesus and be the kind of prayer God will answer.”

This verse contains its own qualifier- “Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (emphasis mine) HCSB commentary provides this apt explanation, “These are not ‘blank checks’- promises to supply everything anyone requests. ‘In My name’ corresponds to ‘according to My character’ and thus is parallel to other texts that require us to leave room for God’s will to overrule ours.” Many individuals struggle to see how healing our sickness or the sickness of a loved one could possibly be outside of God’s will. However, that is because we tend to see things from our earthly perspective rather than from an eternal perspective. I love this quote from Frank Turek:

John 16:23-24: In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Yet another example of complete disregard for context.

Jesus is preparing the disciples for His impending death. He warns them that they will have sorrow that will turn into joy, even using the analogy of a woman giving birth- she will have pain when it is her time to endure pain, but once she has given birth, her joy will be so great that she won’t even remember her pain. If anything, this speaks to the truth that we will all endure pain, trials, hardship, and sickness during our time in this fallen world. However, when the time for this world ends, we will have so much joy in eternity that we won’t even remember our suffering.

HCSB commentary provides an excellent explanation of how this verse is certainly not a faith filled prayer “blank check” that God promises to redeem, “Obviously, the disciples had asked Jesus about and for many things, but here He was referring to arrangements after His death and resurrection. Then, since He would be physically absent, they would ask God ‘in My name’- that is, through Jesus’ power and in keeping with His character. This was even less a blank check than 14:14, 15:16, and 16:23, since Jesus did not specify what God would grant in response to their asking, merely that they would “receive.”

James 5:14-16: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

This verse is the one that most directly seems to corroborate universal healing in response to “prayers of faith.” It is my belief that Scripture should be understood, first and foremost, by its most simple and straightforward interpretation. With that being said, when the most direct, literal reading of a passage seems to proclaim something that is directly contradictory to other verses, more study and research is required. Such is the case with this verse.

So, if healing of physical sickness is not meant in verse 15, what type of healing are we talking about? The Greek word translated here as “sick” is astheneo and literally means “to be weak.” Daniel R. Hayden writes in his article “Calling the Elders to Pray” from Bibliotheca Sacra, “ This word is used thirty-four times in the New Testament. Twenty times it refers to physical ‘weakness’ (used of those who are sick, predominantly in the Gospels and the Acts), and fourteen times it is used as a designation for those who are spiritually ‘weak’ (its primary meaning in the Epistles).” (Note- the book of James is an Epistle) Andy Bowden notes in his article, Healing in James 5, “The first theologians to comment on James 5 were Origen and John Chrysostom of the 3rd and 4th century, who interpreted the passage to speak of the forgiveness of sins and not as a warrant for the practice of anointing the sick.” Indeed, many theologians believe this passage is a promise of spiritual healing for the spiritually sick or weak.

Does this fit the context? The book of James is a letter that James is writing to Jewish Christians “who have been scattered by the persecution which began with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1;11:19)…Jewish Diaspora believers were under pressure from a society that oppressed them economically (James 2:6) and abused them for their faith in Jesus Christ (2:7)…James’s primary concern is for his readers to maintain undivided faith and loyalty toward God (James 1:6). James recommends patient endurance (1:3), submission to God (4:7), and sharing in the ministries of the church (5:13-20).”  (NLT Illustrated Study Bible commentary) As you can see, physical sickness is not being discussed in James.

Andy Bowden also points to the mention of anointing with oil as an indicator of spiritual rather than physical healing, “In James 5:14, this fallen one is anointed by the elders with oil, which symbolizes God’s favor and mercy. The examples are plentiful in the prophets where repentant sinners were anointed with oil as a sign that God had heard and forgiven them (eg Joel 2:12, 16-23). Similarly, these people in James are told to be anointed as a sign of God’s readiness to forgive them.” Further research reveals that the word used in this passage for “anoint” is aliepsantes (which means “rub with oil”) rather than the word chrio (which means to “ceremonially anoint”). Richard Chenevix Trench points out in his Synonyms of the New Testament (p 136-137), that aliepsantes is the “mundane” word and chrio is the “sacred and religious word.” On this anointing with oil Hayden remarks, “Therefore James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing; instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and grooming. It was in this sense that the sinful woman anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment (Luke 7:38) and that a host would anoint the head of his guest with oil (Luke 7:46).

Hayden also points out that while “gifts of healing” were certainly present in the early church, James does not instruct them to call for one of these gifted individuals. Rather, he instructed them to call for the “elders.” Hayden writes, “…nowhere in the Bible (apart from this questionable passage in James 5) are elders encouraged to have a ministry of physical healing. Their very function as spiritually mature persons is not only to give leadership to the church but also to support the saints in their spiritual struggles through instruction and encouragement.”

Perhaps the most illuminating element to indicate James’s proper meaning of “sick” is the illustration of Elijah that he chose to end his teaching. James recounts the story of Elijah (I Kings 17:1-18:45), in which he prayed that it would not rain for 3 ½ years (which God subsequently caused to happen) and at the end of that period he prayed he prayed for rain (which God provided.) There are three points to this illustration that clearly corroborate the argument that James is indicating spiritual healing instead of physical.

First, we aren’t given any background information in I Kings indicating that God told Elijah that He intended to cause a 3 ½ year drought. However, we do see in 18:1 that in the third year of the drought, God told Elijah to go before Ahab and tell him that He was going to send rain- which He did in 18:44-45. Elijah is not calling the shots here- God is. What is the important take-away from this? Paul Kroll writes, “So we see that the miracles came about by the prior will of God, which was delivered and communicated by the Lord to Elijah. The faithful prayer of Elijah was based on his steady belief that the will of God in this specific situation would result in a drought and later in rain. Why? Because Elijah had been told by God what His will was.” Therefore, James is indicating the surety of prayer within the will of God.

Second, and perhaps most compelling, is the fact that there is a story of miraculous physical healing within the I Kings Elijah story. I Kings 17:17-24 documents that the son of the widow with whom Elijah was staying, actually died of a severe illness. Note that Elijah did not heal the boy of his sickness. However, after the boy had died, Elijah cried out to the Lord in prayer and He restored the boy’s life. If James had intended a message of physical healing in response to prayers of faith, this example would have left no doubt as to his meaning. Hayden remarks, “The fact that he chose the first incident demonstrates that he sought to picture fervent prayer in the midst of conflict with sin rather than a prayer ministry for the sick.”

Finally, James highlights that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours” (5:17). Many times, when prayers for healing fail, proponents of this false doctrine will claim that either the recipient of the prayers did not have sufficient faith or those doing the praying lacked faith. However, by using the example of Elijah, James eviscerates this argument. I Kings 19:1-5 documents a point in Elijah’s life where he became tired, depressed, and ran away from his responsibilities- begging God to kill him. This is the very picture of a man who was suffering spiritual weakness, like we all do at some point in our lives. Hayden writes, “Even great men of God are in need of God’s special strengthening when they become weary in the battle. This picturesque incident from the life of Elijah gives strong support to the view that James is referring to spiritual ministry to the ‘weak’ and ‘weary’ rather than to a ministry of healing for the physically sick.”

While contextual corroboration for a Biblical promise of universal physical healing is found to be severely lacking in the book of James (and all the common verses cited to support it for that matter), the promise of spiritual healing for all believers in response to prayers of faith sings in contextual harmony with the entirety of the book. It fits the running theme of the book of James, which is encouraging the Jewish Christians to remain strong and loyal in their faith despite the persecution they were enduring, warning them against destructive behaviors, and instruction to encourage and intercede prayerfully for their brothers and sisters whose faith may become weak in the face of such hardship.

Closing Thoughts

From the failure of untold millions of modern day “prayers of faith” for physical healing, to the witnesses exhibited in the lives of New Testament believers, to the ample Scriptural occurrence of contradictory verses, to the lack of contextual corroboration from verses cited to support a promise of universal physical healing (even in the“crowning verse” (James 5:15))- universal physical healing in response to “prayers of faith” is revealed to be a most deleterious and false doctrine.

I’ll end with a quote from Paul Kroll, “Based on what the witness of the Bible tells us about the meaning of faith and praying in faith, we can confidently follow James 5:14 and pray in faith for our healing. Then, trusting in God, we leave the result in God’s hands, asking for His peace and spiritual joy to sustain us in the meantime- and for His will to be done. We thank God that through the indwelling Holy Spirit we can have the faith to accept whatever God’s will in our lives may be- and that we may, therefore, always pray in faith. We are fully confident that when God wills to do something, it will be done. We trust in Him, not in the physical circumstances.”

The Mystery of the Nephilim: An Analysis of Theories

The identity of the Nephilim (referred to in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13) has been debated since the time of the early church fathers. There are really three primary theories, each supported by Biblical evidence and espoused by brilliant scholars. Since their identity has no bearing on the gospel, salvation, or Biblical authority, and since each of these theories uses the Bible as its basis- there is really no reason to be dogmatic or argue about any particular view. That being said, it’s definitely a highly interesting debate. In this article we’ll talk about what the word Nephilim actually means; discuss the central issue to the debate, which is the identity of the “sons of God” who were said to breed with women; and analyze the evidence for and against each.

First, let’s take a look at the passages that mention the Nephilim in the Bible:

Genesis 6:1-6 (ESV)– “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

 

Numbers 13:30-33 (ESV)– 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

What does the word “Nephilim” mean?

In order to understand who the Nephilim are the first logical question is, what does the word mean? Herein lies our first problem- there is even debate as to what the word itself means. Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis points out in his article Battle Over the Nephilim, “Many people have tried to link it to the Hebrew verb naphal, which means ‘to fall.’ However, strictly speaking, the plural participle would be either nophelim or nephulim, and not nephilim. So some scholars have pointed out that the related Aramaic language has a noun that would be nephilin in its plural form, and in Hebrew this is nephilim. This Aramaic word means ‘giants’ and is also the Aramaic word for the constellation Orion, the great hunter of mythology.” It should be noted that many Bible translations actually replace the word “nephilim” with “giants.” Some of those translations are: the Septuagint, KJV, NKJV.

If you’ll notice, the Genesis 6 description of the Nephilim says nothing about them being giants, however, the Numbers 13 description does.

As Chaffey points out, the term nephilim leaves us with more questions than answers, “Were they the offspring of the unions of Genesis 6 or were they on the earth before these marriages took place? Did the post-flood nephilim come about in the same way as those before the Flood, or were they not related in any way? Were they giants because of extraordinary parentage, or did they simply possess genetic information for great height and strength that is no longer in our gene pool?” The answers to these questions depend on what boils down to the central issue of the debate, which is: who were the “sons of God?”

Who were the “sons of God?”

The identity of the “sons of God” is truly the crux of the debate since they are the origin (or progenitor) of the Nephilim. There are 3 primary schools of thought and we’ll discuss each.

  1. Fallen Angels View: This is the view that was held almost unanimously by ancient writers prior to Augustine of Hippo. The earliest Jews held to this interpretation as evidenced in the books of Enoch and Jubliees (both are non-canonical works, however a passage relevant to the Nephilim debate is actually quoted from Enoch in Jude.) The Alexandrian codex of the Septuagint takes this view. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus and Jewish philosopher Philo take this view and the Dead Sea Scrolls support this interpretation as well. The following early church fathers take this position: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Athenagoras, and Tertullian.

This interpretation holds that the “sons of God” were fallen angels that married women and had children with them. The offspring from these unions were the Nephilim.

Arguments for this view:

  • All other uses of the Hebrew phrase bene [ha]’ elohim ([the] sons of God) in the Old Testament refer to angelic beings (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7.) A similar phrase used in Psalms, “sons of the Mighty,” also refers to angelic beings. (Psalms 29:1, 89:6.

 

  • Another argument comes from I Peter 3:18-20. However, in order to fully understand this argument you must consider Jude 6. I’ll quote both:

 

  • I Peter 3:18-20– 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

 

  • Jude 4-8– 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.

  • Lee Anderson Jr. writing for Answers in Genesis in his article Is the Sons of God Passage in Genesis 6 Adapted Pagan Mythology explains, “Peter seems to be saying that subsequent to His resurrection, Christ went to proclaim His victory over sin and death to the angelic beings who sinned in Noah’s day.” Anderson notes that some people argue that these passages are referring to the original 1/3 of angels who fell with Satan, however he points out the weakness in that argument which is that it leaves the question of why some of those angels were punished with confinement while others were allowed to remain free on the earth.

 

  • Keeping in mind Jude 4-8 above, II Peter 2:4-10 also lends credibility to this view.

 

  • II Peter 2:4-10– 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

 

  • Bodie Hodge writes in his article for Answers in Genesis Who Were the Nephilim, “These verses do not specifically mention the Nephilim, nor do they clearly state that fallen angels had sexual relationships with women. However, they do place ‘the angels who sinned’ (II Peter 2:4), ‘who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode’ (Jude 6), in the same context as Noah. Both passages seem to compare the sin of these angels with the sin of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who had ‘in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh’ (Jude 7). Genesis 19:5 reveals that the men of Sodom “lusted after the two angels who had gone into Lot’s house.”

Arguments against this view:

 

  • Opponents point to Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30 when He says that angels do not marry. However, proponents argue that this verse speaks of how angels in heaven behave and has nothing to do with the way a fallen angel may choose to behave.

 

  • It is also argued that angels do not have the ability to reproduce. Proponents counter that there really isn’t any passage that indicates whether this is true or not. We do know that angels can take human form and eat. A more compelling point to be made against this view is that while heavenly angels can take human form, there is no Biblical record of a fallen angel being able to appear in human form (outside of demonic possession in which the body is not their own.)

 

  • A good argument against this view is the question: “If all the Nephilim were destroyed in the flood, where did the post-Flood Nephilim come from?” Proponents of this view respond that the unnatural relations continued on a smaller scale after the flood. As corroboration, proponents point out that the grammatical arrangement of the Hebrew in Genesis 6:4 indicates an event that occurred repeatedly. Lee Anderson Jr. explains, “The idea, thus, is that the Nephilim arose ‘whenever’ there were sexual relations between humans and fallen angels.”

 

  • The most serious allegation pointed toward this view is that some believe it opens the door to a mythological or polytheistic element in the Biblical text. The argument is that if the Nephilim are half breed angel/humans then it gives credence to ideas such as the existence of “demigods” which would be worshiped as lesser gods because of their stature (giants) and strength (men of renown). Lee Anderson Jr poses the response to this concern, “However, neither ‘the sons of God’ nor the evil human race can oppose the one true God, who, in the verses to follow, exercises His sovereign prerogative to judge the earth and put an end to the wickedness perpetrated by the fallen angels. As such, the sons of God passage does not endorse myth; it is the antimyth.”

 

  • A notable adaptation of this view is that the “sons of God” are men who have been possessed by demons (fallen angels.) While this position does remedy some of the arguments against the fallen angel view,  another large issue remains. There is no instance in the Bible where fallen angels or the demon possessed are referred to as “sons of God.”

 

  1. Godly Men or the “Sethite” View: This view has always been around as an alternate interpretation of the fallen angels view with Julius Africanus being the first church father to support it. However, Augustine was responsible for popularizing this view which has become the most widely held view. Both Luther and Calvin adopted this view.

 

This interpretation holds that the “sons of God” were the godly members of the line of Seth (Cain and Abel’s younger brother). In this view, the sin that warranted God’s judgement (the Flood) was these godly men intermarrying with ungodly women leading to the downfall of humanity.

 

Arguments for this view:

 

  • Proponents of this view argue that while the exact terminology “sons of God” does not refer to men in the Old Testament, a very similar arrangement does. For example, Deuteronomy 14:1 in which Moses tells the Israelites, “You are sons of the Lord your God.” Also Hosea 1:10 in which the Israelites are called “sons of the living God.” In the New Testament the phrase “sons of God” is used to denote men: Luke 3:38, Matthew 5:9, Romans 8:14, Romans 8:19, and Galatians 3:26. H.C. Leupold says this in his commentary regarding the identity of the “sons of God” as either angels or men, “But of these two uses of the title, which shall we choose in this instance? We have had no mention made of angels thus far in Genesis. We have met with other sons of the true God, in fact, the whole preceding chapter, even 4:25–5:32, has been concerned with them. Who will, then, be referred to here? Answer, the Sethites, without a doubt.”

 

  • This view also fits well contextually- both the historical context of ancient Israel and the broader context of Genesis in the chapter preceding and the chapter following chapter 6. The concept of “unequally yoked” unions fits well as it highlights God’s admonishment not to intermarry with the Canaanites. Also, chapter 4 discusses the evil line of Cain contrasted with the godly line of Seth. Sven Fockner explains, “Because of the way the narrative is designed from Genesis 4 to Genesis 10, the reader expects the passage to deal with the two lines of humanity and the vanishing of one of them. . . The flood resulted from the wickedness of the people. Before ch. 6, only the unbelievers were depicted as wicked (Lamech). Then the sons of God joined this group.”

 

Arguments against this view:

 

  • This view creates a contextual inconsistency with how “men” and “daughters” are referred to in Genesis 6:1. This verse states, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them…” In this context “men” and “daughters” are referred to in a universal sense meaning all men and all daughters. So, why would verse 2, which is also part of the very same sentence as verse 1 (the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive), refer to only Sethite men and only Cainite daughters?

 

  • Next, this view offers no explanation for why unions of ordinary men and women would yield giants. In response to this, proponents would argue that Genesis 6 doesn’t actually say the Nephilim were giants. That information comes from the bad report of the scouts that Moses sent to investigate the Promised Land in Numbers 13. The argument is that the scouts could have been dishonest about the size of the Nephilim in an effort to dissuade the Israelites from invading the land. However, while Joshua and Caleb (the only two scouts with faith in God) disagree with the report of the bad scouts by asserting that the land is indeed good and that they shouldn’t fear the inhabitants of the land, they do not in any way refute what the other scouts say about any other aspects of their report: that both the Anakites and the Nephilim were there, that they were giants, that the Anakites were descendants of the Nephilim, and that the Anakites were only part of the Nephilim.

 

  • It also begs the question that if the Sethite line were so godly, why did they continue to choose ungodly wives? Were there no attractive godly women?

 

  1. Royalty or Dynastic Rulers View: This interpretation comes from ancient Aramaic Targums (Jewish writings) and was popular in the middle ages. It is only recently gaining popularity among modern Christians.

This view holds that the “sons of God” were polygamist kings, nobles, or men in high authority positions who forced “common” women to join their harems with the sin garnering judgement (the Flood) being polygamy.

 

Arguments for this view:

 

  • Proponents of this view say that “sons of God” can be translated “the sons of the gods.” They point to ancient writings that set precedent for the idea of “divine kingship” in which human kings are called the sons of various gods. Bible verses listed in support of this are Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9, 28; and Psalm 82:1. In these Exodus passages, the term Elohim (God) is translated as “rulers” or “judges.”

 

  • They also point out that this view makes sense in light of the description of the Nephilim as “men of renown” in that the offspring of kings and rulers could easily earn titles as renowned men.

 

Arguments against this view:

 

  • While it is true that rulers are sometimes referred to as “gods,” they are never referred to corporately in Scripture as “sons of God.”

 

  • A very problematic point for this view is that there is no Scriptural basis for the idea that polygamy would have caused God to send the Flood. After all, many righteous men post-Flood engaged in the practice including Abraham, Jacob, and David.

 

  • Again, this view does not offer any explanation for the Nephilim being giants.

 

Which theory is correct?

 

There just isn’t enough information about the Nephilim in the Bible to come to a definitive conclusion. The Royalty/Dynastic Ruler view seems by far the weakest in my opinion. However, both the fallen angel and the Sethite views both have very compelling components to their arguments, yet neither is without its major flaw.  It is true that the fallen angel view is indeed the oldest majority view, but that does not guarantee that it is correct. Each of these two views have Biblical support and brilliant theologians who espouse them. Which theory makes the most sense to you?

Did God Override Pharaoh’s Free Will By Hardening His Heart And Then Punish Him For It?

The events in Exodus chapter 8 revolving around the Pharaoh of Egypt and his interaction with God through Moses have roused many a Bible skeptic to revulsion and anger at the thought of such a seemingly unjust and cruel God. Truthfully, it’s not only Bible skeptics that take issue with this story. Former Christian Kendall Hobbs cites the story of Pharaoh in a list of alleged “atrocities committed by God” in the article, “Why I Am No Longer a Christian.” Hobbs writes, “…the Exodus story when the Egyptian Pharaoh was repeatedly ready and willing to let Moses and his people go, until God hardened his heart, and then God punished him for his hardened heart by sending plagues or killing children throughout all of Egypt.” Some self-professed Christians share Hobbs view, leading them to see a stark contrast between the “wrathful God of the Old Testament” and the “loving God of the New Testament.”

This is a blatantly unbiblical view as there are many verses throughout the Bible proclaiming that God does not change. Revelation 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I believe asking ourselves a series of questions can be helpful in reconciling these events.

Is differing verb usage between the Hebrew and Greek languages and modern English important to this story?

As readers of the Bible, we should be aware that not all words and figures of speech recorded in the Bible come across perfectly as expressed in our modern usage. Bible translators usually do a good job of taking care of this when translating our modern Bibles. E.W. Bullinger was a biblical scholar and theologian of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s who engaged in in- depth studies of biblical figures of speech. Dave Miller and Kyle Butts discuss his work in their article for Apologetics Press, “Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?.” Miller and Butts include the following example from Bullinger’s work,“To illustrate, in discussing the Israelites, Deuteronomy 28:68 states: ‘Ye shall be sold (ie, put up for sale) unto your enemies…and no man shall buy you.’ The translators of the New King James Version recognized the idiom and rendered the verse, ‘you shall be offered for sale.’ The text clearly indicated that they would not be sold, because their would be no buyer, yet the Hebrew active verb for ‘sold’ was used.”(There are multiple examples of this figure of speech. To read about more visit the link above to the article written by Dave Miller and Kyle Butts.)

Miller and Butts continue,“…Bullinger’s fourth list of idiomatic verbs deals with active verbs that ‘were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent said to do.’ (p. 823, emp in orig.)” Bullinger actually uses the example of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart to illustrate the biblical application of an active verb being used to express permission being given. Miller and Butts write, “When the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it means that God would permit or allow Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.”

Did God change Pharaoh’s heart?

An important question to ask is this, “Did God change Pharaoh’s inherent nature in order to set this series of events in motion?” The answer is, absolutely not. There is nothing in the recorded history that would reflect that Pharaoh was sympathetic toward the Hebrews at any point prior to his interaction with Moses. In fact, the situation is just the opposite. David Guzik does an excellent job of putting this into perspective in his Exodus sermon series. He reminds us that Pharaoh was not sitting on his thrown all day thinking of ways he could improve the lives of the Israelites. Instead, he oppressed them terribly. They were forced to perform hard labor as slaves, were mistreated, and beaten.

The fact is, the Hebrews had become so numerous that the Egyptian Pharaohs had perceived them as a potential threat for years. A threat they had already unsuccessfully attempted to diminish by (a) enslaving them (Exodus 1:11-14); (b) demanding that Hebrew midwives kill all Hebrew male babies as they were born (Exodus 1:15-21); and (c) commanding all of his people to kill Hebrew baby boys by throwing them into the Nile River (Exodus 1:22- 2:10).

The Pharaoh that Moses interacted with was no different. Exodus chapter 5 explains that, calling them “lazy,” Pharaoh increased the Israelites’ work load by requiring them to collect the straw used to make bricks (their overseers had formerly provided this to the Israelites) without lowering their daily brick quotas in an attempt to overwork them to the point that they would be too exhausted to listen to what Moses and Aaron had to say.

Pharaoh’s heart was hard before Moses ever darkened his palace door. Loren gives the perfect analogy, writing for Answers From the Book, “When wet concrete is poured into a mold to form a sidewalk, it remains concrete both before and after it hardens. It doesn’t change into something entirely different.”

What does the Bible say about who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

Now that we have established that Pharaoh had a “heart problem” long before Moses entered the scene, let’s discuss what the Bible actually says about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Walter Kaiser, President Emeritus and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Old Testament of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary writes, “In all there are ten places where ‘hardening’ of Pharaoh is ascribed to God (4:21; 7:3, 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). But it must be stated just as firmly that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in another ten passages (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15). […] Even more significant is the fact that Pharaoh alone was the agent of the hardening in the first sign and in all the first five plagues. Not until the sixth plague was it stated that God actually moved in and hardened Pharaoh’s heart (9:12), as He had warned Moses in Midian that He would have to do (4:21).”

Does the fact that God knows the end from the beginning mean that He manipulates free will?

An innate characteristic of God is that He is all-knowing and His will is sovereign. This fact in no way constrains an individual’s free will or negates that individual’s responsibility nor the consequences that result. This is important: God is not “winging” it as He goes, rolling with the punches as history unravels. God has had a plan in place for mankind since before creation. He didn’t have to improvise His plan by directing Pharaoh to act because He knew what Pharaoh was going to do long before Pharaoh did. Romans 9:17 says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’”

God used Pharaoh, acting of his own accord by the direction of his own free will, to carry out His sovereign will. Loren writes in the Answers From the Book article, “Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart,” “That God knew beforehand how Pharaoh would respond is certain. God is all-knowing. Yet in this encounter between a proud and hard-hearted man and a merciful but holy God, we have the mysterious tension between man’s free will and God’s sovereign will. In a perfect God’s dealings with sinful man, neither is ever frustrated or tampered with. God accomplishes His will and man reaps what he sows; freely deciding at every juncture his own course of action. That God knows the end from the beginning should never be interpreted to mean that He in any way affects that outcome by manipulating the free will that He Himself has placed within every man. Just because He knew what was already in the heart of Pharaoh, as He surely knows what is in the heart of every man, does not mean that He moved the hand of Pharaoh nor tempted him to commit evil (James 1:13).”

Does the fact that God created the circumstances that caused Pharaoh’s heart to harden mean that Pharaoh wasn’t responsible for his actions?

When Moses appeared before Pharaoh to relay God’s message to him in Exodus 5:2, “Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh basically says, “I know a lot of gods, but yours isn’t one of them. Why should I obey him?” In Exodus 7:4-5, God makes clear how He intends to reveal Himself to Pharaoh , “…Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgement I will bring out My divisions, My people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

In essence, God provided the circumstances in which Pharaoh was forced to make a decision by revealing His power. Erik Raymond writes in his article for the Gospel Coalition, “God simply revealed Himself. He revealed His power, supremacy, love for His people, hatred of sin, etc…through the signs and wonders of the plagues. It was this revelation of God that hardened his heart.”

Paul Baxter uses an ancient Jewish Midrash, or “interpretation/illustration,” to illustrate the difference that the same set of circumstances can have on different individuals. This particular midrash revolves around two farmers, “The first farmer cultivates his land with great care. The rains come. The sun shines. The crops grow. The second farmer refuses to work his land. The rains come and the ground turns to mud. Then the sun shines and the ground becomes hard as clay. In a very real sense God hardened the second farmer’s land by sending the rain and then making the sun shine; but, he the farmer also ruined his land by not working the land.” Baxter also references fifth century Christian commentator Theodoret, “The sun by force of its heat moistens the wax and dries the clay, softening the one and hardening the other.”

God created the circumstances, but Pharaoh responded to them using his own free will. It is important to note, that God’s revelation of Himself was not lost on all the Egyptians. As David Guzik points out in his commentary regarding Exodus 12:38, “Not all of the 600,000 [who left Egypt] were Israelites. Many Egyptians (and perhaps other foreigners) went with them, because the God of Israel demonstrated that He was more powerful that the gods of the Egyptians.”

In Conclusion

I’ll close with this all-encompassing quote from the Miller/Butts article, “Notice that in a very real sense all four of the following statements are true: (1) God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (2) Moses hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (3) the words that Moses spoke hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (4) Pharaoh hardened his own heart. All four of these observations are accurate, depicting the same truth from different perspectives. In this sense, God is responsible for everything in the Universe, ie, He has provided the occasion, the circumstances, and the environment in which all things (including people) operate. But He is not guilty of wrong in so doing. From a quick look at a simple Hebrew idiom, it is clear that God did not unjustly or directly harden Pharaoh’s heart. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), He does not act unjustly (Psalms 33:5), and He has always allowed humans to exercise their free moral agency (Deuteronomy 30:19). God, however, does use the wrong stubborn decisions committed by rebellious sinners to further His causes (Isaiah 10:5-11). In the case of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, God can be charged with no injustice, and the Bible can be charged with no contradiction. Humans were created with free moral agency and are culpable for their own actions.”