Giants in the Bible: the Nephilim

The Apostle Peter, and Jude the brother of James, give us a glimpse of a mysterious prison in which angels are incarcerated.  These angels must have sinned in a particularly grievous manner because their punishment happened in ancient times, and would not wait until the judgment of all things at the end of time.  What could this sin be that God wouldn’t wait until the appointed time of  the Day of Judgment, and which provoked him to immediate and severe action?  When we consider all the enormous crimes against humanity – the genocides, the butchery of cities and nations, the institutionalised torture chambers and instruments of the Catholic inquisition, the Nazi holocaust – what could have surpassed these outrageous and heinous acts to such a degree that God would not wait to punish the angels who sinned at the end of time but felt compelled to take action against them immediately?

The Sin revealed

Peter wrote: “…God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment….” (2 Pet 2:4).  He goes on to describe other acts which offended God so deeply that he drowned the whole world in a universal deluge not long, relatively speaking, after he had created it: “….and spared not the old world….bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly…..But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government” (2 Pet 2:5-10).

Peter gives us a hint as to what the sin was – a partial revelation; it was some kind of indulgence of the flesh in depraved lust (verse 9).  The judgment of the Flood on the corrupt world destroyed every living thing except Noah and his family – eight people – because of his righteousness (verse 5).  And God rained down fire and brimstone on the five cities of the plain, saving only Lot and his two virgin daughters because of his righteousness (his wife perished as the family fled from Sodom).  These two men and their families God preserved from the corrupt societies among which they lived.

But this isn’t the half of it.  Jude reiterates what Peter said, but reveals clearly what the sin of these angels was which hastened their punishment: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

The sin of these angels was that they “left their own habitation”.  These can only be the angels in Genesis 6:4, described there as the sons of God.  The term “sons of God” in the Old Testament always refers to angels due, no doubt, to the fact that God created each one of them directly and uniquely (Heb 2:14-17); unlike human beings who are conceived and born by a man and a woman and who inherit the characteristics of their parents.

Some objections

It is objected by some that a spiritual being can neither conceive nor impregnate.  And they “prove” it from scripture, even from Jesus’ words when he talked about the resurrection of believers: “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt 22:30).  Their objection is that angels in heaven don’t marry, presumably because they are sexless; that angels are incapable of marrying and of impregnating either another angel or a human female.  There are problems with this objection:

  • Jesus didn’t say that angels can’t marry, only that they don’t.  And only the angels in heaven.
  • The passage in Genesis 6:4 says that the fallen angels on earth did marry and impregnated human women (6:2, 4).  They thus left “their first estate”. Their progeny were giants, beings called both Nephilim and giants in scripture: “the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown” (Gen 6:4). 
  • We can identify some of these Nephilim as historical beings – Goliath of Gath (1 Sam 17:23), a warrior who was 10 feet tall; four giants named and killed by some of David’s “mighty men” – Ishbibenob, Saph, and two unnamed giants, all of whom were sons of Goliath (2 Sam 21:22) (Rapha – KJV margin); and Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite (1 Chron 20:5). And King Og, last of the descendants of the Rephaim, a family of the Nephilim, whose bed was 14 feet six inches long and 6 feet wide (Deut 3:11; Num 21:33-35).
  • There were whole nations of giants in Canaan before the Israelites conquered the land and destroyed them (Num 13:33; Deut 2:10-11; Deut 2:20-21; and Josh 11:21-22).
  • There were likely other nations of giants that aren’t clearly specified as such.
  • The bible takes pains to identify Samson’s parents as being human, and that his prodigious strength was due to the power of the Spirit of God, thus ruling him out as of the Nephilim.

Sons of Seth?

The popular belief among many conservative Christians is that the sons of God were the children of Seth and the daughters of human beings were the children of Cain, an idea proposed by Julius Africanus (160-240 CE).  But apart from the fact that there is no scripture to directly support this view, even remotely, the idea that the whole line of godly men married the whole line of ungodly women is preposterous.  Or that the men of the godly line of Seth only married women from the ungodly line of Cain is also problematic as there is no scripture to support this view either.  Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters who also had sons and daughters so why didn’t the “godly” men of Seth marry women from these other lines – especially when there were likely to be godly women amongst them.  It is as unlikely that every man of Seth was godly and every woman of Cain was ungodly as that every person who goes to church today is godly and every person who doesn’t go to church is ungodly. And where do people get the idea that the whole line of Seth was godly anyway?  And why does the text say that they married human women?  Why would anyone say that if the men of Seth were also human?  It only makes sense to identify the women as human if the sons of God were not human. 

The only scripture support the idea that all the sons of Seth were godly can claim is Genesis 4:26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then men began to call upon the name of the LORD”.  But as far as scripture is concerned, all of humanity has been born in sin from the time of the fall of Adam and Eve (Rom 5:12, 15-19; Eph 2:1-9; Ps 51:5; Rom 3:9-18).  And all who are saved are saved by grace.  Even Seth was born with a sinful, fallen, nature: “And Adam had lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and he called his name Seth”(Gen 5:3).  And every human being who has been born since that time, and every human being yet to be born, is born with a sinful nature, just like our father, Adam.  We are all conceived in sin (Ps 51:5); we are all enemies of God from our conception (Eph 2:1-9).  So the sons of Seth were also born as enemies of God – but for some of them, as with all of humanity, God intervened and saved them (Eph 2:4-9).  And although the text doesn’t specify, God would most likely have saved the other descendants of Adam and Cain; because “….where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20).

Divine kings

Another objection is that the sons of God were kings, and that “they took them wives of all which they chose” indiscriminately.  There are several examples of this in the Old Testament and it was a well-known practice of kings throughout the ancient world, so why would Moses point out that these imagined kings chose out of the daughters of Cain those whom they preferred and married them?  If this was a common practice, why focus on it in this passage as if it was unusual?

But these kings, so the theory goes, were divine, as were all kings of the time – they were all sons of God or gods.  But in reality it was only the kings of Egypt that were the sons of God, specifically of Ra, and were thus gods on earth.  The Mesopotamian kings had kingship given to them by the gods and were not literally or inherently divine sons of God or regarded as such.

The gods

Besides, the passage does not say that they were kings, even though called sons of God.  Moses tells us that God put each nation under the authority of a “son of God” or angel or heavenly being.  He writes: “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:8-9).  Presumably, these heavenly beings were the gods of the ancient world.  “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods….I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.  But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes” (Ps 82:1, 6-7). 

An example of this is found in the prophet Daniel when Gabriel is delayed in bringing God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer.  He explains: “…the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” (Dan 10:13).

In the NT, the apostle Paul warns the people of God: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12).

And as for these “divine councils”, we see other instances of them in the OT.  For example, in Job 1:6 and 2:1, where “there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them”.  And in another place, the prophet Micaiah had a vision.  He had been required by King Ahab to tell him whether he and Jehoshaphat should go to battle against the Syrians.  Micaiah replied, I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.  And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.  And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him.  And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so (1 Kings 22:19-22).

The wickedness of sexual relations between angels and human women

Besides, the fact that giants were born of these perverted unions tells us that this was a monstrous aberration, an abomination, something that is corrupt and totally unnatural, so much so that it is singled out for mention in scripture, notable among “all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds, which they have ungodly committed” (Jude 15).  The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth (Gen 6:11-12).  So extensive, so widespread, so common to all, was the sinfulness on the earth, and so utterly hateful to God, that God told Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before me….I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen 6:13).  But this one sin, the sons of God marrying human women and producing the vilest and most detestable progeny – monsters both in size and corruption – is the one which the Holy Spirit chose to record for all time.  It was so heinous that God could not – would not – allow it to continue. 

And in a world filled with corruption and violence, those monsters, who were intrinsically evil, were feted as heroes: “the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown” (Gen 6:4).  Prowess in warfare, bloodshed, and violence were regarded as desirable, and these Nephilim were universally known for such.  Ancient Greek mythology abounds with heroic characters, demigods, who were sons of gods or goddesses and humans, and who performed incredible deeds, fought and killed fierce and hideous monsters; heroes in the pagan mind, such as Heracles, son of Zeus; Theseus, son of Poseidon; Perseus, son of Zeus; Achilles, son of Thetis, a sea goddess; Jason, great-grandson of Hermes; to name a few.  These characters, although mythological, no doubt have their origins in the stories of the Nephilim, who were likewise demigods and “mighty men of renown”

The Nephilim

The belief that the sons of God described in Genesis were angels or heavenly beings was common among the Church Fathers, partly because they used the Septuagint as their bible; our two earliest codices, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus, have the reading “angels” for “sons of God”. The term “sons of God” in the text can only mean “angels of God”, or spiritual beings of some sort, because every other time it is used in the Old Testament, it refers to angelic or spiritual or heavenly beings. 

The early Church also regarded what Protestants call “the apocrypha” as canonical Scripture, and there are several references to the giants therein.  One example is that found in Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach): “He did not forgive the ancient giants who revolted in their might” (Sir 16:8 NRSV-CE).  Another is: “The giants were born there, who were famous of old, great in stature, expert in war.  God did not choose them, or give them the way to knowledge; so they perished because they had no wisdom” (Baruch 3:26 NRSV-CE).  Again: “For even in the beginning, when arrogant giants were perishing, the hope of the world [Noah] took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand, left to the world the seed of a new generation” (Wisdom of Solomon 14:6 NRSV-CE).  These books, whether one regards them as scripture or not, reflect the understanding of pre-Christian Jews, and therefore should not be dismissed.

The Book of Enoch

Then there is the non-canonical “The Book of Enoch”, from which much information about the “sons of God” is gleaned – how much of this information is true I don’t know but it is the major source, after the bible, from which most authors get their ideas about the Nephilim.  The book of Enoch has canonical status in the Ethiopian church and some branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.  In chapter 6, we’re told: “And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters.  And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and get us children’.  And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them, ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin’.  And they all answered him and said, ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing’.  Then swear they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.  And they were in all two hundred…..

Chapter 7

….And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each one chose for himself one, and they began to go into them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants.  And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells…..

Chapter 9

….And they have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins.  And the women have borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness”.

There is much more detail in the Book of Enoch describing the irruption of violence and wickedness on earth through the sexual conquest of human women by the sons of God.  I should point out here that the height of the giants given in 7:2 would make them 22,500 feet tall, according to some calculations.  But while the Titans in ancient Greek mythology were said to be so tall that they could stand in the ocean and the water would only come up to their knees, and the stars would get tangled in their hair, I don’t think we can equate this with the height of real giants, the Nephilim in Enoch 7:2.  The most likely explanation is that in the Ethiopic text the height given is a scribal corruption, and the Greek text is more likely to be the correct version, not having any height of the giants specified at all. 

The physical size of the giants

The stature of the Nephilim was truly intimidating.  Goliath (and probably, his brothers) was about 10 feet tall; and King Og’s bed was 14 feet 6 inches wide.   And in Numbers, when Moses sent the twelve men to spy out the land as a preamble to the invasion, they returned in terror, saying, And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.  And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight (Num 13:33).  Several other references in Deuteronomy and Joshua also mention these same giants.

Dodgy explanations

Some of the various tribes and nations of the races of giants somehow survived the Flood of Genesis, as I’ve shown above.  This is evidenced not only by the recorded events in the bible, such as the giants in Canaan at the time of the Hebrew conquest, but by much more recent reports, with photographs, of the recovery of giant skeletons in North America; and of the accounts of North American Indian tribes, particularly the Pawnee, of warfare between them and the giants.  And in Central and South America the mythology, based on sightings, abounds with descriptions of giants.  These are usually treated with scorn by those who haven’t read the relevant books about them.  But this article is not about proving these accounts but simply to bring together what the bible has to say about the Nephilim.  Despite the biblical references, the response of many Christians to them is also scornful unbelief and a frantic search for more acceptable explanations because it threatens their theology; this has led to explanations such as those discussed above.

Whether their survival from pre-Flood to post-Flood was because human women were once again impregnated by fallen angels after the flood; or whether they came from one or both of the two wives of Lamech, Adah and Zillah (Gen 5:17-24), who were corrupted by the fallen angels; or whether Ham, Noah’s son, married a daughter of one of these wives – none of it can be proven. 

Why did the fallen angels want to marry human women?

One likely reason is because of the curse God placed upon Satan for bringing Adam and Eve into the bondage of sin and death: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).  The seed of the woman is Jesus and he will destroy Satan and the fallen angels, and rescue fallen humanity.

The Satanic plan was to so corrupt and dilute the race of humanity as quickly as possible that it would be impossible for the seed of the woman to be born at all, and this would forestall the destruction of Satan and his hosts.

But while it’s interesting to speculate on such things – this example may well be true though – the scripture gives us a more mundane reason – i.e. sexual lust.  And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose (Gen 6:1-2).

Finally, there is no end to the number of Christian books which have the Nephilim being resurrected and returning in the last days to take part in the final battle at Armageddon, at which time they will join forces with the beast and the false prophet.  But there is no mention of this in scripture.