A discussion of the giants of biblical fame ought to start, one supposes, with an examination of what they were, or that is to say how they came to be. The answer to this question tells us much about them and their relationship to the human race. The following is presented as a Christian interpretation of the core biblical material identifying their origin.
According to Genesis, verse 6:4, they were the progeny of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men”.
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.
Daughters of men is not a phrase that raises much question; but who or what were the “sons of God?” The exact phrase “sons of God” (“ben elohim”) is used only five times in the Old Testament: three times in Job and twice in Genesis, so this should not be too difficult to trace. The word “elohim” also occurs by itself a number of times in the Old Testament and refers to angels, or god-beings, when it is not being used to refer to God himself. In those cases it may be regarded as a shortened form of “sons of god”. These passages will be left for the reader to review on his own.
Probably the clearest of the five “ben elohim” passages is Job 38, where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. Here God asks of Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth (v.4) … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of god shouted for joy (v.7)? … Knowest thou (this event) because thou was then born (v.21)?”
The question is rhetorical. God is contrasting His incomparable majesty with Job’s pathetic powers. He is saying that when He himself laid the foundations of the earth, Job was not present because he was not even born yet. The “sons of God,” however, were present. They along with or perhaps as the “morning stars” responded with shouts of joy. These therefore can not be men, but are celestial beings that pre-existed the creation of the earth. Men were created after the earth was created, and were made out of it’s substance. Neither can these be the pre-existent souls of men. They can not even be that special subset of mankind, the believers, or else Job himself would have been present. In Job 38 the phrase “sons of god” refers to beings directly created by God out of heavenly, or divine, stuff rather than of earth.
Two more “ben elohim” passages are found in Job: in verses 1:6 and 2:1. They are just like each other and will be treated as one. Job 1:6 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.” This scene describes God, Satan, and the sons of god as though in a formal court. Satan is, as all agree, an angel. God and Satan are both present in this place in a visible, tangible way, and Satan says he comes from the earth to be present here. It appears to be a heavenly gathering, and there is no reason to interpret “sons of god” as any different here than in Job 38. The most straightforward reading is that this is not an earthly place, but heavenly, and the “sons of god” present are angels.
If the instances in Job refer to heavenly beings and not men, why should Genesis differ? Perhaps there is a reason, so let’s look at the verses in Genesis. The verses in Genesis are only two, and of course one of them is the one we started with. So where is the other one? It is in the same passage, in Genesis 6:2. This prompts one to look at the whole passage. Here there are many features indicating that “sons of God” does not refer to human beings. In fact, here the phrase “sons of god” is placed in direct contrast with “sons of men”.
When determining the meaning of an ancient text one should set aside modern scientific prejudices about what can and can not be – in this case suspending our prejudices about the nature of angels and of men. If it helps, take the passage as fiction to answer the question “what would it be saying if it were just telling its own story?”
Genesis 6: And after that men began to be multiplied upon the earth, and daughters were born to them,  The sons of God seeing the daughters of men, that they were fair, took to themselves wives of all which they chose.  And God said: My spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.  Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown.
Chapter 5 had just given the generations from Adam to Noah. Chapter 6 goes over the same time-frame, giving the actions that led to God destroying this world with a flood. Verse 1 sets the stage by saying that mankind spread upon the earth. This is a universal statement about all mankind. To read it as referring only to a specific tribe or group would be to read into the text something that is not there. The verse includes two sub-points: the first, by saying “upon the earth”, being that man’s place was the earth and his living was of the earth. The second sub-point is that in the course of their living on earth, daughters were born to them. The daughters are mentioned specifically because something was to happen to them. The stage is being set.
Verse 2 directly contrasts and confronts the human group just described with the introduction of a different group, the “sons of god”. These are described as taking the already mentioned daughters of men as their wives.
There is an obvious contrast here between “daughters of men” and “sons of God”. Clearly they are of a different group than the daughters of men. Since the daughters of men are described as the daughters of all mankind, the inference regarding the sons of god is that they are not of mankind. This defers to the clear meaning of the phrase in Job that these are angels.
There is also a contrast between “men” being specifically identified as multiplying “upon the earth” whereas the “sons of God” are not described as earthly. This again leads to the inference that the “sons of God” did not originate “upon the earth”.
Verse 4 states that the result of this marital union was that giants were born and became “the mighty men of old” and “men of renown”. Since we know that giants do not result when the faithful marry infidels in human society today, we are led to the conclusion that scripture is saying that the “sons of God” carried extraordinary genetic traits not seen in any contemporary people group. This passage in Genesis describes the Sons of God as a unique gene-pool.
Looking back on this as modern people, bible-believing Christians really have no comfortable choices. To say this gene-pool is the progeny of Seth (or of Cain if reversed), says that scripture teaches there was a special race of men that carried these extraordinary genetic traits, and when their genes combine with other human genes outside their pool, physically giant offspring are produced that are also uniquely great in other ways. To say that the sons of men were non-human, the presence and action of some form of celestial beings (extraterrestrials, angels, demons …). The “non-human” option pretty much destroys one’s ability to maintain the modern worldview of scientific materialism. If, on the other hand, we say that there really were no giants, and this was a made-up story, we gut the historicity from numerous and significant parts of the Old and New Testaments. Many that call themselves Christians today do mythologize scripture, but no matter what they say their new religion is called, it is not the Judaism nor the Christianity that was intended by its writers.
In light of what should now be the obvious meaning (or at least leaning, for the unconvinced), of Genesis 6; one must ask whether the New Testament sheds any light on this subject? While at first it may not seem so, the New Testament actually provides critical input. Interestingly the book of Jude, which at first seems arcane and mysterious, comes into clear focus with the application of a few facts. When it does, it illuminates our subject with a beam of certainty.
There are a few verses in Jude whose meaning can be obscure to the modern reader, but are defined for us because they make reference to an earlier work. The writer of Jude intentionally made this reference, and readers in the early christian centuries would have naturally understood it, but the modern reader would not. The verses in question can be boiled down to 6, 7 and 14, where we find quotes from the book of Enoch.
According to modern scholarship the book of Enoch as we know it today predates the writings of the New Testament. It was certainly part of the lexicon of the early Christian church from the time of the apostles into the fourth century and was generally held in high regard. It is in fact quoted in the New Testament, in the book of Jude. The early third century christian, Tertullian, considered by some to be the founder of western theology, had this to say:
I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, … is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either. I suppose they did not think that, having been published before the deluge, it could have safely survived … . If that is the reason (for rejecting it), let them recall to their memory that Noah, the survivor of the deluge, was the great-grandson of Enoch himself; and he, of course, had heard and remembered, from domestic renown and hereditary tradition, concerning his own great-grandfather’s “grace in the sight of God,” and concerning all his preachings; since Enoch had given no other charge to Methuselah than that he should hand on the knowledge of them to his posterity. Noah therefore, no doubt, might have succeeded in the trusteeship of (his) preaching … . … To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude.
During and following the fourth century the book of Enoch fell out of favor in the Christian church, and in fact for a time disappeared entirely. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, “Passing to the patristic writers, the Book of Henoch enjoyed a high esteem among them, mainly owing to the quotation in Jude. The so-called Epistle of Barnabas twice cites Henoch as Scripture. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and even St. Augustine suppose the work to be a genuine one of the patriarch. But in the fourth century the Henoch writings lost credit and ceased to be quoted. After an allusion by an author of the beginning of the ninth century, they disappear from view.” Lack of awareness of the book of Enoch is part of the reason that Genesis 6:4 is so widely misinterpreted today; but this has no bearing on the fact that Jude used it to define his meaning.
Jude, verse 6, states that, “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation (God) hath reserved in everlasting chains”.
No one will question that this verse is speaking of angels. It describes them as having left their first habitation – an act of disobedience – and so they are locked in chains. Verse 7 then explains what tempted these angels to transgress: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh.”
This seems a little obscure at first. Was it the people of the surrounding cities that committed the sexual indiscretions like those of Sodom and Gomorrha, or was it the angels behaving like those of Sodom and Gomorrha, or both? At least by analogy it could indicate that the sin of the angels was the angelic equivalent of this perverted sex. Also, since Jude is describing a great angelic transgression that occurred in ancient times, the eye is naturally drawn to the passage in Genesis 6 with the thought that both passages may be describing the same angelic transgression. But it all seems highly speculative.
Fortunately speculation is not needed. Jude 14, specifically referring to the testimony of Enoch, says, “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds …”. Jude is directly quoting the Book of Enoch, chapter 2, verse 1.
In Enoch this is a prophecy against the godless of his time: those who refused to “fulfill the commandments of the Lord; but … transgress(ed) and calumniate(d) his greatness …” (Enoch 6:4). Enoch in chapter 7 explains who the victims of this transgression were. “It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.” You should recognize this verse. It is Genesis 6:1. Enoch continues from here exactly as Genesis does, but with indisputable clarity, describing who the perpetrators were and what they did. “And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them (the daughters of men), they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children” (vs. 2,3). So Jude, by reference to Enoch both locks itself to the events in Genesis 6:4 and defines without question what those events were.
In quoting this, the writer of Jude intentionally anchors his meaning to the meaning in the book of Enoch. Fallen angels had sexual union with human women. With the canonization of the New Testament, this interpretation of these verses then becomes a fixed point of Christian doctrine. While the rest of Jude may be open to various interpretations, the verses quoting the book of Enoch mean what they mean in the book of Enoch. This is the clear intent of the writer of Jude and the teaching of the New Testament. Also, since through Enoch, Jude is referred to Genesis 6:4, this is also the teaching of the Old Testament. From the Genesis passage we can add that the giants were born of this union.
Many say that angels are of such a nature that they can not have sexual union, citing the words of Jesus in Matt. 22:30: “For in the resurrection (people) neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” Given the weight of evidence above, however, it would be easier to say that this verse is using the angels of God in heaven, as a normative example. It is not referring to all celestial beings, whether God’s angels in heaven or others. We ought really to say, it is not natural or right for angels to have sexual union (with humans in particular), rather than say it is not possible for them at all.
Returning briefly to the identity of the giants (“nephilim”), any confusion whether the scripture means giants when it says giants in Genesis 6 can be easily dispelled by reading more passages in the bible. There is the story of David and Goliath, there are the dimensions of the (giant) bed of the king Og in Bashan; and in addition to these, a surprising number of other references come to light when one studies this subject out. Many of them relate to the giants in Canaan reported to the camp of Israel by their scouts when returning from spying out the land. The exact word for “giants” from the Genesis passage is used in that report (Numbers 13:33) to describe the giants in Canaan. These are the only two places in scripture where this specific word is used. The use of this identical word for giants living in the earth both before and after the flood, underscores the meaning of Gen 6:4 when it says, “there were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that”. It is speaking of pre- and post- flood times. The giants lived on the earth prior to Noah’s flood, which presumably wiped them out. They returned for a time afterward.
Besides the arguments above, one can look at the evidence found in the ancient pagan world, the evidence from archeology, and the evidence from anomalous finds from all around the world. Some of that is posted in the blog, Icliks Incoming, … a work in progress.