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I've come across several verses in the Bible that speak of "giants". For example:

Gen 6:4 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.

Num 13:33 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.

Deu 2:10 The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims;
Deu 2:11 Which also were accounted giants, as the Anakims; but the Moabites call them Emims.

However, I haven't been able to understand who exactly the giants were. Does this just refer to a race of men who were unusually large? Or were they not men but actually a separate species, and if so do we know anything of their origins?

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This is one of those tangential discussions that Chat is meant to cater to. So, HINT, HINT... –  Shog9 Sep 6 '11 at 21:52
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Jeremy I think folks are a little confused about your bounties. If you give us some kind of clue about WHY you need this answer we might be able to provide better answers, however as Richard pointed out in his answer (which you accepted and I think was very well put together) this is likely something nobody will know for sure until we get to ask the Maker himself. No amount of bounty rep will prove the matter one way or another. At some point researching just for speculation becomes a waste of time. What are you trying to accomplish or expecting to find here? –  Caleb Sep 10 '11 at 12:16
    
@Caleb: Sure. I'm very happy with the answers I've received and will probably give the bounty to one of them. I don't need a better one. I'm only leaving open the possibility than someone could feel inspired to post an even better answer this week. –  Jeremy Banks Sep 10 '11 at 16:35
    
I would refer you to the BANNED books of the bible - there is a History Channel documentary that explains it very well. There is a whole book left out of the bible about them and what happened. Most preachers and Christians don't want you to know about it though - i love the "Why do you want to know?" Answer PRICELESS! –  user5637 Sep 3 '13 at 21:53
    
What was the name of the banned book? –  Praxiteles Dec 6 '13 at 13:50

10 Answers 10

up vote 15 down vote accepted
+100

Over the years, there have been many theories to explain these Nephilim. I'm not fond of list answers, but unfortunately, there's no better way to represent all of these wildly varying theories.

Possible theories:

  1. Giants (giantism)

    Historically, there have been people who have been over eight feet tall. Archaeologists have uncovered tombs of these people who were probably in that height range source.

    Even a glance at Wikipedia, shows people solidly over eight feet tall.

    This theory holds that these people were simply giants--either particularly tall or had giantism.

  2. Offspring of women and fallen angels

    Genesis 6:1-2 says the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose (NIV). If we look at Gen 6:1-4, we see that Nephilim were the children of these "sons of God".

    Job 2:1 shows that these sons of God were definitely of the spiritual realm. In fact, other translations interpret sons of God as angels.

    Final support of this (as others have mentioned) is that the Hebrew word that "Nephilim" is based off the Hebrew word "fall" (as in "to fall" or "fallen").

    These concepts put together give strong support that Nephilim were children of fallen angels that had sex with human women.

  3. Nephilim were descendants of Cain/Seth (source)

    The idea behind this is that godly men--ie "sons of God"--(probably descending from Seth) married descendants of Cain (more specifically, of Enoch).

    Enoch was a paganistic society and so the idea that the children of the offspring were "fallen" kind of fits with this as well (per the Hebrew argument above).

    Other support for this is based on Matthew 5:9 where Jesus says Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. This, the theory goes, shows that "sons of God" is a good thing and therefore, the children of Seth were righteous men.

    In this theory, however, the Nephilim would have been simply "heroes", not necessarily "giants".

  4. They're completely fictional

    If you take the Pentateuch as a history of legends, then clearly the Nephilim are just another part of the legend.

Other theories that are too far-fetched

  1. Nephilim were descendants of Kings (source)

    Since "sons of God" can equally be translated as "sons of kings", this theory holds that kings were philandering with common women, creating "heroes of old, men of renown" (Gen 6:4)

  2. Nephilim were extra-terrestrials

    Yes, some people believe this. Yet there is absolutely no biblical or archeological basis for this.

  3. Nephilim were Neanderthals (source)

    The idea here is that the Neanderthals were stronger than humans and therefore "giants". This is a clearly unbiblical theory (we seemed like grasshoppers in their eyes).

Primary Source

Those are some of the theories that have been used throughout time to explain these Nephilim. The most popular is probably that the "sons of God" were fallen angels, although there are some problems with this theory. (Job seems to indicate that "sons of God" are good, not fallen; Mark and Matthew state that angels don't marry, etc. source.)

Ultimately, this is something we'll probably not know for sure until the end of the world.

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An eight-feet-tall man would hardly see others as grasshoppers. –  user314 Sep 29 '11 at 12:38
    
I don't claim to know the answer either, but just to add a few things to the pot: First, the passages in Mark and Matthew state that angels don't marry "in heaven". So if these are angels, they aren't in their proper place and aren't behaving according to God's will. Second, folks that are way more knowledgeable about Biblical languages than me have suggested that "Nephilim" could just as legitimately be translated "giants". Can't find a linkable source on that at the moment, though. Finally, Jude 1:6-7 seems to refer to angels committing a sin of a sexual nature (see theory #2). –  Matt Peterson Oct 5 '11 at 20:15
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If "as grasshoppers" is requires to mean a literal geometric perspective, then all you options are poor: they'd have to be 40, 100 feet tall? The simile could be "literally true" in terms of strength, which opens up Neanderthals again. –  pterandon Jul 7 '13 at 11:05
    
According the genetic studies, Europeans have traces of Neanderthal DNA... –  Juann Strauss Sep 4 '13 at 9:57

As a Hebrew speaker, I may have a chance to contribute here.

The Hebrew word used to describe the giants is Nephilim, spelled נפילים, which comes from the verb נפל - which means "to fall".

The most common explanation in the Jewish tradition is that those are either fallen angels, or the sons of such angels, born to human wives. In both cases they are referred to as evil, and unlike in many other ancient mythologies (e.g. the Greek Mythology), those fallen angels do not have any supernatural powers except their size. It is mentioned that they lived for 120 years - maybe in order to show that they are not immortal.

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I read a interesting book called The Nephilim and the Pyramid of the Apocalypse that goes into detail about the Nephilim's decent from angels. It was a very interesting and likely controversial read. I couldn't find anything overtly wrong with the author's theories but the things he was saying were a little hard to swallow. I encourage anyone interested in the Nephilim to try it out. –  Jeff Sep 6 '11 at 18:32
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Angels aren't the only beings who "fell". Knowing that the word means "fallen" isn't an argument for them being angles any more than men. –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 9:48
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@Caleb - Correct. That is why I noted the meaning of the word first, and then suggested it as the explanation, which is the most common one according to Jewish traditions. –  Galz Sep 7 '11 at 11:11
    
just trying to explain people who lived for 120 years. I think, it is common in some places. Tamil (a language) had references (specific words) for 6 generations, like, father, grandfather, and so on. omtamil.com/home/files/2012/08/Tamil-Paramparai.png –  vi.su. Feb 20 '13 at 4:02

The Nephilim are fallen Angels, or descendants of such.

First we need to understand that the "sons of God" mentioned in Genesis are angels, and here's how we do that. The Hebrew words used here are Ben 'elohiym.

Ben Literally means a 'descendant of'. So sons, grandsons, translated to son.

'elohiym can be translated into a few different words. rulers, judges, divine ones, angels, gods.

You can see that the scholars behind the NKJV have translated these words to say "sons of God", while the new international version scholars have translated the meaning to say "the angels."

Satan presents himself with the other angels

We know that Satan is an angel and we see him presenting himself with the other angels before God, in the book of Job.

Job 2:1 NKJV

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.

Job 2:1 NIV

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.

We shall be called sons of God, equal to Angels

We can also expand on this understanding with the following verses, in order to know for sure that these sons of God are spiritual beings filled with the holy spirit.

Luke 20:36 NKJV

nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

Romans 8:14 KJV

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

These particular angels in Genesis are fallen Angels

Genesis 6:4 NIV

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The Hebrew word for Nephilim is N@phiyl which originates from the word Naphal which means "to fall, fallen."

We can see further connection and description of these fallen angels in Numbers

Numbers 13:33

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

These three men seemed to have lived for a long time, as we see their lives spanning past the exodus, when they were finally driven out of their land and we don't hear about them anymore.

Judges 1:20

And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak.

This gives us a lot of insight into Genesis 6:3, when God says that His spirit shall not strive with man forever. He will shorten the life of mortal men to 120 years.

Genesis 6:3 (NKJV)

3 And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

It seems clear to me that God is talking about these fallen angels when He says "My Spirit."

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I see where you can get get 'the sons of God were not considered human' from (I don't necessarily agree or disagree), but how do you come to the conclusion that they are definitely filled with the Holy Spirit ? –  2tim424 Sep 2 '11 at 5:50
    
In Genesis 6:3 the is wrapped with the topic of these giants, this is the same topic. I believe that, that verse is directly talking about His spirit and those Sons. We know from elsewhere in the scripture that sons of God are those filled with the Holy Spirit. Sorry, should have been more clear in the answer. –  Jonathon Byrd Sep 2 '11 at 5:58
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@Byrd, these sons of God could have been referring to angels, particularly fallen angels. Especially after considering the Hebrew meaning of Nephilim, which means, to fall –  Cryst Sep 2 '11 at 7:00

The Hebrew term Nephilium does mean "fallen ones", but I see no particular reason why this indicates that they are/were angels rather than fallen men. Rendering them fallen angels seems inconsistent with everything else we know about the nature of angels vs men.

Scholarship is widely divided on this issue reading many different things into the very few verses we have that refer to them directly. When in doubt, I believe we need to use our understanding from other parts of scripture and even of the world in general to make sense out of it.

We generally know that even among the created order here on earth things don't just change species. Species can't inter-breed. In the heavenly realms we have spirit beings that do not have associated matter in the created universe. They are allowed to manifest themselves in a way that interacts with men, but we also know that such things fall generally under the sovereignty of God. Even Satan is not allowed to take specific action on earth without God's express permission.

Taking these into consideration I find it inconsistent with what we know of God to have given fallen angels such permissions. If such a thing really were to have happened it would seem likely that we would have more references to it than two verse with an obscure word that can be translated "giants" just easily as "angels".

There are several other propositions about how these could be a race of men with an exceptional strand of gene (very much inside the realm of what we know of creation) that gave them exceptional size and stature. There are also explanations for where they lived (I've heard explanations about a mountain region) that can explain the language about them having 'come down'.*

Taken as a whole I think it is a better hermeneutic to not assume something that goes against our established understandings of both our world and the rest of Scripture without a much more explicit text that says they must be spirit beings.

I find the references cited by Jonathan unconvincing. That we will be LIKE the angels in specific attributes does not mean that we will actually be angels. Humans, even as souls in heaven, have specifically different properties than angels. Lifespan issues extend well beyond the scope of just the Nephilim and are explained other ways. God didn't just change the lifespan of said Nephilim, we know that he did that for humans. The connections to God's spirit I find be speculative at best. They COULD fit, but add nothing to drive the argument that they MUST be angels because it would fit just as well if the scope was only humans.

* I plan on finding these but it's too late tonight, saving for an edit.

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The phrase "sons of God" appears 4 times in the Old Testament, twice in the passage in Genesis, and twice in the book of Job. Job's passages are plainly angels, so in the context of the Old Testament, the Genesis references should be understood first as angels unless there is sufficient reason to rule it out.

Angels have the ability to take on human form (see Genesis 19:5-8). In the case of these fallen angels, they apparently took on human form complete with tweaked human DNA coded for extreme size and aggressiveness. Angels in heaven do not marry, but it doesn't say that they are incapable of taking on human form and marrying. God's angels who did not rebel have no use or need for human females, so they don't marry. Human females are made to correspond to the human male who is made in the image of God, and this explains their appeal to the fallen angels who were themselves created as "sons of God". (Male and female are together God's image; but man is the direct image while woman is an indirect image according to 1 Corinthians 11:7)

These giants are called "men" in Genesis and elsewhere, indicating that regardless of their satanic origin, God considered them human, and dealt with them and judged them accordingly.

The groups listed by Moses in Deuteronomy are noted for their size. Og was a remnant of these groups, and his bed was about 13.5 feet long by 6 feet wide. This would make him roughly twice as tall as an ordinary person today. This cannot be explained by giantism today, since giantism is debilitating and does not result in "mighty men". These giants were superior athletes.

The spies refer to the sons of Anak as having great size (albeit exaggerated), and by that they claim that they were "Nephilim". So the spies are interpreting the Nephilim in Genesis as meaning giants in terms of size. If they were twice the height of normal men as Og's bed seems to indicate, then their fear and comparisons are understandable (though inexcusable in light of God's power).

There are 5 tribes of giants mentioned in the Bible after the Flood: Emims, Zamzummims, Horims, Avims, and Rephaims. They lived around the perimeter of Canaan. According to Genesis 6:4, they were produced the same way the Nephilim were produced before the Flood. Emims, Horims, and Rephaims (possibly the Zamzummims also) were defeated in the first wave of Chedorlaomer's invasion in Genesis 14:5-6 before he was defeated by Abraham. The giants were weakened in number by this attack. Later the Emims were eradicated from Ar by the Moabites, the Zamzummims were finished in Ammon by the Ammonites, the Horims were driven out of Mt Seir by Esau, and the Avims were finished off by the Caphtorites. Caphtor was a descendant of Mizraim (Hamitic, from Egypt). According to Josephus, their cities were destroyed in the Ethiopic war and so they migrated to Phillistia where they encountered and defeated the Avims.

The Rephaims included Og and the Anakim, the sons of Anak who was a son of Arba. Arba himself may have been one of the first post-flood hybrids since his father is not cited. These were defeated by the Isrealites as they invaded the promised land.

Joshua 11:22 states that there were giants left in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. This explains the later appearance of Goliath from Gath. Goliath was roughly 9.5 feet tall. A few generations removed from Og's size of approximately 13.5 feet tall, the original hybrids were likely the largest, and their descendants got smaller as they interbred.

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Welcome to the site! This is an excellent first post! –  David Stratton Jul 14 '13 at 17:36

Another theory that I've heard is that "sons of God" refers to those who were members of the primordial religion, and that "sons/daughters of man" refers to those who had apostatized and turned to a false religion. This would yield the interpretation of men were marrying those not of their faith.

I apologize for a lack of citation, but I thought it was an interesting idea that hadn't been put forward yet. I'll try to find a reference and will update my answer if I do

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This is similar to the idea of the descendants of Cain/Seth. Descendants of Seth would have been godly men that married paganistic descendants of Cain ("fallen men"). The idea does have some merit. +1 –  Richard Sep 9 '11 at 15:01

Jude verse 6 refers to the punishment of angels; the judgment of some angels is reserved for the end in Revelation 12:7-8.

Matthew 22:30 Jesus said that the angels of God in heaven do not marry. He said nothing about what the devil's angels (see Rev 12:7-8) do when they are on Earth.

Genesis 6:4 states that there were "giants in those days, and also after that", and identifies this as a result of the aforementioned interbreeding. Giants after the Flood include 5 tribes mentioned in the Bible. It is highly unlikely that the interbreeding of believers and non-believers after the Flood would produce giants. If the production of giants requires a daughter of Cain and a son of Seth, then a daughter of Cain would have to have married a son of Noah. If that son was Ham, then all of Ham's sons should be giants. The tribes of giants lived around the Canaanites, but none of them are listed as the offspring of Canaan or Ham or anyone else in Genesis 10. This is best explained by the idea that they were generated by fallen angel/human hybridization, so their male lineage was not through a son of Noah.

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You may want combine your answers. –  Affable Geek Jul 14 '13 at 13:25

Giants were the hybrid offspring of the spiritual union of Daughters of men and fallen angels. All their offspring were evil. These giant offspring were not created by God. Angels have a spirit and soul. Giants have evil spirits a earthly body but no soul. When giants (hybrids) die their spirits have no heaven or hell to go to. Their spirits are the devils and demons we deal with today. They were the reason God caused Noah's flood. God and Satan are at war! We are the bounty! If this is hard to understand or believe,then think of how Jesus was born of a earthly daugher of men ( The Mother Mary) and the Holy Spirit (God). Satan and his followers (fallen angels)were doing their best to prevent Jesus's birth. Why is this you may ask! The best answer I believe is: Lucifer (Satan) did and still does want to replace God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Question: When we die will our spirits be evil or saved to be heavenly spirits, cleansed and anew? Get the answer from the Holy Spirit, ONLLY.

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Welcome to the site. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn th ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? I'd also recommend reading What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Aug 27 '13 at 0:11

They were not angels, because if angles did this sin they would not be called sons of god. And God did not punish any angels for this sin, but he punished man only, so it had to be that the sons of God meant the sons of the line of Adam and Seth and daughters of men would mean the daughters of the line of Cain.

It also said that they took wives for them self, but Jesus said that angels do not marry.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

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Welcome to the site. When you get a chance, I'd recommend reading the help page and How we are different than other sites? and finally, What makes a good supported answer? This answer could use some references to back it up. –  David Stratton Jul 7 '13 at 7:09

Fallen angels are still sons of God, their commiting a sin doesn't change the fact that God is still their father. Just like adam, they were created by a direct God, hence God is their father and even after adam sinned, it did not change the fact that God was still his father. He was still Gods son because he had been created directly by God. The angels who cohabited with women have been imprisoned and await their judgement, as explained by peter. It was said that the angels that kept not their first estate but went after strange flesh, he hath kept them in chains of darkeness untill the day of the great judgement. In that same passage, those angels were likened unto the men of sodom who instead of doing what was natural, went after the unnatural. So yes they have not been punished, but they will be punished together with their other rebel brothers who will join satan to fight againt their God and father and his annointed at armageddon. Furthermore, ordinary men marrying ordinary women do not produce powerfful giants of more than 10feet eg OG of Bashaan. In addition, the fact that jesus said angels of God in heaven do not marry, does not disprove this theory. Jesus said angels of God. ''in heaven" this is in line with the lords prayer were jesus said may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This means that in heaven Gods will is done , but on earth his will is not always done. So on earth, disloyal angels can decide to go against Gods will, which is exactly what some angels did by having sexual relations with women and fathering giants in the time of noah. Also the descendants of seth are sons of adam and not sons of God, only two people since the history of the human race were truly sons of God, they are adam and jesus. As for the rest, God was their father figuratively not literally. As for believers, we will truly become sons of God at the resurrection, because after we have died, we will be brought back into existence by a direct act of God never to die again, therefore making us true sons of God like the angels, just as jesus said we will be after the resurrection, ''like the angels".

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