The mention of giants in the Bible often captures people’s attention and imagination. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: According to some interpretations, giants in the Bible descended from the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of humans’ mentioned in Genesis 6, but their origins remain shrouded in mystery.
In this comprehensive article, we will dive deep into the biblical accounts of giants, explore the leading theories about their origins and existence, and try to shed light on these puzzling biblical figures.
Accounts of Giants in the Bible
Nephilim in Genesis 6
The Nephilim are first mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4, where they are described as the offspring of “sons of God” and human women before the Flood. There is debate over the meaning of the term Nephilim – it could mean “fallen ones” or refer to their huge physical stature.
Whatever the exact meaning, these Nephilim are clearly supernatural beings outside of the usual human realm.
Some scholars believe the passage refers metaphorically to powerful rulers and warriors, while others think mythical heroes or demigods are intended. But a plain reading suggests literally giants who terrorized people before being wiped out in the Flood.
Verse 4 says, “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.” So it seems they reappeared after the Flood as well.
The Anakites and Rephaites
There are several accounts of giants living in and around Canaan during the time of Moses and Joshua. The Anakites were one group described as giants “great in size” compared to normal people (Numbers 13:32-33).
The terrifying report by the 12 spies discouraged the Israelites from trying to take the Promised Land, so God sentenced them to wander the wilderness.
Later when Moses reviewed their history before entering Canaan, he reminded them of giants like the Anakites and Rephaites they would face (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 20-21). But Moses encouraged them that God would lead them to victory over those fearsome giants.
Goliath and the Philistines
One of the most infamous giants was the Philistine warrior Goliath, killed in battle by a young David (1 Samuel 17). At “six cubits and a span” in height, he would have stood 9 feet 9 inches tall! His armor and spearhead weights are also given, indicating his massive strength.
After David slays him with a slingshot and takes his sword, the Philistines flee in terror.
Later there is reference to four relatives of Goliath also being killed by David’s men (2 Samuel 21:15-22). One named Ishbi-Benob is said to have had a bronze spearhead weighing 7-1/2 pounds! So even after Goliath, giants continued to oppose Israel and be killed by their warriors.
Theories About the Origins of Biblical Giants
Descended from the ‘Sons of God’
One of the most common theories is that the giants descended from the ‘sons of God’ mentioned in Genesis 6. This refers to a group of heavenly beings who came to Earth and procreated with human women. Their offspring were the Nephilim – extraordinarily large and mighty individuals.
Many biblical scholars believe the ‘sons of God’ were fallen angels who lusted after human women and produced unnatural hybrid children. This view is supported by the apocryphal Book of Enoch.
Offspring of Fallen Angels and Human Women
Closely related is the view that giants were the offspring of fallen angels (demons) and human women. This unholy interbreeding resulted in hybrid giant offspring. This theory says that fallen angels came to Earth and seduced/raped human women, birthing unnaturally large and strong children.
This helps explain their superhuman size and strength. Several early church fathers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Ambrose supported this demonic view.
Descended from Cain’s Lineage
Another proposal is that giants descended from Cain’s lineage. Genesis 4:17-22 records the beginnings of Cain’s family line, which included his descendant Tubal-Cain, “an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.”
Some suggest Tubal-Cain and his descendants learned metallurgy and used this knowledge to build weapons and dominate others physically, becoming “giants.” Other scholars propose that genetic abnormalities within Cain’s lineage could have produced giantism.
So they see giants as the offspring of unrighteous Cain’s family line.
Product of Genetic Anomalies
A more scientific theory is that giants were simply the result of genetic mutations and anomalies. In a biblical era where men commonly lived over 900 years, it’s feasible their bodies expressed genes that promoted abnormal growth.
Giants could be seen as genetic outliers, expressing extreme physical and mental traits. This theory views them as fully human, just exhibiting unusual size and strength due to genetic factors. While less supernatural, it argues giants were biologically possible within an ancient human population.
Explanations for Their Existence and Later Disappearance
Confirmation of a Historical Reality
The Bible contains numerous references to giants, known as the Nephilim, that provide confirmation of their historical reality. Genesis 6:4 states that “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.”
Numbers 13:33 also describes seeing the Nephilim in Canaan at the time of the Exodus. These and other passages indicate that giants were literal beings that existed in the ancient world.
Archaeological discoveries have also provided evidence that giants were real. Skeletons of individuals reaching heights over 7 feet tall have been found in places like Egypt and the Middle East. A number of accounts from other ancient cultures like the Greeks and Romans also refer to the existence of giants.
Thus, both scriptural and extra-biblical sources affirm they were actual historic figures.
Mythological Exaggerations and Embellishments
While giants did exist, some characteristics commonly attributed to them are likely mythological exaggerations. Ancient pagan cultures frequently told mythical stories of gods and heroes performing great feats and possessing superhuman qualities.
The Nephilim became the focus of similar tales, resulting in legendary accounts of their size, strength, and origins.
For example, some legends describe giants as being hundreds of feet tall. This is biologically impossible given anatomical constraints. More sober accounts provide realistic heights generally under 10 feet.
Much of what was said about them in extra-biblical myths appears to be imaginative embellishments of true events.
Possible Genocide and Integration
The Bible indicates that most giants were killed off in the Flood during Noah’s day, but some continued afterwards. God instructed the Israelites to completely wipe out the Nephilim inhabiting Canaan (Numbers 33:52).
This campaign of genocide along with natural deaths over time likely caused the giant population to plummet.
Another factor that contributed to their disappearance was almost certainly intermarriage with normal humans. As their numbers dwindled, giants would have begun integrating into human society more through marriage and bearing children of reduced stature.
Eventually, this would have caused their distinct traits to fade away genetically.
The puzzling existence of giants in the Bible has fascinated scholars and believers alike for centuries. As we have seen, a number of theories have emerged to explain their origins, from being the offspring of fallen angels to descendants of Cain to human genetic anomalies.
While the biblical accounts point to their supremely tall stature and formidable strength, the reasons for and timing of their later disappearance remains uncertain. Their legacy continues to capture popular imagination and remind us of the many mysteries that still reside within Scripture.