“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.” Genesis 6:4.
Based on this and other passages in the Old Testamant, Christians believe that the ancient human race was of much greater physical stature than the modern human race. Ellen White tells us that men before the Flood were more than twice as tall as men are today.[i] Soon after the Flood, she wrote, the race began to rapidly decrease in size, which is why some especially large animals were left off the ark.[ii]
This series will examine the biblical basis for the belief that early humanity was of taller stature than present-day people, then we will discuss some of the archeological, scientific, and literary evidence supporting the idea that humans were once much larger than they are today.
The Antediluvian Nephilim—Were They Human-Alien Hybrids?
Some read Genesis 6:4 to mean that the only giants were the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men.[iii] A careful reading of a faithful translation, however, will show that giants lived on the earth even before the inter-marriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men.[iv]
The Hebrew word translated as “giant” in Genesis 6:4, is Nephilim, meaning “fallen ones,” or “violent ones.” One commentator has written, “In men’s eyes they were ‘the heroes of old, men of renown,’ but in God’s eyes they were sinners, fallen ones, ripe for judgment.” The word Nephilim is used only three times in Scripture—once in Genesis 6:4 and twice in Numbers 13. It is always used to describe people of great size and strength. Clearly, the Nephilim were giants.
But what are we to make of Genesis 6:4, which states that, “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”? Many people (mostly non-Christians) believe this text indicates that a race of space aliens bred with human woman. The notion that aliens mated with humans in the distant past has given rise to an extensive and imaginative literature. The “ancient aliens” theory has even given rise to a lengthy series of one-hour television shows on the History Channel, but it lacks biblical context. It is not sound exegesis.
Seventh-day Adventists, believe that the “sons of God” were the sons of those antediluvians (people who lived before the Genesis Flood) who were faithful followers of God. Romans 8:14 states that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.[v] By contrast, the “daughters of men” were daughters of antediluvians who were in open rebellion against God. Adventists, among many others, interpret Genesis 6:4 to mean that the godly line inter-married with the ungodly line, as a result of which the godly line eventually died out, with the exception of Noah and his family.[vi] A review of pertinent arguments is in order.
First, the rebellion of Cain and his descendants was an open rebellion against a known God. Adam and Eve had seen and conversed with God. Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:8-19. Adam lived to the age of 930 years, more than half of the history of the antediluvian world,[vii] and he witnessed to many of his descendants regarding how he was created, how he and Eve sinned, and how they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was still on earth to verify Adam’s story, although people could not enter it because cherubim (angels) with flaming swords guarded the gate. Gen. 3:23, 24. Cain had also conversed with God and was specially marked by God as the first murderer. Gen. 4:6-16. Thus, in pre-Flood times, there was not as much room for atheism and agnosticism as there is today.[viii] The antediluvians had a clear choice to make regarding God: obedience or rebellion. This binary choice made for two distinct groups of people.
Second, the Bible is not a general-purpose history of the human race; Bible history is the story of redemption. It is primarily about the relationship between mankind and mankind’s Creator and Redeemer. Bible history is the history of the godly line – Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Hebrew nation, Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the Christians. Other nations and people are discussed only insofar as they touch upon and intersect the godly line. Bearing this in mind, it is logical that a reference to “the sons of God” is a reference to the antediluvian godly line, those few people who were faithful to God.
Third, the Bible teaches that believers should not marry non-believers, because these unions lead to the apostasy of the believer far more often than they lead to the conversion of the non-believer. This theme runs throughout Scripture.[ix] It is therefore likely that Genesis 6 narrates the first example of the tragic results that ensue when believers are joined in marriage with those in rebellion against God.
Fourth, the context of the passage is the increasing sinfulness of the antediluvians, and God’s resulting judgment in the form of a deluge. Mankind would not, however, be answerable for the actions of higher beings over which the human race had no control. It would be unjust for God to punish mankind for the actions of non-human beings; we can therefore be certain that God was judging human wickedness. God judged the antediluvians for their rebellion against Him, which became nearly universal because the godly fell away through intermarriage with the ungodly.
Finally, Numbers 13:33 states that the Anakites were descended from the Nephilim. But if the antediluvian Nephilim of Gen. 6:4 had been the product of unions between spirit beings and human women, they would have been destroyed in the Flood. Gen. 7:21-23. Only Noah and his family survived the Flood. Obviously, the post-Flood Anakites could not have descended from a race that was destroyed in the Flood.
Moreover, Canaanite tribes of giants such as the Anakites were not some sort of super-race. The Israelites nearly destroyed them. Even before the Israelites arrived, the Moabites and the Ammonites—tribes not especially favored by God—had displaced some of the Canaanite tribes of giants. Thus, the scriptural witness, taken as a whole, indicates that the Nephilim, although strong and of large stature, were fully human. They were not a hybrid between humans and higher beings.
It could be argued that the “sons of God” were neither men nor angels, but “sons of the gods,” as the New English Bible renders them. But this notion is utterly devoid of biblical context. In the Bible, “gods” with a small g are mere idols, and idols are nothing, having no power whatsoever.[x] How can a non-entity have sons, and how can those sons mate with human women?
The Nephilim—were they Hybrids of Humans and Fallen Angels?
Among those who differ with our interpretation, the most popular interpretation of the identity of the “sons of God” is that they were angels. There is a plausible argument that the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels when it is used in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7.[xi] Although unfallen angels—those still loyal to God—certainly would not mate with humans and thus incur God’s wrath, Scripture teaches that there are fallen angels, those that Satan took with him when he fell. These fallen angels are also called demons.[xii] Thus it could be argued that fallen angels—demons—bred with humans, thus producing the Nephilim. Again, however, there are sound reasons to reject this interpretation.
First, Scripture teaches that angels are much more powerful than mortal human beings.[xiii] If they bred with humans, we would expect the offspring to be a hybrid race of supermen. But as noted above, scriptural history regarding the post-Flood Nephilim of Numbers 13:33 indicates that they were not a race of supermen. They were human and quite conquerable. Since Numbers 13 contains the only other use of the term Nephilim, there is reason to believe that the pre-Flood Nephilim were not supermen, either.
Second, Christ taught that angels are not sexual beings. Luke 20:34-36; Mark 12:25 In Matthew 22:30, Christ says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” The Bible also indicates that angels are spirit beings. Heb. 1:14 Non-sexual spirit beings would not have been sexually attracted to human women.
Third, as noted above, angels are much more powerful than humans. If angels chose to mate with human women, humans could do nothing to stop it. Why, then, would God judge mankind for the misbehavior of fallen angels?
By a process of elimination, the best view—or the least objectionable view—is that Genesis 6:4 refers to the corruption of the godly line through intermarriage with the ungodly. This is the correct interpretation based purely upon scriptural considerations.[xiv]
Ellen White’s on the Stature of the Antediluvians
We also have the prophetic gift of Ellen White confirming that Genesis 6:4 indicates that the godly line of Seth inter-married with the ungodly line of Cain:
Notwithstanding the prevailing iniquity, there was a line of holy men who, elevated and ennobled by communion with God, lived as in the companionship of heaven. They were men of massive intellect, of wonderful attainments. They had a great and holy mission—to develop a character of righteousness, to teach a lesson of godliness, not only to the men of their time, but for future generations.
* * *
For some time the two classes remained separate. The race of Cain, spreading from the place of their first settlement, dispersed over the plains and valleys where the children of Seth had dwelt; and the latter, in order to escape from their contaminating influence, withdrew to the mountains, and there made their home. So long as this separation continued, they maintained the worship of God in its purity. But in the lapse of time they ventured, little by little, to mingle with the inhabitants of the valleys. This association was productive of the worst results. “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair.” The children of Seth, attracted by the beauty of the daughters of Cain’s descendants, displeased the Lord by intermarrying with them. Many of the worshipers of God were beguiled into sin by the allurements that were now constantly before them, and they lost their peculiar, holy character. Mingling with the depraved, they became like them in spirit and in deeds; the restrictions of the seventh commandment were disregarded, “and they took them wives of all which they chose.” . . . Sin spread abroad in the earth like a deadly leprosy.[xv]
But what about physical stature? How does the intermarriage of the godly with the ungodly explain the larger stature of the results of this forbidden union?
In order to understand this, we must first understand that Adam was created much larger than current men. Ellen White states:
“As man came forth from the hand of his Creator, he was of lofty stature and perfect symmetry. His countenance bore the ruddy tint of health and glowed with the light of life and joy. Adam's height was much greater than that of men who now inhabit the earth. Eve was somewhat less in stature; yet her form was noble, and full of beauty.” Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 45.
“As Adam came forth from the hand of his Creator, he was of noble height, and of beautiful symmetry. He was more than twice as tall as men now living upon the earth, and was well proportioned. . . . Eve was not quite as tall as Adam. Her head reached a little above his shoulders. She, too, was noble—perfect in symmetry, and very beautiful.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. III, p. 34, (1SP 25.)
In fact, the entire antediluvian race were of much greater stature than current human beings.
“The race of men then living were of very great stature, and possessed wonderful strength.” White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. III, p. 61.
In describing the resurrection of the unsaved, and their attempt to storm the New Jerusalem, which has descended to the earth after the expiration of the Millennium in Heaven, Ellen White states:
“In that vast throng are multitudes of the long-lived race that existed before the Flood; men of lofty stature and giant intellect, who, yielding to the control of fallen angels, devoted all their skill and knowledge to the exaltation of themselves; men whose wonderful works of art led the world to idolize their genius, but whose cruelty and evil inventions, defiling the earth and defacing the image of God, caused Him to blot them from the face of His creation.” Great Controversy, p. 664.
“At the first resurrection [of the saved—John 11:23, 24; 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thes. 4:13-18] all come forth in immortal bloom, but at the second [the resurrection of the unsaved—John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20], the marks of the curse are visible upon all. All come up as they went down into their graves. Those who lived before the flood come forth with their giant-like stature, more than twice as tall as men now living upon the earth, and well proportioned. The generations after the flood were less in stature.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. III, p. 84.
Everyone who lived before the Genesis Flood was of much greater stature than modern humans are. But even among the antediluvian giants, the godly line who dwelt separately in the hills and mountains were larger than the descendants of Cain, who lived on the plains. This is because the godly line were less sinful and felt the curse less heavily. Ellen White states that the physical size of the godly line diminished less than that of the ungodly line. This explains why the offspring of the godly line were giants even by the standards of those days:
“Those who honored and feared to offend God, at first felt the curse but lightly; while those who turned from God and trampled upon His authority, felt the effects of the curse more heavily, especially in stature and nobleness of form. The descendants of Seth were called the sons of God—the descendants of Cain, the sons of men. As the sons of God mingled with the sons of men, they became corrupt, and by intermarriage with them, lost, through the influence of their wives, their peculiar, holy character, and united with the sons of Cain in idolatry. Many cast aside the fear of God, and trampled upon his commandments. But there were a few who did righteousness, who feared and honored their Creator. Noah and his family were among the righteous few.” [xvi]
A way to read and understand Genesis 6:4 that is more faithful to the full biblical context and worldview is that there were giants in the earth in those days—the days after creation and the Fall—and also later in the pre-Flood era, when men from the godly line, who were of larger stature, intermarried with women who were of the ungodly line of Cain. The product of these unwise unions were men of legend, famous in their own day, but to God they were simply fallen, violent men.
After the Flood, the size of the human race diminished rapidly, due in part to widespread consumption of animal flesh, but probably also due to various other environmental conditions that made the post-Flood world less congenial to human thriving than the antediluvian world had been. Later, when the Israelites were invading the land of Canaan, they made a connection between the tribes of giants they encountered there and the giants who lived before the Flood.
[i]. See, e.g., Spiritual Gifts, vol. III, p. 84.
[ii]. White, Ellen, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4A, p. 121. (“Soon after the flood the race began to rapidly decrease in size, and in length of years. There was a class of very large animals which perished at the flood. God knew that the strength of man would decrease, and these mammoth animals could not be controlled by feeble man.”).
[iii] Some paraphrasers write this incorrect interpretation into the text of the Bible. See, e.g., The Living Bible (“In those days, and even afterwards, when the evil beings from the spirit world were sexually involved with human women, their children became giants, of whom so many legends are told.”) and the Contemporary English Version (“The children of the supernatural beings who had married these women became famous heroes and warriors. They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.”).
[iv] The passage is translated correctly in the King James Version (“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when . . .”), the Revised Standard Version (“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when . . .”), and the Modern Language Version (“There were giants on the earth in those days, and later, too, when . . .”).
[v] See, also, Deut. 14:1; 32:4-5; Psalm 73:15; Hosea 1:10; John 1:12; Philippians 2:15 1 John 3:1-2.
[vi] Other Christians who have espoused the theory of intermarriage of the godly line with the ungodly include Chrysostom, Augustine (in The City of God), Martin Luther, John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and Francis Schaeffer. See also C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1.
[vii] According to Masoretic numbers—see the discussion of biblical chronology in chapter 8.
[viii] Ellen White states, “Skepticism could not deny the existence of Eden while it stood just in sight, its entrance barred by watching angels. The order of creation, the object of the garden, the history of its two trees so closely connected with man’s destiny, were undisputed facts. And the existence and supreme authority of God, the obligation of His law, were truths which men were slow to question while Adam was alive.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 84.
[ix] See, e.g., Gen. 24:3, 4; 28:1, 2; Ex. 34:15, 16; Num. 25; Deut. 7:1-4; 17:17; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-13; Ezra 9, 10; Neh. 10:30; 13:23-27; Mal. 2:11; 1 Cor. 7:12-16; 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
[x] See, e.g., Psa. 96:5; 115:4-8; Isa. 44:15-20; Hab. 2:18-20; 1 Cor. 8:4-5; 10:19-20; Rev. 9:20.
[xi] “One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.” Job 1:6. “On another day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.” Job 2:1. “On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for Joy?” Job 38:6, 7. The New International Version translates the phrase sons of God in these texts as “angels,” dropping a footnote that the Hebrew is literally “sons of God,”—thus admitting that they have paraphrased rather than translated. But is the paraphrase accurate? Ellen White taught that there are other created worlds, worlds whose inhabitants have not fallen into sin. It is possible that the “sons of God” in Job are the inhabitants of these unfallen worlds.
[xii] See, e.g., Rev. 12:7-9; Luke 10:18; Isaiah 14:12-20; Ezek. 28:11-17; Rev. 12:3-4; Matt. 25:41; 9:32-34; 12:24-28; Luke 11:14-20; Rom. 8:38; James 2:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.
[xiii] 2 Sam. 24:16; Judges 6:20-22; 13:20, 21; Matt. 13:39, 41, 49; 24:31; Luke 1:19, 20; 2:9, 10; 20:36; Acts 5:19; 12:8-12; 1 Cor. 10:10; 2 Peter 2:11.
[xiv] Proponents of the theory of breeding between angels and humans draw support from the pseudepigraphal book of 1 Enoch and from an interpretation of verses in Peter (1 Peter 3:18-20, 2 Peter 2:4, 5) and Jude (verses 6 and 7) that is influenced by 1 Enoch. Although Jude quotes from 1 Enoch, Enoch contains a mixture of truth and error. Pseudepigrapha means “falsely superscribed,” meaning falsely titled or attributed. The book of Enoch was written between 200 B.C. and A.D. 50. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, had nothing to do with writing the book. Moreover, the Book of Enoch makes bizarre and incredible assertions. For example, it claims that the Nephilim were 300 cubits tall (450 feet tall), that the antediluvians exhausted themselves trying to feed these outsized giants, that the giants turned on the antediluvian men and started eating them, and that then they started eating each other and drinking blood. (1 Enoch, chapter 7.) The Book of Enoch was never included in the Hebrew canon, and although the book was well known to the early Christians, they did not include it in their canon, either—the Ethiopian church being a notable exception. After the Council of Laodicea in A.D. 364, the church banned 1 Enoch and suppressed it so vigorously that most copies were destroyed. It was thought to be a lost book until the Scottish explorer James Bruce found a copy in Ethiopia, written in Ethiopian, in the early 1770s. Copies were also found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. For the views of supporters of the theory of breeding between angels and humans, see, e.g., James Montgomery Boice, Genesis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998); Henry J. Morris, The Genesis Record, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976); Chuck Missler, Textual Controversy: Mischievous Angels or Sethites?; Ray C. Stedman, Signs of Collapse; Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology, (Chicago: Scripture Press, 1952); John Fleming, The Fallen Angels and the Heroes of Mythology, (Dublin: Hodges, Foster & Figgis, 1879).
[xv] White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 84, 81, 82.
[xvi] White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. III, pp. 60, 61 (emphasis added).