When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim [LXX giants] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men [LXX giants] that were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:14)
There are two opposing Patristic teachings concerning the sons of God:
- The sons of God are angels who forsake the beauty of God for perishable beauty and unite themselves with women (St. Clement of Alexandria).
- The sons of God are the sons of Seth, who marry the daughters of Cain (St. Ephraim the Syrian).
There are also two opposing Patristic views concerning the Nephilim [LXX Giants]:
- The giants were generated by the sons of Seth and the daughters of Cain (St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Augustine of Hippo)
- The giants were born from angels uniting to mortal women (St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Ambrose of Milan).
One thing the Patristics agree on concerning the giants is they symbolize those persons who are devoted only to earthly desires and their time for repentance was limited.
Orthodox Church Fathers Who Believed Fallen Angels and Human Woman Bred Giants
There has been much speculation about who these “sons of God” mentioned in the sixth chapter of Genesis were. Three basic interpretations of this passage have been advanced.
The first, and oldest, belief is that “the sons of God” were fallen angels who consorted with human women, producing giant offspring called nephilim (Heb. נפילים). This view was widely held in the world of the first century CE, and was supported by Flavius Josephus, Philo, Eusebius and many of the “Ante-Nicene Fathers,” including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras and Commodianus.
The second view is one which was first suggested by Julius Africanus in the third century CE and later advocated by St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine rejected the concept of the fallen host having committed fornication with women. In his early fifth century CE book The City of God, he promoted the theory that “the sons of God” simply referred to the genealogical line of Seth, who were committed to preserving the true worship of God. He interpreted Genesis 6 to mean that the male offspring of Adam through Seth were “the sons of God,” and the female offspring of Adam through Cain were “the daughters of men.” He wrote that the problem was that the family of Seth had interbred with the family of Cain, intermingling the bloodlines and corrupting the pure religion. This view has become the dominant one among most modern biblical scholars.
The third view is that “the sons of God” were the sons of pre-Flood rulers or magistrates. This belief became the standard explanation of rabbinical Judaism after Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai pronounced a curse in the second century CE upon those Jews who believed the common teaching that the angels were responsible for the nephilim. This interpretation was advocated by two of the most respected Jewish sages of the Middle Ages, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) and Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides), and became the standard explanation of rabbinical Judaism. However, it is not widely accepted by modern scholars.
Book of Enoch (ca. 300 BC): And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto 2 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 3 and beget us children.’ And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not 4 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 5 not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves 6 by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon. [Chapter 6:1-6; The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament]
Book of Jubilees (ca. 3rd-2nd century BC): And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they 2 chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. And lawlessness increased on the earth and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds and everything that walks on the earth – all of them corrupted their ways and their orders, and they began to devour each other, and lawlessness increased on the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of all men 3 (was) thus evil continually. [5:1-3; The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament]
St. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165): God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly to man, and arranged the heavenly elements for the increase of fruits and rotation of the seasons, and appointed this divine law – for these things also He evidently made for man – committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate needs, and all wickedness. . . . (Second Apology, “How the Angels Transgressed,” #5)
Tatian the Assyrian (ca. 120 – 180 AD): “[God]… committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by the love of women, and begat children who are those who are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness.” [2nd Apology, #5].
Athenagoras of Athens (ca. 133 – 190 AD): These angels, then, who fell from heaven busy themselves about the air and the earth and are no longer able to rise to the realms above the heavens. Te soulsof the giants are the demons (δαίμονες) who wander about the world. Both angelsand demons produce (ποιέω) movements (κινήσεις)—demons movements which are akin to the natures they received, and angels movements which are akin to the lusts (ἐπιθυμίαι) with which they were possessed. Te prince of matter, as may be seen from what happens, directs and administers things in a manner opposed to God’s goodness . . . But since the demonic impulses and activities (δαιμονικαὶ κινήσεις καὶ ἐνέργειαι) of the hostile spirit (πνεῦμα) bring these wild attacks (ἄτακται ἐπιφοραί)—indeed we see them move men from within and from with-out, one man one way and another man another, some individually and some as nations, one at a time and all together, because of our kinship (συμπάθεια) with matter and our affinity with the divine . . . But to the extent that it depends on the reason peculiar to each individual and the activity (ἐνέργεια) of the ruling prince and his attendant demons, one man is swept along (φέρεται καὶ κινεῖται) one way, another man another way, even though all have the same rationality (λογισμός) within. [Legatio 25, 1-3]
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202): And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness,1 in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colors and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled. [Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, #18. Note, This is from the Book of Enoch, to which Irenæus also refers in IV, xxvii. 2. Enoch vii. 1: καὶ ἐδίδαξαν αὐτὰς φαρμακείας καὶ ἐπαοιδὰς καὶ ῥιζοτυμίας, καὶ τὰς βυτάνας ἐδήλωσαν αὐταῖς: viii. 1: ψέλια καὶ κόσμους καὶ στίβεις καὶ τὸ καλλιβλέφαρον καὶ παντοίους λίθους ἐκλεκτοὺς καὶ τὰ βαφικά].
St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 – 215): But from their unhallowed intercourse spurious men sprang, greater in stature than ordinary men, whom they afterwards called giants; not those dragon-footed giants who waged war against God, as those blasphemous myths of the Greeks do sing, but wild in manners, and greater than men in size, inasmuch as they were sprung of angels; yet less than angels, as they were born of women.
Therefore God, knowing that they were barbarized to brutality, and that the world was not sufficient to satisfy them (for it was created according to the proportion of men and human use), that they might not through want of food turn, contrary to nature, to the eating of animals, and yet seem to be blameless, as having ventured upon this through necessity, the Almighty God rained manna upon them, suited to their various tastes; and they enjoyed all that they would. But they, on account of their nature, not being pleased with purity of food, longed only after the taste of blood. Wherefore they first tasted flesh. [Fragments of the Clementine Homilies; Chapter 15, “The Giants.”]
Tertullian (ca. 160 – 225 AD): For they, withal, who instituted them are assigned, under condemnation, to the penalty of death, — those angels, to wit, who rushed from heaven on the daughters of men; so that this ignominy also attaches to woman…Was it that women, without material causes of splendour, and without ingenious contrivances of grace, could not please men, who, while still unadorned, and uncouth and — so to say — crude and rude, had moved (the mind of) angels? or was it that the lovers would appear sordid and — through gratuitous use — contumelious, if they had conferred no (compensating) gift on the women who had been enticed into connubial connection with them?… Women who possessed angels (as husbands) could desire nothing more; they had, forsooth, made a grand match! [On the Apparel of Women, Chapter 2, “The Origin of Female Ornamentation, Traced Back to the Angels who had Fallen”].
Commodianus (ca. 250): When Almighty God, to beautify the nature of the world, willed that that earth should be visited by angels, when they were sent down they despised His laws. Such was the beauty of women, that it turned them aside; so that, being contaminated, they could not return to heaven. Rebels from God, they uttered words against Him. Then the Highest uttered His judgment against them; and from their seed giants are said to have been born. By them arts were made known in the earth, and they taught the dyeing of wool, and everything which is done; and to them, when they died, men erected images. But the Almighty, because they were of an evil seed, did not approve that, when dead, they should be brought back from death. Whence wandering they now subvert many bodies, and it is such as these especially that ye this day worship and pray to as gods. [Instructions #3; “The Worship of Demons.”]
Lactantius (ca. 250 – 325): When, therefore, the number of men had begun to increase, God in His forethought, lest the devil, to whom from the beginning He had given power over the earth, should by his subtlety either corrupt or destroy men, as he had done at first, sent angels for the protection and improvement of the human race; and inasmuch as He had given these a free will, He enjoined them above all things not to defile themselves with contamination from the earth, and thus lose the dignity of their heavenly nature. He plainly prohibited them from doing that which He knew that they would do, that they might entertain no hope of pardon. Therefore, while they abode among men, that mostdeceitful ruler of the earth, by his very association, gradually enticed them to vices, and polluted them by intercourse with women. Then, not being admitted into heaven on account of the sins into which they had plunged themselves, they fell to the earth. Thus from angels the devil makes them to become his satellites and attendants. But they who were born from these, because they were neither angels nor men, but bearing a kind ofmixed nature, were not admitted into hell, as their fathers were not into heaven. Thus there came to be two kinds of demons; one of heaven, the other of the earth. [Divine Institutes, Book II On the Origin of Errors, chapter 15, “Of the Corruption of Angels, and the Two Kinds of Demons.”]
St. Ambrose of Milan (ca. 340-390 AD): “The giants (Nephilim) were on earth in those days.” The author of the divine Scripture does not mean that those giants must be considered, according to the tradition of poets, as sons of the earth but asserts that those whom he defines with such a name because of the extraordinary size of their body were generated by angels and women. And let us see whether by any chance the men who only care of their body and not of their soul are similar to the Nephilim and at the same time to those giants who were born from the earth according to the tales of the poets and despised the authority of the gods by confiding in the hugeness of their body. Must we really consider as different from giants those men who, even though they are composed of body and soul, despise the most precious good of the soul, that is, the activity of the mind, and show themselves to be imitators of this flesh, as if confirming that they were heirs of their own mother’s foolishness. They only struggle in vain when they believe that they will conquer the heaven with their bold desires and their earthly activities. On the contrary, by choosing a lower way of life and despising the higher life, they are condemned with greater severity since they are guilty of voluntary sins. [On Noah 4.8. St. Ambrose alludes to the pagan myth of the giants, who were generated by the earth. Confiding in their huge bodies and strength, according to this myth, they tried to climb Olympus in order to dethrone Zeus but were destroyed by the thunderbolts that the god hurled at them.]
NOTE: All the above teachings by the early God-bearing Fathers of the Church concerning angels and women having intercourse and producing offspring were refuted by the God-bearing Fathers of the late 3rd century AD and on. The interpretation of the early Christian writer Julius Africanus (A.D. 200-245)—i.e. the sons of God are the sons of Seth—became the standard interpretation for the future generations of God-bearing Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom (Commentary on Genesis 22:6-7), St. Ephraim the Syrian (Commentary on Genesis 6:3, Hymns on the Nativity 1:48, Hymns on Faith 46:9, Hymns against Heresies 19:1-8, and Hymns on Paradise 1:11), St. John Cassian (Conferences 8:20-21), Blessed Augustine (City of God 15:23), St. Gregory Palamas (‘Topics of Natural and Theological Science’ 62), St. Athanasius (Four Discourses against the Arians 4:22), St. Cyril of Alexandria, and others.”]
Also see The Meaning of the Word Nephilim:Fact vs. Fantasy
Also see The Nachash and His Seed: Some Explanatory Notes on Why the “Serpent” in Genesis 3 Wasn’t a Serpent