In Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, we read an interesting snippet. In the sixth chapter, starting in the fourth verse, the narrative includes this gem:
“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.” (KJV)
In the English Standard Version, in place of giants, we read the unusual word “Nephilim.”
Who were these Nephilim, these giants? And where did they come from? They were none other than the giants and heroes of ancient mythology. And where they came from was interbreeding between humanity and “the sons of God.” The “sons of God” were essentially angels, and presumably only the fallen ones in this case.
In relation to this passage, I am reminded of Professor Ed Spencer from my Western Literature class at Cedarville. We were reading the Iliad, and talking about ancient myths and history. And he remarked to us about Genesis 6:4 that he believed this passage explained where characters like Hercules came from.
What, after all, is the origin of Hercules? He was said to be the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a human woman. This accounted for his famous strength since he was a demigod.
But so many other characters from not only mythology but ancient histories of peoples all over the Earth are said to have originated this way also. Their mothers were human, and their fathers were “gods.”
Truth Stranger Than Fiction
On more than one occasion of debating with atheists online, I have been challenged on this point. Why would the Bible be true history, but all the mythologies of other ancient peoples be false?
In each case where this has been the challenge, I have caught my opponents off-guard. I tell them I actually believe the other ancient mythologies are true also, in a manner of speaking. And you can bet they do not expect that!
Granted, the other mythologies would perjure themselves if placing their hand on a Bible to swear ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ There surely must be embellishments, half-truths, contradictions, and exaggerations in them. So help us God.
But what if there is more truth than make-believe in those ancient stories?
As a Christian, I believe more exists than just the natural world. If I did not, there would be no place for the virgin birth, the miracles Jesus performed, his resurrection, nor indeed my hope of eternal life in him.
But it is like many Creationists have pointed out – and I count myself among them: the Bible is either authoritative from the very first verse, or it is wholly unreliable. We cannot go cherry-picking the portions we find palatable, then discarding what we find uncomfortable, confusing, or embarrassing.
In that vein, I do not believe only the part of the narrative that says God created in six days and rested on the seventh of those “morning and evening” literal days. I also believe Genesis 6:4 and other such allusions in the text where they begin to peel back the curtain on a larger supernatural narrative.
Anecdotal Evidence In The Text
When I bring up the topic of giants in the Bible, your mind no-doubt first goes to Goliath. David killed him with a sling and stone. We know all that. But what we often do not pay great attention to is the fact that Goliath was part of a broader context in the Promised Land, and indeed the entire ancient world.
“There were giants in the earth in those days
The word ‘giants’ is plural. And this was a trend.
But the intrusion of supernatural, superhuman beings into human history was not confined to fallen angels interbreeding with human women. For example, we read of Moses and Aaron in Pharaoh’s court, on a mission from God like the Blues Brothers.
“Let my people go” did not persuade Egypt’s supposedly semi-divine ruler, however. So Yahweh God’s servants were empowered to perform supernatural signs and wonders of God’s power and authority.
Several times following the signs and wonders Moses and Aaron performed, Pharaoh’s court magicians tried to replicate the same to prove that their gods were just as strong as the God of the Israelites. And what does the text say? It says they were able to perform signs and wonders also!
This establishes that supernatural power exists outside of Yahweh God, and is employed in human history for some kind of supernatural purpose.
That is to say, “the gods” take a keen and active interest in human-kind all over the Earth in ancient times. They intervene and bring their power to bear in meaningful, impactful, and intentional ways and times. We should, therefore, be more surprised if we did not find ancient accounts of the supernatural outside of the Bible.
An objection will be raised at this point, if not sooner, that there is only one God. That is Christian orthodoxy. Now, what am I saying if I tell you there were (and are) other gods?
But Paul writes to the church at Corinth to say “indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords.” And he continues on:
The Christian worldview is, therefore, that Yahweh God created all things. He made the universe and everything in it, mankind, and supernatural beings like angels. And Yahweh God clearly tells us how he feels about the worship of other gods. Both Exodus and Deuteronomy record his command: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
But we know there are other gods. Otherwise, there would be no need for this command. And if there was no benefit, so to speak, to worshiping and following other gods, there would be no temptation.
There clearly were benefits, and the other gods did have power and authority.
Yet we know even this power and authority was and is only theirs insofar as Yahweh God gave and permits them to retain it. And understanding the desire of God to impress upon his people his absolute Sovereignty – even over those other gods – is critical to our understanding the Biblical narrative, as well as our place in the grand scheme of things.
Restoring Proper Balance
The tendency these days in popular, mainstream Christianity seems to be to sanitize messy bits like this. The modern world thinks the Christian faith is a foolish joke. Yet much of the ancient world thought that too.
As King Solomon quips, “There is no new thing under the sun.” And we do well to remember Proverbs when clarifying our worldview:
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in Yahweh is safe.”
The proper balance is not to whitewash the stark reality of the supernatural in the Biblical narrative. Neither is it to live in dread, nor morbid obsession with the demonic.
“…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Yet the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi is not urging blinders, nor naivety. Indeed, he urges the church in Ephesus to:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Lastly, we know that whatever the position of authority “the sons of God” referred to in Genesis or Job was, the time is coming when we as Christians will be revealed as supplanters.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”