[Note: This was written before the passing of Dr. Heiser, so it is in the present tense. It seems dishonest or misleading to change it to past tense since it was written while he was alive.]
I was asked so many times about Michael Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, or told I should read it, that I finally decided to do so. I read the first 15 chapters, and there was so much to comment on, I stopped there. I think that Heiser laid the foundation for the rest of the book in those chapters. Later, I did reading of other chapters that further confirmed my concerns. Many claims in the first chapters are repeated and expanded on in later chapters (Edition used is the 2015 paperback edition, Lexham Press). I also had read an article by Heiser years ago on the Divine Council, and was in a very involved online discussion with others on it. So I knew about that view already.
Dr. Heiser makes some good points. I find his initial discussion of what it means to be made in the image of God insightful. He makes a clear case for the view that the Old Testament does not distinguish between “soul” and “spirit” (a point I have made in some of my articles) and he explains that carefully. However, these and other points are overshadowed by the issues I am addressing in this article. In fact, his discussion of being made in the image of God is damaged by another view he teaches.
The supernatural is an issue addressed in my ministry and I have had to read, study, and answer questions on it for over 25 years of ministry. I am not a scholar but I do not think I have to be one to read and comment on some areas of this book. All Christians need to examine theological teachings in the light of Scripture.
In the Preface, Heiser writes that reading Ps. 82:1 as “in the midst of the gods” (the 1995 New American Standard has “rulers“) was an “awakening” for him.
He claims that in any church there must be a “handful of people ripe for the same awakening,” and he hopes his book will “spark the same awakening in many more readers.”
Such language is disturbing because it implies that for 2,000 years, Christians have not been able to correctly interpret this passage until Dr. Heiser’s “awakening.” There is no “awakening” for a Christian. To clarify, the word “awakening” implies more than a realization since Heiser based his exegesis of many other passages on his assumption of a Divine Council of gods. Certainly, there is increasing understanding of God’s word as one studies it. But this differs from an “awakening” that causes one to view the Bible differently and to interpret passages in a brand new way. There are no new truths for the Church. This statement about awakening was a red flag, but there are others: Imposing a view on the text, the use of the word “tradition,” and appeal to “ancient readers.”
Imposing a View on the Text
Heiser bases the change in how he sees the Bible based on his view of one verse, Psalm 82:1:
“God stands in the divine assembly,
He administers judgment in the midst of the gods (Elohim).”
He interprets other passages based on his view that this refers to actual gods (which he sometimes refers to as “spiritual beings,” a vague term that needs to be defined). The word does mean “gods’ but this does not necessarily mean “gods” or supernatural beings since Jesus quoted this to refer to men. Also, elohim is used for human judges in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9. Most commentators will agree that the term elohim can refer to men. Psalm 58:1-2 has a similar theme and is clearly applied to men:
Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands. NASB, 1995
The word for “gods” (some translations have “rulers”) is not elohim but is el, another word translated as God/god.
A difficult or unclear scripture needs to be interpreted in light of the clear. This is a major hermeneutical principle based on reason and logic. Reason and logic are rooted in God’s character and we are to use reason and logic when interpreting anything written. In fact, we cannot understand what we are reading without using reason and logic. See this video from Dr. Johnathn B. Cooper who responds to Heiser’s Divine Council view and makes the point that one should not derive a doctrine on a difficult passage (or on a textual variant).
There are other explanations for the meaning of the word elohim in Ps. 82, including how Jesus uses it in John 10. Jesus’ interpretation should be the authoritative one, in fact. The meaning of other passages should not stand or fall based on an unclear passage, but this is the case with Heiser whose view of God, the Fall, demons, spiritual warfare, the division of nations after Babel, and other themes of Scripture rest on this interpretation of Psalm 82:1.
Heiser’s view is that Psalm 82:1 refers to a Divine Council which includes (created) gods. This becomes his filter for other passages in the Bible, leading to sometimes rather bizarre and startling conclusions. The primary Christian scholars who agree with this view are those influenced by the Higher Critics who hold that Judaism evolved from polytheism. Heiser does disagree with their belief that Judaism evolved that way. However, he accepts their views that the Bible speaks of real created gods.
To make it clear, polytheism is belief in and/or worship of more than one god. In other words, belief in more than one god, even if one only worships one God, is polytheism. Heiser fans try to back away from the label of polytheism for Heiser but it fits. Whether the gods are created or not, whether they are worshiped or not, whether one god is eternal and the others are not, does not matter. Belief in many gods is polytheism. Heiser teaches these gods are not demons or fallen angels. This point of what polytheism is is discussed at length by Chris Rosebrough responding to John Mark Comer‘s view of many gods.
Contrary to Heiser, this explanation is one of many:
“When accused of blasphemy, Jesus based His defense on the statement quoted from Psalm 82:6:’I said, you are gods.’ This was no time for clever tricks or weak arguments. When Jesus referred to this psalm, He did so, I believe, because no passage argued His case more forcefully. It is not just that one verse, but the argument of the entire psalm upon which Jesus rested His defense. Psalm 82 warned the unrighteous judges (leaders) of Israel of God’s impending judgment upon them. When Jesus appealed to this psalm He not only identified Himself as the fulfillment of verse 8, He also identified them as the fulfillment of verses 1-7. The warning of the psalm was being fulfilled in their midst. God had finally come to judge the “gods.” How much better the name God suited Jesus than the title “gods” suited the scribes and the Pharisees…..No one better interpreted or applied Psalm 82 than our Lord. No one better fulfilled it than He.”
Another Christian response to the idea of pagan concepts in the Bible points out this view of many gods is from Ugarit pagan beliefs:
…Among the various pantheons influencing pagans over time, many liberal people today champion the pagans of Ugarit as the true authors of Psalm 82, claiming one way or another it adopts their pagan cosmology. In fact, Asaph wrote Psalm 82 sometime after 1100 B.C., building upon Old Testament theology dating back to creation itself. Long before 1200 B.C., God had revealed Himself as the One living God, Creator of all things. After creation, man sinned and began worshiping other so-called gods, and ignoring the Creator.
…<snip>…Anyone who opines that Psalm 82 concerns Canaanite deities must satisfactorily explain why Jesus allegedly used sinful non-humans (Canaanite deities) to refute a charge that God cannot be a man. Jesus did not appeal to God reproaching non-humans to prove His deity and humanity. See John 10:22-39. The Psalmist did not write on earth to warn absent Canaanite gods, but human judges in the congregation of Israel facing immediate judgment by God Himself.
Heiser refers to Ugaritic literature quite often, seemingly applying their views to the outlook in Scripture, as though the biblical authors were influenced by their pagan perspective. Ugarit was an ancient city in northern Syria discovered in 1928; Ugarit texts were found the following year and reveal much about Canaanite culture and religion. While there were cultural overlaps between Ugarit and Israel, and some references in the Bible can be explained by knowing about Ugarit, this does not mean that the Bible imbibed a pagan religious view, which is what secular and liberal Christian scholars propose. When biblical authors use language similar to that used for pagan gods, it is a polemic against false gods to demonstrate that Yahweh is the only true living God. John Currid, author of Against the Gods, writes:
Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radical new meanings. The biblical authors take well-known expressions and motifs from the ancient Near Eastern milieu and apply them to the person and work of Yahweh, and not to the other gods of the ancient world. . . . Polemical theology is monotheistic to the very core. The primary purpose of polemical theology is to demonstrate emphatically and graphically the distinction between the worldview of the Hebrews and the beliefs and practices of the rest of the ancient Near East. — Quote of John Currid in review of his book, Against the Gods
I have read Currid’s excellent book; it is written for the lay person and explains the issues well.
Heiser’s theme is that “you will never be able to look at your Bible the same way again” (13). To say this in the face of 2,000 years of Christians reading, studying, researching, writing commentaries on, and exegeting the Bible is alarming. To say after all this time and study there is a new way to read the Bible is a red flag and does not inspire confidence in the person making this claim.
In fact, Heiser harps on Christian “tradition” in a negative manner throughout the parts of the book I read. By “tradition,” he is referring to 2,000 years of historical scholarship and study of the Bible. The use of the word ‘tradition” is a loaded term. That is, Heiser is trying to make views other than his sound inauthentic by equating them with the word “tradition,” which is not a positive word in most Christian circles because it tends to evoke the idea of following rules set up by men. But tradition is not what is contrary to Heiser’s views; it is sound historical biblical scholarship itself.
We must see the Bible “through the eyes of the ancient readers,” according to Heiser (13 and following). I believe this is the ANE (ancient near east) view, that we must interpret the content through the eyes of what we know or think the ancient writers believed and how they saw the world.
There is value in understanding the culture and time of the writers of the Bible to get historical and cultural references and context. However, we do not have to possess the ancient worldview to read the Bible because the Bible was written under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. Unless I missed it, nowhere in what I read does Heiser allude to the Bible being God-breathed. It is certainly not a point he brings into his discussions.
If it were true that we need to read the Bible through ancient worldviews, then every Christian would either need to rely on ANE experts, or every Christian would need to learn about ancient pagan views and 2nd Temple Judaism (another source Heiser cites) it in order to read God’s word. However, the Bible is for all. Heiser also neglects the fact that a Christian has the Holy Spirit to teach him as he reads.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.” 1 Cor. 2:12-15
Straw Man Arguments and False Choice Fallacies
Starting on page 14, one runs into straw man and false choice fallacies.
Heiser talks about how Christians base their interpretation of the Bible on creeds, confessions, and denominational preferences.
This is a false generalization. While it may be true in some cases, it is wrong to claim that Christians everywhere for all time do this. Creeds were formulated to refute heresies and commentaries are well understood as a study tool but not as inspired text. Denominational preferences may be chosen based on belief and other factors; they do not prove that people are not reading and understanding Scripture.
Logically speaking, since Heiser states we need to read the Bible through the worldview of the ancients, that in itself is advocating a filter. He just wants to exchange what he sees as a filter for another — his own, which is the view of the ancients.
Another straw man is Heiser’s view that Christians seem not to accept the supernatural. He even mistakenly says that non-charismatics tend to reject the supernatural. This is a real head-scratcher as I do not know any non-charismatic who rejects the supernatural. There may be some in mainline or progressive churches but evangelical Christianity does not reject the supernatural.
He states that rationalism is ruling the churches and therefore keeping people from this supernatural view he is advocating. I think actually that one of the problems of the church today is that it is not rational enough, and it has become more subjective and experience-oriented as a means to find truth. Rationalism is using reason alone and nothing else to determine truth. Is Heiser haughty enough to claim that Christians do not have the Holy Spirit or are unable to read God’s word with the Holy Spirit illuminating it?
I think the possibility is that Heiser was exposed to liberal scholars who do deny the supernatural. But these scholars are the ones Heiser bases some of his Divine Council views on.
Writing that Christians must “believe in the Godhead because there’s no point to Christianity without it” (17), he states that “the rest of the unseen world is handled with a whisper or a chuckle.” This is a rather condescending statement. I am not sure what churches Heiser has been exposed to, but this idea is alien to the church. Again, he may be reacting to liberal scholarship or to his own mistaken perceptions of non-charismatic Christians. But that is no reason to paint the whole Christian church with such a brush.
Heiser gives examples, including a Christian talking about his guardian angel or hearing a disembodied voice, to make the point that non-charismatic Christians would not react well to this. This seems even too silly to respond to. One could easily point out that such a reaction hardly means the person rejects a supernatural view. Belief in guardian angels is one thing, belief in angels is another. Does anyone know a born-again Christian who does not believe in angels?
Heiser insists we must “reconsider our selective supernaturalism” in order to derive theology of the unseen world from the Bible (18).
Where are the Christians who deny an “unseen world” presented in the Bible? It is not an assumption to state that most Christians are quite willing to admit that there are supernatural beings in Scripture such as angels and demons, that there are miracles, and there are things we cannot see.
What is troubling about Heiser harping on the “unseen” is that if it is unseen, we cannot know much about it except what Scripture tells us. And God chooses to reveal only bits and pieces to us of the “unseen.” I think it is risky to go beyond that. One can speculate but speculation should not overtake the text or be taught as doctrine.
Due to my background in the occult and New Age, I have no trouble at all in believing in the supernatural. But I also have learned we need to be very cautious in what we say about it and base that carefully on God’s word.
The Sons of God and Deut. 32:8
Heiser uses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ESV for saying that Deut. 32:8 refers to the “sons of God” while other translations have “sons of Adam,” “sons of Israel,” “people of Israel,” “children of Israel.” This is use to the different manuscipts used for the translations. This is a very helpful article on the textual and translation issues with the verse that considers Heiser’s view and then responds to that.
Heiser claims that at that time Israel did not exist yet so this could not be referring to Israel. However, when Deuteronomy was written by Moses, Israel as a word did exist so it is not illogical to think that word was used here. The prevailing view, and the context, show that this does refer to Israel. See this detailed discussion which spells out Heiser’s view and then gives a response to it.
Dr. Heiser writes that the term “sons of God” in the Old Testament does not refer to the same beings as “angels” (24; the Hebrew for “angels” means “messenger”). This is needed for his claim that the “sons of God” are actual gods in the Divine Council.
But since angels were directly created by God, they are often called the “sons of God.”
A reading of the chapter in any translation gives no hint that the “sons of God” here is referring to gods, as Heiser contends. Heiser claims that God gave rulership of the nations after Babel to gods, who later rebelled. Like the Psalm 82 divine council idea, this is one of Heiser’s linchpin points that he uses to interpret other passages in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments.
Heiser points out that at that time Israel did not exist yet so it could not be the correct word. However, when Deuteronomy was written by Moses, Israel as a word did exist so it is not illogical to think that word was used here.
Reading this chapter shows God is rebuking Israel for turning to the worship of false gods. Verse 17 states:
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently.
This is not saying that there were actual gods, but rather that the false gods were demons.
Heiser promotes the idea that elohim refers to other gods in passages such as Psalm 82:1 and others. This word is used in many Bible passages and is translated as judges, rulers, angels, or maybe a “divine being,” depending on context and the Bible translation used.
Heiser writes that we should not be afraid to think that these are actual gods who are residents of the spiritual realm and have some kind of rulership including with God. But the point is not that people are fearful; the point is to properly interpret Scripture. Heiser seems from page one to have an axe to grind against what he perceives as anti-supernatural Christians, conservative biblical scholarship on the meaning of certain passages, and the view of “gods” in Ps. 82 as men.
Heiser supports his claim of gods by writing that it makes no sense for passages that denounce other gods if those gods do not exist, and it makes no sense for God to be greater than other gods if those gods do not exist.
However, that is not a basis for other gods. This is the same situation as when one refutes the “Hindu gods” or the “New Age Jesus.” Hindu gods or the New Age Jesus do not exist in reality; however, such false gods and false Jesuses do exist in the minds and beliefs of others. They have a type of existence when people believe in and maybe even worship them, and when claims are made for them. But they have no actual real existence; only as constructs do they function as though they are real.
Barnes’ commentary from Bible Hub on First Corinthians 8:5-6, which has been used as a defense of Heiser’s view of many gods, is this:
As there are, in fact, many which are so called or regarded. It is a fact that the pagans worship many whom they esteem to be gods, or whom they regard as such. This cannot be an admission of Paul that they were truly gods, and ought to he worshipped; but it is a declaration that they esteemed them to be such, or that a large number of imaginary beings were thus adored. The emphasis should be placed on the word “many;” and the design of the parenthesis is, to show that the number of these that were worshipped was not a few, but was immense; and that they were in fact worshipped as gods, and allowed to have the influence over their minds and lives which they would have if they were real; that is, that the effect of this popular belief was to produce just as much fear, alarm, superstition, and corruption, as though these imaginary gods had a real existence. So that though the more intelligent of the pagan put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted over them a real control.
And lords many – (κύριοι πολλοὶ kurioi polloi). Those who had a “rule” over them; to whom they submitted themselves; and whose laws they obeyed. This name “lord” was often given to their idol gods.
Moreover, Paul called the idols, who represented the false gods, demons in First Corinthians 10:20.
Israel was surrounded by peoples who worshiped false gods in very debauched and wicked ways that included child sacrifice, sorcery, divination, and sexual perversions. To denounce these gods would have been the only reasonable thing to do because the minds of the people were enslaved to them, and, undoubtedly, Satan and demons would be involved. This is I believe a very reasonable explanation.
The Gods on Mt. Sinai?
Heiser refers to the Divine Council throughout the book, and even writes that “No other passage in the New Testament is as powerful in its divine council theology as Hebrews 1-2. Once you grasp the divine council worldview, these chapters explode” (314). The rest of his chapter discusses these chapters in light of his view. Heiser claims that the Divine Council was there on Sinai when Moses received the Law. This is because Heiser interprets the reference to angels in Heb. 2:2 as being gods from the Divine Council:
For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty…
In other words, Christians have been reading these passages about angels wrong for 2,000 years; the church has been in ignorance, not realizing these are not angels, but members of the Divine Council. So the passages referring to “angels” with Moses (“holy ones” in Deuteronomy) are misunderstood as well, in Heiser’s view.
Gods and Demons
In at least five places in the Bible, false gods and/or idols are equated to demons (Lev. 17:7, Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37; 1 Cor. 10:20-21; Rev. 9:20). In Scripture, the idols themselves are only material objects but represent the false gods being worshiped.
Heiser claims Deut. 32:17 equates demons with gods.
“They sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known.”
However, I think that this shows that false gods are demons, not that demons are gods. It is a parallelism between “to demons” with “to gods they had not known.”
It would make sense from such passages that the gods being worshiped are in actuality demons. In 1 Cor. 10:9-21 idols are clearly equated with demons. Heiser contends that demons are the disembodied spirits of dead Nephilim, a conclusion that cannot be reached with Scripture, but derives from extrabiblical writings during the 400 years of God’s silence (between the last prophet prior to Christ and John the Baptist) in texts such as the Enochian writings.
Heiser writes in references to these extrabiblical sources:
Nephilim was killed in these texts, its disembodied spirit was considered a demon. These disembodied spirits then roamed the earth to harass humans (325).
Heiser’s view of Nephilim as offspring of gods and women plays into this novel view of demons. While there are differing views of Gen. 6, (including the view that the text does not state that Nephilim were the offspring of any union), Heiser takes it to extremes and weaves it into his theology based on the many gods view. Moreover, biblical scholars have pointed out nobody knows what the word “Nephilim” means. There are only speculations. Heiser’s view of Nephilim comes mainly from extrabiblical texts such as Enochian writings. With only two uses of this word in the Bible, it is very thin ice on which to base a doctrine. And it is even thinner ice to posit that a whole class of beings (demons) are the spirits of dead Nephilim rather than being fallen angels.
Heiser contends that Nephilim existed after the Flood either because the Flood was local, which seems to be his view according to footnotes (190); or because new Nephilim were born after the Flood because the act of Genesis was repeated, that is, “sons of God” (gods to Heiser) had relations with human women after the Flood, 189-191. Of course, it is strange that rebellious so-called gods would be called ”sons of God” when this term is not applied to fallen angels elsewhere. Although Job 1:6 states that the “sons of God” and Satan came before God, Satan is mentioned in a distinct way as also coming with them, which seems to indicate he was not called one of the “sons of God.”
The categories for creatures of the spirit world are not always clear. Some think cherubim and seraphim are angels while others think they are a special category. It seems the only clear conclusion is that there are spirits called angels, who are holy or fallen. Satan and demons are the fallen angels and this conclusion is based on many biblical texts, even if not all agree. Such a view is certainly not a wild speculation or a view based only on extrabiblical texts as Heiser’s view is.
Dr. Shandon Guthrie, Christian philosopher, comments:
Heiser’s mistakes are committed by the fact that he lets poetry and mythographic accommodation do all of the metaphysical work in his biblical theology. For example, that Asaph mentions God taking his place in the divine council (Psalm 82.1) is not to say that *there is* a divine council, but that there is a God who has taken his rightful place (as sovereign judge). It’s roughly equivalent to saying that God is “God of gods” (e.g., Psalm 136.2) where this expression does not commit one to be affirming that there are indeed other gods out there. And, speaking of Psalm 82, it’s doubtful that 82.6’s reference to “gods” points all the way back to verse 1. It’s more likely that it refers to the wicked ones of the immediate verses–those who “have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (v. 5). That verses 2-5 are not describing the divine council is because verse 2 is *Asaph* speaking and *not God.* It is the *Psalter* who is crying out *to God* as to “How long …” before God himself judges the wicked (cf., 119.84; Habakkuk 1.2).
[Dr. Guthrie has a Ph.D. in philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University, England and is Visiting Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (2002 – current). Go here to download an mp3 of Dr. Guthrie’s talk, “The Apologetic Value of Christian Demonology” with interaction with Dr. Heiser].
In the Image of the Divine Council?
Heiser states that unless one is “acquainted” with God’s divine council, then the first chapter of Genesis is misunderstood. This seems to be a set-up so that if anyone has another view, it must be because that person does not know about or agree on Heiser’s view of the divine council. What is this based on? It is based on Heiser’s belief that the Divine Council exists, so it is begging the question. Unless one has certain views promulgated by Heiser and others who agree, one cannot properly understand a number of passages in Scripture. Heiser insinuates that he has found the key to understanding these texts that Christians have missed the boat on for centuries.
Heiser avers that Gen. 1:26 means that man is made not only in God’s image but also in the image of the beings of the divine council. This is why, asserts Heiser, it says “Let us.” The “us” includes the spiritual heavenly residents who are also made in God’s image.
Heiser states in a footnote that the Israelites believed that the stars were “animate divine beings” (24), who are the beings of the divine council. This view is promoted in Bible Project videos Spiritual Beings and The Divine Council done with Dr. Heiser. In the video, Heiser states that the biblical authors see these stars as spiritual beings who are “images of God.” This links with Heiser’s teaching that man is made in the image of the Divine Council (52) because the gods of the Divine Council also are image-bearers of God.
This renders humans less than a unique creation, whereas scripture strongly emphasizes the unique status of man. It would also affect man’s relationship with God because it would denote that man has or should have some kind of relationship with the spiritual beings in heaven as we do with God.
Gen. 9:6 points out that shedding blood will result in one’s blood being shed because man is made in God’s image (credit to Dr. Lydia McGrew for making this point). There is no mention or hint that man is also made in the image of spiritual beings in God’s council. The denouncement of shedding blood is focused on being made in God’s image.
There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that the heavenly residents (angels, “divine beings,” spirits, Heiser’s “gods”) are made in the image of God.
Heiser goes further to say that God was suggesting to the divine council that all of them create man in their image, although only God did the creating (43, 52). There is nothing in scripture or other passages that would support this idea. In fact, it goes against what we do know about God. It would mean that man is to think of himself as also made in the image of these spiritual beings, a rather significant fact that God supposedly only reveals in Genesis 1 and nowhere else, leaving man in the dark. It squeezes God out of the picture as well, since man is supposedly made in the image of these gods as well. This view is also an assault on the unique nature of God
Moreover, how is one to soundly and logically separate the “Let us make man” from “in our image?” Since Heiser asserts that only God made man but the “our image” part refers to divine beings, why assume the “Let us make” does not also refer to the divine beings creating man? In fact, if the “us” in the second part refers to divine beings, it is only reasonable and logical to assume that the divine beings are in the “Let us make” part of the statement. So asserting that only the second part refers to divine beings and not the first part about creating makes no sense.
Heiser cites Ezek. 28:2 to say that Eden is described as the “seat of gods” —
“Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,
“Because your heart is lifted up
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a (man and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God—”
The Prince of Tyre is being addressed and, being pagan, considers himself a god and also believes in other gods, so naturally he would say this. I do not see support for Heiser’s view that this shows Eden has gods (42). This passage is debated, usually about whether it refers to Satan or not, with many concluding it is addressed to a real earthly ruler but has an implied message also to Satan (this is my view). But it is certainly not a passage that has caused Christians to believe there are actual gods. especially since it expresses the thoughts of a polytheistic pagan ruler.
First Kings 22, Ahab and Micaiah
Heiser goes into this passage (vv. 16-23) as evidence that God has a divine council that he consults. This is because the prophet Micaiah states that, he saw God on his throne asking “who will entice Ahab” so that he (Ahab) will be defeated in the battle. There is some discussion and then a spirit volunteers to put a lying prophecy in the mouths of King Ahab’s prophets so that he (Ahab) will falsely believe he can win the battle. This is all part of a vision relayed by Micaiah to King Jehosaphat.
Heiser writes that God had decreed that Ahab would die in this battle but that how he would die had not been decreed (53). Heiser also brings up Dan. 4:17 (this is discussed in the next section of this article) which states that by the decree of the “holy ones” (NAS; Heiser uses the term “watchers” a word also found in v. 13), a sentence has been passed on Nebuchadnezzar.
Heiser cites these two accounts to say God leaves some decisions up to the council (such as how to get Ahab to be defeated).
Some commentators on this passage in 1 Kings 22 write that this may be referring to a spirit of prophecy, not to a spirit. Others think it refers to Satan because only Satan would lie, not God’s holy ones. That it could be Satan is the most plausible. If so, then God is using Satan and giving Ahab over to his desire to believe his false prophets. The prophets have already prophesied by the time we read what Micaiah tells the king. This passage is reminiscent of Satan going before God and asking to test Job.
The most biblical view of this passage about Ahab, considering God’s character as revealed in scripture, which is the best way to read such a passage, is not that God had not decided how Ahab was to be enticed into the battle, but rather that God knew Satan would volunteer (or if not Satan, this spirit, whoever it is), and that the end would be what God desires, the way he desires it to be carried out. God is not in time and also does not need advice. But Heiser’s view makes God less than omniscient as well as dependent on the advice of what Heiser considers to be other gods.
The point is that God is showing Ahab, as well as those who hear what Micaiah says (including everyone who reads this passage), that God is in charge of the prophets even when they lie. God, of course, knows past, present, and future as one thing since he is not in time. So it cannot be that God is letting others decide how this is to be carried out. If that were the case, it would contradict the many scriptures asserting that God knows what we call the future (maybe an open theist would think that God was not sure how this would be done but I am not in agreement with Open Theism. I have to wonder if Heiser leans that way, however).
Daniel 4: Decree from a Watcher?
In the Daniel passage, Nebuchadnezzar is relaying a dream he had. He refers to a “watcher” (v. 17) giving a decree. Daniel, in v. 24 states that is it the decree of God:
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High.”
As Ellicot comments:
We must suppose that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed in a language familiar to himself, and that the objects of his dream were things with which his Babylonian education had made him acquainted. According to his mythology, the god of Nergal was regarded as “manifesting himself in watching,” so that he may have dreamed that he witnessed a descent of one of his deities. In this he is corrected by Daniel, being assured that the whole is sent from heaven, that the decree is ordered by the one true God, and that the holy watcher is an angel of God. Commentary on Dan. 4:13 at Bible Hub
Likewise, Barnes comments:
Nebuchadnezzar had represented this, in accordance with the prevailing views of religion in his land, as a “decree of the Watchers” Daniel 4:17; Daniel, in accordance with his views of religion, and with truth, represents it as the decree of the true God. From Bible Hub commentary on Daniel 4:24
These references to spiritual beings and watchers are Nebuchadnezzar’s words based on his worldview and understanding of what he saw. It is possible the king saw an angel delivering the decree and took that as the angel or Watcher declaring the decree. But Daniel does not confirm this; he instead states that it is by the decree of God. In fact, Daniel is correcting the king, pointing out it is a decree from God, not a “Watcher.” Therefore, I do not see support for the idea that spiritual beings (gods) on the divine council hand out decrees, especially since the consensus is that “Watcher” could refer to an angel. This is another affront to God, proposing that other beings aside from God can decide and decree what happens on earth.
Heiser discusses the meaning of Satan as “adversary” and how when this word is used with an article, “the Satan,” it is a title, not a name. I agree. He also writes that the serpent in the Garden is never called Satan in the Old Testament, which is true. However, Rev. 12:9 states:
“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Also see Rev. 20:2, which uses the same words).
The word here for “serpent” is Greek “ophis”, and it is the same word used for “serpent” in Gen. 3:1 in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (it is the 3rd word in the Greek here in Gen. 3:1).
Heiser writes that the Satan coming before God in Job is “not a villain” and is only doing the job God assigned him, to be God’s “eyes and ears” on earth (59). I do not see any Scripture supporting either view: that this Satan figure is not a villain or that he is on assignment from God. God certainly does not need “eyes and ears” on earth to know what is going on. The fact that Satan challenges God and seeks to harm Job is pretty clear evidence for his villainy. For a good article on this, see “Why Michael Heiser Is Probably Wrong about Satan in The Book of Job” by Kenneth Berding
It is true that the word “satan” without the article can generically refer to one who is opposing something, including the Angel of the Lord opposing Balaam in Numbers 22. Heiser points this out in several places and I agree. But Heiser writes that the figure Christians know as Satan does not appear in the Old Testament, that the term satan was applied to the figure opposing Christ in the New Testament (57, 243n6). Eillicot writes of the word “satan:”
“The word appears in the Old Testament as the name of a specific person only here and in Zechariah 3:2, and possibly in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Psalm 109:6. If this psalm is David’s, according to the inscription, no reliance can be placed on speculations as to the late introduction of a belief in Satan among the Jews, nor, therefore, on any as to the lateness of these early chapters of Job. Precisely the same word is used, apparently as a common name, in the history of Balaam (Numbers 22:22; Numbers 22:32), also in 1Samuel 29:4, and 1Kings 5:4; 1Kings 11:14; 1Kings 11:23; 1Kings 11:25, where it can hardly be otherwise. Here only and in Zechariah it is found with the definite article ‘the adversary.’ The theory of the personality of the evil one must largely depend upon the view we take of these and other passages of Scripture as containing an authoritative revelation.”
Heiser’s view that the Jews did not know about or believe in Satan as a specific figure cannot be supported. As Ellicott writes, “no reliance can be placed on speculations as to the late introduction of a belief in Satan among the Jews, nor, therefore, on any as to the lateness of these early chapters of Job,” so apparently there is the view that belief in Satan was introduced later and that the first cahpters of Job were written much later than usually thought, but Ellicott states these ideas are not reliable. He also writes that one’s view on this depends on one’s reliance on Scripture as authoritative.
In the Job account, Heiser proposes that those in the divine council are corruptible. He seems to base this on Eliphaz’ speech to Job in 4:17-19 and in 15:14-15 where Eliphaz states that God “charges his angels with error” and that God “puts no trust in his holy ones.” Here again, Heiser sees members of the divine council (gods) standing in for the word “angels.” Moreover, these are Eliphaz’ words and thoughts, not God’s nor Job’s. In fact, God later strongly rebukes Eliphaz in 42:7:
“It came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’”
There is no reason to accept what Eliphaz says about the angels as true and a strong reason to reject it and I am surprised that Heiser would use this as evidence for his view. Does he think it is okay to get a doctrine on angels from a reprimanded character in Scripture? And does he think the readers will accept it? In fact, it seems clear from scripture that the angels now serving God continue to do so while Satan and his angels are destined for the Lake of Fire with no chance of redemption (Matthew 25:41; Hebrews 2:16). But Heiser’s view of these angels as gods confuses the issue even more.
Heiser uses the ANE belief that animals could talk by magic to say this is why Eve was not surprised by a snake talking to her (73). Heiser writes that the Israelites would have known this. Maybe they knew it but that does not mean they believed it. What ancient pagans may have believed is at times referred to in the Bible but it is not endorsed as truth. Often it is referred to as a polemic (see John Currid, Against the Gods).
Gen. 3:1 tells us that the serpent “was more crafty than any beast of the field which God had made.” This lets us know the serpent in some way was shrewder than other beasts but it indicates that it is a creature.
There are many theories for why the serpent spoke: that Satan (or Heiser would say some divine being) appeared as a serpent, possessed the serpent, or that maybe animals talked in the beginning. I think the most reasonable explanation why Eve was not surprised is that she did not know animals could not talk. Maybe she was so new to the Garden (we do not know when this took place) that she was unaware animals did not speak. Maybe she even knew some did not talk but did not know about serpents.
This is all conjecture and is all anyone can offer since God does not explain this, but the lack of explanation does not necessitate Heiser’s view that it is connected to ANE beliefs.
Prince of Tyre
Heiser uses the rebuke of the Prince of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 to say that this a rebuke of the serpent in Eden, who was a cherub, a divine being (pp. 78ff) cast out from the divine council. He applies a similar argument to the rebuke of the prince of Babylon in Isaiah 14. These two passages are often interpreted as implicitly referring to Satan. Heiser prefers to say this was a divine being who was the serpent since he does not think it was Satan. His argument for this view is too complex to relay here.
There are many views of these two passages with varied nuances in each. Since each occur in books where God is pronouncing judgments on human rulers, it makes sense that these are addressed to real human rulers with allusions to Satan (in my view and the views of others).
Pagan rulers used language of themselves as divine, so the language is appropriate for that. God is using this against them, saying they will be cast down to the depths. This is similar to the idea in Psalm 82, Heiser’s linchpin for his divine council view, in which God rebukes judges, who are called gods there, a word used of judges in other passages such as Ex. 21:6, 22:8-9 , but tells them they will die like men.
Similarly, here the kings who cast themselves as gods are reminded they are mortals who will fall from power.
Heiser uses arguments such as stating that jewels described in these passages point to a divine being (he refers to Hebrew words). Heiser bases all of this to his divine council view. Heiser assumes his divine council is spirit beings (gods) co-ruling with God. and uses a rather convoluted argument from Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 to support it, but it is begging the question.
Genesis 6 and the Book of Enoch
Heiser argues that the angels in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 having relations with human women. This view is not unusual although Heiser thinks the “sons of God” are gods, not angels.
Heiser also writes that the book of Enoch “informed the thinking of Peter and Jude; it was part of their intellectual worldview” (98). Although many think Jude was quoting from the book of Enoch, Jude only refers to Enoch himself. Moreover, Dr. Peter Gentry, a scholar on the Old Testament, makes a thorough and detailed argument that Jude was writing a polemic against the view of Enoch, which teaches that angels corrupted the earth and mankind. The following section about Dr. Gentry is taken from the CANA article on the Enochian writings .
Academic and biblical information is found in the lecture of scholar Dr. Peter Gentry speaking in 2019 on “The Putative Citation of Enoch in Jude” at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (see video of lecture). He discusses the non-canonicity of Enoch, the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, and the putative quotation of Enoch in the book of Jude.
Dr. Gentry quotes an expert in this area, Dr. Paoli Sacchi, who made these points about what Enochian texts teach:
1) The origin of evil is from an angelic sin that contaminated the whole world
2) The impure in nature is an outcome of angelic sin
Dr. Gentry states that the central message of the book of Watchers is
“to demonstrate through genealogical and narrative speculations on angels based on Genesis 6 that chaos and evil are in the world due to angelic sin. It seems then that the function of Jude’s reference to the Enochian traditions is to demonstrate and emphasize that evil in our present world is due to human rebellion. Jude is using their own text (Enochian writings) against them.”
The relevant passage from Jude is:
It was also about these people that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord has come with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Jude 1:14-15
Dr. Gentry maintains that in the above passage, Jude is actually countering the teachings of Enochian writings. Evil in the world is from men and cannot be blamed on angels. Dr. Gentry points out that the word ungodly appears four times in this passage as an emphasis to condemn the actions of humans.
References to God/Jesus with thousands of angels is found in Deut. 33:2; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 16:27; and Hebrews 12:22 .
Since Jude was writing under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, he could have been given this quote by the Holy Spirit. Even if he was quoting from the book of Enoch, that does not give any basis for drawing any theology from Enoch, which Heiser does (to be clear, Heiser states Enoch is not scripture but he still uses it as a filter and basis for many of his views).
To say that this book was part of Peter and Jude’s “worldview” seems quite a stretch since Enoch is not historical or biblical. In fact, Enoch conflicts with scripture in many ways. Anyone interested in knowing more about the book of Enoch can watch this video of a fascinating talk with instructive slides by Dr. Doug Potter on the book of Enoch or read Dr. Potter’s paper .
The theme of 2 Peter and Jude is false teachers, not angels (nor gods). The references to angels who sinned is to emphasize that if God judged angels, surely he will judge men. Angels had a high status in some Jewish teachings and in Jewish mysticism (as in the books of Enoch), and so this point demonstrates how serious God is in his judgments (as is the comparison of Jesus to angels in Hebrews 1 and 2 to show Jesus’ superiority).
Heiser relies at least in part on the book of Enoch and what he states 2nd Temple Jews thought about Enoch to support his view of Genesis 6. The book of Enoch is focused on angels and is very mythological. For example, as previously mentioned, the book of Enoch asserts that when a giant is killed, its “Watcher spirit” is a demon. In the book of Enoch, Enoch gives an account of what he saw after he was taken up by God when he supposedly returns to earth. There is much more in the book of Enoch that is bizarre and full of esoteric concepts. These examples are only two of many that demonstrate how fantastical and unbiblical the book of Enoch is.
What 2nd Temple Jews may have thought of an uninspired and strange book like Enoch, which is considered by many to be part of Jewish mysticism, should have no bearing on how to interpret Scripture.
Moreover, Heiser uses not just the uninspired book of Enoch, but the ANE outlook and the views of some 2nd Temple Jews to interpret scripture, especially when he cites Mesopotamian epics having parallels to Genesis 1-11. However, neither ancient literary myths or 2nd Temple Jewish beliefs are authoritative nor are these sources valid in how one should interpret God’s word. They can be supplemental sources of historical interest but not a filter for the Bible.
Heiser has a section discussing the word “Nephilim” which he goes into somewhat technically. But here again, since this word is found in only 2 places in Scripture and its meaning is disputed, the Nephilim should not play any significant role, nor should the disputed passage of Genesis 6:1-4 play a central part in anyone’s theology. Yet, amazingly, Heiser claims that this passage is “far from being peripheral” (109) and is part of a “theological prelude that frames the rest of the Bible” (along with Gen. 3, 110). This is an astounding claim to make of the Genesis 6 passage. He also believes that the Nephilim survived the flood because he states in a footnote that their descendants occupied the lands which Joshua was to conquer (116).
The views Heiser promotes as valid undermine the wickedness of men and blame that in part on “spiritual beings” when, in truth, men had already been growing wicked and God sent the flood because of man’s wickedness.
Heiser cites the speech of the being (whom most would consider to be an angel) who appears to Daniel speaking of the opposition of the prince of the kingdom of Persia and the prince of Javan (Daniel 10:12-14, 20 ; Javan is Greece). This being is not given a name although Gabriel has appeared to Daniel in two previous chapters. In this speech, Michael is also called a prince and is the one who came to the aid of this being speaking to Daniel.
Heiser contends that these beings are members of the divine council, in other words, gods. This is a continuation of his chief idea presented at the beginning of the book.
However, there is no need to see these beings as gods; they are usually viewed as angels or some type of angelic being. Since Michael is called an “archangel” in Jude 9 and a “prince” here in Daniel, it seems reasonable to assume these princes (of Persia and Greece) may also be archangels, except they are fallen archangels who rebelled with Satan.
The language of “rulers and authorities” used especially in Ephesians chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6 as well as in Col. 2:15 are referring to the ruling gods who were given lands to rule by God in Deut. 32, according to Heiser.
But there is no need to see these “rulers” as gods or part of a divine council. Jesus called Satan the “ruler of this age” in John 12:31 and 14:30. It is not that these rulers are gods or are given authority, but rather that their influence derives from those who reject God and submit to the temptations of world, flesh, and devil, putting themselves under the power of these fallen angels.
Summary of Concerns
Heiser uses unclear or disputed passages to interpret or re-interpret clear passages, thus giving the unclear passages a priority they do not deserve, and corrupting clearer passages in the process
Heiser bases theology on unclear or disputed passages, and on textual variants
Heiser disparages sound biblical scholarship and study over the centuries by calling it “tradition”
Heiser claims to have these disputed passages correct and that those who have not seen it this way are not viewing the Bible correctly
Heiser uses the view of ancient pagans, of unbiblical sources such as the Enochian writings, and the view of Second Temple Judaism as a filter for interpreting Scripture
Heiser’s view of God is troubling in that God seeks and needs input from a Divine Council, and also that God needs an earthly emissary to be his “eyes and ears” (from Heiser’s view of Satan in the book of Job)
Heiser teaches that there are many gods, and even though they are created and not equal to the one true God, they do exist as gods possessing the image of God and have a standing in the so-called Divine Council
Heiser teaches that man is made in the image of God and in the image of the Divine Council. This has serious repercussions on who man is and what his relationship is to these so-called gods, and conflicts with central teachings in Scripture about the nature of man whom Scripture teaches is made in the image of God
These concerns go beyond minor issues since they have a major impact on a number of biblical passages, as well as on the view of God, man, and the Bible. It is hoped that anyone reading Heiser’s books will do so with biblical discernment, relying solely on God’s word as true and authoritative.
Resources from others:
Critique of The Unseen Realm by Gary Gilley
Dr. Thomas Howe, professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary who taught Hebrew, Greek, Old Testament courses, and Hermeneutics, and has written a textbook on Hermeneutics ,wrote a review of Heiser’s book, “The Unseen Assumptions”
Excerpt from Dr. Howe’s article: Heiser says that we need to understand the culture in which these statements are made, and I understand and agree with this fact, but one must also interpret what one reads about the culture. All we have are things and texts that remain, and all of these are subject to interpretation. If one’s interpretive methodology is flawed, then his interpretations of these other matters are as flawed. Additionally, there are no extra-biblical Hebrew documents to which we can appeal for clarification, at least not until you get to the writings of the Essenes. But these are much too late to help.
Keith Matheson writes:
The “divine council” concept morphs from being “a neglected topic of study that legitimately needs to be examined more carefully” into “the key to everything.” Several of the reviews I linked above give examples of this phenomenon, so I don’t need to rehash all of it. This, however, does tie into the somewhat sensationalistic element I noted above. The reader is given the distinct impression that the “divine council” is the secret key to unlock all of the hidden mysteries of the Bible. The reader starts to pick up a subtle undertone: All of the theologians of the past 2000 years have misread the Bible. All of the creeds and confessions have mis-read it. But now! The key has been found!
This is a comment on Heiser from the Triablogue site by a Jeremy Z . Jeremy Z writes that he would not recommend this book to a lay reader, only to someone “in biblical studies or a pastor.” Although he states he finds some good material in the book, he sums up well one of the major issues:
Heiser makes foreground what is deliberately in the background. Now obviously, Heiser and his fans would say you have to understand the background to understand the foreground, and that is true to an extent, but there is still a major issue when you background the foreground, and foreground the background and then try to come up with a biblical theology.
Critique of Michael Heiser’s Views in 6 Parts by Heath Henning, Part 1, links to the other parts are at the end of this one
1. First and foremost, he says “The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly – a pantheon – of other gods ” (p. 11 Heiser, The Unseen Realm.)
This outrageous claim is NOT extrapolated from Scripture but forcibly inserted into various ambiguous texts using nonbiblical sources, including sources that are hostile to Judaism/Christianity. “a pantheon—of other gods” is what is defined as Polytheism. He even teaches Gods were with “the God” before the creation of anything being made.
Heiser defends his position saying it is not polytheism, because he holds to the ontological uniqueness of Yahweh. But this only means he is teaching Henotheism, which is defined as a main God over other gods.
Dr. Shandon Guthrie, Christian philosopher, comments:
<Heiser’s mistakes are committed by the fact that he lets poetry and mythographic accommodation do all of the metaphysical work in his biblical theology. For example, that Asaph mentions God taking his place in the divine council (Psalm 82.1) is not to say that *there is* a divine council, but that there is a God who has taken his rightful place (as sovereign judge). It’s roughly equivalent to saying that God is “God of gods” (e.g., Psalm 136.2) where this expression does not commit one to be affirming that there are indeed other gods out there. And, speaking of Psalm 82, it’s doubtful that 82.6’s reference to “gods” points all the way back to verse 1. It’s more likely that it refers to the wicked ones of the immediate verses–those who “have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (v. 5). That verses 2-5 are not describing the divine council is because verse 2 is *Asaph* speaking and *not God.* It is the *Psalter* who is crying out *to God* as to “How long …” before God himself judges the wicked (cf., 119.84; Habakkuk 1.2).>
**Dr. Guthrie has a Ph.D. in philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University, England and is Visiting Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (2002 – current). Download an mp3 of Dr. Guthrie’s talk, “The Apologetic Value of Christian Demonology” with interaction with Dr. Heiser
Judges as Types: Why they are called “gods” from Scripture Thoughts
A discussion of Deut. 32:8 which gives Heiser’s view and then a response to it:
Excerpt: As Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, they passed a number of worldly pagan nations, on their way to the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan. Sitting there on the borders, Moses penned a prophetic song before his death, and in it, he said this: “When the Most High [God] gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. For Jehovah’s portion is his people, Jacob is his allotted inheritance. Jehovah alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him.” (Deut. 32:8, 9, 12) Out of this nation and as a result of fulfilled Bible prophecy, there came the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, resulting in the Son of Man, who came to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28) We can now understand why God “set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” Of the sons of Shem, Eber is named at the beginning of the list (10:21) and again later (10:24) as the word “Hebrew” reasonably comes from his name. God was engaged in bringing about the Seed.
A Critique of Michael Heiser’s Interpretation of Nephilim by Dr. Jordan Cooper
A good discussion of Gen. 6:1-2 about the “sons of God” and “daughters of men”
John Mark Comer has a view he calls “creational monotheism” which is similar to Heiser’s view regarding many gods. There are 3 videos with Pastor Chris Rosebrough responding to Comer’s view.
Creational Monotheism is Polytheism in Disguise
Critique of John Mark Comer’s Polytheism
Response to John Mark Comer’s Clarification Re Creational Monotheism