Spiritual Stuff: Disagreeing with Dr. Michael Heiser

“The path has not been easy. It came with risk and discomfort. Friends, pastors, and colleagues at times misunderstood my questions and rebuttals of their proposed answered. Conversations didn’t always end well. That sort of things happens when you demand that creeds and traditions get in line with the Biblical text”.

Recently I had the pleasure of listening to brother Travis Finley’s podcast, Rethinking Revelation, with a guest appearance by Dr. Michael Heiser, a well known Old Testament/ Ancient Near East scholar.

You can listen to that podcast at the following link,

https://www.spreaker.com/user/rtb4tftx/episode-17-interview-w-mike-heiser

While highly esteeming his credentials, and in many regards would seemingly be a “grasshopper in his sight”, I have come to be in sharp disagreement with him. Namely, his understanding of the “Divine Heavenly Council”, also however his perspective on the “spirit realm”.

I finished reading Dr. Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, a couple of months ago and have been planning to write a short review. Plainly, this is a classic example of someone saying so much I find myself in agreement with, yet finding myself completely disagreeing with them in many other regards. How does that happen!?!?

In the opening introduction, Dr. Heiser explains his coming to understand his view of the “heavenly council” in such a manner:

“There it was, plain as day: The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly – a pantheon – of other gods”.

I heard about this “heavenly council” view from Pastor David Curtis of Berean Bible Church, and then of BBC’s elders, Jeff McCormack wrote an article for FULFILLED! Magazine on the same topic. Simply put, I have found no substance for this view and see it to disturb the way the ancients would have understood things, as well as the narrative of the Bible.

Oddly enough, Dr. Heiser make the following points in his book;

He speaks about his seeking to understand the “heavenly council”, as a “…a place evangelicals fear to tread”, something I experienced by and large as I studied eschatology and came to understand Full Preterism.

“The explanations I found from evangelical scholars were disturbingly weak….”, which again would be true of my journey. Actually, some of this was shown by Dr. Heiser’s explanations of Revelation (as detailed in the above podcast I shared).

“When I looked beyond the world of evangelical scholarship, I discovered that other scholars had churned out dozens of articles and books…”, again I think of men like Dr. Don K. Preston, Dr. Ed Stevens, among many other scholarly men who influenced me as I navigated toward the truth of Full Preterism, in opposition to what other “evangelical scholars” had to say about eschatology.

“My conscience wouldn’t let me ignore my own Bible in order to retain the theology with which I was comfortable. Was my loyalty to the text or to the Christian tradition? Did I really have to choose between the two? – And there we have the ongoing reformation mindset. Glory to God!

I have to say upfront that I appreciate Dr. Michael Heiser and the mind that God has given him. He clearly has a desire to know, understand, and teach the truth. He mentioned the amount of time it took him to finally write a book on these views, 15 years. At that I feel I must be humbled and tread lightly in my critique. I’m not a know-it-all, so as I study, I’ll either have better responses or be proven wrong – so be it. In the meantime, I am disturbed that a man can have so much right, yet miss so much on the other end.

Also, I totally agree with Dr. Michael Heiser’s approach in understanding the Bible. He clearly recommends a healthy understanding of “audience relevance” as well as the points he made in the following quotes:

“Our traditions, however honorable, are not intrinsic to the Bible. They are systems we invent to organize the Bible. They are artificial. They are filters”.

“The facts of the Bible are just pieces – bits of scattered data. Our tendency is to impose order, and to do that we apply a filter. But we gain a perspective that is both broader and deeper if we allow ourselves to see the pieces in their own wider context. We need to see the mosaic created by the pieces”.

I am a big advocate of what it referred to as “Narrative Theology”. Not the quote unquote liberal theory of Narrative Theology, but rather a big “picture theology” that is shaped by an understanding of the whole story that graces the page of Scripture. However, it would seem my and Dr. Heiser’s understanding of that narrative differs.

Dr. Heiser says, “The story of the Bible is about God’s will for, and rule of, the realms He has created, visible and invisible, through the images He created, human and nonhuman. This divine agenda is played out in both realms, in deliberate tandem”.

I would summarize the Biblical narrative to be a big picture reality on how man has come to and can come to know the truth of God. If man coming to know God is redemption, then what we read through the pages of Scripture is the historical detailing of that redemption. God used Old Covenant Israel as His historical people and example through which man’s sin is highlighted and offered the gift of grace through the Messiah. God wants man to rule, reign, and rest with Him and for Him and that is found “in the Spirit”, however man naturally leans upon his own misunderstands (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6). Man leaning upon his own misunderstanding, in contrast to heeding the truth of God (Spirit) is the conceptual reality that is highlighted in the Genesis account, and than man being saved from that through the Messiah is highlighted in the last 2 chapters of the Book of Revelation.

Where I have come to sharply disagree is how Dr. Heiser is his understanding of “the intersection of our domain and the unseen world”. I remember reading through various books and articles on Hebrew mythology and the Ancient Near East and wondering how did all of this reflect upon the details I find in Scripture. How does the truth of Scripture contrast the understanding of the ancient near eastern myths and cults? It would seem that Dr. Heiser has allowed these “Hebrew myths” to develop his understanding of the “heavenly council”, which in some respects has become his “filter” (talked about above).

Honestly, I couldn’t fully read through the book. He used a host of texts (some you will find in a picture below), and used them in a very erroneous matter. I couldn’t stomach the disagreement any more, so I jumped to some chapters, and then finally just reading the last 2 chapters to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Dr. Heiser uses Psalm chapter 82, of which he says, “has at its core the unseen realm and its interaction with the human world”.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 82:

“God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and the fatherless do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods”, and all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like any one of the princes”. Arise I God, judge the earth! For it is Thou who dost possess all the nations”.

I am baffled that this text could cause so much disruption in Dr. Heiser’s view. The is surely a Messianic picture. God taking His stand is God coming in judgment, and that judgement would be in the midst of His people. Thus is why Jesus Christ quotes this passage in John 10:34-37. Jesus is explaining to the Jews (who are the rulers who judged unjustly and showed partiality to the wicked), namely they did not follow the command of Deuteronomy 4:6-9. Not to see this is to miss the entire point of the Old Testament and the purpose of the Messiah coming to His own. I have no idea how this verse disturbed Dr. Heiser.

Old Covenant Israel was those who walked in darkness and did not know nor understand. Israel was suppose to have the presence of God, however due to sin, which was highlighted by the picture in the garden (which would have been a covenant story for Israel throughout all their generations) they were separated – thus “dying like men, and falling like the princes”.

Dr. Heiser’s confusion is compounded because he has said, “At no point in the Old Testament does the Scripture teach that Jews or Jewish leaders were put in authority over the other nations”. I put a big frown in the book next to this statement. How could Dr. Heiser miss this?

Israel was given the oracles of God (cf. Romans 3:2), they were to rule and reign over the nations as they lived the example of the Law (cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-9), and they came under judgment again and again for failing to live up to this, ultimately culminating in the AD 70 “coming of the Lord”.

After hearing Dr. Heiser on the Rethinking Revelation podcast and really paying attention to his thoughts on eschatology, I realized maybe he needs to return to study of the Biblical narrative past the ancient near east. The “spiritual realm” which is being conveyed through the whole of Scripture (from Genesis to Revelation) is a conceptual reality (an actual reality being made known through a picture), not a dualistic other-world.

Through covenant God chooses those who dwell in His presence, His people had been removed from His presence only to gain access through Jesus Christ at the end of the age (cf. 1 Corinthians chapter 10; Hebrews 9:26). No other gods dwell there.

I urge a study on all the verses that will be in the picture below – of course after a healthy understanding of the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. Keep an eye out for my book, Wicked, due to be published in March 2017 which will deal with some of these details as well as an examination of all things wicked – Satan, demons, hell,etc…

In Service to Him,

Pastor Michael Miano

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Spiritual Stuff: Disagreeing with Dr. Michael Heiser

  1. Dustin

    Michael,

    I appreciate you tackling a quasi review of the book. I think your review is sorely lacking in comprehensiveness, but it’s at least a start.

    I’m currently working through this book (the whole thing – not just part). While I’m not currently swayed by his premise, much (not just some) of what he points out is not at all easily dismissed. You didn’t mention some of this in your “review.”

    Heiser points out quite clearly that Psalm 82 uses the word “Elohim” in 2 completely different ways within that one verse. And while John 10 may be a partial commentary on Psalm 82, it certainly isn’t comprehensive. After all, Psalm 82 was written to and by Israelites within a particular cosmological paradigm far before Jesus came and gave further insight.

    But let’s ignore Psalm 82 for a moment. What do you make of 1 Kings 22?

    “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him…”

    These weren’t Jews. They also weren’t Israelites. Who were they?

    In Daniel 4 we read:

    “The sentence is by the decree of the Watchers, the decision by the word of the Holy Ones…”

    Anyone who is vaguely familiar with 2T literature (especially Enoch) will know that these “Watchers” were considered the rebellious heavenly beings that were a part of the Divine Council.

    This also means that Enoch (and many others within 2T history) believed in the Divine Council.

    Who were the “host of heaven” standing next to God in 1 Kings 22?

    Who were the Watchers of Daniel 4?

    I’d like to know your thoughts on that.

    Again, I’ve not laid my feet in any concrete thought yet. I’m carefully wading through the book, painstakingly asking questions and referencing every person and Scripture he cites. I’m not sure where I’ll come out on the other side. It’s yet another Pandora’s Box of fun. 🙂

    Dustin…

  2. Hey Michael,

    I was introduced to Dr. Heiser’s work and immersed myself in it before I came across preterism so I have a different stance on it then you do.

    I’m a little surprised that you would disregard his work since you’re familiar with the ANE culture and belief system. Dr. Heiser’s work fits neatly into that when you consider why other cultures worshipped other gods and why Paul uses geographical terms like “thrones” and “dominions.”

    In your spiritualized reading of Genesis I think you downplay the fact that there is in fact a dualistic spiritual realm. The spirit world is just as real as the physical one.

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