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p.1a The Numerous concerns on what Michael Heiser teaches

Many in the church have taken notice of this man’s teaching on elohim (Gn.1:26) meaning a council of gods. It important to examine the teaching to see if what he is saying is ‘Biblically accurate.’

Michael Heiser, is the Executive Director of the School of Ministry at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He earned his PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages (from University of Wisconsin-Madison) (with a minor in Classical studies) 2004. He says he holds an MA in ancient history and Hebrew studies from the University of Pennsylvania (major fields: Ancient Israel and Egyptology). (we'll discuss his credentials more later)

He was scholar-in-residence at Faithlife Corporation who create tools for logos until 2019.

He is the coeditor of Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology and Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations, and is said to do translation work in roughly a dozen ancient languages, including Biblical Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Ugaritic cuneiform. He is also said to specialize in Israelite religion (especially Israel’s divine council ), contextualizing biblical theology with Israelite and ancient Near Eastern religion, Jewish binitarianism, biblical languages, ancient Semitic languages, textual criticism, comparative philology, and Second Temple period Jewish literature. Underline mine

Having this said, I would add that it is ‘whom one learns from’ that actually matters. Degrees may be valid only in this respect. Madison is known for being a liberal college . Heiser’s pronunciations of the Hebrew language fall short from what one would expect from his credentials.

Example: Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” Deut. 6:4; JPS Tanakh)

This is not how the Hebrew is pronounced, it is sh’ma, no ‘e’.

Heiser does express certain truths in his writings but as he has you journey with him he introduces you to his new interpretations. There are a few points of doctrine that can be agreed upon, however his new hermeneutic philosophy (or principal) has led him to conclusions on certain doctrines that cannot be supported by Scripture no matter how much he insists they are, they are egregious. One cannot use one’s own interpretations to prove that their interpretations are correct.

Let me begin by saying, it takes longer to correct error than to teach error. I’m going to focus on what he calls insights, which are actually ‘outsites’ of doctrine. He asks the listener[s] to enter into his ‘new revelations’ by his new interpretations he has constructed (that bring confusion). The more I read his so-called proofs the more concerned I became.

Let’s begin by Heiser's understanding of Gods nature. There are a number of subjects which relate to the main components, so if he is off on the main ones he will be further off on the others that are under it. I ask those who read and are followers of this man’s interpretations not to be impervious to what I present in this examination of Heisers teaching on this subject.

Heiser’s understanding of God is based on: “The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly – a pantheon – of other gods ” (p. 11 Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, 2015).

Here we find a non - biblical concept of “other gods,” introduced, ‘a pantheon.’

However in Scripture, God himself has said there is no other God, there is but One God. This is basic Judaism and Christianity 101. The God Scripture describes existed before any one thing was created and He created all things visible and invisible, living creatures and inanimate.

As Jeremiah points out Thus you shall say to them: "The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens” (Jer. 10:11). So the questions is, ‘who are these other gods’ Heiser speaks about?

YHWH (God) alone is attributed to be the creator of heaven and earth.

‘Pantheon’ means deities, plural. Case in point, the Greeks built temples dedicated to their pantheon of pagan gods, there were many, not one. Aperson does not have to get lost in a semantical jungle to understand “a pantheon—of other gods” is what is defined as polytheism.

Let’s first define the terms of description: ‘Monotheism’ is the belief in one uncreated Supreme being, who has no equal.

‘Polytheism’ is the belief in many gods; one does not have to worship them all to be a polytheist. In ancient culture these deities were natural forces such as sun, moon, water and sky and the earth. Sometimes kings and rulers were personifications of the gods (stars or nature) and considered divine by the people, such as Pharaoh.

‘Henotheism’ is a single supreme God with existence of other lesser (sub) gods.

Monolatrism is the belief in many gods with the elevation of one god. None of these concepts are Monotheism of Judaism and Christianity.

Let us consider what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 8:5-6 “ For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

Man can call many things gods, even demons who are behind idol worship. Spirits can be called god[s], even men were deified, called gods over their nations as they ruled the people. All this has nothing to do with what Heiser is proposing in his theory of a ‘biblical’ pantheon from the beginning.

Speaking to the Gentiles in Gal. 4:8  Paul wrote, “when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.” Almost all ancient cultures had a “supreme god” or a better description might be “greater god” or “more powerful god” over the other gods; the leader of the pantheon. This is not a true monotheistic belief in one God, but is Henotheism.

Despite introducing an unbiblical council of gods, Heiser states, he “ STILL believe[s] in the uniqueness of the God of the Bible. [He] STILL embrace[s] the deity of Christ ” (p. 13, Unseen Realm).

Why say this unless one knows they are saying something different. To summarize this phrase, ‘still believes,’ he is trying to assure people he holds to orthodoxy, in spite of what he presents as new, unique information on the nature of God. As we examine Heiser's statements we will see if  when he says(he ‘still believes’) if it is compatible with the retranslations he has created and now teaches others.

Summary of Heiser’s way to Interpret Scripture

He states our problem in understanding like he does is our ignorance of the ancient near eastern way of understanding. Actually, the Hebrew writings Old Testament) themselves are our basis, the way to understand what is and is not called Scripture. We do not rely on men’s opinions apart from Scripture which would change the understanding of the biblical writer’s words that are from God. Many  times,  throughout Israel 's history they did not adhere to what God spoke to them and adopted other cultures religions and ways. But they did not change the Scripture.

Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible is a closed book of Revelation. Ps. 119:105 “ Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Ps 138:2 you have magnified Your word above all Your name.

Heiser's interpretive skills he says, “to be able to see [the Bible] like ancient Israelites or first-century Jews saw it, to perceive and consider it as they would have. I want their supernatural worldview in your head ” (p. 13). Once this is accepted he assures “ you’ll never be able to look at your Bible the same way again ” (ibid.).

That may be correct, as so many inaccurate changes are made, major changes to interpreting the Bible. We certainly need to consider the first - century Jews who were influenced by Pharisaic interpretations, which actually took them away from the Scripture; in thought and practice,  not upheld them.

Making use of ancient near east mythology to help support his reinterpretations of the Bible i.e. Babylonian myths are his main extra biblical sources (Unseen Realm pp. 198-199). To superimpose these false religionís beliefs onto the Biblical writings is a terrible approach to arrive at the truth. While there may be words of similarity, they do not mean sameness in biblical doctrine, nor do they affirm Gods inspiration. We do not borrow or glean from other pagan, heathen cultures and assume they have kernels of truth. God said to go to him and his word. If we go outside Scripture to interpret the truth of Scripture it means you are willing to hear from these nations interpretation of their god[s] which God himself does not only not acknowledge but forbids. Herein is where the shift begins especially when we understand there are counterfeits being spawned in the minds of the enemies of God.

I want is to keep this introductory portion as simple and straightforward as possible. We will go deeper into the subject matter as we continue in the upcoming sections exploring his teachings.

Genesis 1:26 merged with Ps.82

When examining Psalm 82:1, which reads in the NASB “ God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.” Heiser’s personal translation of the verse as found in his book, “God [elohim] stands in the divine assembly; he administers judgment in the midst of the gods [elohim] (p. 11 ibid.).

NKJ Ps 82:1 God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. Hebrew: Mizmowr lª-'Aacaap 'Elohiym nitsaab ba`ªdat- 'eel bªqereb 'ªlohiym yishpoT (from Interlinear Transliterated Bible.)

He states, There it was, plain as day to him: The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly—a pantheon—of other gods .”

As plain as it was to him, it is not plain to the best Hebrew scholars throughout history, or to those grounded in the truth of Scripture. Heiser reinterpreted the meaning of this verse by his newly discovered understanding. He says he was disappointed that he found no support from conservative theologians; so he looked elsewhere (p. 12). Heiser left his formerly held system of theology, which filtered out and rejected his new discovery (pp. 14-16, 60-61). And he went about piecing together his own (p. 12). As with any Scripture one must read it fully in context and lay it alongside other Scriptures that relate to its content in order to come to an accurate interpretation, especially when those Scriptures bring more light to a verse.

He starts with this “passage” and it becomes the basis for his entire theological interpretation. This becomes his paradigm shift. In his book the Unseen Realm he states what he was reading “did not fit the theological patterns I was always taught” (p.12). “ Psalm 82 became a focal point of my doctrinal dissertation” which led him to examine further the Israelite monotheism, how the biblical writers allegedly thought of the unseen realm.

Heiser makes you think that Judaism had a fascination with the unseen realm when it was the pagan nations that did. This was later found abundantly in Gnosticism and the mystics.

Heiser introduces his interpretation by stating “The first verse has God presiding over an assembly of gods. Doesn’t that sound like a pantheon—something we associate with polytheism and mythology?”

It would sound like this if that was what was said. Heiser found a niche doctrine that many have not heard of. His dissertation (at Madison University) was The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature . This view may be new to you but he has held it for years, at least as far back as 2004. So he has been believing and teaching this for near 20 years; if not longer (and during that time he worked with Logos).

Many stand by his side as being “the defender" of ‘the divine council interpretation’ of Psalm 82. What they may not understand is how this negatively affects other doctrines that relate to Gods nature, especially the triune nature of God.

The council (elohim) which he says is divine can be used for other gods.i.e. (false gods). The True God says, “ You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me” (Exod. 20:3) referring to “all the elohim (gods) of Egypt” (in Exod. 12:12), and any of the other gods mentioned as false.

His basis for interpretation insists Ps.82 should be understood in light of the Ugaritic concept of a divine council (i. e. a group of gods, under the authority of the supreme God, administer the affairs of the cosmos). Heiser’s position is that the correct understanding of the biblical text is entirely dependent upon the[se] extra-biblical texts. He says, the biblical text must be interpreted by the non biblical text to accurately understand their meaning. That is more than convoluted.

He introduces a pantheon of gods (elohim) headed by Yahweh Elohim. Insinuating that Judaism continued to hold to a plurality of deities into the Second Temple period. Judaism continued to be polytheistic.

Heiser speaks of created “divine” beings, like the ancient pantheons that are polytheistic belonging to pagan cultures. This brings confusion to those listening, as if this is a true biblical position. Is God calling the elohim (false Gods) being’s like himself in nature? Heiser says God created them? Think about it.

Heiser writes: Many scholars believe that Psalm 82 and other passages demonstrate that the religion of ancient Israel began as a polytheistic system and then evolved into monotheism. I reject that idea, along with any other explanations that seek to hide the plain reading of the text. In all such cases, the thinking is misguided. The problem is rooted in a mistaken notion of what exactly the word elohim means. Since elohim is so often translated God , we look at the Hebrew word the same way we look at capitalized G-o-d. When we see the word God , we instinctively think of a divine being with a unique set of attributes—omnipresence, omnipotence, sovereignty, and so on. But this is not how a biblical writer thought about the term. Biblical authors did not assign a specific set of attributes to the word elohim . That is evident when we observe how they used the word. (Unseen Realm, pp. 29-30)

He challenges Scripture, referring to divine, or deity as “God,” distinguished with a capital “G” in English. When there is ‘other’ gods (plural) mentioned in Scripture they are ALWAYS false gods. This is non debatable (there are no true gods or divine beings that become non divine as he claims; nor angels either.)

To say there are other ‘true’ Elohim (that are created) is then rejecting that the Bible, specifically Judaism which is Monotheistic and was a theocracy under the one true God were taught. Monotheism’ does not mean no other gods exist, as shown by Old Testament passages but that there is Only One True God, all other elohim, those called gods by the nations are all false gods.

In The Unseen Realm, Heiser states that the ancient Hebrews would have interpreted Genesis 1:26-27 as The Divine Council participating in the creation of human beings. If that is true than why declare to all of Israel in Deut.6:4: Hear O’ Yisrael, listen and understand – YOUR God is echad, a united one. Deut. 6:4 emphasizes a compound unity. Our Elohim are One God. There is only one God who shares His attributes and nature among three persons who are equal as the one God; not more gods who were created.

Divine council of gods?

Heiser states “The OT exhibits a three-tiered council (the craftsman tier is absent). In Israelite religion, Yahweh, at the top tier, was the supreme authority over the divine council, which included a second tier of lesser elohim (“gods”), also called the “sons of God” or “sons of the Most High.” The third tier comprised the mal'akhim (“angels”). (Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Godhead Language”)

Heiser says he finds this divine council (gods) throughout the Scripture. His identification of ‘divine’ council’ are sons of gods, (sometimes called the hosts of heaven). This he claims is how the elohim should be understood, even though God says the other elohim who are not YHWH are false gods (as well as judges applied to men, which will be addressed in another segment). His argumentation for this is not ontological but theoretical and is forced upon the Scripture, not extracted from it, and a forced conclusion upon his readers.

Who these gods are that the pagan nations worshipped are at the center of his position.

On p. 27 he teaches that the “gods” (elohim) are divine beings whose responsibility is more than the angels, who are the primary messengers sent from God. These “gods” are consistently called “divine” throughout his book without any real qualification. “Divine” is meant in our common language to be deity or in a biblical context to have direct connection with deity, often called sacred, such as Scripture (qodesh in Hebrew. see how it is used in the New Testament Heb.9:11; Pt.3; 20; 2 Pt.1:3, 4.) Divine is not applied to men, nor angels nor any other created creature. Using this term for creatures he calls Elohim confuses the Scripture.

Heiser does present Yahweh as the supreme God, but says he is the creator of all the other gods (p. 34).These other gods the Bible calls false, there are no ‘other true’ gods. This means what he is teaching is Henotheism, not the monotheistic belief that is in Christianity. He believes that, God created a divine family but does not give a time when this took place, or when these so called heavenly children became wayward (pp. 25, 37).

Heiser states: “The first chapter of Genesis is easily misinterpreted by one not yet acquainted with God’s original family and household, the divine council.”

This family is Joe Kovak’s teaching as well, found in his book “Shocked by the Bible”).

He states, “Israel derived their understanding of the Godhead from their version of the divine council, or pantheon (i.e., God and His heavenly host), and the binitarian (two persons) language used for Yahweh and other figures that the OT writers identify so closely with Yahweh that they are inseparable, yet distinct.” (Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Godhead Language”).

His claim is that Israel believed in a pantheon! What this means is that Israel is apostate from their revelation of God given to them by God. It is the nations that believed in a pantheon not Israel.

Heiser does say of YHWH Elohim, “ You are highly exalted above all gods [elohim] (Psalm 97:9). Biblical writers also assign unique qualities to Yahweh. Yahweh is all-powerful (Jer 32:17, 27; Ps 72:18; 115:3), the sovereign king over the other elohim (Psa 95:3; Dan 4:35; 1 Kgs 22:19), but then adds he is the “ the creator of the other members of his host-council.”

I challenge his statement that Biblical writers assigned anything of the sort. This is Gods revelation of himself to man by the Scripture.

Gn. 1:26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Heiser's claim is that the main elohim is asking the council of Elohim that he created…Heiser teaches the “us” in Genesis 1:26, among members of the divine council (p. 39). The phrase “one of us” informs us that, as in Genesis 1:26, God is speaking to his council members—the elohim.”

By the way he interprets this verse, man is made not just in Gods image but in the image of creatures God made by the way he interprets this verse.

Some (mostly cults) have claimed God is speaking with the angels in Gn.1:26, to deny the tri-unity. He has created a different path that leads to the same place.

The Bible refutes Heiser's claim, In Isa.40:12-15 when speaking of God creating the world it asks, “With whom did he take counsel.” Can anyone find in the Scripture this statement of God conferring with anyone but Himself? (referring directly to Gn.1:26).This is made up.

Genesis1:1: In the beginning God created, (God- Heb. Elohim), so if they (these divine Elohim) are all Elohim, they were all involved in creating, there is no way to attribute this to a certain elohim in the manner he does from the text.

He instead claims God said to His divine council “Let us make man in our image.”

The Bible teaches No one else is included in this creation of man, nor in pronouncing judgment.

Isa. 45:12 “I have made the earth, And created man on it.”

Gn. 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth”

Gn. 6:7 the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth ” He did not consult the elohim here.

Gn. 9:6 For in the image of God He made man. No council is involved. Scripture qualifies this stating man, “ is the image and glory of God” in 1 Cor. 11:7 (no council is ever mentioned in creating man).

Heiser teaches that gods are created Elohim by the great Elohim. “ That the Old Testament word elohim is a generic word referring to beings who inhabit the spiritual world (p. 29). These include Yahweh, the divine council, the gods of other nations, demons, angels, and the souls of deceased human beings, i.e. Samuel (p. 30 Unseen Realm).

The word Elohim is indeed a generic term for God but we must keep it in the context it is being used in Scripture. In the same way the generic Greek word theos is used for God in the New Testament.

Polytheism or Monotheism

You can’t call polytheism monotheism. God speaking…

Isa 43:10 “ BEFORE Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be AFTER Me. “

NONE BEFORE nor AFTER says the one true God. That qualifies the subject matter, the creator knows of no other god[s]; but Heiser does. This is repeated in Deut. 32:39 “there is no God (Elohim) besides Me.”

Isa. 44:6 I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.”

Isa. 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me.” v.21“And there is no other God besides Me.” v. 22 “For I am God, and there is no other.”

Isa.46:9 “For I am God, and there is no other;I am God, and there is none like Me” Elohim is used, this is the God who created the heavens and earth, Heiser plural created elohim’s included .

Heiser says, “God is speaking to his council members—the elohim.” So then who are these Elohim that Heiser claims are divine, a council God has in heaven? He says the main elohim only consulted the other Elohim but the Scripture he is using says, Let us make man in our image, which includes them.

Then there is no Trinity explained of Gods nature in the Old Testament, he shifts it to all be the council. Which comes from Mormonism.

Introducing Mormonism's doctrine of God

Heiser’s Theology is very much like Mormonism. Stating Elohim is part of a heavenly family.

There is a Mormon thread of influence in his theology that must be addressed. A plurality of gods is Mormonism, which comes from ancient paganism. Whether this is intentional or not I cannot say for now. But for Heiser to have an agreement with Mormon polytheism is not good. One would think since this is nearly identical with Mormonism that it should be avoided, as it is neither Judaism nor Christianity.

His theoretical Divine Council views Yahweh elohim; The God of Israel as the Master of a pantheon of lesser gods who serve Him (until they no longer did).

Various nations throughout history claim a supreme God, accompanied with other lesser gods. This is called Henotheism—one superior God over the others. This is also found in What Mormons believe, there is an original God with multiple other Gods. Mormonsim specifically mentions a council of gods (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price claim that the heavens and earth were created by a council of Gods).

Joseph Smith the founder prophet of this new Christianity made the same mistake of interpretation “I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of deity, it has been on the plurality of Gods…the doctrine of a plurality of Gods is as prominent in the Bible as any other doctrine (J. Smith {1st prophet} (J. Smith, History of the Church, vol.6 pp.308, 474).

Joseph Smith is right, and so is Heiser, the Bible does indeed teach there are many gods- FALSE gods!

Anything further said on this subject no matter how well orchestrated or expressed as gods (i.e. Genesis) is disqualified as a Biblical position.

1b. Heisers Missing triune explanations in the Old Testament

 

 

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