We like our religion nice and neat, don’t we? We want to get up on Sunday morning, spend a couple of hours at church, and then go on about our orderly, physical lives. We want our faith nicely packaged with neat corners and the ribbon placed just so. And we want God to operate within those parameters as well.
But the fact is what we see, the world we live in, is only one dimension of the vast creation that surrounds us. There is a hierarchy that exists which operates and influences this world we inhabit. There are dimensions we are not even aware of, and battles being waged we cannot see.
If you have ever felt that there is a world behind the world in which we live, then join us on Off the Grid Radio today with our guest, Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos Bible Software, for a fascinating look at the concept of the divine council, the hierarchies within the heavenly organization of God, and why our sanitized version of what we perceive does not even come close to the reality that is.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: February 24, 2012
Bill: Greetings and welcome, everybody. It’s Bill Heid today, your host with Off the Grid Radio. Thanks so much for joining us. I have Pastor Jeff Harlow here in the studio. Welcome Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you very much Bill. Great to be here.
Bill: And I have on the line as well, our special guest today, Michael Heiser. He brings to the table a lot of Hebrew, a lot of Greek, a lot of ancient languages. He works with Logos as well, the software company. So any of you that have the Logos Bible software as I do, Mike’s on the academic team there. Mike, welcome.
Mike: Well, thanks for having me. Great to be here.
Bill: It’s great to have you with us. You did your dissertation years ago. We want to talk about the divine council today and I was thinking the divine council… People are going to say, “What in the world is the divine council? Is that some group of czars that our President has put together in Washington or not?” So we’re going to go down a little different trail today. This is a little bit about theology. Don’t turn off… If you’re driving, you probably should pull off to the side of the road. Keep your seatbelt on but continue to listen, put your flashers on if you’re on the road because this is stuff you probably haven’t heard before. Mike, do you want to kind of guide us gently into this whole idea of the divine council? I’m fascinated by it. I have been. I’ve been a big fan for a lot of years so gently walk us into this.
Mike: Sure. Well, the easiest place to start is the phrase “divine council” comes from Psalm 82:1 where we read God has taken His stand or taken His place in the divine council. In the midst of the gods, He holds judgment. Probably the easiest segue is to think of the divine council as the heavenly host because that’s a more ubiquitous Biblical phrase that people are familiar with.
Bill: So that’s just God and the angels, right? Isn’t that what everybody’s going to say?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. That’s what everybody’s going to conclude at the beginning but the thing with the divine council is the reason why it’s different and why I get a regular supply of hate mail, is that in Psalm 82:1 you have the word elohim, which is one of the most frequently used words for God in the Old Testament. You have it occur twice. The first one, God has taken his place in the divine council, is singular– so the singular God of Israel, the one that we’re all familiar with.
But the second one, in the midst of the elohim—same word—He holds judgment. So we have to have a plural group of elohim, of gods. And you get into this and what I try to show people right away is that the Israelites, the theology of the true, the orthodox Israelite if we want to use that term, included the notion that there were many gods populating what we call the spiritual world or the unseen world. And that naturally makes us uncomfortable because we think of Deuteronomy 6:5, “The Lord our God is one.” We think of monotheism. How in the world can the Biblical text say this and have the Israelites be monotheistic?
A lot of my work is designed to show people that the problem really isn’t with the text or the idea, the intention behind monotheism, but it’s really with us and translations and having the text filtered to us. Elohim—we connect the letters G-O-D, which is the translation of elohim, with a singular being that has—here’s the important part—a unique set of attributes. But that’s not actually how the Biblical writer uses the term and that’s easy to find out. Because if you just look it up, if you have software or if you have a concordance, you’ll find out that elohim is used of demons. Shadim, are called elohim in Deuteronomy 32:17. The angel of the Lord and possibly plural angels, the departed spirits of the human dead. 1 Samuel 28 where the witch of Endor says, “I see an elohim coming up out of the earth,” and it’s Samuel, the departed Samuel.
Elohim gets used in five or six different things. And so that alone should tell you that the Biblical writer is not connecting it to a specific set of attributes. It means something else. And that something else is just… If I call you an elohim, that means I believe you are an inhabitant of what we call the spiritual world, the world of the disembodied. That’s your natural place of habitation.
When I use that term “of you.” Now, over there, there is rank and there is hierarchy. There is certainly differentiation of attributes because no Israelite, no Biblical writer is going to think my dear departed Uncle Jehoshaphat, who is an elohim now because he’s disembodied, he’s on an equal par in attributes with the God of Israel. No orthodox Israelite is going to believe that. What an orthodox Israelite would believe is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is an elohim among lots of elohim. But no other elohim is Him. It’s not even close. Yahweh is unique in terms of His attributes. There is only one of Him. And that’s what an orthodox Biblical writer would believe.
So we just kind of get this confused. A lot of the talk I do about the divine council—and I try to get people past their English text because what I call the divine council worldview, a world that is heavily populated, an unseen world that’s populated where you have rank and power. You have different sorts of beings. On one level, that’s a curiosity but on another level, it’s really important to understanding the worldview of the Old Testament. And if you understand the worldview of the Old Testament, you’re going to understand the worldview of the New Testament a lot better. And I hope, Bill, that you’ve read enough of my stuff to know and can sort of echo the thought here, that there are a lot of odd passages in both testaments that really make a lot of sense and you can see where those parts fit in as a whole, theologically, if you sort of have this, what I call this divine council orientation or this worldview.
Bill: And it keeps you from getting confused in other parts but let’s go to Psalm 82, for example. You wouldn’t say… You translate that at verse one. You’d say, “Yahweh stands in the divine council. He judges among the elohim.”
Mike: Even though the word elohim is there, if any of your listeners have been exposed to broader Biblical scholarship… I feel like saying, “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Bill: Yeah, we’re leaving Kansas.
Mike: We’re not in Sunday School anymore. Psalm 82 is what is referred to in Biblical scholarship as part of the Elohistic Psalter and that is there is a certain section of Psalms that’s known among scholars for an oddity. And that oddity is they almost never use the special divine name Yahweh of God, even when they mean the God of Israel. They use elohim and Psalm 82 is in that section. A Biblical scholar, whether they’re a believer, someone who holds the inspiration like I do or if they’re just a secular scholar, they’re not going to have any trouble looking at Psalm 82 and saying, “Yep, that’s about Yahweh.” Yahweh is the King of the gods here in Psalm 82.
Bill: Well, and I think that for the people that are a little uneasy, even with respect to what we’ve talked about, you’ll feel comfortable. Stay with us here because… Don’t you, Mike, in your writings, you always say, “Stay with me,” right? I’ve noticed that about what you write because there’s the temptation to think that you’re advocating polytheism or some other crazy ideas but you walk away from what you know a little bit only to come back home and find it much more solid than you had known it before. That’s my interpretation of your work.
Mike: Yeah, and I tell people, “We’re going to get to a lot of familiar places where you’ll feel comfortable. But the route we take won’t look anything like you’re used to looking at.” Psalm 82 is really important because Jesus quotes it in John 10:34. My take on Psalm 82, I think it very obviously shows how that Psalm and the divine plurality of that Psalm really reinforced the deity of Christ and that He was Yahweh incarnate as opposed to the normal view of it where a lot of people say that elohim in Psalm 82, the plural one, are just people. They’re Israelites. They’re Jewish elders or something like that.
Bill: That’s what I was always taught. Can I interrupt you? Jeff, were you taught the same thing?
Jeff: Well indeed. And the reference you mention in John 10, John 10:34, does seem to lead in that direction because as the reference states in 10:34, “Jesus answered and said, ‘Is it not written in your law, I said you were gods.’” And then in verse 35, “If He called them gods to whom the Word of God came,” and then continuing on. But I believe that that’s the standard interpretation that…
Mike: It is. It is. That’s the interpretation you’re going to get in most—I don’t want to say all because I don’t want to claim my missions here—but most commentaries are going to have elohim there, the understanding that Jesus is speaking to Jews about Jews. And you’re right. The phrase, “to whom the Word of God came,” is usually sort of the touch point for that sort of thing. And that assumes that the phrase is referring to the reception of the Mosaic Law because the Word of God came to the Jews or just Jews in general.
Well, the obvious problem with that is it’s a direct quote from Psalm 82. And if you go back to Psalm 82, the law is not in view there. And neither are Jews. And you say, “Well Mike, maybe this is a divine council of God over people, His people.” Well, that doesn’t work if you go to Psalm 89. You can’t look at Psalm 82 in isolation because in Psalm 89 we have the same language. We have the same reference to the council. We have, in that case, the members of the council are b’nai elim, either the sons of God or the sons of the gods. However you want to take the elim there.
And more importantly, the council is in the skies. The Hebrew is bhashachaqya. It’s “in the heavens or in the skies.” So the last time I read my Bible, I don’t see any Jewish leaders supervising the nations of the world from the skies. I don’t see any Jewish leaders put over the nations, even on Earth. You just don’t see anything like that. What it’s alluding to, in Psalm 82 of course, is Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the dispersion of the nations of Babel and Israel didn’t even exist at that point. Again, none of this is really difficult to see in an English Bible. But the difficulty is the synthesis of it. And then getting over sort of the divine plurality hump.
But going back to Psalm 82, if Jesus is speaking about mere mortals, the problem there is that in verse 30, Jesus has just said, “I and my Father are one.” Then he’s defending Himself against their gripes about Him claiming to be equal with God. The text says that that’s why they’re angry with Him. He’s claiming to be equal with God. So what does He do? He quotes Psalm 82 and is this what Jesus was really saying? After He says, “I and my Father are one,” He says, “Hey, knock it off you guys. I get to call myself the Son of God or equal with God because you guys can too.” That doesn’t make any sense. But that’s the conclusion you have to reach. If Jesus is talking about mere mortals and not divine plurality, He’s saying, “I get to do this and you guys can too so quit picking on me.”
That just makes no sense at all because after He quotes the passage, He’s going to say, “I am in the Father and the Father in in me.” What’s really going on here is “to whom the Word of God came” are the elohim of Psalm 82 because that’s who the Word of God came to in Psalm 82. God is speaking to the elohim. And He’s judging them. He’s calling them corrupts. We don’t have the Trinity here either. You don’t want the Trinity in Psalm 82 because they’re accused of being wicked and corrupt. So that’s really bad theology.
Bill: That’s an extremely important reason why that can’t work.
Mike: Right, it can’t work.
Bill: You’re going to have that problem in the Trinity, a tremendous disruption there.
Mike: Oh yeah. Well, it just destroys the doctrine. Let’s just be honest. It destroys the doctrine of the Trinity. You can’t have the Trinity in Psalm 82. What we have is we have a scene of divine plurality. Yahweh is speaking to the elohim. And again, all the elohim are is the members of the spiritual world. In this case, they’re the ones that He set over the nations.
He gave authority over the nations that He punished by forsaking them, by not being their God anymore. You had the tower of Babel. That’s why God called Israel. He abandoned the nations and put them under lesser authorities. That’s the Old Testament rationale for where we get pantheons, why the other nations worship other gods and why Yahweh tells His own, Israel, when He calls them in the very next chapter after Babel, He says, “You are not to worship or sacrifice to any of these other beings. You are mine. I am your God. Don’t intermarry with them.” The whole nine yards, right down the law.
Again, going back to John 10, if you have God speaking to divine beings there, in Psalm 82, what Jesus is saying to His opponents in John 10 is, “Look. I know you guys are torqued at me for saying I and my Father are one. But let me try to help you understand who it is you’re talking to. First, you guys know from your own Scriptures—and He quotes Psalm 82—that there are divine beings that can refer to themselves and are referred to as the sons of God.
So let’s get that point straight right away. Sons of God can refer to other divine beings—not just corporate Israel. Second, since I am putting myself in this scene, I’m not just one of the elohim that God spoke to. I and my Father are one and I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” He’s saying, “Fellows, remember Psalm 82? God of gods? I am the Lord of the council. So you better watch what you say.” And they are incensed. They’re not walking away saying, “Oh, Jesus is right. Hey, we get to call ourselves gods too so we should quit picking on Him.” They don’t go away with that feeling at all. They’re ready to pick up stones and do away with Him. They get it.
The problem is we don’t get it because we don’t share in this… again, in this worldview, the way the Biblical authors thought of elohim, just as any number of divine beings. But Yahweh is unique. He’s what I call species unique. There is none like Him. He is ontologically unique and superior. He is the Creator of all the other ones. He’s the lone Sovereign. He’s the lone One who deserves worship. He has absolute authority. He’s all these things that we think of and that our theology traditionally articulates but we don’t tend to view it like an Israelite would view it and that’s what I’m always trying to get people to do. Think about your Bible the way an ancient Semite, an ancient Israelite, a first century Jew would think of it. And that’s hard. But it’s worth trying.
Bill: It’s definitely worth trying. And your view too, you still see that hypostatic union. You see just a different essence then, among these two rulers, right?
Mike: Yeah well, I take it even further. I’m a run of the mill, traditional Trinitarian in my theology. But part of my dissertation was arguing it and I did this dissertation at a secular university and my advisor was Jewish. So this was a little tricky. But I argued in my dissertation that Israelite theology—Israelite theology, that Old Testament stuff—has a Godhead. There are easily discernible, there as two. So binitarianism is really easy to see in the Old Testament if you know what you’re looking for.
But there are also hints of three and what I did was there are Jewish scholars that acknowledge that prior to the Christian era, Judaism, theologically, embraced what they called the “two powers in heaven” theology. And that wasn’t a good one and a bad one. That was two good guys. Two Yahwehs. They would use terms like Yahweh and the lesser Yahweh. The second one was but wasn’t Yahweh. It was a number two. He was Yahweh but not… Kind of the way that Christians have to talk about Jesus. Jesus is God in essence but He’s not God the Father. He is but He isn’t and all this sort of stuff.
Jewish theology was saying all of that before we ever had the incarnation. The best book for that, by the way for your readers, is a scholarly work called The Two Powers in Heaven by Alan Segal. But I looked at Segal’s work and I said, “You know, I know where this comes from in the Old Testament. I know that this wasn’t just sort of a rabbinical sort of weird thing. They were noticing some things in their Scriptures that led them to this conclusion.” So that’s where I actually parked on my dissertation. And I lived to tell about it. I survived.
Mike: That’s what they believed. It’s what they held to. And they had reasons for doing that that were in the text. What the Jews really argued about, before we had Jesus showing up, was who the second power was. And there are all sorts of debates you can find and intertestamental literature, also known as Second Temple Jewish literature. There were four or five special angels that sort of had votes. People would vote. This was kind of like a Republican primary here. There were four or five special angels that had their fans and then there were four or five exalted human beings like Moses and Abraham and Jacob. So the Jewish theologians were going back and forth, “Who’s the second power? Who’s the second power?” Because in a lot of cases, the second power, the second Yahweh, is in human form. And in some cases, actually embodied.
So what I was arguing for my dissertation was, Look– Israelite theology had all these categories already in place about a second person who was also Yahweh, who was in flesh, all this kind of stuff. So that when Jesus came along, he got the votes of the Christians. To the Christians, the early Christians, it was very clear who Jesus was and how He fit in the picture of the Old Testament and that was what drove a wedge between early Jews who became Christians—they embraced Jesus as the Messiah and as Yahweh in flesh, as this second Yahweh—over against Jews that just couldn’t make that jump.
It would redefine their faith. To think that not only was Yahweh not just visibly human or possibly embodied, He was born of a woman, completely human with all its frailties. We know He had these frailties because we just killed Him and wasn’t that a terrible mistake? So this was a huge leap both intellectually and in terms of faith, for a Jew to make in the first century… And the rest, we know is history, from the book of Acts. So that at the end of the second century, which is by the end of the 100s AD.
But even as the second century was beginning, the Jews got together and they had to meet for damage control. So they did certain things. They standardized their text of their own Bible, which is why there are some manuscripts different between the Masoretic Text, the Traditional Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls that were older. They banned the use of the Septuagint because the Septuagint was much more easy for Christians to use to defend their position. Let me give you… I don’t have this in my book. I don’t even know if I have it in any of my writings. In Isaiah 9:6, that passage we always think of at Christmas, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father,” all that stuff?
Bill: Yes, yes.
Mike: The Septuagint doesn’t say any of that. The Septuagint says, “His name shall be called the angelos, either the angel or the messenger of the great council. It’s just dramatically different. But if you were a first century Christian saying, “Hey look. This guy is the second Yahweh and there’s a Godhead here over all the other divine beings and He came to Earth, born of a woman and you guys just killed Him and you need to repent,” that was a huge verse.
Again, the Jewish community says, “We’re going to forbid the use of the Septuagint. And the third thing they did was they declared the two powers idea to be a heresy. So that now, this isn’t part of Jewish teaching. It hasn’t been part of Judaism since the second century. And that’s what Alan Segal’s book, The Two Powers in Heaven, is about. And Segal is a Jew. Segal believes this is a heresy because he’s Jewish. But he’s a scholar and so his work, his scholarship, documented the fact that Jews used to believe in a Godhead until the Christians came along and it just drove a wedge right down the middle of the Jewish community—to be a Christian or not? And that’s what we see in the book of Acts too.
Bill: So there is this divine council. And let’s start to work into a little bit of the implications of it where it gets kind of off the grid, as we say here on our show. So who are these other members? You’ve got obviously, Yahweh or El, right? And then you have His co-ruler. And then you have angels. We know that angels are there.
Mike: The word angel is what I call a job description.
Bill: A job description, okay. The messenger.
Mike: Yeah, it doesn’t tell us what a thing is. It tells us what a thing does. Again, if you look at the terminology in the way that an Israelite would think about it, all these guys are elohim because they live in the spiritual world. That’s just what we call someone who has that address. Now, among the elohim, there is one Yahweh that’s unique. Then He has his co-ruler. Again, this second person that they rule together, over with. And then you have other elohim who serve them. And they can either rebel or they can be obedient. There is loyal and disloyal. So some of the elohim are referred to, especially in the New Testament, sort of as an extended…
The best illustration for this is actually Pharaoh’s household—but a royal household. Sons of God. In other words, sort of an upper tier, a select group that is given higher rank and higher authority than mere messengers, mere angels. And according to Deuteronomy 32:8-9—If you read the ESV, you’ll get the correct text there from the Dead Sea Scrolls—“That when the Most High divided up the nations at Babel, He divided them up according to the number of the sons of God.” In Deuteronomy 4:19-20 again says the same thing where God says, “I’m tired of you disobeying. I told you to disperse and here you are building this thing at Babel. I’m going to confuse your languages. I’m going to disperse you.” And we get the list of nations in Genesis 10, the table of nations.
And so it’s a punitive act. It’s an act of punishment where God says, “I’m going to put you under the administration of lesser beings and I’m going to go over here to Ur and call this guy Abraham and I’m going to create my own people from him, from scratch. And they are going to be my people and I will be their God. And it’s through their descendants that you people over here, that have just been disinherited from that privilege, you people over here are going to have to get to me through them. They will be the conduit.”
And that’s what we have in the Abrahamic covenant. “Through you,” through these descendants of Abraham, all nations of the Earth will be blessed. If you know that much, that’s the whole rest of the Old Testament, reestablishing the Kingdom of God on Earth, the kingdom of priests idea of bringing the nations back. And then you have these conflicts between Israel and all the other nations and Yahweh and the other gods and all this sort of stuff. Because we have a defection. We have a defection of loyalty of the sons of God who were put over the nations of the Earth. They allowed the Israelites—and in some texts it suggests they solicited—to worship them. They had become corrupt and that’s what Psalm 82 is about.
Psalm 82 is judging them for their manipulation of people, of these nations. That’s going to reach an end. We know it’s going to reach the end in the eschaton. That’s what the New Testament is about and how the nations are reclaimed through the gospel and of course Jesus was the critical juncture for all this, the critical event, the crucifixion and all this stuff. This is all a smattering of Biblical theology but you have one group that’s the sons of God who are given a sort of geographical, ruling authority and basically go astray. You have angels, again messengers, so particular elohim, that’s their job in the hierarchy. When you get to the New Testament, isn’t it interesting that many of the terms, other than the angel—again messengers who just give messages. That’s why they’re called messengers, angelos—Many of the other terms: thrones, principalities, rulers, powers, authorities… They all have a sense of dominion or sphere of authority rulership. And of course with that goes the assumption they have the power to carry out that authority.
Bill: Mike, both positive and negative sides to that?
Mike: Oh yeah.
Bill: There are authorities on the breaking bad side, the bad sons of God and there are authorities, authority on the other side and so there’s issues and battles territorial going on, on the planet.
Mike: I would say if you understand the divine council worldview, then what we loosely call spiritual warfare becomes much more real, both theologically and also in your reading of the Bible. There were places in the Old and in the New Testament that were just bad places because they were perceived as being under the dominion of some of these rebellious gods. I’ll give you just a couple snippets here.
In 1 Samuel, we read that the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines. Most of your readers or your listeners are going to know this story. And so the Philistines take the ark back to the temple of Dagon in 1 Samuel 4 and we know what happens. And it’s funny that Dagon winds up the next morning, flat on his face, his head chopped off, his arms chopped off. Dagon is just basically a stump. Then there’s this throwaway line in that narrative. It says, “This is why, to this day, the priests of Dagon do not walk across the threshold of Dagon.” Well, what does that mean? What it means is that they believed that Yahweh owned that territory because He had demonstrated His superiority over Dagon by smashing him up. So they literally would go into the temple of Dagon and walk around the place that the ark and that Dagon had been because it was now under the dominion of Yahweh. He had won that turf war.
You go to Naaman, the leper from Syria, comes to Elisha to be healed, “Dip yourself in the Jordan seven times,” and after they argue about it, he actually does it and he’s healed of his leprosy and he goes back to Elisha and he can’t pay the guy. Elisha says, “I’m not in it for the money.” And then what does Naaman ask Elisha for, to take back to Syria? He asks for two mule loads of dirt. That’s what he wants. He wants dirt. You say, “Why would he want dirt?” Well, Naaman explains it. He says, “Look, I’m a general. I’m an important guy. I’m going to go back to Syria. One of my jobs is I have to go into the temple of Ramon, the god of Syria, the god of my king. And the king is really old so when I go in there I have to hold him by the arm because he’s kind of frail. When he bows to Dagon, I’ve got to kind of dip with him.”
He has to go into this place where another god has dominion and so why did he ask for dirt? We’re not told if he takes dirt with him, if he sprinkled a little on the ground, if he’s wearing it in a little pouch around his neck, if he’s sticking it in his pockets. He wants holy ground with him to protect him. And also to show his allegiance because he tells Elisha, “Now I know that Yahweh is the true God. Yahweh is the God. He is high elohim. He is the God.” And so he wants to take dirt from Israel back to territory under the dominion of another entity.
There are all sorts of stories like this in both testaments. The stuff that Jesus does, what He says and does at specific locations, it’s just mind blowing when you understand how that piece of ground was looked at and what happened there before in connection with this whole council worldview that the nations are under the dominion of other deities. And again, at Yahweh’s decision. Yahweh punished humankind, creating that situation but with the intent of redeeming all the nations later on.
Bill: And so you see a control issue in the Old Testament and a control issue in the New Testament. I’m reminded by this piece in Plutarch where the references to Pan… I kind of want you to comment on this piece, this famous one… He reached the Palodes; tell them that the great god Pan is dead. Is Pan some regional player? And with the birth of Christ…? That’s kind of what I get. A lot of interpretations of people reading Plutarch…So what I’m saying Mike, is the stuff we read about Herodotus that’s kind of weird and scary and Plutarch. Are those regional players? Are those regional bad guys?
Mike: I believe that that is exactly how they were perceived and I think that is the case. There are places… A lot of your listeners, when I say this, there will be something that clicks in their head because they’ve heard this before. You talk to Christians in Africa, third world countries, missionaries—They will tell you that there are certain places that they encounter or run into that are clearly under some kind of dominion. Now, whether the names are important, I think, is sort of a nonissue because in Pan’s case…
Again, that was the name that was assigned to the deity that controlled this particular location. Where Pan’s stronghold was, was at the foot of Mount Hermon near Caesarea Philippi and that used to be a center of Baal worship. Well, that literally is the rock on which Jesus is standing when He says, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Because in the Old Testament times, that territory—Bashan, which is adjacent to Mount Hermon. Bashan is also a word that means serpent in Semitic, not just Hebrew but in other dialects as well. There was Edrai and Astaroth, which were associated with the Anakim, the giant clans in the Old Testament. Ugaritic texts, which of course are not Biblical texts, viewed Astaroth and Edrai– those cities, at the gateway to the netherworld– literally as the gates of hell.
All these ideas converge and centuries later that area becomes under the Roman authority, it gets dedicated to Pan and the god Zeus. Of course Zeus was considered the king of the gods and all these ideas floating together and converging on 12 guys and Jesus standing at this place and Jesus says, “Who do men say that I am?” And Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And He says, “You’re right. And upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell…”
Our English translations have “will not prevail against it.” It’s actually a mistranslation because there’s no preposition in there. The better translation is that the gates of hell will not withstand it. It’s a passive verb without a preposition. I hate to slide into the grammar here. But it’s not a defensive term. It’s not like the church is there and the church is going to successfully take a beating. It’s the opposite view. The church is the one on the assault and the gates of hell are not going to be able to survive the assault.
And where does Jesus say this? He says it at ground zero of the ancient idea that this is the gateway to hell, right here. He says it on ground zero. But we miss this kind of thing going on in both testaments because it’s obscured by translation or it just takes time. And frankly, a lot of the resources for this sort of thing are just in scholarly literature that never filtered down to the person in the pew that I think would appreciate it the most. So that’s what we try to do.
Jeff: This is Jeff here again. It does seem to me that Augustine in City of God and even Milton in Paradise Lost, those guys seem to have very much the same idea that these fallen angels are the foundation of all the polytheism, all the false worship.
Mike: You will see it, yeah. Yeah, the difference is… I think there’s a lot of overlap. I actually have people who are into the church fathers who send me passages that they regularly read the fathers so you’re right on target there. You will find again– what I’m referring to as the Deuteronomy 32 worldview– you will find that in the church fathers to varying degrees. Now, somebody like Augustine, we’ll find it there but I think he goes astray with the implications of a passage like Genesis 6 but that’s okay. You just see smatterings of it. Guys like Origen. Origen, on the one hand, was one of the few church fathers who knew Hebrew. Most of them did not. Most of them were Latinists in the West, which is kind of obvious. Augustine knew a lot of Greek but he admitted hating it. I can understand that. But a guy like Origen will have a lot of this stuff in but then he says some flaky things too. It varies but it’s there. They’re picking up threads of it.
And I think the unfortunate part of it is that we don’t have more from them because a lot of this stuff is obtained only through not only Hebrew but having access to texts that the Israelites would have sort of just conceptually at least, grown up with their content. What the Egyptians thought, what the people of Ugarit thought, what the Babylonians thought. All of that was part of the intellectual discourse of their time and we only have access to that as of the late 19th century when that stuff was deciphered. The reformers, the great reformers, didn’t have access to this. A lot of the church fathers didn’t have access to it. So a lot of it’s just primary sources that help inform, “What in the world are they talking about here?” with different phrases and even different words and different concepts and ideas.
When I think of this, I always think of the, “To whom much is given, much is required” saying of Jesus. In many ways, we’re certainly not any smarter than the great Christian authorities of the past. We’re no smarter than those guys. They were the intellectual champions of their day and there’s a reason why we still study them. But the one thing we do have that we’re going to be accountable for is we have greater access to the past, the immediate past of the Biblical world, than they did. But we neglect it. We ignore it. In some cases, we don’t even want to look at it. We fear it. A lot of what I do is to say, “Look. I don’t need to protect you from your Bible. It’s just your Bible. It’s the Word of God.”
God decided at a time and place to speak to people and we need to understand that worldview to understand that revelation. The Biblical worldview is not the Reformation. It’s not the middle ages. It’s not the 20the century evangelicalism. The Biblical worldview is the one that produced it. The one that God decided, “I’m going to speak now and at this time and at this place to these people. And I want it preserved for posterity and I’m going to supervise it with my Spirit to make sure they get in there what I want in there, that’s right.” If that was God’s decision, we need to honor God’s decision and trust God with the material. So even though it might feel foreign in some places to us, the truths that it teaches are still going to emerge.
Bill: You bet. That’s a good segue point as we have a little time left but there’s an application side of this. For the listeners so far, they may be thinking, “Well, you guys are talking in abstractions.” Not so. This is real stuff and I think that we’ve established, Biblically established, obviously there’s a spirit world. That’s what we’ve been talking about the whole time. There are powers, rulers, authorities acting all the time and in a world that we don’t know or necessarily fully understand.
Mike: If you think these are just idols…
Bill: But it’s true anyway.
Mike: Because we dismiss… Of all people that should be the most predisposed to embrace a supernatural worldview, I have found in my experience that Christians are the least likely to do it. And in part, those who sort of do and sort of get dismissed or poo-pooed or sort of turned away by their churches, they wind up holding stuff that you’ll hear on Coast to Coast in its place. If I had $1.00 for every time that I’ve been at one of these stranger conferences, a UFO conference, and had people walk up to me and say, “I used to be a Christian until…” And then they’ll give me some experience or something they found that they read in some book or even the Bible. “And I went to my pastor and I wanted to talk about it and he thought I needed therapy or I needed to be committed or something.” They just junk it. I have had that happen so many times to me and it’s like, “What do I say to this person?” I try to build a bridge to them to let them know, “Look, I embrace the supernatural with you but you need to process it better than this because ultimately you’re giving your allegiance to inferior beings. You need to give your allegiance to the God of Israel who loved you and sent Christ,” and so on and so forth. It gets very practical really, really quickly.
Bill: Let’s talk about an example. Let’s say we’re watching Ghostbuster—Jeremy, our producer’s favorite movie—and Bill Murray says, “Oh Zulia…” or whatever he said. So how is a Christian supposed to interpret that? Because here, Mill Murray’s talking about kind of some things that you’re talking about, some issues that are hard to explain. And I know that that’s obviously fantasy to some degree but what’s the Christian supposed to make of that? Do you laugh at something like that? Do you run away from that? What do you do?
Mike: Yeah, I don’t laugh at people. Let me just say it this way. The more exposed you get to this, you really can tell people who are genuinely disturbed and that’s the tiny minority. Many of them have had some sort of anomalous experience. They just want to be able to talk about it. And many of them want to keep their faith when they talk about it. They’re looking for a way to process it.
So what I often do is sort of along the lines that you started at here. It was, “The reason you had this anomalous experience is because there is an unseen world. There is an unseen spiritual world. And it’s different from what you’ve probably been taught in church or your traditional ways of teaching this.” And so we go into this. We go into cosmic geography. We go into entities. We go into the fact that Israelites didn’t just think that these were blocks of stone or wood, that an idol, to an Israelite, was significant because it was believed by the pagan that an entity lived in it. It was a way to localize a deity so that you could barter with it.
And isn’t it interesting that Yahweh forbids an image. He will not be localized. He will not be tamed. He will not be bartered with. Again, it’s very counter. So I get people to sort of consider that this isn’t at odds with the Biblical worldview. And once you get them to that place, even if it’s like ghosts and things like that, we talk about how there are passages in Scripture that presume that God could either in His permission, allow a deceased person to come back and communicate like a Samuel or you have nonhuman spirits that can masquerade. We talk about what the Biblical Old Testament theology of mediumship and there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
You can build bridges with people. What I try to do is get them to the point where they realize that, “All these questions I have… It looks like the Bible really is a place that I can talk about these things, that isn’t going to dismiss an anomalous experience because there’s lots of anomaly experiences going on in here.” If you can get a person to that point, then you can start talking about who is who in the unseen world. Who has power? The whole issue of allegiance and faith and covenant and some of the more familiar theological things. You can sort of build those bridges and that’s what I try to do, whether it’s on Coast to Coast or at a conference or something like that.
Bill: I’ve got the DVDs of the Roswell conference and I always enjoy that because people have come, looking for a variety of things and they find your work and the work of some of the other Christian folks there. And I think a percentage of them at least can anchor to that.
Mike: There are a lot of people. Roswell is fun. It’s just a family fun thing too. Just sort of a comical sort of thing. But then there’s this other side of it where there are a lot of people going there and they are ready to talk about big picture spiritual issues for a number of reasons. So I look at it as really fertile ground to engage people.
Bill: Sure, so if somebody—as we kind of get ready to close a little bit—This is a good way, as Mike is saying, you can build a bridge. If you understand your Bible in a way that can be interpreted, you can be very helpful to others that have some experiences that aren’t readily explained. So how can people study with you, Mike, and learn more about the divine council to begin with, as well as your other work?
Mike: Well, probably the easiest way…. There’s my home page. www.drmsh.com is the redirect. And if you are on the home page, if you’re interested in divine council stuff, there is a link there to my other site, www.thedivinecouncil.com. That’s probably the best place to start. And after you’ve digested that material, I have a first draft of a nonfiction book I’ve been working on for years. I just finished the first draft. That’s available on my site under… If you’re at the home page, it’s under Research Papers and people can get the first draft there. But that’s 330 pages of all things divine council, divine council worldview, to try and get in there.
I think it’s really important to point out too that everything that I’ve talked about here—everything I’ve talked about here—is in peer-reviewed academic literature. I have a bibliography, just a bibliography, that’s 150 pages long. I’m not making anything up. It’s not idiosyncratic. I write for academic journals, Christian and secular journals, on all this stuff. Intervarsity Press is a very well known Christian publisher. I did the divine council articles in their dictionaries. Again, this is not fringe when it comes to sort of an academic sort of thing but it’s difficult to have this sort of filter down and get it exposed to people. So I would say those are the places to start if people are interested in this thing we call the divine council.
Bill: I think going there, going to Mike’s site and studying this a little bit will give you a broader base and the new book that you have done, I have downloaded that and have read that and that’s wonderful stuff as well. So there are a lot of materials here. Mike, we’d like to try to get you back on sometime again, to talk about this further. I think a lot of folks are going to find this fascinating and we certainly thank you very much for your time and we know that you’re a busy guy and we look forward to more from you both academically, as well as I’d love to have you in the show again.
Mike: Yeah well, I’d love that too. We can work to coordinate a time for that.
Bill: Okay. Thanks again to all our listeners. We know as well that your time is valuable and we thank you for spending the last hour with us. Pastor Jeff Harlow, thank you for being with me.
Jeff: My pleasure.