The Word Was God

Where did John get the idea to call Jesus the Word (logos)? While there are some links to both Jewish and Greek ideas which John is playing off of, Michael Heiser, in his new book The Bible Unfiltered, says that John is working off of Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. Why Aramaic? By Jesus’ time, “Aramaic was the Jewish people’s native language” (166). While the Septuagint is what we call the Greek Old Testament translation, the Aramaic translations are called Targums. So because they spoke Aramaic, the Jews would have been very familiar with the Targums. Targum Onqelos, the Aramaic version of the Pentateuch, “was sanctioned by Jewish religious authorities for use in the synagogue” (166). Heiser gives two examples to show how the Targums portray God as the “Word” (memra).

The second examples he gives, which I will show first, comes from Targum Neofiti Genesis 3.8:

English Standard Version ……..Targum Neofiti

And they heard the sound……….And they heard the sound
of the Lord God….….….….……….of the Word (memra) of the Lord God
walking in the garden……………..walking in the garden

Heiser says that “memra is used hundreds of times in the Targums to describe God, often in passages where the language presumes God is present in physical, human form” (167). Using “Word” in this way so early in the Targum will evoke this idea of a physically present God later on in other instances.

This is not too difficult to believe, for this kind of physicality is present in the Hebrew scriptures.

Genesis 15:1, After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 15:4,  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

1 Samuel 3:21, And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (cf. 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 1 Kgs 6:11; 13:20).

Jeremiah 1:4, Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying… (cf. 1.11, 13; 2.1).

Although in many of these instances the word of the Lord could “come” through a prophet of the Lord, although that seems less likely to be the case in Genesis 15, 1 Samuel 3, and throughout Jeremiah.

The next example comes from Targum Neofiti Numbers 14.11:

English Standard Version ………………..

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will this people despise me?
And how long will they not believe
in me,
in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Targum Neofiti

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will they not believe
in the name of my Word
in spite of all the signs of my miracles that I have done among them?”

In Targum Neofiti, the Lord refers to himself with the Aramaic term memra, “my Word.” John may be referencing Numbers 14.11 in John 1.14, “the Word became flesh.” Why would John do this? John “does this because the translations he had heard so many times in the synagogue had taught him that God was the Word—the memra—and he believed Jesus was God” (167). This becomes more plausible when we look at John 12.36–37, which seems to echo Numbers 14.11 again.

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.

How did God perform signs among his people? Both Yahweh, the Word, and Jesus, the Word, performed signs, and yet his people did not believe them.

God walking about in a physical (albeit, veiled) manner wouldn’t have been shocking to the Jews reading John’s gospel (cf. Gen 18.1). However the Word was Jesus, the Son of God, the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, the second eternal person of the divine Godhead. “The Word of the Old Testament had been made flesh (John 1:14) and walked among us” (168).

For more on the Angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Jesus read here:


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Book Review: The Unseen Realm (Michael Heiser)

God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council;

         In the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment (Ps 82.1, ESV)

What do we make of God, who is “elohim,” holding judgment in the midst of other “elohim”? Psalm 82 states that the gods were being condemned as corrupt in their administration of the nations of the earth” (p. 12, cf. Deut. 32.8).

Dr. Michael Heiser aims to provide an “unfiltered look at what the Bible really says about the unseen realm.” Many Christians are fine believing in the spiritual realm where God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, and demons reside. But often if you go beyond that, they become skeptical. For the last 15 years Heiser has researched the ancient Near Eastern cultures and their writings to grasp the mindset of the ancient Israelite. How differently did they think about the spiritual world than we do today?

Paul said we wrestle against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. How did he know this? Who are these beings? It takes putting on the mindset of an ancient Israelite to know this. After reading The Unseen Realm you will see the Bible through new eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions by Christians:

  • What/who are angels and demons and where did they come from?
  • Is there a hierarchy?
  • Did animals talk before the Fall? Why wasn’t Eve afraid of the snake?
  • Why did God send the Flood?
  • Why did God command Israel to wipe out the Canaanites? How can I accept this?
  • Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6?
  • What does this have to do with me as a Christian today?
  • Does it make a difference?

Summary

The Unseen Realm is divided into eight sections made up by 42 chapters. It’s not easy to summarize these eight sections in a few sentences, but I’ll give it a shot. 

Part 1: First Things
This is the book’s introduction where Heiser describes the beginning of his journey and how the weird verses that we don’t give much thought to actually are important.

Part 2: The Households of God
God has a “divine family,” the Divine Council, who serve him and carry out his commands. God also has an earthly family who is to spread God’s name across the globe, fulfilling his commands. Though God, Yahweh, is superior, both families will still rebel.

Part 3: Divine Transgressions
The nachash (the serpent, a divine being) rebels against YHWH and convinces the first man and woman to sin. There are more divine transgressions in Genesis 6, with the offspring residing in the land of Canaan, land given to Abraham and his seed. The tower of Babel “citizens” are dispersed and placed under the rule of lesser gods who try to rival YHWH’s power. There will be war.

Part 4: Yahweh and His Portion
YHWH chooses Abraham out of the dispersion and will create a people out of Abram who will follow Him. He would be a father of many nations, implying that the dispersed nations would be brought back to YHWH. Here we see aspects of the Trinity; lines that are blurred. All believers, Jews and Gentiles, will replace the divine council, and we are already-but-not-yet his council on earth.

Part 5: Conquest and Failure
There are “giant problems” after the Flood. “Yahweh had chosen to accomplish his ends through imagers loyal to him against imagers who weren’t” (215). YHWH’s presence is unwelcome to the rebellious earth-dwellers, and Heiser argues that Joshua’s holy war was against the descendants of the Nephilim, not “normal” humans.

Part 6: Thus Says the Lord
The nations remained under the rule of the foreign gods. Israel, God’s people, was constantly at war with these other nations. The Temple, where Israel met with their God, was like the Garden of Eden. But Israel rebelled, and God commissioned the Prophets, usually in his divine council throne room (Isa 6.1-2). Daniel 7 shows us a man who rides the clouds, and the eternal kingdom given to him will be also be given to the holy ones of the most high (Dan 7.14, 18, 22).

Part 7: The Kingdom Already
“The New Testament” marks the rebirth of a struggle thousands of years in the making” (344). Jesus has the Name of the Lord on him and leads Israel and the Gentiles out of exile in the new Exodus. Pentecost reverses the tower of Babel scene. Believers, being ‘sons of God,’ will have governing rule (Dan 7.14, 18, 22), and they will displace the rebellious beings and judge them (1 Cor 6.3). 1 Peter tells us that baptism is spiritual warfare, “a pledge of loyalty to the risen Savior” (338).

Part 8: The Kingdom Not Yet
Heiser compares the throne room imagery between Revelation and the prophets. He views the foe from the north, Gog and Magog, as having some sort of relation with Bashan, a common spiritual enemy to Israel in the OT. In the end, YHWH will return with his holy ones, angels and glorified humans.

Most sections ends with a quick Section Summary.

Recommended?

Highly recommended. While I think (but I’m not sure) Heiser might be viewing too many texts through his Deuteronomy 32 worldview, he also brings to light texts that many have either overlooked or avoided because of their weirdness.

Though Heiser has stated on his podcast that he is a grammar nerd, his book is surprisingly easy to read. The concepts are heavy because they will likely be something you’ve never heard before, but he is able to simplify the concepts into bite-sized chapters that range between 5-10 pages. Heiser succeeds in making the scholarly world accessible to the layman. Many of the deep, textual matters are left to the footnotes. Though you may not agree with everything Heiser says, he puts together the OT thought world, concepts, and lifestyle into our understanding formed (probably) primarily by the NT. He presents an overarching view of the Bible that appears to work, and it’s one that I will work into my understanding. 

Heiser’s view helps me want to read the Bible more since I have a better understanding of what is happening “behind the scenes.” I have a better understanding of the Israelite mindset, and any book that helps me to read the Bible more (like this one here) is worth the buy.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 1, 2015)

Previous Posts

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Is the Whole Trinity Seen in the OT?

I’ve been trying to show how the lines of separation between Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh were blurred in the OT. In my last post we saw how the OT writers portray Yahweh as riding the clouds. He is the ultimate authority. But in the OT there is another who rides the clouds. In one scene we find out that the Son of Man, who we would eventually meet as Jesus in the NT, also rode the clouds. But, these two characters don’t make up a Trinity, only a Binity. In the OT, do the biblical authors blur the lines between Yahweh, the Angel of Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit?

Isa 63.7-10

In Isa 63:7-11, in “an account of the wilderness wanderings, Yahweh is mentioned (v.7) along with the Angel of his presence (v.9). Yahweh was the savior of Israel (v.8), but so was the Angel (v.9)…” (294, n.7).

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior.

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10  But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.

Ps. 78.40-41

“Psa 78:40-41 is a parallel passage to Isa 63:7-11…” (294, n.7).

40  How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!

41  They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

Ezekiel 8.1-6

“In Ezek 8 the prophet sees a divine being in the form of a man (v.2). The being is embodied, since he extends his hand to lift him up (v.3). Later (vv. 5-6), the entity speaks to Ezekiel and refers to the temple as ‘my sanctuary.’” (294, n.7).

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem… And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

“Is the entity the Spirit, who is identified as Yahweh by virtue of his reference to ‘my sanctuary,’ or is he the embodied Yahweh, who seems to have been the Spirit as well?” (294, n.7).

The End

This ends my discussions from Heiser’s book (at least for now… before I review The Unseen Realm). I’ve looked at the Nephilim, the tower of Babel, God allotting the nations to be ruled by other gods, and finally the Trinity as viewed in a few texts from the OT. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these posts and have learned a lot from them too. Heiser’s book has been one of the most (if not the most) informative book I’ve read this year. Highly recommended. My review will be up next.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

Daniel 7 and the Cloud Rider

GokuHasANewNimbus

Cloud Riders

One of the biggest threats to God’s people in the OT was another god called Baal. Israel was to be a monotheistic community, a group whose sole devotion was directed towards YHWH only. But as the pages of Scripture repeatedly tell us, Israel didn’t follow the rules.

Baal was the storm and fertility god. So if his followers needed crops, they would pray for rain and grain. In some ways it was easier to be polytheistic, at least for the placebo affect. You don’t just pray to one god because, really, how can one God do it all? So you pray to all gods to get all of your prayers fulfilled.

Yet Baal wasn’t just another face in the crowd. He was one of the higher deities in the polytheistic pantheon. And Israel like to worship him, especially since one form of worship involved sexual rituals. Who could say no to that?

In some of the texts of Ugarit, Israel’s northern neighbor, Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” It pretty much became his official title. LeBron James shoots hoops, Baal rides clouds.

Yet, it wasn’t just Baal who rode clouds. To turn all the attention back to Yahweh instead of Baal, the biblical authors “occasionally pilfered this stock description of Baal… and assigned it to Yahweh…” (251). 

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty (Deut 33.26)

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice (Ps 68.32-33)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!… He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire (Ps 104.1-4)

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them (Isa 19.1)

“The effect was to… hold up Yahweh as the deity who legitimately rode through the heavens surveying and governing the world” (252).

Every instance in the OT where someone is riding the clouds, that “someone” is Yahweh. Except, there is… one exception. There is a second figure. A human figure. 

Daniel 7.13, The Lone Exception

Daniel 7.13 reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In the NT we find a number of connections to Jesus. A few are given below:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mk 2.10-11)

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Lk 17.24-25)

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24.26)

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14.61-62)

Here, “Caiaphas understood that Jesus was claiming to be the second Yahweh figure on Daniel 7:13 — and that was an intolerable blasphemy” (253). Along with these Son of Man texts, there are other connections with Jesus and clouds. 

And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1.9).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1.9)

Some form of the Trinity was seen in the OT. Even the Jews around and before the first century were talking about “two powers in heaven.” Yet, once Christians began to elaborate on the Trinity, the Jews declared the “two powers” idea a heresy, and belief that still holds today among Jews.

So far we’ve only looked at these “two powers,” but what about the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit? Are the lines blurred with the Holy Spirit too? Heiser brings up a few texts, and I’ll look at them in my next post.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

And He Struggled With the Angel

495px-Eugène_Delacroix_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_(detail)_-_WGA06221

Since I didn’t want you to think The Unseen Realm was only about Nephilim, I wanted to write about the Trinity as seen in the Old Testament. Last time I looked at the blurring between the Angel of YHWH and YHWH himself in Genesis 22. In this post I’ll look at a few texts that deal with God appearing to Jacob.

He Struggled With the Angel

Genesis 32.24-30 says,

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

Read Gen 16.13, where Hagar says something similar after seeing the angel of the Lord. With Jacob’s case, this divine being was physical. He could be touched. He was wrestled with. Hosea confirms this divine identity with Hebrew parallelism.

Hosea 12

Hosea 12.3-4 says,

In the womb he [Jacob] took his brother by the heel,

and in his manhood he strove with God.

wwwwwwwwwwwwHe strove with the angel

wwwwwwwwwwwwand prevailed;

he wept and sought his favor.

He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—

Hosea describes Jacob’s struggle as one that occurred with God, the same God who appeared to Jacob at Bethel (Gen 35.1).

Jacob’s Blessing

Finally, in Genesis 48.15-16, Jacob blesses his son Joseph and says,

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,

the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,

the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;

The point isn’t that God is an angel, a created being. It’s that this “angel” is YHWH. Some would say that Jacob is speaking about two beings, YHWH and an angel. But the grammar rules otherwise. The Hebrew word for “bless” is singular “telegraphing a tight fusion of the two divine beings on the part of the author. In other words, the writer had a clear opportunity to distinguish the God of Israel from the angel, but instead merges their identities” (140).

If there is only one Yahweh, why does the biblical author fuse him with the Angel? Or why does he leave the text ambiguous? Why not make sure that the reader understands the difference between the two beings? In my next post, we’ll see another confirming sign. 

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

The Trinity in the Old Testament

abraham-yisehaqisaac-the-angel-of-the-lord-har-yhwh-yireh-mount-of-gods-vision

If I could, I’d write a post about just about every chapter of Heiser’s The Unseen Realm. But since that might cross the line a bit, I thought I’d upload a few more to give you a better idea of what this book is about (Hint: the Nephilim only take up a small portion of the book). While I’ll go into the overall view of the book in my review, Heiser brings up a topic that causes many discussions in apologetic and religious circles.

There are “whispers” of the Godhead in the Old Testament.

Take Your Son, Your Only Son

I can’t name all of the instances Heiser writes about, but one example is when Abraham was going to sacrifice his promised son Isaac. So far in Genesis, Abraham has already had a few encounters with YHWH, whether it be:

  • “The Word of YHWH” coming to Abraham (Gen 15.1)
  • The Lord appearing to Abraham (Gen 17.1; 18.1; John 8.56; Gal 3.8)
  • The Lord saying to Abraham (Gen 12.1; cf. Acts 7.2)

But now the visible YHWH figure will be referred to as the “Angel of the Lord.” Though the Angel of the Lord has appeared before (cf. Gen 16.7-11; 21.17), here the line between the Angel and YHWH is blurred. 

In Genesis 22.1-9 Abraham follows the strange command of YHWH and takes Isaac up Mount Moriah to sacrifice him as a burnt offering.

Genesis 22.10-18 reads,

10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The Angel of YHWH calls to Abraham. Abraham isn’t afraid that he might be associating with another god. He recognizes this new voice. But this isn’t YHWH, it’s his “angel,” or “messenger.” Yet this “messenger” commends Abraham for not withholding his son “from me.” Yet in 22.1-2 it was YHWH, not the angel, who commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Heiser comments,

“The wording of the text blurs the distinction between Yahweh and the angel by swapping the angel into the role of the person who initially demanded the sacrifice as a test — Yahweh himself…. Consequently the biblical writer had the opportunity to make sure Yahweh and the angel were distinguished but did not do so…. [This wasn’t] a failure. It’s not a careless oversight. The wording is designed to blur the two persons” (136). 

Conclusion

This is a small example, one of many. Reading the NT texts along with the given Genesis texts may help reinforce the point for you. If you need more, I’ll be writing up a few more posts. Or, consequently, you could just buy the book.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

Buy it on Amazon or on Audiobook!

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon (or on Audiobook) t00!