Book Review: The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser)

Heiser is slowly becoming a household name. Heiser has 6,000 subscribers on YouTube, His podcast (Naked Bible Podcast) has 3,000 followers (on Facebook), and as of November 2016 it was ranked in iTunes’ Top Thirty most listened to Christian podcasts. I’ve reviewed I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, The Unseen Realm, and his popular-level version Supernatural.

Heiser’s newest book, The Bible Unfiltered, similar to I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, is made up of some of his contributions to Faithlife’s Bible Study Magazine. It consists of three parts: (1) Interpreting the Bible Responsibly and interpretations on (2) the Old Testament and (3) the New Testament.

Being Responsible

I’ve been listening to Heiser’s podcast for a few years now, and the bass line to all of his songs is understanding the Bible through the lens of the people who wrote it, especially those in the Old Testament (which is Heiser’s academic focus). He says God “prepared and chose men to accomplish that task [that of revealing and clarifying God’s thoughts, character, and purposes], not to insert obstacles to that task. This means that those of us living thousands of years after the words of Scripture were written face a predicament. We come from a different world. We did not share life with them. We are not of one mind in a multitude of ways” (2).

We are blessed to have Bible translations in many of our languages. We have the opportunity to read and understand the Word every day. But communication requires more than knowing the same language. It requires knowing the concepts, wordplays, and word connotations. The Bible is perplexing; in order to understand it we must know the biblical worldview.

The Bible isn’t here to give us a spiritual buzz. There’s more to know then just the four Gospels and Paul’s letters. “Knowing what all its [the Bible’s] parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God” (9). We all have flawed thinking. We ought to request help from the Spirit “to expose flawed thinking” and get to work to understand God’s word so that we may know him (10). The Bible is not set in the modern world. There is a lot of supernatural elements that modern readers think are too weird (see my posts on The Unseen Realm). The biblical authors believed the world was flat and covered by a solid dome (a “firmament”). Heiser plainly says that God did not set forth men to write his Word to teach us science. That was not his intention, and to read the Bible as a science textbook is to misread the Bible.

Can’t we just read the Bible literally? To use an analogy similar to Heiser’s, if I said, “My nose is running,” what am I saying? Is my nose physically running? Did it hit a home run? How does my wife’s stocking have a run? If my car is running on empty, where are its legs? In all of these statements, the meaning is plain… if you are a part of the culture. If you are not, these idioms make little sense. In Heiser’s analogy with water, he says, “‘Water’ can be used metaphorically for a life source, purification, transformation, motion, or danger. The metaphors work because of the physical properties of water—and still describe real things. Non-literal doesn’t mean ‘not real’” (31).

Heiser emphasizes actual Bible study, not just biblical memorization (though he doesn’t downplay that either—for an example, see my post on James 2.19). He gives an example on how not to misinterpret prophecy with the difficult text from James’ use of Amos 9.11–12 in Acts 15.16–18.

The Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament section, Heiser looks at the possible meaning of Yahweh’s name (though, unfortunately, the Hebrew is transliterated and no Hebrew text is given, which makes it more difficult to follow the argument). He looks at why the slave is brought before “elohim” in Exodus 21.1–6 but not Deuteronomy 15.12–18; the Angel of the Lord, his literary ambiguity with Yahweh, and Jesus who has “the name.” The secret things that belong to the Lord of Deuteronomy 29.29 are often misunderstood. God knows all things, and never tells us not to study the Bible to know deep things.

For many readers biblical readers, events that happen at trees don’t seem significant; Heiser unveils the importance of the ancient notion of sacred trees. He looks at some texts in Job to show that angels aren’t perfect, and that wasn’t a hidden fact to humans.

In the New Testament, Heiser examines Mark’s story of the demon-possessed swine and how the cultural notion of cosmic geography tells tells us a lot about this event. In Markan studies, everyone has to deal with the last section of Mark—is it original? Heiser bypasses this question and asks if exorcism is for everyone? There are different spiritual gifts, and we shouldn’t assume that all the gifts mentioned here will be handed out to all Christians. Heiser looks at another angle on what John may have been thinking when he said that “the Word was God,” what cosmological ideas James had in mind when he wrote that God was the Father of lights, and what demons believe about God? Of course, there is much more that I could say, but the book is short so I shouldn’t say too much, but Heiser’s many years of study come out again in this book to make the word become fresh again.

Recommended?

I like Heiser’s works because he not only knows the primary OT and ANE literature, but he’s up to date on much of current scholarship, while still remaining clever and not following trends because they’re popular (he takes a lot of minority views, e.g., rebellious divine beings in Psalm 82, and a rebellious divine being—and not Adam—in the background of Ezekiel 28). Although he has admitted he’s less of an innovator and more one who collects others’ ideas and brings them to the popular level, he still brings plenty to the table. Listeners of Heiser’s podcast will be familiar with a good portion of Part One, and at least some of the ideas in Parts Two and Three. The chapters are short and usually leave me wanting more, but it gives me just enough of a taste that it creates a desire in me to study more. If the Bible actually is this interesting (and it is), then I want to study it even more than I already do. If it creates that same desire in you, then it is well worth it.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (October 4, 2017)

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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.

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What Do Demons Believe about God? (James 2.19)

James 2:19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” In his new book The Bible Unfiltered, Michael Heiser says this “verse doesn’t say what many readers presume it says” (214). Is James merely saying that “the demons believe in God, and that doesn’t get them to heaven” (214)? Yes, they believe in God, but James’ point is that just as his reader believe God is one, so do the demons believe that too. “The demons believe something specific about God—and that specific belief is what makes them shudder” (215). “God is one” echoes the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” [shema’ is a transliteration of the Hebrew command () which means “Hear!”]. But why would this be scary?

God offered redemption to Israel who came from Israel. Abraham was chosen out of the nations (Gen 10) who were dispersed at the Tower of Babel (11.1-9). Deuteronomy 32:8–9 gives us another perspective on what happened at the Tower of Babel, saying, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” God called Abraham, “established his ‘portion’—the nation of Israel—[and] he set aside all other nations” and allotted them to divine beings, sons of God (Job 38.7), which are referred to in Deuteronomy (4.19; 17.3) as the “host of heaven” (216). They are also referred to as gods (elohim) and demons (shedim) in Deuteronomy (4:19–20; 17:3; 29:24–26; 32:17). Heiser says that At some point “these sons of God… became corrupt and abused their authority (Ps 82) by seducing the Israelites to worship them instead of the true God (Deut 29:24–26; 32:17)” (216).

The demons (32.17; Jam 2.19) know “God is one.” Salvation was not, is not, and will not be extended to them. God chose to save Israel, and he will never save the demons. “Only the Israelites had the truth about the Most High God: God had become incarnate in Christ. By embracing Jesus, James’ audience was embracing the ultimate outcome of their ancient covenant faith” (217).

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The Father of Lights (James 1.17)

James 1.17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.“ What does James then mean when he says “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”? In his new book The Bible Unfiltered, Michael Heiser says, “‘Father of lights’ points to God’s role as creator of the stars and other celestial objects” as seen in the original creation account and in the Psalms (Gen 1:14–18; Pss 136:7–9; 148:1–5—(p. 211)). In Genesis 1.14-18, the sun, moon, and stars were to “be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” They marked the changing of the seasons. Heiser remarks that the Greek word (tropē) for the word “change” in James 1.17 is used in Greek literature “to describe the movement and positioning of stars, seasonal changes and their effect on the land, and the two annual solstices” (212). James’ use of “change” and “shadow” connotes an eclipse. So whereas the sun, moon, and stars change positions, the Father does not change.

But God is more than Creator. Ancient Near Eastern cultures, including the OT biblical authors, believed that the stars were heavenly beings.

Deuteronomy 4.19 says, “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

Deuteronomy 17.3 says, “and [if someone] has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden….

Job 38.7 says, “when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

James, referring to God as the creator of all heavenly beings, is “emphasizing that they are created and are therefore inferior. God alone is uncreated” (212). There is no darkness in God at all (cf. 1 John 1.5). Though some of his creation fell (see ch. 28 of The Bible Unfiltered, along with Ps 82; Gen 3 and 6), God does not change. He does not fail.

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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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Who Were the Nephilim?

Gustave_Dor_Dante_Inferno_Titans

One of the questions that many Christians have is, “What is Genesis 6 talking about?”

Genesis 6.1-4 says,

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

It gets worse too. Numbers 13.32b-33 says,

“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

renders-germans

Dr. Michael Heiser, an Academic Editor at Logos Bible Software, has written a new book called The Unseen Realm (see my previous post here, and his less academic work on the same topic, Supernatural). In this book Heiser takes a look at the cultural worldview of the Israelites and the nations who lived around them. Heiser’s catchphrase is “If it’s weird, it’s important.” The these short verses about the Nephilim surely are more important than Christians make them out to be.

I found Heiser’s discussion to be very interesting, and I hope you do too. Even if you don’t agree, discussion is welcomed. I want these posts to be light reading. Short and easy (a far cry from the norm around here). So I’ll write posts that will be bite-sized chunks of a few chapters in Heiser’s book.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

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And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

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The Unseen Realm is Coming

Does Deuteronomy 32.8 say, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (ESV)? Or does it say, “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel” (NKJV)?

Does it matter?

Yes, it does (my friend Lindsay wrote about it here). But why does it matter? What does the Bible tell us about the supernatural? What did the ancient Israelites believe about this unseen realm?

The text below comes from the Logos website. If you look there they also have the official video. Michael Heiser is the author of this blog, this podcast blog, and this blog. Over the last year and a half, when my friend Lindsay talked about him, Lindsay always referred to Heiser as the “Divine Counsel guy.” That’s what he’s most known for and how I could best remember him. Now, after fifteen years of work, his book The Unseen Realm is out (it came out yesterday, in fact). You can read about it below.

Here you can find The Unseen Realm and Supernatural for sale on Amazon.


Overview

The psalmist declared that God presides over an assembly of divine beings (Psa. 82:1). Who are they? What does it mean when those beings participate in God’s decisions (1 Kings 22:19–23)? Why wasn’t Eve surprised when the serpent spoke to her? Why are Yahweh and his Angel fused together in Jacob’s prayer (Gen. 48:15–16)? How did descendants of the Nephilim (Gen. 6:4) survive the flood (Num. 13:33)? What are we to make of Peter and Jude’s belief in imprisoned spirits (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6)? Why does Paul describe evil spirits in terms of geographical rulership (thrones, principalities, rulers, authorities)? Who are the “glorious ones” that even angels dare not rebuke (2 Pet. 2:10–11)?

The Unseen Realm presents the fruit of Dr. Heiser’s fifteen years of research into what the Bible really says about the unseen world of the supernatural. His goal is to help readers view the biblical text unfiltered by tradition or by theological presuppositions. “People shouldn’t be protected from the Bible,” Dr. Heiser says. But theological systems often do just that, by “explaining away” difficult or troublesome passages of Scripture because their literal meaning doesn’t fit into our tidy systems.

In The Unseen Realm, Michael Heiser shines a light on the supernatural world—not a new light, but rather the same light the original, ancient readers—and writers—of Scripture would have seen it in, given their historical and cultural milieu. This light allows today’s pastors and scholars to understand the biblical authors’ supernatural worldview.

Get an unfiltered look at what the Bible really says about the unseen world.

Praise for The Unseen Realm

This is a “big” book in the best sense of the term. It is big in its scope and in its depth of analysis. Michael Heiser is a scholar who knows Scripture intimately in its ancient cultural context. All—scholars, clergy, and laypeople—who read this profound and accessible book will grow in their understanding of both the Old and New Testaments, particularly as their eyes are opened to the Bible’s “unseen world.”

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“How was it possible that I had never seen that before?” Dr Heiser’s survey of the complex reality of the supernatural world as the Scriptures portray it covers a subject that is strangely sidestepped. No one is going to agree with everything in his book, but the subject deserves careful study, and so does this book.

—Jon Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

There is a world referred to in the Scripture that is quite unseen, but also quite present and active. Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm seeks to unmask this world. Heiser shows how prevalent and important it is to understand this world and appreciate how its contribution helps to make sense of Scripture. The book is clear and well done, treating many ideas and themes that often go unseen themselves. With this book, such themes will no longer be neglected, so read it and discover a new realm for reflection about what Scripture teaches.

Darrell L. Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement, Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement. Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

Contents

  • Part 1: First Things
    • Reading Your Bible Again—for the First Time
    • Rules of Engagement
  • Part 2: The Households of God
    • God’s Entourage
    • God Alone
    • As in Heaven, So on Earth
    • Gardens and Mountains
    • Eden—Like No Place on Earth
    • Only God Is Perfect
    • Peril and Providence
  • Part 3: Divine Transgressions
    • Appearances Can Be Deceiving
    • Like the Most High?
    • Divine Transgression
    • The Bad Seed
    • Divine Allotment
    • Cosmic Geography
  • Part 4: Yahweh and His Portion
    • Abraham’s Word
    • Yahweh Visible and Invisible
    • What’s in a Name?
    • Who Is Like Yahweh?
    • Retooling the Template
    • God’s Law, God’s Council
    • Realm Distinction
  • Part 5: Conquest and Failure
    • Giant Problems
    • The Place of the Serpent
    • Holy War
  • Part 6: Thus Says The Lord
    • Mountains and Valleys
    • Standing in the Council
    • Divine Misdirection
    • The Rider of the Clouds
    • Prepare to Die
  • Part 7: The Kingdom Already
    • Who Will God for Us?
    • Preeminent Domain
    • A Beneficial Death
    • Infiltration
    • Son of God, Seed of Abraham
    • Lower Than the Elohim
    • This Means War
    • Choosing Sides
  • Part 8: The Kingdom Not Yet
    • Final Verdict
    • Foe from the North
    • The Mount of Assembly
    • Describing the Indescribable
  • Epilogue

Product Details

  • Title: The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible
  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Publisher: Lexham Press
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Pages: 384

About Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is the academic editor for Logos Bible Software, Bible Study Magazine, and Faithlife Study Bible. He is the coeditor of Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology and Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations; he is also the Hebrew instructor for Learn to Use Hebrew for Logos Bible Software. He earned his PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages and holds and MA in ancient history and Hebrew studies. In addition, he was named the 2007 Pacific Northwest Regional Scholar by the Society of Biblical Literature.


UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

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