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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