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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A Flood of Stories

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In surveying the options to answer the question, “Who were the Nephilim?,” we last looked at the view that the Nephilim were the offspring of rebellious divine beings. In his book The Unseen Realm. Michael Heiser mentions how 1 Enoch informed the worldview of Peter and Jude. He tells us

“Jewish literature like 1 Enoch that retold the story shows a keen awareness of [the] Mesopotamian context” of Genesis 6, and “Jewish thinkers of the Second Temple period [the period between the testaments] understood… that the story involved divine beings and giant offspring. That understanding is essential to grasping what the biblical writers were trying to communicate” (102).

Genesis 6.1-4 is a polemic, a strong attack on someone or something. It is an effort to undermine the “credibility of the Mesopotamian gods and other aspects of that culture’s worldview” (102). This involves borrowing ideas from the Babylonian culture and changing them to illuminate a correct theology of Yahweh while at the same time discrediting other gods.

“Gilgameche” in History 151

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It was in university where I first heard the idea that there were other flood stories (e.g., the Epic of Gilgamesh) besides the biblical story of Noah. While this didn’t shake my faith, it struck me as odd. It wasn’t so much hearing that there were other flood stories, but that I had never even heard of this before! But it is true. Mesopotamia is replete with other flood stories that deal with a large boat and the salvation of animals and people. Below are a few notable mentions. 

The Supporting Cast

The apkallus: In the time before the flood, a group of divine beings who possessed profound knowledge. Many were considered evil and were integral to Mesopotamian demonology.

Marduk: the chief god of Babylon

The Apsu: “subterranean waters deep inside the earth” (103).

Their Story

As some of the Mesopotamian stories go, the apkallus mated with women and “produced quasi-divine offspring” which were considered to be two-thirds apkallu (102). This matches the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the hero Gilgamesh “was considered a giant who retained knowledge from before the flood” (103).

In another text, the Erra Epic, Marduk punishes the evil apkallus with banishment to the Apsu (also a part of the underworld). In doing this Marduk commands that the apkallus never come up again (reminding us of 2 Pet. 2.4 and Jude 6-7). The fact that this link is found not in the OT but in the NT (2 Peter and Jude) shows that the intertestamental Jewish writers were keenly aware of the Mesopotamian background.

Conclusion

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No, I’m kidding!

Were the Nephilim really offspring of divine beings who rebelled against Yahweh and had sex with human women? Why do we need to know this? How is it relevant to the rest of Genesis? In my next post it only gets weirder. I’ll look at Genesis 6.1-4 in its original context, along with what we are to do with the Nephilim, some watchers, and why the Israelites cared.

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Don’t worry. This won’t become a soap opera with characters who have no business being in the show.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

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And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

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