To understand Michael Heiser’s theology and how he has veered far from sound doctrine, it is important to discuss his error of interpreting his paradigmatic biblical passages. His entire theological system is dependent on paralleling Psalm 82 with Psalm 89; as well as his interpretation of Deuteronomy 32 being paralleled with Deuteronomy 4. He says of his own theological system, “The key passages are Deut 32:8–9 and its parallel, Deut 4:19–20:”1) Michael Heiser, “The Divine Council and Biblical Theology,” p. 11; http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DivineCouncilLBD.pdf

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 states, “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” Heiser explains his theological position in a nutshell.

The aftermath of the Babel incident shows that Yahweh expected that council beings use their own free decision making capacity. In Deuteronomy 4:19–20 and 32:8–9, Yahweh divided and assigned the nations to lesser gods (Heiser, “Sons of God”). Yahweh delegated authority—He rejected the nations as His own people and took Israel as His portion. While Yahweh is ultimately sovereign, He does not unilaterally govern the other nations. He leaves that to subordinates, who should rule according to His will. When they don’t, they are judged. This is precisely the point of Psa 82, where Yahweh judges the gods of his council who are responsible for corrupt rule over the nations of the earth.2) Michael Heiser, “The Divine Council and Biblical Theology,” p. 4; http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DivineCouncilLBD.pdf

First, His premise is structured on textual critical considerations of Deuteronomy 32:8, rejecting the Masoretic Text for various others that read “sons of God” in place of “sons of Israel.” Heiser understands that the dispersion of the Tower of Babel resulted in 70 nations which God has placed the 70 created second tier gods to rule over. This is contrasted to the traditional Jewish and Christian position, that the 70 is based on the number of the children of Israel/Jacob when they entered Egypt (Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5); which is more specific to the context of the Jewish nation beginning their time out of Canaan and being reminded of this fact by Moses in Deuteronomy 32 just before entering Canaan again.

A number of Septuagint version has “angels of God” in Deuteronomy 32:8, which is obviously erroneous since nowhere do we find a premise for angels numbering only 70, but always innumerable (Psalm 68:17; Matthew 26:53; Hebrew 12:22; Revelation 5:11). Nowhere are angels numbered as 70, nor the nations number as innumerable. Heiser recognizes, “The MT reading is also reflected in several later revisions of the LXX: a manuscript of Aquila (Codex X), Symmachus (also Codex X), and Theodotion”3) Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 15, fn 41; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis The Peshita could be added to this as well. However, most Septuagint version reflect the reading “angels of God” are clearly indicating that if they were familiar with “sons of God” in the text, they were understanding it to mean angels which refutes Heiser’s idea of a “divine plurality.” Surely the textual deviation originated rather early in the textual history, but the logic is either identifying that the Gentile nations divided in Genesis 11:1-9 (being identified in Genesis 10) are equal to the sons of Israel when they entered Egypt (Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5; Deuteronomy 10:22); or, as Heiser would understand it, these gods which are distinct from angels as a higher class of spiritual beings are only 70 in number. However, Heiser has an inconsistency arising as he also acknowledge the 70 “gods” are in rebellion against Jehovah, but he also recognizes a nonspecific number of gods that have remained faithful to Jehovah, which further refutes his number of 70 gods. Heiser emphasis on the “sons of God” reading is primarily based upon the Dead Sea Scrolls, of which 33 manuscripts of Deuteronomy where discovered, only 2 of which portray the preferred reading of Heiser (4QDtj and 4QDtq), both of which were discovered in Cave 4 which contained 22 text of Deuteronomy with the other 11 text being scattered between 5 other caves (caves 1, 2, 5, 6, 11) and three other sites farther south (Masada, Nahal Hever, and Murabba‘at ).4)The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (trans. Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1999), p. 145

From an exegetical perspective, since Moses clearly identified the number 70 with the nation of Israel, it should be clear that this is what Moses meant. The issue with Heiser is that he does not believe in the Mosaic authorship so he does not intend to see the Torah, or the book of Deuteronomy as being written by a single author. Heiser writes, “That the text of LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls is superior to MT in Deut 32:8-9 is not in dispute.”5)Michale S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 83; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis I would dispute that claim, and so would many others that do not assume his heretical views are valid. In fact, from a textual critical position, we would ask why he picks a few LXX texts and two out of 33 Dead Sea Scrolls copies of Deuteronomy? He surely does not have the majority of evidence on his side. Actually, the LXX has 72 nations mentioned in Genesis 10, which Heiser is aware of.6)Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 280, fn. 8 This fact reveals the “sons of Israel” as the division of nations proving the “sons of God” rendering Deuteronomy 32 inconsistent. This would imply that the first version expressing “sons of God” in Deuteronomy was intending to identify the nation Israel as the sons of God (Exodus 4:22), and it was later scribes altering the phrase to “angels of God” as their dynamic equivalent interpretive rendering. In fact, the immediate context proves this as Deuteronomy 32:5 refers to the nation as “his chilren” and Deuteronomy 32:6 calls God “thy father” of Israel collectively. Since Deuteronomy 32:39 says “there is no god with me,” the reference of Deuteronomy 32:17 stating they “sacrifice unto devils” is paralleled with “to new gods that came newly up” obviously speaking of the golden calf idol made by Aaron (Exodus 32:2-6). This is further express in Deuteronomy 32:21 with Moses song again revealing the parallel of those which are not God are vainities. “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities[.]”

Philo references Deuteronomy 32 a couple of times always citing it as “angels of God” (Philo, The Posterity and Exile of Cain, 89-93;7) in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 140-141 Noah’s Work as a Planter, 59),8) in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 196 showing that it was not interpreted as Heiser’s “gods.” Heiser mentions in his doctoral dissertation, “Mention should also be made of seventy angelic shepherds of 1 Enoch 89-90, the Animal Apocalypse. While it is tempting to see these shepherds as a direct parallel to the sons of God of Deut 32:8-9 (cf. the seventy nations of the Table of Nations), Nickelsburg correctly notes that the source of the seventy shepherds in Enoch is more likely Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 11. The seventy shepherds of 1 Enoch 89-90 are human, not angelic. They are not over the Gentile nations, but over Israel, and the number seventy is associated with seventy time periods, not the number of the nations created by the division of the nations in Genesis 11 referenced in Deut 32:8-9.”9) Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 230; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis It seems odd that he first refers to them as “seventy angelic shepherds” when admitting that they are humans after all. Seventy shepherds would be just as suitable to depict the patriarchs of Israel, being seventy in number representing the family divisions of the nation beyond the twelve tribes, since they were shepherds when entering Egypt (Genesis 46:31-34). The patriarchs are not intended in 1 Enoch, but the pattern of 70 shepherds likely stems to the patriarchs further representing the Jewish thought of Second Temple period connecting the number 70 to the children of Israel. Note that Heiser’s own words can express the validity of interpreting the LXX rendering of “angels” to mean humans.

Heiser further states, “It would make no sense for God to divided up the nations of the earth ‘according to the number of the sons of Israel’ if there was no Israel. This point is also brought home in another way, namely by the fact that Israel is not listed in the Table of Nations.”10) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 113 This is an obscene argument for one who believes in a postexilic authorship of the Torah. He argues that the word nephilim is derived from Aramaic naphiyla, which Jewish scribes picked up during the Babylonian captivity.11) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 107 This implies that Heiser believes the Torah was written (or at very least redacted) after the captivity, not by Moses. At very least he is indicated these scribes returned to Judah and corrupted the Hebrew Scriptures by inserting this new word which was importing Mesopotamian myths into the text. The thought that Hebrew and Aramaic are cognate languages and the fact that Abraham came to Canaan from Chaldea never crossed his mind (Acts 7:2-4). Isaac could speak with Laban the Syrian (Genesis 25:20), but centuries later Hebrew and Syriac were distinct unintelligible languages (2 Kings 18:26). Heiser assumes a later date for Genesis because his insistence on importing pagan cultures onto the Scripture, claiming, “Because literary content of Genesis 1-11 has so many deep, specific touchpoints with Mesopotamian literary works, many scholars believe that these chapters either were written during the exile in Babylon or were edited at that time.”12) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 107 Obviously he means only liberal scholars. Perhaps if he read scholars that actually believe the Bible, like Jonathan Safarti’s The Genesis Acount: a Theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11, he would see his errors in interpreting God’s word through the filter of pagan literature or unbelieving “scholars.” Again, we find Heiser’s own argument self-refuting, since his late date for the Torah would also allow the author(s)/redactor(s) to write with retrospect when presenting the Babel account. In sound doctrinal reading of Scriptures, we would see God’s providence and foreknowledge in orchestrating the Babel event, and Moses as the true author of Genesis would still be recording the event in retrospect during the wandering period of the exodus.

The second issue with Heiser’s view of this passage is that he believes his authoritative reading from the LXX as “sons of God” is to be understood as a second class of divine beings. Commenting on the passage and expounding his theological view, Heiser writes, “The correspondences are deliberate. The seventy nations were placed under the dominion of lesser gods in the wake of Yahweh’s judgment of the nations at the Tower of Babel. Yahweh’s own kingdom is structured with a single leader (Moses for now), with whom he speaks directly, and a council of seventy. Historically, this leadership structure would continue into Jesus’ day as the Jewish Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, numbered seventy.”13) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 157 This comment is completely false, especially because it is following Exodus 24:1-2, 9-10 as his proof text. The text itself has Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, which equals 74; not Heiser’s magic number of 70. Furthermore, the Sanhedrin never consisted of 70 persons as a council. The Mishna tells us, “The greater Sanhedrin was made up of one and seventy [judges] and the lesser [Sanhedrin] of three and twenty.”14) Sanhedrin 1.6; The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 383 The number seventy-one was deduced from Numbers 11:16 which has 70 elders plus Moses making 71 members total. It was also advised, “The court must not be divisible equally,”15) Sanhedrin 1.6; The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 383 so judgment could not end in a stalemate. “The Sanhedrin included the high priest, who according to tradition could break ties in voting.”16)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 3:1-14:28, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 2, p. 1139 Heiser boasts himself as a scholar who knows more than others because his study in the historical and cultural background, but he cannot get his facts straight. When he is unable to twist the grammar, and cannot allegorize a text into what he wants it to say, he makes up history to force it into his view.

The early church fathers were dependent upon the Greek reading of the Septuagint text and were aware of the textual edition that Heiser hangs his interpretation on, but never viewed the Bible to imply polytheism. Clement of Rome implied that it was Christians which have become God’s protion17)Clement of Rome, First Epistle of Clement, chapts. 29-30; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 1, p. 13 with no expression of Heiser’s view. Irenaeus citation of the passage was in connection with Paul’s preaching at Areopagus (Acts 17:24-31), simply stating, “but that people which believe in God is not now under the power of angels, but under the Lord’s [rule].”18)Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chapt. 12, para. 9;  in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 1, p. 433-434 He associated these angels with the pagan deities of the Gentiles. Irenaeus did not think the gods referred to in the Old Testament were actually gods as Heiser expresses, but stated, “these gods which were reputed so among those men, are no gods at all.”19)Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chapt. 6, para 3; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 1, p. 419

Clement of Alexandria who held the opinion that the Greek philosophy was a precursor for the Gospel, preparing the Greek mind to receive it as truth, alluded to this text that God placed angels over the nations to teach such philosophy. “It is He who also gave philosophy to the Greeks by means of the inferior angels. For by an ancient and divine order the angels are distributed among the nations.”20)Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, book 7, chapt. 2; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 2, p. 524 Notable here is the fact that these are not “gods” as Heiser wishes to express, but “inferior angels;” nor are they rebellious rulers of Gentile nations, but rather God’s messengers as teachers of philosophy in preparation for the Gospel and are therefore obedient to God’s will and purpose without the expectation of being judged as in Psalm 82. Elsewhere he states, “For regiments of angels are distributed over the nations and cities. And, perchance, some are assigned to individuals.”21) Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, book 6, chapt. 17; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 2, p. 517 This is also in context of God producing “the thoughts of virtuous men[,]”22) Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, book 6, chapt. 17; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 2, p. 517 thus teaching philosophy. But, it the angels that are over individual men, he likely viewed more than 70 in total.

Origen’s references this passage most frequently, acknowledging “Other nations, moreover, are called a part of the angels;”23)Origen, De Principiis, book 1, chapt. 5, para. 2; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 4, p. 257 but offer this in context of rational natures in contrast to non-rational nature of animals. This may be in adoption of his teacher Clement’s view of angel’s teaching philosophy. Origen’s second reference to the passage connects it to the Tower of Babel, but expresses the need interpret Moses’ “style of a historical narrative” to be understood as “a mystical kind” as if it was “intended to convey a secret meaning[.]”24)Origen, Against Celsus, book 5, chapt. 29;  in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 4, p. 555-556 The best one can understand his mystical meaning to present a literal historical event of the Babel dispersion is in his expression that “each one was handed over… to angels of character more or less severe, and of a nature more or less stern, until they had paid the penalty of their daring deeds; and they were conducted by those angels, who imprinted on each his native language, to the different parts of the earth according to their deserts[.]”25) Origen, Against Celsus, book 5, chapt. 30;  in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 4, p. 556 At best, this only implies Origen understood the angels caused the dispersion and gave languages to the people being scattered across the earth. These angels led the different people groups to various parts of the earth with varying temperature pattern according to the severity of punishment they deserved. He is not indicating that the angels continued to rule over them, but only that the people received their just deserts from the hands of the angels which makes Heiser’s opinion of connecting these angels in Origen difficult since their punishment was justly exercised upon the people, contrast to Heiser’s idea of God judging these “gods.” Therefore, Origen did not connect the thought of Deuteronomy 32 and the Tower of Babel event with the wicked “gods” of Psalm 82. The only other reference of interest by Origen is questioning why each individual was born “within each particular boundary” which is answered with each person location of birth is related to the “bearing upon the different treatment of human souls, which are difficult to state and to investigate.”26) Origen, Against Celsus, book 4, chapt. 8;  in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 4, p. 500 Associated to his former comments this is merely indicating that the location has varying temperatures or wild animal which is pertaining to the punishment they have.

Novatian discussed the passage in connection with the Tower of Babel in his Treatise Concerning the Trinity, to determine it was not the Father Who descended at the Tower, “nor did an angel command these things, as the facts show. …but the Son of God, the Word of God.”27)Novatian, Treatise Concerning the Trinity, chapt. 17; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 5, p. 627 This refutes Heiser who denies the Trinity speaking in Genesis 11:7, but believes God is speaking to the Divine Council. Victorinus mentions the passage in his Commentary on the Apocalypse linking it to the four angels bound in the Euphrates river (Revelation 9:14). He understood this as four nations, “because to every nation is sent an angel… until the number of the saints should be filled up. They do not overpass their bounds, because at the last they shall come with Antichrist.”28) Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse; in The Ante-Nicene Father (Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 2012), Vol. 7, p. 352 This would refute Heiser’s idea of a “cosmic turf war.”

This review of Patristic sources shows that those who have been dependent on the LXX for their Old Testament theology, did see Deuteronomy 32 as expressing angels dispersed over the nations; Irenaeus perceived that the angels were the idols worshiped by pagans which cannot be pressed as ruling over nations, but at best ruling over people through idolatrous religious deception. Clement of Alexandria thought the Greek philosophies were given from God to Gentiles by angels, indicating his view was that these angels were benevolent. Origen and Novatian joined Deuteronomy 32 to the dispersion from the Tower of Babel event, but neither offer any evidence for Heiser’s opinion. Victorinus is perhaps the closes in presenting every nation having an angel sent to be over it and their affiliation with the Antichrist is the only indicator of the angels being wicked (though Irenaeus viewing them as pagan idols would prove his opinion was they were wicked). None are willing to call them “gods” as Heiser insists on, nor do any find an intertextual relation between Deuteronomy 32 with Deuteronomy 4 or Psalm 82. For Heiser to pretend to present his readers with accurate way the ancient readers would have understood the text in their original cultural context, it is extremely odd that there is no ancient author that taught what he claims was the prevailing view of the text in the ancient world. As we have seen throughout the previous articles in this series that the Second Temple Jewish text Heiser identifies are unanimously conveying the angel view, not Heiser’s “divine plurality.”

Deut 4:19-20

Heiser’s theological idea also hinges on connecting Deuteronomy 32 with 4:19-20, which states, “and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.” Heiser interprets the heavenly hosts or astrological language as references to “gods.” Deuteronomy 4:34-35 expresses that the passage is dealing with the fact that Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt to show His people Israel there are no other gods by judging the false non-existing gods of the Egyptians (Numbers 33:4). This being in immediate context would imply that Heiser is erring in viewing the astrological language as to be implying actaul “gods.”

Heiser writes, “God decreed, in the wake of Babel, that the other nations he had fashioned would have other gods besides himself to worship.”29) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 114 But the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, with 70 nations, only existed for a brief time. The number of nations multiplied with the population, and throughout history has had an ebb and flow due to wars and conquering of each other. We must ask, is this “divine council” growing, or shrinking because they are constantly warring against each other?

Of course, this is dependent on his allegorical interpretation of stars to mean gods in Deuteronomy 4:19-20. Deuteronomy 4 is locating these stars and heavenly hosts in the sky. The expression “lift up thine eyes unto heaven” tells us these are visible things, not Heiser’s defined gods as disembodied. Not just Israel, but all the nations of the whole earth are able to “seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven” indicates that this is not individual divine beings ruling over separated nations as Heiser suggests. The fact that the ancient world worshipped the stars and planets is well known fact not needing to be expounded or proven and is obviously the literal interpretation of this passage. Furthermore, the sun, moon and stars cannot identify with Heiser’s magic number 70 since they are frequently expressed as innumerable (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; 10:22; 1 Chronicles 27:23; Psalm 147:4; Jeremiah 33:22; Hebrew 11:12). Heiser’s belief in the gods of Psalm 82 is in contrast to Deuteronomy 4 being judged on the earth (Psalm 82:8) because their injustice to people on earth (Psalm 82:2-4) with their actions of injustice disrupting the foundations of the earth (Psalm 82:5). There is no relevant parallel of Deuteronomy 4 with chapter 32, Genesis 10-11 or Psalm 82. Deuteronomy 4 is more accurately paralleled with Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3; 23:4-5, 11; Jeremiah 8:2; Ezekiel 8:16; Amos 5:25-26). The fact that the host of heaven were worshipped from the housetops shows the idolatrous action of looking up into the sky to see the stars (Zephaniah 1:5).

The immediate context preceding Heiser’s paradigm passage of Deuteronomy 4:19-20 shows an unbroken sentence flowing into his passage that refutes his opinion. In Deuteronomy 4:12-13 Moses is reminding the Israelites of when they accepted the coventant with Jehovah on Mount Sinai, hearing His voice but not seeing any similitude as He appeared in a fire. Deuteronomy 4:14-18 expresses because they saw no similitude when they received this covenant they should not make any images in the likeness of anything on earth (male, female, beast, fowl, creeping thing, or fish), and without braking the sentence this context flows into discussing looking into the heavens to indicate they were not to make images of the sun, moon, or stars to worship. This is further confirmed later in the chapter when the thought is reiterated, stating that if they brake this covenant by worshipping idols they would be removed from the promise land, scattered among the nations where they would worship other gods made by man’s hands (Deuteronomy 4:25-28). When this premise is repeated elsewhere in Deuteronomy, it does not mention the false gods as idols, but simply says if the Jew would worship other gods they would perish from the land (Deuteronomy 8:19). This is all explained by expressing that there are no other gods that actually exist in heaven or on earth: “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39). So the command to not make images according to the appearance of anything on earth or in heaven is what Deuteronomy 4 is discussing with its parallel found in second of the Ten Commandments being reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:8 (cf. Exodus 20:4).

Heiser says, “This is precisely the number [70] of the sons of El in the divine council at Ugarit.”30) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 114, fn 7 So he again switches from Babylonian exilic influences to Ugaritic influences ignoring the time of history and space of geography that separates these 2 cultures. Psalm 82 would be exilic while the Torah would be influenced by Ugarit, a good 900 years and thousands of miles separated. The Torah is more polemic against Egypt (Josephus, Against Apion 1.240;31)Against Apion, book 1, para 26; in The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 951 Antiquities of the Jews 3.212-213)32) Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, chapt. 8, para. 8; in The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 129 though many incest laws are polemic against Ugarit also (Leviticus 18). Leviticus 18:3 expressly warns the Israelites to not follow after the activities of the Egyptians and Canaanites. Heiser conveniently sweeps such technicalities under the rug to present his phony cultural context. Ancient Egyptian literature speaks of Asiatics and sand-dweller showing there was cross-cultural influences between Egypt and Ugarit which would have influenced the writings of Moses, but Heiser rejects biblical dates and the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. In fact, his theology is utterly dependent on upholding a late date. He mentions, “those who put the finishing touches on the Old Testament during the exile in Babylon[,]”33) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 199 and elsewhere speaking of the book of Numbers: “this work was finished in exile in Babylon.”34) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 192 He clearly rejects Joshua as the author of the book named after him since Heiser says it “very obviously was written after the event it describes.”35) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 209 He further rejects the Biblical flood as a local flood36)Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 190, fn. 14 cf p. 210, fn 12 and seemingly accepts the late date for the exodus.37) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 210, fn 12 Once again we see inconsistency in Heiser’s theological view which makes his doctrine self-refuting. These theological errors are not in God’s Word, but Heiser’s interpretation of it.

Ps. 82 exegesis

Psalm 82 is the heart of Heisers theological perspective. Exegeting it is therefore important to grasp its intended meaning. Willem VanGemeren revealed the literary structure of Psalm 82 as chiastic parallelism.

A. God’s Judgment Over the Gods (v. 1)

B. Judicial Questioning (v. 2)

C. God’s Expectation of Justice (vv. 3-4)

C’. God’s Condemnation of Evil (v. 5)

B’. Judicial Sentence (vv. 6-7)

A’. God’s Judgment Over the Earth (v. 8)38) Willem A VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Song (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1991), Vol. 5, p. 533

From this structuring of the Psalm it is evident that God judging the gods in verse 1 is parallel to God judging the earth in verse 8, hence the gods are located on earth contrary to Heiser’s assertions. My independent assessment determined a similar chiasm but has an antithetical climax.

A. God stands—judges the gods (v. 1)

B. the gods judge unjustly with partiality (v. 2)

C. describes just judgement (v. 3-4)

B’. the gods have no understanding and are in darkness (v. 5)

A’. the gods fall—God judges (v. 6-8)

In my literary structure, A and A’ are antithetical with God standing while the gods are judging contrasted to the gods falling while God is judging. B and B’ are describing the fact that the gods are judging unjustly due to the fact that they have no understanding and their minds are in darkness of the law they should be judging by. C is sandwiched in the middle as the meat of the Psalm identifying its didactic purpose is what proper judgment would look like. After C describe proper judgement, B’ logically follows by expressing the corrupt judges are in darkness to understanding the law as it should be.

The major theme of the Psalm is unquestionably the idea of judgment, with the root שָׁפַט (judge) as a verb appears frequently (Qal imperfect in verses 1, 2; and Qal imperative in verses 3, 8). The title “A Pslam of Asaph” demands a date of its composition after the Babylonian captivity (cf. Psalm 74:1-10; 79:1-7, 10) which would identify the proper historical backdrop should be Babylonian and Medio-Persia, not Ugarit as Heiser depicts. Our major interest is to identify who are these gods in verse 1 and will then follow with indirect evidence throughout the rest of the Psalm for confirmation of an accurate identification. I will argue below that the “gods” are Gentile rulers of the nations; not gods (as Heiser and his followers), angels (as Derek Kinder),39)Derek Kinder, Psalm 73-150, Intervarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL: 1975), pp. 296-299 Jewish judges (as Gleason Archer)40)Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, MI: 1982), p. 374 or Jews in the designated times of prayer (as common in ancient rabbinic literature).41)Piska 5.8 in Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, (trans. William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein), Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia, PA: 1978), p. 103; and Piska 15:9; in Pesikta Rabbati, (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 318-319

Heiser promotes the idea that these “gods” are a second tier of gods being under Jehovah and over the angels, all being spiritual entities with distinct ontological qualities (though he considers angels not of a particular ontological order but simply as a messenger office). The conclusions he comes to are so backwards because his hermeneutic methods are backwards. Commenting on Isaiah 40:23, he writes, “The word for ‘princes’ here is not the familiar and expected שָּׂרִים, but רוֹזְנִ֖ים, a word that is certainly within the semantic range of royal sons.42)he references Judg. 5:3; Ps. 2:2; Pro 8:15; 31:4; Hab 1:10 in Michael Heiser, Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 18.1 (2008), p. 14 fn. 35 This becomes note worthy once it is recalled that in Ugaritic religion divine royal sons bore the title tpt, the philological equivalent to שפט, the same term used in Psalm 82 for the gods who were judging ( עַד־מָתַ֥י אתִּשְׁפְּטוּ־עָ֑וֶל ) the nations unjustly (cf. Deut 4:19-20 and 32:8-9).”43) Michael Heiser, Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 18.1 (2008), p. 14-15 To mention the semantic range of a word says nothing of its specific use in the verse, which in Isaiah 40:23 is clearly dealing with humans, which is what Heiser acknowledges about the semantic range being “royal sons” followed by connecting it to the judges of Psalm 82. His quote above inadvertently would be evidence for the traditional interpretation and against his. This same linguistic assessment is why the traditional view has held the word אֱלֹהִים to refer to human judges in Psalm 82.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary introduces comments on Psalm 82, stating:

The proper interpretation of the entire psalm rest on the identity of the second ’Elôhîm in verse 1. Some commentators translate it literally as gods and relate it to a concept of subordinate gods in a heavenly council. Others translate it angels and connect it with a less polytheistic concept. Still other interpreters translate it as judges and make it refer to the unjust men in authority. The last interpretation seems preferable.44)Kyle Yates; in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (ed. Charles F. Pfeiffer), Moody Press (Chicago, IL: 1962), p. 525

The fact that Heiser is heavily influenced by liberal theologians is evident in the fact that he calls the “consensus view” of Psalm 82 is that Judaism had evolved from a polytheistic religion into a monotheistic religion, and he considers the “traditional view” to be that the word אֱלֹהִים (elohim) can refer to humans in certain context.45)Michael Heiser, Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 18.1 (2008), p. 2 If he perceives the consensus view is Judaism evolving out of polytheism then he is obviously immersed in liberal authors. But the inconsistency of the liberals is that they would agree that Psalm 82 was written during the Persian period by which time they would claim Judaism has already evolved out of polytheism. So why would this Psalm being composed after the supposed evolution took place provide evidence for what they no longer believed?

Psalm 82:1 gives the phrase “congregation of the mighty” as a parallel to “among the gods.” The word “congregation” (root עֵדָה) is used 140 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, 54 times in the construct form, all of which are referring to the congregation of Israel with the exception of 8 times (9 time if including Psalm 92:1). 7 times it is used for Gentiles of which 5 times are construct form. In the book of Psalms it is used 5 times for Israel, 4 times for Gentiles (5 if counting Psalm 82:1). Through the whole Hebrew Bible, it always refers to humans. Leviticus 4:15 and Judges 21:16 mention “the elders of the congregation” which is likely referring to the 70 elders in Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30, but there is no need to interpret the number 70 into Psalm 82. There is a “evil congregation” in Numbers 14:35 which the Lord judge that “they shall die” as the gods in Psalm 82:7, being explained in Deuteronomy 2:14 as “the generation of the men of war” that died wandering in the wilderness. Psalm 86:14 mentions an “assemblies of violent men” which presents a gathering of warriors of age to battle similar to those judged during the wandering. There is definitely no valid expression in the Bible itself to interpret the “congregation” as an assembly of divine (disembodied) beings.

The phrase “in the congregation of the mighty” בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל shows the אֵל (mighty) is parallel to “gods” אֱלֹהִים which causes issues for Heiser’s use of Ugaritic parallels since “El” is the supreme father god in early Ugaritic paganism. However, in the Ugarit El was replaced by Baal as the head deity by the ninth century B.C., which makes it questionable that a Psalmist from the Persian period would expect the readers to understand such an archaic foreign religious portrait. The “El” here is intended as plural since there is a congregation of them, which Jehovah stands in their midst. BDB Hebrew Lexicon gives the first definition of אֵל as “Applied to men of might and rank[.]”46)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980, p. 42 This also is used of for Gentiles authorities (Ezekiel 32:11). Jeremiah 6:18 parallels ‘ēda with “nations” expressing Gentiles are intended just as the chiastic form of Psalm 82 would parallel “congregation of the mighty” in verse 1 as those being judged in verses 7-8 referred to as “princes” and “the nations” when God judges the “earth.” Jehovah is said to judge “among the gods” which are located on “earth” (Psalm 82:5, 8) as they are unjustly judging other humans (Psalm 82:2-4). Therefore, Heiser’s presenting Psalm 89:5-7 as a parallel to Psalm 82:6 is not accurate as has been mentioned previously. Allen P. Ross agrees, “the remainder of the psalm clarifies that these are God’s representative who are in authority on earth.”47)Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (ed. John F. Wlavoord, Roy B. Zuck), SP Publications (1987), Vol. 1, p. 854

The Mishna makes clear the understanding of this verse is referring to men. “R. Halafta b. Dosa of Kefer Hanania said: If ten men sit together and occupy themselves in the Law, the Divine Presence rests among them, for it is written, God standeth in the congregation of God.” 48)Aboth 3.6; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 450 The definition of “congregation” is a minimum of ten according to Sanherin 1.6, “And whence do we learn that a congregation is made up of ten? It is written, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation! [which was the twelve spies] but Joshua and Caleb were not included.”49) The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 383 The Mishna further relates, “This was the Psalm which the Levites use to sing in the Temple…. On the third day they sang God standeth in the congregation of God, he is a judge among the gods[.]”50)Kodashim 7.4; The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 589 This being a song of praise in the Temple obviously implies they perceived it was referring to themselves in the service of the Temple where God’s presence was understood to be. Being sung in the Temple also places this tradition in Second Temple period which Heiser wishes to inaccurately apply other literature from that period. Thus, Second Temple literature cannot be pressed to his divine plurality with Psalm 82:1 as a proof text. TDOT states, “The LXX usually translates ‘ēda as synagōgē… The rabbis narrowed the definition even further by understanding ‘ēda as referring only to the local assembly in the synagogue, while the congregation in its entirety was now known as the keništā.”51)Levy, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., (Grand Rapids, MI:1974, 1999), Vol. 10, p. 469 This would explain why the later rabbis viewed Psalm 82:1 as the Jewish congregation which studied the law, but also reveals the unreliability of Heiser expecting us to believe the Second Temple Jews would have interpreted Psalm 82 as a plurality of gods in some heavenly council, especially since it is of a later date in the Persian period when Ugaritic text would not be the influence to present the El or Baal as a backdrop.

Psalm 82:2 describes the unjust judgement is performed with partiality, they “accept the persons of the wicked” with respect of persons. We have seen that men are called elohim in the context of judging as divinely ordained judges (Exodus 22:8-9, 28) which in this context also commends men to judge justly (Exodus 22:22-24) specifically mentioning widows and fatherless children which parallels Psalm 82:3-4 mention of the afflicted, poor and fatherless. Exodus 22:24 also warns if these judges unjustly judge with partiality God would slay them with the sword leaving the wife a widow and children fatherless paralleling God’s promise to judge Psalm 82:7-8 with death. The unjust judgement in Psalm 82:2 is “accept the persons of the wicked,” is a parallel to Leviticus 19:15 which warns against the judge exercising “unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty[.]” King Jehoshaphat commanded the judges he established, “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts” (2 Chronicles 19:6-7). Here we find righteous judgement defined as judging for God without partiality. In the ancient Near East culture, there were judges set to judge over the people, as well as kings who personally participated in difficult cases.

Psalm 82:3-4 describe how proper and righteous judgment appears. God warns against unjust judging of Israelites and foreigners (Deuteronomy 24:14). This plead for justice is repeated often (Isaiah 1:17) followed by the fact that human rulers have corrupted God command (Isaiah 1:23). We are told it is the man of earth that judges unjustly (Psalm 10:18), not gods in some heavenly council. Psalm 10 parallels the thought of the wicked persecuting the poor (Psalm 10:2) with the call for God to “arise, O God” (Psalm 10:12) same as Psalm 82:8. This is found in many passages that obviously are applied to humans (Psalm 7:6; 12:5; 96:13; Zephaniah 3:8). Jeremiah 5:28-29 also offer clear conceptual parallelism. Ancient Near Eastern culture further presents parallels. Mesopotamian documents mention court cases held before “the Assembly of Nippur”52) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 542 which were human elders of the city. The vizier of Egypt was considered “to be a Prophet of Maat” and was expected to rescue “the timid from the violent” as he would “sit upon a judgment-chair[.]”53)The Vizier of Egypt; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 213 An interesting Egyptian prayer records:

O Amon, give thy ear to one who is alone in the law court, who is poor; he is [not] rich. The court cheats him (of) silver and gold for the scribes of the mat and clothing for the attendants. May it be found that Amon assumes his form as the vizier, in order to permit [the] poor man to get off. May it be found that the poor man is vindicated. May the poor man surpass the rich.54)A Prayer for Help in the Law Court; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 380

Psalm 82:5 describes why these “gods” judge unjustly—their understanding is darkened (Psalm 53:4; Romans 1:21, 28; Ephesians 4:17-19). These cross references in their context would indicate that these are Gentiles who are without the knowledge of God or His law. Heiser view would consider the “anointer cherub” of Ezekiel 28 a “divine cherub,”55) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 79 but if this is the description of one of his gods the acknowledgement of its sins (Ezekiel 28:15-16) are specifically said to be because “thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness” (Ezekiel 28:17); not because he has no knowledge, understanding and walks in darkness (Psalm 82:5). Heiser’s idea of gods in Psalm 82 has no fit. Those who walk in darkness have no fear of the Lord in Isaiah 50:10. This passage follows on the heels of a Suffering Servant prophecy (Isaiah 50:6) which plays a major significance of why Christ would quote Psalm 82 in John 10 if He was practicing the Rabbanic hermeneutic of Gezera Shewa to view it with an intertextual relationship to Isaiah 50 (though the expression is not uncommon, Psalm 91:6; Proverbs 2:13; Ecclesiastes 2:14; Isaiah 9:2; 59:9; John 8:12; 12:35; 1 John 1:6; 2:11).

The phrase “all the foundations of the earth are out of course” with the word יִ֝מּ֗וֹטוּ in the niphal imperfect form, likely describes the whole earth in corruption—“out of course”—from the wicked judgement of these “gods” (Psalm 13:4 [Hebrew v. 5]; 140:11). Leviticus 25:35 connects the word with the poor needing to be relieved, which the wicked judges of Psalm 82 have refused to do (Psalm 82:2-3).

Psalm 82:6 This is the verse the Lord Jesus Christ quotes to the His opponents in John 10:34-36. Clearly He spoke this passage to humans which identifies how He understood the passage. Israel is frequently called God’s son (Exodus 4:22-23; Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5; Isaiah 1:2, 4; 30:1, 9; Jeremiah 3:13, 22; 4:22; 31:20; Hosea 1:10; 11:1), which gives further justification for Christ to quote this passage to the Jewish authorities. Ancient Jewish texts understood other passages referring to the “sons of God” as angels (Genesis 6:1-4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 32:2); not gods! It would simply take too long to reference all the sources from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, 2 Peter 2:4-8, Jude 6-7, the Ante-Nicene Fathers.56)the only exception of these sources expressed as a generalization is a 3rd century Alexandrian theologian Julius Africanus; see The Extant Writings of Julius Africanus, Fragment II; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson (Peabody, Massachusetts) 1994, fifth edition 2012, Vol. 6, p. 131 All these sources viewed them as angels. Heiser’s convoluted theology play semantic games claiming the word “angel” was expanded to mean his supposed second tier gods during Second Temple period to justify his claims since all that literature only speaks of angels. As we have seen, the opposite is true, that the word “god” contained the semantic range for men and angels. If Heiser’s definition of elohim was correct, consider the nonsense of his premise would bring to 1 Kings 18:21 where Elijah challenges the Israelites, “if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” Is Elijah saying follow whichever one is a disembodied being? According to Heiser other entities actually were disembodied and properly considered “gods,” but the text has no comment indicating that Israel was of Jehovah’s inheritance so they must accept Him. The question is simply “who is God?”

Concerning the expression “children of the most High[,]” Heiser cites Joseph and Aseneth to argue the phrase cannot mean humans. Heiser quotes Joseph and Aseneth as, “all the angels of God eat of it and all the chosen of God, and all the sons of the Most High.”57)Joseph and Aseneth 16:14; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 229; as cited in Michale S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 220; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis Heiser follows with the comment “The latter phrase matches the LXX reading υἱοὶ ῾Υψίστου πάντες in Ps 82:6 for בני עליון .”58) Michale S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 220; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis There are a few problems with Heiser reasoning for this text needing to be understood as “the ‘sons of the Most High’ area [sic] a separate class of heavenly being and not angels.”59)Michale S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 220; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis His failure to quote the text in full and even placing a period at the end of his quotation without brackets where the original text has a comma show his manipulation of the text to make it state what he wants it to fit his presupposition. In the text an angel offers Aseneth to eat of a honeycomb. The text itself states, “And all the angels of God eat of it and all the chosen of God, and all the sons of the Most High, because this is a comb of life, and everyone who eats of it will not die for ever (and) ever.”60)Joseph and Aseneth 16:14; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 229 It appears from the full statement that the “chosen of God” are the same as “the sons of the Most High,” being contrasted to the angels. Since they are given eternal life, presumably they do not have it revealing that they are mortals to begin with. Furthermore, this same text use the phrase “sons of the living God will dwell in your City of Refuge”61) Joseph and Aseneth 19:8; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 233 which being compared to seven virgins which were earlier promised to be “seven pillars of the City of Refuge,”62) Joseph and Aseneth 17:6; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 231 assumes this City of Refuge is being offered to mortals. Hence the “sons of the living God” are the same as the “sons of the Most High,” being mortals receiving eternal life in the City of Refuge. The editor of the text discusses the ambiguity of the phrase in a footnote to simply say it could be understood as either angels or men.63) C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 229, fn o. Furthermore, Joseph and Aseneth uses the word “god” to describe and angel,64) Joseph and Aseneth 17:9; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 231 Jacob,65) Joseph and Aseneth 22:3; in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 238 and Joseph specifically is called “the son of God” in various ways many times (Joseph and Aseneth 6:3, 5;66)in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 209 13:13;67)in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 223-224 21:20;68)in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 237 23:10).69) in C. Burchard The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 240

Psalm 82:7 Heiser makes a big deal out of his faulty logic based on the term “ye shall die like men.” He contends, “First, if the אֱלֹהִים in Psalm 82 are humans, why are they sentenced to die ‘like humans’?… The point of v. 6 is that, in response to their corruption, the אֱלֹהִים will be stripped of their immortality at God’s discretion and die as humans die. A clear contrast is intended by both the grammar and structure of the Hebrew text, saving us from such logic.”70)Michael Heiser, Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 18.1 (2008), p. 19 Remarking on the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), he asserts, “It reminded them [the gods] that they were under judgement, sentenced to die like men (Psa 82:6-7; see also ch. 30), and forever banished from the presence of the true God. That is what frightens them, not the reality of God’s existence.”71) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 340, fn. 9 This definition of death shows his error. Men go to hell like Satan and his angels, not vice versa (Matthew 25:41). James Montgomery Boice uses this same line to argue the opposite. “Yet that is an argument that cuts two ways. For isn’t it true that the demons (and angels) are spirits, who have no bodies and who therefore cannot die? The demons will be punished. They will be punished in hell forever, but they will not die. On the other hand, if these “gods” are human judges, then the words are appropriate. For they mean that in spirit of the fact that these wicked men have considered themselves to be virtually invincible because of their high office, they will die just like anybody else. They will fall just like any other ruler.”72)James Montgomery Boice, Psalms Volume 2: Psalm 42-106, Baker Books (Grand Rapid, MI: 2005), p. 676

The Hebrew term in question is כְּאָדָ֣ם the word “men” ādām prefixed with a preposition כְּ, which, against Heiser’s claiming is not to present a “contrast” between humans and gods. Rather it is actually showing the likeness. BDB states of this common preposition, “to compare an object with the class to which it belongs, and express its correspondence with the idea which it ought to realize.”73) Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980, p. 454 In other words, the comparison is not between gods and humans, but expressing the similarity “just like other men” these men will also die being that they are the same class as mortals. Similar expressions are found in Psalm 49:10, 12. “For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish… Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.” Here the honorable person is not being contrasted to the beast, but the expressed correspondence with the idea of its mortality is warned which the honorable man ought to realize.  Our Psalmist Asaph used this same preposition to compare similarity of armies that were destroyed in Psalm 83:8-11. This being written by the same author following in immediate context of Psalm 82 should be proof enough how the phrase it meant to be understood. More specifically being prefixed to the Hebrew word ādām in Hosea 6:7 which obviously is not contrasting gods and humans. “But they like men כְּאָדָ֖ם have transgressed the covenant, there have they dealt treacherously against me.” Heiser’s argument is neither sound logically nor accurate grammatically.

Furthermore, this expression “die like men” is likely a rhetorical technique of irony since Gentile kings deified themselves. As noted, Asaph wrote this Psalm during the Babylonian captivity or after in the Persian period. It was the Israelites who felt oppressed during the Babylonian captivity and viewed their captor as evil enemies (see Psalm 137:1, 9 as an example of the exiled Jews hatred of Babylon). Yet the deified kings were greeted with the phrase, “O king, live forever” (Daniel 2:4; 3:9; 5:10; 6:6, 21; Nehemiah 2:3). In Psalm 82:7 God is informing these pagan kings who are believed to be and self-deceived about their assume divinity, they are not gods and they will not live forever because they will “die like men.” This is especially true for those oppressing God’s son Israel. The parallel “fall like one of the princes” confirms in this verse that the reference is to royalty. Edward Young comments on Psalm 82, “The Sovereign One, who is Judah’s God, the LORD of hosts, is uttering the condemnation against the officials and consequently there can be no doubt as to the certainty of the judgment to come.”74) Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: Volume 3, Chapters 40-66, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Grand Rapids, MI: 1965), Vol. 1, p. 160

If Heiser insists on placing an Ugaritic backdrop to this Psalm, he still errs. Actually, he deceives his readers and hides the true Ugaritic parallel from them. In his book he references Hugh R. Page, The Myth of Cosmic Rebellion: A study of It Reflexes in Ugaritic and Biblical Literature (Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 65; Leiden: Brill, 199, who “prefers the Keret Epic (which involves a human king) as the backdrop to Ezek 28.”75) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 84, fn. 1 This is the only acknowledgment of the Keret Epic in Heiser’s book tucked away in a footnote which most people do not bother reading. Heiser quotes the Keret Epic in his doctorates dissertation but ignores the relevance of the passage that more closely resembles Psalm 82. He cites, “Is then Keret the son of El, the offspring of Ltpn and the Holy One? . . . Shall you then die, father, as men? . . . How can it be said that Keret is the son of El, the offspring of Ltpn and the Holy One? Shall gods die?” 76)Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 161; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis; citing Keret Epic as KTU 1.16.i.10-25; or in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 147 In the Keret Epic, the human king Keret is called the “son of El,”77)Keret Epic; KRT C.i.10, 20; ii.110; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 147 with a mention of “seventy peers[.]”78)Keret Epic, KRT B. iv.6; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 146 When king Keret falls sick it is question if he would “die like mortals”79)Keret Epic, KRT C, i.3, 17, ii.102; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 147 and finally “Shall, then, a god die, an offspring of the Kindly One [an epithet for El] not live?”80)Keret Epic, KRT C, ii.5; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 147-148 El requests his council of gods who would heal Keret, but after seven times no gods would grant an answer so El heals Keret himself by working magic.81)Keret Epic, KRT C, v; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 148 Then “Keret returns to his former estate; he sits upon his throne of kingship; upon the dais, the seat of authority.”82)Keret Epic, KRT C, vi.3-5; in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James B. Pritchard) 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1969), p. 149 In this Ugaritic text we see a king perceived to be a god, the son of El, who when fallen sick is expected to die like all other mortals. We also find that this king sits apart from the divine council of the Ugaritic mythological gods which are in heaven while Keret is on earth. Surely this matches the text of Psalm 82 more then any other text since discovered.

Heiser comments in his dissertation prior to providing his quote from the Keret Epic, “The king was also considered a god prior to death.” 83)Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 161; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis He further expresses, “The famous passage in Isaiah 9 also comes to mind, where the titles אל גבור and אבי-עד occur with respect to the child who was most likely Hezekiah.” 84)Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 161; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis If Isaiah 9:6 could be calling Hezekiah, according to Heiser, “the mighty God” and “everlasting Father,” Heiser is admitting that men are being called “gods” with the multitudes of epithets that convey the title. Why must he insist that Psalm 82 must mean “gods” as if the terms could not be applied to men? Again, ignoring the parallels from the Keret Epic, Heiser suggests, “This evidence notwithstanding, Psalm 89 should be viewed against the Baal Cycle, not the Keret Epic, for the biblical author follows the former, not the latter. A Baal Cycle backdrop would argue for sonship in adoptive terms.” 85)Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 161; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis But we have seen exegetical reason from Psalm 82 why it should not be connected to Psalm 89. We have also found that Psalm 82 should be understood in a Persian backdrop, not an Ugaritic, Baal cycle backdrop. Furthermore, we have now seen a better Ugaritic parallel that fits the thought of Psalm 82 much closer than any Baal cycle.

Psalm 82:8 is a call for God to complete His judgement of the rulers on earth. Psalm 2:10 specifically places the kings that judge on earth as does Psalm 82:1-2. The call for God to “arise” is frequent in the Psalms (Psalm 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 12:5; 17:13; 44:26; 68:1; 74:22; 96;13; 102;13), as well as others book (Numbers 10:35; Isaiah 14:22; 28:21; 33:10; 60:2), and the expectation for Him to take rule over the nations of the earth is part of the Messianic hope (Psalm 2:8; 22:28).

John 10:34-36 has context of the Lord Jesus Christ having recently made His Trinitarian confession, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). These words aroused anger in His Jewish opponent who raised the charge of blaspheme and attempted to stone Him (John 10:31). Their actions caused Christ to raise the argument from the Old Testament. “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36) Heiser interprets this statement of the Lord to confirm a council of gods being the express belief by the Lord Himself. His arguments follows: “First, how is it a coherent defense of John’s well-known high Christology be essentially having Jesus use Psalm 82:6 to say, in effect, that he can call himself the son of God when other Jews can, too?”86)Michael S. Heiser, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 92:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy,” SBL regional (2012), p. 1 It should be noted that Jesus frequently clouded His expressions of deity with ambiguity for the Jewish leaders, and much of what He taught was parables for those who would not listen (Matthew 3:13, 34-35), and in John’s gospel citations of the Old Testament are concentrated in passages that include disputes with the adversaries over Who Christ truly is (John 6:31; 7:42; 8:17; 10:34). David Aune suggested that Christ quotation of Psalm 82:6 was a riddle “posed by Jesus to save himself or his reputation (John 4:20; 7:23; 8:4-5; 9:2; 10:34-36)[.]”87)David Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY: 2003, p. 427

Most commentators would reference Jewish rhetorical methods common in the time of Christ. The seven exegetical rules practiced by Jews were traditionally held to have been expounded by the great teacher Hillel. The first Rule is one of “an inference drawn from a minor premise to a major and vice versa (Kal wa-homer ‘light and heavy’).”88)E. Earle Ellis, “Biblical Interpretation in the New Testament Church,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder, Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapid, MI: 2004), p. 699 Ellis elaborates a number of occasions in the New Testament when this principle is evident.

The ravens neither sow nor reap, and God feeds them (Ps 147:9); of how much more value are you (Luke 12:24). If the scripture calls ‘gods’ those whom God addressed (Ps 82 :6), how much more may he whom God sent into the world be call ‘son of God; (John 10:34ff.). If the covenant at Sinai came with glory (Exod 34:30), how much more does the new covenant (Jer 31:31ff.) abound in glory (2 Cor 3:6-11). If in the old covenant the blood of animals could effect a ceremonial, external cleansing (Lev 16; Num 19), how much more shall the blood of (the sacrificed) Messiah cleanse our conscience (Heb 9:13f.).89) E. Earle Ellis, “Biblical Interpretation in the New Testament Church,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder, Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapid, MI: 2004), p. 700

This principle continued to be used well beyond the time of Christ. For example, Pirqe Masiah which “appears to date from the late seventh century [A.D.,]”90)David C. Mitchell, Messiah Ben Joseph, Campbell Publications (Newton Mearns, Scotland: 2016), p. 190 utilizes the principle: “Does this not signal a qal wa-homer argument? If the altar, which is only one of the ornaments of a temple, was fashioned using twelve stones, how much more so should the (future) Temple (be so built), which will be the pride of Israel and the glory of the upper and lower beings and the adornment of the Holy One, blessed be He!”91)Pirqe Masiah, in John C. Reeves, Trajectories in ear Eastern Apocalyptic: A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader, Society of Biblical Literature (Atlanta, GA: 2005), p. 152 This would be clearly understood by Christ’s Jewish hearers in the first century.

Hieser further argues, “Second, how does the mortal view coherently explain their reaction of the Jewish audience in John’s story?”92) Michael S. Heiser, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 92:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy,” SBL regional (2012), p. 1 How His Jewish audience would have understood Him was just explained. In an earlier part of this series was discussed how Second Temple Jewish literature applied the word “god/divine” to men, with the most common expression was to identify prophets biblically referred to as “a man of God” or “men of God,” which was adapted for Greek readers to “divine man” speaking God’s divine words. Christ’s words following the quotation, “If he [God] called them gods, unto whom the word of God came,” would suggest this is meant. This concept would pertain to the Old Testament history to Christ current context of being threatened with death. In Jeremiah 26:10-16 the people wanted to kill Jeremiah for prophesying to them the word of the LORD. Micah the Morasthite was protected by King Hezekiah when he prophesized against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:18-19), but Urijah the son of Shemaiah prophesied and fled to Egypt being hunted down and killed by the commandment of king Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:20-23). This discussion takes place amongst a human council of Jewish judges to determine Jeremiah’s fate. In the New Testament, the example from Acts 7 where Stephen preaches a convicting sermon being filled with the Spirit and wisdom gets him stone by the Jews. Many of the prophetic utterances throughout biblical history were God’s pronounced judgement which the people rejected. More particularly, Psalm 82 is suggestive of rulers with the divine prerogative to judge over people which will be discussed below with reference to Matthew 18:20.

His third argument consists of rejecting the mortal view of Psalm 82:6 so he cannot permit it being inserted into the New Testament quotation. All his arguments assume “gods” is intended to be meant only for Jews particularly, not judges in a general sense that could include Gentile kings. Heiser writes, “Additionally, there is no text in the Hebrew Bible that has a council of human Israelite judges who are assigned to judge the nations of the earth.”93) Michael S. Heiser, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 92:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy,” SBL regional (2012), p. 2 His error is in the fact that the Jewish perspective was the Messiah would be king over the Gentile nations, which assumed the Sanhedrin would retain authority under the Messiah. Again, Heiser’s straw-man argument is evident in his comment, “Every Jew was not a king and did not bear this description.”94) Michael S. Heiser, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 92:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy,” SBL regional (2012), p. 3 No, those who acted in God’s stead on earth did, whether prophets, kings, rulers or judges (see below with the discussion on Matthew 18:20). It is clear from Psalm 82:8 that these gods are over the nations which are being judged, so the mortal view would demand from the context to not be refering to Jews.

Notice, Heiser further argues with his straw-man, but adds a sweeping generalization. “Jesus’ response is usually interpreted as a concession. That is, He was only saying of Himself what the Jews could say of themselves, and used Ps 82:6 to show that humans can be called אֱלֹהִים (elohim). This view both ignores the Old Testament context of the divine council and undermines John’s presentation of the deity of Jesus in his gospel[.]”95)Michael Heiser, “The Divine Council and Biblical Theology,” p. 17; http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DivineCouncilLBD.pdf First, one must assume Heiser’s divine council actually exists in the Old Testament, whereby Heiser is arguing with circular reasoning. Secondly, nowhere is it expressed that any and every Jew could be called “gods” in the Old Testament, only the nation collectively was given the expression as God’s son. A few centuries after the New Testament, this view was presented in Peikta Rabbati (though it is debatable whether this tradition can be forced back to the first century but identifying Israel collectively as God’s son is from the Old Testament).

Another comment: My soul thirsteth for God [Elohim]—thirsts for the time when Thou wilt execute judgement upon the heathen; [the term Elohim being used in the sense of meting out justice, as in the verse] Thou shalt not revile Elohim, [that is, the judges] (Exod. 22:27).

Another comment: For God—that is, [my soul thirsteth] for the time when that godlike quality which Thou didst bestow on me at Sinai will return, the time referred to in the verse I have said: Ye are godlike (Ps. 82:6).

Another comment: For God [Elohim]—that Thou clothe [the children of Israel] with Divine Power as Thou didst clothe them at Sinai. Bring near the time of redemption that thereby the oneness of Thy Divine Power be acknowledged throughout Thy world, When the Lord shall be king over all the earth (Zech 14:9). [Thus the Psalm is using the term Elohim in the special sense] that it has in the passage where Jacob is told So give thee Divine Power, and do thou take it (Gen 27:28), the passage here referring to the time when [the progeny of] Jacob will [at long last] take on Divine Power. [all brackets in original]96)Peska 1.2; in Pesikta Rabbati, (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 37-38

In Pesikta Rabbit, Peska 14.10 the comparison of Adam being created to outshine the orb of the sun, but it was taken from him for his sin is presented as analogous to the nation of Israel which willingly received God’s law on Mount Sinai were called “godlike being” (Psalm 82:7a), but such splendor was taken from them when they made the golden calf causing them to “die like men” (Psalm 82:7b).97)Peska 14:10; in Pesikta Rabbati, (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 279-282

Actually, in John 10 Christ is expressing that the Jewish authorities unjustly judging Him are those of Psalm 82 who will die for their wicked judgment. In John 8:41 these unjust authorities claimed to be God’s children. The irony of the passage is that their council desiring to kill Him was preordained in heaven (Acts 2:23) by God (not a divine council), and these earthy judges are unwittingly losing their authority (John 11:50) for unjustly judging Christ’s good works (John 10:32-33). Christ’s points His defense to His miracles, which, in their rejection of Him are blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the unpardonable sin (Mark 3:20-29) and are therefore losing their nation among the nations (John 11:48). Craig Keener comments on Christ’s use of Pslam 82, stating, “in context the psalmist uses the image of the divine court but actually addresses Gentile rulers who saw themselves as divine kings (Ps 82:1–2, 6–7) but who failed to execute justice (82:3–4) and would die like mortals (Ps 82:7). The sarcastic claim of 82:6 might then apply well ironically to ‘rulers’ of the Jews (though Jesus’ interlocutors here are called only ‘Jews’).”98)Keener John, The Gospel of  John: A Commentary, Baker Academics (Grand Rapids, MI: 2003), p. 829 Heiser simply does not understand Second Temple Judaism, their hermeneutic methods or rhetorical styles because he quote-mines Second Temple literature for anything that would give the slightest resemblance to his presupposition of a divine council with the willingness to redefine words and manipulate the texts he cites in order to bring it into conformity with what he wants it to say.

Matthew 18:20 has a significant bearing on this discussion, though it is commonly misunderstood because it is often quoted out of context. Heiser’s only reference to Matthew 18:20 places an inaccurate interpretation of the church being sacred space taking “imagery of the tabernacle and temple[.]”99) Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press (Bellingham, WA: 2015), p. 333 The context is of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-19) with two or three witnesses summoned before the church elders if the matter cannot be settled individually. This was the biblical command (Deuteronomy 17:6-7; 19:15) still practiced in the New Testament (John 8:17). The Dead Sea Scrolls depicts the witnesses “stand before me and before the priests and the Levites and before the judges then in office[.]”100)The Temple Scroll, LXI; in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 216-217 The Mishna discussed the husband suspicious of his wife committing adultery (Numbers 5:11-31) was to warn her before two witnesses prior to taking her to the authorities (Numbers 5:11-31).101)Sotah 1.1; in The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 293 Christ’s words about being taken before the “church” is likely meant to depict the sense of a “political body”102) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 240 assembled for legislative purposes as used by Josephus,103)Antiquities of the Jews, 19.332; in The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 637 or in Acts 19:39 (though it is obviously a local assembly of Christians). The Jewish/Christian audience of Matthew’s gospel would view the backdrop of the lesser Sanhedrin104)Makkoth 1.9; in The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 402-403 of the local synagogues. The synagogues had multiple functions, from religious service, teaching and studying the Torah, teaching as schools for children, acting as court houses and performing physical beatings on guilty parties (Deuteronomy 25:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:24). Applied to local churches, the elders are summoned to listen to the case with witnesses present and make the judgement.

The “binding and loosing” (Matthew 18:18) is an expression of the authoritative judgment taking place during these hearings. “On the other hand, ‘binding and loosing’ referred simply to things or acts prohibiting or else permitting them, declaring them lawful or unlawful.”105)Alfred Edershiem, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Company (Mclean, VA: 1970), Vol 2, p. 85 The verb tense of verse 18 indicates the decreed judgement was first declared in heaven and the judges on earth are confirming this heavenly decree as the judges are representatives of God, fulfilling His will one earth (Matthew 6:10). Deuteronomy 1:16-17 declares the judgement of man is of God. Numbers 11:24-25 depicts the Sanhedrin prophesying with authority from heaven in order to judge the nation. The New Testament confirms the idea of the Old Testament, that divine authority is properly displayed in this judgement (Acts 1:2; 2 Corinthians 13:1-3). The two that agree in Matthew 18:19 are the two witnesses from verse 16. The witnesses are the first to identify with the responsibility for the outcome of the sentencing (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Similarly, a hypothetical case of church discipline on a member who has sinned unto death in 1 John 5:16 has the witness when a “man see his brother sin,” provides confidence to those judging the matter if they petition God (1 John 5:14-15). Matthew 18:20 shows that through the council of church leaders (i.e. the pastor(s) and/or deacons) the sentence is excommunication from the religious community (cf. Matthew 18:17; John 9:22; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13) with Christ being present making the conclusion established as if He personally presided as judge (2 Chronicles 19:6; Matthew 28:20). The Mishna confirms that the “Divine Presence” was with those who occupied themselves with the Law (Aboth, 3.2, 6).106) in The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 450 Since the Christian church spread to Gentiles, this obviously would expand such authority to Gentile authorities in a church’s leadership. Jeremiah 52:9 indicates Gentile kings as judges, which makes them divinely ordained by God to be obeyed or it is considered resisting God Himself (Romans 13:1-2).

Heiser makes erroneous ado from the Dead Sea Scrolls. “The sectarian community by the Dead Sea was obsessed with the divine assembly, merkabah exegesis, heavenly liturgies, and the belief that members of the sect were earthly members of the divine council. As in heaven, so on earth.” 107)Michale S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Cannical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 174; page numbers from PDF available at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=fac_dis As has been presented, Second Temple Judaism is not presenting Heiser’s divine council, but angels. Later rabbinic literature developed an expression of the heavenly court being subservient to the Israeli’s court on earth. Pisikta De-Rab Kohana describes this with haughty language exalting men to decree for God.

R. Hoshia taught: When a court on earth decrees and says, “New Year’s Day is today,” the Holy One tells the ministering angels: “Raise up the dais, Summon the advocates. Summon the clerks. For the court on earth has decreed and said: New Year’s Day is today.”

But if the witnesses are delayed in coming, or if, for any reason, the court decides to put off the beginning of the year by one day, the Holy One tells the ministering angels: “Remove the dais, dismiss the advocates, dismiss the clerks, since the court on earth has decreed that the New Years will not begin till tomorrow.” And the proof from Scripture? When it is a decree of Israel it is an ordinance for the God of Jacob (Ps. 81:5): therefore what is not a statute for Israel is not—if one be permitted to speak thus—an ordinance for the God of Jacob.

R. Phinehas and R. Hilkiah taught in the name of R. Simon: When all the ministering angels gather before the Holy One and ask Him, “Master of the universe, when does the New Year begin?” He replies: “Are you asking Me? Let us, you and I, ask the court on earth.” And the proof? The verse The Lord our God is [near] whensoever we on His behalf proclaim (Deut. 4:7)—proclaim, that is, the set feasts on His behalf. Here the word “proclaim” refers to set feasts, as in the phrase holy proclamation (Exod. 12:16). Such feasts, according to R. Krispa, citing R. Johannan, were in times gone by proclaimed by God Himself, as shown by the verse These are the feasts set by the Lord, even holy proclamations (Lev. 23:4). Now and hereafter they shall be the ones which YE shall proclaim (ibid.). Hence, If you proclaim them, they will be considered feasts set by the Lord. But if you do not proclaim them, they will not be considered feasts set by the Lord.108)Piska 5.13; in Piesikta De-Rab Kohana,: R. Kahana’s Compilation of Discourses for Sabbaths and Festal Days (Trans. William G. Braud and Israel J. Kapstein), Jewish Publication Society of Amrica (Philadelphia, PA: 1975, 1978), p. 115

Other later Jewish texts express the thought of the heavenly court, such as 3 Enoch 18:19-21;109) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 273 26:12;110) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 281 28:7-10;111) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 283 and 30:1-33:2.112) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 285-286 But these references are depicted as angels, not gods as Heiser wishes to present. However, Edersheim accurately depicts the New Testament proposition, “That the ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ included all the legislative functions for the New Church….But the words of Christ, as they avoided the foolish conceit of His contemporaries, left it not doubtful, but conveyed the assurance that, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, whatsoever they bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven.”113) Alfred Edershiem, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Company (Mclean, VA: 1970), Vol 2, p. 85 Therefore, whether one views this heavenly authority as a divine council or angelic Sanhedrin, it would remain false. Christ taught it was the authority of the Holy Spirit communicating the Lord’s will to His representatives on earth.

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