Meredith M. Kline
Ordained Servant: November 2023
Also in this issue
by Allen C. Tomlinson
by Gregory Edward Reynolds
by Alan D. Strange
by An Older Elder
by Nathan P. Strom
by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2015, 413 pages, $14.99.
Heiser’s The Unseen Realm is not aimed at deniers of the supernatural; it seeks to correct the ideas of primarily non-Pentecostal evangelicals, like himself, concerning the traditional understanding of the invisible heavenly realm and its inhabitants which all branches of the church have confessed for two millennia (chapters one and two).
Seeing the Bible through the eyes of an ancient reader requires shedding the filters of our traditions and presumptions . . . a mixture of creedal statements and modern rationalism. I want to help you recover the supernatural worldview of the biblical writers.” (13)
“The Bible tells us of the existence of a realm our mortal eyes cannot see.” This quote is not Heiser’s opening sentence but that of Meredith G. Kline’s God, Heaven, and Har Magedon. The two authors deal with the same debated biblical texts; however, they come to contrasting exegetical conclusions.
Heiser’s underlying theme is a limited conception of a peripheral second-temple Jewish group: the geographical domain authority of rebellious angels. This concept is developed by unfolding the results of years of research expanding his doctoral dissertation; though conversational in style to persuade educated parishioners to accept his perspective, the book is academic, containing forty-two chapters in eight parts, building an exegetical web of many controversial biblical passages, with lengthy footnotes and discussions of ancient Near Eastern materials; it is accompanied by an online supplement covering each chapter. Heiser elaborated his ideas in several subsequent books and online videos until his death earlier this year.
The direction of Heiser’s interpretational trajectory was set when he felt evangelicals who interpreted Psalm 82, who were criticizing human kings, dishonestly filtered the text, so he “looked beyond the world of evangelical scholarship” to resources that integrated biblical and non-canonical texts (12). The foundation of The Unseen Realm is the non-canonical Book of the Watchers, the first thirty-six chapters of 1 Enoch, a Hellenistic period Jewish text popular at Qumran, which is the source for interpreting the phrase “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 as rebellious angels, a view subsequently adopted by multiple, non-canonical, second-temple period writings, and currently a common academic position.
After arguing against previous evangelical interpretations of Genesis 6:1–4, Heiser promotes the 1 Enoch 6–8 view of Genesis 6:2 in which angelic beings (the “sons of God”) cohabited with “the daughters of man” and produced giants, whose spirits at death became the demons of the New Testament (chapters 12 and 13). In addition to their own sin of transgressing the boundary between angels and humans, the sinful angels corrupted humans by transmitting knowledge about making iron weapons of war and seductive jewelry, about practicing sorcery and casting magic spells, and about astronomy (108).
Heiser also argues for the common position that 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 rely on the 1 Enoch interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4. But these New Testament passages are vague in describing the transgression of angels: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4); “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). These texts could refer to demon-possession (GHHM 84–85), thus not being dependent on 1 Enoch. Even if these human rebels are demon-possessed, the focus in Genesis 6:1–8 is on the depth of human depravity that necessitated the flood. If the text is interpreted as portraying a purported angelic rebellion, why are the angels not depicted as objects of God’s wrath in the flood account? Heiser prefers an interpretational position that seems textually inconsistent with its context.
Heiser supports his interpretation of Gensis 6:2 by correlating the supposed cohabiting angels with the gods of Psalm 82:1, arguing that the psalm depicts God as judging the angels אֱלֹהִים (՚elohȋm) for mismanaging the earth’s nations they were assigned to govern. In both Genesis 6:1–4 and Psalm 82 his interpretation contrasts with that of Kline, who understands both the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 and the ՚elohȋm of Psalm 82:6 as human kings, in Genesis 6:2 as self-deifying tyrants, and in Psalm 82:6 as God-ordained authorities of common-grace kingdoms (GHHM 37). For Kline, the term ՚elohȋm in Psalm 82 can refer to living human kings based on Jesus referring in John 10:33–36 to Psalm 82:6 to show the Jews that humans could be called “gods.” Thus, Jesus thwarted their charge of blasphemy. Heiser, however, tries to support his position (page 268 fn 3, plus an extended defense in the book’s online supplement) that Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 to indicate he was “superior to all divine sons of God.” But, the Jews surely understood Jesus to be claiming oneness with the Father, not with angels.
Heiser postulates three angelic rebellions: the first by the snake figure in Eden who tempted Adam and Eve; the second by the pre-Flood action of the purported 200 Watchers (1 Enoch 6:6) of Genesis 6:2; and the third by a post-Flood group of angels from the Tower of Babel account (Gen. 11:1–9), also tied to Psalm 82. Based on God saying in Genesis 11:7 “let us go down,” good angels who accompanied Yahweh were assigned to control the scattered nations. That concept is based on Heiser’s understanding of Deuteronomy 32:8–9: “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.” Verse 8 supposedly indicates God disinherited the nations and delegated their control to the angels, the “sons of God” (113). According to Heiser, his “seventy gods” of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 were later judged by God for corrupting the nations (Ps. 82), but he admits there is nothing in the Bible that would indicate how these angels changed from good to bad (116). He seeks support from the translation of Psalm 82:8: “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” The last line is better translated as: “For it is you who possess all the nations.” Note, also, that the first line indicates it is the earth’s inhabitants, not heaven-dwellers, who should be judged.
Nevertheless, for Heiser “the concept of realm distinction was fundamental to the supernatural worldview of ancient Israel” (171). Heiser links realm distinction to Daniel 10, which describes conflicts of angels associated with the nations of Israel, Persia, and Greece (119). Palestine was a holy territory, in contrast with the rest of the world, during the Old Testament theocracy. Yet, Daniel 4:14 says the Most-High is sovereign over the kingdom of man; rebellious angels did not have autonomous control over nations in the way Heiser envisions. The Holy One is he “who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness” (Isa. 40:23). “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!” (Ps. 103:19–20).
According to Heiser, the concept of “geographical domain rulership” “applies to all nations of earth at any time period. All nations whose God is not Yahweh are under the dominion of lesser gods” (329, fn 22), so the concept continues through the New Testament period (322–23) and culminates in a physical military attack against Christians at earthly Jerusalem (370, 373). For Heiser, the angelic powers were not disarmed at Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into heaven but remain in control of the world’s nations until the battle of Armageddon (376). However, even if Heiser’s theory applied when the covenant community existed in the form of a national theocracy, after Pentecost the covenant community as church is no longer a nation but a global, non-political institution, so the nation-versus-nation-conflict paradigm no longer is an appropriate model.
In addition, outside the theocratic territory of Israel, Heiser sees the world as a demonic realm with hostile “gods” exercising dominion (343), not as a common realm where God sovereignly directs common blessing and curse. God, however, controlled the rulers of Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia while the descendants of Abraham were under their authority outside the holy land. Even in the patriarchal period, when rebellious angels purportedly also dominated the nations, God was the ultimate authority over Job and his friends in the land of Uz as well as over Melchizedek in Canaan. Likewise, the resurrected Christ directs historical events during the church age. Indeed, after the flood all inhabitants of the planet are subjects of the Noahic covenant, with God as their Suzerain.
Heiser adds speculative exegesis to prop up his theory. For example, since 1 Enoch 6:6 says the two hundred transgressing angels descended on Mount Hermon, he claims it is a counter mountain-headquarters of the heavenly rebels who oppose the God whose throne is on Mount Zion (chapters 25, 32, 33, and 40); Mount Hermon is depicted as sinister, even though, other than being mentioned as a geographical location, in the Old Testament it is only referred to positively: brotherly unity “is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Ps. 133:3).
A revealing example of Heiser using scholarly insight but skewing it is his approval (371, note 3) of Kline’s translation of “Armageddon” in Revelation 16:16 as “the mountain of gathering.” Kline takes Har Magedon as the name for heavenly Mount Zion/Jerusalem, location of the throne of the universe’s Suzerain. In contrast, because the term “Jerusalem” is associated with the heavenly mountain, Heiser claims the eschatological battle of Armageddon does not occur at the city of Megiddo, a popular view, but instead as a physical conflict at earthly Jerusalem (371–73). Kline views the battle as spiritual and located at the heavenly temple from Adam to the eschatological crisis, with an emphasis in the church age on the worship of God at Mount Zion (Heb. 12:18–29). Heiser claims to be agnostic on eschatology, though he does note disagreement with Kline’s amillennialism, but the detail about the battle occurring at earthly Jerusalem reveals what drives his whole book, since for him the “battle of gods and men” is where the rebellious angels who supposedly control the nations are finally defeated (373–75).
While the core of Heiser’s geographical-domain-authority-of-rebellious-angels thesis is founded, and founders, on The Book of the Watchers portion of 1 Enoch in a way that distorts the interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 and Psalm 82, his interpretations also raise many problems.
A major methodological issue of The Unseen Realm is Heiser’s handling of worldviews. Knowledge of ancient social and cultural practices that differ from modern life is helpful in appreciating details of biblical historical records or literary accounts like parables. But care needs to be exercised in relation to intellectual concepts. Heiser thinks all biblical writers believed the earth was physically flat “because they lived at a time before scientific discovery proved otherwise. It’s that simple.” (online supplement to chapter 2). Not necessarily.
More importantly, neither ancient nor modern worldviews are culturally monolithic, as indicated by current culture wars or different factions within ancient Roman or Jewish culture. Heiser claims that all biblical authors shared the same understanding of the supernatural realm, but his definition of “supernatural worldview” is restricted. It is not about the invisible heavens where God is enthroned among myriad angels or the visible manifestation of heaven in the shekinah Glory Cloud, nor about cosmological concepts which varied from the times of Moses to the Apostle John, nor about the locations of imprisoned angels or deceased humans. Biblical authors had different views of the supernatural to choose from. Sadducees did not even believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8)! Heiser restricts the supernatural worldview to the perspective of the Book of Watchers, that wicked, unseen angels corruptly direct earthly nations. That thesis is not established by his seemingly plausible, but imbalanced, biblical exegesis.
The book has other methodological problems. First, Heiser exhibits a strange literalism with respect to Satan. Despite Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 indicating that the great dragon is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world,” he holds that associating the name Satan with the serpent is a second-temple Judaism and New Testament development (242 note 6). Thus, the Genesis 3 snake is not the Job 1–2 and Zechariah 3 “accuser,” or the tempter of Jesus, since the snake lost his position in the divine council and was cast to the underworld, according to Heiser’s interpretation of Isaiah 14:12–15 and Ezekiel 28:14–17 (91 note 6).
Second, Heiser has strange uses of typology. Another example of his literalism undermines typology involving the gospel: Heiser argues that the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 is never treated in the New Testament as a picture of crucifixion or resurrection, since Isaac did not die; we should not make connections New Testament authors do not claim (242).
In contrast to not seeing typology in a canonical text, he fabricates a type from a non-canonical text. 1 Peter 3:18–19 is a difficult passage about Jesus going in the Spirit to preach, through Noah, to (now) imprisoned spirits. In Heiser’s interpretation, Jesus is a second Enoch who goes to declare to imprisoned angels that God will not change his mind about punishing them in hell, as taught in 1 Enoch 12–16 (335–38). This is another example of how the Book of Watchers is the driving force of The Unseen Realm.
Third, Heiser reshapes the traditional doctrine of sin by putting significant responsibility for human sin on rebellious angels as well as on Adam: “Contrary to the dominant Christian tradition the Fall of Adam is not the exclusive touchpoint for the depravity of humankind . . . the proliferation of evil throughout humanity should not be placed at the feet of Adam but of the Watchers.” Heiser thus understands Colossians 1:20 (“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”) to indicate that Jesus came not only to rectify sin introduced by Adam but also the sin of the Watchers responsible for the human problem.
Fourth, Heiser argues against a Reformed understanding of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. For him, both angelic and human creatures need to have libertarian freedom from any necessary causation: “Free will in the hearts and hands of imperfect beings, whether human or divine, means imagers can opt for their own authority in the place of God’s” (68). God did not predestine sinful acts of his creatures. “The risk of creating image bearers who might freely choose rebellion was something God foresaw but did not decree.” (55).
Fifth, Heiser has confusing comments about angels existing before creation: “the heavenly host was with God before creation” (23); “heavenly beings, those sons of God who were already in existence at the time of creation” (41). He also misinterprets Psalm 74:12–17 as describing creation as “Yahweh’s victory over the forces of primeval chaos” (154) rather than as defeating the Egyptians at the exodus from Egypt; the psalm’s terminology such as day/night, summer/winter reflects Genesis 8:21–22, not Genesis 1.
Sixth, Heiser misunderstands the goal of human history. God created humans to guard God’s earthly temple from evil and build a holy race of ever-living humans which would be transformed into a glorified people entering God’s sabbath realm, a goal which is achieved after the Fall by the salvation provided by God’s beloved Son. For Heiser, the goal of post-Fall humanity is returning to Eden. The Old Testament is the record of a long war between Yahweh and the gods and between Yahweh’s people and the nations in order to re-establish Eden. That is achieved in the battle of Armageddon at earthly Jerusalem by defeating the beast of the Apocalypse who directs the nations against Yahweh’s holy city, a victory which topples the rebellious אֱלֹהִים (՚elohȋm) from their thrones (376), thus enabling the transformation of the earth into the new Eden—the kingdom-abode of God on earth with believers as glorified members of the divine council along with angels (online chapter 42). This is not the new-earth-Jerusalem descending out of heaven.
Seventh, Heiser sometimes makes bombastic statements: “Any work on Gen. 6:1–4 that seeks to defend a non-supernaturalist view and does not seriously interact with the treatment of the original context for the passage discussed by Annus and Kvanvig via primary sources can be safely ignored” (Online supplement, chapter 13). The cited authors discuss Mesopotamian texts about seven divine figures who bring cultural knowledge to the inhabitants of the Tigris and Euphrates area before the flood and have partially-human descendants after the flood, so must have cohabited with humans, and whose evil members were driven to the abyssal regions. While such figures may be the background for the Watchers of 1 Enoch, this material does not invalidate previous non-Watcher interpretations of Genesis 6:1–4.
Eighth, what Heiser leaves out is surprising and revealing. Probably because his focus is on human physical conflict with angels at Jerusalem, he refers to Ephesians 6:10–20 only for the terms relating to angels in verse twelve, but he does not discuss spiritual warfare, probably because the armor of soldiers is metaphorical for spiritual realities.
Heiser confesses that the Unseen Realm reflects “the struggle of being a modern person with a believing heart trying to think like a premodern biblical writer” (20). While many of the passages he deals with are controversial and his arguments thought-provoking and plausible-seeming, he ends up thinking like a 1 Enoch writer rather than a biblical author, and not enough like a modern tradition-appreciating, yet creative, researcher.
For the scholar familiar with ancient Near Eastern languages, literature, and culture, The Unseen Realm provides an abundance of detailed material and issues to wrestle with, grappling with whether Heiser’s avowedly incompletable mosaic of interpretational results is congruent with a redemptive-historical biblical theology. While the exercise might stimulate some refining of interpretational details, the endeavor is a constant struggle to identify and counter exegetical imprecision and distortion. Pastors, elders, and educated parishioners would find Heiser’s wide-ranging arguments challenging and time-consuming to carefully and critically assess.
 Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon (GHHM) (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 3.
 Heiser introduces the concept of “geographical domain rulership” on page 121 in the context of a discussion of angelic powers mentioned in passages like Ephesians 6:12; the concept is based on his exegesis of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 in chapter fifteen.
 Translation of an Aramaic term of Nebuchadnezzar referring to supernatural beings in recounting his dream as reported in Daniel 4.
 For translation and commentary of the Book of Watchers see George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1–36; 81–108 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
 As argued in Kline’s 1962 article “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1–4”; see Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline [EWMGK] (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017), 63–78.
 The use of “divine” in this quote is disconcerting when combined with unguarded statements based on Psalm 82 like “the God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly — a pantheon — of other gods” (11).
 The Masoretic text has “sons of Israel.” The Septuagint has “angels of God.” The ESV is a hybrid version. Since the Genesis 10 Table of Nations numbers around seventy and the number of Jacob/Israel’s family descending to Egypt numbered seventy, which would support the “sons of Israel” reading, Heiser justifies his exegesis by appealing to Ugaritic El’s divine council, which numbered seventy (114 note 7).
 Meredith G. Kline, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium.” JETS 39 (1996): 207–22; included in EWMGK, 259–77. Despite undermining his position, Heiser does list GHHM in the additional bibliography for chapter forty-one in the online supplement to the book. While Heiser reports a voluminous academic bibliography, he does not mention any other of Kline’s publications besides the Armageddon material, even though many deal with Heiser’s topics.
 For example, see Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008).
 A flat earth as part of the standard cosmography of the Bible as presented by scholars “would have been unrecognizable to ancient Israelites.” William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 2021), 191.
 Heiser takes the Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 passages as indicating the serpent-cherub was cast out of heaven at the Fall rather than as a result of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. If Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 do include references to Satan rather than Adam, it could indicate devil possession of the kings of Babylon and Tyre and support application of that concept to pre-Flood kings as well as kings of the eschatological crisis. See GHHM 65–69.
 “Noah’s prophetic activity is described in 2 Peter 2:5 as a heralding of righteousness in the face of the world of the ungodly. According to the probable meaning of 1 Peter 3:19, 20, Noah performed his prophetic preaching as the mouth of the Spirit of Christ, that Spirit-Presence from whom all the true prophets were sent forth in the judicial administration of God’s covenant.” Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 209.
 Michael Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers & the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Crane, Missouri: Defender Publishing, 2017), 103, 105.
 Ibid., 103, 119. However, according to 1 Enoch, the Watchers asked Enoch to mediate for them with God that he not punish them, but God did not relent and Enoch conveyed to the Watchers that their doom was certain.
Meredith M. Kline is the former director of the Goddard Library, and was Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages, at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. His ThD thesis was on Ecclesiastes, and he is a member of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore (PCA) in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, November, 2023.
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Ordained Servant: November 2023
Also in this issue
by Allen C. Tomlinson
by Gregory Edward Reynolds
by Alan D. Strange
by An Older Elder
by Nathan P. Strom
by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
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