When poor translation meets a wrong application, the result is heresy.
This book states that Almighty God is just one among of a council of many gods. That’s a lie, and Michael Heiser is a heretic.
Proverbs 9:10 declares:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
The word from Proverbs 9 that has been translated into modern English as “fear” gives, in the original Hebrew, this combined understanding:
(Reverent awe) + (Fear sufficient to make a person tremble)
Because the translation from one language to another is not a binary process; because the complexities woven into the fabric of one language are entirely different from the complexities woven into another language, so it is necessary that the complicated work of a translator is two-fold:
1) To render a suitable meaning of the original (in the first place); and
2) To make the work readable in the translation.
By way of a snapshot on how this works, note that Genesis Chapter One has approximately four hundred thirty-three words in the original Hebrew. Yet, Hebrew scholars may take scores of pages of close-set, small-font print to render their exposition of the same chapter into English. Leupold’s Exposition of Genesis is more than 1,200 pages long! The translator, then, needs a great deal of writing space to convey into the English language the body of subtle complexities and the tapestry of rich nuances inherent in the original Hebrew.
Those complexities and nuances, of course, would have been clear to the ancient Hebrew reader.
Likewise, the word translated from Proverbs 9 into English as “beginning” carries the perspective of “first” in the original Hebrew. In English, “beginning” could mean any point from the start up to and including the midway point. In recounting one of my long runs, I’ve said that I had to use the restroom at the beginning of the race. Actually, that took place somewhere around mile three or four. But, I’m not wrong in saying it was “the beginning” because native English-speaking Americans understand that by “beginning” I mean somewhere in the earlier portion of the race, as opposed to the latter stages.
However, the Hebrew word in Proverbs 9 rendered as “beginning” sets the point of action/activity specifically at the very start. We can, then (if we don’t make the attempt to understand the Hebrew), miss the fullest meaning conveyed by the Hebrew: That wisdom has at it’s very beginning the trembling and reverent awe a person should have for Almighty God.
We can certainly miss the subtly of the original language when we read and study our Bibles only in the English. Now, listen: I’m not taking to task anyone for studying the Bible in English.
But, with the wealth of tools available to most people in the United States, those of us who aren’t Hebrew and Greek linguists can go a long way toward drawing the sweet nectar from the blossoms of Biblical text if we are willing to put in the effort and the time (it’s not a fast process!).
Again, let me repeat: This is not to bash English (in particular) or any translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. God is the master of the languages that He once confounded at Babel.
It is inescapable, however, that some meaning must be lost in translating the Hebrew of the Old Testament, and the Greek of the New Testament, into any other language.
Between the Hebrew and English languages there’s not only the gulf of varied meanings between the words, but another difficulty arises for the translator: The Hebrew language, remarkably concise and yet astoundingly complex, conveys (in certain contexts) perspectives; frames of thinking that are not readily understood by the native English-speaking person.
One place where this caused me trouble in my early Christian walk was in Genesis Chapter Twenty-Eight, where Jacob seemed (to me) to be bartering with God. When I first read that portion of the Scripture, I came away with the idea that Jacob was declaring that God would be his God “if” God accomplished all of the things the Lord said He’d do in Jacob’s dream (as told in verses thirteen to fifteen).
However, what I didn’t know, then, was that the English “if” in verse twenty is really the third in a series of three complex thoughts that are more rightly considered as “conditional ifs.” Even that idea (the “conditional if”) does little to rightly convey the Hebrew, since this is a place where perspective dominates the context.
To the Hebrew-speaking person, they would know, by reading the original language, that God presented the picture of what would take place in Jacob’s life as an already fulfilled future condition. The perspective of the original language projects the mind of the Hebrew reader forward in time into that future context wherein the things now being promised have already come into effect.
So, for Jacob to repeat the “conditional if” twice between verses seventeen and twenty is really his way of confirming that he (Jacob) not only understands the future fulfilled conditions, but he’s basing his present faith and behaviors on that future perspective.
Repeating: Jacob based his present faith and behaviors on an understood future perspective.
And, so, again, we must understand that translation is not a binary process. It is exceedingly complex, and (unless we want our English Bibles to be four or five feet tall!) we must carry into our English reading of the Scripture the acceptance that we are not getting as clear a meaning from what we read as we might; that if we would spend the time working to comprehend the nuances and perspectives unique to the original language, we will be rewarded with added layers of exciting and impassioned writings found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation!
As a personal exhortation to you, let me describe it this way: If we were bees, we could fly over a meadow and enjoy the sight of myriad colorful wildflowers. That’s reading the Bible in our English. But, if we want to land on those flowers and draw from the nectar, we should take our study to the original languages. We don’t need to become language scholars (although don’t let me discourage you from that!). We just need the desire to work through the processes involved in tackling the Hebrew and the Greek.
OK, all of that said, we come now to The Unseen Realm, Michael S. Heiser’s take on Psalm 82. His book became a best-seller, and it took portions of the American Christian church by storm. And, why not? It’s exciting to think you’ve stumbled onto esoteric knowledge! It’s an ego-boosting delight to think you know something that not everyone else knows!
My perspective, however, is that his scholarship is not up to the task, and that Heiser fell short in his comprehension of the original language.
To begin considering Heiser’s assertion, let me start with the sub-title of his book, “Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.”
Such a statement is as vague and unclear as it is misleading!
What worldview? He attempts to clarify. But, let me bypass that and give you this: Here in America, there are numerous worldviews on meanings found in the Bible. A future historian in the year 4020 might stumble upon several books found in an archeological dig, including one by a body of scholars calling themselves the “Jesus Seminar.” Their views on the identity and lifestyle of Mary, mother of Jesus, might create a stir among the future Christian church, although we know their views are predicated on a worldview that the Bible is not a true document. The future historian in the year 4020 won’t know that!
Things twenty-one centuries ago were not all that different in this respect: There were myriad slants on Judaism among the Jewish adherents themselves. Scrolls found in caves and caches throughout the Middle East carry a seemingly unending and random mix of extra-Biblical writings. It’s clear that various groups of Hebrew people had varied thoughts on their own religion, just as many American Christians from Maine to California, Texas to Minnesota, have widely varied beliefs of their own religion.
For Heiser to assume that the work of the people who created the Septuagint was not in any way colored by views they had on Judaism is Pollyannic at best. Read any of three or four expositions of any given book of the Bible, and you’ll notice some subjective considerations at work in each of the expositions. This is not an evil thing; it’s in keeping with a practical understanding of human nature: People tend to lean toward their own beliefs. We should not think that the people who worked to create the Septuagint twenty-one centuries ago were any different than people today in that regard.
Heiser states that he, in his book, is reclaiming the Biblical worldview. I would grant only that he may be reclaiming one of many Biblical worldviews, and, as we have all read throughout the Old Testament, human worldviews of God and the Hebrew religion were very often heresies for which Almighty God took to task the nation Israel!
ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀλήθεια ἡ ζωή
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to mention the Septuagint several times, let’s look at that particular aspect of Heiser’s book. The point I’ll make here dovetails with the point I’ve begun to make regarding the rendering of the Septuagint, and the point is that Heiser uses the Septuagint in his reaching an understanding of Psalm 82.
Remember, the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.
The Septuagint is a Greek translation…
… of the Hebrew Old Testament.
Can you not see the immediate issue?
Heiser uses a Greek translation to comprehend a Hebrew work from which he will then establish points of theology in English.
Have you ever gotten a traffic ticket for a Tri-state violation? Some states see a potential blurring the grey areas between traffic laws that vary from state to state. So, highway patrol officers in those states will ticket a driver found to be driving a vehicle registered in State #1, while the driver carries a driver’s license issued by State #2, all the while operating the vehicle in State #3.
That’s a Tri-state violation.
The use of a Greek translation of a Hebrew text to render clear understanding in English violates a very basic imperative of Bible scholarship: To get as close to the original as is possible.
Understanding Psalm 82 is among the more challenging issues in the Old Testament. I grant that freely. But, it’s not something to hide from, or shy away from. The challenge rightly creates in us a pause of our processes of study. It’s one of many points that require us to review our steps to make sure we’re following the right path in seeking the clearest understanding possible.
To best understand any of the Hebrew Old Testament books requires that we undertake to apprehend everything we can from the Hebrew; and, not just Hebrew language, per se. We need to learn all we can about the author; about the place of the writing; about the period of the writing; about the conditions, and so on. We want to learn everything we can that will help us to place the Hebrew into as complete an understanding of the correct context as we can, considering the distances of time, space, and humanity’s inevitable changes in the worldviews of their time.
Worldview is not among the top-shelf considerations of context. It’s part of the overall package of tools that help us comprehend. But, it’s not among the most important.
I’ll leave that there so that I can continue with an examination of the practice of using a Greek translation of a Hebrew text to render an understanding in English. To do that goes in the opposite direction of the original meaning; to head away from the original Hebrew. Heiser has committed this egregious error by choosing to look at Psalm 82 through the lens of a Greek translation, and that breaks from good scholarship.
I’m not saying that seeking to understand what the Septuagint says isn’t important. It is important! Seeing how Greek- and Hebrew-speaking people translated the original Hebrew OT works into Greek is a fascinating field of study! While it may help to provide clarity, such work is subordinate to the studying of the original Hebrew works.
No Greek translation, or (for that matter) any language translation of the original Hebrew, should usurp the place of the original language in determining meaning. We must go to the Hebrew first. And, if we find suitable clarity in the Hebrew, then our clarity cannot be muddied by linguist choices presented by Greek translations. If we find clarity in the Hebrew, the Septuagint’s use remains as a supporting document. It can enhance the understanding we received from the Hebrew. But, it cannot change the understanding.
By the way, we have good clarity of Psalm 82 from the original Hebrew. More on that in a moment.
Heiser’s subtitle “Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible” is, therefore, misguided at best, and deliberately misleading at worst. It makes me (personally) wonder about his reasons for dusting off an idea posed no less than one hundred forty years ago. Did he hope that no one today would have read the critiques from the 1870’s version of this heresy?
While I must concede that I cannot speak to Heiser’s motives, I can state with clarity that what Heiser has written is absolutely a heresy. By his work, he seeks to change the nature of God Almighty. In that way, Heiser is no different than an apologist from among the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New Age Christian, the Hindu, the Buddhist, or any of the religions of man’s world.
Regardless as to their many tenets, all man-made religions have this one thing in common: They change the nature of God Almighty from what God has made known to man about Himself. Heiser’s book is no different. I shudder at the numbers of people who will rely on Heiser’s theology for their peace on this Earth, and for their surety in the hereafter.
No heresy can achieve either one of those things.
ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀλήθεια ἡ ζωή
Back to the “Biblical Worldview.” Let’s talk about the history of the Israelites and their relationship with God. A good bit of the Old Testament is the history of mankind. A good bit more is about the creation of a people group (the Israelites) to keep alive the knowledge of God on the Earth (remember, the knowledge of God had dwindled down to one small family of eight people at one point… We humans needed God’s lamp of His identity!). And, still a good deal more of the Old Testament is prophets admonishing the Israelites for their wandering from God in myriad ways.
I will not recount the many heresies that the Israelites fell into during their checkered history. These few will be offered only to establish clearly the point: They sacrificed their children to idols, and they set up holy places to other idols. So, let’s be very clear: I would never rely on the “worldview” of the Israelites as my key to understanding Scripture.
That’s not to single out the Israeli’s in this, because I would never rely on the worldview of any people group for something so important! And, no people has kept, or could keep, their ways straight before the Lord God Almighty.
Further, I rely on my understanding of the history of the Israelites as one of many points from which I must view my own conduct on a regular and recurring basis. I’m told by Scripture that I must examine myself to see if I’m in the faith. And, if I’m to be honest, it turns out that I’m every bit as capable of wandering from God as were the Israelites of old.
God has presented to us that which we humans are capable of understanding about Him. He’s done that through His Holy Bible, and in no other way. So, I’m not bashing Israel; I’m taking to task human nature.
Note that within the town where I live (pop. 2,500) there are numerous worldviews: Biblical Christianity, unbiblical Christianity, religious-but-not-Christian theology, post-modernism, scientific materialism, numerous political worldviews, and many, many others… and that’s just in this little town.
Here in Mount Vernon there are also those with a mystical worldview, or worldviews that we might call supernatural. And, among the supernatural worldviews, there will be diverse subtle differences, one from the next.
As wordy as Heiser can get, he cannot escape the final analysis that the translation he comes to accept for Psalm 82 reflects just one of many possible supernatural worldviews extant during the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint. So, let me be clear and state it for the record that Heiser’s specific supernatural worldview is a polytheistic belief that the one and only true God who has ever existed, or will ever exist, is just one god among a council of gods.
Heiser rejects the very clear and recurring presentation by God, and about God, that He is the only God, and that He is one. Heiser, therefore, changes the clearly presented nature of God into something that he (Heiser) prefers. How do I know that? Because those very clear and repeated declarations in the Hebrew Old Testament state, time and again, and without wavering, that there is only one God: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, El Shaddai; God Almighty!
I have only to look at the unchanging, objective Word of God to know that Heiser’s presentation of God’s nature is wrong.
The only reason (ever) to change the nature of God is because you prefer a different nature, a different God. You change the nature of God Almighty because you prefer to not have to accept the God who truly is. And, so Heiser changes the nature of God into one that Heiser prefers. I cannot know why Heiser eschews the right understanding of God. But, make no mistake: Heiser prefers to think of God in his (Heiser’s) way. If it were not so, then Heiser would never have accepted so thin a parchment of deceit; a deceit foisted upon mankind no less than twice, now, in the past century and a half.
So… worldview? No.
Never rely on any worldview over the objective Word of God given to mankind by God Himself. In fact, never rely on anything over the objective Word of God!
ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀλήθεια ἡ ζωή
Of all the many thousands of people who followed Jesus during his three-year ministry, Jesus chose twelve to pour into them the teachings and meanings of the Scripture. And, still fewer became even more intimate with our Lord and Savior.
The Apostles James, Peter, and John were singled out for such a deeper relationship with Jesus. Among other things, these three were with Jesus at the Transfiguration. They witnessed one of the most spectacular and remarkable events in all of human history! And, Peter was also there when the Holy Spirit moved in an unfathomable way during that first Pentecost after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Of all the Apostles, you’d think Peter would be the first to rely on subjective experience. Yet, Peter wrote that the Scriptures are supreme in our comprehension of God and His plan of salvation for mankind.
Peter’s words: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
Note Peter’s concern for those subtle ways that people deny the nature of God.
In his effort to find something esoteric in the Bible; something new and exciting; something different from the clear teaching of the Bible, Heiser has wandered into the camp of those of whom Peter wrote: The heretics.
It is my earnest hope for Heiser that he reconsiders his scholarship. This will be difficult, as he has received a lot of attention, accolades, and money for his heresy. But, heresy it is. And, the sooner he accepts it, the sooner he can get about the freeing task of recanting his heresy and embracing, instead, the Word of God; the clear and coherent Word of God.
Finally, I have made the point that Heiser’s scholarship suffers because of his erroneous acceptance of a wrong translation of a Hebrew word from Psalm 82. Let me take the space here to present a reasoned exegesis of that which Heiser has mis-translated.
At the outset, let me say that this is not my interpretation. This is my consideration of the proper translation of the Hebrew. There’s a very important difference between interpretation and translation. Not understanding the differences in the two, and how they are used, leads to unnecessary confusion among believers as they study the Bible.
ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀλήθεια ἡ ζωή
So, let’s look at the Hebrew under examination.
Psalm 82, in the NIV English translation, reads this way:
A psalm of Asaph.
God has taken His stand in the assembly of God;
In the midst of the rulers He pronounces judgement.
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality for the person of the wicked? Selah.
Judge justly the case of the weak and fatherless;
Maintain the rights of the afflicted and the needy.
Deliver the weak and the poor;
Rescue them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor insight;
They walk on in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I did indeed say: “You are rulers
And all of you sons of the Most High.
But you shall all die like men
And fall like any of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth,
For Thou wilt take possession of all the nations.
Before I go into the text, I’ll repeat that Heiser has selected the Septuagint as his preferred version of the various material he considers. The Septuagint is a Greek work. I’ve already taken the space to point out that in choosing the Septuagint, Heiser painted himself into a linguistic corner. Not only have we to bear a “tri-state violation,” but, the Septuagint itself suffers from the inclusion of pseudepigraphal works. That inclusion does not speak especially well of the translators’ worldview, as the extra-Biblical works do not cohere with God’s Scriptures.
I’ve mentioned, also, that the history of Israel includes regular inclusion of pagan gods in their worship. This, in violation of the clear commands of God to worship Him alone. So… Worldview? Which worldview? Heiser’s worldview is one that changes the otherwise clear and distinct nature of God into something paganesque.
While Psalm 82 is not the sole verse that Heiser relies upon, it is an imperative to his argument. By demonstrating that Heiser is wrong in his evaluation of Psalm 82, his argument falls into disrepair and must be cast aside.
So, then, is Heiser wrong? Let’s have a look and see.
Psalm 82 is one of the Psalms attributed to Asaph. From the Scriptures, we have some knowledge of who Asaph was. Son of Berechiah, Asaph was a tabernacle musician of note, and a man of distinction during the reign of King David. The following verses shed light on one who was certainly a person of note during his time: 1Chron 6:31, 32, and 39; 1Chron 15:1-19; 1Chron 16:4 & 5; 1Chron 16:7-37; 1Chron 25:1-2, 6 & 9; 2Chron 35:15; Ezra 2:41; Neh 7:44, 11:22.
The psalm, then, was likely written during David’s reign, which means that it came after the period during which Israel was ruled by judges, not kings. However, once kings began to rule the Israel, judges remained in place to adjudicate cases among the people. Only the most-important cases were decided by the reigning king.
Of note is the fact that the judges were called to a high office; a high standard. Despite the high calling, there were repeated complaints that the judges exercised an often slanted, of not outright dirty, campaign of corruption in their decisions. This was not a complaint that came only from the people, but was sounded three times by the prophet Isaiah, twice by Amos, and twice by Micah. Judging inappropriately, then, did not go unnoticed.
Psalm 82 is a warning to the judges in Israel, not a description of pagan gods who rule the Earth. As a first point of reference to that declaration, let me call the Bible itself as witness. God Himself tells us all that He is God; He alone; that there is no other beside Him.
Moses told the Israelites in Chapter 4 of Dueteronomy:
You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. (v.35)
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. (v. 39)
Again, in Deuteronomy, this time from Chapter 32:
See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. (v. 39)
From Isaiah Chapter 44:
“This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” (vv. 6 & 8)
These are certainly not the only verses in the Old Testament that testify as such. How about the New Testament? How about the testimony of the greatest Old Testament commentator who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph; the Christ. What did Jesus have to say? On this very topic, it turns out, Jesus spoke in John Chapter 17, and He tells us how many gods there are:
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (v. 3)
How many true Gods? One! There are no other gods!!!!!!
This, then, is the clear teaching of Scripture: That there is only one true God.
God Himself said it.
Jesus said it.
This, then, is the point we must accept: There is only one God, and the one who self-identified as “The I AM” is He. All other ‘gods” are inventions of man. They don’t exist. They’re figments of human imagination. They are fantasy.
Yet, people made those false gods “real” in the sense that they accepted them, sacrificed to them, called upon them. In the Bible, these behaviors were (at one time or another) refuted directly, and sometimes even ridiculed in public by the one true God in an example to all people to see.
In addition, part of the reason for the Exodus event, a singular moment in human history, as communicated by God Himself, was so that people would know that He is God (not any of the many “gods” of the Egyptians).
God is God alone. No other exists, nor has another one ever existed.
Because we can be so certain that God is one, and there is no other, then we must use that knowledge in how we view the rest of Scripture. And, so, when we come to Psalm 82 and read
God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”
We have every right to ask: What “gods” are being discussed? At this critical juncture, we depart from the path Heiser followed. He pushed on without the knowledge of the clear and precise teaching of the Bible, and it muddied his understanding of Psalm 82, leading him to write heretical statements about God. Those heresies made Heiser rich and threw acclaim his way. But, they have misled many thousands of other people in their pursuit of Almighty God.
Here, at the same juncture where Heiser stumbled away from God’s Word, let me point out a road sign, one useful to all persons studying the Scripture. It reads like this:
“A little Bible study will cause you to question your faith. A lot of Bible study will confirm your faith.”
That the word also rendered “God” is sometimes used in the OT to refer to judges is beyond question. If you don’t want to believe me, or you don’t want to research the OT yourself for those instances, then believe Jesus. Note that Jesus’ words recorded in John 10:34-35 refer directly to Psalm 82:1!
Returning to Psalm 82:1, the fact is that at the end of the initial phrase in verse 1 the plural for “god” has not yet appeared in the Hebrew.
It isn’t even there, yet.
So, that initial phrase is more accurately rendered
“God has taken His stand in the assembly of God;”
Whereas the plural comes thereafter, and belongs to the phrase added at the end of the verse
“In the midst of the rulers He pronounces judgement.”
And the whole of verse one reads more reliably:
God has taken His stand in the assembly of God;
In the midst of the rulers He pronounces judgement.
As stated before, Psalm 82 is not telling us that there is a god at the head of a council of gods. Not only does that create a heretical view of Almighty God, but it violates the Hebrew language. Psalm 82 is a warning from God Almighty to the judges (who are sometimes referred to as “gods”) about pronouncing unfair judgements upon the Israelites.
That’s how the Hebrew language renders it.
That’s how Jesus understood it.
That’s in keeping with the clear teaching of the whole of scripture.
Michael Heiser has made a linguist blunder. Having blundered, Heiser blinded himself with a heretical view of Almighty God, then set it on the page.
If you’ve accepted Heiser, then may this poor essay serve to bring you back from the brink of heresy! If you know of any who have accepted Heiser, then may this allow you the ability to describe to them the warnings sounded here, and may you serve Almighty God in presenting His clear and unambiguous teaching about who He is, who we are, and why Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all.
There is no council of gods. There is only one God: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Almighty God! Blessed is the name of the Lord!
ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀλήθεια ἡ ζωή
This is what the Lord says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
“I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come—
yes, let them foretell what will come.
Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”