Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Divine Council Myth (Part 2)


Part 1     Part 3


Recently, The Bible Project started a series on spiritual beings. The third video in the series spoke of The Divine Council, a hypothesis that has been propagated, most notably, by Dr. Michael Heiser. In fact, Heiser was credited as a Script Consultant at the end of the video. It is my position that this theological perspective is not only incorrect, but also an affront to the splendor and glory of God. 

Due to the popularity of The Bible Project, and the fact that this video has accumulated over 250,000 views in just a couple of weeks, it seems necessary to offer a biblical response. In this four part series, I will present the key texts involved, the four main interpretive views, the challenges to each view, and my conclusion.


Contemporary Interpretations of Elohim in Psalm 82


John MacArthur / James White view [1] [2]

This view asserts that the gods among whom Yahweh judges in Psalm 82 are earthly rulers, particularly those in Israel. The NASB agrees with this interpretation.

Multiple Old Testament commentators take this position. Keil and Delitzsch wrote in their commentary, “Everywhere among men, but here pre-eminently, those in authority are God’s delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also themselves called Elohim, ‘gods.’ The God who has conferred this exercise of power upon these subordinate Elohim, without their resigning it of themselves, now sits in judgment in their midst.”[3]

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “[God] is the overlooker, who, from his own point of view, sees all that is done by the great ones of the earth. When they sit in state he stands over them, ready to deal with them if they pervert judgment. Judges shall be judged, and to justices justice shall be meted out… They are gods to other men, but he is God to them. He lends them his name, and this is their authority for acting as judges, but they must take care that they do not misuse the power entrusted to them, for the Judge of judges is in session among them.”[4]

Albert Barnes wrote, “The literal rendering is, ‘God standeth in the assembly of God.’ The Septuagint renders it, 'In the synagogue of the gods,' so also the Latin Vulgate. The reference, however, is undoubtedly to magistrates, and the idea is that they were to be regarded as representatives of God; as acting in His name; and as those, therefore, to whom, in a subordinate sense, the name 'gods' might be given.”[5]

This view takes into consideration how God interacts with the nations from Genesis 12 onward, noting how God works in and through earthly rulers. See selected Scripture below.

The people come to Moses to “inquire of God” (NASB, em. added)
The judgment of Israel’s rulers was also God’s judgment
Judah’s judges judged not for man, “but for the Lord” (KJV)
The king’s heart is in God’s hands
Government leaders are established by God and are His servants
All Christians are to fear God and honor the king

This interpretation appeals to the fact that fallen, human rulers would need correction, admonition, reminding, and judgment as God gives to them in vv. 2-7. It also recognizes that the use of Elohim in reference to these human judges is rare, but not exceptionally unique. Exodus 21:6, 22:8-9, and Deuteronomy 32:8 all likely use the word to describe humans of different rank and class. These three passages are critical to this interpretation because of their use of Elohim in the Hebrew.

Additionally, Psalm 58 and Psalm 94 use very similar language to convey the same ideas of judgment for earthly rulers as found in Psalm 82. It is clear from the language of these psalms that the authors had human judges in mind. Isaiah 3:13-15 is also an appropriate cross-reference. 


John Piper view [6]

This view asserts that the gods among whom Yahweh judges in Psalm 82 are angels who have been given some sort of dominion and rule among the nations of the earth.

Besides John Piper, there are at least two other accessible Bible commentators, Friedrich Bleek and Hermann Hupfeld, who also take this view. Keil and Delitzsch explain the views of Bleek and Hupfeld in their Old Testament commentary.

Piper writes, “Then God warns the ‘gods.’ He tells them that, although they are ‘sons of the Most High’ (that is, angels, cf. Job 1:6; 38:7), nevertheless they will ‘die like men.’ They are not men but they will die like men…This is what Jesus was referring to when he said that ‘the eternal fire [was] prepared for the devil and his angels’—that is for the ‘gods.’ In other words, their end will be as ignominious and horrible as the ordinary sinners they have used to weave their fabric of evil.”[7]

This view takes into consideration the judgment the gods are to receive: death “like men.” This punishment implies that death was not a natural consequence of their being; therefore, the Elohim must have been non-human. Furthermore, it can be understood that Piper reckons these angels as being in a fallen state, rendering them demons.

As Piper references in the quotation above, Jesus taught that there was a special place prepared for angels who transgressed: hell is reserved for them (Matt 25:41). Demons have been sentenced to an eternal punishment in the Second Death (cf. Rev 20:1-6,14). They, along with the devil and all who reject Christ as Lord, will suffer in the lake of fire for all eternity. Jude 6 teaches a similar idea: “Angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,” (NASB). 


Michael Heiser view [8]

This view asserts that the gods among whom Yahweh judges in Psalm 82 are beings whose nature is above that of humans and angels. The Elohim are actual divine beings. 

An entire worldview has been woven out of this understanding of the text.[9] In his book, The Unseen Realm, Heiser states that this worldview is “a theology of the unseen world that derives exclusively from the text understood through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the authors informs every Bible doctrine in significant ways.”[10] This worldview is very complicated and is best explained by Heiser himself, who should be considered the only authoritative source for describing its details.

This view defers to the English Standard Version (ESV) rendering of the biblical text in most cases, as its wording lends to the divine council worldview while also remaining faithful to the original language. For instance, the ESV translates Psalm 82:1 this way: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” This is a fair translation.

The divine council understanding starts with the claim that the Jewish people thought of Elohim as a place of residence and not as “God,” as many Christians (especially Western Christians) believe today.

Exegetically, the context for each usage of Elohim defines whether it is singular or plural, much like “sheep” and “moose” in English. However, regardless of context, this view argues that Elohim always refers to existence completely outside of the earthly realm. Though not fully agreeing with him, A.B. Davidson seems to meet this understanding halfway when he defined Elohim as a class of being, writing, “In contrast with man, angels belong to the class of Elohim.”[11]

Furthermore, Heiser’s view contends that at the tower of Babel these gods were given nations as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 32:8 is a key reference: “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,” (ESV). This verse has also been interpreted as referring to angels and to Israelites (cf. NIV, NLT,NET, KJV). This aspect of the divine council worldview leads to a doctrine called “cosmic geography,” that Heiser has taught on in-depth.

As the cosmic geography presupposition is applied to Psalm 82, the result of the interpretation is a divine council that takes place in the heavens sometime after the Babel event in Genesis 11. In these heavenly chambers where the cosmos is directed by God with the help of the other divine beings (Man was initially created to help as well), Yahweh literally judges in the midst of them. He rebukes them for their “unjust” leadership and sentences them to die like men.

Heiser will often point to Psalm 89 as another text where the divine council can be seen: “The heavens will praise Your wonders, O Lord; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies is comparable to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the Lord, a God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all those who are around Him?” (vv. 5-7, NASB).

In cases such as Psalm 89, the traditional Christian understanding of the text is that the author is making reference to angels. However, Heiser claims that these beings are above the angels, albeit created, and hold some form of deity. These are the same beings he understands Psalm 82 to describe. 

The God of Israel, Yahweh, is “species unique” among the Elohim (“gods”), says Heiser, thus maintaining His unique status and position in the heavens. This aspect will be extrapolated further in Challenges to Each View in part 3. 


"Mormon" view [12]

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will often appeal to John 10:34 to support their doctrine of the deification of man. However, since Jesus is quoting Psalm 82, the interpretation of that Psalm is critical to the application of John 10:34. 

James Talmage, describing in part His understanding of Psalm 82 (published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an official and authoritative document) wrote:

In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called 'gods.' To this scripture the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon's Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title 'gods.' Compare the similar appellation applied to Moses (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). Jesus Christ possessed divine authorization, not through the word of God transmitted to Him by man, but as an inherent attribute. The inconsistency of calling human judges 'gods,' and of ascribing blasphemy to the Christ who called Himself the Son of God, would have been apparent to the Jews but for their sin-darkened minds.[13]  

Thus, there is no official teaching by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that interprets Psalm 82 differently than the MacArthur/White view above.

There are many lay members of the Church, however, who will understand Psalm 82 and, consequently, John 10:34 as affirming the LDS doctrines of pre-existence, a pre-mortal grand council of divine beings, and the possible deification of man.


Part 1     Part 3



[3] Commentary on the Old Testament, 5:402.
[4] Spurgeon on the Psalms, 4  
[5] Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical on the Psalms
[7] Ibid.
[8] See http://www.thedivinecouncil.com, “Michael Heiser - The Divine Council,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH7PiDGVcJQ, and “Michael Heiser - Why did Jesus use Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKdj89uqurs. All accessed June 13, 2018.
[10] The Unseen Realm, 13
[11] The Theology of the Old Testament, 293
[12] There was no easily accessible documentation on LDS.org that described the Church’s official teaching on Psalm 82. However, there are multiple printed resources that may contain some detail regarding the Church’s official teaching on the passage.
[13] Jesus the Christ, 501

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