Friday, April 5, 2019

The Divine Council Myth (Part 3)

Part 2     Part 4

If you've not read the parts that precede this article, please see the link above and go back.

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.

Challenges to the Contemporary Interpretations of Elohim in Psalm 82

John MacArthur/James White view

In this view, "Elohim" in Psalm 82 is interpreted as earthly rulers and judges.

Elohim in each of its forms is found in the Hebrew Old Testament 2,598 times. If the word is used in reference to human judges in Psalm 82, and if the word is used similarly in Exodus 21:6,22:8-9, and Deuteronomy 32:8, it means that there are about five total instances of this usage of the word. Due to the linguistic and syntactical difficulty of these passages, each of them (with the exception of Psalm 82:6) are translated at least once as “God” and at least once as a human office among the modern English translations. These considerations cast doubt on the interpretation that Psalm 82 is absolutely referring to humans.

Furthermore, the punishment issued to these beings is to “die like men,” implying that this sentence is contrary to the natural outcome of their being. If the Elohim in Psalm 82 are human judges, they would need no special sentence to death as men die – they would die like men because they were men.

John Piper view

In this view, "Elohim" in Psalm 82 is interpreted as angels.

The interpretation that considers Elohim in Psalm 82 to be angels faces a problem if it understands the term “angels” in its purest sense. Angels (unlike fallen angels, or “demons”) are unable to act “unjustly,” as Psalm 82 describes these Elohim to act. Angels are also unable to die. However, demons are naturally unjust and, as noted above, sentenced to “die like men” in the Second Death.

One concern with regard to interpreting the Elohim in Psalm 82 as demons is that there is an expectation from Yahweh for these beings to rule righteously. Scripture does indicate that demons have been given a measure of reign (cf. Rom 8:38, 2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:2,6:12, Col 1:16); however, God would never expect these demons to reign righteously within the dominion they’ve been given.

It is possible to interpret Psalm 82 as the time when a third of the angels fell with Satan (cf. 2 Pet 2:4, Rev12:4). It could be that these Elohim were given rulership as angels and were expected to judge with righteousness, but then fell with Satan and were sentenced to death. However, Yahweh seems to indicate an ongoing unrighteous reign by these rulers through which He has maintained an expectation of righteousness. God says, “How long will you judge unjustly,” (NASB), signifying that this had gone on too far and He was once-for-all interceding. That scenario does not fit into the moment-the-angels-fell narrative. 

Finally, this view runs into major issues when it comes to interpreting Jesus’ words in John 10:34. In no clear way does it seem sensible that Jesus would use angels as an example in His discourse with the Pharisees in that context. In their commentary, Keil and Delitzsch address this view: “An interpretation which, like this, abandons the usage of the language in order to bring into existence a riddle that it cannot solve, condemns itself.”[1] 

Michael Heiser view

In this view, "Elohim" in Psalm 82 is interpreted as actual divine beings of a greater nature than angels.

The more that the divine council worldview is expounded, the more that the traditional Christian worldview must change. This is why I decided to make public this essay.

Although Dr. Heiser despises modern theistic classifications,[2] the divine council worldview is very close to a henotheistic worldview – the teaching that there are multiple, ontologically equivalent Gods, yet there is only one whom humans should worship. Henotheism is obviously contrary to Scripture (cf. Gen 1:1, Deut 6:4, 1 Tim 2:5, etc.). Where the divine council worldview makes a sharp break with henotheism is at the ontological level, asserting that Yahweh created other Elohim.[3] Yahweh’s creation of these beings indicates His ontological superiority; however, they are still of the same class. This position muddies the water of God’s transcendence.

Heiser wrote, “In briefest terms, the statements in the canonical text inform the reader that, for the biblical writer, Yahweh was an Elohim, but no other Elohim was Yahweh—and never was nor could
be. This notion allows for the existence of other Elohim and is more precise than the terms ‘polytheism’ and ‘henotheism.’ It is also more accurate than ‘monotheism,’ though it preserves the element of that conception that is most important to traditional Judaism and Christianity: Yahweh’s solitary ‘otherness’ with respect to all that is, in heaven and in earth.”[4]

That explanation may sound reasonable; however, because Heiser’s worldview asserts divine plurality, he then must explain texts like Isaiah 43:10 in an unconventional way. God says through the prophet, “Before Me there was no God (Elohim) formed, and there will be none after Me,” (NASB). Heiser claims that in this text Yahweh is claiming to be "species unique" among the Elohim – not that other Elohim are absolutely absent in the universe.[5] He uses Isaiah 47:8-10 and Zephaniah 2:15 to support his argument. Yet God appeals to His own knowledge and emphatically declares that there is no other divine Elohim (Isaiah 44:8, 45:5-6, 22).
Setting aside the philosophical implications of defining Elohim in Psalm 82 as other divine beings that exist alongside Yahweh, there are more fundamental errors to the interpretation. Heiser’s insistence that Elohim is a term of spatial residence is unsubstantiated in the Hebrew Old Testament. This definition is convenient and does not adequately address the usages in Exodus 21:6,22:8-9, and Deuteronomy 32:8. 

A.B. Davidson wrote, “The name Elohim is used both for God and for angels. The angels are Elohim; and as a family or class they are ‘sons of Elohim.’”[6] Davidson suggests that the term is not spatial, but rather qualitative. This widely-held and traditional understanding of the word allows for human judges, who judge on behalf of Yahweh, and angels themselves to be the beings discussed in the psalm in question.

Furthermore, the divine council worldview must answer how divine beings can act sinfully and what their fallen state entails. It is unclear as to whether or not Heiser views these sinful Elohim as the equivalent of demons.

LDS view

In this view, "Elohim" in Psalm 82 is typically interpreted as men who become gods based on Jesus' usage of the passage in John 10:31-36.

From a biblical perspective, Mormon theology has several issues in light of a purely biblical worldview. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson sum up this particular matter by stating:

Mormons, as well as Hindus and New Agers, have used [John 10] to show how people can become gods. This does not make sense for several reasons. First, the passage is referring to Psalm 82, which speaks about human judges who would “die like men” (v. 7). Jesus points out that, like the judges in the Psalm, the judgments of the Jewish leaders were wrong. In addition, it would make no sense for Jesus to identify the Pharisees — whom He called “whitewashed tombs” (Mt 23:27) and “of your father the Devil” (John 8:44) — “gods” in the present tense. Finally, the Bible is very clear that the only God who exists is God Himself, and He knows of no other gods (Is 43:10, 44:6-8). If there are no other gods before or after God, then how can humans ever progress to become gods? While Christians will indeed be glorified in the future state, it would not be biblical to call them gods.[7]

McKeever and Johnson, [8] Matt Slick, [9] and James White [10] have all addressed these particular LDS doctrinal conflicts in more detail on their ministry websites.

Part 2     Part 4

[1] Commentary on the Old Testament, 5:402
[3] “Michael Heiser - The Divine Council,” at (23:46, 30:37)
[4] Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible, 29
[5] “Michael Heiser - The Divine Council,” (10:40)
[6] The Theology of the Old Testament, 293
[7] Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34, Accessed June 13, 2018.

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