Does the Bible teach a “divine council”?

The theory of a “divine council” of angels has been popularized by Michael Heiser over the past few years – but is it biblical, or is it part of an ancient heresy?

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Those who are familiar with the work of Michael Heiser most likely have come across a view known as the “divine council” theory. As the primary scholar with Logos Bible Software, Heiser has a very respectable reputation, a large ever-growing following, and is certainly well-educated in the scriptures, holding numerous degrees in ancient languages. However, education and the ability to parse Hebrew and Greek do not necessitate right hermeneutics, and in relation to the 82nd Psalm, Dr. Heiser’s are terribly flawed which we will observe shortly.

Before we observe Psalm 82, however, we must first examine the foundations of Michael Heiser’s theory. According to Dr. Heiser, the plural elohim in the Old Testament does not refer to the Trinity, but instead to the angels that God created and has placed into positions of authority under Him. In support of this, he refers to the belief of the ancient and modern rabbis, that the statement of Elohim, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), is a conference in which God speaks with the angels.

Yet, when verse 27 is observed, it becomes obvious that God was not speaking to the angels – וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים , vayibera elohiym, “So God created…” While the subject elohim is plural, the verb ba’ra is singular indicating the subject is not God-plus-an-angelic-council, but the One God Who is Himself a plurality. Furthermore, the word בְּצַלְמֹ֔ו , b’tsalemu, translated “in His image,” is also singular, and thus, the One Who said plurally, “Let us make man in our image,” made man singularly “in His image,” indicating the Trinity rather than a divine council of angels.

Heiser further maintains, however, that considering such language to refer to the Trinity “doesn’t work when we get to the same language in Genesis 3, where after Adam and Eve sin, we read, ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil’ (3:22),” and he asks, “how would the act of sinning on the part of Adam and Eve leave them in a new state of being like the persons of the godhead?” (sic).¹ The answer to Dr. Heiser’s question, though, is simple and given in the text itself – eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave them the knowledge of good and evil which previously had been known by God alone. The text does not say that Adam and Eve “passed into a new state of being,” but simply that they had acquired knowledge that they were not meant to have, at least not at that time or by that rebellious manner.

Of course, Dr. Heiser’s theory is true to a certain point; the book of Daniel certainly indicates that there are angels set over geographic regions, referring to the “prince of Persia,” the “prince of Grecia,” and Michael as the “prince of Israel.” Further, verses 8 and 9 of Jude’s short epistle assert that even Satan himself is a dignity who ought to respected. However, Heiser’s “divine council” theory is a mixture of the Old Testament Jewish religion with the pagan mystery religions and is very similar to Gnosticism. The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Colosse, addresses such a mixture saying (Colossians 2:18):

Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Divine Council
Slide from Michael Heiser’s presentation on the “divine council.”

Paul’s statement “worshipping of angels” refers to the Gnostic belief that in the creation God made a hierarchy of angels, one of which was evil who was created for the purpose of introducing evil into the world. Therefore, according to the Colossian heresy there are all sorts of gradations of angels between man and God, and it is presumptuous to seek God directly through Christ, the mediation of lower and more readily accessible beings necessary. Yet, as the apostle states, this is nothing but a “voluntary,” or “self-imposed” humility, with only an “appearance of wisdom” (2:23) that denies the sufficiency of Christ Who is the One Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Of course, to clarify, I am not saying that Dr. Heiser denies this or that he is lost, but this is the inevitable result of this ancient heresy if carried to its’ logical conclusion.

According to the scriptures, the angels are our “fellowservants,” “brethren” (Revelation 22:9), and “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). The “divine council” on the other hand is akin to the Greek Pantheon on Mount Olympus over which Zeus was said to reign, and is a repackaging of the old Colossian heresy.

However, what about the question of Psalm 82, because in many respects, this psalm is the bulwark of the entire divine council theory. According to Dr. Heiser:

A straightforward reading in its own original context of Psalm 82 has divine plurality. You have plural elohim – plural gods, plural divine beings – in that passage, it’s a divine council meeting as the very first verse tells us.²

The problem with Dr. Heiser’s hermeneutics regarding this psalm, though, is that it is entirely based on verses 1 and 6 while ignoring the verses in between. Verses 2-4 state clearly:

How long will ye judge unjustly,
And accept the persons of the wicked?
Selah.
Defend the poor and fatherless:
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy:
Rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

These verses make it abundantly clear that the “gods” whom the Lord is standing in judgment upon are Israelite Judges who were appointed as His representatives to the People but had become corrupt. The word “selah” connects the Lord’s indictment against them with His command for them to judge righteously. As an example, we see Moses placed in such a position by God in Exodus 7:1 in which the Lord says to him, “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.”

We further see the Lord’s judges acting on His behalf to settle civil disputes between neighbors in Exodus 22:7-9, then reading further in verse 28 of the same chapter, “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” That is, the Lord places certain people in positions of authority as His representatives, and as we see in Psalm 82, He will hold them accountable. Such an interpretation flows naturally into the New Testament in which government authorities are called “minister[s] of God, revenger[s] to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:4b).

Therefore, with this in mind, the Lord’s quotation of this psalm in John 10:34 is a defense of His authority. The Jews sought to stone Him for blasphemy when He declared Himself to be God, and His response was to juxtapose Himself across the aisle from the “gods” in Psalm 82. That is, in verses 35 and 36, the Lord said:

If He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came [i.e. those prophets and judges standing in God’s place]… 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?

Human rulers, ministers, and prophets claim to be God’s representatives, and in the same sense as Moses was to Pharaoh, they are “gods.” The application of the passage is clear: if we consider the words of such men as authoritative, we ought to believe the words of the Son of God Himself so much more, for He is the One Whom the Father set apart, sent into the world, and “hath committed all judgment” (John 5:22).


  1. Michael S. Heiser, “God’s Most Wonderful, Terrible Decision.” The Naked Bible. http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/Chapter%204.doc
  2. ————————– , “John 10: gods or Men?” The Naked Bible Podcast. July 15, 2016. http://www.nakedbiblepodcast.com/naked-bible-109-john-10-gods-or-men/

13 comments on “Does the Bible teach a “divine council”?”

  1. Started to read Heiser’s book about the Divine council and something did not sit easy with it all. This seems to happen to me when something is just not right. Thanks for the blog as it answered my questions. I am no theologian but do a lot of in depth Bible Study.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Brenda. That “something not sitting right” is the Holy Spirit within you. As believers in Christ, we are all priests before the Lord. I’m glad the article was able to clear things up for you.

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  2. Have you noticed that Mormons, and now i’m seeing even a JW citing his material ? — I’ve followed his podcasts’ FB group for a while, and they seem to have kind of an arrogant attitude, like they have this great insider knowledge, without which all the other people over history could hardly understand many Scriptures.

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    1. I hadn’t noticed that about Mormons or JWs, but thanks for pointing that out. I stopped listening to Heiser for the very reason you described. He certainly does have a very arrogant attitude; I even heard him say that the Bible couldn’t be rightly interpreted by the average Christian. When a teacher gets praise from the world or from cults, it is an immediate red flag that there is something wrong with the teaching, The success of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” Book among heathen being another example.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravo. You are 100% correct in your assessment about Dr. Heiser. But I wish you and the brave few others decrying Heiser’s henothetistic pantheon would point out that the Hebrew “edah” — assembly in Ps. 82:1 is used 145 times out of 149 in the Hebrew Bible to refer not to some divine council of gods but the assembly of the human beings of Israel! And it is never used in a heavenly context to the best of my own study. The “assembly of God” means the people God owns, not gods. This single fact buries Heiser’s whole premise. Significant he and the “experts” following in his wake leave this little detail out. 145 times out of 149, not referring to gods. Humans. And the other uses? A swarm of bees, a herd of cattle, a band of robbers….and here. Never used as a meeting of gods. Never appears in a heavenly context. Period. Again, this buries Heiser’s entire understanding of Ps. 82, the bulwark of his position. Instead of presenting THE only real God (John 17:3 Greek), Heiser has given us a pantheon where “god” is the “high god” at the top with all the other “lesser gods” underneath. Henotheism. What some of his followers dare to call a biblical monotheism. Which is not monotheism at all if you know what words mean. And if you don’t embrace this new henotheistic view of “god,” you just don’t understand the Bible. No thanks. I’ll stick with what Jesus Christ said, thank you very much. And Thank YOU for having the courage to speak the truth concerning this.

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  4. Except Israelite judges did not exist when God divided up the nations according to the sons of God, Literal Translation Dead Sea Scrolls
    These words echo the King James Bible translators, who wrote in 1611: “God’s sacred Word . . . is that inestimable treasure that excelleth all the riches of the earth.” This assessment of the Bible is the motivating force behind the publication of the English Standard Version.

    Translation Legacy

    The English Standard Version (ESV) stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The fountainhead of that stream was William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526; marking its course were the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV). In that stream, faithfulness to the text and vigorous pursuit of accuracy were combined with simplicity, beauty, and dignity of expression. Our goal has been to carry forward this legacy for a new century.

    To this end each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text. The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale–King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. Archaic language has been brought to current usage and significant corrections have been made in the translation of key texts. But throughout, our goal has been to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of the church over the last four centuries.

     The currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text is reflected in the ESV’s attempt, wherever possible, to translate difficult Hebrew passages as they stand in the Masoretic text rather than resorting to emendations or to finding an alternative reading in the ancient versions. In exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text. 

    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 sonsof God.

    But the LORD’s portion is his people,
    Jacob his allotted heritage.

    Deuteronomy 4:19-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

    lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.

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    1. And God Allotted all but the lot of Jacob to worship the other Gods whom he placed over them as lesser than he when he basically said, ” bye for now”You won’t obey me, then here, have some Appointed Sons of God, not Israeli or Hebrew Judges as the Tribe did not exist yet, this was during the time of Noah’s Great Grand Son when the earth was DIVIDED, that happened exactly one time after the flood. So You can try and say the bible says one thing, however you are committing a sin by doing so

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      1. To maintain that Deuteronomy 4:19-20 says that God allotted for the other other nations to worship angels rather than Him is a twisting of that text. It never once says “worship” in any translation. The nations were all simply divided according to the division of the angels, not given their own gods. God is a jealous God and does not share His glory with another.

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    2. I wasn’t referring to the identity of the sons of God in Deuteronomy 4:19-20; you strayed from the topic. Yes, the sons of God in Deuteronomy 4:19-20 are angelic beings just as they are angelic beings in Genesis 6, but they are not a kind of “divine council” as Heiser maintains. Angels are ministering spirits, sent to serve those who are heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).

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  5. Excellent article, and insight by Ferguson in the comments too.

    The book had come “highly recommended” to me but like Brenda above, something just wasn’t sitting well. I think the fact that he relegated John 10:34-36 to a footnote was a big sign. I did my own Bible research, especially Jesus in John 10, and came to the same conclusion that you have. I found your article hoping to help someone else who is reading the book. Again. Thank you for this very helpful article.

    luke

    Liked by 1 person

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