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