The Divine Council, The Unseen Realm, and Dr Michael Heiser

In my previous blog I had addressed a topic that’s very popular these days among a lot of Christians. And today I’d like to pick up that theme again and take it a bit further.

For quite some time I had been meaning to read the works of the late Dr Michael Heiser, and after some interaction with some viewers and readers, I decided it was time to pick up one of his works and read it.   So, I got a copy of The Unseen Realm, which is probably his most well-known work, and in today’s blog I want to offer some of my thoughts about that piece.

The first thing that I want to say is that I really appreciate the fact that Dr Heiser – a scholar in his field – was not afraid to recognize the supernatural realm. I’d wager to guess that in the world of academia most scholars would either shy away from that subject or discount it altogether.  However, Dr Heiser freely wrote about angels, and demons, and Satan – which I found incredibly refreshing. Dr Heiser was also an expert in the field of ancient Semitic & Mesopotamic culture and really contributed a lot of understanding in those areas. Sadly, his life was cut short by cancer and he died in 2023.

He was, in short, a brilliant man and an excellent Old Testament scholar. Which leads me to my next point, and that is, that I on the other hand am not a scholar.  I have never been to seminary and have not been formally trained in the Bible. I’m just a guy who has been reading the bible since I was a kid and who has a passion for learning and understanding. So, that being said, I want to make it clear that I am not an expert in the field of Bible languages or higher academic learning, or anything along those lines. I say this because I have a few disagreements with Dr Heiser and I anticipate that some will argue that I have no business critically reviewing the work of someone far more learned than I am. And I get that. So, I’m just putting this out here as a way of full disclosure. Before someone makes that accusation against me, I want to make it myself.

So let me share some thoughts about Michael Hieser’s work, The Unseen Realm.  During the first few pages of his book he writes that what you “read in this book will change you” and that “you’ll never be able to look at your Bible the same way again.[1]”  And, though I can’t say that I found those promises fulfilled in me, I did find what he had to say was quite intriguing. And I definitely walked away with some very good things.

If you don’t know anything about this book, let me kind of loosely summarize what he had to say.  Heiser began by describing how one day in graduate school a friend had directed him to Psalm 82 and verse 1 in the Hebrew Bible. Heiser said that what he found impacted him greatly and changed everything for him. He said that he had read that verse many times before but hadn’t seen the implications of it. Now, that kind of surprised me because even as a layperson I was well-aware of Psalm 82 and at least some of the implications of the opening verse. But, in any event, Heiser suggested that this catapulted him in a direction that changed him in a very profound way.

Heiser’s thesis isn’t easy to summarize briefly and so forgive me if I’m brushing over things too broadly here, but in short, he came to believe that the use of the word Elohim – which is a plural word often translated God but can also means gods -with a small “g,” in Psalm 82 verse 1 suggests that Yahweh had created a series of lesser gods whom He formed into a divine counsel. These lesser gods – or divine beings – or maybe angels of some sort – were given authority to rule over nations of the world though some of them fell and rebelled against Yahweh.  Heiser believes that these lesser gods, also referred to in the Bible as the “sons of God” were those beings who married women and produced the line of Nephilim, that the Bible refers to in Genesis 6.

Now, I really don’t have any problem with that theory per se. God certainly has the right to create beings other than humans and if He wants to create some to form into a divine counsel than He has the absolute right to do so. In fact, I rather suspect that He has a divine counsel, in light of some various Biblical passages. And so, the concept of a divine counsel isn’t disruptive to my personal understanding of God in any way. But, whether or not Heiser is correct is not the question for me. The real issue is the method that he uses.

Very early in his book he reveals a bit about how he studies the Old Testament – about his way to do hermeneutics. And it’s very different from mine. Let me explain.

In his opening chapter, Heiser clearly reveals the method by which he interprets the Old Testament. He states that he understands the text of the Bible “through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the author.[2]

Now, that in itself may not sound too terribly bad. Those of us who study scripture really want to understand the historical context of when and how it was written. The more we understand the writers and their worldview, the more understanding we can bring to the text. However, Heiser takes this further than just that.

He goes on, “When you open your Bible, I want you to be able to see it like ancient Israelites or first-century Jews saw it, to perceive and consider it as they would have. I want their supernatural worldview in your head.[3]

This hints at something a bit more.  Think about this for a moment. When we’re trying to understand Scripture, we’re not just trying to understand the world of author, his language, or the customs of the day – though those things are helpful. And we’re not even trying to necessarily understand what the author was thinking. Instead, we’re trying to understand what God was thinking. We’re not trying to get into the minds of the author as much as we are trying to find the Mind of God, because God’s Holy Spirit is the origin of the meaning of the text. Let me show you where Dr Heiser goes with his thinking.

In Chapter 5, Heiser takes us back to the creation account in Genesis. He points out that when God said “Let us make mankind in our image and according to our likeness” that the plural words “us” and “our” is a reference to these lesser gods of Yahweh’s divine counsel. Now, Heiser recognizes that many Christians see these plural pronouns as a probable reference to the Trinity. However, he writes that “the Trinity is not a coherent explanation.[4]” And here with that line we have a footnote, which says, “Seeing the Trinity in Gen 1:26 is reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament.”

And there we have the difference between Dr Heiser and me.

I’m not saying that his understanding of Genesis 1 is necessarily wrong, I’m just trying to show you the filter that he uses to read the Old Testament. You see, Heiser has made it clear that the lens by which he uses to examine and interpret the Old Testament is the strict historical context of the Old Testament writers. In fact, he writes, “The proper context for interpreting the Bible is the context of the biblical writers—the context that produced the Bible. Every other context is alien to the biblical writers and, therefore, to the Bible[5].”

Now, again, I genuinely appreciate the incredible value of understanding context. However, I disagree with Dr Heiser on this one, very important point.

You probably remember after the Resurrection, in Luke 24, that Jesus met with His disciples. He showed them his hands and feet and had something to eat in front of them. Then, in verse 45 we read, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (NIV)

The word “Scriptures” in Luke 25:45 can mean only one thing and that is what we call the Old Testament. So, Jesus, who is Yahweh, who is the author of the entire Old Testament, gathered a group before him and opened up their minds so that they could understand the Old Testament. Some of these Apostles, whom Jesus had personally authorized, became authors of the New Testament. Therefore, the chief way I believe in unlocking the Mind behind the Old Testament text is through the lens of the New.

This is not only something that Heiser avoids, but he actually warns against, and I believe that this is a major difference.

Remember, we’re trying to understand what God was thinking as He directed His inspired authors. To do this, Dr Heiser goes to ancient, pagan writings. To understand God’s message, Heiser compares the inspired Word of God to sources provided by those who worshiped other gods. Let me show you here want I mean.

Reading from Chapter 6, Heiser notes, “Eden can only be properly understood in light of the worldview the biblical writers shared with other people of the ancient Near East. Like Israel, the people of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example, also believed in an unseen spiritual world that was governed by a divine council[6].”

Compare this to how he warns against other templates for understanding Scripture, “there is a pervasive tendency in the believing Church to filter the Bible through creeds, confessions, and denominational preferences. I’m not arguing that we should ignore our Christian forefathers. I’m simply saying that we should give their words and their thought the proper perspective and priority. Creeds serve a useful purpose. They distill important, albeit carefully selected, theological ideas. But they are not inspired.[7]

Well, Dr Heiser, neither are ancient Mesopotamian writings or Semitic customs or early Mediterranean religions that sacrificed to demons.

Do you see what he is doing here? He’s not only stripped himself of one filter and replaced it with another, but he’s replaced it by a very questionable one. I believe that the greatest insight comes from Jesus Christ and the writers that He had commissioned.  And so you can probably see how Dr Heiser and people like me, begin to diverge. While he is trying to understand the meaning of the Old Testament through the writings of ancient Semitic cultures, I’m trying to understand it through the minds of the people whom Jesus had opened.

Keep in mind that Peter hinted that the Old Testament prophets didn’t always completely understand everything that they were saying. This tells me that to revert our understanding to theirs is to lose light on a subject, not necessarily gain it.  And Paul seemed to suggest that reading the law without Christ is like reading it through a veil.

Let me show you an example of how Heiser’s filter dictates his thinking. Heiser’s flagship passage is Psalm 82. It’s that passage that moved him in the direction that he went. Now, keep in mind, Heiser is going to interpret that passage based on his understanding of its cultural context, which includes people who were not necessarily followers of Yahweh. As some of you probably know, many Christians believe that Psalm 82 is God’s complaint made to magistrates and leaders in the Jewish world, people, who had been warned multiple times to defend the poor and fatherless, do justice, and deliver the poor and needy from the wicked.

As I was reading Heiser’s commentary on Psalm 82, I kept wondering when he would get to Jesus’ use of it in the New Testament. You see, Jesus actually quoted from this Psalm in His dealings with his counterparts in John 10. So, I waited anxiously to read how Dr Heiser would deal with Jesus’ thoughts on this passage. And I was left disappointed. He delt with it briefly – in a footnote.

In chapter 4 he included this footnote: “Space constraints make it impossible to fully address the flawed thinking behind the human explanation for Elohim.[8]

He then said that arguments for this view stem from passages like … and then he inserts John 10:34. He then directed his readers to a companion website to read further, which frustrated me a bit, especially when I couldn’t seem to locate the full explanation.

I did find this video clip in which he offers a brief explanation. Click this link, which begins at his explanation of Jesus’ words.

I know that was brief and he probably had a lot more to say about the subject, but I’m guessing that’s also a pretty good summary of how he looks at John 10. And do you see what he did? He reads his theory into words of Jesus. Heiser assumes his theory of Psalm 82 is correct, and then just reads that interpretation into Jesus’ words. He paraphrases Jesus’ words as “doesn’t Psalm 82 tell you that there are other sons of God who are more than men?”

Of course that’s not what the text says, that’s what he thinks it says. What he’s done is to eisegetically read the words of Jesus. He’s inserted his thoughts into Jesus words because he’s already made up his mind on what that passage says.  He reads both the Old Testament and Jesus words through his filter. I was a bit surprised by what appeared to be a real lack of self-awareness in what he had said.

Let me make it clear that Dr Heiser could be right about Psalm 82. This is a complicated passage and I don’t claim to have the solution. But, I wanted to show you what he does by insisting on his filter. Instead of assuming the greatest light on Psalm 82 comes from Jesus, he first considers the worldview of the Psalms author, and nearly disregards the words of Jesus completely by making it a mere footnote.

I know that what I’m about to say may sound radical, but I believe that the greatest commentary on the Old Testament is by Jesus and those whose minds were opened by Him to understand it.

I completely understand that it’s very popular these days for Christians to pursue ancient, non-canonical texts. And I have no problem with that necessarily. I have a number of those works in my own library. However, the trend that I’m beginning to see among some, is to use those uninspired texts to help divine the Word of God.

Let me end with a passage from Paul in 2 Tim chapter 4. Paul warns Timothy that there’s coming a time when “people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.” I can’t help but wonder if we’re living in the time that Paul foresaw, when people will grow tired of hearing about denying oneself, taking up your cross and following Jesus. Have people finally grown weary of being encouraged to become servants and setting aside their rights for the sake of the kingdom? Do they now instead look to find teachers who will teach them about myths and fables? Do people now go out of their way to find some teacher who’s willing to scratch their itching ears with some new, exciting doctrine? I don’t know. You tell me. Well, let me know your thoughts below. I always do my best to respond to everyone who comments.  And with that I’ll sign off and hope to see you here next time.


[1] The Unseen Realm, page 13

[2] The Unseen Realm, page 13

[3]The Unseen Realm, page 13

[4] The Unseen Realm, page 39

[5] The Unseen Realm, page 16

[6] The Unseen Realm, page 44

[7] The Unseen Realm, page 16

[8] The Unseen Realm, page 384


Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 36 years.



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