Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host. By Michael S. Heiser. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018. Hardcover, $19.99.
In his book Angels, Michael Heiser says that there are many misunderstandings about angels due to Christian traditions and myths. He desires to speak about what the Bible says about angels. He does not discuss fallen angels in any detail. The topic of the book is important simply because the Bible discusses it (p. xiv).
While a layman can understand the book, it is a scholarly work. There are many detailed footnotes. In addition, Heiser deals with the meaning of both Hebrew and Greek words. He spends a great deal of time discussing Second Temple Judaism and its view of angels. This includes the writings found at Qumran.
The reader will find that some of the things Heiser says agrees with what most Evangelicals think about angels. However, other things will challenge our traditional way of understanding these issues. This is a major purpose of the book.
Heiser says that the nations are currently being ruled by fallen angels. He rightly states that “heaven” will be on earth. He also thinks that all Christians will rule with Christ in the coming kingdom. The current role of angels teaches us about the destiny of the Church (pp. xviii-xix).
Heiser discusses the word “gods” (elohim) in the OT. It is used sometimes to refer to God, but it can also refer to angels (p. 12). They are part of the heavenly council, which means they participate in decisions made and are used by God to execute various judgments. This council helps govern the world. In some cases, God asks for their advice (pp. 33-55).
To understand certain OT passages, Heiser sometimes appeals to New Eastern texts. For example, he uses Ugaritic texts to help identify the fallen one in Isa 14:13 as the king of Babylon, and not Satan (p. 9).
In Job 1–2, Heiser does not think “Satan” is Lucifer, the fallen cherubim (pp. 42-43). He argues from Hebrew grammar that the word is not a proper name. The one spoken of is a temporary accuser. Obviously this is contrary to the understanding of most Evangelicals.
Another example of where Heiser goes against tradition is the meaning of the word “seraphim.” He says it does not signify “to burn.” Instead, it comes from Egyptian throne guardian terminology and means “serpent” (p. 26). Here we see that Heiser believes that Near Eastern literature can determine the meaning of Biblical terms.
Other areas in which Heiser challenges commonly held positions include his opinion that angels who rebel against God will eventually have their existence terminated (Ps 82:6-7; p. 29). He also believes that angels bear the image of God, which accounts for the “us” in Gen 1:26 (p. 31). Finally, Heiser thinks that unfallen angels have free will and can fall away (p. 48, 169).
Heiser has a lengthy discussion on the Angel of the Lord in the OT. Like most Evangelicals, he says this angel is the Lord Himself (p. 57) and is the pre-incarnate Christ. This reviewer found it interesting that Heiser says that Judaism accepted the idea of two “Yahweh figures” in the OT. Jewish writers did not change that view until the second century AD. Heiser also thinks that the Prince of the Host in Dan 8:11 is Christ. However, it should be said that this Prince needs help in his conflict with Satan. It is better to take this individual as an archangel.
Chapters 4-5 address the topic of angels in Second Temple Judaism. This literature gives insight into what the Jews at the time of Christ thought about angels. The Dead Sea Scrolls, like the OT, referred to angels as “gods.” The literature was more interested in naming specific angles than the OT. There is a focus on Melchizedek (p. 121). Michael fought with Satan over the body of Moses so Moses could go to the Kingdom of God (p. 123). In this last instance it is clear that the writer did not believe in the eternal security of the believer.
Heiser says that the idea of guardian angels is found in the OT (as “mediators”) and Second Temple Literature. Jesus speaks of the same thing in the NT. Based upon Luke 16:19-31, Heiser says that angels are involved in taking the dead believer into the presence of God. Second Temple Judaism contains the same idea (p. 174).
Heiser does not seem to see a sharp distinction between the Church and angels. He says that fallen angels cannot be redeemed (p. 147, 151). However, in the kingdom, believers will become part of the heavenly divine family with angels (p. 140). We will rule over angels only in the sense of “heavenly hierarchical terminology.” We will be a blended divine family with them (pp. 176-77). When Jesus confesses the names of believers before the angels in Rev 3:5, it is a reference to the angels in the council of heaven validating that they are indeed believers (p. 136).
When it comes to 1 Cor 13:1 and 2 Cor 12:2-4, Heiser says there is indeed a language of angels. It is unintelligible. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is speaking hypothetically. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says he heard the angels speak but could not understand what was being said (p. 162).
While this book does not address in detail issues related to the gospel of eternal life, it is clear that Heiser does not accept a Free Grace definition of that gospel. Heiser does a good job debunking certain unbiblical thinking in the area of angels. It seems to this reviewer that the main issue of the book is how much writings of the Second Temple Judaism era should impact our interpretation of the NT. Do these writings determine our interpretation, or do they simply shed light on the background of our interpretations? Many Evangelicals will probably think that Heiser too often falls in the former camp.
However, the book does have a great deal of information on the use of original words in the Bible when it comes to angels. It also tells us what certain Jewish religious writers in the first century thought. This can help the exegete put certain texts in their historical context. I recommend the book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society