Tag Archives: angels

One-Question Survey about Angels

Many of you know I’m working on a book about angels for Lexham Press. In about two weeks I’ll be hitting the final section of the book. One of the two chapters in that section is entitled “Christian Myths about Angels.” I’d like to hear about some of the odd things you’ve heard about angels that just aren’t biblical correct or otherwise problematic. You can take the survey here (it’s an essay question, so write what you want). The goal is to not miss something that I really ought to comment on in this chapter.


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Naked Bible Podcast Episode 175: Hebrews 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:1-4 sets the tone for the entire epistle. The writer asserts that the revelation given by God through one particular son—Jesus Christ—is superior to Torah. It is Christ who is the full expression of God’s wisdom, and the actual, essential being of God Himself. Since the “inheritance” language of Heb 1:1-4 cannot suggest that God himself is being retired and succeeded, the language needs to be understood in terms of co-rulership. But why is this particular son (1:2) different than all others? This episode explores and expands on these themes and addresses this question by discussing the Old Testament context for the phrase, “the radiance of the glory of God,” Wisdom Christology, and hypostasis terminology.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 5

This is the 5th and final post in a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher


This is the final post in this series, and I draw a number of conclusions here. At the end, I list all the works that I referenced in this series, in case I missed one earlier. This has been a great opportunity to read through these texts again and think through the issues and the claims that I make here. Thanks to Mike and all of you for your openness!


The first major finding of this study was that cosmology was often linked to liturgy in such a way that it could be considered an indicator of the kind of worship that was practiced. Cosmology includes the description of heaven and beings in it, and their relationship to those on the earth (and under it).  There were two primary cosmologies used by these groups:  the biblical cosmology and the platonic cosmology. In the biblical cosmology, there are three basic levels to the universe (heaven, earth, and the underworld), as opposed to seven in the Hellenistic cosmologies. For instance, Aune writes,

It is striking that Revelation does not reflect more specifically the cosmology typical of the Hellenistic and Roman period, in which the cosmos was thought to consist of seven heavens.  Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). John knows only a single heaven as the dwelling place of God and his angels. This older cosmology consisted of a three-tiered universe consisting of heaven above, earth in the middle, and the underworld beneath (the three-tiered universe is also reflected in several apocalypses, including the five apocalypses that constitute 1 Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Ezra . . . .)  The earth itself was thought to be a flat disk surrounded on all sides by water. Below the earth was the underworld, which was the realm of the dead, called Sheol by the Israelites but Hades by the Greeks.  Above the earth was the vault of heaven containing the heavenly bodies and, in the highest place, God and his angelic entourage. The new cosmology that developed during the Hellenistic period, and quickly displaced older cosmologies, regarded the earth as a sphere . . . .  The earth was thought to be a stationary center surrounded by seven planets (including the sun and moon), each of which moved in its own sphere . . . .  The earth was at the same time the ‘innermost’ as well as the ‘lowest’ part of the cosmos . . . .  God was thought to dwell in the highest heaven or sphere, usually the seventh or eighth heaven (Corpus Hermeticum 1.26), with various supernatural beings located at various levels below him. (David Aune, Revelation 1—5, 318).

The mystical belief of “worship=ascending to heaven,” which was first a part of Jewish and later Gnostic (and still later, Christian) mystical groups, seems to have built on the Platonic cosmology of various levels Plato described in Timaeus.  Timaeus was the standard work for much of the ancient world about the cosmology of heaven and earth.  In it, the astronomer/philosopher who sees the stars and understands the cosmology is the hero.  Margaret Barker has argued (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that this work reflects First Temple Judaism (via Pythagorus). More helpful is Gordon Lathrop, who has pointed out significant parallels between the blind man in Timaeusand the blind man (his name in Aramaic is “Bar-Timaeus,” which Mark carefully explains means “the son of Timaeus”) in Mark’s gospel.

At the junction of the two major parts of the Second Gospel, between the Gospel’s ‘Galilee’ and its ‘Jerusalem,’ exactly between the ministry narratives and the passion story, there stands the account of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52).  He is called ‘the son of Timaeus.’  The name itself strikes us at least three ways.  First, this is the only recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus in the entire Gospel who is given a name at all.  The name matters.  Second, the name is intensified, this patronymic being repeated both in Greek and in Aramaic. . . .  And third, as many commentators have noted, the name is very hard to place in a Jewish context.  It is not a recognized, current Hebrew or Aramaic name.  . . .  It is a Greek name and, in fact, one with a very specific and recognizable history.  Here is the ‘son’ of Timaeus, Plato’s Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere.  This cry for help occurs at the very place, structurally, that the lament of the blind man occurs in the Timaeus:  at the juncture of the two major parts of the book. (Gordon Lathrop, 30-31).

Unlike Plato’s blind man who laments without hope, Bar-Timaeus abandoned his cloak (perhaps a philosopher’s cloak?) and came to Jesus.  After calling Jesus “my teacher,” he received sight and followed Jesus “in the way” (Mark 10:52).

It occurs at a place that corresponds, in the Timaeus, to the ethical culmination of the argument, to the turning of the consideration of all things toward the ordering of the life of the wise.  Only now the wise—together with everyone else—are invited to the wise folly of the cross. (Lathrop, 33)

A second difference between the two cosmologies is the population of heaven.  In the biblical cosmology, not only is God in heaven, but there is a core group of the heavenly host that works closely with God.  The core group in the biblical model is known as the divine council (DC) or divine assembly, and is found in many places throughout Scripture.  “One of the central cosmological symbols of the Old Testament is the imagery of the divine council and . . . the issues of order in Israel and in the cosmos are rooted in and understood as under the aegis of the divine council” (P. Miller, 423) It is not an exaggeration to say that the DC may be the most important hermeneutical guide for understanding celestial worship, whether in ancient Jewish or early Christian theologies. Even some Gnostic texts adopted an eclectic approach and incorporated a heavenly assembly into their doctrine, while still relying primarily on the Platonic model. In the original Platonic model, there is no such core group of “helpers.”  Instead, there are the Ideals.

A lexical study of the words used for the DC includes, among others, the Hebrew words qahal (“congregation”), ‘edah “assembly”), and most importantly, sod(“council”).    The sod was a group of elohim that worked closely with Yahweh. The term sod was also applied to righteous, human worshipers on earth in some texts.

Those beings in his council (sod) are charged with three functions:

(a) “demonstration of Yahweh’s omnipotence in the form of accompaniment (Dt. 33:2), praise (Job 38:7; Ps. 19:2[1]; 29:1f.), fear (Ps. 89:7f. [6f.]), counsel in the form of obedient response (Job 1f.; Isa. 6:8; cf. the resistance to polytheistic notions in Isa. 40:13:f.);

(b) mediation of Yahweh’s salvific will to the world of human beings (1 K. 22; Isa. 6; cf Dt. 32:8f.; Jer. 23:22);

(c) implementation of social justice (Am. 3:7; cf. Ps. 82:3f.).” (Fabry, 10.174-75)

The first category contains our primary interest—heavenly worship—but you can see that it is likely that these various functions are interconnected. The DC is probably the heavenly model for the creation of the human community in the early chapters of Genesis.  It is the congregation that is the plural referent in “let us make man as our image” (Gen. 1.26-27).  The text is clear that God made the man (the Hebrew verbs are singular here), but that the model was plural.  Thus at the very beginning of the Torah, the cornerstone of the OT and of the whole Bible, we have humans created in order to be the physical, earthly representation of the spiritual, celestial community.

To say that the image of God is the primary overarching motif in Scripture is good. However, this claim goes beyond that, and this leads us to the third major finding of this study:  that liturgy or worship is one of the key purposes of human existence. It is an essential part of our reason for existence.

Psalm 29 is an example of this. “If Psalm 29 were to be considered a song for the solemn prostration before Yahweh . . . then we would have to assume that a heavenly act would correspond to the earthly hymn of praise and prayer (cf. especially Psalm 148)” (Kraus, 348). In other words, the heavenly worship is the model for the earthly worship.  In fact, Psalm 29:9b “is the key-verse of the whole psalm—it leads us away from the commotions on the earth up to the heavenly sanctuary where the company of the heavenly beings recognizes and glorifies these very occurrences on the earth as a revelation of the glory of Jahweh” (von Rad, 1.360).



All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.

All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).  Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.

“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.

Harold Attridge, Hebrews (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” in Patrick D. Miller, Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays, JSOTSS 267 (Sheffield, 2000).  Previously published in HBT 9 (1987), 53-78.

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

H.-J. Fabry, “סוד, sod” in TDOT 10.174-75; H.-J. Fabry, “סוד als ekkleiologischer Terminus,” Bausteine Biblischer Theologie: Festgabe für G. Johannes Botterweck zum 60. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern, (Köln-Bonn: Peter Hanstein, 1977).

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.

  1. K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in HTR 94 (2001) 243-84.

  1. J. Krause,Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)
  2. von Rad,Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.

George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).

James Davila, Liturgical Works.

Claus Westermann, “kbd” TLOT 2.

Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.

Lucien Deiss, trans Benet Weatherhead, Early Sources of the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975).

  1. Ringgren, “עמד,” inTDOT 11.182-85.
  2. Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,”TDNT 7.641, 43.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 4

Part 4 of a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher



This post deals with groups that are known as “Gnostics” from the Greek word gnosis = “knowledge.” They developed the century after Christianity. They are the darling of much of contemporary scholarship, which tends to trust them more as authentic christianities and distrust the NT—it is so backwards! One of the results of the problem these groups posed, is that early Christians developed their understanding of Christianity in order to show the distinction. But when you read these, you will see a sampling of how these groups derided and scorned followers of Jesus.

Some scholars are using the term “Gnostic” less these days, because we have come to see that there was a fair amount of diversity among these groups. But the term is still useful. To follow up on the previous point, the groups who drew on the mystical elements present in some streams of Judaism (e.g., Enoch) as well as middle-Platonism came to be known as “Gnostics,” though many scholars regard this as a fairly elastic, catch-all category. There were many different Gnostic groups, which have been divided into three major types, based on their liturgical practices: (1) Cults of Power—e.g., Simon Magus; (2) Groups originating from the Separation of Christianity from Judaism—and (3) ‘The Gentile Counter-Churches’—e.g., Valentinus, Marcion, and Tatian. (Although Montanus may be classed in this division, he and his Church cannot usefully be pushed into the same theological classification with the others as a ‘Gnostic’ phenomenon.) Look at some of the things they wrote. (Word that are between angle brackets show where there was a break in the text, and the scholar inserted their best guess.)

 Treat. Seth 60.16-29. It is an ineffable union of undefiled truth, as exists among the sons of light, of which they made an imitation, having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly, (and) themselves with their doctrine to rear and slavery, worldly cares, and abandoned worship . . . .  [This Sethite text scorns Christians for imitating the heavenly world, but in the process admits belief in a perfect, heavenly assembly. Boldface added.]

 Ap James 15.13-23. And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind(s) farther upwards and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns and angelic benedictions and angelic rejoicing.  And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we too rejoiced. [In this text, the disciples mentally ascend to heaven, where they join the heavenly worship.]

 Disc. 8-9, 56.22—57.9. Lord, grant us a wisdom from your power that reaches us, so that we may describe to ourselves the vision off the eighth and the ninth.  We have already advanced to the seventh, since we are pious and walk in your law. . . .  Lord, grant us the truth in the image.  Allow us through the spirit to see the form of the image that has no deficiency, and receive the reflection of the pleroma from us through our praise. [Here, the speakers pray for the ability to ascend to the eighth and ninth heavens so that they may have the heavenly vision of God.]

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing  certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness of the conjunctions above [italics mine].

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. After this [baptism] they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.

 Zost 8.10-14. And about this airy-earth, why it has a cosmic model?  And about the aeon copies, how many there are, and, why they are [not] in pain?

 These groups generally believed that there was one God, but many lower, divine beings in heaven, and that there were angels. Some also believed that the male God had a female consort.  Most references to worship in the realms above the earth are rather general, whether in the presence of God or merely in the Aeons between heaven and earth. There is not much material extant on what most of them did for liturgy, and even less on what they thought they were accomplishing by what they did. These references often only say that “x praised y” or that “x prayed for forgiveness.”  Generally, liturgical form is not implied.

Here are some more texts which refer to some kind of religious acts that might be called “liturgy” or “piety” or “worship.”

Origen, Comm John 13.114 – Heracleon thinks, however, that the expression “we worship” means the one who is in the aeon and those who have come with him, for these, he says, have known whom they worship, because they worship in truth. [Italics original.  Those who have already ascended and are in the aeon, one of the intermediary levels of heaven between the Father and earth, are presumed by Heracleon, a Valentinian, to worship the Father properly.]

 Val Exp 25.30—26.21 – [He is] . . .the [true] High Priest, [the one who has] the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to . The East [. . . that is] in [him.  He is the one who revealed himself as] the primal [sanctuary] and [the] treasury of  [the All]. [liturgical terms and cosmology with heavenly paradigm—primal sanctuary—implied]

 Val Exp 39.20-22 – [The complete one glorifies] Sophia; the image [glorifies] Truth. [worship in the heavenly realms, but not worshiping Jesus]

 Val Exp 40.20-29 – And we [glorify] thee:  [Glory] be to thee, the Father in the [Son, the Father] in the Son, the Father [in the] holy [Church and in the] holy [angels]!  [glory to God among the angels]

 Gosp Truth 40.30—41.3 – For that very reason he brought him forth in order to speak about the place and his restingplace from which he had come forth, and to glorify the pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of the Father. [The Son was created to praise the pleroma (in heaven?)]

 Tripart Trac 64.20-22 – The one whom they hymn, thereby glorifying him, he has sons. [the beings created by the ?son sing hymns of praise to him]

 Tripart Trac 68.22 – Therefore, in the song of glorification and in the power of the unity of him from whom they have come, they were drawn into a mingling and a combination and a unity with one another.  They offered glory worthy of the Father from the pleromatic congregation, which is a single representation although many. . . .   Now this was a praise […] [the pleromas sing praise]

Some groups, such as the Valentinians, believed that the person’s soul passed through multiple heavens, each higher than the last, in order to gaze upon God and sometimes participate there in the angelic liturgy. (In the Valentinian form, one had to ascend first through thirty levels (Aeons). In other words, worship = ascending to heaven. A key difference from early Christian texts is that Jesus was not worshiped, either in heaven or on earth. After all, he was merely the human body that the heavenly Savior or Christ descended on.  There were many other heavenly beings who were much higher and much more important and glorious than the Christ.  For instance, in the Gospel of Philip, “the sacramental catechesis. . . insists that its rites transform the initiate into Christ in contrast to those of conventional Christians which merely lend the name Christian” (Pheme Perkins, “Identification with the Savior,” 183). Also, they believed it was an error to worship God as the Creator. This is because at least one group (the Valentinians) distinguished between God and the creator. The one who created the world was not God, but said was a lower being that resulted from a botched abortion by Sophia. This, of course, was a significant difference from OT and early Christian practice.

Not covered here are the mysterious references to the heavenly “bridal chamber,” about which little is known.


  1. Christians worshiped Jesus. This was a big deal. Gnostics never did.
  2. Christians worshiped God as Creator. Gnostics never did.
  3. Some Gnostic groups (e.g., Valentinians) believed in ascending to heaven as a substitute for worship. They didn’t need Jesus, etc.

“We may not always know what we are reading in ancient documents.  We do not always know how a document is related to its own context, since the context is not always known.  In the final analysis, we can only do what we are mandated to do by the dominical institutions as we have them in the writings that the church canonized as sacred scripture.  We preach the gospel to all people and baptize in the triune name those who come to faith in Jesus.  We take bread and wine and give thanks over them.  There are models in the tradition that can instruct us in how to do these things.  But we must finally do them in a way that reflects our own obedience of faith and expresses our own devotion to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.” (Frank Senn, 327-28)


David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

  1. K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

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Weird Thing Flying From Cloud Above The Popocatépetl Volcano, Mexico

On June 17, 2017 the Popocatépetl Volcano, Mexico started erupting on which Kat Martin decided to record the eruption in the event of a big eruption, if it happened.

Although a big eruption did not happened she recorded something very strange in the clouds above the volcano, as a weird thing emerged from a main cloud flying towards the camera.

At first glance she thought it was a small rogue cloud but after looking at the object again it appears to be solid when it first appeared before it changed into something with at the end what looked like a tail moving back and forth.

Kat Martin, who did not enhance the footage at all, said that she cannot explain the weird object and suggests if it could be an angel or something like a space creature?

Note: The fact that it comes out of that main cloud a different color and goes the opposite direction of the rest of the clouds which is against the wind, suggests that it is something different than just a small rogue cloud, but if it is a cloud then how does that happen?


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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 2

By guest blogger Stephen L. Huebscher




The variety of groups and beliefs at this time was reflected in the variety of sacred texts used. It was common to believe in joint human/angelic worship. “The notion that the community in its prayer life participated in some way in the liturgy of the angels is well attested in first-century Judaism, and will later emerge as an element in Christian liturgical practice,” (Attridge 51). Also within this mix it is becoming more apparent to scholars that it was acceptable for Jews to believe in a “second power” in heaven who was worshiped along with Yahweh.



Isaiah 6. One of the most influential of all texts during this period (roughly 500 BC—AD 300) was the vision and call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6.  The scene presented is that of the heavenly divine council (DC) (see the section on cosmology).  The key phrase, for our purposes, comes in v. 3:  “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts!  His glory shouts out, that which (always) fills the earth” (Wildberger 248). There are a number of significant liturgical implications found in this passage, beginning with God’s sitting, his throne, and his height, all of which imply that he is worthy to be worshiped.  The location is the hecal (“palace,” in v. 1) or bayit (“house,” in v. 4), terms which are used both of God’s heavenly dwelling and for the earthly temple.  The reason for this dual usage is that the earthly temple was conceived of as a model based on the heavenly one. “To try to distinguish between an earthly and a heavenly sanctuary attempts to make a distinction which the ancient person would never have attempted.  God dwells in heaven, but he is also present in the sanctuary…” (Wildberger 263). The actual location is thus somewhat ambiguous.  The heavenly attendants are specifically called “seraphs,” not mal’akim (“messengers”) or cherubim (“cherubs”).  In a DC scene such as this, we should probably understand there to be not just two attendants, but a great number of beings, as in 1 Kings 22 (Wildberger 264). These exalted beings do not receive worship in heaven—they cover their eyes so as not to look directly on God and praise him. His holiness is the focus of their praise.  This holiness “is not a static ‘quality.’  It is seen in action when it destroys all the opposition which human beings set up over against God” (Wildberger 266).

The adoration by the heavenly beings serves as a model for the adoration which the earthly community is to replicate, see Rev. 4:8; in the depiction of the adoration within the heavens there is also a call to the people of God on earth to follow suit.  As in a responsive liturgy, the praise from one seraph (or seraph-choir) is passed on further by the next one (Wildberger 265).

They also declare that the earth is filled with his kabod (“glory, honor, majesty, significance”).  The word kabod “expresses the fact that God’s kabod demands an appropriate response, an acknowledgment” (Westermann 596). Thus, the praise of the seraphs comes in response to the person of God.  God’s kabod is at times the visible representation of his holiness as well as his honor (e.g., Ex 29:43).

Ezekiel.  A second set of influential biblical texts is the call and throne visions of Ezekiel (1—3, 10). Ezekiel’s description of the throne-chariot (merkabah) of God was unparalleled in its time.  The influence of these visions can be seen in Dan 7:9 (the fiery throne and wheels) and 10:5-6 (shared vocabulary); Sirach 49:8; 1 Enoch 14:18; 4QBerakot (4Q286); Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice XI, XII; and Revelation 4:2-8a (see below for specifics). Ezekiel 10 also influenced Jewish understanding of the hypostases of God (see below).



1 Enoch. 1 Enoch is a pivotal text in many ways.  In my understanding, it is a kind of liturgically and cosmologically mixed text, mixing literary motifs and descriptive elements from the biblical stream with cosmological elements from the stream later characterized by Platonism.  (Perhaps this is why, although it is quoted in the NT, it was not widely recognized as canonical.  Just a guess.)  First Enoch was also quite influential on other later Jewish works, such as the Testament of Levi.  It would also form an important transition to the later Hekhalot merkavah texts, which are characterized by the “worship = ascending to see God’s throne-chariot” view and by complex cosmologies complete with multi-tiered heavens and choruses of singing angels.

Historically, this reveals the section to be an important transition from the older Ezekiel tradition of the prophetic call to the much later tradition of Jewish Merkabah mysticism . . . . This active and subjective involvement of the seer in his vision differentiates our text not only from Ezekiel 1—2 but also from other prophetic calls” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 259).

According to 1 Enoch, the real temple is in heaven, the heavenly palace where God dwells. 1 Enoch teaches that most angels cannot approach God’s throne.  Four holy ones seem to be the exceptions, and it is to these, who serve as intercessors and take those prayers to God, that prayer is to be made. Some of the angels serve as priests, including Michael, who serves as the eschatological high priest. In 14:23, some kind of worship activity may be suggested by three elements: (1) the adjective “holy, (2) the term “approach” (the throne of God), and the expression “day and night,” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 265-66). In 15:3, the phrase “the sanctuary of the eternal station” occurs, and the word “station” can refer in the contemporary literature to a priestly course; thus we have a possible reference to angels acting as heavenly priests (Nickelsburg 271). However, “There are also important differences from the later mystical texts.  We have here no hymn of the angelic attendants [in 14.8-23].” (Nickelsburg 261).

Qumran. Included in the scrolls from Qumran are texts dealing with the covenanteers’ views of heaven and the practice of liturgy there. The two primary groups of texts are the Berakhot and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. A third group, the Songs of the Sage, also shows some interest in these matters. One of the striking differences from Revelation, however, is the absence of reference to Isaiah 6:1-3 from all three groups of texts.


These texts were used for communal recitation in the liturgy of the sectarian group’s annual covenant renewal ceremony. For our interests, several of the songs that show similarities both to the songs in Revelation and to the later Hekhalot hymns.  These are sometimes called merkavah (“throne”) hymns, though technically the term refers to post-biblical compositions.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

The cosmology is similar to that of the Christian Gnostics. There are both similarities to and differences from the biblical texts.  There is great interest in the throne of God, such as is found in Revelation.  At times there is great noise in heaven from the worship, while at other times there is stillness or silence.  The beings of heaven (angels, cherubim, ophanim [“wheels” in Ezekiel], divinities) obey God and “psalm” him.  In several texts from Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, some of the fixtures of heaven are animate, reminiscent of the throne in Revelation that commands praise to God. The tradition of the sounds of the cherubim recorded in Song 12 was so pervasive that it was even included in the Targum of Ezekiel 1:24.

Most scholars have interpreted the thirteen texts in this group as being read by the human worshiping community to heavenly angels and elohim in joint worship. The humans ascend to heaven to join the worship there.  This is one form of the “worship = ascending to the presence of God” doctrine which is a recurring, though not constant, motif in those sources outside the biblical stream.

Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511)

These two texts, of which the second is significantly longer, are hymns to God that call on the righteous to praise him.  Frequently the unrighteous are denounced, along with unclean owls and Lilith.  They also deal more with theurgy and magic. Thus, these texts show more of a divergence from the biblical stream of thinking.

Philo. The concept of the heavenly tabernacle/temple was very important and explicit in some of Philo’s writings.  Philo’s view here, as with much of what he writes, reflects Platonic cosmology and philosophy, borrowing as he does at times from Plato’s Timaeus.   For instance, De Specialibus Legibus 1.66 views the universe as a whole as a temple when it says, “We ought to look upon the universal world as the highest and truest temple of God . . . .”  In other texts, he uses allegorical interpretation to draw correspondence between the parts of the tabernacle and the parts of the cosmos.  In still other texts, he relies heavily on a Platonic understanding of the ideal sanctuary being in heaven, and the copy being on earth.



There were several important doctrines during the Second Temple period, though whether they preceded the second temple or not depends in part on how one dates the texts.  One doctrine was the belief that the righteous, cultic (e.g., worshiping) human community was also part of God’s sod (Ps 25:14; but even more Ps 111:1; also Prov 3:32). The sod seems to have been the primary ecclesiological model in post-exilic times (Fabry). The accompanying belief was that the worshipers were in some way and some sense divinized (i.e., the human worshipers became divine, just like the heavenly beings on which they were modeled, variously called qodeshim (holy ones), beney ’elohim (sons of God), kokabim (stars), etc.).

Another doctrine that was important during the second temple period was that of a second divine being separate from YHWH and yet equal to him in power and essence, even to the point of forgiving sin and receiving worship.  Daniel 7 is the most obvious text, but there are many other texts.  Again, just when these doctrines appeared and began to develop is not always clear, since many later texts find their exegetical basis in earlier ones.  (The monkey wrench that can be thrown in this assertion is that the earlier texts are often terse, and simply do not give the level of detail that later ones do.)  This second being was called by various titles, such as the Word, Wisdom, Name, and Glory.

“The Word” is used in Genesis 15:1-6. It also is used in Exodus, Philo, and the Targums. The Aramaic memra’ means “the word,” and it is used in the creation account and elsewhere, where the Memra creates the world. The Memra is closely associated with the Name (haššem), and is quite important.  It has been traced back to the second century B.C. in DSS texts by Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra, 147-49.   The Name is used in Exodus 32, where God’s Name passes by Moses. In Lev 24:11, it occurs in an account of blasphemy. It is also used in 1 Kings 8, where Solomon’s prayer states that if anyone prays to Yahweh’s Name in the Temple, Yahweh in heaven will hear it.  Several of the psalms can also be read this way. Wisdom is found most obviously in Prov 8:22-31, as well as some apocryphal works and DSS. “Glory,” following Ezekiel 10 at the latest, also was significant. “The [Glory] here too is like an independent being, almost a hypostasis of God: the majesty of God represents God himself.  The usage in Ezek 1—3 is linked with that in 8—11 and 43—44 by this hypostatization . . . .  He is the first to depict the [Glory] as an independent being representing God and appearing in brilliant light”(Westermann 602). So in conclusion, by the second temple period at the latest, the Jews had common, orthodox traditions of a second divine being in heaven  who created the world and received worship both from humans and celestial beings.



Sacred meals should also be briefly mentioned. Within the Bible, but pre-dating both the First and Second Temples, The sacred meal in Exodus 24 on Mount Sinai would possibly be an example of a blended situation, since God (heaven) came down on the mountain to eat with them. Like I mentioned before, even though this text was not written during the post-exilic Persian period (though mainstream scholars claim it is because it deals with themes related to the priesthood, which they argue was “late”)—this text and others formed the basis for the later texts, and it continued to be influential. Other texts that pick up this topic and develop it in terms of an eschatological meal include Isa. 25:6-7 and Isa. 65:13-17.

Exodus 24: 7-14 (from before the First Temple period)

 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

 9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,

 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.

 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank. (ESV)


Isaiah 25:6-8.

 6 The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.

 7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.

 8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.


Isa. 65:13. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; (Isa. 65:13 ESV)


At Qumran, 1QSa mentions mal’akim being present during a meal, but without further explanation. Because the word mal’akim means “messengers,” some scholars have argued that it merely refers to human messengers from outside the community. Other scholars, however, argue that these are heavenly messengers (e.g., “angels”). Basically, I think it probably was a reference to a heavenly messenger, but since there is no further development of this idea, the text is not very important.

Finally, there is another meal mentioned both in the Bible and at Ugarit, though with very little explanation. The marzeah is not generally regarded as a sacred meal any longer by scholars, since it seems that it was likely associated with private drinking clubs, at least at Ugarit.




Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.

K. Beale, NIGTC, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in HTR 94 (2001) 243-84.

J. Krause, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)

G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5, Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.

George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).

James Davila, Liturgical Works.

Claus Westermann, “kbdTLOT 2.

Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.

H. Ringgren, “עמד,” in TDOT 11.182-85.

Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,” TDNT 7.641, 43.


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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 1

By guest blogger, Stephen L. Huebscher

This series was originally written as an academic paper for presentation at a conference. At the time, we were doing research on the divine council for what ended up in Mike’s book The Unseen Realm. I had told Mike I was interested in worship. He helped me design a topic that was more likely to be included in the program, and this was the result! At the conference, I was assigned a time slot late in the day in a tiny room that was hard to find. Only a handful of people came. Nevertheless, there are some really interesting conclusions here (to me at least) that say, in the simplest terms: worshiping God with other believers in a church is important. There is more to worship than what is here, but there is not less. Someday, I hope to write a book on worship, and this will be part of it, somehow.

Ancient peoples often believed that heavenly (celestial) worship provided a normative or authoritative pattern for earthly worship. They also commonly believed in some kind of divine transformation (e.g., glorification) in the presence of the god or God. The biblical texts tended to belong to one stream (though not exclusively), while the texts with a platonic-like cosmology tended to belong to another stream (again, with exceptions).  Over time the divergence between the two became greater, and shows up most obviously later in the mystical Jewish hekhalot texts (which are not covered here). One of the difficulties of this study is that non-biblical texts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic manuscripts, are often highly fragmented and with little context, so most conclusions are tentative, whether explicitly stated or not.


Here is a brief overview of some of the key words and concepts relating to worship, some of which are not obviously connected with worship at a first glance. Obvious worship words are the easy ones, words like “sing,” “worship,” “priest,” “sacrifice,” “incense,” and “pray,” especially when several of these are used together in phrases such as “sing the praise of x.”  Subtle worship words are a bit more tricky, like “congregation,” “assembly,” “stand before,” “serve,” “bow,” “remember.”  These words are more dependent on the context for their liturgical meaning.  For this study, I have coined or at least adopted terms to identify kinds of language that I did not otherwise have language for. There are several groups of this. For instance, what I will call exaltation words are not directly about worship, but often give the context where worship is implied. This includes phrases like “exalted above every name,” “exalted in the heavenlies,” etc.  There can be overlap with cosmological words.  Cosmological words are also not directly about worship, but often give the context where worship is implied.  This would include such things as “the highest heaven,” “the heaven of heaven,” “ascending,” etc. Architectural words include things like “temple,” “palace,” “tabernacle,” “house,” and “tent.”  All of these words can be used for the dwelling place of a god/God, and therefore also for the place of worship.


Many of the key texts from the earlier part of the Old Testament continued to be influential. Contrary to what mainstream scholars hold, I believe that much of the Pentateuch is from the time of Moses. Look at the emphasis on the heavenly source for worship that we find in Exodus 25:9,40. (Actually, this idea of a heavenly pattern was fairly common throughout in the ANE.)

 Exodus 25:9, 40. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (v. 9 ESV) And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (v. 40 ESV)

One of the last books written in the Old Testament was the book of Chronicles, along with others such as Ezra and Nehemiah. In Chronicles, at the end of the Old Testament period in the Persian times, we find that the biblical author repeated this same idea about the importance of the heavenly source and paradigm for Israel’s worship. Notice this text, which refers to the plans for Solomon’s temple:

 1 Chron. 28:19. All of this the LORD made clear to David directly in a document, including the plan for all of the work. (1 Chr. 28:19 CEB)

Later on, early Christian writers (both biblical and post-biblical) also used terminology that points to this kind of understanding, both in Scripture and in the first few centuries following.

 Luke 20:4. The baptism of John—was it from heaven or men? [The implication is that if it was based on a heavenly paradigm, then it should  be recognized as authoritative.]

 Hebrews 9:24. Christ has entered, not copies, but heaven. [The assumption is that earthly temples are copies of the heavenly sanctuary.]

 Ignatius Trall 3.1. Similarly, let everyone respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, just as they should respect the bishop, who is a model of the Father, and the presbyters as God’s council and as the band of the apostles.  Without these no group can be called a church. [This implies that the local church reflects in a physical way the heavenly council paradigm.]

 Ignatius, Magn 6.1. Be eager to do everything in godly harmony, the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place [= Greek topos; variant, Greek typos = “after the model”] of the council of the apostles and the deacons . . . .  [Again, Ignatius is drawing a parallel between the local church as the visible representation of the celestial divine council.]

 Passion Perpetua & Felicitas 4. This was the vision I had.  I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. . . .  At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size. . . .  I trod on his head and went up.  Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a grey-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep.  And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments.  He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’  He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it.  And all those who stood around said:  ‘Amen!’  At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. [In this important text, Perpetua, who was an early Christian martyr, reports a vision given to her in which God is pictured as an old man and the martyrs in heaven celebrate the Eucharist.  The implication is that these early Christians who recorded and handed this story on believed that they were worshiping the same way that those in heaven were worshiping.]

 Origen, Commentary on John 13.99. For just as the angels (as even the Jews would agree) do not worship the Father in Jerusalem because they worship the Father in a better way than those in Jerusalem, so those who can already be like the angels in their attitude will not worship the Father in Jerusalem but in a better way than those in Jerusalem . . . . [boldface added; Origen claims Jewish support for the idea that heavenly worship is superior to earthly worship, and then adds that Christians who are already like the angels in their attitude will worship God in a superior, i.e., a heavenly, way.  Thus, Origen holds that Christian worship is on par with the heavenly worship, and seems to reflect a belief in a heavenly paradigm.]

 Origen, Commentary on John 13.146. We want to honor God in truth and no longer in types, shadows, and examples, even as the angels do not serve God in examples and the shadow of heavenly realities, but in realities that belong to the spiritual and heavenly order, having a high priest of the order of Melchisedech as leader of the saving worship for those who need both the mystical and secret contemplation. [Origen believes that Christian worship, unlike Gnostic worship, participates currently in a real way in the celestial worship, thus reflecting belief in a heavenly liturgy of which Jewish worship was a shadow.]

 In the coming posts, we’ll look at OT texts, Second Temple non-biblical Jewish texts, NT and early Christian texts, and then drawing some general conclusions.



All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.

All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).  Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.

“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.

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Matthew 24 and the Days of Noah Once Again

I recently added this to my FAQ, but I thought I’d post it here as well.

Do you think Matthew 24:37-38 is a prophecy about the return of nephilim or has anything to do with Genesis 6:1-4?

The short answer to both is no. (I also don’t think it has anything to do with UFOs or aliens). Back around the year 2000 or so I suspected that was the case, but I know better now. It’s not a text-driven argument or position. I blogged about this (and Dan 2:43 as well) back in 2015. There are several problems with the idea, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here.

There are several reasons why Matt 24:37-38 does not connect back to Gen 6:1-4. The sons of God are mentioned nowhere in Matt 24. There isn’t a whiff of divine-human transgression. Their presence is assumed on the basis of the phrase “marrying and giving in marriage,” but that’s actually where the idea breaks down. If Matthew wanted readers to think about Genesis 6:1-4 in these comments, he’d use the Greek terms in the Septuagint of LXX for what the sons of God and mortal women were doing. Matthew doesn’t do that even once. The LXX reads ἔλαβον ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ πασῶν, ὧν ἐξελέξαντο (lit: “they took for themselves women from all which they chose”). Matthew doesn’t use any of these terms. Matthew’s Greek for “marrying and giving in marriage” is γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες (lit: “marrying and giving in marriage”). Even if you can’t read Greek you can look at the words and know they aren’t the same as Gen 6 LXX.The other significant problem is that saying Matthew 24:37-38 is about a repeat of Genesis 6:1-4 requires you to ignore parts of what Matthew describes — or deliberately not see the disconnections with Genesis 6:1-4. Here is the full list of what Matthew says will be going on when Jesus returns that was going on in the days of Noah:

– eating and drinking
– marrying and giving in marriage
– not watching / being unaware

Only one of those (conceivably — but incorrectly) could be associated with Gen 6:1-4 — the “marrying and giving in marriage.” The others have no association whatsoever with the supernaturalist aspects of Gen 6:1-4. So why impose the supernaturalist character of Gen 6 onto what Matthew says? It’s an arbitrary decision, and one made incoherent and unsustainable by the lack of any connection to the LXX of Gen 6:1-4. When biblical writers want their readers to cross-reference an OT passage with what they are saying, they create connections. Matthew doesn’t do that even once.

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