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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 2: Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation of Genesis 15:5 and Related Texts

This is Part 2 of a series of guest pots by David Burnett. Part 1 is located here. – MSH


 

PART 2 – Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation of Genesis 15:5 and Related Texts

Philo of Alexandria and the Saying “So Shall Your Seed Be”

In commenting on Genesis 15:5 in Who Is the Heir? 86-87, Philo states:

“When the Lord led him outside He said “Look up into heaven and count the stars, if thou canst count their sum. So shall be thy seed.” Well does the text say “so (οὕτως ἔσται)” not “so many (τοσοῦτον)” that is, “of equal number to the stars.” For He wishes to suggest not number merely, but a multitude of other things, such as tend to happiness perfect and complete. The “seed shall be (οὕτως οὖν ἔσται)”, He says, as the ethereal sight spread out before him, celestial as that is, full of light unshadowed and pure as that is, for night is banished from heaven and darkness from ether. It shall be the very likeness of the stars.”1

Here Philo argues from the grammar of the LXX of Gen 15:5 that the adverb οὕτως should be understood not merely quantitatively but qualitatively as well, suggesting that the promise to become as the very likeness of the stars was the original intention of the scribe. The promise of Gen 15:5 for Philo entails being transformed into beings full of light, being in the “very likeness of the stars,” and participating in their celestial life.2

In Questions and Answers on Genesis, Philo similarly comments on the patriarchal promise of star-like seed as it was retold to Isaac in Gen 26:4a:

“What is the meaning of the words, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven?” Two things are indicated, in which the nature of all things in general consists, (namely) quantity and quality – quantity in “I will multiply,” and quality in “as the stars.” So may (thy descendants) be pure and far-shining and always be ranged in order and obey their leader and may they behave like the luciform (stars) which everywhere with the splendour of ethereal brightness also illumine all other things.” (QG 4.181)

Philo here again sees implicit within the language “so may thy descendants be” the promise of the ethereal life of the stars. In Gen 26:5, Abraham’s seed will be multiplied as the stars of heaven and be given all these lands “because Abraham obeyed my voice.” For Philo, Abraham acts as the stars act who are always “ranged in order and obey their leader.” In both of these texts Philo seems to axiomatically employ the phrase “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)” as if it were to be taken as a kind of adage that was intended to denote celestial immortality.

 

Sirach, Exaltation as the Stars, and the Linking of the Abrahamic and Davidic Promises

In a paraphrase of the Abrahamic promise as reiterated in Gen 22:17, the Greek text of Sirach 44:21 states: “For this reason, God promised him with an oath to bless the nations through his seed, to make him numerous as the grains of dust, and exalt (ἀνυψῶσαι) his seed as the stars, giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”3 The Greek text of Sirach limits the numeric aspect of the promise to the dust, while becoming as the stars is seen as referring to exaltation (ἀνυψῶσαι). Surprisingly, commentators on Romans 4 universally cite this text as a source for the expansion of the land promise in early Judaism in attempting to determine what it might mean for Paul to “inherit the cosmos,” yet without any reference to or discussion of the significance of the exaltation as the stars as it relates to the inheritance of the earth.4 This exaltation in Sirach 44:21 results in “giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea,” linking the qualitative interpretation of the Abrahamic promise with the language of the Davidic royal inheritance of Psalm 72:8 (71:8 LXX), “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”5 Later in Sirach 47:11, the link is strengthened all the more with the employment of the language of exaltation, this time speaking of David: “The Lord took away his sins and exalted (ἀνύψωσεν) his power forever; he gave him a covenant of kingship and a glorious throne in Israel.”6

It is important to note that we may find something similar in Rom 4:6-8. In the middle of an argument framed by Genesis 15, Paul introduces David saying that he “also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Paul portrays David as if he were, like Abraham, being “credited righteousness,” quoting from Ps 32:1-2, which speaks of the forgiveness of David’s sins. In a relationship similar, and quite possibly parallel, to that of Sirach 47:11, David’s forgiveness is connected to his receiving the promise of exaltation, almost interchangeably with that of Abraham.7

A similar tradition linking the Abrahamic and Davidic promises in astral terms can be found in Jeremiah 33:19-22, which shares its rhetorical and theological shape with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:

“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”8

The language of day and night coming at their appointed time is more than likely a reference to the greater and lesser lights (sun and moon) and the stars from Gen 1:14-18, where the celestial bodies were “set in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from darkness.” The constancy of the ruling order in heaven kept by the celestial bodies is likened here to the everlasting rule of the Davidic monarch. It is important to note here that instead of the term for “stars” normally used as the referent for the multiplicity of seed in the Abrahamic covenant formula, the author chooses to employ the term “hosts of heaven,” assuming their interchangeability.9

The source of this particular literary pattern of linking the rule of the celestial bodies to the rule of David (or his seed) is more than likely found in Balaam’s prophecy referring to David, and later in early Judaism to the coming Messiah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth” (Num 24:17).10 Here in Num 24:4 and 16 and Gen 15:1, the Davidic oracle and the Abrahamic promise are both described as a vision (מחזה), both speaking of their seed in astral terms, and both narrating the coming dominion over the land.11

 

Apocalypse of Abraham, the Power of the Stars, and the Rule of Nations

The late first century to mid second century CE text, the Apocalypse of Abraham, re-narrates Abraham’s counting of the stars from Gen 15:5 in the context of an ascent to heaven where he is welcomed above the stars.12 In Apoc. Abr. 20.3-5 the Eternal Mighty One addresses Abraham:

“‘Look from on high at the stars which are beneath you and count them for me and tell me their number!’ And I [Abraham] said, ‘When can I, for I am a man.’ And he said to me ‘As the number of the stars and their power so shall I place for your seed the nations and men, set apart for me in my lot with Azazel’.”13

Here Abraham’s seed is promised not merely the number of the stars, but their power, which is understood in terms of the rule over nations and men, which seem to have been allotted to the Eternal Mighty One or to Azazel and his company.

Taking into account the textual evidence cited above from early Hellenistic as well as Palestinian Jewish sources, I believe it is clear that there existed a tradition within Early Judaism of reading Gen 15:5 (and 22:17 and 26:4) qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Considering the wide diffusion of this particular tradition, it would be fair to assume Paul was not only aware of it, but may have also used it himself in his expounding of the Abrahamic promise in his corpus, and more particularly in Romans 4.

A commonly recurring feature in the qualitative interpretations of the Abrahamic promise is an apparent relationship between becoming as the stars and the rule of the nations.14 Sirach connects exaltation as the stars to the Davidic promise of the inheritance of the nations (44:21). Similarly, in the Apocalypse of Abraham, receiving the power of the stars is connected with being placed over the nations (20:5). At this point in the study it is necessary to pose the following question: How are we to understand the apparent relationship between becoming as the stars of heaven and inheriting the rule of the nations?

  1. All translations of Philo are taken from, Philo, trans. F.H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker et al., LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929-1987).
  2. For a tracing of the early Jewish tradition of transformation into light in the afterlife as astral symbolism, see Willem F. Smelik, “On Mystical Transformation of the Righteous into Light in Judaism,” JSJ 26.2 (1995): 122-44.
  3. Emphasis added. The reference to the stars is absent in Manuscript B from Qumran, and G and Syriac text also differs. See Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira: A New Translation with Notes, AB 39 (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 504, n.21b-d.
  4. See for example Kenneth Bailey, “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Territorial Promise of God to Abraham,” TR 15.1 (1994), 61; James M. Scott, Paul and the Nations: The Old Testament and Jewish Background of Paul’s Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians, WUNT 84 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995), 62, 64, 130; Byrne, Romans, 157; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 239; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 212; Fitzmyer, Romans, 384; Jewett, Romans, 326; Käsemann, Romans, 120; Wright, Romans, 495-96; idem. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 366, 815, 1005.
  5. See also Zech 9:10. Scott makes an important observation here that in order to demonstrate the absolute sovereignty of the king, Ps 71 (LXX) draws from a list of nations from the table of nations tradition in Genesis 10; see Scott, Paul and the Nations, 62.
  6. The term ἀνυψόω is used elsewhere in Sirach in unrelated contexts, but the term specifically applied in the context of linking the Abrahamic promise of exaltation as the stars, the Davidic promise of inheriting the lands, and David’s reception of the covenant of kingship is significant.
  7. While Talbert rightly recognizes Paul’s use of the rabbinic interpretative practice known as gezerah shawah in connecting the language of “reckon (ἐλογίσθη)” from Gen 15:6 with the use of “reckon (λογίσηται)” in Ps 32:2, that does not rule out the possibility of Paul having a wider framework in mind when linking the Abrahamic and Davidic promises in Romans 4, as well as the letter as a whole. See Charles H. Talbert, Romans, SHBC 24 (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 118. This is not to say however that Paul is intentionally echoing Sirach 44 and 47, or even has them in mind, but that he could be drawing from a pre-existing tradition of reading the promises together in a similar way. An example might be found in Wagner’s observation of a possible link between Abraham in Romans 4 and Christ in 15:8-9, see J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, NovTSup 101 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 309 n 11.
  8. Emphasis added. While acknowledging that the authenticity of this doublet is in question (this section is not present in G), the interest in its citation here is merely to highlight early evidence of the astral connection of the Abrahamic and Davidic promise that appears in both parts of the doublet. Holladay places the addition in the post-exilic period and suggests it has a part to play in NT thinking; see William L. Holladay, Jeremiah 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Chapters 26-52, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 228-231.
  9. It is commonplace in the Hebrew Bible to understand the stars as the host of heaven, angels, or even the gods. See e.g. Deut 4:19; 17:3; Judges 5:20; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3-5; 23:4-5; 2 Chron 33:3-5; Neh 9:6; Job 38:7; Ps 148:3; Is 14:12-13; 24:21-23; 40:26; 45:12; 48:13; Jer 7:18; 8:2; 19:13; 32:29; 33:22; Dan 8:10; Zeph 1:5.
  10. E.g. T. Levi 18:3; T. Jud. 24:1; 1QM 11:6-7; 4QTestim 9-13; CD 7:18-20. For the messianic use of Num 24:17 in early Judaism, see the discussion of John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2nd ed., ABRL (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).
  11. The precedent for the literary links between the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 15 and the Davidic oracle of Numbers 24 is more than likely due to intentional composition or redaction. For the historical discussion regarding the formation of these texts in relation to one another see R. E. Clements, Abraham and David: Genesis 15 and its Meaning for Israelite Tradition (Naperville: A. R. Allenson, 1967); Bernard Gosse, “Abraham and David,” JSOT 34.1 (2009): 25-31; idem. David and Abraham: Persian Period Traditions (Pendé: Gabalda, 2010).
  12. Apoc. Abr. is presumed to be a Palestinian apocalypse with a Hebrew Vorlage. For the discussion on dating and provenance, see George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2d ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 285-288; Alexander Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, TCSt 3 (Atlanta: SBL, 2004).
  13. Emphasis added. Translation of the Apocalypse of Abraham is taken from R. Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” OTP 1:681-711. It is important to note that here in Apoc. Ab. 20:5, the author presupposes the allotment of the nations to the heavenly host as in the Deuteronomic vision: “the nations and men, set apart for me in my lot with Azazel.” For the discussion on the “Deuteronomic vision” in the present study, see below.
  14. This is the case as well with the reiterations of the Abrahamic promise of Gen 15:5 in 22:17 and 26:4, as referenced above.

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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 2: Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation of Genesis 15:5 and Related Texts

This is Part 2 of a series of guest pots by David Burnett. Part 1 is located here. – MSH


 

PART 2 – Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation of Genesis 15:5 and Related Texts

Philo of Alexandria and the Saying “So Shall Your Seed Be”

In commenting on Genesis 15:5 in Who Is the Heir? 86-87, Philo states:

“When the Lord led him outside He said “Look up into heaven and count the stars, if thou canst count their sum. So shall be thy seed.” Well does the text say “so (οὕτως ἔσται)” not “so many (τοσοῦτον)” that is, “of equal number to the stars.” For He wishes to suggest not number merely, but a multitude of other things, such as tend to happiness perfect and complete. The “seed shall be (οὕτως οὖν ἔσται)”, He says, as the ethereal sight spread out before him, celestial as that is, full of light unshadowed and pure as that is, for night is banished from heaven and darkness from ether. It shall be the very likeness of the stars.”1

Here Philo argues from the grammar of the LXX of Gen 15:5 that the adverb οὕτως should be understood not merely quantitatively but qualitatively as well, suggesting that the promise to become as the very likeness of the stars was the original intention of the scribe. The promise of Gen 15:5 for Philo entails being transformed into beings full of light, being in the “very likeness of the stars,” and participating in their celestial life.2

In Questions and Answers on Genesis, Philo similarly comments on the patriarchal promise of star-like seed as it was retold to Isaac in Gen 26:4a:

“What is the meaning of the words, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven?” Two things are indicated, in which the nature of all things in general consists, (namely) quantity and quality – quantity in “I will multiply,” and quality in “as the stars.” So may (thy descendants) be pure and far-shining and always be ranged in order and obey their leader and may they behave like the luciform (stars) which everywhere with the splendour of ethereal brightness also illumine all other things.” (QG 4.181)

Philo here again sees implicit within the language “so may thy descendants be” the promise of the ethereal life of the stars. In Gen 26:5, Abraham’s seed will be multiplied as the stars of heaven and be given all these lands “because Abraham obeyed my voice.” For Philo, Abraham acts as the stars act who are always “ranged in order and obey their leader.” In both of these texts Philo seems to axiomatically employ the phrase “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)” as if it were to be taken as a kind of adage that was intended to denote celestial immortality.

 

Sirach, Exaltation as the Stars, and the Linking of the Abrahamic and Davidic Promises

In a paraphrase of the Abrahamic promise as reiterated in Gen 22:17, the Greek text of Sirach 44:21 states: “For this reason, God promised him with an oath to bless the nations through his seed, to make him numerous as the grains of dust, and exalt (ἀνυψῶσαι) his seed as the stars, giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”3 The Greek text of Sirach limits the numeric aspect of the promise to the dust, while becoming as the stars is seen as referring to exaltation (ἀνυψῶσαι). Surprisingly, commentators on Romans 4 universally cite this text as a source for the expansion of the land promise in early Judaism in attempting to determine what it might mean for Paul to “inherit the cosmos,” yet without any reference to or discussion of the significance of the exaltation as the stars as it relates to the inheritance of the earth.4 This exaltation in Sirach 44:21 results in “giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea,” linking the qualitative interpretation of the Abrahamic promise with the language of the Davidic royal inheritance of Psalm 72:8 (71:8 LXX), “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”5 Later in Sirach 47:11, the link is strengthened all the more with the employment of the language of exaltation, this time speaking of David: “The Lord took away his sins and exalted (ἀνύψωσεν) his power forever; he gave him a covenant of kingship and a glorious throne in Israel.”6

It is important to note that we may find something similar in Rom 4:6-8. In the middle of an argument framed by Genesis 15, Paul introduces David saying that he “also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Paul portrays David as if he were, like Abraham, being “credited righteousness,” quoting from Ps 32:1-2, which speaks of the forgiveness of David’s sins. In a relationship similar, and quite possibly parallel, to that of Sirach 47:11, David’s forgiveness is connected to his receiving the promise of exaltation, almost interchangeably with that of Abraham.7

A similar tradition linking the Abrahamic and Davidic promises in astral terms can be found in Jeremiah 33:19-22, which shares its rhetorical and theological shape with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:

“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”8

The language of day and night coming at their appointed time is more than likely a reference to the greater and lesser lights (sun and moon) and the stars from Gen 1:14-18, where the celestial bodies were “set in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from darkness.” The constancy of the ruling order in heaven kept by the celestial bodies is likened here to the everlasting rule of the Davidic monarch. It is important to note here that instead of the term for “stars” normally used as the referent for the multiplicity of seed in the Abrahamic covenant formula, the author chooses to employ the term “hosts of heaven,” assuming their interchangeability.9

The source of this particular literary pattern of linking the rule of the celestial bodies to the rule of David (or his seed) is more than likely found in Balaam’s prophecy referring to David, and later in early Judaism to the coming Messiah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth” (Num 24:17).10 Here in Num 24:4 and 16 and Gen 15:1, the Davidic oracle and the Abrahamic promise are both described as a vision (מחזה), both speaking of their seed in astral terms, and both narrating the coming dominion over the land.11

 

Apocalypse of Abraham, the Power of the Stars, and the Rule of Nations

The late first century to mid second century CE text, the Apocalypse of Abraham, re-narrates Abraham’s counting of the stars from Gen 15:5 in the context of an ascent to heaven where he is welcomed above the stars.12 In Apoc. Abr. 20.3-5 the Eternal Mighty One addresses Abraham:

“‘Look from on high at the stars which are beneath you and count them for me and tell me their number!’ And I [Abraham] said, ‘When can I, for I am a man.’ And he said to me ‘As the number of the stars and their power so shall I place for your seed the nations and men, set apart for me in my lot with Azazel’.”13

Here Abraham’s seed is promised not merely the number of the stars, but their power, which is understood in terms of the rule over nations and men, which seem to have been allotted to the Eternal Mighty One or to Azazel and his company.

Taking into account the textual evidence cited above from early Hellenistic as well as Palestinian Jewish sources, I believe it is clear that there existed a tradition within Early Judaism of reading Gen 15:5 (and 22:17 and 26:4) qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Considering the wide diffusion of this particular tradition, it would be fair to assume Paul was not only aware of it, but may have also used it himself in his expounding of the Abrahamic promise in his corpus, and more particularly in Romans 4.

A commonly recurring feature in the qualitative interpretations of the Abrahamic promise is an apparent relationship between becoming as the stars and the rule of the nations.14 Sirach connects exaltation as the stars to the Davidic promise of the inheritance of the nations (44:21). Similarly, in the Apocalypse of Abraham, receiving the power of the stars is connected with being placed over the nations (20:5). At this point in the study it is necessary to pose the following question: How are we to understand the apparent relationship between becoming as the stars of heaven and inheriting the rule of the nations?

  1. All translations of Philo are taken from, Philo, trans. F.H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker et al., LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929-1987).
  2. For a tracing of the early Jewish tradition of transformation into light in the afterlife as astral symbolism, see Willem F. Smelik, “On Mystical Transformation of the Righteous into Light in Judaism,” JSJ 26.2 (1995): 122-44.
  3. Emphasis added. The reference to the stars is absent in Manuscript B from Qumran, and G and Syriac text also differs. See Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira: A New Translation with Notes, AB 39 (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 504, n.21b-d.
  4. See for example Kenneth Bailey, “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Territorial Promise of God to Abraham,” TR 15.1 (1994), 61; James M. Scott, Paul and the Nations: The Old Testament and Jewish Background of Paul’s Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians, WUNT 84 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995), 62, 64, 130; Byrne, Romans, 157; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 239; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 212; Fitzmyer, Romans, 384; Jewett, Romans, 326; Käsemann, Romans, 120; Wright, Romans, 495-96; idem. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 366, 815, 1005.
  5. See also Zech 9:10. Scott makes an important observation here that in order to demonstrate the absolute sovereignty of the king, Ps 71 (LXX) draws from a list of nations from the table of nations tradition in Genesis 10; see Scott, Paul and the Nations, 62.
  6. The term ἀνυψόω is used elsewhere in Sirach in unrelated contexts, but the term specifically applied in the context of linking the Abrahamic promise of exaltation as the stars, the Davidic promise of inheriting the lands, and David’s reception of the covenant of kingship is significant.
  7. While Talbert rightly recognizes Paul’s use of the rabbinic interpretative practice known as gezerah shawah in connecting the language of “reckon (ἐλογίσθη)” from Gen 15:6 with the use of “reckon (λογίσηται)” in Ps 32:2, that does not rule out the possibility of Paul having a wider framework in mind when linking the Abrahamic and Davidic promises in Romans 4, as well as the letter as a whole. See Charles H. Talbert, Romans, SHBC 24 (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 118. This is not to say however that Paul is intentionally echoing Sirach 44 and 47, or even has them in mind, but that he could be drawing from a pre-existing tradition of reading the promises together in a similar way. An example might be found in Wagner’s observation of a possible link between Abraham in Romans 4 and Christ in 15:8-9, see J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, NovTSup 101 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 309 n 11.
  8. Emphasis added. While acknowledging that the authenticity of this doublet is in question (this section is not present in G), the interest in its citation here is merely to highlight early evidence of the astral connection of the Abrahamic and Davidic promise that appears in both parts of the doublet. Holladay places the addition in the post-exilic period and suggests it has a part to play in NT thinking; see William L. Holladay, Jeremiah 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Chapters 26-52, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 228-231.
  9. It is commonplace in the Hebrew Bible to understand the stars as the host of heaven, angels, or even the gods. See e.g. Deut 4:19; 17:3; Judges 5:20; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3-5; 23:4-5; 2 Chron 33:3-5; Neh 9:6; Job 38:7; Ps 148:3; Is 14:12-13; 24:21-23; 40:26; 45:12; 48:13; Jer 7:18; 8:2; 19:13; 32:29; 33:22; Dan 8:10; Zeph 1:5.
  10. E.g. T. Levi 18:3; T. Jud. 24:1; 1QM 11:6-7; 4QTestim 9-13; CD 7:18-20. For the messianic use of Num 24:17 in early Judaism, see the discussion of John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2nd ed., ABRL (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).
  11. The precedent for the literary links between the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 15 and the Davidic oracle of Numbers 24 is more than likely due to intentional composition or redaction. For the historical discussion regarding the formation of these texts in relation to one another see R. E. Clements, Abraham and David: Genesis 15 and its Meaning for Israelite Tradition (Naperville: A. R. Allenson, 1967); Bernard Gosse, “Abraham and David,” JSOT 34.1 (2009): 25-31; idem. David and Abraham: Persian Period Traditions (Pendé: Gabalda, 2010).
  12. Apoc. Abr. is presumed to be a Palestinian apocalypse with a Hebrew Vorlage. For the discussion on dating and provenance, see George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2d ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 285-288; Alexander Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, TCSt 3 (Atlanta: SBL, 2004).
  13. Emphasis added. Translation of the Apocalypse of Abraham is taken from R. Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” OTP 1:681-711. It is important to note that here in Apoc. Ab. 20:5, the author presupposes the allotment of the nations to the heavenly host as in the Deuteronomic vision: “the nations and men, set apart for me in my lot with Azazel.” For the discussion on the “Deuteronomic vision” in the present study, see below.
  14. This is the case as well with the reiterations of the Abrahamic promise of Gen 15:5 in 22:17 and 26:4, as referenced above.

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The (Pseudo) “Doctrine” of Fallen Angel Salvation: Research Sources

Just a brief follow-up on the subject of whether fallen angels can be redeemed.

One of the curious points to me in this matter has been how some refer to the idea of angelic salvation as a “doctrine.” That word conveys the impression (intentionally, I presume) that the idea that fallen angels can be saved is something that someone who mattered, somewhere in the early historic Church, taught the idea. That isn’t true. There is no “Christian doctrine” of angelic salvation. That said, the idea was indeed discussed in the early church — specifically in response to Gnosticism (and to be more particular here, Valentinian Gnosticism). These Gnostics tried to defend the idea using gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism and the epistles of Paul by playing, in modern parlance, “word games” with the vocabulary — instead of doing exegesis, they gave new, esoteric meanings to certain terms and then ran with the result.

This, for me, has explanatory power. The teaching that angels can be redeemed comes right out of Gnosticism. No surprise. Gnosticism has infected the modern evangelical and Pentecostal church in several ways, most likely unbeknownst to the vast majority of people in those groups. Consequently, I don’t think that those who espouse this idea are “real” Gnostics (though they may be), the idea nevertheless has deep Gnostic roots and has always been outside the stream of orthodoxy.

There have, fortunately, been several dissertations written on the interaction between certain church fathers and the Gnostics where “angelic redemption” is mentioned. Valentinian Gnostics thought the idea important not only for “the redemption and the restoration [of angelic beings] to the Pleroma,” but also their own salvation. From the Kovacs dissertation listed below (pp. 86, 88):

[Baptism] in Jesus’ life is paralleled by a sacrament of redemption in the life of the Valentinians. This sacrament is called “angelic redemption” or “angelic baptism” (22.5) because it relates the pneumatics [the Valentinians] to their angelic syzygies, who have already been baptized in the same manner. Like the Marcosians in Against Heresies I 21.2, Theodotus claims that both Jesus (22.7) and the pneumatics (22.1*) need redemption in order to enter the pleroma. . . . Perfect salvation is reserved for the Valentinians; they alone receive gnosis and ascend to the heights of the pleroma. This salvation is mediated not through catholic baptism but through the Valentlnian ritual of redemption.”

If the concept of the Pleroma is new to you, see my video overview of Gnostic cosmology.

Story, in his dissertation (below) adds some explanatory thoughts (p. 78):

Each person is thought to have an angel who was already baptised in the beginning ( en arxe) therefore each person is baptised “in the same Name in which his angel had been baptised before him.” Even though the Valentinian can describe himself here as “deadened by this existence,” he is at the same time “the person who has received redemption” because of his relationship to the Pleroma through his angel.

I have added the following dissertations that touch on this subject to the divine council bibliography. I found them on a better source than the internet — the ProQuest dissertation database. They popped up in a search for “angelic redemption” (interestingly enough, “angelic salvation” yielded no dissertations that actually had to do with religious texts). One note – the dissertation by Ahuvia is (mostly) about how the rabbis objected to the idea, not any endorsement of it.

  • Geoffrey Story, “The Valentinian (Gnostic) Use of the Letters of Paul,” Northwestern University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1968.
  • Eunice Villaneda, “The Valentinian dynamic of holiness: Re-imagining Valentinian perceptions of the ‘spiritual’, ‘psychic’, and ‘material’ bodies.” California State University, Long Beach, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2014
  • Mika Ahuvia, “Israel among the angels: A study of angels in Jewish texts from the fourth to eighth century CE,” Princeton University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2o14
  • Judith Lee Kovacs, “Clement of Alexandria and the Valentinian Gnostics,” Columbia University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1978
  • David Robert Ruppe, “God, spirit, and human being: The reconfiguration of PNEUMA’s semantic field in the exchange between Irenaeus of Lyons and the Valentinian Gnosis,” Columbia University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1988
  • Patrick Theodore Hall,  “Jesus of Nazareth in Second Century Gnosticism,” The University of Chicago, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969
    • NOTE: The above work has now been superseded by the published book by Majella Franzmann, Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Writings, though I haven’t searched her book to see if she comments on angel baptism or angel salvation.
  • Michael D. Harris, “Christological name theology in three second century communities,” Marquette University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013
  • Arkadi Choufrine, “Gnosis, theophany, theosis: Studies in Clement of Alexandria’s appropriation of his background,”  Princeton Theological Seminary, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2001
  • Everett Lee Proctor, “The influence of Basilides, Valentinus, and their followers on Clement of Alexandria,” University of California, Santa Barbara, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1992.

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Can Fallen Angels be Redeemed?

As I mentioned in the recent episode of the Naked Bible Podcast, the subject of angelic redemption seems to be percolating on the internet. I’m not sure of the reason. I am sure, as we discussed on that podcast episode, that the idea has led to disastrous spiritual calamity for some. Consequently, it seemed time to address the topic.

Before getting into the topic, I should note that some online think my “arguments” against angelic redemption are weak. This is curious, since I’ve never written anything on the subject. I don’t address the topic in The Unseen Realm. I know I’ve mentioned it here and there, noting that it is indeed a topic some folks have an interest in, or to say that I didn’t find the idea persuasive, as it has real coherence problems. It hasn’t interested me to this point, but in the wake of the podcast episode, it seems the right time to jump in. So this will be my first actual pass through the topic. I’m going to stick with English translation for the most part, trying to avoid a more technical discussion. I think this initial “simple” pass is sufficient to make my points.

The Basic Argument for Angelic Redemption

The notion that fallen angels[1] can be redeemed is basically defended along two lines: (1) God must offer them redemption out of fairness, and (2) the language of Revelation 1-3, where Christ speaks “to the angels” of the churches, apparently includes certain statements that sound like an offer of repentance. I’m not concerned with the first, as it’s a subject that has been beaten to death in discussions of election for millennia with little evidence that the Creator’s decision to have an unredeemed category is unfair. Romans 9-11 comes to mind right away.

It’s far more necessary to focus on the textual issue—the second line of defense. By way of illustration, here’s Rev 2:1-5 (note the underlining):

1To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The argument goes like this. Jesus speaks to the angel, then describes that angel’s moral / spiritual failures, then offers the chance of redemption to the angel. The logic of course presumes that the angel of Rev 2:1 (and elsewhere in Rev 1-3) is not a human and must be understood literally as a spiritual being—and angel. Further, if these angels are offered redemption, then it seems reasonable to assert that other angels who fell previously can be offered redemption as well.

The argument seems easy and effective. But it’s impressive only to those who don’t read the text closely and who don’t factor in other statements in the New Testament about the relationship of angels to God’s offer of redemption.

A Closer Look

We’ll start with Revelation 1-3. Scholars have of course commented on the angelic terminology of the letters to the churches. There are basically four views of how to understand “angel” (ἄγγελος; angelos; plural = angeloi).[2]

  • The term angelos refers to a heavenly, non-human being. Their function would be analogous to the fallen angels (sons of God) over the nations. The angels “guard” the churches.
  • The angelos is actually a human being, likely the pastor/leader of the church. The term simply means “messenger” and is used elsewhere in the New Testament of human beings (Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; James 2:25).
  • The angels are human beings, but not specific leaders of the individual churches.
  • The angels are emblematic of the churches, and so the communication to the “angel” is meant for the churches as a group. When Jesus tells John to write to the “angel,” he’s really telling him to write to the church. In a symbolic sense, the “angel” is that church.

As we proceed it will become apparent which view I think is the most sensible and why (textually). First a background question – does the analogy of angelic “guardians” of churches to the sons of God over the nations (Deut 32:8-9; see Unseen Realm, chs. 14-15) make sense? I don’t think so. Why? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Since God punished the nations by allotting the nations to the sons of God (and vice versa), taking Israel to be his own (Deut 32:8-9; 4:19-20), why would he do this to his own family, the Church, the “Israel of God” so to speak? The original arrangement went horribly wrong (Psalm 82), so why would God imitate it with churches? I’d say God wouldn’t do that and didn’t.
  2. God did appoint Michael over his own people, Israel (Dan 10:13, 21; Dan 12:1). But the Church is now God’s people, apart from, but including believing Israelites/Jews. If the Deut 32 thing is the model for angels and churches, wouldn’t it make more sense to have the letters to the churches addressed to Michael? But of course it doesn’t say that (there are seven of them). I’d also add that anyone who wants to force this analogy with Deut 32 might want to think about how it affects their eschatology. They would have a very difficult time maintaining Israel as any sort of unique entity apart from the Church in light of this logic. That might be a big problem for someone’s end times views down the road.
  3. Scripture of course teaches that believers have what we refer to as “guardian angels,” and that angels are here to minister to human believers who “inherit salvation” (Heb 1:13-14). If this is true, what do churches need with guardian angels assigned to churches? I’d say they aren’t needed, and that this isn’t what Revelation 1-3 is describing. Angels already have their task according to Heb 1:13-14 and it isn’t corporate.

These basic background issues already show that the first view, that the angels of Rev 1-3 are heavenly beings, has some coherence problems. But the problems don’t end there.

Let’s start reading now. Back to Revelation 2. We’ll start with the first letter to the churches, the letter to the Ephesian church (Rev 2:1-7):

1To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The underlining is important. Revelation 1 makes it clear that Jesus is speaking to John, instructing him to write to “the angel of the church in Ephesus.” Angelic redemption proponents want us to take notice of that. But in verse 7 we discover that what is being written is “to the churches.” So it’s simply not the case that the letter is written to an angel. It’s written to an angel and to the churches. All the rest of the letters follow suit. Yes, they are directed to an angelos (Smyrna, 2:8; Pergamum, 2:12; Thyatira, 2:18; Sardis, 3:1; Philadelphia, 3:7; Laodicea, 3:14), but are all also directed to the churches—i.e., to the people who make up these churches (Smyrna, 2:11; Pergamum, 2:17; Thyatira, 2:29; Sardis, Rev 3:6; Philadelphia, Rev 3:13; Laodicea, Rev 3:22). A phrase like “what the Spirit says to the churches” is in each of these references.

The point of this must not be missed: What is said in these letters isn’t addressed to only the “angel” or only the people of the church. It’s addressed to both. There is no indication that parts of what is written applies to the “angel,” and other parts to the people. The notions are overtly parallel:

Jesus speaks to John, instructing him to write to the angel of XYZ church.

What is written is later described as what the Spirit is saying to the churches.[3]

This issue of “who is Jesus really communicating to” gets even more telling when we look at the text in Greek, since Greek has both singular and plural second person pronouns and verb forms (i.e., singular vs. plural “you” in English cannot be distinguished by the form of the pronoun, but in Greek it can). In Greek the audience of the writing is clearly both the “angel” and the people in the churches. Here’s the point:  You cannot neatly distinguish one from the other, which (in my view) is deliberate and points to the need to identify the “angel” and the people with each other. That is the only reading that can make consistent, coherent sense of what is said in every respect.

But I need to illustrate that point. This brings us to our first interpretive question. As you read, ask yourself if what the letters say:

  1. Makes sense addressed to a specific non-human angel-guardian of that church (view # 1 above),

or

  1. Makes sense addressed to the church’s people collectively? (Or, if you prefer, to the human leader of the church who “stands for” the church collectively) — views #2,3,4 above.

I’m going to suggest that the first option, the option at the heart of the angelic redemption idea, is the least likely. That status will change to “just plain unworkable and wrong” when we leave Revelation 1-3 and factor in other passages to the discussion.

Back to Rev 2:1-7. Read closely what it says:

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Some phrases to consider:

  • you cannot bear with those who are evil
  • (you) have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false
  • you have not grown weary

Do these three descriptors make more sense of people or angels? Do angels get tired? (I’d sure like a verse for that). I’d say they make more sense of people.

Now here’s the next church, Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11):

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Consider these descriptive phrases:

  • I know your tribulation and your poverty
  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer
  • Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life
  • The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death

Do these descriptions really make sense of a heavenly angel? Do angels suffer poverty? Why would they need to fear? Does the devil really have the power to throw them into prison for ten days? Do angels die (“be faithful unto death”)? Who threatens them with death? Can Satan kill them? Why would God allow that? Where does Scripture say that Satan can take life like this? Just how do you kill an immortal being like an angel unless you hold the ultimate power of life and death, which only God has (Psa 82:6-7). Will Jesus really give an angel the crown of life? Not according to James 1:12 (“blessed is the man …”). And about the second death – those who are exempt from it are not angels, but people who are raised with Christ whose names are written in the book of life (Rev 20:6, 15).

It should be apparent that a heavenly angel reading here isn’t workable. Should anyone wonder if the “you” references in the above are grammatically plural, they are not. They are grammatically singular. And so you either have a heavenly angel being thrown into a prison in Smyrna, suffering poverty, under threat of physical death, and inheriting the crown of life … OR the “you” here is grammatically singular because the collective church at Smyrna is in view. The latter is quite sensible.  The alternative (that we’re talking about heavenly angels here) lacks coherence, and that (in turn again) makes the angelic redemption idea moot.

Now here’s the next church, Pergamum (Rev 2:13-17):

13 “ ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Some phrases to consider:

  • I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is
  • Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you
  • I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam…
  • I will come to you soon and war against them

Archaeologists and New Testament scholars have established that “Satan’s throne” refers to places in Asia Minor where the Roman imperial cult flourished—in other words, a real place on earth in real first-century time. So, if that’s the case, is this passage really telling us that an angel lived on earth in Pergamum? If we’re going to literally understand “angel” here as a heavenly being, then we need to interpret the rest of the passage literally (or else we cheat). Continuing … Was that angel present at the murder of Antipas? Was he “on site” (as opposed to just watching behind the spiritual veil)? Do angels teach Christians things? Are they supposed to do that? (Chapter and verse, please, and duck when you come to Gal 1:8). Apparently this heavenly being (so we must assume) was lax in his responsibility to teach the church members not to follow Balaam. Will Jesus visit him literally, and literally make war against the humans following the teaching of Balaam? Would that visit literally be in Pergamum?

I hope you get the point. It’s much more coherent to opt for the non-heavenly being option when we read what’s actually said. The rest of the letters have the same sort of language in them—language that sounds silly or is contradicted at some other place in the New Testament if it’s applied to angels.

The letter to Thyatira contains an interesting juxtaposition in this regard (Rev 2:18-29):

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The references to “you” in v. 20 are both singular, and so they refer to either the (alleged) heavenly angel (he’d be the guilty one) or to the people collectively. The passage tells us which makes more sense. “But to the rest of you” is key in that regard. Literally, this phrase is “but to the remainder,” with no Greek “you” pronoun in the text. That makes us ask, “The remainder of who or what?” If the letter had, to this point, been directed just to a heavenly angel, then the “remainder” would either be other angels, which is pretty odd (the angel is part of a whole). This strikes me as silly and, if one cares to be consistent with the text, can’t be the case, since only one (the angel of v. 18) is actually mentioned — i.e., we’d just have to invent the idea of a gang of angels attached to the church out of thin air.

Another option, that the “remainder” points to believers in Thyatira, makes good sense. The “remainder” who have been faithful are a remnant of the human group known as the church. They are part of that whole. Don’t miss that point, obvious as it seems. If the remainder = people, then the ones following Jezebel (“my servants”; v. 20) are also people. The “remainder” is part of that whole. But that in turn means that the guilty party = the church collectively (a group of human offenders), a remnant of which is remaining faithful. Why is that important? Think carefully: It means the “you” language of v. 19 (“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first”), which are all grammatical singulars in Greek, would not be referring to a solitary figure — but in reality referring to the collective church at Thyatira—to its human members. This fact of the text, drawn from close reading, is significant for the whole discussion. It means the “angel” language actually represents the human, collective church.

With this observation in place, we go on to ask if the thought is consistent with other features of the text. Who, then, would be in view for “holding fast” and “conquering” and “keeping [the Lord’s works,” and “receiving authority over the nations, . .  ruling them with a rod of iron . . . receiving authority from the father . . . the morning star”? Why people of course. This means angelic redemption isn’t in view. All the fruits of repentance are directed toward people.

The descriptions of the churches in Revelation 3 follow this course. The singular “you” language that seems to refer to the “angel” really applies to people—the people in the churches, to whom the Spirit is speaking in every letter. This view has explanatory power because it offers interpretive consistency (across both testaments). Just look at what’s said about the “angel” in each case:

Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)

To the angel of the church in Sardis write…

  • You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead (an odd description for a heavenly angel on God’s side)
  • If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (interesting that this language is used elsewhere of human believers at the Lord’s return: 1 Thess 5)
  • I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels (This language found elsewhere in Scripture has only humans in view, so it’s no description of an angelic possibility: blotting out of the book: Exod 32:32; Deut 29:20; Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3; Rev 13:8; Rev 17:8; Rev 20:12, 15; Rev 21:27; Rev 22:19; confessing before the Father: Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8).

Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13)

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write…

  • you have kept my word and have not denied my name (who bears the name of Christ in NT theology? People: 2 Tim 2:19; cp. Acts 11:26)
  • I will make [the synagogue of Satan] come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth (the last item is telling – the words are clearly directed to people, those who dwell on the earth—and yet the “you’s” preceding are singular, pointing back to the “angel”. The angel = the church, its people.
  • Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown (singular again, and wording that elsewhere clearly refers to human believers: James 1:12).

Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22)

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write…

  • For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Does this really describe a heavenly angel?)
  • If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Who gets to participate in divine feasting in both OT and NT theology? Who shares a meal with the Lord? Human believers: Exod 24:9-11; Rev 19:7-9)
  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (With whom does Jesus share the throne? Human believers: 2 Tim. 2:12; 19:28)

To summarize all this, I’d say these points are salient:

1. It’s not possible to isolate some of what is said to “the angel” of the churches in such a way that certain things do not apply to the church.

2. It’s quite coherent to see what is said to the singular angel to also be directed to the corporate church and its human members.

3. Much of what is said to the churches is said specifically to the human redeemed.

4. In view of the preceding, it is incoherent to argue that the letters to the churches are good evidence of the offer of redemption to angels. There is simply no redemptive language in the letters that can only apply to the singular angel to make a case that the redemption language has more than humans in view.

5. Since the content of the letters is directed to BOTH the “angel” and the human members of the church, and since the content is elsewhere directed specifically to humans, it is best to identify the angel and the members of church with each other. This strategy leaves no interpretive outliers (i.e., it has high explanatory power for everything in them), is consistent with the use of angelos for humans elsewhere, and doesn’t invite a contrived idea into the text.

 

But wait … there’s more. And it’s really the most important stuff.

 

Angelic Redemption Denied

This post is getting lengthy (my apologies), but I didn’t want to break it up and have readers wait for installments. Most of my readers are used to it anyway!

Let’s look at Hebrews.

That the supremacy of Christ over angels is a central theme to the book of Hebrews is well known. Hebrews 1 establishes that point by comparing and contrasting Jesus to the angels. The chapter ends this way (Heb 1:13-14):

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand

until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

In light of the discussion of the letters to the churches, it is interesting to note that v. 13, a quote from Psalm 110 about the messiah, is mimed closely by something Paul says about individual human believers:

Rom 16:20 – The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

The “your” here is plural—it is not a reference to the serpent / Satan being crushed by the heel of the messiah. It’s a reference to human believers placing their feet on the enemy (and all his, by extension) and crushing them. Victory formation, for you football fans.

But this isn’t why I referenced Heb 1:13-14. I want you to note the last verse. Ministering spirits are sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. Two questions are pertinent: Who might those inheritors be? Are angels possibly numbered among those inheritors? Hebrews 2 answers those questions, and those answers are plain as day. I’ve underlined the key phrases that are followed by brief comments:

Hebrews 2:5-18

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

What is man, that you are mindful of him,

or the son of man, that you care for him?

         You made him for a little while lower than the angels;

you have crowned him with glory and honor,

         putting everything in subjection under his feet.” …

 

The world to come is the new earth described in Revelation 21-22. It is the global Eden I talked a lot about in The Unseen Realm. It is the goal of God’s plan. The climax of the eschaton. It is what the saved, the redeemed, the forgiven, inherit. And so, who is it for? Man. Humankind. We who were made lesser than the divine beings (Heb 2:6-7 quotes Psalm 8:4-, where it reads humanity was made a little lower than the elohim). Human believers, human members of God’s household (see the rest of Hebrews 2) are the ones crowned. It’s hard to miss that reference to the language of the letters to the seven churches (and again, James 1:12). Angels are conspicuously absent from end-times global Eden statement in Hebrews 2:5-8. We’ll find out why as we keep reading.

8 … Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Who is the “everyone” here? If we care about reading in context, it’s the human beings the writer referred to a few lines ago. There’s no other plural or collective noun that could be the grammatical antecedent. And Hebrews 2:5 specifically tells us angels aren’t in the picture and aren’t the referent.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Are the angels Jesus’ brothers and sisters—his brethren? By definition they cannot be. They are created; he is uncreated. They might be described as “made of something”; he cannot be so described. He has attributes they do not possess. He is Yahweh incarnate; they are not. He was never made like them—never made at all. Jesus and the angels are not, as it were, of the same “stock.”

But, amazingly, Jesus and humans are of the same stock. How? God the Son became human. And so he is not ashamed to be called our brother. And if you read verse 10, it’s clear that WE are the object of the salvation he founded. Not the angels.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

We, not angels, were the ones under the curse of death. This is why redemption has us in view, not the angels. And verse 16 makes it absolutely explicit:

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

Galatians 3 (esp. vv. 7-9, 26-29) make it clear that the “offspring of Abraham” are believers, Jew or Gentile (not angels):

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. . . .

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

The “help” in context in Hebrews 2:16 = rescue from death (via resurrection) and, therefore, a home in the new Eden, the new earth. That’s the destination of the redeemed. The salvation of humanity is the goal of the plan of incarnation, substitutional death, and resurrection. The angels are not. “Therefore he [Jesus] he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (even unto death). Jesus wasn’t made like the angels (Hebrews 1 denies this in many ways). He was made like us, so that we could be made like him at his coming (1 John 3:1-3).

I’m not sure why all this isn’t crystal clear to some. It’s difficult to imagine the writer of Hebrews being any clearer. It’s so clear in fact that, for me, Hebrews 1-2 is the place any defender of angelic redemption must start. But I’m not at all sure why anyone would invest time in making those chapters not say what they very obviously are saying. But I’ve seen people absorbed by stranger things.

 

NOTES

[1] As readers of Unseen Realm know, I’m using “fallen angels” because the phrase is familiar to a popular readership. The “fallen angels” that are normally the focus of this angelic redemption topic are the sons of God of Gen 6:1-4 (the Watchers in Enochian parlance). “Angel” in OT thought is a job description of a particular elohim, a term used to denote any member of the disembodied spiritual world, not an ontological label to be equated with a specific set of unique attributes (see Unseen Realm, chs. 3-4). In the Hellenistic period “angel” became more of a catch-all term, akin to Old Testament elohim or Greco-Roman daimon/daimonion. The semantic issues are more complex than this, but for purposes here, this is adequate.

[2] In Greek two gamma letters (γ) side-by-side are pronounced “ng”.

[3] For you Trinitarian deniers out there, take note of how Jesus and the Spirit fill the same slots here. Just a side observation of this non-coincidence.

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Online Database of Angels, Demons, and Ghosts in Rabbinic Texts

For real.

The site is called Elyonim veTachtonim. Here’s the description from the site:

Elyonim veTachtonim project web site. As of today the first version of the database is finally available on-line and:

  • covers the Babylonian Talmud [BT];
  • bases on the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (English) and Wikitext Talmud Bavli (Hebrew, Aramaic);
  • distinguishes between three classes of entities: angels [ang], demons [dem] and ghosts [gho];
  • (more or less) all the units involving dem of the BT are done; these with ang and gho are still in the stub form;
  • distinguishes between six genres: biblical anecdote [bib], rabbinic anecdote [rab], cultic protocol [cult], pragmatic advice [prag], proverb [prov] and statement [stat];
  • recognizes a number of entities and topics;
  • covers all the attitude types.

I don’t know if the database is searchable (I couldn’t find a way to do that), but it can be downloaded in Excel format.

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Mike’s Guest Appearance / Interview on the Voice of Olympus

The Voice of Olympus is a podcast show hosted by Hercules Invictus, a modern follower of the gods of Olympus. From the podcast’s website:

The podcast explores the many manifestations of Greco-Roman mythology in our present day and age. We invite you to join us in celebrating Mount Olympus in spheres of activity ranging from spirituality to pop-cultural entertainment. Portals will be provided for those wishing to enter, and be an active part, of the ever-evolving Olympian mythos.

If you are familiar with the divine council worldview, this interview will be especially interesting, as Hercules accepts the idea that the gods were/are real entities. It was a fun interview for both of us since we were “speaking each other’s language” in this regard and had similar experiences in push-back from denominational Christian authority figures when seeking answers to certain questions (he in his youth, in my case more recently since recovering the divine council worldview).  I couldn’t help thinking that parts of it may have been similar to conversations Paul would have had with some of the Gentiles he met. Hopefully both of our audiences will enjoy the conversation as much as we did having it.

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Mike Interviewed About Wormwood (Sort of) and Other Stuff

Below is a video interview I did a week ago. The channel’s focus is (obviously) Wormwood and Planet X stuff, but we spent nearly all the time talking about other things. Wormwood came up (it was no secret to the hosts that I don’t think the Planet X material is coherent at all) but we quickly moved past it.

For those interested in Planet X debunking, check out Stuart Robbins’ PseudoAstronomy Podcast series on Planet X nonsense (a little halfway down that page). But for biblical material, here’s a novel suggestion: Why not let the Old Testament be our interpretive filter for the NT (Revelation 8:10-11) material on Wormwood? What a concept! And perhaps Second Temple literature (Jewish readings of the passage) might be helpful. Another amazing concept! Here’s an excerpt from G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 478–481(boldfacing is mine):

As with the second trumpet, so again here a great fireball is thrown from heaven. This time it is not depicted as “a great mountain” but as “a great star burning like a torch.” If this is a continuation of the similar judgment of the first two trumpets, then the fire can again be understood as a metaphor of famine. We have observed elsewhere that stars represent angelic beings in Revelation, the OT, and post-biblical Judaism (see on 1:19). These angels themselves often corporately represent earthly peoples and kingdoms, and fire typically symbolizes judgment in the Apocalypse and other related literature (see on 8:8). The same must be the case here. As in v 8, we see here the judgment of an angel who is a legal-like representation of sinful people.

Furthermore, Midr. Rab. Exod. 9.9 interprets the Exod. 7:16–18 plague on the waters, which is still in the background of Rev. 8:10, as a judgment on heavenly beings (i.e., the Nile god) who are legal agents representing sinful people, the latter of whom are likewise affected. Isa. 24:21 is adduced in support of the midrashic interpretation: “the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high and the kings of the earth on earth” (cf. also b. Suk. 29a in its comment on Exod. 12:12). So similarly Midr. Rab. Exod. 23.15 affirms that both the Egyptians and their guardian angel were judged at the Red Sea).(27) This interpretation is supported by 1 En. 18:13 and 21:3, which describe the judgment of fallen angels as “stars like great burning mountains,” and 1 En. 108:3–6, which borrows the same image to portray the punishment of sinful people (cf. also 1 En. 86–88).

Rev. 8:10 appears, then, to portray judgment that people and their representative angel(s) endure throughout history and that precedes their final condemnation at the end of history. The burning star could, on the other hand, represent merely an agent of divine judgment. However, the observation that the descent of the burning mountain in v 10 is parallel to the descent of the burning star in v 8 also indicates that the star should be identified as an angelic representative of an evil kingdom undergoing judgment. Here the judgment of Babylon’s angel is in view, since v 8 concerns the judgment of Babylon the Great.

The identification of the star as Babylon’s representative angel becomes more convincing if v 10 is understood as alluding to Isa. 14:12–15.(28) There the judgment of the king of Babylon and his nation is said to occur because its guardian angel, “the star of the morning,” has “fallen from heaven, … thrust down to Sheol … to the recesses of the pit.” That the judgment of the Babylonian world system is in mind in Rev. 8:8, 10 is consistent with the imagery in Sib. Or. 5.158–60: “a great star will come from heaven into the divine sea and will burn up the deep sea and Babylon itself and the land of Italy.” [Heiser note here:  Beale assumes a lot here with this specificity. While he is right about nations having “angels” — this is the Deut 32:8-9 worldview idea I spend so much time on in The Unseen Realm — the text of Isaiah 14:12-15 doesn’t describe Helel ben Shachar this way. Nevertheless, the material cited thus far makes it clear that stars = divine beings = mountains in some texts.]

The star is called “Wormwood,” and, as with the judgments in vv 7–9, a third of the waters that it strikes are turned into wormwood, and many people die from drinking the water. Philo, Vit. Mos. 1.100, also affirms that the Exodus plagues, including the plague on the waters, resulted in “a great multitude of people killed.” The scene of judgment here is based on Jer. 9:15 and 23:15, which both affirm that God “will feed them [Israel] … with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink.” The polluting judgment comes because Israel’s religious leaders have spiritually polluted the nation with their idolatrous Ba’al worship. This judgment in Jeremiah is part of a description of coming famine, which is alluded to earlier in Jer. 8:13–14: “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, the leaf will wither, and what I have given them will pass away … the Lord has doomed us and has given us poisoned water to drink.” There also the woe of famine occurs because of idolatry (Jer. 8:19).

“Wormwood” is a bitter herb, and water contaminated by it can be poisonous if drunk over a long period. The occurrences of the word in Jeremiah are metaphors for the bitterness of suffering resulting from judgment. The metaphor was chosen to show that judgment was well-suited to the crime: because the prophets figuratively “polluted” Israel with idolatry, so God is pictured as polluting them with bad water, that is, with the bitterness of suffering. This figurative meaning is confirmed from the indisputable metaphorical uses of the word everywhere else in the OT, where it also represents severe affliction resulting from divine wrath (Deut. 29:17–18, again in connection with idolatry; Prov. 5:4; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12; cf. Hos. 10:4). The Targum to Jer. 9:15 and 23:15 places “wormwood” in a simile (“I am bringing distress … bitterness like wormwood”) and changes the “poisoned water” of the MT into “the cup of cursing.” So likewise in Rev. 8:11 Babylon, the prevailing world system, has influenced the earth-dwellers and some in the covenant community to become idolatrous. And the consequence of such idolatrous pollution is judgment on both Babylon and those held under its sway.

Against the OT background, the third trumpet does not unleash a woe in which water becomes literally poisoned. Rather, the tone is one of judgment that brings bitter suffering, including death, not only on “outsiders” to the covenant but also on purported members of the community of faith. The judgment could be identified specifically as famine, but this itself could represent even broader affliction. The obviously symbolic reference to “bitterness” in 10:9–10 (again using the verb πικραίνω, “make bitter”) also signifies judgment and points to the conclusion we have come to here (see on 10:9–10).

The judgment of poisoning water with wormwood in 8:11 conveys the idea of famine and so continues the theme of the preceding two trumpet woes. This is in line with ideas seen in early Jewish writings. In 4 Ezra 6:23 the blowing of the latter-day trumpet is directly associated with a judgment that brings conditions of famine, even affecting “the springs of fountains,” as in Rev. 8:10 (cf. 4 Ezra 6:22, 24). In Apoc. Abr. 31 the trumpet similarly introduces the final denouement, which consists of fire destroying all the ungodly (similarly Zech. 9:14). But this is not a mere shortage of good water. The severity is emphasized by the fact that people are forced to drink bad water and suffer from doing so.

The first three trumpets have been judgments of fire affecting parts of the earth, humanity, sea, and rivers. The partial nature of these woes is not only indicated by their limitation to “thirds” but also by the contrast with the related portrayal in Sib. Or. 4.174–77, where a trumpet heralds the burning of “the whole earth, the whole human race, and all the cities and rivers and the sea.”

The preposition ἐκ in the phrase ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων is to be rendered causally (“because of the waters”); the following ὅτι can be translated either as “that” or “because.” At the end of v 11 most mss. have ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων (“because of the waters”) but uncial A has ἐπί (literally “upon”) instead of ἐκ (“from, because”). Nevertheless, both can have the basic meaning of “because.”(29)

πηγὰς ὑδάτων (“springs of waters,” Rev. 7:17) and πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος (“spring of water,” 21:6) are almost verbatim parallels to πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων (“springs of waters”) in 8:10. But both are modified by “life” (ζωή), whereas the phrase in 8:10 is directly linked to “death” (8:11: “many died from the waters”). This likeness and contrast suggest an antithetically parallel meaning: if the “living waters” of chs. 7 and 21 represent the reward of eternal, spiritual life for faithfulness through suffering (see on 7:17; 21:6; cf. 22:1), then the waters of death in ch. 8 represent a punishment of suffering associated with eternal, spiritual death; such a meaning would be a fitting transition to the fourth and fifth trumpets.(30)

27 Cf. Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews III, 25; VI, 6–8.

28 So likewise Caird, Revelation, 115; J. M. Ford, Revelation, 133; Sweet, Revelation, 163; Buchanan, Revelation, 215.

29 E.g., BAGD, 286, I.b.β.

30 Likewise Paulien, Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets, 280–81, 284–85.

 

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Mike Interviewed About Wormwood (Sort of) and Other Stuff

Below is a video interview I did a week ago. The channel’s focus is (obviously) Wormwood and Planet X stuff, but we spent nearly all the time talking about other things. Wormwood came up (it was no secret to the hosts that I don’t think the Planet X material is coherent at all) but we quickly moved past it.

For those interested in Planet X debunking, check out Stuart Robbins’ PseudoAstronomy Podcast series on Planet X nonsense (a little halfway down that page). But for biblical material, here’s a novel suggestion: Why not let the Old Testament be our interpretive filter for the NT (Revelation 8:10-11) material on Wormwood? What a concept! And perhaps Second Temple literature (Jewish readings of the passage) might be helpful. Another amazing concept! Here’s an excerpt from G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 478–481(boldfacing is mine):

As with the second trumpet, so again here a great fireball is thrown from heaven. This time it is not depicted as “a great mountain” but as “a great star burning like a torch.” If this is a continuation of the similar judgment of the first two trumpets, then the fire can again be understood as a metaphor of famine. We have observed elsewhere that stars represent angelic beings in Revelation, the OT, and post-biblical Judaism (see on 1:19). These angels themselves often corporately represent earthly peoples and kingdoms, and fire typically symbolizes judgment in the Apocalypse and other related literature (see on 8:8). The same must be the case here. As in v 8, we see here the judgment of an angel who is a legal-like representation of sinful people.

Furthermore, Midr. Rab. Exod. 9.9 interprets the Exod. 7:16–18 plague on the waters, which is still in the background of Rev. 8:10, as a judgment on heavenly beings (i.e., the Nile god) who are legal agents representing sinful people, the latter of whom are likewise affected. Isa. 24:21 is adduced in support of the midrashic interpretation: “the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high and the kings of the earth on earth” (cf. also b. Suk. 29a in its comment on Exod. 12:12). So similarly Midr. Rab. Exod. 23.15 affirms that both the Egyptians and their guardian angel were judged at the Red Sea).(27) This interpretation is supported by 1 En. 18:13 and 21:3, which describe the judgment of fallen angels as “stars like great burning mountains,” and 1 En. 108:3–6, which borrows the same image to portray the punishment of sinful people (cf. also 1 En. 86–88).

Rev. 8:10 appears, then, to portray judgment that people and their representative angel(s) endure throughout history and that precedes their final condemnation at the end of history. The burning star could, on the other hand, represent merely an agent of divine judgment. However, the observation that the descent of the burning mountain in v 10 is parallel to the descent of the burning star in v 8 also indicates that the star should be identified as an angelic representative of an evil kingdom undergoing judgment. Here the judgment of Babylon’s angel is in view, since v 8 concerns the judgment of Babylon the Great.

The identification of the star as Babylon’s representative angel becomes more convincing if v 10 is understood as alluding to Isa. 14:12–15.(28) There the judgment of the king of Babylon and his nation is said to occur because its guardian angel, “the star of the morning,” has “fallen from heaven, … thrust down to Sheol … to the recesses of the pit.” That the judgment of the Babylonian world system is in mind in Rev. 8:8, 10 is consistent with the imagery in Sib. Or. 5.158–60: “a great star will come from heaven into the divine sea and will burn up the deep sea and Babylon itself and the land of Italy.” [Heiser note here:  Beale assumes a lot here with this specificity. While he is right about nations having “angels” — this is the Deut 32:8-9 worldview idea I spend so much time on in The Unseen Realm — the text of Isaiah 14:12-15 doesn’t describe Helel ben Shachar this way. Nevertheless, the material cited thus far makes it clear that stars = divine beings = mountains in some texts.]

The star is called “Wormwood,” and, as with the judgments in vv 7–9, a third of the waters that it strikes are turned into wormwood, and many people die from drinking the water. Philo, Vit. Mos. 1.100, also affirms that the Exodus plagues, including the plague on the waters, resulted in “a great multitude of people killed.” The scene of judgment here is based on Jer. 9:15 and 23:15, which both affirm that God “will feed them [Israel] … with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink.” The polluting judgment comes because Israel’s religious leaders have spiritually polluted the nation with their idolatrous Ba’al worship. This judgment in Jeremiah is part of a description of coming famine, which is alluded to earlier in Jer. 8:13–14: “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, the leaf will wither, and what I have given them will pass away … the Lord has doomed us and has given us poisoned water to drink.” There also the woe of famine occurs because of idolatry (Jer. 8:19).

“Wormwood” is a bitter herb, and water contaminated by it can be poisonous if drunk over a long period. The occurrences of the word in Jeremiah are metaphors for the bitterness of suffering resulting from judgment. The metaphor was chosen to show that judgment was well-suited to the crime: because the prophets figuratively “polluted” Israel with idolatry, so God is pictured as polluting them with bad water, that is, with the bitterness of suffering. This figurative meaning is confirmed from the indisputable metaphorical uses of the word everywhere else in the OT, where it also represents severe affliction resulting from divine wrath (Deut. 29:17–18, again in connection with idolatry; Prov. 5:4; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12; cf. Hos. 10:4). The Targum to Jer. 9:15 and 23:15 places “wormwood” in a simile (“I am bringing distress … bitterness like wormwood”) and changes the “poisoned water” of the MT into “the cup of cursing.” So likewise in Rev. 8:11 Babylon, the prevailing world system, has influenced the earth-dwellers and some in the covenant community to become idolatrous. And the consequence of such idolatrous pollution is judgment on both Babylon and those held under its sway.

Against the OT background, the third trumpet does not unleash a woe in which water becomes literally poisoned. Rather, the tone is one of judgment that brings bitter suffering, including death, not only on “outsiders” to the covenant but also on purported members of the community of faith. The judgment could be identified specifically as famine, but this itself could represent even broader affliction. The obviously symbolic reference to “bitterness” in 10:9–10 (again using the verb πικραίνω, “make bitter”) also signifies judgment and points to the conclusion we have come to here (see on 10:9–10).

The judgment of poisoning water with wormwood in 8:11 conveys the idea of famine and so continues the theme of the preceding two trumpet woes. This is in line with ideas seen in early Jewish writings. In 4 Ezra 6:23 the blowing of the latter-day trumpet is directly associated with a judgment that brings conditions of famine, even affecting “the springs of fountains,” as in Rev. 8:10 (cf. 4 Ezra 6:22, 24). In Apoc. Abr. 31 the trumpet similarly introduces the final denouement, which consists of fire destroying all the ungodly (similarly Zech. 9:14). But this is not a mere shortage of good water. The severity is emphasized by the fact that people are forced to drink bad water and suffer from doing so.

The first three trumpets have been judgments of fire affecting parts of the earth, humanity, sea, and rivers. The partial nature of these woes is not only indicated by their limitation to “thirds” but also by the contrast with the related portrayal in Sib. Or. 4.174–77, where a trumpet heralds the burning of “the whole earth, the whole human race, and all the cities and rivers and the sea.”

The preposition ἐκ in the phrase ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων is to be rendered causally (“because of the waters”); the following ὅτι can be translated either as “that” or “because.” At the end of v 11 most mss. have ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων (“because of the waters”) but uncial A has ἐπί (literally “upon”) instead of ἐκ (“from, because”). Nevertheless, both can have the basic meaning of “because.”(29)

πηγὰς ὑδάτων (“springs of waters,” Rev. 7:17) and πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος (“spring of water,” 21:6) are almost verbatim parallels to πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων (“springs of waters”) in 8:10. But both are modified by “life” (ζωή), whereas the phrase in 8:10 is directly linked to “death” (8:11: “many died from the waters”). This likeness and contrast suggest an antithetically parallel meaning: if the “living waters” of chs. 7 and 21 represent the reward of eternal, spiritual life for faithfulness through suffering (see on 7:17; 21:6; cf. 22:1), then the waters of death in ch. 8 represent a punishment of suffering associated with eternal, spiritual death; such a meaning would be a fitting transition to the fourth and fifth trumpets.(30)

27 Cf. Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews III, 25; VI, 6–8.

28 So likewise Caird, Revelation, 115; J. M. Ford, Revelation, 133; Sweet, Revelation, 163; Buchanan, Revelation, 215.

29 E.g., BAGD, 286, I.b.β.

30 Likewise Paulien, Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets, 280–81, 284–85.

 

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Signs in the Sky: Angel-like cloud appears over Camden, South Carolina (Video)

When Cory Hearon, father of three was in his car last Tuesday when he looked to his left and saw an angel-like cloud formation that left him awestruck.

It’s not often an angel is spotted in the sky, but Cory who was in shock for the first two minutes managed to capture what turned out to be a cloud shape of a guardian on Facebook Live.

“Look at this cloud in the sky. Is that not an angel or what”? “This is blowing my mind, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Hearon.

He filmed the cloud outline in Camden, South Carolina and the live stream has now been viewed more than 7 million times.

 

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The Function of the Divine Council in Heavenly Worship: Piety, not Mysticism Part 3

[This is Part 3 of Stephen Huebscher’s series on the divine council and heavenly worship. See Part 1 and Part 2. — MSH]

 


 

We now move on to the second group of texts relating to our topic, the OT biblical texts. Over the next several posts, we are will look at nine that are fairly clear and direct in referring to worship in heaven. This post includes the first two of them. We begin with Deut 32:43.

“Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.” (ESV)

This Pentateuchal text is the first, clear reference to celestial praise. The Hebrew text is corrupted, so it is necessary to look at the Septuagint and Qumran. (The MT has 4 lines, Qumran 6 lines, and the LXX 8 lines.) The Qumran version is most likely original. This verse comes at the end of a song that Moses taught to Israel for the purpose of helping them return to worshiping Yahweh in the future. It calls on the gods who have been receiving worship to bow down and worship Yahweh. Yahweh will keep covenant faithfulness to his people in the form of vengeance on his enemies. The call to the inferior gods does not focus on them. The human worshipers are concerned that the heavenly beings do what they are supposed to. Why? Because they have no business soliciting worship away from Yahweh. In fact, by all rights they ought to be worshiping Yahweh themselves! Within Deuteronomy, Yahweh has shown himself to be so gracious in giving a covenant to his people. It is unconscionable for them to be worshiping other gods. There is no concern with achieving unity with either heavenly beings or God himself in this text, only a concern that God alone be worshiped because of his righteousness and faithfulness.

Our second text is more familiar. Isaiah 6:1-8 is a well-known passage that is unique in the Hebrew Bible in its depiction of celestial praise. God’s holiness is the focus of heavenly praise.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me”.”

The prophet’s visionary experience spans the entire chapter, not just the section of praise.  The heavenly praise is closely linked to each of the elements: the holiness of God, sanctifying the prophet, and appointing the prophet to a specific ministry based on his having been in Yahweh’s council (cf. Jer 23:22). The plural “for us” reflects the concept of the divine council. “The imagery surrounding the commissioning is that of a divine court. God is consulting his entourage. The parallels with 1 Kings 22 are striking”.1

The identity of the seraphs is not certain, although different theories have been put forth. What does seem reasonably certain is that they were powerful, high-level spirits in close proximity to God. Little is stated about the praise called between the seraphs. The ‘Trisagion’ (which is what liturgical scholars call the three-fold proclamation, “holy, holy, holy”) certainly emphasizes Yahweh’s holiness, and may have been part of the liturgy already in the Jerusalem temple. The second part of the seraphs’ praise is often understood to mean that the earth is filled with his kavod, his “glory,” “honor,” “majesty,” “significance.” This “expresses the fact that God’s kavod demands an appropriate response, an acknowledgment”.2 A more literal rendering, perhaps, would be “the fullness of the earth is his [Yahweh’s] glory.” In this translation, “fullness” can be understood as the peoples of the earth, and glory can refer to his army. This results in saying, “All the peoples of the earth are at the Lord’s disposal as his army, to do with as he wishes.” This has a much broader tone highlighting God’s sovereignty, not to mention an anti-nationalistic ring as well. God’s presence elicited not only praise, but also an overwhelming awareness of the prophet’s own sinfulness, who cries out, “I am destroyed or ruined.”

The celestial praise thus validates Isaiah’s message because (1) the heavenly host were expected to praise God, so to hear their praise would certify one’s presence in the divine council as an authentic prophet, and (2) their message of God’s holiness and sovereignty powerfully reinforced it.

The third OT text is Psalm 29:1–2:

A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (ESV)

This praise psalm deals with the glory of the LORD (kavod Yahweh), especially in nature. The sense of this psalm attributes glory and power over creation to Yahweh instead of to Baal. In so doing, I see the Ugaritic parallels as part of the overall rhetorical strategy of taking back what rightfully belongs to Yahweh, which had been stolen by worshipers of Baal.

The psalm opens with a call to the beney ’elim, the sons of God, to give praise to Yahweh. By doing this, the writer begins “at the top” both in terms of cosmology and importance. He calls on the members of the top tier of the divine council to ascribe kavod to Yahweh. Why? Because if Yahweh truly is greater than Baal, then it is imperative that those spirits closest to him, who would also be his closest competitors for receiving worship, acknowledge Yahweh’s greatness. If they would not be willing to praise him, this would be a clear indication that Yahweh’s kingship over the spiritual realm was in doubt. Yahweh would then be just another god among all the rest.

In verse 2, the psalmist says that the reader needs to worship “in/with holy attire or adornment” (verse 2). What does this means? The difficulty is figuring out what the psalmist was referring to, since only the priests were required to vestments. The translation of the Hebrew (behadaroth-qodesh) as it stands is pretty clear; it means what it says: “in/with holy attire or adornment.” As it turns out, there is a text critical issue at this point, perhaps because of the difficulty of making sense of the Hebrew. One would hope this would clear matters up, but it doesn’t. It gets complicated to explain, but basically, trying to find a text-critical problem creates as many new problems as it solves.

In light of these difficulties, it seems most prudent to me to wrestle with the text as it stands. Thus, the holy (or purified) attire may reflect the garments that the writer and other human worshipers would wear when singing this psalm and praising Yahweh.3 We simply don’t know at this point.

Whatever the exact significance, it seems clear the writer is unwilling to accept any shortcuts in getting back Yahweh’s rightful glory from Baal, and the sons of God play an important role in this.

Psalm 89:5-8 (vv 6–9 in Hebrew). “5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! 6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? 8 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?”

This psalm concludes book three of the Psalter. (The book of Psalms is divided into 5 “books” or collections. This is in addition to other smaller collections that seem to have been incorporated into it.) It deals with the fallout of the Exile, especially the loss and seeming abandonment of Yahweh for his people. For this reason, the writer begins with praise for the “faithfulness” of Yahweh. In 5–9, the heavenly council is portrayed as praising Yahweh for his “faithfulness,” which is also thus linked to his incomparability, even when compared to the council members. The fact that the divine council praises Yahweh for these very things is some of the highest corroboration possible. The psalm itself wrestles with Yahweh’s faithfulness in the face of his apparent betrayal and powerlessness. The writer struggles to hold onto faith. With language that is at times poignant and heart-wrenching, he desperately cries out to Yahweh to again show his “faithfulness” and to keep covenant with his humiliated people and his anointed. Unlike other Psalms, there are no answers here, only believers grappling with pain and grasping for hope.

  1. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 56.
  2. Claus Westermann, “כבד kbd to be heavy,” in TLOT, 2:596.
  3. Craigie and Tate, WBC, Psalms 1—50, 247.

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