Tag Archives: Biblical Study & Translation

I Guess I Have to See The Shape of Water

The recent movie The Shape of Water won the Academy Award for best picture this past weekend. Like most of the country, I wasn’t watching. However, it appears I’m going to have to see it. Its plotline sounds a little too familiar.

In case you’re not familiar with the film, it’s about a captured amphibious fish-man (think creature from the black lagoon and you’ve got it). You can read the plot at the Wikipedia link, but basically the fish guy and a mute woman who loves him have sex and escape the government bad guys and live happily ever after (she grows gills in the end after fish-man heals her with his powers). We aren’t told if they have hybrid children together (maybe that’s the sequel — I can already see “Man from Atlantis” re-runs in mind’s eye).

I couldn’t help being reminded of the Mesopotamian apkallu tradition, where wise and powerful divine “sages” (apkallu) — sometimes described as being fish-like in appearance since they were born in the Apsu (“great deep” / Abyss) — mate with human women before the flood and thereby preserve the fantastic knowledge that would lead to the greatness of Babylon and other Mesopotamian cities after the flood. After the flood the apkallu are described as “of human descent” and (of course) giants (e.g., Gilgamesh). Figurines of apkallu buried in building foundations were called maṣṣarē in Akkadian (“Watchers”). Sound familiar?

From Black’s Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (p. 18):

Neo-Assyrian figurines of the so-called fish-garbed figures, representing the Seven Sages (apkallu) in the guise of fish. Sun-dried clay. (left) One of a group of seven figurines found together in a brick box buried in the foundations of the house of a priestly family at Aššur, probably dating to the reign of King Sargon it (721-705 BC).

Black’s entry on the “Seven Sages” (pp. 163-164) adds this:

According to Babylonian tradition, seven apkallu (`wise men’ or `sages’) lived before the Flood. Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian ritual texts give their names and the seven cities from which they were believed to have come, although there are variant traditions which cannot be fully reconciled one with another. . . . The tradition of the Seven Sages seems to be preserved in Berossos’ account of eight creatures who appeared from the sea in the ‘first days’, beginning with Oannes and ending with Odakon.”

The apkallu story is the Mesopotamian backstory for Gen 6:1-4. This is virtually unknown to biblical students (even scholars) since prior to 2010 only two articles ever mention the apkallu in connection with that biblical passage. That all changed in 2010 with the excellent work of Amar Annus (as I have blogged before). Consequently, there’s a whole lot more to the apkallu than these brief comments. I wrote about them and Gen 6:1-4 in Reversing Hermon. Do I think director Guillermo del Toro is intentionally trying to “communicate” the apkallu / Gen 6:1-4? No. I doubt he’s been reading Mesopotamian material. But perhaps he had a muse.

The post I Guess I Have to See The Shape of Water appeared first on Dr. Michael Heiser.

The Big Story of the Bible: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a guest series by Dr. Ronn Johnson.


What is the Bible’s Big Story? Part 2
Dr. Ronn Johnson

In my opening post I recommended that locating the Big Story of the Bible can be difficult, and that simply being more fluent in the Bible does not solve the challenge. I should also add that I do not think this is anyone’s direct fault. No one is conspiring to keep the Story hidden. Maybe the modern Sunday sermon shares some of the blame, however: we are dropped into a text and then guided, often expertly, through left- and right-hand turns while never backing up (or backing out) to hear what is generally going on. During the sermon I suspect that everyone assumes—even the preacher—that everyone else knows how the text works in the larger scheme of things. When the sermon ends, we leave knowing the Bible better … yet the main story of the Bible is either assumed, or left out, and very likely left unchallenged. I think you know the drill.

But while no one is hiding the main story of the Bible from us, neither is our current evangelical climate excited at the prospect of rethinking it. I speak here from personal experience, having taught and pastored in the movement for all of my adult life (for the record, I’m fifty-five, which may be old or young depending on how you interpret fifty-five. I used to think it was old, and now find it to be rather middle-aged, lost somewhere between teenage impulsiveness and senior moments of forgetting why I just stood up). I have worked for academic deans, Bible departments, denominational leaders, and even college presidents who are simply not interested in reviewing the Big Story question. When the question is asked, I sense that a siege mentality appears. Why challenge the system? But why is precisely my burden here—why would a movement so interested in explaining the Bible clam up (or worse, clamp down) on the greatest question we could ever ask of the Bible? I begin to wonder if we are hiding something after all.

My last post included two sample paragraphs of evangelical renditions of the Bible’s Big Story. For fear of creating, and then destroying, a straw man, let me to offer two more quotations which come from well-respected evangelicals. I am trying to find short, representative readings that reflect current traditional thinking. As you read these paragraphs, my hope is that you find yourself saying yes, this is the Big Story I have been hearing. I want to be an honest critic, which means I first have to define my opponent’s view to his liking. This first sample is from the opening pages of the recently published ESV Gospel Transformation Bible (Crossway, 2013):

“We will understand what Jesus meant about all of Scripture bearing witness to him as we remember the big picture of the Bible. An old cliché says, ‘Biblical history is “his-story.”’ But how is this story of Jesus unfolding across the past and future millennia the Bible describes? A standard way of thinking about the whole picture of God’s dealing with humanity begins with a good creation, spoiled by Adam’s fall, redeemed by Christ’s provision, and perfected in the consummation of Christ’s rule over all things. This creation-fall-redemption-consummation perspective helps us map all the events of Scripture. All have a place in this great unfolding plan of ‘his-story.’”

This “creation-fall-redemption-consummation” story is another way of describing the Sin Paid For model which I mentioned earlier, where the problem of sin on the front end (here called the fall, coming on the heels of the creation) is solved by atonement on the back end (Jesus’ redemption, followed by the consummation). The story goes from Genesis 1 to Genesis 3, then jumps to Matthew 26 and finally to Revelation 22. It is the distance and time between Genesis 3 and Matthew 26 about which I am most concerned. That is quite a jump. N. T. Wright has cynically described this not as making a jump but as “helicoptering our way” over the Bible, arriving at our destination with suspiciously clean feet. We certainly wouldn’t want a big story that makes us trudge through the details! It seems like there should be more to it all than this.

Here is another sample paragraph. It is a bit long, but there may be no better spokesman for evangelicalism than Timothy Keller:

“Through two-thirds of the Bible, the part we call the OT, an increasingly urgent, apparently unsolvable problem drives the narrative forward. God is a God of holiness and is therefore implacably opposed to evil, injustice, and wrong, and yet he is a God of infinite love. He enters into a relationship with a people who are fatally self-centered. Will he bring down the curse he says must fall on sin and cut off his people, or will he forgive and love his people regardless of their sin? If he does either one or the other, sin and evil win! It seems impossible to do both. The resolution to this problem is largely hidden from the reader through the OT, though Isaiah comes closest to unveiling it. The glorious King who brings God’s judgment in the first part of Isaiah is also the suffering servant who bears God’s judgment in the second part. It is Jesus. Victory is achieved through [Jesus’] infinite sacrifice on the cross, where God both punishes sin fully yet provides free salvation. Jesus stands as the ultimate protagonist, the hero of heroes. Therefore, because the Bible’s basic plotline is the tension between God’s justice and his grace and because it is all resolved in the person and work of Jesus Christ, Jesus could tell his followers after the resurrection that the OT is really all about him (Luke 24:27, 45). So everything in the Bible—all the themes and patterns, main images and major figures—points to Jesus” (The Story of the Bible: How the Good News about Jesus is Central [in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, 2015]).

Let’s be fair, but pointed, in summarizing what Keller just said: God is holy, and he hates sin, but he cannot freely forgive the sin of those he also loves. So God is at an impasse between his love and his justice. God solves this tension by punishing Jesus on our behalf, thus providing us with a free and gracious salvation. What do you think? I hope that you can see that we are once again staring directly into the Sin Paid For model of the Bible’s Big Story. Nothing has changed. He has added some nice flourishes reflecting his pastoral concern, and for that he is to be thanked. He wants people to treasure God’s love for them as presented in the death of Jesus. I responded to this message when I was five years old, and my father was a pastor who ended almost every sermon by inviting people to respond to this story. So in one sense I am thankful for what Keller writes. But my concern remains. Is this really what the Bible is about?

Last time I mentioned five concerns that I had with the Big Story of the Bible as told by evangelicals. My first concern was this: Evangelicals are content to describe the Big Story of the Bible without appealing to what is actually happening in the Bible. I use the word “content” here because evangelicals often own up, very quickly, to this concern. I have heard them say rather often, in fact, that the main story of the Bible is likely not visible to those who simply pick up the Bible and read it. That sounds harsh. But Keller said it himself: “The resolution to this problem is largely hidden from the reader through the OT.” He then describes this problem/resolution as the “basic plotline” of the Bible, identified as “the tension between God’s justice and his grace.”

We should feel led to ask, Why is this tension largely hidden? And if it is, what is the point in reading the Bible if we won’t experience, along the way, the very tension that Keller claims is its main point? Either I am really missing the point of the Bible while I read it … or maybe the tension Keller is describing is simply not there. I recommend the latter option. I challenge any reader to find Abraham, Moses, or David describing a tension between God’s righteousness (the Hebrew word for justice and righteousness is the same, tsedaqah) and his grace. Moses received the stipulations of the law at the same time that he heard God describe himself as “gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exod 34:6). Yet we sense no tension. The Psalms commonly celebrate God’s righteousness and grace in the same breath (e.g., 103:17). And Jesus agreed. His parable of a creditor who “freely forgives” two debtors (Luke 7:42) is presented as though it is an honorable thing to be gracious without requiring payment. It is possible, even good, to “just forgive” a sinner without implying that their sin was not grievous. This graciousness is odd, yes, almost to the point of being ridiculous, but that is the point. God is just this ridiculous in his grace, and always has been. That is the kind of God that Jesus is trying to explain. Yet Keller rejects this view of a God, saying that we should have been sensing, all along, a grace/justice tension instead.

By the way—and I will return to this in a later post—evangelicals like Keller use Romans 3:25-26 as their proof for this tension between God’s justice and grace. I believe they are misreading the passage. But let’s say, for argument, that they are right about the meaning of Romans 3, and that the main tension of the Bible is finally exposed and resolved by two verses written by Paul to a church in Rome in A.D. 52 (what took so long?). I find this hard to believe. It is one of several reasons why Romans 3:25-26 will not support this interpretation. The point of 3:25-26 is summed up in 3:29-30, dealing with the Jew/Gentile problem, thus dismissing the idea that Paul was trying  to clear up something that people had not known since the fall of Adam. I will deal with this passage when I explain my Concern #3, which is that Evangelicalism, especially the modern American version of the movement, has concentrated on providing answers to the wrong questions.

Let me close by taking an even closer look the Sin Paid For model, beginning with an illustration. Pretend we are trying to decide whether we should repair an old brick wall or demolish it and start over. From a distance the wall looks usable and sturdy. But when we get close we realize that some of the bricks are loose, others are misshapen, and some simply don’t belong. It appears the wall has been put together in hopes that no one will really inspect it. We conclude the whole thing needs to come down since its appearance does not match its reality.

So let’s inspect the bricks which make up the Sin Paid For wall. Actually, I would like you to do the inspection first, and I will save my opinions for my next post. Below I have listed the individual ideas or elements that go into the Sin Paid For story, or which comprise the finished wall. I’ve grown up staring at this wall, and I have heard or read each brick t some point on my journey. Your job is to determine whether a brick should be kept or thrown away. Or maybe it just needs reshaping. Maybe it was never part of the wall in the first place, and can just be ignored.

So how should you evaluate each brick? I recommend a simple test: in keeping with my concern that the Big Story of the Bible be found by appealing to what is actually happening in the Bible, I would like you to look at each brick and ask yourself: Is this idea taught, or is this happening, in the Bible? If it is, keep the brick. If not, throw it over your shoulder and move on. We will see what is left before rebuilding.

Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden

Adam’s sin resulted in the punishment of hell for all humanity

Adam’s sin resulted in the corruption of a perfect creation

Adam’s guilt is the primary cause of God’s wrath on humanity

Human beings since Adam are naturally and totally sinful

God’s holiness demands moral perfection from human beings

God’s holiness demands that he cannot be in the presence of moral sinfulness

God’s holiness demands that sin must always be punished

God instituted OT sacrifices to teach of his hatred toward sin

God instituted OT sacrifices to teach the general concept of substitution

God’s wrath against sin was temporarily assuaged because of OT sacrifices

God taught that a substitute could take the punishment of a morally guilty person

Priestly actions in the OT (sacrifice, atonement, etc.) played a role in OT salvation

Priestly actions in the OT (sacrifice, atonement, etc.) prefigured Jesus’ future priestly actions

The OT teaches a constant tension between God’s justice and God’s love

Loyalty to God (“faith”) is necessary for salvation

Idolatry is putting anything in front of God

Salvation is primarily an issue of one’s judicial relationship to God

The idea of “taking away sin” relates to a person’s judicial relationship to God

The offer of God’s “free” salvation depends on prior payment

God’s grace cannot be shown without prior payment

God’s forgiveness of sin is dependent upon prior payment

God’s forgiveness of sin without requiring payment lessens the offensiveness of the sin

God’s forgiveness of sin was not possible until Jesus’ death

Forgiveness of sins is the means of becoming a Christian

Unforgiven sin results in going to hell

It was not possible to actually be righteous until Christ died

When Jesus said he came to “save the lost,” he meant everyone

Jesus needed to live a sinless life in order for humans to be saved

Jesus’ sinless life can be credited to, or attributed to, the Christian’s judicial standing

Our sinful life was credited to, or attributed to, Jesus on the cross

God could not look upon Jesus on the cross because he was credited with our sins

God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus on the cross

God’s wrath against humanity was assuaged by Jesus’ death

Jesus’ momentary death equaled the punishment of eternal hell for all humans

Jesus’ “dying for sin” means that he paid the price/punishment of sin

Jesus’ death was necessary for salvation

Jesus’ resurrection was necessary for salvation

Jesus’ priestly actions (sacrifice, atonement, etc.) play a role in human salvation

The idea of being “saved from sin” means being released from the punishment of sin

The Apostle Paul explained the plan of salvation better than Jesus

Explaining the meaning of atonement is a necessary step in describing the plan of salvation

Salvation is dependent upon believing in what Jesus did on the cross

Salvation is dependent upon individually accepting the atonement of Jesus

Salvation is a passive reception of something that is being offered by Christ to us

The principal question being considered in the NT was how to become righteous

Everything in the Bible points to Jesus

The Big Story of the Bible is substituted moral perfection


We both have our work to do. Happy inspecting!

If you would like to respond to this post, please email me directly at ronnjohnson7@gmail.com. Thanks.

The post The Big Story of the Bible: Part 2 appeared first on Dr. Michael Heiser.

Naked Bible: Why Do We Do What We Do?

It’s exceedingly unusual for me to share emails here that I get from Naked Bible Podcast listeners, or folks who read my books, or someone who has otherwise benefited from the content I try to produce. But this one captures why we do what we do on the podcast that I asked permission to share it. It also reflects the dilemma in which so many of you find yourselves — trying hard to learn Scripture. I want you all to read it to get a sense of the problem, and why Naked Bible content needs wider exposure.

Here’s the email in its entirety, without personal identification:


In between your new episodes on Hebrews I’ve been listening to Leviticus. The whole thing makes so much sense when one listens in conjunction with the other!

I want to help you understand how big of an impact the Lord is making through you:

I’ve grown up in the Church (I’m not referring to a walled building), and I’ve been studying the Bible since I was 8 (I’m now 32). I’ve got a BA in Biblical Studies and am in seminary right now. I’ve read close to everything I’ve been assigned over all these years. Literally the only thing I’ve learned that has been new information to me through all these years of schooling has been Hebrew (and I’m not an expert at that!). I’m saying that in all my years of schooling (including Christian grade schools) everyone, even up to the master’s level, has been teaching the same Sunday-school level Bible stuff. I’m finally challenged to learn when it comes to you and all of the authors you’ve exposed me to!

I say all of that to say that ever since coming across you around 2015 I’ve actually been learning new information. All these years I’ve been hearing the same old out of context stuff, and, like you often state, I’ve always known there was more to this. Since 2015 I’ve been reading so many other things that you’ve recommended, or that I’ve come across through being exposed to you. The scholarly realm was nothing before I “met” you. It was almost as if I didn’t know it existed (even though I knew it did). Now I’m reading N.T. Wright, Matthew Bates, John Walton, David Burnett, Ronn Johnson, David Tsumura, etc. The list goes on, and I’ve read many scholarly articles from people that I don’t even know their names (poor sentence structure there…).

Anyway, this has been an amazing ride, and it seriously is exciting to study the word again. All these things, all your objectives, have come to fruition in my life. I’m sure you receive emails like this all of the time, and I’m just a number to you (just kidding!), but seriously, brother, Yahweh is working through what you, Trey, and Logos are doing.

For the sake of a semi-short e-mail I can’t get into it all, but just know that I’ve essentially become like you. That is, if it’s not scholarly and peer-reviewed I just don’t mess with it. I’ve since seen how often the word is taken out of context. Undoubtedly, there are many out there with no ill will, but the end result is that they’re still taking so much out of context. Another thing that I’ve learned from you is your kaleidoscope approach. If it doesn’t fit the system but it has truth, then don’t disregard it! I’ve not been a fan of these systems growing up, but it’s only enhanced all of this for me.

Anyway, I could go on about all of this, but you get the point. Thank you for what you do. Please thank Trey for me (he’s the perfect co-host). May the Lord was your faithfulness to his word and to your commitment to all that goes into proper contextual interpretation.

Your brother …


Did you catch the line “even up the master’s level” it’s all been regurgitating the same old stuff? I know he’s on target, because I lived this and was once part of the problem. That ended the day the Lord awakened me to the fact that I shouldn’t be protecting people from their Bible. That epiphany has produced other challenges, of course, but I’ve never regretted it. I’d like to say I just sort of figured things out, but I didn’t. I had to be shamed by the Lord and convicted of what I was doing. This is why we’re serious about “naked” content. I care only about what the text can sustain, not what a denomination, tradition, or famous preacher says. The Lord didn’t put me (or you) here to perpetuate a sub-culture. But that’s what so much of institutionalized Christianity does. Since we don’t care about being academically trendy either, scholarship isn’t the end point. Serious scholarship is a means to an end: The Bible understood in its own context, not some later, imposed context.

The bottom line is that I can produce the content. Trey can make sure it gets out there (and make it fun). Brenda can produce the transcripts. Joe can keep my homepage running and looking sharp. Donors and friends can keep MIQLAT working and having a presence online. But ONLY YOU can expose people to what’s really going on here. If you want to learn, and want others to learn, and want friends to graduate from Christian Middle Earth, YOU are key to making that happen. Lord willing, I will be able to devote my entire week, every week, to producing content. But not being able to do that now isn’t going to prevent me from doing something. Emails like this help me answer the question, “What’s the point?”

Of Yehovah and Jehovah’s Witnesses

A week or so ago I saw something on Twitter that made me shake my head. An apparently well meaning Hebrew enthusiast gleefully reported that, after searching through hundreds of manuscripts, he’d found thousands of places where the divine name (YHWH) was vocalized by scribes as “Yehovah” but (and here’s what tickled him) none vocalized as “Yahweh”.

I’m not really sure why this would be so exciting,  but I’ll hazard a guess — there’s probably some dislike for “Yahweh” as the pronunciation of the divine name and an urge to be “truly Hebraic” by proving he knows better — that the name is really Yehovah.

This is silly. It shows a misunderstanding of why the scribes did what they did and why we can tell. I decided to make a short video explaining that.

The discussion of Yehovah also made me think of Jehovah’s witnesses. I’ll be interviewed this weekend for the Deeper Waters podcast. We’ll be talking about how my work in Unseen Realm matters for talking to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thought I’d show you all something here that I will likely reference on that show.

Jehovah’s witnesses are fond of saying that John 1:1 doesn’t said “the Word [Jesus] was God” but “the Word was a god.” They base that on the absence of the definite article before the Greek word theos (“God”; “god”). Now, there are lengthy scholarly refutations of their approach, but here’s something simple. You could show this to the next JW who knocks on your door.

Question 1: are there any other instances in, say, just John 1, where theos lacks the definite article?
Question 2: If there are, does it make any sense to translated those occurrences “a god” instead of “God”?

Short answers: yes … and no way. Here’s a graphic to illustrate the point:
















These are all the instance of theos (in any form) in John 1. Most of them have the definite article (green rectangle). That means the rest lack the article. Now how would those verses (aside from John 1:1, which the JW wants to read “a god”) sound if we read “a god” instead of “God”? Here you go — have fun with your JW visitor!

John 1:6 –

There was a man sent from a god, whose name was John.

(So the God of the Bible didn’t send John — but some old, other god did!).

John 1:12-13 –

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of a god, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of a god.

Hmm.. . . I wonder which God was the father of people who believed in Jesus. Maybe they got to pick their favorite!

John 1:18 –

No one has ever seen a god; the only god, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

So, no one ever saw a god … not even Moses (Exod 33-34)? Abraham (Jehovah comes to Abram as a man – Gen 18)? But the particular god at the Father’s side (if that isn’t Jesus, which god is at Jehovah’s side?) has made him known. How? How did that other god make Jehovah known?

Naturally, JWs have their own Greek NT. They may have thought of this before — but how many JWs bring a Greek NT with them? At any rate, I usually go right to Exod 23:20-23 and other passages where the angel of YHWH is identified with YHWH and then go to Gen 48:15-16. They don’t see that coming. But it’s in their preferred Bible, the OT.

What Does Earning a PhD Mean?

What follows arose up within me in the wake of yet another soul-crushing example of the disturbing ignorance that passes for insight or knowledge in Christian Middle Earth. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m referring to a tweet that orgasmically exalted in finding the divine name vocalized in Hebrew manuscripts as “Yehovah” instead of Yahweh. While I’ll be posting a brief response video to that silliness, I wanted to post something positive. Here’s my best try.

I often get asked what I think is the best evidence that the gospel is supernatural and true. My answer is “the Church — because it should have imploded a long time ago and hasn’t.” What I mean here is that the Church is riddled with bad thinking and sophistry presented with the veneer of scholarship. There are so many people who have been taught — and believe — false teaching (and, less sinister, just deeply flawed ideas) that it’s miraculous the Church is still here in such force. God must be in it.

I know … doesn’t sound too positive. I’ll start my transition now. That was my set up.

I present my answer with humor, but I’m serious. It troubles me that so many good people who want to learn are led astray or (again less sinister) distracted with such ease and such frequency. If I beat that drum often enough, I’ll come across as a bully. I don’t want that to happen since I despise argument from authority (as opposed to data). People would think that I think I’m right because I have a PhD. That isn’t the case. Having a PhD doesn’t mean you’re smart (defined here as “clear thinker” not “someone who can memorize lots of stuff”). Trust me when I say I’ve met people with PhDs who really don’t think well; they can’t see the forest from the trees that made up their dissertation chapters. Conversely, I’ve met people without degrees who convinced me in minutes they were clear thinkers. More on how I’d describe that below.

So what does earning a PhD do? What does it say about someone who earned one? (I do not include honorary degrees in this — they are fake doctoral degrees, sometimes deserved for service or contribution, but they are not earned like real ones — and so they don’t mean what real ones mean).

Here’s how I’d describe what earning a PhD means …

1. It means you’ve been forcibly exposed to the broad range of knowledge of a given field. Not in a “mile wide and an inch deep” way, either. Try a mile wide and a mile deep. Whether you like it or not, a real PhD program forces you to gain deep and wide exposure to a discipline. It measures that exposure by do-or-die (as in you’re out of the entire program at the end) exams before you area allowed to begin your dissertation. And yes, it happens — people get eliminated after years of work and debt at that juncture. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s tragic. The pressure is severe.

2. It means you’ve been orally roasted by field experts in class and via other examinations on various aspects of your domain knowledge. Think of it as a two hour interview that may just forestall death (written prelims come later). In short, you have to have reasonable command of what you’re talking about. If you say goofy things that aren’t data-driven, you’re gone. It’s always about data, not stroking your professors. I know that firsthand, as several of my papers and my dissertation took minority positions on things. But I had data and didn’t just parrot what had been said by the minority for centuries. Being innovative didn’t eliminate me. Many experts like to think about new things (or old things in new ways).

3. It means you have allowed your work to be evaluated by field experts. As an example of an expert, I’ll use my adviser. His primary academic focus was Wisdom Literature. He knew a lot about other fields, but when it came to wisdom literature, it really was the case that he’d read everything in the field that mattered going back decades, and even centuries, and thought about it. You have to do that when you’re writing commentaries and other books that are supposed to be the field standard for the next few decades (among other wisdom lit books he authored, he wrote the two volumes of the Anchor-Yale Commentary on Proverbs and edited the new Proverbs volume for the new edition of the Hebrew Bible known as Biblia Hebraica Quinta). He was also pretty versed in Israelite religion, which is why he became my adviser. But we got help outside the department, too. I solidified my own topic after a conversation with someone known as an expert in that field who teaches at Harvard (when he couldn’t answer a question I had about my topic — and he told me so — I knew I had a good topic).

By way of summary, this is what a PhD (a real one) gives you: domain knowledge and the guidance that comes with peer review / interaction. It doesn’t mean you know everything or will always be right. But it does mean you know a whole lot and won’t be wrong with the staggering frequency that people without the PhD experience will be.

This helps explain the reason I cringe at so much of what passes for “digging deep” in Christian Middle Earth: its “thinkers” overwhelmingly lack domain knowledge — they literally don’t know what they don’t know — and have never (and would never) submit their teachings to the review of experts. They might be good thinkers, but they are hamstrung by the lack of domain knowledge and peer review. They not only don’t know why their idea is wrong, but they may not even be able to grasp the reasons it is due to lack of domain knowledge. As the old saying goes, they know enough to be dangerous, and some of them are. To be fair, most would not want to knowingly lead people astray with flawed thinking. But in some cases they would and do. They want to be the big fish in a small pond. They want the adoration. One of the reasons I abhor that sort of thing is that I’ve seen it up close several times in life and, to be honest, it’s utterly contrary to the example of Christ. It also helps that I was raised old school. I didn’t have the best environment as a young believer in my teens, surrounded by unbelief and some hostility, but I did learn important character lessons. Not tooting your own horn was one of them. Craving attention also reflects bad theology. The only difference between me and anybody else is time, interest, and the will of God. (I’ve noted before that I’m not a prophet!)

To wrap up (these flow-of-consciousness posts can just go on and on) in my experience, it doesn’t take long to learn if someone can think clearly — they can take apart a problem, creatively evaluate the pieces and their relationships, detect omissions or oversights, and then come up with something better or more plausible. Their conclusions may not be coherent because they lack what a PhD can give you (domain knowledge and peer guidance). But they’re still really smart — they think well. I love to meet them, and they are out there in churches and Christian Middle Earth. My fear for them is that they either won’t get good content and get bored with the faith, start teaching nonsense as though it was doctrine, or (worse) succumb to hubris and become false teachers themselves. The solution for the second and third items is not to go out and get a PhD. Rather, it’s to be emotionally secure enough to take criticism and correction from field experts and keep learning. Field experts do that, too (it’s why we go to those conferences and read or listen to papers). What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. No one knows all they can or should know about things that interest them. That’s only a problem when you convince yourself — or others — that you do.

Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but I’ve recently gotten a few questions on it in email. I decided to revisit it by posting some PDF resources.

Here’s the short answer to “Was Jesus a failed prophet?” Yes, if you don’t understand the idea of conditional prophecy, which occurs frequently in the Bible, and therefore read the New Testament deficiently. (Even shorter: Yes, if you’re ignorant).

When I blogged about this before, I drew attention to Chris Tilling’s post on a new book (now not so new): When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia, by Christopher M. Hays, in collaboration with Brandon Gallaher, Julia S. Konstantinovsky, Richard J. Ounsworth OP, and Casey A. Strine.that covers the subject. Chris introduced his post this way:

So Christians must choose. Either the NT isn’t even somewhat reliable, or Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. In either case this falsifies Christianity ”. So says John Loftus in his conclusion to his essay “At Best Jesus Was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet”, in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. 

Got your attention?

He sure did. Chris goes on to talk a bit about how prophecy is conditional — more than many realize. Lapsed fundamentalists like Loftus, who seem incapable of talking about Christianity in any way other than his caricature of the movement he left, certainly doesn’t know that (and likely has still not read the book recommended by Tilling). When I posted the link to Tilling’s blog, I mentioned conditionality as well. Below are three papers / essays by scholars relevant to this topic. The ones by Chisholm and Pratt specifically address conditionality in prophecy. Chisholm utilizes the work of Pratt, so it may help to read Pratt first. Bauckham’s essay goes a different direction. He points out, using examples outside the Bible, that the idea of “eschatological delay” wasn’t uncommon in apocalyptic literature. So, while something like the delay of the parousia might be upsetting or puzzling to us (because how many pastors actually teach their people about genre and context?), it would have been more familiar to ancient readers and thinkers.

Pratt Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions

Chisholm Contingency in Biblical Prophecy

Bauckham Delay of Parousia

First Look at the New 60-Second Scholar Series

Below are the covers of the new 60-Second Scholar series. They are now available on Amazon for pre-order, but will only be released May 1. You may recall that Zondervan acquired this series from me, explaining why the old books were retired on Amazon (and now have stupidly high prices attached to them). Each book has been trimmed from 100 short essays to 80.


Misquoted (Or Perhaps Misunderstood) in a Recent Book

This isn’t a big deal, but it’s sort of illustrative of how I can be misunderstood, and how Bible translations can be misleading.

I recently received an email that alerted me to the above this way:

The present globalist-versus-Christian war is taking place in both the seen and unseen (spiritual) realms, which are traceable to the beginning of mankind, according to theologian Michael Heiser, author of The Unseen Realm.  The original Edenic design outlined in Genesis failed due to man’s sin and was replaced by a new family from Abraham (Deuteronomy 32:8-9). That  resulted in the disinherited nations being put under the authority of lesser gods, divine sons of God who became corrupted, this resulting in the long spiritual war that continues today between Yahweh (the God of the Bible) and the fallen gods, demons.

Heiser speculates that these fallen gods (demons) wage war today as disembodied spirits of Nephilim mostly guided by the chief liar, Satan.  If we had spiritual eyes, Heiser wrote, we would see our world as mostly darkness peppered with lights of Yahweh’s (God’s) presence in the form of believers scattered across the globe, and we would see clearly that globalism and its followers are truly demonic….

Obviously, this isn’t a direct quotation of me. Rather the quotation comes from page 237 of Col. Bob Maginnis’ book, The Deeper State. The statement ends with a footnote to me — an interview I did with Bob for his book. Bob more or less summarizes things we talked about. But do you see the problem?

Bob refers to the lesser gods who were assigned to the nations (Deut 32:8-9; cp. Deut 4:19-20; 17:3; 29:24-26; Psalm 82, etc.). Those gods (at some point – we aren’t given the chronology in the Hebrew Bible) fell into rebellion against Yahweh. So far so good. But Bob’s statement suggests I think those fallen gods are demons. I don’t, because they aren’t. Demons are the disembodied spirits of dead nephilim (cf. Archie’ Wright’s scholarly work on this subject: The Origin of Evil Spirits: The Reception of Genesis 6:1-4 in Early Jewish Literature, Revised Edition). Neither the nephilim nor their spirits have anything to do with the bad guys of Deut 32:8 and Psalm 82. They are two separate groups of rebels. I read a lengthy statement on this on the Naked Bible Podcast in connection with the episode of how the work of Fern, Audrey, and Beth differs from traditional deliverance ministry.

The mistake is illustrative of the confusion created by the way English Bibles translate Deut 32:17 (here, from the NLT):

17 They offered sacrifices to demons (shedim), which are not God (ʾelōah),
to gods (ʾelohim) they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
to gods their ancestors had never feared.

The word shedim occurs in that verse and is nearly always translated “demons.” This is an unfortunate translation that confuses OT theology about rebellious spirits. The shedim of Deut 32:17 are not the demons of the gospels (or 2nd temple Jewish literature). As I wrote in The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, the term shedim refers in context to territorial spirits. It is from Akkadian, where the term has a variety of semantic nuances, including territoriality. That fits perfectly with Deut 32:8. Unfortunately, though, a translation like “demons” misses the point of the term and its connection to Deut 32:8. English Bible readers like Bob often naturally conflate Deut 32:8 with what we think of as demons (i.e., those evil spirits Jesus exorcises from people in the gospels) because of the translation (and Christian tradition, which basically conflates all terms for evil entities into “demons”).

To summarize the material at the items linked above, there are three divine rebellions in the Hebrew Bible:

  1. The nachash (“serpent” or “shining one”) in Gen 3.
  2. The sons of God in Gen 6:1-4 (also called “Watchers” in 2nd Temple Jewish terminology; in Daniel 4 “Watchers” are holy, unfallen members of the heavenly host). Their offspring are the nephilim giants. When one was killed, its disembodied spirit was called “Watcher” (because their immaterial part was supernatural like those who created them), “demon,” or “evil spirit” in Jewish literature and the New Testament. These are what the gospels refer to.
  3. The lesser elohim of Deut 32 / Psalm 82 / Daniel 10 and other passages. These are called shedim in Deut 32:17 (“territorial entities / spirits”). They are not connected to the bad guys in number 2 above, or the nephilim.

There are other items I could pick at in the book’s excerpt. For example, the wording suggests the nephilim are somehow associated with Satan in the Bible (they work for him?). There is no such verse in Scripture that has the nephilim working for Satan. At best they have common enemies. Christian tradition tends to think of the supernatural evil world as monolithic and united in agenda. I don’t, as I’ve indicated in interviews. What does it mean that (human?) followers of darkness are “demonic”? Are lost people possessed? But the purpose of this isn’t critique — it’s to point out how Christian Bible readers can be misled by translation and tradition.

Review of Passion Translation of Song of Songs (Solomon): “Truly Awful”

The first few sentences of this review of the Song of Songs (aka, the Song of Solomon) in the Passion Translation (the one that is enthusiastically promoted by NAR apostles) says it all:

This translation of the Song of Songs is truly awful. As a professor of biblical studies who works with the original languages, I can assure you that this translation does not reflect either the words or the meaning of Song of Songs, contrary to what it claims. It’s not that the translation is careless—rather, it’s eisegesis. It is imposing pre-conceived ideas onto the text and then claiming that the change is due to the translation strategy. It’s terrible!

I’m honestly stunned at how off the mark this translation is. It claims to be bringing out the real meaning of Song of Songs, but it’s really just thrusting someone’s own wishful ideas about it onto the readership. If you want to understand Song of Songs, then please, avoid this translation.

The review was written by George Athas, a scholar well known to us in Hebrew Bible and Semitics. He is Director of Postgraduate Studies at Moore Theological College and Lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Church History.

Ordinarily, this sort of review would have me in stitches. But I’m not laughing. As I’ve blogged previously, the Passion Translation is the work of Brian Simmons, who claimed that Jesus himself told him to produce it:

As I noted earlier, the description of Simmons from the translation’s own website doesn’t provide any indication that Simmons has the skills to produce a translation from the original texts. His credential is being a linguist, church planter, and Bible translator for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama (Simmons worked with New Tribes Bible Institute). Being someone who translates the Bible into a modern language (especially a language that doesn’t have a Bible translation) does not guarantee the translator knows Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. I know that because I know people who have translated the Bible into such languages (tribal) who don’t know any of the biblical languages. They use an English translation (or whatever their own first language is) and, perhaps, tools keyed to Strong’s numbers. The results are quite serviceable, so I’m not being critical of the method. I’m being critical of the deceptive marketing. The marketing for the Passion Translation suggests it’s a translation from the originals that is chock-full of insights heretofore neglected or missed. It isn’t, as Athas notes in his review.

Another misleading aspect to all this is the way Simmons’ credentials are promoted — to create the impression he’s an original languages expert and knows what he’s doing in translation. Simmons has a doctorate, but not in biblical languages. It’s in “apostolic leadership,” whatever that means. It’s from Wagner University, named after it’s founder C. Peter Wagner, a highly-influential figure in the NAR. Here are the core courses for this doctorate, from the Wagner University website:

  • Apostolic Leadership
  • Dominion Theology and Kingdom Mandate
  • Kingdom Finances and the Great Transfer of Wealth
  • New Church Planting and Governance
  • Marketplace Ministry and BAM Movement
  • Revival, Reformation and Societal Transformation
  • World Evangelism and Cross-Cultural Missions

Here are the electives:

  • Activating Your Five-Fold Destiny
  • Apostolic Centers
  • Activating the Apostolic
  • Growth Dynamics of New Apostolic Churches
  • Apostolic Breakthrough

Sounds positively grueling.

But more to the point, I haven’t found any evidence at all that Simmons has ever taken a Greek or Hebrew course. Maybe he has, but it’s not easy to find out. But as noted above, if you’re doing translation work in new tribes and their languages, you don’t need one. You just need a good primary language translation and a procedural knowledge of the grammar of that language, semantics, and of course the target language. I think it likely, especially after Athas’ comments, is that Simmons’ began with an English translation and then went about the task of reading his charismatic theology into the text. That’s even more likely given the way Simmons described his own knowledge of the biblical languages in an interview:

[Interviewer] Jonathan Welton: “When you started this project were you, had you already had training in Greek and Hebrew? Or was this something you had to jump into again?”

Brian Simmons: “I had minimal background in biblical languages, so yeah it was something, honestly, it was something the Lord has really helped me with.” (14:52)

Awesome. Let’s stop requiring biblical languages and just let the Lord teach them to us. This is a shameful attempt to justify not being prepared for the sacred task of handling the Scriptures. It’s Idiocracy come to the Church … or attributing eisegesis to the Spirit.

The interview includes a number of mis-guided statements about Aramaic and its use in translating books that weren’t originally in Aramaic. Simmons apparently makes use of Lamsa’s ENGLISH translation of the NT in Aramaic. As I have noted a number of times, there is no evidence that the NT was composed in Aramaic, and Lamsa’s translation itself has been brutally reviewed by a real expert. The Greek NT was eventually translated into Aramaic/Syriac (Peshitta). Simmons is apparently referencing that material (no doubt mediated through Lamsa and other tools — like the ones my company creates) — and then convincing the ignorant that he’s working with primary texts. This is deceptive and misleading. It’s sort of like the things I deal with when I confront ancient aliens theorists who say ancient texts refer to alien visitation (think Zecharia Sitchin). They make claims about primary texts, inserting their own ideas into those texts. It’s either incompetence or dishonesty. Neither has a place in the Body of Christ.