Review Heiser, on Angels

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This is Dr Heiser’s long-awaited text on angels.  It’s not what you think, though.  Heiser is notorious for taking the Bible’s thought patterns seriously.  Yet, this book doesn’t deal with the Nephilim.  He’s saving that for his book on demons.  Much of the book reads like what you would find in mature systematics texts.  Bavinck would be the closest (the early 20th Century Dutch Calvinists were probably the most perceptive of the Reformed world concerning the spiritual realm).  Heiser expands with an awe-inspiring bibliography.

The Ontological Structure of Angels

Heiser examines the terms that describe the nature, status, and function of angels.  Per nature, they are ruach.  This is fairly uncontroversial, though we moderns tend to import Cartesian concepts of spirit.

Further, they are heavenly ones (shamayim).  There is some overlap here with stars in the sky.  Yet in Job 15:15 the holy ones are equated with the shamayim.  It’s important to note in this context that holiness has to do with proximity to and association with the presence of God (loc. 437).

We know there is a hierarchy of angels because at least one is called Prince (sar), and not every angel, obviously, is the sar (Dan. 10:21, 12:1).

Heiser points out that cherubim is never qualified with the term mal’ak, so strictly speaking they aren’t angels (loc. 737).  That makes sense if you think about it. Why would a guardian of God’s throne be an errand boy? Also, the fiery (flying?) snakes that bite people in Numbers 21 are called sarap (seraphim).

The Heavenly Host in the NT

Argument: there is a continuity from OT to Intertestamental to NT on the topic of angels (loc. 2357). The NT roots its angelogogy in the OT but with less variety.  While the NT doesn’t really use concepts like beney-ha elohim in the sense of the Divine Council, Paul does use geographical terms to describe dark powers (archon, archonton, arche, exousia, dynamis, thronos, kosmokrator).  All of this is in line with the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.

The heavenly hosts, what we popularly call “angels” are described as spirits (Heb. 1:14), glorious ones (2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 8), lights (James 1:17), heavenly ones (1 Cor. 15:48), holy ones (Jude 14) (loc. 2403).

The NT does use a term the OT doesn’t: archangel (1 Thess. 4:16, Jude 9)

Excursus on Moses (Loc. 2436). Moses was buried in the area that includes both Oboth and Abarim.  These locations are associated with underworld and cults of the dead. The Valley of Oberim in Dt 34:6 could in fact be the oberim of Ezek. 39:11 (cf Stronk’s article).  This might shed some light on Jude 9. Michael is Israel’s Guardian Prince who would certainly want to claim Moses.

Special Topics in NT Angelology

Angels of Revelation 1-3.  Each church is addressed with second person singular pronouns (loc. 2797).

Can Fallen Angels be redeemed?

The obvious answer is “no,” yet Revelation 1-3, addressed to the “angel” of the church, gives commands to repent.  It’s an interesting line, but not strong enough. The argument from Col. 1:19-20 is much stronger. Are “angels” included in “all things?”  But is “reconciliation” limited to “forgiveness of sins?” Heiser doesn’t think so. It’s multifaceted. Christ is reconciling creation, yet creation didn’t sin.

Myths and Questions

Can angels be winged women?  Rather, do they have wings and can they appear as women?  The answer is no. Zech 5 is the closest passage, but all it says is that two winged women appeared.  It never calls them angels. It does however address a malak distinct from them and the malak uses the masculine yomer (he said) rather than the feminine tomer (she said).

Things to Think About

Where does the Bible say that angels no longer have the ability to fall?  Granted, I don’t think they will, given the fate of the divine rebels.

Who is “the man” in Daniel 10:4-6; 9-21?  He isn’t Gabriel. He isn’t Michael, since he refers to Michael.

Given that angels don’t need to eat in heaven, can angels eat?  What were they doing with Abraham? Can angels physically interact with man?  What did the angel to do Peter in prison?

5 thoughts on “Review Heiser, on Angels

  1. There’s a parallel between angelos and diakonos throughout Scripture (c.f. St. Ignatius’ letters), where, for the latter, being a servant/table-server was not lowly, but a divinely given honor (Collins, Diakonia). So I don’t think it’s refer to angel as simply “errand boy”. Rather, Hebrews 1-2 seems to set up angel as a category for the whole host of divine beings (both good and wicked) in contrast to the role/honor of the Son. Thus, the NT seems to use angel in a broad way, perhaps a kind of synecdoche, the way b’nei elohim, or even elohim (in contrast to Elohim), is used.

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    • Also: angel gets used, at times, to refer to human beings. So I generally find the letters of Revelation addressed to the “bishop”. Which seems to make more sense: if these were actually letters to circulate among real churches, then it doesn’t really make sense to write to an angel (in the sense of a spirit creature). Unless the “angel” reads the letter through it being read to and by the congregation, but I don’t know if there’s any precedent for any idea like that.

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      • Sorry, don’t mean to blow up comments: Another idea occurred to me was that the “angel” of a given church was its deacon. If Collins is correct (and I’ve seen no serious correction), the deacon was a roaming extension of the church viz. the bishop. Therefore, the letter is addressed to a deacon, who would take the letter and bear it back to the congregation, being the one addressed in synecdoche-like form.

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  2. The “winged women” in Zechariah 5 are a reverse (and therefore counterfeit) Ark of the Covenant. The ephod is round instead of square, it is lead instead of gold, it is flanked by female creatures rather than male, who have wings of an unclean bird, the stork. And within the ark is wickedness instead of wisdom (10 words). So that would account for why they are not called angels and why they are feminine rather than male.

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