I dare you not to bore me with the bible

Heiser, Michael. I Dare You Not to Bore Me With the Bible

This is a short introduction to Michael Heiser’s program. It covers slightly different ground than Supernatural, which is also seen as an introduction to his more scholarly Unseen Realm. This text works off the premise that “what is strange is probably important.”

If you’ve read Unseen Realm, there isn’t anything new here. But I think you should still get it. It’s only a few dollars on kindle and there are some neat exegetical insights which are perhaps easier to find here than in Unseen Realm.

Who is God’s Witness in the Clouds?

In Psalm 89 God swears by another, one who is presumably on the same level with God an in the clouds. Verses 35-37 form a chiasm:

A. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;

B.I will not lie to David.

C.His offspring shall endure forever,

C’his throne as long as the sun before me.

B’ Like the moon it shall be established forever,

A’ a faithful witness in the skies.”

Psalm 89 requires an equal to God who is distinct from God yet not another God. God’s holiness (A), which is the same thing as God given divine simplicity, means that his “faithful witness in the skies” (A’) is also God. We see something similar in Revl. 1:4-5.

The Eyes of Ezekiel 1

The whole scene is connected with Babylonian astronomy. No, it is not copying Babylon. It is trolling Babylon. Cherubim have four faces. Possible connection with four cardinal directions. What happens in heaven affects what is on earth. Also, in the Hebrew it reads as if the wheels are covered with eyes (ayin).

Satan’s Fall

Similar material found elsewhere. When Jesus said he saw Satan fall, it wasn’t in the context of a Miltonian pre-history, but as a result of his sending the 70 (The New Table of Nations, Genesis 10) out to get rid of demons. This event is connected with the kingdom. If this happened in the past, then why wasn’t the Kingdom established then?

There is nothing new in this book but it is a good primer to his work. Each chapter is only a few pages long. My only qualm is that sometimes Heiser avoids giving his own conclusion.

Bibliography from Veneration

This is a condensed bibliography from Derek Gilbert’s Veneration

Conrad l’Heureux, “The yelide harapa—A Cultic Association of Warriors.” Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research
No. 221, (Feb., 1976), pp. 83-85.

E. C. B. MacLaurin, “Anak/ʾανξ.” Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 15, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1965), pp. 468-474.

Brian B. Schmidt, “Israel’s Beneficent Dead: The Character and Origin of Israelite Ancestor Cults and
Necromancy.” (Oxford: University of Oxford doctoral thesis, 1991), pp. 158–159.

Amar Annus, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes.” UgaritForschungen 31 (1999), pp. 13–30.

Amar Annus, “On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in
Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha vol. 19:4 (2010), pp. 277–320.

Christopher B. Hays, “An Egyptian Loanword in the Book of Isaiah and the Deir ʾAlla Inscription: Heb. nsṛ, Aram. nqr, and Eg. nṯr as “[Divinized] Corpse.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections Vol. 4:2
(2012), p. 18.

George C. Heider, The Cult of Molek: A Reassessment (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), pp. 90-91.

Brian R. Doak, “Ezekiel’s Topography of the (Un-)Heroic Dead in Ezekiel 32:17–32.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
, Vol. 132, No. 3 (2013), p. 611.

Ronald S. Handel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge: Toward an Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
106 (1987), p. 22.

Frölich, Ida (2014). “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions”, in The Watchers in Jewish and
Christian Traditions
(ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis:
Fortress), p. 23.

Powers of Darkness (Arnold)


n many ways this is a shortened version of his dissertation. But it can also function as a supernaturalist, evangelical response to the then (and now) current leftist evangelical fascination with “powers-talk.” It also documents how conservative evangelicals, thanks to some Charismatic influences, are taking the Bible seriously on principalities and powers.

It’s important to read Ephesians. It’s even more important to read the sections in Acts where Paul engaged in “Power Apologetics” against demons, magical grimoires, and riots.

The Stoichea

Arnold follows the RSV/NEB/TEV in reading the elemental spirits as personal beings, and not as abstract elements (Arnold 53). This seems to be the correct reading because it echoes Galatians 3-4 in seeing them as guardian tutors.

He has an excellent section on Judaism. I say excellent in general, for I will push back on some parts. He notes that Jews did have categories for the “demonic,” even if they weren’t as explicit as in New Testament times. This is true, but scholarship has since shed more light on this. Take Deut. 32:16-17. Most translations read something like, “They sacrificed to demons.”

By itself this isn’t too problematic, but it leads Arnold to draw some conclusions that are in tension with the rest of his work. Arnold writes, “Biblical writers attributed no real, independent existence to these deities. Instead they called them idols” (56). I know what he is wanting to do. He wants to safeguard against henotheism, and I commend that. But if he calls these entities demons, then he is forced to admit that they do have some kind of existence.

Sure, Zeus doesn’t exist. But I don’t see what exactly is gained by saying Zeus doesn’t exist, but the demonic presence behind Zeus does exist. But is that even what the text says in Hebrew? It says they sacrified to “shedim.” This is a territorial guardian spirit whose Akkadian root word connects it to the underworld. This doesn’t refute Arnold’s analysis, but it makes it much richer.

And while Arnold does posit some sort of pre-creation angelic fall, he realizes that the Old Testament never really says that. It posits Satan’s falling, to be sure, if only by implication.

Paul and the Powers

Fairly standard NT theology material here. Examines Paul’s use of “powers-language” and makes clear that gnosticism was not involved.

Contra Walter Wink

There has been a tendency in recent theology to equate the powers with socio-economic structures. Earlier theology would have seen the powers as influencing these structures but never identifying the two. He incorporates Paul’s use of “in Christ” language to negate any perceived need for a young believer to go towards angelic intermediaries, power-intermediaries, etc.

Hilariously, Wink commits the “illegitimate totality transfer fallacy” by arguing “that one term can be made to represent all the uses” (quoted in Arnold 199).

The book ends with practical guidelines for spiritual warfare today. He understands that belief in “Powers” and “spirits” today bothers Christians, even professed conservative ones. And he doesn’t back down. The bold believer is one who affirms the reality of shedim, powers, demons, etc., and is willing to engage them in spiritual warfare

The Art of Biblical Narrative (Alter)

Alter, Robert.  The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

Within a few pages I knew I was in the presence of a master. Not only is Robert Alter in complete command of the Hebrew language, but he is second to none in English literature as well.  Both are obvious in this work.

Alter’s strength is in demonstrating the irreducible unity of the Hebrew narrative. I am perfectly willing to grant an editorial process to the Hebrew text.  I think that is common sense.  That, however, does not justify the multiple sub-authorships that critical scholars have posited.  And though Alter is no bible-thumping evangelical, his illustration of the remarkable textual unity and narrative in the Hebrew bible makes all older critical theories superfluous.  

The Hebrew text has a unity illustrated by “small verbal signals of continuity and lexical nuances” (Alter 11).  An example of this is the Judah and Tamar story of Genesis 38.  At first glance it has nothing to do with the Joseph narrative; in fact, it disrupts it.  What Alter demonstrates, however, is that there is a theme of “recognition” in play that factors in both the Tamar episode and in the later Joseph scene.

Dialogue: “Biblical narrative is laconic” (20). Dialogue is introduced at key junctures in the narrative.This “brings the speech-act into the foreground” (67). 

Nota bene: When the Hebrew uses “hinneh” (KJV: Behold), it often marks a shift in the narrative point of view from the third person omniscient to the character’s direct perception (54).

Pace older critics, the Hebrew text cannot be read as an epic.  Epic literature was locked in a pagan and cyclical worldview.  Hebrew prose narration, by contrast, moves in a different direction (25ff).

Biblical type scenes: The most famous type scene is the well = betrothal/proposal. Older critics saw multiple scenes as evidence that ancient Jews were too stupid to realize a copy (incidentally, much of historical criticism was viciously anti-Semitic). What Alter shows is that it isn’t wooden plagiarism, but brilliant narratology.

In the betrothal scene the hero would go down to the girl’s land and meet the girl (Heb. na’arah). Someone then draws (daloh/dalah) water, after which the girls rush home to tell the news.  A betrothal is then concluded (52).  If, however, something in this template weren’t followed, the reader would immediately guess that the marriage wouldn’t be happy.

Alter explains that in “reliable third-person narratives, such as in the Bible, there is a scale of means, in ascending order of strictness and certainty, for conveying information about the motives, the attitudes, the moral nature of characters” (116).  In other words, at the lower end we can only learn about the character through actions or appearance, meaning we have to infer everything else.  A middle category is direct speech, to which we must “weigh claims” (117). At the highest level we have explicit statements.

Narrative and Knowledge: “We learn through fiction because we encounter in it the translucent images the writer has cunningly projected out of an intuitively grasped fund of experience not dissimilar to our own” experiences (156). Fiction is a mode of knowledge “because it is a certain way of imagining characters and events in their shifting, elusive, and revelatory interconnections but also because it possesses a certain repertoire of techniques for telling a story.”

This is a benchmark in biblical studies.  Few people can read this work and hold to older, more wooden theories of higher criticism. To be sure, Alter is a Jewish scholar and makes some criticisms of “incarnational readings.”  He also entertains some critical editorial notions of the text.  With that said, this book deserves widest possible dissemination.

The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God (Cocceius)

Cocceius, Johannes. The Covenant and Testament of God. trans. Casey Carmichael. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016.

Although his teaching aroused some controversy, Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) unified both rigorous scholastic methodology with a sensitivity to the biblical plotline. (Regarding his scholastic methodology, Cocceius outlines his Summa according to the following headers: §.  This allows him to keep the topic clear even when he pursues tangents.) In one sense Cocceius wouldn’t have thought he was teaching anything new, yet later writers were forced to deal with his takes on the Sabbath and the multiple abrogations of the Covenant of Works.  Positively stated, he offered a powerful presentation of the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption.

Cocceius structures his covenant theology around five abrogations of the covenant of works.   Willem J. van Asselt has a helpful introduction on this point (van Asselt xxxi). These five abrogations are:

  1. The Fall
  2. Establishment of the Covenant of Grace
  3. Detachment and renunciation of the old man
  4. Death
  5. Resurrection from death

Like most writers on covenant theology, Cocceius begins with definitions: “God’s covenant is a divine declaration of the way of receiving his love” (Cocceius §5).  It is one-sided (monopleuristic) regarding the way we receive his love.  It is two-sided (dipleuristic) when man obligates himself.

Cocceius proves there was a law-covenant in the Garden because of the law or rectitude on man’s heart. If there is rectitude, then there is a corresponding standard (§8). Even without express Scriptural support, Cocceius provides the intellectual foundations to the Covenant of Works.

Cocceius’s defense of the covenant of works leads to an attack on the Socinians.  As the Socinians believe death was natural, they are led to believe that man was cursed the moment he was created, since without doing anything he had already received the judgment for breaking God’s law.  Of course, the Socinians don’t actually say that, but there it is. Like Barth, they come very close to seeing creation as a sort of Fall.

Against Rome and Bellarmine, “grace” can’t be rendered “making acceptable.”  If God’s covenant with man had some sort of gracious element, and if man had to endure the testing, then he hadn’t yet been “acceptable;” therefore, grace can’t be “making acceptable” (§31).

If we are going to speak of merit in the garden, it isn’t condign merit, but merit according to the pact.  Even if we never sinned, “we could not obligate God, because he receives nothing from us” (§41).

Cocceius and the Sabbath

Did Cocceius believe the Sabbath was abrogated after the Mosaic economy?  Not exactly. He says the Mosaic sabbath “advanced the natural equity that binds the mind and soul to have time for God and His worship” (§13).

Second Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

It is abrogated in the sense that God’s mercy takes away condemnation in the reception of the covenant of grace (§75). The cause of this act is the “eudokia you thelematos tou theou” (§84).

The Pactum Salutis

Cocceius addresses the problem of whether the will of the Father and Son is the same.  He affirms (§92). Rather, the single divine will is appropriated differently. This single passage removes any apparent difficulty in the Pactum Salutis.  The fear had always been that such an intratrinitarian agreement necessitated three wills.  Cocceius demonstrates that “appropriation” solves this problem.

Cocceius mightily rejects any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.  To do so, he notes in which respect the Son is economically subordinate (§94). 

  • The Father is greater than the Son in relation to the Son’s humanity.
  • The Son’s role of mediator cannot imply any lesser status (§95).

Cocceius can even speak of Jesus’s condign merit, as his humiliation is proportionate to the rewards in his exaltation (§103). We establish the reality of Christ’s merit based on 1) the pactum salutis and 2) the rewards for his obedience (which also flows from the pact) (§107). Indeed, “he required merit by act, since he really furnished what he did for salvation.”

Section §108 deals with limited atonement. The argument is simple.  Christ did not act as Surety for all men. Moreover, an acceptable sacrifice actually expiates sin (§116). When Scripture speaks of “dying for the world,” it refers to the universal promise made to Abraham (§123).

When we speak of Christ’s being a Surety, we mean that He stood forth for his people with their sins laid upon Him. The Father had given Him a seed, and this inheritance “responds from another part to the guarantee.” He took upon Himself the payment for our debts (§134, §155).

Furthermore, Christ is a sponsio in that he offered himself to the Father on our behalf (§350).

Faith in Christ justifies us because:

  • He makes his promise and gift fixed on the grounds of the covenant (Heb. 3:1)
  • It is the consummation of the heavenly marriage.
  • It is the first effect of the Spirit of the life of Christ in us.

We call the sanction of the Covenant of Grace “the oath of God” (§198).

The Third Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

The cutting off of Christ was the cause of the abolition of the Old Covenant (which, to be sure, is not identical with the Abrahamic covenant, §344).

On the Sacraments

Sacraments are seals, not moral causes, pace Rome.  Seals are effects (§436).  Indeed, as the cup is the testament in his blood, Jesus the Testator seals that on us.

Do not remove the Cup

Rome says that the bread, being transubstantiated, already has blood in it since it is a living body.  But a living body is not offered to us, but a slain and sacrificial one.  It is a body that is broken (§496).   You cannot simultaneously say it is a living body and that blood has been shed (see also, §502ff).

Cocceius has another interesting rebuttal to the Mass.  When Paul says we have koinonia in the body of Christ, it can’t mean eating.  It is elsewhere contrasted with the koinonia of demons, yet no one suggests we eat demons (§520).  Moreover, the Israelites were said (v.18) to have koinonia in the altar, yet they did not orally receive the altar.

Fourth Abrogation

The fourth abrogation is the death of the body.

Fifth Abrogation

The fifth abrogation is the resurrection from the dead.


It would be a stretch to say this is one of the best scholastic texts.  That would be Francis Turretin.  I wouldn’t say this is the most useful scholastic text on covenant theology.  That would be Herman Witsius. Nonetheless, Cocceius engages the biblical text in ways that often surpass others.  While he is not always the clearest writer, his formatting the texts by section markers separates him from others and prevents the reader from getting lost..  While this is an advanced text, it is required reading to understand how the Reformed view the covenants.  One can no longer speak on Reformed covenant theology without seriously engaging Johannes Cocceius.

Second Coming of Saturn Bibliography

Lord willing, I plan to read Derek Gilbert’s Second Coming of Saturn. While Gilbert does not claim to be a scholar on the level of Michael Heiser, Gilbert is second to none when it comes to putting all the research in one area. In that case he might be more accessible than Heiser. SkywatchTV has a running series on his study notes. I thought it would be a good idea to put most of his footnoted sources in one area.

1 Enoch 6:1–7. George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

Amar Annus, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes.” Ugarit-Forschungen 31 (1999).

Aren M. Maeir, “A New Interpretation of the Term ʿopalim (עֳפָלִים) in the Light of Recent Archaeological Finds from Philistia.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol 32.1 (2007), pp. 25–26.

Brian B. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead: The Origin and Character of Israelite Ancestor Cults and Necromancy (Doctoral thesis: University of Oxford, 1991), pp. 158–159.

Christopher B. Hays and Joel M. LeMon, “The Dead and Their Images: An Egyptian Etymology for Hebrew ôb.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections Vol. 1:4 (2009), pp. 1–4.

Christopher B. Hays, “Enlil, Isaiah, and the Origins of the ʾĕlîlîm: A Reassessment.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 132(2) (2020), p. 226.

Edward Lipiński, “El’s Abode: Mythological Traditions Related to Mount Hermon and to the Mountains of Armenia,” Orientalia Lovaniensa Periodica II (1971), pp. 18–19.

George Heider, The Cult of Molek: A Reassessment (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), pp. 390–391.

George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1–36; 81–108 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), p. 184.

Jaap Doedens, The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1–4 (Leiden: Brill, 2019), pp. 250–252.

Josef Tropper, “Spirit of the Dead.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd extensively rev. ed. (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), p. 807.

Judd Burton, “The War of the Words, God-kings, and Their Titles: A Preliminary Report on the Linguistic Relationship Between the Rephaim and Royal Titles in Eurasian Languages.” Bulletin of the Institute of Biblical Anthropology (2021), p. 7.

Klaas Spronk, Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 1986), pp. 168–169.

Klaas Spronk, “Baal of Peor.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), p. 147.

Klaas Spronk, “Travellers.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.). (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999) p. 876.

 Lluis Feliu, The God Dagan in Bronze Age Syria (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003), p. 212.

Nicolas Wyatt, “Calf.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible: 2nd extensively rev. ed. (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), p. 181.

Noga Ayali-Darshan, “The Seventy Bulls Sacrificed at Sukkot (Num 29:12–34) in Light of a Ritual Text from Emar (Emar 6, 373).” Vetus Testamentum 65:1 (2015), pp. 7–8.

Renata MacDougal, Remembrance and the Dead in Second Millennium BC Mesopotamia (University of Leicester: Doctoral dissertation, 2014) pp. 58–59.

Scott B. Noegel, “God of Heaven and Sheol: The ‘Unearthing’ of Creation.” Hebrew Studies, Vol. 58 (2017), p. 121.

Sjur Cappelan Papazian, “Abgal or Apkallu.” Cradle of Civilization, April 5, 2015. https://aratta.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/abgal-or-apkallu/, retrieved 5/16/21.

Stephanie Dalley, “Apkallu.” In: Eggler J./Uehlinger Ch., eds., Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, http://www.religionswissenschaft.uzh.ch/idd/prepublications/e_idd_illustrations_apkallu.pdf, retrieved 6/26/21.

William R. Gallagher, “On the Identity of Hêlēl Ben Šaḥar of Is. 14:12–15.” UF 26 (1994), pp. 140–141.

Wolfgang Herrmann, “El.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst Eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd extensively rev. ed. (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999) p. 275.

Xinhua Wang, The Metamorphosis of Enlil in Early Mesopotamia (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2011), p. 245.

Satan Cast Out (Leahy)

Leahy, Frederick. Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975.

This is a decent summary of evangelical scholarship concerning demonology around the time of the 1970s. To be sure, evangelical scholarship on the supernatural has increased a hundredfold since then, but one has to somewhere. Frederick Leahy writes with an easy style and the book can be read without difficulty in one afternoon. I do not agree with everything he says, but what he writes can get the student thinking through the issues.

He correctly says that angels are spirits (Leahy 12). True. What do we mean by “spirit,” though? Does ruach mean something closer to force or does it mean something like Origen’s pneuma?

While he urges us to avoid speculation, he says that each angel fell individually (13). Maybe, but he doesn’t give us any reason to believe that.

He holds to an amillennial reading of “Satan being bound” (27). I agree, but I think a better reading of “not allowed to deceive the nations” refers more to a final assault on the Mount of Assembly.

He says fallen angels are chained in darkness forever (29). This is certainly not the case. If all of the fallen angels are chained in the abyss, then how can Paul warn us about the powers in the heavenly places? It will not do to say that “their chain is really long.” In that case, there chain allows them to roam the whole earth; for all practical purposes they aren’t chained at all. Moreover, in that same paragraph he cites where the demons are pleading with Jesus not to send them into the abyss. Why would they say that if they were already chained?

He correctly identifies the Prince of Persia as a demonic being (52). He also notes that the Nazis were engaged in the occult (54).

He takes Merrill Unger to task for denying that Apollyon is Satan, but he gives no reason to believe that he is Satan.

He correctly identifies the satyr of Isaiah 13:21 as a demon (65).

He says the lying spirit of I Kings 22 is a demon (67). Maybe, but that raises a big problem: what is a demon doing in the presence of God? Moreover, by Leahy’s own reading isn’t this demon chained? If so, how is he in God’s presence?

He correctly notes that the occult is a gateway for evil spirits (72).

He correctly rejects the view that demonic possession was simply what the ancients called mental illness (79). In fact, that view is liberalism.

He did some good research in his chapter on demon possession in church history. I m surprised he didn’t mention the famous case of Lutheran pastor Johann Blumhardt. He does mention John Wesley’s poltergeist experience at Epworth (91 n.12; 119).

He gives an excellent rebuttal to the arguments of Jay Adams and others who say that because there was a cluster of demonic activity in Jesus’s day, it can’t happen now. Leahy responds, “It is fallacious to argue that because there seems to have been an intensification of demonic activity especially in the form of demon-possession, during our Lord’s earthly ministry, that the same phenomena are now either non-existent or extremely rare” (144-145). Well said.

The book is worth getting if you see it. It doesn’t replace Clinton Arnold’s two books on the subject, but it does give a good snapshot of evangelical thinking on the subject during the 1970s.

5 Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew

Boersma, Hans. Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2021.

The idea behind this book is good; the book not so much. Boersma is correct that no one approaches the text without a commitment to metaphysics. Moreoever, we can only smile with amusement when someone says, “If you would just stay committed to the Bible,” presumably you would believe as I do. Unfortunately, much of Boersma’s discussion trades on ambiguities and straw men. To be sure, the book does have a few good chapters, namely the ones on metaphysics and heaven. The chapters are something like: No Plato, No Christ; No Plato, No Scripture; No Plato, no metaphysics; No Providence, no Scripture; No Heaven, No Scripture.

The Good

  1. We can’t simply appeal to “the bible” qua bible. We all come with metaphysics.
  2. If Christ is present in the Old Testament, then some form of a sensus plenior obtains. That seems to be unavoidable.
  3. He has a good section on Athanasius. However, Boersma doesn’t realize that Athanasius’s Christology undercuts Plato’s cosmology. If the Son is fully God, then we don’t have a Demiurge creating the world.
  4. Excellent chapter on metaphysics. His argument, though, might be inadequate. Key to the Platonic framework is the idea of “participation.” What does that actually mean? I’m not sure. Boersma never defines it. Aristotle, too, pointed out that ambiguity in Plato. It seems Platonism is simply a stand-in for Augustinianism and realism. I have no problem with that. He identifies 5 aspects of Ur-Platonism: 1) anti-materialism, 2) anti-mechanism, 3) anti-nominalism; 4) Anti-relativism, and 5) Anti-skepticism. On one hand this sounds like basic Christian wisdom. True, you find all of this in one form or another in Plato’s dialogues. But must it be called Platonism? Are we not leaving out other key aspects of Platonism?

    In a throwaway line that must have had the Revoice guys in mind, Boersma (rightly) says our primary identity is in Christ, not in some made-up social identity (which also applies, mutatis mutandis, to other post-Marxist constructs).
  5. Excellent chapter on heaven. He puts a halt on many silly “anti-imperial” readings. He notes that their (often shrill) us vs. them rhetoric is the very violence they seek to oppose. In fact, he specifically calls out left-wing agendas, noting they treat sin and redemption in this worldly structures. Moreover, something like the Beatific Vision is present in historic Christian reflection. Whatever else is true about the New Heavens and New Earth, we must retain the basic structure of the Beatific Vision.

The Bad

  1. We’ll start with the most obvious problem: allegory. Boersma’s section on typology was actually good. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the contrast b/t typology and allegory. Typology links history to history. Allegory links history to some eternal archetype. What matters for him is allegory. Here is one problem: why even bother w/the original languages and the Hebrew-ness of Israel if the text is allegorical? All that matters is the “deeper meaning.” This is the fatal flaw in all allegorical schemes. Following upon that point, what criteria does Boersma have for saying “this deeper reading” is wrong while the other one is correct?
  2. He claimed Charles Hodge was a nominalist. Boersma said Nevin chose Plato and the Great Tradition while Hodge chose Francis Bacon. This is bad. Nevin chose German Idealism, not Plato.
  3. Boersma never defines biblical theology. At times it means “bad academics” and at other times it means “sola scriptura.” Even worse, he never defines sola scriptura.
  4. Very little of Israel’s story is connected with Plato. There is nothing Platonic about the Exodus, the Temple, or the Atonement. There is also nothing Platonic about the New Jerusalem descending to earth.

I can recommend other books by Boersma. I cannot recommend this one.

Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism

Reicke, Bo. Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism: A Study of 1 Peter III.19 and its Context. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005 [1943].

Bo Reicke’s monograph remains probably the definitive text on the descent of Christ to the underworld.  Although a critical scholar himself, Reicke understands the text to be about those spirits who rebelled around Noah’s time and are currently locked below Sheol.  Reicke’s work is extremely difficult, as he has long passages in Greek and Syriac that aren’t always translated.  Reader betware.

First problem:  What is the connection between 3:19 and 4:6?  In the history of exegesis, it was tempting for early fathers to conflate the two verses into referring to the same event.  An unfortunate result was something like universalism.  If it wasn’t universalism, it seemed to read the obedient fathers in the Old Testament as the disobedient spirits in prison, which also seemed wrong.

Another possibility, perhaps even more bizarre, is that these referred to disobedient Old Testament persons who were converted by the preaching of Christ (Reicke 27).

Athanasius: connects 3:19 with the traditional “descent” view (Ep. ad Epict, sect. 5).

Syriac tradition:  Standard Hollensturmung motif.  Quite lyrical poetry but nothing really new.

Augustine: Did not think 3:19 referred to the descensus ad infernos. He correctly notes that the text says nothing about the righteous dead.  To be sure, Christ did go down to the realm of the dead or underworld. So far Augustine’s interpretation is quite good.  He then says that the text means Christ appeared to the spiritually dead on earth, which is not what the text says. We can credit Augustine for intellectually separating the descent from 1 Pet. 3:19, but we cannot follow his allegorical interpretation of it.

Bellarmine:  Correctly notes that it refers to the underworld, but he tries to tie it in with Purgatory.  The same difficulties mentioned above apply here.

Scholastic Lutheranism: Correctly rejected the allegorical spiritualism of older Protestantism.  They saw it as Christ manifesting his power over defeated spirits (45).  This has the right idea but it seems forced onto the Noahic context.

Who are the Spirits in Verse 19?

The first observation is that the spirits are connected with the flood story itself (52). Noting that the two possibilities are either fallen angels or human souls, Reicke points out that pneumata is not used in the NT of living humans and phylake in the NT refers to a subterranean compartment (53).

Moreover, if Peter wanted to speak about the dead, he wouldn’t have used pneuma, but psyche (54).  On the other hand, after admitting there are some exceptional cases where pneuma could refer to a dead spirit, Reicke points out that in the literature men, Watchers, and giants are often lumped together.  Paul does the same thing with various categories of angels:  rulers, principalities, etc.

Reiki then goes into an extended analysis on the text of Enoch.  None of this was new to me, having been an adherent to the supernatural worldview for quite some time.  It’s good material, though.  His main argument is that the ideas of 1 Enoch were the background for 1-2 Peter and Jude.  We can say, “God inspired them.”  That is true.  He also inspired them with quotations from Enoch in the context of ‘the angels who sinned.’  

The point common to all passages–Jude/Peter, Enoch, and Genesis 6–is that the motif of Flood is tied with imprisoned spirits who sinned (73).

It’s rare to find a critical scholar give a perceptive analysis of spiritual warfare, but Reicke does just that.  He probably didn’t intend it, which makes it even more illuminating.  He notes that “the evil spirits, pneumata, who are the forms in which the Giants appear on the earth, are thought to belong not only to the past but also to the contemporary world” (79).

1 Cor. 11 is one example.  Anticipating modern scholarship, Reicke connects the Watchers with the angels.  Reicke: “It is difficult here to avoid thinking of the well-known account of how the angels in prehistoric times were lured by the physical beauty of the women on earth. It may be noticed that 1 Cor. xi is dealing with women as they exercise their cult and pray.  And then they were of course in a special way exposed to attack from higher beings like the Angels” (82).

Reicke also connects the Giants in Genesis 6 with the Rephaim (Josh. 13:12, Job 26:5, Isa. 14:9). Reicke suggests a connection not often made in the literature: the demons and/or giants are representatives of the Fallen Watchers (85).  Even if the Watchers are chained in Tartarus, they can still influence the world.  Most amillennialists believe Satan to be currently bound but still able to influence the world.

The final point is identifying Angels/Watchers/Fallen Angels with stars.  This seems fairly standard in the literature and is well-attested in Patristic literature (cf. Ephrem the Syrian). Stars are associated both with earthly kings and fallen Watchers.  There is a close parallel between the Book of Enoch and Isaiah 24:18-22.  This same language now fits quite easily with Jude’s condemnation of “wandering stars.”

Second problem: It’s hard to see how Noah could preach to the spirits in prison.  The text itself says the spirits were already in prison in the days of Noah (99).  If that is the case, then the “spirits” can’t be the ungodly who were watching Noah build the ark.  One possible explanation is that it was Christ preaching through Enoch. Reicke notes that the Greek doesn’t allow that possibility and so concludes that it was Christ preaching.  The question remains: why did Peter seem to tie this in with the Enoch narrative?

Christ is then a New Enoch.  That fits with biblical theology.  Christ is the second Adam, the Greater David, etc. The main clause is the ἐν ᾧ clause.  To whom or what does it refer? Reicke surveys the linguistic arguments on 104ff. 

Whatever else we may think of the esoteric elements of the passage, there is a more obvious question: why did Peter bring in the Noahic elements in the first place?  Most summaries of the gospel don’t include a descent to the shades in the underworld.

What is Baptism?

Peter wants to reject baptism as a mere washing away of dirt or a ritual ceremony (188).  Reicke’s comments are refreshing.  Rather than rehash debates over to what degree baptism saves or regenerates, Reicke keeps the discussion where the text does: in the context of the disobedient spirits who are behind heathen world powers.  Because of the resurrection, baptism gives Christians the freedom from fear of these powers (199).


The locus classicus for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15.  Every apologetics ministry claims this verse.  If you place the verse within its larger context, you will see it has nothing to do with said ministries.  It is more about humility and freedom from the demon kings of the underworld.

Enoch Primordial

The second book in the Nephilim Chronicles is a sort of prequel.  Here are my thoughts, both what is good about the book and what needs to be developed.

The Good

His scope and vision is awe-inspiring.   He has laid the foundation for a biblical epic.  Granted, I don’t think it will get there, but still.  It’s a start.

He does a decent job in character development.  Not quite as sharp and profound as how he treated Noah in the previous novel, but still decent and better than most.

The novel moves at a sharp pace, and he does a good job of building suspense.

Needs to be developed

The dialogue between Methuselah and Edna grated somewhat.  The rest of the dialogue was okay.

The novel also risked “preaching” a bit. I have as militant a hatred of socialism and big, yet there were passages that seemed plucked from Milton Friedman. 

The series is still worth reading, aside from these points.