Catechism on Heiser’s Unseen Realm

Doug Van Dorn.  Not really a catechism but a fine companion.

The book is written in a catechetical Q & A format, at some places very closely resembling the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There is a question, a somewhat detailed answer, and a list of prooftexts.  There is no way in this one review to analytically deal with all of the material, but I will focus on those areas relating to the divine council.

* God reveals himself through His Name and His Word.  We are used to saying God reveals himself through his Word, but the Name is an important element of OT theology.  The Name of God is God (Dorn 11; Ex. 23:20).

* Van Dorn covers the taxonomy of Elohim that would be familiar to Divine Council readers.  All elohim are spirits “whose domain is the spiritual world” (16). However, not all elohim are Yahweh or in the same class as Yahweh.  There are other spirit-beings than God, and sometimes the Bible designates these entities as “gods,” but there is no God like Yahweh.

Aside from Yahweh, elohim are demons (Dt 32:17; 1 Cor 10:21), ghosts (1 Sam. 28:13-14), and the sons of God.  They can’t simply be “idols,” since idols don’t float around in the sky and judge the nations.

* We can’t make a simple equation between angels and elohim.  A malak is a messenger, who may or may not be a son of God. “Sons of God’ is a term of high rank in God’s spiritual hierarchy,” territorial rulership (31).

Seraphim: they are “shining divine beings who guard the throne of God” (34). Their appearance can be either serpentine (Num. 21:6-7) and humanoid with wings (Isa. 6).

Cherubim: shining divine beings who guard the throne and have both animal and human-like features (Ezek. 1:4-8; 13-14; 22, 26).

Man, Sin, and the Image of God

Man is God’s image as he images God in his prophetic, priestly, and kingly role (61).

* The sons of God sinned around three different times (in the garden, around the time of the flood, and when Christ was born (Rev. 12:4-5, 7).

* There is a very thorough section on who tempted Eve in the garden.  Dorn gives a linguistic analysis of the term “nachash,” where it can mean serpent, one who dispenses divine knowledge, and shining (65).

Rebellion Before the Flood

Standard Nephilim material from Heiser.  Dorn does make the insight that angels in heaven wouldn’t need food or reproduction.  But when mal’akim come to earth, they do eat. Whether they need to or not, the text doesn’t say.  But they do physically interact with the material world. This would be impossible on the view that angels are just disembodied minds or spirits. (75ff).

Archeology of the Nephilim

  • They are the descendants of the intermarriage between sons of God and human women.
  • Those who survived the flood are divided into clans.
    • Rephaim (Dt 2:20-21; 2 Sam. 12:22)
    • Zamzummim. (Dt 2:20-21)
    • Emim. (Dt. 2:10-11)
    • Anakim (Dt. 1:28).

When the Nephilim died, more specifically the Rephaim, their spirits were shades in the underworld.  As Dorn notes, “This description creates a biblical link between the spirits of dead Nephilim (Rephaim) and demons who inhabit the same underworld realm of the dead” (81 n.9).

Proof: Isaiah 14.9.  26:14. Sheol contains the spirits of mighty kings who are specifically called Rephaim.  

Not all disobedient sons of God are the same. Those who sinned in Genesis 6 are locked in Tartarus. Therefore, they cannot be the demons mentioned in the NT. The corrupt sons of God mentioned in Pss 82 and 89 are not locked away in Tartarus.  The Bible has another name for them: Shedim (93ff). It is a term of geographical guardianship, coming from the Akkadian shadu.

A note on angels.  Angel is a term of function, not ontological status. Elohim can be angels, but not every angel is an elohim (simply because some angels are human).


This is an outstanding companion to Dr Heiser’s work.  One of the difficulties with Heiser’s work is that the reader is overwhelmed with so many new ideas.  As time passes, it’s not always clear where these ideas were found. Van Dorn’s book remedies that, giving the reader a handy “cheat sheet.”