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.”


Developing an Enochian Worldview

Some of these are inspired by Dr Michael Heiser’s writings, though much of it came from my own working through both the Scriptures and tradition.  Our problem is that we are all students of Milton, whether we admit it or not.  An Enochian worldview, by contrast, sees how “angels” (more on that term later) function within the Divine Realm.

We say things like “we need a biblical worldview” (I used to say “supernatural,” but after talking with some guys on a Reformed online forum, I can’t take that for granted anymore), and we piously nod at the Bible when it says “angels are ministering servants,” but we really don’t let the Bible correct our understanding of Dante.

What Did Dante Say?

You already know this.  If I say “hell,” you think of a fiery underworld.  More to the point, you think there is a class of beings known as demons/devils/fallen angels.  They are either being tortured by fire or torturing others by fire (pop culture tradition isn’t too clear).

But there are some problems with this picture (though it did inspire good music).  The Bible contradicts it in various places.  If you hold that there is one class of beings called angels, which are subdivided into good and bad, with all of the latter in a subterranean realm (or if you are a bit more sophisticated, another dimension), then the following problems occur:

  1. Why is Satan called the prince of the powers of the air (Eph. 2:2) if he is locked underground?
  2. If all the demons are in hell, then why do we wrestle against principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6)?
  3. If Ha Shatan is locked underground, then how did he appear before God in Job?
  4. If all the demons are in hell, then how did they possess people in the NT?
  5.  Yet Peter says some were thrust into Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4).
  6. Why does Peter use the word Tartarus when he could have simply said hell or hades?
  7.  Was the spirit in 1 Kings 22:19-23 good or bad?  If he was good, then was God commanding him to lie? If he was bad, then why was he in heaven?
  8. Is God the only kind of Elohim?  You have to say no, because God (singular Elohim) is often speaking to plural Elohim, and even if the latter are just men, they aren’t the kind of Elohim that Yahweh is.

That’s enough for now.  These questions show that the pop worldview about demons is wrong.  Now for my own theses, drawn from Michael Heiser and Derek Gilbert.

1. Sons of God in Genesis 6/Psalm 82:Dt.32:8 refer to elohimic beings, not men.  I won’t argue that thesis at this point. I also think these are what Enoch called the Watchers (alluded to in Peter and Jude; mentioned in Daniel, though those Watchers are good).

2. Their offspring were the Nephilim.

3. Some church fathers and Philo said that the departed souls of the Nephilim were what we call “demons” today.  Maybe.  That might not be provable, but it does remove certain problems.

I am closely following Heiser’s analysis on issues like the Rephaim.

4.  Rephaim: Heiser–”When the term is translated, it is rendered “giants” (1 Chr 20:4 ESV), “shades” (i.e., spirits of the dead; Isa 26:14 ESV), or simply “the dead” (Job 26:5 ESV)”.  Specifically, they are the spirits of dead warrior-kings in the underworld. They are also giants whom the Ammonites called Zamzummim (Deut 2:19–20 ESV).

4a. Og was a Rephaim (Josh. 13:12).

5.  Demons aren’t the same as fallen angels, rephaim, or nephilim.  

  1. They aren’t the celestial ones of 2 Peter 2 and Jude.  Angels are very cautious in the celestial ones’ presence.
  2. With Heiser, I highly recommend questions 72-75 of Doug Van Dorn’s primer on the supernatural.
  3. At this point we see several levels of differentiation:
  4. The corrupt sons of God put over the nations are called shedim, a term of geographical guardianship (van Dorn).
  5. The fallen angels, or Watchers, are imprisoned in Tartarus until the Final Judgment (2 Peter 2 and Jude).
  6. Whatever demons are, they aren’t those above.
  7. A demon, at least in the Gospel exorcism passages, is an unclean spirit.
  8. If Jewish intertestamental literature is to be trusted, demons are the departed spirits of dead Nephilim.  Granted, this isn’t inspired literature, but it was the worldview/social imaginary of those who lived in the apostles’ time.  Jude quoted 1 Enoch, and while 1 Enoch isn’t inspired, Jude acted like it had a lot of truth.