The God Above Gods? Limits of Polytheism in Fiction

by Mike Duran · 9 comments

In response to a piece I wrote several weeks ago, Can All Myths Be Redeemed?, novelist H.G. Ferguson agrees that “myths can and should be redeemed, but there is a danger here.” Part of that danger, according to Ferguson, is “reproduction, not redemption.” More specifically, reproducing a polytheistic worldview instead of replacing it with a biblical, theistic one. So rather than portraying God as one of many gods, even superior to other gods, the Christian writer should insure that competing and/or inferior gods are non-existent in their fictional tales. In Myths: Redemption, Not Reproduction, H.G. writes:

One thing unifies all pagan mythologies, whether they be Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Greek, or Slavic (and all of these can be rich sources of story fodder). That one thing is polytheism, many gods, some battling each other, some hopping into bed with each other or taking delights with mortal men and women, ad infinitum et nauseam. Why nauseam? Because polytheism cannot be redeemed and still remain polytheism. A polytheistic story universe does not honor the One who said, “I AM YHWH, AND THERE IS NO OTHER. BESIDES ME THERE IS NO GOD…BEFORE ME THERE WAS NO GOD FORMED, AND THERE WILL BE NONE AFTER ME” (Isaiah 45:5, 43:10).

So if a Christian writer thinks he or she can honor the God Who spoke these Words by creating a universe with many gods in it, even one with a “high god” at the top, and all these beings are called gods and they are indistinguishable from the mythology from which they were drawn, think again. This is reproduction, not redemption. It may sell books and not offend people, but it certainly would offend God. He says so. (Bold mine)

While I’m with the author in believing that polytheism is a flawed worldview and that YHWH is indeed the one true God, I’d like to offer pushback on this notion that fictionalizing a battle between gods is indeed unChristian. On the contrary, I believe that Scripture frames life in terms of a struggle between spiritual powers and that “gods” or godlike entities do indeed vie for our worship and service.

I’m currently reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm and finding it quite interesting. Heiser’s basic thesis is that God presides over an assembly of divine beings, other elohim. He is the God among gods. While recognizing the existence of other elohim – other gods – Heiser maintains the uniqueness and supremacy of Yahweh.

The verse that was the paradigm-shifting springboard for Heiser was Ps. 82:1 (this quote being from the NIV):

God presides in the great assembly;
    he renders judgment among the “gods”

Heiser notes that in the Hebrew, the word elohim (the word commonly translated as “God”) occurs twice in this verse, first in reference to Jehovah and then in reference other deities. Rather than attempt a detailed summation of the book, let me quote from this review from Benjamin J. Noonan at The Gospel Coalition;

Heiser’s theology of the unseen world is founded on the premise that God presides over a council of lesser divine beings (cf. Ps 82). The members of this “divine council” (pp. 25–27) accomplish God’s purposes in the supernatural realm, therefore functioning as the heavenly counterpart of humanity on earth. Although he refers to these divine beings as “gods” (elohim in Hebrew), Heiser rejects the notion that God is subordinate or co-equal with them in the polytheistic sense and instead contends that “there is no warrant for concluding that plural elohim produces a pantheon of interchangeable deities” (p. 31).

Despite their noble status, some members of the divine council rebelled against God. Heiser argues that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 describe the self-exaltation of one of the divine council’s members. This lesser divine being—identified by the New Testament as Satan—corrupted Adam and Eve as the serpent. God, in turn, declared war between the offspring of the serpent and humanity (Gen 3:15). This conflict subsequently manifests itself in two key events from the Primeval History that lay the foundation for the rest of the biblical metanarrative.

The first key event is the “sons of God” episode of Genesis 6:1–4. Heiser rejects the idea that the “sons of God” are mere humans and instead argues they are members of the divine council who, like Satan, rebelled against God. Instead, the Nephilim or “giants”—analogous to the apkallu of Mesopotamian tradition—were their semi-divine offspring. Like the fallen divine council members that engendered them, these “giants” posed a serious threat to the reestablishment of God’s Edenic rule.

The second key event is God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel. Heiser interprets Genesis 11:1–9 in light of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (as preserved in the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls rather than the Masoretic Text), contending that at the Tower of Babel, God chose Israel for himself but disinherited the other nations, placing them under the authority of his divine council. Many of those divine beings, however, became corrupt and led the nations they supervised astray in idolatry. Heiser refers to God’s disinheritance of the nations at the Tower of Babel as the “Deuteronomy 32 Worldview” (pp. 113–15).

It’s a fascinating perspective, isn’t it? In this approach, much of God’s redemptive work is indeed a battle between gods, corrupt spiritual superpowers intent on usurping YHWH’s rule and leading the nations astray. Take for example, the rescue of Israel from the land of Egypt was a battle between gods. In the section Yahweh and the Gods of Egypt, Heiser writes:

Pharaoh was the son of Re. Israel was explicitly called the son of Yahweh in the confrontation with Pharaoh (Exod 4:23; cf. Hos 11:1). Yahweh and his son would defeat the high god of Egypt and his son. God against god, son against son, imager against imager. In that context, the plagues are spiritual warfare. Yahweh will undo the cosmic order, throwing the land into chaos.

Re was the Egyptian god sometimes called Ra, god of the sun. Pharaoh was viewed as a “son of Ra” while Moses was viewed as the “son of YHWH.” The confrontation was more than just a standoff between earthly leaders, but a clash between spiritual powers for cosmic geography. In reality, the Old Testament and even the New Testament are rife with references to other gods, or a plurality of gods (angels or archons, according to the Christian and Gnostic traditions). It’s the basis for which many intercessors and missiologists have concluded that territorial spirits (like the Prince of Persia mentioned by the angel in Daniel 10) do in fact hold sway over large swaths of culture and geography.

Interestingly, this was the exact type of world I framed in my very first novel The Resurrection. It’s also one of the reasons I hedge against Ferguson’s suggestion that “creating a universe with many gods in it, even one with a ‘high god’ at the top” is categorically unbiblical. The thumbnail plot behind The Resurrection is that a bodily resurrection inexplicably occurs in the small coastal town of Stonetree, signaling a clash between YHWH and a bloodthirsty MesoAmerican deity. The antag is Benjamin Keen, a professor of anthropology who is charting the gathering of Pantheons, invisible superpowers, across the globe. In this scene, Keen reveals the spiritual map to his nemesis Pastor Ian Clark, who has himself fallen into the grips of the local “spirit.”

“It’s been years in the making.” Keen stroked his frayed goatee, eyes fixated on the map. “Thus far, we’ve successfully diagrammed our Time Zone: California, Nevada, the Pacific Northwest. It won’t be long before the entire nation is mapped.”

Clark stopped seven to eight feet away, glanced at Keen, then the dappled blueprint. Major metropolitan areas—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Reno, Portland, Seattle—dotted the map in bold block letters. Below each city was a corresponding name. Abaddon, Moloch, Mammon, Gorgon, Belial, Beelzebub, and then in suburban areas, clusters of titles speckled the map: Succubus, Eligoth, Lilith and Leviathan. Throughout were spherical symbols, slashes, unopened eyes and watery forks. Clark’s mind swooned at the onrushing possibilities.

“The Pantheons. We’ve identified them, named them,” Keen whispered reverently. “And in the naming there is power.”

Clark looked from the map to Keen.

The Professor’s eyes were glazed with ecstatic delight. “They are the Watchers, the Ancient Ones. The Mesos are a drop in the bucket, one unit in a massive invisible army. Stonetree is just the tip of the iceberg, Ian.”

Clark stepped back in blank astonishment, his mind fighting for rational footing.

Keen moved to the map and traced his bony fingers atop it. “This is our mission, my boy— Orbis of Scientia —to prepare their coming, the circle of their knowledge. The warlocks and druids, their petty stone rings and incantations are just a shadow. We have discerned a plan much bigger, powers much greater than any man has conceived. Imagine, a society governed by superior intellects. Your god is just one of millions, a pathetic dying entity on the bottom rung of the evolutionary food chain.”

Of course, I don’t believe that Clark’s god was “just one of millions, a pathetic dying entity on the bottom rung of the evolutionary food chain.” But, like Moses before Pharaoh, Clark was responsible to take back ground that those before him had ceded. Yes.  I received some pushback from reviewers concerning this worldview. Like Ferguson, some viewed the idea of “cosmic geography” and God battling other gods for turf as unbiblical. Nevertheless, this idea seems central to the spiritual struggle framed throughout Scripture. Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived, Christ is seated above all principalities and powers. However, the war for the souls of men goes on, culminating finally the Last Great War and the judgment of the nations.

All that to say, it’s one thing to portray polytheism — countless gods with equal power — as a viable worldview; it’s another to portray spiritual superpowers vying against YHWH for supremacy, seeking to protect their turf, while binding the souls of the lost in delusion and resisting the advances of the sons and daughters of God. This view, I believe, is very much biblical. Of course, God wins. But it’s the struggle, the casualties, and the enduring hope we have which should be central to our novels.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kessie January 30, 2017 at 4:49 PM

I find Heiser’s teaching refreshing, because it matches so many things I’ve seen in my own spiritual life. Why is there pushback when Christians enter new territory? The principalities and powers are losing dominion. I chatted to you a bit about some of this. Heiser has helped me so much in framing this struggle. There ARE demons, and fallen angels, and they DO interact with man, often directly. But God is greater.

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HG Ferguson January 30, 2017 at 6:35 PM

I appreciate the discussion. However, I never said God doesn’t battle “gods.” He conquers them. Because He alone is God, and they are not. You sound like a henotheist, one who believes there is indeed a “high god” at the top, but there are many other “gods” below, and they are gods. My question to you is, why the knee-jerk reaction to me repeating what God says about himself? You’ve stated publicly that you just don’t know what parameters the Bible puts on storytellers. Well, here is one. God alone is God. He says so. There are no other gods. There are angels, there are demons, there may or may not be others things of which we do not know, but there are absolutely no other gods but YHWH. Because He says so. If that isn’t a parameter, you tell me what is. You continue to suggest to me an “anything goes” mindset, and a resistance and perhaps even hostility toward the very synapse that the Word of God should constrain what we write. There is only one God, period. Others, whether human or not, may call themselves that, but I AM YHWH will never be thrown down, because whatever calls itself a god other than Him — ain’t.

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Kessie January 30, 2017 at 8:29 PM

One of the scriptures that refers to these powers as “gods” is the troubling Psalm 82.

God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”:
2
“How long will you[a] defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?[b]
3
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
5
“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
7
But you will die like mere mortals;
you will fall like every other ruler.”
8
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
for all the nations are your inheritance.
_____

So, God himself refers to them as “gods”. It’s just the term “elohim”, which means “spirit”. Even Paul, while he uses the term demons, prefers the terms “principalities and powers”. Or like in Exodus, at the tenth plague, when God says that he will judge the gods of Egypt. It was a lot more than just ridiculing a lot of stone idols. It was defanging the evil angels who held sway over that nation. God is God, and there is none like him. But he has a divine council that discusses how to do things, and sometimes the elohim rebel. It’s nothing like a pantheon. God is God and Jesus is also God. It’s just that there’s a whole lot more going on than we’re commonly taught.

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Mike Duran January 31, 2017 at 6:06 AM

Thanks for commenting, H.G. In his paper Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible, Heiser writes “Historically, henotheism assumes all gods are species equals and the elevation of one god is due to socio-political factors—not theological nuancing.” If this is what you mean by henotheism, than I’m not that. The henotheist basically picks a god who exists among co-equals. Scripture doesn’t describe God that way. We agree about the supremacy and singular uniqueness of Jehovah.

You wrote, “I never said God doesn’t battle ‘gods.’ He conquers them.” However, in order to “conquer” gods, He must “battle” them. This struggle seems to be central to a biblical worldview and ultimately culminates in the apocalyptic scenarios of the Book of Revelations. In fact, we Christians play a part in battling not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 NIV). So while God seeks to overthrow evil archons and dominions, that battle is ongoing and appears to have casualties.

Finally, regarding your claim that I’ve said I “just don’t know what parameters the Bible puts on storytellers.” I’m not sure I’ve put it quite like that. While I definitely think that evangelicals place far too strict parameters around their fiction, I absolutely don’t believe Christian authors should have NO parameters. The examples are many, but may I refer you to this post, Reincarnation as a Fictional Mechanism where I object to Christians employing reincarnation as a fictional tool. The exchange between me and another author on the podcast may be of interest to you as well.

Anyway, I think we’re probably closer to agreement on this than it might appear.

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Travis Perry January 30, 2017 at 8:34 PM

Heiser’s view (I’ve read him) isn’t wholly original. It has long been thought that God sat above a council of angels and that the word “elohim” could on occasion be applied to these angels. But Heiser–a Biblical scholar trained at a liberal university, who has read a pile of Mesopotamian literature and gives it credence–reinterprets Biblical passages in the light of Sumerian and Babylonian Pagan myths if you pay careful attention to what he says. One of his key points is he rejects the word “angels” and insists the spirits in heaven are other “gods”–no, really, GODS–being an angel is a lesser function in his worldview.

It is true by any view of Biblical theology that the gods of Paganism are spirits who rebelled against God (YHWH)–Christian theologians would call them “fallen angels” usually and not get so strict as Heiser about what an angel “is.” If you want to say these angels are legitimately “gods” you can say that–because they are legitimately gods for the Pagans. But they were not gods from the beginning of time–they were not made gods by YHWH, either. They are not in the same category as YHWH/the true God. Not even close–which Heiser himself says, though not with clarity.

Where Heiser gets weird–and unbiblical–is to claim that there is territory on Planet Earth that these other deities own or owned and God (our God) has to do some work to reclaim that territory. Yes, Pagans believe that crap that certain sites are holy and belong to their god(s)–but the Bible does not really support the idea that God is limited in His sphere of influence on Earth, the “Prince of Persia” passage in Daniel notwithstanding (which can be alternately explained).

If that were true, if “gods” legitimately owned certain spheres of territory, then the Book of Jonah would not have been written–Jonah would have sailed far enough and have left the influence of YHWH/the true God. It’s true that JONAH believed or at least engaged in wishful thinking that some part of Earth was not owned by YHWH. One of the lessons of Jonah was that he was wrong about that–unless you want to maintain that Jonah simply did not do a good enough job of hiding and actually COULD have escaped YHWH. I would say such a view has a heretical concept of God and I doubt you believe it…the whole book of Jonah is about how God is everywhere–as many other passages of Scripture state as well. NOTHING limits God except his own decisions, his own choice not to interfere in everything.

There is a battle over the Earth, but it is over the souls of human beings. The “other side”–those who claim to be gods (the fallen angels who led the Pagans astray)–are only in this game because God allows them to be. They have zero power to hold territory against YHWH. It actually seems to be the case that they only hold anything based on people believing they can and choosing to give them power.

The idea that God or Christians actually have to reclaim part of physical territory on Planet Earth might make for an interesting novel, but it does NOT match up with what the Bible actually teaches. Hundreds of times the Bible declares without equivocation that the Earth and all that is in it–the entire universe even–belongs to YHWH. A few passages which can be interpreted in multiple ways can be read to suggest other “gods” actually own some territory on Earth. Putting those few questionable passages over the clear, ringing voice of the majority of Biblical teaching is a major mistake in Biblical exegesis. And I think you probably realize that if you think about it–you are not about to start doing “baptism for the dead” like Mormons do because of one passage that nobody really understands. Neither should you believe Heiser’s handful of passages amount to a revolution in how to see the subject of “gods.”

Heiser is not actually a henotheist as far as I can tell–but he comes quite close. His teachings in some respects are clearly a false interpretation of the Bible. The other gods are not really gods–they are only so only in the minds of their worshipers–and that’s why God addresses them as such in Psalm 82:1. Please give Psalm 96 a read as an example of what I am saying about God being real an the others only being so in the minds of the Pagans, especially verses 5-7. This passage is MUCH clearer (and there are many like it in the Bible) than reinterpreting the beginning of Genesis 6 and Psalm 82:1 and a few other spots in ways that give Pagan myths 100% credence–which is what Heiser does.

I think and have stated in public that I think Satan is trying to restore Paganism in this world–the worship of multiple gods is an enemy of Christianity as much as atheism is. Getting those of us on “team Christian” to start wondering if there really are other “gods” or not is a pretty obvious ploy for Satan to make, a step in weakening us against a world already charging into the arms of believing in multiple spirits and powers.

Sadly, it seems to be working–at least in part.

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Mike Duran January 31, 2017 at 6:46 AM

Travis, I have only started reading Heiser and listening to his podcasts. While I don’t want to come across as an apologist for him, I haven’t found anything heretical in his teachings thus far. In fact, he receives positive reviews and feedback from many conservative scholars (see the review I linked in the post from The Gospel Coalition, a very conservative group). You claimed that Heiser “rejects the word ‘angels’ and insists the spirits in heaven are other ‘gods.'” A link or a citation would be helpful here. As Heiser recognizes YHWH as the uncreated, uniquely supreme God, any reference to “gods” should be interpreted in that light. Again, this is a potential problem for believers in general (not just Heiser) because Scripture DOES reference gods, archon, dominions, “powers of this dark world,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 NIV).

You wrote, “The idea that God or Christians actually have to reclaim part of physical territory on Planet Earth might make for an interesting novel, but it does NOT match up with what the Bible actually teaches.” I disagree with you on this. You argue that “the Bible declares without equivocation that the Earth and all that is in it–the entire universe even–belongs to YHWH,” therefore we don’t have to “reclaim” anything. However, the entire story of Scripture is about advancing God’s kingdom, His rule and reign. Jesus even marked the end of the age as climaxing when “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt. 24:14). There’s an obvious “territory” involved to the preaching of the gospel and/or the advance of God’s people. We see this in the Jews escape from Egypt, conquest of Canaan, entering of the Promised Land, etc.

A good parallel to this idea of reclamation and God’s sovereignty is human free will. God is sovereign, however He has limited Himself, so to speak, to our free will. In this sense, I am free to obey or disobey, accept or reject Him. Does this make Him less God? Of course, this argument is contingent on one’s view of human freedom and Divine sovereignty. Nevertheless, it’s indeed analogous to the idea that God “owns” all creation but still allows creatures/powers with free will the ability to act against His wishes. The idea that a geographical territory can be ruled by the “powers of this dark world” is parallel to the idea that any human heart can be claimed by darkness if they’re not watchful. Which makes the idea of spiritual “reclamation” a powerful biblical idea.

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Travis Perry January 31, 2017 at 9:08 AM

Mike, as for what Heiser says about “angels” only applying to the aspect of heavenly beings when they work as messengers, I imagine you will find it if you keep reading. I saw him say so in a long lecture posted on YouTube but I don’t remember which one (there were four I watched). I also read his articles on his website but don’t recall seeing that particular comment there. I am certain he said it–so I am confident you will find it. If not, what I would ask you to do is finish his book and if you still don’t see such a reference, let me know and I will go to the trouble of hunting down the quote. I’m sure it’s there in the body of his work somewhere.

As for “other gods” claiming territory on Earth, again, it makes for a dramatic story, but would have dramatically different meaning for the real world if it were true. It would mean that until a Christian missionary set foot in a foreign land, that land would be run by spirits who own a piece of Earthly territory. It means that part of the mission of the church is to physically move through physical space to go to a physical place where demons…er, I mean, “gods,”…own a piece of land in order to evict them. Who says the false gods/demons/spirits, even interact with physical territory at all? Doesn’t the Bible portray them as being involved in PEOPLE in the case of demon possession? Does the Bible ever say clearly that X territory belongs to evil spirits? (I would say “no” but there are a couple of debatable passages where you could say otherwise–which are easily explained in other ways. And it isn’t wise to build a doctrine on a few questionable passages, as you know.)

Did Jesus ever cast demons out of a PLACE? Did Paul? Did Paul pray for God to evict the enemy spirits residing there as he entered a new city? Not that’s been recorded. Do the epistles, the marching orders for Christian churches, give commands on how to clear places from demons? Or how to “conquer” new territory in the name of Christ? (both NO and NO)

Now, compare the complete disinterest of the Bible on whether or not a spirit can actually inhabit a particular territory (as opposed to interacting with the people who happen to live in a particular place) with Pagan mythos. There are literally millions of places (especially if we include India) in which a god or gods have been thought to be the owners of such-and-such hill, such-and-such brook, or grove, or field. Going to such places would put you in connection with the gods, the Pagans believed. Jews believed it seems, some of them, that YHWH really IN FACT resided in the temple in Jerusalem (even though Solomon’s dedication prayer made it clear that “heaven and Earth cannot contain you, let alone this temple I have built”).

Was the temple an actual “Holy place” where God resided in a special way? Were the Pagan temples actual homes for their gods? Are special patches of natural ground really owned by “gods” because the Pagans said so? The Bible is not crystal-clear on these answers (which it would be if this were a vitally important doctrine), but seems to say, “no, no, and no.”

Heiser quotes Canaanite mythology when he gives his interpretation of what “on this rock I will build my church”–claiming that Mt. Hermon (which is where he affirms Jesus was, though the Bible is unclear about that) was a gateway to hell. REALLY–not just in Canaanite mythology. No, not that the dumb Pagans believed imaginary garbage that demons enjoyed making them look stupid about–no, that their dumb ideas actually resonate with unseen realities of spirits vying for physical space on the globe of Earth.

IF it were true that demons can occupy space and physical landscape, as opposed to attaching themselves to people (who of course live in particular places), then that would mean it would be necessary to go to places like Mount Hermon and drive the demons (er, “gods”) out. Wouldn’t it? And since a lot of places that Pagans believed were special were inhospitable regions where human beings don’t normally live (like MT Hermon itself), that would produce this weird Christian evangelism where we would be going to, say, the South Pole to drive out the “gods” who live there. To Everest to get rid of the “gods” there. To the Marianas Trench and every other spot on the globe…and what about space? The Pagans associated their gods with specific heavenly bodies–so do we need to go to the moon to drive out the gods there? This concept becomes ridiculous awfully quickly–the church is told to reach HUMAN BEINGS with the Gospel. Not physical topography. And the Bible makes it clear when dealing with humans we might be dealing with evil spirits–but says nothing clear about reclaiming physical territory, because Heiser is wrong.

If pursued logically, Heiser’s ideas are absurd. That may not make them heresy, but him giving Pagan myths as much credit as he does and then reinterpreting the Bible in the light of mythological study is VERY bad precedent.

I would not go so far as to call Heiser a heretic, but he does seem to have abandoned the concept of “Sola Scriptura,” which I hold to. He was taught to do that at a liberal theological seminary which held the Bible was nothing more than a product of Pagan myths that came before it and which looked to Mesopotamian and Egyptian mythology as a means of explaining (or better said, “explaining away”) the Bible. Heiser gave it an unusual twist by making the Pagan mythology reflect a reality that is also reflected in his interpretations of the Bible. He in effect attempted to “square the circle” of making the Bible ACTUALLY a product of Mesopotamian mythology (instead of the two things having a common origin) but still ACTUALLY true. We can admire his originality and loyalty to the inspiration of the Bible under a barrage of liberal intellectualism. But he wound up believing some strange things.

He routinely employs bad Scriptural exegesis in giving too much credence to extra-biblical sources. His bad exegesis generates some ideas that are relatively tame, just repackaging older ideas, really. But other ideas of his I would say are clearly incorrect. And moving in a direction that I think is dangerous.

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Mike Duran February 2, 2017 at 6:45 AM

We’ll have to disagree on this. Travis. I don’t see the Bible being anywhere near as definitively against territorial spirits and jurisdictions as you do. Just the opposite! There is very clearly a “geography” to redemptive history. Wherever the sole of Joshua/Israel’s foot tread, the land was theirs (Josh. 1:3). Physical boundaries were actually drawn according to their faith (one reason why Joshua was encouraged to be strong and courageous and not fear the giants of that land). The Holy Place WAS an actual “holy PLACE,” a place behind a veil where only the high priest could enter. Moses walked on “holy ground” (Ex. 3:5) as did Joshua (Josh. 5:15). Mount Sinai actually “smoked” and “trembled” from God’s presence. “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Ex. 19:18). In fact, God demanded that actual physical boundaries be put up around the mountain! “Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death” (Ex. 19:12). And then there’s the Satan described as the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4). Even translating ‘kosmos,’ the Greek word, as simply “humanity” or the “ungodly multitudes” still challenges your conclusion that territory (physical and spiritual) cannot be usurped by someone other than God. Then there’s Satan promising to give Jesus the “kingdoms of the world,” (this after showing Him actual cities!) if He bowed down to worship him (Matt. 4:8-9). Sure the implications of all this are sticky. But we must be careful to not dismiss the implications just because they’re disturbing. Especially when there’s so much biblical evidence.

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Travis Perry February 2, 2017 at 10:55 AM

Mike, we are talking apples and oranges a little bit.

The Scripture does say that Sinai was holy ground and the tabernacle and temple were described as special. But that is subtly different than the Pagan conception of things. Is Sinai holy NOW? Is it “territory of God”? Should I go there to pray–would my prayers be better heard there? Is the temple mount of Jerusalem “holy”? Are prayers said there closer to God? Are the places perceived to be dwellings of false gods “unholy?” Will I be attacked by demons if I enter a former Pagan worship place? I would say, “no,” to all the questions I just posed–an omnipotent God means we have no need to fear “unholy” spots. An omnipresent God means all places on the planet have access to God–I don’t need to be on some sort of “home turf” of God to pray effectively to Him.

And the questions I raised and other ones you have not addressed are important because if an analysis of what the Bible says yields ridiculous results, then we need to double-check our interpretation of Scripture. So you should ask yourself–was Jonah wrong to think he could flee the presence of God? The conclusions of territorial possession would imply he was onto something, but didn’t go far enough. I would say Jonah was flat wrong. Another question–do we need to pray over Everest, the Marianas Trench, over every patch of the Sahara Desert to drive out the “gods” there? That sounds ridiculous because the idea is false–if that were the mission of the church, Paul would have written in Romans or other epistle in explicit terms that is what we need to do. The epistles would COMMAND us to go over physical territory to reclaim it if it were an important doctrine, just like every other important doctrine of Scripture, the meat and bones of being a Christian, is plainly explained in the epistles. Clearly, if you assume the epistles tell Christians the things they need to DO in the faith (which I think is a very sound proposition) then the idea of claiming physical territory is NOT true, at least not in the strong sense that Heiser used, where Mount Hermon is to be seen as a haunt of demons/”gods” simply because Canaanite mythology said so. Geology does not need redemption–people do.

The doctrine could be true in a weaker sense, that demons are self-assigned to ethnic groups of human beings and entering the ethnic groups of human beings involves tangling the demons who are there. However, demonic principalities could also be divided up along non-ethnic lines (say demons assigned by profession, some over physicians, some over metalsmiths, etc.–and Pagan mythology can be used to justify this just as easily as the way Heiser interprets the “gods” to be in possession of territory) and we would never know it. It does not matter–the mission of the Church is to evangelize PEOPLE and not territory. Reach the people IN the territory and you have done what you need to do. There is no need to redeem physical places.

Now if you want to speculate in a story that there may be an unrevealed truth not in the Bible that God chose not to tell us about concerning demons or evil spirits, I don’t have a problem with that. What I object to is claiming that a speculation with doubtful basis in actual biblical teaching is the way things REALLY are in the spiritual world and Christians ought to act accordingly, as if these speculations were actually the case. Speculation, OK–claiming speculation is undeniable fact, not OK.

It makes more sense and is more consistent with the Bible to say a place is neither holy or unholy because of the people–or in the case of God at Sinai–the beings who are there. Rocks and trees and dirt are neither holy nor unholy. The smoking mountain was not a property of Mount Sinai reacting to God–it was a visible and miraculous manifestation of God that he enacted to demonstrate to His people His reality and majesty. Could a demon perhaps be in a physical place and make that places unholy for a moment? Perhaps. But as soon as it moved on, the place would be normal again. The idea that it is a characteristic of a certain object or location to be inherently holy or unholy “just because” is a Pagan notion and is not supported by the Bible with any consistency. The Bible does not consistently call any particular place “unholy,” nor is it easy to distinguish between the places considered “holy” (which are few) and the history of what happened there.

Joshua and the sole of his foot I would say is better explained as a tiny bit of poetic language instead of some kind of hidden spiritual reality. Joshua probably did not step over every piece of ground at Jericho, or Ai, or Lachish, or any of the other places he conquered–yet the whole city he directed an attack on became the territory of Israel because he was there to direct the attack. Not because there was something special in a spiritual way about where he happened to physically walk.

When Satan said he ruled the kingdoms of Earth, that does not mean he had the rocks and trees and groves and hills in such places, but the PEOPLE there obeyed him. Satan does present himself as the “god of this world” and in Greek that word IS “kosmos” but that word usually refers to the order of things, how things are set up in terms of a military or political rank structure. If we took it to mean the geological world, we would wind up with weird ideas about redeeming mountain ranges and other geological features unless we contradict ourselves. And since “kosmos” can also refer to the physical universe at times, we could just as well read the Bible to say that Satan the owns moon and planets, as well galaxies and star systems.

A story speculating Satan really owns physical territory throughout the universe and Christians need to physically GO to other stars and galaxies to claim that space back from the Devil and bring it into the dominion of God might actually make for a fascinating read. I don’t mind in the slightest some intriguing speculation via stories about such things.

But to maintain this is ACTUALLY true that this planet needed to be physically reclaimed from the “gods” and you can prove it from the Bible (as Heiser claims, though if you listen carefully he consistently imports key ideas from Pagan mythology to say so), that is NOT true and that’s why I am disagreeing with you. I do not feel this is a matter that should be up for debate–Heiser’s interpretations of the Bible are either not true or not important, or else we would have some very different commands given to the Christian church in the epistles, commands to explicitly reclaim physical space. Since we do NOT have such commands, that means it is NOT POSSIBLE to say Heiser is right. At best we could say, “maybe it could work that way, but God chose to keep that a secret.”

I am not telling you to put tape over key verses of the Bible concerning things you see there about Mount Sinai and Joshua’s foot (etc.) and not believe them–I am instead calling on you to embrace all the Bible says, giving priority to the epistles, and think clearly about what the Bible as a unified whole. Such full examination I judge to NOT support Heiser’s conclusions, not by a long shot. That fact you find Heiser credible causes me genuine concern–which I hope comes across in what I am writing.

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