Further Investigations into The Unseen Realm
Sons and Daughters of God
The Believer’s Identity, Calling, and Destiny
Michael S. Heiser
Sons and Daughters of God: The Believer’s Identity, Calling, and Destiny
Copyright 2019 Lexham Press
Lexham Press, 1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225
You may use brief quotations from this content in presentations, books, or articles. Video material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed in whole or part without express written permission. Contact email@example.com.
Logos Mobile Education
Instructional Designer: Daniel Snoek
Contributing Editor: Ronald van der Bergh
Instructional Media Specialist: Brandon VanBeek
Proofreader: Allisyn Ma
Sons and Daughters of God: The Believer’s Identity, Calling, and Destiny demonstrates that, in the Old Testament, “sons of God” and “holy ones” refers to supernatural beings whose Father is God and who work with God to carry out His will and that this divine family was present before humanity. By fully engaging with biblical texts such as Psa 82; Psa 89, and Deut 32:8–9, the course shows that this divine family functions as a template for God’s human family. God desires of humans, as His imagers, to participate in His council. The course addresses issues such as polytheism, the nature of the “gods,” and the uniqueness of Yahweh. In conclusion, the course applies these insights to the New Testament texts and shows how the metaphor of being in God’s family informs our sense of identity and mission as believers.
Upon successful completion you should be able to:
• Understand how New Testament theology derives from the Old Testament
• Summarize the rationale and supernatural context for the family metaphor in the Bible
• Discuss ways in which biblical writers interpret Scripture and connect ideas
• Describe ways in which the image of God informs our identity as children of God and our mission on earth as believers
Heiser, Michael S. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. First Edition. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015.
Heiser, Michael S. Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. Edited by David Lambert. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015.
Heiser, Michael S. Angels: What the Bible Really Says about God’s Heavenly Host. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018.
Introducing the Speaker and the Course
Unit 1: Foundations
1. God Has a Divine Family
2. Divine Family Present Before Humanity
3. Crucial Passages
4. Introducing Logical Questions
Unit 2: Objections: Part 1
6. Idols: Part 1
7. Idols: Part 2
Unit 3: Shared Rule with the Heavenly Council
8. Participation with God’s Government: Part 1
9. Participation with God’s Government: Part 2
Unit 4: Objections: Part 2
10. People? Jews?
12. Polytheism: Are the Gods Real?
13. The G-O-D Problem
14. Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 1
15. Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 2
16. “None besides Me”: Part 1
17. “None besides Me”: Part 2
18. “None besides Me”: Part 3
19. Jesus, the “Only Begotten” Son?
Unit 5: Human Family Imagers
20. Family Terminology Is Intentional
21. Heavenly Host at Creation
22. Plurality Language
23. What the Image Is Not
24. Humans Animated by the Breath of God
25. Imaging Is What Unites Us
26. Imaging after the Fall
Unit 6: New Testament Application
27. New Testament Application of These Ideas
28. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 1
29. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 2
30. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 3
31. Conclusion to the Course
Introducing the Speaker and the Course
Hi, I am Dr. Mike Heiser, scholar-in-residence at Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software. Thanks for joining us for this course. Our course focus is the sons and daughters of God—really, the family of God.
Now, our approach to this is going to be a little bit different. I am going to spend a lot of time in the Old Testament talking about phrases like “sons of God.” And in the Old Testament, that really refers to the members of God’s divine family, and we are not talking about the Trinity there. The Trinity, the members of the Trinity, are not sons of God. We are talking about something else.
The language of the Old Testament, as we’re going to see, is important because that language is going to be a precursor (sort of a template) to how believers get talked about in the New Testament. So this course is going to go over some fundamental ideas. We’re going to spend a lot of time on the sons of God, the divine family, establishing the fact that what we’re talking about here are divine beings that existed before God creates humanity and, of course, existed during the existence of the human family. But one precedes the other, and that’s important; and the terminology is important.
What we’re going to see is that this sort of terminology that has deep roots in the Old Testament and is repurposed in the New Testament communicates certain ideas about our identity: who we are, our status, how God looks at us, our calling (what is our purpose and our destiny?), how we’ll realize our status in a full sense, how we’ll complete our mission, our calling, especially after the fall. So thanks for joining us for this course. I think you’ll find it interesting.
1. God Has a Divine Family 2. Divine Family Present Before Humanity 3. Crucial Passages 4. Introducing Logical Questions
God Has a Divine Family
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the importance of learning about God’s divine family in the Old Testament
God’s Divine Family in the Old Testament
The place to begin our journey is first to recognize that God has a divine family, and really, God had a divine family before He had a human family. The family terminology that we’re going to talk about in the Old Testament is very intentional. It’s going to communicate certain ideas about our identity: who we are, our calling, our purpose, and our destiny; how we’ll realize both the fullness of our status, our identity, and fulfill our purpose in this life and accomplish God’s will on earth.
In other words, the divine family is actually going to turn out to be a template for understanding the creation and purpose of the human family, and that’s why we’re going to start and spend a good amount of time on this idea of God’s divine family in the Old Testament.
Familiar New Testament language about our membership in God’s family came from somewhere; it has deep Old Testament roots. God’s family didn’t begin with humans. Humans had to be grafted into it. Its beginning was divine. So for that reason, we need to begin with that particular supernatural divine family. And we’re going to talk about the nature of that family (who is in there? what kind of beings are we talking about?) and then its function. And as we talk about the nature and function of the divine family, we’re going to be laying a foundation for how all that material is repurposed in the New Testament and applied to believers.
God’s Family UR:RSWB
Divine Family Present Before Humanity
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify and discuss a passage that speaks of God’s divine family
• Explain what is meant by the gendered expression “sons of God”
• Describe the two families of God and their intended relationship
Divine Family in Job 38:4–7
Now, I mentioned that the Old Testament presents this idea that God had a divine family that was present before humanity. The primary passage for that is Job 38:4–7, and this is the passage where God asks Job, beginning in verse 4,
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Now, the point here is the “sons of God” language. There were divine beings, sons of God, present at the creation of the world; God had a family. These are spirit beings. We’re going to be taking a look at some other passages that refer to the sons of God as members of the heavenly hosts. So we know they’re spirit beings; they are not by nature embodied. They don’t have gender, anything like that.
“Sons of God,” a Hierarchical Expression
But you ask, “Where are the daughters? You know, why is it ‘sons of God’?” Well, in the Old Testament mode of thinking, “sons of God” is actually a hierarchical term. If you remember that Old Testament culture was predominantly, in terms of leadership, dominated by men, it was very patriarchal in some of its institutions. And so, “sons of God” is not so much a term that describes what a thing is (again, they don’t have gender; they don’t have bodies); it’s rather a term that describes a particular function, and we’ll be getting into some of those functions as we proceed.
God Wants a Blended Family
Now, after the earth’s foundations were laid, God decided to do some other things. As we know the biblical story, God decided to create a human family on earth. That family was embodied; they were terrestrial. So we have two families that emerge in the biblical story pretty clearly, but the human family was preexisted by the divine family. Humans are going to as their destiny—at least their planned destiny—going to join this family. Heaven is going to come to earth in the form of Eden. God is going to be there. His own heavenly family, His entourage, is going to be there. Humans were created to join in with that group—sort of a blended family where humans would live among these divine beings. Because heaven has now come to earth, they are not separate domains, and that was the original intent.
God, of course, is going to task humans with certain things, just like He tasks the members of His divine family with certain things. So the biblical story that emerges right from the beginning is that God is looking for a blended family—divine and human. Humans living in the divine presence was the intended norm. Of course, we know that that’s not the way the story goes, but keep in mind the idea of intended norm.
Divine Family Becomes a Template
The divine family, therefore, is a precursor; it becomes a template for how we should think about how God looks at the rest of His family, which is us. So we’re going to learn about the divine sons of God in order to understand how the New Testament later talks about our own identity and our calling and our destiny.
Two Councils, One Destiny S:WBTUWWIM God’s Two Family-Household-Councils UR:RSWB
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify passages referring to “sons of God” and discuss their meaning and significance
Getting Comfortable with a Supernatural Worldview
Now, if we’re honest, we have to admit we aren’t used to thinking about our own identity and our calling and our destiny against the backdrop of the heavenly host, God’s divine family. And really, some of that is due to sort of neglect of the patterns. Even though the patterns are there, a lot of people are never discovering them, or never taught them, but they are actually important, and I think we will be able to see that in the course of our course using this trajectory.
Sometimes there is a fear of the supernatural worldview. There are some passages that we’re going to look at that are controversial, where people actually try to explain the supernatural elements away. That’s a mistake; it’s a mistake to demythologize passages that actually help us think like the ancient writers think and, in this case, actually help us discover a template that helps us discern what God wanted to do with humanity from the very beginning in terms of family relationships and calling and destiny.
Elohim in Psalm 82
Let’s start with Psa 82. In the very first verse, we read, “God [and that’s the Hebrew word elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” That second word “gods” with an s on the end of it is also the word elohim. We have elohim occurring two times in the same verse, and because of reasons of Hebrew grammar, the first one is singular and the second one is plural.
Now, we know that the second one is plural as well from verse 6 in the same psalm. God is speaking to the members of His divine council, this heavenly host, and He says, “I said, ‘You are gods [the word elohim again], sons [plural] of the Most High, all of you.’ ” Now “sons of the Most High” is obviously plural. That means the elohim of Psa 82:6, which refers back to Psa 82:1, is also plural. Sons of God are derivative from members of lesser beings in God’s family. They are sons of the God of the Bible, sons of the Most High. There is no other Most High than the God of the Bible. So we have a divine family here.
Sons of God in Psalm 89
Let’s go to Psa 89 and look at another passage where we have the same sort of picture drawn for us. In Psa 89:5 we read,
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the heavenly beings [literally in Hebrew, it’s “sons of God”] is like the LORD,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all who are around him?
Sons of God in Job 1–2
Job 1–2 gives us the same flavor. In Job 1:6, we read, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” Job 2:1, almost identical to the verse we just read: “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.”
Family and Bureaucracy
Now, what we have here is that God is the leader of a council or assembly of holy ones, which are multiple elohim (“gods” with an s on the end). These plural elohim, these multiple elohim, these gods were created by Him; they are His sons. Again, the family language telegraphs certain things. They come from Him. They didn’t produce the God of the Bible. It’s never the other way around. God is the one who is credited with their existence. We have a divine family here (“sons” language communicates family), and we also have a divine bureaucracy.
This group meets with God to conduct business of some sort, to get things done, to pass decrees, to render judgments. This is going to be important as we proceed. Actually both elements—the family element and the bureaucracy element—are going to be a helpful template for what God was thinking when He created humanity in the first place. But to be honest, these passages also raise a number of questions, and we’re going to turn to those questions first to get them settled as we proceed.
God’s Household UR:RSWB Crucial Passages LBD
Introducing Logical Questions
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify questions regarding the nature of the elohim
• Explain why it is important to ask and answer questions regarding the nature of the elohim
Questions Regarding the Nature of the Elohim
Now, the passages we just looked at (Psa 82; Psa 89; Job 1:6; Job 2:1, and of course, there are others that can be brought into the mix), they raise a number of questions, and in my experience, these are the most common: Are these plural elohim of this council, are these actually just references to the Trinity? Are they angels? Is that a better way to refer to them than using a word like “gods”? Maybe they are idols? Could they, in fact, be idols, these references?
Some would argue that they are even people. Are these human beings, like Jewish leaders, judges of Israel, things like that? All those questions really sort of lead to this one fundamentally big one: Are these gods real? And how do we even think about that? Because if they are real, then what about monotheism? What about polytheism? This sounds polytheistic. What about the verses that say, “There are no gods besides Yahweh of Israel”?
“Where is Jesus within all this?” is another good question. I mean, He is the “only begotten Son of God,” and then now, we have all these other sons of God running around the Old Testament. How do we think about Jesus in light of all this? And why would God even need a council? What’s the point of having this terminology at all?
Importance of Answering Questions
Now, we’re going to go through all of these questions pretty briefly. They’re all important, but not just for knowing what Scripture does and doesn’t say. They are important for understanding how God’s supernatural family bureaucracy, essentially His family and His home business (we want to use those metaphors), how that works, how those things work in tandem, and how they help us understand our own status, our own calling, and our own destiny.
Objections: Part 1
5. Trinity 6. Idols: Part 1 7. Idols: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why the reference to the elohim in Psa 82 cannot possibly be the Trinity
Impossibility of Elohim as Trinity in Psalm 82
Now, as we go through these questions, I think we’ll see that none of them are really very complicated, although some are easier to see the answer than others. Let’s take the question about the Trinity first. Are the plural elohim references of Psa 82, for instance, references to the Trinity?
Well, if we are talking about Psa 82 and its council which, of course, is drawn on by Psa 89 and other passages that we’ll see as we go on, Psa 82 actually forbids the idea that this could be speaking of the Trinity. Let’s take a look at the psalm itself and just read through it. Verse 1:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
That’s the entire psalm, and what’s the point? Well, the plural elohim from verse 1 that God is addressing in this council are really getting a tongue-lashing from God because they are wicked and they are corrupt.
We get a little sense of what the point is by the last line, “Arise O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” Now, it would take a whole other course to explain divine rebellion in the history of the Old Testament and Old Testament theology, but one of those rebellions has to do with what happened at the Tower of Babel.
The short version is that God was again displeased with humanity and decided, “I’m going to split you up into a bunch of nations.” And according to Deut 32:8–9, God assigned those nations, He divided them up, according to the number of the sons of God. So God assigns the nations that are not His own people because He is going to call Abraham right after the Tower of Babel incident and create for Himself a new nation; He assigns those other nations to other gods. He allots them to them. And here in Psa 82, we find out that those other gods did not rule those nations according to the good laws, the good rules, the good nature, the good character of Yahweh. God still wants people treated well, even though they are not Israelites. And so, God is giving these other gods, these “sons of the Most High” in verse 6, a tongue-lashing. They are corrupt; they are wicked; they are evil.
And the psalmist in the last verse looks forward to the day when God would rise up and take back the nations—in other words, breaking the stronghold of these other gods, solving the wickedness problem for all the other nations as well.
That alone, that little set of facts about the psalm and its context, of course, it rules out the Trinity. God is never going to give the other members of the Trinity a tongue-lashing for being corrupt. He is never going to look them in the eyes, so to speak, and say, “Well, you are gods, you are elohim, all of you; nevertheless, you are going to die like men.” Okay, He is never going to say that to the other members of the Trinity.
And of course, the Spirit of God is not a son of God anyway, going back to the language of verse 6. So we don’t have the Trinity here by any stretch of the imagination in Psa 82. That would really be, frankly, terrible theology. So the question about a Trinity is arguably the most easy of these questions to answer.
Reading Your Bible Again—For the First Time UR:RSWB
Idols: Part 1
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why Psa 89 and Job 1–2 rule out idols as the reference of the “sons of God”
• Describe the heavenly host according to 1 Kgs 22:19–23
No Idols in Heaven
Now, we just saw that the plural elohim of Psa 82:1 is not a reference to other members of the Trinity because the other members of the Trinity aren’t wicked and corrupt. But some would ask, “Well, are they idols? Are we talking about idols here? Because in the Old Testament, you do get a few passages where idol talk and talk about other gods are sort of mixed.”
Well, Psa 89 and Job 1–2 actually rule this out. In Psa 89, God’s council is in heaven; it’s “in the skies” in that language. Now, we don’t have idols in the heavens; idols are objects that are on earth. Job 1–2: the sons of God appear in God’s own presence, His throne room, so to speak. We don’t have idols in God’s throne room either.
To be more blunt, idols don’t work for God, and God doesn’t use idols to accomplish His will. We are not talking about idols here when we are talking about the divine council, these plural elohim, sons of God. Now, other divine council scenes will make this point pretty clear. Idols do not participate in God’s program.
Heavenly Host in 1 Kings 22:19–23
In 1 Kgs 22:19–23, we read about an episode in Israel’s history where the Israelite King Ahab has invited the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, to his palace because he wants to convince Jehoshaphat to align himself with his battle plans. Ahab wants to go up and attack a city called Ramoth-gilead.
And so, Jehoshaphat goes up there to meet with Ahab. Ahab brings out all his prophets, and they, of course, say, “Yeah, Ahab, you know what you are doing. Go up there, and you’re going to be successful.” But Jehoshaphat has a sense they are just telling him what he wants to hear. And so, he asks, “Hey, isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh around here somewhere that we could ask him?”
And I love Ahab’s answer in 1 Kgs 22:8. He says, or it reads, “And the king of Israel [Ahab] said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.’ ” In other words, “He never tells me what I want to hear.”
So they bring Micaiah out, and Micaiah at first mocks Ahab’s prophets by repeating what they say, but Ahab is not a dumb guy. He knows what’s going on. He says in verse 16, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
And so, Micaiah says, “Alright. You want to hear what the Lord has to really say? I’ll tell you.” So, in verse 19, we read this,
Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has declared disaster for you.”
Now, this is a real telling scene in a number of respects, and we will get to some of those respects as we continue through our course. But what I want you to notice here is that who is with the Lord in this meeting about Ahab? It’s the members of the heavenly host. They are spirits; they are not idols. Again, idols do not work for God. We’re going to see this kind of situation in other passages as well.
Who Carries Out God’s Decrees?
Now, what I want you to be thinking about is: Who participates with God in carrying out God’s will? Who is there for God to task in carrying out His decrees? And we’ve ruled the Trinity out because of Psa 82, and the members of the Trinity are not wicked. And it’s not idols either because idols don’t work for God; they are hostile to God; they are, by definition, opposers. And 1 Kgs 22 gives us the first glimpse of that, but let’s take a look at some other passages.
“Spirit” (rûaḥ; plural: rûaḥôṯ) A:WBRSGHH Contributing to Council Resolutions A:WBRSGHH
Idols: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify and discuss passages in Daniel that refer to the divine council
• Demonstrate that the divine council does not refer to idols
• Explain why God does not need a council
We are talking about whether the language of divine plurality in Psa 82 (the plural elohim), whether we should understand that language as referring to idols. And to be honest, at this point, you’re probably wondering how this question is even relevant, how it makes any sense.
Fear of Polytheism
Well, a lot of people gravitate toward this option because they don’t want plural elohim to be real because of the fear of polytheism. We’re going to see later that that is an unsubstantial fear. Biblical theology does not teach polytheism, but we need to continue with this question because it is raised.
Divine Council in Daniel 7
We already saw in 1 Kgs 22 that we have in God’s council a heavenly host of spirit beings. That makes perfect sense; they are the ones who carry out God’s decrees. In that example, it was God’s decree that Ahab was going to die. Here in Dan 7, we pick up another passage. Again, keep in mind, idols don’t work for God. God does have an entourage; He does have a heavenly host; He does have a council, but we are not talking about idols here. So, in Dan 7:9, we read this, Daniel says,
As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
What we have here is a divine council meeting. We have thrones (plural) set up to render a judgment. We have a court, a council sitting, books are opened because God and His council, His entourage, His assembly, are going to render a judgment. About what? Well, if we read through the whole of Dan 7, they are meeting to decide what is the fate of these four beasts in the vision of Dan 7. The point for our purposes, though, is that these are not idols, and God does not work with idols.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and the Divine Decrees in Daniel 4
In Dan 4, we see something similar, except not quite as dramatic. This is the chapter in Daniel where Nebuchadnezzar gets news that he is going to go temporarily insane. And in verse 13, Nebuchadnezzar begins explaining to Daniel what happened—you know, what he saw in his vision or his dream. And we read in verse 13, “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.”
Now, the language here is significant. “Watcher” is a word that’s used several times in Daniel/ other Jewish literature for a divine being, a member of the heavenly host. He is referred to here as a “holy one.” We’ve already seen references to a council of holy ones back in Psa 89, and so here, they are in this scene in Dan 4.
Now, what happens is Nebuchadnezzar explains his dream, and its meaning is not good news for him. He is going to go temporarily insane. And in verse 17, we read this, “The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.”
So we have this decision about Nebuchadnezzar being judged associated with a group: “this is the decree of the watchers [plural], the decision by the word of the holy ones [plural].” But just so that we don’t misunderstand and say, “Oh, we’ve got just a rogue bunch of holy ones up there making decisions that God isn’t any part of,” Dan 4 is going to cut that thought off pretty clearly. In verse 24, we read very similar language to verse 17; it says, “This is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king.”
God Doesn’t Need a Council
So there is no council acting without God’s approval. This is God making a decision and the council participates with Him to carry out what God wants to happen, God’s decrees. Now, this gets at the question in our list of questions earlier about, well, what does God need with a council? So we might as well address it here. Frankly, God doesn’t need a council. He doesn’t need anything, but this is what He does. He wants it.
I think a good parallel would be to ask, “Why does God need us? Why does God need the church? Why does God need people for evangelism, the Great Commission?” Well, the short answer is He doesn’t. God could just sort of flip switches on and off about who is going to believe and not and call it a day, but He doesn’t do that. He has humans participate with Him in something He wants to get done.
And this takes our mind back to in our introduction this whole idea about a template. We are learning something about how God operates in the supernatural world with His divine family, His divine bureaucracy, His divine council, and that’s going to help inform us about how God looks at our participation, the things He has tasked us with. So God doesn’t need a council; He doesn’t need us either. This is just how He works.
So back to our main thought at this juncture: we’re not dealing with idols. Idols are enemies of God. They are objects in which fallen, rebellious, hostile, divine beings were thought to reside. This council of Yahweh is in the skies; it’s in the heavens. It’s not on earth where idols are, and idols are hostile anyway.
Now, the implication here I think we’ve seen very clearly is we have a participatory sort of relationship between God and the members of His family. He allows genuine participation in carrying out His will. A sub-thought of that is the notion that, well, if He is allowing genuine participation, what about predestination? Isn’t everything predetermined anyway? And we’re going to find out that no, that isn’t the case.
The Divine Council Meeting of Daniel 7 UR:RSWB The Ancient of Days and His Council S:WBTUWWIM What Does God Need with a Council? UR:RSWB
The Kingdom Will Come UR:RSWB
Shared Rule with the Heavenly Council
8. Participation with God’s Government: Part 1 9. Participation with God’s Government: Part 2
Participation with God’s Government: Part 1
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the significance of true participation with God
Participation Not Artificial
I bring up the issue of predestination really for one reason—that is, I want to make the point that participation in God’s council, participation in carrying out God’s will isn’t artificial. That is, God uses the members of His family to carry out His decrees, and He allows them freedom, creativity, input—however we want to think about this—in carrying out His will, in getting done the thing He wants to get done.
Now, this again is going to be a part of a template for understanding our role in God’s program. And so, even though it’s sort of a bit of a sidebar, sort of a little bit abstract, it’s important to include this in our thinking, because when we talk about “participation,” that term is going to come back later in our course when we talk about imaging. The whole concept of being created as God’s imager really matters because God (as we’re going to see) is going to lend us His attributes, one of which is freedom, and He allows us to use those attributes to be who we are in carrying out His decisions.
And so, if we can see an example or two of that in the Old Testament, where God and the decisions He makes does not have everything in a predetermined sort of mode, that’s going to matter for how we process what we do as God’s servants, as God’s children in His family business, His family bureaucracy. So the question before us is: Isn’t everything predestined? And I have already said, tipped my hand here, that no.
Do we have scriptural evidence for that? Well, I’m going to take us on a short sidebar to 1 Sam 23 to get what I think is some needed perspective here that’s going to be an ingredient in this idea of understanding the importance of actually working with God, being co-laborers in what He wants us to do. It’s not artificial. It’s meaningful; it actually counts. So let’s take a look at 1 Sam 23.
God’s Gift UR:RSWB Kingdom Participation Now S:WBTUWWIM
Participation with God’s Government: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain how 1 Sam 23:1–13 shows God’s foreknowledge, and why that does not necessitate predestination
• Explain the significance of God’s plan happening in “real time”
We’re going to read through 1 Sam 23 to get a flavor for this notion about predestination, how God sort of looks at the future. And there is going to be an implication in here that’s important for us as we, later in the course, think about our participation in God’s program.
First Samuel 23:1–13
So beginning in the first verse of 1 Sam 23, we read this:
Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” Then David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.
Summary of 1 Samuel 23:1–13
Now, do you see the relevance to the predestination question? David is in a jam. Saul was going to come down; he is in the process of coming down to Keilah to encircle the city—classic siege warfare tactics—trapping David inside. And of course, when he does that, he’s just going to say to the men of Keilah, “Look, I am going to sit here as long as it takes. I will starve you out. I will cut off your water supply.” You just do what you do in siege warfare. “Hand David over to me and nobody gets hurt; I’m gone.”
So David asks, “You know, is this going to happen? Is Saul going to come down and besiege the city? Will the men of Keilah hand me over to Saul?” And God says, “You bet.” He says yes to both things. And so, what happens? David does what you and I would do: he leaves.
Foreknowledge Not Predestination
So, what are the implications? Here’s what we are aiming at: God in this passage foreknew two things that never happened. That tells us that foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination. God foreknows two things that never come to pass; His foreknowledge did not necessitate the predestination of those events because they never happened.
Now, this is going to matter later when we get into Gen 1, the fall. Humans are added to the divine family, and God shares His attributes with them, one of which is freedom. When God has His intelligent family members, whether they are divine beings or whether they are human beings, when He tasks them with participating with Him in working out His program, His plan, His will, that’s going to happen in real time.
What We Do Actually Matters
And yes, God knows what’s going to happen. He knows all things—real and possible. But the possible things, at least a lot of them, don’t always happen, even though God foreknows them. And so, we again need to take the lesson here that what God tasks us to do in our time, in our place as His children, as His coworkers, what we do actually matters. We are not robots. Everything is not pre-programmed. We’ll hit those thoughts again a little bit later when we talk about imaging.
For now, we need to get back to the nature of God’s family, the other elohim. We know they are not members of the Trinity; we know they are not idols. And we’ve talked about why God doesn’t really need a council, but this is what He uses. So let’s go back to some of the other questions and wrap them up.
Free Imagers UR:RSWB Evil and Foreknowledge UR:RSWB
Foreknowledge, Predestination, Sovereignty, and Free Will: Implications UR:RSWB
Objections: Part 2
10. People? Jews? 11. Angels? 12. Polytheism: Are the Gods Real? 13. The G-O-D Problem 14. Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 1 15. Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 2 16. “None besides Me”: Part 1 17. “None besides Me”: Part 2 18. “None besides Me”: Part 3 19. Jesus, the “Only Begotten” Son?
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain how the setting of the divine council rules out elohim as referring to humans in Psa 82
One of the other options when people raise the question, “Well, maybe these plural elohim aren’t really divine beings; they’re not really gods. Maybe they are something else,” is that, well, maybe they are people. Maybe we’re just talking about people. Maybe Psa 82 has God talking to a council of leaders, Jewish leaders, elders, Israelites, you know, some human beings here.
Coming from the Spiritual World
Now, we’ve already seen certain things in addressing other questions that’s going to make this option very troublesome—really, frankly, impossible. In Psa 89, the council of God, the council of His sons, the sons of God, the sons of the Most High in Psa 82:6—those two psalms using sonship language very plainly—this council of God’s children in Psa 89 is in the skies; it’s in the heavenly realms, the spiritual realm.
First Kings 22: Micaiah is looking into the throne room of God. He sees a vision of the spiritual world. It’s the same thing with Dan 4 and Dan 7. These beings come from the spiritual world, not earth. That alone would rule out the trajectory that God is really talking to people here.
Dominant View: Humans
You can read your Bible from cover to cover and you’re never going to come up with a group of Jewish people ruling with God in the skies. It just doesn’t make any sense. There is a reason behind why I am bringing this up because this is actually, believe it or not—even though after the little bit we have discussed here it sounds a little absurd—this is actually kind of a dominant view in commentaries and whatnot for Psa 82.
And again, it’s because people are troubled by having multiple elohim in the spiritual world. And again, you might be listening to that and saying, “What’s the trouble? It’s a heavenly host.” I understand that, but again, we need to hit some of these things.
Jewish Elders Never Called Elohim
Now, I’ve included specific detailed critiques of this idea that Psa 82 is just talking about other people in the Unseen Realm. Just by way of referring you to that and sort of taking one point from that longer discussion, you’ll often see this idea defended by virtue of Exod 18. This is the scene where Moses through the advice of the council of Jethro appoints other people to help him make decisions—the appointment of elders to assist Moses in Israelite jurisprudence and just taking Q and A.
Well, the fact of the matter is, that’s true, but if you read Exod 18, the elders are never called elohim in that passage, not even once. Every occurrence of elohim in that passage, except for one, refers to the God of Israel; the outlier is a reference to the other gods of the nations. Jewish elders are never referred to as elohim in either Exod 18 or any other passage.
Spiritual Beings, Not Humans
And you’ll find commentaries refer to Exod 22, same thing in Exod 21. For the longer critique, you can read Unseen Realm. What I want you to take away from this point here is that, look, you don’t need to do all that fancy scholarly stuff. Think about Psa 82, think about Psa 89, think about 1 Kgs 22, think about Dan 4. God’s family, His children who form His council, His advisory board—again, not really in the sense of God learning anything, but God allowing them to choose, make decisions, have a little freedom in carrying out things that God has already decided He wants done—that body, that deliberative body, that group, are spiritual beings. They are in the spiritual realm, in the skies, in the heavens, according to Psa 89. That alone rules out people.
So that’s the point really to take away from this for our purposes. If you want to get into the longer, lengthier discussion, Unseen Realm will do that for you. We are not hung up with divine plurality, and as we proceed through the rest of the questions, we’re going to get into: “Well, how do we think about the divine plurality if the answer isn’t these other things?” We are not dealing with polytheism here. The God of Israel is unique; none are like Him. There really is, comparatively speaking, none beside Him. He is unique.
So we don’t need to worry about that idea, and that in turn means we don’t have to invent contrived answers, contrived positions to explain divine plurality. And I think you’re going to see as we proceed through the course that’s a good thing because God is going to use His relationship to His heavenly family and what they do as a template for helping us understand how God looks at us and what we do.
And I will give you a sneak peek here. In the end, humans who are redeemed are going to be made like Him. First John 3, we are going to be made divine; we are going to be grafted into the divine family. There is a reason why we get a body like Jesus had, according to 1 Cor 15; there is a reason why we are described as being partakers of the divine nature in 2 Pet 1. The Old Testament language about the sons of God and what they do and how God relates to them is of great importance for understanding our status, our calling, and our destiny.
Divine Beings Are Not Human UR:RSWB Human Beings as אֱלֹהִים (elohim)? LBD Human Elder-Judges of Israel and Plural אֱלֹהִים (elohim) LBD
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the difference between the terms “angel,” “sons of God,” and elohim
“Angel” as Job Description
We have one more common trajectory to address in terms of people trying to identify the plural elohim of Yahweh’s council in Psa 82 and some of these other passages. The question naturally comes up, “Well, are these angels?” Well, it’s kind of like six of one and a half dozen of the other. The specific term for “angel” in the Hebrew Bible (mal’akh) is not used in these or other council passages. Heavenly host terminology, though, does show up, and of course, angels are part of the heavenly host.
What we have here is a bit of a confusion. We think of “angel” as a term that describes what something is. That’s not actually how we need to think about angel either in the Hebrew Bible or in other literature as well. An angel, a messenger, mal’akh just means “messenger”; angelos in Greek just means “messenger.” This term “angel” is actually a job description. It doesn’t tell you what a thing is; it tells you what a thing does. And so, if we are referring to a certain elohim, certain divine beings as being mal’akhim (“angels”), it just means, oh, those particular elohim that’s their job for the day; they are taking a message somewhere.
“Sons of God” as Job Description
“Sons of God,” on the other hand, is also a job description. I mentioned earlier that it’s actually a hierarchical term. So, within the council, the biblical idea is that some of these council members take messages; those are the angels. Others, though, are referred to as “sons of God” in certain passages for specific reasons. It refers to a different task, different status in the hierarchy.
You have to think a little bit about the ancient Near Eastern world for this, and I do this in Unseen Realm. I give you a description with primary source references and all of that. “Sons of God” is really a royal household term, and in the book, I use the example of Pharaoh. Pharaoh in both Egyptian and its later understanding, its transliteration as Pharaoh—Egyptian is per-aa; it means “great house” or “great household”—it actually refers to the inner circle or the high bureaucracy that runs Egypt.
Of course, you have one person at the center who is the king figure (what we call the Pharaoh), but this great household is really the ones who are tasked with the most important positions and the most important jobs. That’s the way we sort of need to think about sons of God. Yes, messengers/angels are part of the council, but it’s not correct to sort of make them one-to-one equivalent terms: elohim are angels.
Elohim Not a Job Description
Angel is a job description; elohim, on the other hand, tells us what a thing is, but angel tells us what a thing does. So messengers are part of the council, but we don’t want to equate that term with elohim. We’re going to talk a little bit about what elohim are in more detail as we proceed because we need to get into now this whole question of, well, isn’t this just polytheism? If we run around and use “gods” as part of our vocabulary, part of the vernacular as we talk about biblical theology, aren’t we just talking polytheistically? The answer is we’re not, and we’re going to see why as we understand what elohim actually means. Again, that’s a key term. Angel is not a complete equivalent because angel is a job description, but elohim is something different.
“Angel” (malʾāk; plural: malʾāḵı̂m) A:WBRSGHH “Gods”/“Divine Beings” (ʾelōhı̂m) A:WBRSGHH Terms That Describe Status in Hierarchy A:WBRSGHH
The Structure of the Divine Council LBD
Polytheism: Are the Gods Real?
After this section, you should be able to:
• Describe the supernatural worldview of the biblical writers
• Explain why denying the reality of the elohim as gods mocks God
• Describe how ancient people, including biblical writers, thought about the relationship between deity and idol
Now, aside from trajectories that sort of try to blunt or strip away the supernatural element of the plural elohim, the plural sons of God in the Old Testament, by making them idols or making them people, when we dispense with that, that brings us to a certain set of issues that we have to address. If it’s not those other things, then it must be divine beings. But then typically, what’s asked is, well, maybe this is just sort of imaginative. Maybe the gods, maybe these other elohim just aren’t real at all.
Biblical Writers Had a Supernatural Worldview
And how do we handle that? Because these are biblical writers writing things about these other elohim. Now, we as modern people, we sort of reflexively go to this question and we sort of assign unreality to these beings. But a biblical writer would not do this. A biblical writer is predisposed to supernaturalism. That’s why the Unseen Realm has its subtitle: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.
Then you might say, “Well, Mike, if you are going to say that these gods are real (and I do because the biblical writers do), isn’t that polytheism? And then what about these phrases about ‘there is no other God beside Yahweh of Israel,’ ‘beside Him there is no other,’ these sorts of phrases?”
Denying Reality of the Elohim Mocks God
So this is the territory that we need to cover now. What we’ve already established has God’s members of His council as spirit beings. There are other ways to, actually, sort of discern that and discern God’s relationship to them. I would suggest this. We’ll start here: that if you are going to deny that the other elohim, the members of God’s council, if you’re going to say they are not real, then doing that actually mocks God because God is going to be described as being above these other elohim, as being the elohim of elohim, the God of gods.
And if those beings don’t really exist, there is no glory for God to be had there. In fact, it makes God a caricature. Now, these sorts of statements that God is above these gods, God is the God of gods, these kinds of things, in the Psalms, there is a lot of them (Psa 86:8; Psa 95:3; Psa 96:4; 97:7, 9; Psa 136:2); the one I like though is in Exodus (Exod 15:11). In that particular passage, it’s right after the crossing of the Red Sea, and it’s part of Moses’s song, where he says, “O LORD, O Yahweh, who is like you among the gods?”
Well, if those gods aren’t real, what does that say? It sort of eviscerates the praise of God at that point. It’s like saying, “O Lord, who is like you among these beings that don’t exist?” Well, frankly, I am better than a being that doesn’t exist and so are you. If you strip away the reality, if you deny them reality, there is no praise of God when God is compared to them. It’s comparing God to nothing or a cartoon character or some fictional entity. We are better than that as well, and so, where is the glory for God? This is why I said stripping away the supernatural ends up making God a caricature and mocks Him. And I think we need to be careful with that.
Judgment Cast on Gods, Not Idols
Exodus 12:12, referring back to the final plague—and of course, that’s going to be the precursor of the crossing the Red Sea where we get Exod 15:11—look at the language there: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD [I am Yahweh].”
So here, we have the death of the firstborn; this is direct and specifically (and the other plagues were as well in most cases) to the gods of Egypt—their defeat. Well, it doesn’t say much if God is defeating beings that don’t exist. And where is the glory in that? Now, we are not saying that idols don’t matter or they are never in the picture, but idols are not to be equated with gods. We’ve already talked a little bit about that, but you can’t import idols into Psa 82 and some of these other passages because God doesn’t work with them.
Relationship between Deity and Idol in Ancient Thought
You have to understand the ancient mindset—how an ancient person thought about an idol and thought about the deity. An ancient person built an idol with the belief that after doing certain rituals that an entity, a spiritual being, a deity would come and attach itself to that object, would come and reside in that object. So there was an identification of two things: a deity that they thought was real, and an object that essentially became that deity’s domain or, again, attached to that deity.
If you smashed an idol, an ancient person wouldn’t sit there and cry or imagine that, “Oh, now my deity is dead; Baal is dead,” or whoever. They are not going to imagine it that way; what they would do is they would go home and make another one because the entity that inhabited that thing that is now destroyed needs to be reattached to it. That object is no longer fit for the deity to inhabit. So we make another one. The deity doesn’t die; it doesn’t go away. In their minds, it is real and it’s there, and we need a place for it to dwell among us.
So if we look at it the way an ancient person does, yes, they thought (and the biblical writers thought with them) that the gods were real. They were real entities, and because they thought that, when they compared Yahweh to those other gods, they were making a theological statement that is really, frankly, more important than any other theological statement in the Old Testament.
God is the God of gods; He is the only one who deserves worship. He is the creator. He is the sovereign. He is … fill in the blank. All of these things are attributable to Yahweh alone in Israelite thinking, but if you say that these beings aren’t real at all, then He is being compared to nothing, and there is no praise in that.
The Logic of Idolatry FSB Misunderstanding Idolatry UR:RSWB Plural Elohim Does Not Mean Polytheism UR:RSWB Are the Elohim Real? UR:RSWB
The G-O-D Problem
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the difference in the understanding of the term “G-O-D(-S)” (elohim) between ancient and modern people
Cultural and Contextual Problem
So let’s confront the question: Does multiple elohim mean polytheism? I’ve said repeatedly already no. But what we have here we need to think about really culturally. We don’t have a theological problem in Psa 82 when the biblical writer talks about multiple elohim being in a council with Yahweh. What we actually have is a cultural and a context problem.
Modern Views on the Term “God”
I like to explain it this way: When we as modern people, modern Westerners, Christians, or just generally modern people, when we see the letters G, O, and D on a page or on a screen, our brain, because of our culture, our Western culture, Judaeo-Christian culture and our traditions, when we see those letters, our brain immediately assigns a specific set of unique attributes to the letters G, O, and D. We can’t help it. It’s just the way our mind works because of our cultural context. We see G, O, and D, and then we think of things like omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence.
And again, because of the way we are taught and raised in our culture, there can only be one of those, and so we get creeped out when you put an S on the end of that word (G-O-D-S) because our brains assign a specific set of attributes to those letters.
Elohim Not Connected to Unique Attributes
That is not what a biblical writer was thinking when he thought about the word elohim. Elohim does not carry with it a specific set of unique attributes. We know that is the case. Why? You don’t have to take my word for it. We know that’s the case because biblical writers used the term elohim of different entities besides the God of Israel. And when they did that, they aren’t assigning those attributes or any specific attributes that should belong to Yahweh to other entities. They are not thinking about attributes at all; that’s our problem.
When we see the letters G, O, D, our brain assigns those attributes. Elohim does not work that way. It is not about a specific set of unique attributes, and the evidence for that is really right in front of us in the biblical text by virtue of the way biblical writers used elohim of a variety of different entities besides the God of Israel. So let’s take a look at how the term is actually used.
Gods: Introduction LBD Gods: Inadequacy of Modern Terminology LBD
The Confusion of English Translations LBD Conceptions of Deity LBD
Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 1
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify and discuss different uses of the term elohim in the Old Testament
• Explain what the term elohim refers to in general
Refers to God of Israel, but Also Other Gods
So, how do biblical writers use the term elohim? Well, the most obvious referent would be the God of Israel. You’ll recall in Psa 82 the word elohim occurred twice; the first one was certainly singular and, of course, pointing to the God of Israel, later called “the Most High” in verse 6. But in Psa 82:1, we also had the plural elohim of Yahweh’s council. God takes His stand in the divine assembly, in the midst of the gods, and in the midst of the elohim He passes judgment. So, the God of Israel, the gods of the divine council, elohim is also used to refer to the gods of various nations.
For instance, in 1 Kgs 11:33, we have the names Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom (foreign deities), and they are all referred to with the term elohim. Now, if elohim meant to bring with it a unique set of attributes, this verse right here (1 Kgs 11:33) would sort of explode that idea all by itself. Here, you have three different foreign deities. Very obviously they are not going to have a certain set of unique attributes that we would attribute to the God of Israel. So attributes really aren’t wrapped up in the term elohim.
Elohim Connected to Territorial Spirits
Further, elohim is used in Deut 32:17 in juxtaposition with the term shedim, which most English Bibles has translated “demons.” So these are other entities that are referred to as elohim. Specifically in that verse, the problem is that Israelites were not sacrificing properly to God but had rendered sacrifice to these other elohim who are shedim (“demons”). The term actually means territorial spirits, territorial entities.
But the point is, of course, that we are not talking about the God of Israel when we refer to elohim here, and we are not assigning a specific set of unique attributes to the shedim, to these lesser entities.
Elohim as Disembodied Human Dead
In 1 Sam 28:13, elohim is used to describe the disembodied human dead. This is the medium at En-dor story where Saul comes to her and wants to contact Samuel because God won’t answer his prayers. And in the scene, she does whatever she does (we are not actually told what she does), but the result of it is, she is sort of shocked and dismayed because when she sees Samuel that is sort of a clue that the person asking me to bring Samuel up is probably Saul. And what she actually says to Saul is, “I see a elohim coming up out of the ground.” And then Saul asked her, “Well, what does he look like?” Again, he is fixated on one: “What does he look like?” And she describes him, and Saul says, “Sure enough, you know that that’s him; that’s Samuel.” We know from the discussion in this scene that the disembodied spirit of Samuel relates things to Saul that only Samuel would know or that God had told him before.
Elohim as the Angel of the Lord
Lastly, in Gen 35:1–7, we have a reference to elohim. This may or may not refer back to either angels generically … In my view it probably does not; it probably refers to one specific angel (God in human form) because the episode of Gen 35:1–7 is linked back to something in Jacob’s life. Jacob is the person involved in that context. So you could have elohim here referring to the angel of Yahweh, the angel of the Lord.
Biblical Writers Not Thinking about Unique Attributes
Regardless of how to identify that last one specifically, what we have here is we have a collection of different entities, all of which are described with the word elohim, and only one of them was the God of Israel, at least as we think of Him. The angel of the Lord could, of course, be identified with the God of Israel, but the other ones that are in the scene are not.
And so, this alone tells us—the biblical usage of the term elohim tells us—that when a biblical writer used this word, he was not thinking of a unique, exclusive set of divine attributes; he wasn’t thinking about this term in Hebrew the way we think of the letters G, O, and D. And that’s really the disconnect.
Elohim as Member of the Supernatural Realm
Now, you might ask at this point, “Well, okay, if it doesn’t mean these other things, what does elohim mean then? If it’s not about attributes, what is the point of it? Why would a biblical writer use this term?”
A biblical writer would use elohim to refer to anything in the spirit world, which is by nature the disembodied realm, the disembodied spiritual world. If you were a member of that world, you were an elohim. God is a member of that world. Demons or shedim are a member of that world. The gods of the council, angels, the deceased human dead, the disembodied human dead, all of them are members of the same place: the disembodied spirit world, the supernatural realm.
For this reason, I like to describe elohim as really a term that’s about residence or realm or even location. It’s not about a specific set of unique attributes. You would use the word elohim to describe some being in that realm. That’s where they live; that’s where they belong.
That’s all it means. And so, in the spiritual world, we can have multiple, many elohim. That isn’t polytheism; that’s just the spirit world. It says nothing about any of these entities being equal or interchangeable, and that’s really at the heart of polytheism. We need to take a little closer look at that thought next.
The Variety of אֱלֹהִים (elohim) LBD Elohim as “Gods” in the Old Testament FSB The Gods Are Real S:WBTUWWIM
The Council of the Gods/God LBD
Who Is/Are Elohim: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Describe ways in which Yahweh is unique among the elohim
• Explain why multiple elohim does not necessitate polytheism
Yahweh Is Unique
Now, we just talked about elohim being a place-of-residence term referring to any entity that is, by definition, a member of the disembodied spirit world. Yahweh, of course, the God of Israel, is a member of that world; He is an inhabitant of the spirit world. I like to put the relationship between Him and the other elohim like this: Yahweh, the God of Israel, is an elohim; He is one of many elohim, but no other elohim is Him; no other elohim is Yahweh. Yahweh is, again, maybe an awkward phrase, but I think it’s a good one. Yahweh is species unique. There is only one of Him; there is no other like Him.
Unique Qualities Assigned to Yahweh
Now, what this means in theological terms, and I think by way of practically understanding these theological terms is that, the elohim in biblical thinking, even though there are many, they are not equal and interchangeable. Yahweh is in a class by Himself. Yahweh is, in fact, distinguished by other means. He is described in ways that no other elohim are ever described. So biblical writers would assign unique qualities to Yahweh: things like the God of Israel; Yahweh is all-powerful, for instance (Jer 32:17 and 27 as well).
Yahweh Is Sovereign King and Creator
Yahweh gets described as being the sovereign king over other elohim (Psa 95:3; Dan 4:35, for example). No other elohim are ever described in these terms. Yahweh is also described as the creator of the other members of His heavenly host council (Psa 148:1–5; Neh 9:6). And even the sonship language sort of telegraphs that idea; He is the originator of all the other ones. It never works the other way around.
Only Elohim to Receive Worship
Yahweh is the lone elohim as well who deserves worship from the other elohim (Psa 29:1). The other elohim are actually commanded to worship the Lord.
Uniqueness in Nehemiah 9:6
Nehemiah 9:6 I think sort of captures a lot of this. It actually says, “You alone are Yahweh,” again, speaking of the God of Israel. “You alone are Yahweh,” it’s a way in biblical language, biblical terminology, of saying, “You, Yahweh, are unique. There is only one of you.”
Multiple Elohim Does Not Equal Polytheism
So what we have when it comes to divine plurality in the Hebrew Bible (multiple elohim) is not polytheism. A biblical writer—someone who was, if we can use these terms, orthodox in their theology—would never think of Yahweh as though other elohim are on the same level or have the same attributes. That just wasn’t even a question. Yahweh is alone; He is unique; there is none like Him. So this is not polytheism. This is something else. This is what biblical writers believed: multiple entities in the spirit world, but only one of this kind. That is what a biblical writer believed, and so we don’t need to come up with sort of contrived explanations for what the term elohim means in Psa 82 or any other place.
We don’t have to say things like they’re idols or they’re people. No, they are just other spiritual beings, and Yahweh is supreme and unique among them.
Defining the Term אֱלֹהִים (elohim) LBD Biblical Polytheism? LBD
Council Structure and Business S:WBTUWWIM
“None besides Me”: Part 1
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why “none besides me” statements are statements of incomparability rather than denial by using passages from Deuteronomy
Now, even though I think that we’ve established just by our little study of elohim that having more than one elohim is not polytheism, we still need to entertain one other question: What about verses that say there is none besides the Lord or where God Himself says, “There is none like me,” “There is none besides me,” “Besides me, there is no other,” something like that?
Not Statements of Denial but of Incomparability
Now, these phrases are typically taken as denial statements—in other words, statements that deny the existence of the other elohim. Now, we’ve seen that this is wrongheaded, because if you strip out the reality of these other entities, then God is ruling over nothing. He is comparatively greater than nothing. Again, it’s quite foreign to the biblical writer’s mindset. The biblical writer is trying to make the point that these other entities do exist and they are inherently inferior to the God of Israel; He judges them. They are not just contrived, made-up cartoon characters.
What we have here, in these statements about there being “none besides me,” is they are not statements that deny the existence of other elohim. They are statements about the incomparability of Yahweh, His uniqueness.
Deuteronomy as Example
Now, by way of example here, I’m going to take us through a little bit of an exercise in the theology of Deuteronomy because Deuteronomy establishes this point that this is about incomparability, not denying existence. There are passages in Deuteronomy that have these so-called denial statements that also, in the same passage, affirm other elohim.
Now, you can’t have those two things without a contradiction. And what I’m saying is there is no contradiction because it’s just about being incomparable, not that one entity exists and the others don’t.
God Fights Someone
Let’s take a look at Deut 4:34–35; we read this, “Has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.”
Now, notice what happens here in this text. Moses is sort of rehearsing for the people what their history has been, and he is pointing out the uniqueness that here you have a God do all these things for you: verse 35, “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.”
You might think, “Oh yeah, well, God did that, and He really didn’t beat any enemies because these other enemies don’t exist because there is no other besides Him. So God really wasn’t fighting anyone.” That’s the conclusion you have to draw, and this is typically how we are taught to think about these things; that this is a statement that the other gods don’t even exist. They, in fact, don’t exist. That sets up a problem, and you have a real contradiction to deal with if you want to take this trajectory, as common as it is.
Host of Heaven Allotted by Yahweh, Israel His Inheritance
Let’s go back. We’re in Deut 4; we’re going to go back to Deut 4:19–20, and I’m going to take you through a series of thoughts to show that whoever wrote Deut 4—let’s just say it was Moses—he wasn’t affirming one thing and then denying it a few verses later. We do not have a contradiction here.
So back to Deut 4:19–20; we read this, “Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”
Two things to spot here: we have a reference to the sun and the moon and the stars, the host of heaven, and then this idea that God allotted these things to the other nations, to the peoples under the whole heaven—not to Israel, because Israel was warned against worshiping them, but to the other peoples.
Verse 20 is the other side of that coin: “But the LORD has taken you [Israelites] and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people for his own inheritance, as you are this day.”
So again, we have two sides here: we have the host of heaven that are allotted to the nations (whatever that means), and then we have Israel who was taken out of Egypt to be Yahweh’s own people, His own inheritance.
Israel Forbidden to Worship Other Gods, Which Yahweh Allotted
If we move through Deuteronomy and hit Deut 17:3, we get a little bit more information about this. Deuteronomy 17:3 has this reading that Israel “has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun, the moon, [or] any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden.”
You know, the writer is saying, “Don’t do this. Don’t go and serve the other guys, you know, like Israel did. Don’t worship them. Don’t worship the sun, the moon, and any host of heaven.” Now you say, “Well, here this could just be a reference to idols.” We need to keep tracking through Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 29 picks up this thought. In verse 25, the context is that if Israel gets exiled, it’s (here we go) “because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them.”
Now, this is the same language of Deut 4:19–20, same context as well: taking Israel out of Egypt, again, the problem of going and serving other gods and worshiping them—gods that the Lord, Yahweh, had not allotted to His own people, to Israel, because He was their God.
This allotment idea referred back to the gods, the host of heaven of the other nations. If we keep going, we hit Deut 32, and that gives us sort of the key for understanding what this whole allotment language is about. We’ll take a look at Deut 32:8–9 next, and then bring all this together into how these so-called denial statements actually work.
“No Other Gods beside Me”? LBD
“None besides Me”: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the significance of Deut 32:8–9 and its relation to other key verses in Deuteronomy regarding the elohim
• Explain the significance of Paul’s reference to Deut 32:17
Deuteronomy 32:8–9, a Key Passage
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 is a key passage with respect to all of this that we’re talking about right now. We’re trying to track through Deuteronomy to understand what is really being talked about when the sun, moon, and stars, the host of heaven, are allotted to the other nations and Israel is kept for Yahweh’s own people. That is going to produce here, as we consider Deut 32:8–9, a theology where the other gods are real and they were assigned to the nations as a punishment by the true God, by Yahweh of Israel.
Other Gods Sent by Yahweh
And so, it’s actually going to be an affirmation that these other gods are real. They were sent; they obeyed initially the command of God to administer other nations, again, as a punishment to those nations, and then things went poorly. And the Israelites had to be prevented, or at least warned against, worshiping them instead of Yahweh.
So Deut 32:8–9 says this, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”
Humanity Allotted to the Sons of God
Now, we’re reading the passage here with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that’s very important because of what this describes: at the division of the nations, which we know was the Tower of Babel, God punishes humanity for disobedience by splitting them up and assigning them, allotting them, to other sons of God, other divine beings, sons of God.
Here’s the language again from Psa 82, from Psa 89, and Job 1–2—same language here. So they are assigned to the other nations and the other nations to them. This goes back to Deut 4:19–20 where the Israelites are warned against worshiping these other beings because these other beings were allotted to the nations. This verse is crucial for understanding this because it’s really the Old Testament explanation for why the other nations have their own pantheons. What happened?
I spend a lot of time in Unseen Realm talking about this and about these two particular verses, and you can look those up. For our purposes here, we are trying to establish that Deuteronomy affirms the existence of other gods, and then we’re going to take that back and ask the obvious question: “Well, then why does it say, ‘There is none besides me’? What does that mean?” Because we don’t want to have a contradiction here.
In Deut 32, a few verses later, we read this: “They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods [elohim there, plural] whom they had not known, new gods that came lately, whom your fathers did not dread.”
So the Israelites fall victim to idolatry, and the beings that they are worshiping are described as elohim. Now, this particular verse is really important because Paul actually quotes this verse in the New Testament.
Paul’s Reference to Deuteronomy 32:17
In 1 Cor 10:21–22, Paul is having a discussion about sacrificing to idols and eating the meat sacrificed to idols. He warns the believers there in Corinth in these two verses to avoid all of this, to avoid this meat. Why? Because you have to be careful, because if you partake of it, you enter into fellowship with demons.
Now, Paul believed demons were real. He’s quoting Deut 32:17 and assigning reality to the shedim, to the other elohim from these other nations that the Israelites fell into idolatry with.
So, let’s put all that together. We have a person under inspiration, the apostle Paul, quoting this passage in Deut 32, affirming that the elohim here were real; they’re real beings. Paul refers to them as demons. These beings were allotted to the other nations. These elohim allotted to the other nations are called the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars in Deut 4.
So Deuteronomy, all through the whole book (chapter 4 all the way to 32), assumes the existence, the reality, of these other gods. But it’s in that same chapter, Deut 4, where all of this starts, where this thread starts, where we have this phrase that “there is none beside me.”
Yahweh’s Incomparability Negates Contradiction
Now, if such statements like that were to telegraph the idea that these entities don’t really exist, then either Deut 32 is wrong or Paul is wrong, or both. We don’t have that problem though if we just say, “Look, statements like ‘there is none besides me’ just mean that Yahweh is incomparable. These other elohim exist; they are inferior. They are not like Yahweh. He is species unique.” There is no problem theologically if we take the verse—and not just this verse, but the whole statement found in other verses and similar statements found in many places in the Old Testament—if we just take them as statements of incomparability, we don’t have a theological contradiction.
Understanding Israelite Monotheism FSB Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and the Old Testament Worldview FSB The Israelite Worldview and the New Testament FSB
“None besides Me”: Part 3
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain how the claims of Nineveh and Babylon (“there is none beside me”) help us understand the “there is none beside me” statements about Yahweh
Incomparability Claim of Cities
One last thing I want to say about the so-called denial statements is that there are other places in the Hebrew Bible where these are used—the same statements in situations or contexts that make it very obvious that denial of existence cannot be in the picture. For instance, in Isa 47:1, 8, 10 and Zeph 2:13, 15, in these passages respectively, the city of Babylon in the Isaiah reference and the city of Nineveh in the Zephaniah reference both claim, both say, “There is none beside me.”
Now, are we really going to believe that Babylon and Nineveh respectively actually thought, or wanted us to think, or the writer wanted us to think, that there was no other city than Babylon in existence, there was no other city but Nineveh in existence at the time of Zephaniah? Well, of course not. That would be absurd. There’s hundreds and thousands of other cities in existence.
The point of the phrase “there is none beside me” is very clearly a claim of incomparability. Babylon is boasting, “There is nobody as good as me. There is nobody like me. There is no city that measures up.” And for the Assyrians, that’s how they thought about Nineveh: “Nineveh is the best. Nineveh is incomparable.”
So we have the same phrases used in contexts where, very obviously, a denial of existence just cannot work in any coherent way. And that’s how we need to think about the denial phrases when they are used in passages that seem to, on one hand, deny the existence of the other elohim, but then you have all these other passages and sometimes even the same passage saying, “No, the elohim are real, and they are dangerous; they need to be dealt with. They are hostile to God. God is greater than them.” We can’t, on one hand, affirm that they don’t exist and then have these other ideas (God’s incomparability to them, God’s greatness) mean anything.
The only way to do that is to say, “Yes, they are real.” The biblical writers thought they were real, and relatively speaking, they were nothing compared to the God of Israel.
“No Gods besides Me”? UR:RSWB
Jesus, the “Only Begotten” Son?
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the meaning of the term monogenēs
• Explain how Jesus is monogenēs
A remaining question is: What do we do with Jesus? If you remember when we listed the questions that extend from all this “sons of God” language in the Old Testament, we asked, “How do we align what the New Testament says about Jesus to all of this Old Testament material?” And what we meant there was, in certain New Testament verses (like John 3:16), we have Jesus described as the “only begotten Son.” But now, we’ve got all this Old Testament material with lots of sons of God in the picture. How do we bring these two things together? Is there a contradiction? What do we do here?
Meaning of Monogenēs
Well, the key here is to think correctly about monogenēs. That’s a Greek term—the one that gets translated “only begotten” in verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son [monogenēs].”
So, what do we do with that? And why bring it up? Scholars used to think well into the late nineteenth century, spilling into the twentieth century, that monogenēs was a combination of two Greek words: monos, which means “only,” and genaō, a verb which means “to beget,” “to have children.” And so, you put those things together and you get “only begotten.” And that’s typically the way monogenēs got translated in English Bibles.
Further discoveries, though, in the Greek language and really Greek literature widely that matched and aligned itself very well with biblical material revealed that that was a mistaken notion. Monogenēs was not from monos and genaō; it was from monos, which means again “only,” and genē which means “kind.” So monogenēs really means “one of a kind” or “unique.” That actually clears up the matter pretty well.
Jesus Is Yahweh Incarnate
We can have Jesus being the monogenēs son of God, the unique son of God, and still have other sons of God, other divine beings in the Old Testament, in the picture. There is something that made Jesus unique. And what is that? Well, He’s God incarnate; He’s Yahweh. The other sons of God—as we just got done showing and saying and talking about at length—are not Yahweh; they are lesser.
Isaac Monogenēs but Not “Only Begotten”
So there’s really not a contradiction or a problem here. It’s really deriving from English translation that the confusion comes. Now, the real proof of this is Heb 11:17. In that verse, we have Isaac, Abraham’s son, referred to as monogenēs. Now, here’s the question: Was Isaac Abraham’s only son that he gave birth to, had as a father biologically? No, he wasn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even the firstborn. Ishmael was also the son of Abraham.
So if we looked at monogenēs as being “only begotten,” we’d have a real problem here because Isaac was not the only son that Abraham ever had. But if we look at monogenēs as being “unique,” Isaac is the unique son of Abraham. Why? Because he was the son born of the promise. He was the son born from Sarah, who was barren.
So it’s a really good illustration how monogenēs really refers to uniqueness. So Jesus is the unique Son of God. And again, the reason He is unique is because He is God, and that again clarifies for us the relationship between this language and sons of God in the Old Testament.
What About Jesus? UR:RSWB Jesus, Angels, and Us UR:RSWB Jesus as the Unique Son of God (μονογενής, monogenēs) LBD
Human Family Imagers
20. Family Terminology Is Intentional 21. Heavenly Host at Creation 22. Plurality Language 23. What the Image Is Not 24. Humans Animated by the Breath of God 25. Imaging Is What Unites Us 26. Imaging after the Fall
Family Terminology Is Intentional
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the significance of the family terminology in the creation accounts of the Bible
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the sons of God in the Old Testament. And we had telegraphed at the very beginning of the course that we are paying attention to this family terminology because it’s going to provide a useful, intentional template for us to understand how God looks at His human family, His human sons, and His human daughters. They’re going to provide the sons of God, the supernatural ones, sort of a framework for us to think well theologically about ourselves.
We have already talked about the family terminology; we’ve talked about that there is a functional or a participatory idea with these supernatural sons of God in the Old Testament, and they participate with God in carrying out His will. So we’ve already learned things about their identity, their purpose. So we’re going to learn things now about our identity and our purpose, our calling, and finally, our destiny—how we realize these things, how our status is going to lead somewhere ultimately, and how we fulfill our calling, we fulfill the purpose for which we have been made in the future. The sons of God in the Old Testament, again, we must think of them as a family and as coworkers to really get this point.
Yahweh Decides to Add Humans to His Family
Let’s go back to Genesis, because if we have these things in our head when we read some key passages beginning back in the garden of Eden, our relationship to them starts to come into focus, and this is going to be part of the foundation for later sonship and daughtership, children of God, language in the New Testament. Back in Gen 1, in the very famous passage about human creation (Gen 1:26–27), we read this:
And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven, and over every animal that moves on the earth.”
Now, what’s going on here? What we have is we have an announcement, a decree, a decision that has been made by God to create humans. He is now going to add humans to His family. We know from Job 38, where our course started, that He already has a family, a supernatural family, the sons of God, divine beings. This decree though is about something similar, but different. We are going to create embodied beings now, and that’s going to, again, inform why God is doing it and what His intentions are ultimately.
Introducing the Idea of Image
So let’s unpack some of these ideas. As we proceed, we’re going to be talking about the family relationship that God has with, not only His divine sons, His divine family, His divine children as it were, but His human children. And we’re going to introduce a new term drawn from Gen 1—that is, the idea of the image or imaging God. It’s going to be very important. It’s going to telegraph the fact that we are God’s coworkers and participants with Him.
So I hope you can see the ideas already. God already had a family. He is adding humans to the family now. The family He already had works for Him; they’ve been doing things. He’s going to add humans now, and humans are also going to (key idea) represent Him, work with Him to do a particular task. It’s a blending, really, of divine family and an embodied family. This was God’s intention from the very beginning. And both families are going to be made by the same Creator, and they are both going to participate with Him in doing the things He wants done.
Image of God LBD
Heavenly Host at Creation
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why Gen 1:26 uses plural language
• Explain how we know that only Yahweh created man
Plural Language Indicates Family
Genesis 1:26, the passage where humanity is created “in the image of God,” telegraphs some important ideas. Fundamentally, it informs us that humans were meant to be part of God’s divine family from the very beginning. You might say, “Well, how do we learn that?” Because as we’ve been taught to think about this scene, it’s just God, and then we have the creation of humans.
What I am suggesting to you is that God’s family, the family that already existed, the members of the heavenly host, are in the scene in Gen 1:26, and that this is indicated by the plural language of the verse. We go back to Gen 1:26. Just think about it: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Plural Language Not a Reference to the Trinity
Most Christians, in my experience, have sort of presumed that the plural language here (“let us create in our image”) is a reference to the Trinity. I’m suggesting to you that it’s not; the plural is not pointing to the Trinity. And you could ask, “Well, why not?”
Well, first of all, if you actually read the passage, there is no way to limit the plurality language to three, but I would say, even more fundamentally, it makes no sense for God to inform the other members of the Trinity about something He wants to do. The other members of the Trinity are coeternal, so they would already know; there is no point for God to inform them of anything, just none at all.
Plural Language Refers to Heavenly Host
So we have sort of a theological disconnect there. What we really have is God announcing His intention to a group, and that group is the heavenly host, the sons of God that were there before the foundation of the world, according to Job 38:7–8. The plural language, therefore, links God to them in some way and also to humanity. There is some linkage created by the fact that we have this plural language. We’re going to talk about that in a moment.
God Alone Creates
But we also can’t lose sight of we have the plural language in Gen 1:26, but then it switches back to the singular. Yes, we have “let us create humankind in our image,” but when the creation actually happens in Gen 1:27, we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
In other words, there is no sense that the rest of the members of the heavenly host help God out in human creation, that they played some role as cocreators. That is not the point of the plurality language. It has a reason (which we’re going to talk about), but it’s not that God needed help in creating or that we have cocreators here.
Let me illustrate it this way: If I walked into a room—I am just one individual—and I said to everybody else in the room, “Let us go get pizza,” I have announced my intention to the group, but then we use my car. We go to the pizza place I choose. I pay for it, but everyone gets to eat. That’s essentially what’s happening here. There is one actor, God, who makes the decision, announces it to the rest of them, they participate with Him. In a certain way, they get the benefit of it. They are part of what’s going on, but they don’t do certain things. In the case of Gen 1:26–27, they don’t cocreate humanity; the text is very clear there. But somehow, the plural language does link God, the members that He is speaking to (the heavenly host), and us (humankind). We need to take a closer look at that.
The Plural Language Associated with the Image of God LBD
After this section, you should be able to:
• Describe the main purpose of the concept “image of God”
• Describe the general characteristics of the concept “image of God”
The question before us is: How does the plural language of Gen 1:26 link God and humankind and the members of the heavenly host, the members of God’s council, as it were, together? This is going to take a bit of abstract thinking for us. The plurality is important. To really understand why it’s important, though, we need to understand specifically the concept of the image of God, or as you’ll hear me say, “the concept of imaging God.”
I can sort of front-load a little bit of the perspective that we’ll be getting into here. It’s going to have something to do with representing God. We represent God in a specific way in our realm, the earthly realm, and spiritual beings represent God in their realm in whatever way God wants them to as well.
So upfront, let’s try to keep the idea of representation in mind, and that’s going to be integral to this whole concept of the image of God. And when we think about this and, typically, when people are taught about the image of God, there are a number of things that are sort of overlooked or assumed, and we’re going to be careful not to do that.
Characteristics of the Image of God
The image of God in and of itself has certain characteristics in biblical thinking, biblical texts, biblical theology. That is that men and women possess it equally. It is the thing (whatever it is) that distinguishes humankind from all other earthly creatures. It is somehow linked to God in some way—the person, the character, the nature of God in some way. It’s also—and this is a little less easy to spot—the image of God is also either possessed or not. That is, there is no hint in the text that you get this thing called “the image”—if that’s even the right way to talk about it—there is no indication that the image of God is sort of incrementally bestowed on humans or partially bestowed. You either have it or you don’t. It’s also passed on generationally. We learn this from Gen 5, where the same language of Gen 1 is used when Adam and Eve have offspring. The same language there is used intentionally, again, to connect those two passages.
So there is something going on here that even when the original people that the passage has in view (Adam and Eve), that even people who come in after them are sort of in the train; they are on the bus; they are attached to this image idea, whatever it is. So equal possession, distinct from all earthly creatures, some link to God, it’s not incremental or partial, and again, we have this generational thing going on.
Now, there have been a lot of candidates for explaining the image of God, lots of proposals for what it is. And I want to start our discussion on this concept by going over: What are some of the proposals that fail this set of characteristics that we’ve just gone through? What doesn’t work?
The Meaning of the Image of God LBD
What the Image Is Not
After this section, you should be able to:
• List previous suggestions for what the image of God is and explain why these suggestions fail
Now, we just talked about some of the necessary characteristics of the image of God, at least according to the way the Bible describes it. And I asked the question, “Well, what proposals for understanding what the image is fail somewhere (at least a couple of those characteristics)?” And here’s basically a listing; these are things that you would see in theology books or commentaries: proposals to understand what the image is. And I’m going to suggest to you that all of them fail.
For instance, there is consciousness; just the existence of human consciousness is somehow proposed as being this thing we call the “image of God.” There is self-awareness or sentience. There is intelligence or rationality, emotions, the idea of possessing an internal soul/spirit. There is conscience—the sense of right and wrong. There is the ability to communicate. All of these things are very common in literature that you would read in biblical study and theology for understanding the image of God. And here I am saying none of these work, which, of course, begs the question: Well, why? Why would you reach that conclusion?
Reasons for Failure
There are fundamentally several reasons why I would say that. First, none of those things can be said to be present equally among all human beings. In other words, there is something on that list that’s going to fail that test. It’s not going to be an airtight way of looking at the image because, again, some of the characteristics that are essential are just going to fail.
If something can’t be present equally among all human beings, then we can cross that one off the list. There is also the problem that a number of these things cannot be said to be present actually among all human beings. Again, that is a point, a criterion, for the image. You either have it or you don’t.
And third, some items on that list are not unique to humankind; you can find them in the animal kingdom. Again, we said one of the tests, one of the characteristics of what the image is, is that it has to distinguish humanity from the rest of the created, earthly world.
Image Not Gained Incrementally
So again, if we look at the list—consciousness, sentience, intelligence, emotions, the soul/spirit, sense of right and wrong in the conscience, and communication—we have a fundamental problem with them, with all of them, except maybe the soul if you want to isolate that. And we’ll look at that more in a second. All of these other things extend from brain function; they are dependent on a bodily element: the brain.
In other words, there is some quality that is connected to the brain in some way. So, why is that a problem? Well, if we want to affirm the sanctity of human life from its very beginning, the moment of conception, the thing that occupies space in a woman’s womb, after conception, if it doesn’t have a brain, then it can’t be in the image of God. Because if the answer to what the image of God is has something to do with brain function, we’ve just defined it out of existence.
And this is a problem because there is no sense that humans either get or become the image incrementally; they are just created that way. The life form we know as human life has this thing called “the image.”
In Scripture, there is no sense that you get it in stages. And if you’re going to define it as anything that links itself to the bodily organ we know as the brain, you’ve got a real problem. What you have is: before you have brain function, and really even full brain function, you have a partial human or something that isn’t quite human, isn’t quite in the image yet. That’s a deep ethical problem, theological problem, and I talk about that a little bit in the Unseen Realm.
Image Not the Soul
For our purposes here, we don’t need to dwell on the ethical ramifications of that issue. We’re talking about: How might we define this a little bit better? Now, the one outlier here is the soul, the soul/spirit, the inner part, if you will, of a human being. Maybe that is what makes humanity unique; maybe that is the thing called “the image.” Well, if we go with biblical terminology, if we go with biblical language, we can’t even say that either.
Problematic Interpretations of the Image of God LBD Image: Failed Suggestions UR:RSWB
Humans Animated by the Breath of God
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the meaning of the words nephesh and ruach and how these concepts overlap
• Explain why the concept “image of God” cannot refer to the soul or the spirit
We’re talking about the one outlier in our list of candidates for what the image of God idea might be, and that is the possession of a soul, soul/spirit. People use different terminology; we’re not worried about parsing the terms necessarily here, and you’ll quickly see why.
Animals Like Humans
If we’re going to go with biblical language, the idea of having a “soul” is having a nephesh. In Gen 2:7—this is when God breathes into the man, into Adam, and he becomes a living soul—the Hebrew there is the nephesh chayyah. That’s biblical language. It turns out, though, that if you go back to Gen 1:21, we read this: “So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature [the term there is ‘every nephesh hachayyah’] that moves.” So animals and humans are described with the same terminology with respect to the “soulishness” of each of them. What it really refers to—the nephesh chayyah in both passages—is really a reference to this sort of animate life that we sort of know and experience.
You know, I can look at my dog and know that my dog is an animate life form. It looks at me. There is something going on up there in the head. It moves around; it makes decisions, so on and so forth. It decides to go into that room or this room. That’s what animate life is.
And animals and humans are both described with the same vocabulary in the Hebrew Bible. Animals also have a ruach. So for those who want to say, “Well, the nephesh is different than the ruach; the soul is different than the spirit,” we have a problem there too. Ecclesiastes 3:21 has animals possessing a ruach; it’s the same word for “spirit” used of humans.
Nephesh and Ruach Interchangeable
But the problem becomes even more than that. If you actually did a study of the term nephesh (again, often translated “soul” in English Bibles) and “spirit” (ruach), if you studied both of those Hebrew terms, you would learn very quickly that they are used interchangeably to describe animate life, the source of emotions, the source of volition—in other words, decision-making capacity and just generally one’s internal disposition.
So if you are going with Old Testament terminology, nephesh and ruach are not different things. They are interchangeable terms, and the biblical text points that direction in many, many places. So not even this idea of having a soul/spirit can be our arbiter if we’re deciding what the image of God means, because again, according to the Bible, animals are described in the same way. So we can’t use that as our definition.
So we’ve got that problem, and then going back to the rest of the items on the list that are all linked to brain function, the problem there, of course, is that not all humans at all stages have that, and so, they wouldn’t be in possession of the image of God, whatever that is.
So all of these common definitions have serious weaknesses, and we need to understand a little bit better what the image actually is because that realization is going to take us right back into the family and the participatory coworker idea that we need to be focused on. Because, again, what we’re doing here is looking at the Old Testament family of God, the divine beings, what He tasked them to do, how they relate to Him, their purpose in their life, and how that becomes a template for the way God thinks about humans and the way we should think about ourselves.
Image Not the Soul UR:RSWB
Imaging Is What Unites Us
After this section, you should be able to:
• Describe different uses of the preposition “in,” and identify which use occurs in Gen 1:26–27
• Explain the meaning of “image of God”
• Describe the relationship between Yahweh, His divine family, and His human family
Now, I’ve said a couple times that the plural language of Gen 1 is related to this idea of imaging, and imaging, the image of God, is what unites God and humans and the members of His heavenly host. And we’re talking about how to understand “imaging.” We know what it doesn’t mean, so what does it mean?
To start off here, I think it would be wise for us to have a sentence, a specific way, to think about this in our heads. We, as human beings, and they as divine beings—again, the supernatural family of God—we and they were made like Him, like God, for the specific purpose of working with Him. And so, try to store that away, and let’s talk about what imaging actually means. I think we can see that relationship between we and them and He once we grasp what the image idea really means.
Image of God Is a Status
The image of God is not a thing put into humans. It’s not an attribute or an ability, especially one that’s connected with brain function or any other organ. It’s not a quality; it’s a status. That might sound odd, but we’re going to unpack that. The key to understanding this idea and sort of the key to getting there is, believe it or not, the preposition “in” in the phrase “God created humankind in the image of God” or “in His image.”
Different Meanings of the Preposition “In”
The preposition “in”: you need to think about this because it’s going to sort of be the linchpin upon which everything sort of turns in one direction. Now, we in the course of our English language, in the course of our common conversation, we use the preposition “in” in a lot of different ways. We really just don’t even think about it, but we do.
For instance, if I say, “Put the dishes in the sink,” what do I mean? I’m asking you to put the dishes in a certain place; I’m talking about location. If I say, “I broke the vase in pieces,” I’m certainly not talking about location; I’m talking about the result of some action: I broke the vase in pieces. If I say, “I wrote the letter in pencil,” I’m not talking about location of course; I’m really not even talking about effect necessarily, even though I might be, I could be. I’m really talking about the instrument that I used, the means by which I’m doing something: I wrote the letter in pencil.
But those are three different uses of the word “in,” just a little two-letter word. You think, “Well, that can’t be very complicated,” but just look at those three examples; they’re all quite different. Let me add a fourth one. If I say, “I work in medicine”; “I work in education”; “I work in the ministry”; what do I mean? I mean I work as a doctor or a nurse or a PA, something like that. Or I work as a teacher; I work as a principal, an administrator. In the ministry, I work as a pastor, a youth pastor, maybe some other kind of work, a missionary, something that has to do with Christian ministry—all of these options.
Genesis 1:26–27 Uses Functional “In”
“I work as” treats the preposition “in” in a phrase like “I work in medicine” as functional. I’m using the preposition “in” to denote a role or a function. That is how we need to understand the image of God. That is what we need to take back to Gen 1: “Let us create humankind [as] our image”—to be our imager, to be like us. How does this unite God and humans, the divine beings of God’s heavenly family? Well, it means that to be an imager means to be God’s representative.
Created as Representative
To be an imager means to be God’s representative. To be created as God’s image is to be created as His representative. And I’ve been using a little bit interspersed here the term “imager” like it’s a verb, and I’m doing that because I think that’s a good way to understand it. The image of God isn’t a thing given to you; it is a status you have to do something and really to be something. If you were created as God’s imager, you are, by definition, a part of His family and you are like Him. He has shared His attributes with you, so that you can work for Him and with Him. Now, what unites all of us?
The plural language lets us know that the divine members of God’s family were also created by Him; they also image Him; they’re also His representatives; they are like Him. We are going to be like Him, and we’re going to be like them because we have the same creator. We’re just tasked in different ways.
It’s important that the language goes back to singular because the point of the plural part, “Let us create humankind as our image, our representative,” is to bring humanity into that relationship that they are also going to be part of the same family. They’re also going to be part of the same enterprise. The enterprise, of course, is doing God’s will, doing what God wants. The heavenly host does that in their realm; we do that in our realm. Their realm is supernatural; our realm is terrestrial. That plural language brings us into the picture on sort of an equal footing. We share the status of family members and coworkers, and then when it switches back to the singular, it’s very clear that we all only have one creator. We don’t have many creators; we have one, and it’s His image, it’s His imager, that all of us are.
So there’s a very deliberate reason why we go from plural to singular language there. It’s telegraphing some really important concepts and some points. Fundamentally, for us, it’s about family being brought into that relationship, and it’s about being a coworker with God, being His representative in the earth that He has put us on.
How God Looks at Us: Imagers of God A:WBRSGHH God’s Imagers S:WBTUWWIM Creator or Creators? UR:RSWB Image or Imagers? UR:RSWB
Imaging after the Fall
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why humanity retains the image of God after the fall
• Explain how the “image of God” concept helps us understand God’s plan and humanity’s role in God’s plan
Image Remains after the Fall
Now, if the image of God is about us being representatives of God, the fall, the entrance of evil into the world, is certainly a factor in our understanding that, our understanding really how we continue with our purpose. Now, I’ve run into some people—and really not too much in academic literature—but I’ve met Christians that believe that after the fall the imaging idea was totally lost. And that is, the only people who really image God now are Christians or believers because they’ve been brought back to a relationship with God through redemption. Now, I don’t believe that. Again, I think that’s a very poor understanding of the text and really leads to some kind of dangerous theology.
For instance, in Gen 9:6—which, of course, is after the fall, it’s after the flood—we read this, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” See, an obvious reference to Eden there with the Edenic commands repeated here—the commands that were originally given to Adam and Eve, the original imagers. The idea here is that the death penalty, taking the life of a person, is legitimized in some way, and we’re going to find out in the rest of the Torah when that situation might be the case. But that idea is legitimized because God cannot tolerate the unlawful, the unwarranted taking of life of any human because those humans are created in His own image. When you kill a person, it’s like killing God in effigy.
Now, if the image was linked only to Christians or only believers, then this verse would in effect be saying, “Well, it’s only a crime if you kill someone who’s a Christian. You can kill other people and God is not going to care about it, but only if you kill His children, then we’re in trouble.” Again, that’s an absurdity, but this is where, again, some thinking goes. We don’t want to go there. We want to be consistent.
The image of God is something that remains intact even after the fall. It’s important to God because we are His representation; we are His representatives—every human being is at every stage. If you are human, by definition, you are an imager of God, and this is what the biblical mindset is.
Humans Never Co-Rulers in Mesopotamian Religion
Now, this concept is actually quite a bit different than ancient Near Eastern thinking about humans. Humanity as a collective in other religions—like Mesopotamian religion, even Egyptian religion, again some of these ancient Near Eastern cultures—humanity is never described as sort of having this destiny of being with God or the gods, ruling with them in the sort of positive co-rulership kind of relationship. No. Only the king in a lot of these cultures ever gets referred to as the image of a particular god. Genesis, of course, specifically Gen 1:26 with the whole idea that all humanity images God, widens this considerably. Human beings in biblical theology are all equally God’s imagers, not just one person, not just someone with royal blood or something like that.
God’s Program to Restore
Biblical theology democratizes the idea in a dramatic way. Now, after the fall, we have a problem. We need to bring back the estranged children, humans, back into God’s family. They don’t lose the image; they don’t lose the status of being His representative, but they’re in rebellion. And so, something has to be done about that. God’s program after the fall is to restore Eden, which means restoring His presence on earth, restoring His rule to earth, and the mechanism for doing that is people.
But we know the biblical story. Genesis 3 is just the first in a series of rebellions. Now, if we’re going to focus on the rebellions both in the human and the supernatural world, that’s sort of space for an entire course on its own, but we’ll mention it right here that we’ve got Gen 3; we’ve got Gen 6; we’ve got Gen 11, the Tower of Babel event; we’ve got the whole problem with Israel and the wilderness wanderings; we’ve got the period of the judges; we’ve got the divided monarchy, idolatry. It’s a long, long road, a long, long story of rebellion. At each phase of this though, God is trying to restore Eden.
Role of Israel and the Messiah
When we get to the Israelites, this is probably the easiest example to see. God has called out for Himself from nothing a new people, the people allotted to Him. His own inheritance is Israel after dispersing all of the other people into nations, assigning them to lesser gods that we talked about earlier.
The story here, now, is taking one people that God creates out of nothing miraculously through Abraham and Sarah to reinstall what was lost in Eden. He’s going to be present with them. They’re going to occupy a specific place. There’s going to be eventually … you know, we have altars; we have tabernacles; we have temples. God is going to live there. They will be His people. Back in Gen 12, God told Abraham that “it’s through your seed that all of the nations will be blessed.” They will be brought back into relationship. It takes a long time for this to work out, and ultimately, it only works out because of the Messiah, because God Himself, becomes a man to ratify and fulfill all of His own covenants to bring all of this about.
So the biblical story here as it relates to the issue of human imagers is that God is committed to work with people, with humans, and it is a long, arduous task. They have to be redeemed; nations have to be reunited; sin and rebellion have to be rolled back; the kingdom has to be restored to earth. It is a long, terrible, but also glorious process. And this is the biblical story; it’s the biblical epic of how this is happening.
The Messiah is the key, the linchpin here. He’s both human and divine. He has an atoning death that fixes the problem of Gen 3. We have a resurrection that fixes the problem ultimately of sinful flesh: getting new bodies, the reclaiming of the nations because the resurrection, in Paul’s thinking, is also key to the defeat of the principalities and powers. All of these things are interconnected and equally important. And they all roll around, revolve around, God’s commitment to using people and not exempting them or destroying them.
Humanity’s Freedom Means No Plan B
Now, think about it. God made humanity His imager. They sin. They use one of the attributes that He has shared with them (His freedom) to rebel. God is omniscient; He knows this is going to happen. But He allows it to happen. Why? Because He hasn’t created us as robots. Without an attribute like freedom, without God sharing His attributes with us, we wouldn’t be able to represent Him. And the fact that freedom is one of those attributes means, again, that without it, if we weren’t free in some sense to actually make decisions to obey or not, we wouldn’t be like Him; we couldn’t be spoken of as His imager because He is not a robot. He is free.
And so God is willing to work with humanity in this way; we can say to take this risk. With God, it’s not a risk because He knows the end from the beginning. But this is the biblical story. There is no plan B. God is committed to humanity, to making humanity an intimate, participatory part of everything He wants to do on this planet. There is no plan B.
This is why we have evil; it’s why evil ultimately is going to be redeemed, because God is committed to it. So we are His imagers. We are His means of turning evil into good. We are His means of restoring Eden. We have a status as His family members; we are His children.
Humanity’s Genuine Role
If we are estranged from God, we need to go back into that right relationship again through the work of Christ, and as we do, we are able to see why we are here, why we are members of His family. We’re able to see that this was God’s original desire and it should be normal. And once we get that realization, we can have a sense that we have not just a contrived, pretend, artificial role in accomplishing God’s will as though everything was preprogrammed. It’s not. Our role is genuine, and God is committed to making us part of what He wants to do. And all of these thoughts are present in the New Testament, but they derive from the material that we’ve been talking about: our status as family members, the concept of imaging. It gives us a status, a calling, and ultimately, a destiny.
The Image of God in the New Testament LBD
New Testament Application
27. New Testament Application of These Ideas 28. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 1 29. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 2 30. Believers as Family, Participants: Part 3
New Testament Application of These Ideas
We’ve covered a lot of ground in the Old Testament about the sons of God—this divine family language that we run across in the Old Testament and how humans were included in that family. We went to Gen 1 for that, and that also took us into the matter of the image of God. And we talked about how the plural and singular language interplay in Gen 1:26–27 sort of fused or united or at least created a strong association between God and His heavenly family and His earthly family and why that was intentional. It was really about imaging God. Both God’s divine family and God’s human family, of course, have the same creator, the same Father, as it were, and that Father tasks us and tasks them in specific ways in their spheres of influence, spiritual world or the physical world.
Introducing Christ as the Ultimate Imager of God
We want to transition now to how the New Testament repurposes this kind of language. We’re going to talk about Jesus—how He is cast as the ultimate imager of God. Remember that we talked about the image being really kind of a verbal idea rather than a thing put in a person or a quality. It’s really a status and the status of representing God. Well, Jesus is the ultimate example of that, and there are New Testament passages that testify to that fact and really help solidify our understanding of what imaging means.
Introducing New Testament Vocabulary Regarding Believers
We’re also going to be looking at New Testament vocabulary for believers as children of God—again, some familiar passages, maybe some that aren’t so familiar—and how the children of God need to be conformed to the image of the ultimate imager, conformed to the image of Christ. Again, He is our model for how we represent God as family members and really as His siblings.
We’re going to be talking about glorification as well—sort of the end point for sanctification, the way we typically talk about sanctification: that is, being made divine. It’s being made like Jesus and of course, being made like a spiritual being, a spiritual family member, but still, of course, being embodied. And Jesus, even after the resurrection, of course, gets a body, and as we learned in 1 Cor 15, our body post-resurrection will be like the body that Jesus had after the resurrection.
Again, this is all intentional to sort of put us all in the same group with Him as family members, and this is the way it was intended to be. Had there never been a fall, this is what we would have been looking like—sort of a jet start, a jump to glorification, again, solidifying our status as people, embodied beings, humans that belong in God’s family, in His direct presence. Of course, we’ve had this long interval (the biblical story) about how things were fixed after the fall, how God never gave up on that plan. Ultimately, of course, we’re going to re-inherit all of that as believers, working our way sort of back to Eden, moving forward into the past, as it were. And we’ll say a little bit about our inheritance of a new Eden that sort of brings all of this together. So that’s where we’re headed in the rest of the course, building on this language, these concepts, that we’ve seen in the Old Testament.
Believers as Family, Participants: Part 1
After this section, you should be able to:
• Identify and describe the intent of passages where New Testament writers use the “image of God” idea
• Explain the purpose of sanctification
There are several statements about Jesus in the New Testament—and, of course, about us as His brother, His sibling, as it were, because of the incarnation—that build on the family language of the Old Testament“sons of God,” the divine family idea, specifically as it relates to representing God, imaging God.
Christ as “Image of God” Intentionally Links to Genesis
For instance, in 2 Cor 4:4, we read that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Now, we know from the Old Testamentthat we are spoken of in the same language. If you were a person reading this or hearing this from Paul or the mouth of some other apostle, you would immediately think back to the concept (that scene in Gen 1) where humanity is created in God’s image or, as we’ve suggested, as God’s imager.
And here, you have Christ really called “the image of God.” He is, think about it, the ultimate human. He becomes man. He is incarnate as a human being, and He is here to do many things, but one of them is to show us what God is like—to be God in the Father’s stead, as it were. And of course, Jesus alludes to this a number of times in His own ministry, but this language, again, is intentional. And as we sort of fix our minds on the fact that Jesus is the ultimate imager, the ultimate example of this, the ultimate template, when the language shifts to believers, that’s going to make sense; it’s going to take our minds back to Genesis and help us to process these things because they have a long history that go all the way back to the beginning.
Conforming to Christ
In Col 1:15, Christ is called “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Now, that has a visible element because as John says in John 1, “The Word [who was God] became flesh.” So we have a visible representation, but the idea of just general representation—being God, as it were, in this place and time—is also part of that package.
Romans 8:29, believers are “to be conformed to the image of his Son [God’s Son], in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” So here, we have sort of two aspects; we have the fact that we have the Son of God, who is the ultimate imager, and we are to be conformed to Him.
What does that mean? Well, it means we are to represent God the way He represented God; the way He played the role of imager is the way we are to play the role of imager. And again, this is why we were made. We were made to represent God, and that means to work with Him, carrying out His will in this place that He has put us: earth, the terrestrial realm.
And of course, Jesus is the example that’s going to be the template not just for a few individuals, but for many people—anyone who believes. He is the example. He was brought here to bring us not only into the family through redemption that makes us brothers with Him, but also to be our example on how we are to carry out the original mandate of Eden to be God’s representation.
Sanctification Linked to Imaging
In 2 Cor 3:17–18, we read this, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” This links our sanctification—that whole process of becoming more like Christ—to the imaging idea. Ultimately, we can see how these things dovetail. We are more like Christ—that is actually the fulfillment of God’s original plan, what He wanted for humanity all the way back into Gen 1.
Essentially Divine Beings
In 1 Cor 15:49, Paul says, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” This is a reference to being really divine beings because our spirit, the immaterial part of us, is not terrestrial. We are divine beings. Again, we receive a body in this embodied world to represent God, but ultimately, we will get a new body and that body will be like the one that Christ had after the resurrection. And Paul spends a lot of time in 1 Cor 15 talking about that.
So this is our destiny: to be essentially made like Him. Like 1 John 3 says, “We shall be like him,” and that includes this sort of glorified body, this glorified existence. That is part of our destiny. Again, that was the original goal of Eden: to take the embodied human beings God has made and somehow graft them into a divine family, unite them into a blended family. It’s been a long time getting there, and of course, we are sort of in this already/not yet kind of situation now. But Paul and these other writers are borrowing from, really dipping into, the language of the Old Testament. Colossians 3:9, “Do not lie one to another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”—just another reference to the idea of representing God, becoming progressively less unlike Him and more like Him through the process of sanctification.
And ultimately, that is completed when we are made as divine as we can be; we are made like Jesus. It’s not the idea that we’re going to become little Yahwehs or something like that, but we will become as close to Him as we can possibly be. We’re still derivative; we’re still contingent; we’re still lesser because of our original creation. But as we become more like Christ—Christ who is the God of Israel, who is Yahweh incarnate—we can bear a similarity just like a family relationship. Just like natural offspring, we are going to bear that similarity to the ultimate extent at our glorification.
Jesus as the Image of God FSB We Shall Be Like Him UR:RSWB Celestial Flesh UR:RSWB
Believers as Family, Participants: Part 2
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain what it means to be “children of God”
• Explain how Christ addresses the rebellion that occurred at Babel
• Describe the inheritance of the “children of God”
Introduction: 1 John 3
First John 3 is perhaps the key passage to tying these ideas together, and I’ve alluded to it several times already. John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
Grafted Back into the Family
Now, in one sense, every human being is a child of God. Paul alludes to that in his sermon in Acts 17. God is our common creator. We understand that, but John is talking about something different here, especially post-fall.
Family Means Participation
We have to be grafted back into the family, and the family, of course, includes this idea of participation, being in concert with God’s will and helping God to carry out His will. It’s a different kind of relationship, but I think the kind of things we’ve been talking about here help us to understand John’s language as opposed to what Paul is saying in Acts 17 a little bit. Because unless you’re a believer, you’re not going to be able to be working in concert with God—again carrying out His will, participating in His program. And that was the original intent. It wasn’t just to have humans there on earth back in Gen 1. As soon as God created us, the idea was to be with Him, united with Him and His blended family, His divine family that already existed, and together to be in this place where heaven had come to earth, heaven intersects with earth in Eden to overspread even across the planet to be working as one, to be one unit, one business—whatever metaphor helps here—to be working together toward a common goal.
Jesus Restores Relationships
That’s not possible when people are estranged from God, and so Jesus brings us back into this relationship. And we are, even in a greater sense, in the originally intended sense, we are siblings; we are coworkers. And John says this is what we are now (again, those of us who are believers), but what will be is going to be even transcending that—what we experience now.
So we’re in this already/not yet sort of mode that a lot of other things in biblical theology are when it comes to the believer. We get a foretaste of what things were intended to be and, ultimately, what they will be. And of course, in the ultimate sense, we are united to Christ. We will be living with Him back in a kingdom in a new earth, a new Eden, a global Eden. Everything will come full circle. So again, the Old Testament context helps us to grasp this a little bit.
Authority to Be Children of God
John also wrote in his Gospel, in John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him [that is, Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” We have the authority to take this title. It’s more than, “Oh, I just exist. I’m a human being. God made me. So therefore, I’m a child of God.” No, this is something different. This is being brought back into the family to accomplish the original mandate and to work with Jesus side by side, as it were, to be His spiritual sibling, His co-laborer sibling, not just the fact that we exist. So this language, to be properly understood, needs to be read in the context of Gen 1—God’s original intention there in creating human imagers to align with His non-human imagers in this place where heaven met earth.
Addressing Rebellion at Babel
In 2 Pet 1:4, Peter comments that believers have “become partakers of the divine nature.” We’re already in that category, according to Peter. But again, we’re progressively being transformed to the image of His Son, as Paul says. We’re becoming more like the ultimate imager, and ultimately, that process will reach its climax in glorification. In John 11—this is Caiaphas’s prophecy, his sort of accidental prophecy, about Jesus—in verse 51, we read, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Now, this is really important, especially if you’re thinking as a Jew. This language would force you to go back to your Old Testamentand really do some thinking. The Messiah here—again, if you were a Jew who had accepted Christ as the Messiah and as the savior—His work was not just for the nation only; it wasn’t just for Israel, but it was so that everyone, all who believe, regardless of where they are at, scattered among the nations, would be gathered into one as one family of the children of God.
This is sort of a rolling back not only of the Eden problem, the fall, the estrangement from God in general, but it’s also a rolling back of what had resulted because of the rebellion at Babel when the nations are divided and allotted to lesser sons of God. This Son of God, the “unique” Son of God, the monogenēs Son of God, because He became incarnate and died on the cross, part of that mission was to erase these distinctions, to bring the nations back into the fold. He is the seed that Paul talked about, referencing Gen 12, that through the seed of Abraham, all of the nations would be blessed.
All these ideas are important; they are all sort of threads or part of a matrix of ideas that have deep roots in the Old Testament. Romans 8, we read this in verse 16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Our status isn’t just that we believe and now we’re going to have eternal life. Again, that’s true, but this inheritance language is important. Well, what are we inheriting? We’re inheriting what God originally intended for us: a global Eden, a new earth. Read in the context of the Old Testament, this is just another example where God looks at believers—looks at us who had once been estranged because of rebellion, because of the fall—He looks at us now as family members. Everything has come full circle once more.
Now, those are the obvious passages. There are a few other things though that we read in the New Testamentthat make subtle connections between Jesus, believers, the supernatural family of God, this thing we’ve called the “divine council” by virtue of Psa 82, and the rule of Eden, again, the original plan. We want to take a look at a few of the less obvious passages next.
If You Are Christ’s, You Are Abraham’s Seed UR:RSWB The Fullness of the Gentiles UR:RSWB The Future Re-Inheritance of the Nations UR:RSWB Heirs of the Cosmos UR:RSWB A Family Reunion S:WBTUWWIM
Believers as Family, Participants: Part 3
After this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the meaning of Heb 2:10
• Explain the significance of the reference to authority over the nations and the “star” imagery of Rev 2:25–28
Hebrews 2 is a bit more of an obtuse example of the kinds of things we’re talking about because the language of Hebrews tends to be kind of complicated, but it’s a pretty powerful one. So I wanted to include it because this section of Hebrews is, I think, especially telling when it comes to these family relationships and kind of bringing things full circle, being presented to God as the fulfillment of the original plan.
Family Members in the Divine Council
We read in verse 10, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ ”
Family Members Sharing the Same Status
Now, look at the language here. We have a scene where the writer is talking about Jesus. Also God is in the picture, and we have this “son” language; we have sibling language here (“brothers”). And the scene is actually kind of amazing because here we have Jesus introducing God, as it were: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation.” What’s the congregation? It’s in the midst of the divine council; it’s in the throne room of God; it is in the presence of all who have gone before. The whole cloud of witnesses’ idea is something that I mention in Unseen Realm—that this notion of a “cloud of witnesses” goes all the way back to divine council language with ratification of treaties and agreements and covenants and guarantees.
So we have believers who have gone before members of the council now; they have become grafted in—just as normal human beings, fallen but redeemed, and being brought back into the family. And then this reference to someday all of us, each one of us, is going to be presented to God, and God is going to be presented to us by our brother who is Jesus. And this is why He is not ashamed to call us brothers because we share the same status; we are family members; we are fellow imagers.
God Remains Faithful
And when we get to the end of the road, so to speak, with the task well done, things coming full circle, the writer of Hebrews wants us to know that we’re going to have this moment. And again, it’s a full circle kind of thing. This is the way it should have originally been. This is what should have awaited all of us without all the struggle, the sin, the estrangement from God, really just the travails of human history. Of course, it wasn’t. But God never gave up on the plan. He never annihilated Adam and Eve after they fell; He never just wiped the slate clean. He was committed to this idea of creating humans—these intelligent, embodied beings who He would share His attributes with, so that they could be like Him; they could work with Him and, eventually, be brought back into a complete relationship into the family all because of the lead example: the incarnation, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ who is our brother.
Authority over the Nations
Revelation 2, we get a little bit of a feel for sort of both our status and also the activity that we’ll experience in a new Eden, in a new situation. Jesus is the speaker here in verse 25: “Nevertheless, hold fast to what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him authority over the nations, and ‘he will shepherd them with an iron rod; he will break them in pieces like jars made of clay,’ as I also have received from my Father, I will give him the morning star.”
“Morning Star” Linked to Ruling over Nations
Now, the “morning star” language is important. This is actually messianic language. You think about the passage, “I will give him authority over the nations.” This is the reclamation of the nations—those who rebelled at Babel and were put under the authority of lesser sons of God, who became corrupted and seduced their peoples to idolatry instead of being caretakers for them according to the good rules of Yahweh’s justice.
Again, this is what Psa 82 is about: this adversarial relationship that develops from this act, this rebellion, and this judgment at Babel. The Messiah is the solution to that, but so are we. I mean, we, at one point, will be put over the nations: “To him that overcomes, I will put him over the nations.” Who is over the nations now? It’s the fallen sons of God. Who is going to be over the nations? The redeemed sons of God. We essentially become a reconstituted divine council. That is the destiny of the believer. The “morning star” idea is specifically linked to ruling over the nations because it’s messianic; it refers to a divine being who had come from Judah. Numbers 24:17 is the reference for that; we read the prophecy that “a star will go out from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel.”
Star Language Associated with Divine Beings
Star language in the ancient world was language that you would associate with divine beings. The king is going to also be divine. You have hints of this all the way back in the book of Numbers. Later in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself refers to His own messianic standing with the “morning star” language. Revelation 22:16—this is the end of the Bible, this is the global Eden scene—He says, “I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
Christ Fulfills God’s Mission
And He is the monogenēs; He is the unique Son of God; He is both God and human, uniting all things into one, being the linchpin figure that fulfills the original plan of God to have human beings grafted into the divine family living with God on this wonderful, terrestrial place where heaven meets earth, where God has chosen to be all together as one: one mission, one goal obtained. This is how everything ends in the book of Revelation. In these chapters, in Rev 21–22, we have very overt, Edenic language, and it’s all deliberate. It’s all to make us think back to the beginning, and here we are in Rev 21–22 with the mission fulfilled.
Jesus, Our Brother in the Council UR:RSWB The Morning Star UR:RSWB Inherited Authority: A Stake in the Family Business UR:RSWB What God Has Planned for Us: Eternal Rule with Christ A:WBRSGHH Set over the Nations S:WBTUWWIM
31. Conclusion to the Course
Conclusion to the Course
Thanks for taking the time to go through this course material. I think that as you watch these videos and as you take the time to link back into the book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, it’s really going to dawn on you how connected everything is. And we’ve only just focused on a few items.
We focused on the “sons of God” language—sons and daughters of God, the idea of a divine family that has deep Old Testament roots and how that forms a foundation for understanding the terminology in the New Testament, and not just the terminology, but the concepts that go with it. Those concepts, of course, refer to our status as believers; we are members of the divine family. Again, linking that idea between Old Testament and New Testament, that affects our understanding of our calling: What are we supposed to do? Why are we even here?
We talked about the concept of divine imaging and participation and then, ultimately, how these things come together in our destiny and glorification in a restored Eden where we have an eternal status, an eternal belonging to God’s family, and also an eternal rule, an eternal maintenance, as it were, of all the wonderful things that the global Eden is—what God has made, where God has led things throughout human history.
So, thanks again. I hope the course has been beneficial. I think that this will provide a foundation for learning about other concepts as well in the Bible.
Heiser, M. S. (2019). Sons and Daughters of God: The Believer’s Identity, Calling, and Destiny. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.