Binitarianism In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

I will pick up where we left off in the last post, examining the specific passages Dr. Heiser presented in his lecture. Here is the link to the video: Two Powers of the Godhead. We pick it up at the time mark 24:37

1.) Judges 2:1-4 –  Malak YHWH went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” When malak YHWH had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud …

Heiser tries to make hay out of the fact that the agent of Yahweh here speaks in the first person as Yahweh. Heiser’s conclusion is that this malak of Yahweh is Yahweh, i.e. the second Yahweh, the visible one. That is why he speaks in the first person, because he is Yahweh. Heiser then gives (from mark 25:52- 26:29) a paraphrase of what the agent said but really takes some liberties; in fact, much of what he includes in his paraphrase is not even implicit in the text. Let me point out a few problems with Heiser’s interpretation .

First, as I noted in Part 1 of this study, the OT phrase malak YHWH’  does not designate one specific, special entity, much less one who shares Yahweh’s nature. I once again point you to the article where I demonstrate the validity of this statement, which I encourage you to read if you have not done so already:  Pre-incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 1)  I will note here that the LXX has ‘an angel of the Lord‘ at Judges 2:1, as does the 1985 JPS Tanakh. The fact that ‘malak YHWH‘ should be understood as indefinite, is in itself sufficient to disprove Heiser’s understanding of the passage. Heiser needs this ‘angel’ to be the same as the angel of Ex. 23:20, whom he regards as the visible Yahweh, in distinction from the invisible Yahweh.

Now of course, the fact that this malak speaks as Yahweh in the first person, gives Heiser confidence that he is reading the text right. But does this fact necessitate that the malak be Yahweh himself? Absolutely not! As I showed in Part 1, both human and non-human agents of Yahweh can and have spoken for Yahweh in the first person, even without the customary formula ‘thus says Yahweh.’ While it is true that it is predominately non-human agents who speak like this, human agents have been known to do so also. I gave two examples where Moses does this – Deut. 11:14-15 and 29:6. Other biblical prophets have done the same and the practice is seen in other ANE literature. The fact that a mouthpiece of Yahweh, i.e. a prophet, speaks for God in the first person is not a reason to regard the mouthpiece as Yahweh himself. This should be self-evident. God says of prophets that he would put his word in their mouth and that what they speak are his words {Deut. 18:18-19}. Alternatively, non-human agents of Yahweh sometimes use the formula “declares Yahweh” as in Gen. 22:15 and Zech. 3:6.

The error that many make is that, in passages where it is not obviously a human agent, it is just assumed that malak YHWH is a reference to a non-human agent i.e. an angel from heaven. But this is not necessarily the case. We have already seen, in Part 1, that both prophets and priests are designated as malak YHWH {see Haggai 1:13; Malachi 1:7}. I believe there are a number of passages where malak YHWH is better understood as a human agent, even if it is not explicit in the text. This passage in Judges 2 is one of them.  I am not alone in this assessment. The Targums translate the verse as “a prophet with a message from Yahweh.” Various rabbis also interpret the malak YHWH in Judges 2:1 as a human prophet, some as Joshua, some as Phinehas. It is also noteworthy that the LXX and the Peshitto both have in the text here the prophetic formula “thus says the Lord,” which certainly removes the possibility of this malak being Yahweh .

There are a couple of problems with the ‘angelic’ view. Heavenly agents are never seen in Scripture appearing to and addressing the whole community. Heiser makes it seem like this ‘angel’ was living among the Israelites in human form and that all the Israelites knew who he was, but this is highly unlikely seeing that the text no where states this; it is simply assumed by Heiser. God seems to have always addressed the community through his prophets or priests, while celestial agents seem to appear to individuals only. Another problem is that the text says that this malakwent up from Gilgal to Bokim.” Was this ‘angel’ living in Gilgal? Various explanations of this phrase have been offered by commentators who take this angel to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ but none of them amount to anything or are even worth mentioning. The simplest explanation is that the phrase describes the movement from the place of residence of this malak to another location in order to deliver Yahweh’s message. All that can be said is that this phrase fits better with the view that this was a human agent of Yahweh rather than a heavenly being.

2.) Gen. 31:10-13 –  “It came to pass at the time of the breeding of the flock, in a dream I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold the rams which mated with the flock were streaked, speckled and spotted. And in the dream malak YHWH said to me, ‘Jacob.’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Look up and see … I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me …’ “

After reading this passage, Heiser asks his audience. “How much clearer can it be?” He thinks that it is clear that the angel of Yahweh just is the God of Bethel, i.e. the God who appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, who identified himself as Yahweh {see Gen. 28:11-15}. Why does he think this? He thinks it based on 1.) the fact that the angel speaks for God in the first person and 2.) the belief that the designation malak YHWH refers to that one specific entity whom he calls the second Yahweh. The second point has never been proved by Heiser and is simply assumed based on his theological presuppositions. Again, I point to the article noted above, which will hopefully disabuse you of the mistaken notion that ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ is a designation for one specific individual angel, one who shares a special ontological relationship to Yahweh. The first point has already been addressed – the agent of Yahweh speaks as Yahweh because he represents Yahweh, not because he is Yahweh.

3.) Gen. 48:14-16 – “But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head … And he blessed Joseph saying, ‘The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; the God who has shepherded me continually, even to this day; the malak who has redeemed me from all calamity; may he bless these boys.’ “

Heiser says that this is his favorite passage in the OT and that it is “just too cool for words.” He points out that the final clause is singular, “May he bless…”  He then says this:

“If the writer had wanted to make sure you didn’t misread the text – that there’s more than one, that we need to keep the angel and God separate – he could have done so right here, but he doesn’t. You can’t fuse the two any tighter than this …”

So what is Heiser saying here, that the angel and God are the same person or the same being or are numerically one? He doesn’t clarify but we know what he thinks because of his presuppositions which keep showing up in his exegesis. He thinks that even though the angel is distinct from God yet he is the same as God, just like Christians talk about Jesus. So we are supposed to understand then that the early Christians readily accepted Jesus as Yahweh because the OT Scriptures all along have taught that one God consists of multiple persons. But is this really the necessary interpretation of this passage? You will notice thus far that Heiser never offers any alternative plausible interpretations to these passages, as scholars usually do. He simply tells you what he wants you to see in the passage as if it is just the obvious meaning.

First of all, if the two are being so fused together, why assume that there are actually two distinct entities, rather than just one? In other words, Heiser no doubt would say that this angel is none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God, as distinct from God the Father. But why assume that? Why not assume that the angel just is God the Father appearing in visible form? Why does Heiser assume that the angel is a ‘christophany’ rather than a ‘theophany’ ? Heiser’s understanding of the passage may be predicating more than he might really want to say. It seems like his line of reasoning might lead to a modalist reading of the passage i.e. there is only one entity who manifests in differing modes. Indeed, whether he realizes it or not, at times Heiser sounds modalistic when speaking about the Trinity.

Is there another way to understand this text without resorting to the assumption of multiplicity in the one God? Yes, I believe so. What if the singular verb bless refers only to God, even though both God and an agent of God are mentioned by Jacob? This, I believe, is exactly the case. There are two possible ways to get there. The first is to understand Jacob really wanting to say, “the God who has delivered me from all calamity” but not wanting the two young boys he is blessing to misunderstand him and think that God himself was personally following Jacob around throughout his life delivering him from every calamity. Jacob knows that God’s protection of him was carried out by means of a supernatural agent who God assigned to him, so he acknowledges the agent, for the sake of the boys, but credits God for the actions of the agent. Now Scripture has no problem with giving Yahweh the credit for the things done by his commissioned agents. For example, in 2 Chron. 32 Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, has invaded Judah and is threatening to attack Jerusalem. King Hezekiah cries out to Yahweh {v. 20} and Yahweh sends a malak who destroys the Assyrian army in one night {v. 21}. Yet v. 22 says explicitly, “And so Yahweh saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria …” We see that God gets the credit for what his agent accomplished on his behalf, even though the agent is acknowledged. We see the same thing in Judges 2:16 & 18:

“And Yahweh raised up judges and they delivered them (Israel) …”

“When Yahweh raised up judges for them, he was with the judge and he saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived.”

Again we see, the agents (the judges) are acknowledged, but Yahweh gets the ultimate credit for what they did.

A second option would be to see the mention of the malak as something done by the final editor of the text, which may have originally read “the God who delivered me …” The change would have been made for the same reason mentioned above i.e. the final editor (perhaps Ezra) knew that this deliverance by God was accomplished by an assigned agent, and wanted the reader to understand this. Heiser often speaks of ‘the final editor’ of the text of the Pentateuch, pointing out those passages where he believes we can discern his hand. I am not surprised that Heiser doesn’t suggest this as a possible way to understand this text since he just wants to make the text fit into his theological paradigm.

4.) Judges 6:11-23

Heiser makes much out of the fact that there is a switching back and forth by the author between ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ and Yahweh. He states, “they are both in the same scene, but they’re both mixed and separated … they are both him; he is him, he’s not him, but he’s still him. It’s kind of like how we talk about Jesus. Jesus is but isn’t God. He is God because he’s the same essence, but he’s not the Father.” What is clear is that Heiser’s presuppositions are driving his interpretation of the passage. All I can say to this is “move along folks, there nothing to see here at all.”

Once again Heiser fails to inform his audience of other interpretational options that fit better with the cultural setting than does the fourth century C.E. christology that he is trying to cram into this tenth century B.C. or earlier text. As I stated in the first part of this study, I am incredulous of Heiser’s seeming unawareness of the concept of agency within the cultural milieu of the ANE. How can a scholar in the field of ANE studies be ignorant of this? I can only surmise that he doesn’t mention it because it would weaken his ‘there must be two Yahwehs‘ interpretation of the passage. I offered these quotes before in a previous article, but at the risk of being redundant I offer them again now:

“In the ancient world direct communication between important parties was a rarity. Diplomatic and political exchange usually required the use of an intermediary, a function that our ambassadors exercise today. The messenger who served as the intermediary was a fully vested representative of the party he represented. He spoke for that party and with the authority of that party. He was accorded the same treatment as that party would enjoy were he there in person. While this was standard protocol, there was no confusion about the person’s identity.

This explains how the angel in this chapter [Gen. 16] can comfortably use the first person to convey what God will do (16:10). When official words are spoken by the representative, everyone understands that he is not speaking for himself, but is merely conveying the words, opinions, policies, and decisions of his liege. So in Ugarit literature, when Baal sends messengers to Mot, the messengers use first person forms of speech. E.T. Mullen concludes that such usage ‘signify that the messengers not only are envoys of the god, but actually embody the power of their sender.’ ”    John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

And this one by Aubrey R. Johnson in The One and the Many In the Israelite Conception of God:

“In Hebrew thought a patriarch’s personality extended through his entire household … in a specialized sense, when the patriarch, as lord of his household, deputized his trusted servant as his malak (his messenger or angel), the man was endowed with the authority and resources of his lord, to represent him fully and transact business in his name. In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.”

Heiser and others simply make this and similar texts to be saying more than is warranted. The fact that vv. 11, 12, 20, 21, & 22 identify the mysterious figure as ‘a malak of Yahweh‘ and vv. 14 & 16 seem to call him Yahweh, does not mean that this should even be considered a theophany, much less a christophany.  The simpliest way to understand the text is that the author is attributing the action and words of the malak to Yahweh himself, since the malak is there in Yahweh’s stead, representing him before Gideon. If you read the passage carefully you will notice that at first Gideon has no idea who this man is (this malak obviously looked like an ordinary man). In v. 12 the malak speaks of Yahweh in the third person. Gideon then refers to Yahweh in the third person in v. 13. Then comes v. 14:

“And Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you.’ “

 Does this mean that the malak is Yahweh?  Heiser reads his theology into the text and concludes he is one of multiple persons within the being of Yahweh. But the text says nothing of the sort. If you are going to take the text in the most literal sense then you would just take the malak to be Yahweh himself, i.e. a theophany. But this is not even necessary. The author calls the malak ‘Yahweh’ here because the words he speaks at this point are Yahweh’s words and he speaks them in the first person as Yahweh. The author probably felt the awkwardness of writing, “And the malak of Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘… Am I not sending you.'” The author understands the malak’s words to be the promise of Yahweh to be with Gideon, and so he inserts Yahweh in the text here and in vv. 16 & 18, instead of  ‘the malak of Yahweh.’

Now it is at v. 14, when the man speaks as Yahweh in the first person, that Gideon realizes that, at the least, this man is a prophet of Yahweh. Gideon never refers to the man as Yahweh or as the malak of Yahweh, he simply calls him my lord (Heb. adoni), which here is a common term of respect. It is only the author who inserts Yahweh into the scene. In v. 16 the malak again speaks a word of promise to Gideon as Yahweh, in the first person. Gideon now surmises that God has sent this man and is speaking to him through the man, but he’s not exactly certain, so he asks:

“If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that you are speaking to me.”

It is only after the malak miraculously causes fire to consume Gideon’s offering that he realizes that this is an angel sent by Yahweh (v. 22), and he exclaims, “Alas Lord Yahweh! because I have seen an angel of Yahweh face to face.” The phrase ‘angel of Yahweh’, which appears twice in verse 22, does not have to be rendered definite, as demonstrated by the ISR, YLT and the 1985 JPS Tanakh versions. Once the angel left Gideon’s sight we are told that Yahweh said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Heiser again tries to use this to show the mysteriousness of the encounter, as if it is difficult to know who is who and who is speaking, is it God or is it the angel. Heiser uses these theatrics to seek to solidify in the audience’s mind the distinction yet oneness of the angel and Yahweh. Now we do not know if the angel vanished suddenly from sight, as most versions say, because the Hebrew word  halak in v. 21 does not connote a sudden vanishing. The word simply means to come, to go, to walk. In the other 58 occurrences of this verb, in the same form, it never means a sudden vanishing. So it could be that the angel simply walked away out of Gideon’s sight. It is possible that as the angel was walking away he said the words recorded in v. 23, and that once again, the author of the book records it as Yahweh speaking because the angel was speaking on Yahweh’s behalf.

So this very plausible and very reasonable explanation of the text removes the supposed mystery and confusion as to who is speaking throughout the narrative – it is Yahweh’s agent. The author records it as if Yahweh were speaking because the agent is speaking Yahweh’s word in His stead. This explanation also removes the absurdity of proposing two Yahwehs, which contradicts Deut. 6:4.

5.) Genesis 15:1 –  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
      1 Sam. 3 –  1. The boy Samuel was ministering to Yahweh in the presence of Eli. And the word of Yahweh was rare in those days; there was no vision bursting through.
7. Now Samuel had not yet come to know (i.e. by direct experience) Yahweh. The word of Yahweh was not yet revealed to him.  8. Yahweh called Samuel …  10. Yahweh came and stood and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  21. And Yahweh appeared again and again in Shiloh, for in Shiloh Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in (i.e. by means of) the word of Yahweh.
      Jer. 1 –   4. The word of Yahweh came to me saying …  6. Then I said, “Ah Lord Yahweh …”  9. Then Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth and Yahweh said to me, “Behold I have put my word in your mouth.”

Heiser’s interpretation of these verses is, in my opinion, rather farcical. He thinks that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is an actual personal entity, the same entity known as ‘the angel of Yahweh‘. Heiser believes this entity is the second Yahweh figure which he thinks the Hebrew Scriptures speak of. In Heiser’s theology this second Yahweh figure is the visible Yahweh, the embodied one, while the original Yahweh remains invisible (I don’t know if ‘the original Yahweh’ is the right language or not for the invisible one, since Heiser never refers to him in his distinction from the visible Yahweh. He merely refers to the invisible one as Yahweh and the visible one as the second Yahweh). Remember that Heiser thinks these two Yahweh’s are at the same time distinct and yet the same being. So in Heiser’s scheme ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a distinct personage from Yahweh and yet is Yahweh. And he thinks the three passages above prove this. Let’s see if he’s right.

Heiser’s contention is that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ cannot be referring to verbal communication alone because there seems to be a visual and even tactile experience being had by Abram, Samuel and Jeremiah. This is supposed to be evidence that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a literal personage, i.e. Yahweh embodied. But I fail to see how the fact that something visual was going on proves that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a personal being. The biblical phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” (or to some specifically named person), contrary to Heiser’s objections, simply means something like “Yahweh communicated his message to me.” This can be easily proved by 1 Sam. 4:1, where the exact same phrase is used of Samuel:

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now no one, including Heiser himself, would make the ridiculous claim that there was a second Samuel, who was distinct from and yet the same being as Samuel, who appeared to all Israel. The phrase simply means that Samuel communicated his message to all Israel. And this is what the phrase means in relation to Yahweh. Heiser’s error here is that he is confusing the visual and tactile experience of the prophet with being the ‘word of Yahweh‘ rather than with being the method by which Yahweh communicated his word to the prophet. Although God may have several ways by which he communicated his word to his prophets, he did have one predominant method of doing so:

(Yahweh) said, “Listen to my words: When a prophet of Yahweh is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.”    Numbers 12:6

So pervasive was this method in it’s use by God in communicating with the prophets, that even in the passages where it is not explicitly stated that the prophet is having a vision, it should be assumed, unless the text explicitly states that another method was employed, such as an angel bringing a message to the prophet. In the passages presented by Heiser as proof texts for his assertion we can see that the method God is using in each case, to communicate his word, is a vision. The Gen. 15:1 passage states it explicitly and should be read: “After these things Yahweh communicated his word to Abram in a vision.” It was by means of a vision that Yahweh communicated his word to Abram; in this case a word of promise. Now let’s define just what a vision is.

I will show that visions are not actual occurrences taking place in the real world and in real time, but rather are audiovisual events occurring only in the mind of the visionary while in an altered state of consciousness. This is evident first of all by noting the biblical counterpart of visions – dreams. Visions are experienced by a person while awake, whereas dreams are experienced while asleep. But they both function the same way. Now it is evident that what is being seen in a dream is not real, and so it is with visions also. When a person is in a visionary state he seems to lose all awareness of the real world around him and sees and hears only what is occurring in his mind, which can seem to him as real as the real world. That the images seen in a vision are not real or actual objects can be deduced from biblical examples of visions. Furthermore, it does not appear that the images seen in a vision are being seen with the physical eyes, but only in the mind’s eye.  For example, Daniel relates a vision he had, found in ch. 8 of his book, of which he says:

In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam. In the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. I looked up and there before was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal …          vv. 2-3

Daniel, in a vision, sees himself somewhere else other than where he actually is. Daniel himself is an actor in the vision. If this event were a real time event then he would not have described seeing himself in the vision. Daniel then sees a ram and then a goat and describes the things he sees in relation to these animals. Are the ram and the goat actual real time living creatures? Not at all. It is obvious from vv. 9-12 that the things happening in the vision are not happening in real time in the real world.

In Zechariah chs. 1-6 the prophet relates one long vision that he experienced. In this vision he sees many things – a man riding a red horse; four horns; four craftsman; a solid gold lampstand; a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide; a measuring basket with a woman inside; four chariots coming out from between two mountains of bronze. None of these things were actually, physically there. If someone would have come along and encountered Zechariah while he was having this vision would they have seen all these things too? No. They probably would have simply found the prophet sitting there in a trance-like state, all the while Zechariah is experiencing all these things in his mind.

Ezekiel chs. 8-11 describe one long vision in which the prophet, who is in Babylon, is taken to Jerusalem in the spirit and he sees many fantastic things. The pericope starts out telling us:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house, and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.        8:1

The pericope then ends, in 11:24-25, with these words:

The Spirit lifted me up and brought me (back) to the exiles in Babylon in the vision given by the spirit of Yahweh. Then the vision I had seen went up from me and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

In Acts 10 Luke relates how Peter had a vision while praying up on the roof of the house of Simon the tanner. V. 10 state that a trance came upon him and in this trance he sees a large sheet being let down out of the sky by it’s four corners. The sheet is filled with  all kinds of unclean animals. Again I ask, could anyone else see this sheet coming down out of heaven? There must have been other people around, but no one saw it because it wasn’t really happening in the real world, only in Peter’s mind. Later, in Acts 12, Peter is arrested and put in prison. During the night an angel comes to him and frees him from his chains and leads him out of the prison. Luke then (v.9) tells us something important for our understanding of how visions operate:

Peter followed him (the angel) out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.

Peter thought he was seeing himself being set free from prison a vision and so did not realize it was actually happening in real time. Only after the angel left him and he “came to himself” did he know it actually happened. This tells us that those having visions did not regard them as actual real time, real world events, but only images played out in the mind.

Now back to Heiser’s proof texts. Heiser seems to have no clue about the true nature of visions. He seems to think they are real time events. He seems to think that the word ‘vision’ in both Gen. 15:1 and 1 Sam. 3:1 implies that what is being seen is an actual, physical being that could be seen by anyone there. But if we remember these two facts: 1. visions were the primary means used by God to communicate his word and to reveal himself to a person, and 2. visions are not real time, real world events, but only audiovisual events experienced in the mind which is in an altered state, then it becomes apparent what is happening in these three passages. We have already seen that Abram was having a vision, as the text says. As for the account of Samuel’s encounter with Yahweh in 1 Sam. 3, we are told in v.15 that what Samuel experienced was a vision (Heb. mar’ah – this is the word used in Num. 12:6).  In v. 21, yes, Yahweh continued to appear in Shiloh to Samuel in visions, not as an actual embodied entity known as ‘the word of Yahweh‘, who would come to him. Dr. Heiser says that the end of verse 21 can be translated either “by the word of Yahweh” or “as the word of Yahweh.” This is completely misleading. The preposition prefixed to the word ‘word’ is be  and means ‘in‘ or ‘by‘, but never ‘as‘. The phrase can be paraphrased as “for Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word Yahweh communicated.”

In Jer. 1 it is not explicitly stated that Jeremiah is having a vision, but this can be assumed based on Num. 12:6. Thus the phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” should be understood as “Yahweh communicated his message to me in a vision.” The fact that Jeremiah says, in v. 9, that “Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth” is better understood as Yahweh appearing in a vision, in the form of a man, rather than that Yahweh actually appeared to Jeremiah in an embodied state, as Heiser takes it, so that Jeremiah was not actually seeing with his physical eyes an actual being who was actually Yahweh. Dr. Heiser states emphatically that this verse presents to us the “embodied word in the Old Testament.” Sorry, but he is simply wrong. That Jeremiah was having a vision is confirmed by vv. 11-14, where he sees both an almond tree branch and a boiling pot tilting away from the north. Again I ask, could these objects be seen by anyone who might happen by? These were merely mental images being played on the screen of Jeremiah’s mind, as was the appearance of Yahweh in the form of a man. It is further confirmed that the phrase ‘the word of Yahweh‘ in this passage is not referring to an actual embodied entity, by the fact that the phrase is repeated three times in the same pericope. If this supposed entity showed up in v.4 then why does he have to show up again in vv. 11 & 13? Isn’t he already in the scene? The repetition of the phrase only makes sense if the phrase refers to different words or messages being communicated to the prophet in the course of the vision.

For further arguments that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is not referring to a personal entity but rather to God’s communication see the article linked here:  Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

6.) Daniel 7:13 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”

For a full treatment of Daniel 7 I direct the reader to my recent article found here: The Rider On The Clouds

I will not rehearse everything from that article here but I will point out one thing. Heiser’s whole case here is that in the Ugarit literature Baal is given the epithet ‘the Rider on the clouds’ and that Baal is a deity. He contends that only a deity can have this title. Then he shows how Yahweh is given the same epithet in the Hebrew Bible in Duet 33:26; Ps. 68:33; 104:3; Is. 19:1. Heiser believes this epithet is given to Yahweh to tell the Israleites that Yahweh is the true deity rather than Baal. He then goes to Dan. 7:13 and says that the same epithet, which only a deity can bear, is given to another entity that is distinct from Yahweh, who is already in the scene in v. 9. His conclusion is that this entity, referred to as ‘one like a son of man‘, is therefore a true deity figure, hence Yahweh must be a binitarian God, i.e. a deity consisting of two persons, case closed.

But there is a glaring flaw in Heiser’s reasoning here, which apparently no one has ever brought to his attention because I have never heard him address it. The flaw is this – nowhere in Dan. 7 is the ‘son of man‘ given the title ‘the Rider of the clouds.’ In the Ugarit literature Baal is called the ‘ Rider (or Charioteer – Ugarit = rkb) of the clouds’. In the Hebrew Bible, in the verses listed above, Yahweh is called “the one riding” (Heb. rakab) on the heavens or on clouds. Note the similarity of the Ugarit and Hebrew words. This is because Ugarit is a Semitic language closely related to biblical Hebrew, with many words shared between them. So we can see that the word used to describe Baal coincides with the word used to describe Yahweh. Now please note that in the description of the ‘one like a son of man‘ this key word is absent. The phrase in Hebrew reads im anane semayya ateh = with the clouds of heaven coming. Heiser contends that the author intended his readers to make the connection that the ‘one like a son of man‘ is being likened to Baal and Yahweh as a ‘Rider on the clouds” and that any Hebrew reading Dan. 7:13 would have done so. Yet the author failed to employ the key word by which that connection could have been made. The ‘one like a son of man‘ is not given the epithet ‘the one riding on the clouds‘ in Dan. 7:13, but is merely described as “coming with the clouds of heaven,” which could have various meanings. I do not see how, without the key word rakab, any Jew would have made the connection that Heiser thinks is so obvious. This, in my opinion, is a fatal flaw to his argument.

Heiser’s Summary

After going through all of the passages we have just looked at, Heiser summarizes his conclusions as follows:

  • OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh can be in two persons, sometimes in the same scene.
  • OT theology also teaches that this second Yahweh figure is portrayed in human form, and even physically embodied.

Heiser has not proven either of these conclusions, as I hope has been made obvious. He has not proven that  OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh is binitarian in nature, he has simply interpreted the relevant passages according to his theological predilections. I think I have shown that his interpretations are not only not necessary but also that they are not even the most reasonable within the context of the Hebrew Bible as a whole.

Binitarianism To Trinitarianism In One Easy Step

Believing he has established that the OT teaches a binitarian Godhead, Dr. Heiser then attempts to show how the biblical language about the Holy Spirit logically leads to trinitarianism. He offers two passages from the Hebrew Bible to show this.

1.) Is. 63:9-11 compared with Ps. 78:40-41

What Heiser does with these passages is really rather strange. He seems to equate ‘the angel of his presence‘ in Is. 63:9 with ‘his holy spirit‘ in v. 11. After reading , “Where is he who put in the midst of them his holy spirit,” Heiser says, “wait, I thought God put the angel in their midst; oh the psalmist is so confused — no actually he’s not.” This is a remarkable statement coming from one who affirms the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Heiser has already, throughout the lecture, equated the angel with who he calls ‘the second Yahweh.’ He has also led the audience to think of this second Yahweh as the pre-incarnate Son i.e. Jesus Christ. But now he is equating the angel with the holy spirit as if they are the same person. It seems that Heiser doesn’t even understand what orthodox trinitarianism demands; he just seems to conflate God, the angel and the holy spirit into a sort of modalistic being.

Next he shows that the language of Is. 63:10 is identical to that of  Ps. 78:40-41, specifically the words rebelled and grieved, and that the same event is being referred to in both passages. He points out that in the Is. passage it is the holy spirit who is grieved and rebelled against, yet in Ps.78 it says that God is the one that was grieved and rebelled against. Hence, the holy spirit is equated with God and the angel and therefore this is “three thinking.” This is where it becomes clear that Heiser is merely interpreting the text to align with his presuppositional theology. Why cannot the comparison of Is. 63:9-11 and Ps. 78:40-41 be telling us that “his holy spirit” is simply a way of referring to God being actively at work among his people? Instead, based on his predilections, Heiser interprets it to mean that there must be three different persons in the Godhead. But this is going far beyond what these two texts say or any other texts of the OT for that matter. Because he thinks that the NT teaches that the holy spirit is a distinct person within the Godhead, based on later orthodox, catholic creeds, he simply reads this back into the Hebrew Bible as if that is what it was saying all along. But the most that can be logically drawn from these passages is that “his holy spirit” is just another way of referring to God himself. If ‘my spirit’ were grieved over something, that would not imply to anyone that a second, distinct person within me is grieved, but simply that I myself am grieved. Is the spirit of a man a distinct person from the man or is it the man himself? Likewise, why should we assume that ‘the spirit of God‘ is a distinct entity within God rather than just a way of referring to God himself being actively involved with his people. When the Scripture refers to ‘the hand of Yahweh‘ doing something, should we understand from this that Yahweh’s hand is a personal entity that is at the same time distinct from and yet equated with Yahweh? ‘The hand of Yahweh‘ is meant to denote that Yahweh himself has accomplished something and nothing more. In the OT the phrase ‘spirit of Yahweh‘ or ‘my spirit‘ or ‘his spirit‘ functions in the same way, i.e. it denotes God’s activity among his people, not that there are multiple persons in God.

2.) Ezekiel 8:2-6 –  Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a manHe put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my hair and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me, in visions of God, to Jerusalem … And behold the glory of the God of Israel was there … and he said to me, “Son of man … do you see what they are doing … to drive me far from my sanctuary.”

Dr. Heiser totally misses the mark here. As noted above in this article, Heiser seems to be unaware that Ezekiel is having a vision, a vision which is recorded from ch. 8 through the end of ch. 11 where he says:

Then the vision I had seen went up from me, and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

Heiser does not include v. 1 of ch. 8 in his slide presentation. V. 1 reads:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.

Get this picture in your mind. Ezekiel is sitting in his house, in Babylon, with the exiled elders of Judah sitting before him, when suddenly the hand of Yahweh comes upon him (this is probably when Ezekiel enters into an altered state of consciousness). Ezekiel then sees this long vision which involves him being in Jerusalem and in the temple. He also sees the form of a man (presumably Yahweh) who reaches out his hand and takes him by the hair. Now the thing that Heiser doesn’t seem to understand is that none of this is actually physically happening in real time. When the ‘hand of Yahweh‘ came upon him, Ezekiel entered into another state of consciousness, and while sitting there in front of the elders of Judah he went into ‘visions of God.’ Yahweh did not appear physically in front of Ezekiel and the elders who were there with him. This was a vision that Ezekiel alone was experiencing while the elders were sitting there before him. In this altered state of consciousness Ezekiel was not seeing anything with his physical eyes or hearing anything with his physical ears; he was seeing and hearing in the spirit only.

As I noted earlier, God often appeared to prophets in visions, in the form of a man. But none of them actually saw Yahweh embodied, as Heiser suggests; they only saw a representational image of Yahweh (a man) within a vision. Everything Ezekiel  experienced  was only in his mind, i.e. the images and voices he was seeing and hearing were not really happening in the real world. Therefore Heiser’s whole argument here falls apart completely. This is not about Yahweh being embodied and then the spirit being equated with this embodied Yahweh. Heiser’s reading of this text is just plain silly and is unworthy of a scholar. The passage simply relates a vision that was given to Ezekiel in which he sees Yahweh in the form of a man and is shown what is going on in Jerusalem, and Yahweh speaks to him in the vision. There is no confusion here as to who is acting and speaking.

Miscellanea

Starting at the 103:10 mark in the video Heiser makes some statements that I want to briefly touch on. First he says that the NT authors are “deliberately trying to link Jesus to the God of the OT and to the angel because they’re both Yahweh.” Of course they linked Jesus to the God of the OT – he was foretold, miraculously conceived, chosen, raised up, sent, anointed, raised from the dead and exalted by Yahweh the God of the OT. But Heiser means more than this. He means that they linked Jesus with Yahweh in a way that makes him also Yahweh. But this is completely without warrant and he certainly does not prove it in this lecture. His statement that the NT writers link Jesus with the ‘angel of Yahweh‘ is just plain false. There is no passage anywhere in the NT that equates Jesus with the angel of Yahweh in the OT, even where the authors could have easily done so {see Acts 7:30-38}.

The one verse, which Heiser mentioned earlier, that could lend credence to this idea is Jude 1:5. Some early manuscripts say that it was Jesus who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, while other variant readings have Lord and God. While many scholars accept the Jesus reading as original, the truth of the matter is that no one knows for certain. The whole concept is based on a misconception that it was ‘the angel of Yahweh’ who saved the people out of Egypt. Later church fathers, like Justin, then equated Jesus with this angel and so we end up with Jesus delivering the people out of Egypt. The whole thing is absurd and is based on a careless reading of the relevant OT texts, such as Ex. 23:20-23; Num. 20:16 and Is 63:9. First off, in my previous article I think I have made a good case that the malak who is being referred to in these texts is Moses and not a celestial agent. Also, if the Ex. 23 passage were referring to a celestial agent, the promise being made there is that this agent would bring the people to the promised land, not that he would deliver them from Egypt – at this point they had already been delivered out of Egypt. No where in either the OT or the NT is it unambiguously stated that an angel i.e. a celestial agent was sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

Next, Heiser states at 103:28:

“Paul, and he’s not the only one to do it, … will quote the Old Testament, he’ll have some passage that says, ‘Yahweh said this or that and the other thing,’ then he’ll quote it … and take the Yahweh part and he’ll write either kurios, the lord, or christos, or Iesous, Jesus. They actually do that. They quote the OT and they’ll swap in a name or a title associated with Jesus. That is to telegraph a theology. To the writer they’re the same. They do that with the angel too.”

This characterization of how the NT writers find the fulfillment of OT Yahweh passages accomplished in and through Jesus is really quite misleading and is an overstatement of what is really going on in those passages. But to those who are not well versed in Scripture it can at first appear to be a substantial argument, when in reality it is a rather sophomoric argument. What Heiser is basically saying is that if an OT passage said that Yahweh would do such and such, and then in the NT we see Jesus doing it, then the logical conclusion must be that Jesus is Yahweh. I’m sorry, but this is infantile thinking; I call it kindergarten exegesis. If Yahweh says, “I will do this thing” and then he sends an agent who accomplishes what Yahweh said he would do, then 1.) Yahweh is still the one who is said to have accomplished it, and 2.) there is no reason to understand the agent as being Yahweh himself.  So when Yahweh spoke through his prophet saying, “But Israel shall be saved by Yahweh with an everlasting salvation,” and then he accomplishes that salvation through the man Jesus of Nazareth, has not Yahweh accomplished what he promised? Was it not Yahweh who was reconciling the world to himself by means of Christ? And does Yahweh’s bringing about the fulfillment of his promise through his appointed agent require us to regard the agent as Yahweh himself? This concept is so basic throughout Scripture that it is simply unfathomable that a scholar of Heiser’s caliber would make this kind of mistake. What it shows, once again, is that his theological prepossessions are driving his exegesis of the text.  

Conclusion

This is the fourth and final article in a series of critiques of the popular teachings of Dr. Michael Heiser. It pains me to have had to write these articles but I just keep seeing too many people being misled by scholars like Heiser, who are too often believed simply because of their credentials. Now I am not saying that Heiser is purposely misleading people; he is, no doubt, sincere in all he teaches. The problem is that he interprets Scripture through a certain lens, that of orthodox, catholic theology and also of Ancient Near East literature, and therefore his exegesis cannot just be assumed to be sound. Everything must be critically examined no matter who is teaching it.

I hope and pray that these articles have been a benefit to my readers. If so please let me know. God bless!

 

 

 

 

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

2 thoughts on “Binitarianism In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)”

  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent. Your explanations of how Yahweh communicated to and through His prophets, and how Yahweh works through His agents, is very helpful. Thanks for putting these articles together!

    Like

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