This will be a short article in response to the recent Naked Bible podcast, # 360, in which Dr. Michael Heiser was commenting on Rev. 2:1-7. Once again, Heiser has not failed to confirm what I have been saying about him in some of my blog articles, namely that his exegesis of scripture is driven by his theological predilection for the divine council paradigm, which he has made the core of his teaching. Heiser’s method of exegesis appears to be that when he encounters something mysterious or ambiguous in the text, and the language can accommodate it, then he just plugs the divine council motif into the passage and viola! he has the correct interpretation. I find this extremely irritating and quite pedestrian.
In his current podcast series on the Revelation, Heiser has demonstrated this tendency a number of times already and he’s only on chapter 2. As the title of this article suggests, he has done so with regard to the identification of the seven angels of the seven churches found in chs. 1-3. In the podcast noted above, he identifies the angels as members of the divine council who have each been given oversight of a particular congregation. How he arrives at this conclusion is typical of his method. He tries to interpret the imagery of the seven golden lampstands in 1:20 in conjunction with Zech. 4:2 and 10b, as if they refer to the same thing. Yet Jesus, in the vision, reveals the meaning for us, so it’s not really necessary for us to guess what the image might mean. Heiser thinks the vision from Zech. 4 informs us to the meaning of Rev.1:20. But the imagery is not the same. In Zech. 4:2 there is a single gold lampstand with seven channels, each with a lamp on top of it, i.e. a seven branched menorah. Zech. 4:10b then tells us that these seven lamps on the branches of the single menorah represent “the eyes of Yahweh, which range throughout the earth.” In Rev. 1:20 the image is of seven gold lampstands, which is interpreted for us in the same verse as representing the seven churches of Asia, previously mentioned in 1:4, 11. Why does Heiser go to Zech. 4 to interpret an image in Revelation when the meaning of that image is already given? So, can you guess what Heiser thinks the “eyes of Yahweh” are in the Zech. vision? Right, divine council members. He then carries that over into Rev. 1:20 and makes the seven stars and seven lampstands, which he just seems to merge together, as being supernatural beings. We are told in the text that the seven stars represent the seven angels of the seven churches, and Heiser thinks these are supernatural members of the divine council. He finds further confirmation of this in 2:1 where the angel of the church of Ephesus is addressed and the imagery of the seven stars and seven lampstands is reiterated. He thinks this proves this angel must be a supernatural being because these things wouldn’t have any connection to a human. But since the seven stars and seven lampstands are, in his mind, related to the divine council, they would only have relevance to a supernatural member of the council. All of this is quite disappointing and unsatisfactory from an exegetical standpoint.
Heiser also confuses the seven stars, a.k.a. the seven angels, with the seven spirits mentioned in 1:4, 3:1 and 4:5. I think he believes this gives more credibility to these angels being non-human entities. But there really is no good reason to equate these two things. The closest connection between these two is found at 3:1, but all this is saying is that Messiah possesses both the seven spirits and the seven angels, i.e. both groups are his servants. He also seems to merge the seven gold lampstands with the seven spirits because in 4:5 these seven spirits are represented as seven lamps. But this is incoherent. The image of the seven lamps in 4:5 is interpreted for us as “the seven spirits of God”, probably the same as in 1:4 and 5:6. And the image of the seven gold lampstands in 1:12 is interpreted for us at 1:20 as “the seven churches” of Asia. The word for lampstands in 1:12 & 20 is a different word that the ‘lamps’ of 4:5. The gold lampstands are most likely menorahs while the lamps of 4:5 are more like torches.
I want to offer a simpler but more nuanced interpretation of the seven angels of the churches. Think with me for a moment. John is exiled on the isle of Patmos, far from the seven churches of Asia. He is not free to travel to the mainland for he is in effect under arrest. God gives him a vision and tells him to write it down and send it to the seven churches of Asia. How is he going to get this vision, along with the seven specific letters for each congregation, to them. It seems to me that God had already somehow made it known to these seven churches (perhaps by a dream or prophetic word) that they were to send a representative to Patmos in order to receive a copy of the revelation given to John. Therefore the seven angeloi would be the seven representatives of the seven churches sent to receive the revelation. If we were to translate the phrase in 2:1 as “To the messenger from the church of Ephesus write . . .” it becomes clearer as to what the text is saying.
It is interesting to note that in the message given to each church all of the pronouns are singular. Heiser points this out and says it’s because a group can be designated as a single entity, which is true. But a better way to understand it is that a rhetorical device is being employed here, i.e. the acclamations and rebukes written to each congregation is addressed to that congregations representative. The singular pronouns would produce a more profound effect upon each individual member of the congregation when the letter is read publically.
Now Heiser might object to taking the seven angels as human messengers, for, as he points out in the podcast, all other occurrences of aggelos in the Revelation are clearly referring to supernatural beings. I am not sure if that is true, but if it was it would be irrelevant. Since the word aggelos can and does refer to human messengers, each occurrence must be taken in it’s own context. It is possible, that of the 77 occurrences of the word in Revelation, all but the 8 which occur in relationship to the seven churches, refer to supernatural beings, while the other eight refer to human beings. I mean if John wanted to mention human messengers how else would he do it – aggelos is the proper word. This is the problem with our English versions transliterating aggelos as angel instead of translating it as ‘messenger’.
Please feel free to interact with me in the comment section if you disagree or take issue with the exegesis I have offered in this article.