Demons: What the Bible Really Says
Are all demonic beings the same? How many spiritual rebellions does the Bible speak of? Is there an evil being named Satan in the Old Testament? Did Satan rebel before the creation of human beings and take a third of the angels with him? Are demons fallen angels? These are just a few of the many questions answered in Michael Heiser’s new book Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness. How many of the foregoing questions do you think you know the answer to? Are you sure you’re right? If you’d like to test your knowledge on demons take the quiz Demons: Biblical or Myth? A word of warning, however–the quiz is designed to be tricky. Michael Heiser himself confesses that he missed two of the questions! You can see him and Rabbi Eric Walker talk about it here. I took the quiz and did well, but that’s because I had already read Heiser’s book! Had I taken the quiz first, I would probably have gotten half or less correct. In other words, there’s a lot to learn from this book. Not only will the average person learn new things about what the Bible really teaches on this subject, some misconceptions will also be corrected.
Demons is Heiser’s companion volume to Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host (see my review here). Both books are based upon his foundational study entitled: The Unseen Realm (see my review of the movie version recently released by Logos/Faithlife). No one has done more to reveal the Bible’s teaching on the spiritual realm to the average person than Michael Heiser. This most recent book continues that tradition.
Content of Demons
Heiser’s book is divided into four main sections. Section I is entitled, “Biblical Vocabulary for the Powers of Darkness.” These opening chapters are not for the faint of heart. After a brief introductory chapter, he dives right in to the Hebrew (chapter 1) and Greek (chapter 2) words that describe the demonic realm. According to Heiser, “We simply cannot depend on English translations for an Old Testament study of demons or the infernal powers” (p. 1). His point is that both Hebrew and Greek use a wide variety of terms to describe these powers of darkness and English translations do not fully reflect the significance of the various words and their meaning.
Chapter 1–Heiser groups Hebrew words describing evil spirits into three broad categories: 1) Terms associated with the realm of the dead and its inhabitants; 2) Terms that denote geographical dominion of supernatural powers in rebellion against Yahweh; and 3) Preternatural creatures associated with idolatry and unholy ground (p. 8). Heiser examines more than 15 words that describe evil supernatural powers in the OT. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these terms. If you don’t know Hebrew but remain patient, you’ll learn a lot!
Chapter 2–In this chapter, Heiser turns to the Greek terms used in the Septuagint (LXX–Greek translation of the OT). Heiser’s main goal is to establish that the LXX has faithfully transmitted the outlook of the Hebrew OT regarding the spiritual realm of evil beings. This is important as some OT scholars advocate the view that the OT contains vestiges of polytheism that are “cleaned up” in the LXX. Heiser demonstrates conclusively that this is not the case. The OT does not have any vestiges of polytheism, and the LXX is faithful in communicating the same view of the spiritual realm as the Hebrew Bible. What Heiser has to say on this subject is important, but I’ll leave the details of this argument for the interested reader to find out.
Section II is entitled, “The Powers of Darkness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism,” and is comprised of chapters 3 through 8. Heiser, convincingly in my opinion, maintains that the OT teaches that there were three spiritual rebellions. The first was by the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3). The second by the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4, and the third at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-8; Deut. 32:8-9). In the succeeding chapters, Heiser looks at each spiritual rebellion. He begins by investigating what the OT teaches, and then follows that up with what the literature of Second Temple Judaism (these are the writings from what is also known as the “intertestament period”) teaches on the same subject. Below are the topics of each chapter.
Chapter 3 tackles what the OT teaches about the rebellion in the garden.
Chapter 4 looks at what the writings of Second Temple Judaism (hereafter, STJ) have to say about this event.
Chapter 5 investigates the OT teaching on the rebellion by the sons of God in Genesis 6.
Chapter 6 follows with the STJ viewpoint on this rebellion.
Chapter 7 looks at the OT rebellion at Babel, recorded in Genesis 11:1-8 and commented on in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.
Chapter 8 concludes this section with the STJ viewpoint and commentary.
These chapters are full of informative discussions about the meaning of the spiritual rebellions in the OT and how STJ furthers that discussion. One example of this that will surprise many readers is Heiser’s contention that the OT uses the word satan (note the small “s”) in its original meaning of “adversary,” but it does not use it as a proper name referring to the prince of demons (no, not even in 1 Chron. 21 or Job 1). Heiser traces how the use of satan in the OT develops into the proper name Satan during the Second Temple period. Thus, by the time of the NT period Satan has become the proper name of the leader of spiritual wickedness. If this sounds shocking, get the book and make up your own mind. This discussion alone is worth the price of the book.
Section III is entitled, “The Devil and His Angels: The Powers of Darkness in the New Testament.” This section consists of three chapters (9-11). In these chapters, Heiser examines what the NT teaches about these powers and demonstrates how the teachings of both the OT and STJ contribute to the NT worldview. Once again, the chapters are divided according to the three spiritual rebellions mentioned in the OT.
Chapter 9: “The Devil–His Dominion and Destiny,” looks at the original rebel from Genesis 3 and what the NT teaches concerning him.
Chapter 10: “Evil Spirits–Demons and their Destiny,” is an extremely insightful chapter. This chapter shows the connection of the demons of the NT with the rebellion of Genesis 6:1-4. Following what the OT and STJ teaches, the demons are understood to be the dead spirits of the Nephilim. Again, read the book to understand this one!
Chapter 11: “The Ruling Powers: Their Delegitimization and Destiny,” examines the NT language regarding the spiritual rebels from the Tower of Babel. These territorial spirits mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the Book of Daniel, are “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil” that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6:12, as well as other places.
Section IV is a very helpful concluding section entitled, “Questions and Misconceptions.” Here are a few samples of the kinds of questions and misconceptions addressed. Demons are fallen angels. Can Satan and demons read our minds? Can a Christian be demon possessed? What is spiritual warfare?, and many more.
Heiser’s writings have been a theological game-changer for me personally. Passages I used to ignore, not only make more sense, but I understand how they fit into the overall story of Scripture. Demons adds yet another layer which contributes to that understanding. As I noted in my evaluation of Angels, this book is probably not for the novice. It is full of copious footnotes and references to Hebrew and Greek words. It is most suited for a pastor, Bible college student, or teacher. But anyone who has a desire to understand what the Bible says on this subject will benefit. It never hurts to stretch ourselves theologically, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book who wants to grow in their knowledge of Scripture in this area. The practical questions in the last section of the book are an example of how much there is to learn. Just be aware that you’re diving into the deep end of the pool, but it’s well worth the swim!
Interested readers may also want to check out the review of Demons and Heiser’s other related books in Christianity Today.
Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK, Logos/Faithlife, and other outlets.
Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.