Episode 70: Fallen angels and the sons of God – Part 1

Having explored how the Bible uses the terms ‘devil’, ‘satan’ and ‘demons’, Paul and Dan now turn to the whole subject of whether the Bible talks about fallen angels. Is the phrase ‘sons of God’ used to refer to angels? If so, does that include spiritual beings with independent power to oppose God and his people? Using the framework of Michael Heiser’s book, Unseen Realm, they start to examine what is termed the ‘Divine Council’ worldview. This involves grappling with some of the most mystifying parts of the Bible text – but hey, we’re just ordinary people trying to understand the Bible better!

Show Notes

After a brief recap on the previous episodes on the devil, Satan and demons, (links at the end), Paul and Dan describe what has become known as the Divine Council worldview, popularised by the late Dr Michael Heiser in his book The Unseen Realm. This interpretation of the Biblical narrative is an attempt to present a complete salvation plan with particular attention to the angels of the spiritual realm, (the “Divine Council”), and including fallen angels and demons.

Previous episodes have touched on the biblical evidence relating to the devil and demons, but this particular view comes from a deeper insight into the ancient Near East and comparative literature and therefore warrants closer investigation. Paul and Dan acknowledge a lot of the great work Dr Heiser (and others such as Dr John Walton) have done in uncovering the cultural background to the scriptures, but explain how they will seek to test the main claims in Heiser’s “Unseen Realm”.

Fallen angels in the unseen realm

Paul runs through the main claims of the Divine Council worldview:

  1. Eden was the site of a heavenly council of angelic beings, and one of those angels fell and rebelled. (Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14, Genesis 3).
  2. A further rebellion took place and more members of the Divine Council sinned. (Genesis 6:1-4).
  3. God handed over the nations of the world to these fallen angels, referred to as Sons of God. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9). Whilst these ‘gods’ ruled over the nations of the world, Israel was kept by God as his own special possession.
  4. Further evidence of a heavenly council in the unseen realm is claimed in Job 1 and Psalm 82.
  5. The events of the Old Testament can be seen to be connected to God’s plan to replace his fallen angelic council with humans, including the plagues on the Egyptian ‘gods’ and the conquest of Canaan.
  6. The exorcisms that Jesus performed are part of the struggle against fallen angels and demons.
  7. Ultimately humans will join the heavenly council and defeat the hostile gods, enjoying an exalted future in a new Eden.

Conflict theology or monotheism?

Previous episodes brought out ways to test interpretations about the devil, demons and angels, and Paul and Dan begin to apply these to the Divine Council worldview, sharing their first impressions. They comment that the relevance of Jesus in this salvation master-plan appears to be diminished. This distinctively dualistic worldview, one of conflict between a good God and spiritual evil, also appears to contradict much of the claims of monotheism in the Old Testament. Furthermore, this view may rely on interpretations of Old Testament passages that contradict the way Jesus and the apostles read them. With these preliminary thoughts in mind, they turn to the argument.

Was Eden a place where the Sons of God met in council?

They begin to examine the claims about the Unseen Realm by looking at Genesis alongside Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Paul acknowledges that angels are likely referenced in Genesis 1:26, but there is no real mention of a heavenly council in Eden. Ezekiel 28:13-14 uses poetic descriptions that are reminiscent of Eden to describe someone or something being removed from an important place on a mountain. This is cited as evidence that an angel rebelled, but the context immediately makes it clear that this is about the Prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:1). Similarly, Isaiah 14:12-14 has often been used to justify belief in a fallen angel from God’s divine council, but this chapter is explicitly about the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4).

Paul explains that you have to come to these two scriptures with an existing dualistic worldview to see any support for a fallen angel. At face value, these provide no evidence for the reality of a rebellious divine council. At best, there may be links to contemporary myths about ancient Near East pantheons of gods, but this is no reason to assume that this is actually true in reality. Rather, the biblical authors are repurposing the motifs and legends to demonstrate where the real rebellion against God happens, namely in proud human hearts.

The sons of God saw the daughters of men – fallen angels?

Paul and Dan turn to the next point that is articulated in the Divine Council worldview, which comes from Genesis 6:1-4. It is claimed that this passage is about angels from God’s heavenly council coming to earth and taking human females to be their wives. This rebellious union produces the “men of renown” and is sometimes linked to the “Nephilim” in in Genesis 6:4.

The big question here is about the term “sons of God”. Is this a term for angels, or for something else? Before they answer this, Paul turns to the comments of Jesus who claimed that angels do not marry, (Luke 20:35-36). This passage also demonstrates that both angels and human saints can be referred to as the children and sons of God. Other examples of humans being described as the sons of God come frequently in the Bible, (compare Genesis 4:26, Exodus 4:22-23, Deuteronomy 14:1, Romans 8:14, Galatians 3:26).

On that basis, the sons of God in Genesis 6 can be understood to be humans. The message of this notoriously difficult passage appears to be that the boundaries of separation have been broken by humans. Faithful people are having relations with unfaithful people. Creation is being corrupted by this. The immediate context of this passage, (Genesis 6:5), suggests that it has human rebellion in mind, rather than spiritual rebellion, furthering support for this interpretation.

Further episodes and related content

The episode concludes halfway through the conversation, which is continued here. Previous episodes in the devil, satan and demons series are as follows: