What Happened to All the Gods?
This post is a dive into a pool of Biblical ideas that at first may not seem to have much to do with speculative fiction. But it really does–if you read or write speculative fiction that features gods and goddesses, demons and devils, magic and spiritualists. What does the Bible say about these things?
My particular inspiration for this article is a comment my friend Mike Duran made on Facebook (I plan on sharing a link to this article with him). He quoted Dr. Michael Heiser, who in short is saying that demons are the spirits of slain Nephilim referenced in Genesis 6 (and the extra-Biblical book of Enoch). Though I could take the tactic of directly addressing both what Heiser says and why he says it (I believe it has quite a lot to do with his education in ancient Mesopotamian mythology), instead, let me give an overview of what the Bible says about demons–or more broadly, about spirits in opposition to God, whatever we choose to name those spirits. This is something I’ve talked about before, on my own blog, but I’ll do it in a different way here than I’ve done in the past.
Take a favorite Bible translation you have in computer format (or break open your Strong’s Unabridged if you enjoy massive papery tomes) and do a search for the word “gods.” You should be aware up front that not every translation will agree how many times the word appears in the Bible. This has to do not only with some difference in texts, but with the nature of the Hebrew word “Elohim” (אלוהים) which is a plural word mostly used with single verbs, which is usually applied to the God of Israel, but arguably could apply to other gods as well. Christians traditionally have explained this plural/singular as hinting at the Trinity, while Jews talk of a “plural of majesty,” and the folks who educated Dr. Heiser say the term points to a past when the Hebrews were polytheists–of course such scholars say the Hebrews evolved into monotheists over time (they say so because God is fictional in their minds and therefore could not have revealed his unique nature to Moses or to anybody else) and so “Elohim” referred to the “council of the gods” that Hebrews once believed in because some of their Pagan neighbors had similar ideas. (Which Heiser accepts as a true concept, but gives it a Christian twist.)
Don’t get lost in such minutia right now. I want you to notice something else here, broad observations. First, in the Old Testament there are loads of references to gods in the plural who in context are specifically not the God of Israel. And there very few such references in the New Testament. Quite a number of gods are mentioned by name prior to the New Testament, Ba’al and Asherah only being the top two.
If you skim through the references to “gods,” you’ll see that the gods mentioned in the Old Testament are not said to be fictional at any point. Especially at first, they are simply mentioned in terms of gods you shall not worship–worship is reserved for Jehovah alone. A bit later Scripture says that their idols are worthless, unable to speak, to hear, or to move. They are specifically stated not to have been the creators of the universe, in contrast to Jehovah (Jer. 10:11). But never, not once, does the Old Testament plainly state that there really only is one God and all the rest are fictional (the closest it gets is in saying God is the “God of gods” which could imply other gods are or were subservient to him as angels or several other possible interpretations). Yes, you can plainly see that Israel was only to worship one God, that the rest are weak posers in comparison to God (that only Jehovah is responsible for creation, for example), and that idolatry is idiotic. But that isn’t the same as “the gods are fictional.”
So if that’s true, if the gods are real and are genuine rivals to Jehovah (you won’t see much in terms of kindly tolerance of worship of other gods in the Old Testament) what happened to the gods in between the Old and New Testaments? Why are they mentioned so much in the OT and very little in the NT? What did they do, go on vacation or something?
To answer that, do a different search. Two different ones, actually. First, search for “demon.” Again, it depends on what Bible translation you use, but you’ll see that there are either no references to demons in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) or just a few of them, in contrast to a pile of them in the Greek Scriptures (the NT). Likewise, “devil” will show you quite a lot in from the Greek Scriptures but little from the Hebrew.
When you search for “devil,” translations vary–the King James made them all references to “demons” into “devils”– but you will find references to a singular devil (Devil with a big “D”) in other translations and at least in the KJV references to plural “devils.” But you won’t find many or any of these in the OT, just in the NT.
Hmmm. Could the gods and demons/devils be the same thing, just under different names? That idea would certainly explain where the gods went (they just got renamed), but isn’t satisfactory in other ways. We don’t hear of people being possessed by the gods in the OT, yet, demons do a whole lot of possessing and oppressing people in the NT.
Do yet another search. Search for “spirits” (as opposed to “Spirit” in the singular). You’ll find a pile of references that cross over, finally, both Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. In the OT you will see commands forbidding seeking out spirits and references to unclean spirits and the New Testament essentially has the same references, with different emphasis–again, much more on possession than the Hebrew Scriptures ever mention. But still, it’s pretty evident the terminology is similar.
Now try searching for “Satan.” You’ll find that a few Old Testament references exist, ones that some people claim are totally different than who we think of as being Satan today–they say Satan is the “opposer” who presents himself with the other divine beings/angels/sons of God (depending on your interpretation) in the book of Job. But, however, excuse me, ahem, if we are to take the New Testament as coming from God (and if we don’t, we run into real problems considering ourselves Christians) the NT plainly affirms that Satan is the Devil and is the serpent as well (yeah, that serpent, the one in Genesis 3)–please refer to Revelation 12:9.
OK, so the Devil in the singular is Satan according to the Bible, who is talked about quite a bit in the New Testament, and a little bit in the Old Testament, significantly as the tempter of Adam and Eve.
Also, please notice that Satan (a.k.a. “the Dragon”) is said to have angels fighting with him in Revelation 12:7, just a hair away from where I just quoted. It doesn’t matter that the battle in Revelation takes place after the beginning of time. The passage plainly identifies Satan as having his own angels. Not his own Nephilim or half-angels.
If you don’t find Revelation 12:7-9 noteworthy here, please remember that Christian tradition through the centuries also, with little disagreement, agrees that the Devil = Satan = the serpent of Eden. And that Satan was accompanied by a host of (fallen) angels.
Please notice that if we see Satan in Genesis 3, that means he existed before Genesis 6. So Satan is not a product of the rebellion of that happened at that time. Satan certainly seems to be of the same substance of the demons that possess people, since Luke 22:3 states Satan directly possessed Judas Iscariot. And if the big D-devil (Satan) existed prior to Genesis 6, why is it that the angels that follow him would not exist until after that? Hmmm.
I suppose it’s possible that spirits of dead Nephilim added themselves to the body of demons or affiliated with them in some sort of way, but the Devil and the angels who follow him (a.k.a. demons), who surely existed prior to Genesis 6, are more than enough to explain all demonic activity, without reference to Nephilim.
Now, it is true that we don’t really have specifics as to when or why Satan rebelled and took “his angels” (that’s me quoting the Bible there) with him. The traditional interpretations of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 referring to Lucifer/Satan have been widely challenged and for once, for reasons that actually make sense (though I think the traditional view of those passages has some value, I agree that people have good reasons to disagree). So we essentially have no solid Biblical information about Satan’s rebellion and the angels he took with him, though it clearly it happened and it clearly happened prior to Genesis 3.
Note also that one OT passage that contains both the term “devil” (in the KJV) and “gods” and equates them–“devils” (or demons) are “gods!” (Deut 32:17) And note also that one of the few New Testament references to “gods” equates them with demons as well, saying things sacrificed to idols are sacrificed to demons (I Cor. 10:20).
So if we are going to take the Bible seriously, it seems the case is closed on where the gods went–the ancient gods are in fact demons. As to why they acted differently in New Testament times, I’m not sure, but another look at the Old Testament might clear things up a bit.
What exactly is the difference in the Old Testament between worshiping gods other than God and calling up spirits anyway? Doesn’t calling up spirits seems like a different sort of thing–and also, doesn’t it sound like it relates to the New Testament term “unclean spirit” (a.k.a. “demon”)?
But actually, there isn’t much difference between calling up spirits and calling on gods in the OT. Both things are forbidden in Israelite worship, both things are seen as substitutes for seeking God, and both things involve seeking spiritual forces. There is an actual difference in that going to meet the gods at a temple site might (perhaps) be a classier affair than consulting a spiritualist in the dead of night. But really, at the temple of the gods, the ancient Pagans expected to communicate with their gods via priests and priestesses. Whereas a medium might call up someone more “familiar” (heh heh)–a friend or relative. But both the work of the spiritualist and the work of the temple priests were considered “magic” under the Old Testament law, both were forbidden, and both were seen as substituting something else for what properly belongs to Jehovah (see Isaiah 8:19 concerning spiritualists).
And that realization, that the Pagan spiritualists and the Pagan temple worshipers were actually doing essentially the same thing in a different context gives light to why magic is forbidden in the Old Testament. Because as that term was used in the Bible, it always meant seeking spiritual power other than God.
It’s like a form of treason.
This fact is part of the reason why I object relatively little or not at all to stories that contain magic without any specific cause linked to it, like Harry Potter. While I do object to, say, Percy Jackson, in which the gods are characters in the story and the protagonist is a demigod. It’s the inclusion of other gods and Pagan rituals seeking power outside of God that was the dividing line for the Old Testament and is a dividing line for me as well. Not the use of power per se.
So why would the Bible care about that? What’s the big deal about seeking gods (/spirits/demons)?
It’s because the gods are not fictional–oh, specific myths about them are fiction, but there is a genuine spiritual power behind the host of Pagan deities that exist and have existed. They have not gone on vacation, either, though they have interacted with humanity in different ways over time in accordance with our own belief systems.
They seem more than happy to reappear in our culture in the guise of gods yet again–if you haven’t heard, modern Neo-Pagan religions are growing dramatically. And in fact, references to gods in fiction also seem to be growing more and more common.
So what happened to all the gods?
Nothing. They are still around. Following our culture as it changes, willing to act demonic if need be, but looking for opportunities to be worshiped once again…
Never, not once, does the Bible say there is only one God? “I am YHWH, and there is no other, besides me there is no god.” Is. 45:5. Is. 44:6-8. Is. 43:10, “Before me was no god formed, nor shall there be one after me.” And then the words of Jesus Christ Himself, Jn. 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, THE ONLY REAL GOD.” THE definite article in the Greek, there is no other, ONLY (monos, it does not mean more than one), REAL (alethinos, true as in real) God” — there are no gods. God is the only God. Anything less is henotheism, where “god” becomes merely the one who happens to be at the top of a pantheom. There are only three options. Either there is no god at all, many gods — or just One. I’ll stand with what YHWH said about Himself and what His Son Jesus said. The nanosecond someone declares that divinity is not the exclusive prerogative of YHWH is to proclaim to all the world nothing but polytheism. There is only one God. Because He says so.
That implies that “divinity” and “being of a spiritual nature” are the same thing, and I’m not so sure of that. Lewis once suggested that maybe there could be non-sentient animals of a spiritual-type nature and that’s what gave rise to the notion of fairies/mythological animals.
Did you not read what he said? Did you not see the word of God? To try to add something or try to imply something that was not said by God is a mistake! Not only a mistake, but probably a sin as well. Watch what you think say and write!
I’m sorry, I can’t listen to you when you’re being overemotional.
Your answer is an interesting one–Lewis’ idea was itself interesting. But I think an honest look at the Bible certainly equates any seeking of spirits with seeking deities. In effect, the Bible treats animism as equivalent to polytheism. That’s why witchcraft as in seeking spirits of the dead was seen in the same light as offering sacrifices to Ba’al on a mountain top.
Of course I already know from previous conversations with you that you do not regard the Bible as authentic–you see historical interpolations in text as defined by the consensus of (unbelieving) Bible scholars. Well, you know that I disagree with you.
But that doesn’t mean I have no imagination. I am actually willing to consider ideas that God created other types of spirits that were on different levels than angelic beings–but in effect, anything that has a spiritual nature, human beings have worshiped at some point or other.
And the Bible makes it plain that any worship other than that directed to the “one true God” is wrong.
I guess I’m questioning the working definition of the word “divine” in this context. Does that include demons or only include the being worth worshipping?
Perhaps I needed to explain what I said better, but the other gods are indeed talked about as existing in the Bible–why would they be equated with demons otherwise?
Please refer to your own quote of Jesus saying God is the only “real” God. This is what I think the Bible is driving at–there is only one Creator, only one “real” God–but there are many, many spirits worshiped as gods. The Bible does not afford them the dignity due to the ONE TRUE GOD–which is the right way to put it. But it the Bible does not say, “The gods of the nations, they are works of fiction.” Though at times it gets close to saying that when discussing idols–but there ARE spiritual forces other than God and that IS a Biblical idea. And to say so is not polytheism!
Please note what I wrote actually counters what I see as creeping polytheism in certain concepts, such as those taught by Dr. Michael Heiser. To think of the gods of polytheism as 100% fiction actually enables including them where they in fact should not be excluded. The gods of the Pagans are not real gods, I agree, but they are not 100% fictional, either. The Bible plainly states they are demons.
Do you follow me? Please reply if you see my response to what you wrote.
Psalm 96:5 does say the gods of the nations are idols, even if other verses do imply they exist.
Reginald, the thing I think I did a poor job of explaining is that both things are true–the gods other than God ARE a bunch of made up malarkey on the one hand (and in idol form, completely useless), but on the other hand, real spiritual forces are behind the made up garbage.
I think of demons as being opportunists, allowing humans to engage in their imagination about them pretty much at will. But who also look for real ways to seize control of human lives.
I think the overall picture of the Bible captures the real situation just as it is–Pagan gods are not what their followers imagine them to be and idols (and other magical talismans) in and of themselves are worthless–but there ARE real spiritual forces involved. There is in fact something to be concerned about.
Yes yes you are the smartest and the prettiest we are blinded by your brightness
Why the sarcasm?
Notleia–it really is a genuine problem to notice things other people don’t, all the time. I don’t know why I am like that. But I have plenty of things that keep me humble. For example, I can’t even keep my right hand and my left hand straight on a consistent basis. Mostly, that’s merely an annoyance–but in certain contexts, getting your hands mixed up is potentially life threatening (such as a number of military situations I’ve been in).
In the end, I am merely human and dependent on God every single day. That may sound like false humility, but it is simply the truth. Humility only requires that a person tell the truth about self.
I’ll try to convey my tone better:
lol yes you’re the ☆☆☆smartest☆☆ 😉 and the ♡♡prettiest♡♡
But watching you is like watching a trained chef make mashed potatoes without draining. I cannot stomach this with a straight face
I took your sarcastic tone as non-sarcastic deliberately. The hard edge of doing so is an unkind statement I would rather not make. But here it goes–I can’t help it if you are not bright enough or (more likely) too indoctrinated in modern groupthink to get me.
I don’t parrot other people and I find that you do. I do think independently, though as much as I’m tempted to boast about that, I recognize it is a gift of God, and not because of me and my own actions.
By the way, you don’t have to watch me engage in reasoning if you don’t want to. Nobody is forcing you.
So if I say things you can’t stomach–well, I can’t help that. But I do sorta hope you keep reading me anyway. Maybe someday you will realize you swallowed whole an entire set of critical thought that itself does not hold up to criticism in many ways. Sure, it was deeper than the “sunshine and Jesus” stuff you were probably taught as a kid. Yet it is still full of absolute crap that is much more subtly hidden than what you grew up with. There’s a deeper level of thought that as far as I can tell you have never engaged in–I sincerely hope that someday you do.
Oh, also–I’m not pretty at all. My wife thinks I am, which is nice, but I don’t think I am. (Nor do I find my own words pretty.)
Your behavior (esp the defensive bits) remind me of when an unhealthy amount of my identity revolved around being The Smart One.
Likewise, I don’t think you’re dumb, just under the pull of some very motivated reasoning. (Also I think it’s hilarious that you think your worldview was created in a vacuum of unbiased-ness.)
But I view you with a sort of exasperated fondness, which still prolly doesn’t make it any better when I poke fun at you. But the chances of me not poking some fun at you are honestly pretty slim.
Well, I felt a great deal of regret about my tone with you. I would say that’s because God does not want me to talk like that to you. So I’m very sorry.
As for my reasoning–is it motivated? Sure–but I’d say I seriously considered a lot of ideas that are not mine. As a young teen, for example, I nearly became an atheist–largely due to the influence of science fiction writers I admired like Isaac Asimov. (And also, to be honest, because I wondered why so many Christians seemed so dumb.) I spent a long, long time studying a lot of things that feed into the question “What is really true about the universe?” especially the Bible but nearly as much in science. I never was a partisan of any particular point of view–never either Calvinist nor Arminian prior to studying the Bible, for example. And once I did study Calvinism/Arminianism, I created my own 5 points of theology is response to TULIP (which I call SHARP) because I both agree and disagree with each and every point of Calvinism at a certain level. And I can’t help but notice most people DON’T in fact write their own five points of systematic theology in response to a commonly-known summary of a theological position. Things like that give me the impression that I do more original thinking than is ordinary.
Whereas things you say seem to me to come from a menu of stuff I would categorize as, yes, it doesn’t sound kind but it isn’t really as bad as it sounds, “modern groupthink.” Actually, group thinking is very ordinary for human beings. I observe it in many contexts. It’s really common among Christians, too. And I imagine (imagine is a key word, because I don’t really know who you are) you growing up with a lot of groupthink Christian platitudes, simplistic stuff found in the God is Not Dead movies, and then you engaged academically with the non-Christian world and found out there are a lot of solid academic reasons to question the worldview you were raised with. You were shocked and overwhelmed and went through a paradigm shift and accepted basically everything the secular world around you taught, every single last idea, though you did manage to give it your own personal Christian spin.
If I’m right about you, my own story is vastly different. I never bought the simple Christian platitudes in the first place–well, mostly not. I did have “motivated reasoning” to believe God must be true, so when presented with modern scholarship in all its power, I didn’t just get overwhelmed and then buy into it hook, line, and sinker. I challenged it. And I found that many claims come from presumptions that don’t apply to someone who really believes God exists–that a great deal of scholarship is not objectively evaluating the Bible (for example) to see it’s true or not. Instead the scholarship presumes a priori the Bible is not true and then casts around for reasons to explain why it exists (actual Divine intervention is ruled out in advance). I also found that many claims about the nature of the universe are not only not true, they are ridiculously far from being true and if you dive into the data, the facts are available for anyone to see (e.g. abiogenesis).
You challenged your first simplistic all-Christian paradigm and accepted another worldview (or I think you did, this is me imagining). Well, if that’s the case, it’s time you challenged your new worldview, because it’s also wrong–just wrong in a far more sophisticated and less obvious way than what you used to believe.
I think–well, “hope” is a better word–I hope that can help you to do so.
Well, writing your own 5 points of theology is a good indicator that you are a theology nerrrrrrrrd.
Some people’s creative efforts are just spent in different directions, like my dad contriving and customizing a great deal of his workshop tools. He built a porch for our back door with a system I haven’t seen elsewhere, with a welded metal base topped with lumber.
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I totally rewrite crochet patterns to suit my own ideas.
I’m a nerd in lots of ways. Including theology.
Yeah, being original is not really new or special per se. Lots of people are original thinkers–which is why I keep having the experience of being surprised to find out how many people essentially repeat other people’s ideas without tweaking or altering them in the slightest. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore–this is what a majority of people are like. But I do keep expecting people to be different from reality nonetheless.
I imagine you are rather more original than just crochet patterns. Or if you are not, you could be.
When it comes to ideas and beliefs, being original is not always the most important thing. It is often more important to have a good REASON for deciding to subscribe to a certain idea or belief. You didn’t come up with Christianity, for instance, but you feel like you have a good reason to subscribe to it, and therefore it’s valid for you to choose it. And just because two people disagree doesn’t mean that one of them doesn’t have a good reason for believing the way they do.
Fighting For The Faith has a sketch that is put on some of their episodes that gives a bit of an answer to where the false gods are now. In the sketch, a person visits a “Build A God Workshop”. There, with the help of an accommodating story employee, she builds “her very own deity”, one that personifies all she approves: her god is female, she is gay-affirming, and only people like Hitler and her ex-boyfriend will end up in hell. And, at the end, she gives her new god a name, a name the store employee says everyone gives to their newly-made deity: Jesus.
Wow. That’s brilliant! Thanks for sharing that.
Audie, that sketch sounds fascinating. Do you know where I may be able to view it? I did a Google search, but the results included a variety of options eg. the Skit Guys, as well as modelling how to draw Ganesh the Hindu god. So strange. Thank you.
By “sketch”, I don’t mean a drawing, sorry. Fighting For The Faith is a discernment podcast, and a few times during a podcast they have breaks, for ads and for audio drama sketches (maybe skits is the better word, I’m not sure). The “Build A God” drama is one of several that they might play durig one of those breaks, usually only one per episode. I’m not sure exactly which of these episodes will have it. http://www.piratechristian.com/fightingforthefaith/
Oh, sorry. It was Google who misinterpreted “sketch” as being a drawing. I knew you meant a “skit”. No problems. I’ll give it another go. I didn’t know it was just audio. Thanks, mate.
Interesting. I was just listening to the latest Bible Project podcast where they are discussing this whole idea of what the word “God” means in the Hebrew Scriptures, in terms of God being the Supreme among many lesser “gods”. You might find it interesting too. I’m not sure if I can link to it here but if you just searched for it under The Bible Project podcast you would find it.
You can share but I’m probably already familiar with the ideas. I’ve studied Biblical Hebrew and Bible history for around thirty years now. But I’m always open to learning things I haven’t learned before!
Could you provide the quotation by Heiser? I actually examined some of his concepts while researching for my novel and found them very interesting. I didn’t think he considered all demons to be post-Nephilim entities, but if I recall correctly, he argued that Nephilim were offspring of the gods of the Divine Council, also called the “sons of god.” (See how “god” is used with more than one definition?) The gods of the Divine Council who rebelled with Satan became the highest-ranking demonic powers. They were the spiritual authorities to which God handed rebellious people groups, partly to prove to both parties that He alone is the sovereign one. That’s why He can say “beside me there is no god.” It’s a pretty powerful statement made to beings of more than one dimension who are still learning their lessons.
Let me both give the quote I’m reacting to AND give you the link. Here’s an excerpt:
“Everyone familiar with the Bible knows it talks about angels and demons. But most would be surprised to learn that there’s no verse in the Bible that explains where demons came from. Christians typically assume that demons are fallen angels, cast from heaven with Satan (the Devil) right before the temptation of Adam and Eve. But guess what? There’s no such story in the Bible. The only description of anything like that is in Revelation 12:9—but the occasion for that whole episode was the birth of the messiah (Rev 12:4-6), an event long after Adam and Eve. The idea of a primeval fall of angels actually comes from church tradition and the great English poet John Milton in his epic Paradise Lost.
So if the Bible doesn’t record an ancient expulsion from heaven by hordes of angels who then became known as demons, where do demons come from?
There’s actually a straightforward answer to that question, but it’s likely one you’ve never heard of: In ancient Jewish texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, demons are the disembodied spirits of dead Nephilim giants who perished at the time of the great flood.”
Yeah, I’ve read the Dead Sea Scrolls and what he is suggesting is the answer is NOT at all straightforward and plain like, all scholars agree everyone in ancient times believed this. Quite the contrary!
Here’s the link so you can read more:
Thank you! This spurs SO many questions and thoughts. Now I may have more research to do for my book. (Yes, Heiser does tend to be a bit too reductive in his arguments at times for a topic that will remain heavily speculative in this life.)
Travis, I’m curious how you take C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy then, given your comment about Percy Jackson? From a parent perspective, I’d be a bit concerned with kids reading Percy Jackson without some dialogue about the nature of gods and idolatry from a biblical perspective. But I see Lewis’ take on the Archons being acceptable, as the Archons also subscribe to the biblically acceptable precedent “There is no god but God” (accept for the Black Archon, of course). I guess I draw the line internally between stories whose premise is “Rely on yourself or false powers, but belief and trust in God is stupid” versus “No matter the hierarchy of characters and powers, reliance on the True God is to be admired while demonstrating the pitfalls of reliance on false powers”. That helps align my personal acceptability of Tolkien’s mythology as a complementary fit to my Christian worldview.
Travis, I never took Lewis to refer to definite deities on Earth who were worshiped at one time in the Space Trilogy. So I had no problem at all. Though it is true Lewis’ ideas on Paganism and mine are different. Lewis believed that the myths of the Pagans pointed to the one true God, or at least often did so. He also believed that Paganism itself was long gone and would never return.
Lewis was undeniably wrong about the second point–Neo-Paganism is a major modern thing, much larger than most Christians realize. As to the first point, yes, I agree Pagan myths can point to God (I sure love “Til We Have Faces”). But for me, there is just no need to include Pagan deities in any story I am going to write–or read.
I do recognize my own convictions do not have to be yours, by the way. We all stand before God individually on matters of individual conscience (reference Romans 14-15).
But I have reasons for what I believe–only some of which I’ve presented here.
Your sister is a practicing pagan, right? The pagans I know are good peeps (“good” in the common vernacular), but I don’t think I have the wherewithal to actually be pagan, tho the reconstructionist bits do sound interesting.
I actually have two sisters and both are practicing Pagans. My elder sister, kinda ironically since I just posted about this, mostly falls in line with what I could call the “high Paganism” of formal study, gods and goddess, specific incantations, and actually being a priestess.
My younger sister was influenced by the older in becoming a Pagan, but is totally different. Hers is the Paganism of tarot cards, divination, vague belief in gods and goddesses, and no formal training or status.
In Bible times my older sister would be a high priestess of Asherah (or another goddess) and my younger sister would be doing necromancy.
While I love my sisters, they and their friends illustrate to me that Paganism as a religion is NOT good. And more, that it’s much more common than most Christian people imagine. I’d love to see them become Christians.
As far as reconstructed bits, quite a lot is reconstructed–and includes wholesale borrowing from Eastern religions, like borrowing the idea of karma (which I rather doubt the original worshipers of say, Norse gods actually had a concept of). Though I guess my older sister actually connected with Northern European shamans somehow to get a “more authentic” view of Paganism (to better avoid the reconstructed bits you mention). Which is a waste of time.
The demonic forces behind these Pagan religions don’t care in the slightest about doctrine from what I can discern. Go ahead and make up whatever stories you like about them–they don’t care! You can worship any of a million versions and even re-write what you believe about them to suit yourself. They don’t care–as long as they have YOU. (The contrast with the God of the Bible, for whom doctrine matters, is rather extreme.)
My use of “you” of course was to express a general situation. Not meant to apply to Notleia specifically. Though IF you go after them, they will own you eventually. Though Christ can break that bond–a Pagan friend of my younger sister in fact became a Christian not all that long ago.
The spiritual war is not imaginary–just Christians have done a rather bad imagining what it’s actually like. And have made it sound a bit silly–but it isn’t silly in reality. This stuff is real–it just operates differently than most people think.
When Jesus said that he “saw Satan fall like lightning” I always assumed he was referencing Isaiah, and so verifying the Isaiah account as being also about Satan. But with further investigation, it seems like that may not be the case. It isn’t a direct quote, anyway. Wish I knew how the audience would take that statement. Would they immediately equate it with Isaiah?
Kerry, I think Jesus does give us a clear reference to Satan falling, even if we interpret Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 38 as referring ONLY to human rulers.
I think the idea of Satan being rejected by God was a pretty well-known idea at the time of Jesus. But I would actually like to research the issue more.
Great article, very thorough. I think the question of the Nephilim is settled by Jude in verse 6 and 7:
Jud 1:6 And those angels not having kept their first place, but having deserted their dwelling-place, He has kept in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of a great Day;
Jud 1:7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, in like manner to these, committing fornication, and going away after other flesh, laid down an example before-times, undergoing vengeance of everlasting fire.
We know demons are not in the pit, yet. We know that some demons begged Jesus to not send them to the pit but into the swine. This is most likely what happened to the Nephilim.
Gina, I feel I don’t necessarily know what Jude verses 6 and 7 mean. But I agree that your interpretation concerning Nephilim does make sense.
What I find interesting is that there’s no specific story of fallen angels short of Milton’s fanon, but texts later than Genesis (Job is an older text, where Satan is called by the Accuser title) act as tho there is a text to point to for that story
Certainly makes you wonder.
My Epic Fantasy series will feature other gods, who have very real power on earth but they will be wicked, selfish powers who are opposed to the will of the High God.
I would approve of this sort of portrayal of other gods. At least, I believe I would. I suppose it does depend on specifics.
I’m not thrilled with other gods being shown in a positive light.
I have some critiques of this argument:
1) Why is education in Mesopotamian mythology a bad thing? If you want to study the original context of the Bible, it is very important.
2) Are you denying that a Divine Council even existed? Then what is going on in Psalm 82, Psalm 89:7, 1 Kings 22:19 and Daniel 7:10?
3) Portraying other gods with powers is wrong? What is going on in 2 Kings 3:27 then?
Re #1: I think it’s a common pitfall in Christian culture to assume that learning about a thing necessitates belief in the thing. Travis probably doesn’t, but he seems to have reservations about us weak-minded individuals learning things that we end up doing group-think about (lol).
Notleia, I think it’s a shame that Christian culture essentially avoids teaching about certain things. That can create a situation where, say, people who have no exposure to a critical textual analysis of the Bible run the risk of getting shocked by the sheer weight of scholarship that’s been invested in such analysis–and in shock will conclude everything they used to know was wrong. And then they will lose the willpower to actively challenge the assumptions of such thinking and will become de facto groupthink minions (ahem).
The way to meet these kinds of challenges, I would say, is to expose Christians to more knowledge, not to less.
1) I would not say that education in Mesopotamian mythology is a bad thing. I know it myself fairly well. But I object to the reasoning that goes like this (which is extremely common in secular study of the Bible):
The Bible came from the Mesopotamian world, from civilizations older than ancient Israel. Therefore those civilizations are what created the Bible and the teaching of the Bible are essentially cleaned up and “evolved” versions of Mesopotamian (and other) myths. So, since we have a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh than is older than when the Bible was written, therefore Noah MUST have been derived from that epic. Since our copy of Marduk fighting Tiamat is older than Genesis 1, this view would say that Genesis MUST come from the Babylonian myth. This view requires one to assume that the creation in Genesis cannot have been revealed by God or reflect something that actually happened–such a notion is ruled out a priori. That’s because the scholars who hold this view are convinced the Bible is in effect a myth itself, so then it MUST be true that it comes from other myths. Certain that the Bible is derivative, it’s not surprising they find derivations.
Dr. Michael Heiser is a Christian believer educated in the academic mindset I just mentioned. And what Heiser has done, as far as I can tell, is decide that in fact the Bible IS derived from Babylonian and other Mesopotamian myths–but that’s because the Mesopotamian myths are essentially true! It’s a fascinating perspective, but I don’t agree.
I’d say that in fact the Bible is based on true events that were known in Mesopotamia and were also known among other nations. The parallels exist independently–a prior source is the origin of BOTH the Mesopotamian mythos AND the Bible. And, since I accept the idea that the Bible is inspired by God, I say between Mesopotamian mythos and the Bible, the BIBLE is more accurate. For example, Genesis 1 has a stately creation, God encountering no resistance at all from the depths (Hebrew: “tehom”). The Babylonian version has been sexed up to make it more interesting to a warlike people–Marduk fighting Tiamat (a cognate word to “tehom”), the depths personified as a goddess of chaos.
2) I think when we are talking about a “Divine Council,” I think a being whom Solomon described in Kings as being so vast “the heaven and Earth cannot contain you” and who is described in various Psalms (and the book of Jonah and elsewhere) as being in every single place at the same time, is not limited to sitting on a throne and issuing orders. That is in fact anthropomorphic terminology, similar to various other descriptions of God that take the infinite and explain it in essentially poetic form–say as a hen having wings.
God is not to be found in divine counsel all the time–though there are spiritual beings who serve God. These beings DO appear to him, as at least some of the passages you mention make that clear, whatever that means exactly for spirits who have no physical bodies. So there is a council of sorts going on at times. But the imagery of a king sitting on a throne, surrounded by advisers and making his will known through them alone, is poetic language and not heavenly reality.
It’s not a common interpretation, but I have for a long time thought of Psalm 82 as Jehovah condemning the false gods of other nations (a.k.a. demons posing as gods) for their lack of justice. My interpretation has problems–but Heiser’s view that God is pictured with his subordinate gods (a.k.a. angelic beings) has more problems. Is God in charge of the angels or not? If he IS in charge, why is he chewing them out (as opposed to giving them new orders that they will obey)?
3) As for your comment on II Kings 3:27–it almost seems you are deliberately misunderstanding me here. It is BECAUSE the gods of the Pagans have a reality as expressed in the Biblical account you mentioned that there’s a problem casually inserting them into stories. Since the gods, even though partially fictional, represent REAL spiritual power, they should not be willy-nilly inserted into stories as if that’s no big deal. Not because doing so will curse a person automatically or something ridiculous like that. But because the One True God has made it clear we are not to split allegiance to him with any other deities in any way–please recall the first commandment of the Decalogue.
I think the idea that other gods are merely fictional supports their casual inclusion in stories. But I myself prefer not to portray Pagan deities at all–and if I do portray them, it will be accompanied with something like the horrific revulsion of a human sacrifice, like what we see in II Kings 3.
Do you have any other issues?
I had a dream that I was at a university talking with a woman who was obviously taken over by a demon, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at her. It was almost like the demon and she were one. It was a discernment from the Holy Spirit that told me what she was. She spoke to me with a haughty demeanor, like she knew she had the upper hand, and she looked down on me as a human, like I was petty and harmless.
There were broken computers all around her in the classroom. I asked what happened to the computers. She replied that the demons (NT) or evil gods (OT) had left them. I asked her where all the demons had gone. She smirked and replied, “They’ve gone to the children because they have a happy place.” Are parents training up their children?
The demons are all around us biding their time until humanity has completely lost touch with their Maker. They will strike with a heavy blow, and the Christians still rooted in Christ will have to fight–physically and spiritually. This is why I am pouring into my children. I am not a perfect mom, but I am faithful. God told me long ago that the lines between holy and common would divide, and people couldn’t just sit in the middle anymore. We would have to choose which side we were on.
This is also why Christians must write as much as possible in all genres. It is like we are leaving breadcrumbs leading to Christ for a world who has forgotten Him. They will try to find Him one day.
Great article, Travis. You are bringing light to what people–even Christians–are ignoring.
Alisa, while it’s possible to make too much of spiritual war and be frightened about it when we should not be (because God has already handed us the victory), most Christians in the USA tend to do the opposite. They tend to downplay the reality of the demonic and not recognize that Satan really is, no kidding, active in the world.
Thank you for your comment.