Thursday, May 14, 2020

What are demons?

Recently I watched a Michael Heiser interview about his new book on demons:

I haven't read his book, so that may contains answers to my questions which are left hanging in the air by the interview. In this post I'll just respond to issues raised by the interview. This is less about evaluating the position than clarifying the position by posing questions or considering the implications of the position. 

1. If I understand his position, he classifies demons as nephilic souls. The damned souls of nephilim. The rest of my post will proceed on that assumption. 

2. As a Protestant, I have no antecedent objection to alternative readings that reject traditional interpretations of Biblical passages. 

3. On the face of it, there's nothing heretical about his identification. And it's certainly not liberal. One question is what shifts would his interpretation entail in traditional Christian theology.

4. The NT doesn't really say anything directly about the origin of demons. The fallen angel identification is a default explanation. Fallen angels are obvious candidates. 

5. Does Heiser classify the Nephilim as inhuman? Are they demiangels? Do they have minds that aren't angelic or human but hybrid minds?

If that's the claim, it raises the question of whether it's metaphysically possible for a creature having an angelic mind, mating with a creature having a human mind, to produce an agent having a hybrid mind. That angelic minds and human minds are able to combine to generate a kind of mind that isn't one or the other. 

6. Assuming (5), God is not the Creator of every kind of being. Some creatures have the natural ability to produce new kinds of beings. In traditional Christian theology, God creates each kind, then creatures procreate after their kind. They procreate examples of their kind. New examples of the same kind, not new kinds of beings. That's why it's called reproduction. But on this view, every kind of being doesn't have its origin in divine creativity. On this view, there are second-order creatures. That's a radical principle. 

7. One reason fallen angels are a default identification for fallen angels is that it gives them something to do. After all, they didn't cease to exist. So what have they up to all this time?

8. Apropos (7), what does Heiser think happened to the fallen angels? Are they all in hell (i.e. the realm of the dead)? Or do some of them have access to our world? 

9. On this view, the dark side has three classes of beings: fallen angels, nephilim, and damned humans. How do they interact? Are fallen angels and nephilic souls both active in our world? That's more to sort out. Can we tell which is which in terms of phenomena we encounter on earth (i.e. the realm of the living)?

10. Apropos (9), is the power of witchcraft angelic or nephilic? Does it have its source in fallen angels or nephilim empowering sorcerers and witchdoctors? 

11. Although the NT is very sketchy about the origin of demons, it clearly associates Satan with demons. So on this view, Satan isn't merely the leader of fallen angels, but the leader of nephilic souls as well. But what if Satan is associated with demons because both he and they are fallen angels? 

12. On this view it seems to be the case that nephilim are evil and damned by virtue of their parentage. Evil and damned simply because they are hybrids. Because they were conceived by sexual intercourse between fallen angels and women. Their process of origin makes them evil and dooms them to damnation. They were created evil, though not by God.

Does this mean there's no salvation for a single member of the nephilim? Or does it make allowance for the salvation of some nephilim?

13. On this view, is the fall of angels a single event, or does it happen in phases? There's the fall of Lucifer, followed in Gen 6 by the fall of the other angels. Were the angels in Gen 6 already fallen some time prior to the timeframe of Gen 6, or was that when they fell? In addition, he seems to say the principalities and powers fell during the Tower of Babel timeframe. 


  1. I have some questions too. Perhaps Heiser has already addressed these. I haven't watched his video nor read his book.

    1. The assumption seems to be nephilim are the offspring of fallen angelic "males" copulating with fallen human females. Is the reverse possible too? That, is it possible for fallen angelic "females" to copulate with fallen human males - like a succubus? However, if it's always fallen angelic "males" copulating with fallen human females, then could that impact the genetic potentialities among the nephilim? (By the way, perhaps it's possible for fallen angels to be something like hermaphrodites.)

    2. In addition, can nephilim reproduce themselves? Can nephilim copulate with other nephilim? Or are they afertile/sterile like mules? Similarly, can nephilim copulate with humans? If so, it's possible some humans today are descended from nephilim if one also subscribes to a local flood. I assume Heiser would argue there were no nephilim in Noah's line. However, if the flood was local, then there could still be humans who are descended from nephilim, since it's possible the nephilim moved to parts of the world out of reach of a local flood.

    3. Can nephilic souls (demons) copulate with human males and human females? If it's possible, how does one distinguish between fallen angels vs. nephilic souls (demons) copulating with humans?

    4. If a woman is a virgin, but she has copulated with a fallen angel, and produced an offspring, then would she be akin to the virgin Mary and her child akin to the Incarnate Son (albeit not divine but angelic)? Would this prefigure the antichrist in Heiser's eschatology?

  2. I have read Dr. Heiser and listened to some of his content on his Naked Bible Podcast, so I will attempt to answer your questions, but as a disclaimer, I obviously am no expert on his personal beliefs.

    As a primer, Heiser draws a lot of his content from the Enochian Tradition, which was popular in the second temple period and would have been familiar to the writers of the NT, (ie Jude ‪1:14-15‬, 2 Peter 2:4). He also draws a lot from studying ancient Caininte Religion, in which Ba’al is vice regent to the king El. El had 70 sons, who were the “sons of god.” These “sons” came down to man in the days of Noah and taught man all manner of sin and war according to the Enochian Tradition. These “sons” are referenced in Genesis 6 according to Heiser as having copulated with women, who thereafter birthed Nephalim (Giants). More on the giants after a brief interlude to introduce the sons of God.

    The sons of God are ruling spirits according to Heiser. They are referred to by different names in the Bible to include Watchers (Job ‪7:20‬, Daniel 4:13,17,23)and sons of God in several places (Gen 6, Job 1:6, Job 2:1, Job 38:7, Psalms 29:1, 82:6, 89:6).

    They have real governing power to make decisions. For instance, in Daniel it was the Watchers who decided Nebuchadnezzar’s fate:

    The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.' - Daniel 4:17

    Heiser contends that God is often found to be ruling through a Divine Council in the OT, where Yahweh is in a sort of throne room among other created spirits, and He (Yahweh), allows them to use volition to bring about world events and to govern. An example is 1 King’s ‪22:19-23‬ and the beginning of Job.

    So in Heiser’s theory, there are different levels of spiritual beings in terms of authority.

    The sons of God were given authority when God disinherited the nations at Babel. In Deuteronomy 32:8-9 Moses says:

    8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. - Deuteronomy 32:8-9

    Mankind was violating the mandate to “multiply over the Earth,” at Babel, so Yahweh disinherited all the nations give I g them over to lesser and created spiritual rulers, and then called Abraham out of the nations to create His heritage.

    When Yahweh disinherited the nations, He appointed sons of God to rule over the nations, but the sons of God we’re not obedient.

    Psalm 82 records their rebuke from Yahweh.

    1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? ‪Selah 3 Give‬ justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! - Psalms 82

    Thus, the sons of God were cursed and fallen along with the nations they ruled.

  3. In the NT, Paul is the primary one to highlight these spiritual beings calling the sons of God, Rulers, Powers, and Authorities (Ep ‪6:12‬, Col ‪2:15‬, etc), but Jesus calls them “powers in the heavens” (Mark 13:24-26). Peter calls them “authorities and powers” (1 Peter 3:22).

    Paul focuses on the cross being the defeat of these spiritual governors in Colossians 2:15, which means the Gentile nations could now be brought back in as co-inheritors of the Kingdom with Christ. It is a reversal of Babel, which was inaugurated at Pentecost when tongues symbolically indicates the reversal of confusing languages.

    So... demons as we know them in traditional circles can also be Rulers, Powers and Authorities according to Heiser... and according to Paul.

  4. Now for the Nephilim.

    The Nephilim or giants are a sort of Demi-god talked about in the Enochian tradition where the sons of God come down to teach man about war and sin, while taking women as their mates. The Nephilim made the world so bad that God flooded it, saving only Noah...

    ...yet, somehow, and Heiser can’t explain this, the Nephilim show up after the flood as the sons on Anak (Numbers 13:33).

    Heiser claims the conquest to the Promised Land was all about showing the world who the One True God really is by raising up a tiny nation from Abraham, and using that tiny nation to defeat all odds.

    Additionally, he claims when Israel was told to commit kerham or herem (going off of memory here), meaning completely destroy a nation, it was to wipe out the Nephilim bloodline to protect the Messianic bloodline.

    Quick read on the giants here:


    Heiser does teach the spirits of the dead giants are what we call demons, I think due to the translation of the word Rephaim, which can be translated as giants or “the dead.”

  5. So to answer your questions/statements/

    1. Yes, demons can be damned giants, but they are not the only demons. Their are rulers, powers and authorities who oppose God too.

    3. Traditional Christian theology has difficulty with two concepts that Heiser proposes again and again. 1) There are many elohim “gods”, who are referred to as sons of God and who have governing authority, (though powerless in the face of Christ). 2) Spiritual beings procreated with men.

    4. Heiser claims the origin can be found in the OT, and there are references in the NT, like Jude 1:6. Daemon, in Greek, simply referred to a god. One of many in the pantheon, so if Heiser is right, early Christians understood that the “other gods” they worshiped were real spiritual beings that had ruling authority. Paul sort of confirms this in 1 Cor ‪10:20‬. So Daemon was adapted from a position of neutrality by the pagan Romans to an enemy of Jesus Christ and Christianity by early Christians. That means it is possible that some of the Greek gods actually exist, and had more interaction with the world pre-cross. Their names are of no consequence since they could have redefined themselves from one generation to another. Jesus began a ministry of casting out demons, but that isn’t done in the OT. Israel, instead, cast out daemons by ridding themselves of their nations.

    5. The Nephilim are a sort of Demi-god with super human strength in the least. As stated before, this is the primary objection to Heiser’s theories.

    6. True. I would propose a modified theory to Heiser’s theory. It is possible that the tradition was wrong though believed as truth which would shape how people thought. It is possible that what Genesis 6 meant was not procreation, but inhabitation through possessing human bodies. Demons would naturally pick the largest most powerful people to possess and breed, and over-time, they could create giant races who were human of course, but possessed by spirits.

    7. Heiser contends that fallen spirits now torment those in Christ and still try to do battle even though they were defeated “already but not yet,” at the cross.

    8. He definitely believes they have access to our world. He even dialogues often with people who have a conservative approach to a deliverance ministry.

    9. Heiser’s view would create a little more of a hierarchy. There are Watchers (ie sons of God) who are fallen, spiritual messengers who are fallen, the souls of the giants who were damned (1 Peter 3:20), and damned humans. Just like in traditional Christian circles, the damned humans are often not aware of the spiritual realities. Heiser likes to emphasize the “already but not yet” inauguration of the Kingdom. Therefore, the damned spirits know they are damned, and they are trying to take as many humans down with their sinking ship as possible.

  6. 10. Not sure, so I won’t try to answer.

    11. I’m hesitant to say this, because I’m not sure if Heiser would agree, but I think Lucifer has a diminished role in Heiser’s thought. Why? Most Christians think when they are having spiritual issues, it’s due to Satan or Lucifer himself. Heiser’s view is more nuanced, and I think makes a lot of sense. The sons of God have a lot of power, when it is granted. So if people are encountering spiritual battles against a powerful foe, it’s probably a Watcher. Consider Job. The satan, not Satan as we know him because the Hebrew says “the satan” or accuser, came to Yahweh and Yahweh said, “Have you considered my servant Job?” When the satan went out, he was given a divine warrant with restrictions, but the satan was able to manipulate the environment and cause a wind storm and lightening to start a fire. So Heiser I think, focuses less on Lucifer, and more on the sons of God as a whole. With that said, Heiser associates Ba’al with Lucifer and says the entomology of the word Beelzebub actually stems from Ba’al, who in the Caninite Religion was the vice regent to El (most high god). It’s interesting to note that the Caninites believed their god had 70 sons. In the Caninite religion, Ba’al is a son of God, but he is the regent, so he leads them. So that continues after their fall.

    I think it’s important to note that not all the sons of God fall. Michael, for instance is one of the chief princes, and he prevails.

    12. I think the Nephilim are damned regardless, but so were all the disinherited nations that eventually started worshiping their own spiritual rulers.

    13. Heiser contends, and says he is supported by second temple literature, that there are three significant falls. Adam’s fall (Initial fall of man and Ba’al I assume), Genesis 6 (fall of the sons of God), and Babel (fall of man from God; disinheritance).

    One last thing... Heiser supports a replacement theology. Paul uses the term sons of God to describe Christians in the NT, so Christians replace the fallen sons of God from the OT who were defeated at the cross.

    Hope that helps, and hope I didn’t butcher his work.

  7. Bottom line is that demons are either fallen Angels or are not--deep, I know! Not likely fallen Angles since they exhibit different characteristics but if not them then what? Well, the spirits of dead Nephilim folklore was a good try but no cigar. I take a third, middle way, by arguing biblically that they are fallen Angels but in a round about way: see my article "Demons Ex Machina: What Are Demons?"