Book Reviews

Book Review: Angels (Michael Heiser)

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Instead of asking if we need another book on angels, I’ll answer that now: yes, we do. We need one that is centered on the biblical text by someone who studies the entire Bible, who knows the biblical languages, and who understands how ideas of spiritual beings have changed from the Old Testament to the New. Michael Heiser is the academic editor for Logos Bible Software, Bible Study Magazine, and Faithlife Study Bible. He is the author The Unseen Realm and Supernatural (reviews here and here). 

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Section I: Old Testament
    • Old Testament Terminology for the Heavenly Host
    • The Heavenly Host in Service to God
    • Important Angels
  • Section II: Second Temple (Intertestamental) Period
    • The Language of the Heavenly Host in Second Temple Judaism
    • Second Temple Jewish Angelology
  • Section III: New Testament
    • The Heavenly Host in the New Testament
    • Special Topics in New Testament Angelology
  • Section IV: Angelology Today
    • Christian Myths about Angels
    • Why Should We Care About Angels?

Introduction

In the introduction, Heiser poses a question: why would we need to know this information? Why bother? Heiser answers, saying, “A life well lived extends from wisdom. Biblical wisdom involves not only practical, principled, decision-making skills but eternal perspective. Eternal perspective requires understanding what makes God tick. That’s only discoverable with a firm grasp of who God is, what he’s done, why he’s done it, what else he intends to do, and why he doesn’t want to do it alone” (xiv-xv).

He continues, “God’s supernatural family is a theological template for understanding God’s relationship to his human family of believers—and our greater importance compared to them. Learning what the Bible says about angels ultimately is tied to thinking well about how God thinks about us” (xv).

God’s heavenly host (or here, “angels,” because it’s easier) image him through representation. God’s human family also image him by representing him. Heiser says, “We image God by doing what he would do, when he would do it, and with the motivation he would have for doing it” (xvi). God wants to reside with his human family, and so Jesus, in order to save us so that we could be in his presence, “was made lower than the angels” in order to help “the offspring of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:9, 16). Christians are God’s children who will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3) and who will rule the nations (Rev 3:21; see also Ps 2:7 and Rev 2:27). “Knowledge of God’s heavenly host helps us to think more clearly about our status, our purpose, and our destiny” (xiv).

Book Summary

As the ToC above shows, Heiser moves through the OT (section 1), to the Second Temple period (section 2), and up to the NT period (section 3), as the NT authors quote or allude to the Second Temple literature (the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha). The best part of this book is the section on the Old Testament.

In chapter one Heiser examines terms that describe the naturestatus, and function of God’s heavenly host. The status of angels is described by terms such as God’s “heavenly ones,” “stars,” “gods” (elohim); their status in hierarchy with terms like “assembly” and “council,” and their function with terms like “angel,” “host,” “cherubim,” “seraphim,” “minister,” and “mediator.” Now Heiser spends time explaining ways each of these terms (and any other terms I left out) are used in the Old Testament.

In chapter two he shows how angels function in God’s presence. They contribute to discussions in the divine council  (see 1 Kings 22:19-23). They bear witness to God’s decrees, such as the giving of God’s law, when he testifies against his own people, and when one of God’s prophets stands in the divine council (Jer 23:16-18, 21-22). They also assist in governing God’s world, along with serving people by explaining divine activity (read most of Zechariah), and praising the Most High God. In chapter 3 Heiser covers important angels such as the angel of Yahweh, the commander of the Lord’s army, the destroyer angel of the Passover in Exodus, and Gabriel,  Michael, and the Prince of the Host.

Section 4 looks at angelology today and covers both questions people have and myths people believe about angels. (Questions such as “Can ‘Fallen Angels’ Be Redeemed?,” “Are Fallen Angels Included in Reconciling ‘All Things’?” in Colossians 1:19-20, and more; myths such as “Angels Have Wings… And They’re Women Too,” “Angels Can No Longer Rebel,” “Angels Can Read Minds And Manipulate The Material World,” and more).

Recommended?

More could easily be said about this book (and if you want to know more, check out the links to the Logos Blog on the bottom of the page). Certainly, there is some overlap with Heiser’s The Unseen Realm (along with the references in the footnotes), but there is much that is new here. There is little to complain about, except that I wish it were longer.

I should warn some of you that this is an academic book. Footnotes and block quotes are numerous throughout the book. Should that be off-putting to anyone wanting to learn more about angels? I sure hope not. We live in an age where guys like Bill Maher associate Christianity with anti-intellectualism. Clearly, he has never picked up a commentary or read a dissertation by Christians. There is much more going on in the Bible with spiritual beings than we realize, and most books will either be too difficult to understand (like dissertations) or they will teach you nothing about the Bible (or they’re just a waste of time). While two chapters probably won’t interesting to many laypeople (i.e., the two chapters on the intertestamental period—though academics should look there), the rest of the book is great and fills a gap for both the layperson and the academic. This is an important book, and be looking for his upcoming book on demons too.

Lagniappe

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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