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Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay
If you’re new around here, you probably don’t know this about me: that I’m a weirdo who’s into weird stuff. By that I mean that I’m the odd Christian who enjoys horror and tales of the paranormal, folklore, Big Foot and Mothman, urban legends, conspiracy theories, and just generally weird and unexplained phenomena.
Except that this stuff does have an explanation. The Bible gives us a solid one. A lot of people realize this, but they don’t really know the full extent of it–that the supernatural worldview presented to us in the Bible goes beyond simply angels and demons.
In his book The Unseen Realm, Bible scholar and ancient Hebrew expert Dr. Michael Heiser lays the foundation of understanding this worldview. He points out that the First Century Jews and Christians would tell you that there was not one great Fall that corrupted humanity, but three. The first is, of course, THE Fall, when the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God’s only commandment in the Garden of Eden and sin first entered the world as a result.
The second is one that a lot of people really struggle to wrap their heads around and accept as reality — the events described in Genesis 6, when the Sons of God–i.e., angelic beings–left their heavenly abode to take human wives and father children with them, producing the Nephilim–a half-breed race of giants.
This one was a doozy. This story is expanded upon in the Book of Enoch. Although that book is not viewed as inspired scripture, Dr. Heiser points out that it records a lot of Jewish tradition and that it was a popular work in the first century that helped to shape the worldview of the New Testament writers. Some validity is lent to Enoch by its being quoted as fact in the epistle of Jude, and Peter also refers to it in his epistle. The Enochian writers tell us that the great sin of the “angels who kept not their first estate” is that they wanted to be like God by creating a race of their own, and that they also taught humanity a range of self-destructive knowledge, such as the art of warfare, seduction, sorcery and drug use, in the hopes that we would wipe ourselves out.
As punishment, God imprisoned these rebellious Sons of God under the earth and sentenced their offspring to die in the Great Flood, along with corrupted humanity. He preserved for himself a small remnant, Noah and his family, who kept themselves righteous by not mixing with the angels or participating in their dark arts (apparently, however, one or two of Noah’s daughters-in-law must have had Nephilim DNA, because a remnant of them managed to somehow survive the flood [there’s also the possibility that it was a local flood, but I’m not here for that debate right now]; these were subsequently wiped out during the Canaanite conquest and, later, by David and his armies).
Again, a lot of people just can’t accept the idea that angels produced offspring with humans, and they explain this away by insisting that “Sons of God” refers to the godly line of Adam’s third son, Seth, despite the fact that the term is used throughout the old testament exclusively to refer to heavenly beings. According to this theory, the “Daughters of Men” are in the line of Cain, and the Nephilim are simply warriors and influential people, and have nothing to do with giants (this theory and the people who hold to it can’t explain where the giants, like Goliath, came from — I guess they just think he was an abnormally tall guy).
Before I get to the third fall, we need to spend a little time on the Sons of God. For the full background on this, I highly recommend that you read The Unseen Realm (or read Dr. Heiser’s alternative book, Supernatural, which is a less scholarly version for people who don’t like footnotes). You can also get the gist of it by watching his Supernatural seminar on YouTube. The quick and dirty version is that these Sons of God are depicted in places like Psalm 82 and Daniel 10, among others, and they are members of God’s Divine Council. Passages in Job and 1 Kings show God involving these entities in decisions and in carrying out assignments on the earth. Lest you have palpitations over the thought of our sovereign God needing angelic beings to help him make decisions, relax — he doesn’t, any more than you need your kids to help make household decisions. But you still involve them, because they’re your kids, and they can learn and grow from it. Anyway.
Psalm 82 pulls something shocking by not just referring to these beings as Sons of Gods, but as gods themselves. This is because the Hebrew word for these beings is elohim, a term that’s often used to refer to God Himself. But elohim is actually a generic categorical term encompassing all supernatural beings. God is an elohim, but he is the only elohim who is God. He’s unique among the elohim and there are none like him or beside him. He created them, and he’s sovereign over them, just as he is over us. Got it? Good, because this is important.
This brings us to the third and final Fall — the Tower of Babel. Genesis 11 tells us how, when humans once again multiplied after the flood, they did not disperse and fill the earth as God commanded, but instead rebelled and decided to band together in the area that would eventually be known as Babylon (modern day Iraq), where they built a tower, a ziggurat that would allow them access to the heavens to reach God. Again, this is where ancient Jewish tradition can fill in some gaps. According to such, humanity was led in this effort by Nimrod, who we meet in Genesis 10, which tells us he was “a mighty hunter before the Lord” who founded and built many cities, including Babylon. Tradition also holds that he was himself a Nephilim (he also appears to pre-figure the Antichrist, but that’s a topic for another post). And their intention in building the tower was not simply to reach God and be close to Him, but to overthrow Him and set themselves up as their own gods.
How did God respond? Genesis 11 goes on to tell us that he struck them and confused their languages, removing their ability to communicate and organize and forcing them to disperse and fill the earth as He had originally commanded. This, according to scripture, is how we got different nations.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Deuteronomy 32 sheds more light on this strange episode. Again, you can get all of the details from Dr. Heiser’s material, but in short, this passage informs us that when God divided the nations at Babel, he also disinherited them and turned them over to the Sons of God. Apparently, these Divine Council members were supposed to benignly steward the nations while God created a new nation for himself–Israel. But some, possibly all, of these lesser elohim grew jealous and rebelled, threw their lot in with the original rebel, the Serpent, aka Satan, and convinced the humans entrusted to their care to worship them instead of God. Psalm 82 further tells us how they abused their delegated authority, and how they have been judged by God and sentenced to die like men.
The implications of all of this is that there are real, intelligent spiritual entities behind idols and other so-called gods, going by different names throughout history, who are hostile to God and who oppose Him. And that they hate our guts and want to subjugate and/or destroy us. Not only that, but they wield a certain amount of power, authority and influence over our culture, governments and world affairs. These are the powers and principalities Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. This is where you get the Prince of Greece and the Prince of Persia spoken of in Daniel. These are the beings who God’s loyal angels, like Michael and Gabriel, stand in opposition to. These are primarily who and what our spiritual warfare is directed against.
And whether you worship them or not, whether you believe in them or not, if you don’t belong to Christ, you belong to them.
Angels and Demons
Notice that I’ve mostly avoided referring to these beings as angels. That’s because our English word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” which simply means “messenger.” So angel is more of a job description than it is the name of a race or species. That word really doesn’t tell us much about them, other than how God has used some of them to interact with humanity. The Bible tells us that there is a variety of beings within this classification, including cherubim, seraphim, and archangels (or perhaps just one of those — Michael is the only one with that designation in the canon of scripture). There are angelic armies that include chariot drivers and soldiers. It also tells us that there are rankings among them. It tells us that they can take on human appearance and even become corporeal.
What about demons and fallen angels? The traditional Christian belief is that demons are fallen angels. But–and this is a huge but–while Revelation 12 describes a celestial battle in which Satan and a third of the angels who followed him were cast out of Heaven and banished to the earth, it doesn’t describe that event as taking place until sometime after the birth, death and resurrection of Christ–and it might not have even happened yet. Depending on how you read that passage, this event might not take place until the Tribulation.
So then, what are demons, and where do they come from?
We don’t see a lot of references to demons until Jesus begins his ministry and starts casting them out of people left and right. The Gospels often refer to them as “unclean spirits.” In the Old Testament, what makes something unclean? There are a few things: coming into contact with a dead or diseased body, coming into contact with blood and other bodily fluids… and mixing things that don’t belong together.
Let’s look at Isaiah 14:9 (ESV):
Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.
The Hebrew word for “shades” — rendered in other translations as either “the dead” or “departed spirits” — is Rephaim. The Rephaim appear elsewhere in the Old Testament as a race of giants, descendents of the Nephilim, who were indeed leaders of the earth before they were destroyed. That’s not exactly conclusive, but it’s highly suggestive. Besides, Jewish tradition at the time of Christ held that demons were, in fact, the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim, which actually makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. It certainly explains why they’re so hell-bent (no pun intended) on possessing human bodies. Again, Dr. Heiser’s materials go a lot more in-depth into all of this.
So we have Elohim, consisting of various types and ranks of angelic and spiritual beings, many of whom are in rebellion and led by Satan, who have power and influence over the world and have their own agenda that’s antithetical to God’s. We have the fallen angels who fathered the Nephilim, but they’re bound in chains and off the playing board. We have the Nephilim, who were wiped out long ago but are apparently still active and generally menacing people and wreaking havoc as disembodied spirits, known as demons.
But wait, there’s more!
In both Galatians 4 and Colossians 2, Paul talks about the “elementary principles” of the world. In some translations, however, this Greek word, stoicheion, is translated as “elemental spirits.” Naturally, most modern scholars who are heavily influenced by modernity and materialism–often the same people who reject the supernatural reading of Genesis Six, Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82– say that the first translation is correct, because Paul is talking about philosophical principles.
Looking up that word in the concordances and lexicons (which you can do on Biblehub) seems to support that… at first. Stoicheion means something along the lines of rudimentary knowledge, or basic, fundamental principles. But it’s also used in Greek writings outside of scripture to refer to heavenly bodies. And then there’s this note in HELPS Word-studies:
The RSV however renders stoixeia as “elemental spirits,” i.e. spiritual powers or “cosmic spirits.” This views stoixeion (“elements”) as ancient astral beings associated with the very beginning (make-up) of the earth.
Honestly, it seems to me that Paul could be using this word both ways. For example, in Galatians 4:3, the first meaning seems to make more sense. But a little further down in verse 9, the second meaning better fits the context. And in Colossians, it seems like it could go either way (FWIW, the ESV translates it as “elementary principles” both times in Galatians, and as “elemental spirits” in Colossians).
At any rate, it seems highly suggestive that this is yet another class of supernatural beings, which would explain a lot. It would handily explain things like faeries, goblins, sightings of mysterious little people and the like, as well as ghost lights and at least some UFOs. It might even explain cryptids like Big Foot and Mothman. Things that many Christians are quick to either chalk up to demons or to hallucinations, fakery or some other material or scientific explanation.
What About Ghosts?
The Bible does mention ghosts, but only vaguely and in passing. For example, Jesus’ disciples first thought they were seeing a ghost when they spotted him walking on the Sea of Galilee, and after his resurrection he had them touch him and give him food to prove to them that he wasn’t a ghost.
The best argument for ghosts is found in 1 Samuel 28, when King Saul has the Witch of Endor, a known medium, summon the spirit of the recently deceased prophet Samuel to ask him for advice. Samuel’s spirit does indeed appear, not to advise Saul, but to proclaim judgment upon him. But the reaction of the Witch of Endor when Samuel appears is very telling. She’s completely freaked out, which suggests that successfully summoning a human spirit was a brand new and frightening experience for her. The implication is that either she was a con woman, or she was used to having another type of spiritual entity appear to her.
At any rate, while the oft-misquoted 2 Corinthians 5:8 doesn’t actually say “absent from the body, present with the Lord,” it does imply the principle, at least for Believers. More convincingly, the many OT passages about Sheol make it clear that it’s not a place where the dead even have consciousness, let alone are able to leave (the departed Rephaim, on the other hand, appear to be an exception to both those rules). Based on all of this, I believe the most likely explanation for ghosts is that they’re demons impersonating human spirits. As for poltergeists, apparitions and other types of hauntings, this could be either demons or elemental spirits.
A Unified Theory of the Paranormal
As you can see, the Bible offers us an unambiguously supernatural worldview with a wide range of supernatural beings operating both in the spirit realm and in the world. Apparently famed paranormal researcher John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies, was putting together a sort of “Unified Theory of the Paranormal,” in which he postulated that everything from ghosts to UFOs and alien abductions to cryptids had a common source, some kind of interdimensional race of intelligent beings operating in our world. He was very close to the truth. The Bible fills in the gaps and provides a way to explain all kinds of paranormal phenomena.
More importantly, it also warns us that these things are not out for our good and that we should refrain from attempting to contact them or have anything to do with them. It warns us that these entities are capable of appearing as benevolent angels and beings of light, and of speaking very convincing half-truths, even quoting scripture out of context in order to deceive us. But their end is our destruction, and to lead us away from the truth of the Gospel that has the power to deliver us from their domain and reconcile us permanently to God through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
I think this worldview can also explain a lot of conspiracy theories and a lot of what’s happening in the world right now. I’ll be exploring all of this more in future posts, as well as philosophical implications and what all of this should mean for the Church at large. In the meantime, in addition to Dr. Heiser’s work, I also recommend checking out the Sword and Staff podcast, especially everything from June 24, 2021 onward, which covers a lot of this same ground.
Thanks for sticking around to the end of this ridiculously long post. I hope you enjoyed it, and I would LOVE for you to share your thoughts in the comments. And don’t forget to like and share!