Michael S. Heiser: How Do Sacred and Natural History Entwine?

Michael S. Heiser is an exegete who has authored several widely read books on Genesis and the Old Testament. Notable in Heiser’s work is his commitment to break down scholarly work to serve the public. He hosts long running and widely listened to podcast, The Naked Bible, several websites, is all across YouTube, and is launching a talk show of sorts on odd ball ideas. I recently read his book, The Unseen Realm, where he explores the meaning of Genesis on its own terms. The Unseen Realm is the inspiration for Brian Godawa’s remarkable series of novels on the Watchers…

Michael Heiser pursues his exegetical work on its own terms, engaging watchfully with science. How do sacred and natural history combine?

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Thoughtful Interview

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@swamidass, this is great, thanks for doing the interview. I really like The Naked Bible podcast (I don’t have enough time to listen to it as often as I’d like) and was excited to see you were going to do a interview with him.

Quick question, in the discussion about Genesis 9:19 and “whole earth”, does this have significance for local vs global flood? Or rather, it seems like it would have significance, but how significant do you think it is? I have never connected Genesis 9 to Genesis 7 in that way before.

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For those who hold to a local flood and biblical truthfulness (including some historical core), there are two basic options: (1) the “world” is limited to the known world, usually defined by the parameters of the Table of Nations in Gen 10; or (2) the text is intentionally but hyperbolically describing something universal (i.e., global flood) though the historical basis is something more local/regional. Heiser seems more comfortable with the first option. An example of the latter would be the Lost World of the Flood by Walton and Longman.

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I think it does. I personally don’t see a plausible reading of Genesis that teaches a planetary flood.

I see you have to import the idea of “planet” in order to make that reading implausible. How about “all the land there is”?

Or even “all flesh” and making a covenant with only Noah and his family. But apparently God doesn’t know what “all flesh” is?

For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

I want to know how another reading is plausible.

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Does that include land on Venus and Mars too? Were they also flooded?

Statements of “all X” commonly have to be interpreted in context. To take an example, Romans 5:18 says: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Doesn’t this imply universalism, that just as Adam’s sin condemned all humanity, Jesus’ sacrifice also saves all humanity? (In fact some more mainstream scholars have argued along these lines.) Yet virtually every conservative exegete disagrees with this reading, citing other passages in Romans or (very commonly) 1 Cor. 15:22-23 (“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ”) where the “all” is clearly qualified to mean only those who belong in Christ. And this is just one example.

So, if even conservative scholars are OK with using other parts of Scripture to qualify the meaning of a passage, I don’t see why that principle can’t be applied to the account of the flood as well, that it was primarily talking about the destruction of humanity as defined by Adam and Eve’s descendants, or the table of nations in Gen. 10. In this case, “all flesh” is already qualified by “everything that is on the earth”. But what does “earth” refer to? It certainly doesn’t mean “planet” or “globe”. In other passages in the Pentateuch eretz is commonly translated as just “land”.

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You are assuming a modern understanding of planets. Venus and Mars are lights in the sky. They don’t have “land”.

Right. So the flood covered all land.

To be honest, my reply was mostly in frustration that @swamidass ruled out a biblical interpretation without giving any supporting statements or even a link. Josh, I’d ask you not to do that because, for me, it doesn’t feel welcoming and then there isn’t anything to discuss - the differences then are just stuck and there’s no way to understand where you’re coming from.

@dga471 To your points:

I would say that that passage is not necessarily understood in terms of qualifying statements but in the context (verse 17) and that “all” there can be translated as “every kind” of men - so it makes the most sense in context and in light of other scripture to consider that sense of “all.”
https://biblehub.com/greek/3956.htm

The Hebrew “all” in Genesis 6:17 has a different flavor than the Greek - it’s more “any” and “every”
https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3605.htm

The problem with this is that it doesn’t provide a distinction with creationism and a global flood. Of course the earth is defined by the table of nations in Genesis 10 because that would be all the people there were on the earth [planet] at that time. They would be all the people on the earth.

No, in the sentence all flesh is qualified by everything that has breath of life under heaven. Then it is restated by saying “everything shall die.”

The biggest problems I have with the local flood interpretation is that 1) it seems God is not smart or makes silly commands - why not send Noah to another place where he would be safe instead of making a large boat and this story about animals? 2) in 2 Peter 3 it seems obvious that Peter is making a comparison between a universal, global judgment by water and the coming one by fire. 3) How else are we supposed to explain Genesis 9? Local floods continue. Again all flesh, and all living creatures are emphasized in this covenant. And it is everlasting while the earth remains.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”