Mike Heiser’s New Podcast Questions Aloud

Mike HeiserDr Michael Heiser has a new podcast Questions Aloud and this is the first episode. Also check Mike out on SkyWatch TV this week, featured tonight 1/12/2016 on SkyWatch TV on CTN, 8:30 CT9:30 ET!

The Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy Concerning Damascus?

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book I am co-writing with Tom Horn:

It’s no secret amongst scholars, that early Syrian Christianity has a profound influence on the fledging pre-Quran Islam. McCants writes “In early Islam, Syrians were particularly partial to the Sufyani because his kin, the Umayyads, had ruled the caliphate from Damascus.”[1] The term Sufyani, a term referring to his descent from the progeny of Abu Sufyan, is yet another legendary character who will allegedly emerge before the Mahdi from Damascus. He is not the ally of the Mahdi nor the Dajjal, The hadith regarding the Sufyani specify that he is a tyrant who will spread corruption and mischief on the earth before the Mahdi.

A man will emerge from the depths of Damascus. He will be called Sufyani. Most of those who follow him will be from the tribe of Kalb. He will kill by ripping the stomachs of women and even kill the children. A man from my family will appear in the Haram, the news of his advent will reach the Sufyani and he will send to him one of his armies. He (referring to the Mahdi) will defeat them. They will then travel with whoever remains until they come to a desert and they will be swallowed. None will be saved except the one who had informed the others about them. (Mustadrak Al-Hakim)

This is from a five volume hadith collection written by Hakim al-Nishaburi. He wrote it in approximately 1003 AD. It contains 9045 hadith and al-Nishaburi claimed all hadith in it were authentic according to the conditions of either Sahih al-Bukhari or Sahih Muslim or both. What makes it especially germane to the present argument concerning Syrian influence on the Qur’an and Hadith, it connects the Sufyani to Damascus, Syria. Of course many dispensational theologians assert God still has plans to annihilate Damascus in an unpresented destruction that excludes all alleged past fulfillments:

“The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, And it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken: They shall be for flocks, Which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, And the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: They shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 17:1–3)

Scholars we respect like Michael Brown and Craig Keener have concluded this was fulfilled by the Syro-Ephraimitic War which raged during the middle 730s, [BC].”[2] However Brown qualifies, “In principle, I have no problem with the concept that ancient biblical prophecies can refer to contemporary events, since it’s clear that there are many prophecies still to be fulfilled, including the future world war against Jerusalem. (See Zechariah 12 and 14.)”[3] While they might be correct about dual fulfillment, the past simply does not match God’s word spoken through Isaiah that “Damascus is taken away from being a city, And it shall be a ruinous heap.” Up until a week ago, the capital of Syria, reveled in its status as one of the oldest existing cities in the world, and evidence exists of a settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC.[4] While we recognize apocalyptic symbolism when we see it, “taken away from being a city” does not seem like figurative language. We expect Damascus to be destroyed, and as of October 21, 2015  pro-Moscow internet news service, Russia Insider, has published what it says is footage of the battle raging between the Syrian army and US-and-Australian backed rebels in the Damascus suburb of Jobar

Damascus is a ruinous heap

See full story with a Russian drone flying over the devastation

Russia releases shockingly clear footage of the devastation surrounding Damascus 


[1] William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State, Kindle Edition, (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), Kindle Locations 1904-1905.

[2] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Isaiah 17:1.

[3] Michael Brown, “Does the Bible Predict the Destruction of Syria?,” Charisma, September 11, 2013, http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/40946-does-the-bible-predict-the-destruction-of-syria Accessed October 19, 2015.

[4] Ross Burns, Damascus: A History, (London: Routledge, 2007), 2.


Seraphim are Firey Flying Serpents


Seraphim by Lakandiwa (click for source)

What I find troublesome is when Bible translators choose to transliterate a term in some passages but not in others. It’s troublesome because it seems to be done in order to hide the true meaning from the reader. It effectively amounts to censorship of the biblical text by translation committee.

For example, in the throne room of God, the word seraphim is transliterated

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (Isaiah 6:2)

However, later in Isaiah the exact same Hebrew term שָׂרָף is translated into English as “flying firey serpent”

Through a land of trouble and anguish, from where come the lioness and the lion, the adder and the flying fiery serpent, …(Isaiah 30:6)

It seems the flying firey serpents are fallen, rebel seraphim. Why the censorship by transliteration? Do the translators think people cannot handle the fact that flying serpentine beings are in the throne room of God? (it happens in other places as well, but unless you study the original languages you will never know it). This is one of the reasons why KJVonlyism (or dependence on any one translation) is so horribly vacuous for doing theology.

Reading Genesis With Ancient Eyes – John Walton

Here’s a presentation by Dr. John Walton on reading Genesis in its original ancient context. Keeping in mind that  a cardinal rule of exegesis entails that: “A later reader could simply invent or read into a biblical text a meaning not intended by the original author. In other words, in the process of reading a text, interpreters may introduce some meaning that suits their purposes.” [1] Reading it with the author’s intent in mind eliminates most of the unnecessary controversy with science, something never intended or even imagined by its original readers.


[1]William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard and Kermit Allen Ecklebarger, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub., 1993), 176.

Biblical Interpretation and the “Holy Spirit Trump Card” Fallacy

TrumpCard1This post has been boiling inside me for a while now. Invariably, when debating controversial issues like eschatology or the doctrine of creation, someone will pull the out the Holy Spirit trump card and act as if it has settled the matter.  For instance, someone might argue, “I know the rapture is pretrib because the Holy Spirit led me to this truth.” Of course, to question them further amounts to some sort of blasphemy…  But it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role because it amounts to nothing more than an excuse for not offering evidence and arguments for one’s position.  Would the hypothetical pretribber have us believe she has more guidance from the Holy Spirit than Charles Spurgeon or John Wesley? It’s just not a good track to take.

When Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”(Jn 16:13) It was a promise directed toward the eleven disciples and their role writing the Gospels and the books of the New Testament. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit leads us to all mathematical truth, we still have to work lots of problems and gain skill. It also does not apply to interpreting scripture. We still have to struggle to learn biblical languages and history in order to do proper exegesis.

In that regard, I have been debating young earth creationists concerning the traditional misapplication of Genesis one.  My main point of contention is that Moses did not write the text with science in mind. Our western scientific worldview was utterly alien to his context. There is a massive socio-historical dvide that needs to be accounted for but is seldom discussed. Fee and Stuart explain, “As people far removed from the religious, historical, and cultural life of ancient Israel, we simply have great trouble putting the words spoken by the prophets in their proper context. It is often hard for us to see what they are referring to and why.” [1]  I have been reading In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context which is an excellent introduction to Moses’ context. The book shows that Moses was addressing Egyptian cosmogony and offering a theological corrective. In fact, the creation sequence in Genesis one corresponds almost directly to the older Egyptian account.  It’s too close to be a coincidence.  Miller and Soden write, “We are suggesting that Moses is starting with the Egyptian assumptions about creation to correct Israel’s theology of creation and not their way of talking about creation. Moses seems to begin with a starting point that Israel would have already accepted.”[2]  In other words, God is using the existing nonscientific beliefs of the ancient Israelites escaping Egyptian bondage to correct their Egyptian  indoctrination.  It’s not about science.

When I point out that it is superficial exegesis to impose a modern scientific worldview on to Genesis 1…  here it comes, the Holy Spirit trump card: “The Holy Spirit told me the earth  is young” which fails for the reasons in the first paragraph. But typically it is something more like “He was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…therefore the text is written for all time.” While it is for all time, it does not mean it is written to a scientific context. The number one rule of hermeneutics is that the original author’s intent for his original readers determines the meaning. Anything else results in relativistic chaos. A responsible Bible interpreter will seek to discover that original intended meaning. This requires some effort like reading scholarly books and employing resources like the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set.  Invoking the Holy Spirit is not an excuse to ignore that responsibility and it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role. Genesis is “for” all time, but it still was not written “to” you and your modern Western worldview. The meaning of the text is determined by the author’s context and intent not the worldview of readers 3000 years removed.


[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 184.

[2] Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden. In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. (Kregel Publications 2012). Kindle Locations 1209-1210.