Readers will likely find this review of my new book (Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host) by Justin Dillehay of interest. I’m grateful that Justin took the time to review the book, and that the Gospel Coalition found it worth inclusion on their website.
There’s one paragraph of interest for this space. Justin writes:
My only gripe about the book is Heiser’s tendency to cast “Christian tradition” as the bogeyman, with ancient Near Eastern studies as the savior (xiii, xix, 42). Derek Rishmawy refers to this as Heiser’s “frustrating case of biblical studies prejudice.” Perhaps by “tradition” Heiser means the cheesy stuff he heard as a kid. But if he means Athanasius, Aquinas, and Luther, then, as Rishmawy points out, it’s hard to get more supernatural than these guys.
Agreed — all those important figures were more open to supernaturalism than many evangelicals today. But they also shut the door to a number of important things in the Bible in that regard — or, perhaps more charitably, were too quick to dismiss the views of contemporaries (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian) in certain respects, or were ignorant of the strength of other supernaturalist interpretations when comparative ancient material (deciphered long after the lifetimes of these figures) is brought to bear. (If anyone cares to test the waters here, try this article on for size:
Schultz, Donald Robert. “The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepi-Graphical Literature.” Vigiliae christianae(1978): 161-190.
Schultz’s journal article can be obtained here. Here’s a link to a post from this blog that contains a couple excerpted pages. You can also read the dissertation upon which the article is based.
Here’s the point: How many of our creeds teach depravity the way Irenaeus saw it? Irenaeus understood that Second Temple literature informed the New Testament writers. I’d love to be shown otherwise, but I doubt any of the creeds or the reformers had such a keen insight. That isn’t because they weren’t great minds. It’s about access to the primary sources. Many important figures in Christian history were simple cut off from such resources. We aren’t, and so we bear greater responsibility.
So, yes, I have a bone to pick with tradition, but that doesn’t mean its bad or unimportant. As those who have read my work and followed the Naked Bible Podcast know, my gripe with tradition isn’t that it exists (!); rather, it’s that too often tradition and “the whole counsel of God” are conflated. What I mean here is that the average person in the pew might be confounded at the thought that there are things in Scripture that one’s denominational or creedal documents don’t address or which would hard to align with those documents. The fault isn’t that of tradition; it’s that people aren’t taught very far beyond tradition. That leads to the conflation I mentioned before. Traditions and creeds are good (as I’ve said many times), but they aren’t the text of Scripture understood in light of the original worldview and literary contexts of the people God prompted to write Scripture. The latter trumps the former, and its time we made that clearer to people.