5 Questions to Ask When You Encounter New Ideas in Bible Scholarship

Bible scholarship
Dr. Darrell Bock was recently asked about his endorsement of Dr. Michael Heiser’s new book, The Unseen Realm. His response offers insight into how he approaches new ideas in Bible scholarship. (You can read the entire exchange in Dr. Darrell Bock’s Faithlife Group).

Justin Daniel said that conversations with professors, teachers, pastors, and friends left him feeling conflicted about The Unseen Realm. He asked Dr. Bock how much of Dr. Heiser’s new book can be accepted as truth.

Bock says there are some core questions we need to ask when we encounter new ideas in biblical scholarship:

1. How careful is the writer in handling Scripture and addressing interpretive options?

2. Am I nervous simply because this is saying something different than what I have heard?

3. Is that nervousness justified given the biblical evidence the writer presents?

4. On this particular topic, is it possible that I’ve been exchanging part of the worldview Scripture presents for a more material, Western-modernist way of thinking?

5. Is there anything really problematic in the big scale of doctrinal truth that is at risk here?

“What these [five] questions are getting at,” Dr. Bock says, “is if, like a Berean, I am open to examining Scripture in the face of what might be church ‘tradition’ in a less than biblical sense.”

In Acts 17, Paul and Silas tell Jews living in Berea that Jesus was the Christ—the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). That’s how Dr. Bock suggests we wrestle with ideas or interpretations that are foreign to us.

He went on to say, “One of the reasons I reviewed [The Unseen Realm] positively is because I do think it met that mark especially on questions one and [four] above. At the least it is worth seriously exploring. The existential-emotional element you raised is what question two [and three] probes. It is all too easy to get in a defensive mode in reading Scripture and not be open to learning something fresh from what it teaches.”

We also have to consider who the new ideas are coming from. Is this person considered an expert in their field? How did they arrive at these new conclusions?

Dr. Bock says, “Mike is thoroughly trained in Semitic languages and the background that goes into Old Testament study. His dissertation was also in this area. I am certain he has spent more time in these texts than anyone you asked about it.”

It isn’t good enough to dismiss new scholarship because it does not align with what you are familiar with. Bock says, “If you have questions about it, ask yourself what biblical evidence would you raise against it, or what question worth pondering do I legitimately have . . .”

How do you approach new ideas in Bible scholarship? Tell us in the comments!

For more insights from Dr. Darrell Bock, join his Faithlife Group or watch his full interview with Michael Heiser!

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Want to know what everyone’s talking about? Get your copy of The Unseen Realm!
The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael Heiser


  1. Al Sosa says

    Currently, I am reading this book. First, as a Pentecostal student and reader, Mike Heiser has it pretty on target. However, one thing is to write about the supernatural realm and another is to experience it! But Mike Heiser is explaining things I’ve already studied because there is literature on this. But Dr. Heiser has explained many things that I did not particularly looked at it in his explanation.
    The topic of the ‘sons of God’ was not new to me since I already knew that it could not have been the sons of Seth.
    Any way, it is fantastic reading and very educational. I truly desire that Dr. Heiser experiences the Person of Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal context by receiving in his spirit the blessings of the supernatural! Go Dr. Heiser. . . God bless. . . Keep writing.
    Al Sosa

  2. Justin Emmanuel says

    I’ve been reading the book. I come from a charismatic but reformed background. I appreciate this blog, otherwise I wouldn’t take the time to respond.

    I think that the book is extremely useful and I’ve been aware of Dr Heiser’s material for a while. But, I still think that we need to be careful with it just as Dr Bock intimates. For instance, Dr Heiser’s being made in the image of God theory.

    I think that what Dr Heiser says IS important and HAS been neglected, just that it is incomplete. We are not just made in the image of God, we are made in the image and likeness of God. What does that mean? There is a status component as Dr Heiser suggests but I believe there is something else as well.

    He says that it can’t be said that the unborn are potentially in the image of God. But I say ‘almost!’ The unborn are in the image of God and as they develop, this image is revealed, not developed. Whether through biological means (DNA) or something more mystical, this is a revelation process not a developmental process.

    Dr Heiser states that humans are just another member of the divine council, but one that had fallen and needed to be redeemed. I don’t think this stands biblically. There is too much in scripture at odds to this one. Yes other things express the image of God to certain degrees; some things may express the image and likeness of God to certain degrees. I agree with the concept of a divine council, although I don’t think the Garden of Eden was it.

    The Book of Hebrews contends significantly with Dr Heiser on these points. Also, there is a further mystery that is expressed through marriage within the human experience that God uses as a picture to explain something that He is doing with humanity as part of the redemptive process. There is a deeper union, ‘we are in Christ’. I don’t think scripture even begins to suggest that this is common to the other sons of God.

    Once again, let me state this clearly, I think Dr Heiser’s book begins a VERY important set of discussions that we’ve been missing from the church. I’m very glad and grateful to him that he wrote it. But it certainly doesn’t end the discussions and needs to be a) Read, b) Picked through carefully.

    • Ryan Nelson says

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Justin. I like how you said, “this image is revealed, not developed.” We may not recognize it in its earliest stages, but that status as “in the image of God” is still present.

      Would you mind sharing where Heiser suggests humans were essentially fallen members of the divine council? He did say the Garden of Eden was the place God’s divine council inhabited, but I didn’t get the impression that humans were considered part of that council.

      I think if you keep reading, you’ll see that Heiser would agree with you that Scripture identifies a different relationship between God and humanity. Would love to hear your thoughts when you finish!

    • says

      Thanks to Justin for the comment — but a few corrections:

      1) I don’t deny that the contents of the womb are the image of God. That’s actually precisely what I’m arguing for. To be human (at any stage) = being God’s imager. I’m opposing the idea that the image is an ability or quality that could merely potential for the contents of the womb. Humanity *is* God’s imager (on earth). Divine beings image God in the spiritual realm.

      2) I also don’t believe humans are “just another member of the divine council.” Humanity was created with the intent that they would be one with God and his council, but that was obliterated by human rebellion (the Fall). Now being part of a reconstituted divine council is the ultimate destiny of the believer. Hebrews 2 makes this point when Jesus presents us in the “congregation” (council) as the children given to him / redeemed.

      Just wanted to nuance these items a bit, as these thoughts weren’t caught accurately. But I’m thrilled that people are reading the book and interacting with it.


      • Justin Emmanuel says

        Wanted to say thanks for the much needed clarification.

        Enjoy pretty much most of what I catch of you on YouTube and other sources particularly in Logos, I have gone through your Jewish Trinity course and intend to go through it again.

        Also wanted to say that I feel as though you’ve put the cat amongst the pigeons with your work. As you’ve probably already noticed you’re getting a lot of feedback from Charismatic/Pentecostalists who are basically reading your work and saying ‘yep’ they get it. Even though you are not one its as though you are exegeting our world view in part. (Side note – We are not a mono-culture, TBN doesn’t represent most of us…)

        In fact I use part of your work as part of my explanation of why tongues continues, stating that God disinherited the nations at Babel. But at Pentecost He in essence used the mechanism and the Holy Spirit came in tongues (not balls) of fire, and he sent His proclamation down those previously disinherited channels. Its actually all part of the Great Commission. The Gift of Tongues will cease when the job of the Gift of Tongues has ceased. At the completion of the Great Commission. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are all about fulfilling the Great Commission.

        Feel free to disagree vehemently, in fact I’d be very grateful – I’m very interested in any genuine non straw-man holes in my arguments.

        Once again, thanks for the clarification.

  3. says

    I think that what Mike says is almost completely true; however, I get the impression that he thinks that a divine council existed and continues to exist in reality whereas I think the writers have plugged into ancient thought and expressed themselves in those terms. We, of course, know nothing experientially regarding a divine council nor have we any means to do so. I understand it as a theological formulation.

  4. says

    The question Darrell Bock responded to was about The Unseen Realm in general, so unfortunately he wasn't working from specific examples within the text. However, these words and ideas should apply every time we read something we haven't heard or that we disagree with. What you read should supply the context for this reading strategy.

  5. says

    Bock's questions are more appropriate when applied to old scholarship (with slight modification):
    1. How careful is the writer in handling Scripture and addressing interpretive options?
    2. Am I comfortable simply because this is saying something I have heard?
    3. Is that comfort justified given the biblical evidence the writer presents?
    4. On this particular topic, is it possible that I’ve been exchanging part of the worldview Scripture presents for a more material, Western-modernist way of thinking?
    5. Is there anything really problematic in the big scale of doctrinal truth that is at risk here?

  6. Gary says

    Great interview Dr. Bock. I took your Luke and Acts classes, and I highly respect your scholarship. One question on Luke 17:26 that is relevant to your Heiser interview: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.” Wouldn’t there be a whole context and backdrop behind this verse, i.e., Genesis 6 and the Sons of God? This would fit in with Heiser’s argument nicely. Thanks for your comments….

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