Douglas Van Dorn. The Unseen Realm: Q&A Companion. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Douglas Van Dorn pastors the Reformed Baptist Church in Colorado. The Unseen Realm: Q&A Companion is based on biblical scholar Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm.
Van Dorn states the purpose of his book on page vii, in the “Preface”:
“The target audience for Dr. Michael Heiser’s recent book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible
was primarily the academic reader—-pastors and professionals in other
fields accustomed to digesting closely researched material. While The Unseen Realm is nevertheless quite readable, this primer meets the need for a more accessible abridgement of The Unseen Realm‘s core content.”
Although this book is a concise rendition of Heiser’s arguments, Van
Dorn sometimes expresses disagreement with Heiser and explains his
reasons for disagreement.
Van Dorn’s book is organized in a question-and-answer format. There
is a question, the question is followed by a concise answer, and the
answer is followed by supporting Scriptural references. There are
little letters within the answer (a, b, c), marking thoughts, and those
letters are matched with Scriptural references that support those
thoughts. This book is like a catechism. There are also footnotes that
contain references to secondary literature as well as more extensive
The book covers a lot of the same subject-material as Heiser’s The Unseen Realm.
Such topics include the existence of a divine council with gods; the
identity of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve; the union of divine
beings with daughters of men, producing Nephilim; the rule of gods over
nations, and the activity of Christ in overturning that; and Jesus’
presence in the Old Testament as the visible, second YHWH.
The book has assets. First, the book lays out many of the Scriptural
references that are directly relevant to Heiser’s thesis. There are
passages that get quoted repeatedly, such as the relevant excerpts from
Psalm 82, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, etc. This could get tiresome, yet it
was probably unavoidable, since these are key passages in Heiser’s
arguments. Overall, the Scriptural layout was quite effective, in terms
of supporting a point in the answer. On pages 64-65, for example,
Heiser states that nachash (the Hebrew word translated as “serpent” in
Genesis 3) relates to divination or shining, and he refers to Scriptural
references to support this, providing Hebrew transliteration in
Second, Van Dorn sought to delineate clearly among the different spirit-beings. Heiser did not do this as clearly in The Unseen Realm,
in my opinion. On page 97, Van Dorn presents a question that I had in
reading Heiser’s book: “Does the Hebrew word translated ‘demon’ in the
Old Testament describe the same evil spirits the New Testament describes
as ‘demons’?” Van Dorn answers that question in the negative.
Third, Van Dorn effectively explained how the spirit beings in
Genesis 6 cohabited with the daughters of men, when Jesus seems to imply
in Matthew 22:30 that angels cannot have sex. Van Dorn’s answer is
that the angels assumed human form, which happens in the Hebrew Bible.
Fourth, Van Dorn occasionally referred to an interesting scholarly
insight. On page 71, Van Dorn quotes Romans 5:12 to say that “death
spread to all men with the result that all have sinned.” This clause
has been significant in Christian debates. Some have interpreted the
passage to mean that all humanity sinned in Adam, deserving the guilt of
original sin. Some maintain that it means that people earn their own
death because of their own sins. Van Dorn interprets the passage to
mean, however, that death resulted in people’s sin. Van Dorn cites an
article about this translation: C.E.B. Cranfield, “On Some of the
Problems in the Interpretation of Rom 5:12-21,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969) 323-341.
While this book has its advantages, people who read this book instead
of Heiser’s work would be missing out. Although Van Dorn briefly
mentions Bashan, Van Dorn’s brief reference does not do justice to
Heiser’s compelling discussion. There is no discussion in Van Dorn’s
book about how Bashan’s possible status as a place of supernatural evil
relates to Matthew 16:18 or the cows of Bashan in Amos 4:1. Van Dorn’s
book is helpful because it clarifies many of Heiser’s main arguments,
but Heiser is the book to read if you want to eat the buffet rather than
A critique that can be made about Van Dorn’s book is that it is not
too clear about the current implications of Jesus’ defeat of
supernatural evil. On page 109, Van Dorn affirms that Jesus has
defeated supernatural evil and rules over it, but what are the
implications of that? What specifically and concretely is different
now, in comparison to the time before Jesus came?
Finally, there is a question that somewhat nags me, after reading
Heiser and Van Dorn. Hebrews 1:5 states (in the KJV): “For unto which
of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I
begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to
me a Son?” The author of Hebrews is probably encouraging the audience
to elevate Christ above the angels, and one of his arguments is that
Jesus is God’s Son. But if the angels, too, were sons of God, does that
not undermine Hebrews 1:5’s argument that Jesus is superior to the
angels because Jesus is God’s Son?
Heiser and Van Dorn both argue that the sonship of Jesus was
different from the sonship of the sons of God in the divine council, and
a key distinction is that Jesus was begotten by God. Hebrews 1:5 does
mention Jesus being begotten, but one can inquire if the begettal there
is the same as the Father’s eternal begettal of God the Son within the
Trinity, or Jesus being begotten in the sense of being unique. Hebrews
1:5 may refer to Jesus being begotten at the incarnation, or at his
baptism. Even if the sonship of Jesus is different from the sonship of
the divine sons, Hebrews 1:5 seems to be arguing that Jesus is God’s
son, whereas the angels are not.
Perhaps one can differentiate between angels and the sons of God
within the divine council, which would indicate that the angels are not
sons of God, and thus Hebrews 1:5 is consistent with the Hebrew Bible.
As Heiser and Van Dorn know, however, the sons of God came to
interpreted as angels, as the Greek term for angels became a more
generalized term for spirit beings, rather than simply a term for a
divine messenger. The LXX of Deuteronomy 32:8 and Job 1:6 translates
the sons of God as angels. Jude 6 interprets the sons of God in Genesis
6 as angels. Is Hebrews 1:5 an heir to a tradition that said that
angels, not sons of God, did the deeds of Genesis 6, Deuteronomy 32:8,
and Job 1:6? Heiser and Van Dorn strike me as people who believe that
the Bible is a univocal revelation from God (though Heiser seems to
acknowledge different stages of revelation), so I wonder how they would
reconcile Hebrews 1:5 with the Hebrew Bible’s claim that there are sons
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!
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