God Wasn’t Alone before He Created the World (Says the Bible)

As finite beings in a finite universe, it’s almost impossible for us to imagine what God was doing before time and matter as we know it was created. Was God alone? Was he adrift in a vast nothingness? Does the Bible give us any indication what life was like before the universe existed?

These are some of the questions that Dr. Michael S. Heiser (Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) answers in his provocative and enlightening book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.

The following post is adapted from The Unseen Realm.

Who are the sons of God?

Children often ask, “What was there before God made the world?” The answer most adults would give is that God was there. That’s true, but incomplete. God had company, and I’m not talking about the other members of the Trinity.

The biblical answer is that the heavenly host was with God before creation. In fact, they witnessed it. What God says to Job in Job 38:4–7 is clear on that point:

“Where were you at my laying the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you possess understanding.
Who determined its measurement? Yes, you do know.
Or who stretched the measuring line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars were singing together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

When God laid the foundations of the earth, the “sons of God” were there, shouting for joy. But who are the sons of God? Obviously, they aren’t humans. This is before the creation of the world. We might think of them as angels, but that wouldn’t be quite correct.

The holy host: God’s morning stars

The unseen world has a hierarchy, something reflected in such terms as archangel versus angel. That hierarchy is sometimes difficult for us to discern in the Old Testament, since we aren’t accustomed to viewing the unseen world like a dynastic household (more on that following), as an Israelite would have processed certain terms used to describe the hierarchy. In the ancient Semitic world, sons of God (Hebrew: beney elohim) is a phrase used to identify divine beings with higher-level responsibilities or jurisdictions. The term angel (Hebrew: malʾak) describes an important but still lesser task: delivering messages.

In Job 38, the sons of God are referred to as “morning stars.” That same description is found outside the Bible in ancient texts from the biblical world. Ancient people thought the stars were living entities. Their reasoning was simple: Many stars moved. That was a sign of life to the ancient mind. Stars were the shining glory of living beings.

The stars also inhabited the divine realm—literally, in the sense that they existed off the earth. The ancients believed that divine beings lived far away from humans, in remote places where human habitation wasn’t possible.

The most remote place of all was the sky, the heavens.

Morning stars are the stars one sees over the horizon just before the sun appears in the morning. They signal new life—a new day. The label works. It conveys the right thought. The original morning stars, the sons of God, saw the beginning of life as we know it—the creation of earth.

God’s divine family

Right from the start, then, God has company—other divine beings, the sons of God. Most discussions of what’s around before creation omit the members of the heavenly host. That’s unfortunate, because God and the sons of God, the divine family, are the first pieces of the mosaic.

We’ve barely made it to creation so far, and already we’ve uncovered some important truths from Scripture that have the potential to affect our theology in simple but profound ways. Their importance, if it isn’t clear yet, becomes quickly apparent:

  1. The sons of God are divine, not human. The sons of God witnessed creation long before there were people. They are intelligent nonhuman beings. The reference to the sons of God as stars also makes it clear that they are divine. While the language is metaphorical, it is also more than metaphorical.
  2. The label “sons” is a familial term—and that’s neither coincidental nor inconsequential. God has an unseen family—in fact, it’s his original family. The logic is the same as that behind Paul’s words in Acts at Mars Hill (the Areopagus) that all humans are indeed God’s offspring (Acts 17:28). God has created a host of nonhuman divine beings whose domain is (to human eyes) an unseen realm. And because he created them, he claims them as his sons, in the same way you claim your children as your sons and daughters because you played a part in their creation.

While it’s clear that the sons of God were with God before creation, there’s a lot about them that isn’t clear. Who are they? What did they do? They’re divine, but what does that really mean? How should we think of them in relation to God?

If you’re interested in a closer look, check out the post Who are the Elohim? or pick up your own copy of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.

Other posts in this series

  1. The Elohim: What (or Who) Are They?
  2. 14 Sobering Facts about Satan, the Devil
  3. Who (or What) Were the Nephilim?
  4. What Really Happened at the Tower of Babel?

You can browse all of Mike’s books, movies, courses, and podcasts in one place here.

Comments

  1. Joseph Luna says:

    Before God created there was eternity therefore if God wasn’t alone (with the exception of the Father and the Spirit), we would have to assume that these beings that Mr. Heiser is talking about, always existed, thus they must share full deity with the Holy Trinity.

    For Job 38 to make sense, we would have to assume that God first created time before He created the sons of God, otherwise we are moving away from the oneness of God revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in order to include a whole bunch of beings that cannot share the divine attributes of our eternal God.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • romeocarlos says:

      Yes. You are wrong. Not sure how you determine that the hosts of heaven share full deity with the Creator G-d just because they have been around for a long time. They are created therefore unable – by logic – to be of the same level, status, or deity of the Creator G-d.
      Furthermore, your assumption that time had to be created “before” the benei elohim were created is a mere assumption not founded on anything proposed, or indicated in scripture. Stop straining and adding things to the story that are not there.
      TO disagee with the premise stated by Heiser is not to disagre with him, but deny the Word, as it is written which is clear.
      Yes – there are/were beings with charge over this planet and human affairs. The were called princes of the nations. They were admonished for failing and for instead wanting, what you propose in your logic, to be treated like and equal to the Creator G-d.
      They were appointed over the nations. Israel was reserved – or “chosen” – for the Cretor G-d after Babel. They have power. Rule in accordance with a council structure – as indicated in the bIble – and will die like men. Uh NO….not like G-d after all, guy!

      • Joseph Luna says:

        I do not deny the word of God because there is no proof in the scriptures that there were “beings’ before time existed. If you could point out a scripture that validates your assumption, then I will listen, otherwise, I have to disagree with you wholeheartedly.

        My other point is that my assessment is legitimate and must be taken into serious consideration before being accused f being in the wrong regardless of who is teaching this doctrine.

        Third, your response did not include scriptures, but it did reveal that perhaps you belong to or are part of the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) or belong to the 7th Day Adventist denomination.

        I reject therefore all that you said above because it lacks biblical substance and was unclear at best.

      • romeocarlos, Joseph is not making an assumption with regard to time existing before the creation of the world, it is a principle of time. If the “sons of God” are created it means they are not eternal, meaning they only exist in a specific realm of time, thus by definition time has to exist at this point (before creation of the world). This is precisely the problem people are having because the Bible clearly states that before creation there was nothing but God (thus then the logic that anything existing before the creation shares full divinity).

    • I agree with you, Joseph. Heiser bases his view of when the angels (sons of God) were created on just one verse (Job 38:7), and that verse reads differently in the Septuagint. In the LXX it says: “And who is the one laying an angular foundation stone upon [the earth]? When the stars came to pass, all my angels praised me with a great voice.” But the stars came into existence on the fourth day of creation week, which means the angels might have been created on days 1, 2, or 3, or early on day 4. The idea of the angels already existing before there is any space or time or matter would mean that they are just as eternal in the backward direction as God Most High, an idea which is heresy.

      • Joseph Luna says:

        Thank you for your input. I appreciate the additional biblical insight that you provided in your post.

        Most helpful,

        Joseph

    • You are most definitely wrong.

    • Joseph, I disagree. While I’m interested to hear if Dr. Heiser could answer your question, I would remind you that all we can comprehend of reality is that in which we have been created. It is impossible for us to understand existence outside of the dimensions in which we live (length, breadth, width, height), time being one of the four. That means we cannot comprehend how anything exists outside of our reality.

      We simply cannot know the attributes of existence in the unseen realm, which means your usage of terms like eternity (denotes infinite time) and your ideas that anything outside of our reality (cf, “always existed,” “created the sons of God,” “divine attributes”) can be understood by us or even put into words, disconnects from the concept of the sheer difference between material reality and spiritual reality.

      It’s sort of like trying to explain exactly how the Holy Spirit comes to indwells a believer, or like Calvin trying to explain to Hobbes that there’s a whole other three dimensional world out there, or like trying to explain exactly what holds atoms together, or how we can have memories. I’m still waiting on someone to help me understand Ezekiel’s wheels.

      Things of the spiritual realm are sometimes (or almost always) beyond our ability to fully grasp.

    • Time can only be measured when two things are in relation to one another.
      Therefore I think it is safe to assume that time is a byproduct of God’s action – since God is inherently relational. This would mean, of course, that – until the creation of other beings – time only moves when God moves. After creating other beings, time takes on a life of its own as God’s and other’s decisions unfold.
      – Just my thoughts.

    • Johan villamil says:

      Hi brother Joseph, my question would be. Why do we have to suppose that God FIRST have to create “time” as we know it, in order to create the “son’s of God” or the “unseen realm”? I think that it is almost a believed idea, that the heavenly realm doesn’t operate in time in the same manner as we in this realm operate.

      And if it is so, then it is not necessary that the unseen realm that God created before creating this one, must share full deity with the triune God, otherwise we should have to say, that the believer who are right now in the presence of God, in the unseen realm, they share full deity with the triune God.

  2. Trent Cornwell says:

    Yes, what Joseph said.

  3. Paul Singh says:

    “If God wasn’t alone (with the exception of the Father and the Spirit), we would have to assume that these beings that Mr. Heiser is talking about, always existed, thus they must share full deity with the Holy Trinity.”

    This is exactly the problem I’m having right now.

  4. I think one of the mistakes we make about God is that we think eternity is where God exists (when we consider the existence of God unto himself alone.) God dwells in eternity, but he exists only unto himself, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) outside of eternity as one spirit.

    Think of eternity as a dimension created by God and wherein the created spiritual beings exist. God created eternity, then he created spiritual beings in that construct we call eternity. Because he created them, they are called the sons of God. In the same way, he created the universe (dimension) where we live and added the construct we know as time. He created man on the Earth and because of that we are called the sons of God and when God created the Earth the sons of God (eternity) rejoiced.

  5. When in Genesis 1 it says that the earth was without form and void (KJV) or formless and empty (NIV) is it not just another way of saying that reality or existence before the creation of our world was non-material (without form and void)? IE. there exists a spiritual world or reality that exists independently of our physical world/reality? This would be consistent with the Job 38 reference and the Jude 1:6 reference to angels who left their proper dwelling (NIV) or their own habitation (KJV) in order to enter into our physical realm.

    It does frustrate me somewhat when we in the Western world assume that there could not have existed a spiritual realm or reality before the Genesis 1 account when the Bible clearly states otherwise (I was guilty of this for many years but now have a much more richer understanding of the Bible when read from a perspective closer to the original cultures in which the books of the Bible were written). I believe it is the influence of the enlightenment era which shunned the supernatural and spiritual and and unwittingly restricted scientific thought and enquiry (and unfortunately biblical scholarship) to just the physical realm.

    You go to any country that has not been affected by the enlightenment period and most people will accept by default that there existed a reality before the formation of the physical world. This has implications when we share the gospel with people of other cultures. With a more supernatural/spiritual perspective of the gospel narrative we are able to avoid sharing a rather ‘secularised’ watered-down version of the gospel and present the gospel in way that speaks into their worldview, thereby transforming it to conform to the true biblical worldview and message of salvation in a powerful way.

    So I urge you to not restrict your reading of the Word to a limited worldview, which I believe is the purpose of the book. It would be interesting to see if the book remains in the Bible or refers to extra-biblical sources as well.

  6. Keith Moncrief says:

    Amen Richard and Brandon! God is not (and cannot be) contained or confined by anything, including eternity. We get confused in our perceptions and thinking. Eternity (which is outside any frame of reference we have, and so, is beyoud our ability to really comprehend) is defined by God and who He is, His attributes, not the other way around, God existing in some “place” in which He can fit and defined by.

    There seems to me to be a lot of weight being put on a very few, and not necessaraly clear, passages. And a lot of “reading the white space” and speculation. Not a good foundation for sound doctrine.

    God the Trinity is:

    the only uncreated, uncaused cause, the only self existant One: “I Am” or “I Am that [or Who] I Am” (Ex. 3:14, Jn. 8:58) Only God can describe Himself this way! He is the only thing not dependent upon something else for existence.

    He is the only– “Him [or God] who lives forever and ever” (this is a title used of God in a distinctive way that it is not used of any other being.) (Rev. 4:9-10, 10:6, Da. 4:34, 12:7, Is. 57:15, etc.)

    He is the only Alpha and Omega, the only First and Last, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13)

    He is the only– “one who was and who is and who is to come.” (Rev. 1:4; 4:8)

    The following references make it clear that nothing exists (physically or spiritually – apart from the Trinity) that was not created by Him. (v. 16 of Col. is referring to spiritual hierarchies) The point is, if anything existed in a place outside our experience prior to the creation account of Genesis, it was and is certianly NOT divine as it is a created thing, created for Him and by Him and subject to Him and not eternal in the same sense that He is. Real eternity or eternality is an attribute of God alone, and nothing else, and to the extent that we or any other part of anything that is not God experience it, it is imparted by Him.

    …God who created all things; (Eph. 3:9)
    …God…for You created All things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created. (Rev. 4:11 NKJV)

    For by Him ALL THINGS were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—ALL THINGS have been created through Him and for Him.
    He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16–17. NASB)

    Making assumptions (and then relying on them as though they’re truth) is really bad practice… Study how the rest of scripture weighs in on the matter….

    People (human beings) are also referred to as “sons of God” in scripture…. but we are not divine. To be referred to as “sons of God” or to simply exist in eternity past, prior to the Genesis account (even with some rank or power or access) does not automatically equate to divinity. Kind of a REALLY BIG leap being made….

    There is only one God…only One who is Divine…

    • Keith Moncrief says:

      Also, Dr. Heisner equates the Morning Stars with the Sons of God in Job 38:7. In an English translation, it seems apparent to me from a plain reading of the verse that these are two separate groups of beings responding in slightly different ways to the same event….haven’t had time to dig into it, but on the surface that is the impression I get….I’m not seeing any compelling reason to equate them…doing that actually seems to be forcing the meaning into the text….

  7. That seems like a whole lot of theological implications from just one verse that is translated differently in the septuagent (from which the apostles quoted the ot). We now know that Job was writen late, not early. The references we have about sons of God in the Torah point to humans being included (except for 6:1 genesis which is obscure.)

  8. Why is Dr. Heiser the only one using scripture to make his point?? Everyone else is using their own ideas, conceptions, and assumptions. Refute Dr. Heiser biblically, or remain silent.

    • 1. Dr. Heiser conveniently ignore Exodus 20:11 where God says that He made everything in six days. Even if we regard those “days” as periods of undetermined lengths of time, if angels/sons of God were created and not begotten (God the Son is the ONLY begotten Son of God), then they were created no earlier than day one of creation “week”. First God spoke those words out loud from Mt. Sinai in the hearing of the entire assembly of Israelites, then He wrote those words down on tablets of stone with His Own finger, then, after Moses broke that first set of tablets, God wrote those same words down again on a second set of tablets, then God commanded Moses to keep those words safe inside the Ark of the Covenant. Sounds like pretty important words that we shouldn’t ignore but that Heiser totally ignores.

      2. Heiser bases his view of when the angels (sons of God) were created on just one verse (Job 38:7), and that verse reads very differently in the Greek Septuagint. In the LXX it says: “And who is the one laying an angular foundation stone upon [the earth]? When the stars came to pass, all my angels praised me with a great voice.” The stars didn’t come into existence until the fourth day of creation week, which means the angels/sons of God might have been created on days 1, 2, or 3, or early on day 4, with no biblical reason whatsoever to suppose they were made BEFORE day one.

      3. The idea of the angels already existing before there is any space or time or matter would mean that they are just as eternal in the backward direction as God Most High, an idea which is heresy. Time and space (or space-time, the time-space continuum) are created “things”. If you put the other sons of God before the creation of time, then they always existed in eternity alongside of God’s only begotten Son.

      4. Even in the Hebrew, Job 38:7 does not actually say the sons of God existed before the creation. It says they were there and rejoiced when God laid the cornerstone of the earth. But there are different kinds of cornerstones. One kind is something placed ON TOP of the base level foundation, so having angels exist before the cornerstone does not necessarily put them before the foundation. Another kind of cornerstone is something placed almost last, when the construction of a building is almost complete, before any furniture is put inside. It is a ceremonial stone, indicating that the building is now ready for use, and as such there would be a celebration when that stone was set in place. Heiser never even considers that possibility when he dogmatically declares “The sons of God witnessed creation long before there were people” (page 25 of The Unseen Realm).

      There is much that Heiser teaches that I wholeheartedly agree with. But claiming that angels (or angel-like beings) already existed before God created heaven (the place where some would live after they were created) is not one of them.

  9. Here’s one…
    God always was…
    Grasp that one and the rest will come with simplicity…

  10. Read Exdodus 20:11 again. It does not say ‘everything’ but ‘heaven and earth’ as well as ‘sea’. Please do not read the words of Scripture out of its context. The word heaven in the hebrew is shâmayim which in this context means the sky or the visible heavens above the earth.This can be understood from the triplet written as heaven (sky where are the birds), earth (land where all land animals dwell) and sea (ocean where all sea creatures dwell) and confirmed by the phrase ‘and all that is in them’ in other words the physical universe.

    If ‘heaven’ in this context were to mean ‘the place where the angels dwell’ makes no sense as it would read heaven (angelic abode), earth (the abode of man presumably) and then sea (the abode of sea creatures?) Which is not a cohesive triplet.

    Also remember the rule that scripture should interpret scripture and if you look at the same triplet mentioned in verse four you see again that the commandment is a forbidding of making images to worship of seen things in the sky, land or sea as was the habit of the Egyptians (this is confirmed today through archaeological evidence which inevitably always confirms scripture).

    The problem here is that we in the West are so confident in our viewpoint we have a hard time seeing in ways other than simple dichotomies eg. ‘God and everything else’ or ‘before creation act of Genesis 1 there was nothing and after creation act there was eveything without room for existence of anything before this creation act’ and fail to see the nuances in reality. I did this for a long time but found my reading of the bible with an understanding of hebrew culture and language has been greatly enriched and my faith in our amazing all powerful and wise God more deeper.

    Look up Paul Heibert’s flaw of the excluded middle and try to understand what he is saying without the limiting view of Western scientific rationalism dictating how you read it. It took me a while to do this but I am saying this out of genuine love that if you can do this then you will be able to minister and share the gospel more effectively with the multitudes of people from other cultures (Hindu, Buddhist, Shaman, Animist etc) that God is sending to our countries.

    • Tom Ragsdale says:

      Sorry James but Exodus 20:11 does indeed say Yahweh made the heavens (shamayim is plural, not just one heaven) and the earth (‘erets is singular) and the sea (yam, singular, not yamim, plural) and “all that is in THEM”, that is, all that is in all the heavens and all that is in the earth and all that is in the sea. In other words, “everything”. It doesn’t just mean “the place where the angels dwell”, and it doesn’t just mean the sky. It means both of those and everything in-between. It means all of the heavens, even the heaven of heavens.

      Look at how Nehemiah understood the text. “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.” (Neh 9:6) It is obvious that Nehemiah is referring to Exodus 20:11. If you agree that we are to allow scripture to interpret scripture, then you have to allow Neh 9:6 to influence your understanding of Ex 20:11.

      You are right about Exodus 20:4. The warning is about making graven images of things that pagans worship instead of God Most High. But that includes the angels (gods) that live in the heavens. It would be a serious mistake to assume that God only wants His people to avoid worshipping animals and birds and sea creatures and the physical sun, moon and stars, and images formed to look like them. He also forbids us to worship the other subservient (created) gods, the bene elohim, and angels, fallen or otherwise, many of which live in the spiritual heavens, and the idols that represent them. You seem to think I think shamayim only refers to the place where angels live and where God’s throne room is, but obviously it means all of the heavens, the sky AND interstellar space AND the realm of the unfallen angels, the heaven of heavens.

  11. Greetings Dr. Heiser,

    I notice you seem to focus on the Unseen Realm in most of your posts. I wanted to point out that Supernatural was also a book I have found to be a gem. I was brought up in an church who taught many of your views, but lacked resources to be able to hash out the detail. So, thank you. That said, this is the first post you made where I was stopped cold at the first line, so I apologize if you later explain this.

    Did you intentionally mean to frame your opening with the following?

    “As finite beings in a finite universe, it’s almost impossible for us to imagine what God was doing before time and matter as we know it was created.”

    There are a multitude of reasons I’m questioning this, but the primary issue is your use of temporal language.

    Keith and Tom IMHO did an excellent job, but I’d like to take a different tact.

    “what God was doing before time,”

    Whatever one may chose to call it, the creation event, the Big Bang, whatever, science has proven (yes I MEAN proven) the universe had a finite beginning in time and in the event someone wishes to jump in and invoke the atheist god (M-Theory or the Multiverse), it would not matter, imaginary inflationary universes (or Boltzmann Brains) would also require a finite beginning and there is no such thing as infinity. Eternity, well, that’s something different.

    To posit “doing” anything in a state of NULL time is making a temporal statement.

    “Was God alone? Was he adrift in a vast nothingness?”

    As I mentioned above, the universe had a finite beginning in time. The term ‘nothingness’ has been corrupted these days, and has been called everything from a quantum vacuum (which if it existed, was teaming with energy), to gravity.

    In a timeless state, math is the best language to employ, since all language are temporal.

    Thus, to even communicate ‘nothing existed,’ borders on the unlearned atheist who presents us with the rock too heavy, the married bachelor, or the illusion of a problem of pain (there is no problem unless one resorts to a theodicy), In other words, incoherence.

    I do not mean to digress, however, in his 2010 book the God Delusion, Clinton Dawkins claimed his primary and unbeatable argument was:

    “If God created everything, then who created God?” Barring Dawkin’s ignoring even the simplest concept of infinite regress, let along the science, my concern with your opening is that in a state of NULL time there are only two possibilities which may be of NULL time. (Yes, I again leave out the word exist for it is temporal).

    1. An un-embodied mind, or 2. abstract objects.

    Abstract objects are a completely different discussion, I am not claiming they exist, in fact, IMHO, they do not. Numbers, premises, etc. would never have crossed from a space-time to a NULL time dimension, thus they came from God. This leaves us with only one choice.

    A powerful un-embodied mind (God is Spirit Jn 4.24a) This would conform to Occam’s Razor, since a mind is rather simple, but the thoughts are not. It also does not violate the law of infinite regress for obvious reasons.

    I hope to get some comments, for anyone.

    I am grateful for Dr. Heiser’s books and his contributions to the DSS Database and other excellent works. I’d also like to know where I missed this concept and the full context.

    Dean

  12. Jason,

    You do make a good point when you ask:

    “Why is Dr. Heiser the only one using scripture to make his point?? Everyone else is using their own ideas, conceptions, and assumptions. Refute Dr. Heiser biblically, or remain silent.”

    Based on your comment above one can conclude you are a Calvinist who also allows only for Presuppositional Apologetics.

    What can I say brother?

    I’m also Reformed but also a Premillennial Dispensationlist, and a 17 year Classical and Evidentary Apologist. So is .R. C. Sproul Sr. BTW. A Classical and Evidentary Apologist that is.

    Sometimes we can take the truths the bible teaches us and use language not in scripture to describe those truths. For example, pick a bible version and look up Ps. 3.8. Here are a few renderings:

    From the Lord comes deliverance.
    Salvation belongeth unto Jehovah
    Rescue comes from the Lord
    Salvation belongs to the Lord

    Or, my rendering:

    Salvation is of the LORD.

    God Bless,

    Dean

  13. Joseph Luna says:

    Hi Tom Ragsdale:

    I could not have said it better. Thank you for your wonderful insight. It has helped me out to understand better what I said in the beginning.

    Your biblical understanding is appreciated,

    Joseph

    • Tom Ragsdale says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Joseph. I created several FB pages and groups where I voice my objections to some of Heiser’s teachings. I invite criticism and rebuttals in all my groups, never banning or blocking anyone unless they repeatedly and deliberately violate the Golden Rule. I wish Heiser did the same.