Who Are The Gods (Elohim) of Psalm 82?

Who Are The Gods (Elohim) of Psalm 82?

How To Find Answers To Hard Questions

  • What I want to do in this episode is two things at once. Someone asked in the FB group about John 10, where Jesus is disputing with the Jews about whether or not he is God, and he says to them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said you are gods…’” what does He mean by this? Is Jesus saying human beings are actually gods? What is going on here?
  • And this is a passage that I myself have lots of questions about, and so I thought what I would do is walk you through my own thought process of how I try to find answers to hard questions in Scripture. And we’ll see if we can make some headway towards understanding this passage.
  • Now there’s a great verse at the end 2 Peter 3 that I want to read to you as an encouragement in your lifelong study of Scripture. This is what the Apostle Peter says about the Apostle Paul in 2 Peter 3:14-16
    • 14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
      • This verse describes two kinds of people who read the Bible. There are some who read and come across things that are hard to understand, but they don’t let that stop them from “staying diligent to be found by God in peace, without spot or blameless.” In other words, even if they can’t understand, they obey what they do understand (love God, love neighbor, be holy, etc.). So don’t let hard questions in the Bible become a stumbling block to your walk with Jesus. Just keep following the light that you do understand.
      • There is this other category of people that Peter calls out who are “untaught and unstable.” So there are people who read the Bible, they might be doing #SamePageSummer, reading the same thing, but because they are not in church, being taught good doctrine, and they are living an unstable life of disobedience and compromise, they end up twisting God’s Word to their own destruction. They find a hard passage, and turn it into a noose to hang themselves from.
        • You see this with a lot of skeptics, or #exvangelicals. They don’t understand why God commanded Israel to destroy the Amalakites, or why God forbids homosexuality, or how God’s sovereignty and free will work together. They don’t understand, and so instead of submitting to God, they rebel. They let questions feed their unbelief, and before you know it, they destroy themselves upon the very Rock that is meant to save them.
        • So I say this all as a reminder that Scripture is dangerous, it’s a two edged sword, it’s a loaded gun, and you need to be careful how you use it. If you twist Scripture, God will twist you. Be warned, and become the first kind of reader, obey what you know, and humbly seek answers to what you don’t know. And that’s a lifelong journey for all of us, pastors and teachers included.

The Context of John 10

  • Okay, so what about John, how do I go about trying to answer this question? Well first, we should read the text, and pay attention to the context.
  • So we get the context in John 10:22, it’s the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. He has just given his speech about the difference between false shepherds/hirelings, and the good shepherd, the true shepherd who loves the sheep. And this is all in the aftermath of opening the eyes of the blind man back in chapter 9. Now starting in John 10:30 I will read…

30 I and My Father are one.”

31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”

33 The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods” ’? 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” 39 Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.

  • So the question we are trying to answer is, what does Jesus mean by this phrase “I said, you are gods.” How does this fit into the logic of his argument with the Jews.

Two Sides Of This Argument

  • Well let’s lay out the two sides of this argument.
    • Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”
    • The Jews rightly understand this is as Jesus claiming to be God. But because he is a man, and as far they know, God is not a man, Jesus is committing blasphemy. And this would actually be a true accusation if it was any other man claiming this. If any man shows up and claims to be one with God, you’d probably think he was crazy. And Jesus is actually somewhat sympathetic to this, because he says at the end (vs. 37-38), “If you do not believe me, at least believe the works, and acknowledge that God is in me and I in him.”
    • So how does verse 34, “I said ye are gods” support Jesus argument that he is actually not committing blasphemy?
    • This is where it gets complicated, because that phrase, “I said ye are gods” is a quote from Psalm 82:6, so we need to go back to Psalm 82 and understand that passage before we can understand what Jesus is doing with it here.
    • Psalm 82:1-8 is not long, I would suggest reading the whole thing.

Angels Or Humans?

  • Now the crucial question to unlocking what Jesus is doing in John 10, is to figure out who these gods are in Psalm 82? And unfortunately, there are multiple possible answers to that question. So let’s survey what are options are:
    • Option 1 is that the gods are angelic powers.
    • Option 2 is that the gods refer to human rulers, judges, kings, elders, magistrates, people with power.
    • This is because…
      • The Hebrew word for gods is Elohim. And in the Hebrew bible, Elohim can refer to God, the one true God as in Genesis 1, Bereshit Bara Elohim (in the beginning God created)…
      • Elohim can also refers to other gods, idols, fallen angels, unfallen angels, these are heavenly powers. For example Psalm 8:6, says God has made man a little lower than the angels (Elohim).
      • Elohim can also refer to human judges or rulers as in Exodus 22:8-9, the law for stealing or trespassing: “the cause of both parties shall come before the judges (elohim); and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.”
      • So just by looking at these instances we can get that semantic range of usage. We know that in this case Elohim does not refer to God himself because God is the one addressing someone who did something wrong, so we then have Option 1 – angelic powers, or Option 2 – human magistrates.
      • Which is it? Well what else do we know about these Elohim in Psalm 82? They have judged unjustly and shown partiality to the wicked (vs. 2), they have not defended the poor or fatherless, afflicted or needy, they do not know or understand, they walk in darkness, and although there sons of the most high (uveney eleyon), they are going to die like men and fall like one of the princes (hasarim). And that word Hasarim seems to always refer to human officials, captains, rulers of some kind.
      • So with that added info, it seems to me that these Elohim in Psalm 82 are human rulers, just as is described in Exodus 22, that are called gods, and are meant to judge righteously on earth, as the one true God does in heaven. So they are God’s representatives (remember Romans 13), God’s deacon, servant, carrying out God’s wrath on evil, and rewarding good. So there are “gods” in the Bible that are human beings, and it refers to these civil magistrates.
    • Now back to our passage in John, there is another hint that I think points us in this direction of taking gods to refer to human judges, and that is where Jesus asks, “If He called them gods to whom to the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)…” Well to whom did the word of God come? It came to Israel at Sinai, that’s where the human Elohim, the humans gods were given the task of executing God’s judgment.

Restating The Argument

  • So let’s restate the argument here, by filling it in with our interpretive homework.
    • Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”
    • The Jews say, “You are calling yourself God that’s blasphemy, we stone you!”
    • Jesus claps back, “Is it not written in your law (Psalm 82:6), “I said ye are gods?” If he called them gods (the Jewish magistrates who were supposed to do justice), and Scripture cannot be broken, do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming, because I Said, I am the Son of God.?’”
    • Jesus is making a how much more argument, and remember who he is talking to: the Jewish leaders/judges, people who want to execute him by stoning for breaking the law. It’s almost as if he is saying, “Scripture calls you Jewish judges gods, and by the way, you are currently judging unjustly and will die like men…Is Scripture blaspheming by calling you gods in Psalm 82? If it’s not blasphemy to call you gods, how can it be blasphemy if I, the one whom the Father set apart and sent down from Heaven, call myself Son of God?”
    • In a real sense, the ministry of Jesus is a fulfillment of Psalm 82. God is literally standing amongst the gods (these jewish rulers), who have just excommunicated a blind man that was healed, and now they are trying to stone the man who healed him. Rather than punishing evil and rewarding good as true Elohim are supposed to, they are punishing good and themselves doing evil. This is why Jesus said back in John 9:39, it is for judgment that I have come, that those who do not see may see, and that those who may see may be blind.”
    • Remember how the Elohim in Psalm 82 are described, “they walk about in darkness.”

Summary & Conclusion

  • Summary: Yes, human beings can become gods in the sense that they can be ordained as civil magistrates, rulers, judges, etc. But if you take that title, you better do the heavenly justice prescribed by God in his law. More importantly, all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus, He is God, He is judge, and His kingdom has come, it is growing, and all the nations are His inheritance.
  • Before I sat down to write this episode, I actually thought Psalm 82 referred to angelic powers, I’ve read and heard arguments both ways (I’ve read Michael Heiser’s view on this), but as I looked more closely at the context of Psalm 82, and the context of John 8-10, the human magistrates views seemed to make way more sense. So I showed you my work in this episode in hopes that if there is an error in my thinking, you can find where that is. There are some things hard to understand, and we don’t want to be untaught or unstable and twist them to our own destruction, so whatever you do, seek out solutions in faith, God will reward a teachable and humble spirit.