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“Ye are gods” – what does this mean?


I received from a good friend the following question:

I want to ask you about something, if you are healthy enough to answer. What does Psalm 82:6 mean? Of course, this is connected to John 10:34 as well. And on the same topic, who are the “sons of God” in Genesis and Job?

This topic may look like one topic, in a sense there is an element of being related, but in fact I would regard these as two separate issues. Let’s deal first with the issue of Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34.

Psalm 82 says the following:

82.1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty, he judgeth among the gods

At first glance, this looks not dissimilar to other passages, as you say in the start of Job is a good example, where God is talking among the angelic host. But see what he says in the next verse:

82.2  How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?

This puts an entirely different slant on it, as we see no cases of angels being given judgement of men. Instead, we are told that we shall judge angels (1 Cor 6.3). This certainly puts human judges on a higher line towards God almighty than the angels themselves, but surely that cannot mean any humans, this may be referring to the elect, or to people within the elect that had been given certain priviledges or responsibilities to represent God in the earth. Let’s see what further light we can find as we read on:

82.3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy

82.4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked

These directives are what God expects from earthly just rulers and judges. If the UK’s leaders and judges cared about that, they would allow Julian Assange to go to Ecuador today, now that he has been granted asylum, amongst a million million other less topical things that they ought to do, and have failed to do. Why do the earthly rulers fail to do justice?

82.5 They know not, neither will they understand, they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course

This earth, given for this time over to sin and the devil and his legions, is out of course at its very foundations. There is a lack of the knowledge of God and His righteousness even among those whom Providence has set in the most priviledged place – that of being a judge deciding the destiny of other men, able to stand for them in the place of the true Judge, whose appearing is not yet, and therefore representing to them, to a degree, the position of God.

82.6 I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.

82.7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

They have been granted priviledges above other men, these earthly magistrates and judges. But they are not really divine, they are mortals and will die just as other men, therefore they should not get carried away by their elite status, but be humble, and pursue righteousness in their work of judging.

Finally Asaph, who wrote this Psalm, addresses God and calls for His intervention. He is prophetically calling for the return of Christ in order to take back power from the failed and corrupted elite of this world.

82.8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

Now, of course, there are people who put all kinds of additional theology on to these verses. Mormons use this Psalm to hang their aberrant idea that humans eventually become Gods and that our God Jehovah was once a human being like we are. Roman Catholics tend to find in these verses support for the Pope having an office of vicar of Christ on earth. Certainly many if not most popes have been as corrupt as the evil judges described here so maybe they are not far wrong. Watchtower people, falsely known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, use these verses to make out that Jesus is saying, when he quotes them, that he is a god and not really God. Therefore these are verses that have been pressed into service to suit a lot of strange ideas.

A good line of looking at these verses is to consider this: before Jesus comes along and gives us extra light on these verses over a thousand years later, what did the Jews themsleves think of the verses and what did they consider the “gods” to refer to? Certainly Jews have never been in any doubt about there being one true God, but the Jewish scriptures talk about false gods, about certain beings in early history being called sons of God and of angels being referred to as sons of God.

As you might imagine, Midrashim have more than one interpretation of what the verses in Psalm 82 mean. Yes, there are those who think they refer to angels, although how angels can die as men or be judges of men is beyond me and I reject that interpretation as remote. Another interpretation, the most common, is that they refer to human judges, as I outline above. There are two other interpretations in Midrashim which are interesting and may well be valid in addition to the judges interpretation. One of these is the idea that it refers to Israel at Sinai, receiving the law, which is interesting, but if you slot that idea into the whole psalm as I did with the judges argument, you’ll see it becomes more problematic. The final interpretation is that it refers to Melchizedek, the founder of a priestly order mentioned in the Book of Hebrews and elsewhere. I can’t see Melchizedek being upbraided for corruption, though, as the “gods”in this Psalm are, so I don’t really give much credence to that interpretation either.

So I think that what we have is a two level way of looking at this, on one hand we have the earthly elite, the judges, the elite of Israel, and by extension the world, many of whose elite even today are Israeli or at least Jewish. On the other hand we have a possible further understanding of the verse as referring to Israel at Sinai, and this was one of the interpretations that had currency when Jesus Christ appears and speaks to the priests of Israel.

So with those considerations in mind, let us go to John 10. The context is that Jesus has just told the leader of the temple, standing in Solomon’s porch, that He and the Father are one. Their reaction to that is to start looking for stones to stone Him. Let’s take up the narrative there:

10.32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

10.33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

So at this point we have the Jews recognising Christ’s claim to Divinity, by saying that He and the Father are one, and what is Christ’s response to this? You may find it strange, as here Jesus has the ideal chance to say, “That’s right, I am God”. But this was not the time for that. Had the princes of the world known the true identity of Christ, they never would have riled up the hearts of their servants around Jesus to take Him to the cross, the demons and the devils running earth under satan would have done all they could to avoid that happening, as it was their ultimate downfall. Therefore Christ is never explicit about His Godhead prior to the Resurrection, which alone and in itself confirms it.

10.34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

10.35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

10.36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

So here Christ in His wisdom shows them how even  divine status had been accorded by Jews to messengers of God (“them, to whom the word of God came”) and this effectively sidesteps the issue, although the wise would already draw their conclusions about who Christ was from what had already been said. Here we have a possible fifth interpretation raised by some commentators, that the “gods”are those who actually wrote the Bible, people like Moses, etc. But Jesus doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say via whom tthe word came, but to whom it came. So again we have the people of Israel. This giving more credence of course to the Israel at Sinai argument.

In that case the “gods” effectively would be the leaders and judges of the nation of Israel, and by extension the nation, as our nations are symbolised by the Kings, Queens and other Heads of State which represent them. It doesn’t mean that they are immortal, it means that they have privileges to represent God to ordinary people – but privilege comes with responsibility.

But if they were not wrong to use the term “gods” to talk about their leaders, then how much more should the true anointed, sanctified and sent into this world by the Father, be able to be called the Son of God, He asks. Of course He is understating Himself here, not showing them that He indeed is the Alpha and the Omega, the very Creator of the World, able by speaking to destroy these people and vaporise them where they stood if He so chose, but He gave them the measure of understanding He wanted for them, namely to underline their hypocrisy.

This is therefore a separate line of thinking than in passages in Genesis and Job where apparently spiritual beings, not native to this part of Creation, are referred to as sons of God. The context is really the main tool we have in distinguishing it.

Hope that was helpful.

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