What did Jesus mean when he quoted Psalm 82 in John 10:35, calling people “gods.” Are we gods?
I’ve been listening the audios of the Evidence for Jesus classes. Thank you very much for them. But I have a doubt about the claims of Jesus in John 10. Verses 34 to 36 are rather confusing for me. It says: 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? I read Psalm 82 and I’m still confused. I understand it to mean that people who know the law or the truth (only Jews at that time, but perhaps it applies to us now) can be considered as gods, and Jesus is also a god, but a very special one–God’s Son. Jesus’ answer is not like : ‘yes, I AM GOD’ but more like: we all are gods…I’m a very special one. At least that’s what I understood. This is specially important for me because here on campus I have a Mormon friend who is inviting me to her church. She even gave me the Mormon book [the Book of Mormon, presumably]! I want to know how to answer their claim that we all can be gods…just in case…she has not used this scripture so far…not even any other, but when I read this I immediately thought of her. Thank you very much in advance!
I will have to say that Jesus’ use of Psalm 82 in John 10:35 is one of the more difficult passages to interpret in the New Testament. A good approach to difficult passages is to ask ourselves what they certainly do NOT mean. It is wise to rule out some interpretations before we consider possible interpretations. For example, there is the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15:29 about baptism for the dead. This, like John 10:34, is a difficult passage to interpret. However, we can begin by asking what Paul certainly is NOT teaching. He is not teaching that one person can be baptized for a different person and gain forgiveness of sins for that person. This interpretation would fly in the face of so many passages it probably is not even needful to quote them. Let me list a couple just so I can say that I did. Ezekiel 18:5-9, Luke 13:3, Hebrews 9:27 will suffice by way of introduction. So, whatever 1 Corinthians 15:29 does mean, it certainly does not mean what Joseph Smith said that it means when he created his false doctrine about baptism for the dead. Perhaps Paul is being sarcastic. Perhaps there was an actual heretical group teaching this. Either way, we can be sure what it does not mean. We cannot impart salvation to people who have already died in their sins by being baptized for them!
Let us apply analogous thinking to John 10:34-36. A simple reading of this passage, without taking into account the context, and without bearing in mind the rest of the Bible might be that Jesus is calling human beings “gods’ in the sense that we have the properties of deity. However, taking the passage in the context of the Bible as a whole, we can absolutely rule out this interpretation. If there is any teaching which is clear and which is found everywhere in the Bible it is that there is only one God and that all other so-called gods are not deity. Let me give you a few passages to support this biblical teaching
1. “There is no one like Yahweh our God.” Exodus 8:1
2. “Yahweh, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” Deuteronomy 4:35
3.”Yahweh, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:39
4. “See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me” Deuteronomy 32:39
5. “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one [echad]!” Deuteronomy 6:4
6.”You are great, O Lord God; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You” 2 Samuel 7:22
7. “For who is God, besides Yahweh? And who is a rock, besides our God?” 2 Samuel 22:32
8. “Yahweh is God; there is no one else.” 1 Kings 8:60
9. “…You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth…” 2 Kings 19:15
10. “O Lord, there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You” 1 Chronicles 17:20
11. “You alone are Yahweh.” Nehemiah 9:6
12. “For who is God, but Yahweh? And who is a rock, except our God” Psalm 18:31
13. “You alone, Lord, are God.” Isaiah 37:20
14. “Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.” Isaiah 43:10
15. “‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.” Isaiah 44:6
16. “Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” Isaiah 44:8
17. “I am Yahweh, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.” Isaiah 45:5
18. “Surely, God is with you, and there is none else, No other God.” Isaiah 45:14
19. “I am Yahweh, and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:18
20. “Is it not I, Yahweh? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me.” Isaiah 45:21
21. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me” Isaiah 46:9
22. “And Yahweh will be king over all the earth; in that day Yahweh will be the only one, and His name the only one.” Zechariah 14:9
23. “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; ” Mark 12:29
So, whatever John 10:34-36 does mean, we can be sure what it does not mean. It does not mean that humans are gods (ie possessing the qualities of deity) or that they can become gods (obtain to deity). The Mormon interpretation is absolutely, without a doubt, a false one, given the passages quoted above. In fact, it is blasphemy to say that we can become like YHWH. What, then, does it mean? We need to go back to Psalm 82 to answer this question. Here, God is giving judgment over the “gods.” In the passage, it is clear that these supposed “gods” may be sons of the Most High, but they are nevertheless humans–they will die like mere men. They will fall like every other ruler. They are people. This psalm is not saying that there are some humans who are at the same time immortal gods. Perhaps the word “gods” is being used sarcastically here, or perhaps it is being used in another sense which does not imply deity. We are like God in that we are in his image, but we are not gods. I will let the experts in Hebrew do the interpreting of this psalm, but we can be sure that this psalm is not teaching that some human beings can obtain the level of deity. In John 10:34-36 Jesus is probably quoting from Psalm 82, but, to understand this passage, we need to bear in mind its use in Psalms 82. In John 10:22-39 Jesus claims to be God. His hearers, naturally, are offended by this. Anyone who does not agree that Jesus is God ought to be offended by Jesus’ claim. Jesus uses what, to me, to be honest, is an odd argument. He tells them that they should not be so offended that he claims to be God as humans are called “gods” in Psalm 82. He is NOT telling them that humans are deity. He is claiming that he is God (see 10:33), and they are not.
I am having trouble knowing exactly how to respond to your interpretation above. I suppose that, at least in a sense, he is acknowledging that humans are “gods”, but surely he is not attributing to us the traditional qualities of God–immortality, omniscience, omnipresence, supernatural powers. The fact that we are spiritual and that we were created in God’s image may explain Jesus being willing to use the Psalm 82 passage with regard to people. Jesus is not claiming to be a souped-up version of a god in the same sense humans are. I know this because they had just accused him of claiming to be God and he did not deny this accusation.
In summary, John 10:34-36 is a fairly difficult passage. Jesus’ use of “gods” is difficult to interpret, but we can be sure that he is not crediting certain human beings to have deity, the qualities of God or supernatural powers. He is responding to their taking offense at his claim to be God.