What is Jesus talking about when He says “Is it not written in your law, I said, you are gods?”
Jesus is quoting in John 10:34 from Psalm 84:6 where the psalmist is speaking about judges who are called “gods.” In Israel, judges were appointed to make life changing decisions concerning life in all matters of government including life and death. Listen to the first part of the psalm: “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods (Hebrew ‘elohiym). How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psa. 82:1-3). Just like the judges of old who favored the wicked, showing them favor while the poor got a bad deal, so was the Jewish leadership that faced Jesus. They did not care about the truth that faced them, nor the healing of the weak, they only cared about themselves and holding on to their power and position. They were unjust judges also. They accused Jesus of blasphemy, and because “You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33b).
Back in Psalm 82, the psalmist writes, “I said you [are] gods, and all of you [are] children of the Most High. But you will die like men, and fall like one of the princes” (Psa. 82:6-7). Psalm 82 and Jesus in John 10:34 are both dealing with those appointed as judges over Israel and have the power over life and death. In Jesus’ case they took up stones to kill Him (John 10:31) primarily for using the term “Father” to describe His relationship as the Son of God, a unique name for the Christ (10:24, 36), and even going so far as to say “I and My Father are one” (10:30). The Greek means, “one in essence, or nature,” you might say one and the same, or equal.
So it is, that just like the “gods” of Psalm 82 who will die and fall, so too, are the judges of Jesus’ day. They, too, will die in their sin because they are not Jesus’ sheep (10:26) and will not believe Him or His works.
As for the subject of “gods,” the word is used of the God of gods, rulers, judges, divinities, and objects of worship (idols). Context must be used to determine what is being spoken of, and “gods” in the sense of heathen deities are not good, not to be worshiped, and in fact are real only in the mind of their worshiper (1 Cor. 8:4). They are dumb and mute, incapable of anything (1 Kgs. 18:27; Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 10:3-5). In this context, “gods” is used to describe judges of Israel who, just like God, have cases brought before them for the purpose of righteous judgment, but there is only one God who is righteous and just, who does not take brides and is impartial. You may notice from Scripture that followers of the true God are not called “gods,” and in fact, it is only the cults that use the term.
The Mormons, for example, believe they will be gods of their own planet. The Mormon doctrine of eternal progression goes like this: as man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become. This is the same heresy that Satan used when he fell. The first sin is the sin of pride, of self-exaltation, as Satan sought to exalt himself above God. Ezekiel 28:17 says, “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.” Isaiah 14:12-17 lists five “I will” statements that speak of Satan’s sin: (1) I will ascend into heaven; (2) I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; (3) I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; (4) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; (5) I will be like the Most High.
This self-exaltation is described by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:6 as the sin of pride (Greek tuphoo “to rise up smoke, to blind with pride or conceit”). Dr. Chafer summarizes his sin as “seeking to rise above the sphere in which he was created, and above the purpose and service assigned to him. This, it will be observed, is the essential character of human sin, as it is of the angels.” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systemic Theology, vol. 2, p.47)
Thanks for asking.
Dr. John Pappas (7/12)