Ye Are Gods
Surely, "Ye are gods" is one of the strangest statements recorded in the Bible. It is one of those verses that we simply pass over time and time again because of its peculiarity. We do not understand it, but we are able to live with that lack of understanding. What did Asaph mean when he penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in the 82nd Psalm? What did Jesus mean in John 10 when He quoted Asaph to the unbelieving Jews?
First we must look at Psalm 82 to get the context in which these words are found. In verse one Asaph declared that God judges among the gods. This word "gods" is the same Hebrew word used in verse six. Verses two through four inform us as to the identity of these gods whom God judges. They are none other than judges, or magistrates of the land. They were rulers who were perverting judgment through their office and authority. Because of this it is declared, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes" (Psalm 82:6-7). The Lord had given these rulers their authority, but they abused it (Daniel 4:25, 30, 34-37; 5:18-22; Romans 13:1-4). As a result of their evil stewardship over the offices of God, the Lord said they would fall like one of the princes. In this passage, then, those who are called gods are human judges in the land of Israel.
The Hebrew word translated "gods" is Elohim. This is the masculine plural form of the root word El, denoting strength and power.1 Elohim is used 2,250 times in the Old Testament. What is interesting about this word is that it does not always refer to the one true God, and is not even always translated "god." It is also attributed to angels (Psalm 8:5), and human judges (Exodus 21:6). It is translated as "mighty" in reference to a human prince (Genesis 23:6), thunder (Exodus 9:28), "great" in reference to Rachel's competition with Leah for children (Genesis 30:8). The reason God called the judges "gods" was because of their strength and power of position, not because of any deity within them. As I have just demonstrated, the word does not always imply deity, whether it be false or true, but can refer to different offices, peoples, or concepts.
Now we will examine Jesus' use of this verse in John 10:34. The event that prompted Jesus' quotation of this verse was the Jews' response to His claim of deity. Not only did He claim deity, but He claimed to be Yahweh Himself (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 10:30-33). The Jews did not understand Jesus' statement, "I and my Father are one," to mean that Jesus was in unity with God's purpose. They understood Him to be claiming that He and God were one in essence and substance. To the Jews this was blasphemy. Blasphemy received the death penalty by stoning according to the Law of Moses. That is why they took up stones to stone Him.
Jesus knew that it was His claim to be God Himself that infuriated the Jews enough to kill Him. If Jesus only meant that his oneness with the Father was of purpose, and not of essence, this would have been the perfect time to explain to the Jews that He was not claiming to be God, but merely a demigod, or second God sent from the Lord. Instead He quoted Psalm 82:6 saying, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 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?".
The point Jesus was making here was that since " ' the Scripture uses the word god as applied to magistrates, it settles the question that it is right to apply the term to those in office and authority. If applied to them, it may be to others in similar offices. It cannot, therefore, be blasphemy to use this word as applicable to a personage so much more exalted than mere magistrates as the Messiah.' "2 If the magistrates could be called by the same word used for the true God because they were leaders to whom the word of God came (was entrusted), then Jesus should also be able to claim the title for Yahweh since He spoke the words of God. Jesus' argument to the Jews was that if mere humans could carry the title of "gods" in the holy Scriptures, then they should not object to His claim either.
With this, I believe we might also view a touch of sarcasm in Jesus' words. In a sense He said, "Why can't I be God just because I'm a man. Even you're own Scriptures declare men to be gods?" Jesus was not minimizing His identity to be something less than God, but seems to be mocking the Jews with their own Scriptures. The Jews continually came at Jesus with the Scriptures trying to destroy His claims, so Jesus used their own methods on them.
If Jesus did not intend to be at least a little sarcastic with the Jews, then His statement would have put Him on the same level as a magistrate or leader, and not as the Son of God as He claimed to be (John 10:30, 36). If Jesus was equating Himself with a magistrate or leader, He could not have claimed to be in the Father, and have the Father in Him (John 10:38). This was a special identity and relationship unique to Jesus Himself. No mere man could claim anything similar without in fact committing blasphemy against the God of heaven.
1. The Hebrew plural Elohim is derived from the singular form Eloah (used 226 times both of the one true God as well as false deities). Although it is a plural noun, it does not always denote more than one. The Hebrew plural can mean more than one, but it is also used to indicate intensity, or a multiplicity of attributes. The word for "face" and "water" are always in the plural form because the face shows so many aspects of a person, and water because it flows. In like manner, our English, "God," is from the plural Hebrew form of El because of God's majestic plurality of attributes. When the context is talking about the true God the Hebrew always uses a singular verb with Elohim, whereas when it is speaking of false gods it uses a plural verb with Elohim. Whenever a verse from the Old Testament, which uses Elohim in reference to the one true God, is translated by the authors of the New Testament, it is translated as the singular theos instead of the plural theoi. This shows that the Elohim whose name was "Yahweh" in the Old Testament was one, not many.
2. Barnes, Albert ed. by Robert Frew. Barnes' Notes. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, n.d., "The Gospels," p. 294.