Reconsidering Psalms 82:6
Judges or Gods? A Proposal
by Ben McGuire
Bill McKeever, a critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote:
The gods of Psalm 82 are nothing more than men who, by God’s sovereign design, are chosen to rule over other men. In fact, the word “Elohim,” used in verse six, is often translated “judges” in the Old Testament. An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:6 where it reads, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [Elohim] …” Another example is Exodus 22:8 which reads, “If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges …” Again, the Hebrew Elohim is used.
No doubt many Latter-day Saints will look upon this interpretation with suspicion. Should that be the case, one of Mormonism’s most respected scholars, Apostle James Talmage, should be quoted. In his book “Jesus The Christ,” Talmage agreed that Jesus was referring to divinely appointed judges when he wrote, “Divinely Appointed Judges Called ‘gods.’ In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called ‘gods.’ To this the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon’s Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title ‘gods’” (pg. 501).1
This essay is written to deal specifically with this criticism, as well as to provide some general insight into the relevant scriptures. It consists of three parts. First, I will present an interpretation of the Old Testament text of Psalm 82 in light of current scholarship. Then, I will discuss the interpretation of the Psalm given in John 10. Then, I return to the criticism and show how it is disproved through an analysis of the text. Finally, I will conclude with a few observations relevant to LDS theology in general, and our use of these texts to defend the doctrine of the deification of man.
Psalm 82: A Translation2
|I||1|| God stands up|
|2||In the Assembly of El|
|3||In the midst of the gods he judges|
|II||1|| How long will you rule unjustly?|
|2||And honor the wicked?|
|3|| Judge the lowly and fatherless!|
|4||Do justice for the needy and the poor!|
|5|| Rescue the lowly and oppressed!|
|6||From the hand of the wicked!|
|III||1|| They do not know|
|2||And they do not understand;|
|3||In darkness they wander around;|
|4||All the foundations of the earth totter!|
|IV||1|| I, I say:|
|2||You (are) gods|
|3||And sons of the Highest (are) all of you,|
|4|| Nevertheless, you will die like a man|
|5||And like one of the leaders you will fall!|
|V||1|| Arise God!|
|2||Rule the earth!|
|3||For you possess|
|4||All the nations!|
Structure, Translation, and Discussion
The Psalm above has been divided into a poetic makeup as follows:3
|Assembly / God rises-spt (judges)
Address / gods confronted
Address / chaos described
Address / gods confronted
Assembly / God rises-spt (rules)
Each section is developed into a separate poetic unit by content, by parallelisms, and by discernable sound structures4 in the vocalized text. The text as a whole displays a chiastic structure, which will become important a little later in the discussion.
God stands up: Or, alternatively, God arises. The Hebrew used here for God is elohim.5 The same Hebrew word is translated at the end of the verse as ‘gods.’ Why is it singular here and plural later? The verbs (like that meaning to stand up or arise) associated with this term are singular in the Hebrew. This would require a singular subject. Thus “God arises.” In the chiastic structure of the Psalm, this statement is paralleled by the phrase “Arise God!” in verse 8.
In the assembly of El: There are three general uses of the term El in the Bible and related literature. The first is that it is often used to mean God. The second is that it can refer to the name of the Canaanite deity, El, who was head of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon. Or, alternatively, it might represent a common phrase meaning ‘divine’ particularly when used in the combination here “divine assembly”. The usage is completely ambiguous. There is no difference in usage between one meaning and the other. It is perhaps intentional that this range of meanings suits both the initial use of elohim as God and the later use of elohim as divinities at the end of this section.
In the midst of the gods he judges: Here, elohim can only be plural. It would be nonsensical to have God (elohim) standing in the assembly of God (El) judging among the singular God (elohim). The word judges (spt) can also mean more generally to rule. It is repeated with this meaning in mind in verse 8 at the end of the Psalm. Here, God arises to judge those in the assembly. There, God arises to rule those in the assembly.
How long will you rule unjustly? And honor the wicked?: In this phrase, the word rule (spt) is used, when God addresses the gods. The same Hebrew word is used differently in each context in which it occurs. God (elohim) judges (spt) the gods (elohim) who rule (spt). Later in the Psalm, the meanings will be reversed. The gods (elohim) did not judge (spt) so God (elohim) will rule (spt). God is asking why these gods support the wicked.
Judge the lowly and fatherless! Do justice for the needy and the poor! Rescue the lowly and oppressed! From the hand of the wicked!: Here God demands that these gods execute righteous judgment. The gods should judge (spt) the lowly and fatherless.
They do not know And they do not understand; In darkness they wander around; All the foundations of the earth totter!: This is the center of the Psalm. The ‘they’ refers to the gods (elohim). Their rule has brought chaos. The phrasing is meant to show this. They do not know. They do not understand. They walk in darkness. The earth (eretz) is shaken from its foundation. This is exactly the end result that the divine rulers are supposed to prevent. The earth was created from chaos, and now these beings are returning it to a chaotic state. And it was specifically because of the actions of these elohim that the foundations of the earth are moved.
I, I say: You (are) gods And sons of the Highest (are) all of you,: Here the gods (elohim) are defined in terms of a singular deity (elyon) the Most High. It is also a statement that they are placed in their position by God-who acts as a supreme authority.
Nevertheless, you will die like a man: The word man (adam) means either the first man Adam, or the concept of mortal man in general.6 The significant aspects of this phrase are that they put the one concept in opposition to the other. Two references to gods are followed by two references to men. The reference here however is clearly antithetical. If these gods were men, they would not die ‘like men’. Nor does their death occur immediately, but rather, like Adam, occurs eventually because of their actions. “You will die like Adam”.
And like one of the leaders you will fall!: Rather than the traditional “leaders”, I prefer the suggestion by Heiser and Mullen that rather than referring to “princes”, the Hebrew references the “Shining Ones”7. This reading also creates a clear connection between Psalm 82 and two other Old Testament texts relating to the Divine Council: Isaiah 14:12-15 which relates the fall of Lucifer and Ezekiel 28:12-17. Both of these refer to divine beings, who lost their immortality and were cast out of heaven. This also concludes God’s speech to the gods. As Handy writes: “The gods rule the cosmos as the humans rule the earth; the single major difference is that human rulers always die while the gods only die sometimes.”8
Arise God! Rule the earth!: In this section, the perspective has shifted from the divine assembly in heaven to a human assembly. Following parallels to Section I, God (elohim) arises to Rule (spt) and not to judge. What does He rule? The earth (eretz) referred to in Section III. The idea is that He will restore order where the gods caused chaos.
For you possess All the nations!: The word ‘all’ is the same as that in Section III and Section IV (‘all the foundations’ and ‘all of you’). Here, it suggests that now, all of the earth, and its peoples, and even the elohim, are under the rule of God.
The Cultural Framework
Early Israelite theology pictured a heaven filled with divine beings, and ordered in a hierarchy. God stood at the top of this hierarchy. This host of divine beings has become collectively identified as the divine council.9 There are several instances of the divine council recognized in the Old Testament.10 The members of this divine council are called divinities (elohim), sons of God (bene elohim or bene elim), sons of the Most High (bene Elyon) and in the Greek, divine beings (huioi theoi) and angels of the divine (angeloi theoi). While a complete survey of these passages and their meaning is beyond the scope of this paper, three particular passages in Deuteronomy are worth mentioning: Deuteronomy 4:19-20; 10:17-18; 32:7-8, 34. All three of these bear a special relationship to Psalm 82. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 reads as follows:
And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These the LORD your God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven; but you the LORD took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case.11
The implication here is that God “ordained that it [mankind] should worship idols and the heavenly bodies.”12 However, it is for Israel to worship God alone. This reflects the idea that if God revealed Himself only to Israel, and not to the rest of the nations, then it must be God’s will that only Israel worship the true God. This apparent acceptance of polytheism however did not appeal to later Israel. Jeremiah was the first prophet to discuss the punishment of the nations for idolatry, and the LXX (the Greek Old Testament) modified these verses to avoid the possible interpretation of polytheism. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 mentions these other divine beings:
For the LORD your God is God of gods, and the Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.13
This language is highly reminiscent of Psalm 82. God (elohim) is God (eloah) of gods (elohim), who regardeth not persons (the same Hebrew word is translated ‘regardeth’ here, and ‘honor’/'accept’ in verse 2 of Psalm 82), who defends the fatherless. Here, God is declared to be God-not just of the Israelites, but also of the other divinities, the elohim, and it is through Him that justice is dispensed. Finally, in Deuteronomy 32:7-8 we read:
Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of ages past;
Ask your father, he will inform you,
Your elders, they will tell you:
When the Most High allotted the nations,
And set the divisions of man,
He fixed the boundaries [or territories] of peoples
Equal to the number of divine beings.14
Tigay comments on these verses as follows:
This means that when God was allotting nations to the divine beings, he made the same number of nations and territories as there were such beings. Verse 9 implies that He then assigned the other nations to those divine beings, and states explicitly that He kept Israel for Himself. This seems to be part of a concept hinted at elsewhere in the Bible and in postbiblical literature. When God organized the government of the world, He established two tiers: at the top, He Himself, “God of gods (elohei ha-elohim) and Lord of lords” (10:17), who reserved Israel for Himself, to govern personally; below Him, seventy angelic “divine beings” (benei elohim), to whom He allotted the other peoples. The conception is like that of a king or emperor governing the capital or heartland of his realm personally and assigning the provinces to subordinates.15
Within this context, the elohim of Psalm 82 represent those divine beings who were given the various nations of the earth to rule. Psalm 82 then represents a period when rulership of the earth is being returned solely to God. Examples of this particular belief persisted within Judaism, despite efforts to remove it until at least the eighth century A.D., when it appears in the work Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer.16 The Deuteronomy texts were later modified to reduce the impact of this polytheistic imagery-imagery that while compatible with the earlier theology of Israelite religion, was not as compatible with the later, stricter monotheistic theology.
An Examination of John 10
In John 10:25-39, Jesus has an exchange with His questioners and detractors-one that is instructive for the discussion at hand:
Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 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. Jesus answered them, 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? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,
I have included a little more text than is perhaps strictly necessary, but the context here is highly significant to understanding the message that the author of the Gospel of John intends us to receive. Part of the necessary understanding of this narrative relies on seeing within it references to the prologue in John 1. In John 1:1, 11-12 we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
The themes in these three verses are repeated in John 10. The first necessary point is to show exactly what Jesus is arguing here. He concludes His speech in verses 25 to 31 with the comment: “I and my Father are one.”-meaning that He and the Father were equal. In what way are they equal? As Neyrey points out, Jesus presents two statements representative of both Himself, and the Father:17
And I give unto them eternal life;
and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of
My Father, which gave them me,
is greater than all;
and no man is able to pluck them
out of my Father’s hand.
Jesus here displays the same power as the Father-what the Father can do, so can the Son. In this way, as Jesus declares in the next verse, both He and the Father are one. For claiming this equality with God, the Jewish audience then “took up stones again to stone him.” Their declaration of His crime of blasphemy was grounded in the charge that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” This charge is not new to Jesus here. In John 5:18 he is accused of saying “that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” Later, this is repeated in the final trial of Jesus, when, in 19:7, 12, we read that the death penalty was wanted of Jesus “because he made himself the Son of God” and he “maketh himself a king.” The first time that Jesus is charged with this (in John 5:18), he responds by saying “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.” The text continues from there and explains that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (v. 22), and that the Father has given the Son to have life in himself (v. 26). Jesus’ argument here is very similar. As Neyrey points out, he does not make himself God, rather, “the Father hath sanctified, and sent [him] into the world.”18 While Neyrey seems to be correct in his understanding that Jesus’ defense lies in part in the idea that God makes him the Son of God, I disagree with the second half of his argument. He claims that those “to whom the word of God came” refers “to Israel at Sinai when God gave it the Torah.”19 And, more to the point, that:
The evangelist moreover, does not propose here the argument which was made in the prologue, that the “Word came unto his own and his own received him not” (1:11). Israel is not being reproached here for rejecting once more God’s revelation to it.20
To the contrary, this is precisely one of the arguments being made. Neyrey does not carry the position of the evangelist in the prologue to its conclusion.21 The evangelist continues: “For as many as received him, to them he gave the power to becomes the sons of God”. The point of Jesus’ remarks are twofold-first, that God has made him a Son of God, and thus equal to God, and second, that those who receive his (Jesus’) message, will also become sons of God, and thus equal to God.
Interpreting John 10:34-39
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?: Jesus quotes the Psalm, in which God calls those members of the divine council ‘gods’. This represents his own defense of his being called god, since, as with these beings, God has made him god instead of Jesus making himself god.
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came and the scripture cannot be broken: They became Gods because they received the word of God. And it is recorded in scripture.
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world: Here, as in the earlier passage in John 5, Jesus affirms that the Father is the one who has sanctified him and sent him into the world. From the perspective of the evangelist, this recalls to us John 3:31 which reads “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God”. In other words, the word of God is present with Jesus himself.
Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?: How can it be blasphemy if it is the will of the Father.
If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.: This is a twofold issue – the first is that those who believe will recognize the works that Jesus performs as a sign. This was how Israel recognized Moses when Moses was made a “god” (elohim) to Pharaoh. At the same time, there is of course the idea that in rejecting Jesus, they are also rejecting the Father as their God.
Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand: their response is once more to try and kill him. The chapter then concludes by describing many that do come and believe him.
The New Testament Interpretation of the Psalm
John 10 apparently interprets Psalm 82. This often presents a difficulty since many are unwilling to accept an interpretation of the Psalm in the New Testament which conflicts with the original intent of the Psalm. Peterson comments:
I suspect that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with such a solution. Is there any way of maintaining the interpretation of Psalm 82 that modern scholarship has largely and (I think) convincingly settled on, without accusing the Savior of misuse of the passage?22
Jesus, particularly in the fourth gospel, tends to develop a deeper meaning in the scriptures, which He quotes. There is a well-recognized pattern of Jesus speaking a parable, no one understanding the message, and then Jesus explaining the meaning of His original words. Likewise, it has been recognized that usually, when a claim is made about Jesus, and that claim invokes a reaction from the crowd, the gospel does not moderate or avoid the claim, but instead restates it in such a way so as to invoke an even greater response from the crowd.23This pattern seems to be followed here. After the first surge by the Jewish audience to stone Him, Jesus clarifies His remarks, and rather than appeasing the audience, their response is to attempt to stone Him again. Why?
If John 10 follows the argument made in the prologue,24 then Jesus has announced to his Jewish audience that those who receive the word of God are to be gods, just as those in the Psalm. And those who receive the word of God are those who receive the gospel that Jesus was sent to deliver. The defense that Jesus provides is no more than to state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus god. Jesus is then placed by God into the position of one of the elohim-one of the sons of God. The evangelist is the one who takes this a step farther and suggests explicitly in the prologue what is only implicit here-that those who receive the Word will also become sons of God and thus equal to the Father. Because Jesus insists that not only is He a god in the sense of the Psalm, but also that others are as well, the Jews, more infuriated then before again try to kill him.
Responding to The Critics
McKeever makes the following arguments in his criticism of LDS theology: 1) that the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 are men who have been chosen by God to be rulers, 2) that the word ‘elohim‘ is often translated as ‘judges,’ and 3) that this interpretation of the Psalm was used by Jesus when He responded to the Jews in John 10.
There are several problems with this thesis. During the lifetime of James Talmage, this was certainly the majority opinion for a correct interpretation,25 although by 1935 it had been seriously challenged,26 and today it holds almost no weight in scholarly studies.27
There are three major arguments raised in favor of this interpretation. First, in Exodus 4:16 and Exodus 7:11, Moses is called an elohim. “And thou shalt be to him instead of God (elohim)” and “See, I have made thee a god (elohim) to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” A second argument is that in John 10, Jesus seems to be using the Psalm to suggest that it is appropriate to call Himself god precisely because other men are called god. The third argument is one given by McKeever in the citation at the beginning of this paper:
In fact, the word “Elohim,” used in verse six, is often translated “judges” in the Old Testament. An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:6 where it reads, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [Elohim] …” Another example is Exodus 22:8 which reads, “If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges …” Again, the Hebrew Elohim is used.28
The argument then proceeds that although Jesus was really divine, he was stating in John 10, that if other men were recognized as gods in the Old Testament, is it really blasphemy to call himself god?
From the interpretation of the Old Testament text of Psalm 82 presented above, it is clear that McKeever’s interpretation is untenable. However, there are a few things that need to be said by way of a response to the three assumptions listed above.
- When Moses is called elohim, it does not serve as a title for Moses, but rather describes a role he is to play. As Heiser suggests, the fact that Moses talks with God face to face, that he acts as a representative from God to Pharaoh, and that Aaron is selected as his prophet, presents for us a Moses who is functioning as a part of the divine council of God29. He is now the judge of Pharaoh, and he is the intermediary between God and the Egyptians. In this role, Moses resembles more the idea of elohim who are members of the divine council than he does the concept of a human judge divinely appointed by God.30
- In John 10, if Jesus is defending his claim to be the Son of God on the same principle that others have received the title of “god” and “son of god”, then we are left in somewhat of a problematic situation. Is Jesus merely playing a semantic game? There is no real claim to equality in this comparison. If Jesus can be called god simply because other men have also been called god, then how is it a real defense to the claim that he can not only be called such, but that he is one with or equal to the Father? Does Jesus argue merely for an ontological title, or a divine nature? If this was the entire basis of his argument, then he clearly would not have (word missing?) a blasphemer. To justify this, Talmage comments that those listening to Jesus obviously didn’t understand the argument – for they then attempted to stone him again.31
- In dealing with the several passages where elohim has been rendered ‘judges’ in the authorized text, we first have to start with Gordon’s article in 1935. Gordon demonstrated that in every instance where the Hebrew has been translated ‘judges’, the text should more properly be translated literally (as the Greek and Latin translations did) as ‘gods’. Remarking on the selections mentioned by McKeever, Gordon wrote:
The literal translation, gods (plural), found in the Vulgate (ad deos) and Luther’s version (voer die Götter) is better suited to what appears to be the real meaning of the passage in light of newly discovered material.32
Translating elohim as judges is questionable at best. As Peterson put it:
Moreover, those who insist that the elohim of Psalm 82 are simply mortal humans typically point to Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, where the term has frequently (e.g., in the King James Bible) been translated as “judges.” But there seems no particular reason, other than theological squeamishness, to prefer such a translation. What these verses seem to describe is a divinatory practice where a case is brought before “God” or “the gods” for decision.33
Additionally, there are a couple of elements that lend to an interpretation of the beings in Psalm 82 as true divinities. First, their punishment for failing to judge is to “die like Adam.” This is hardly a punishment if in fact these are merely human judges who were already going to die. Smick notes just this (as do others): “if they are going to die like mortals, they are not mortals.”34 The second argument is that these elohim are defined also as being “sons of the Most High (bene elyon)”. That these could be judges who are called the sons of God simply because of their position as judges (and unrighteous judges at that) is not supported by the text.
As with any biblical text, correct interpretation is necessary to understand the text. In this particular case, the Old Testament text, with its original intent is, on the surface far removed from its application by Jesus in the New Testament. The interpretive model used by Talmage cannot be faulted – he used the best scholarship of his day. He taught correct gospel principles using it. Scholarship now presents a radically different understanding of the text. When we understand properly the Old Testament account, we see how Jesus applies those concepts to his own doctrinal exposition on what it means to be god, and a son of God. This new understanding not only reinforces the doctrines which Talmage taught, it defines them much more explicitly. We must recognize that scriptural studies are fluid–we are constantly learning new ways to read and understand the scriptures. In this specific case, the lesson is very significant. The Father sanctified the Son, and sent him into the world to deliver God’s word. The Father has given those who believe the Word to the Son, and once we are his, no power can take us from him. We then are sanctified by the Son, and also become the sons of God, along with everything that this entails.
As part of this discussion, many scholars also suggest that the oneness with God that Jesus claims here, cannot be seen in the same light as the oneness described in the intercessory prayer, where Jesus prays that his disciples “may be one, even as we are one”35. Neyrey comments that “Jesus claims far more than mere moral unity with God, which was the aim of every Israelite”, yet, the aim of Jesus is much greater. He wishes to see in every individual this same oneness that far exceeds a mere moral unity that was looked for.
This study is not conclusive, nor does it deal with most of the material evidence for reading the divine council into Psalm 82. A great deal of additional study must be completed to present this theme with the unified framework of the fourth gospel. For those who wish to pursue this study, I direct you to the additional readings list closing this paper. But, even in its limited scope, I hope that I have shown, even in a limited fashion, the Plan of Salvation as understood by the author of the Gospel of John.
Cross, Frank M. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973.
Gordon, Cyrus H. “Elohim in it’s Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges,” Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935).
Handy, Lowell K. “Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82″, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47 (1990).
Handy, Lowell K. Among the Host of Heaven: The Syro-Palestinian Pantheon as Bureaucracy. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
Heiser, Michael S. “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 158 (January-March 2001).
Morgenstern, Julian. “The Mythological Background of Psalm 82,” Hebrew Union College Annual 14 (1939).
Mullen, E. Theodore. The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, Harvard Semitic Monographs. Missoula, Montana: Scholars, 1980.
Neyrey, Jerome H. “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108:4 (1989).
Page, Hugh R. The Myth of Cosmic Rebellion. New York: Brill, 1996.
Prinsloo, W.S. “Psalm 82: Once Again, Gods or Men?,” Biblica 76:2 (1995).
1 Bill McKeever, As God is, Man May Become, published on-line at http://www.mrm.org/articles/as-man-is.html.
2 The text of the King James Version is not well adapted for discussing the poetic form and parallelism of the Psalm. For this reason, I have adopted the translation provided by Lowell K. Handy, “Sounds, Words, and Meanings in Psalm 82,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 47 (1990): 63. This translation is not extremely different from the Authorized Version; however, it does help identify chiastic structures within the Psalm for the English reader. Versification is indicated in brackets. The roman numerals indicate sections within the poetic structure of the text. Handy indicates that because the poetic marker Selah has no relevance to the poetic structure or content of the Psalm, it has not been included in this translation.
3 Handy, “Sounds, Words, and Meanings in Psalm 82,” 63.
4 Handy demonstrates that the Psalm as a whole demonstrates a series of related sounds created by the vocalization of the Hebrew text. This additional evidence is invaluable, but has little impact on the current study. Those who wish to review this data are referred to Handy. I am deeply indebted to Handy for the analysis of the Psalm. In a few places I agree with others against Handy, notably the interpretive perspective taken by Michael S. Heiser in his article “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God” in Bibliotheca Sacra, 158 (January-March 2001): 52-74.
5 Here and elsewhere throughout the remainder of this paper, transliterated Hebrew words are indicated by italics. When the italicized word is in parentheses, it indicates that it is a transliteration of the Hebrew word that has been translated to the English equivalent immediately preceding the parenthesis in the text.
6 Handy determines that this may be an instance of a poetic form similar to Janus parallelism in the text, although he disagrees with me by suggesting that it means both mortality (as opposed to the immortality of the elohim) and “an individual human being,” p. 59. I am inclined to agree with his thoughts on the Janus parallelism, but, with the reference to the “shining one” in the next verse, feel that the reference to Adam specifically is more appropriate.
7 Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” 62, especially footnote 37. Also E. Theodore Mullen, The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, Harvard Semitic Monographs (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1980), 239-240. Additional material can be found in Hugh R. Page, The Myth of the Cosmic Rebellion (New York: Brill, 1996), 97.
8 Handy, “Sounds, Words, and Meanings in Psalm 82,” 59-60.
9 For descriptions of this, and for a detailed presentation of this theology, see Mullen, The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, Lowell K. Handy, Among the Host of Heaven: The Syro-Palestinian Pantheon as Bureaucracy (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1994), and Julian Morgenstern, “The Mythological Background of Psalm 82,” Hebrew Union College Annual 14 (1939): 29-98. Other sources are referenced at the end of the paper in a list of recommended readings.
10 1 Kings 22:19-23, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1-2, Zechariah 3:1-8, Deuteronomy 32:7-8,43, Psalm 89:6-7, Psalms 29:1-2, Isaiah 14:12, Job 38:7, and Job 4:18-19.
11 The New JPS Translation as found in Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 49-50. The text is very similar to that of the KJV, however, it draws an explicit rather than an implicit distinction between Israel and the rest of humanity that exists in the text but which is not conveyed clearly in the KJV.
12 Ibid, 435.
13 Ibid, 107-108.
14 Translation by Tigay, Deuteronomy, 302-303. This translation reflects the more original reading from the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls texts. For discussion on the originality of this version see Tigay, Deuteronomy, 513-518, and Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” 52-74.
15Tigay, Deuteronomy, 303.
16 Ibid, 515. A polemic against this belief occurs in the writings of Saadia Gaon in his Polemic Against Hiwi al-Balkhi, written in the tenth century. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer mentions Deuteronomy 32:8, and then tells us of God casting lots with the seventy angels before appointing them over the seventy nations. Additionally, we find significant mention of these divine rulers in The Wisdom of Sirach (17:17), and in Daniel 13:10, 20-21.
17 Jerome H. Neyrey, “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10″ Journal of Biblical Literature 108:4 (1989): 651-653. Rather than using the translation preferred by Neyrey, I have reproduced the comparison in the language of the KJV, which I cited earlier.
18 Ibid., 653-654
19 Ibid., 654 ff.
20 Ibid., 655.
21 Some discussion of this idea has occurred in articles written on the Prologue. See for example, Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112, No. 3 (Fall 1993): 445-457.
22 Daniel C. Peterson, “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,” The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, edited by Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: Utah, FARMS, 2000), 541.
23 See Neyrey, “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” 654. Also, see Wayne Meeks, “The Man From Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 no. 1 (Spring 1972): 70-71.
24 It should be noted that most scholars believe that while the prologue was written by the same author as the main body of the fourth gospel, they believe it was written afterwards, as an introduction and a summary of its content.
25 See Neyrey, “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” 648. Neyrey points out publication of this interpretation as late as 1956 in Lightfoot’s St. John’s Gospel. Additionally, Peterson references Malcom Thorp’s research on Talmage’s sources in this regard: “Malcolm R. Thorp, “James E. Talmage and the Tradition of Victorian Lives of Jesus,” Sunstone 12 (January 1988): 8-13, discusses the bibliographical resources that Elder Talmage drew upon for Jesus the Christ. Of course, Elder Talmage’s deservedly revered work, while surely correct in the broad picture, has never been held to be either canonical or inerrant in all its details.” “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,” 560, footnote 27.
26 Cyrus H. Gordon, “Elohim in it’s Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges” Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935): 139-144.
27 It is, for example, refuted in every study cited in this paper.
28 McKeever, As God is, Man Can Become.
29 Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” 68-69.
30 At the same time, if we were to look for a text on which claim the right to call men ‘gods,’ there is hardly a text better suited to this purpose than Exodus 4:15. Moses is told to take signs to the Israelites and to the Egyptians. The Israelites recognize the signs and believe, and the Egyptians recognize the signs and refuse to believe. This seems to be a part of the gist of Jesus’ comments in John 10. Those who believe are His people, and those who don’t are not.
31 Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 454 footnote 8. The actual text reads: “The inconsistency of calling human judges “gods,” and of ascribing blasphemy to the Christ who called Himself the Son of God, would have been apparent to the Jews but for their sin-darkened minds.”
32 Gordon, “Elohim in it’s Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges,” 140.
33 Daniel C. Peterson, “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,” 479.
34 Elmer Smick, “Mythopoetic Language in the Psalms,” Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1982): 95.
35 John 17:22.