“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (John 10:34) Questions: Who are these “gods”? Are there more “gods”? How do you explain this Bible text?
The context of Jesus’ words – John 10
Reading the whole passage of John 10:22-39, we discover that Jesus was being pressed to give a clear-cut answer to the question – “Are you the Messiah?” (v. 24). So, we have to keep in mind that such a context was a highly explosive one as the Messiah was the fulfillment of the Jewish aspirations and expectations (Matthew 11:3), the One sent by God as His representative. Accordingly, one either was the Messiah, or was just claiming such a title, by blasphemy.
Evidently, Jesus was fully aware He is the Messiah, as He confirmed that to others – for example to the Samaritan woman (John 4:25-26); to the group of the twelve apostles (Matthew 16:16-17); later on, to the council of the high priests and elders (and this claim led Him directly to death, Mark 14:61-64). In the same time, Jesus knew that such a claim from Him, without the proper context, will have a side effect – unbelief and continuous hardening of the heart (see also the high tensions in Luke 22:66-71). This was already obvious many times before (John 10:25-26). They did not believe him because of the prejudices they had against Him, that is against His way of showing how Messiah would really look and act like (the same can be seen in Peter’s reaction when Jesus spoke about a suffering Messiah, Matthew 16:20-23).
Jesus then pushes the discussion by saying “I and the Father are one” (v. 30). In His mind, that meant that His plans and the plans of His Father are one, that He is following the directions of His Father (see also John 5:19). However, taking it as an assertion, the Jews were ready to stone Him (John 10:31). Questioned by Jesus about their intentions, they justified their anger by indicating a blasphemy in Jesus’ sayings (v. 33). The main accusation was clear – “You, being a man, make yourself God”.
Here Jesus confronts them on their field of expertise – the Scriptures. Quoting a verse in Psalms, He points out that the Scriptures spoke like He did, calling some humans “gods”. Let’s get there and see the passage for ourselves – Psalm 82 (please take your Bible and read it).
The context of Jesus’ quote – Psalm 82
Psalm 82 presents a heavenly setting, a “divine council” where God sits in the midst of some “gods” (v. 1).
However, these so-called “gods” are being judged by God (v. 1-2) and even accused for showing partiality to the wicked (v. 2). Furthermore, they are being urged to do justice, to rescue, to deliver the ones oppressed (vs. 3-4). The conclusion is that such judges have no knowledge and are walking in the darkness (v. 5).
Then, God speaks to them as in a review: He commends them for being “gods”, for being “sons of the Most High” (v. 6). Yet, due to their faulty judgment, He says, they are going to die like “men” and fall like any human “prince” (v. 7).
In the end, the psalmist speaks again, as he puts all his trust in God, who is going to rightly judge the whole earth (v. 8).
As this was the psalm Jesus quoted, let us see what’s about this expression “you are gods”.
What does it mean – “you are gods”?
In Jesus’ own words, He explains that “He” (God) named these persons as “gods”, as they were the ones to whom “the word of God came” (John 10:34). It is evident that God sees His representatives on earth as “gods”, as “sons of the Most High”, as they are to judge and make justice according to His will.
The word for “gods” is “elohim”, which is used also in Exodus 7:1, where God makes Moses “a god” for Pharaoh. In other words, by receiving his message from the God of heavens, and now presenting it to the ruler of the nation, Moses acts to Pharaoh like a god speaking to a human. Moses is a man, no doubt about it. But he acts like a god to the ruler of the nation.
The same perspective as in Psalm 82 is to be found in Psalm 58, where in verse 1 the psalmist calls the judges/rulers also “gods”. As the psalm continues it is evidently that these “gods” are not ruling the way God wants – see the solution in verse 11, where in the end God is the one who judges on earth.
Again, the same setting is to be seen in Isaiah 3:13-15, where these corrupt judges are confirmed to be “elders and princes of the people”.
It becomes clear that these “gods” are not true to their calling. In the same time, some true “gods” would be the ones that follow their heaven commissioned task, that is fulfilling the will of the Father, the Most High, the Lord God of hosts.
Jesus as a Son of God
There is no question that Jesus really fulfilled such a task from His Father, as it is evident in texts like Luke 4:18-21, when preaching in Nazareth, or the one in Matthew 11:2-6, with a message to John the Baptist. While the rulers of this earth, be they kings, judges, priests, are not ruling according to God’s will, Jesus was one that did, as He was the one “consecrated” by the Father and thus “sent into the world” (John 10:36). He plainly told them: “I have shown you many good works from the Father” (John 10:32).
He admits having said that “I am the Son of God” (v. 36). There is absolutely no question about it. He did it. He believed it. He was indeed!
In the same time, He urges them to review what they perceived as an assertion and even blasphemy, to judge it objectively and see if He was doing or not “the works of My Father”. Evidently, He was a “god”, was a “son of the Most High”, because He was consecrated, sent into the world and here He fulfilled His Father’s will up to the end (see John 17:4 and Luke 22:42).
The passage moves toward an abrupt ending with Jesus affirming again His special and close relation to the Father, by using a language that in their uncircumcised ears was like another blasphemy: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). The story ends with Jews ready again to arrest Him…
We can step on sure grounds saying that Jesus acted like a real Son of God, He was right in presenting Himself as a Son of God. The accusers could not understand because they were not His sheep (John 10:26) – not listening, not discerning His voice, not knowing Him nor His Father.
The passage does not speak about humans becoming divine, about men becoming gods. However, in representing and reflecting God’s character on earth, humans are seen and appointed by God the Most High as “gods” (Exodus 7:1). Remember Matthew 5:9? (please open your Bible and read it).
If God’s word is spoken to you, then you become a “god” to our fellow men, with such a heavenly task of showing the character of the Father, doing His will, making justice the way He would. On the contrary, be you a “god”, if you are corrupt and departing from the plans of the One that called you, then you are surely to end like any mortal, falling to the ground (Psalms 82:6-7).
„We should be called the children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that is did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:1-2)