I have heard and seen many believers refer to themselves as gods. They believe that Psalms 82 and John 10 teach that believers are gods.
In many cases, these believers have good intentions – a desire to recognize the height that our union with Christ has brought us.
However, too many times, it is often a prideful affirmation that leads many believes to think of themselves more highly than they should (Romans 12:3).
Since it is possible to humbly affirm what God calls us, a prideful use of this expression (I am a god or we are gods) is not enough to evaluate its appropriateness.
The important question is, “are we gods?” Are Psalms 82 and John 10 teaching that believers are gods?
Let’s find out, shall we?
The message of Psalms 82:6
Psalms 82 begins by affirming the universal Lordship of God. He is the one who presides in the great assembly (divine council – ESV, divine assembly – ISV).
God is the sovereign ruler over all things. He rules in the divine council – a most probable reference to the heavenly council. In this heavenly council are different orders of divine beings. Isaiah saw seraphs there (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel saw four living creatures (Ezekiel 2). John saw four living creatures, the 24 elders and myriads of angelic beings (Revelation 4, 5).
In this heavenly council, God sits on his throne, where he rules everything in heaven and earth.
Part of God’s reign and rule is that he gives judgments among the “gods.” Whoever these gods are, God is superior to them – he gives judgment among them (NET – in the midst of the gods, he renders judgment). God has sovereign power, and he holds these gods accountable.
So who are these gods?
God’s evaluation of the gods
In the next verse, we begin to see God’s judgment among the gods. He holds them to account because they are defending the unjust and showing partiality to the wicked.
Whoever the gods are, they are in a position to influence judicial decisions. God charges them with unjust judgments, which means they were supposed to judge justly and righteously. If they ought to judge justly and righteously, it means they had judicial responsibilities.
God weighed the gods and found them wanting in the exercise of their duties.
In the third verse, God begins to show them the right path to follow. He rebuked them for their injustice and showed them what real justice looks like.
True justice involves defending the cause of the weak and fatherless and maintaining the rights of the oppressed. They were to stand for the weak and fatherless who are often the subject of the misdeeds of the rich and influential.
Also, they were to defend the rule of law. The poor and oppressed have rights as much as the rich and powerful. They were to create a society where justice prevails irrespective of socio-economic status.
In verse 4, we also see that true justice involves rescuing the weak and needy and delivering them from the wicked.
Instead of defending and showing partiality to the wicked, they were to defend the cause of the weak and needy- those who cannot protect themselves against the strong and powerful.
In the fifth verse, God laments the ignorance of justice and righteousness among the gods. They walk about in the darkness of injustice and unrighteousness, blinded to true justice and righteousness.
Since justice and righteousness are foundational to life on earth, ignorance (willful and sinful ignorance) of justice and righteousness among those who are to implement is dangerous to life on earth – the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Sons and gods
These gods are also called sons of the Most High. Their “godness” in verse 1 is related to their identification as sons of the Most High.
We often see the Bible refer to different kinds of people as son(s) of God. In Luke 3:38, Adam is the son of God because he came directly from God’s hand, and he was to rule God’s creation on his behalf. Every human being, created in God’s image and commissioned to rule creation on his behalf, are children of God (Acts 17:28)
God referred to the nation of Israel, chosen by God as his unique people, as his son (Exodus 4:22-23). He also referred to them as sons (Deuteronomy 14:1). The peacemakers, who show themselves to belong to God’s kingdom, will be called sons of God (Mathew 5:9).
The Davidic king who rules the nation of Israel is also a son of God (2 Samuel 7:14, Psalms 2:7).
So these gods, who perverted justice and righteousness, are also called sons of God.
Who exactly are they?
Who are these gods?
God will judge the gods for their miscarriage of justice (verse 7). Even though they are gods, they will die like mere men.
In the second part, we have a clear reference to the identity of these gods. Here God threatens that they would fall like every other ruler (prince). If they will fall like every other ruler, it is clear that they are also rulers.
Therefore, the mere men in verse 7a are people who do not hold positions of authority.
The identification of these gods as rulers or princes aligns with what we have seen so far. In verses 2-4, we already saw that they are people responsible for implementing justice in the land. They have judicial power, which is why they are responsible and accountable.
These gods are judicial officers (rulers/princes) in Israel who were supposed to implement justice and righteousness but corrupted the justice system in favor of the rich, powerful, and influential.
The other rulers in verse 7 are judicial authorities of the gentile nations. These gods, though they have jurisdiction over God’s elect people, they will die like every other ruler.
Another look at sonship
In ancient times, most of the sons did the same work as their fathers. The son was trained by the father to carry on the family business. Jesus was a carpenter like his father, for example. The son was to reflect and image the father to the world. One of the ways he did that was by doing what the father does (did).
Even today, when we say someone is a true son of his father, we mean he represents and reflects his father very well.
Because of this, the concept of sonship goes beyond physical birth. The Davidic king is God’s son because he ruled over Israel on God’s behalf. Adam was God’s son because he was to rule over God’s creation. The peacemakers are God’s sons because they reflect God, who himself is the prince of peace.
The rulers of Israel were the sons of the Most High because they ruled over God’s people on his behalf.
It is the Lord that rules over the nations (Psalms 99:1). He is enthroned in heaven, where his will is supreme (Psalms 2:4). He is seated on his holy throne, where he rules all the nations (Psalms 47:8). God is the king (Psalms 10:16), and he reigns in majesty (Psalms 93:1).
However, God reigns in the affairs of man through those he has appointed. He raises kings and demotes kings to rule over the affairs of men on his behalf (Daniel 4:28-37). “The authorities that exist,” Paul told us, “have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
Israel’s rulers and princes were sons because they were meant to reflect and image God as they ruled over his people.
It is because of this that he called them gods. They represented God, the sovereign judge, and ruler of all.
However, referring to them as gods is not an affirmation of their divinity or unlimited authority. God is the one who rules over all; he is the one who gives judgment among the gods. God rebuked these ‘gods,’ condemned their injustice, and declared that they would die like mere men.
Their authority was limited to God, and his just rules and standards. Moreso, they were mere men who God only appointed to image his rule over all men.
Apart from that relationship, there was nothing unique or supernatural about them.
To summarize, the gods in Psalms 82:6 are rulers or princes who had judicial authority over Israel. They were to rule over God’s people in justice and righteousness, thereby imaging God, the supreme ruler. They did a lousy job, and God will judge them.
Jesus’s apologetic use of Psalms 82:6 in John 10:35
Jesus picked up on this passage in his conversation with the Jews.
The Jews came to Jesus desiring to know if he was the Christ. They wanted him to tell them plainly (John 10:24).
Jesus affirmed that he already told them, and the miracles he does in his father’s name consistently confirm what he told them. The problem was not any ambiguity in Jesus’s words but unbelief in their hearts.
However, their unbelief goes deeper. They did not believe because they are not part of Christ’s sheep. If they were part of the ones the father gave him, they would have believed (verses 26-30).
At this time, they were ready to stone him. Jesus asked them to identify which of his numerous good works was the basis for the uproar.
They clarified that they were not stoning him because of his good works (miracles) but because he, a man, claims to be God (verses 31-33). By calling God his father, he was, in essence, referring to himself as God (John 5:`18).
Why would a mere man call himself God?
That was the question that sets us up for Jesus’s quotation of Psalms 82:6.
Why are you surprised
“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” (John 10:34)
What was Jesus doing here?
The Jews were against him because he, a man, was referring to himself as God. Jesus was quoting Psalms 82:6 to show that even God himself called “mere men” (to use the language of the interlocutors) gods.
Why are they surprised that Jesus could refer to himself as God (by claiming him as his father) when God himself called human beings gods in their law?
If mere men could be called gods (by God), why can’t Jesus, a man, call himself God?
Of course, Jesus was making a more audacious claim. He was not calling himself a ‘god’ but ‘God.’ He was not just someone who rule and reign over God’s nation on God’s behalf; he is claiming equality with God. In a sense, there is still a missing argumentation here.
However, Jesus referenced Psalms 82:6 to point out that his claim should not be as strange as they make it. It is not an impossible road from “men called ‘gods’” to “a man who is God.”
Jesus said it to pull some weight off their surprise so they can listen to his argumentation.
The man who is God
Once again, Jesus’s quotation of Psalms 82:6 is not enough to establish his divinity. However, it was enough to get his interlocutors to hear him out. “Men were called ‘gods’ by God, why does it surprise you that I, a man, is God?”
Jesus now goes ahead to establish his unique claims.
Unlike the rulers of Psalms 82 to whom the word of the Lord came, Jesus was the one whom the Father set apart as his own and sent into the world. Unlike every other man who comes from the earth, Jesus is heavenly (John 1:14, 18).
Jesus did not originate from the earth; he was the Lord of heaven who decided to become a man. “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23).
Jesus is unique because he was set apart from the Father and sent into the world. At his baptism, the Father himself declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mathew 3:17).
Though other people are called sons because of the way they image or reflect God, he is the One and Only Son (John 1:14). He is the One and Only Son who is at the Father’s side (John 1:18).
Because of his uniqueness, Jesus can go beyond Psalms 82 and establish himself as God’s Son (God). If Psalms 82 called ordinary sons gods, why can’t the unique Son claim to be God?
If they needed proof of his unique Sonship, he pointed them to his works (verse 39). He is doing the Father’s works, which shows that the Father is in him even as he is in the Father.
The point of John 10:35
John 10:35 is not referring to believers as gods. Instead, Jesus is making an apologetic case for his divinity by quoting Psalms 82:6.
This passage is a glorious apologetic for Christ’s divinity rather than a statement about Christian identity.
If God referred to these rulers as gods, why should it be strange that his unique Son, though a ‘mere man’ cannot ‘claim to be God.’
What are we?
The Bible does not refer to believers as gods.
In 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10, we are called priests. In 1 John 3:1, John 1:12, and Romans 8:14, we are called sons/children.
In Revelation 1:6, we know that believers have been made a kingdom. We are currently seated with Christ (spiritually) in high places (Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 3:1). One day, we will sit with him on his throne (Revelation 3:21) and reign with him (Revelation 5:10, Daniel 7:27, 2 Timothy 2:12).
We are sons, priests, and kings. We should call ourselves what God has called us. The Bible never calls us gods.
While our kingship has been inaugurated through our seating in the heavenly places with Christ, it will be consummated when we overcome and enter into glory (Revelation 3:21).
Though we are sons, it does not yet appear what we shall be (1 John 3:2). We share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17), and we live out our sonship in a fallen creation (Romans 8:18-25). Though we are heirs, we only have a down payment (deposit) of our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:14).
We are priests of God, but our spiritual sacrifices are still tainted with sin. It is in the consummation that we will serve him devoid of sin (Revelation 7:15).
Therefore, while we boldly and confidently rejoice in who we are in Christ (sons, priests, and kings, etc.), we must do so with the humility that characterized our savior, a humility that recognizes that we still await the consummation of all things.