Today we field a really good Bible question from an international listener to the podcast. “Dear Pastor John, hello to you and thank you for this podcast! My name is Beatrice, and I live in Malaysia. My question for you is about what the Bible means when it says, ‘You are gods.’ It says this in Psalm 82:6, and then Jesus quotes it again in John 10:34. Can you explain to me what this means?”
Here’s the situation. In John 10, Jesus has just said (in verse 30), “I and the Father are one.” And now, the Jewish leaders who hear him say this, putting it together with everything else that he’s been saying, infer that he’s blaspheming by making himself equal with God. So, in verse 31, it says, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” Now, that’s a crisis because the hour for Jesus’s death has not yet come. Jesus is going to die when he has chosen to die and not a minute sooner: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
Way of Escape
And so, he has to somehow defuse this critical moment, or he’s about to be stoned legally because the Jews could stone people for blasphemy. He’s got to somehow get out of this situation so that he can make his way, in his own time, to the kind of death he intends to die. So, Jesus is going to deflect this threat in a couple of ways.
First, he says, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32). And they answer, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). In other words, from all the things that Jesus has said — including calling God his Father and saying that he and the Father are one, and by implication, therefore, that he’s the unique Son of God — they infer, and they infer rightly, that he’s treating himself as the Son of God in a unique way, only they call it a blasphemous way.
And now Jesus is going to defuse the situation a second way, and make his escape, which is what he does in verse 39: “He escaped from their hands.” How did he do that? He does it by quoting Psalm 82:6. He says,
Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came — and Scripture cannot be broken — do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? (John 10:34–36)
Principalities and Powers
So, what’s he doing? Let’s go back and read Psalm 82. It starts like this:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment. (Psalm 82:1)
Now, who are they? These are so-called “gods,” and are angelic beings, which the New Testament calls “principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 KJV). And God is about to pronounce judgment on them, because they are using their authority, behind the authorities of the world, in order to support injustice rather than justice. So, verse 3 of the Psalm says (this is God talking to that assembly of gods),
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3–4)
And then after the indictment, which he just gave, comes the condemnation from God in verse 6, which is what Jesus quotes, and he says,
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men [he’s not talking to men; he’s talking to angelic beings] you shall die,
and fall like any prince. (Psalm 82:6–7)
In other words, even though you have a very exalted status as gods — principalities, powers, angels — you’re going to come crashing down just like human rulers come crashing down who abuse their authority.
Blasphemy Backed Off
So, when Jesus says that God called them “gods,” he’s not talking about us. This is the answer to Beatrice’s question. In fact, he’s not talking to any ordinary human beings; he’s talking about and to angelic beings, who are sometimes called “gods” in the Old Testament — just like when Satan comes before God in the first chapter of Job and it says, “The sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). That’s the sense in which “gods” is being used here and “sons of God.”
The answer to Beatrice’s question is that in this text, both in Psalm 82 and in John 10, we are not called gods; angelic beings are called gods. And Jesus isn’t going into any elaborate argument here about the meaning of this Psalm; he is simply using this text as a shrewd escape maneuver from being about to be stoned. They have just accused him of blasphemy because of calling himself the Son of God, and he deflects the accusation of blasphemy by calling attention to the fact that in the Psalms the very term “sons of God” is used for beings less than God. And nobody accuses the psalmist or God himself of blasphemy, so back off.
God and Man
If you think this means — and we might be tempted to think this — that Jesus is arguing that he is only a godlike angelic being like those gods, that would be a big mistake. He doesn’t equate himself with those gods in Psalm 82. In fact, he uses very exalted language and says, “Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36).
He doesn’t defuse the situation by reducing his claim to deity; he defuses the situation by complicating the term Son of God for his accusers, so that they have to get rocked back on their hermeneutical heels in order to think for a minute about how to handle what he had just said from Psalm 82. And when that happens, he’s gone. Verse 39 says he makes his escape.
So, there are interesting and important things to be learned here in Jesus’s use of Psalm 82, but that we are gods is not one of them.