We are going to begin this morning to look at a very controversial passage of Scripture in John 10:31-39. We will spend this week and next week trying to unravel the difficulties of this text. You're going to need to put your thinking caps on for this one.
We ended our last study in John 10 with Yeshua's words:
"I and the Father are one." John 10:30 NASB
"One" is neuter in Greek, not masculine, indicating that Yeshua and His Father are not one person, but are one in essence. Yeshua is one in substance with the Father as far as divine essence or nature is concerned. Yeshua and the Father are ontologically inseparable. Notice the Jews reaction to this:
The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. John 10:31 NASB
They have had enough and are about to stone Him to death.
Yeshua answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" John 10:32 NASB
Yeshua is seeking clarification here, why exactly are you going to stone me? So the Jews tell Him exactly why they want Him dead:
The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." John 10:33 NASB
Be sure you get their reason for stoning Him, it is because, "You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." So why do they want Him dead? It's because they view Him as simply a man, but He is saying He is God. Do you see that? So to this Yeshua responds with a proof text from the Tanakh demonstrating that it is okay for Him to say that He is God. It's not blasphemy. The text He quotes is from Psalm 82:
Yeshua answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'? John 10:34 NASB
So in order to defend His deity He says, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'? So whatever your interpretation is of this quotation it has to reinforce Yeshua's claim in John 10:30 that equates Him with God. Yeshua is superior to all divine beings. If fallen divine beings can be addressed as "gods," how much more appropriate is the application of the word to Yeshua.
Now if we interpret Psalm 82 incorrectly, we are going to miss Yeshua's point in quoting it. So let's look at the Psalm and see if we can understand what it is talking about.
A Psalm of Asaph. God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. Psalms 82:1 NASB
The predominant view of this Psalm is that it is talking about Yahweh judging Israel's leaders. This view is way off, and I'll prove that to you. The first thing I want you to understand here is that I believe that this faulty view; that this Psalm is talking about Israel's leaders comes from bad translations. The NASB obscures the meaning of this verse. "God" and "rulers" are both the Hebrew word elohim. Let's look at it in YLT:
A Psalm of Asaph. God hath stood in the company of God, In the midst God doth judge. Psalms 82:1 YLT
The first thing you notice is that YLT has "God" in it three times, where the NASB has it only once. Why the difference? In the Hebrew elohim is in this verse twice. Young's adds the additional "God" in "company of God," which in Hebrew is, edah, and means: "a stated assemblage (specifically a concourse, or generally a family.") The ESV translates it this way:
A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: Psalms 82:1 ESV
Here the translators render edah as "divine council," and Young's translates it as "company of God." The term edah is normally translated as "congregation." So Elohim has taken His place in the congregation of the elohim. The term "divine council" is used by Hebrew Bible scholars to refer to the "heavenly host" (the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos). The NASB says, "He judges in the midst of the rulers," and the ESV says, "In the midst of the gods he holds judgment." I can't understand why NASB translates elohim as rulers. They translated elohim as God in the first part of the verse, and then they translated the second elohim as "rulers."
Let me say a word here about the ESV. In my opinion it is the best translation available at this time. Here's why I think that. The starting point for the ESV translation was the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Each word of the text was also checked against and based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. The publisher, Crossway, states that in "exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text." So they are using all resources available to get a proper translation.
The ESV is what would be called a formal equivalence translation ("word-for-word" translation) which attempts to translate the Bible as literally as possible, keeping the sentence structure and idioms intact if possible.
So this divine council is made up of Yahweh and many other gods? Who are these gods and where did they come from? Yahweh existed from all eternity, Yahweh being the divine Trinity; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then at a point in time Yahweh created other gods, lesser gods to be part of His family, His divine council. Christ, who is Yahweh incarnate, is said to have created everything, including other gods:
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 NASB
The words "thrones," "powers," "rulers" and "authorities" probably refer to spirit beings and not to human government. In part, this refers to the hierarchy of spiritual beings.
These gods were created before Yahweh created the world:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7 NASB
Here "morning stars" and "sons of God" are names of divine beings, they are members of the divine council. So before the creation of the earth and man you have Yahweh and other (lesser created) divine beings that make up the divine council. And this council is meeting in the heavens according to:
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? Psalms 89:5-7 ESV
Here we see an assembly of holy ones. That is meeting in the sky. "Heavenly beings" here is ben el, sons of God. Then we have the council of the holy ones.
In the Hebrew Bible we see a ruling body consisting of Yahweh as the supreme monarch and various supernatural attendants:
Micaiah said, "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 1 Kings 22:19 NASB
Here we see mention of the "host of heaven" (Heb. tzeva' hashamayim), which stands before Yahweh. "The host of heaven" is a reference to divine beings. This is a throne room seen with Yahweh and His divine council. These "host of heaven" are not just the stars in the night sky:
You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You. Nehemiah 9:6 NASB
"You alone are Yahweh" —LORD here in all caps is from the Hebrew YHVH; this name includes the verb "hava," meaning: "to exist," and the letter "yod" as a prefix, meaning: "He." So means: "He exists." If is a causative verb, it would mean: "He causes to exist." Both are true, Yahweh is the self existent One who causes to exist.
Only living creatures can worship Yahweh. Clearly, the "heavenly host" here refers to created divine beings which reside in the heavens:
A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalms 29:1-2 ESV
Here the heavenly beings, "ben el", are called upon to worship Yahweh. And Psalm 97 tells us that Yahweh is exalted about all gods:
For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. Psalms 97:9 ESV
If there are not other gods than this is saying, "Yahweh is far above things that don't exist." Back to 1 Kings:
…I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. "The LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that. 1 Kings 22:19-20 NASB
So Yahweh is talking to the heavenly host, divine beings who are part of His counci:
"Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' "The LORD said to him, 'How?' And he said, 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.' 1 Kings 22:21-22 NASB
This vision seen by Micaiah shows that Yahweh is in complete control of events. He only approves the course of action that suits His purpose, which in this case was to bring about the death of evil King Ahab.
Daniel also shows us Yahweh's sovereignty over the host of heaven:
"All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' Daniel 4:35 NASB
So the hosts of heaven are divine beings, gods who Yahweh created and rules over. In out text in Psalms 82 He is judging these gods:
A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: Psalms 82:1 ESV
The NASB's, "He judges in the midst of the rulers" is a bad translation. The Hebrew word here is elohim. Let's talk for a minute about the word elohim. Elohim is used 2606 times in the NASB. Elohim is the plural of El, which comes from a root word meaning: "might, strength, power."Elohim is plural, but it is what grammarians would call a morphological plural. Hebrew nouns that end in "im" are plural. But in most cases throughout the Tanakh the meaning is singular. We know this from Hebrew grammar. Elohim is like the English word deer or sheep. How do you know if "deer" is singular or plural? By the grammar of the sentence in which it is used. "I shot a deer" would be singular. "I saw a bunch of deer" would be plural. In the very first use of Elohim in Genesis 1:1 the verb, bara, identifies the subject of the verb as masculine singular.
You may think of Elohim as another name of Yahweh, but elohim is used in Scripture for many others beside Yahweh. Yahweh is called Elohim over 2,000 times as in Gen 1:1. We know that Yahweh is called Elohim, but He is not the only one. As we see in Psalm 82 members of Yahweh's divine council are called elohim.
Elohim is also used of the gods of foreign nations:
because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. 1 Kings 11:33 NASB
"Goddess and god" in this text are Elohim.
Elohim is also used of demons:
"They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New gods who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread. Deuteronomy 32:17 NASB
Here "God" is Elohim, and "gods" is elohim. So demons are also called elohim.
Here's one that may surprise you. Speaking of Samuel, the witch of Endor said:
The king said to her, "Do not be afraid; but what do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the earth." 1 Samuel 28:13 NASB
"Divine being" here is elohim. It seems like all uses of elohim in the Tanakh refer to spiritual beings. Michael H. Heiser says, "Elohim is a place of residence locator." Meaning that elohim is only used of those in the spirit world. In Daniel 2 the Chaldeans say:
The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh." Daniel 2:11 ESV
The gods, dwell in a different realm.
So, hopefully, you can see that elohim has a broad range of uses and is not strictly referring to Yahweh.
In attempting to find a human use of elohim, several people have brought up to me this verse in Exodus:
"Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him. Exodus 4:16 NASB
Here they say, "See, Moses is called 'elohim.'" Is he? Let's look at:
'I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Deuteronomy 18:18 NASB
Biblically defined, a prophet is the mouth of God, he is someone who speaks for God:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. Exodus 7:1 NASB
Aaron was to speak for Moses, who was as God to Pharaoh. Aaron was Moses' mouth, he spoke for Moses. So a prophet is someone who speaks for God. So Aaron was like a prophet, and Moses was like a god. If Moses is an elohim, then Aaron is a mouth.
Another verse that is used to question that elohim is used only to refer to those in the spirit world is:
"If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man's house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. "If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor's property. Exodus 22:7-8 NASB
Here the word "judges" is elohim. But the translators wrongly translated it "judges." How are human judges to determine if the man stole the money? The English Standard Version translates it as "God" and not judges. There is NO justification for translating elohim as judges, none!
"For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, 'This is it,' the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor. Exodus 22:9 NASB
Judges here both times is elohim. The Faithlife study Bible states:
The idea of God condemning the guilty party recalls other contexts where God's will was determined through casting lots (1 Sam 10:16-26; 14:42; Josh 7:14). Though the method of discerning God's will is not outlined here, God often makes His will known during a decision-making process. Since the scenario here is very similar to the one that follows (v. 10), God's will may have been determined by an oath taken in the name of Yahweh (on the presumption that God would reveal and condemn the one who took His name in vain). (Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. . Faithlife Study Bible [Ex 22:9]. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software)
Again the ESV translates elohim as God, not judges:
For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, 'This is it,' the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. Exodus 22:9 ESV
The next verses make it clear that it is Yahweh, and not some human judges:
"If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, an oath before the LORD shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor's property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. Exodus 22:10-11 NASB
So for them to take an oath was to come before Yahweh.
So elohim is not used of humans unless they are dead and in the spirit world. It is a place of residence locator. All elohim live in the spirit world. There is never a time in Scripture where a man is called "elohim." This is very important because it makes it clear the Psalm 82 is talking about gods, not men.
We also have an example in early Judaism where people are using Psalm 82 to talk about the judgment of the gods. When they dug up Qumran, they found this text 11
Q. Melchizedek and it uses Psalm 82 to talk about he judgment of the gods. "It is the time of the year of Melchizedek and of his armies, the nation of the holy ones of God of the rule of judgment as it is written about him in the songs of David who said 'God will stand in the assembly of the gods; in the midst of the gods; he judges.'" This is talking about Christ who is the judge. The 11 Q. Melchizedek text goes on immediately in the next line and says, "To his aid shall come all the gods of justice." And so there's these good gods coming to aid Melchizedek in the destruction of the Belail and other spirits to redeem the people.
Let's continue in Psalm 82:
How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. Psalms 82:5 NASB
So these gods are being judged for ruling the people unjustly. Look at Psalm 58:
Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods? Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men? No, in heart you work unrighteousness; On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands. Psalms 58:1-2 NASB
Again the NASB is not a good translation here. So let's look at the ESV
Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth. Psalms 58:1-2 ESV
Just like Psalm 82 the gods are being judged for ruling wickedly.
Let me stop here and ask, How did these gods end up ruling over the people?
As earth's population grows it becomes wicked as a result of a divine rebellion as per Genesis 3 and 6. Man begins to worship the gods instead of the gods creator, Yahweh. This rebellion of man culminates in building a ziggurat at Babel:
So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:8-9 NASB
Things are in a state of chaos. They are in rebellion against Yahweh, and they are judged. They will not follow Him so He disburses them and turns them over to lesser deities. This is a very significant text, which we learn more about in:
"When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, [Adam] He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel. Deuteronomy 32:8 NASB
The English translations based on the traditional Hebrew text of the Tanakh read "sons of Israel." But there is a variant rendering of this passage. It's based on the 3rd-century BCE translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the Septuagint, as well as Hebrew manuscripts of Deuteronomy found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. Deuteronomy 32:8 ESV
Here is this same passage as it was rendered by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton in his, 1851 translation of the Septuagint into English:
Remember the days of old, consider the years for past ages: ask thy father, and he shall relate to thee, thine elders, and they shall tell thee. 8 When the Most High divided the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. DEUTERONOMY 32:7-8
In the Septuagint the Greek phrase "aggelon theou" is translated: "angels of God." This interpretive phrase is found in nearly all the extant Septuagint manuscripts. However, several earlier manuscripts have instead "huion theou," or "sons of God." This is a literal rendering of the Hebrew phrase "beney 'elohim" found among the Dead Sea Scroll copies of Deuteronomy 32:8.
The Septuagint translators plainly understood that the "sons of God" (beney 'elohim) spoken of in Deuteronomy 32:8 and elsewhere were spirit beings ("gods"), and rendered it that way several times (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7) in order to clarify the meaning. Thus the textual change from "huion theou" to "aggelon theou."
In Genesis 10, the table of nations, Yahweh divides Noah's descendants into 70 different nations. This is recorded in:These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood. Genesis 10:32 NASB
Chapter 10 of Genesis is the backdrop for Moses' statement in Deuteronomy 32:8 that Yahweh is responsible for the creation and placement of the nations (Heb. goyim). In fact, variations of the same Hebrew root word parad ("separate") are used in both Genesis 10:32 and Deuteronomy 32:8.
The idea that the separation of mankind into 70 nations at the Tower of Babel was by and for the angelic "sons of God" is supported by the ancient Book of Jasher (which is mentioned in Joshua 10:13, "Is it not written in the book of Jashar?" and 2 Samuel 1:18, "it is written in the book of Jashar.")And they built the tower and the city, and they did this thing daily until many days and years were elapsed. 32 And God said to the seventy angels who stood foremost before him, to those who were near to him, saying, Come let us descend and confuse their tongues, that one man shall not understand the language of his neighbor, and they did so unto them. JASHER 9:31
If in Deuteronomy 32, Moses was indeed referencing Yahweh's separation of the nations according to Noah's offspring (specifically their physical separation at the Tower of Babel), it is important to note that Israel is not listed in the index of the 70 nations found in Genesis 10. The nation of Israel did not yet exist at that time. Therefore, the statement that God "set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel" clearly seems out of context here.
What happens at Babel is man's disobedience causes Yahweh to divide them up and give them to the lesser gods. They were to worship the lesser gods because Yahweh was done with them. Man continued to reject Yahweh and serve other gods so Yahweh gave them up. What happens to them in chapter 12?:Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; Genesis 12:1-2 NASB
Yahweh calls Abraham and starts over with Israel as His people. Yahweh starts a new family. He has turned over the nations to the lesser gods, who, in fact, work for Him. They are all under His control and He will some day call the nations back.
Commenting on Deuteronomy 32:8-9, John Walton writes, "These verses are intended to contrast the fact that the Lord has set Israel apart unto Himself from among all the nations, and Israel is not numbered with them. The nations have their own 'gods,' who are mortal, but they do not have Yahweh, who alone does not die and is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent." (John H Walton ,Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary [Old Testament] Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 200),[ 516])
The point of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is that sometime after God separated the people of the earth at Babel and established where on the earth they were to be located, He then assigned each of the seventy nations to the sons of God.
According to Deuteronomy 4:19 this "giving up" of the nations was a punitive act:"And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB
We saw earlier in this study that the "host of heaven" referred to sentient created spiritual beings which reside in the heavens. Notice here that these "host of heaven" have been "allotted to the peoples." The word "allotted" in Hebrew is chalaq, which literally means: "apportioned" or "assigned." Here we are told that Yahweh has assigned "the host of heaven" to the peoples of the earth; meaning; "all non Israelites."
These gods did not rule in truth and justice so Yahweh judged them and reclaimed the nations for Himself.I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Psalms 82:6 NASB
Here "gods" is elohim. Yahweh speaking to these gods says, "You are gods." But notice the next verse:"Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes." Psalms 82:7 NASB
If these elohim were men, why would Yahweh say, "You will die like men"? Yahweh is saying here that He will judge the disobedient gods, He will take away their immortality. Jeremiah says something similar in:Thus you shall say to them, "The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens." Jeremiah 10:11 NASB
So we see in Psalm 82 that Yahweh reviewed their performance as "gods" and judges of the Gentiles and condemned them for failing to rule justly. They're supposed to copy the rule of the Father of all. They're supposed to rule in justice and law, keep the order of things. Notice the last verse:Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations. Psalms 82:8 NASB
Who is the God here, who is to judge these disobedient gods and the earth? In the LXX the word "arise" here is anasta in Greek. This is the term used in the New Testament every time for resurrection. This is a reference to Yeshua, the resurrected One. He is the God who arises and judges the earth.
Again let's look at this in the ESV:Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! Psalms 82:8 ESV
Yeshua did arise from the grave and He judged these gods and reclaimed the nations for Himself starting at Pentecost.
So this Psalm is all about the judgment of the lesser gods who were ruling the nations unjustly. And this is the Psalm that Yeshua quotes from in John 10. Next week we'll look at Yeshua's quote of verse 6 and what He meant by it.