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Are Ye gods?

Updated: Jul 2, 2023




Many people criticize interpreting the “Ye are gods” (John 10) passage to say that New Testament believers are little gods, but rarely, if ever, do I see anyone actually exegete the passage to find out the meaning. Recently, a certain well-known worship group came to Israel. Some local leaders expressed concern about their doctrine and even sent some clips of one the leaders espousing the ye are gods doctrine.


In one clip the speaker uses the “You are gods” verse quoted by Yeshua in John 10 to say that NT believers can heal the sick, do miracles, etc. While there are plenty of passages that speak of the believer healing the sick (Acts 1:8, 3:1ff, 8:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:1-11) and even doing greater things than Yeshua (John 14:12), can we make the claim that we are gods? The Charismatic movement has grown from zero to “over 600 million adherents worldwide” in just 120 years and is “found in almost every country in the world,” [1] as well as most denominations. There are more Protestants who identify as Charismatic than not. But is the idea that we are gods part of mainstream Charismatic theology?


I have been Charismatic since coming to faith in 1983. If it were not for the clips circulating on YouTube, I would not even know that this was an issue (other than from a teaching I was told about in the 90s by a well-known prosperity preacher). I have never heard a single message or read a single book that espoused this idea—that we are equal to God or are little gods. I think some non-Charismatics think this is a mainstream Charismatic doctrine—it is not.


Yeshua’s Point

Look at the passage and consider that 1) Yeshua is not saying something positive when he quotes Psalm 82 and 2) there is no sense from any of these passages that we heal the sick (or do any other supernatural act) through our god-ness, but through the name and authority of Yeshua. We are only of good use if we are part of the vine, Yeshua. He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). This does not make us little gods, but participants in the divine nature of God (2 Peter 1:4) by his grace.


What about Psalm 82?

We have to ask, though, what does the psalmist mean when he says, “God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘gods’… ‘I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.” Ps 82:1, 6). Who are these gods? Are they people? Angels? Demons? Does it refer to believers being gods? James Limburg points out that “The opening sentence of this psalm immediately raises questions for the modern reader. What is going on here? Where is this council being held? Who are these gods?” [2] This divine council conjures up images of Satan and the angels coming before God’s throne in Job. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them” (Job 1:6, see 2:1).


In the calling of Isaiah, we see a gathering of angels interacting with God before his throne (Isaiah 6), and in the Micaiah/Ahab confrontation, we find a spirit willing to be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of the prophets. The spirit makes this proposal in what appears like a Psalm 82 gathering: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left” (1 King 22:19). Interesting that it says spirit רוח and not angel מלאח.


Yeshua’s usage

When Yeshua argues with the Jewish leaders in John 10, they want to kill him. He asks why? “For which of these (miracles) do you stone me?” (v. 32b). But it is not for the miracles, but his claim of divinity. “‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (v. 33). And Yeshua responds:


Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? (Jn 10:34–36).

The gods?

Scholars are not in 100% agreement as to who these gods are in Psalm 82, but some entity exists here. We need to understand their identity in some way to conclude whether this has any relevance for a New Testament believer, as some have claimed.


God has gathered them in the “great assembly” v. 1, and he is not happy with them. He rebukes them for allowing injustice, presumably on Earth or in Israel. He continues with his rebuke: “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Ps. 82:5).


God is referred to in the Psalm as Elohim, in what some call the majestic plural, while the gods are also elohim. There is no uppercase in Hebrew—so when someone says, “We are little ‘g’ gods,” they are mistaken linguistically. But they are not mistaken in that God in Psalm 82 is clearly the one with all authority, and the other gods have been given authority—but they have not used it well. “[God] is transcendent over all he has created, including the ‘gods.’” [3]


Part of the problem is that in modernity, we see the word god as equal to Yahweh. The Bible speaks of gods, but never Yahwehs—there is only one Yahweh Eloheinu—the LORD our God (Deut. 6:4), but there are other gods, according to scripture, that are not divine or eternal and certainly not “our God.” The late Michael Heiser, who devoted much of his life to the subject of the gods and the unseen realm, writes:


After all, when Psalm 82 describes the God of Israel as presiding over other plural elohim, that sounds like polytheism. But that admission in turn suggests that the text is being translated so that it conforms to our theological expectations (emphasis added) or needs. Surely that strategy can’t be recommended. Yet that is precisely what many translators and scholars do in the name of fidelity to God. I would suggest this is dishonest and hypocritical.[4]

In other words, when most believers hear the word god, they think it exclusively refers to the one true God, the God of Israel. When in fact the word for god is used in Scripture apart from Yahweh, albeit mostly referring to non-existent entities that pagans worship or household items (Deut. 13:2). Heiser says,


That is our fundamental mistake. We are accustomed to equating the word spelled g-o-d with the God of Israel and his unique attributes. As a result, the idea that other gods are indeed real—even if that is what the biblical text says—is something to escape or obscure.” [5]

Yahweh is an el (singular for god) אל, but no other el אל is Yahweh.


The gods of Psalm 82 are not eternal like the God of Israel. They are told: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” So, to whatever gods אלוהים refers, it clearly does not always refer to an eternal deity or divine being. “They will die like mere mortals.” The teachers who promote the idea that we are gods don’t seem to ever quote the second part of v. 6.


To be clear, the gods of Ps. 82 cannot be the other members of the Trinity. 1) That would lead to polytheism, and 2) these gods are clearly not in unity; God is angry with the gods for their unjust behavior, whereas the Godhead is in complete, eternal unity. Heiser says there are six different usages of E/elohim (God/gods) in the Bible.


A. Yahweh, the God of Israel (over 2000 times),

B. The אלהים of Yahweh’s heavenly council, both loyal and disloyal (Ps. 82; Ps. 89; cf. Deut. 32:8-9, 43; Ps. 58:11),

C. The gods of foreign nations (e.g., 1 Kings 11:33),

D. Demons (Deut. 32:17),

E. The disembodied human dead (1 Sam 28:13),

F. Angels (Gen 35:7 – cf. the context of the plural predicator withאלהים subject). [6]


Can humans be elohim (gods)?

While it seems to me that the council in Psalm 82 are heavenly or spiritual beings (as in the case of Job 1 and 2), Yeshua is speaking to humans in John 10. Can humans be referred to as gods? In Exodus 22:7-9, the vast majority of English translations speak of judges rendering a verdict. The word that is translated as judges is elohim—gods. So, yes, humans can be elohim, but it would seem that this is exclusive to those with God-given authority to exercise justice (Rom. 13). While many English translations use “God” for elohim in Exodus 22:7-9, the verb declare is plural in v. 9: “the elohim declare (plural),” in Hebrew. Verbs that apply to Elohim (God of Israel) are always singular.


For instance, let’s take one of the most famous verses in the Bible בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים “In the beginning God created…” (Gen. 1:1) The verb created ברא is singular, not plural. Thus, in Ex. 22:8-9, Elohim could not be referring to Yahweh, but a council of judges or elohim. We could add a seventh category to Heiser’s list: Human leaders or judges can be elohim.


Mere Mortals

Yes, Yeshua did quote Psalm 82 and seems to be referring to mortals like the ones he was addressing.


“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Jn. 10:34–37)

However, just as in Ps. 86, Yeshua is rebuking the ‘gods’—leaders of the people for being unjust. To take this verse and conclude that we are little Yahwehs in a positive sense is doing great injustice to the text.


Gerald Borchert writes:


One of the texts in Jesus’ mind was undoubtedly Ps 82:6, where human beings are called both “gods” and “sons of the Most High.” Jesus’ logic was impeccably clear. If their sourcebook (“your Law”) called humans “gods” and the Scriptures are utterly reliable (“cannot be broken”), then where was their problem (10:35)? [7]

Exegetical Minefield!

Borchet continues, “The student of the Bible will quickly recognize that this argument could easily become a minefield of exegesis.” [8] And indeed, it has, with people arguing over its meaning for centuries and, sadly, finding in the text something which does not exist. To me, it seems here that Yeshua is being a little cheeky. He is not making a doctrine but mocking them. Your own Bible says that you are gods—but you are corrupt judges. How, then, can you, being corrupt, be a god but deny that the actual true Son of God is one? Borchet puts it this way, “The main point is that he was, in fact, the God-sent one, and if Scripture could apply such theological terms to created beings, how much more should such terms be applied to the unique Son of God.” [9]


“Whenever a hymn speaks of those other divine powers, whose existence is by no means denied on theoretical grounds, it can only be with reference to the One who will call their actions to judgment (Ps. 82), or in the spirit of superiority that mocks their impotence (Pss. 115:4–8; 135:15–18).” [10]

The tone of the Psalm 82 gods is one of mocking and judgment from Yahweh against these created gods, whether human or angelic and reminiscent of Psalm 2, where God rebukes the kings of the earth as they rage against God. Yeshua, by using this passage, is not creating a super-class of little gods with divine authority but mocking their religious spirit and pointing out their hypocrisy. He is not only claiming his own divinity but exposing their unjust governing at the same time.

Yeshua seems to be defining gods as the judges of the people. “These ‘gods,’” says Bruce Barton, “were those who were the official representatives and commissioned agents of God; they were the judges executing judgment for God. If they were called ‘gods,’ how was it blasphemous for Jesus to call himself the Son of God when, in fact, he was the one the Father sanctified and sent into the world?” [11]


“The Jews” in John

We know that in John when we see the phrase “the Jews” Ioudaios, it mostly refers to Jewish leaders. If you compare John 18:14, where it speaks of Caiaphas advising “the Jews,” we know that “the Jews” he advised were members of the Sanhedrin.


Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin … Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:47, 49-50)

In other words, it could be that Yeshua is using the term “you” in “you are gods” to refer specifically to the Sanhedrin, who, like the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82, had the power to grant justice or deprive it and often deprived. His comparison is clearly calling them out for their hypocrisy and injustice and not an affirmation of any Yahweh-like attribute.


Conclusions

1. The term ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 does not refer to Yahweh.


2. There is nowhere (that I have found) in the Bible where God speaks of gods in a positive tone (at best neutral, as in Ex. 22). Ps. 86 is an angry rebuke of the gods.


3. These ‘gods’ operate under the authority of the one true God. They are not gods on their own.


4. Clearly, Yeshua was not creating a doctrine of ‘little gods with special power’ because it is never mentioned again; the apostles never claim they are gods. In fact, when Gentiles referred to Barnabas and Paul as gods, they tore their clothes and declared that they were mere men. (Acts 14:11ff).

 

Footnote: While I completely reject the “ye are gods” doctrine, I do think the concern about it is quite overblown. I have been a charismatic since I came to faith in 1983. The only time I have ever heard about this doctrine is when heresy-hunters send a link to someone else teaching it or when they raise a concern about it. I'm not saying that people don't teach it; I am saying that not many people teach it. Or maybe I'm ignorant.



[1] Anderson, Allan Heaton. An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Chapter 1, Understanding Terms, Kindle Edition.


[2] James Limburg, Psalms, ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 279.


[3] Daniel J. Estes, Psalms 73–150, ed. E. Ray. Clendenen, vol. 13, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 116.



[5] Michael Heiser, “Should the Plural אלהים of Psalm 82 Be Understood as Men or Divine Beings?” Annual Meeting, Evangelical Theological Society, 2010, https://thedivinecouncil.com/ETS2010Psalm82.pdf


[6] Heiser, “Should the Plural…”


[7] Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 343.


[8] Borchert, John 1–11, 343.


[9] Borchert, John 1–11, 343.


[10] Walther Zimmerli, quoted by Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 623.


[11] Bruce B. Barton, John, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 218.

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(Cont'd) Because we all know ",,,there is only one Yahweh Eloheinu."

Which means Yeshua wasn't trying to claim to be Yahweh by saying he was His son. Because we too are now "sons of God." And if we don't want to say we are even little gods, we certainly don't want to claim we are Yahweh.

"There is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, the MAN Yeshua." 1 Tim. 2:5

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Ron - Apart from your thorough explanation of why we are not now gods (although I think an argument could be made we will be one day when we become one with the Father and Yeshua (John 17:21), there is this.

I found it ironic that you have made the same mistake as the we-are-gods crowd, as well as the Jews in Yeshua's day. Why? Because you thought Yeshua truly was making a "claim to divinity" when he referred to himself as "the son of God."

You correctly identify the error when you say later - "In modernity (as back in Yeshua's day), we see (or hear) the word god as equal to Yahweh." Because we all know ",,,there is…

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Hannah W
Hannah W
Jun 29, 2023

An excellent explanation of the "gods" controversy. It was unfortunate that it ended with a reference to the NAR controversy, which is quite different.

Contrary to the claims that the term "NAR" (New Apostolic Reformation) "exists in the minds of those who oppose it", and that no one "in the charismatic world who speaks of the NAR in positive terms," C. Peter Wagner was the one who coined the term and also defended it.

He wrote in Charisma (2011) that "I felt that I had a responsibility to attempt to bring some clarification as to what the NAR is, what are its goals, and how these goals are being implemented."

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Ron Cantor
Ron Cantor
Jun 30, 2023
Replying to

C. Peter Wagner is dead. And no one, that I am aware of, uses that term today. Many of those who were once close to him have sought to correct his theology on dominionism.

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