“You Are Gods”: What Did Jesus Mean?

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By Steven Bancarz| One of the most confusing verses in the New Testament that often gets twisted in a gnositc/mystical context is something Jesus says in John chapter 10:

“I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”  The Jews answered him, “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.”

Jesus answered them,

“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 10:31-36

Jesus is referring to a verse in Psalm 82 verse 6: where it reads:

“I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;’”  

As you can imagine, this passage has caused a lot of confusion, especially in the New Age movement. It’s often interpreted gnostically to mean that we are little gods ascending up a ladder of deification, or mystically to mean that God is within all things and is therefore within us.  As Deepak Chopra says about this verse:

“I interpreted this as “those who have knowledge of God are God.” In Eastern philosophical systems there’s an established idea of a path through personal consciousness to a collective conscience to a universal conscience, which people call the divine. I concluded that Jesus must have experienced this consciousness,” (1)

In this article we are going to answer a few questions:

  1. Who was this verse addressing?
  2. What did the Pslamist mean when he mean when he called them “gods”?
  3. Why did Jesus bring this verse up?
  4. Was Jesus saying that we are all gods?

1) Who was this verse addressing?

While some speculate this verse might be referring to the entire nation of Israel, angels/lower elohim, or the false gods of the pagan nations, the most generally accepted view is that the psalmist was writing to earthly judges, and we will see why this is true when we read Pslam 82:6 in context:

“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah.  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.”  

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.  I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”  Arise, O God, judge the earth;  for you shall inherit all the nations!” – Psalm 82:1-8

Notice how in verses 2, 3, and 4 God is telling them to do a better job restoring justice on the earth. Judge justly, give justice to the weak, maintain the right of the afflicted. For someone who wants to say this verse refers to all of mankind, the average person does not have the authority to maintain another person’s rights.  That is a legal and judicial function, which is the job of judges, kings, and magistrates.

There are at least 15 major judges mentioned in the Old Testament, who ruled over Isreal in the place of Kings. There is a rich history of judges and kings in the OT, starting Exodus 18 when Moses elected people as God’s representatives to settle disputes among the people of Isreal.

God rebukes such judges in a very similar manner in Isaiah 3:13-15, Isaiah 3:24-26, Micah 3:9-12, and in Pslam 58 where it says: 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. The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

Once again, the average person does not have the ability to make decrees and judgments over other people.  Only people of legal authority can make moral decrees over other men.  The object of the LORD’s admonishment, the ones whom He is calling “gods”, are the ones who are in a position to enforce the law of God over the Hebrew people.

This verse is not a reference to all of mankind, but to judges.  And not to judges of all nations, but to judges of Israel in particular. These are the “sons of the most high”, his chosen people to whom the word of God came”, as Jesus says.  We often forget that Jesus tells us this verse refers to a specific group of people.  

Jesus said “if he called them gods to WHOM the word of God came”. Only those to whom the word of God came were referred as gods, and the word of God did not come to every single person in the world, but to the nation of Israel alone.

2) What did the Psalmist mean when he called them “gods”?

The Hebrew word used here is “elohim”, and is used 2681 times in scripture.  It’s used over 2000 times to refer to God, and 259 times to refer to any kind of spiritual being in general.  But it’s also used to refer to human judges put in God’s place to carry out his will.  Remember we mentioned the election of judges in elected in Exodus 18?  These same judges were called ‘elohim’ in Exodus 21:6:

“But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost.”

In the KJV, NKJV, CSB, GNV, NET, ISV, NIV, MEV it translates to “judges” because these verses refer to human judges acting in God’s place.  Yet God saw it fit to call these newly elected judges “elohim” because of their role among the people.  Exodus 22:8, 9, and 28 are the other examples where “elohim” is referring to these human judges elected as God’s representative.  

“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 (judges). The one whom God (judges) condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.”

This small handful of times is the only time you see a humans referenced as “elohim”, and it’s always a mythopoetic reference to their role and authority to judge in the place of God.

As John Calvin says:

“Scripture gives the name of gods to those on whom God has conferred an honourable office…The passage which Christ quotes is in Psalm 82:6, I have said, You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High; where God expostulates with the kings and judges of the earth, who tyrannically abuse their authority and power for their own sinful passions, for oppressing the poor, and for every evil action.” (2)

So this is not a reference to deity for every single human.  It’s a metaphorical reference to the quasi-divine role a very narrow class of people, judges in Israel.

3) Why did Jesus bring this verse up?

What Jesus is doing here is making an argument from lesser to greater.  Jesus was just finished saying that he is one with the Father.  In John chapter 5:22 he says: “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” and in John 8:16 he says “Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me”.  He claimed he was given the position of judge by the Father, and that when he judges it is both him and the Father judging.

He is saying, if even human judges can be called ‘god’s in the sense that the are representatives of God’s justice, how much more appropriate is it for me to call myself the Son of God if he has given me all authority in Heaven and in earth? If mere mortals they were called elohim for representing his law in Isreal, how much more can I claim deity for myself when I represent him perfectly in all things?  

Why do you say I blaspheme when I have more power, authority, and deity than the ones called gods in the OT? If men to whom God’s word came can be called elohim, then even moreso can I be called elohim as the living and breathing Word of God.

He said this deflect their charges of blasphemy against him, and to demonstrate that he was well within his rights and authority to claim deity for himself.   This is the correct meaning and context of John 10 and Psalm 82, and this is why Jesus brought this verse up.

4) Was Jesus saying we are all gods?

In the video down below, we look at how Jesus could not possibly have meant that we are all gods for the primary reasons that every single person in scripture who claimed deity for themselves (apart from Christ) was served judgement by God.  The King of Babylon in Isaiah 14, the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28, King Herod in Acts 12:21-23, and the Antichrist mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4 who will burn in the lake of fire according to Revelation 19:20 and Revelation 20:10.

These are the only people in the history of the Bible who claimed to be a “god”, or try to wear deity for themselves in a direct way.  The Biblical precedence for divinity claimers in Scripture is nothing less than capital punishment and hell fire.  If Jesus wanted us to believe this about ourselves, why did God make sure that people who believed this about themselves were sentenced the most severe form of punishment?  The answer is simple:

The idea that human sinners are divine or can become divine through knowledge or a shift in awareness is the same lie from the Eve in the Garden back in Genesis 3, that if we eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that we can be as “elohim”.  This idea resembles the first lie ever taught by the enemy of Jesus.

We can clearly see that Jesus was not telling every person on earth that they are all little gods in an eastern or gnostic sense.  It’s a reference to OT judges, not humankind.  What Jesus really taught is that we are lost in sin fallen from God, that He alone is the mediator between us and the Father, and that we must believe on his atoning work on the cross in order to receive the gift of salvation.

References

1. Chopra, D., Deepak Chopra on Jesus. Time, 2008. available
2. Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, p. 419). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
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