What did Jesus mean when he said, “You are gods!”
Taken out of context, this quote of Jesus seems to deify
the whole human race, conferring a divine nature and destiny upon all. When
scrutinized within the framework of the surrounding text, it communicates
something quite different. Certain Israelite leaders were refusing Jesus’
claim of being "the Son of God." He responded by quoting to them a
passage from the Old Testament:
"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 the Scripture cannot be broken),
Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and
sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I
am the Son of God’?
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not
believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the
works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I
in Him." (John 10:34–38)
Who were these individuals Jesus referred to as "gods?"
Over 2,000 times the Hebrew word elohim is translated "God"
in the Old Testament; over 200 times it is translated into the plural word
"gods" (as in the Psalm 82 quote Jesus referenced above). Four
times elohim is also rendered "judges" in the King James
Version of the Bible. (Exodus 21:6; 22:8–9) However, the original
Hebrew word literally means "God" or "gods." Presumably,
God referred to his representative judges in Israel as elohim,
because if they did their job correctly, they spoke with divine authority.
The "word of God" came to them. The God of Israel inspired their
judgments. As mouthpieces of the Almighty, they would make pronouncements
that represented the will of the Most High in any case brought to their
Unfortunately, the judges of Israel eventually became
quite corrupt: receiving bribes, making false judgments, and abusing their
authority. Because they were out of touch with God, they often
misrepresented him. In Psalm 82:1–3 God strongly protested their behavior:
"God stands in the congregation of the
mighty; He judges among the gods. How long will you judge
unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor
and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy."
God was reminding his judges ("the gods," Heb. elohim)
that he was in their midst, ready to reveal his judgment concerning the
situations in question. But the judges were deaf to his counsel. They had
their own agenda. They were self-centered, manipulative, greedy and
spiritually insensitive. So God gave them a stern warning:
I said, "You are gods…But you shall
die like men…"
Clearly, this passage teaches the humanity of the judges
of Israel, not their divinity. Its correct interpretation is absolutely the
opposite of what some construe it to mean. Unquestionably, it cannot be used
as proof that all men are evolving into ‘godhood.’ The Author of the
Bible never intended these passages to be interpreted this way.