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When Jesus said, “You are gods,” what did He mean?

Who was He speaking to and what was He implying when Jesus said, “You are gods”? (John 10:34) Many New Agers and yoga advocates take this statement out of context to try and prove Jesus taught all human beings are manifestations of God, that we are all divine. Some sincere Christians fail to follow this statement back to its historical roots and claim it as a title that belongs to those who are born again. However, when scrutinized within the framework of the surrounding text, it communicates something quite different. Let’s dig deeper and get to the truth.

Certain Israelite leaders were refusing Jesus’ claim of being “the Son of God” and were on the verge of executing Him when He asked the pointed question: “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” 

The angry Jewish leaders responded: “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” 

Jesus (Yeshua) then countered their accusation by referencing an Old Testament passage:

      “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),
d
o 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 persons Jesus referred to as “gods?” The first step in deciphering this mystery is to go to Psalm 82:

     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.
     Deliver the poor and needy; free them from 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 unstable.
     I said, “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.
     But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.”
     Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.

The Hebrew word translated “gods” in this psalm is elohiym. Over 2,000 times elohiym is translated “God” in the Old Testament. Over 200 times it is translated into the plural word “gods,” including this passage from Psalms. But who are these “gods” being referenced? Is it some group of celestial deities? Certainly not! They are men: a certain unique group of men: the judges of Israel.

This leads to the second step in deciphering this mystery. Now, we must travel all the way back to Exodus. In that second book of the Bible, four times elohiym is translated into the word “judges” in the King James, the New King James and many other English versions of the Bible. (Exodus 21:6; 22:8–9) However, the original Hebrew word literally means “God” or “gods.” So the judges of Israel were called elohiym and in the vocabulary of Israelites, that meant “gods.”

Presumably, the Most High referred to his representative judges in Israel as elohiym, because if they did their job correctly, they spoke with divine authority. The “word of God” came to them (words of wisdom and words of knowledge) supernaturally. The God of Israel inspired their judgments, through His Word and by His Spirit. As mouthpieces of the Almighty, they would make pronouncements that aligned with the Word of God (the Torah) and represented the will of God in any case brought to their attention. Because God Himself was judging His people among them and through them, His representatives were given this honorific title. They were not “gods” in the sense of being worshiped; they were “gods” in the sense of speaking under God’s authority.

Eventually, though, many of the judges of Israel became corrupt: receiving bribes, making false judgments, abusing their authority and perpetrating many injustices. Because they were out of touch with God, they often misrepresented Him and in doing so, damaged God’s people. In the Psalms 82 passage Jesus referenced, the opening verse says: “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.” God was reminding the judges that He was among them in a supernatural sense and He was the One administering judgments:

But then He protested their behavior, saying: “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.” (Psalm 82:2–3)

God was rebuking these judges (“the gods,” Heb. elohiym) because they were deaf to his counsel. They had their own agenda. Too often, 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.’” (Psalm 82:6–7)

So clearly, this passage reveals the humanity of the judges of Israel, not their divinity. It declares their mortality—not their exalted status. They may think of themselves with lofty terms, but the stalker of the whole human race (death) will eventually snare them as well. So, the correct interpretation of this portion of Scripture is absolutely the opposite of what some construe it to mean. Unquestionably, it cannot be used as proof by those who embrace New Age spirituality that all men are evolving into ‘godhood,’ neither is this destiny being implied for those who are born again and filled with God’s Spirit. The Author of the Bible never intended these passages to convey this meaning.

Having made my case, I still understand the perspective of those who have claimed this entitlement of “gods” for born-again believers in this New Covenant era. Some of their logic is based on ideas like the following nine points:

1. Horses beget horses, dogs beget dogs, so if God has offspring, what are they? You fill in the blanks: God begets _______.
2. Christians have been made “partakers of the divine nature” by the “exceedingly great and precious promises of God” (2 Peter 1:4).
3. God’s “seed” is within us (the Greek word is sperma, from which we get the English word sperm), so symbolically and spiritually, the very DNA of God is a part of us. We are infused with His nature, His character. As new creations in Christ we have become the very “righteousness of God” (1 John 3:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. If we walk in the Spirit, the Word of God comes to us, just like it came to the “judges” (the elohiym) of ancient times. True disciples (His sheep) hear Jesus’ voice (John 10:27). That’s undeniable. Sometimes, we receive flashes of insight supernaturally: the word of knowledge or the word of wisdom as we walk with God day-by-day (1 Corinthians 12:8).
5. We are all called to speak as “oracles of God” (voices of God in the world, His anointed representatives) (1 Peter 4:11).
6. God’s saints are authorized to judge civil, social and religious matters in the church and will one day judge the world and judge angels (under the authority and inspiration of the Judge of all) (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). So, we fill a role that is similar to the judges of ancient times, but even more perfected and exalted.
7. We possess a oneness with the Father similar to the oneness with the Father Jesus possessed. One day, we will enjoy that union to the highest degree. “Of His fullness we all have received” (John 1:16; 17:22-23).
8. When Jesus returns, we will be changed in a moment, glorified, and become like the firstborn Son, shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.
9. We will inherit all things and be pillars in the temple of God forever, kings and priests reigning with Him forever over the New Creation.

Surely, considering all these incredible and verifiable truths, wouldn’t those who are born again and filled with God’s Spirit have an even greater right to claim the status of being “elohiym” (gods) according to John 10:34 and the passages we have quoted?

Only if we stretch Jesus’ words beyond their original intended meaning.

There is absolutely no scripture to be found that unquestionably confers the title of “gods” (elohiym) on the sons and daughters of God. So, we should never take it upon ourselves to claim that spiritual endowment. However, it should also be emphasized, Bible teachers who feel believers have a right to this status (based on observations like the nine statements above) should not be lambasted as heretics for thinking it is acceptable. In most cases, they are probably sincere believers who truly love God and His Word and are trying to interpret it correctly. Even though proper exegesis of these passages do not allow this conclusion, we need to understand the perspective of those who dare to use this terminology. Usually, no one is claiming “godhood” in the sense of being worshiped or as being a manifestation of God equal to the Messiah (as New Agers would). They are just celebrating the enormity of what God has done for His people in making us His temple and His offspring. So, what are my conclusions?

First, to New Agers I will emphasize that the correct interpretation of this passage makes it clear Jesus never implied the “godhood” of all people.
Second, I will never claim this title for myself or for other followers of Jesus. If we just fulfill the mandate to be sincere and faithful sons and daughters of God, we have accomplished great things and should be happy beyond measure.
Third, I will not label those who claim this title for the members of the body of Christ as apostates, false prophets or heretics (unless, of course, they are some kind of cultish offshoot of Christianity like Mormonism). I may not agree with them, but in many cases, I understand how they arrived at their conclusion.

 

 

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Written by Mike Shreve