“I Said, ‘You Are Gods‘”
In John 10:22-39, we see Jesus walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. There Jesus interacted with Jews and they requested that Jesus openly declare whether He was the Messiah. Jesus said He had already told them, and they did not believe. Jesus then explained that those Jews did not believe Him because they were not His sheep and could not hear His voice. Jesus revealed that He gave His sheep eternal life, and protected them with His hand. Then God the Father protected the sheep with His hand. Jesus was ready to proclaim a truth that overpowered everything. Incarnational Theology │ “I SAID, YOU ARE GODS” │ John 10:22-39
I and the Father Are One
Jesus stoked the anger of the crowd with a simple declaration about His relationship to God. That truth focused history in every way.
In John 10:30, Jesus declared that “I and the Father are one.” The Jews then picked up stones. As they stood holding stones to hurl at Jesus, He began an important discussion with them.
The Works of God
If you were facing an angry crowd holding the stones that may rain upon you at any moment, what would you say? Jesus decided to probe their motivations for killing Him. Jesus was always the greatest of teachers and, as God in the flesh, never missed an opportunity to share the message of God. Jesus consistently testified that His works proved that He came from God and He was God, because He worked the works of God. Therefore, Jesus had solid ground to question the motivation of the Jews holding all those stones with an intent to kill Him.
Jesus had a marvelous way of dealing with life-threatening situations. Here, He asked a question to the crowd about to stone Him to death. The answer to that question framed a very clear exposition from Jesus Himself about the incarnation (God taking human flesh and dwelling among men). Jesus also provided His own, divinely authoritative, interpretation of Psalm 82. Jesus told the crowd why they should drop their rocks to the ground and stop their attack upon His life. Yet, His words did not allay the fervor of the crowd to stone Him. Actually, He revealed truths to the angry crowd that only inflamed them further. Because His hour had not yet come, Jesus escaped the crowd. Now we can look closely at that conversation Jesus had while the rock-holding crowd, already angered over His words, listened intently. The answers the Jews gave to the question of Jesus provided the vehicle for Him to reveal how God can be man. That incarnational truth explained Jesus Christ as Messiah. Incarnational Theology │ “I SAID, YOU ARE GODS” │ John 10:22-39
The Charge of Blasphemy
The Jews generally hated blasphemy. But the question Jesus asked the crowd concerned His works. The crowd, however, focused not upon the works, but upon what they perceived as blasphemy from Jesus. According to the Jews, the words of Jesus constituted blasphemy against God and their interpretation of the Law demanded that they stone Him.
The Jews made two points in their answer to Jesus. First, they indicated that they had no issue with Jesus doing the works of God. Apparently, many people had seen or heard of His miracles, and they did not seek to stone Jesus for the miracles. Second, they pinpointed why they wanted to stone Jesus: they charged Jesus with blasphemy for His statement that He and the Father were one. Those Jews were so outraged over that statement that they sought His immediate death by stoning.
This charge of blasphemy controls the passage here. We need to examine it more carefully. In the minds of those Jews, Jesus, being a man, ipso facto (because of that very fact), could not be God. So, those Jews thought Jesus blasphemed when He proclaimed that He was divine. Therefore, they focused their objection on His claim that He was God, and not on His works. Before we proceed, we must understand the binary problem at work in the hearts and minds of the Jews. Incarnational Theology │ “I SAID, YOU ARE GODS” │ John 10:22-39
The Binary Problem of God or Man
These Jews were working from a binary, mutually exclusive view: you are either God or man, but you cannot be both. Notice the phrase in John 10:33: “. . . You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Please notice that the Jews had just asked Jesus to tell them plainly if He claimed to be the Christ. Jesus replied that He had already told them (John 10:25). Jesus had begun to explain to this audience the truth that Messiah was both fully man and fully God, and that He was Messiah, the Son of God. In order to understand the true Messiah, these Jews must overcome their binary thinking about God and man.
Jesus answered their charge of blasphemy in two ways, like two sides of the same coin. Jesus demonstrated to them that not only does the Scripture, which cannot be broken, prove that some men become gods (little “g” means men can be called “gods” (“elohim” in Psalm 82) not like Yahweh and in no sense divine), but God can become Man (big “M” means divine as Yahweh clothed with the real human flesh, while maintaining both a human nature and a divine nature, with neither nature commingled or confused).
“I SAID, ‘YOU ARE GODS.’“
In order to answer and refute their charge of blasphemy, Jesus quoted their own Scripture to them to prove He had not blasphemed by calling Himself one with the Father. In John 10:34, Jesus cited their own Law, “I SAID, ‘YOU ARE GODS'” (Psalm 82). In that Psalm, Elohim takes His stand in the midst of His congregation, and confronts the judges (“elohim”) of that congregation. The human judges of His congregation have been acting wickedly and God calls them to account. Then, God says in the first person, “I said, you are gods.” So, Jesus quoted the Psalm to prove the point that God called some men “elohim” (gods).
In John 10:35, Jesus explained that this statement “I said, you are gods” is Scripture, and Scripture cannot be broken. Therefore, Jesus declared that the “you” of that phrase “You are gods” were, in fact, “elohim.” At this point, Jesus had provided proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that men could be called “elohim,” and so He should not be stoned on the basis of their own Law (Psalm 82).
The Elohim of Psalm 82
One may pause and consider whether those beings in Psalm 82 called “elohim” were ever humans who became “gods,” or were they part of a “divine council” of “gods” designated by the Most High God to rule over some evil men and were never humans at all. Please recall in John 10 that the objection raised by the Jews was that Jesus called Himself God, when He was clearly a human being. Remember, too, the binary, mutual exclusion of the Jews: you cannot be God and a human being. Those Jews thought you must be one or the other. That key thought was the prime objection of the Jews confronting Jesus. Those Jews had no problem with the works of Jesus, but rather they absolutely objected to His claim to be God, because Jesus was a man– therefore, they believed that no man can be God.
In the alternative to the “divine council” view of Psalm 82, the “elohim” in Psalm 82 may be humans who served God as human judges, judging others in God’s human congregation (His people, the Jews), working the divine will, and so God declared them to be “elohim.” This interpretation drives straight to the heart of the objection of the Jews: you cannot be God and man. You must be one or other. Jesus just proved to them that God called some humans “elohim,” and these Jews must accept God’s own pronouncement concerning those humans, because the Word of God, the Scripture, the Law, cannot be broken. Moreover, in John 10:29, 30, 32, Jesus had referred to God as His Father. By doing so Jesus significantly alluded to the relationship of the “elohim” of Psalm 82 whom Asaph described as sons of the Most High. Therefore, Jesus has demonstrated that in Psalm 82 God calls some men “elohim” and then refers to those “elohim” as sons of the Most High. So, the “elohim” of Psalm 82 have a basis for referring to God as Father. Therefore, Jesus has just proven from the divine authority (the Law) of those Jews that they are incorrect to believe that you must be God or man–a man cannot be God. Jesus resolved their objection: “See Psalm 82. God called men ‘elohim.'” But, Jesus did not stop there. Jesus had a greater point to make.
In John 10:35, Jesus also indicated that the word of God came to the “gods” of Psalm 82 and John 10:34. Jesus also identified the Scripture as the word of God in John 10:35, referring back to “your Law” in John 10:34. Therefore, we know that the “gods” at issue in John 10:34 received the Law from God, which amounted to Scripture which cannot be broken. The Law was given to humans, the people of Israel, and it was intended for humans, to expose their sin, and their need for a Savior. God did not give help to angels, but to Christ, the descendant of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, John 10:36 identifies human Israel as the recipients of the “word of God,” “the Scripture which cannot be broken” (John 10:34) and such exegesis fits perfectly with Jesus describing “your Law” in John 10:34, also referring to human Israel as the recipients of “your Law.” In the alternative, some people may claim that Jesus limited the term “word of God” to the single phrase in Psalm 82 (“I SAID, YOU ARE GODS), as quoted by Jesus. Such a limit seems artificial in light of the phrase “your Law” in John 10:34 and the use of the term Scripture in John 10:35.
Incarnational Theology from Jesus
Jesus demonstrated to the Jews that the Most High God used the term “elohim” to describe some men whom God called “gods” and those men could call God their Father. Then, Jesus metaphorically turned the coin over and showed that not only can men be called “elohim,” but God had become Man, meaning the eternal God took true, mortal flesh and dwelt among men. (I understand that coin analogy has many imperfections). Jesus never intended to show that both sides of the coin are equal. Actually, Jesus showed that some men became “elohim” when Yahweh invested them to serve as His judges. God also called them sons of the Most High God. With this background of Psalm 82 now explained to the Jews standing before Him, Jesus then began to reveal the foreground of incarnational theology.
Jesus proclaimed that God sent His Son (Jesus) into the world to take on flesh and live among men. God became a man, in contrast to how some men became “elohim.” Jesus had already proved from the word of God that some men became “elohim.” Jesus then showed how God become a Man. Jesus disclosed that the Father sanctified Jesus and sent Jesus into the world, as God in the flesh. Jesus described Himself as “Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, . . . .” (John 10:36).
Jesus explained incarnational theology here. I use the term “incarnational” to mean that God took flesh and eternal God became fully man, with both a divine nature and a human nature. Jesus was very God and very man at the same time. Jesus explained how God became a man. God first sanctified His Son, and then sent His Son into the world to take flesh, be a man, and live among men, just as the Jews standing before Him knew Jesus was truly a man. According to their binary, mutually exclusive view, Jesus was no doubt a real man, and, in their minds, that single fact that he was a man absolutely precluded Him from being God.
Basic Logic Applied
We could also impose a few thoughts from more formal logic. I am using the following concepts heuristically, and not trying to impose Greek thought forms into the perfect teaching of Jesus. Please take it as an attempt to help readers like me to grasp in simpler terms how the arguments went.
In more formal terms, the Jews were arguing the following syllogism:
Jesus is a man.
No man can be God.
Therefore, Jesus cannot be God.
I called this type of thinking binary and mutually exclusive above. To those Jews, either Jesus was man or Jesus was God. He could not be both.
Jesus replied to that argument:
In Scripture, which cannot be broken, God called some men “elohim.”
“Elohim” are gods and sons of the Most High.
Therefore, some men can be called gods and sons of the Most High.
Jesus then argued the other half:
Just as some men become “elohim,” so God can become a Man. God sanctified Jesus and sent Jesus into the world. Jesus was fully God and fully man. The God-Man Jesus is one with His Father, Who called some men “elohim” and sons of the Most High.
Summary and Conclusion
Jesus completely resolved the objection of the Jews to His claim that He was one with the Father by quoting Scripture. Jesus cited Psalm 82 as proof that God called some men “elohim.” Then Jesus made a greater point, that God became man, and yet was still God. God became the God-Man. Jesus was that God-Man. The incarnation means that God sanctified Jesus and sent Jesus (the divine Son of God) into the world, to work the works of God. In doing so, Jesus also provided authoritative teaching on the nature of Messiah and provided the theology undergirding Messiah as incarnate God, the God-Man. He not only expounded His previous declaration that He was Messiah, He simultaneously declared that Messiah was God in the flesh, dwelling among men. Although such a discussion would be very fun, this brief note focuses upon John 10, and not the wonderful fulfillment of titles bestowed upon the God-Man and recorded in Scripture.
Summary of Some Reasons John 10 Refutes the Divine Council View of Psalm 82
Psalm 82 provides a view of God confronting evil “gods” (“elohim”) who have forsaken their duty to judge with righteousness the congregation of God. Some people interpret the evil “gods” to be non-humans and they compose “the divine council.” The divine council interpretation has different expressions among its proponents. I see some problems with some basic understandings of “the divine council view” of John 10. I accept John 10 as divine application of Psalm 82. In contrast to the divine council view, some people see Psalm 82 as God confronting members of the congregation of Israel, all humans, who serve as judges whom God appointed to be His representatives and judge according to His revelation. Therefore, God called those human judges “gods” (“elohim”) in Psalm 82.
The divine council view of John 10 interprets Jesus as referring to evil non-humans to answer the charge that He is a human calling Himself God. Actually, Jesus quoted Psalm 82 in John 10 to address the binary thinking (“you, being a man, make yourself out to be God”) of the Jews standing before Him. Therefore, Jesus focused His answer upon the “being” (ontological) aspects of humans and God. In Psalm 82, God called evil humans to account for not acting like “elohim.” God invested some humans as judges to act for Him and therefore called them “elohim.” God appointed them to judge the congregation of Israel using His revelation. Some proponents of the divine council view of John 10 see Jesus as talking about evil non-humans (“elohim”) and God, missing the binary problem at issue in John 10 dealing with humans (“elohim”) and God. As in Psalm 82, the identity of the “elohim” (“theoi”) of John 10 makes a great difference. Are the “elohim” humans or non-humans? To answer that question, we must focus first upon the text of John 10. Jesus answered the charge of blasphemy which consisted of binary thinking: you are God or you are man, but you cannot be both. Therefore, Jesus built His answer to respond to that charge. Citing a passage about evil non-humans and God would not directly help His case. Showing that God called some humans “elohim” would be directly on point, proving that God called some humans “elohim” and on that basis alone the Jews should drop their charge and their stones.
The Revelation of Incarnation Problem. The divine council view of John 10 undermines the revelation of incarnation. Actually, Jesus used the charge of blasphemy in John 10 to reveal Himself as incarnate God. Incarnation involves God taking flesh and becoming sinless man. Some divine council proponents see Jesus pointing to evil non-humans as a response to the charge He claims to be God, although He is obviously a man. The divine council view of God seems inconsistent with the beautiful revelation of Jesus as God in the flesh, a real human, and yet God the Son, sanctified by God the Father and sent into the world.
The Evil Elohim Problem. The divine council view of John 10 holds that Jesus used evil, non-human “elohim” as the foundation of His argument that He was both One with God and God in real human flesh. Actually, Jesus identified Himself in John 10 as One with God the Father (speaking through Asaph in Psalm 82) as the “I” of “I Said” of Psalm 82. Jesus never identified Himself as an evil, non-human “elohim” of Psalm 82, described as the “you” of “you are gods.” Under the divine council view of John 10, the “elohim” are extremely evil non-humans and Jesus identified Himself as a member or Lord of that evil group (or both) to refute the charge of blasphemy. The charge of blasphemy concerns God and man, not God and non-humans, and so the divine council view of the evil “elohim” seems inconsistent with the answer Jesus gave concerning God and man. Evil non-humans seem extraneous to the charge at issue.
The Condemnation Problem. The divine council view of John 10 requires that Jesus referred to the condemnation of those evil, non-human “elohim” in Psalm 82 to prove that He was God in the flesh. According to the divine council view of Psalm 82, God condemned the evil, non-human “elohim” for their failures as judges of the people of Israel. Actually, God condemned evil human judges of Israel for their failure to judge righteously. In John 10, Jesus explained that God condemned evil humans who failed to fulfill their duty as His representatives (“elohim”). So, God called some humans “elohim” condemned by God. The condemnation there falls upon humans, not non-humans. Jesus actually warned the Jews standing before Him of their condemnation by God. Jesus does not identify Himself with the condemned judges, but with God condemning those human judges. Of course, in passing, Jesus does identify Himself and the Jews standing before Him with the humanity of the judges. The Jews rejecting Jesus faced condemnation, but Jesus was not condemned for any of His acts, but for ours: He Who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Human Elohim Problem. The divine council view sees evil non-humans as the “gods” of John 10 and Psalm 82, thereby opposing any claim of God calling some humans “elohim.” Yet, Jesus cited Psalm 82 to prove that God called some humans “elohim.” That quotation makes far more sense when viewed against the charge based upon the binary thinking of the Jews: You are God or You are man, but you cannot be both. The divine council view sees Jesus citing Psalm 82 to prove that God used evil non-humans to rule the earth. Non-human evil rulers are not at issue in John 10. The binary problem concerns God and humans.
The Law Problem. The divine council view of John 10 misunderstands who received the Law, by apparently limiting the Law to the few words of Psalm 82 directed to the evil, non-human judges. Actually, Jesus cited Psalm 82 and called it “your Law.” Jesus first linked that term “your” to the term “gods.” Jesus said: “he called them gods, to whom (plural) the word of God came . . . .” Therefore, the “gods” received the word of God, the Scripture that “cannot be broken.” The “Law” was given to the human congregation of Israel and not to non-humans (except as agents ordained to deliver it to humans). Therefore, the “gods” who received the Scriptures were humans who formed the congregation of Israel. Under the divine council view, the “gods” are evil non-humans constituting the divine council who received the Law, the word of God, and Scripture which cannot be broken. Under the divine council view, the word of God may be limited here to the few words at issue in Psalm 82, but that strains the reference to “Scripture.” With that limitation comes the problem of identifying a single statement to evil, non-human beings (“he said, ‘you are gods'”) as Scripture, and also as “your Law.” The “your” of “your Law” would require that what God said to evil, non-humans words were part of human Law. In this judicial context, that sense makes little sense. Instead, Jesus actually showed that the “gods” were humans who received not only Psalm 82, but all the word of God known as the Old Testament.
Any explanation of John 10 that tones down the deity of Christ misses the primary objection of the Jews: Jesus cannot be God because Jesus is a man. Those Jews believed that no man can be God. So, if some people see the “elohim” in Psalm 82 being something other than men, they miss the entire thrust of Jesus using that passage to prove the incarnation. Jesus just explained in very simple language a very lofty theology of the incarnation. Simple, elegant, and wonderful. Jesus never intended to put Himself only on the low level of “elohim” in the sense that the human judges of Psalm 82 were called “elohim.” Jesus intended to identify Himself with the Most High who called men “elohim;” Jesus asserted His deity as incarnate God. Jesus fully resolved the binary, mutually exclusive objection of the Jews that man cannot be God, while at the same time fully proclaiming that He was God and also a man. Jesus explained that Messiah was both God and man. Perhaps we can review Psalm 82 and see why Jesus talked about humans there and not a “divine council” of beings. I understand that some people may claim I have fallen into a circular argument, begging the question. I believe the interpretation stands or falls on its fidelity to the text. Jesus presented incarnational theology where Jesus explained that the Most High sent His unique, divine Son, Jesus Christ, into the world as God in the flesh. Jesus was not a lesser deity than the Most High, but the eternal Son of God did humble Himself and take the form of man to live and die as a man, to work the works of God among men, and to overcome death through bodily resurrection, to sit now at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Finally, make no mistake–heaven today is filled with all kinds of beings who are greater in power and strength than mere humans. Some of them follow evil plans and motives. They certainly rule over nations and interfere with the activities of men. Satan himself is called the ruler of this world. I do not find Psalm 82 to speak about a “divine council,” but rather about men like Adam and Moses. God became flesh and dwelt among us, and while in the flesh, He could still proclaim that He and the Father are one. By the way, who cares what I think? The text speaks for itself. What does it say? What does it mean?