When used in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Elohim almost always refers to deity. It is plural in number; thus, it subtly and accurately represents the divine nature as having more than one person.
In Psalm 82, Elohim is used in three distinct ways. First, as per its customary usage of identifying Jehovah: “God stands in the congregation of the mighty…Arise, O God, judge the earth; for You shall inherit all nations (vv. 1, 8). Next, it is used in reference to those mighty ones entrusted with divine authority to be judges upon the earth—God’s ministers/deacons (Romans 13:4): “He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (vv. 1-2). Based upon Jesus’ explanation in John 10, Elohim is also used to refer to human beings “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35): “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’” (vv. 6-7).
When the Jews were seeking to stone Jesus for the blasphemy of affirming that He is, in fact, the Son of God (John 10:33, 36), our Lord’s response was to quote Psalm 82:6 in His defense. He “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 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’?” (John 10:34-36).
Though it is not something we are comfortable or accustomed to do, it is Biblical to say that “You are gods” in the following senses:
- By creation. Each of us is made in God’s image (or icon). If an omnipotent, omniscient being were to take all the traits and characteristics of the divine nature and put them into one earthly expression, it would result in the human race. (There is a multitude of implications to this truth; two of the most obvious are the absolute sanctity of human life and the horrific folly of pagan idolatry).
- By revelation. Each of us has received all things that pertain to life and godliness (god-like-ness). According to Jesus, those to whom the word of God came were called “gods” by the One who gave them His word (John 10:35). In addition to Jehovah’s divine power creating us in His image, it has also “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Profound reverence for, diligent study of, and careful, thorough obedience to the word of God is most appropriate for those who are sons of God. Our citizenship is in heaven and we will one day experience the fulfillment of our hope—the metamorphosis of our lowly body into conformity with Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).
“You are gods” ought not puff up our egos; it ought to sober our mind and invigorate our zeal to purify ourselves (1 John 3:2-3) and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.