One of the distinctives of the christian religion is the belief that Jesus was divine, the son of God, the second person of the Trinity. There’s a big difference between him and us, and we can never become divine like him.
So what’s Jesus doing apparently saying ordinary people are gods?
An argumentative encounter
In John 10, Jesus is having one of those strong arguments with the religious teachers. He has been teaching about doing what his father has given him to do, claiming a closer relationship than the Pharisees were comfortable with. They object to his claim to be divine, and he responds (v 34-36):
“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came — and Scripture cannot be set aside — what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”
What??? Is this really true?
To defend his claim to be divine, Jesus says other people are divine too?
Better look at the context
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82, which pictures God presiding over an assembly and passing judgment those who favour the rich unfairly against the poor and oppressed. It isn’t clear to me whether the “gods” are pagan gods or human rulers. I think the latter is more likely, but it doesn’t make any difference for this discussion.
After denouncing their behaviour and lack of understanding, the Psalmist says:
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere mortals;
you will fall like every other ruler.”
It seems pretty clear that the writer is being ironical. Kings and rulers, in Israel and elsewhere, were often called “sons of God”, reflecting not divinity but their high human status, and many actually went further and claimed divinity. But, the Psalmist says, their high status will not prevent them from being brought down and judged by the true God.
This is very different than how Jesus uses the passage against the Pharisees.
Does Jesus care about the context?
We are taught that we must quote scripture in context, and it is generally a good idea. But Jesus didn’t seem to follow that principle, here at any rate. The Psalm only says “you are Gods” in a mocking way, and it certainly doesn’t teach that any person is divine. Rather, the Psalm is a judgment on social injustice.
What’s going on? What can we learn?
This little incident can teach us a lot if we are attentive.
Jesus was a Jew, not an evangelical christian
For Jesus, as for other Jews at the time, any scripture didn’t have one fixed meaning which God intended for us. Rather, they were happy to interpret the scriptures in a flexible way, that wasn’t necessarily based on the original context, but served to emphasise the point they wanted to make.
It turns out that about half the times the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, it changes some of the words or the meaning. Here’s just a couple of examples:
- In Luke 20:27-40, Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead, something the Sadducees didn’t believe in. To reinforce his point, Jesus quotes from Exodus 3:6, a passage that has nothing to do with resurrection, but records God saying to Moses that he is God of the long-dead Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, without making any suggestion that they were in any way resurrected. But Jesus used it to support he idea of resurrection, and some of his hearers applauded his explanation, showing that they were familiar with such a free-wheeling approach.
- The famous passage in Isaiah 7:13 about a young woman conceiving is clearly describing a situation in the very near future and reassuring the king that God would rescue Israel. It isn’t a prophecy of the far future, it has nothing to do with the Messiah and the word is indeed best translated “young woman” rather than “virgin”. Yet Matthew has no problem saying that Mary’s conception of Jesus while still a virgin was a fulfilment of this prophecy.
As outlined in Interpreting the Old Testament, scholars have examined this and have found that there are four different ways the Old Testament is quoted in the New:
- Most often, they change the original meaning to point to the coming Messiah, to show that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament, and now we see things differently.
- The first century Jews had interpretive “rules” that allowed extrapolation beyond the original meaning, for example, by allowing two verses containing the same word to interpret each other, even if there was originally no connection between them.
- The plain meaning of the text was used, much as we would today.
- In a very few cases, an allegorical meaning was given to the text.
This is all found in our New Testament, so we need to accept it as part of the scriptures, and learn from it.
“The scripture cannot be set aside”?
This saying of Jesus is sometimes used to support the view that the Bible is either inerrant, or at least its meaning cannot be changed or contradicted. Yet this passage actually shows the opposite:
- Jesus is being ironic in this saying, and it appears that this statement about the scriptures is ironic too.
- If we want to say he was being straightforward and literal, then we have to say he was being straightforward and literal when he said the people referred to in Psalm 82 were literally gods, something no christian could agree with.
- As we have seen, the only way to understand this passage is to see that Jesus was changing the meaning of the Psalm. Whatever he was saying, his actions showed he didn’t literally think the original meaning couldn’t be altered.
I believe the scriptures are God’s intended revelation to us, but we cannot honestly use this passage to support a conservative view of scripture.
Keep calm and keep praying
Some christians feel worried about these ideas, for they seem to threaten their view of the scriptures as a clear and reliable guide to life and faith. I don’t think we need to be worried.
God has given us the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, but he hasn’t given us certainty. The scriptures can be interpreted in many different ways. The gifts of the Holy Spirit can be abused or misrepresented. We can never be absolutely certain about most things. But if we read the scriptures, pray for understanding and heed the Spirit, we can feel confident God will lead us to truth in time.
But this passage, and these examples, remind us that we don’t know it all. Human doctrinal systems are fallible. The Bible may have new messages for us if we are open to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can lead us in new directions if we are willing, and not too scared, to allow him.
And, looking at the church and the culture in many western countries today, we surely need some new directions!
But we need to be humble
We are not Jesus. We are not the apostles. We have the same Spirit, but he hasn’t entrusted us with the same responsibility as they had. We can be easily mistaken.
The starting point is to know and understand the scriptures in their original context. But if we pray, and if we keep in step with what the Spirit is doing among mature believers, we may find that he shakes some of our cherished traditions, and gives us new insights to suit our new, twenty-first century, situations.
Picture: Free Bible Images
This is very interesting but at the same time, it disrupts my way of thinking about scripture. Not that that is a bad thing, just that we need to rely more on the Spirit to center our understandings in the person of Christ.
I agree that “we need to rely more on the Spirit to center our understandings in the person of Christ”, and I thought that was one of the lessons I drew from this passage. Did it seem otherwise to you? Or have I misunderstood you?
There was God-God made us from himself-which means we all have God within us, hence we are all Gods children, sons and daughters of the most high.
You are your own god and you can pray to yourself.
Hi Anton, thanks for reading and commenting. What do you think praying to yourself achieves? Is it just a psychological thing?
We are the divine manifest. There is no separation through the eyes of God, and you are God. All you must do is lift the veil that convinces us we are separate.
Hi, thanks for sharing your ideas. Would you mind telling me please what makes you think this is true?
It took me a long time as a Christian to open those spiritual eyes to the truth of this message. I have long thought that the scriptures have many different levels of understanding and that as we grow spiritually those interpretations change. Hence the many different denominations. Just as the things we create have part of us in so do we have part of God in us. If man would ever get in his head that each person is part of God could we ever be mean, nasty, or in any way other than honorable to each other? No, we would value even the least of these as being holy and would try to uplift and honor each individual. Then truly we would have heaven on earth.
HI thanks for your thoughts. I’m not sure if we are seeing this story similarly. In context, it seems clear that Jesus is being sardonic – the Psalm he was quoting is quite sarcastic about these so-called gods. But we agree that valuing each person and the whole creation a sin some senses holy would be a great step forward.
Thank you for this insight. I’m recently regaining interest into living through the teaching of Christ. I have felt hope that all persons are life are connected to the creator being his intention. Also I have been intrigued by the mysteries of the metaphysical and spirit and would like to think that if we can tune into God’s vibration by giving ourselves fully to him shedding our materialism (sin) that the veil of illusion would lift and with work we can all achieve oneness and be live as connected to all of creation.
I am more drawn to the Gnostic view of Jesus as a mystical person, and that through religious devotion, like meditation and fasting, we can all bath in God’s light as we are not separate from our creator. I understand these esoteric interpretations of Christ are frowned upon by the institution of the church, beginning with Constantine in 313 AD in his mission to sculpt Christianity to fit his mission.
I have experienced personally higher vibratory states of being from time to time and I inherently found those experiences to be light, love filled, and God-like. This would be the opposite of evil contradictory to popular belief, when you do something that is truly evil, like harm your brothers and sisters, the feeling you experience from it is quite different indeed.
Hi, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you have regained an interest in Jesus, although think we see him a little differently. I think he was first a historical person that the historians can discuss just lie any other ancient figure. Then of course I think he was something more than that.
What do you think is the Gnostic view of Jesus?
I’m not sure exactly Unklee, I suppose I have a lot to learn. I think it is the part of Jesus that is human while still being the Son of God. There is the historical aspect of Christianity and the belief/faith side of it. I believe we all tend to believe in it the that way that best resonates with our world view/faith system on an intrinsic level. Its hard for anyone to claim to say they know the real truth, only through personal experience can we shape what it most true for us. We look for clues in the history that support our faith.
Some scholars have referred to Jesus and Paul as having a mystical side to them. Some would argue that Jesus being the Son of god would not need to pursue in mysticism as he is already God in the flesh. If that were true than why did Jesus take all those outing in nature and the mountains to communicate with the Father, I would assume he already had this information internally, what was there to talk about? I think the way Jesus communicated with the Father and how he instructed his followers and apostles to do so is of the most interest to me. Jesus needed to engage in spiritual practice, as a human, to maintain the connection to the Father and I feel we should all take on those spiritual practices to get there ourselves. The church says no – this is evil – trying to communicate with God/Jesus through any method other than prayer is invalid.
Regardless his teaching and way is the way of love, a way to find peace in yourself and to find happiness and salvation.
Let thy eye be single (reference to 3rd eye? pineal gland)
Holy Spirit/Light = Auric field
I am still wrestling with the why god needed to come to us in the flesh to save us from sin, could he not forgive us from sin without that effort. I suppose it has something to do with him granting us free will. I believe our souls are here to learn. I still see the universe as massive and its hard to the think of Earth as the center of everything, I just don’t feel that humans are as important as we make ourselves out to be (center of the world and God) but we are no less important than anything else either (still part of God’s creation)
My understanding is that, historically, the gnostics thought the material world is evl, created by a lesser divine being. So they didn’t think the man Jesus was very important, or that he was even a human at all – their interest was in the heavenly, cosmic or spiritual Jesus. But to hold this belief, they had to almost ignore the historical information about Jesus and come up new ideas about him..
Is any of that what you think? Or is modern gnosticism different?