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  • "Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
  •  "The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
  • "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?"
  • (John 10:32-36)

Legal Defense A Fortieri
Polytheism Weak Link
Elohim Family Portrait
God's Hands Mighty Ones
Theoi Church Fathers
Magistrates Zeus and Hera

Legal Defense

In any criminal accusation, there are two lines of defense a defendant may pursue: the law, and the facts.  Accused of a death-penalty crime, blasphemy, Jesus had the option of arguing He was innocent on the facts: because He really was God, He was not blaspheming to say so.  Jesus does indeed pursue this legal strategy, in John 10:38: "But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him."

But He also pursues, as is His right, the defense of the law.  The Jewish religious authorities were hounding Him under an understanding of the law that it's blasphemy on its face for any man to be called 'God': "The Jews answered Him, saying, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.'" (John 10:33).  But can any such law really be found in the 'law-book', the Bible?  No!  Because the Bible itself, in Psalm 82 calls men 'gods': the unjust judges of ancient Israel.  Therefore, the law under which they wish to prosecute Him is null and void: there is no such law.

One should avoid shuffling His defense on the law into being a defense on the facts, as if He had meant to say, 'You know those would-be 'gods', the unjust judges of Psalm 82?  Well, I'm that kind of 'god'.'  Far from saying that, He is careful to differentiate His case from that of the unjust judges: "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest..." The Father neither sanctified nor sent into the world the unjust judges of Psalm 82. Yet their title of 'god' nullifies the 'law' under which the scribes and Pharisees sought to prosecute Jesus.

  • "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
  • How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
  • Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
  • Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
  • They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

  • "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
  • But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
  • Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations."
  • (Psalm 82).

The statement is often taken as if it were self-revelatory, without regard for its intended purpose as a courtroom defense.

A Fortieri

There is a form of argumentation which is ubiquitous in the Talmud, that also appears in the New Testament, called the argument a fortieri, or 'from the stronger.' The 'cheat sheet' for this form of argumentation is the phrase, 'how much more,' as in "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matthew 7:11). The argument here likens earthly fathers to the heavenly Father, but the reader who assumes the Lord intends to identify the two, actually nullifying all of the many points of difference between the creature and the Creator, does not understand this form of argumentation. The reader who thinks Jesus is here saying, 'The Father is evil,' misses the point. This form of argument does not function by identifying the two cases thus weighed in the balance; they are quite patently assumed to be different. Consider: if we know Joe can bench-press 300 lbs., we know therefore he can also bench-press 200 lbs. Are we entitled to conclude, '200 lbs. = 300 lbs.'? No, this argument traverses the trail from the stronger to the weaker, it does not say the stronger is the same as weaker. So likewise in this case; if it is legitimate for the scripture to call them 'gods,' the unjust judges of Psalm 82, then how much more He who was sent into the world, who really is God?

To offer an analogy, let us suppose the accuser says, 'The Bible says God is an unjust judge.' Really? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). The evidence offered:

“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’

“Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?’”  (Luke 18:1-7).

But this is the same form of argumentation, a fortieri, or, if you prefer, 'heavy and light.' It is not so much that the conclusion, 'God is an unjust judge,' does follow from the parable but ought to be 'willed' away; it does not follow at all. Rather, if even an unjust, human judge is amenable to pestering, how much more should God's children persevere in prayer to a judge who is both just and loving. Readers who perceive an exact equivalence are missing the force of the 'even' which tends to insert itself into statements of this type.

Parable of the Unjust Judge, John Everett Millais

Detractors from the deity of Jesus Christ find in Psalm 82 a maximum limit to the Lord's divinity, as if Jesus can be God only in the sense and to the extent as are the unjust judges:

"To that argument of the Pharisees, the Master himself replies, I said, Ye are Gods. Christ there makes it clear that he is God not in Nature but in appearance, not by nature but by grace. For when he was accused of making himself God, he spoke of God in his reply in the same way in which the prophet spoke of gods, ascribing that sort of deity to himself." (The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, On the Errors of the Trinity, Michael Serveto, translated by Earl Morse Wilbur, p. 21).

That is precisely what He is not doing; He is not ascribing 'that sort of deity' to Himself, because that is not how his form of argumentation functions.


The Bible plainly teaches monotheism, yet Psalm 82 just as plainly refers to "gods" in the plural. This reference pricks up the ears of those pining for a return to polytheism, from the gnostics of old to the modern-day Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. What does it mean, and does it really represent a back door through which to import polytheism into the Bible? Are the "gods" of Psalm 82 sky-gods like Zeus and Hera hanging around the 'heavenly court,' or are they only men? If they are men, why are they called "gods"? Have they been promoted to deity as Mormon men hope for? Or are they just men, and is the title 'god' after all an empty honorific? On the answers to these questions stands or falls Biblical monotheism. The problem is, if the pagan idolaters are 'off' by only a word, while their world-view, of a head god presiding over a 'heavenly court' of lower-ranking gods, is substantially correct, how can they be cast into the fires of Hell for misapplying one word, 'god,' if indeed they have misapplied it at all? Pagan theology cannot be substantially correct; the pagans cannot only be guilty of a verbal or technical fault.

Voting for 'men,' the Targum: "Thus the verse of the Psalm: 'God standeth in the congregation of God,' is translated by the Targum, 'The divine Presence (Shekinah) resteth upon the congregation of the godly.'" (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 198).

A parallel passage to Psalm 82 would be Isaiah 3:13-15,

  • “The LORD stands up to plead,
  • And stands to judge the people.

  • “The LORD will enter into judgment
  • With the elders of His people and His princes:

  • “For you have eaten up the vineyard;
  • The plunder of the poor is in your houses.

  • “What do you mean by crushing My people
  • And grinding the faces of the poor?” Says the Lord GOD of hosts.

  • (Isaiah 3:12-15)

The same cast of characters are here gathered, and much the same issues come to the fore, as will be seen.


Weak Link

Those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ concentrate their attack upon what they perceive as the chink in the Bible's armor: the Hebrew word 'Elohim.' The Greek word 'theos' is not particularly weak or ambiguous, so we must do a little hop, skip and jump away from the Greek language in which the New Testament is written into another language. They hope, for reasons which will become apparent, that this word can mean as little as 'ruler' or 'judge,' meanings quite compatible with their belief that Jesus is a mere man:

  • "Again, let not the word, God, deceive you, for you do not and can not understand its meaning until you know what Elohim means, which, if you know Hebrew, I will make quite clear to you below. For you must bear in mind that all things that are written of Christ took place in Judaea, and in the Hebrew tongue; and in all other tongues but this there is a poverty of divine names. So we, not knowing how to distinguish between God [in one sense] and God [in another], fall into error. And that Christ became our God in the sense of the word, Elohim, is no more than to say that he became our Lord, our judge, and our king, after he was given by the Father a kingdom, all judgment, and all power. And Thomas shows this well enough when he says, 'My Lord, and my God;' and Isaiah says, He shall be called Mighty God."
  • (Michael Servetus, On the Errors of the Trinity, pp. 22-23, The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, translated by Earl Morse Wilbur).


Exodus 22:9 contains this puzzling command:

"In any case of disputed ownership involving ox, donkey, sheep, clothing, or any other loss, of which one party says, 'This is mine,' the case of both parties shall come before God ['elohim']; the one whom God ['elohim'] condemns shall pay double to the other." (Exodus 2:9).

What does it mean for the disputants to come "before God"? Since God is omnipresent, everyplace you can go is "before God": "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Hebrews 4:13).

"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me." (Psalm 139:7-10).

U.S. constitutional law demands a law be comprehensible in order to be a law at all. The vagrancy laws once common in U.S. cities fell to the ground on this point: no one could specify just what the bum seated on the park bench had to do to avoid prosecution under laws which could not objectively distinguish between him and the travelling salesman seated next to him. In this law and several others, disputants are commanded to go before God ['elohim']:

"But if the slave declares, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,' then his master shall bring him before God ['elohim']. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life." (Exodus 21:5-6).
"If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall be brought before God ['elohim'], to determine whether or not the owner had laid hands on the neighbor’s goods." (Exodus 22:8).

Similar instructions are common in the laws of pagan peoples:

"If a seignior deposited his grain in another seignior's house for storage and a loss has then occurred at the granary...the owner of the grain shall set forth the particulars regarding his grain in the presence of god and the owner of the house shall give to the owner of the grain double the grain that he took." (120, The Code of Hamurabi, p. 151, The Ancient Near East, Volume I, James B. Pritchard).

It is easy enough to come into the presence of a pagan idol, and all the gods of the nations are idols: "For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens." (Psalm 96:5). But no idol can lawfully be made of the living God: "Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth." (Deuteronomy 4:15-18).  So this cannot be the meaning.

Might it mean that such cases would have to come before the Sanhedrin which met in the temple precincts, where God made His name to dwell? Theologians understood the idea of God dwelling in one particular locale was problematical; God cannot be contained: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place." (1 Kings 8:27-29). But nevertheless, the LORD was understood to have graciously made His glorious presence to dwell particularly in the tabernacle and temple, and thus Nadab and Abihu died "before the LORD," before His face or presence: "And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD." (Leviticus 10:2).

We do not have a record of case law for the Mosaic code, as we do for our own humbler productions. Surely this issue was adjudicated more than once. What exactly does it mean to appear before the face of God, as is mandated, for example, in Exodus 23:17?: "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before [paniym, the 'face' of] the Lord GOD." The fantasists who studied the Bible in nineteenth century Germany used to say that the law of Moses was an ideal, imaginary law invented after the exile, which had never been in force. Yet it certainly must have been in force, and it must have been possible for a man to prove that he had done this as required. There is no 'law' if no one can understand what is to be done, and if in dispute, prove that it was or was not done. In this case, it likely means to have gone to the temple or tabernacle, where the face of God could be encountered by His gracious extension, as shown for instance in David's lament in Psalm 42 when he has lost the privilege: "When shall I come and appear before [paniym, the 'face' of] God?" (Psalm 42:2). While the temple or tabernacle is a perfectly adequate solution, this is not the procedure laid down; with our index case of Exodus 22:9, the disputants are not in fact expected to go there, because if "before God" means to bring the disputants to the temple, every party to a 'Who owns the sheep?' quarrel would have to trek to Jerusalem. Since the journeying cost could well exceed the value of the disputed "clothing" or "sheep", one cannot imagine the whole house of Israel trekking to Jerusalem to adjudicate a 'Who owns the sheep'-style dispute, nor that the Sanhedrin could be expected to exhaust all available court-time with Judge Wapner-scale small claims cases.

For Exodus 22:9 to be a workable law, we must figure out where the disputants should go and what procedure they should follow once they get there: "In any case of disputed ownership involving ox, donkey, sheep, clothing, or any other loss, of which one party says, 'This is mine,' the case of both parties shall come before ['elohim']; the one whom ['elohim'] condemns shall pay double to the other." Where to go? What to do? Should these cases, to be adjudicated by the judgment by God, be decided by divine oracle or lot? But Moses' law lays out standards of due process requiring an evidentiary hearing before judges: "Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, 'Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?'" (John 7:50-51). This is an established principle of Moses' law:

"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15).
"Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God's.'" (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

So compliance with Moses' own standards of due process requires an evidentiary hearing. As a matter of rational legal procedure, one must suppose the local judges would handle such disputes. Judges were available locally:

"And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee." (Exodus 18:22);
"Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment." (Deuteronomy 16:18).

These 'Who owns the sheep' disputes are the bread and butter of Judge Wapner and colleagues. The normal way to decide them would be through local judicial inquiry into who is presently in possession of the property. And so it was: "The elders administering justice in the gate of Bethlehem, though their town be little among the thousands of Judah, sit in God’s seat as truly as King Solomon on his ivory throne in the porch of judgment at Jerusalem." (Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David (Kindle Locations 42808-42809). GLH Publishing.) But how does the judgment of the Judge Wapners of ancient Israel equate to the judgment of God?

One way to clarify legal puzzles is to examine precedent, and this is decisive here. What did the children of Israel do in Moses' day to bring a case "before God"? This:

"And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, 'What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?' And Moses said to his father-in-law, 'Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.' So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, 'The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.' So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said." (Exodus 18:13-24).

At first they went to Moses the prophet to hear the judgment of God, then they went before the judges.  Thus, one realizes with a start that the 'elohim' who condemn the guilty are, constructively, the judges God ordained to judge Israel; in these passages, God has shared His title with men. He promised that His spirit would rest upon the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin, and that He would be with them, and with the local judges, in the judgment;

"So the LORD said to Moses: 'Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.'" (Numbers 11:16-17).
"Then he [Jehoshaphat] set judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, 'Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.' Moreover in Jerusalem, for the judgment of the LORD and for controversies, Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the chief fathers of Israel, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he commanded them, saying, 'Thus you shall act in the fear of the LORD, faithfully and with a loyal heart: Whatever case comes to you from your brethren who dwell in their cities, whether of bloodshed or offenses against law or commandment, against statutes or ordinances, you shall warn them, lest they trespass against the LORD and wrath come upon you and your brethren. Do this, and you will not be guilty... Behave courageously, and the LORD will be with the good.'" (2 Chronicles 19:5-11).

Thus we get to the traditional interpretation of Psalm 82: "With respect to the passage in #Nu 15:16 they [the Rabbis] say, "There is no judgment less than three"; and that three persons sitting in judgment, the divine Majesty is with them, they conclude from #Ps 82:1 "he judgeth among the gods", 'elohim.' Hence they further observe, that "no sanhedrin, or court of judicature, is called 'elohim' unless it consists of three"." (John Gill, Body of Divinity, Book 1, 27). Psalm 82 was understood to apply to synagogue worship and to the sitting of a court:

"Rabin b. R. Adda says in the name of R. Isaac: How do you know that the Holy One, blessed be He, is to be found in the Synagogue? For it is said: God standeth in the congregation of God. And how do you know that if ten people pray together the Divine presence is with them? For it is said: 'God standeth in the congregation of God'. And how do you know that if three are sitting as a court of judges the Divine Presence is with them? For it is said: In the midst of the judges He judgeth." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth, Folio 6a).
"R. Halaphtha of the village of Hananiah said: 'When ten sit and are occupied in words of Law the Shekhina is among them, as it is written [Ps. lxxxii. 1]: "God standeth in the Congregation of God.". . .And whence even three? It is written [Ps. lxxxii. 1]: "In the midst of judges doth he judge' (and the number of judges is generally three)."'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 9, Tract Aboth, Chapter III, Kindle location 38118).
"Judges should also know whom it is they are judging, before whom they are judging, and who will call them to account [if they pervert justice], as it is written: God standeth in the Congregation of God [in the midst of judges doth He judge]. And thus it is said, concerning Jehoshaphat, He said to the judges, Consider what ye do, for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord. And lest the judge should say: Why have all this trouble and responsibility? It is further said: He is with you in giving judgment." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 6b).

Whether this represents a distant reminiscence of actual case law cannot now be known. Of course the vagaries of Talmudic interpretation are by no means binding upon Christians, but when the interpretation makes sense, why not hop on board? Going before 'elohim' is thus understood under some circumstances to mean, in practice, going before the 'judges:'

"Because it states [Ex. xxii. 8]: 'Before the judges,' etc., and in Babylon the majority of the judges are not ordained, is it not the same with damages caused by one ox to another, etc.— for they are all mentioned together in the Scripture, where the word 'Eloim' is written, which means ordained judges?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 10, Trace Baba Kama, The First Gate, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 44116).

The promise of visitation by the divine presence in judging was not unconditional however:

"'When three establish a court, the Shechinah is with them,' and God says to the judges, 'Think not that you are alone, I am sitting with you,' but when they are about to corrupt judgment, that is, to give a false verdict, God removes his Shechinah from among them, as it is said, 'For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy (caused by injustice), now I will rise (to leave the Court), saith the Lord.' The same thought is expressed elsewhere as follows: 'When the judge sitteth and delivereth just judgment, the Holy One, blessed be he, leaves — if it were possible to say so — the heaven of heavens and makes his Shechinah dwell on his side, as it is said, "And when the Lord was with the judge" (Judg. 2. 18), but when he sees that the judge is a respecter of persons, he removes his Shechinah, and returns to heaven. And the angels say unto him, "Master of the world, what hast thou done?" (what is the reason for this removal), and he answers, "I have found that the judge is a respecter of persons, and I rose from there."'" (Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Solomon Schechter, pp. 229-230).

A bungled judgment causes the Shechinah, God's presence, to depart:

"R. Nahman said, reporting R. Jonathan: A judge who delivers a judgment in perfect truth causes the Shechinah to dwell in Israel, for it is written: God standeth in the Congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He judgeth. And he who does not deliver judgments in perfect truth causes the Shechinah to depart from the midst of Israel, for it is written: Because of the oppression of the poor, because of the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 7a).

Thus the Rabbis understood the "assembly" of 'elohim' described in Psalm 82 to be convened every time a court of law met. God judged in the midst of the human judges; they were judges, but they had a Judge above them. This is an early version of Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." It is this usage which sets up the double-entendre of Psalm 82. The church inherited this interpretation from the synagogue: “For He did not make that law concerning deities of wood and of stone, which are abominable, because they are falsely called gods, but concerning the priests and the judges, to whom He also said, 'Ye are gods, and children of the Most High.'” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 2, Section 4, Chapter XXXI., p. 816, ECF_0_07). There is more to this rationally defensible interpretation than just tradition, as I have tried to show.

A different interpretation was offered by Jerome, the translators of the Peshitta, and Donald Grey Barnhouse among others: that Psalm 82 describes an assembly of angels: "God stands in the congregation of angels; he judges among the angels." (Psalm 82:1, Peshitta, George M. Lamsa). The practical jurist might wonder how to schedule a hearing before such judges, as the law does require. Moreover angels do not die: "But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." (Luke 20:35-36). Nor is it known to the Bible that fallen angels have taken on man's mortality: "And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;..." (Jude 1:6). So if the 'elohim' of Psalm 82 are angels, why do they die?: "Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like any one of the princes." (82:7).

Much more so if they were pagan sky-gods, as some readers imagine. After all, even the pagans realized the gods, if they are gods, are immortal. Thus arose the proverb that the Cretans are liars (Titus) 1:12 -- because they claimed to have on their territory the tomb of Zeus!: "Cretans ever do lie; for a tomb, O Prince, did they fashion Even for thee; but thou art not dead, for thy life is unending." (Callimachus, quoted p. 79, Clement of Alexandria, Loeb Edition). The pagan theologians realized this unique tourist attraction presented difficulties; how can Zeus, their chief god, be lying in a tomb?

Some readers hear the doom pronounced: "you will die like men," to be a new thing, rather than a reminder that these 'elohim' share in God's work, not in His immortal nature. But those whom God condemns to death, in scripture, are not presumed immortal to begin with: the followers of Jezebel were not immortal to begin with before they were told, "And I will kill her children with death." (Revelation 2:23). The king of Tyre was not immortal to begin with, because God told him, "And you shall die the death of the slain in the midst of the seas." (Ezekiel 28:8). So the fact that these 'elohim' die like flies should clue us that they haven't the nature of gods, nor of angels; these mortality-prone 'elohim' are human judges. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, they say, and human rulers are prone to fall "like one of the princes."

They are in the same line of work as is the living God, however: (Deuteronomy 1:17). They judge -- not with God's justice, but with human injustice: "How long will you judge unjustly?" (82:2). In this life, we do not yet see God face to face; He is greater than our ability to conceive: "...for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." (1 John 3:20). So we have to raise our sights perhaps to glimpse Him, painfully and slowly, winching our hearts and minds upward by analogy. God is a Shepherd: "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1), because like a Shepherd, He leads His flock. He is a King: "The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished form His land." (Psalm 10:16). And He is a Judge: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25).

God revealed to mankind, as clearly as could be wished, that He is alone God: "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other." (Deuteronomy 4:39). But some aren't willing to take His word on it. We cannot in this life see Him as He is; we approach Him from afar through analogy with human experience, or even negation. At this, a light glimmers in the eyes of Joseph Smith, who thinks he sees an avenue to unravel God's own revelation of monotheism. God is a Shepherd -- but there are many shepherds. God is a King -- but there are many kings. God is a Judge -- but there are many judges: "Then his master shall bring him unto the judges ['elohim']; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever." (Exodus 21:6 KJV).

Instructions One Judge
Problems Killer God
Evaluate Execution
Law Court

'Monotheism' means: "The doctrine of belief of the existence of one God only." (Webster's International, 1965). Latter-Day Saints believe the Bible teaches there are many "gods": "The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time." (Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse). But the Bible in fact teaches monotheism, which means one and only one: "Jesus answered, 'The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord'...And the scribe said to Him, 'Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him..." (Mark 12:29-32).

These unjust judges of Psalm 82 shared God's job description; they did not share His nature. It's a line of work the angels are not in: "Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?" (1 Corinthians 6:3). Conclusively, that the congregants are men is shown by Jesus' quote of Psalm 82:6, which He applies to "those to whom the word of God came" -- i.e., men: "Jesus answered them, 'Has it not been 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)...'" (John 10:34-35). And Jesus may be presumed to know what the Bible means!: "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:11-12). These men shared God's title, but when they did not live up to it, He flung their mortality back in their faces.  Jesus raised this verse in His defense, because the law under which His opponents sought to condemn Him -- that it is blasphemy on its face for a man to claim to be God -- cannot be located in the law-book, the Bible.

Family Portrait

In all human languages, words have a range of meanings which have been likened to a family portrait, with complex suites of resemblances trailing from one generation to the next. A word like 'trunk' can mean an elephant's proboscis, the bole of a tree, or the compartment in the back of a car where people put things. A 'ruler' could be someone in government, or a stick of wood with inches marked off on it. It scarcely ranks as a great 'discovery' to muse that Queen Elizabeth is 'really' a stick of wood...because the same word, 'ruler,' applies to both. A metallic coil is a 'spring' is a fountain of water, but a fountain of water is not a metallic coil.

In classical times rhetoricians like Quintilian, in his Institutes of Oratory, worked up a subtle and sophisticated layered classification of the various modes in which words are used. In modern times, these rich classificatory schemes have been flattened and simplified into the concept of semantic domains. Regardless of how this abundance is ordered and classified, all agree that words do not have one singular meaning but a cluster.

How words came to mean what they mean is speculative; except with modern coinages, the rationale behind word use is not recorded. Where it is recorded, the obvious guess may be wrong; the Babe Ruth candy-bar is not so-called after the famous baseball player, but after President Cleveland's infant daughter. One can use a word correctly without venturing any theory as to why it means what it means; the inhabitants of 'Martha's Vineyard' may, or may not, cherish a pet theory as to who 'Martha' was, but even if they frankly admit they do not know who 'Martha' was, they can use the phrase correctly to describe their home.

Some translations bring out the latent understanding that the 'elohim' of Exodus 22:9 and similar passages are, in practical fact, 'judges', by so translating the term: "For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour." (Exodus 22:9 KJV). The Peshitta follows the same strategy: "If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges to see whether he had a hand in the theft of his neighbor's goods." (Exodus 22:8, Lamsa).

The result of this divinely inspired neologism as recorded in the lexicon is that 'elohim' displays this range of meanings:


AV-God 2346, god 244, judge 5, GOD 1, goddess 2, great 2, mighty 2, angels 1, exceeding 1, God-ward + 04136 1, godly 1; 2606

1) (plural)
1a) rulers, judges
1b) divine ones
1c) angels
1d) gods

2) (plural intensive-singular meaning)
2a) god, goddess
2b) godlike one
2c) works or special possessions of God
2d) the (true) God
2e) God"
(Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon)

We do not, in English, call judges 'gods', but judges are, in the five instances displayed above, 'elohim.' By hop, skipping and jumping between languages, one may transform the unjust judges, in whose congregation the Judge sits in judgment, into 'gods' like Hera and Zeus, flitting through the sky -- because that is what the English word 'gods' calls to mind, exalted celestial beings of great power. But judgment was never given to angels nor to sky-gods; the judges of Israel who judged their brethren were men.

We are His hands

A lovely old hymn runs,

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love,
At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing
Always, only, for my King,
Always, only, for my King.
(Frances R. Havergal).

This is what the judges were to have been: God's hands in this world.

Edwin Long, Anno Domini

Mighty Ones

As explained above, for all practical purposes, the 'elohim' of Exodus 22:8 are the judges of ancient Israel. Hearing an unfamiliar word: say, 'schmoxlie,' one might wait to see what happens when a speaker demands, 'Bring me a schmoxlie.' What will be brought? Is a 'watering can' brought, or a 'garden hose'? If a 'watering can' is brought and accepted upon the demand, 'Bring me a schmoxlie,' it's a fair inference that 'schmoxlie' means 'watering can.' There's an entire school of modern philosophy premised on the assumption that, under the stated circumstances, one cannot meaningfully ask whether 'schmoxlie' means 'watering can' or something else! So when ancient Israel, ordered to go before 'elohim' under stated circumstances, in fact went before the 'judges,' it's fair enough to say 'elohim' means 'judges.'

The next question to ask is, how did 'elohim' come to mean 'judges'? One can theorize in two different directions how 'elohim' might come to mean 'judges.' The 'representation' theory is set forth above: that judges are called 'elohim' because they do God's work in the world. This theory makes calling human judges 'elohim' a divinely inspired neologism, and would make the idiom universal and portable into every language, because according to this theory, human judges are called 'elohim' precisely because 'elohim' means 'God,' not because the Hebrew word 'elohim' happens to have a range of meaning differing from the Greek 'theos' or the English word 'gods.'

But there's another theory offered by some commentators which I'll call the 'Mighty Ones' theory. The 'Representation' theory brings the title 'elohim' down from heaven to man...the 'Mighty Ones' theory runs in reverse. (These two very different theories are both discussed on this page, not in order to sow confusion -- if that is the result, it is surely not the intention!-- but rather because the reader will hear both presented by the devotees of "many gods." This page seeks to clarify the Biblical evidence which led the classic Christian commentators the Jehovah's Witnesses quote to adopt these two divergent theories, and see whether the conclusion they wish to draw: that there are "many gods"-- does in fact follow from either theory.)

Etymologies are invariably speculative, because no one records how words come to mean what they mean. So let us now speculate that human judges held the title first, God -- the Judge over all judges -- borrowing it from them. Calling God by a title borrowed from human endeavor does not demean God's majesty; we inevitably think of Him by analogy with human activities, as King, or a Shepherd: "The LORD is my shepherd." (Psalm 23:1). Because of the limitations of the human heart and mind, it is beyond us to grasp God as He is, we must painfully winch our way upwards to Him by analogy with what we do know: "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There is a difference in form in the way the word is used of human judges and of God; when applied to God, the word is plural in form, though treated as if it were singular. Perhaps the word, used of judges in simple plural, was understood to mean the Judge of all judges when used as plural treated as singular.

Whichever theory appeals, neither gives any offense against monotheism by itself. What causes havoc is when the Jehovah's Witnesses mix and match these two very different theories. One theory runs from heaven to earth, the other just the other way around. If God lends His title to men, they share the title of the One true and living God, not of a multiplicity of gods. On the other hand, if God has borrowed His title from men, He has not taken with it their multiplicity, because 'polytheism' is not the doctrine that there are many judges, but the doctrine that there are many gods.

These commentators speculate that 'elohim' originally meant something like 'mighty ones,' because the underlying sense of the word 'el' involves might or power ('elohim' is the plural of 'eloah'): "It is in the power ['el'] of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad." (Genesis 31:29). Could it be that once upon a time people used it in simple plural to refer to human 'mighty ones,' plural treated as singular to refer to God, the mightiest of all? But by Bible times, the word was only in the rarest instances used for anything other than true God/false gods. In the Bible this idiom dies out almost where it starts -- in two chapters of Exodus -- and is looked back upon sporadically, as by Psalm 82. Thus adherents of the 'Mighty Ones' theory understand 'elohim-judges' as a fossilized relic of a once widespread, pre-Biblical usage.

That's not a fatal objection to the theory, because people can still understand a usage which is not current. Modern readers of the KJV can understand the KJV translators use 'meats' to mean 'food,' though no one expects to go up to the 'Meat Counter' and see bread there. When you look at the scattering of 'elohim-judges', you find them in two chapters of Exodus, thereafter in a Psalm looking back at those. Thoughout most of the Old Testament period, people called judges other things, not 'elohim.' By Jesus' day they still understood who the unjust judges of Psalm 82 were, but did not themselves call judges 'elohim.'

But in the point of fact, even if the word were often and continuously used for 'judges,' that situation would not serve to establish polytheism. 'Polytheism' is 'many gods' -- 'theoi' -- not many 'elohim.' Be there never so many 'mighty ones' in the world, a ton of 'mighty ones' does not equate to 'many gods.' All gods are 'mighty ones,' but not all 'mighty ones' are gods!

We don't count words, we count things. If the word 'elohim' does not always mean 'gods' but can mean other things, then no amount of those other things piled atop one another will add up to "many gods," the forbidden result. That words need not have a single, unitary meaning is a matter of common observation. Take 'arche,' for instance, which can mean 'the corner of a sheet' among other things: "I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners ['arche']; and it came even to me:..." (Acts 11:5). So does Revelation 3:14 reveal that Jesus the corner of a sheet?: "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning ['arche'] of the creation of God;..." (Revelation 3:14). No, because 'arche' can also mean 'origin, first cause,' as is more plausible here. One can speculate as to how it came to be that the corners of a sheet are called 'archai'; perhaps since weavers start at the corners, the corners are in a sense the 'beginnings' of the sheet. This meaning is linked by analogy with the underlying sense. If an economist were sent to inventory the 'sheets' produced by the fabric industry of the town, and to tabulate the count by 'corners,' would he would have to count Jesus if he happened to walk by Him, because Jesus is an 'arche'? No, because He is an 'arche' in a different sense of the word; if one is not counting words but things, there is no sense in counting Him with sheets.

A 'ruler' may be a governor...or a stick of wood demarcated in inches or centimeters. There's a resemblance between the two senses, because a 'ruler' (straight-edge) makes the lines ruled on a sheet of paper go straight, just like a good governor makes the paths of his people straight. If the Office Manager instructed you to count the 'rulers' in the office, what to do with Queen Elizabeth, who has come to call? She is a ruler, after all, though they say that the British monarch reigns but does not rule. Let's add George W. Bush, an unquestioned ruler. Should he be added in to the 'ruler' count of the office supplies, so that if there are, say, three rulers found in the desk, we count five rulers in the office: the three rulers in the desk, Queen Elizabeth sitting there in the chair, and George Bush? But what is the sense in counting completely different things,-- human beings and sticks of wood -- in the same tally?

The method of counting gods employed by the Jehovah's Witnesses gets even worse. Suppose in rummaging through the office we light upon a box labelled 'rulers.' Upon opening the box, however, instead of seeing rulers, we find one paper clip, a marble, and an eraser. By Watchtower logic, because the box was (erroneously) labelled 'rulers,' we must count three rulers, counting the paper clip as a 'ruler,' the marble, and the eraser. They demand we count false gods in our god-count. Though they are not really gods at all, but different things: stocks and stones, sun and moon, men or demons, -- falsely labelled 'gods' by their deluded worshippers, the Watchtower Society insists that if they were ever labelled 'gods,' they must be counted as such, though the Bible fully and conclusively demonstrates the vanity and nullity of that system of labelling. A rational count of rulers would not count a paper-clip or a marble, because these things are not rulers though they may have been erroneously labelled as such. A rational count of rulers should count those things which really are rulers, not things falsely so-called, nor 'rulers' in a different sense of the term. Likewise with 'elohim.' If we are counting gods, one of the things 'elohim' may mean, why lump in judges, beings of a completely different category? So understanding 'elohim' to mean 'judges' in these four instances, we do not arrive at the forbidden count "many gods," because judges aren't gods but something other than gods. Counting judges -- Judge Judy, Judge Wapner, Judge Rehnquist -- would never add even one to our god-count, and it is the god-count which is crucial for monotheism.

Should missionaries visit the Island of Ubu and discover the locals worshipping a pantheon headed by 'Mogo,' they may, in a common translation strategy, render the Bible into local dialect with 'Mogo' as the sole true and living God of the Bible. But wait - garden hoses are also called on the island 'Mogoi,' a simple plural, perhaps through someone noting a resemblance between a coiled garden hose and the snake deity which 'Mogo' once was.

Until the locals can think up a new word for 'garden hose' -- and likely they will; the word for God in a monotheistic system will crowd out all competitors -- they will still be calling garden hoses 'Mogoi.'

So does it follow that,

a.) a god is called, in Ubuese, 'Mogo;'
b.) garden hoses are called 'Mogoi;'
c.) there are many garden hoses;
d.) therefore, there are many gods?

No, because the term 'Mogo' is not used in the same signification in a.) and b.). There is no valid syllogism where the meaning of the word is not held constant. To give an example:

a.) The 'end' is the goal to be achieved;
b.) Death is the end of life;
c.) Therefore, death is the goal of life.

This is not a valid syllogism, because 'end' is used equivocally, in two different significations: 'goal' and 'terminus.' Nevertheless, equivocation is a very common and oft-successful form of fallacious reasoning. Thus, heretics on the Island Ubu will ever be trying to exploit the double meaning of 'Mogo,' arguing from the plurality of garden hoses to Joseph Smith's desired 'many gods.' Once 'Mogo' becomes the standard way of talking about God, other usages will tend to die out and become fossils.

The fact of the matter is this: garden hoses are not gods. There is no more important word in theology than 'god.' And there is only One: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior." (Isaiah 43:10-11). And not only 'one in that sense' -- i.e., one 'Mogo [god]', many 'Mogoi [garden hoses]' -- the many, whatever they may be, will have to fall by the wayside, as they did in Biblical Hebrew. There remain only a smattering of instances in the Bible, amongst the thousands of instances of 'elohim', where the word means anything other than true God/false gods. One of these exceptions, however we understand it, is Psalm 82. A non-monotheistic theology is erected upon the foundation of this Psalm by Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter Day Saints. As shown, in neither of the two theories popular with classic commentators, oft cited by Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter Day Saints, does this conclusion follow.

Thriceholy Radio


The Septuagint renders 'elohim' in Exodus 22:8 as 'God,' as do many of the modern translations: "But if the thief be not found, the master of the house shall come forward before God ['theos', singular LXX], and shall swear that surely he has not wrought wickedly in regard of any part of his neighbour's deposit, according to every injury alleged, both concerning a calf, and an ass, and a sheep, and a garment, and every alleged loss, whatsoever in fact it may be,- the judgment of both shall proceed before God ['theos', singular LXX], and he that is convicted by God ['theos', singular LXX] shall repay to his neighbour double." (Exodus 22:8-9 Brenton Septuagint). As we've seen, objectively it comes down to this: these cases were heard by human judges; it could not be otherwise without violating Moses' due process standards, and the judgment of these human judges is counted as the judgment of God. This gives no offense against monotheism; judges are called 'elohim' not because they are themselves gods, to be counted in the god-census, but because they represent the One who alone truly is God: "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days." (Deuteronomy 19:16-17).

But then: "I have said, Ye are gods ['theoi,' plural LXX]; and all of you children of the Most High." (Psalm 82:6 Brenton Septuagint). The Hebrew word 'elohim' is plural in form and is translated as singular ['god'] or plural ['gods'] depending on the words around it and the translator's understanding of what it means. How did the singular 'theos' of Exodus 22:8 come to be pluralized to 'theoi' in Psalm 82? Jesus confirms this translation (or rather the Holy Spirit speaking through John) in John 10:34. How did we go from one God, with many hands, to many gods?

Perhaps because they were failures. These 'gods' did not live up to their high calling; they took bribes and perverted judgment. They were supposed to be doing God's work in this world,-- judging,-- but acted in their own interest, not for God. The way it was supposed to be, they'd have been like paper-clips hanging attached to a magnet, one power working through them. But they let go. And what 'gods' they turned out to be on their own: dead gods!

Church Fathers

The early church writers, in their interpretation of the Psalm, took it that Jesus had opened up its meaning, changing the grim condemnation of the original: "Nevertheless you will die like men", into a promise. Because Jesus identified the "gods" of Psalm 82 as those "to whom the word of God came", these authors amplified the judges' convention of the original Psalm 82 into all those reborn by the indwelling Word: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Peter 1:23):

"And when I saw that they were perturbed because I said that we are the sons of God, I anticipated their questioning, and said, 'Listen, sirs, how the Holy Ghost speaks of this people, saying that they are all sons of the Highest; and how this very Christ will be present in their assembly, rendering judgment to all men. The words are spoken by David, and are, according to your version of them, thus: 'God standeth in the congregation of gods; He judgeth among the gods. How long do ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Judge for the orphan and the poor, and do justice to the humble and needy. Deliver the needy, and save the poor out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither have they understood; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken. I said, Ye are gods, and are all children of the Most High.'" (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 124).
"And again: 'God stood in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods.' He [here] refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church. For she is the synagogue of God, which God - that is, the Son Himself - has gathered by Himself...But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, 'I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High.' To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the 'adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father.' Wherefore, as I have already stated, no other is named as God, or is called Lord, except Him who is God and Lord of all, who also said to Moses, 'I AM THAT I AM. And thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is, hath sent me unto you;' and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who makes those that believe in His name the sons of God." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 6.1-2).
"So the prophet openly reveals this gracious favor when he says, 'I said, ye are gods, and ye are all sons of the Most High.' Now we, I say, we are they whom God has adopted, and of us alone He is willing to be called Father, not of the disobedient." (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, Chapter XII).
"For we shall be even gods, if we shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, 'I have said, Ye are gods,' and, 'God standeth in the congregation of the gods.' But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods." (Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Chapter 6).
"For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is...he would stay his natural corruption...but being incorrupt, he would live henceforth as God, to which I suppose the divine Scripture refers, when it says: ' I have said ye are gods; and ye are all sons of the Most High; but ye die like men, and fall as one of the princes.'" (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4).

According to the Bible, men are by nature far below God. Pious men have humbled themselves as dust and ashes: "And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:..." (Genesis 18:27). The sheep of His flock cannot plausibly vaunt themselves as gods, even though they are made in His image: "Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture." (Psalm 100:3). God so far transcends His creation that men cannot make a credible claim to true godhood. All the nations together are as a drop in the bucket compared to Him: "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scale; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless." (Isaiah 40:15-17).

While these early church authors take it too far, in my opinion, there does seem to be a promise nested inside, not so much the original Psalm with its harsh words of condemnation, but Jesus' opening up of it. Believers will indeed come to be like God: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2), when we live in His presence.

So Jesus is really promising, not that we will be gods in our own right, to be added to the god-census leading to the unlawful result of "many gods," but that we will come to be like God, "partakers of the divine nature," (2 Peter 1:4), when we see face to face: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In the original Psalm, the phrase "I said, 'You are gods,'" strikes a note of mockery, as if the Lord said, 'Some 'gods' you turned out to be -- taking bribes and such scandalous things!' The original Psalm takes away with one hand what it grants with the other, that these unjust judges share God's title and job description, but don't live up to it. Still, the fact that judgment by human judges equates to judgment by God -- and this much is undeniable in passages like Exodus 22:9 -- is a high calling, even if the vessels of clay may shatter under the strain: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." (2 Corinthians 4:7).


Some commentators generalize the Bible's description of the judges of ancient Israel as 'elohim' to mean all rulers and magistrates, anywhere at any time, can be called 'gods':

"The Lord has not only testified that the office of magistrate is approved by and acceptable to him, but he also sets out its dignity with the most honorable titles and marvelously commends it to us. To mention a few: Since those who serve as magistrate are called 'gods' [Ex. 22:8, Vg.; Ps. 82:1, 6], let no one think that their being so-called is of slight importance. For it signifies that they have a mandate from God, have been invested with divine authority, and are wholly God's representatives, in a manner, acting as his vicegerents. This is no subtlety of mine, but Christ's explanation. 'If Scripture,' he says, 'called them gods to whom the word of God came...' [John 10:35]. What is this, except that God has entrusted to them the business of serving him in their office, and (as Moses and Jehoshaphat said to the judges whom they appointed in every city of Judah) of exercising judgment not for man but for God [Deut. 1:16-17; II Chron. 19:6]? To the same purpose is what God's wisdom affirms through Solomon's mouth, that it is his doing 'that kings reign, and counselors decree what is just, that princes exercise dominion, and all benevolent judges of the earth' [Prov. 8:14-16]. This amounts to the same thing as to say: it has not come about by human perversity that the authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers, but by divine providence and holy ordinance." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XX. 4)

Such flattery of the pretensions of human despots would warm the heart of Louis XIV! While the Protestant Reformation worked much good, one of the evils it brought in its train was a revival of Caesaropapism, the worst system of church governance ever devised.

Is there reason to think, with Calvin, that all rulers of all nations may lawfully be called 'gods?' There is a lack of New Testament examples where rulers are called 'theoi.' The one place in the New Testament where a resplendent monarch is called 'god', he is struck down dead for failing to silence his flatterers: "And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost." (Acts 12:21-23).

The prince of Tyre fares no better in the Old Testament than does Herod in the New:

"Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: 'Because your heart is lifted up, And you say, "I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the midst of the seas," yet you are a man, and not a god, though you set your heart as the heart of a god'...'They shall throw you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain In the midst of the seas. Will you still say before him who slays you, "I am a god"? But you shall be a man, and not a god, in the hand of him who slays you. You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of aliens; for I have spoken,' says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 28).

So Calvin paints with too broad and too secular a brush. Not all rulers, but the judges of ancient Israel alone can bear this title without dire consequences. The Sanhedrin were promised that God's spirit would rest upon them, as no ruler of the nations was ever promised: "Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again." (Numbers 11:25). Their verdicts were the judgments of God because He spoke through them. The promise of the Spirit poured out in all fullness upon the whole congregation remained until the Day of Pentecost: "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." (Joel 2:28).

How Many Gods?

 How many Gods?

Only One God Henotheism
What did the pagans believe? Finis Jennings Dake
Witnesses Origen

Who are they?

 Who are the "other gods"?

Strange Gods Gods of Wood and Stone
Is a 'fake rose' a rose? Worship Him!
Counterfeit Bills Dark Matter
None Like Thee So-called Gods
God of this World Moses
Elohim Stars
Prince of Tyre Psalm 82
Lower than the Angels Before the gods

Only One God

 Only One God

Worship One One Jehovah One God

Zeus and Hera

Modern liberal scholars advance a reading of Psalm 82 which is polytheistic to the core. They will tell you about a 'divine council,' whose membership roll is comprised of the "gods of the Canaanite pantheon":

"Even the way in which Jahweh introduces himself, 'I am Jahweh, your God,' presupposes a situation of polytheism. For many a generation there existed in Israel a worship of Jahweh which, from the point of view of the first commandment, must undoubtedly be taken as legitimate, though it was not monotheistic. It is therefore called henotheism or monolatry...At what time were the gods of the Canaanite pantheon, into whose company the stranger Jahweh had made his entrance (Psalm 82), demoted to a body of Elohim-beings with the function of singing praises?" (Old Testament Theology, Gerhard von Rad, p. 211)

They pursue this reading because, if the Bible did not describe a 'divine council' of assembled sky-gods, then the Bible would differ from pagan literature. This, they will tell you, is quite impossible; why, if the Bible were different, then it would not be the same! The pagans told of divine assemblies/beer blasts:

"Convene the council, name a special fate...They milled around and then came, all the great gods who fix the fates, entered into Anshar's presence and were filled with joy. Each kissed the other: in the assembly there was conversation, they sat at the banquet, ate grain, drank choice wine, let sweet beer trickle through their drinking straws. Their bodies swelled as they drank the liquor; they became very carefree, they were merry...." (The Epic of Creation Tablet III, pp. 248-249, Myths from Mesopotamia).

Ever wondered how the gods get to these shin-digs? Why, they travel via the Milky Way, of course!:

"And Jove was witness from his lofty throne of all this evil...a story still unknown to the high gods. In awful indignation He summoned them to council. No one dawdled. Easily seen when the night skies are clear, the Milky Way shines white. Along this road the gods move toward the palace of the Thunderer, His royal halls, and right and left, the dwellings of other gods are open, and guests come thronging. The lesser gods live in a meaner section..." (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book One, Lines 163-192).

For readers who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, these pagan fables fail to convince. The living God Himself tallied up the god-census, and came up with a god-count of One, and only One:

"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD Of hosts: I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God...Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'" (Isaiah 44:6-8).
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