A Rebuttal to the FairMormon Interpretation of Psalm 82:6

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This is an article that was sent to me by an LDS man that I have been in dialogue with to help me understand why they believe that John 10 and Psalm 82, as well as other verses, teach that men can become gods.

 

 

 

Since there was so much in this article that needs clarification, I have re-posted the original article, and then included my comments in blue as needed.

 

 

 

If you wish to refer to the original article, you can find it by clicking here.

 

 

 

Reconsidering Psalms 82:6 Judges or Gods? A Proposal

 

Bill McKeever, a critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote:

 

The gods of Psalm 82 are nothing more than men who, by God’s sovereign design, are chosen to rule over other men. In fact, the word“Elohim,” used in verse six, is often translated “judges” in the Old Testament. An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:6 where it reads, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [Elohim] …” Another example is Exodus 22:8 which reads, “If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges …” Again, the Hebrew Elohim is used.

 

No doubt many Latter-day Saints will look upon this interpretation with suspicion. Should that be the case, one of Mormonism’s most respected scholars, Apostle James Talmage, should be quoted. In his book“Jesus The Christ,” Talmage agreed that Jesus was referring to divinely appointed judges when he wrote, “Divinely Appointed Judges Called ‘gods.’ In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called ‘gods.’ To this the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon’s Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title ‘gods’” (pg. 501).1

 

This essay is written to deal specifically with this criticism, as well as to provide some general insight into the relevant scriptures. It consists of three parts. First, I will present an interpretation of the Old Testament text of Psalm 82 in light of current scholarship. Then, I will discuss the interpretation of the Psalm given in John 10. Then, I return to the criticism and show how it is disproved through an analysis of the text. Finally, I will conclude with a few observations relevant to LDS theology in general, and our use of these texts to defend the doctrine of the deification of man.

 

Psalm 82: A Translation2

 

I 1 [1] God stands up
2 In the Assembly of  El
3 In the midst of the  gods he judges
II 1 [2] How long will  you rule unjustly?
2 And honor the  wicked?
3 [3] Judge the lowly  and fatherless!
4 Do justice for the  needy and the poor!
5 [4] Rescue the lowly  and oppressed!
6 From the hand of the  wicked!
III 1 [5] They do not know
2 And they do not  understand;
3 In darkness they  wander around;
4 All the foundations  of the earth totter!
IV 1 [6] I, I say:
2 You (are) gods
3 And sons of the  Highest (are) all of you,
4 [7] Nevertheless,  you will die like a man
5 And like one of the  leaders you will fall!
V 1 [8] Arise God!
2 Rule the earth!
3 For you possess
4 All the nations!

 

Structure, Translation, and Discussion

Section I

 

God stands up: Or, alternatively, God arises. The Hebrew used here for God is elohim.5The same Hebrew word is translated at the end of the verse as ‘gods.’ Why is it singular here and plural later? The verbs (like that meaning to stand up or arise) associated with this term are singular in the Hebrew. This would require a singular subject. Thus “God arises.” In the chiastic structure of the Psalm, this statement is paralleled by the phrase “Arise God!” in verse 8.

 

In the assembly of El: There are three general uses of the term El in the Bible and related literature. The first is that it is often used to mean God. The second is that it can refer to the name of the Canaanite deity, El, who was head of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon. Or, alternatively, it might represent a common phrase meaning ‘divine’ particularly when used in the combination here “divine assembly”. The usage is completely ambiguous. There is no difference in usage between one meaning and the other. It is perhaps intentional that this range of meanings suits both the initial use of elohimas God and the later use of elohim as divinities at the end of this section.

 

In the midst of the gods he judges: Here, elohim can only be plural. It would be nonsensical to have God (elohim) standing in the assembly of God (El) judging among the singular God (elohim). The word judges (spt) can also mean more generally to rule. It is repeated with this meaning in mind in verse 8 at the end of the Psalm. Here, God arises to judge those in the assembly. There, God arises to rule those in the assembly.

 

The author does point something out that is important in reference to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The word Elohim in Hebrew is a plural noun. Yet it is used almost exclusively with singular verbs. Technically a grammatical error, it points to the singular nature of God while hinting of a plurality or complexity to that God.

 

Section II

 

How long will you rule unjustly? And honor the wicked?: In this phrase, the word rule (spt) is used, when God addresses the gods. The same Hebrew word is used differently in each context in which it occurs. God (elohim) judges (spt) the gods (elohim) who rule (spt). Later in the Psalm, the meanings will be reversed. The gods (elohim) did not judge (spt) so God (elohim) will rule (spt). God is asking why these gods support the wicked.

 

Judge the lowly and fatherless! Do justice for the needy and the poor! Rescue the lowly and oppressed! From the hand of the wicked!: Here God demands that these gods execute righteous judgment. The gods should judge (spt) the lowly and fatherless.

 

Section III

 

They do not know And they do not understand; In darkness they wander around; All the foundations of the earth totter!: This is the center of the Psalm. The ‘they’refers to the gods (elohim). Their rule has brought chaos. The phrasing is meant to show this. They do not know. They do not understand. They walk in darkness. The earth (eretz) is shaken from its foundation. This is exactly the end result that the divine rulers are supposed to prevent. The earth was created from chaos, and now these beings are returning it to a chaotic state. And it was specifically because of the actions of these elohim that the foundations of the earth are moved.

 

The first question I have for this LDS author is in his reference to Elohim being the Hebrew word for God. It has always been my understanding that LDS believe Elohim to be the proper name of “Heavenly Father.” Do they also acknowledge it to be the generic word for god, or in their belief system, “gods,” as suggested here, similar to the Islamic belief that Allah, the generic Arabic word for god, is also the proper name of “the God?”

 

The other difference I would state right off the bat is that it is assumed by the author that the “Elohim” that are being referenced to in Psalm 82 are actual “gods” reigning over other realms. In context, Christians would see this passage as speaking to the “human” leaders of Israel. We can debate over whether or not Yahweh was referring to those humans as “Elohim,” and what the significance of that is, but that would be a substantial difference as to how we would go about interpreting this passage, and this would also bring light into why Jesus quotes this verse when speaking to the Pharisees, the leaders of Israel in His day.

 

Section IV

 

I, I say: You (are) gods And sons of the Highest (are) all of you,:Here the gods (elohim) are defined in terms of a singular deity (elyon) the Most High. It is also a statement that they are placed in their position by God-who acts as a supreme authority.

 

I find the reference to Heavenly Father, or Yahweh, in this passage, being referred to as “Elyon, the Most High.” The LDS do not maintain, or at least it was taught by Joseph Smith and other LDS prophets, that Elohim, or Heavenly Father, has not always been a god, but was at one time  a man, who was a spirit child of another god, who was a spirit child of another god, and on the chain goes back to eternity past. If this is the belief of LDS, then how could they possibly refer to Heavenly Father as the “Most High,” or as the author will later refer to, “God of gods?” Heavenly Father is still subject to, and worships, His Heavenly Father. He is also subject to continued obedience and performance as “a god” according to the laws of the priesthood that are greater than He, and is subject to removal as god if He falls out of line with those laws. This is not characteristic of one that Christians would refer to as the“Most High.” In fact, it’s not even characteristic of what Christians would refer to as “God,” or worship as God. If there is a God higher than Heavenly Father who is truly the “Most High,” then why wouldn’t we worship that god, or at least worship that god, and every other god that outranks Heavenly Father, along with our worship of Heavenly Father?

 

Nevertheless, you will die like a man: The word man (adam) means either the first man Adam, or the concept of mortal man in general.6The significant aspects of this phrase are that they put the one concept in opposition to the other. Two references to gods are followed by two references to men. The reference here however is clearly antithetical. If these gods were men, they would not die ‘like men’. Nor does their death occur immediately, but rather, like Adam, occurs eventually because of their actions. “You will die like Adam”.

 

At this point, Yahweh pronounces that these“Elohim” will die like “Adam.” They make an argument that if they die “like”Adam, then they must be different than Adam. I don’t think this is necessarily true since Yahweh is already making a contrast between their positions as“Elohim” and dying like “Adam.” Needless to say, it is shocking to even suggest that gods are able to die, much less die because they are being punished by other “gods” for not being “god-like.” Again, if “gods” can die and be punished, Christians would not see them as gods, and it would follow that this could also happen to Heavenly Father, who in this verse is pronouncing this“judgment,” at least according to the LDS interpretation of this passage.

 

And like one of the leaders you will fall!: Rather than the traditional “leaders”, I prefer the suggestion by Heiser and Mullen that rather than referring to“princes”, the Hebrew references the “Shining Ones”7. This reading also creates a clear connection between Psalm 82 and two other Old Testament texts relating to the Divine Council: Isaiah 14:12-15 which relates the fall of Lucifer and Ezekiel 28:12-17. Both of these refer to divine beings, who lost their immortality and were cast out of heaven. This also concludes God’s speech to the gods. As Handy writes: “The gods rule the cosmos as the humans rule the earth; the single major difference is that human rulers always die while the gods only die sometimes.”8

 

The author now compares these “Elohim” dying to the fall of Satan, equating Satan as “a god,” and part of the “divine council.” These gods dying and falling is equated with Satan and his angels losing their immortality and being cast out of heaven. Once again, the statement is made “human rulers always die while the gods only die sometimes.”This is completely foreign thought to Christianity. It is hard to tell if the author is equating angels with these “gods” completely, or if he is just making an analogy.

 

Section V

 

Arise God! Rule the earth!: In this section, the perspective has shifted from the divine assembly in heaven to a human assembly. Following parallels to Section I, God (elohim) arises to Rule (spt) and not to judge. What does He rule? The earth (eretz) referred to in Section III. The idea is that He will restore order where the gods caused chaos.

 

For you possess All the nations!: The word ‘all’ is the same as that in Section III and Section IV (‘all the foundations’ and ‘all of you’). Here, it suggests that now, all of the earth, and its peoples, and even the elohim, are under the rule of God.

 

The Cultural Framework

 

Early Israelite theology pictured a heaven filled with divine beings, and ordered in a hierarchy. God stood at the top of this hierarchy. This host of divine beings has become collectively identified as the divine council.9There are several instances of the divine council recognized in the Old Testament.10The members of this divine council are called divinities (elohim), sons of God (bene elohim or bene elim), sons of the Most High (bene Elyon) and in the Greek, divine beings (huioi theoi) and angels of the divine (angeloi theoi). While a complete survey of these passages and their meaning is beyond the scope of this paper, three particular passages in Deuteronomy are worth mentioning: Deuteronomy 4:19-20; 10:17-18; 32:7-8, 34. All three of these bear a special relationship to Psalm 82. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 reads as follows:

 

Here the author equates the “sons of God” in the Old Testament with the LDS concept of the “divine council.” Christian interpretation has always seen “sons of God” in the Old Testament as referring to angels, and in some of these references, you have Lucifer (Satan) appearing with these angels. Of course there are many LDS that would equate angels with pre-existent spirit children, and in some cases, equating angels with those saints that have died and gone back to Heavenly Father, as in the case of Moroni. Again, all of these ideas: divine council, sons of God being equal with“gods,” etc… are all foreign concepts to the monotheistic worldview of Judaism, which is the source of the Old Testament in question.

 

And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These the LORD your God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven; but you the LORD took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case.11

 

The implication here is that God “ordained that it [mankind] should worship idols and the heavenly bodies.”12However, it is for Israel to worship God alone. This reflects the idea that if God revealed Himself only to Israel, and not to the rest of the nations, then it must be God’s will that only Israel worship the true God. This apparent acceptance of polytheism however did not appeal to later Israel. Jeremiah was the first prophet to discuss the punishment of the nations for idolatry, and the LXX (the Greek Old Testament) modified these verses to avoid the possible interpretation of polytheism. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 mentions these other divine beings:

Again the author equates the heavenly hosts with other “gods,” and there is simply no reason to get this from the text. The Israelites, as were the pagan nations around them, were drawn toward the worship of the “created” rather than the “Creator.” (Romans 1:25) Many of the foreign pagan gods were equated with the sun, moon or other parts of creation. This does not mean that these are actual gods that are in competition with Yahweh, nor are they gods that are legitimate gods, but not the “rightful” gods of Israel, as LDS would believe them to be.

 

On a side note, I do have to add that a huge difference between the LDS concept of God and the Christian concept of God has to do with creation. Christians read Genesis 1 to mean that God created out of nothing (bara in the Hebrew) and that space, time and matter all had a beginning. The Christian God, or Yahweh, is the only self-existent being. The LDS concept of creation is that intelligence and matter are eternal, and our Heavenly Father

simply took pre-existing matter and intelligences and formed what we have come to know as the earth. The intelligences became you and I, first as spirit children of Elohim, and then were given bodies for this mortal probation to prove ourselves worthy to return to Heavenly Father and become gods.

 

The wording used by the author disturbs me at this point. The author states, “The implication here is that God “ordained that it [mankind] should worship idols and the heavenly bodies.” He goes on to say, “This apparent acceptance of polytheism however did not appeal to later Israel,” and “the LXX (the Greek Old Testament) modified these verses to avoid the possible interpretation of polytheism.”

 

I simply cannot believe that the author is arguing that polytheism was condoned by Yahweh until the time of the prophet Jeremiah, and that these other gods are true gods that have revealed themselves to these other nations, and should be worshipped as gods by these other nations.

 

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and the Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.13

 

This language is highly reminiscent of Psalm 82. God (elohim) is God (eloah) of gods (elohim), who regardeth not persons (the same Hebrew word is translated ‘regardeth’ here, and‘honor’/’accept’ in verse 2 of Psalm 82), who defends the fatherless. Here, God is declared to be God-not just of the Israelites, but also of the other divinities, the elohim, and it is through Him that justice is dispensed. Finally, in Deuteronomy 32:7-8 we read:

 

Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you: When the Most High allotted the nations, And set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries [or territories] of peoples Equal to the number of divine beings.14

 

Tigay comments on these verses as follows:

 

This means that when God was allotting nations to the divine beings, he made the same number of nations and territories as there were such beings. Verse 9 implies that He then assigned the other nations to those divine beings, and states explicitly that He kept Israel for Himself. This seems to be part of a concept hinted at elsewhere in the Bible and in postbiblical literature. When God organized the government of the world, He established two tiers: at the top, He Himself, “God of gods (elohei ha-elohim) and Lord of lords” (10:17), who reserved Israel for Himself, to govern personally; below Him, seventy angelic “divine beings” (benei elohim), to whom He allotted the other peoples. The conception is like that of a king or emperor governing the capital or heartland of his realm personally and assigning the provinces to subordinates.15

 

Here the author explains a bit further about who these “gods” are. They are “gods,” under Heavenly Father, but ruling over nations. Here’s the scary part about the conclusion that the author is drawing:

 

No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:20-21)

 

So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; (Daniel 10:20)

 

 

 

Through the course of this article, the author has equated the “Elohim” of Psalm 82 with “princes” and now he is equating them with gods over nations. The two verses above from the pen of Paul and the mouth of the archangel Michael, we can see that the other “gods” mentioned in the Old Testament, worshipped by the surrounding pagan nations, and sometimes equated with elements of nature, are in fact demons.

 

The author points something out that I was not previously aware of. In the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:8 uses “ἀγγέλων θεοῦ” (angels/messengers of God) instead of the Hebrew “יִשְׂרָאֵל בֵּן”(children of Israel). While these are different concepts, neither of them match the author’s translation “divine beings.”

 

In conclusion, what the author has argued for is the rightful delineation of demons that are over nations and territories as legitimate “Elohim,” who also are the model of the type of “gods” that we will one day become, according to LDS theology.

 

Within this context, the elohim of Psalm 82 represent those divine beings who were given the various nations of the earth to rule. Psalm 82 then represents a period when rulership of the earth is being returned solely to God. Examples of this particular belief persisted within Judaism, despite efforts to remove it until at least the eighth century A.D., when it appears in the work Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer.16The Deuteronomy texts were later modified to reduce the impact of this polytheistic imagery-imagery that while compatible with the earlier theology of Israelite religion, was not as compatible with the later, stricter monotheistic theology.

 

An Examination of John 10

 

In John 10:25-39, Jesus has an exchange with His questioners and detractors-one that is instructive for the discussion at hand:

 

Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

 

Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed 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? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. 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. Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,

 

I have included a little more text than is perhaps strictly necessary, but the context here is highly significant to understanding the message that the author of the Gospel of John intends us to receive. Part of the necessary understanding of this narrative relies on seeing within it references to the prologue in John 1. In John 1:1, 11-12 we read:

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

 

The themes in these three verses are repeated in John 10. The first necessary point is to show exactly what Jesus is arguing here. He concludes His speech in verses 25 to 31 with the comment: “I and my Father are one.”-meaning that He and the Father were equal. In what way are they equal? As Neyrey points out, Jesus presents two statements representative of both Himself, and the Father:17

 

The author is making a case that Jesus is equal with the Father, yet that goes against several points of LDS doctrine. LDS teach that Jesus is the firstborn spirit child of Elohim, our Heavenly Father. He was chosen to play the role of Savior, and LDS teach that Jesus became a god, but do not believe that Jesus has the same authority as the Father, and simply by virtue of the fact that Heavenly Father is Jesus’ Father and progressed to godhood before Jesus, Jesus would be inferior to Heavenly Father. This is the very reason why LDS are taught they are not to pray to Jesus or worship Jesus, but only pray to and worship Heavenly Father.

 

Yet the author is dead on in his assessment of Jesus’ statement, as well as the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ statement. Jesus is claiming in this passage to “give” eternal life and the ability to keep any from plucking those who belong to Jesus out of His hand. That is a claim to do only that which Heavenly Father can do, and therefore claiming equality with God.

 

On a side note, Jesus said He “gives” eternal life. Giving eternal life is different from “paying” eternal life or “rewarding”eternal life. LDS distinguish between general salvation, which they say is by grace, or “given,” and individual salvation, which must be “earned” by following celestial law. Individual salvation would be equated in the LDS mind with “eternal life.” Yet Jesus says He “gives” eternal life. As the Apostle Paul clarifies in Romans 4:4-5; 11:6, you can either have grace or work. There is no way to combine the two.

 

10:28   And I give unto them eternal life;   and they shall never perish,   neither shall any man pluck them out of   my hand. 10:29   My Father, which gave them me,   is greater than all;   and no man is able to pluck them   out of my Father’s hand.

 

Jesus here displays the same power as the Father-what the Father can do, so can the Son. In this way, as Jesus declares in the next verse, both He and the Father are one. For claiming this equality with God, the Jewish audience then “took up stones again to stone him.” Their declaration of His crime of blasphemy was grounded in the charge that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” This charge is not new to Jesus here. In John 5:18 he is accused of saying “that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” Later, this is repeated in the final trial of Jesus, when, in 19:7, 12, we read that the death penalty was wanted of Jesus “because he made himself the Son of God” and he “maketh himself a king.” The first time that Jesus is charged with this (in John 5:18), he responds by saying “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.” The text continues from there and explains that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (v. 22), and that the Father has given the Son to have life in himself (v. 26). Jesus’argument here is very similar. As Neyrey points out, he does not make himself God, rather, “the Father hath sanctified, and sent [him] into the world.”18While Neyrey seems to be correct in his understanding that Jesus’ defense lies in part in the idea that God makes him the Son of God, I disagree with the second half of his argument. He claims that those “to whom the word of God came” refers “to Israel at Sinai when God gave it the Torah.”19And, more to the point, that:

 

The evangelist moreover, does not propose here the argument which was made in the prologue, that the “Word came unto his own and his own received him not” (1:11). Israel is not being reproached here for rejecting once more God’s revelation to it.20

 

To the contrary, this is precisely one of the arguments being made. Neyrey does not carry the position of the evangelist in the prologue to its conclusion.21The evangelist continues: “For as many as received him, to them he gave the power to becomes the sons of God”. The point of Jesus’ remarks are twofold-first, that God has made him a Son of God, and thus equal to God, and second, that those who receive his (Jesus’) message, will also become sons of God, and thus equal to God.

 

Interpreting John 10:34-39

 

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?: Jesus quotes the Psalm, in which God calls those members of the divine council‘gods’. This represents his own defense of his being called god, since, as with these beings, God has made him god instead of Jesus making himself god.

 

Since the author has already referred to John 1, the question must be asked, if Jesus was in the beginning with God (John 1:1), how could God have made Jesus “a god?”

 

If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came and the scripture cannot be broken: They became Gods because they received the word of God. And it is recorded in scripture.

 

Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world:Here, as in the earlier passage in John 5, Jesus affirms that the Father is the one who has sanctified him and sent him into the world. From the perspective of the evangelist, this recalls to us John 3:31 which reads “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God”. In other words, the word of God is present with Jesus himself.

 

Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?: How can it be blasphemy if it is the will of the Father.

 

If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not 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.: This is a twofold issue – the first is that those who believe will recognize the works that Jesus performs as a sign. This was how Israel recognized Moses when Moses was made a “god” (elohim) to Pharaoh. At the same time, there is of course the idea that in rejecting Jesus, they are also rejecting the Father as their God.

 

Since Moses was made “Elohim” to Pharaoh, do LDS believe that Moses was a literal god? If so, was Yahweh condoning the worship of Moses by Pharaoh, if Pharaoh would have repented from the worship of the Egyptian gods?

 

Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand: their response is once more to try and kill him. The chapter then concludes by describing many that do come and believe him.

 

The New Testament Interpretation of the Psalm

 

John 10 apparently interprets Psalm 82. This often presents a difficulty since many are unwilling to accept an interpretation of the Psalm in the New Testament which conflicts with the original intent of the Psalm. Peterson comments:

 

I suspect that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with such a solution. Is there any way of maintaining the interpretation of Psalm 82 that modern scholarship has largely and (I think) convincingly settled on, without accusing the Savior of misuse of the passage?22

 

Jesus, particularly in the fourth gospel, tends to develop a deeper meaning in the scriptures, which He quotes. There is a well-recognized pattern of Jesus speaking a parable, no one understanding the message, and then Jesus explaining the meaning of His original words. Likewise, it has been recognized that usually, when a claim is made about Jesus, and that claim invokes a reaction from the crowd, the gospel does not moderate or avoid the claim, but instead restates it in such a way so as to invoke an even greater response from the crowd.23This pattern seems to be followed here. After the first surge by the Jewish audience to stone Him, Jesus clarifies His remarks, and rather than appeasing the audience, their response is to attempt to stone Him again. Why?

 

If John 10 follows the argument made in the prologue,24then Jesus has announced to his Jewish audience that those who receive the word of God are to be gods, just as those in the Psalm. And those who receive the word of God are those who receive the gospel that Jesus was sent to deliver. The defense that Jesus provides is no more than to state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus god. Jesus is then placed by God into the position of one of the elohim-one of the sons of God. The evangelist is the one who takes this a step farther and suggests explicitly in the prologue what is only implicit here-that those who receive the Word will also become sons of God and thus equal to the Father. Because Jesus insists that not only is He a god in the sense of the Psalm, but also that others are as well, the Jews, more infuriated then before again try to kill him.

 

The author is now equating “sons of God” in the Old Testament with “sons of God” in the New Testament. While this is a possible way to interpret this phrase, it isn’t the only way. Context is always important when examining the meaning of any particular word, phrase of passage. When we examine the passages in the Old Testament speaking of sons of God, we find it’s rather easy to think of them as supernatural beings, whether angels or otherwise. When we come to passages in the New Testament, such as John 1:12 mentioned by the author, the context clearly refers to human beings as the sons of God. It is not mandatory for us to apply what we learn about sons of God in the New Testament back on the Old, or what we learn about sons of God in the Old Testament to the New.

 

The author also equates the phrase sons of God as being equal with God. It’s easy to make this leap in thought. After all, Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God. The Pharisees took that as Jesus making Himself equal with God. The New Testament calls us sons of God, so that must mean we’re equal with God. However, Jesus is identified several times in the New Testament as the “only,” “unique,” “begotten,” Son of God. In John 8:23 when Jesus was speaking with the Pharisees, He made it clear that He is “from above,” and they were “from below.”

 

As a side note, Jesus set Himself apart by referring to Himself as Son of God. The Pharisees took offense at Jesus referring to Himself in this way. If we are all pre-existent spirit children of Elohim, and if this is not only what Jesus taught, but also what the Old Testament taught, the title Son of God would not have brought negative attention to Jesus because every human that has ever lived could rightfully refer to themselves as the Son of God.

 

Responding to The Critics

 

McKeever makes the following arguments in his criticism of LDS theology: 1) that the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 are men who have been chosen by God to be rulers, 2) that the word ‘elohim‘ is often translated as ‘judges,’ and 3) that this interpretation of the Psalm was used by Jesus when He responded to the Jews in John 10.

 

There are several problems with this thesis. During the lifetime of James Talmage, this was certainly the majority opinion for a correct interpretation,25although by 1935 it had been seriously challenged,26and today it holds almost no weight in scholarly studies.27

 

There are three major arguments raised in favor of this interpretation. First, in Exodus 4:16 and Exodus 7:11, Moses is called an elohim. “And thou shalt be to him instead of God (elohim)”and “See, I have made thee a god (elohim) to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” A second argument is that in John 10, Jesus seems to be using the Psalm to suggest that it is appropriate to call Himself god precisely because other men are called god. The third argument is one given by McKeever in the citation at the beginning of this paper:

 

In fact, the word “Elohim,” used in verse six, is often translated “judges” in the Old Testament. An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:6 where it reads, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [Elohim] …” Another example is Exodus 22:8 which reads, “If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges …”Again, the Hebrew Elohim is used.28

 

The argument then proceeds that although Jesus was really divine, he was stating in John 10, that if other men were recognized as gods in the Old Testament, is it really blasphemy to call himself god?

 

From the interpretation of the Old Testament text of Psalm 82 presented above, it is clear that McKeever’s interpretation is untenable. However, there are a few things that need to be said by way of a response to the three assumptions listed above.

 

  1. When Moses is called elohim, it does not serve as a title for Moses, but rather describes a role he is to play. As Heiser suggests, the fact that Moses talks with God face to face, that he acts as a representative from God to Pharaoh, and that Aaron is selected as his prophet, presents for us a Moses who is functioning as a part of the divine council of God29. He is now the judge of Pharaoh, and he is the intermediary between God and the Egyptians. In this role, Moses resembles more the idea of elohim who are members of the divine council than he does the concept of a human judge divinely appointed by God.30

 

 

 

This is the paragraph where the entire argument that the author has built up until this point comes crashing down in one contradictory swoop. The author has maintained up until this point that“Elohim” does not refer to “human beings” as “judges” as the Christian interpretation of Psalm 82 and John 10 maintains.

 

 

 

When speaking about Moses being referred to as Elohim, the author states, “it does not serve as a title for Moses, but rather describes a role he is to play.” What role is Moses to play you might ask? The author continues “Moses who is functioning as a part of the divine council of God.” So far the author has remained consistent. The next sentence however says“He (Moses) is now the ‘judge’ of Pharaoh, and he is the intermediary between God and the Egyptians.” The author tries to explain this contradiction away by stating that “Moses resembles more the idea of Elohim who are members of the divine council than he does the concept of a human judge divinely appointed by God.” Whether Moses is more “Elohim” or more “human judge” in this instance does not negate that Moses is in fact: 1) human, 2) called “Elohim,” and 3) playing the role of judge. This is exactly how Christians would interpret Psalm 82 and John 10. The leaders of Israel in Psalm 82, and the Pharisees in John 10, are: 1) human, 2) called “Elohim,” and 3) playing the role of judge. Another thing that Moses had in common with those mentioned in Psalm 82 and John 10 is that they all “died like Adam.”

 

 

 

  1. In John 10, if Jesus is defending his claim to be the Son of God on the same principle that others have received the title of“god” and “son of god”, then we are left in somewhat of a problematic situation. Is Jesus merely playing a semantic game? There is no real claim to equality in this comparison. If Jesus can be called god simply because other men have also been called god, then how is it a real defense to the claim that he can not only be called such, but that he is one with or equal to the Father? Does Jesus argue merely for an ontological title, or a divine nature? If this was the entire basis of his argument, then he clearly would not have (word missing?) a blasphemer. To justify this, Talmage comments that those listening to Jesus obviously didn’t understand the argument – for they then attempted to stone him again.31

 

 

 

The first time the Pharisees wanted to stone Jesus in John 10 was because Jesus claimed to be equal with God. The second time the Pharisees wanted to stone Jesus in John 10, it was because they understood exactly what Jesus was saying. If Jesus was quoting Psalm 82 to diffuse the Pharisees’ anger by reminding them of their equality with Him as “Elohim,” then they wouldn’t have still been mad. The Pharisees were angry with Jesus because He pointed back to Psalm 82, which condemned the false, human judges of Israel, and applied it to the Pharisees, and in doing so, condemned them as false leaders, as Jesus so often did in the gospels.

 

 

 

  1. In dealing with the several passages where elohimhas been rendered ‘judges’ in the authorized text, we first have to start with Gordon’s article in 1935. Gordon demonstrated that in every instance where the Hebrew has been translated ‘judges’, the text should more properly be translated literally (as the Greek and Latin translations did) as ‘gods’.Remarking on the selections mentioned by McKeever, Gordon wrote:

 

 

 

The literal translation, gods (plural), found in the Vulgate (ad deos) and Luther’s version (voer die Götter) is better suited to what appears to be the real meaning of the passage in light of newly discovered material.32

 

Translating elohim as judges is questionable at best. As Peterson put it:

 

Moreover, those who insist that the elohim of Psalm 82 are simply mortal humans typically point to Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, where the term has frequently (e.g., in the King James Bible) been translated as “judges.” But there seems no particular reason, other than theological squeamishness, to prefer such a translation. What these verses seem to describe is a divinatory practice where a case is brought before “God” or “the gods” for decision.33

 

The reason why Christians would be “squeamish”to interpret Psalm 82 or other verses as speaking of other gods that are legitimate competitors with Yahweh is because of the 19 verses in the Old Testament and several in the New Testament that emphatically state that there is “one God.”

 

To view an article I wrote on the“one God” verses, click here.

 

An important rule of interpretation is to allow the clear verses to interpret the less clear verses. When 19 verses state clearly and plainly that there is “one God,” it would be foolish to allow an unclear passage like Psalm 82 and the use of Elohim to contradict that plain teaching, especially when there is an alternative explanation.

 

Additionally, there are a couple of elements that lend to an interpretation of the beings in Psalm 82 as true divinities. First, their punishment for failing to judge is to “die like Adam.” This is hardly a punishment if in fact these are merely human judges who were already going to die. Smick notes just this (as do others): “if they are going to die likemortals, they are not mortals.”34The second argument is that these elohim are defined also as being “sons of the Most High (bene elyon)”. That these could be judges who are called the sons of God simply because of their position as judges (and unrighteous judges at that) is not supported by the text.

 

Nowhere in Psalm 82 is punishment mentioned. This is assumed by the author to make his argument that Psalm 82 is a reference to fallen angels, or similar beings, part of the divine council, that rebelled, and will therefore die, or in LDS interpretation, lose their immortality.

 

Conclusion

 

As with any biblical text, correct interpretation is necessary to understand the text. In this particular case, the Old Testament text, with its original intent is, on the surface far removed from its application by Jesus in the New Testament. The interpretive model used by Talmage cannot be faulted – he used the best scholarship of his day. He taught correct gospel principles using it. Scholarship now presents a radically different understanding of the text. When we understand properly the Old Testament account, we see how Jesus applies those concepts to his own doctrinal exposition on what it means to be god, and a son of God. This new understanding not only reinforces the doctrines which Talmage taught, it defines them much more explicitly. We must recognize that scriptural studies are fluid–we are constantly learning new ways to read and understand the scriptures. In this specific case, the lesson is very significant. The Father sanctified the Son, and sent him into the world to deliver God’s word. The Father has given those who believe the Word to the Son, and once we are his, no power can take us from him. We then are sanctified by the Son, and also become the sons of God, along with everything that this entails.

 

Another side note, but LDS do not believe in eternal security. Jesus’ entire argument in John 10, which the author agrees with, is that He is equal with God because He is able to give eternal life, and protect His sheep in “His hand,” just like the Father. Not only to LDS not believe in eternal security, they believe it is arrogant when a Christians says they “know” they have been forgiven and that they “know” they have eternal life. The reason for this is LDS do not believe the grace of God is sufficient for them until they have become “perfected” in Christ and denied themselves of all ungodliness. (Moroni 10:32) However, many LDS do not realize that it is biblical to “know” you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

 

As part of this discussion, many scholars also suggest that the oneness with God that Jesus claims here, cannot be seen in the same light as the oneness described in the intercessory prayer, where Jesus prays that his disciples “may be one, even as we are one”35. Neyrey comments that “Jesus claims far more than mere moral unity with God, which was the aim of every Israelite”, yet, the aim of Jesus is much greater. He wishes to see in every individual this same oneness that far exceeds a mere moral unity that was looked for.

 

This study is not conclusive, nor does it deal with most of the material evidence for reading the divine council into Psalm 82. A great deal of additional study must be completed to present this theme with the unified framework of the fourth gospel. For those who wish to pursue this study, I direct you to the additional readings list closing this paper. But, even in its limited scope, I hope that I have shown, even in a limited fashion, the Plan of Salvation as understood by the author of the Gospel of John.

 

After making the above comments, I went back through the paper to follow the argument of the author a little more closely. What I realized is that Psalm 82 mentions the terms: 1) gods, 2) Elohim (Hebrew), 3) judge, 4) children of the Most High, 5) Elyon (Hebrew), 6) die, 7) men, and 8) princes.

 

The author however discusses: 1) Elohim, 2) gods, 3) able to die, 4) able to be punished, 5) princes, 6) shining ones, 7) divine council, 8) fall of Lucifer, 9) lost immortality, 10) sons of God (Old Testament), 11) heavenly hosts, 12) rule over nations, 13) Moses, 14) sons of God (New Testament), 15) equal with God, and 16) judge.

 

Right away you can see a discrepancy between 8 terms in the original text and 16 terms the author refers to in reference to the original 8. Where did the other 8 come from? #4 – able to be punished, was equated by the author with the reference to these “Elohim” being able to die, which was then compared to #6 – shining ones, #7 – divine council, #8 – the fall of Lucifer, and #9 – lost immortality. None of these terms are mentioned in the text of Psalm 82. They were completely invented by the author and then applied to Psalm 82. The author then explained that “children of the Most High,” which is mentioned in the text, should be equated with #10 – sons of God (Old Testament) and #14 – sons of God (New Testament), then going on to explain that these “sons of God” are in fact #11 – heavenly hosts which #12 –rule over nations and serve as #16 – judges, and are #15 – equal with God. In fact, the author went so far as to say that the reason Israel was to worship Elohim/Yahweh and not worship the other gods of the nations was that He had revealed Himself to them. In the same way says the author, the other gods, which are under Elohim/Yahweh, and rule over these other nations, have revealed themselves to these other nations, and rightfully demand worship from these nations.  Furthermore, says the author, Israel was originally polytheistic and it wasn’t until later prophets like Jeremiah that strict monotheism was commanded and polytheism spoken against. This gives credence to the worship of gods in the Old Testament like Ba’al, Molech, Ashtoreth, etc…

 

If one applies this logic to today’s world, then it begs the question as to why the LDS would spend so much time and effort evangelizing areas of the world that worship Allah, the Hindu gods, or the strict monotheistic worship of Yahweh.

 

It goes without saying that this argument couldn’t be further removed from historic Christianity. This article also flies in the face of any LDS teaching that I’m aware of. I will be digging a bit deeper to see if I can find an LDS prophet, apostle, reference on LDS.org or in vetted manuals and curriculums of the church to see if there is any legitimacy to the argument this author from FairMormon, an LDS apologetics site, has made.

To see an LDS article that does a great job of explaining the various “false” gods of the Old Testament, click here.

 

However, the author’s argument falls completely apart when it comes to the person of Moses, who in Exodus 7:1, is declared to be an “Elohim”to Pharaoh. Yet the author, previously unreserved to connect the word Elohim to just about everything in the Old Testament, is now unwilling to attach that same meaning to Elohim when it comes to Moses. The author states that while Moses is acting on behalf of the “divine council,” he is playing the role of “judge.”He is not a literal “god” to Pharaoh.

 

As soon as the author admitted that in the case of Moses, who was a “human” judge to Pharaoh, who later “died,” the whole house of cards came tumbling down. The whole case previously made by the author was that Elohim could not refer to human beings acting in the role of judges. Now the author admits that Moses was playing that very role to Pharaoh, and in that sense only, was referred to as Elohim.

 

The argument of the author in regards to the meaning of “Elohim” in Psalm 82:6 only works if it can be universally applied and made equivalent with all of the other terminology and Old Testament references he has used. Once Moses as “Elohim” was made not equivalent to all of these terms, the dots disconnect just as fast as they first connected.

 

If you apply the author’s interpretation of Moses as “Elohim” to Pharaoh to the interpretation of Psalm 82:6, you will arrive at the same conclusion that Christian scholars have arrived at throughout history. The “Elohim” in Psalm 82:6, like Moses in relation to Pharaoh, were human, they played the role of judge on behalf of Yahweh, and they died. In this sense alone Moses, along with the Israelite judges of Psalm 82:6, referred to as “Elohim.”

 

Jesus, when confronted by the Pharisees about making Himself equal with God in John 10, refers back to Psalm 82, a condemnation on the false judges, “Elohim,” of Israel, and applies it to them. The whole conversation of John 10 was about Jesus proclaiming Himself the good shepherd over the house of Israel stating that He is the gate of the sheep-pen, and that those who come any other way than through Him (Pharisees) are thieves, robbers and will only act like a hireling because they don’t care for the sheep. Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep and proclaims His ability to give them eternal life and keep them in the palm of His hand.