Does the Bible Make References to a Divine Council? A Response to Dr. Michael Heiser and Naked Bible Podcast Episode 109

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Yesterday, I came across a post by Mike Heiser from the Naked Bible Podcast, linking here, to his most recent podcast episode 109: John 10, gods or men? Here is the introduction on the website to this episode:

In view of Mike’s work on the divine council and Psalm 82 in his best-selling book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, many have asked what’s going on in John 10, where Jesus defends his deity by quoting Psalm 82. The consensus interpretation has the gods of Psalm 82 as only people – Jewish elders or Israelites at Sinai (both of which are unmentioned in Psalm 82). How does that approach make sense when Jesus needs to defend statements of equality with the Father elsewhere in the chapter (John 10:30, 38)? Mike’s view is that such an approach makes no sense at all – and that there is much more coherent alternative.

Hmmm… I wonder who might have been asking questions about this? Well, here was my message to Dr. Heiser via Facebook:

I’ve been reading some of your articles and listening to some of your podcast episodes. I have a question in regard to Psalm 82. Is it your contention that there were members of the divine council that actually died a physical death? If so, do you believe they were annhilated, or was this a physical death while their soul/spirit is punished eternally? I’m asking because I have a ministry to LDS, and I’m finding a lot of them referring me to your work in order to defend their views of exaltation. To give you an example of this, you can take a look at my article based off a back and forth with an LDS man, his references to an article written by an LDS apologist who frequently cited articles written by you. Here’s the link.

This article gives you the full and detailed rationale behind my rejection of the LDS interpretation that men can become gods, my rejection of Dr. Heiser’s view that Psalm 82 and John 10 teach the concept of a divine council, and why I believe the Elohim of Psalm 82 are in fact human judges. I argue this from the biblical text, both Old and New Testaments, grammatically, examining the text of Psalm 82 and John 10 itself, as well as giving the reason why Jesus would have quoted Psalm 82 from the context of John 10.

I should also mention that in that article I dealt with some of Dr. Heiser’s presuppositions concerning how we should interpret the Bible such as: 1) The Old Testament must be interpreted through the lens of surrounding cultures; 2) Deuteronomy 32 teaches that specific members of a divine council rules over different nations. I also show how Moses was called an Elohim to Pharaoh. (Exodus 4:16; 7:11)

Now to be fair, Dr. Heiser did say that he has received several questions about the connection between John 10:34 and Psalm 82:6, but I just want to point out after listening to the podcast episode, that he didn’t answer any of my questions. He did write off the LDS interpretation of John 10:34, and he also wrote off my interpretation as well.

I want to address the presupposition that Dr. Heiser repeated over and over again throughout the episode, and that is that we must interpret John 10:34 as Jesus’ defense of his assertion that “I and the Father are one” in verse 30 as well as his assertion that “The Father is in me and I am in the Father” in verse 38.

First of all, Jesus does not defend himself. He didn’t defend himself when standing on trial as an innocent man. He hardly ever answers questions directly. Rather, we often find Jesus given two options, and find him answering with a third option that dances beautifully around the traps that were set before him. In doing so, Jesus finds a way to bring the attention back on his accusers and take the fire off of himself. You can find evidence of this in John 8, Matthew 22 and several other places. In fact, in Matthew 22, it says that they were so confounded by the question Jesus threw back at them in return that they dared not ask him any more questions from that time forward.

So to assert that just because Jesus was accused of blasphemy (which he was, and rightly so if what he said wasn’t true) and so the response he gives must be one in defense of his claims and against his accusers, is simply not valid.

The question remains as to whether or not there could be another motive behind Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82, and in fact, a motive that would support the human interpretation of the Elohim in Psalm 82?

To answer this, I want to take you to the close of my article I gave a link to above:

So what was Jesus saying? Why did He allude to Psalm 82? While the LDS want to make the conversation solely around the Pharisees’ statement to Jesus: “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God,” (John 10:33) they are not taking into account that Jesus, without fail, always turns the statements and questions of the Pharisees back on them. He often does this by asking another question that the Pharisees never seem to be able to answer.

In order to gain context for Jesus’ statement of “you are gods,” we must rewind for a moment. If we press the rewind button once, we go back to the start of John 10 where Jesus starts His famous “good shepherd” sermon with this statement: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber…” (John 10:1)

If we press the rewind button again, we hear Jesus say this, again to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains…” (John 9:41) This verse happens to be the verse right before John 10:1. 

Just for fun, let’s hit the rewind button one more time: “…You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies…” (John 8:44)

It seems to me that things are getting pretty tense between Jesus and the Pharisees. It also seems quite obvious that Jesus is fueling this tension. The entire discourse of John 10 could be summarized by having Jesus say, “I’m the good shepherd … the Pharisees are the false shepherds.”

With that in mind, we come to the aftermath of this discourse where the Pharisees have a few “fighting words” for Jesus. The fight doesn’t begin until Jesus says the words, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) In response to this, or so it seems, the Pharisees want to stone Jesus. But it’s not very hard to see that the Pharisees were already extremely angry with Jesus after being shown up and denounced time after time after time.

The Pharisees want to pick a fight over Jesus’ claim to equality with God. In typical fashion, Jesus isn’t going to play their game on their terms. Rather than answering their statement about Jesus’ self-declaration of divinity, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. The question is this:

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods” ’? – (John 10:34)

When I follow the argument of Psalm 82, I find Jesus, standing in the place of God (Elohim), calling the Pharisees to account for their false shepherding of Israel. He is putting the Pharisees into the role of the “judges” (Elohim) of Psalm 82, and contrasting for them the identity that God desired for them and called them to with the identity that they have chosen for themselves. At the same time, Jesus is both condemning the Pharisees as judge and extending grace to them by calling them to repentance. Jesus is very openly saying to the Pharisees, “God wants so much better for you than this,” and communicating to them, “It doesn’t have to end in the same way as Psalm 82. You don’t have to die like Adam. You can be born again. You don’t have to be like your forefathers who killed the prophets. You can embrace Me as the Messiah, and you can be ‘children of the Most High.’”

In essence, Jesus took a conversation calling His identity into question, and turned it on the Pharisees, calling them to account for the identity they have chosen while at the same time showing them the identity God chose for them.

The final verdict is in your hands.