FairMormon Interpretation of Psalm 82:6 – part 5

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This is exchange #5 on FairMormon’s Interpretation of Psalm 82:6 originally posted by Ben McGuire, a volunteer who helps answer questions for FairMormon. I was originally sent the article by an LDS man as a defense of the LDS doctrine that humans are “gods in embryo” and we all have potential to become gods. There were so many issues in the article that I wrote a rebuttal. The LDS man I was talking to sent my reubuttal to Ben McGuire, who then sent his rebuttal to my rebuttal. This is Ben’s rebuttal #2 to my rebuttal #2. I will be responding soon, and it is clear at this point that I need to take a closer look at the articles Ben cites and original sources listed as that has become the main focus of the conversation. It is true that our assumptions and worldview will shape our interpretation, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Bible or archaelogical evidence. In the case of this discussion, one’s view of the Bible will have a strong effect on the sources they are willing to cite and the interpretation they will end up with. For the LDS, their interpretation of the Bible has to be affected by the Book of Mormon’s claim that “plain and precious truths” were removed, and the article of faith “we believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” and their view of progressive revelation in which a living prophet trumps a dead prophet.

Initial article = black

My initial rebuttal = blue

Ben’s rebuttal back = green

My rebuttal #2 = purple

Ben’s reubuttal #2 – orange

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.

Each section is developed into a separate poetic unit by content, by parallelisms, and by discernable sound structures4 in the vocalized text. The text as a whole displays a chiastic structure, which will become important a little later in the discussion.

Section I

God stands up: Or, alternatively, God arises. The Hebrew used here for God is elohim.5 The 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 elohim as 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.

 

This is a sort of odd thing to say since Psalm 82 (the part of the Old Testament in question) uses it both ways in the first verse. What he actually meant to say is that when the term elohim is used to refer to God (the God), then the verbs are singular that are associated with it. When it is used to refer to other things (which is not as rare as your friend suggests) it often comes with a plural verse. For an easy and objective resource on this, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohim

 

“The word Elohim occurs more than 2500 times in the Hebrew Bible, with meanings ranging from “god” in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12, where it describes “the gods of Egypt”), to a specific god (e.g., 1 Kings 11:33, where it describes Chemosh “the god of Moab”, or the frequent references to Yahweh (Jehovah) as the “elohim” of Israel), to demons, seraphim, and other supernatural beings, to the spirits of the dead brought up at the behest of King Saul in 1 Samuel 28:13, and even to kings and prophets (e.g., Exodus 4:16).[3] The phrase bene elohim, usually translated “sons of God”, has an exact parallel in Ugaritic and Phoenician texts, referring to the council of the gods.[3]

Elohim occupy the seventh rank of ten in the famous medieval Rabbinic scholar Maimonides’ Jewish angelic hierarchy. Maimonides said: “I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, …[5]”

Obviously, it isn’t a grammatical error (not if it occurs more than 2500 times). It may well be the product of a language that doesn’t have such strict grammatical rules as modern English does. (But if it is a grammatical error, we have to wonder why God makes it so many times in the Old Testament, right?)

The author is correct that I did mean to clarify that when the Old Testament refers the one true God as Elohim, it uses a plural noun with a singular verb. This is actually a great way for scholars to distinguish between the references to the one true God verses references to false gods or other beings as Elohim.

The other thing I will say in this section is that I have found a tendency among LDS scholars and apologists to borrow from any group or writing when it corresponds with their beliefs and then discard that group or writing when it doesn’t. The author references Ugaritic and Phoenician texts and Maimonides, a Jewish mystic rabbi writing centuries after Jesus, and these writings would be included in the Talmud and Midrash, which are commentaries on the Torah, or even worse, commentaries of commentaries. I hardly think there would be much that Christians or LDS would agree with in these writings, so I don’t know how authoritative or valuable these references are.

What stands out to me is this question of authority. Authority isn’t all that important to most of us. These kinds of sources are an attempt to contextualize the issue. Maimonides isn’t being put on a pedestal as the right way to understand something – he is being put up there as a way that these issues have been historically interpreted. Maimonides is important because he was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of his day. This isn’t a sort of fringe view in that sense. The illustration is to point out that alternative ways (to the protestant reading that your friend presents) have existed in the past and continue to exist. And this is about the Bible. Most protestants (and in particular Evangelicals) tend to substitute their own reading of scripture with the only reading of scripture. For them, there is nothing authoritative outside of the Bible (hence the reference to authority). But what gives their interpretation authority? It isn’t because of history, or historical ways of reading and interpretation. It is their own theology that predetermines how the scriptures are read – and the issue becomes something of a circular argument.

LDS scholars do like to look at a broad range of sources, and we do like the ones that tend to follow the same kinds of thinking we have. But in virtually every case, there is a clear recognition that our views don’t come from these sources, and that these kinds of sources are often of very limited value in understanding our own theology. At the same time, when we are dealing with a text like the Bible, the history of its interpretation is often invaluable as it gives us a range of understandings that have been held, and often gives us a range of perspectives on the meaning. This doesn’t make any of them authoritative. But views like an Evangelical interpretation are put into a proper perspective of simply being one interpretation in a long series of interpretations (if that makes sense).

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 LDS view of Elohim as a name for God the Father comes from a formalization made around 1916, to help avoid confusion in popular usage in the LDS Church. Prior to that point in time, we find the different terms for God often used interchangeably. When this was instituted at the beginning of the 20th century, it became a modern reference, not meant to be read back onto the Old Testament text. FairMormon has a wiki page on it here:

http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_the_nature_of_God/ Elohim_and_Jehovah

“The LDS use of the name titles Elohim and Jehovah to designate God Our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ respectively is not meant to insist that this is how these titles were always used anciently, including in the Holy Bible. Rather, these titles are a naming convention used in the modern Church for clarity and precision. Since Christ may be spoken of as “the Father” in a great many senses, the modern Saints use these name-titles to avoid ambiguity, regardless of which ‘role’ of a divine Personage is being discussed.

Since this terminology was not standardized for convenience and clarity prior to the twentieth century, readers are cautioned not to expect the early writings of the Church to always reflect this practice, which arose only decades later. Likewise, attempting to read the Bible as if its writers followed the same modern practice is anachronistic, and may lead to confusion and misinterpretation. ”

Because of this, I can answer his question for me (I am the author) by saying that I follow (somewhat loosely) academic biblical scholarship with its documentary hypothesis. If we go back to that wiki link, we can find this (which I don’t agree with entirely – but it is close enough to start a conversation if necessary):

“The choice of word or words for God varies in the Hebrew Bible. According to the documentary hypothesis these variations are evidence of different source texts: Elohim is used as the name of God in the Elohist and the Priestly source, while Yahweh is used in the Jahwist source. The difference in names results from the theological point being made in the Elohist and Priestly sources that God did not reveal his name, Yahweh, to any man before the time of Moses.”

In this sense, Elohim is very much a generic label or word meaning God, as opposed to a proper name – although eventually, when the text of the Old Testament was edited into the way it is today, that distinction was lost, and was subsequently used as a proper name (something like the LDS attempts to formalize that language a century ago).

I really don’t want to make too much out of the reference to Elohim as Heavenly Father. It was more a side comment in passing. The author has made clear that he personally believes that the references to Elohim as Heavenly Father and Jehovah as Jesus being more for clarity and precision and that they shouldn’t be taken literal or read back in to the Old Testament. I do have a question as to how clear or precise that distinction is to make if it doesn’t actually correspond with past Scripture or reality. Case in point. Every LDS person I have ever spoken to previous to this conversation has believed, because they were taught, that in the Old Testament, whenever it uses Elohim, that is Heavenly Father, and when it uses Jehovah it is a reference to Jesus. Perhaps the author saw where acknowledging this could potentially lead into a discussion of what to do with references like Isaiah 44:6 or Deuteronomy 6:4 that speak of Elohim and Jehovah interchangeably as the same being.

This comes from use in our temple liturgy (where the references most prominently occur). Biblical scholars will point to passages like the ones mentioned and explain this in terms of shift in thinking. That is, Biblical Israel becomes more monotheistic over time (there is that historical context again). Flattening the history and trying to make sense of it tends to create issues. And while it is easier to understand this with LDS writings where we can understand an actual history to how these things change, we don’t have the sorts of external historical references for the Old Testament – but at least as LDS we can accept some of these ideas in principle since we see them working in the present.

The other thing I would like to comment on in this section is the Documentary Hypothesis. The reference to this view of the Old Testament tells me that the author does not take the Bible seriously at all. In short, the Documentary hypothesis would disagree with Jesus when He refers to Moses as the author of the Genesis through Deuteronomy, also known as the Torah, and instead insists that different authors, who each had a particular name that they used to refer to God, contributed, and through several edits much later in Israel’s history, the modern Torah was formed. There are several problems with this, but I won’t address them here.

I take the Bible very seriously. I think though that we get to a point here where the conversation tends to shift. The vast majority of Old Testament scholars accept some from of the Documentary Hypothesis. And its origins predicted a certain kind of history that was at least partially confirmed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But, this isn’t an argument with LDS members (or their interpretations) it becomes an argument with main-stream scholarship – and one that fundamentalist leaning Christians often have a very hard time addressing or dealing with. When you make the Bible the only authority, and its accuracy is challenged in the very nature of the text itself, there is nothing to fall back on other than to continue to insist that the text must be a certain thing. This is why I noted at the beginning that there isn’t a lot of room for discussion once you hit these sort of absolutes in the core assumptions.

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.

Most Biblical scholars disagree. The view that I present comes from Deuteronomy 32, where the entire world is divided into different groups, according to the number of the sons of God. (This is usually taken as referring to a group of angels or divinities of some sort). Psalm 82 recognizes this group of divinities, and portrays YHWH calling them out for not doing what they are supposed to do.

This isn’t particularly controversial (except perhaps among Evangelicals – and even not all of them). You can read a bit about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Council

The author brings up Deuteronomy 32 which he quoted later in this article, and I am still not sure which translation of the Bible he is using to come up with “divine beings.” The Hebrew says “children of Israel” and the Septuagint says “angels/messengers.” This entire connection to Deuteronomy 32 and the concept of the nations being divided up among divine beings that ruled over them is based on a mistranslation of that verse. As you will see, the author was completely silent on this point.

Again, Biblical scholars argue that it is Deuteronomy 32 in the Masoretic tradition (the basis for most current Biblical translations) which is the error and not original – and that a Hebrew original for the tradition found in the Septuagint was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and represents a more original, earlier tradition. This is not a mistranslation – nor is there any real way in which it could be conceived of as a mistranslation (the language just isn’t that similar). Which is why the assumption is that it was deliberate – and since one tradition is more difficult and reflects an earlier period of Israelite theology and the other is consequently more representative of a later theology and so is less difficult, the consensus is that the change was made from earlier to later – from complicated to simpler – and that understanding results in the Septuagint reflecting an earlier more original text and the Masoretic text reflecting a later editorial correction (not a mistranslation).

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,” interesting. 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?

LDS maintain that if there was a time when God the Father was not God the Father, then it was before the beginning of creation (before Genesis 1:1) and at some completely undefined point in the past. For us, and our existence, and for the existence of the divine assembly (which LDS believe was part of that creation by God), God the Father has always been God. So in this sense, this is an argument pulled out of context. In a sense though, LDS believe in continuing revelation and a progressive revelation from God. Brigham Young taught that:

“When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiffnecked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiffnecked, the Lord can tell them but little.”

The point here is that God speaks to his people so that they can understand Him. When Joseph Smith speculates about the past of God, and about our future, there isn’t ever any implication that we should worship anyone other than our God, our Father. Nor is there any suggestion ever that someone further back on that possible chain would be in direct control. There isn’t a hierarchy of sorts stretching back – and this view badly misunderstands what LDS understand by deification or the end of man. We do have scripture that directly deals with this issue as raised – it is in 2 Nephi 2. Here are verse 14-15 and 26:

And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. … And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Let me interpret. God’s plan for us is about the “end of man” – that is, what happens to us after our mortal probation. God wants us to have agency (defined here as being able to act instead of being acted upon). The fall happens, the atonement redeems men from the fall, and those that embrace the atonement become free forever (having eternal agency) to act for themselves, and not to be acted upon. In other words, this is Lehi’s logical extension of the question of choice in the garden coupled with becoming like God knowing good and evil. In this sense, God the Father is never in a position where He “is subject to removal as God”. Since space is limited here, this is an oversimplification, but it is more accurate than the caricature I read above. There is no “rank” created by this infinite regress of Gods. All are alike.

What I’ve noticed with LDS is that they will believe something, talk about something, and then completely pull back whenever anybody questions that particular thing saying it’s not official doctrine. What LDS don’t seem to realize is that the offensive thing to Christians is the idea that God is the only god “for us.” It only follows from logic that if other gods have been gods for longer than our god, then they would be greater, especially given the fact that at least one of these gods according to the LDS doctrine of eternal regression would be Heavenly Father’s Heavenly Father that He still worships, serves and must be obedient to. The other thing that logic would lead us to is the conclusion that if matter is eternal, intelligences are eternal and the priesthood and the laws of the eternal priesthood pre-existed god, then all of these things are greater than Him. If Heavenly Father were to take an action that was out of line with the “council of the gods,” then He would be punished according to LDS doctrine just as the author is suggesting that the “divine beings” in this passage were. The author simply did not answer my question or deal with the issue.

This isn’t the case. I didn’t answer the question in the way he wanted it answered – because that question is something of a straw man. LDS members (and in particular LDS theologians) don’t tend to look at these issues in the way that question wants them addressed. Here we have the puzzle of sovereignty – and the problem here is that your friend says “it only follows from logic”. I disagree with him – but most of my disagreement comes from this – I don’t agree with his logical progression. I tried to point this out. When LDS refer to exaltation, when we refer to the concept of absolute agency that comes with it, we deal with becoming like God. And length of time is this temporal concept that really only matters within the frame of mortality. Being God ‘longer’ for a being that has existed and will exist for eternities isn’t a meaningful concept. He isn’t greater – He isn’t less than – we become the same thing. And in asserting absolute agency for those who are exalted, we recognize that we will become sovereign just as God is sovereign. And so this question of obedience and serving is a non-starter. And there is absolutely nothing in authoritative doctrinal sources of the Church that ever suggests God can be punished in any way – in fact, our doctrine found in our scriptures says exactly the opposite. So I did answer the question – just not in the way they wanted. But what I am trying to point out is that LDS members wouldn’t agree with the idea that his presentation is a logical progression or explanation – and we wouldn’t agree that his idea that God could be punished is a part of LDS theology or doctrine. So there are some real misunderstandings here.

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.6 The 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.

I think that it is important to remember that the name Yahweh never appears in Psalm 82. I tend to agree with most of this by the way. These aren’t Gods – these are divinities. Which can be seen in the links I provide above. These elohim are not creators. They shouldn’t be equated with the Most High. They are divinities or angels or whatnot that are given authority over the kingdoms of the earth. Part of the point of the Psalm isn’t just to criticize them for not doing their job, it is in a sense to point out that they are incapable of doing their job – and so to plead with YHWH to become the ruler of the whole earth, and not just Israel.

I chose to speak of Yahweh not because the word/name appears in Psalm 82, but to distinguish the one true God from the hypothetical gods that the author is discussing on the basis of this passage.

But you have to deal with the problem of why YHWH doesn’t appear by name in Psalm 82, and why the name that is provided (elohim) is identical to the name provided for the other gods in the context of that Psalm (also elohim). This is really important.

The implication that Elohim is only the ruler of Israel is completely outside the thinking of anything Jewish or Christian. But I will deal with this later when the author deals with it more directly.

No it isn’t outside of Jewish thought. It is outside of Christian thought (which shifts from a Jewish only religion where one becomes Jewish when one converts to a human population faith including the gentiles). But this sort of sweeping generalization misses the point. The Psalm itself asks for God (YHWH) to take direct control of the rest of the world – to become the God of all the world and so to restore order. This realization of the kingdom of God on earth became the basis for what is called the eschatological realization of the kingdom – when the Kingdom of God is set up and covers the whole earth and God rules (whether in the resurrection or the millennium or whenever – different groups of course have very different interpretations of when the rapture is, and so on).

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure why the author has spent so much time on Psalm 82 when his conclusion, ultimately, is that Jesus’ usage of this passage in speaking with the Pharisees is completely different than the meaning of Psalm 82. He argues the Elohim are divine beings, but not the same kind of divine being as Elohim, Yahweh or Jesus. In fact, they aren’t the same type of divine beings that LDS believe we can progress to become.

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.

It is just an analogy. The Hebrew there (as I point out) actually reads “the shining ones”. Well what does that mean? It cannot refer to mortals – nowhere in all of Israelite literature are mortals ever referred to as “shining ones”. Adam is sometimes described as one (before his fall). And then we have the morning star (in both of its meanings – as Lucifer and as Jesus), and so on. The point was that there is a cultural context to understanding this as referring to anything but men. Early Israelite belief had a more nuanced view of divinities. Even later Judaism had a more nuanced view (if you looked at the link on Elohim, you might have seen this comment: “Elohim occupy the seventh rank of ten in the famous medieval Rabbinic scholar Maimonides’ Jewish angelic hierarchy.” All of this gets flattened in early Christianity with its stricter monotheism (of sorts). So to suggest that these are angels is likely the way it would have been viewed within early Christianity, and not quite the view of early Israelite religion.

I will address this issue in the following comment.

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.9 There are several instances of the divine council recognized in the Old Testament.10 The 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.

As should be clear from the wiki link above to the Divine Council, this is not the LDS view of the Divine Council. Judaism ends up being strictly monotheistic. It doesn’t start that way.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotheism ”

However, the text is consistent with the hypothesis that Judaism was originally a form of monolatrism. Archeological evidence and literary criticism both suggest that the actual origins of Judaism lie in the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, c.1,000-586 BCE. Both kingdoms had Yahweh as their state god (i.e., the god of the royal court and of the kingdom), while acknowledging the existence of other gods. In the 8th century the Assyrian royal propaganda claimed universal dominion (meaning dominion over all other gods) for the Assyrian state god Ashur. In reaction to this, certain circles in Israel stressed the unique power of Yahweh as a sign of national independence. When Israel was destroyed by Assyria (c.721 BCE) refugees brought this form of theism to Judah, where it was upheld during the reigns of at least two kings. At this stage (late 7th century), Judaism was not strictly monotheistic, but Yahweh was recognised as without peer and supreme over all other gods.”

Among biblical scholars, there is wide acceptance that Israelite religion became more monotheistic over time. Psalm 82 represents a doctrinal window into that process at a specific point in time (when it was written). In this sense, it doesn’t have to relate well to either later developments in Jewish belief, or developments in early Christianity, or to Mormon beliefs – all of which are further along this process of development.

There seems to be a disconnect for the author between “early Israelite religion” and what God revealed the intent for Judaism to be in the Old Testament. The author states in another place that Judaism was invented around 1000 B.C. While I agree that without question, the Israelites in the Old Testament narrative did not follow the law and constantly fell into the worship of pagan idols and the “host of heaven,” this does not have anything to do with the origins of Judaism, which according to the Bible, was established beginning with God’s call on the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Archaeology can only establish what the people were doing, but this evidence is making conclusions about the origin of Judaism completely independent of the biblical account. Is the author really making a case that Judaism as a monotheistic belief that Yahweh was the creator of the heavens and the earth and god over the whole world started just before Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel? Is the author also making a case that everything in the Old Testament was “created” at this point completely after the fact to try and convince the world that Yahweh should be acknowledged as ruler over all?

We see the problem highlighted here – “according to the Bible”. Unless you start with the assumption that the Bible itself isn’t a historical document like other historical documents – that it didn’t experience editing and change over time – this becomes a meaningless assertion. The problem isn’t just that Archaeology can only establish what people were doing – its that that Archaeology shows us that what people were doing doesn’t match up all the time to the Biblical narrative. And there is this attempt again to flatten history. If Israel (and the Biblical authors) don’t have the complete picture of God – but God reveals himself progressively (which is what LDS believe), then we would expect to see that ancient Israel believed a different set of things earlier and that this belief evolves.

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.”12 However, 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.

He may not see any reason to get this, but Biblical scholars do (and I reference them). So his criticism should perhaps be more rightly aimed at them. LDS wouldn’t view these as rightful gods either. But then, LDS have a sense of progressive theology – a revelation of God that increases as mankind is better able to understand it.

The author does not seem to understand the problem he is creating. The picture he is painting is that Elohim is a “creator” God and then establishes a “divine council,” consisting of “divine beings” that are given charge over different sections of the earth, “Yahweh” being named as “elohim” or “divine being” over Israel and “Ashur” being named as “Elohim” or “divine being” over Assyria.

And this is the difference that goes back to that idea of authority. This isn’t a problem for me because for me, the Old Testament represents a history of belief that changes over time. And so when we have this view – this represents an early view that needed to be changed (and was changed). It is a problem for someone who sees the Old Testament (and New Testament) as a flat doctrinal exposition that has no history because it is both timeless and never changing. And so there is this deep divide that stems again from a set of assumed propositions that I reject. I certainly don’t recognize these entities as divine beings. I just recognize that the text refers to them as divine beings. And this is a really critical point. I can see it in the text and recognize it as a development in the history of belief and because of this, I don’t have to accept it as my belief. But for someone who has this flattened view of scripture, if it is in there, it must be believed. And so there is this assumption that I must be reading the text in the same way. It isn’t a problem for me. The problem is created only when we superimpose this kind of view onto an existing theology.
 There is this fun statement by Bart Ehrman, in his 2009 book Jesus Interrupted that explains this perhaps better than I could:“There are certain views of the inspiration of Scripture, such as the one I had pounded into me as a late teenager, that do not stand up well to the facts of textual criticism. For most Christians, who don’t have a conservative evangelical view like the one I had, these textual facts can be interesting, but there is nothing in them to challenge their faith, which is built on something other than having the very words that God inspired in the Bible. . . . In any event, as I indicated, these theses themselves were almost entirely noncontroversial. Who can deny that we have thousands of manuscripts? Or hundreds of thousands of variants? Or that lots of the variants involve spelling? Or that scholars continue to debate what the original text was in lots of places? All of these statements are factually true.

The one statement that has stirred up controversy is my claim that some of these variations are significant. This view has been objected to by some conservative evangelicals and no one else that I know of. That gives me pause—why is this criticism coming only from people with a particular set of theological views?”

So when we deal with this problem you have to understand that it comes only from a very narrow perspective. For the vast majority of Christianity (Mormons, Anglicans, Catholics, and so on), these problems don’t exist in the same way because we don’t share this particular fundamentalist view of scripture. And because this is such a basic belief and assumption about the text, it does create these kinds of barriers to real discussion.

If this is the case, the Old Testament and Judaism are not any different than any other pagan polytheistic belief system based in mythology. The concept of all human beings as accountable to the “Most High God” goes out the window, as does the idea of sin, as well as the idea of a Savior of all mankind. If all “divine beings” are just as valid and “equal” in authority, then there is absolutely no standard of truth and no justification for sharing the gospel. At best, Jesus could be said to have been the Savior sent by Yahweh to make atonement for the sins of Israel.

What makes it different is that we believe that God appeared to Moses, and gave him commandments, and created a covenant with Israel as a people. Likewise (although it is a different time and uses different ways of expressing it) we believe that God spoke to Joseph Smith and gave him commandments, and created covenants for the LDS people to live by. In the New Testament, we had God Himself (the person Jesus) come to the people and gave them new commandments and gave them a new covenant. I see these parallels here. Where is your friends new revelation, his new commandments, his new covenants? They don’t exist. They have been replaced with interpretation that has been labeled (see the first comments above) as authoritative.

To come to this conclusion on the basis of one passage in the Old Testament and the scholarship of others who seem to have absolutely no concept of Old Testament theology shows an extreme disregard for the Bible as a whole, a willingness to take a single passage completely out of context. They also seem to be okay with the concept that the entire Old Testament as mythology created by Israel to convince the rest of the world that Yahweh should be acknowledged as the “divine being” over the entire world.

Scholarship shows a high degree of respect for the Biblical text and for the Bible as a whole. It isn’t about taking things out of context. In fact it is about understanding the context (not just the text) in terms of the history, the archaeology, and so on. But it is also clear that the majority of Biblical scholars do not hold to this fundamental idea that the Bible is the word of God as penned by God Himself, and kept unchanged for thousands of years. This doesn’t make it mythology either. The Bible clearly is a text capable of helping people change. And Mormonism embraces that. But it isn’t the sole basis for our belief either. And so we don’t have to struggle with these issues in the same way.

Again, I simply can’t imagine any Christian, Jew or LDS person going along with this line of logic.

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.

This really seems to me to be deliberate misrepresentation of what I wrote. Other than the part that really disturbs him. The problem is that this is pretty standard fare from Biblical scholars. What is bizarre is the assumption that ancient Israel believed exactly what he believes about God, or that his own understanding today should be read backward onto the Old Testament so that it is in perfect harmony with his own interpretations of scripture. That is nonsense.

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:

See, he is flattening it. He wants to see all of the Old Testament happening in the same context as the New Testament, happening in the same context as his own belief. He wants to think that what he believes about God is identical to everything everyone else has ever (truly) believed about God. There is a name for this – presentism. This is simply the application of Israel’s early monolatrism. They eventually grew out of it.

The author accuses me of “flattening.” Let me be clear. My objections are not based off a belief that ancient Israel worshipped a Trinitarian God and completely understood salvation by grace through faith. I understand the concept of progressive revelation. However, progressive revelation does not mean that God completely changes His mind and contradicts Himself to the point where the Old Testament means nothing once we have the New Testament and the New Testament means nothing once we have the Book of Mormon and the Book of Mormon has no meaning once we have Doctrine and Covenants, etc…

And no Mormon believes this either.

Again, the author is trying to paint a picture that ancient Israel was monolatristic, which means that they worshipped one god while acknowledging the existence of many gods. If you read the Old Testament, you simply cannot make this case. Yahweh, in over 19 verses in the Old Testament, proclaimed Himself as the “only God,” with no other gods formed before Him or after Him, none that He is even aware of. In spite of this, the Israelites repeatedly worshipped “false gods” such as Molech, Ashur, Dagon, Ba’al, etc… The New Testament is absolutely clear that these “other gods” were not “divine beings” given commission to rule over other nations with equal legitimacy as Yahweh. These “other gods” are demons, who are “not gods at all.” The reason why Yahweh condemned the idolatry of Israelites is not because He was jealous and afraid of losing His power and authority, but because He is the one true God, the Most High God, to whom all humans are accountable, against whom all humans have sinned, and through whom all can be saved through the redemption made by Jesus.

Didn’t I just get accused of lifting verses out of context?

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
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, elements of nature, are in fact demons.
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.

I haven’t argued any of this at all. And I am the absolute authority on what I have argued. What I have suggested is that in an ancient Israelite context, (not a modern LDS context), the Israelites believed that there were a host of divinities, and each of them was given authority over a part of the people of the earth. YHWH was given authority over Israel. In the context of this Psalm, the impotence of the other divinities is revealed, and only YHWH is left, to take rulership over the entire earth (and not just Israel).
You should understand too, though, that this is just the background for the Israelite Psalm. This is not what the New Testament is going to do with it (which is something different).

I will agree that the author is not advocating that Yahweh gave rulership to demons who are rightly worshipped by other nations. The argument that the author is making is that Heavenly Father gave authority to a “divine council” that was disbursed over the nations of the world as the “divine being” over that realm. I simply filled in the blanks.

Right. He filled in the blanks using his own assumptions and ideas. They aren’t mine. I don’t agree with him, and it seems that I regularly reject what he views as a logical progression because we have such a fundamental difference in our basic assumptions.

The Bible does address “princes” over regions of the world in Daniel 10. A being visits Daniel to give him a prophetic message. However, this being was held up for quite a long time by the “prince of the Kingdom of Persia.” One of the “chief princes” Michael came to help this being. When the being leaves Daniel, he says he will return to “fight” with the “prince of Persia” and that later the “prince of Greece” will come.

Given the argument the author is making, the “divine council” seems to be at war with each other. Given the argument I have been making, the Most High God has sent a messenger to His prophet Daniel, who meets with opposition from “evil spirits.”

I have a genuine question for the author. What does he make out of the allusions to Satan as “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the “prince of this world?” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) Is the Bible in these references legitimizing Satan as part of the “divine council?” After all, some of the references in the Old Testament to the “sons of God” allude to Satan coming also “among” them. (Job 1:6; 2:1)

Satan’s role shifts. In Job, Satan has a specific role. The name often used in the earlier parts is “the adversary” or “the accuser” and his role was to act as a prosecuting attorney of sorts in the judgment and this reflects his interactions with both God and Job in the Book of Job. As Israel’s religion becomes more monotheistic – as we lose the notions that have been referred to, the idea of Satan coalesces into a singular figure opposing God. These allusions refer back to popular beliefs (and perhaps mythologies) in which these figures are prominent – and these ideas helped them make sense of why there was evil, and why God wasn’t stepping in personally to fix all of it. The question of the existence of evil and its potential necessity is still one that is asked today.

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.16 The 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.

Let me preface my response to this by suggesting that I know a lot more about LDS doctrine than this individual does.

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-aboutjesus-christ

“We believe Jesus is the Son of God the Father and as such inherited powers of godhood and divinity from His Father, including immortality, the capacity to live forever. While He walked the dusty road of Palestine as a man, He possessed the powers of a God and ministered as one having authority, including power over the elements and even power over life and death.”

As above, this person is ignorant about LDS views on defication – so the argument earlier still doesn’t work here. And, contrary to that last statement, we have examples like 3 Nephi 19:24 –

“And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.”

And there we go – the Nephite disciples praying to Jesus. I think that we run into real problems here in this response in that it trying to compare what I have written or to place it within a sort of framework of Mormon theology that isn’t really on the mark.

I’m not going to take time to address the author’s comments about Jesus becoming God in this discussion. I do want to make you aware of another tactic I see LDS doing all the time. They will use the Book of Mormon to make arguments for beliefs that the current LDS church does not hold or practice. The reason why they can do this is because the Book of Mormon reflects 19th century American “restorationist” and “Millenarianist” Christianity. In other words, the author showed that Jesus was prayed to in the Book of Mormon, but I have not met one LDS person who believed we should pray to Jesus, and I guarantee the author doesn’t either.

Shrug. The four standard works still sit atop the pile in terms of doctrinal content for Mormons (The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price). There are some specific reasons why this passage is of interest to us theologically apart from the question of prayer, and the prayer of these Nephites to Jesus is addressed in a number of places in LDS writings and thought. It is a specific item of discussion in the Sunday School Manual for the New Testament. So … the point though is that there is in this section the ongoing misunderstanding of LDS doctrine that persists (see above on the issue of equality). God the Father remains our God. So of course we pray to God the Father (as Jesus taught us). But does this really impact the question of whether an exalted Jesus is equal to the Father? If you ask any LDS person if Jesus is exalted and made like the Father – equal to His glory and power, will they respond that this couldn’t possibly be the case because we don’t pray to Jesus? Do you see how the argument tends to fall down on itself? If I go to that lesson I mentioned we read this:https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/lesson-39-behold-my-joy-is-full?lang=eng

“To clarify why the Nephite disciples prayed to Jesus (3 Nephi 19:18, 24–25, 30), have class members read 3 Nephi 19:22. You may also want to read the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

“The only scriptural instances in which prayers were addressed directly to the Son were when—and because!—that Holy Being, as a resurrected personage, was standing before the petitioners” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:79).”

This seems to suggest more a sense of equality of an exalted Jesus than a notion that Jesus shouldn’t be prayed to because he is never the equal of the 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.

Again, there is a bad misunderstanding here. Mormonism in general rejects the notion of earning salvation. 2 Nephi 25:23 tells us that “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” And this means that everything we do – none of it is capable of bringing us salvation. Only by grace can we be saved. Of course, Mormonism also suggests (as I pointed out earlier) that a key element in our purpose is to learn to choose – to make choices, to know good from evil. If God has predetermined man’s end from the beginning, if God determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell – independent of what we do, then we are only acted upon. We have no agency. We do not actually choose. Instead, Mormons understand that grace is something that comes to us as we accept it. And to accept it, we need to be sanctified by the Spirit. And so we become changed. That’s a gross oversimplification probably. But I categorically deny the notion that you can be saved without faith – and as James tells us, faith without works is dead. The whole question of which comes first is something of a hair splitting exercise. If we aren’t keeping the commandments (or trying to) then we have no faith.

The author states that LDS reject the notion of earning salvation, then quotes 2 Nephi 25:23 showing that he simply does not understand grace, nor did he look up the references I gave. Just so we’re clear, here are those verses:

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6)

This is what 2 Nephi 25:23 says:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

Let me break this down. Grace = unmerited, undeserved favor. The question is does 2 Nephi 25:23 teach unmerited, undeserved favor? If 2 Nephi 25:23 stopped after “it is by grace that we are saved,” then I would say yes, but there are very important, qualifying and contradictory words that follow. The first word to pay attention to is “after.” Grace doesn’t come after anything. Grace is likeable to a gift. What makes a true gift a gift is that it is given not because it was earned or as a reward, but because the giver simply chose to give. That is what the grace of God is like. God’s gift offer of Jesus that comes with eternal life and so much more was extended on the cross when Jesus died for the sins of the world. Grace being offered is not contingent upon our behavior or our acceptance of the offer. Grace is simply being extended to all, the just and the unjust, or as Paul refers to in Romans 4:4-5, the ungodly and the righteous.

The second word that is important to note in 2 Nephi 25:23 is “do.” In John 6:28, the people following Jesus asked, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered to them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

The third important word in 2 Nephi 25:23 is “can.” Most people believe that they are “good people.” Our culture teaches us to have a “can-do” attitude and having healthy “self-esteem.” Jesus said the exact opposite: “without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

In summary, the Bible’s response to 2 Nephi 25:23 is: 1) grace is all you need, 2) there’s nothing to do to earn grace 3) if there was something to do, we couldn’t do it, 4) if there was something to do, then it wouldn’t be grace.

So, with all due respect, the fact that the author based his claim that LDS reject the notion of salvation by works off of 2 Nephi 25:23 shows that he doesn’t understand grace and that the LDS church in fact does teach salvation by works. And let’s be fair, there are several verses that in LDS scriptures that teach salvation by works much more directly.

And we get the cherry picking of verses. What of James 2:14-17 –“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Of course I don’t agree with his view. Mormonism believes that without works we cannot be saved – but it isn’t the works themselves that save us. Only grace saves us. But in order to have faith we must work.
Again, this is about some core ideas that are interpreted into the text. The reality is that not all of Christianity (apart from Mormonism) agrees with this individual – and this is why many Evangelicals assert that Catholicism isn’t a Christian religion either. This is an entirely different discussion and its been had repeatedly by others. So why bring it up here? Because of course this is where the movement and discussion stops …

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.”18 While 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.”19 And, 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.21 The 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?”

The “in the beginning” refers of course to Genesis 1:1. Jesus pre-exists the acts of creation that created our earth. The primary distinction between LDS beliefs and most protestants is that we believe that Jesus pre-exists as a person (identifiable as Jesus perhaps). Whereas most other Christians understand that the human part of Jesus couldn’t pre-exist, and so Jesus (in John 1:1) doesn’t really exist as Jesus, but as the second person of the Godhead – fully God, and not yet fully man. I like the way that Catholic theologian Brendan Byrne described it ( http://www.jtc.edu.au/profile/brendan-byrne ):

“By the same token, it is important to stress that in speaking of pre-existence, one is not speaking of a pre-existence of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus Christ did not personally pre-exist as Jesus. Hence one ought not to speak of a pre-existence of Jesus. Even to use the customary expression of the pre-existence of Christ can be misleading since the word “Christ” in its original meaning simply designates the Jewish Messiah, a figure never thought of as pre-existent in any personal sense. But in view of the Christian application of “Christ” to Jesus, virtually as a proper name and in a way going beyond his historical earthly existence, it is appropriate to discuss the issue in terms of the pre-existence of Christ, provided one intends thereby to designate simply the subject who came to historical human existence as Jesus, without any connotation that he pre-existed as a human being.”

Mormonism of course, believes that His humanity also pre-exists (the same with all of us) and so we can refer to a pre-existent Jesus in a way that others cannot.

I don’t want to take too much time in this discussion on the pre-existence. I will agree that LDS can speak of the pre-existence of Jesus in ways that others cannot. We’re not talking about the same Jesus.

You have to love this. We are speaking of the same Jesus. This is just an easy way to try and avoid the real problems being discussed here.

Secondly, Jesus’ constant references to being “sent,” “my Father,” “from above,” and the reactions of the religious leaders to these statements, don’t make any sense from an LDS perspective. Jesus was clearly setting Himself apart from everybody else with these references, and the religious leaders responded accordingly.

And yet Jesus constantly refers to himself as a man. And Jesus suffers (as a man). And the Book of Mormon makes it quite clear that it is only because of His humanity that He can make the atonement. God has an infinite capacity for suffering – and an infinite capacity for pain, and so on – wouldn’t his tolerance make the atonement trivial? Our view does make sense, but I get the feeling from reading all of this that your friend has an incomplete understanding of LDS theology. And with the holes that exist in his understanding, it explains why he think that these statements (and his ‘authoritative’ interpretation of them) create conflict for LDS. At the same time, its not like LDS aren’t just as aware of the scriptures, and haven’t read the same Bible as he has. We just interpret it differently. Perhaps we should simply suggest that he is really reading a “different Bible” right?

If the pre-existence is true doctrine, was common knowledge, and didn’t get removed until after the death of the apostles, then when Jesus used these phrases, everybody would have said, “Me too! I was sent to this time of mortal probation too! God is my Father too! I am from above too!” They certainly wouldn’t have tried to stone Him or believed that He was claiming equality with God over such statements.

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?

No. No. That was easy.

If the author concedes that Moses was not a literal god or part of the divine council because he was referred to as an “elohim” over Pharaoh, then there is no reason to assert that this would not be a letigimate way to interpret the use of “elohim” in Psalm 82.

I have to appreciate all the false dichotomies.

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,24 then 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.

Right. Just as I don’t have to apply what Mormonism believes today back on the Old Testament, or the opposite. It is funny to find this here, it makes much of the comments more than a little hypocritical. One of the problems with the New Testament is that there are two men who are called the sons of God. The first is Jesus (which we all know about) and the second is Adam. I think what the responder is missing is the obvious point in John 1 – that is, “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:” It is Jesus who makes them the sons of God. And by comparison, they are sons of God like Jesus (who is getting into trouble for calling God His Father, right?) not sons of God like those in Psalm 82.

So the author concedes that the sons of god in the New Testament are not to be seen as the same as the sons of God in Old Testament. I would like to know why the author believes that sons of God in the New Testament are like Jesus as the “unique” Son of God. The word translated unique in John 1:18 is monogenēs, meaning “single of its kind, only.”

The general view is that we becomes the Sons of God through adoption (when we are sanctified by the Spirit).

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.”

If this was all of it, Jesus could have (and perhaps would have) simply corrected the Pharisees in this way. He didn’t. There is the other funny thing about the New Testament. That same word “monogenes” is used in Hebrews 11:17 (which your friend doesn’t quote):“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,”

There it is, “his one and only son” and yet who was Ishmael? Oh, that’s right, that was Abraham’s other son. So I think that there is a lot of interpretation going on here. But I am quite comfortable with the ideas I have laid out.

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.

Actually, this isn’t true at all. Jesus refers to himself as the “son of God” twice (both in Matthew). You might find this argument interesting:http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/markdroberts/2010/10/jesus-as-the-son-of-god.html#

Because it makes the same argument that your friend makes (only in reverse). It is not an LDS article. It suggests that the reason why Jesus didn’t refer to himself as the Son of God is that it wouldn’t be that interesting of a theological statement – because lots of others were referred to as the “son of God” and it would be a completely different kind of claim – as the article notes:“If Jesus had openly proclaimed himself as Son of God, his contemporaries would not have thought of this as a claim to divinity. They might have understood only that Jesus was touting his own righteousness. More likely, they would have heard a claim to be the promised Messiah, the human being who would lead Israel to throw the Romans out of God’s land once and for all.”

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,25 although by 1935 it had been seriously challenged,26 and 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.

I couldn’t, of course, put all of the Heiser article into mine. But, it is the function of Moses to speak with God face to face that makes him a part of the Divine Council, not the fact that he will judge Pharaoh in God’s place (although that works too). I think this is a bit of misrepresentation.

So would the author also suggest that Joseph Smith, Isaiah, the Apostle Paul and John are part of the divine council? All of these individuals claim to have spoken with God face to face. The author seems to be picking and choosing when he wants elohim to refer to being a part of the divine council, and what it means to be part of the divine council.

I don’t have any issue with this. Neither does LDS theology. Our view of a divine assembly is obviously different – but even in the New Testament the idea has shifted in this direction. Luke 22:30 reads: “That ye [the apostles] may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This claim of judging (an idea extended by LDS views) puts Paul into this role of judging Israel – making him a part of that divine council.

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.

Yes, we understand he has a different interpretation, and that this interpretation is theologically driven. I don’t share his theology. I am relatively indifferent to his concerns on these points.

1. In dealing with the several passages where elohim has 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 like mortals, they are not mortals.”34 The 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.

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.

I find it odd that the author responded to all my tangential comments about this discussion, but then said nothing when it came to my concluding remarks and argument.

I got tired of it. There wasn’t much point – there wasn’t anything new in the concluding remarks.

To nail this shut, I’m going to focus on Jesus’ statement in John 10:34 “ye are gods.” The author has made it clear that Jesus’ reference to Psalm 82:6 is not to be seen as Jesus referring to the interpretation or context of Psalm 82:6 as the key to interpreting Jesus’ use of this phrase. The only option that is left to us is to assume that Jesus was referring to the Pharisees as gods: “Ye are gods,” and that He was referring to them as gods in the present tense: “Ye are gods.”

Let’s take a look at some of the other things Jesus said to the Pharisees and about the Pharisees and see if those statements are consistent with Jesus’ statement here:

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above:ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23)

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear themnot, because ye are not of God. (John 8:47)

But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. (John 10:26)

In summary, the author is asking us to believe that Jesus says of the Pharisees: you are from beneath; you are of this world; you are of your father the devil; you are not of God; you are not of my sheep … and then … you are gods.

I simply don’t think so.

I have shown that assuming Psalm 82:6 is speaking of a divine council of divine beings that were given authority over the nations of the world is inconsistent with the worldview the rest of the Old Testament presents.

I disagree. And the great thing about this is that I don’t stand alone (and neither do LDS more generally) in this perspective. Biblical scholarship generally disagrees with your interpretation of Psalm 82 in its Old Testament context. And you haven’t done anything to address the scholarship explaining the history of the Israelite religion and its shift towards a strict monotheism.

I have shown that interpreting Jesus’ reference of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34 to mean that the Pharisees were gods or that we can become gods is inconsistent with the rest of Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees and the worldview of the Old and New Testaments.

I have also shown that the interpretation of elohim in Psalm 82:6 to speak of humans standing in the place of judgment, yet accountable to God and obeying God’s law, is valid through Moses’ role in relation to Pharaoh, and it is consistent to Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees as the “false leaders” of Israel. 

And it is a view rejected by Biblical scholars for almost a century now. This hasn’t miraculously changed somehow by the discussion above. And the argument on this issue isn’t simply with me, it is with this vast body of academic work on the subject. The underlying problems though cannot be resolved. We cannot work past the idea of scripture and its authority, God and God’s sovereignty, and the relation of Grace and Works in the context of this essay. These are such foundational ideas that beliefs about them color the discussion all over the place (as I have tried to illustrate) – and those issues have to be resolved before they can be simply thrown out as absolutes in this kind of discussion.