The condemned gods of Psalm 82:6 and Mormon exaltation

LDS.org’s Becoming Like God essay situates its quotation of Psalm 82:6 in a paragraph about passages that “intimate that humans can become like God,” and that we are in a “process of approaching godliness.” The verse itself reads: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” Mormon use of this passage is astonishing.

The gods of Psalm 82 were wicked

The psalm is one of judgment against gods who were defiant against Yahweh. They judged unjustly (82:2a), favored the wicked (82:2b), neglected the afflicted and destitute (82:3), refused to rescue the weak and needy (82:4), and were judged unto humiliation and death (82:7). Blomberg writes, “The context of [Psalm 82] refers not to anyone’s exaltation but to the judgment and downfall of those who defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked.”1 Using the addressees of Psalm 82:6 as a model for exaltation is like using the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4 as a model for sexual ethics.

Oh, how the mighty gods have fallen

The passage does not teach that we are human gods-in-embryo. Those addressed are already in the “divine council” and are “in the midst of the gods” (82:1). God addresses them in the present: “You are gods, sons of the Most High.” Neither are these permanently exalted gods who have the same “power, glory, dominion, and knowledge” that God has.2 Having misused their jurisdiction, they are condemned to die. “You will die like men, and you will fall like one of the princes” (82:7). These gods are, by both biblical and Mormon standards, not fitting candidates for exaltation.

Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6

In John 10:30, Jesus makes a bold statement about himself: “The Father and I are one.” In 10:33–36 the Pharisees confront Jesus for his seeming blasphemy, ready to kill him with stones in their hands:

“We are not going to stone you concerning a good deed, but concerning blasphemy, and because you, although you are a man, make yourself to be God!” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came—and the scripture cannot be broken—do you say about him whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”

The gods as human judges

Along with many evangelicals, Mormon apostle James Talmage identified the gods of Psalm 82:6 as human “judges invested by divine appointment.” Jesus quotes the passage to point out “the inconsistency of calling human judges ‘gods,’ and of ascribing blasphemy to the Christ who called Himself the Son of God.”If scripture called those scumbags “gods”, how much more appropriate is it for Jesus to say, “I am the Son of God”, or “I and the Father are one”?

The gods as inferior heavenly beings

Evangelical scholar Michael Heiser identifies these gods as created heavenly beings.4 He argues that Jesus’ use of Psalm 82 is a breathtaking reinforcement of his own equality with the Father. Psalms 86:8 sings, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord.” Psalm 89:5-8 considers it inconceivable that anyone in the heavenly council is comparable to Yahweh: “Who is like Yahweh among the sons of God?” When Jesus appeals to Psalm 82, he “equates himself as co-regent to the lord of the council, Yahweh himself.”5 He is not one of the divine boys (the “gods”). He is judge over them alongside Yahweh. He is Yahweh. He is equal with God.

Jesus is the judge of them all

In both plausible interpretations Jesus is asserting his own unique relationship with the Father, not complimenting the wicked gods of Psalm 82:6 as models or candidates of exaltation. The Jews had complained, “Although you are a man, [you] make yourself to be God!” (John 10:33) Jesus digs a deeper hole. He is the one who judges the gods of Psalm 82. He is all the more appropriately called “the Son of God.” And deeper. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:38). They writhe over the implications. They were not thinking, “Jesus is speaking so highly of us and our potential.” No, they were reeling: “Jesus is speaking too highly of himself!” Hence they “were seeking again to seize him.” (10:39) They wanted blood.

  1. Craig L. Blomberg, How Wide the Divide?, 101.
  2. This is how chapter 47 of Gospel Principles describes exaltation.
  3. Jesus The Christ. http://goo.gl/VKzBKV
  4. Michael Heiser, “Should the Plural אלהים of Psalm 82 Be Understood as Men or Divine Beings?” Annual Meeting, Evangelical Theological Society, 2010.
  5. Michael Heiser. “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John‘s Theological Strategy,” 2011 SBL regional; Spokane, WA.
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