New Testament,  Old Testament

Jesus Quoting Psalm 82 in John 10


In a previous post we looked at why the gods of Psalm 82 are better viewed as angelic beings than human judges. However, many interpreters view Jesus’ quote of Psalm 82 in John 10 as further evidence that Psalm 82 is a reference to human judges.

photo of Psalm 82 quoted in John 10

The context of the situation in John 10 is that the Jews are about to stone Jesus for making himself out to be God (John 10:33). In answer to the Jews picking up stones, in John 10:34-36 Jesus says the following:

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 Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

By referring to the Law while quoting Psalm 82, Jesus is not failing Awana. Although we often think of the Law as the Pentateuch (Gen–Deut), in the NT the reference to the Law sometimes acted as a stand in for the whole OT (cf. John 12:34; 15:25; 1 Cor 14:21).

Why is Jesus referring to Psalm 82 here?

The most common viewpoint in commentaries is that Jesus is appealing to Psalm 82 as evidence that other human beings can be called gods, so why are the Jews upset that He can be called the Son of God? Mike Heiser points out two significant problems with this view:

First, how is it a coherent defense of John’s well-known high Christology by essentially having Jesus use Psalm 82:6 to say, in effect, that he can call himself the son of God when every other Jew can, too? …

Second, how does the mortal view coherently explain the reaction of the Jewish audience in John’s story? They call for his arrest (10:39), on the heels of picking up stones to stone him in 10:30. If Jesus is citing a text that all of them could just as well cite on their own behalf for being sons of God, why would Jesus’ use of it elicit such a response?

An alternative understanding of Jesus quoting Psalm 82

In my opinion, the gods of Psalm 82 most naturally refer to angelic beings. But, can we import that context of Psalm 82 into Jesus’ argument in John 10? I think we can.

Rather than seemingly backtracking on the claim of John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” it seems much more likely that Jesus would attempt to prove His divine status through Scripture.

As such, it seems more likely to me that Jesus is using Psalm 82 as proof that Scripture recognizes other divine beings (“gods” to borrow Psalm 82 language). By maintaining His claim of equality with the Father in John 10:38 Jesus would then be claiming to be a co-regent authority over the divine beings of Psalm 82, since God claims to have absolute authority over these gods in Psalm 82.

One major objection to this viewpoint is the phrase, “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came…” (John 10:35a). This is typically viewed as evidence that the “gods” are human rulers who have received the Law, or a reference Israel at Mount Sinai. However, I agree with Heiser that it is possible to read this phrase as a reference to God’s speech to the divine beings of Psalm 82:6-7.

In summary, I think the gods of Psalm 82 are most naturally interpreted as referring to divine beings. Jesus’ quote of Psalm 82 in John 10 makes sense utilizing this context as well. In fact, it seems to make more sense than the alternative, keeping in line with John’s robust Christology. Thus, Jesus is quoting Psalm 82 to show the existence of other divine beings, and to support his claim that He is superior over them all, coequal with the Father.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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