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 loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.


  • Justin Bellars

    Hi Peter,
    I’m a bit late to the game in interacting with Heiser’s material. (The video trailers for the Unseen Realm struck me as creepy back when Heiser was still alive.) I’ve now watched a few videos and read a few articles (including yours). Though I don’t fully embrace all of his ideas, I can see where at a minimum, understanding the usage of elohim as “spiritual beings” generically or God specifically, based on context could be useful exegetically for perplexing texts like Psalm 82. Are we to view “disembodied saints” such as Elijah and Moses appearing and meeting up with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Matthew 17 as Moses and Elijah representing/being “elohim” (e.g. spiritual beings) and thus some sort of impromptu small-scale “divine council”? Or do we stick with the traditional commentary explanations for the meeting? It seems an equally strange passage and I haven’t yet gotten through all of Heiser’s material, so I don’t know if it has already been addressed. Thoughts/suggestions?

    • Peter Goeman

      I like the way you are thinking about it, Justin. I would say for myself, I think Heiser makes some good points but he often took his conclusions too far. So, I caution people against embracing everything he says, but realistically I don’t think we should ever embrace EVERYTHING anyone says. But your question about Matthew 17 is a good one. I’m not sure if Heiser ever talked about it from that perspective. But one thing I would say (as I think about it) is that not every elohim is a part of a divine council. In 1 Sam, Samuel’s spirit is referred to as an Elohim, but he’s not a part of the divine council. He’s simply visiting Saul. So I think Heiser would agree with the statement that elohim are a general reference to spirit beings, but not all elohim are equal or have the same role.

  • Joshua Burns

    Good article.

    I was wondering if another reasoning for Jesus quoting Psalm 82 was to connect the demonic fallen angels of Satan (evil sons of God) as possessing the hearts and minds of the Jewish men who were attempting to destroy Christ’s identity as the Son of God.

    Remember that the “sons of God” in Psalm 82 are evil fallen angels, and these Jews were doing evil against Jesus, having their bodies filled with unclean spirits (demons) which were Satan’s angels.

    Likewise, all those who believe and follow Christ are also sons of God by adoption, chosen from the foundation of the world to be enjoined to the Image of God in the body of Jesus Christ.

    Futthermore, Jesus Christ is clearly the Archangel (chief Son of God) Michael, who is the head over Israel and the “Angel of God’s Presence” who lead the Israelites through their challenges, and leads us through our challenges. The angel Gabriel said in Daniel, “there is none like Michael, your Great Chief”.

  • Cody Harris

    Hey Pete!

    Fellow TMU and baseball alum!

    Curious, and maybe is just me, but I always get tripped up by the verbiage “divine being”. Would you say you could use “angel” and “divine being” interchangeably?

    Diving being on my mind (maybe to much philosophy lol) gives the connotation of similar ontological status.

    • Peter Goeman

      Hey Cody! Really great to hear from you. It is certainly NOT just you. The language “divine being” can be a bit of a tricky hangup because we often think the word divine ONLY relates to God, but it can be a more general use related to a heavenly existence. So maybe it would be better to translate it as “heavenly being” (which is what ESV and other translations use at times)? In any case, yes, I am using the term divine being in a broader context to refer to those non-human beings which we often call angels (but interestingly are often called “elohim” (gods) or sons of elohim in the Bible).

      Hope that helps!

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