The Divine Council
A doctrine held by many popular ministers in the Word-Faith movement is the teaching that believers are “little gods,” baby gods, or demi-gods. This is the root of the Prosperity, “Name it and Claim It,” Gospel. It is based on BAD Hermeneutics. A bad reading of an English translation of The Gospel of John 10:34 (Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?).
The Divine Council
If we are going to unpack what Jesus was saying in John 10, we need to know a little bit about Hebrew Cosmology- how Ancient Jewish people viewed the heavens and their belief in henotheism. – Henotheism is the worship of a single deity, but belief that there are other spiritual beings and gods in existence. Throughout the Old Testament and the Second Temple Era, henotheism was the spiritual worldview of the Jewish people (except for the Sadducees who rejected all conceptions of a spirit world- including a human soul- YHWH alone was the spirit being). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. the Sadducee view became the prominent view in the diaspora. Under the henotheistic view, enemy nations who worshipped other gods were praying to angels (good and bad, or angels and demons). This may be difficult to accept initially, but it is firmly Biblically based- here we see that YHWH divided the nations up according to the “sons of God” – there is some dispute over what this means (some argue angelic princes, and some argue that it is the children of Israel- language in the Dead Sea Scrolls and LXX lean toward angels- language in the Masoretic text leans toward nation of Israel – Dr. Michael Heiser has written a very technical textual analysis siding with Sons of God/Angels here) , but He kept Jacob’s people as His people.
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (ESV)
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
9 But the Lord‘s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
A reading that says that angels and demons were placed in charge of nations would be supported by Daniel 10.
Daniel 10:12-14; 20-21 (ESV)
12 Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
20 Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. 21 But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.
In Daniel, it would appear that malevolent angels were set up as princes of Persia and Greece, but Michael was the Prince of Israel (or possibly the Prince of the Faithful as YHWH’s archangel).
This leads us to Psalm 82, the source of the phrase that Jesus quoted. Psalm 82 has YHWH taking his place on the throne of (or presiding chair) the divine council, the assembly of the elohim. The divine council is defined by Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings as “[The divine council is] the heavenly host, the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs
of the cosmos. All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council. The divine
council of Israelite religion, known primarily through the psalms, was distinct in important ways.” This idea that YHWH “holds court” or has a council of spiritual beings that he presides over can also be seen in Job- here, Satan is even seen as a member of the divine council, or assembly of spiritual beings, when they are summoned before YHWH’s throne to give an account.
Job 1:6-7 (ESV)
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
We will use this view of a divine council to guide our parsing of Psalm 82:
82 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Verse 1: God has taken his place of authority in the assembly of the spirit beings like he did in Job, to hear their accounts and judge them.
Verse 2: God says that the Princes of the Nations are being unjust judges, rewarding the evil doers.
Verses 3-5: YHWH reminds them of their duties as His surrogate.
Verse 6: This is the verse that Jesus quotes- notice it is only a fragment of a sentence.
Verse 7: God pronounces that the gods of the nations will die like men, like mortal princes.
Verse 8: Asaph adds that YHWH will take back all of the nations that he gave to the princes in Deuteronomy 32.
What Was Jesus Saying?
This is similar to Jesus quoting the Psalm on the cross, His references to the first line is supposed to bring to mind the rest of the Psalm- on the cross he says “Why have you forsaken me?” from Psalm 22, but the completion of the Psalm is implied. In the case of Psalm 22, Jesus is saying “I feel forsaken…” but this is a Messianic Psalm- it leads to “he shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,that he has done it.” The reader (or hearer in original context) should fill in the rest of the Psalm.
In the case of “ye are gods,” when the hearer fills in the rest of the Psalm he gets “nevertheless, like men you shall die.”
One reading of John 10:31-39 could then be something similar to this:
The “little gods” doctrine isn’t Biblically supported. While the common refutation that “elohim also means earthly judge” is true, I don’t believe that it takes into account the full force of what Jesus was saying in John 10:31-39