Blasphemy in Psalm 82?

A Psalm of Asaph
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
(Psalm 82 ESV)

Did anyone else notice the first part of that Psalm? 'In the midst of gods he holds judgement'? and in verse 6 'I said, "You are gods..."'?

I did a double take at this part. Who is God calling gods? Translational error perhaps? But no, the hebrew word used is 'elohim', just as it is in the creation account of Genesis 1.

But there is something interesting you should note about the word 'elohim' - it doesn't always mean God like you think. For a start it's a plural noun. You can verify this by checking other commonly heard hebrew nouns; plural of cherub is cherubim, the plural or seraph is seraphim, the plural of repha is repha'im. This is consistent for us as christians because we believe in a trinitarian God, so of course His name, when you speak of the whole, would be plural.

*edit* it's also interesting to note that in hebrew a plural is always three or more, two is called a 'dual' and is dealt with differently!

However, this is a little simplistic, because the word 'elohim' is also used of angels. The simple way to tell is whether the verbs attached in the sentence are singular or plural. If it's singular we make it 'God', plural usually becomes 'gods' or 'angels'. We also see 'elohim' used in Exodus 22:28 'Thou shall not revile the gods'.

To make it even clearer, you will often see in your bible the term 'Lord God' which is 'Yahweh Elohim', making the obvious distinction from just 'gods'.

The thing is, I read through several commentaries on psalm 82 (most notably Matthew Henry - if you don't read him, you should, he's awesome) and in no way does anyone accept that the translators should have written angels or idols here.

In fact, God calls Moses 'elohim' in Exodus 7:1 and Exodus 4:16. In fact, all the governer/judges in Israel (often written 'judge' in our english bibles) were called 'elohim' because they dispense God's judgement.

Then his master [adonim] shall bring him to the judges [elohim]. (Exod 21:6)

The owner of the house shall appear before the judges [elohim]. (Exod 22:8; Heb v. 7)

He whom the judges [elohim] condemn shall pay double to his neighbor. Exod 22::9; Heb v. 8)

You shall not curse the judge [elohim], nor curse a ruler [nasi] of your people. (Exod 22::28, Heb v. 27)

So it seems that this psalm should be talking about earthly kings and judges, who have shown partiality and judged wickedly, not passing out God's judgement but being unjust and uncompassionate.

So why have we had it translated 'gods'? Under the circumstances I would have preferred 'elohim' to be translated 'judges' as it is in exodus. It offends me to think that these wicked men are called gods, and yet it is God Himself who calls them so!

I found my answer in John 10.

The Jews wanted Jesus stoned for blasphemy, because He was 'making thyself God'. Jesus response was this:

“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’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

I love that Jesus was always ready to answer any accusations against himself with scripture. The old testament was a prophecy of Him, the gospels a history of Him and the acts, epistles and apocalypse speak of His experience and return.

I like to think that God allowed the human rulers of this earth to be called 'gods', just so that he could foil the legal argument the Jews would have (or at least think they have) for stoning Him.

So that He could be blameless and pure, and above all accusations when He took up the cross.

A perfect sacrifice for our atonement.


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