by Matt Slick
Psalm 82 is what's called an imprecatory Psalm. In other words, it is a Psalm of condemnation and judgment against the unrighteous. Let's take a look at the entire Psalm.
- God takes His stand in His own congregation. He judges in the midst of the rulers.
- How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
- Vindicate the weak and fatherless. Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
- Rescue the weak and needy. Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
- They do not know nor do they understand. They walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
- I said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.
- Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.”
- Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.
First of all, the word "rulers" in verse 1 (NASB) is the Hebrew word for God: elohim. It is translated as "rulers" in the NASB and ASV. It is translated as "gods" in the ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, and RSV. The Hebrew word elohim is most often translated as "god," but it is also translated into "rulers" here in Psalm 82:1. It is translated as "judges" in Exodus 22:9, "For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor." We can see that the word can be used in reference to rulers and judges because they were those who had great power and authority.
Second, verse 2 addresses the unjust judgment and how these rulers were showing partiality to the wicked. Verses 3-4 are an admonition to deal with people with fairness. Verse 5 speaks of the rulers' ignorance and lack of understanding. Verse 6 is where God refers to the unrighteous rulers as gods, not that they are divine, but that they have the power of life and death in their judgments.
Third, consider Psalm 82:7 which says, “Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like any one of the princes.” Then verse 8 is a request for the real God to judge the earth.
Therefore, when Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34, he was condemning the Pharisees as unrighteous leaders as well as confounding them, with the scriptures, about himself being the Son of God.
Mormonism and Psalm 82:6
The Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, often use John 10:34 where Jesus quoted Psalms 82:6 to support their belief that they can become gods. However, one of their own apostles, James Talmage, said Psalm 82:6 is not about becoming gods.
"In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called 'gods.' To this scripture the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon's Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title 'gods.' Compare the similar appellation applied to Moses (Exo. 4:16; 7:1). Jesus Christ possessed divine authorization, not through the word of God transmitted to Him by man, but as an inherent attribute. The inconsistency of calling human judges 'gods,' and of ascribing blasphemy to the Christ who called Himself the Son of God, would have been apparent to the Jews but for their sin-darkened minds" (James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 501).
Jehovah's Witnesses and Psalm 82:6
The Jehovah's Witnesses deny that Jesus Christ is God in flesh. They have translated John 1:1 as "In the beginning the word was, and the Word was with God, and the word was a god." Notice that in their Bible, the New World Translation, the last two words say "a god." This is, of course, a bad translation that suits their pre-conceived theology. To further justify their idea that Jesus is "a god" but not God, they sometimes refer to John 10:34 where Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 to show that people who are not really gods can be called gods. They do this in their attempt to maintain their theological error of denying the Trinity and the deity of Christ, whom they call "a god" but not "God."
In what sense do they say Jesus is a god? Are they calling him a god in the same sense as the wicked rulers; or are they saying he is a created god of a different quality than Jehovah but greater than humans? Either way, they are denying that he is truly God and truly man. Now, we could argue about particulars of translations (i.e., John 1:1) and interpretations which can get complicated, but there is something else we can do. Instead of meeting them head on and arguing over interpretations, we can draw something out of the text.
We know from the text of John 10:30-34 that the Pharisees denied Jesus was God in flesh. So, you can ask the Jehovah's Witness, "Did the Pharisees believe that Jesus was actually God in flesh in John 10:30-34?" They will say no. You can continue with, "So then, you agree with the Pharisees that Jesus is not God in flesh. If they misunderstood who he was, how do I know you aren't also misunderstanding who he is since you also deny his deity just like they did?"
If they reply that the Pharisees misunderstood who Jesus was claiming to be, then ask them to show you in the text what it was that Jesus said that caused them to misunderstand him. Ask them to explain what it was that Jesus said and meant to the Pharisees. If they can't find it, how do they know they are understanding what the text says?
Finally, you can ask them, "Does the term 'Son of God' mean that Jesus is not God?" They will respond by saying "Yes." Then ask them, "If the term Son of God means that Jesus is not God, then what does the term 'Son of Man' mean - that he is not a man? Think about it. If the term 'Son of Man' means that Jesus is a man, then what does the term 'Son of God' mean?"