John 10:34-36 & Psalm 82 — ‘Ye are gods…children of the most High’ — LeGrand Baker

34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? (John 10:34-36)

Jesus was quoting Psalm 82 which was a scene in the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. It depicts Elohim standing among the members of the Council in Heaven and instructing them in what sounds very much like the law of consecration. Then, in the drama, he asks them to rise and accept those instructions by covenant. I suspect John had several reasons for calling our attention to that psalm by telling us about this incident in Jesus’s life,.

One reason might have been that the Jewish leaders (about 600 years earlier) had re-invented their theology in the same way the Christians would later re-define theirs. The Christians took the Father, Son, and Holly Ghost and merged into one intangible, undefinable God that they called Jesus. The apostate Jews during or soon after the Babylonian captivity did essentially the same thing. They took Elohim, Jehovah, and the Council in Heaven and merged them into one God which they called Jehovah. Because this temple psalm takes place in the Council where Elohim presided, it emphasizes the importance of the original Godhead whom the Jewish leaders had rejected. It also shows Heavenly Father’s relationship with the members of that Council.

Another reason was that it called attention to the law of consecration, and thereby to the responsibility the Jews and their leaders had to care for the poor. The book of Acts shows that principle became a major focus of early Christian belief and practice.

Another reason is that it shows the validity of the Savior’s claim to be the Son of God.

32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand (John 10:32-39).

Psalm 82, which the Savior quoted, is a rather short, but very significant window into covenants we made in our premortal world. It reads,

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?
3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations (Psalms 82:1-8).

The first verse says, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Both the words “God” and “gods” are translated from the Hebrew word elohim. Elohim is a plural word that means “the gods.” Elohim is also the name/title of the Father of the gods. So our psalm begins, “Elohim standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the elohim.”

In a court of law, a judge sits as an evidence of his superior status. In this psalm God is standing. That is important because in ancient Israel one stood to make a covenant. An example is 2 Kings 23:3. “The king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord … And all the people stood to the covenant.”

Sometimes in the scriptures, to “stand” is simply code for making a covenant, just as it is here our psalm. The first verse tells us that the Father [Elohim] is standing. In the last verse he says “Arise, O God [also elohim].” That final elohim is also translated as God, but that does not make much sense in this context because God is already standing. That leaves the correct translation to be, “Arise, O elohim” — gods, the members of the heavenly Council. They are asked to stand to make a covenant. Between the first and last verses of Psalm 82 we read the Father’s instructions about one of the most important covenants we made in the premortal world and also one of the most important we re-make here.

The Book of Abraham provides us with a probable context where those covenants were made.

In Abraham 3 the “spirits” whom God will make his “rulers” are the same as the intelligences who were called the noble and great ones in the previous verse. In the next chapter, when they organize the earth, they are called “the gods.”

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abraham 3:22-23).

1 And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth (Abraham 4:1).

Psalm 82 and Abraham 3:22-23 appear to be two versions of the same story. In the psalm God is “judging,” in Abraham 3 he is choosing. To “judge” means the same thing in Hebrew as it does in English. When pronouncing judgment, a judge may condemn or exonerate, or in other situations he chooses and makes assignments (such as assigning ribbons in an apple pie contest). In this psalm he is not sitting as one a judge presiding at a court of law. Rather he is standing, as one would do when making a covenant. Thus, it might be more precise to say, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he chooses [makes assignments] among the gods.”

In Psalm 82, the gods among whom Elohim was standing were the members of the Council in Heaven. “God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers.” Significantly, “he stood in the midst of them,” so they were standing around him, probably in a circle, where he made them priests and kings.

The original scene depicted by Psalm 82 can more readily be understood by inserting it into the account recorded in Abraham 3, where it fits so perfectly that it does not even break the cadence of the story. Please note, by putting the two scriptures together in this way, I do not wish to imply that they were ever written as a single unit. However, combined this way they illustrate an interesting—perhaps insightful—picture of how things might have been in the Council in Heaven, and also how they might have been portrayed on the stage during the Israelite temple drama.

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. [He asked,] How long will ye judge [rule] unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?{1} Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O gods, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations. [After the covenant, God said,] These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abraham 3:22-23 & Psalm 82).

The idea that the law of consecration was among the first and most important covenants made by the members of the Council in Heaven, is perfectly consistent with other scriptures. In the Book of Mormon the celestial height to which we reach is charity. In the Doctrine and Covenants it is the law of consecration. They are two sides of the same coin when charity is what one is, the law of consecration is what one does. They are the two great commandments.

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:36-40, see D&C 59:6).

Charity is love. There is no point in trying to separate loving God from loving his children. They are the same. The human soul cannot love God and harbor hatred or prejudice at the same time. John the Beloved taught that we cannot feign to compartmentalize our bigotry from our charity and pretend both are real.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:18-21).

To love God is Charity (hesed — unfailing love based on a prior covenant); to love one’s brother is also charity (hesed). To live the law of consecration is to serve others — “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40).”

It is probably true that the Father’s first instructions to his children at the Council was that when they come to this earth they must obey what James called the “royal law.” James describes that law the same way it is described in Psalm 82.

8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9).

Some of the above is taken from two chapters in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord: “Psalm 82, The Father’s Instructions to the Council,” and “Psalm 82: Instruction and Covenant,” first edition, 227-45; second edition (paperback), 162-74. The second edition is still in print and it is also available on this website in the section called “published books.”

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FOOTNOTES

{1}Lowell K. Handy’s translation is: “How long will you rule unjustly? And honor the wicked?” (“Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47 [1990]: 51-66.).
The Tanakh, which is the official Jewish translation of the Old Testament, renders verse 2 as “How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked?” (Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text [Philadelphia and Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985]), 1206.

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