What did Jesus mean when he said that we are gods in John 10:34?
To answer this question well I will need to examine several aspects of the
situation taking place. The concept of blasphemy will be important to
address to understand the conflict. Jesus is quoting Psalm 82:6 and a
clear translation of the verse within its context will reveal what Jesus
is conveying. Jesus was responding to the accusation of blasphemy and at
a first glance it can appear that he was attempting to defend himself with
his response. While Jesus appears to be defending himself, he is actually
conveying an offensive position of rebuking them and not intending to say
that everyone is equal with God as he is.
Blasphemy is normally understood in our age as proclaiming a curse word
with the word, "God" included in the cursing. This definition is normally
inspired by a misunderstanding of the third commandment in Exodus 20:7,
you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. The commandment
refers to the taking the name of the Lord upon yourself. It is to assume
identification that you are submitted to Him, and then live as if you are
not. The concept of blasphemy is more correctly a violation of the first
commandment that you are to have no other gods than the true and living
God. Blasphemy is to declare that you are a god, that you are the same as
or equal with the true and living God. This is why the people said in John
10:33, "For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, and because
you, being a man, make yourself out to be God." It was a clear recognition
that Jesus was claiming to be equal with God. A similar situation is
described in Matthew 26:65 and Mark 14:64.
This understanding of blasphemy can also reveal a greater understanding of
Matthew 12:31 when Jesus said, "blasphemy against the Spirit will not be
forgiven men." If blasphemy is in general declaring to be equal with or
the same as God, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is declaring to be equal
with or the same as the Holy Spirit. Considering this in the context of
the Gospel it does make sense to say this. The Gospel is that Jesus died
for the sins of the world so the Holy Spirit could be presented as a free
gift to anyone who would be willing to receive Him. If a person claims to
be equal with or the same as the Holy Spirit, they are claiming they do not
need to receive the free gift of the life that will remain within us
eternally, the Spirit of Life, the Holy Spirit. The rejection of the
Gospel is a sin that will not be forgiven anyone.
In Psalm 82, the author Asaph states that the Living God passes judgment on
all of the other gods. He asks how long they will defend the unjust and
the wicked ones. They should defend the weak, fatherless, poor and the
person who is being oppressed. They should deliver and rescue them. It
is in this context that a person is like a god. One who establishes justice,
rescues and comes to the aid of others. Given that we are created and
formed by the Living God, we can be identified as sons of the Most High.
However, it is important to recognize the contrast in the following verse
that says they will die like a man and like one of the rulers they will
fall. This passage makes a clear distinction that between the living God
and his creation in that they will not live on earth forever. The
identification with a god is not to say they are gods, but can come to the
aid of others as a god would be expected to. The admonition to do good
conveys the problem that they were not doing good. Those who were referred
to as gods and sons of gods were engaged in evil.
When Jesus responds to the accusation of blasphemy it is often assumed that
he is attempting to defend himself. To quote the passage is to also refer
to the context of the passage. I believe most of Christianity today has
become accustomed to quoting passages out of context, but I do not believe
Jesus would do so. Therefore his referring to this psalm and identifying
the people with the gods in the psalm was indirectly telling them that they
were failing to live up to the expectations that the Most High had for them.
They were given the capacity to judge righteously, help those who were
being oppressed, but they were failing to do so just as those who were
referred to in the psalm. He was effectively telling them that they were
not likely to judge righteously and so their judgment of him was not likely
to be true. Then he enforced his point by identifying himself as the son
of God who did not sin and fulfilled what the people referred to in the
psalm were failing to fulfill. That is what would make him unique from
them in that he was righteous and they were not. His response was not to
correct their understanding of what he previously said, it was to enforce
his position that he was in fact without sin and therefore God manifested
in the flesh as a man.
The people responded in a manner that clearly conveyed they understood his
response. It was clear to them that his response was not a defense of
their accusation. Through his referencing psalm 82 and contrasting himself
with them he further enforced his position. This is why they still
attempted to seize him, but he slipped away out of their grasp. Jesus
was not saying that we are gods. Instead, he was quoting a psalm that in
its context revealed we are not gods. He used this opportunity to compare
the people and himself to challenge them to find any fault or sin in him.
It was a public declaration that He was the Living God manifested in the
flesh because he was in fact without sin and fulfilled the righteous
requirements and expectations of the law as God would.