Who are the “gods” mentioned in Psalm 82?
In Psalm 82 we read about God standing among other gods. This raises questions about who the “gods” are that are in the presence of “God” performing the judgment.
Psalm 82:1-2 reads, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked? Selah”.
To understand this passage to its fullest, we need to look into and investigate several questions. First, what are the Hebrew words used to translate into “God” and “gods”? Second, what does this passage reveal about the nature of God? Also, how can we understand the judgment of the many gods by the one God? Finally, what is the relevance to true Christians? After addressing these questions, we will find out much more about the nature of God and see how elegantly this event fits into His plan.
To begin, we need to understand more about the translation of this passage. Knowing the origin of the Hebrew words that translate into “God” and “gods”, we will learn how to properly understand the meaning of this passage. Are the gods mentioned pagan gods? Are these God’s angels? Are these gods the other two members of the trinity, even though the Bible does not teach a Trinity of three God beings—one Person in three Persons?
To answer these questions, the Hebrew words used in this passage are the place to start. In Psalm 82:1, in both instances of the word “God” and “gods” is the word “Elohim” in the original Hebrew. The structure of this sentence indicates that the first instance of “Elohim” is singular because the verb “stands” applies only to a singular entity. However, this does not mean that the word “God” only applies to one Being. Even though singular, it can refer to the God Family, consisting of twoBeings, the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. The word “Elohim,” even though it may be followed by a singular verb, still can refer to the one God Family, consisting of a duality of Beings. But the word “Elohim” can also refer to either one of the two God Beings. For more explanation on this topic, please read our free booklet, “God is a Family,” which elaborates in more detail how “Elohim” can indicate a plurality even when presented in a singular context.
The second instance, the word “gods” is appropriately translated in the plural form, because the preposition “among” requires more than one entity. Therefore, we can understand this passage as seeing the authoritative God—either the God Family or one of the two God Beings—standing among several gods, over whom God has authority.
Throughout the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, the word “Elohim” is consistently used when referencing the Almighty God, and is indeed referencing the same in this example. Seeing the context of what takes place reinforces this understanding. God is the righteous Judge who presides over the other gods mentioned here. Throughout the Bible, righteous judgment like this comes from God, and no one else (compare Psalm 119:7, Psalm 119:160, Romans 1:32, 2 Timothy 4:8). Clearly, the first instance of the word “God” in Psalm 82 references the Almighty God.
What about the second instance of the “gods”? Since this is a plural form of the same word “Elohim”, what is the correct interpretation of this word? Again, looking at the context of the events in this passage helps to identify the gods through their activities. In Psalm 82:2, those who are gods are condemned for unjustly judging those on earth. Seeing that the activity that they are engaged with involves judging men on earth helps us to clarify who these gods are. The act of judgement is only applicable to a few possible entities, and is not ascribed to others who might be referenced by the word “Elohim”.
Other translations of the word “elohim” can refer to pagan gods (Exodus 20:3), or even angels (compare one possible rendering in Psalm 8:5). In the context of the events presented in this Scripture, we can rule out these options. Pagan gods are not the judges over man, but rather empty concepts invented by man at best (compare 1 Kings 18:20-39, Romans 1:22-23), and demonic entities at their worst (compare Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, 1 Corinthians 10:20). Demons simply do not play a role in judging mankind, but rather causing them to fall into judgment. Therefore, to conclude that those in the presence of God are the false, pagan gods or even demons doesn’t make sense.
To say that those in the presence of God in this instance are righteous angels does not make sense either. Reiterating, the activity that identifies these other “elohim” is judgment of mankind. While angels have a special, spiritual existence in the heaven, their job is not to judge mankind. On the contrary, the Bible shows that they have a role to serve mankind as ministering spirits. Reading from Hebrews 1:13-14, “‘But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?’” In this example, the author whom we believe to be Paul, compares angels to Jesus Christ, making the point that their role in the plan of God is much different. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a member of the Family of God, has a role of rulership. He sits on the throne, having the authority to judge mankind righteously. Angels do not have that capacity. As a reinforcement of the role of servitude, in the book of Revelation when John bowed down to an angel in an act of worship, the angel responded: “Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’” (Revelation 22:9). The angels have an important role in the plan of God, but it is not one of authority and judgment over mankind. In fact, we are told that we will judge angels—not, that angels will judge us (1 Corinthians 6:3). Therefore, to interpret the other “elohim” in Psalm 82 as referring to angels is incorrect.
Could the reference to “elohim,” as describing the “gods,” possibly refer to Jesus Christ? The activity of judgment of mankind fits the role of Jesus Christ, but seeing that these other “elohim” are accused of judging unjustly, this cannot possibly fit. Jesus Christ is indeed the Judge of mankind. From 2 Timothy 4:1 we read, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom…” But unlike the “elohim” that judge unjustly, Jesus is a righteous Judge. “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Even though the description of the activity of judgment is consistent with the role of Jesus Christ, since there are at least some “elohim” who judge unjustly, this cannot possibly refer to Jesus Christ
By reading further in Psalm 82, we discover another clue that can help us understand who these other “elohim” are. Quoting from Psalm 82:6-8, “I said, ‘You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High [a reference here to God the Father]. But you shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.’ Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.” In this passage we see the statement “You are gods” being ascribed to those same “elohim”, again being translated into the same word “gods”. We learn that they will “die like men,” which clearly denotes a mortal, physical existence. It rules out the possibility that it refers to Jesus Christ, angels or demons, since they cannot die. So then, are these “gods” physical people? Before answering this question, we need to fast-forward to the time of Jesus Christ’s physical life on earth.
When Jesus was facing the Jews of His time in the temple, He proclaimed that He was the Son of God (compare John 10:25-32). Remember, He was fully man, completely physical, and proclaiming something that the Jews of His time thought was blasphemous. To provide support for this claim that He was the Son of God, Jesus quotes that same passage from Psalm 82:6. “Jesus answered them, ‘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 the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’” (John 10:34-36). Jesus makes the point that God the Father said “You are gods”, and applies it also, to some extent, to Himself making it clear that His claim as being the Son of God could not be blasphemous. Therefore, it is clear that those “elohim” from Psalm 82 play a role as sons of God, of whom Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits (compare 1 Corinthians 15:20-23). Understanding that Jesus Christ referred to Himself as the Son of God, while He was in the flesh, it becomes clear that those who are referenced as the “elohim” have the same potential to be in the Family of God as Jesus Christ. God warns them not to commit the sin of judging unjustly, because it will result in physical death, losing out on the potential to be an eternal member of the God Family.
Therefore, we can see that the other “elohim” mentioned in Psalm 82 must refer to those who have the potential to become members of God’s Family, but also with the potential to die. This refers to physical man, and it may even include Christians, who are still physical, but have become baptized begotten members of God’s Family. Many in the world have a hard time believing that mankind has the potential to become members of God’s Family, but the Bible is replete with this message.
In God’s eyes, even though true Christians are physical, they are considered to be His begotten sons and daughters in the present tense. Although we have not been transformed into spirit, He considers us to already be begotten children of His Family. John writes, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3). This clearly reveals that true Christians are considered begotten children of God, now. Knowing that God sees all of mankind, including His begotten children, as those who have the potential to become perfected and glorified through a change from physical into spirit, the other “elohim” from Psalm 82 refers to the potential members of God’s Family while they are still in the flesh.
Other Scriptures in the Bible support this conclusion.
Human judges who have not become converted and who judge unrighteously will not reach their potential of becoming God Beings, unless they repent. The fact that the other “elohim” are condemned for judging mankind unjustly is also consistent with the admonition of Christians to judge righteously (even though they would not rule as “judges” or jurors in a court of law). Christians have a duty to live to a higher standard, following the perfect example of Jesus Christ, who is the righteous Judge of mankind. Christians too are instructed to judge righteously (1 Corinthians 6:1-6, John 7:24). Yet, we know that Christians are fallible, physical people with the potential to fall into sin, for which the penalty is death (compare Romans 6:23). This understanding is consistent with the warning that unless these other “elohim” don’t change their ways, they will suffer death.
Also, since the other “elohim” are warned that they can “die like men”, this cannot refer to those who have been perfected, for two reasons. First, this cannot refer to those who have been changed to become Spirit Beings in the Family of God, because as born-again God Beings, they cannot sin (compare 1 John 3:9). Secondly, those who have been changed into Spirit Beings as members of God’s Family have inherited eternal life (compare Matthew 19:29). Those who have obtained eternal life cannot die (Luke 20:35-36). Therefore, the other “elohim” from Psalm 82 cannot refer to born-again members of God’s Family who have already been perfected, but rather, when referring to Christians, while they are in a physical state as begotten members of God’s Family.
When looking more deeply into Psalm 82, we can learn a great deal about the plan of God. It shows that mankind has the potential to become perfected, serving a divine role under the authority of God the Father and Jesus Christ. We understand also that Jesus Christ is the firstborn of God, but God’s plan is to bring many more into His Family to participate in divine rulership. Quoting from our free booklet, God is a Family, “After explaining that mankind was to become conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, God shows the underlying purpose in His plan in Romans 8:29: Christ was to ‘be the firstborn among many brethren.’ So important is the purpose of God in bringing many sons and daughters to glory that He was willing to give His only begotten Son in fulfillment of His objective (compare John 3:16).” We also learn that God sees His converted children as begotten members of His Family in the present tense, even though they are still physical. And because of that, those converted Christians have an obligation, if called upon, to judge righteously in their personal dealings with other people, with the warning of death for those who neglect their potential and fail to overcome sin because of Christ’s Sacrifice. The world may be mystified in understanding who these other gods in Psalm 82 are, but we ought to be comforted knowing that this refers potentially to mankind as a whole and also to us, as dedicated Christians, begotten members of God’s Family, who continually work to follow in the perfect example of Jesus Christ.
Lead Writer: Eric Rank