Psalm 82:1-8 – God Calls Mortal Beings “gods”



“A Psalm of Asaph. 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? Selah. 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.”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Psalm 82 is broadly condemning of various officials and magistrates within the community of Ancient Israel. In stark contrast to the fair and righteous judgment of the Lord, He chastises and rebukes the behavior of those human judges appointed to administer the law, asking them, “How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked?” (Psalm 82:2, NJPS). Cohen is correct to conclude,

“They contravened the basic rule: Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour (Lev. xix. 15). The scales of justice must be held evenly, without bias in favour of the poor from a feeling that the verdict against the richer party to the suit would not inconvenience him, and certainly without partiality to the man of influence from a fear of the consequences to the judge or as the result of bribery.”[1]

The solution, to the problem exclaimed, would be for these various human judges to take care of the destitute and disenfranchised (Psalm 82:3-4). One does not get the impression that the Lord anticipated the officials and magistrates enacting a change of action or ethics, witnessed by His statement, “They know not, neither do they understand; they walk to and fro in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Psalm 82:5, ATS).

When reading Psalm 82 from an Ancient Israelite perspective of appeal to the Lord for help in the midst of corrupt leadership, then the assertion of Psalm 82:6 can be much easier to follow. Here, the Lord is speaking, and He says, ani-amarti elohim atem u’benei ‘elyon kul’khem. A version like the RSV has, “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’” Here, it is absolutely legitimate to consider the flexibility of the Hebrew term elohim, which while most frequently employed in terms of God proper, can, dependent on context to be sure, relate to “God, gods, judges, angels” (TWOT),[2] or “rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power” (BDB).[3] As we have surely discussed in this publication, the Semitic elohim can refer to various created entities. And so, noting these lexical definitions, and given the qualification of the elohim also with the benei ‘elyon also being “sons of the Most High” or “children of the Most High” (NRSV), Psalm 82:6 can fairly be recognized as a usage of the title elohim applying to created mortals. Alternative translations of elohim in Psalm 82:6, other than the standard “God,” are witnessed:

  • “I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you” (NJPS).
  • “I said, ‘You are angelic, sons of the Most High are you all’” (ATS).
  • “I had said, You are angels, all of you sons of the most High” (Jerusalem Bible-Koren).
  • “I said, You are angelic beings, all of you are sons of the Most High” (Keter Crown Bible).

To emphasize the place of the corrupt, human judges as being inferior to God proper as the True Judge, it is understandable why the title elohim would be rendered by some of the versions above as “angels” or “angelic.” And, it is to be acknowledged that this is a lexical possibility.

While rendering elohim literally as “gods,” the NIV notably places “gods” in quotation marks “ ”, to likely emphasize some sort of irony: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’” A Messianic version like the TLV follows this: “I said: ‘You are “gods”, and you are all sons of Elyon.” The CJB/CJSB presents the reader with some interpretive options, as it has, “My decree is: ‘You are elohim [gods, judges], sons of the Most High all of you.’”

While the corrupt, human judges in Ancient Israel, may be regarded as “gods” and “sons of the Most High,” such accolades are going to get them no special favors or privileges before the Supreme God. The Lord further decrees, “nevertheless, you shall die like mortals [k’adam temutun], and fall like any prince” (Psalm 82:7, NRSV). And so, all the Psalmist can do is appeal to the Lord, the True and Just Elohim, to intervene: “Rise up, Elohim, and judge the earth; for all the nations are yours” (Psalm 82:8, CJB/CJSB).

Questions involving Psalm 82:6 and corrupt judges in Ancient Israel being referred to by the title elohim, are necessarily raised, given how Yeshua the Messiah would quote from this passage when various Jewish religious leaders accused Him of the crime of self-deification (John 10:33)[4]:

“Yeshua answered them, ‘Has it not been written in your Law, “I SAID, YOU ARE GODS [Psalm 82:6]’? 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).

Yeshua the Messiah surely employed the message of Psalm 82:6-7 against His detractors: as God proper had once called corrupt judges in Ancient Israel “gods,” so the (broadly) corrupt Jewish religious leaders of the First Century were also “gods.” These leaders would meet a fate of rejection from God proper and death, despite bearing such an honorificate.

So, recognizing that corrupt mortals can be called “gods”—the same ones who accused Yeshua of a crime of self-deification—this should at least have merited a pause on their part, with the Messiah truly asking them to consider whether or not He has committed such a crime. Far from usurping the position of God proper, as a standard human might in trying to make himself out to be God—Yeshua’s self-identity is predicated on His being sent from the Father, and in His detractors probing His personal origins associated with Him being “the Son of God.”


[1] Cohen, Psalms, 270.

[2] Jack B. Scott, “’ělōhîm,” in TWOT, 1:44.

[3] BDB, 43.

[4] “The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God’” (John 10:33).