CAN WE BECOME GODS? An Examination of John 10:34

CAN WE BECOME GODS? An Examination of John 10:34

© 2016, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” 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’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. (John 10:31-39)

Ever since Satan’s approach to Eve in the garden of Eden with the deadly promise that she would be “like God,” various religious movements, from Mormonism to the New Age movement, have held out the false hope that we could be like God, and, more, that we could be gods ourselves.  And the most common prooftext they use is John 10:34, in which Jesus says, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?

Mormons in particular are enamoured of this verse, thinking it supports their belief that each Mormon who fulfills the requirements will one day become a god.[1]  Ben McGuire, for example, in an article posted at FairMormon, adduces John 1:12a (“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God”) and asserts that

The point of Jesus’ remarks are twofold-first, that God has made him a Son of God, and thus equal to God, and second, that those who receive his (Jesus’) message, will also become sons of God, and thus equal to God.[2]

McGuire then suggests that

If John 10 follows the argument made in the prologue, then Jesus has announced to his Jewish audience that those who receive the word of God are to be gods, just as those in the Psalm … The defense that Jesus provides is no more than to state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus god … Because Jesus insists that not only is He a god in the sense of the Psalm, but also that others are as well, the Jews, more infuriated then [sic] before again try to kill him.”[3]

Meanwhile, influential New Age teacher David Spangler, author of Revelation: The Birth of a New Age,[4] avers that

we can be the God that Jesus proclaimed us to be: “‘Ye are Gods.'”[5]

It cannot be missed that he is appealing to John 10:34.

Are these people correct?  Is Jesus indeed saying in John 10:34 that we are, or can become, gods?  The answer is easily discernible by means of proper exegesis.

An Exegetical Principle

The first thing to note is that Jesus is here quoting a psalm, not giving an original teaching.  Specifically, He is quoting Psalm 82:6:

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

Defend the poor and fatherless;

Do justice to the afflicted and needy.

Deliver the poor and needy;

Free them from 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 unstable.

I said, “You are gods,

And all of you are children of the Most High.

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. (Psalm 82)

Now, it is essential to understand that inerrancy means that whatever the Bible asserts is true, whatever it states happened actually happened.  For example, Mark 1:9 states,

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

The Bible here asserts that Jesus came from the city of Nazareth which is Galilee, that He was baptized, that this was done by John (the Baptist), that it was done in the Jordan River, and that it was done “in those days” (i.e. during the ministry of John the Baptist, as the context tells us).  Inerrancy requires that all these be true to history: Jesus really came down from Nazareth (which really was in Galilee), He was really baptized by John, this was done in the Jordan River, and it was during the time of John the Baptist’s public ministry.

On the other hand, Mark 3:22 states,

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, ”By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.“

All that the Bible asserts here is that there were scribes, that they came down from Jerusalem, and that they made these two specific charges against Jesus.  Inerrancy requires that all of these three facts  actually took place.  Regarding the final point, inerrancy requires that the scribes actually said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”  Inerrancy, however, does not require that Jesus actually had Beelzebub or that He cast out demons by the ruler of the demons, for the Bible does not assert that, but asserts only that the scribes said that.  It is crucial to understand this; only what the Bible actually asserts needs to be true.

A Look at Psalm 82

With this principle in mind, let us look again at Psalm 82 and ask, “Does the Bible call anyone gods here or affirm that any people are actual gods?”  The answer is “no.”  The Bible does not say, “You are gods”; what it says is, “I said, ‘You are gods.’”  So what the Bible affirms here is only that the Psalmist said to the group of people he was confronting “You are gods”; it does not endorse the Psalmist’s comment nor state an affirmation of that comment nor indicate that the comment is true.

So the first point to note is that the Bible does not say that these people were actually gods.  It only says that the Psalmist made that comment to them.

That naturally leads us to the next question; did the Psalmist himself considered these people he addressed to be actual gods ontologically?  His entire statement shows that he did not.  Consider what follows his comment: “I said, “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.  But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.”  Any being who is ontologically god cannot die, let alone die like a man or fall like one of the princes.  The Psalmist thus reveals that, although he said to the people “You are gods,” he knew that they weren’t.  This indicates his comment, “You are gods,” was nothing more than a rhetorical device.

A Look at John 10:34

Now, let us turn our attention to Jesus’ comment, wherein He quoted Psalm 82.  His entire statement is:

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’?”

We note immediately that Jesus quotes only a small part of Psalm 82, only verse 6b, to be specific: ‘I said, “You are gods”.”  Why does He quote these five words?[6]  If He had wanted to convey the fact that people were gods, as the Mormons and New Agers maintain, why would He not say only, “Is it not written in your law, ‘“You are gods”’?”  He is pulling only a few words out of the psalm, so He could easily have, and should have, also left out the “I said” part if His intention were to teach that men could become gods.  But He did not leave that part out; He was careful to include the “I said” part, because that is the part that shows that the Bible is not, in fact, affirming the statement “You are gods” but only the fact that the Psalmist made this comment to the people he was addressing, people that, as we have seen, he knew were not actual gods.

It goes without saying that Jesus certainly understood Psalm 82, and He knew that it was not referring to any ontological gods.  And the extract from the psalm that He chose to quote makes it clear that that He was keeping that fact in the forefront.  So Jesus was certainly not telling people “that those who receive the word of God are to be gods.  What then was His point?

Again, we look to the context and see that His statement was made when His opponents were preparing to stone Him “for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”  There is no question but that they understood Jesus to be claiming Deity.  It was in response to this that Jesus made His statement, “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’?” and He did so knowing that the “gods” in Psalm 82 were not actual gods at all.

This leaves only one viable possibility, and that was that Jesus was making an a fortiori argument, the gist of which was, “If even Scripture has people being called gods who were not in fact gods, why is is problematic for Me to be called God who really am God?  The fact that His opponents did indeed understood Jesus’ statement to be a reaffirmation of His own Deity is obvious from their reaction to it: “Therefore they sought again to seize Him.”  They sought to attack Him both before and after His statement, which shows plainly that what He said was not a backing down from His claim to Deity, a status that was unique to Him and not shared by those to whom the Psalmist said, “You are gods.”  Nor will that status ever be shared by anyone, Mormon or otherwise.  The claim that people can ever be gods was a lie from the very beginning – and it will always remain a lie.


APPENDIX 1: A RESPONSE TO MORMON CLAIMS

As we have seen, in an article posted at FairMormon, Ben McGuire adduces John 1:12a (“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God”) and asserts that

The point of Jesus’ remarks are twofold-first, that God has made him a Son of God, and thus equal to God, and second, that those who receive his (Jesus’) message, will also become sons of God, and thus equal to God.[7]

This is absurd, of course; we receive the adoption as sons (Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:5, Romans 8:15); we never become ontologically the sons of God as Jesus is the Son of God.  Furthermore, the Bible is clear that what we receive is eternal life (e.g. John 10:28, 12:25, 17:2) lived in the presence of the one true God (Revelation 21:22-26), not “godhood.”

McGuire then suggests that

If John 10 follows the argument made in the prologue, then Jesus has announced to his Jewish audience that those who receive the word of God are to be gods, just as those in the Psalm … The defense that Jesus provides is no more than to state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus god … Because Jesus insists that not only is He a god in the sense of the Psalm, but also that others are as well, the Jews, more infuriated then [sic] before again try to kill him.[8]

This, however, is reading far more into the text than is actually there.  Where, for  example, does Jesus “state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus god”?  Nowhere.  All McGuire can offer is

As Neyrey points out, he does not make himself God, rather, ‘the Father hath sanctified, and sent [him] into the world.’[9]

Yet is indisputable that “sanctifying and sending into the world” is in no way equivalent to making one a god.  Of course, it is all McGuire can offer by way of proof, since nowhere does Jesus “state unequivocally that the Father (and not Jesus) has made Jesus God”; in fact, nowhere does He state it all.  Furthermore, as we have already seen, those addressed in Psalm 82 were not ontologically gods at all.

Finally, McGuire’s claim that “Because Jesus insists that not only is He a god in the sense of the Psalm, but also that others are as well, the Jews, more infuriated then [sic] before again try to kill him” is incoherent.  Does McGuire think that Jesus’ opponents were not also familiar with Psalm 82 or did not accept its teachings?  If Jesus were simply quoting a psalm in according to its actual meaning, He would be saying nothing new, nor would there be any conceivable reason that His opponents should be “more infuriated then [sic] before,” let alone try to kill Him.

McGuire’s explanation of John 10:34 , then, is a nonstarter.  Jesus was not telling His opponents that the Father made Him into a god, nor was He promising them godhood, either.  No human being will ever become a god.


APPENDIX 2: WHAT DOES ROMAN CATHOLICISM SAY?

Interestingly, the influential Catholic Answers apologetics ministry received a question about the meaning of John 10:34.[10]  It was answered by Jim Blackburn, who “holds a Masters Degree in Theology from John Paul the Great Catholic University and is the author of several books … he has also contributed dozens of articles to Catholic Answers Magazine.[11]

The question was, My friend, a Mormon, thinks John 10:34 means we will all be gods someday.  I know this isn’t what it really means, but can you help me explain why?[12]  Blackburn replied,

When Jesus said, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” he was referring to Psalm 82:6, in which God addressed the very mortal although powerful judges of Israel who, because of their high office, were entitled to be called “gods.”  The next verse of the psalm keeps this in perspective: “nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince” (Ps. 82:7).[13]

It is supremely ironic, is it not, that Roman Catholicism also teaches that people become gods.  It is not a doctrine they emphasize, as Mormonism does, but it is certainly part of their official doctrine.  According to Part 1 Section 2 Chapter 2 Article 3 Paragraph I (otherwise known as point 460) of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.  “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”  “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Not surprisingly, there are Catholic apologists who try to deny what is clearly said here, but that is useless, for the statement has enough clarity and repetition in it to make its meaning indisputable.

And it is undeniable that the Catechism of the Catholic Church certainly outlines the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church.  It was written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, at the time head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (originally named the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) and who later became Pope Benedict XVI.  The incumbent pope at the time of publication, John Paul II, called the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith.”  Since Catholic apologists do not understand Roman Catholic doctrine better than Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we can be quite sure that what Point 460 says is an accurate statement of Catholic doctrine.  It should go without saying that the claim that men can become gods is no more acceptable when it is made by Roman Catholicism than when it is made by Mormonism or the New Age Movement.


Endnotes

[1] For example, “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them— … Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-21  (Bolding added.)

[2] McGuire, Ben. “Reconsidering Psalm 82:6 Judges or Gods? A Proposal.” Posted at http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/reconsidering-psalms-826.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[3] ibid.  (Bolding and underlining added.)  See Appendix 1 for a detailed response to McGuire’s claims.

[4] Middletown, Wisconsin:  Lorian Press, 1976.

[5] Spangler, David. Reflections on the Christ. Scotland: Findhorn Publications (1978), p. 73.  Cited in Rhodes, Ron. New Age Movement (Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House (1995), p. 59.  (Bolding added.)

[6] It is three words in the Hebrew, four in the Greek.

[7] McGuire, op. cit.  McGuire mistakenly ascribes these remarks to Jesus Himself.  Further on in the article, he correctly ascribes them to “the evangelist” (i.e. the apostle John).

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.  McGuire is here following Neyrey, Jerome H. “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108:4 (1989), pp. 651-653

[10] Blackburn, Jim. “Will we all be gods one day, as Mormons believe?” Posted on August 4, 2011, at https://www.catholic.com/qa/will-we-all-be-gods-one-day-as-mormons-believe

[11] “Jim Blackburn.” Posted at https://www.catholic.com/profile/jim-blackburn

[12] Blackburn, Jim. “Will we all be gods one day, as Mormons believe?” Posted on August 4, 2011, at https://www.catholic.com/qa/will-we-all-be-gods-one-day-as-mormons-believe

[13] ibid.

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