It was the “Feast of Dedication,” and our Master Yeshua was in the Temple when some of the authorities demanded, “So how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Mashiach, say it now so we can hear with our own ears” (Yochanan 10:24 DHE).
Yeshua replied with a mysterious declaration: “I and the Father are one,” and he referred to himself as the Son of God. They picked up stones to stone him, but he deftly evaded the charge of blasphemy by offering an explanation from a rabbinic teaching about Psalm 82.
The Levitical choir in the Temple sang Psalm 82 in the Temple every Tuesday. Maybe it was Tuesday when this dispute in the Temple took place. Here is the important verse from Psalm 82:
I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:6-7)
Yeshua said to the men who wanted to stone him:
Is it not written in your Torah [in Psalm 82:6], “I have said, ‘You are gods’”? See, one to whom the word of God comes is called a ‘god.’ The Scripture cannot be violated. How can you say to the one that the Father sanctified and sent to the world, “You are a blasphemer” because I said I am the son of God? (Yochanan 10:34-36 DHE)
This statement is difficult to understand. What does he mean by “those to whom the word of God came,” and why were they called gods? The Hebrew word for “gods” can also be translated as “judges” or “angels.” In this context, however, it seems to mean divine beings.
To understand what Yeshua was talking about, we need to study how the rabbis understood and taught that verse from Psalm 82.
"Gods" at Mount Sinai
According to a popular Jewish teaching about Psalm 82, the Psalm originally addressed the entire nation of Israel after they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. In that explanation, the gift of receiving God’s holy Torah at Mount Sinai elevated the spiritual state of Israel to an angelic, divine level. They became like divine beings—like gods, so to speak—immortal and pure. If the people at Mount Sinai had kept the Torah and not sinned, they would have retained their divine, godlike status and been ever after “sons of the Most High.” When they sinned by making the golden calf, however, they lost their divine status:
It is written, “I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.’” When Israel stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah, the Holy One, blessed be he, said to the angel of death, “You may have power over all the other nations, but not over this people, for they are my portion, and just as I live forever, so will my children be eternal.” … Yet you refused to remain faithful and did evil and said to the golden calf, “This is your God, O Israel.” Because you sinned, “You will die like men.” (Midrash)
The same traditional interpretation of Psalm 82 appears in several other sources. For example, the following teaching appears in the Talmud:
We should be grateful to our forebears, for had they not sinned by making the golden calf, we would not have been born into the world, as it says in Psalm 82, “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’” After they sinned, however, the LORD told them, “Now that you have done evil, though, ‘You will die like mere men.’” (Talmud)
The Master's Argument
In his discussion in the Temple, Yeshua countered his critics who said that he was blaspheming by claiming to be divine. He said, “He called them gods, to whom the word of God came.” This language employs the same teaching about Psalm 82 that supposes the passage referred to Israel when they received the Torah at Sinai—the “word of God.” Those “to whom the word of God came” were the Israelites on the day of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The rabbis explain that the LORD declared them to be “like gods” and sons of the Most High.
Yeshua used this interpretation of the passage to argue his case. God set Israel apart as his own and gave the people of Israel his Torah, and they were called “gods” and “sons of the Most High.” If so, how much more should the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world merit to be called the same? According to the teaching about Psalm 82, if the people of Israel had not sinned, they would have retained the status of “gods” and “sons of God.” How much more so should the one without sin deserve to assume those same titles?