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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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GODS.—The single passage in the Gospels where the word θεοί occurs (John 10:34 f.) affords an excellent example both of the style of Jesus’ arguments with His Jewish adversaries and of His attitude to the OT. The phrase, ‘I said, Ye are gods,’ is a literal quotation of Psalms 82:6 (LXX Septuagint 81:6), and is introduced as such by the word invariably employed for that purpose (ἔστιν γεγραμμένον, cf. γέγραπται of Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6-7; Matthew 4:10) It is plain that in quoting these words Jesus is arguing after the manner of the well-known argumentum ad hominem, from His use of the personal pronoun ‘your,’ as well as from His application of the title ‘law’ to the Psalms (ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ὑμῶν, cf. τῶ ὑμετέρῳ in John 8:17; and for a similar use of the term ‘law,’ cf. John 12:34; John 15:25). It is an appeal to authority, the validity of which His hearers would be the first to recognize. It was impossible for them to escape a conclusion so immediately the outcome of premisses universally accepted as true. At the same time it is an argument a fortiori. If their beloved Law, to which they were constantly appealing, hesitated not to designate as ‘gods’ (אֳלהים) the judges whose partiality and injustice provoked their arraignment by God, and the solemn warning to ‘judge the weak and fatherless, do justice to the afflicted and destitute’ (Psalms 82:3), surely the charge of blasphemy came badly from those men who recognized in this Law their final court of appeal. His claim to be ‘the Son of God,’ whom the Father, in a unique sense, both ‘sanctified and sent,’ could be judged by His works, and it was sufficient to contrast those works which they could daily witness with the works of men whom God designated ‘sons of the Most High’ (בְּנִי עָלְיוֹן Psalms 82:6).

Jesus in this place seems to adopt the interpretation of this Psalm which is given by the Targum, and which applies the title ‘gods’ to the earthly judges acting in their capacity as representatives of God. He, moreover, countenances the extension of the term ‘Law’ to other portions of the OT besides the Pentateuch. This was a common practice in the writings of the Jewish Rabbins, who spoke of ‘the threefold Law’—Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hagiographa (Shabbath, 88a). Compare also the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 91, 92, for the question of R. Joshua, ‘In what manner is the Resurrection of the dead proved from the Law?’ with the answer that it is said in Psalms 84:4 ‘They shall praise thee’; not ‘they have praised thee.’ To the same question propounded by R. Chaia the answer is that the Resurrection is proved from Isaiah 52:8 (see Wünscbe, Neue Beitrage zur Erlauterung der Evangelien aus Talmud und Midrash).

There is another explanation current among the Jews which applied the term ’elôhim in this place to the israelites who stood before Mt. Sinai and received the law (τρὁς οὕς ὁ λογος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐγένετο, John 10:35). If, said they, their fathers had not sinned in the matter of the golden calf, they would have been as the angels; they would neither have begotten children nor been subject to death. For this reason it was, according to this interpretation, that the Psalm says, ‘they shall die like men’ (כְּאָרָם v. 7), in spite of the fact that they were so marvellously privileged (see the Talmudic tractate Zarah, fol. 5. 1, quoted in J. Lightfoot’s . Heb. et Talm. [Note: Talmud.] , vol. iii. p. 359).

The evidential value of the whole passage with respect to Jesus’ attitude to the OT Scriptures will, to some extent at least, be measured by the nature of the clause, ‘the Scripture* [Note: It is to be noted here that ἡ γραφή does not mean the OT in general, for which the word would be αἱ γραφαι, but refers to the particular passage quoted (cf. John 20:9; John 2:22 etc.).] cannot be broken.’ If it is parenthetical, we have a direct assertion by Jesus that He regarded the OT as containing elements of abiding significance, and, moreover, that its meaning found its final and true explanation in His person and life (cf. John 13:18 and Matthew 5:18 etc.). On the other hand, it is by no means certain that the clause is of the nature of a parenthesis, and not dependent upon the preceding conditional particle (εἰ). In this case the sense would be ‘if the Scripture cannot be broken,’ which would have the effect of presenting the argumentum ad hominem in a still stronger and more merciless form. This is again made more forcible by His use of the emphatic pronoun (ὑμεῖς), as if He intended to say, ‘How is it possible for you, of all people, in face of the fact that you assert the inviolability of this passage, to find fault with the claims which I have put forward, and to say that I am a blasphemer?’ (see Plummer in Cambridge Greek Test., and Westcott’s Gospel of St. John, ad loc.).

It might be possible for an objector to urge that the whole argument was unworthy of the dignity of its alleged Author, and was too like what His hearers would themselves employ. On the other hand, we know that He did not shrink, at times, from meeting the Jews on their own ground (see art. Accommodation, p. 19 ff.), and indeed it would seem that He had no option but to do so, if His teaching was ever to penetrate their understandings. Nor did He at any time avoid confounding His adversaries out of their own mouth (cf. Matthew 22:45, Luke 10:36 f. etc.). At the same time it is evident that there is a profounder significance attaching to the quotation than at first sight appears, and it is in this fact that we have a more certain guide to the estimation in which the OT writings were held by Jesus. Whatever may have been the personal character of those who were designated ’elôhîm in the Psalm, they were men unto whom the word of God had come, and who derived their title to be in a sense Divine from the fact that God delegated to them an authority which was His to give, and that He communicated His will through them to the people over whom they were placed.

The phrase ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, occurring as it does in this passage, can hardly have been recorded by the author of the Fourth Gospel without a conscious reference to that Personal Word, about whom he speaks in his Prologue. The Logos, pre-existent and active, was the means by which God was effecting the eternal movement of man towards Himself and of Himself towards man. This movement became finally complete in the union of the Incarnation, when God and man met in an everlasting unity (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, John 1:14). Nor was this marvellous synthesis ‘sprung upon,’ so to speak, the human race. It was being foreshadowed continually in the OT. The prophetic ‘Thus saith the Lord’ (cf. e.g. Isaiah 38:1, Jeremiah 19:1, Hosea 4:1 etc.) was the outcome of a consciousness which felt its power to speak and act as God’s earthly representative, and the fitness of this claim is vindicated by the oft-repeated assertion, ‘The word of the Lord came unto [me]’ (cf. Jeremiah 16:1; Jeremiah 10:1; Jeremiah 9:17, Isaiah 8:1, Joel 1:1 etc.; see the emphatic הָיֹה הָיָה in Ezekiel 1:3, where the prophet lays stress on the reality of his experience).

The union of God and man accomplished in the ‘Word made flesh’ was indirectly suggested in the bold words of the Psalmist, ‘I said, Ye are ‘elôhîm,’ and it is not difficult to believe that in repeating this expression Jesus had in His mind the realization of this profound idea, and that He desired to disclose it as an accomplished fact to those who had ears to hear and hearts to understand (Matthew 13:15).

J. R. Willis.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gods'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​g/gods.html. 1906-1918.
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