Sunday, February 14, 2016

Were The Prophets Called Gods?

Today, there is a teaching which denies the deity of Jesus. It is not true. It is mistaken. It is ignorance. It is a lie. It purports to be scholarly. It is false. It is not new. It is bad enough when an individual struggles to understand the deity of Jesus, but it is a vastly different matter when that individual joins with others to take this teaching to others. There are a number of different reasons and passages which are cited to substantiate and bolster this mistaken teaching. This article will focus only on one. It is the particular mistaken claim that when Jesus stated he was the Son of God he was not saying anything significant or suggestive of his deity. He did not mean anything more than to simply equate and cast himself as just another messenger of God to whom the word of God came in the same manner as the prophets.

John 10 and Psalm 82
A particular text from which this teaching purports to draw its authority is found in the gospel according to John. The passage relates the occasion when Jesus cited the reference in Psalm 82:6 about those to whom the word of God came. The common assumption and explanation of the passage cited by Jesus is that he was referring to the prophets as those “gods” to whom the word of God came.

the prophets of God
There are two simple reasons why this does not appear to be supported either by the reference by Jesus and the psalms passage, not just a single verse in isolation, but the entire Psalm 82. First, Jesus used the familiar term, the prophets, when he referred to those who proclaimed or wrote the word of God. This is the same manner as Luke recorded about Peter’s sermon and Stephen’s sermon in their reference to that same group of messengers. It is how Paul referred to the prophets. It is how the apostle Peter refers to the prophets in the same manner.

the kings of Israel
Second, it appears that the dual reference to rulers and gods in Psalm 82 is to one and the same. The psalmist’s indictment is directed against those who were to Israel what Moses was to Israel, that is, the rulers or the gods. This is not a reference to pagan deities. It is a charge against the gods for their unfaithfulness to execute what was their God-given mandate as rulers. It was not the prophets, but the kings of Israel beginning with Saul, who were to rule over and judge Israel in the place of God. They were to proclaim and uphold justice for the poor and the needy among the people of God. Yet injustice was rampant. When Israel fell into apostasy the rulers knew nothing because they had forgotten and rejected the word of God which had come to them. They had abandoned and forsaken what God had given to them and entrusted for them to keep and fulfill in Israel. These kings, the psalmist declares, would perish and die like other princes of the nations who did not know God. Then, the psalmist calls upon God to rise up and to judge, not just the kings, that is, the rulers and gods of Israel, but the earth and the nations which are his possession.

a situation and a need
The fuller text of John 10, outside of the myopic focus on the phrase he called them gods, is of a scenario where the sheep are at the mercy of thieves and robbers who kill and destroy the sheep. This scenario reverberates together with the plight of the poor and the needy under the merciless rulers and gods of Psalm 82. There is, in both instances of Psalm 82 and John 10, a situation and a need for deliverance and justice. It is Jesus who is the one who appears as the Good Shepherd who shepherds and rules his sheep who hear his voice.

Son of God
There is an another expression in the passage which has been similarly muddled and obscured in the denial of the deity of Jesus. The expression is in the conclusion of the response of Jesus to the Jews that he is the Son of God. Of course, it is understood that upper or lowercase in the terms god or God or the term Son bear no significance. There is certainly nothing worthwhile about building a theology or argument around something as banal as lower and upper case letters, but this is actually a point which some push forward. What is significant to note is that those who reject the deity claims of Jesus on the basis of this particular passage do so with unflinching disregard for what can only seriously question their scholarship. What they have done is that they have detached and discarded the inseparable term Son as in the expression Son of God in a feeble attempt to apply the term gods to the prophets. This dismissive and diminutive action is for the purpose of casting Jesus as just another prophet. This they do with complete and utter disregard for the appearance and similarly close and inseparable association of the term rulers with the term gods in Psalm 82.

The prophets were no more ever called rulers than gods. Moses was not a prophet anymore than Jesus is a prophet. Moses was a ruler of Israel. Moses was, God said, as God to Pharaoh and his brother Aaron was to be his prophet. (Exodus 7:1)

It is significant to take note of Numbers 12 where God defined for Miriam and Aaron what it is that constitutes a prophet. There is no reference to a prophet as to being a god or a ruler. A prophet was one, unlike Moses and Jesus, with whom God communicated through visions and dreams.

There is a lesson worth taking to heart about how God reacted to Miriam. She mistakenly and rashly questioned and presumed to equate herself and exalt herself above Moses as one (as well as Aaron) to whom God spoke to also. This brings to mind the much used argument of the writer of Hebrews in staking the claim for the superiority of Jesus: If this was the case against Miriam who argued presumptuously as to whom God had spoken how much more the presumptuousness of those who argue that Jesus, the Son of God was spoken to by the Father and not that the Son spoke together as one with the Father.

There is good reason to question the expression, he called them gods. Perhaps after examination one will reject the popular, commonly accepted explanation on the expression, he called them gods from Psalm 82. It is cited by Jesus in the gospel according to John. The explanation of the expression is at best not fully understood and at worse the leverage point for a mistaken view and teaching which rejects the deity of Jesus

A review of Psalm 82 strongly appears to suggest that the terms rulers and gods are about one and the same group or individual. In other words, the psalmist is not speaking of prophets, who were certainly to proclaim justice for the poor and needy, but he is referring to the rulers, the gods, to whom the word of God came and who were to execute and uphold justice for all. In the absence of justice the people cried out for deliverance and the Lord God heard their cry.

Jesus referred to the messengers of God as the prophets, not as rulers or gods. This is the same manner as did Paul, Peter and Luke in their writings. Furthermore, it is Luke’s account  which reveals Stephen’s reference to Moses as ruler of Israel. It was Moses whom God sent as god to Pharaoh.

Since Jesus was not a prophet the strong indication is that more than associating and casting himself among the prophets who proclaimed the word of God; He was, in fact, associating and casting himself much more fittingly with the kings of Israel and as the King of Israel.

Jesus in no way brushed aside, pushed away or otherwise denied the perceptions of the Jews concerning his claims of deity. He did not correct them on any supposed mistaken conclusions as is asserted by those who deny the deity of Jesus. The Jews concluded correctly the assertions by Jesus of his own deity. The Jews, for their part, were yet again, being obstinate and stubborn. They had not listened to their kings which they had demanded in place of God. Indeed, God gave them their rulers and gods to whom the word of God came. Now, they were no less obstinate and stubborn to hear the voice of the one whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world; the King of the Jews.


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