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If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear about the fact that there is only one God. This was drilled into the heads of young Hebrew boys and girls in Old Testament times: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV).

God is unique. He is alone in the category of “Godness” – even the demons in the Bible are acquainted with this foundational truth: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19 ESV).

Everyone in the Bible is on page here. God is One. He is altogether other and he is gloriously alone in his otherness.

Which is why John 10:30-38 is a such an explosive passage.

Jesus is engaging in dialogue with a crowd of Jewish people who have gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. The conversation begins with a bang. Jesus says:

I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:30–38 ESV)

Everything about this conversation is destabilizing – as much for the original audience as for those reading it or hearing about it today. Jesus is making a typical Jewish “how much more” argument. He begins by quoting from Psalm 82. In that Psalm – which is a prophetic poem – the Psalmist speaks about a scene from the future when God will sit in judgment on all earthly powers and authorities, and on powers and authorities from among the Jewish people in particular. In the picture that he paints, God sits in judgment on a gathering of little “gods”.

That’s what Psalm 82 says:

“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (Psalm 82:1 ESV)

Jesus actually quotes verse 6 of Psalm 82 which says:

“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 ESV)

First time Bible readers often wonder whether this Psalm should even be in the Bible. Is Psalm 82 suggesting that there are other gods in the universe? Is it saying that God is the High God over a pantheon of smaller gods?

Of course not.

In Hebrew the word for God – Elohim – can also be used to refer to human judges. We see something similar in British Commonwealth nations wherein it is still somewhat common to refer to human judges as “Your Worship”. That tradition is derived from texts like these. W.S. Plumer for example says here, “Rulers of every rank are to be honoured. Jehovah himself calls them gods.[1] 

To the English reader that may seem to be a bit of a stretch, but that is obviously how Jesus understood the text. In John 10:34-35 he says:

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:34–36 ESV)

Every step in this “how much more” argument is fascinating. Jesus argues that God says that you are gods because you have been given the Word of God. If he said that about you, and Scripture cannot be broken, then how much more is it appropriate for me to say that about myself? I am the Word of God in the flesh.

D.A. Carson outlines the argument as follows:

“As Jesus uses the text, the general line of his argument is clear. This Scripture proves that the word ‘god’ is legitimately used to refer to others than God himself. If there are others whom God (the author of Scripture) can address as ‘god’ and ‘sons of the Most High’ (i.e. sons of God), on what biblical basis should anyone object when Jesus says, I am God’s Son?” [2]

Jesus will build on this concept, to be sure, but at the very least, he is saying that any human being who receives and gladly submits to the Word of God is in some sense a son or daughter of God. They are, in that sense only, ‘gods’. They are image and likeness of God. They are Genesis 1:27 human beings – and such people are marvellous and glorious creatures, to be sure.

There is a tendency to miss the significance of this passage as we are blinded by its complexity and controversy. The hackles of good Christian men and women are raised whenever anyone dares to refer to themselves, in any sense, as “a god”. Objections are raised. Cults are referred to. Cautions are issued – and all rightly so. Except that one soon finds oneself giving counsel to Jesus. It was, after all, Jesus who said, “he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 ESV).

Jesus said that.

Not Peter, not Paul, not W.S. Plumer and not D.A. Carson.

Jesus said that.

So we must take that seriously, with all the necessary relations and limitations required by the remainder of Scripture.

Clearly, Jesus does not mean that we are God in the sense that God is God. Jesus knows that God is in a category by himself.

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18 ESV)

In this and in many other ways, God is alone. He is one. He is unique.

So what is Jesus saying?

He is simply saying that in so much as human beings fell by rejecting the Word of God, they are restored, enlarged and ennobled by receiving the Word of God. When we come back under the Word of God, we begin to be elevated back toward our former height and glory. We see the Apostle Paul saying much the same thing in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

Studying Christ, submitting to Christ and rejoicing in Christ as he is revealed in Scripture, we become like Christ by one degree of glory to the next. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

According to the Apostle Paul, the job of the Holy Spirit is to slowly but surely, change men and women into the very image and likeness of Jesus Christ – who is the Son of God!

If anything, the Apostle Peter was even more bold in the language that he used to describe this reality. He said:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)

It was this passage that led the Eastern church to use the phrase “deification” to refer to much of what we mean when we use the word “sanctification”[3]. There is a sense in which, if we are in God through faith in Christ and if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and in glad submission to the Scriptures, then we are an entirely different order of creature from unregenerate man. We are not God of very God, but neither are we “man who is a maggot” (Job 25:6). We are gloriously and marvellously in between.

It cannot be argued that the gift of God’s Word has affected and ennobled the race of man. The historian Edward Grant in his book “God and Reason In the Middle Ages” argued that the biblical worldview produced a certain sort of person over time. A person that had never existed before in human history. No earlier culture had produced a person with the “capacity for establishing the foundations of the nation state, parliaments, democracy, commerce, banking, higher education and various literary forms such as novels and history”.[4]

That was the effect of the Bible on ancient man!

“he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 ESV)

Yes, the Bible is authoritative, yes the Bible is inerrant, yes the Bible is infallible – it is all those things.

And it is transformative.

Gloriously, marvellously, miraculously transformative.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7–9 NKJV)

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Paul Carter

 

 

To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.


[1] W.S. Plumer, Psalms (Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 2016), 783.

[2]D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 397.

[3] To be clear, I think the word “sanctification” is the better term as it avoids misunderstanding. Nevertheless, as these texts make clear, there is warrant for a “grander” understanding than is currently common in the western church with respect to our transformation in Christ.

[4] Edward Grant, God And Reason In The Middle Ages as cited in Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 77.

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