Psalm 82:1-8

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"1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations."
- Psalm 82:1-8

Psalm 82:1 is a verse you likely never paid much attention to. If you have read the Bible from cover to cover, you likely just read it and moved on. If you paused and reread it, you likely just shrugged your shoulders and said, 'Must be one of those things we were not meant to understand.' But is it?

Divine Council1

Psalm 82 played a pivotal role in the life of Michael S. Heiser when he was a graduate student working on a PhD in Hebrew studies. Before church one Sunday morning a friend handed him a Hebrew bible turned to Psalm 82 and said, “Here, read that … look at it closely.”

What he saw in verse one was, "God [elohim] standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods [elohim]." The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly —a pantheon— of other gods. He immediately set to work trying to find answers. Soon he discovered that this was a place where evangelicals had feared to tread.

The explanations he found from evangelical scholars were disturbingly weak, mostly maintaining that the gods (elohim) in the verse were just men —Jewish elders— or that the verse was about the Trinity. Neither of those could be correct. The Bible nowhere teaches that God appointed a council of Jewish elders to rule over foreign nations, and God certainly wouldn’t be railing against the rest of the Trinity, Jesus and the Spirit, for being corrupt.

Clarity eventually prevailed. Psalm 82 became a focal point of his doctoral dissertation, which also examined the nature of Israelite monotheism and how the biblical writers really thought about the unseen spiritual realm. And eventually led to his book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, Lexham Press, 2015.

The heavenly host was with God before creation. In fact, they witnessed it.

"4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
- Job 38:4-7

Sons of God (Hebrew: beney elohim) is a phrase used to identify divine beings with higher-level responsibilities or jurisdictions. The term angel (Hebrew: malʾak) describes an important but still lesser task: delivering messages.

The sons of God are divine, not human. The sons of God witnessed creation long before there were people. They are intelligent nonhuman beings.

"God [elohim] standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods [elohim]." - Psalm 82:1

As noted earlier the word elohim occurs twice in this verse. You also probably recognize elohim as one of God’s names, despite the fact that the form of the word is plural.

In Hebrew, plurals of masculine nouns end with -im. While the word elohim is plural in form, its meaning can be either plural or singular, such as sheep in the English language. The first elohim must be singular, since the Hebrew grammar has the word as the subject of a singular verbal form. The second elohim must be plural, since the preposition in front of it (“he judgeth among the”) requires more than one.

The meaning of the verse is inescapable: The singular elohim of Israel presides over an assembly of elohim. God has called this council meeting to judge the elohim for corrupt rule of the nations. The text is not clear whether all of the elohim are under judgment or just some. Verse 6 of the psalm declares that these elohim are sons of God.

"I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." - Psalm 8:6

The sons of God are divine beings under the authority of the God of Israel. You should be aware of some of the ways the clear meaning of Psalm 82 is distorted by interpreters and why it isn’t teaching polytheism.

Some have asserted Psalm 82 is where God is speaking to the other members of the Trinity. This view results in heresy. The psalm has God judging the other elohim for corruption (vv. 2–4). The corrupt elohim are sentenced to die like humans (v. 7).

Some Christians try to argue that the sons of God are human beings — Jews to be specific. This “human view” is as flawed as the Trinitarian view. At no point in the Old Testament does the Scripture teach that Jews or Jewish leaders were put in authority over the other nations. The opposite is true — they were to be separate from other nations.

The real problem with the human view, though, is that it cannot be reconciled with other references in the Hebrew Old Testament that refer to a divine council of elohim, such as Psalm 89:5–7.

"5 And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.

6 For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty [God] can be likened unto the Lord?

7 God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him." - Psalm 89:5–7

What Psalms 82 and 89 describe is completely consistent with what we saw earlier in Job 38: 7— a group of heavenly sons of God.

Many scholars believe that Psalm 82 and other passages demonstrate that the religion of ancient Israel began as a polytheistic system and then evolved into monotheism. This thinking is misguided. The problem is rooted in a mistaken notion of what exactly the word elohim means. Since elohim is so often translated God, we look at the Hebrew word the same way we look at capitalized G-o-d. Biblical authors did not assign a specific set of attributes to the word elohim.

The biblical writers refer to a half-dozen different entities with the word elohim:
  • Yahweh, the God of Israel (thousands of times— e.g., Gen 2: 4– 5; Deut 4: 35)
  • The members of Yahweh’s council (Psa 82: 1, 6)
  • Gods and goddesses of other nations (Judg 11: 24; 1 Kgs 11: 33)
  • Demons (Hebrew: shedim— Deut 32: 17) 3 •The deceased Samuel (1 Sam 28: 13)
  • Angels or the Angel of Yahweh4 (Gen 35: 7)
Would any Israelite, especially a biblical writer, really believe that the deceased human and demons are on the same level as Yahweh? There is no warrant for concluding that plural elohim produces a pantheon of interchangeable deities.

“And he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God [elohim] like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart:" - 1 Kings 8:23

What all the figures on the list above have in common is that they are inhabitants of the spiritual world. The Old Testament writers understood that Yahweh was an elohim— but no other elohim was Yahweh.


1 Michael S. Heiser: The Unseen Realm, 2015, Chapters 1-4, Pg. 11-32