Latter-day Saints have used this passage to show how people can become gods. This does not make sense for several reasons. First, the passage is referring to Psalm 82, which speaks about human judges who would “die like men” (v. 7). Jesus points out that, like the judges in the Psalm, the judgments of the Jewish leaders were wrong. In addition, it would make no sense for Jesus to identify the Pharisees — whom He called “whitewashed tombs” (Mt 23:27) and “of your father the Devil” (John 8:44) — “gods” in the present tense. Finally, the Bible is very clear that the only God who exists is God Himself, and He knows of no other gods (Is 43:10, 44:6-8). If there are no other gods before or after God, then how can humans ever progress to become gods? While Christians will indeed be glorified in the future state, it would not be biblical to call them gods.
John 10:34 often is cited to connect sinful man with potential godhood. In this account, Jesus stood at the famous “porch of Solomon” and responded to the blindness of the religious leaders of His day. He rebuked their unbelief by quoting from Psalm 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods.” Does this offer hope of eventual exaltation as understood by Latter-day Saints?
The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus did not say, “Ye can become gods.” Instead, the text reads, “Ye are [present tense] gods.” Not even Mormons believe that they are gods right now. At best, they are what many LDS leaders have called “gods in embryo.” In his book, Jesus the Christ, Mormon Apostle James Talmage—a well-respected authority to Latter-day Saints even today—explained that Jesus was referring to divinely appointed human judges in John 10:34:
“Divinely Appointed Judges Called ‘gods.’ In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called ‘gods.’ To this the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon’s Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title ‘gods.’”(Jesus the Christ, 501)
It should be noted that the LDS First Presidency appointed Talmage to write this book and, when completed, it was reviewed by a committee of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Some modern Mormon apologists, however, have rejected Talmage’s interpretation in favor of one that allows for the gods of Psalm 82:6 to be understood as a divine council of heavenly beings. In doing so, they reject the guidance of the First Presidency. While some Latter-day Saints give the impression that Talmage’s conclusion has little scholarly support, his interpretation agrees with that of many Hebrew and Old Testament scholars.
While other views could be entertained, many Bible commentators see this view as perfectly plausible. For example, Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner explains that “gods” could refer to human judges, “principalities and powers,” or to the gods of the heathen. Regarding this last possibility, he writes, “It is true that 1 Corinthians 10:20 speaks of pagan worship as the worship of demons, but this is to make the point that idolatry is never neutral but a surrender to Belial and his hosts; it is not an acceptance by Paul of heathen mythologies. Likewise the Old Testament never wavers in its abhorrence of heathen gods. For Yahweh to authenticate their claim with the words, ‘I say, “You are gods,”’ would be totally out of character.”
Whether Mormons agree with their apostle, along with the First Presidency, or reject his interpretation for one that allows for a divine council of heavenly beings makes little difference. Neither position consistently supports the LDS view that men can progress to become gods that are ontologically similar to the most high God of the Bible.
For other passages discussing common passages used by Latter-day Saints, click here.