In the first two parts to this series on the divine council in the Old Testament, we learned that the Bible affirms the existence of many gods (ʾelohim), but that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was utterly unique among them. The plural ʾelohimof Israel’s divine council are spirit beings who serve God (Psa 82:1; 1 Ki 22:19-23). They are neither idols nor men. In Psalm 82 the ʾelohimare referred to as “sons of the Most High” (Psa 82:6). In Psalm 89:5-7 they are “sons of God.”
This language naturally leads folks to ask where Jesus fits into all this—isn’t he the onlyson of God? He’s the “only begotten” son, so that sounds like there aren’t any others . . . right?
Well, no.Jesus is the Unique Son of God
The term “only begotten” is a confusing translation of the Greek word is monogenēs. Not only does the translation “only begotten” seem to contradict the obvious statements in the Old Testament about other sons of God, it sounds as though there was a time when the Son—the second person of the Trinity—did not exist. Many critics of the Trinity actually use this translation to argue againstTrinitarianism and, therefore, against the full deity of Jesus, that he was the God of the Bible in human flesh.
Since “only begotten” is a poor translation of the Greek word monogenēs, using that translation to deny these doctrines is a deeply flawed strategy. As I wrote in the Lexham Bible Dictionary:
The word monogenēs doesn’t actually mean “only begotten.” It presents a problem neither with respect to Jesus having a beginning, nor with respect to divine “sons of God” who are called gods (ʾelohim) in the Old Testament. The confusion extends from a misunderstanding of the root of the Greek word. For many years, monogenēs was thought to have derived from two Greek terms, monos (“only”) and gennaō (“to beget, bear”). Scholars of Greek eventually discovered, though, that the second part of the word monogenēs does not come from the Greek verb gennaō, but rather the noun genos (“class, kind”). The term literally means “one of a kind” or “unique” with no connotation to time, origin or solitary existence. The validity of this understanding is shown by the New Testament itself. In Hebrews 11:17, Isaac is called Abraham’s monogenēs—but Isaac was not the only son Abraham fathered, since he fathered Ishmael prior to Isaac. The term must mean that Isaac was Abraham’s unique son—the son of the covenant promises and the line through which the messiah would come. Just as Yahweh is an ʾelohim and no other ʾelohim is like Yahweh, so Jesus is the unique son, and no other sons of God are like Him.Jesus is God and Lord of the Divine Council
Some people (even scholars) who don’t understand the Israelite divine council object to the idea on the basis of the way John has Jesus citing Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34. This is a misguided criticism that unintentionally undermines John’s consistent portrayal of Jesus as God incarnate.
Most New Testament scholars think John 10:34 implies that the ʾelohim in Psa 82:6 are human beings. As I wrote in the Lexham Bible Dictionary:
[T]his interpretation nullifies any sense that Jesus’ argument in John 10 is a defense of His own deity. In John 10:30, Jesus tells his audience that He and the Father were one. The Jews were deeply offended by this comment, as indicated by their response in 10:31–33. They picked up stones to kill Him, for they thought He was making Himself equal with God. Jesus’ response is usually interpreted as a concession. That is, He was only saying of Himself what the Jews could say of themselves, and used Psa 82:6 to show that humans can be called ʾelohim. This view both ignores the Old Testament context of the divine council and undermines John’s presentation of the deity of Jesus in his gospel:
• Jesus asserted that He and the Father were one (Jn 10:30).
• The Jews thought this was blasphemy—Jesus was claiming to be God (Jn 10:33).
• In defense of His claim that He was one with God, Jesus quoted Psa 82:6.
The common interpretation of this passage—that the ʾelohimof Psalm 82 were human beings—is based on several flawed assumptions. For our purposes here, I’ll deal only with one of them (see “Further Reading” for more information), that the phrase “to whom the word of God came” in John 10:35 refers to the Jews who received the law at Sinai (i.e. the Pharisees’ forefathers). If one reads Psalm 82, there is no reference to the law or Sinai. The speaker (“I”) in Psa 82:6 is the God of Israel, the God presiding over the council meeting in Psa 82:1. He is denouncing the other ʾelohim in verses 2-5 for their corruption in administering the nations (see Deut 32:8-9). He announces to them in verse 6, the verse which Jesus quotes, that they will “die like men.” The “word of God” in the original context is the specific utterance of Yahweh to His council members. There are no Jews at Sinai in Psalm 82. Jews didn’t run the nations corruptly (or well, or at all, for that matter).
Jesus is not misquoting Psa 82:6, either, He is referring to the original utterance spoken by God, which he knows to have been spoken to other divine beings who are called “sons of the Most High” in the verse he quotes. The effect of the quotation is simple: Jesus is telling his audience that there is biblical precedent for concluding that the term “son of God” can refer to beings who were more than human.In other words, Jesus’ use of the passage is precisely the opposite of what most scholars think. Rather than telling Jews that they should stop being angry with him enough to kill him when he calls himself God’s son because they could call themselves the sons of God as well, he affirms that some “sons of God” aren’t just mere mortals.
And think about it—if the Jews of Jesus’ day were reading the passage like so many scholars today do—that the term applied to them—why would they be angry at Jesus?
But there’s one thing to take away. Jesus’s use of Psalm 82:6 to make the point that some sons of God are divine must be read in the context of what has preceded it and what follows it. In John 10:30 Jesus had claimed “I am my father are one.” The Jews took that as equating himself with God (John 10:33). Later in John 10:36–38, Jesus tells the same audience that he was “in the Father” and, importantly, that the Father is “in him” (John 10:38). This phrase about the Father being “in” someone parallels Exod 23:20–21, where the Name—a label that denoted Yahweh himself (Isa 30:27; Psa 20:7; Isa 50:10)—was in the angel of Yahweh. This Angel was identified with God himself in Gen 48:15-16 (note that the verb is singular “may hebless” and unites God and the angel as the one about whom the prayer is uttered). If the Jews caught Jesus’ drift, that calling himself the son of God meant he was more than human, they’d also catch the second point—that the Lord of the council, Yahweh of Israel, was in him.That meant that Jesus himself was Lord of the council.
Unlike the consensus interpretation of Jesus’ quotation on Psa 82:6, which has him saying that any Jew could call himself a son of the Most High, what’s really going on in John 10:34-36 is a powerful claim to the deity of Jesus—something that is often a focus point in the Gospel of John.