John 10:34-36 – The Divine Council, Sons of Man, Coregent and Jesus
Last week we understood Jesus’ quote of Psalm 82:6 through what is called the “human” approach.
- In other words, the “gods” in Psalm 82:6 were human judges.
However, after a lot of reading and research, I feel we also have to look at what I call the “heavenly” approach.
- In other words, the “gods” in Psalm 82:6 aren’t humans but some sort of heavenly beings.
- My main source for this is the work of Michael Heiser – The Divine Council.
- The work of Richard Bauckham and general sources like the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary were also very helpful.
Our Second Look will lead us to answer 3 questions.
- What is the divine council?
- Who are the “gods”?
- How do these change the meaning of John 10?
- And related to this change in meaning, who is the coregent of the divine council?
The main text we will be referencing is Psalm 82:1-7 which gives us the full context of Jesus’ quote in John 10:34-36.
Psalm 82 (ESV) — 1 God [“elohim” – referring to singular God] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [“elohim” – referring to plural gods] he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
Keeping this text always in view, let’s answer our first question.
- What is the divine council?
1) THE DIVINE COUNCIL
To begin with, our text in Psalm 82 demonstrates that the divine council is a place in which God exercises judgment.
- “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (vs. 1)
Additionally, we have more examples of the divine council, also known as the “host of heaven”, in 1 Kings, Job and in other verses from the Psalms.
- 1 Kings 22:19–21 (ESV) — 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’
- Job 1:6 (ESV) — 6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan [the accuser] also came among them.
- Job 2:1 (ESV) — 1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan [the accuser] also came among them to present himself before the Lord.
- Psalm 89:5–7 (ESV) — 5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! 6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?
From these four examples we see the following:
- In the 1 Kings texts, we see God consulting with the council from His throne.
- The prophet Micaiah tells us that, “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him” (vs. 19).
- Micaiah then reveals to us that God and the council, the “host of heaven”, were discussing how to deal with Ahab.
- In the Job texts, we see the council convening before God with “the accuser”.
- In the first instance God offers up Job to the accuser as a test.
- In the second instance, Job had passed the first test, and “the accuser” requests a second go at Job.
- In the Psalm text, we see the council as a place where its members praise and fear the Lord.
So to summarize what we know of the divine council:
- (1) It is a place in which judgments are made
- (2) It is a place in which the affairs of men are discussed
- (3) It is a place in which interventions in the life of men are orchestrated.
- (4) It is a place in which “the accuser” has access.
- (5) It is a place in which the Lord is feared and praised because none are like him.
The divine council also has a bureaucratic structure.
“In the divine council…Yahweh was the supreme authority over a divine bureaucracy that included a second tier of lesser ‘elohim’, and a third tier of ‘mal’akim’” – Michael Heiser.
- “Mal’akim” is the Hebrew word for angels.
- But what are the elohim?
This is where we move on to our second question.
- Who are the “elohim” that are members of the divine council?
2) THE “SONS OF GOD”
The word “elohim” is actually the plural form of “eloah”.
- In our main text from Psalm 82, the verse 1 “elohim” is the word for both “God” and “gods”.
- And interestingly, it is this plural form which is used over 2000 times in the OT to refer to God as in God of Israel.
- Yet, as we just saw, “elohim” is also the same word that refers to the members of the heavenly host or divine council.
- The referent, “God of Israel” or “gods”, is determined by context – Heiser.
- Also, the “elohim” members of the divine council are commonly referred to as “beney elohim” which helps clarify the referent as “sons of god” and not the “God of Israel”.
Let’s look at a number of the Scriptural references to these “elohim” or “beney elohim”.
- “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” – Psalm 82:1
- “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you’” – Psalm 82:6
- “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him” – 1 Kings 22:19
- “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord” – Job 1:6 and 2:1
- “and all the sons of God shouted for joy” – Job 38:7
- “‘Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?’” – Exodus 15:11
So before we can get an idea of who these “elohim” are, let’s see what they can’t be.
Are they angels?
- Now as we have already suggested, we know that angels are not in view here because the Hebrew word for angel is “mal’akim” – Heiser.
- Remember, we are dealing with the word “elohim”.
Are they members of the Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit?
- Our text from Psalm 82 rules this out because we see that these “elohim” have some problems.
- (1) they “judge unjustly” and “show partiality to the wicked” (vs. 2).
- (2) they are told they “shall die” (vs. 7).
Are they human judges and rulers?
- Again, our text in Psalm 82 seems to be problematic for this view.
- (1) It makes no sense that God would tell humans, “like men you shall die” (vs. 7).
- (2) There is no scriptural precedent that God oversees a council of humans that “governs the nations of the earth” – Heiser.
- (3) In fact, elsewhere we have in scripture a description of the divine council as existing before humans were created.
- Job 38:4–7 (ESV) — 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Are the “elohim” and the divine council just metaphorical?
When we look at the three following verses with a metaphorical view in mind we face some logical inconsistencies.
- Exodus 15:11 (ESV) — 11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
- Psalm 29:1 (ESV) — 1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
- Psalm 97:7 (NLT) — 7 Those who worship idols are disgraced— all who brag about their worthless gods— for every god must bow to him.
(1) “… if Moses is comparing Yahweh to beings that don’t exist, how is Yahweh glorified. To have Moses ‘really’ saying ‘Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the beings that aren’t real’ is to judge God’s greatness by nothing. We’re greater than something that doesn’t exist! So is a microbe”…this is “tantamount to comparing Yahweh with Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, or some fictional literary character” – Michael Heiser.
- (2) And given number one, Psalm 29:1 has the psalmist telling “Spiderman” to worship the Lord.
- (3) And from Psalm 97:7, we even see a distinction made between “idols” and the “elohim” that “must bow to him” – Heiser.
So, in answer to our 2nd question, the “gods” are:
- (1) Spiritual beings created by God. See Psa 148:1-5; Psa 33:6; Neh 9:6 (cp. Psa 29:1)
- (2) Appointed by God to oversee the cosmos.
- (3) Apparently capable of botching this oversight.
- (4) In existence before the creation of the earth.
- (5) And because they were created by God they are inferior to Him.
- It is important to note that “the worship of [them] was forbidden in Hebrew tradition (Deut 4:19; 17:3; cf Jer 8:2, etc.)” – AYBD.
Now we can move on to answering our third question.
- How do the divine council and the sons of god change how we see John 10:34-36?
- And lead us to the OT concept of the coregent?
3) JESUS AS COREGENT
Remember, last week we took the view that Jesus is not arguing his divinity.
- He was refuting the Jews’ poor hermeneutic; they really shouldn’t have had a problem with His use of the word “god” given the “human” view of Psalm 82:6-7.
- Jesus’ hermeneutical rebuke enabled Him merely to appeal to His works – the evidence for His claims – the working of God in the history of Israel.
- But, interestingly, all the commentators we looked at couldn’t, at the end of the day, escape the fact that Jesus’ divinity was presupposed in John 10 (though they never really said why).
But, taking the “heavenly” view of the “sons of god” and the divine council we can say the following (M. Heiser):
- (1) Jesus’ hermeneutically shows that other non-human, “elohim” exist.
- (2) These “elohim” are called “sons of god”.
- (3) Jesus’ is also an “elohim” and thus a member of the divine council.
- (4) However, given Jesus’ words in 10:30, “I and the Father are one”, and in verse 38, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”, His status as a “son of god” and member of the divine council is categorically different than that of the other “sons of god”.
- In fact, Jesus is Ruler and Creator of the other elohim.
- (5) It is categorically different because He “is connecting himself to the council coregency. In effect, he equates himself as coregent to the lord of the council, Yahweh himself” – M. Heisner.
- (6) Given this view, the blasphemy charge “now makes good sense” as compared to our discussion last week where it seemed a little forced.
- See note below about prophets of Israel.
What is this coregent business?
- We just said that Jesus in essence identified Himself as the coregent of the council.
- He did this by saying He is the “son of god” but is also “one” with God in action and is “in the Father”.
- For the Jew and the OT, the only “elohim” that was part of the divine council yet “in the Father” was the coregent.
- The coregent was often described in the OT as “Wisdom” and “the Word of the Lord” – Heiser.
Coregent As the Word:
Genesis 15:1–6 (ESV) — 1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
- Here we have “the word of the Lord” first coming to Abram in a vision.
- Then “the word of the Lord came to him” and actually “brought him outside” and spoke to Abram.
- And then we see that Abram believed in the “word of the Lord” as “the LORD”, YHWH.
Coregent As Wisdom:
Proverbs 8:29–31 (ESV) — 29 when he [YHWH – vs. 22] assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him [I, as in Wisdom was beside YHWH], like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
- Here we have the Wisdom of God, the coregent, described as being “beside him”, YHWH.
- This is incredibly significant for understanding Jesus identity in John’s Gospel.
- To see why, we need to look at John 1:18.
In John 1:18, John describes Jesus as having the same relationship with God as Proverbs 8:30 does.
- John 1:18 (ESV) — 18 No one has ever seen God; the only [monogenes (begotten)] God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
- “beside him” and “at the Father’s side” mean the same thing
- Literally, we are told that Jesus is “in the bosom of the father” – Heisner.
- But more than that, Jesus is the “monogenes” as in the “unique” or “one of a kind” God who is “in the bosom of the father”.
- And remember, John already told us in John 1:1 that Jesus is the Word.
- What this means is that the Gospel of John is clearly expressing the Jewish understanding of the coregent and telling us in John’s words in John 1 and Jesus’ words in John 10 that Jesus is the coregent of the OT; the one who is in the Father!
BTW – We learned in our lesson on John 8:12-20, that Jesus is exalted and sits at the right hand of God – this also identifies Him as coregent (Psalm 110:1) Ruler and Creator.
- It is also worth noting that the New Testament links all of the following “coregent figures with Jesus” – Heiser.
“Jesus is the Word (John 1:1; cf. Genesis 15:1-6; Jeremiah 1:1-10), the incarnated Glory (John 1:14; 17:5; 24; cf. Ezekiel 1:26-27; Exodus 24:9-11; 33:7-34:5; Isaiah 6), and Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24; cf. Luke 11:49-51 and Matthew 23:34-36). He was given/bears the Name (John 17:6-12; Revelation 19:12-16) and was thought to be the delivering Angel (Jude 5; cf. Exodus 23:20-23; Judges 2:1-5)” – Heiser.
- “Such identifications would mean that Jesus is in the Israelite Godhead” – Heiser.
The significance of this is that, “Jewish writers committed to monotheism, even upon pain of death, could accept that there was a council of elohim in Psalm 82 and that there was a second power in heaven [the coregent] who ‘was Yahweh but wasn’t Yahweh the Father’” – Heiser.
All of this is something the audience would have understood and found to be highly offensive and blasphemous for Jesus to associate Himself with.
- But there is more!
We saw last week that Jesus sought to bring the attention of the Jews back to His actions.
- “believe the works, that you many know and understand” (John 10:38)
- Given the “heavenly” view we have been discussing, we now see that He was doing this in His role as coregent.
- Therefore, Jesus’ desire to highlight His works as evidence of His identity becomes even more significant than it was under the “human” view.
Why is this?
- Simply because, “In his particular actions for his people, YHWH shows that he is God” – Nathan MacDonald.
- And Jesus has just told us that he participates in the “particular action” of securing our salvation with the Father.
- A philosophical side note – YHWH is not the unique Creator and Ruler because of His actions, “but Israel recognizes this uniqueness only through what he does for Israel” – Bauckham.
- Isaiah 43:12–13 (ESV) — 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God. 13 Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”
- OT description of YHWH securing the salvation of Israel.
- This meshes perfectly with Jesus’ argument in John 10:30 – He and the Father are one (one in action).
- John 10:28–29 (ESV) — 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
- Therefore, Jesus’ work or action in Israel’s redemptive history in John 10 demonstrates that He is claiming to be the coregent YHWH of Israel.
Lesson for Us:
I think it becomes plainly obvious that this “heavenly” view presents us with a Jesus who is so much more than the Jesus of the “human” view.
- As a result, our text in John 10:34-36 makes much more since.
- Without the “heavenly” view we have “Jesus being charged with blasphemy for asserting he had been commissioned by God” – Heiser.
- “Every prophet in Israel could make this claim” and “they were not accused of blasphemy for claiming a commission” – Heiser.
- Remember, last week we had to assume on the mortal view that Jesus must have said something that wasn’t included in the text to illicit the charge of blasphemy.
- This view also gives us a Jesus who was clearly present in the Old Testament – coregent, Wisdom, Word of the Lord, etc.
- This view also gives us a firmly grounded Jewish foundation to accommodate the NT revelation of the Trinity.
- “…the necessary concepts and categories were in place” – Heiser.
- And these last two are a powerful answer to the critic that claims that Jesus as God and the Trinity are all 1st or 2nd century inventions influenced by Greek philosophical thought.
- “The key conceptual elements are certifiably Israelite” – Heiser.