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John 10:34-35

Context

10:34 Jesus answered, 1  “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 2  10:35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 3 

1 tn Grk “answered them.”

2 sn A quotation from Ps 82:6. Technically the Psalms are not part of the OT “law” (which usually referred to the five books of Moses), but occasionally the term “law” was applied to the entire OT, as here. The problem in this verse concerns the meaning of Jesus’ quotation from Ps 82:6. It is important to look at the OT context: The whole line reads “I say, you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” Jesus will pick up on the term “sons of the Most High” in 10:36, where he refers to himself as the Son of God. The psalm was understood in rabbinic circles as an attack on unjust judges who, though they have been given the title “gods” because of their quasi-divine function of exercising judgment, are just as mortal as other men. What is the argument here? It is often thought to be as follows: If it was an OT practice to refer to men like the judges as gods, and not blasphemy, why did the Jewish authorities object when this term was applied to Jesus? This really doesn’t seem to fit the context, however, since if that were the case Jesus would not be making any claim for “divinity” for himself over and above any other human being – and therefore he would not be subject to the charge of blasphemy. Rather, this is evidently a case of arguing from the lesser to the greater, a common form of rabbinic argument. The reason the OT judges could be called gods is because they were vehicles of the word of God (cf. 10:35). But granting that premise, Jesus deserves much more than they to be called God. He is the Word incarnate, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world to save the world (10:36). In light of the prologue to the Gospel of John, it seems this interpretation would have been most natural for the author. If it is permissible to call men “gods” because they were the vehicles of the word of God, how much more permissible is it to use the word “God” of him who is the Word of God?

3 sn The parenthetical note And the scripture cannot be broken belongs to Jesus’ words rather than the author’s. Not only does Jesus appeal to the OT to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy, but he also adds that the scripture cannot be “broken.” In this context he does not explain precisely what is meant by “broken,” but it is not too hard to determine. Jesus’ argument depended on the exact word used in the context of Ps 82:6. If any other word for “judge” had been used in the psalm, his argument would have been meaningless. Since the scriptures do use this word in Ps 82:6, the argument is binding, because they cannot be “broken” in the sense of being shown to be in error.



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