The Hebrew word elohim (plural of el) essentially means “mighty one(s)” and has various applications in the Old Testament. It can be used in reference to rulers or judges (Ex. 21:6; 22:8), [false] gods (Ex. 18:11), angels (Psa. 8:5; cf. Heb. 2:7, 9), and even the almighty God (Gen. 1:1, 2, 3; etc.).
Psalm 82 uses a play on words as unrighteous rulers or judges are put on trial in the heavenly court, with God (the Supreme Judge) judging them. In v. 1 we read, “elohim [God] stands in the congregation of the el [mighty one], he judges among the elohim [judges].”1 Most English translations render the final elohim in this verse “gods,” whereas the NASB renders it “rulers” because contextually unjust leaders or judges are the ones being indicted. Then in v. 6 God says, “I said, ‘You are elohim, and all of you are children of the Most High.’” While human judges are still in view, most English versions translate elohim here as “gods,” probably because of the way in which Jesus cites the text in John 10:34.
In John 10 Jesus is confronted by antagonistic Jews, accusing him of blashemy because of his implied claim to be God’s Son. In vv. 30-39, he does not deny their inference, but neither does he give in to their devious request to “tell us plainly” (v. 24). Instead, pointing out their inconsistency, he simply quotes scripture, viz. Psalm 82:6, which we are reading in English translation. The original conversation was most likely in Aramaic, which John has translated into Greek. The word chosen to render the Hebrew elohim of Psalm 82:6 is the Greek theoi (“gods”)2 of John 10:34.
Jesus is not making a theological statement or trying to enlighten his accusers; he is confounding them and exposing their hypocricy. The scriptures they regard so highly employ the same descriptive term for human judges that is used for God, yet they viciously attack Jesus because of his claim to be the Son of God.3
Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34 use wordplay that gets lost in English translation. Contextually the “gods” in both texts are human “judges” standing before God, the Supreme Judge.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 English tranlation of scripture is the author’s own.
2 Nowhere in the New Testament is the plural theoi ever applied to God the Father or Jesus Christ.
3 Jesus’ customary approach when responding to his enemies was almost always indirect and ambiguous (cf. John 8:3-9, 21-29; 9:39-41; 10:1-6, 24; 18:19-21, 33-34; 19:9; also Matt. 12:1-8; 13:10-15; 21:23-27).
Related articles: Dave Miller, Did Jesus Dodge His Enemies?