Latter-day Saints often need to discuss or defend LDS teachings about the potential of sons and daughters of God to become more like him (our version of theosis, which we feel is on solid ancient ground with strong ties to early Christianity). A commonly used passage in such discussions, a proof text, is Psalm 82:6, “I have said, ‘Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.'” Christ quotes this in John 10:340-36, a passage we commonly use as well:
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
These are interesting passages indeed, but the source, Psalm 82, raises some questions since the context doesn’t fit neatly into the LDS position. Who are these people being called “gods” and why are they being condemned? Doesn’t sound like such a great thing for actual exalted beings, right?
The gritty details of Psalm 82 and its relationship to the words of Christ in John 10 are explored in detail by Daniel O. McClellan in “Psalm 82 in Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition” at Mormon Interpreter. This is the most thorough and satisfying discussion I’ve seen, yet it will leave some of us unsatisfied since it becomes clear that there is not a neat resolution in the “non-harmonizing perspective” provided by McClellan. But understanding Psalm 82, both what it might have meant to its author and the different way it may have been understood and applied in New Testament times will help all of us better understand how these verses relate to LDS theology.
Here are McClelland’s concluding remarks:
So this brings us to the final question. If we understand John’s
description to be a verbatim account, is Jesus misusing scripture by
reinterpreting Psalm 82? I suggest he is not. I believe Jesus is doing
what all scripture-based religious communities do, namely reading
scripture in a way that makes it applicable to their time. He likens the
scriptures to his own day, to paraphrase 1 Nephi 19:23. In John 10, the
reference to Psalm 82 refers to foundational narratives in the Jewish
community’s shared identity, namely the Exodus and Sinai traditions.
Peterson and Bokovoy do the same thing in proposing that Psalm 82 can be
ideologically linked with Abraham 3’s council in heaven. This is a
Latter-day Saint foundational narrative. When we can tie texts like
these to our own communal narrative, we strengthen our community’s
identification with sacral past and utilize that past to inform our
present experience. This makes the scriptures a dynamic tool, not just a frozen text.
On a literary level, Jesus’s defense here has a wider rhetorical
purpose, as well. Not only does he identify himself as one of the Jews
by appealing to a shared understanding of the Psalm’s meaning, but by
appealing to that tradition, whereby those who received the word were
made divine, the author reminds the reader/listener of a promise made a
few verses earlier (John 10:28): “I give to them eternal life, and they
shall never [Page 96]perish.” John 1:12
is no doubt also in view here: “as many as received him, to them gave he
power to become the sons of God.” John’s message is this: The
Israelites were briefly made immortal and thus divine by the reception
of God’s Word. The Word is now incarnate among you, and he is inviting
you to receive him. John 10:34–36 and Jesus’s appeal to Psalm 82 is not
just about Jesus’s divinity, it is also about the divinity of those who
hear and believe.