Who are the gods mentioned in Psalm 82:1?                                                   By Jack Kettler


“A Psalm of Asaph. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” (Psalm 82:1)


Who are these gods? Are these gods the same as those mentioned in Psalm 82:6? Does this passage support the divine council theory promoted by Michael Heiser?


Note: This study is not a professional critique of Heiser’s “The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.” The present study is a study of the classical interpretation of “gods” in Psalm 82, and its interaction with Heiser is limited. 


The first question is answered by Keil and Delitzsch’s Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament:


“God comes forward and makes Himself heard first of all as censuring and admonishing. The “congregation of God” is, as in Numbers 27:17; Numbers 31:16; Joshua 22:16., "the congregation of (the sons of) Israel," which God has purchased from among the nations (Psalm 74:2), and upon which as its Lawgiver He has set His divine impress. The psalmist and seer sees Elohim standing in this congregation of God. The part. Niph. (as in Isaiah 3:13) denotes not so much the suddenness and unpreparedness, as, rather, the statue-like immobility and terrifying designfulness of His appearance. Within the range of the congregation of God this holds good of the elohim. The right over life and death, with which the administration of justice cannot dispense, is a prerogative of God. From the time of Genesis 9:6, however, He has transferred the execution of this prerogative to mankind, and instituted in mankind an office wielding the sword of justice, which also exists in His theocratic congregation, but here has His positive law as the basis of its continuance and as the rule of its action. Everywhere among men, but here pre-eminently, those in authority are God's delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also themselves called elohim, “gods” (which the lxx in Exodus 21:6 renders τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ Θεοῦ, and the Targums here, as in Exodus 22:7-8, Exodus 22:27 uniformly, דּיּניּא). The God who has conferred this exercise of power upon these subordinate elohim, without their resigning it of themselves, now sits in judgment in their midst. ישׁפּט of that which takes place before the mind's eye of the psalmist. How long, He asks, will ye judge unjustly? שׁפט עול is equivalent to עשׂה עול בּמּשׁפּט, Leviticus 19:15, Leviticus 19:35 (the opposite is שׁפט מישׁרים, Psalm 58:2). How long will ye accept the countenance of the wicked, i.e., incline to accept, regard, favour the person of the wicked? The music, which here becomes forte, gives intensity to the terrible sternness (das Niederdonnernde) of the divine question, which seeks to bring the “gods” of the earth to their right mind. Then follow admonitions to do that which they have hitherto left undone. They are to cause the benefit of the administration of justice to tend to the advantage of the defenceless, of the destitute, and of the helpless, upon whom God the Lawgiver especially keeps His eye. The word רשׁ (ראשׁ), of which there is no evidence until within the time of David and Solomon, is synonymous with אביון. דל with ויתום is pointed דל, and with ואביון, on account of the closer notional union, דל (as in Psalm 72:13). They are words which are frequently repeated in the prophets, foremost in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:17), with which is enjoined upon those invested with the dignity of the law, and with jurisdiction, justice towards those who cannot and will not themselves obtain their rights by violence.” (1) (Underlining emphasis mine)


A contrary interpretation:


The Plural Elohim of Psalm 82: Gods or Men? Michael Heiser’s post on the Divine Council of God and lesser or sub-gods is an example of a Hebrew scholar that understands the text differently. In Psalm 82, Heiser sees the term gods not as humans but as demigods or sub-gods participating in a divine heavenly council.


“Michael S. Heiser was an American Old Testament scholar and Christian author with training in ancient history, Semitic languages, and the Hebrew Bible from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Wikipedia”


While this view is plausible, as will be seen does not hold up after considering the Words of Christ commenting on Psalm 82:6, as will be seen in John’s gospel.


Regarding Psalm 82:1, as seen from Keil and Delitzsch above, there is no reason to think these gods are anything other than human judges in Israel of God’s people.


What about the following passage from Psalm 82:1? Does this passage support the divine council theory?


“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most-High.” (Psalm 82:6)


Are these the same “gods” mentioned in Psalm 82:1? The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains:


“1. A vision of God as the Judge of judges.”


“God Originally no doubt Jehovah, for which the Elohistic editor has substituted Elôhîm. Standeth Or, taketh his stand: solemnly takes His place as president. Cp. Isaiah 3:13 a; Amos 7:7; Amos 9:1.”


“in the congregation of the mighty] I.e., as P.B.V., of princes. But we must rather render, in the assembly of God (El), i.e., not the congregation of Israel, though this is called the congregation of Jehovah (Numbers 27:17; cp. Psalm 74:2), but an assembly summoned and presided over by God in His capacity of Almighty Ruler.”


“he judgeth &c.] In the midst of gods (Elôhîm) will he judge. According to the view adopted above, the judges and authorities of Israel are meant by gods. It might indeed be supposed that the poet intended to represent God as holding His court surrounded by angels, like an earthly king in the midst of his courtiers (cp. 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:2); and so probably the Syriac translator understood the verse: “God standeth in the assembly of the angels, and in the midst of the angels will He judge.” But Elôhîm can hardly have a different meaning from that which it has in Psalm 82:6, where it clearly refers to the judges who are put on their trial; and the address in Psalm 82:2 would be unintelligible if the persons addressed had not already been mentioned.” (2)


If the divine council theory is to hold up, the Scriptures must consistently view the Hebrew word “gods” as demigods rather than humans. 


What did Jesus believe since he quoted Psalm 82:6? The Words of Christ settle the debate in John’s gospel.


“Jesus answered them, is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34)


Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary


“34-36. Is it not written in your law—in Ps 82:6, respecting judges or magistrates.”


“Ye are gods—being the official representatives and commissioned agents of God.” (3)


While the divine council theory is a possible translation, Jesus in John’s gospel quotes Psalm 82 and provides the New Testament commentary that overrides the divine council theory, particularly in John 10:34, as seen above.


As stated, the divine council theory is a belief within some religions that a group of deities meets regularly to discuss and debate various issues. Moreover, the idea of a divine council is problematic because of the following passages:


“Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?” (Isaiah 40:13)


“For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller?” (Romans 11:34)


Commenting on Romans 11:34, Barnes' Notes on the Bible says:


“For who hath known? ... - This verse is a quotation, with a slight change, from Isaiah 40:13, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him?” It is designed to express the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God, by affirming that no being could teach him, or counsel him. Earthly monarchs have counsellors of state, whom they may consult in times of perplexity or danger. But God has no such council. He sits alone; nor does he call in any or all of his creatures to advise him. All created beings are not qualified to contribute anything to enlighten or to direct him. It is also designed to silence all opposition to his plans, and to hush all murmurings. The apostle had proved that this was the plan of God. However mysterious and inscrutable it might appear to the Jew or the Gentile, yet it was his duty to submit to God, and to confide in his wisdom, though he was not able to trace the reason of his doings.” (4)


In addition, Vincent's Word Studies says:


“From Isaiah 40:13. Heb., Who hath measured the Spirit? Though measured may be rendered tried, proved, regulated. Compare the same citation in 1 Corinthians 2:16. This is the only passage in the Septuagint where ruach spirit is translated by νοῦς mind. Known (ἔγνω) may refer to God's γνῶσις knowledge and ways in Romans 11:33; counselor to His wisdom and judgments. No one has counseled with Him in forming His decisions.” (5)


Another significant reason to understand the understanding of the Hebrew word for “gods” being human representatives is that the following texts absolve God of contradiction:


“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10)


“For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:18)


If the above two passages from Isaiah are true, the divine council theory cannot be true since this would make Isaiah guilty of equivocation.


Have other theologians in church history agreed with Heiser's Council of gods theory?


Some theologians in church history have suggested the existence of multiple divine beings, including Polytheism (the belief in multiple deities), Dualism (the belief in two competing divine forces), and Christian Henotheism (the belief in one supreme deity with lesser gods subordinate to him). A prominent example is the late third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria, who stated in his Commentary on John that the term “gods” in certain passages of Scripture should be taken literally. He argued that “it is better to accept that there is a Christ the Lord of Hosts, a God of Sabaoth, and also another god in relation to whom he is called Lord,” referring to the distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Origen is not the same as Heiser's Council of gods theory since he did not further distinguish between Elohim as a plural form of God and YHWH as a singular form. However, other early Christian theologians, including Aphrahat, Eusebius, and Ambrose, have expressed similar ideas. However, these assertions have never become mainstream Christian doctrine and are still the subject of some debate within certain Christian circles. *


In closing, the correct methodology:


The New Testament revelation completes the Old Testament revelation and is an inspired commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament is incomplete without the New, and the New Testament stands upon the foundation of the Old and presupposes knowledge of the Old.


In short, since Heiser’s council of gods is distinctively new in Church history, the burden of proof rests with those who follow Heiser requires the daunting task of showing that two millennia of Church theologians have been mistaken in their exegesis of critical texts. The present writer a convert from Mormonism and is especially sensitive to theological innovators that have allegedly stumbled on interpretations of Scriptures that have been missing for two thousand years. 


Being a new theory does not necessarily make it wrong. It does carry a special burden of proving that the Church’s best theologians have been wrong. Furthermore, the magnitude of a textual discovery that invalidates all previous theological interpretations seems to this writer extremely dubious. Moreover, Heiser seems to have turned the Old Testament into an elaborate cosmic game of thrones.    


Christ’s authority in the New Testament is the interpretive grid to understand the Old Testament.        


Furthermore, as seen above, the divine council theory fails under the weight of the divine commentary of the New Testament as the interpretive grid to understand the Old Testament, which is a hermeneutical issue of enormous importance. Not being an expert on Heiser’s methodology, in this writer’s opinion, he seems to have things reversed, using obscure texts in the Old Testament to interpret the New Testament.  


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p.402-403.

2.      Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, by y A. F. Kirkpatrick (editor), Psalms, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.

3.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 437.

4.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p. 2292.

5.      Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in The New Testament, (Mclean, Virginia, Macdonald Publishing Company), p. 132.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife, Marea, attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of 15 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at Amazon.


*This paragraph is written with the assistance of ChatGPT


For more research:


The divine council theory of Dr. Michael S. Heiser is a complex and often controversial interpretation of the Biblical text. Dr. Heiser's view of the divine council attempts to explain the concept of God as an assembly of divine beings ruling over various supernatural and earthly realms. Heiser argues that these divine beings are tasked with carrying out God’s will. Drawing from ancient Near Eastern texts, Heiser claims that the divine council belief can also be found in the Old Testament and that the New Testament authors borrowed from this understanding.


However, the theory has been subject to several criticisms:


One of the major problems is the lack of concrete evidence to support Heiser's assertions. Heiser relies heavily on the writings of liberal critical scholars and ancient texts but does not make an effort to provide concrete examples of the evidence in the Bible itself, which makes it difficult for the uninitiated to evaluate the claims of Heiser without obtaining a greater grasp of the interpretations proposed by other conservative scholars.


An Evaluation of Heiser's Divine Council Theology

Dr. Jordan B Cooper

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNKkhcLfKtI Dr. Cooper is a Lutheran systematic theologian.


An Alternative to Heiser's Divine Council Theology

Dr. Jordan B Cooper



“Recently, The Bible Project started a series on spiritual beings. The third video in the series spoke of The Divine Council, a hypothesis that has been propagated, most notably, by Dr. Michael Heiser. In fact, Heiser was credited as a Script Consultant at the end of the video. It is my position that this theological perspective is not only incorrect, but also an affront to the splendor and glory of God.” – Jeremy Howard