How should we understand Psalm 82:1?

God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

Who is the congregation? And who are the gods?

According to other answers here when God said us, he was talking to himself and referring to the christian trinity belief:

Genesis 11:7 - Babel language confusion

Genesis 1:26 why do interpreters add "let us"

I am not looking for an answer based on a religious ideology, like a trinity, but rather an approach based on language whether on the Hebrew or Septuagint translations.

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Background
In their commentary Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler have this to say about Psalm 82:

A vision of a heavenly court where God condemns those who judge unfairly. The psalm plays on the word "elohim," which means "god" as well as "divine beings." The notion that other divine beings exist is found elsewhere in the Bible (see v.1 n). In later biblical thought these beings serve as ministering angels to God and are never equal to God (cf. Ps. 89.5-8). An earlier view is reflected, and then rejected, in this psalm, according to which the divine beings each represent one nation, serving as that nation's protector, a remnant of the idea the world was populated by many gods, each assigned to a different nation (cf. Deut. 4.19 and 32.8, according to the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls). This psalm forcibly rejects the idea of other gods; God deprives them of their divinity and He alone has dominion over all nations. In content and language, the psalm resembles prophetic criticisms of the oppression of the poor, including the denial of access to the judicial system and the disadvantages faced by the poor in obtaining just verdicts. Through the scenario of the heavenly tribunal, the psalm speaks to the issue of a just society, without which the world cannot exist. It also speaks to the universality of God, the supreme judge over all nations.1

The JPS Tanakh translation reads:

A psalm of Asaph. God (אלהים) stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings (אלהים) He pronounces judgment. (Psalm 82:1) [JPS 1985]

About verse 82:1, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler note:

God, "elohim," as in the preference in Pss. 42-83, rather than the Tetragrammaton (YHVH); this substitution creates some confusion in the Heb. Stands, rises to render a verdict. Cf. Isa. 3.13-14. Divine assembly, Heb "the assembly of El." El was the head of the Ugaritic pantheon. Perhaps originally a separate deity in early Israelite religion, the name "El" became synonymous with YHVH. Divine beings, the celestial council. Cf. Isa. ch 6; 1 Kings ch 22; Job 1.6. Some commentators prefer to interpret this use of "elohim" as human judges, but this is less likely.2

The verse is potentially confusing since Asaph chose אלהים, vocalized as אֱ‍ֽלֹהִ֗ים to refer to God, then used the same word vocalized as אֱלֹהִ֣ים to refer to those whom God is among. The confusion could have been avoided had Asaph referred to God as YHVH, as in an earlier Psalm:

A psalm of Asaph. God, the LORD God (אל אלהים יהוה) spoke and summoned the world from east to west. (50:1)

The two scenes have some similarities:

Psalm 50: God the LORD God (El Elohim YHVH) summons the entire world
Psalm 82: God (Elohim) stands in the divine (elohim) assembly

As Asaph is identified as the author of both psalms, it is reasonable to conclude he intends to convey the nature of God is not simplistically, "God."

Elohim - Divine or Earthly
Bible Gateway lists 53 translations of Psalm 82:1.3 The majority, 39, have divine assembly, or among the gods, or something similar. However, 8 have an earthly assembly. For example:

God takes His stand in the great meeting of His people. He judges among the rulers. (NLV)

Six have what I would classify as an ambiguous reading. For example:

God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods” (NIV)

A psalm of Asaf: Elohim [God] stands in the divine assembly; there with the elohim [judges], he judges: (CJB)

The translation of "gods" or Elohim and elohim (uncapitalized) suggests a translator recognizes the possible uncertainty in the word within a text lacking capitalization and found a way to indicate two possible meanings.

Elohim is found 2,606 times in the King James Version. It is almost always translated as God or god(s) or some other divine being(s). There are 5 times the word is rendered as judge(s); 2 times as great; 2 times as mighty and once as exceedingly.

The first time the word is translated as "judges" supports seeing a similar reading in the Psalm:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever (Exodus 21:6 KJV)

However, "God" is also possible:

then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
(Exodus 21:6 ESV)

Essentially, the KJV sees the word as plural so "elohim" = "judges" while the ESV sees the word as singular so "Elohim" = "God". This highlights the inherent ambiguity of monotheism where "God" is written as the plural form of the singular אֱלוֹהַּ (elowah). There are different theological explanations why a plural word is used for a singular God, but there is no compelling reason why the singular elowah, which always conveys a deity, should be rendered as an earthly entity when written as plural. In other words, since nowhere is the singular elowah understood to be an earthly judge, it should not become "earthly judges" when written as plural. I believe the better approach is to consider why "God" might be called "judges."

The potential confusion in a judicial setting reflects the reality a human judge who follows the Law takes on the appearance of God. In Exodus, the ESV more accurately reflects what is described since a judge who judges according to the Law renders the same decision as God. Such judges could rightly be called "gods" as the Psalmist acknowledges:

I said, “You are gods (אֱלֹהִ֣ים), sons of the Most High, all of you (82:6 ESV)

The flow of the Psalm begins in a courtroom where God (Elohim) stands and ends with a call for God (Elohim) to arise and judge the earth:

Arise, O God (אֱ֭לֹהִים), judge the earth... (82:8 ESV)

If the first setting is earthly, there should no need for God to perform a second judgement. On the other hand, a heavenly vision followed by admonishments to earthly judges to act as God does, would acknowledge judges could be called "gods," and end with a call for God to arise and judge the earth.

Conclusion
The meaning of 82:1 is properly understood as found in the JPS translation:

A psalm of Asaph. God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment.

The congregation is a divine assembly of other divine beings such as angels, and/or Seraphs (Isaiah 6), and/or sons of God (Job 1), and/or host of heaven as described in Micaiah's vision (1 Kings 22:19-23). Given the Psalm speaks to judgment, I believe it should be understood as any and all divine beings. The Psalm then concludes with a call for God to judge the earth.


Notes:
1. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1375
2. Ibid.
3. Douay-Rheims Psalm 81.

  • @Revelation Lad Can you tie in the other meanings of אלהים besides being only divine assembly? – user14172 Oct 11 at 7:03
  • @user14172 I was in the process of amending my answer when you accepted the original answer. Please review the edit to ensure it answers your question. – Revelation Lad Oct 13 at 0:04
  • thanx for ur comment. I will rearead it it to make sure. – user14172 Oct 13 at 0:06
  • i will keep it as my accepted answer. Its even better now than it was. – user14172 Oct 13 at 0:12
  • i am wondering could this divine counsel be referring to the 70 angels/sons in genesis that were set over the nations? – user14172 Oct 13 at 4:18

The translation that the translators of the NET Bible came up with for Psalm 82:1 is this:

God stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment.

I see this is a well attested, accurate translation and other translations are generally similar.

However, the difficulty with this passage is not so much in the translation but in the fact that in the passage the pagan conception of the pantheon not only exists but in it YHVH is presiding.

The trend I see in how commentators take this passage is to take it as literally describing YHVH among the pantheon. However, I find it absurd to think the Psalmist suddenly forgot that he was a monotheist. And I also see compelling evidence within the Psalm that the Psalm is to be taken metaphorically as a screed against the "congregation of the gods" being the Sanhedrin. And the "gods" are the individual sages. In this scenario, YHVH himself is the "EL":

NIV Psalm 82:

1God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

  • he chides the Sanhedrin for being partial in judgment (IE: tax breaks that mostly benefit the rich). Such a judgment is right at home in the context of the Sanhedrin but makes assumes a pagan view if taken to refer to literal "gods":

2“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

  • he churns with contempt for their ignorance of climate change:

5They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

  • he highlights the irony of his referring to the Jewish leaders as "gods":

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.”

  • he summonses God to take over judgment from these vile men:

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

It is an epic specimen of the form of the familiar phrase, "Okay Einstein,..." where the eponymn is not a term of respect but of challenge and sarcasm.

Note:

When I say "the Sanhedrin", if that is anachronistic to the Psalm, can refer to the governing body at the time.

  • For your answer to be correct, you must show that the fellow 'gods" in assembly are false or would-be gods. However, this is a non-sequitur. The judgement is about those who are not present. God is not present in a Sanhedrin - that is an interpolation. Do you have any references for such a conclusion? – Dr Peter McGowan Oct 11 at 11:00

The idea of a plurality of "gods" appears in other places in the OT. Before proceeding further, please do not construe anything I say below to mean anything other than the extreme monotheism that exists throughout the OT.

  • John 10:34 quotes Ps 82:6 and refers to "children of the most high" as "gods"
  • Ex 7:1 says that Moses was to become a "god" to Pharaoh
  • Deut 10:17 describes Jehovah/YHWH as "God of gods" despite the monotheism of the Hebrews
  • Jer 10:11 discusses "gods who did not make the heavens and the earth"
  • Ps 8:5 reads (literally) "yet you have made him [ie mankind] a little lower than God/gods". Compare Heb 2:7 which quotes Ps 8:5 but renders it "lower than angels".
  • 2 Cor 4:4 describes the devil as "the god of this world" (NASB)

Thus, the word "gods" or "Elohim" in Hebrew has a boarder meaning than modern English and can clearly mean "mighty or significant people" or "angels/heavenly beings". Thus, Ps 82:1 "assembly of the gods" could either mean, "assembly of heavenly beings/angels", or, "assembly of leaders" (compare NASB: "rulers"; CJB: "judges"; JPS Bible: "judges").

The context of this Psalm, 82, is very much an earthly scene as God is addressing the Judges of the “Congregation” or nation of Israel which he considered “divine” (holy) as they were His people:-

Psalm 82:1 (NWT)

God takes his place in the divine assembly; In the middle of the gods he judges:

The Judges of Israel are referred to by him as “gods” (lower case “g” as he did with other humans, e.g. Moses, and angels in the scriptures) as they are appointed by him via the God given Mosaic Law. Jesus established this when he said the Judges/Elders/Jews in his day by quoting this Psalm at:-

John 10:34, 35 (NWT)

34Jesus answered them: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’? 35If he called ‘gods’ those against whom the word of God came [Earthly Israel]—and yet the scripture cannot be nullified.”

Addressing the Bad human Judges of Israel God says:-

Psalm 82:2-5 (NWT)

2“How long will you continue to judge with injustice and show partiality to the wicked?
3Defend the lowly and the fatherless. Render justice to the helpless and destitute.
4 Rescue the lowly and the poor; Save them out of the hand of the wicked.”
5They do not know, nor do they understand; they are walking about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are being shaken.

He then says the following highlighting their sacred responsibility and his representatives and the power they yield on his behalf and as his spokesmen thus representing him, the Supreme Cosmic Judge, he addresses them by the term “Elohim” because of the great dignity of their office among the Jews:-

Psalm 82:6 (NWT)

“I have said, ‘You are gods, All of you are sons of the Most High.

Then he tells them if the do not shape up they will die:-

Psalm 82:7-8 (NWT)

7But you will die just as men do; And like any other prince you will fall!’”
8 Rise up, O God, and judge the earth, For all the nations belong to you.”

As he had done by the hands of the Babylonians as his means to punishing the wickedness of them and his wayward people in the past!! To put it short.

ethos

  • Use a '>' character followed by a 'space' character at the beginning of a paragraph to distinguish it as quoted text. Begin and end paragraphs with a blank line. Don't forget to indicate what version of the Bible you are using. – enegue Oct 12 at 21:46

Falling into line with Revelation Lad, I think it is more probable that the term at issue – in this passage – refers to angelic (wicked), ‘sons of God’, an interpretation “maintained by Hupfeld; and Bleek, followed by Cheyne, goes the full length of regarding them as patron angels of the nations” (Expositor’s Bible; bold is mine).

This conclusion is supported also by the Syriac version, which it renders: “God standeth in the assembly of the angels, and in the midst of the angels will He judge” (cit. in the ‘Cambridge Bible’). Interestingly, John Gill comments: “he judgeth among the gods: which the Syriac version renders ‘angels’ again; and so Aben Ezra interprets it of them, who are so called, Psa 8:5.” The passage cited by Gill is in full harmony with the equivalence ALEIM = angels.

Too, the Hebrew phraseology of a couple of verses - in the same core context - could give further light to the matter. Read, please, the verses 6-7:

I said, ‘You are gods’; all of you are the sons of the Most High. But you will come to death like [-כ] men, falling like [-כ] one of the rulers of the earth.” (The Bible in Basic English)

6 אֲֽנִי־אָמַרְתִּי אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם וּבְנֵי עֶלְיֹון כֻּלְּכֶֽם׃ 7 אָכֵן כְּאָדָם תְּמוּתוּן וּכְאַחַד הַשָּׂרִים תִּפֹּֽלוּ

So, the ALEIM weren’t men, but notwithstanding, they will die like men. The particle -כ [K-] denotes here not an equality but a similitude. Isa 40:6 uses the adverbial prefixal particle -כ [K-] in the same manner, pointing the same a similitude, not an equality (between the terms here and there the prefixal particle -כ).

Moreover, if the ALEIM rebuked by God were mere men, it not seems to me a very striking sentence by God simply recalling them that they ‘will die like (that is, in the sense of ‘as such’) men’. The Bible and the mankind experience teach that all the living “know that they will die” (Qoeleth 9:5), don’t they? It is a very different matter – instead - to promulgate a death-sentence to some spiritual beings, created with the prospect of and endless life, to die like mere men!

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