You Are Gods: Does the Bible Teach Polytheism?

If you ask some religions, the OT/NT teaches a plurality of gods.  In fact, said Joseph Smith, the gods created the heavens and the earth.  Other religions also teach a plurality of gods, more popularly known as polytheism.  What is the Christian to do when he or she runs across passages in the Bible like Psalm 82.6 and John 10.34-36 (I said, you are gods, sons of the Most High)?  Well, first of, we should not set our mad heads above Scripture, as Luther said.  Second, we allow clear passages help interpret the less clear passages.  Third, we have to understand – as Scripture presents itself – that the Bible is accommodated to humans.  God has “bent over” to speak “baby talk” to dim and sinful humans.  With these three things in mind, consider again the “gods” language in the Bible.

Scripture teaches a vast distinction between Creator and creature.  For example, in Isaiah 44.6, Yahweh says, I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (cf. Jn 17.3, 1 Cor 8.6, Eph 4.6, etc).  In no uncertain terms, the Bible tells us that Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of all things; he is not subject to time or space or physical laws as are creatures.  One only has to read Job 38-42 and Isaiah 40-50 to see that God is neither contained nor constrained by the created and contingent world.  In other words, the gulf between Creator and creature is sharply defined: he is God and not a man (Hos 11.9; cf. Num 23.19, Is 55.8); his ways are beyond tracing and his mind is past finding out (Rom 11.33).

Taking these things in mind, when we see “gods” language in Scripture, the first thing we do is affirm that these “gods” are part of the created order.  Gods are not the Creator, but part of the creation.  These gods did not help Yahweh create, for he alone created all things by himself (Is 44.24).  These gods were not in existence before God spoke all things into being.  “Gods” in Scripture refers to angels, magistrates, and even to false gods (Ex 20.3, Ps 82.1, Is 37.19, 1 Cor 8.5, etc.).  Scripture never refers to these gods as having any of the essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh – none of them are without beginning or end, none of them are simple (not made up of parts), none of them are immutable, none of them are omniscient or omnipresent or all-hearing.  Yahweh Elohim alone has the essential attributes of the true God; the other elohim do not. This is the theological side of this question/answer.

The grammatical/linguistic side is also helpful.  In human terms, it shouldn’t puzzle us too much to say that there is one true God but other gods who are less, not divine, and even sometimes non-existent, a figment of our idol-imagination.  For example, we say there is one President of the U.S.; there are other presidents (of the P.T.A., Country Club, etc.) and there are imposters (people who make themselves president of something), but only one real president, the president.  Again, this has to do with analogy and accommodation.  Or, in the language of the Reformed scholastics, “Jehovah alone designates God himself and no other, while Elohim is applied analogically to other beings” (Muller, PRRD, III.266).  Scripture uses language this way often: God alone is King, but there are other kings.  God alone is Lord, but there are other lords.  God alone is our Father, while there are other fathers.

Next time the Mormon missionary knocks on your door, and reacts violently to you saying “I am no polytheist like Joseph Smith,” lovingly press him on the Creator/creature distinction.  This is really the heart of the matter: the Mormon doctrine of God is really Mormon doctrine of Gods because they do not affirm a Creator/creature distinction as the OT/NT teach. “I said you are gods,” (Ps. 82.6) does not mean humans are or will be gods that transcend the created order and attain godhood; it does not mean that humans will ever have any essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh.  It does mean that in the “creaturely” and “contingently” way, humans are/can be gods (i.e. rulers, authorities, etc.), as Ps. 82.7 clearly notes.

shane lems

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9 comments on “You Are Gods: Does the Bible Teach Polytheism?

  1. Todd Wood says:

    Well, Shane, you bring forth an excellent topic for meditation.

  2. There are several important problems from the perspectives of both modern biblical scholarship and the LDS Christian tradition in your discussion which I believe are worthy of more adequate discussion, consideration, and explanation. I have broken my reply into several sections. Please forgive the length of my reply.

    An important problem worth recognizing is that most of your arguments here ignore and go against many well established consensus positions in modern biblical scholarship, which scholarly positions additionally bolster the LDS Christian position. Perhaps the most relevant issue at stake here is that of the divine council or assembly in which YHWH, the God of Israel, presided as Heavenly King over an assemblage of divine beings. Many biblical texts transparently describe their understanding of God and his heavenly position in terms of or on analogy with earthly kingship and monarchy with which they were socially and politically familiar. Thus just as an earthly King had courtiers who surrounded his throne and with whom he counseled, so too YHWH had a heavenly court where he counseled with his divine courtiers and sent forth his decrees. There are numerous passages which unmistakably describe the court in session and which name the participants variously as the “elohim” (“gods”), “bene (ha)elohim” (“sons of God”), “bene elim” (“sons of God/gods”), or “bene elyon” (“sons of the most high”), among other descriptors (see, for instance, Ps. 29.1; 82.1, 6; 89.7; Deut. 32.8-9; Job 1.6; 2.2; 38.7; Gen. 26.2, 4). However, just as an earthly king is of the same species or kind as those who participate in his court, so to these divine beings are of the same divine species as God in whose court they contribute. There is simply no simpler or clearer way of describing divine kinship and heritage than the labels “gods” and “sons of God” provide. Moreover, just as there are no biblical texts which describe the origins of the God of Israel, so too there are no texts which describe the origins of the gods or sons of God. Thus as Harvard’s Jon Levenson states in his book “Creation and Chaos”:

    “It is true—and quite significant–that the God of Israel has no myth of origin. Not a trace of theogony can be found in the Hebrew bible. God has no nativity. But there do seem to be other divine beings in Genesis 1, to whom God proposes the creation of humanity, male and female together: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 26). When were these other divine beings created? They too seem to have been primordial… From other biblical accounts of the divine assembly in session, it would appear that these “sons of God/gods” played active roles and made fresh proposals to God, who nonetheless retained the final say. “

    Professor Levinson is certainly not alone among scholars, and the consensus position again in modern biblical scholarship is that the sons of God as far as the biblical texts are concerned are primordial. Thus Oxford’s John Day states in his book “Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan”:

    “There are further numerous places where the heavenly court is referred to without specific use of the expressions ‘sons of God(s)’ or ‘sons of the Most High.’ Thus, the heavenly court is mentioned in connection with the first human(s) (Gen. 1.26, 3.22; Job 15.7-8) or elsewhere in the primeval history (Gen. 11.7; cf. Gen 6.2 above), and in the context of the divine call or commission to prophesy (1 Kgs 22.19-22; Isa. 40.3, 6; Jer. 23.18, 22; cf. Amos 3.7). We also find it in connection with the guardian gods or angels of the nations (Isa. 24.21; Ps. 82.1; Ecclus 17.17; Jub. 15.31-32; cf. Deut. 32.8 and Ps. 82.6 above; implied in Dan. 10.13, 20; 12.1)…Just as an earthly king is supported by a body of courtiers, so Yahweh has a heavenly court.”

    Thus the sons of God exist before the first act of creation is begun in verse 3 of Gen.1.1 when God first calls forth light. As Marc Brettler of Brandeis notes in his book “How to Read the Jewish Bible,” nowhere does God address himself in the plural, but he frequently addresses the heavenly council in such a fashion (e.g., Is. 6 for instance). Both God himself and those divine heavenly beings in his council exist in the heavens above the “raqia’” (the solid barrier which separates the chaotic waters) and the primordial waters. There is no description of their creation just as there is none of the God of Israel’s. As Brettler goes on to describe and as Michael Coogan of Stonehill College relates in his volume “The Old Testament,” the gods of the council are assumed to be in the background before creation (and at times specifically referred to) just as God himself and the primeval chaotic waters are. Further scholarly studies worth consulting concerning Israelite notions of creation include John Day’s “God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea,” Bernhard Anderson’s “Creation Versus Chaos,” Luist J. Stadelmann’s “Hebrew Conception of the World,” Ronald Simkin’s “Creator and Creation,” and Coote and Ord’s “In the Beginning,” as well as Evangelical Bruce Waltke’s “Creation and Chaos” or his notes on Genesis 1 in his book “Genesis: A Commentary.” These studies explain in great detail the reasons why the tight scholarly consensus is that the ancient Israelites conceived of creation as out of pre-existing materials or chaos just as every other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture. Such studies are additionally supplemented by such works as Gerhard May’s “Creatio Ex Nihilo” and James Hubler’s “Creatio Ex Nihilo” which each detail the reasons why scholars consider the notion of “creatio ex nihilo” to have first emerged in post-biblical texts towards the end of the second century CE. The point is that the biblical texts do not support “ontological” distinctions between “Creator versus creature” that came about after the emergence of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in the late second century.

    Moreover, the Ugaritic texts supply the strongest historical and linguistic parallels and provide the greatest insight into the worldview(s) assumed and discussed in the Hebrew Bible. In the Ugaritic texts, the Canaanite high god El presides over a pantheon of subordinate gods who are his sons. Asherah/Athirat, El’s divine consort or wife, had specifically seventy sons (KTU2 1.4.VI.46). With this information in mind, we read in Deut. 32.8-9 that Elyon (“the most high [God]”) divided up the nations and appointed a (son of) god to assume custody or stewardship over each:

    “When the Most High apportioned the nations,
    when he divided humankind,
    he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
    according to the number of the sons of God;
    9the Lord’s own portion was his people,
    Jacob his allotted share” (NRSV adapted by author)

    As the vast majority of scholars agree, the reading “sons of God” here is clearly to be preferred over “sons of Israel” otherwise found in the MT, as it has the textual support of both the LXX and the Dead Sea scrolls (4QDeut), among other ancient witnesses. This is important because according to the table of nations in Genesis 10 the nations of the earth are exactly specified as seventy in number, and according to Israelite/Jewish tradition the sons of God (in later tradition “angels”) are seventy in number just as are the sons of El in the Ugaritic literature. The connections with the Ugaritic literature are further exemplified by the fact that the sons of God in the Old Testament are never referred to as “sons of YHWH,” but always with words occurring with the root ‘l. This further strongly alludes to the fact that both the notion and terminology adopted by the biblical authors of a divine assembly composed of the sons of God/El is significantly indebted to El and his council. (It is also interesting to note that the very name of the nation is IsraEL, not IsraJAH.)

    Moreover, the notion of the Most High God dividing the nations and assigning them a god to act as steward is not limited to Deut. 32.8-9 in the biblical texts. This ancient tradition is picked up also in Ps. 82 where we read that:

    “God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council [adat ‘el];
    in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment:
    2‘How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
    3Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
    maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
    4Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’
    5They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
    they walk around in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
    6I say, ‘You are gods [elohim],
    children of the Most High [bene elyon], all of you;
    7nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
    and fall like any prince.’
    8Rise up, O God [elohim], judge the earth;
    for all the nations belong to you!” (NRSV)

    Verse 1 clearly gives the overall context or setting of the Psalm: the “‘adat ‘el,” literally the “council of El” or the “council of God”. The additional background of the Psalm, as mentioned above, is the assignment of the gods to each nation as overseers. That these are in fact real gods and not mere humans or inanimate idols is obvious for several reasons. For instance, the punishment or condemnation offered by God is that these gods are to “die like men” (v.7). This simile is fatal to the view that mere humans are being addressed in this Psalm. Had these beings already been human rulers or judges who will eventually die no matter what anyway, this could hardly be taken as a serious punishment or penalty. Additionally, God himself declares that they are indeed “gods” (v.6)—and he uses the exact same word (“elohim”) to refer to them as was used to refer to himself (v.1). That they are truly gods is why their failure to faithfully uphold their divine stewardships that God had assigned them is so reprehensible. Instead of fulfilling the prerogatives required of a god, they have instead failed to defend the poor and needy and judge the wicked. Thus God, after passing sentence in verse 7, is to arise and assume total control of the nations which had been assigned to the gods and to judge them justly in verse 8. The crucial discoveries of ancient Ugarit mentioned above confirm that “bene elohim” or the “elohim” when mentioned in the biblical texts are the gods who surround the (most high) God, in this case YHWH. This is clear from both the specific terminology used, such as “gods”, “sons of Elyon”, “‘council of El”, etc., as well as other numerous literary, cultural, and historical parallels which find important parallels in the older Ugaritic texts, several of which I have briefly noted above. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, I do not have time to discuss all such terminological and historical-literary parallels with the Ugaritic texts, as well as those with other relevant ANE cultures. However, I recommend for such discussion John Day’s “Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan,” Mark S. Smith’s volumes “Origins of Biblical Monotheism” and “Early History of God,” Harvard’s Frank Moore Cross’s “Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic” and his “From Epic to Canon,” as well as E. Theodore Mullen’s “The Assembly of the Gods” for a good, though somewhat dated, discussion of the divine council as found in the Bible and ANE. There are additionally numerous other articles and books concerning the divine council (or important issues related to it) that are worth consulting by such well respected scholars as William Dever, Martti Nissinen, Simon Parker, Cyrus Gordon and Gary Rendsburg, Marc Brettler, Paul Sanders, and John J. Collins. Thus the overwhelming scholarly consensus position is that these beings referred to in Ps. 82 and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible by these terms/titles are indeed real gods in the pantheon of the God of Israel.

  3. A second problem worth noting in your discussion is the impreciseness of the labels “polytheism” and “monotheism,” a point noted by Mark S. Smith of NYU in his book “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts.” As mentioned previously (and to be discussed more fully below), the God of Israel is seen in many biblical texts on analogy of human monarchy and kingship; yet in a monarchy there is one person in control, but this does not mean that there are not other genuine members of his species in his realm or kingdom. YHWH is the King of his pantheon with final authority and control, and it is to him that the gods/sons of God pay homage and worship. In the council he is superlatively great. Thus he is literally God of gods (Deut. 10.17) and Lord of lords, the Most High God, which terms, respectively, directly imply that there are other (lower) gods and lords, and less high gods. This is not about a distinction of species or kind. There is simply no clearer way that the biblical authors could have referred to the council members as divine and of the divine “species” than by using the terms “elohim” and “bene elohim.” The views of these biblical authors and the language these authors actually used to describe the heavenly council and its members have important social, linguistic, and historical parallels with their surrounding culture(s), which parallels, as briefly mentioned above, secure the reading that the biblical authors are really referring to other genuine “lesser” gods/deities in the heavenly council. These parallels simply cannot be glossed over or overlooked.

    Now the real question at stake is does this notion of a pantheon of gods who are subordinate to YHWH, but who nevertheless are of his same “kind” or “species,” truly compromise “monotheism”? At this point several lengthy quotes by Evangelical Scholar Larry Hurtado are worth noting:

    “Jewish monotheism can be taken as constituting a distinctive version of the commonly-attested belief structure described by Nilsson as involving a “high god” who presides over other deities. The God of Israel presides over a court of heavenly beings who are likened to him (as is reflected in, e.g., the OT term for them “sons of God”). In pagan versions, too, the high god can be described as father and source of the other divine beings, and as utterly superior to them. In this sense, Jewish (and Christian) monotheism, whatever its distinctives, shows its historical links with the larger religious environment of the ancient world. . . . This commitment to the one God of Israel accommodated a large retinue of heavenly beings distinguished from God more in degree than kind as to their attributes, some of these beings portrayed as in fact sharing quite directly in God’s powers and even his name.”

    Additionally,

    “Jews were quite willing to imagine beings who bear the divine name within them and can be referred to by one or more of God’s titles (e.g., Yahoel or Melchizedek as elohim or, later, Metatron [Enoch] as yahweh ha-katon ["the lesser Yahweh"]), beings so endowed with divine attributes as to be difficult to distinguish them descriptively from God, beings who are very direct personal extensions of God’s powers and sovereignty. About this, there is clear evidence. This clothing of servants of God with God’s attributes and even his name will seem “theologically very confusing” if we go looking for a “strict monotheism” of relatively modern distinctions of “ontological status” between God and these figures, and expect such distinctions to be expressed in terms of “attributes and functions.” By such definitions of the term, Greco-Roman Jews seem to have been quite ready to accommodate various divine beings.”

    And finally,

    “We should take as “monotheism” the religious beliefs and practices of people who describe themselves as monotheistic. Otherwise, we implicitly import a definition from the sphere of theological polemics in an attempt to do historical analysis. . . . If we are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies and may seem “complicated” with other beings in addition to the one God.”

    Several points here are worth further elaboration. As is evidenced by the Qumran community and other texts from Second Temple Judaism, even the most strict Jewish “monotheists” believed that the God of Israel had a heavenly council of gods whose members, at times, could be described in virtually identical terms to YHWH himself. These gods were under YHWH’s jurisdiction no doubt; but they are described in numerous texts as having the same divine “attributes” as God himself and even at times are referred to by the divine name itself (e.g., 4Q400, 4Q403, 4Q405, 1QH XVIII). Additionally, at Qumran the members of the community could join the divine assembly and become members of the divine council itself (e.g., 4Q427). In fact, at Qumran, Melchizedek, a human sparsely mentioned in the biblical texts, acts as God’s chief divine agent who presides among the gods of the council, leading the heavenly armies into battle and providing judgment in God’s stead (11QMelchizedek). The point is that neither the biblical texts nor Second Temple Jews describe God in terms of “ontological” categories as is typical among certain modern Judeo-Christian groups. As modern biblical scholarship again confirms, imposing such Greek philosophical categories as “attributes” and “ontology” and their attendant terminology (e.g. “communicable” versus “incommunicable attributes”) is anachronistic and does violence to the biblical texts. Additionally, as texts from the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, and early Christianity attest, humans can indeed participate in the heavenly council (Is. 6; cf. 4Q427), receive so-called divine “attributes” including divine knowledge (Gen. 3.22), holiness, God’s very image in/onto them, eventual immortality, and be described in terms virtually identical to God himself, even receiving the divine name and sitting on a heavenly throne at his right hand in judgment. As biblical scholars have noted for some time, there is quite often substantial blurring between humans and God/gods in the biblical and Second Temple texts, and as noted, times when the distinctions appear to be completely erased. The literature in biblical scholarship and LDS Christian scholarship on this issue is itself immense, and I would be happy to provide further references if interested.

  4. All of these observations are important because of another problem with your discussion: LDS Christians, as they have repeatedly attempted to describe in numerous publications over the last several decades, believe that they will always remain subordinate to God even while/after fully partaking of the divine nature. Mormon Blake Ostler’s discussion of the issues in his first and third volumes of “Exploring Mormon Thought” (as well as several important articles) is perhaps the most thorough and important discussion to date regarding the issues and should be read by any person seeking to actually understand Mormonism and its theological relationship(s) to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Simply, there are no canonical statements in LDS scriptures that state that humans will ever be outside of God’s dominion in the eternities or that God himself is subject to higher gods. In fact, there are numerous passages that suggest just the opposite (e.g., D&C 121.32; Abr. 3.19). Although some Mormon leader’s have suggested such positions in past decades, I agree with Blake’s thorough analysis that this is not to be found in accepted canonical Mormon scripture or in the teachings of Joseph Smith and cannot, therefore, necessarily be considered binding on LDS Christians, but rather remains in the realm of speculation. I would recommend that someone interested in dealing with these issues responsibly consult a variety of articles by LDS Christian scholars, especially those by Blake Ostler, David Paulsen, Dan Peterson, Stephen Robinson, and David Bokovoy, among others. I again would be happy to provide further references if interested.

    Thus LDS Christians, as the biblical texts and their own unique scriptures describe, believe that God stands at the head of a divine council composed of subordinate deities. Their definition of “monotheism,” like that of the ancient Israelites and Second Temple Jews and early Christians, is one I would label “kingship monotheism,” as opposed to that version of “monotheism” adopted by many other modern Judeo-Christian groups which is based on metaphysical notions and terminology of “ontology” which are nowhere found in the bible, and which might better be labeled “metaphysical,” “ontological,” or “radical monotheism,” in which there is solely one being in existence in the class “divine.”

  5. Finally, your discussion does not adequately address the complexity of the passages in Isaiah which you quote and their relationship(s) to other biblical texts. There are several problems worth noting in your discussion concerning this issue (besides the apparent implicit assumption in your arguments that all biblical texts are fully congruent with one another). First, passages which you take as categorically affirming the denial of other real gods have extremely similar structure to other verses in Isaiah which would, by the same method of interpretation, deny the existence of other cities, armies, or rulers. For instance, Is. 47.8,10 (cf. Zeph. 2.15 in reference to Nineveh) in reference to Babylon, reads:

    “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures,
    who sit securely,
    who say in your heart,
    ‘I am, and there is no one besides me…
    You felt secure in your wickedness;
    you said, ‘No one sees me.’
    Your wisdom and your knowledge
    led you astray,
    and you said in your heart,
    ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” (NRSV)

    However, we know that there are other real cities in existence. The point is that Babylon is superlatively great, not that there are no other cities in existence. This is clearly not a categorical denial. Furthermore, we read similar language in Deut. 32.39 which states that “See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me” (NRSV); yet, as we noted above, Deut. 32.8-9 in the same chapter clearly refers to the sons of gods/gods! This is further significant since many scholars have noted the very presence of the divine council itself in Isaiah, as in Is. 6 and Is. 40.1-6 and 22-26. Thus in chapter 40 YHWH himself addresses the (unseen) divine council with plural markers (cf. Gen. 1.26-27, 3.22 and elsewhere). Many ANE texts which praise various kings or gods and extol their superlative virtues, oftentimes in language virtually identical to that which Isaiah uses in mocking the power of cities, armies, gods, or rulers. Such language to praise and magnify YHWH who is the King of the gods fits its historical-culture context very well. Thus Isaiah 40.22-26 states:

    “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
    who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
    23who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
    24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
    when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
    25To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
    26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?” (NRSV)

    As verses 25-26 clarify, the point of these verses is to extol and magnify YHWH. Such language in Isaiah which states that rulers are/will be “nothing” is hyperbolic, and it is certainly not to be read in terms of later Greek metaphysical ontological categories. Additionally, we must not forget that this sort of language is clearly poetic. The point in such passages as Is. 40.17, 23, 41.12 and, 44.6, 24 which mock/deny other armies, cities, rulers, nations, or gods is not that those entities do not literally exist, but that YHWH is supreme and has ultimate authority, and all others compared to him are meaningless, or “nothing.” As Job 38.7 makes clear, the sons of god/gods were clearly present when YHWH laid the foundations of the earth, as is assumed in Genesis as noted in several places above. Isaiah fits comfortably with these other biblical passages. The point again is not to deny the existence of other gods, kings, or princes, but to note that they are incomparable to YHWH in the sense that he is superlatively great. Again, these passages (and others like them) must be interpreted without the lens of “ontological” categories, but rather through the categories of kingship and covenant which were common to the ANE (and to the Israelites especially) and which demanded that covenant vassals extol and magnify their own king or patron as incomparably great and honorable and worthy of total fidelity. Likewise we read in Psalm 89. 6-8:

    “6For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
    7 God feared in the council of the holy ones,
    great and awesome above all that are around him?
    8 Lord God of hosts,
    who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
    Your faithfulness surrounds you.” (NRSV)

    Here YHWH is incomparably great, yet clearly the “heavenly beings” (“bene elim,” literally “sons of God/gods”) are “ontologically” real and exist in his council. Again, the categories of “ontology” are foreign to the biblical texts, and instead these texts must be read through the understandings associated with kingship, covenant loyalty, political allegiance, and honor and shame. All of these points again tie in with my earlier statement that YHWH was seen by the biblical writers as a King in terms and imagery analogous to earthly kingship and monarchy; such terminology and language does not fall into the discourse of “ontology” as has been typical since the middle ages.

  6. I would conclude then with several statements to clarify the meaning and some of the intentions of my comments above. One of my purposes in my reply here is to bring issues worthy of greater reflection and nuance to light to all of our attention. Such issues include definitions of monotheism, relevant positions or consensuses of biblical scholars, how LDS Christians define themselves, as well as their proper relationship to the biblical texts and the broader Judeo-Christian tradition(s), theosis in the biblical texts and Second Temple literature, and responsible exegesis of relevant biblical passages that do justice to the complexity of the texts and the persons/cultures who produced them. My purpose is not to simply argue or fight. Nor do I expect you (or anyone else) to reply to each of my points or to read every article or book which I drew upon and cited in writing this reply. Nor would I have time to reply to each of your arguments if you were to do so as I am a busy person as well. Rather, I one of my hopes is that you would simply take more time and consideration to sort through the relevant information before engaging in such discussion in the future. Of course, I would be happy to try and answer/discuss genuine questions, but I don’t have any desire to argue needlessly, and I certainly hope that I have not come across as pushy, arrogant, or mean-spirited in my disagreements with your positions or when citing modern biblical scholarship. I think we can all certainly use more charity and patience in such discussions. Furthermore, I did not intend to be comprehensive in my reply (there are numerous issues I find important which I simply do not have time or space to fully discuss), although I tried to at least briefly mention many of those issues of most relevance to your original statements. Such issues as the influence of Canaanite or Mesopotamian culture and texts upon the biblical texts (such as the Ugaritic or Sumerian/Assyrian/Babylonian texts/cultures, respectively), the origins of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, or what is binding upon LDS Christians are each topics that can fill—and have filled—several volumes. I have here only referenced to some of them, and if anyone is interested in a starting point in which to conduct further research on any of these topics then I hope that I have been of help. Of course, I believe that my general arguments and positions offer much more adequate explanatory power of the various texts and their difficulties than was offered in the original post. Simply saying one passage or group of passages is “clear” while others are ambiguous is not sufficient. There is nothing logically unclear about the references to the divine council (or Jn. 10.34-35 for that matter) in comparison to those passages in Isaiah which were quoted, especially when seen in their historical context(s). What is needed is serious analysis that attempts to remove assumptions and ungrounded presuppositions as best as possible. I do not believe that my analysis relies solely on any one argument, but rather that collectively they provide eminently reasonable solutions to the issues at stake in the texts. I would lastly note that I drew upon (to various extents) those sources mentioned throughout the post, but especially John Day’s “Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan” and Blake Ostler’s third volume of “Exploring Mormon Thought,” and I would like to acknowledge their fine scholarship here. Please forgive any grammatical mistakes along the way.

    Thanks and best wishes in your further investigation of these important issues.

    The Yellow Dart

  7. Shane Lems says:

    Thanks for the quite lengthy reply. However, you have not accounted for the fact that God is ontologically different than creation – in easy terms, the Creator/creature distinction. I saw you simply dismiss it as “foreign” to the Bible. The question remains – either God and humans are ontologically the same, or not. Either the Triune God has attributes that he does not in any way share with the creation (incommunicable attributes), or he does not. The Bible is quite clear: the ‘gods’ and ‘sons of the gods’ – even though we don’t know of their origins – did not exist before the Triune God created all things out of nothing.

    I know you won’t agree, but that is a fundamental piece of historic Christianity – not Judaism or any ANE religion, but historic Christianity. The difference between Mormonism and Christianity is that Christians believe in the Triune God, who alone is the true God who created all things out of nothing.

    Thanks again; I don’t have extra time to respond any further. I have appreciated your straightforward tone.

    Shane.

  8. Shane,

    Thanks for taking the time to read what I wrote. You have correctly inferred that I do not believe that “creatio ex nihilo” is to be found anywhere in the biblical texts–but neither do the majority of modern scholars who have treated the issue at length. Instead of extending the discussion further here, however, I will simply recommend the literature that I referenced to above if anyone is interested in further research or investigation.

    Best wishes,

    The Yellow Dart

  9. [...] The Reformed Reader has an interesting (older and basic) post on this subject, here. [...]

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