And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
I and my Father are one.
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
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?
For years Christ's dramatic defence as recorded in the Gospel of St. John has been interpreteted as refering to human judges. I could provide many examples, but this, from the NASB, should suffice.
Observe here, 1. The power and honour of magistrates; they are the mighty. They are so in authority, for the public good (it is a great power that they are entrusted with), and they ought to be so in wisdom and courage. They are, in the Hebrew dialect, called gods; the same word is used for these subordinate governors that is used for the sovereign ruler of the world. They are elohim.
Christians interpretators have followed medieval Jewish exeggets such as Rashi and Abrhaam ibn Ezra in this.
The judges were called Elohim due to the fact that they enact God's laws on earth.
Ibn Ezra on the Torah, Mishpatim (Exodus 21:6).
I do not intend to deal in depth right now with the meaning of the biblical passage, or with how interpretation developed, that will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, I highly recommend Daniel O. McLellan's insightful blog posts on Psalm 82. http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/psalm-82-2/
From a study of ancient Jewish literature, it becomes apparent that Jesus was not refering to human judges, but to a different tradition entirely. An early Amoraic work, the Midrash Numbers Rabba (or Bamidbar Rabbah) 16:24, relates the tradition that the Lord made the Children of Israel immortal, warning death not to touch them, but since they feared and would not accept the gift offered them the Lord made Israel as mere men again.
In John Jesus says "unto whom the word of the Lord came". Word, or davar, quite frequently meant a commandment, which commandment can be seen in this midrash.
They saw the counsel which the Lord decreed for them and straightaways ruined the counsel 40 days, for it is said (Proverbs 1): ye have set at nought all my counsel.
The Holy One, Blessed is He said unto them: I said that ye are not sinning and ye shall live and be as I am, as I liveth and am for Eternity and for Eternity of Eternities, for I decreed (Ps 82) gods are ye and sons of the Most High (Elyon) are ye all, and are as the ministering angels, which die not and yet after this great thing ye request to die, then die as man ye shall, even as the First Man (Adam) whom I commanded one commandment for to do and he should live and be for Eternity, as it is said (Gen 3): for the man was as one of us. And also: and created God the man in his own image, to live and be as he [God] is, but he [Adam] transgressed and nullified my decree, and ate from the tree, and I said unto him: for dust thou art.
So too are ye, as I said: gods are ye, yet have injured yourselves as man, so verily as man shall ye die.
ראו עצה, שיעץ עליהם הקדוש ברוך הוא ומיד קלקלו העצה מ' יום, לכך נאמר (משלי א): ותפרעו כל עצתי.
אמר להם הקב"ה: אני אמרתי, שאין אתם חוטאים ותהיו חיים וקיימים כמותי, כמו שאני חי וקיים לעולם ולעולמי עולמים.
(תהלים פב) אני אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כולכם, כמלאכי השרת, שאין מתים ובקשתם אחר הגדולה הזאת למות, אכן כאדם תמותון כאדם הראשון שצויתי אותו מצוה אחת, שיעשה אותה ויהיה חי וקיים לעולם, שנאמר (בראשית ג): הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו.
וכן: ויברא אלהים את האדם בצלמו, שיהיה חי וקיים כמותו, והוא חבל מעשיו ויבטל גזירתי, ואכל מן האילן, ואמרתי לו: כי עפר אתה.
אף אתם, אני אמרתי: אלהים אתם חבלתם עצמכם כאדם, אכן כאדם תמותון.
Bamidbar Rabbah, Parashat Hameraglim (16:24).
This tradition appears in the middle of a discussion on the misconduct of the 10 spies sent out by Moses, and how god's children frequently overturn God's counsel.