That question has been raised on Heart Issues for LDS by a couple of vocal mormon apologists and has been raised by countless other mormons as a defense for the mormon doctrine that the God of the Bible is an exalted human being, who was once a man and progressed to be a god and is one of a multitude of other gods who are at least His equals (since God was once a man who progressed to Godhood, there must of necessity be a greater god than He who created Him.) To try to defend this belief and throw Christians off track, mormons often throw Psalm 82 out and declare that even the Bible itself supports this doctrine. So does it?
Well the obvious answer is no because the Bible is clear that there is only one God, unique and without peer, equal or equivalent. But that answer, while obvious, likely will be unsatisfactory to a mormon, especially one who is better versed in So first let’s look at Psalm 82, not just the parts that a mormon might quote but the entire chapter.
Rescue the Weak and Needy
A Psalm of Asaph.
82:1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
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.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
(Psalm 82: 1-8 ESV)
So before digging too deeply, we need to ask the question: what is Psalm 82 all about? Who is speaking, who is the audience, what is the point? The Psalm refers to God as the supreme judge, who in this case is standing in judgment over those who rule over others, and in their rule they are being partial to the wicked and unjust to the weak. They are implored to rescue the weak and needy and are warned that they are destined to die like any other man.
It makes no sense whatsoever that the “gods” spoken of here are other gods like the God of the Bible because they are both unjustly ruling and they are mortal, falling or dying like any other man. That depiction is hardly one that lends itself to the belief that these are other gods.
So that is what I think, but what have the leading minds and scholars through the ages said?
First, from Augustine….
1. This Psalm, like others similarly named, was so entitled either from the name of the man who wrote it, or from the explanation of that same name, so as to refer in meaning to the Synagogue, which Asaph signifies; especially as this is intimated in the first verse. For it begins, “God stood in the synagogue of gods” (ver. 1). Far however be it from us to understand by these Gods the gods of the Gentiles, or idols, or any creature in heaven or earth except men; for a little after this verse the same Psalm relates and explains what Gods it means in whose synagogue God stood, where it says, “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High: but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” In the synagogue of these children of the Most High, of whom the same Most High said by the mouth of Isaiah, “I have begotten sons and brought them up, but they despised Me,” stood God. By the synagogue we understand the people of Israel, because synagogue is the word properly used of them, although they were also called the Church. Our congregation, on the contrary, the Apostles never called synagogue, but always Ecclesia; whether for the sake of the distinction, or because there is some difference between a congregation whence the synagogue has its name, and a convocation whence the Church is called Ecclesia: for the word congregation (or flocking together) is used of cattle, and particularly of that kind properly called “flocks,” whereas convocation (or calling together) is more of reasonable creatures, such as men are.…I think then that it is clear in what synagogue of gods God stood.
Augustine, as an early writer around 400 A.D. is one of the most highly regarded writers in the early church days.
Let us look next at Calvin’s introduction. John Calvin is generally esteemed as one of the, if not the, finest theologian to have ever lived. Certainly his thoughts would carry some weight….
As kings, and such as are invested with authority, through the blindness which is produced by pride, generally take to themselves a boundless liberty of action, the Psalmist warns them that they must render an account at the bar of the Supreme Judge, who is exalted above the highest of this world. After he has reminded them of their duty and condition, perceiving that he speaks to such as refuse to receive admonition, he calls upon God to vindicate his character as a righteous judge.
So Calvin also recognizes this as a depiction of unjust and wicked human judges who will be called to account. A couple of possible references to the judges in question are alternately suggested in Chronicles 19:5-7 or 2 Chronicles 29:30, both of which refer to wicked judges. There are a number of places, especially in the psalms, that refer to unrighteous judges, inaccurate weights, etc. as being under condemnation.
How about Matthew Henry, Bible commentator extraordinaire?
This psalm is calculated for the meridian of princes’ courts and courts of justice, not in Israel only, but in other nations; yet it was probably penned primarily for the use of the magistrates of Israel, the great Sanhedrim, and their other elders who were in places of power, and perhaps by David’s direction. This psalm is designed to make kings wise, and "to instruct the judges of the earth’’ (as 2 and 10), to tell them their duty as (2 Sa. 23:3), and to tell them of their faults as 58:1. We have here, I. The dignity of magistracy and its dependence upon God (v. 1). II. The duty of magistrates (v. 3, 4). III. The degeneracy of bad magistrates and the mischief they do (v. 2, 5). IV. Their doom read (v. 6, 7). V. The desire and prayer of all good people that the kingdom of God may be set up more and more (v. 8). Though magistrates may most closely apply this psalm to themselves, yet we may any of us sing it with understanding when we give glory to God, in singing it, as presiding in all public affairs, providing for the protection of injured innocency, and ready to punish the most powerful injustice, and when we comfort ourselves with a belief of his present government and with the hopes of his future judgment.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that without exception throughout the centuries the most respected writers are in unanimity that this Psalm is written as an indictment of the judges who are oppressing the weak and needy. The point is that those humans who sit in judgment and rule over others are themselves subject to death and judgment from the ultimate judge, i.e. God.
If for some reason you reject the idea that these individuals in the assembly written about were the human judges, which I think the context clearly suggests, another possible rendering is that this is the angelic host. We know for certain that there are other beings that surround God, angelic beings that appear in Isaiah’s vision for example. But it is also clear that these angels are created beings and are beneath and subject to God, not other gods. There is not, without the most egregious eisegesis, any way to make this Psalm a support for a plurality of gods. That abominable doctrine is the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination and bears no more resemblance to the God of the Bible than the pagan pantheons of Greek or Norse gods.