(Ps. 82:1) Who or what are the “gods” in this passage?

CLAIM: Asaph depicts God as a Great Judge, ruling over the “gods” (Elohim). Does the Hebrew Bible affirm polytheism or henotheism?

RESPONSE: There are three options for the interpretation of the “gods” mentioned here:

(1) These are (fallen?) angels. Psalm 8 uses Elohim to refer to the angels. Since they don’t uphold God’s will, these angels seem to be fallen. These seems similar to references of fallen angels in the OT (Isa. 24:21; Dan. 10:13; 12:1) and the NT (Eph. 6:12; Rev. 12:7). NLT translates this term as “heavenly beings.”

(2) These are human rulers. In Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9 place the human rulers as parallel with God. Furthermore, in the later context, the psalmist states that these figures are like “mere men” and “every other ruler” (v.7).

(3) These are pagan deities. VanGemeren writes, “The assembly of El is a borrowed phrase from Canaanite mythology, according to which El, the chief of the pantheon, assembled the gods in a divine council.”[1] Why would the psalmist borrow pagan concepts to describe God? This might fit with the thought that false gods are merely demons (1 Cor. 10:20; 2 Cor. 6:15). After all, what is the difference between a fallen and finite “god” and fallen and finite angels?

For further reading, see (Jn. 10:34-36) Did Jesus believe in many “gods”?

[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 533). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.