Problem: The Old Testament mentions multiple gods
Verses: Multiple; Status: Minor

There are various hints in the Old Testament that the earlier Jewish authors thought that multiple gods existed, which would be in conflict with the later view that there is no god but God. There are so many such hints that I'm tempted to call this problem Serious. But there are a number of points that could be made against this view.

The easy cases

Judgement upon the gods

There are some verses where we are told that God passes judgement or punishment upon other gods. For example, this is Exodus 12:12:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. (ESV)

Similar verses are at Numbers 33:4 and Jeremiah 46:25. While it's a bit of a stretch, one could see these as more cases where the "gods" are made out of clay, rather than being real.

The LORD, God of gods

There are verses where God is described as "God of gods". This is Psalm 136:2:

Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. (ESV)

Deuteronomy 10:17 is similar. Again, perhaps this is a stretch, but I think the phrase could conceivably mean "the one true God", or something of that ilk.

The hardest case? Psalm 82

I think this may be the hardest case. This is Psalm 82:1-2:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (ESV)

It's clear that God is upbraiding the "gods" for their injustice. The traditional interpretation is that these "gods" are merely the rulers and leaders of humanity. However, the Oxford Bible Commentary notes that this doesn't fit well with God's judgement upon these "gods". This is Psalm 82:6-7:

I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." (ESV)

If the "gods" are actually only men, then condemning them to be mortal and "fall like any prince" makes little sense, since that's what would happen to them anyway. Still, if read in a certain way, this verse could simply mean that the human rulers' greatness will not save them from an ordinary human fate. That's the position taken by the NIV Study Bible.

Updated: 2009-03-09

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