When men are called “God” in the Bible

Surprisingly, there are a number of places in the Jewish Scriptures (aka the Hebrew Bible & Old Testament) where beings other than Yahweh are called divine or “God”. I draw on the extensive discussion of key passages in King and Messiah as Son of God Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature by Adela Yarbro Collins & John J. Collins, both professors of biblical criticism and interpretation at Yale University. I cannot read Hebrew so I rely on their expert analysis of the words.

Here is a non-exhaustive list gathered from their book. All the quotations are from their work. Please refer to the book for a contextual discussion and critical interaction with other scholars. The point I wish to make here is that calling a man “god” does not necessarily entail a belief that the person so called is The Eternal, Uncreated God of the universe.  It can be an honorific title. The Bible uses it to refer to kings and prophets. Perhaps this is the case with the use of the word ‘god’ for Jesus in John 20:28. See the discussion of this point here.

1 Samuel 28:13

The king said to her, ‘Have no fear; what do you see?’ The woman said to Saul, ‘I see a divine being[a] coming up out of the ground.’

[a] Or a god; or gods (NRSV)

“The prophet Samuel is called elohim in the Hebrew Bible after his death in 1 Samuel 28:13″

(page 9)

Then, “Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance” (28: 14)

Incidentally, this shows that doing obeisance (‘worship’) can be done to men in the OT as a traditional sign of respect and submission. This may throw light on similar occurrences in the NT gospels. However, Samuel is still seen fit to be honoured with a divine title in this passage.

Isaiah 7:14 & Isaiah 9:6

Professor John J Collins writes:

“It is now generally accepted that both passages have their primary frame of reference in the Assyrian periods, in the late 8th century BCE….The birth of Immanuel was a sign for King Ahaz, and must be an event of his lifetime….Most probably, Immanuel was the king’s own child.”

Isaiah 7:14

‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’

“The child was not a messiah, and not even necessarily a future king, but his birth was a sign of hope for Ahaz in his embattled circumstances.”

(page 59)

Isaiah 9:6

‘For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

“It is highly probable that the child whose birth is proclaimed in Isaiah 9 is Hezekiah. The proclamation dates from the king’s enthronement, if not his actual birth. It is forward looking. It is not a retrospective judgement on a reign. Isaiah could be critical of Judahite monarchs, as we can see in his encounter with Ahaz, but he had not abandoned hope for the future of the kingship.”

(page 41)

Psalm 45:6

‘Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever. Your royal sceptre is a sceptre of equity.’ 

The Israelite king is addressed as elohim “god”. Professor John J Collins comments:

‘Ps 45:6 is most naturally translated as “You throne, O God, endures forever”. The objection that the king is not otherwise addressed as God loses its force in light of Isaiah 9. The fact that the king is addressed as God in Ps 45:6 is shown by the distinction drawn in the following verse, “therefore God, your God, has anointed you”. The king is still subject to the Most High, but he is an elohim, not just a man.’

11 QMelchizedek (Dead Sea Scrolls)

This is the document known as the Melchizedek scroll, from Qumran Cave 11. Interestingly, Melchizedek is called “god”:

‘The text applies to Melchizedek the passage from Psalm 82:1: “Elohim [God] takes his stand in the assembly of El, in the midst of Elohim [gods] he judges.”…”Your god is Melchizedek.”‘

(Page 80)


Categories: Bible, New Testament scholarship

2 replies

  1. Interesting !

    So, in many instances, a single person is described as “elohim” in the Bible! Then where is the common Christian claim that “elohim” refers only to multi personal being like their trinity ?

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