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)

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Categories: Bible, Biblical scholarship, Books, Christianity, Dead Sea Scrolls, God, History, Judaism, Recommended Reading

19 replies

  1. this quote was very interesting

    quote:
    The problem we face is that the texts we are reading were in the hands of their community a long time and the theology of that community changed and the texts were affected because of it. Just consider the other theophoric names: there was a son of Saul called Ishbaal “man of Baal” (1 Chr 8:33), a name purposefully corrupted in 2 Sam 2:8 to Ishbosheth “man of shame”. Jonathan’s son went the same way from Meribbaal “Baal is my advocate” (1 Chr 8:34) to Mephibosheth “destroying/splitting the shame” (2 Sam 4:4). Precisely in areas involving other gods do texts get managed. We can expect that to happen elsewhere dealing with earlier theologies that do not coincide with later views. It is not strange therefore to see signs of mystification of such texts, making them more theologically acceptable. (Citing notions from the new testament is just an extention of the process.)

    so if i understand correctly, jews were naming their kids after the god baal ,and then the later jews who had a problem with these names, corrupted them?

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    • Allah knows best.

      But Baal also has the generic meaning of lord,owner, husband. They could have meant it initially for God in the sense of ruler, protector, guardian etc.

      Of course elsewhere, Baal is an idol of the neighbouring nations appropriated by the Israelites.

      In the Quran, Allah uses the word Baal for the idol in 37:125. He also uses the word in the sense of husband when Sarah refers to Abraham 11:72.

      And Allah knows best.

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    • A similar example could be the word “malika” has a general meaning of queen.

      But in a specific religious context it could refer to a pagan goddess. Jeremiah 44:19, a false deity is called “Queen of Heaven”. Interestingly it is a title used by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians for Mary. And they mean by that Queen in a way similar to her son is considered King of Heaven i.e. omnipotent and sovereign.

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    • “But Baal also has the generic meaning of lord,owner, husband. They could have meant it initially for God in the sense of ruler, protector, guardian etc.”

      where is your evidence for “they could have…” for the following :

      there was a son of Saul called Ishbaal “man of Baal” (1 Chr 8:33), a name purposefully corrupted in 2 Sam 2:8 to Ishbosheth “man of shame”. Jonathan’s son went the same way from Meribbaal “Baal is my advocate” (1 Chr 8:34)

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    • and why did the jews who were working on the text at a later time not see your “could have…” ?

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  2. Thank you for sharing !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 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”.
    PW

    Strange. When a couple of folks proclaim there were references to other beings in the O.T. as divine or God, it is a story worthy of our attention. No questions asked, no discussion. BTW, the categorizations of these people in this regard are slight, in passing, and altogether extremely, brief.

    OTOH, the N.T. is nothing except the proclamations of God in the person Jesus Christ. It is a massive, well written and documented masterpiece on the life of a Man totally unique and exceptional, the ManGod who spoke like no one else and did things like no one else, born to a virgin, resurrected from the grave, as the propitiation for our sins, paid for with the blood that poured out of him 2,000 years ago. This One? He is the object of ceaseless attacks, bitter hatred and constant insults on this blog.

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    • “He is the object of ceaseless attacks, bitter hatred and constant insults on this blog.”

      Then I suggest you no longer frequent this blog. Your preaching at all and sundry is tedious and unwelcome.

      Like

    • Deuteronomy 4:19 “And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, ALL THE HOST of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

      since bible has forbidden the worship of distant hosts which are far powerful and greater than mortal , how comes it would allow the worship of what is AROUND us ?

      God is saying “when you look up and SEE….”

      you christians are saying “we will worship what is AROUND us…”

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  4. So you admit that Jesus is called God in the NT then?

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  5. Paul

    Thanks for the quote-mined post – but you forgot to make a point. What exactly are you trying to say? It is not clear at all.

    Like

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