Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Lord Jesus Christ – The God of the heavenly assembly! Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun


Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to the following passage to disprove the Deity of the Lord Jesus:

“‘I and the Father are one.’ Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are ‘gods’”? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, “I am God’s Son”?’” John 10:30-36

Our Lord here quotes Psalm 82:6 in order to show that it wasn’t blasphemy for him to say that he was the Son of God who was one with the Father since the Scripture itself calls other beings “gods.” Thus, if what Jesus said was blasphemous than his opponents needed to be consistent and condemn the Psalmist for blasphemy as well.

Certain anti-Trinitarians claim that Jesus’ appeal to Psalm 82:6 to defend against the charge of blasphemy indicates that Christ was basically denying the accusation that he was making himself out to be God. Jesus was instead claiming to be a god and son of God like those mentioned by the Psalmist.

Psalm 82 – A Reference to God’s Heavenly Council?

They further point out that these so-called gods whom Jesus compared himself to are the members of the host of heaven, spirit beings who make up God’s heavenly council.

According to their view, the entire context of Psalm 82 is about God entering into judgment against the members of his divine council for failing to uphold justice in the earth. The Psalmist is invoking God to rise up against these corrupt sons of God and to reclaim the entire earth as his own possession.

These particular anti-Trinitarians are obviously trying to convince others that Jesus is not Yahweh God but a created spirit being like these other sons of God. Their belief is that even though Jesus is in some sense greater than these other sons of God, he is still a spirit creature of God nonetheless (albeit the most exalted of them all).

Here is Psalm 82 in its entirety so that the readers can see who exactly is being referred to as gods and sons of the Most High:

God (elohim) has taken his place in the divine (el) council; in the midst of the gods (elohim) he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, ‘You are gods (elohim), sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men (Adam) you shall die, and fall like any prince.’ Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” Psalm 82:1-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

In rendering the Hebrew word el as “divine” the above translation is basically taking the position that this refers to God’s heavenly council.

The Hebrew Scriptures do provide a basis for viewing Psalm 82 as an attack on the corrupt members of God’s heavenly council. There are specific places in the OT where spiritual beings are called sons of God and where Yahweh is portrayed as being surrounded by a host of spirit creatures ready to do his will:

“Now there was a day when the sons of God (beney ha elohim) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” Job 1:6 – cf. 2:1 ESV

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God (beney elohim) shouted for joy?” Job 38:4-7 ESV

“Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.” “By what means?” the LORD asked. “I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,” he said. “You will succeed in enticing him,” said the LORD. “Go and do it.” So now the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.’” 1 Kings 22:19-23

“As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.’” Daniel 7:9-10 - cf. Isaiah 6:1-8

Hence, when we add the fact that the NT even calls Jesus the Son of the Most High,

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:26-35

It is not hard to see why the anti-Trinitarians conclude from all of this that Jesus is not God the Son but a created divine being like the rest of the heavenly council members, even though he is more exalted than them.

The anti-Trinitarians assume that since Jesus appealed to an OT text which mentions other beings that are called sons of the Most High in order to prove that he wasn’t blaspheming for saying he was God’s Son, and since he himself is called the Son of the Most High, this therefore proves that Jesus isn’t God. Rather, Christ is a creature who was brought into existence and given life by God.

The problem of interpretation

However, there are major difficulties with the logic and understanding employed by these anti-Trinitarians.

In the first place, it is far from certain whether this particular Psalm is referring to the members of God’s heavenly council. In fact, not all scholars and commentators agree that these ‘gods’ are spiritual beings whom Yahweh appointed to rule over mankind. A difference of opinion exists among them whether these are actual spirit rulers as opposed to human judges who have acted corruptly.

This difference in understanding can be seen from the way that various English versions of the Holy Bible translate Psalm 82.

For instance, should el be translated as divine or should it be rendered as great, as in the following version?

“God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘gods’:”

If the latter then is this speaking of a heavenly congregation or an earthly one?

Or is el a further description of Yahweh? If so does this mean that the Psalmist is referring to God taking a stand in his own council as we find in these next translations?

“God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.” New American Standard Bible (NASB)

“God hath stood in the company of God, In the midst God doth judge.” Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

More importantly, which council of God is this speaking of? The one in heaven or the one on earth, namely, the assembly of Israel, God’s covenant people?

Or is the Psalter referring to the council of the mighty, i.e. the congregation of rulers and judges?

“God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.” New Kings James Version (NKJV)

“God takes his place at the head of a large gathering of rulers and judges. He announces his decisions among them.” New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

Again, are these rulers and judges human or angelic?

Or is this Psalm a polemic against the Canaanite deity El and the members of his congregation?

“God stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment.” NET Bible

The NET translators explain:

3 tn The phrase עֲדַת אֵל (’adat ’el, “assembly of El”) appears only here in the OT. (1) Some understand “El” to refer to God himself. In this case he is pictured presiding over his own heavenly assembly. (2) Others take אֵל as a superlative here (“God stands in the great assembly”), as in Pss 36:6 and 80:10. (3) The present translation assumes this is a reference to the Canaanite high god El, who presided over the Canaanite divine assembly. (See Isa 14:13, where El’s assembly is called “the stars of El.”) In the Ugaritic myths the phrase ’dt ’ilm refers to the “assembly of the gods,” who congregate in King Kirtu’s house, where Baal asks El to bless Kirtu’s house (see G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 91). If the Canaanite divine assembly is referred to here in Ps 82:1, then the psalm must be understood as a bold polemic against Canaanite religion. Israel’s God invades El’s assembly, denounces its gods as failing to uphold justice, and announces their coming demise. For an interpretation of the psalm along these lines, see W. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” EBC 5:533-36. (NET Bible; underline emphasis ours)


4 sn The present translation assumes that the Hebrew term אֱלֹהִים (’elohim, “gods”) here refers to the pagan gods who supposedly comprise El’s assembly according to Canaanite religion. Those who reject the polemical view of the psalm prefer to see the referent as human judges or rulers (אֱלֹהִים sometimes refers to officials appointed by God, see Exod 21:6; 22:8-9; Ps 45:6) or as angelic beings (אֱלֹהִים sometimes refers to angelic beings, see Gen 3:5; Ps 8:5). (*)

The above translations and comments should make it abundantly clear that the identity of these gods is not at all certain and that scholars and expositors themselves are divided over this issue.

Jesus Christ – The unique divine Son of God and King of the heavenly council

Be that as it may we will proceed with the assumption that the “gods” and “the sons of the Most High” refer to the members of God’s heavenly congregation in order to demonstrate that this in no way supports the anti-Trinitarian position that Jesus is simply one among many created spirit beings.

This now brings us to the other major problem with this position. According to the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures Jesus is infinitely superior to all created things, and therefore vastly greater and better than the rest of the so-called gods and sons of God. There are at least six reasons why this is so.

  1. Jesus is God’s unique Son who fully shares and embodies his Father’s uncreated essence.
  2. Jesus is the Agent of creation whom the Father used to create all things.
  3. Jesus is the Sustainer of all creation who preserves and gives life to all things by his powerful word.
  4. Jesus is the Father’s coregent who actively rules over all creation from the heavenly throne of his Father.
  5. Jesus is (or must be) worshiped by all the members of God’s heavenly host.
  6. Jesus is the One who judges and destroys the wicked members of the heavenly council.

Jesus is not merely a Son of God according to the inspired Scriptures, but is actually God’s unique Son:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (ton huion ton monogene), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (tou monogenous huiou tou theou).” John 3:16-18

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son (ton huion autou ton monogene) into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9

The Greek word monogenes doesn’t mean that Jesus is the only Son of God in the sense that God has no other sons besides him. Rather, the word is meant to stress the fact that Jesus is the only Son of his kind, i.e. unique and unlike the rest, and that no other son compares to him. This meaning can be more clearly seen from the following passage:

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son (ton monogene), even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” Hebrews 11:17-19

Here, Isaac is called Abraham’s monogenes. Yet we know from the inspired Scriptures that Isaac wasn’t Abraham’s only child since Abraham had Ishmael long before Isaac was born (cf. Gen. 16-17). Abraham also had six other sons born to him from his wife Keturah after the birth of Isaac and the death of Sarah (cf. Gen. 23-25).

The reason why Isaac is called monogenes is because he is the only child that God personally promised to give to Abraham, being the son whom God appointed as the heir to all of the covenant promises which were made to Abraham. Thus, Isaac was Abraham’s unique son, being the only one of his kind.

The risen Lord is also God’s unique Son since he is the only Son of his kind.

The following exegetical dictionary sums it up best:

2. Monogenes means only, one of a kind, unique (derived from monos and genos)…

4. That unique is the actual meaning of monogenes can be seen in Heb 11:17, where it is used of Isaac, whom Abraham was ready to sacrifice, even though God had promised Abraham abundant descendants. The word here means only (son) of his kind, i.e., the only son of the promise (Gen 21:12). Abraham in fact had already begotten Ishmael through Hagar (Gen 16:3f.; 17:22-25) and later had six other sons by Keturah (Gen 25:1). Monogenes here reflects Heb. yachid of Gen 22:2, 12, 16, which the LXX prefers to translate as agapetos, “beloved” (Aquila uses monogenes in Gen 22:2, as Symmachus does at Gen 22:12). Likewise, Josephus uses monogenes in Ant. i.222 in the sense of unique; he expresses the idea “born” with a separate partc.… (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 2000], Volume 2, p. 440)

Jesus’ uniqueness is a clear indication that he is not like the rest of the sons of God but is actually infinitely better and superior to God’s entire heavenly host.

For instance, none of the heavenly council members are identical to God or can do what Yahweh does. Nor are they to be worshiped and feared as Yahweh is:

“The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty (beney elim) is like the LORD, A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him? O LORD God of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the swelling of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them. You Yourself crushed Rahab like one who is slain; You scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm. The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all it contains, You have founded them. The north and the south, You have created them; Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at Your name. You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalm 89:5-14 ESV

Here is another translation:

“Is there any in the sky who could compare to the LORD? Who among the gods is equal to the LORD? God is respected in the council of the holy ones; God is awesome and to be revered more than all those around him. Who is like you, LORD God of heavenly forces? Mighty LORD, your faithfulness surrounds you!” Psalm 89:6-8 Common English Bible (CEB)

However, as the unique Son the NT teaches that the Lord Jesus can do whatever the Father does in the same exact way that the Father does it!

“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. ‘Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because WHATEVER the Father does the Son ALSO DOES. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it… Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear HIS [Son’s] voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.’” John 5:16-21, 24-29

Here, the Lord Jesus claims that he can only do whatever the Father does, a rather astonishing assertion in itself! After all, which mere creature could ever say that s/he can only do what God does?

Some of the things which Jesus says he can do include giving spiritual and physical life, raising the dead, working on the Sabbath, and judging all mankind in order to determine the eternal destiny of every individual. Jesus also claims to have life within himself just as the Father has it, e.g. Christ is like the Father in that he is a self-existent Being who is the Source or Author of life! Note the words of the blessed Apostle Peter:

“You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed THE AUTHOR OF LIFE, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” Acts 3:14-15

Another way in which Christ resembles the Father is in his perfect control over all the natural elements such as the winds and seas:

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” Mark 4:35-41

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I (ego eimi –I AM). Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Mark 6:45-52

Jesus even creates in the same exact way that the Father does. For instance, John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the Word who became flesh and the unique Son who is fully God in essence. As the divine Word, Jesus is the perfect Revelation of the Father as well as the Agent of creation and redemption, the One through whom the Father created and gives life to all things:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father (monogenous para patros), full of grace and truth… “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God (monogenes theos) and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” John 1:1-5, 9-10, 14, 18

Moreover, the Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who has preeminence over all creation by virtue of being the One who created and sustains all things. Paul also claimed that all things were created for Christ and that all the fullness of the Divine essence is embodied in him:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is first over the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything. Colossians 1:15-18 CEB

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Colossians 2:9

Hebrews is another inspired book which teaches that Christ is God’s unique Son and Heir of all creation. The inspired author goes so far as to say that Christ is the exact representation or imprint of God’s very own uncreated substance who sustains all creation by his own powerful word!

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by HIS POWERFUL WORD…” Hebrews 1:1-3a

Hence, the Lord Jesus is exactly like his Father since he bears God’s essence fully and completely and can do whatever the Father does! These are characteristics and functions which cannot be ascribed to any of the other sons of God.

What makes all of these claims all the more astonishing is that not only do the OT writings state that Yahweh created and sustains all things:

“And Ezra said: ‘Thou art the Lord, thou ALONE; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them; and the host of heaven worships thee.’” Nehemiah 9:6 RSV

“This is what God the LORD says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:” Isaiah 42:5

“It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts… For this is what the LORD says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’” Isaiah 45:12, 18

They also testify that Yahweh did so by himself, without anyone helping him:

“His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He ALONE stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,” Job 9:4-10

“This is what the Lord, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb, says: I am the Lord, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by MYSELF; who ALONE spread out the earth;” Isaiah 44:24 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

The prophetic writings further claim that Yahweh creates and forms things for his own glory:

“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for MY GLORY, whom I formed and made… The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for MYSELF that they may proclaim my praise.” Isaiah 43:6-7, 20-21

In fact, certain non-canonical Jewish writings went so far as to say that Yahweh sustains all creation by his word, the very thing Hebrews claims for Christ!

“Because of him his messenger finds the way, and by HIS WORD all things hold together.” Sirach 43:26

“O sovereign Lord, did you not speak at the beginning when You created the earth–which You did without help–and commanded the dust and it gave you Adam.” 4 Ezra 3:4

“These [the world and its contents] God created not with hands, not with toil, not with assistants, of whom He had no need; He willed it, and so they were made in all their beauty. Josephus, Against Apion 2:192

But there is more. In the following passage:

“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’” Hebrews 1:10-12

The inspired author has taken Psalm 102:25-27, a text that highlights Yahweh’s immutability and speaks of his roles in creating and sustaining the entire creation, and applied it to the Son!

This concludes the first part of our analysis. Please proceed to the second part.