Does The Bible Say We Are Gods

The debate of whether we are literally gods, as stated in the Bible, has been one that has transcended generations. Its claim has brought forth questions of the interpretation of scripture, the debate of relativity in terms of power, the manipulation of the narrative and how a particular faith tradition is practiced. While these conversations are integral components to the analysis, a key factor to the discourse should be an exploration of the historical context of the scriptures in questioning.

To begin, Biblical sources never refer to humans as gods in a literal sense. The Hebrew bible, known as the Tanakh, establishes in the first of its five books – the Book of Genesis – that only one divine being commands over creation (Lane & Scandrette, 2019). It is said that man and woman were “created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). This spiritual likeness speaks rather to the power that humans possess to be accountable, loving and seek justice in the world. Alongside this, the ancient Hebrew concept of ‘being’ rather than ‘having’, symbolizes the idea that humans are not in possession of divine power, but rather complimenting it (Hauser, 2010).

The claim made that humans possess metaphysical power, is largely due to the narrative of Jesus found in the New Testament, who takes on the persona of God by virtue of his teachings, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection. Through this, the writer(s) of the New Testament, John, employ language of gods and deities to explain him (Engel, 2016). However, even further to this, Jesus didn’t proclaim to be a literal divine being. He promotes humility, holiness and eagerness to serve, which is reflective of other Jewish prophets such as Amos, who in his writings calls out the power societies seeks to possess (7:1-6).

In the book of Jude in the New Testament, the author alludes to a Jewish storytelling known as ‘The Pre-existence of Adam’ (1:19) – a text that long predates both the New Testament, and even the new Hebrew Bible. This ancient story highlights the fall of Man as a result of succumbing to the temptations to become divine-like, with Adam and Eve made in the image of Gods and gifted the power to name all the creatures (Genesis 2:19-20) – paralleling the story in the pre-existence. Though the position of both Adam and Jesus in the Jewish and Christian texts contain elements of the divine, this still doesn’t signify a literal claim to one’s self as a divine being. This can be interpreted as a symbol of power and an example of how far mankind has been given certain abilities and freedom of choice, with such power shared amongst human beings.

The narrative and evolution of the texts have altered the language of ‘God’ overtime, the sublime virtue of language is prone to be modified or updated in light of societal and cultural norms. The lyrics of hymns often use the term ‘God’ as an expressive weapon in signaling inspiration and motivation. In interpreting these messages as literal, practitioners intentions and interpretations become misguided.

In understanding a particular faith, it is vital to look at the interpretive lens being used. To say definitively “we are gods” is oversimplifying a deeply intricate connection between the relationship of man and power, the ingenuity of language, the impact of history on a faith, the narrative of scriptural figures, and the understanding of our combined potential.

History and Other Ancient Texts

Contextualizing the scriptures and other ancient texts is critical in understanding the narrative further. A key source is Sumerian literature – a Mesopotamian civilization who, for many generations, held gods as the all-mighty. With gods deemed as impartial to mortals, deities had all command over the physical and metaphysical realms (Engel, 2016). As this civilization found their way into the Hebrew texts, the interaction between gods and humans has come to represent the position of possessing power for a larger cause, rather than a literal statement about selfhood.

In addition, historical records of ancient Rabbinical scholar Rashi, detail how the spiritual power speaks more of the will of humans to serve Allah, God, and how it commands the ability to work alongside Him, rather than assume a permanent status of divine power (Gurlitz, 2018). It is important to note that throughout its evolution, the narrative has been surrounded by debate and varying interpretations by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars (Gurlitz, 2018).

This enriches the conversation further and addresses the concerns of human beings wanting to possess divine power, demonstrating that the statements made the Bible are largely symbolic in the sense that humans possess power for the larger cause of justice and peace.

Concepts & Symbolism

Not only must we look to the history and language of scripture to further explain the narrative in terms of power and ‘being gods’, we must further contemplate the philosophy, symbolism and understanding of the texts. The Genesis narrative reflects the cultural reality of the ancient near East, creating comparative stories that help us understand our place in the world (Winona Jones, 2019). This can be reflected in the context of power and its human application, as made by authors in the search of an understanding of power relations (Winona Jones, 2019).

Furthermore, in studying Old Testament prophets, figures such as Moses not only symbolize power, but actually embody post-biblical status of a sacrifice made by mankind through commitment to justice and truth (Winona Jones, 2019). Although it doesn’t necessarily suggest that humans posses divine status, it still upholds the model of partnership and accountability made by God (Jackson, 2017).

Lincoln, in a conversation in the Protestant Reformed journal – informs the belief of the Church to look to scripture as a religious form of power guided by the direction of God for the larger good – with no statement made of humans being made ‘gods’ (Lane & Scandrette, 2019). In doing so it details further understanding of the position of each character in terms of the narrative and their beliefs in a power higher than oneself, rather than believing one is godlike.

Interpretive Developments & Beyond

In looking to the development and interpretation of the scripture, it would be incorrect to not review old Jewish texts such as the Talmud and Midrash, and the development of Jewish traditions such as rabbinical debate, unveiling the core functioning of the faith, and the call to pursue theological and moral debate amongst one another (Gurlitz, 2018). This further indicates that the conversation and narrative of the scriptures must be nuanced and subjective to the experience of each believer, rather than all literal.

In addition, modern-day activities affiliated with having faith such as practicing, reading and understanding scripture, but also forging relationships with other believers, can be insightful in understanding what it means to take part in a faith tradition (Gurlitz, 2018). It is in these settings that language further develops and evolves with understanding, as highlighted by modern-day writers in the Jewish faith.

Gendered language can sometimes challenge the relationship with God for some. Gender pronouns have traditionally been used in religious settings to describe God, with masculine connotations attached to the divine entity. Yet a comment by theologian Phyllis Trible, has challenged the implications of this usage, suggesting more gender-neutral language in order to redefine the power dynamics of God and man in a way that reduces the power differential (Engel, 2016). Such notions advocate further exploration in articulating the various positions of man and God, the power of language and the human-God partnership.

The Human-God Relationship

The relationship between man and God is paramount in understanding whether humans have divine-like power. From a Catholic context, theologian Thomas Aquinas looked to Aristotle’s Philosophical framework to propose the idea of “beatitudo” – eternal happiness found by serving God, rather than trying to control Him (Jackson, 2017). By making no claim of humans as possessing “god-status”, this allows to individuals to focus on the wider human-God partnership, recognizing the power of human beings but still making clear their place in the world without making any claims of divine literalness.

Moreover, where Christianity is centred around a particular figure, Islam is based on belief and faith regarding the Qu’ran and its narrative surrounding the status of man and God. Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, has proposed ‘an ethics of inter-dependence’ in relation to the idea of power, where he outlines how humans must strive to work in a certain way in order to be viewed by God in a positive light (Ramadan, 2007). As opposed to humans being possessors of divine power, it is instead Muslims beliefs to aspire to be partners to Allah rather than literal ‘gods’.

The Bible breathes complex narrative and symbol(ism) that transcend religious and non-religious bounds. Such texts can be understood if looked at from a position of understanding, nuance and contextualization. To say that the Bible says we are literal gods oversimplifies this process of discussion and exploration and further detracts from the power of scripture and the relationship between mankind and God.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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