Nearly halfway through John’s Gospel, Jesus tells those gathered in the temple at the Feast of the Dedication, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’?” (10:34). In effect, Jesus says that Scripture says that God says, “You are gods.” What is Jesus on about?

It really is quite surprising. After all, we read the Scriptures and learn that human beings are not gods—at least, not in the sense that God is God. When the mighty Nebuchadnezzar failed to recognize the difference between human beings and God, he ate grass alongside the oxen until he learned as much (Dan. 4:1–37).

Yet, strange as it seems, Jesus saying “you are gods” tells us something essential about what it means for us—and for Jesus—to be human.

Now recall that, shortly before this statement in John 10, Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one,” and that those who heard him recognized the statement as an offense to God punishable by stoning (vv. 30–31; Lev. 24:10–16).

Their concern was not unfounded. Jesus said this at the Feast of the Dedication, when Jews remembered how God delivered them from Antiochus IV, whose chosen name Epiphanes (meaning either “illustrious” or “manifest”) suggested he thought of himself higher than he should have. So, stones in hand, those gathered around Jesus charged him: “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (v. 33).

Their accusation of blasphemy includes the critical idea that a human being cannot be God. And it is this idea that makes Jesus bring up the time that God called human beings gods:

Is it not written in your law, “I said you are gods?” If [God] called them to whom the word of God came “gods”—and the Scripture cannot be broken—are you saying of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world “you are disparaging the divine” because I said, “I am God’s son”? (John 10:34–36, my translation)

Now to us, Jesus’ reply might at first seem like a trick. It’s as though Jesus downplays his claim about being one with the Father by saying that all human beings are, in some manner of speaking, gods! Jesus’ answer can also be read not as a trick but as a profound theological claim: Humanity and divinity are not ultimately incompatible.

If we want to understand Jesus’ larger argument, we must look at the context of the biblical passage he quotes and interprets, which is Psalm 82. This complex psalm envisions God addressing a council of human judges (or deities, or divine kings—scholars today are divided in their interpretation, but the ancients understood this as addressing human beings).

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In this psalm, these human judges do not do justice to the poor and needy—a failure that reflects their fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding (vv. 1–5). So God judges them and says, “You are gods; you are all children of the Most High. But you will die like mere mortals and fall like every other ruler” (vv. 6–7, NLT).

These human judges are “gods” in that they can exercise judgment like God does. But whereas God’s judgment is just, wise, and impartial, their judgment is unjust and benefits the wicked. So, these humans will not live forever—as gods are supposed to—but will die as mortals.

Returning now to John’s Gospel, Jesus quotes this psalm within his appeal to those gathered in the temple to judge rightly about his works. He tells them, “Believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:38). This echoes his earlier appeal to those troubled by his healing a paralyzed man on the Sabbath: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (7:24). In this, Jesus affirms our godlike capacity for exercising good judgment and asks us to judge how his works make the case for his oneness with the Father.

The capacity that makes us most godlike is also the one that is supposed to make us know and trust that the Father is in Jesus and that Jesus is in the Father. This is one reason that Jesus reminds his hearers that God called them “gods” when asking them to judge with right judgment about his works.

To be sure, Jesus is not saying we are gods in the way that God is God. The word god in ancient Greek had more range than it does in English now. Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle used the word god to talk about what human beings can make of ourselves when we live in the best possible way. To them, for a human to be like god was to approach immortality, happiness, goodness, and wisdom, among other things.

For John’s Gospel, we are most godlike when, through trust in Jesus, we become God’s children and come to have eternal life (1:12). To put it another way, we are gods because we are God’s.

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Sometime after John’s Gospel was written, ancient Jewish interpreters read Psalm 82:6–7 as a story about God making humans immortal like gods, and humans losing their immortality through sin. So it was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and so it was when God restored Israel’s immortality by giving them the Law at Sinai, only for them to lose it again after the incident with the golden calf.

Early Christians came to see Psalm 82:6–7 as a story about how God adopted humanity when Jesus gave us “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Having become once again “children of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6, NLT), we will no longer die as mere mortals.

And what of Jesus’ humanity? When Jesus quotes Psalm 82, he is establishing a basic compatibility between humanity and divinity. But Jesus is also distinctive among human beings on account of his oneness with the Father. This is not because of what Jesus does of his own accord so much as it is because of what the Father does in him.

In the same breath that Jesus identifies himself as “God’s Son,” he refers to himself as “the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world” (10:36). This language of consecration, used as it is during the Feast of the Dedication, is about how God sets Jesus apart for sacrifice, just as new altars are set apart for sacrifice (Num. 7:1–11; 1 Kings 8:63–64). In an astonishing turn, then, Jesus is most distinctive in his oneness with the Father at just the point he is in most solidarity with us, namely, in being mortal.

And this gets at the meaning of Jesus being at once human and divine. It is not that Jesus is superhuman (much less a superhero or a superstar), but that when he lays down his life for us (and takes it up again), it is God’s power at work in him (John 10:17–18).

This brings us full circle to what it means to be the kind of humans that God calls “gods .” When we judge with right judgment about Jesus’ words and works, we see how they purify disciples for love, liberate the afflicted, and bring life to the world (5:1–9). As we ourselves are purified, liberated, and made alive by Jesus, we find ourselves able to love our neighbors in the same way that Jesus loved us. So, in discerning what Jesus is like, we better imagine and embody what our lives with others can become.

Jesus’ image of the vine and branches in John’s Gospel gives us another angle on the continuity between his humanity and ours. Jesus is the vine and his disciples are fruit-bearing branches of the vine (15:1–7). Just as a branch broken off of its vine loses its vitality and capacity to bear fruit, Jesus tells his disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). But the disciples are not broken, withered branches. They are branches that stay on the vine.

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Because Jesus is alive now, we do not need to become Jesus to be like him. The branches need not replace the vine. By God, our lives—our peculiarities, limitations, and all—might become receptive to Jesus’ power the way a fruit-bearing branch is receptive to the power of its vine (vv. 1–8).

The fruit we bear with Jesus is the work of love, and this work takes the shape of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This is what it means to be God’s children, what it means to have eternal life, what it means to be addressed by God as “gods”: to be human like Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ humanity makes ours possible.

Wil Rogan is assistant professor of biblical studies at Carey Theological College in Vancouver.

Portions of this article are excerpted from Wil Rogan, “Jesus’s Humanity and Ours: John’s Christology and Ancient Views of Self,” in Early High Christology: John among the New Testament Writers, ed. Joel B. Green, Diane G. Chen, and Christopher M. Blumhofer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2024), 63–74.