Psalm 82:1 talks about “the divine council,” and Psalm 82:6 says, “You are gods, children of the most high.” What is this divine council of (multiple) gods? Isn’t there just one true God?
Yes, there is just one true God. God is one in essence, but three in persons (the Trinity). Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,'” This indicates a plurality as well, but this is referring to the three members (persons) of the Triune God (the Trinity): the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
However, Psalm 82 presents us with the situation of “the divine council” which is more difficult to understand and to explain.
The Hebrew reference to “gods” there is the word “elohim.” It is masculine and plural. (See also Job 1:6, Job 2:1, and Job 38:7.) Many Christians shy away from these passages because they’re afraid that they’ll learn something that will upset their whole system of faith in God. However, I’ve always taken the approach that the Bible can defend itself. I don’t mind testing it, because I don’t want to believe something that’s not true anyway.
I’ll touch on the two primary (of many) schools of thought on this:
One argument is that, although “Elohim” is almost always used for God, there are exceptions. One exception is Exodus 7:1 where God told Moses that he would be as “God” to Pharaoh; that is, God’s representative to Pharaoh. But in Psalm 82 (as in Exodus 7:1), this could be referring here to human leaders who God has invested authority in (judges, kings, etc). Psalm 82 shows how these leaders were misusing their authority, so God pronounced judgment on them. The use of “gods” in Psalm 82:6 is also “Elohim” used to refer to human leaders in positions of God ordained authority. Jesus actually quoted this verse in John 10:34 and seems to be saying that if those dishonest judges can be called “gods” erroneously, why would these Jews He is talking to object to His legitimate claim to be the “Son of God” (John 10:36)?
However, I lean toward the second school of thought here, as Michael Heiser explains in his book The Unseen Realm. These “Elohim” are spirit beings – not humans. There is a hierarchical structure to the spirit world.
First of all, at the top of this structure is the one true God – the one essence of God, in the three persons of god (the Triune God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Only God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (see The Essence of God). God has complete authority and control over everything, including the whole spirit world. This one true God may be referred to as Yahweh. Heiser says, “Yahweh is an elohim, but no other elohim is Yahweh.”
Then, under the one true God, there is a hierarchy of lesser spirit beings (which may be referred to loosely by the term Elohim). The Bible doesn’t spell out his hierarchy, but we have some clues. Before the fall of Satan, he was high up in this hierarchy. However, now Michael is the archangel. Gabriel is another angel mentioned in the Bible. There is also a host of good angels and a host of demon angels.
I hope this helps.