[Note: Once again, the message boards I have been frequenting of late, has evoked some theologizing from me. (Quick! Hide the kids! Shut the blinds! Lock the doors!) One of the board members asked me to address the notion of theosis in our discussion of what the New Testament Church really is. My answer follows. It has been lightly edited to reflect a different audience.]
Thanks for the suggestion. Actually, I have tried to steer clear of any technical jargon (unless only technical jargon can adequately convey the proper meaning) when it comes to these discussions. My primary intent is to, as the proverb goes, address the rest of Scripture we don’t underline, to unleash a straightforward reading of the text, since I believe that should be sufficient.
That was probably a shade too naive, given that one must also address presuppositions.
In any case, theosis is the New Testament doctrine that salvation, union with God, entails a transfiguration of our persons to conform with the logic of the Incarnation. Which is to say, just as Jesus joined humanity to his divinity, we, by grace in Christ, join divinity to our humanity. As St. Paul writes to the Galatians:
For as many as were baptized into Christ, ye put on Christ (Galatians 3:27)
We don’t just clothe ourselves with parts of Christ, his righteousness here, his humility there, but with the whole of Christ. And one cannot separate out his righteousness and his humility from his very Person. Nor can one separate out Christ’s divinity and his humanity.
I have already pointed out 2 Peter 1:3-4, but the verses bear repeating:
“Inasmuch as His divine power hath freely given to us all the things for life and piety, through the full knowledge of Him Who called us by glory and virtue, by which He hath freely given to us the very great and precious promises, that through these ye might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world by desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Here we are given the promise that our salvation is fundamentally a participation in the divine nature of God. (I will leave aside for now the later patristic clarification regading God’s essence and energies.)
I have also already addressed Colossians 2:9-10 and Ephesians 1:22-23, but they also bear repeating:
ôFor in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the divinity bodily, and ye are made full in Him, Who is the head of all principality and authority . . . .ö (Colossians 2:9-10)
Once again, if the fullness of divinity dwells in Jesus bodily, and if we are made full in Him, then it logically follows that His fullness dwells in us, and that means we share in His divinity, we are, as St. Peter tells us, partakers of the divine nature.
ôAnd He put in subjection all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who filleth all things in all.ö (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Once again, the Church, of which we are members, is the fullness of Him who fills all things in all. Clearly Scripture means we have the fullness of Christ in us (as the Church, and personally as members of the Church). And if Christ’s fullness dwells in us, this must mean His divinity, which means we partake of the divine nature.
But it’s not only these verses that speak of this. This is a consistent theme of Scripture. I note again, Jesus’ words in his “high priestly prayer”:
“And I do not make request for these [the Apostles] only, but also for those who shall believe on Me through their word; in order that all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world might believe that Thou didst send Me forth. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have gien them, in order that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one, and that the world may know that Thou didst send Me forth, and didst love them even as Thou didst love Me. (John 17:20-23; emphasis added)
In other words, the union of God in Christ was more than merely a communication of “character and disposition,” and so, too, is that union with us. The difference, of course, is immeasurable: Christ is the Second Person of the Godhead, we are not. That, however, does not erase the strong and clear wording of His prayer, that we as whole persons, will be joined to God in Christ and partake of the divine union, the divine nature. We will be/are by grace what Christ is by nature.
But there are other equally clear passages. Note 1 John 3:2:
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it was not yet made manifest what we shall be; but we know that if He should be made manifest, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2; emphasis added)
Some may object, and quibble over St. John’s use of “like” (homoioi), meaning God stays God and we stay human, and nothing at all divine characterizes us even in eternity, I would simply point them to John 1:16:
“And of His fullness we all received; grace for grace . . . .” (John 1:16)
Whose fullness? Christ’s. Does it mean his fullness, er, except for the divine part? Of course not. Christ’s fullness includes his divinity. We participate in the divinity of Christ.
But note also that this isn’t just in St. Peter’s epistle, or St. John’s epistle and Gospel, or a couple of letters to the Colossians and Ephesians. St. Paul also reiterates this doctrine to the Corinthians–whom of any of the Churches of the New Testament would seem far from a model for partaking of the divine nature.
“But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18; emphasis added)
Now I know that some will emphasize the “reflecting part.” But St. Paul immediately follows with the fact that we will be transformed into the image we are reflecting. Others will emphasize the “glory” part, as though we will not become partakers of the divine nature, but “only” of God’s glory. But then the obvious question is: can you separate God’s glory from his nature? Indeed, isn’t it pretty well established biblical fact that “glory” is often a circumlocution for the very nature of God?
No, the evidence is overwhelming, and the New Testament is clear, our salvation involves union with God, but that union cannot be accomplished apart from our being transfigured with God’s divine nature.
Nowhere does the New Testament claim that we become God. But we do, through the communication of God’s divinity to us in the Person of Christ and in our union with Him in His Body the Church, become “gods.” In fact, this is Jesus’ own very point in reverse in John 10:34-36.
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in you law, ‘I said, “Ye are gods”‘? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came to pass–and the Scripture is not able to be broken–do ye say of Him, Whom the Father sanctified and sent forth into the world, ‘Thou blasphemest,’ because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? (John 10:34-36)
That is to say, Jesus claims that Scripture itself referred to Israel as “gods,” and since Scripture cannot be broken it was entirely biblical for Jesus to call Himself God’s Son. But note: making “gods” only figurative, takes away the force of what Jesus is saying about Himself (which is something we the readers know about Him that the Jewish leaders did not). That is to say, if Jesus’ claim is true because Israel was called “gods,” then if Jesus is really God, Israel (and by implication the new Israel) are really “gods.”
Now, before anyone goes all Joseph-Smith-Mormon-screaming-hysterical or Shirly-Maclaine-New-Age-God/Goddess-screaming-hysterial on me, none of this in any way indicates we become God, or gods in the same way that God is God. We are, if you will, and stating it in a very crass, non-technical way, “godlets.”
Truly, the main point is that of union with God. But if we are going to be one with God, we must become like Him, we must come to share in His divinity. But as is also clear from the New Testament, we can only do this in Christ–Who unites human and divine in His Person–and only through His Body the Church. We are not inherently “gods,” “godlets,” or, worse blasphemy “God(s)”. We are only so through grace.
Conversely, if we reject the union of God Christ makes real for us, we do not simply become “bad, bad humans,” we become demonic, the monstrous distortion of the image of God into anti-christs.