Theosis of the Early Church Fathers

Paul Derengowski, ThM

 

Introduction

Theosis, or the deification of humanity, was a casually held belief in the early church.  Those in the eastern half of the Church were its primary exponents.  Although not regularly discussed in most contemporary theology settings, it appears to be reemerging as a topic of interest among more and more evangelicals.  This paper, therefore, will attempt to discuss the doctrine of deification, especially as it appeared among the Early Church Fathers in the eastern branch of Christianity.  What is theosis?  What are the most common biblical texts used to support its claims?  Who were the main characters involved that help to propagate the doctrine.  Answers to these questions will not only assist the reader to better understand what theosis is, but also the minds and motivations of those taught such a doctrine that is often misunderstood or unrealized.  Therefore, without further introduction, attention will now turn to the first question, as a definition for theosis will be given.

Theosis: A Definition

Defining the word theosis is somewhat of challenge, because it is not a part of everyday language.  In addition, synonyms for theosis, deification and divinization, are equally uncommon, rarely being used in daily conversation, except for possibly when discussions concerning religious paganism or idolatry are at issue.  In fact, one will look in vain to find the word theosis in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, for it does not appear as an entrance among its thousands of entries.  Furthermore, deification, deify and divinization are of equally little help in understanding the term, due to the sparse or non-definitions given to them. 1  Primary theological sources are equally negligible in dealing with theosis, if it is dealt with at all.  For theosis (θεωσις) is not a term cited in reference works like the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 2 Therefore, how does one discover what this word means if some of the more influential volumes on language do not even discuss it? 3   One must remember that since theosis is primarily an Eastern Church concept then it is there that one must turn for information.

First, it should be noted that none of the Early Church Fathers clearly defined what the term theosis actually meant.  It was more or less implied through their writings as to what they were inferring, yet not one of them wrote a particular document dealing with the subject.  Nathan Ng asserts that, “Despite the centrality of deification for the soteriology of the Greek fathers…none of them has given a precise definition for the term θεωσις or its equivalents which they used.  According to our existing materials, none of the early fathers had written a single separate treatise on deification.  They invariably treated it as an unutterable mystery…For this reason, interpretation and misinterpretation of the term continue without end.” 4

At a cursory level, though, theosis may be defined as “deification” or “divinization” with its particular source being God or Christ, because of grace, through the instrumentality of the sacraments of the church, with the idea of virtue in mind. 5 However, beyond the perfunctory, theosis is seen not only as the divinization of humanity, it is seen as a process of transformation inherent with many themes that most westerners are familiar with.  P. B. T. Bulaniuk, an Orthodox theologian, characterizes theosis in the following way:

Theosis or divinization (or sometimes even deification) can be described as the omnipotent and sanctifying, divine and Triadic activity which, because of the indwelling of the Trinity and grace and because of the inborn and natural capacity of the creature for transfiguration, induces a process of assimilation to God the Father of the whole human person, of mankind and of the visible and invisible universe in its totality, through the mediation of the incarnate Logos, Christ the Pantocrator, and in the Holy Spirit. 6

Here, Bulaniuk stresses the total Trinitarian involvement of the Godhead in the sanctifying process of the creature whereby the saint, as well as all of creation, are transfigured and assimilated by God, to God.  Bulaniuk continues, “Thus theosis according to the understanding of the Eastern Christians consists in an active participation in the inner life, light, and love of the Triadic God, which increases in intensity as the process of assimilation of the creature to God becomes faster and deeper.” 7  The key to understanding this “participation” is to realize that the human is in the process of being transformed from the divine image to the divine likeness of Almighty God, even though not necessarily all eastern theologians may have emphasized this in their thinking. 8

The three-fold contribution of Trinity may be seen as follows.  God the Father by uncreated grace communicates his “energies” to humanity whereby God exists in his creation, yet remains distinct from it.  Vladimir Lossky, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, in discussing God’s energies, asserts that,

God’s presence in His energies must be understood in a realistic sense.  It is not the presence of a cause operative in its effects: for the energies are not effects of the divine cause, as creatures are; they are not created, formed ex nihilo, but flow eternally from the one essence of the Trinity.  They are the outpourings of the divine nature which cannot set bounds to itself, for God is more than essence.  The energies might be described as that mode of existence of the Trinity which is outside of its inaccessible essence.  God thus exists both in His essence and outside of His essence. 9

Jesus Christ, the second person in the Trinity, through whom God is revealed humankind, took upon himself a human nature whereby he bridged the gap between the divine and the human.  “What he gives to us, including resurrection, immortality, exaltation is what He first gave to Himself in His own humanity and through Himself to us who are united to His body, His humanity, by grace.  He receives grace for us in Himself.  But He is also the giver of that grace. Deification is a Christological event extended to us.” 10  Finally, the Holy Spirit acts as the agent who not only adopts humanity as sons and daughter of God, but actually dispenses of the energies of God, as those energies, making “accessible to us the spiritual power that belongs to Christ.” 11

However, even though transformation takes place, this process in no way means that the human’s nature changes.  As Clendenin asserts,

Human theosis is a relative rather than an absolute transformation.  There is a real and genuine union of the believer with God, but it is not a literal fusion or confusion in which the integrity of human nature is compromised.  Orthodoxy consistently rejects the idea that humans participate in the essence or nature of God.  Rather, we remain distinctly human by nature but participate in God by the divine energies or grace.  At no point, when even deified, is our humanity diminished or destroyed. 12

In other words, although the human may be divinized or become more like God, at no time during the process, including the conclusion whereby upon the death and resurrection of the saint occurs, does the saint ever become a god by nature in terms of essence.  Rather, the whole goal of deification is the complete communion with God, which was initially broken when sin entered the world of humanity through Adam. 13 Furthermore, while the early fathers continuously and casually used expressions to denote the divinity of humans, W. R. Inge concludes that deification actually carried with a much less controversial implication.  He states,

Let it suffice to say here that though such bold phrases as “God became man, that we might become God,” were common places of doctrinal theology at least till after Augustine, even Clement and Origen protest strongly against the “very impious” heresy that man is “a part of God,” or “consubstantial with God.”  The attribute of Divinity which was chiefly in the minds of the Greek Fathers when they made these statements, was that of imperishableness. 14

In summary, theosis may be defined as the act of the Trinity whereby God, through His grace, moves upon humanity to draw and redeem him from his lost state, changing the divine image inherent within man into the divine likeness inherent within God without changing man’s nature.  Man becomes god in the sense being transformed from the state of corruptibility to incorruptibility, from perishable to imperishable, from the state of loss to the state of redemption.  Yet, where in the sacred record does one find evidence that men are gods?  It is with this that attention will now focus.

Biblical Support for Theosis

There are two primary biblical texts which give the doctrine of theosis its main emphasis.  Those texts are Psalm 82:6 and 2 Peter 1:4.  The reason they are alluded to is due to the implied, if not explicit, statements regarding the association between humans and deification.  Nevertheless, are these texts necessarily meaning what the Orthodox Fathers believed that they are conveying?

Psalm 82:6

Psalm 82:6 states, “I said, ‘You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.’”  The context of the passage shows God (Heb. אְֶלֹהִים) taking his stand amid those who were rulers (Heb. אְֶלֹהִים) in His congregation.  God is upset with the conduct of these individuals due to their injustice and partiality in either mistreating the innocent and vindicating the wicked (vv. 2-3).  Furthermore, he characterizes them as misunderstanding and walking in darkness (v. 5).  This leads to God’s comment that is often mistaken to mean that men are somehow on a par with God, “You are gods,” in verse six.  The Psalm concludes with the decrepit state of these “gods,” by asserting that they “will die like men,” and “fall like one of the princes” (v. 7), and that ultimately it is up to God to judge righteously, for He is the One who will possess the all the nations or people.  The question remains, though, how can such a passage be used for deification purposes?

Two words probably best describe the method of interpretation prevalent, not only in Modern Greek Orthodoxy, but more particularly among the Early Church Fathers, and must be understood if one is to understand why passages like Psalm 82:6 are exegeted by them in the way that they are.  Those words are allegory and typology.  According to Kelly, “In allegorical exegesis the sacred text is treated as a mere symbol, or allegory, of spiritual truths.  The literal, historical sense, if it is regarded at all, plays a relatively minor role, and the aim of the exegete is to elicit the moral, theological or mystical meaning which each passage, indeed each verse and even each word, is presumed to contain.” 15  Consequently, context is not necessarily as important as discovering the underlying meaning of a text, 16 and this was the attitude of the church fathers.  And although the motivation 17 may have been noble among them, as Virkler points out, “The allegorical method as practiced by the church fathers often neglected completely the author’s intended meaning and the literal understanding of a text to develop speculations the author himself would never have recognized.” 18

Typology, on the other hand, attempts to find the links between characteristics of certain characters and/or events in the Old Testament and relate them to certain characters and/or events in the New Testament.  The idea was to find certain “correspondences” which would further explain either testament, but more so of the New Testament. 19  Though the Church Fathers were primarily noted for the allegorical exegesis, typology was used as a hermeneutical method of interpretation too. 20

In Psalm 82:6, the deleterious effect of using certain kinds of interpretative methods can be seen.  For instance, Irenaeus taught that Psalm 82:6 had to do with the Church, not the evil judges of Israel.  He states, “‘God stood in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods.’ He [here] refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church. For she is the synagogue of God, which God — that is, the Son Himself — has gathered by Himself.” 21  Athanasius, on the other hand, taught that Psalm 82 had to do with the mortality and likeness of man to God and God’s staying of man’s corruptness, thereby preserving his divinity as incorrupt. 22  Yet, in neither instance is the Christian Church nor the preservation of human divinity anywhere remotely alluded to.  Rather, as A. T. Hanson states, “This Psalm was addressed to Israel by God just after they had received the Law.  The idea was that the mere reception of the Law raised Israel to the status of gods.” 23  There was no intention on the part of the writer to mean that these human beings were in any sense divine, but were mere representatives for God, acting in His behalf before God’s people as administrators of justice.  When applied more broadly, all men in places of responsibility and leadership have been endowed by God as “gods” to carry forth His will and way, or as Delitzsch points out, “those in authority are God’s delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also themselves called elohim, “gods.” 24 When men fail or act contrarily to their divine calling, as in the case of the nation of Israel in Psalm 82, then God proceeds to fulfill that which his representatives do not.

2 Peter 1:4

Any allusion to 2 Peter as a reference to support a given doctrine immediately becomes suspect because “This is the most problematical of all the New Testament Epistles because of early doubts regarding its authenticity and internal evidence is considered by many to substantiate those doubts.” 25 In fact, 2 Peter is unlike 1 Peter in its style of writing, incorporating language more consistent with Hellenistic Judaism than the biblical language in which the previous text was written. 26  Bauckman points out that, “Our author uses ideas and language which had a long history in Greek philosophical and religious thought…The author of 2 Peter was doubtless aware of the currency of these ideas in the Hellenistic religious world, but he was probably more immediately dependent on the literature of Hellenistic Judaism, which had already adapted the terminology of Greek religion and philosophy in order to express its own religious tradition in terms appropriate to its Hellenistic environment.” 27 Nevertheless, it remains a text which theosis exponents turn to support the idea of human deification.

Perhaps the reason why 2 Peter 1:4 is alluded to in support of the deification of humankind is its direct reference to humans partaking of the “divine nature,” as well as that it is deemed by some that “Peter” is speaking of something beyond the common fellowship (Gr. κοινωνία) existent between believers spoken of in the text. 28 Specifically it says, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  The issue in this verse, however, may be more semantical than anything, for a perusal of the surrounding verses seems to demonstrate that whatever partaking of the divine nature amounts to is centered in the godly development of moral rectitude in the believer; and this as a result of God’s divine power being granted to the believer whereby he main attain a life of “godliness” (v. 3, 6), “moral excellence,” “knowledge” (v. 5), “self-control,” “perseverance” (v. 6), “brotherly kindness,” and “love” (v. 7).  Later, in verse 10 is the admonition to be diligent, to make certain, and to practice the aforementioned.  In other words, the whole idea about partaking of the divine nature is a process which is often called sanctification in the Christian life, and this sanctification as alluded to in these qualities appear to have a reference to the development of the full person while on earth, and yet fully realized when united with God in eternity.

Athanasius is one church father who cites 2 Peter 1:4 as evidence for the divinization of humans.  In a personal letter to an Adelphius, Athanasius makes mention of the fact that Jesus by coming in the flesh did not diminish the glory of God by doing so.  Rather, “He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature,’ as blessed Peter wrote.” 29  Here, once again, Athanasius is alluding to what has already been done for the believer, and yet it remains a process whereby the saints become…a holy race, which, if interpreted, is the language of sanctification in the West.  Furthermore, the process of becoming is not so much attributable to human effort per se, but is a direct result of Jesus “transferring to Himself our erring generation.”  And this is equally consistent with Western thinking, even though in term of deification language coming from the East.  The point is that even though 2 Peter may be a questionable book, and the language itself used to support the idea of theosis may be somewhat confusing — “partaking of the divine nature” — it may be concluded that all Peter and those among the church fathers, and the Eastern Orthodox, are saying is essentially what Protestants and Western theologians have advocated: Deification or the full realization of what God intended man to be is a sanctifying process whose inception began in the person of Jesus Christ at the cross, is nurtured along by the Holy Spirit, and culminated in the person of God the Father.  Yet, the only way this may be more clearly seen is by reviewing what some of the church fathers had to say about theosis themselves.

Early Church Fathers and Theosis

Several of the early church fathers in the East advocated the divinization of human beings.  Although it is not possible in the current format to list every individual and their insight on the subject, some of the more prominent ones will be listed as examples of what they thought was consistent with the doctrine.  Athanasius has already been cited above and will not be further reviewed.  However, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa will serve as further illustrations to support the thinking behind the deification of humankind.  At no time, though, did any of the Fathers believe that there was a crossing-over from one nature to another, or that humans became “gods” in the same essence as God.

Irenaeus

In his battle with the Gnostics Irenaeus wrote his famous tome Against Heresies.  During the course of his writings, he included passages which dealt with God’s nature and those who attempted to ascribe to Him human nature or qualities.  Then he proceeded to show where God, on the other hand, took the initiative of restoring the godly qualities initially lost due to sin.  He wrote,

Irrational, therefore, in every respect, are they who await not the time of increase, but ascribe to God the infirmity of their nature. Such persons know neither God nor themselves, being insatiable and ungrateful, unwilling to be at the outset what they have also been created — men, and before that they become men, they wish to be even now like God their Creator, and they who are more destitute of reason than dumb animals [insist] that there is no distinction between the uncreated God and man, a creature of today.  For these, [the dumb animals], bring no charge against God for not having made them men; but each one, just as he has been created, gives thanks that he has been created. For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of His pure benevolence, that no one may impute to Him invidiousness or grudgingness.  He declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all sons of the Highest.” But since we could not sustain the power of divinity, He adds, “But ye shall die like men,” setting forth both truths – the kindness of His free gift, and our weakness, and also that we were possessed of power over ourselves. For after His great kindness He graciously conferred good [upon us], and made men like to Himself, [that is] in their own power; while at the same time by His prescience He knew the infirmity of human beings, and the consequences which would flow from it; but through [His] love and [His] power, He shall overcome the substance of created nature. For it was necessary, at first, that nature should be exhibited; then, after that, that what was mortal should be conquered and swallowed up by immortality, and the corruptible by incorruptibility, and that man should be made after the image and likeness of God, having received the knowledge of good and evil. 30

As can be seen, Irenaeus is essentially referring to human deification through God’s grace in conquering immortality and incorruptibility, making “men like to Himself,” not as little additional “gods,” but as those whose image and likeness should be like God as originally intended.

Clement of Alexandria

Although very little is substantively known about the life of Clement, he, nevertheless, was an influential voice in the East, producing five different works which represent his thought.  Probably what is most notable about his theology is the fact that he made no apologies in asserting the legitimacy of finding or mixing Christian truth with Greek philosophy. 31 It is perhaps because of this mixture that he developed his doctrine of the Logos, which was essentially divine reason, or that which would eventually “proceed to knowledge and contemplation and leads through love and charity to immorality and deification.  Christ as the incarnate Logos is God and man, and it is through Him that we have risen to divine life.” 32  It is with this Clement would declare,

Whence at last (on account of the necessity for very great preparation and previous training in order both to hear what is said, and for the composure of life, and for advancing intelligently to a point beyond the righteousness of the law) it is that knowledge is committed to those fit and selected for it. It leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo, in consequence of our sins, for salutary discipline. After which redemption the reward and the honors are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification, and ceased from all service, though it be holy service, and among saints. Then become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Savior. 33

Initially one might think that Clement was speaking about humans literally becoming “gods,” yet he speaks of “preparation” and “training” conducive to perfection.  Both godliness and perfection are contingent upon “knowledge,” when he would earlier on state is the “acquaintance with divine things, in character, life, and word, accordant and conformable to itself and to the divine Word.” 34 Clearly, since the “Word” only speaks of one true God (Is. 44:6; 45:5; Jn. 5:44; 17:6), then Clement must be alluding to deification in a way more consistent with something other than literal godhood, such as the fulfillment of the divine image in man through sanctification.

Origen

Origen was one of the most creative and innovative thinkers of his day, even though his theology, peppered with much Platonic thinking and Greek philosophy, tended to put him outside the mainstream of Christian recognition.  Nevertheless, he was influential in Christian circles, and was equally so in the realm of theosis.  However, once again, only in the sense of seeing humanity rejoined to its Creator, and not in becoming separate deities themselves.  In other words, humans may partake of the divine nature, yet not become the divine nature itself.  Origen illustrates then when wrote,

If the heavenly virtues, then, partake of intellectual light, i.e., of divine nature, because they participate in wisdom and holiness, and if human souls, have partaken of the same light and wisdom, and thus are mutually of one nature and of one essence, — then, since the heavenly virtues are incorruptible and immortal, the essence of the human soul will also be immortal and incorruptible. And not only so, but because the nature of Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, whose intellectual light alone all created things have a share, is incorruptible and eternal, it is altogether consistent and necessary that every substance which partakes of that eternal nature should last for ever, and be incorruptible and eternal, so that the eternity of divine goodness may be understood also in this respect, that they who obtain its benefits are also eternal. 35

Now Origen makes a clear distinction between God and man, particularly in their natures, and what it means to be deified.  Humans partake in the divine nature when God moves to share His incorruptible and immortal self with humans.  When this occurs their nature remains the same, yet takes on the virtues of God in becoming eternally incorruptible and immortal as well.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers who was integral in helping to clarify Trinitarian teaching and doctrine in light of that controversy in his day.  As far as theosis is concerned, Gregory, with his cohorts, was like many of the other Eastern Fathers previously mentioned above in the respect that “deification constituted a fundamental aspect of Christian soteriology.  When God assumed humanity, God’s purpose was not only to participate in human life, but also and above all, to enable us to participate in the divine life.” 36  When combined with his Trinitarian emphasis Gregory saw humanity assuming a divine nature in a similar sense that Christ assumed a human nature.  He elaborated on this arrangement in one of his Orations when he wrote,

For He Whom you now treat with contempt was once above you.  He Who is now Man was once the Uncompounded. What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself.  In the beginning He was, uncaused; for what is the Cause of God?  But afterwards for a cause He was born.  And that came was that you might be saved, who insult Him and despise His Godhead, because of this, that He took upon Him your denser nature, having converse with Flesh by means of Mind.  While His inferior Nature, the Humanity, became God, because it was united to God, and became One Person because the Higher Nature prevailed in order that I too might be made God so far as He is made Man. 37

Perhaps the key to understanding Gregory’s thought is to first consider the relationship the Son of God had with God the Father, and what the Son then undertook by taking upon himself a human nature.  For by doing so the Son managed to bridge the chasm which existed between God and man, or better yet, between man and the original image created by God.  When a relationship is thereby initiated between Christ and man, the process of restoring the image of God in man begins, with the conclusion occurring with the union with God in the next realm of life.

Gregory of Nyssa

An examination of Gregory of Nyssa, another of the Cappadocian Fathers, will conclude this brief survey of theosis thought among the Early Church Fathers.  Gregory was the younger brother of Basil, the first of the Great Cappadocians.  Although quiet and timid, Gregory proved to be the theologian among the three. 38  His main goals in life though were not necessarily theological debate and conflict, yet he was often thrust to the forefront in such confrontations.  He primarily desired solitude and contemplation.  Part of that contemplation dealt with how man may participate in the divine.  According to Balás, “There are no comprehensive works on the idea of participation in the Church Fathers before Gregory.” 39 Yet, participation is the key theme to understanding how Gregory perceived the theosis of man in relationship to God.  In his treatise Against Eunomius, Gregory writes,

For as long as a nature is in defect as regards the good, the superior existence exerts upon this inferior one a ceaseless attraction towards itself: and this craving for more will never stop: it will be stretching out to something not yet grasped: the subject of this deficiency will be always demanding a supply, always altering into the grander nature, and yet will never touch perfection, because it cannot find a goal to grasp, and cease its impulse upward. The First Good is in its nature infinite, and so it follows of necessity that the participation in the enjoyment of it will be infinite also, for more will be always being grasped, and yet something beyond that which has been grasped will always be discovered, and this search will never overtake its Object, because its fund is as inexhaustible as the growth of that which participates in it is ceaseless. 40

Here Gregory manages to expound not only on participation as deification, but upon the distinct natures that exist between both the Good, which is infinite, that which is grasping for the Good, which is finite.  Yet, even in that, the Good may be infinitely grasped after by the inferior through participation in the divine, for ultimately that is what is desired by the Good: to become more like the Good.  It is a process of transformation, not into the absolute Good itself, for it is distinct, that will last throughout eternity, which is a further reflection upon the vast difference which exists between the Good and the finite creature.  Or as Balás concludes, “The partaking of the divine perfections is both the foundation and the unfolding of the “image of God” in man; lost by sin, it is restored fundamentally by our sacramental and moral participation of Redemption in Christ.  Spiritual life consists in an ever growing participation of Divine Goodness, i.e. in an infinite progress of our knowledge of and union with God; and this progress is to continue in all eternity.” 41

CONCLUSION

Theosis, or the deification of humankind is a subject of growing interest in contemporary theology.  For the most part this is because of a expanding influence brought on by Russian theologians of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Nevertheless, as seen in this paper, theosis was taught and believed by many deemed to be Church Fathers of the Early Christian Church.  Primarily, though, those Church Fathers resided in the East where a difference in hermeneutical method led them to interpret certain Scriptures differently than that in the West.  Yet, despite the differences in interpretation, when observed more closely, the gap that appears due to linguistic understanding is not as broad as the terms might convey.

For even though the Early Church Fathers in the East may have taught that man may become “gods” or divinized, when understood in the context of Western thoughts of sanctification, it becomes readily apparent that both parties were closely thinking about the same thing with the exception of the terminology used.  This is not to say that either group necessarily agreed on all things theological, or that they necessarily agreed on all things when speaking on the subject of theosis.  What it does mean is that even when two individuals are speaking the same language it may take time to understand what each other is saying.  And that is exactly what is going on here with this doctrine.  The East and the West are both advocating nearly the same thought in growing as believers more like unto God.  It is just that one party has approached the subject more openly than the other, while the other is perhaps more hesitant in using terms that are less obvious, and yet is saying the same thing.

Notes:

  1. Webster’s defines deification as, “1 the act of deifying  2 the state of being deified  3 a deified embodiment.”  For deify, Webster’s has the following definition, “1 to make a god of ; rank among the gods  2 to look upon or worship as a god  3 to glorify, exalt, or adore in an extreme way; idolize.”  Victoria Neufeldt and David B. Guralnik, eds., Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, 3rd ed.  (USA: Macmillan, 1997), 363.  For divinization, the word does not even appear.
  2. Kleinknecht remarks that θει̑ος, which is applied to human “seers, priests, religious heroes, workers of miracles like Apollonius of Tyana, and esp. the great law-givers of the past, rulers and kings.”  Yet, there is no discussion beyond defining θει̑ος as “‘divine,’ all that bears the stamp of a θεός, whether by derivation or relation, whether there is seen in it the nature of a god or something superhuman, predominant power, a final reality, a supreme meaning, which defies direct rational conception.”  Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:122.
  3. According to Daniel Clendenin, “Western theologians in general and Protestants in particular have given only scant attention to the central importance of theosis in Orthodox thought.  Nor do they address the doctrine as an important Biblical category in its own right.”  “Partakers of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine of Theosis,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37 (Sept 1994): 367.
  4. Nathan K. K. Ng, “A Reconsideration of the Use of the Term ‘Deification’’ in Athanasius,” Coptic Church Review 22 (Summer 2001): 41.
  5. G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Great Britain: Oxford, 1961), 650.
  6. Petro B. T. Bulaniuk, “The Mystery of Theosis or Divinization” in The Heritage of the Early Church, eds. David Neiman and Margaret Schatkin (Rome: Pont. Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1973), 338.
  7. Ibid., 339.
  8. Clendenin, “Partakers of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine of Theosis,” 377.
  9. Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: James Clarke & Co., 1957), 70.
  10. Craig A. Blaising, “Deification: An Athanasian View of Spirituality,” a paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, National Meeting, Boston, 1987 (Portland, OR: Theological Research Exchange Network, 1988), 14.
  11. Robert V. Rakestraw, “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” Journal of the Evangelical Society 40 (June 1997): 263.  Lossky adds, “The Son has become like us by the incarnation; we become like Him by deification, by partaking of the divinity in the Holy Spirit, who communicates the divinity to each human person in a particular way.  The redeeming work of the Son is related to our nature.  The deifying work of the Holy Spirit concerns our persons.  But the two are inseparable.  One is unthinkable without the other, for each is the condition of the other, each is present in the other; and ultimately they are but one dispensation of the Holy Trinity, accomplished by two Divine Persons sent by the Father into the world.”  Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 109.
  12. Ibid., 374.
  13. Blaising, “Deification: An Athanasian View of Spirituality,” 18.
  14. W. R. Inge, Christian Mysticism (New York: Meridian, 1956), 13.
  15. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper Collins, 1960), 70.
  16. Clendenin asserts, “If it be objected that these texts [Ps. 82:6, John 10:34-35, 2 Pet. 1:4] are taken out of context, or that finding the doctrine in an array of Biblical texts is unconvincing, Orthodox theologians would care little.  True exegesis seeks to perceive the hidden meaning of Scripture that lies beyond or beneath the literal words of the text.”  “Partakers of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine of Theosis,” 370-71.
  17. Bernard Ramm inform us that, “Two things may be said for the allegorizing of the Fathers: (i) They were seeking to make the Old Testament a Christian document.  With this judgment the Christian Church has universally agreed.  (ii) They did emphasize the truths of the Gospel in their fancies.  If they had not done this, they would have become sectarian.”  Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 29.  Interestingly, while the Church Fathers may have avoided sectarianism through emphasizing Gospel truths, other groups such as the Mormons have fallen into sectarianism through their use of not only allegory, but through misinterpreting the allegory of the Church Fathers to support their doctrine concerning the deification of men.  See “Did the Early Church Teach Theosis or Exaltation? An Analysis of Latter-Day Saint Patristic Studies” by Jason J. Barker.  A paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southwest Region of the Evangelical Theological Society, April 7, 2000. <www.orthodoxstudies.org/cults/ldspatristics.htm>
  18. Henry A. Virkler, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 59.
  19. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 71.  Earle Ellis stressed that, “Typological interpretation expresses most clearly the basic approach of earliest Christianity toward the Old Testament.  It is not so much a system of interpretation as a historical and theological perspective from which the early Christian community viewed itself.  As a hermeneutical method it must be distinguished from typos (“model,” “pattern”) as it is widely used in the Greek world.”  E. Earle Ellis, “The New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament,” in Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture, eds., Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, and Grant Lovejoy (Nashville: Broadman, 1996), 53.
  20. Ramm remarks that Daniélou attempts to “rescue Origen from the charge of being an allegorist by insisting that he has basically a typological exegesis…Daniélou believes that Origen has the correct Christian principle of interpretation, but that Origen poorly practiced it, and that subsequent scholarship misrepresents him.”  Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 33.  Zuck also comments that “Irenaeus stressed that the Old Testament is acceptable for Christians because it is full of types,” and that “one ambiguous statement in Scripture is not to be explained on the basis of another ambiguous statement.”  Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1991), 34.
  21. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), s.v. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” 3.6.1.
  22. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 14 vols., 2nd ser. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), s.v. Athanasius, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” 4.4.6.
  23. A. T. Hanson, “John’s Citation of Psalm LXXXII,” New Testament Studies 11 (Jan 1965): 160.
  24. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on The Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 2:402.
  25. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), 814.
  26. D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 433.
  27. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), vol. 50, Jude, 2 Peter by Richard J. Bauckman, 179-80.
  28. Rakestraw, “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” 258.
  29. Schaff and Wace, NPNF, s.v., Athanasius, Personal Letter 60 to Adelphius, Bishop and Confessor: Against the Arians, 4.60.4.
  30. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1.4.38.4.
  31. Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 3 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), 1:192.
  32. Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 4 vols.  (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1953), 2:22.
  33. ANF, Vol. 2, 7:10.
  34. Ibid.
  35. ANF, Vol. 4, 4.1.36.
  36. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 1:349.
  37. NPNF, Series 2, Vol. 7, Oration 29, XIX.
  38. David L. Balás calls him “one of the greatest thinkers among the Greek Fathers.” ΜΕΤΟΥΣΙΑ ΘΕΟΥ: Man’s Participation in God’s Perfections According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Romae: Liberia Herder, 1966), 14.
  39. Ibid., 7.
  40. NPNF, Book 1, No. 22.
  41. Balás, ΜΕΤΟΥΣΙΑ ΘΕΟΥ, 161.

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