Käsemann on Theosis in Paul

In several places Käsemann explicitly argues that Paul would not support the idea of theosis. Käsemann clearly identifies this ideology as one of enthusiasm. When speaking with regard to the Corinthian situation, he states, “The Corinthians already thought that Jesus bore the cross so that his own might partake of his exaltation. This idea came to be taken so far as to suggest that Christ was made man so that we might become divine. Paul contests this view passionately, in so far as it is supposed to be description of earthly life in the present” (PoP: SSJD, 59). The charge that Käsemann lays against those using the Greek church’s catch-phrase for theosis is that they expect to follow a theologia gloriae instead of Paul’s theologia crucis. As a result, those who follow this theology follow the way of the enthusiasts in Corinth.

Käsemann also notes a second problem related to theosis, which is not unrelated to the idea of enthusiasm. He characterizes it as an attempt to go beyond the bounds of creatureliness. Accordingly, he writes: “Just as the incarnation of Christ is the beginning not of man’s deification but of his humanity, so the same remains true where it is the spirit that reigns” (PoP: CLCW, 134). In a discussion of Phil. 2.5f., Way describes Käsemann’s
thought in this manner:

If the ancient world longed for freedom from destiny, the Christian message not only offered such freedom in Christ, but, uniquely, saw the free person as being put under a new lordship, the Lordship of Christ. Instead of the promise of apotheosis, the gospel offers the possibility of true human existence in which human striving for self-transcendence is under constant criticism (93).

Way also notes Käsemann’s focus on this idea in his commentary on Romans 5.1-11. There he discusses the ‘humanization of humanity’ as fulfilling the status of a creature and living out justification (Way, 146). Accordingly, the place of humans is to live within the bounds of God’s grace as one’s who need grace. Becoming gods would mean there is something within oneself that does not need the grace of God.

Käsemann clearly associates the concept of theosis with the theology of the enthusiasts of Paul’s day; however, this may just be a straw man argument because those who later used the thought of theosis closely linked it with asceticism. As a result, one cannot simply dismiss it as an attempt for glory. Those who later used the term connected it with a life following the theology of the cross as they understood it. In addition, Käsemann would, no doubt, agree that the gifts of God have been shared with believers. The question with regard to theosis is to what extent and which gifts are shared. It is not becoming God by nature but sharing in the divine attributes (e.g., life, love, etc.).