Biblical Theology

Someone recently asked on Facebook for what the best works on theosis were. It raised many resources I knew and a couple I wasn’t aware of. I’m not really staying up on the forefront of things now that I’m writing about justification in Paul. As to the question, I gave my to go-to volumes which are good primers: Daniel Keating’s Deification and Grace (mostly focused on patristic views), and Norman Russell’s Fellow Workers with God (patristic views in light of wider contemporary Orthodox perspectives). Of course, Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition is the gold standard for patristics, and I’m partial to this Christosis volume which brings together Paul and theosis.

In the thread this was posted:

Question by an ignorant person for all: I get God’s communicable attributes, sanctification, and in this way taking on the divine nature, being conformed to Christ, etc. I get believers’ mystical union to Christ, Christ living in us, etc. Does Theosis go beyond this, and if so, how so? And how is that not a bad thing? And if it does not go beyond this, then why are people lusting over the peculiar terminology?

Is theosis a fad? If not, what’s it got going for it? These are good questions. Here’s the answer I gave:

I’m sure there is a fad element to this, but there is a coherence it provides that some of our current theological dichotomies miss. In the patristic tradition, the terminology of theosis served a catch-word for the whole salvation-historical work of God–uniting creation and new creation. As such, it is not primarily anthropological (merely regarding salvation) but theo-logical and salvation-historical. In that way, it served to speak to the whole story of the Bible. (In case you are interested, I spell this out further in a recent essay: “You Become What You Worship: Theosis and the Story of Bible,” Ex Auditu (2017): 1–20.) For patristic theologians, it also incorporated their cosmological framework, in that participation was what explained the way of all reality. God is the only true self-existent being, and all life inheres to him, so to the extent we have life, we are participating in God’s life, which is again a reaffirmation of a theo-logical perspective. Finally, it provides a coherence in the narration of anthropological salvation: it is not just “sanctification” but participating in the life of God, so it unites life now and life in the future, moral incorruption (sanctification) and somatic incorruption (resurrection). So, one term that captures all that is handy.

If you are looking for a little on this topic, here’s something as a primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.


Continuing my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum), I am addressing theosis or deification in his work. (Previous posts address Christianity in antiquitythe parting of the waysTrinity without Christology, and Theosis in Theophilus.) If you are lost by my terminology of theosis, see my primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.

As part of his apologetic for Christianity, Theophilus establishes Christianity as deriving from the most ancient part of antiquity–creation itself. In this discussion of creation, he described the telos of humanity arising from their original creation, that they should become immortal like God. Indeed, they would be called “gods” because they share in this immortal attribute, though they clearly remain distinct in nature and identity from God. This shares the basic framework that almost all later writers about theosis or deification share.

Placing this discussion of becoming gods in terms of creation fits his rhetorical purpose, but it also frames the nature of continuity in almost all discussions of theosis, that is, the creator of the world is also its savior. Thus, others often place their discussion of deification in terms of creation. Theophilus is unique among other patristic writers because he does not use Psalm 82:6 to ground his reading. However, the outcome is exactly the same since when Irenaeus and others discuss Psalm 82:6, they always narrate it according to mortality at the fall and the hope of immortality. However, Irenaeus also places this within his larger salvation-historical narrative in which Christ is the one through the Spirit who restores immortality to humanity. I explore the importance of theosis for helping capture the “story of the Bible” in an essay that came out earlier this year.

Thus, what is unique about Theophilus is not that he speaks of human identity and salvation in terms of becoming gods, nor that he places this deification discussion in terms of creation and new creation. No, what is unique is that he describes resurrection and immortality in terms of God alone and not through Christ’s death and resurrection. In my work on Paul and theosis, I titled the book Christosis because I argued that Paul’s discussion of soteriology could be described as theosis, but it was explicitly framed in terms of embodying the death and life of Christ.

Note: By Christosis, I expressly do not mean: 1) this is a Christological-only soteriology because being transformed into the image of Christ is almost always in the context of the Spirit’s work (and being a “christ” entails being anointed by the Spirit). 2) Christosis should be distinct from theosis, especially not in parallel to the Christotokos-Theotokos distinction. Christosis is intended to point to a Pauline emphasis within the wider framework of theosis.

In distinction to Paul, Irenaeus, and the many other patristic writers who wrestle so distinctly with the Christ-event and its relation to theology, Theophilus has a “Christianity without Christ” as I have explored in an earlier post. He has a Logos-theology and indeed an distinctly Trinitarian discussion of God, but at least here when he describes the telos of humanity in terms of divine immortality, he does it in a generically God way, thus my phrase theosis without christosis.


I recently posted a link to my co-authored essay on “Theosis and Theological Anthropology.”  In that essay, I extended my work on theosis and Paul to focus on the later theological appropriations of theosis in Maximus the Confessor (with regard to Christology) and T.F. Torrance (with regard to the Trinity).  Being that that essay is still rather academic, I got a request to put the cookies on the lower shelf.

As a follow-up to that essay, I wrote a short piece for a blog that summarized the key biblical points: “‘Man as a God in Ruins’: Theosis in the Christian Tradition.” Using Psalm 82 as a lens on deification, I walk through the key ideas that undergird patristic views on theosis. The Bible is itself a witness to humans/believers being called ‘gods’, and I briefly walk through what that terminology entails through key biblical texts, in the OT and the NT (especially with the apostle Paul).

Of course, if you want the longer version check out my book Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters where I spell out the issues related to Paul and theosis in excruciating detail. : )

I (Ben) am teaching a Trinitarianism class for the second time here at HBU, and I’m experiencing one of the great benefits of being a professor–having a great excuse to read great texts more than once rather than always pressing on to something new. I start the semester by going through the patristic debates and then we go back to the biblical material, and then I pick a more focused reading. (Last time it was Moltmann’s Trinity and the Kingdom, and this time we’ll read Macchia’s Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God.) I begin with patristic theology because most that make assessments about the Trinity and biblical texts are working with the patristic categories, either explicitly or implicitly. As my last post indicated, this raises questions of anachronism that many (if not most) would want to avoid. Of course, I’m the pot calling the kettle black by using an anachronistic model and then decrying others for doing the same. I’ll own it; however, I agree with my epistemological assessment in Christosis, by means of Gadamer, that we know things through tradition rather than in spite of it.

In the previous post, I noted how historical critics can sometimes implicitly make an anachronistic claim that the Trinity is not in the NT because it does not exist in its fully immanent and Nicene form, and therefore they can exclude or underestimate the economic Trinitarian focus of the biblical texts. However, some affirming a more traditional reading at times fall into a different kind of anachronism when reading biblical texts. In particular, as we were reading Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God” in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, his method betrays a type of anachronism.

Childs is definitely concerned not to read backwards because only the apostles were inspired to do that, so he is guarding against anachronism in that fashion without the inspiration of the Spirit. His anachronism appears to show up in the form of finding too much continuity in the biblical transition from the OT to the NT. I’m a fan of recognizing more continuity between the OT and NT than is often noted, but it’s not that we can simply read the text forwards from OT to NT and arrive at the Christology of the NT writers. Jason (Maston) my colleague and boss was sitting in on my lecture and helped me articulate this (via his work with Francis Watson). The Jewish texts have meanings that can shoot off in a number of directions, and it is only through Christ that we can come back and read them as in direct continuity with them.

Thus, even though Childs is concerned with anachronism of reading dogmatic theology back into biblical theology and with the anachronism of reading OT texts in too limited of a fashion because of the NT (e.g., his comments on Is 53, pg. 382), he also betrays a form of anachronism: to find such continuity between the  OT and NT presumes that he is reading backwards through the Christological lens of the NT. It’s not that the continuity in the story is not there, if you read it through that lens, but the details of the story don’t just naturally line up that way when reading forwards. There has to be a backwards reading implicit in his method even though his whole discussion of p 375-83 makes it seem that he’s wanting to avoid it.