A student of mine recently did a masters thesis related to deification (or theosis) in Theophilus of Antioch in his Ad Autolycum (c. 180 AD). It’s been a while since I read him, so I thought I’d do a few posts about him.  It’s not a long read. Unfortunately Grant’s translation with facing English and Greek pages is out of print, so the ANF version is likely your best bet for an accessible translation.

As an apology this work to Autolycus contains both a critique of contemporary views and a portrayal and defense of his perspective. His critique is directed at the cult and the myths related to Greco-Roman gods. In that, he follows similar Jewish apologetics that critique the immoral, inconsistent, and contradictory perspectives of Greco-Roman literature, as found, for instance, in Hesiod and Homer in distinction to the philosophers. (A great  exposition of this is found in Barclay’s Pauline Churches in his essay: “Snarling Sweetly: A Study of Josephus on Idolatry”). He also addresses specific charges against Christianity, like cannibalism (3.15) by denouncing it but also by throwing the charge back against the stories of the gods (3.5, 15).

As he portrays and defends his perspective,  Theophilus argues for the unity and consistency of the biblical God, and Book 1 is explores a variety of topics around God’s attributes in contrast to other portrayals of the gods. He also especially notes the hope of resurrection (1.8, 13). A central point that he returns to regularly is that his faith is not a recent invention (reflecting the idea that older/ancient things are the more true and reliable), and thus he grounds his Christian faith in the antiquity of creation (Book 2, where he exposits the early chapters of Genesis) and world history (Book 3).

He presents an early and interesting Christian engagement with the Bible and apologetics in the ancient Mediterranean world. For an accessible and informative introduction to Theophilus, I commend this essay: Rick Rogers, “Theophilus of Antioch,” Expository Times 120.5 (2009): 214–224.

For all the posts in the series, see Christianity in antiquity, the parting of the ways, Christology and Trinitarianism.

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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. : )

While the topic of theosis has grown in popularity among scholars, I regularly get awkward looks by students and family when the term arises. While my primary work has been in the area of theosis and the Bible, particularly theosis and the apostle Paul, I cut my teeth on the topic with my masters work on Maximus the Confessor.

As a fruit of that work, I later co-authored a piece for the Ashgate Companion to Theological Anthropology with a friend Kris Miller. In our essay “Theosis and Theological Anthropology,” we explored theosis from a Christological perspective (via Maximus the Confessor) and a Trinitarian perspective (via T.F. Torrance). If you are looking for a primer on theosis, this essay would give you the key ideas that I think are relevant.

Every year North Park Theological Seminary hosts a Symposium on Theological Interpretation of Scripture. In 2017 that symposium was on the topic of Participation in and with Christ, and the presentations were printed (as with each symposium) in Ex Auditu (vol 33). It was a great conference with voices from a variety of perspectives–biblical, historical, and contemporary.

My piece extends some of my work on Paul and theosis by means of a conversation with Irenaeus (with my book Christosis) to include here a wider perspectives on the story of the Bible as a whole, particularly with a focus on glory as a biblical theme. Here is a list of all the essays.

 

Introduction – Stephen J. Chester

You Become What You Worship: Theosis and the Story of the Bible – Ben C. Blackwell
Response to Blackwell – Cynthia Peters Anderson

The Old Testament and Participation with God (and/in Christ?): (Re-)Reading the Life of Moses with Some Help from Gregory of Nyssa – Brent Strawn
Response to Strawn – J. Nathan Clayton

Cruciform or Resurrectiform? Paul’s Paradoxical Practice of Participation in Christ – Michael J. Gorman
Response to Gorman – Markus Nikkanen

Union(s) with Christ: Colossians 1:15–20 – Grant Macaskill
Response to Macaskill – Constantine R. Campbell

Why Bother with Participation? An Early Lutheran Perspective – Olli-Pekka Vainio
Response to Vainio – Stephen J. Chester

The Geography of Participation: In Christ is Location. Location, Location – Julie Canlis
Response to Canlis – Mary Patton Baker

Jews and Gentiles together in Christ? The Jerusalem Council on Racial Reconciliation – Ashish Varma
Response to Varma – Hauna Ondrey

Letting the Music Play (Matthew 22:34–40) – Cynthia Peters Anderson

We got a few responses from our Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism volume that we were just beholden to the New Perspective and its fundamental problem—letting Jewish texts determine the meaning of inspired revelation. (That said, if they had actually read the volume or understood the New Perspective, they would have not so easily made that claim about our volume.) The challenge seems a little less pressing when you consider Jesus in his Jewish environment like we have with Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, but even then I (Ben) have received a comments from some quite hesitant to allow any uninspired text to shape our understanding of the Bible. That sounds spiritual, but the historical study of the Bible is foundational for all serious interpretations. Whether one follows the historical-critical method or its evangelical cousin the historical-grammatical method, the key idea is history.

We don’t have any problem studying the practices of the cult of Artemis in Ephesus to help us understand Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s experience there in Acts 19. We don’t have any problem looking at archeological dig sites to help understand the daily life of Jews and their Decapolis neighbors to understand Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. In fact, my evangelical compatriots often rightly appeal to the distinctly historical nature of the narrative accounts in the Gospels and Acts to argue for their reliability. In these cases, allowing for a historical boundedness to meaning does not entail that we are letting uninspired knowledge determine the meaning of the Bible. Rather than a hindrance, we think of these as aids. In the same way, we have a treasure trove of Jewish texts that give us a window into historical perspectives of Jews contemporaneous with the New Testament. Why would ignore this rich variety that we find in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.? These help us gain invaluable historical information about the first century Jewish experience.

When you read Reading Mark in Context, you will see that Jesus and Mark disagree with or modify Jewish categories as much as they accept them. As a result, we are not allowing these other texts to control our understanding of the Bible. They do, however, enlighten our understanding. If we are concerned with bad interpretation, I am much more worried about those who ignore historical information and therefore import their own very modern conceptions back onto Jesus and the New Testament. As they try to avoid letting actual historical documents determine the meaning, they end up committing a worse error by allowing their own opinion to determine the meaning (i.e., eisegesis). God chose to reveal himself in Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish setting for a reason, and it behooves the serious interpreter to understand the historical context in which God’s revelation occurred so we can understand it better. Reading Mark in Context won’t uncover all the historical issues, but it can at least tangibly introduce you and your students to Jesus’ world.

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? One reason: Jesus was a Jew. This point seems simplistic and every scholar and, in fact, lay person knows this. But knowing it and trying to make sense of it are two different things. Jesus lived and Mark wrote in a world different from our own, and the best way we have today to inhabit their world with them is to study them alongside other literature from that time period.

There are several benefits that come from studying Mark and Jesus alongside their contemporaries. First, scripture opens up to us. Figures like Herod, the Pharisees and Sadducees come alive. Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God or the strange figure of the “Son of Man” begin to make more sense. We can better understand the distinctiveness of Jesus, as well as see how he was a typical Jew in so many ways.

A second benefit is the converse of the first: scripture becomes mysterious. Many of us contain or constrain the mystery of scripture. We bypass the awkwardness, ignoring it or forcing it into paradigms we are more comfortable with. Yet, when we read Mark or study Jesus alongside their contemporaries, it flags for us that Scripture is not a 21st century text. We realize that Mark tells a strange story about a crucified messiah, a figure who belonged to his ancient context and yet exploded beyond it. Reading Mark alongside other Jewish literature helps us see that Mark—and Jesus—are redefining reality both in their ancient contexts and in ours. Jesus becomes a mystery again, a figure we can’t contain.

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? Because we discover the wonder of Jesus in new, refreshing and life changing ways.

Get Reading Mark in Context (Zondervan) at Amazon.

Just the other day a new student asked me (Ben) about studying the New Testament and early Christianity. They were wondering how you study early Christianity because we have relatively few sources for knowing what they thought and practiced. However, when I noted exponential growth in the variety of material we have from the second, third, and forth centuries, the problem is not too little material from these early Christians to process but too much material. Of course, it’s not really too much, but there is so much that putting all the data together can be quite complex.

Since that is the nature of later Christian material, they offered that it’s too bad that we don’t have that same diversity with Jewish material for understanding the New Testament. While again we don’t have “too much,” we have quite a bit of theological, liturgical, historical, philosophical, mystical, narrative, etc. texts from Jews that lived within a similar time frame as the New Testament. The problem isn’t so much the limited amount of material that we have, the problem for students interpreting the New Testament is that they are almost completely unaware of the existence of the material, much less its breadth and depth.

9780310534457I was so much on board when the idea was initially brought up for Reading Romans in Context and now Reading Mark in Context because after seminary I was partially aware that this world existed, but I didn’t know anything about specific texts or much about particular ideas. Our goal with these is to introduce students to this world by making this material accessible to graduate and undergraduate level students. We provide glimpses into that world to help people know it exists and to get a sense of some of its flavor. With just glimpses this means that each chapter is selective, just covering one central topic. Of course, the depth and variety of each biblical passage means there’s much more that could be explored, but we hope this will whet the appetite to study these issues further.