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 ways, and Trinity without Christology.) If you are lost by my terminology of theosis, see my primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.

In his defense of Christianity, Theophilus begins his work by establishing the identity of God (1.1-7). He is immortal, invisible, uncreated, and immutable. He is the maker of the universe, which was created ex nihilo. Even though we cannot see him because he is beyond the created order, we can know him through creation if we have a pure heart for these pure at heart can know God. Thus he concludes: “If you know these things, O man, and live in purity, holiness, and righteousness, you can see God” (1.7).  He later continues: “When you put off what is mortal and put on impershability, then you will rightly see God. For God raises up your flesh immortal with your soul; after becoming immortal you will then see the Immortal, if you believe in him now” (1.7). This draws from the ancient conception that you had to become like something to know it (“like is the friend of like” as described in Plato’s works). As we become like God in holiness and moral incorruption, then we can know God. Importantly, Theophilus then turns immediately to somatic incorruption as the hope for those who believe and know God (1.8). The basic idea is that even though humanity is fundamentally distinct from God because of creation ex nihilo, humanity can truly be in relationship with God and share in God’s attributes, namely incorruptability.

Note: We see this exact interchange between knowing God and overcoming death through immortality in Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Note there how the first 10 chapters or so are about experiencing immortality and overcoming mortality through Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection. Then, the next 10 chapter or so are about knowing God, but without a hint of any transition. Athanasius like many ancients saw a fundamental coherence between knowing God and being like him.

Theophilus’ discussion of resurrection early in the treatise points to the importance of immortality within his basic anthropology and soteriology. We see this played out in much more detail in his discussion of creation, and this is where his discussion of deification comes into play. One of his fundamental arguments about anthropology is that humanity was not created naturally immortal, but God had the intention that humanity would be immortal (2.19, 24, 27). We might call this conditional immortality, and Irenaeus also reflects a similar perspective (AH 38-39).

It is in these contexts that Theophilus uses deification language, describing humans as “gods” (2.24, 27). For example:

For if God had made him immortal from the beginning, he would have made him God. … God therefore made him neither immortal nor mortal but, as we have said before [2.24], capable of both. If he were to turn to the life of immortality by keeping the commandment of God, he would win immortality as a reward from him and would become a god…” (2.27).

While humans chose disobedience, Theophilus makes clear that humans can attain resurrection and imperishability, which in the flow of the argument would make them implicitly gods.

Of course, this is a metaphorical ascription. Given the Creator-creature distinction that undergirds this discussion (from Book 1), I would describe this as example of “attributive deification” using the taxonomy that I developed in my book ChristosisHumans share through participation in the attributes of divinity, and so they become like God while remaining distinct in their essence or nature. Though it is a metaphor to be called “gods,” it entails an ontological transformation, not in terms of the change their nature to a new nature (or species), but their mode of being changes. Here the primary emphasis is on participation in divine immortality, but as we saw above their is a distinct interconnection between these different forms of incorruption–noetic, moral, and somatic.

Theophilus gives us an early witness on deification and theosis and he grounds this doctrine of theosis in the Bible. This basis framework is not too unique, given that Irenaeus, follows a similar pattern. However, part of the contextualization is different, and so I’ll continue with a separate post on that.


As we’re getting closer to SBL, I (Ben) know people are making plans for sessions to attend, so let me offer an option. As a part of my larger work on Paul to highlight how he brings together the topics of justification, life, and the Spirit, I’ve been working on tracing where the Reformation tradition separated them, so I’m presenting a paper on Luther and theosis. I know I’m an interloper on Luther, so I’m welcoming the opportunity to get some feedback. Do come join us.

Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Conference Room 2 (3rd Level) – Marriott Rivercenter (MRC)

Theme: Martin Luther as Interpreter of Scripture
This is the first of a four-year series on Christian theologians and their interpretation of the Bible. This session examines Martin Luther and his theological interpretation of a specific text or set of texts in the Old and New Testaments. The session is interested not only in Luther as a historical theologian but also for his role in constructive Christian theology today.

Arthur Sutherland, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding (5 min)

Claire Mathews McGinnis, Loyola University Maryland
Martin Luther on Exodus 7–11 (and Romans 9:6-13): the Hardening of the Heart (30 min)
Tyler Atkinson, Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS)
Solomon’s Political Body: Luther’s Lectures on Song of Songs and Contemporary Political Theology (30 min)
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Luther and Galatians: Justification as Participation in the Life of God (30 min)
Gordon Campbell, Union Theological College (Northern Ireland)
“Christ is neither taught nor known in it”: some christological fallout of Martin Luther’s Prefaces to the Revelation of St. John (1522 & 1546). (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

2016-08-18 10.45.56Check out the Eerdmans Fall 2016 catalog on page 25. They are reprinting a Mohr Siebeck volume this fall that is one of best books written on Paul that I’ve read. You may be thinking that it is the long awaited Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters, which is, I think, the best book on Paul and theosis out there. In case you haven’t read it or didn’t want to mortgage the house to buy the other version, I argue that Paul’s soteriology overlaps directly with later patristic ideas about theosis; however, with his distinctive emphasis on dying and rising with Christ (through the Spirit), christosis might be a better term to describe his theotic soteriology.

You’d, however, be wrong that it is the hottest reprint of 2016. That prize goes to a phenomenal collection of essays by John Barclay, Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews. I helped do some minor editing to pull the various essays together, and it was one of the best parts of my PhD days in Durham. While the essays have a general social-historical bent, they address a wide range of issues that will pay long term dividends. When John was picking out the essays, he made a salient point: he thought all the essays he wrote were worthy of being published once, but these are the ones he thought were worthy of being published twice. You will no doubt agree when you read it.

Now that I’ve described the rationale for my in-progress book, Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology, I’m laying out below the goals and scope of my study:

Part 1: Historical Framework
To set the stage for a reevaluation of Paul’s theology of justification, I demonstrate how historical frameworks influence contemporary biblical interpretive models. In particular, I establish how Protestant readings of justification are reactionary against Catholic theology and therefore explicitly frame justification in light of Christology and faith to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit and love. Rather than being overly influenced by post-Enlightenment anthropological conceptions, I also show the need to incorporate more a more robust pre-modern understanding of the porous self, making explicit use of Charles Taylor’s work on the buffered and the porous self.

Part II: Reading Paul
In distinction to post-Reformation readings of justification which place Christ over the Spirit and faith over love, my exegetical analyses demonstrate that Paul intertwines the Spirit and Christ in his employment of justification language in key texts—namely, Galatians 2–4; 2 Corinthians 3–5; Romans 1–8. Thus, my reading of Paul shows the coherence of this doctrine with the transformative participation of believers in the triune God. After establishing the relationship of participation and justification through close readings of specific passages, I then treat a variety of participatory topics that relate to justification—namely, suffering/cruciformity, the community (adoption, covenant), and sanctification/ethics.

Part III: Theological Framework
To conclude the monograph, I explore a participatory reading of justification through the lens of the fifth century patristic theologian Cyril of Alexandria, showing that readers not limited by the later Protestant-Catholic categories offer a similar reading as my own. With this model in mind, I then provide an essay that explores justification in light of theosis, an important and growing topic of study arising from wider ecumenical discussions.

This monograph does not attempt to answer all the opposing positions regarding the topic of justification. Rather, it provides a focused and sustained reading of Paul that demonstrates how justification serves as one primary way that he develops his doctrine of a transformative participation in the triune God.