Modern day "prophets" are continuously warning us that Armageddon1 or the Apocalypse2 or the Day of the Lord is near. They claim to know "the signs of the times," and describe certain historical events as harbingers of the end—precursors to the day of the Lord. They base their dire predictions on what they regard as ancient biblical prophecies that have predicted certain events in our day, which they think will trigger an end-time scenario. They hope to persuade us through fear, and entangle us in their webs of misinformation.
"Prophets" have been predicting the end of the world from Judeo-Christian texts at least since the Isaiah Apocalypse (24-27), and there is no lack of such people in the public media today. When their prophecies fail, as they inevitably must, they recalibrate the time of the end, and then these also fail. Eventually these self-styled "prophets" pass from public view—only to be replaced by other such "prophets."
In the New Testament the "book ends" of end-time speculations are provided by the earliest writer (Paul) and the latest writer (the author of Second Peter). The end-time in Second Peter (middle second century) is generic—a simple prediction that the world will end at some unspecified future time, and includes an encouragement to live holy and godly lives, but with few specifics as to what that lifestyle includes (2 Pet 3:1-14).
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet 3:8).
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up (2 Pet 3:10).
Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these [events], be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Pet 3:14).
Paul, on the other hand, imagines that the end of the world is actually happening in his own day in the middle first century (1 Cor 7:26, 29; 1 Cor 10:11). In the face of this present crisis he attempts a bit of social engineering in the daily lives of his readers. For example, here is his rule in all the churches: in view of the fact that the end of the world is now happening, people should remain in the social circumstances in which they find themselves (1 Cor 7:17, 20). Hence, if one is a slave, "never mind" (1 Cor 7:21).3 If circumcised, don't try to remove the marks of circumcision; if not circumcised, don't seek circumcision (7:18). If unmarried, or a widow, one should stay single (7:8). If married, a wife should not separate from her husband, and if she does she should remain single; and for the husband—no divorces (7:11-13). If one is living with a "virgin"4 either marry her or not, it makes no difference (7:36-38), but he preferred that people remain single as he was (1 Cor 7:8).
There have been many attempts to predict the precise time of the end, and such attempts have always been able to attract a gullible audience for their nonsense. What usually happens is that the predictions fail, and then the "prophet" recalibrates the time of the end, which also fails in its turn. This, for example, was what happened in the case of the early nineteenth-century end-time "prophet," William Miller, leader of the Millerites, who predicted the return of Christ in 1843 or 1844.5
If one gets hooked in the nets of these admittedly charismatic figures, prepare to be disappointed—as all have been through the years. People simply cannot predict the future and that statement includes even the authors of the biblical texts. Believing the predictions of modern day "prophets" will not make them come true—as the uniform experience of history proves.6 The fact that none of these prophetic figures through history have been correct is the one certain datum of such speculations about the end.
Missouri State University
1Armageddon; see Revelation 16:12-16. The word appears only once in the Bible.
2Apocalypse is a disclosure or revelation. As used of the end, it is the uncovering of the secrets of the end of the world.
3Paul, however, violates his rule, and concedes that if slaves have the opportunity to secure freedom, they should seize it.
4"Virgin" (Parthenos; παρθένος) in this passage (1 Cor 7:36-40) is usually translated "betrothed." James Moffat, however, translates it "a maid who is a spiritual bride."
6See John R. Hall, Apocalypse. From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity (2009), 147-56.
An odd but well-known locution used by Paul throughout his letters is "in Christ." Rudolf Bultmann, arguably the most influential New Testament Scholar of the twentieth century, described this expression as denoting an individual's mystical relationship to Christ, from which the actual life of the believer is lived not out of himself but out of Christ. He continues: "It makes no difference whether Paul speaks of the believer's being in Christ or Christ's being in the believer."1 Perhaps Bultmann is correct, but that may not be the case. It seems to me that the linguistic contexts of antiquity out of which these two different locutions are driven are very different.
Readers will be most familiar with the expression of Christ being in the believer: for example: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20; compare, Rom 8:9-11; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 13:5). The language of these expressions finds its natural locus in the well-known context of spirit and demonic possession in the ancient world: for example, Mark 9:25-27; Luke 8:26-33; Matt 12:43-45a=Luke11:24-26; Luke 22:3.
On the other hand, the language of the believer "being in Christ" is different; for example, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away behold, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 16:7; 2 Cor 12:2; 1 Thess 4:16). The natural location of these kinds of expressions is found in a mystic encounter whereby the believer seeks to become one with deity, or to become deity; that is to say it is the process of deification or divinization; for example, Corpus Hermeticum I.25-26 describes the process of deification, or divinization:
The human being rushes up through the cosmic framework…And then stripped of the effects of the cosmic framework the human enters the region of the Ogdoad [the eighth sphere]; he has his own proper power, and along with the blessed he hymns the father. Those present there rejoice together in his presence, and having become like his companions, he also hears certain powers that exist beyond the ogdoadic region and hymn god with sweet voice. They rise up to the father in order and surrender themselves to the powers, and, having become powers, they enter into god. This is the final good for those who have received knowledge: to be made god.
This experience is a "birth of mind," of which the teacher claims: "we have been divinized by this birth" (CH XIII. 10; see similar statements in CH IV.6; X.24-25; XI.20; XII.1, 14). In a hymn Trismegistus (Thrice Great Power) praises the god Asclepius: "We rejoice that you have deigned to make us gods for eternity even while we depend on the body" (Asclepius 41; see also 6, 22).2
A final example comes from the Neoplatonic philosopher, Plotinus (A.D. 204-70): The soul holds an "intent towards that unity to which all souls should move and the divine souls always move , divine in virtue of that movement; for to be a god is to be integral with the Supreme" (Ennead VI. 8).3
Paul seems to share such a view and puts it this way in 1 Cor 6:17: "But the person joined to the Lord becomes one spirit." Many translators add the words "with him" to the end of the sentence, but the words are lacking in the Greek. The inclusion of a clarifying "with him" in the translation suggests a dualism whereby the person and the Lord retain their individual identities in the unity, but Paul only says the two become one spirit. The same is true of the previous verse (1 Cor 6:16): whoever joins with the prostitute becomes one body." It is no longer he and she sharing one body, they are one body. Other arguments about unity seem to support this idea. For example, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female "are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28; see also 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:12-13).
While Paul does not explicitly say that "becoming one spirit" with the Lord is essentially becoming divine, he nevertheless uses the language of deification and it could easily have been understood in that way by his contemporaries. The author of Second Peter, on the other hand, has no hesitation and described people who shared his faith (2 Pet 1:1) as having "come to share in the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). One who has come to share in the divine nature has essentially become divine himself—or so it would seem. At least that is how the Christian experience is understood by the Orthodox Church of today, where deification or theosis is the aim of the Christian life:
[Saint] Basil described man as a creature who has received the order to become a god; and Athanasius…said that God became man that man might become god…Such, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is the final goal at which every Christian must aim: to become god, to attain theosis, 'deification' or 'divinization.' For Orthodoxy man's salvation and redemption means his deification.4
Does sharing the divine nature make one divine?
Missouri State University
1 Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (1951), 1.328
2 Quotations from the Hermetica are from Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica. The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation with notes and introduction (1992). The dates of CH are given as A. D. 2-5.
3 Translation by Stephen MacKenna, Plotinus, The Enneads (1991).
4 Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (1963).