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?
Charles W. Hedrick
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).
Thanks for this educational piece. Somewhere along the line I missed out on the goal of deification (theosis) having been ignorant of it in both ancient philosophies and in the history of the Orthodox church of Christianity.
Paul, I think, has a tendency to over-speak himself with remarks like "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." I think he actually means that faith rather than law now primarily rules his life and that his will is governed primarily by Christ's spirit rather than by the power of sin over flesh. I don't think that this experience is a oneness of losing identity: Paul makes it clear that we become one with Christ in the manner of being a distinct spiritual body (1 Cor 15) and that experience, rather than ending in Theosis, ends with "not anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:39); even in the renewal of Creation the image provided in Rom 8:21 is "freedom from bondage to decay," (not a merging into Theosis). So rather than theosis, I would vote for abiding in love and freedom from decay. That's as close to the divine nature as we'll get.
Good Morning Gene,
Thanks for answering my question. I do agree with you that Paul sometimes "over-speaks" (that is, makes a global statement with no foundation) but my problem with Paul (which may be the same problem viewed from a different angle) is that he mostly "under-speaks." That is to say that the reader must figure out where he is coming from, and ponder the rationale for what he said.
You apparently disagree with Paul, the author of second Peter, and others in the ancient world. That is: you think that believers will not be able to share in the divine nature as 2 Pet 1:4 has it.
Here is my question for you: is it at bottom after all merely a matter of personal opinion? Or to put the question differently why should I agree with you and not Paul and the author of 2 Peter? What are your substantive reasons for disagreeing and thinking that human beings cannot share the divine nature--and hence become gods?
My "personal preference" is not to lose my human identity. As I said, 1 Cor 15, Rom 8:21, and Rom 8:39 allow for that quite nicely.
Perhaps Paul overstates his "divinity" case with the Corinthians because they were grounded in the Greek religious and philosophical traditions. (1 Cor 9:22 [19-23] "I have become all things to all, a slave to all men, that I might be all means save some."). Romans, on the other hand, seems to be meant for all Christian communities.
Another matter is the type of union taking place: organic or functional. I don't think that slave//free, male/female, Jew/Gentile lose their human identities in some organic union; they are rather treated as functional equals and not punished for their human differences. The whole idea of being one with a prostitute or husband/wife being one, I think, is also functional. In one case the punishment is for behaving the same. In the other case, the reward is for successfully merging differences. I'm not saying that the ancients didn't have more of an "organic" notion than moderns, but in the practicality of the matter "function" predominates by necessity.
Charlie- I am struck by your conclusion that to share in the divine nature means one becomes a god. Why do you conclude that? Paul never states that we become gods. As you know, it is supreme blasphemy and sacrilege to even suggest that Christians become gods because a central tenet of their faith is that there is only one God. (who incidentally says he is jealous of other gods in the OT)
Can one share in the divine nature without becoming a god? Is that possible?
We drove through Springfield on the way to Texas to see my family- sorry we didn't have time to stop and say hello to you! Craig would love to catch a visit with you again! He tried to show me your house, but there is some construction going on in the area and it prevented us from getting over there- a lot of tearing down of buildings and raising up of new ones on the campus.
Excellent blog as usual- many thanks! Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I hope you had a pleasant trip to Texas, and I am sorry that we missed connecting.
I have no idea what it means "to share the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), or if such a thing is even possible (assuming the existence of a deity). The author of 2 Peter seemed to believe that it was possible. But it seems logical that if it is possible then some effect must take place. Either the human element would lessen the divine element or totally lose its human identity when it is subsumed into the divine element(what Gene above does not want to happen).
Taking one example: The Judean human being Jesus completely lost his historical personal identity when he became God (in the faith of the early church).
Hi Charlie- yes, we do hope to connect with you on another trip down there... Next time, I'll do a better job planning ahead. We just hated to drop by without calling first.
I've heard many sermons about the "mystery" of being one in Christ. We are one in Christ and with Christ and it is supposedly a divine mystery.
How do you respond when pastors tell you that there are some things, some mysteries, that aren't meant to be understood by the human mind? Does that bother you? I've heard pastors preach that we are to be "godly" and "godlike" without being a literal god. In the same manner- there are passages that exhort us to be childlike... not children. "Become as the little children"... Be like God- but don't be God.
Have you heard of this phrase ascribed to Jesus, that he was "fully man and fully God" at the same time? How do you respond when you are told that it's a mystery, unable to be completely comprehended by the human mind?
Thank you as always, Elizabeth
In my view there are no questions that should not be asked and the answers, such as they may be, logically assessed. In short, the appeal to "its a mystery" comes off as a dodge.
Of course I have heard of the phrase you mention. It is the solution that Orthodox Christianity came up with in the 4th through 5th centuries to explain the nature of Christ. But that was not the only way of explaining the nature of Jesus among the early Jesus people. Here are two other ways from six that I published in an article in 2011.
1. He was not divine but human, but God chose him to be Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-4).
2.He was a human being who came to be inhabited by a divine spirit at this baptism and which departed from him at his crucifixion (Mark 1:9-11; Apocalypse of Peter 81: 15-21; Phil 2:9-11).
See Hedrick, "Is Belief in the Divinity of Jesus essential to being Christian," Fourth R 24.5 (July-October, 2011), 15-20, 26.
Thank you Charlie- you're right, it is a dodge. I very much appreciate the fact that you do not engage in dodging any question, so thank you. I never thought about the fact that the Judean human being Jesus lost his historical identity when he became- but he did. I guess that is why Paul never refers to the earthly life of Jesus at all in his letters. Paul only refers to his birth and his death, that's it. He never mentions a body of teachings or spiritual principles taught by the earthly human Jesus. In fact, I cannot think of any NT writer who wrote extensively about the life of Jesus, can you? They only write about his birth and his death, maybe a few miracles. Do you think that's strange? Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
Paul does describe a few sayings of Jesus: see Hedrick, Wisdom of Jesus, 25-29 for a discussion of these sayings.
Actually the early Christian gospels write about the public career of Jesus, but everything they tell us is heavily influenced by the faith of the church. The gospels are best thought of as religious tracts to convince people that Jesus came from God. His personal history is largely lost.
I highly recommend Charlie's article in Westar's July-August 4thR: The Church's Gospel and the Idiom of Jesus (See also Hedrick, Wisdom of Jesus, chapter two). First two sentences:
"The popular assumption is that the faith and teaching of the church are rooted in the faith and teaching of Jesus. This idea, however, proves completely unfounded when one checks the data...To judge from their creeds all the church needed from Jesus was to be born and to die. His teaching and deeds were of no interest at all...(only his) resurrection and exaltation." (3, 26)
In other words one could say that the church's driving interest was in Jesus becoming God.
Thank you so much Gene and Charlie- I will look up those chapters in Wisdom of Jesus.... I am not a member of the 4th R website, so I can't access those articles, but I would if I could. Most interesting, thank you again. Elizabeth
PS: Your last sentence Gene is very poignant and accurate- is there one of Charlie's books that goes into more detail as to why the church was so keenly zealous about Jesus becoming God?
Thanks for the plug, Gene! I am certain that the editor of the Fourth R, Bob Miller, appreciates it as well!
I don't know the answer to your question about Charlie's books, but I was giving some thought to the role of Jesus' mother Mary in the Roman Catholic traditions where there seems to have been a zealousness also about Mary becoming God. Information such as the following is easily found on the Internet:
"Mary is called the mother of God in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 29 times in the following paragraphs: 466, 467, 469, 493, 495, 509, 721, 963, 966, 971, 975, 1014, 1020, 1138, 1161, 1172, 1187, 1192, 1195, 2131, 2177, 2502, 2619, 2675, 2677, 2678, 2725, 2827, 2853. Within these paragraphs that call Mary the mother of God, we see some pretty bold statements about her.
1. "the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son..." (CCC 721)
2. "the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church" (CCC 975)
3. "our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God..." (CCC 1161)
4. "This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God..." (CCC 2502)"
"From antiquity, Mary has been called "Theotokos", or "God-Bearer" (Mother of God). The word in Greek is "Theotokos". The term was used as part of the popular piety of the early first millennium church. It is used throughout the Eastern Church's Liturgy, both Orthodox and Catholic. It lies at the heart of the Latin Rite's deep Marian piety and devotion. This title was a response to early threats to 'orthodoxy', the preservation of authentic Christian teaching. A pronouncement of an early Church Council, The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., insisted "If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the "Theotokos" (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema." (The Council of Ephesus, 431 AD)"
Good Morning Elizabeth,
The essay that appears in the Fourth R is an abbreviation and slight revision of chapter two in the Wisdom of Jesus.
You asked why the church was so keen in making Jesus God.
First of all the answer to that question will differ depending on who is answering it. In the second place (my answer) the church did not think they made Jesus God, but in the early church's view Jesus had always been Son of God. It has only been with the advent of historical criticism (about 250 years now) that it has been possible to see the disconnects in the biblical texts making possible the recognition of the process of divinizing the Judean man Jesus. Had the 4th and fifth century church not invented the Trinity they would have been open to the charge of polytheism.
Gene and Charlie, sorry to keep going on this subject when Charlie has a brand new blog for us to weigh in on- but you both brought up key points that really jumped out at me. Gene mentions another deification- Mary the Mother of Jesus. And I would definitely agree that the Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to establish her deity alongside the Son of God himself. Very true. Thank you for reminding me of that. We tend to forget that if one identifies as a Christian, our roots are really in fact in the Catholic church. They gave us our bible and our orthodoxy. At least, those who still subscribe to it anyway: "To be called an orthodox Christian does not mean that one's [Christian] point of view is right. It only means that this point of view won out in the ancient debate ... any recasting of the creeds that we might produce today will be no more eternal than those formulations of the fourth and fifth centuries proved to be, nor should they be." Bishop Spong
Charlie, you make an excellent point as well when you say that the church does not think they "made" Jesus God. No, they certainly don't! They think they "revealed" his deity... But as you put it, the process of divinizing the Judean man Jesus had to begin with someone- I just wonder who it was and why they did it. If that can even be known. I look forward to reading your suggested pages and chapters- thank you as always! Elizabeth
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