The Energies of God
by Megas L. Farandos, Athens University Professor.
From the book: «The Orthodox Teaching on God» Athens 1985. Chapter 7, pages 423 – 478.

1. General
Energies comprise the third “difference” in God, according to the terminology of Saint Gregory of Nyssa (“Against Eunomius”, A’ I’ 107). The Orthodox teaching on the energies of God essentially constitutes a reliable evolvement of the New Testament witness regarding the reality of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. This God does not manifest Himself only as a trinity of hypostases - that is, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also manifests Himself as the One who has (the congenital and not acquired) fullness of all good things - of “power, glory, wisdom, philanthropy” etc.; in other words, “all the good things that the Son has are the Father’s, and everything that the Father has, is made visible in the Son” (Gregory of Nyssa, “Against Eunomius”, A’ I’ 126). 

This means that God is not only a triple-hypostasis reality, but that He also has essence and “circum-essence”, which are essential virtues and distinctive features. God is a reality that exists, as well as one that possesses.

He is a reality “in person”, who possesses the fullness of life and its bounties, in other words, “the true life” (Gregory of Nyssa, “Against Eunomius”, A’ I’ 126). “For, just as the Father has life within Him, thus did He also give the Son to have life within Him” (John 5:26).  As we have already said, God is a reality “in person”, Who has life (or, as otherwise called, “essence”) and Who also has the fullness of all the good things peripherally related to this essence, that is, the “circum-essence”.

These “differences” of God that exist within Himself are apparent in the Holy Bible. 

The Bible does not make mention of the three Hypostases only - that is, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – but also of a multitude of qualities that the divine hypostases have and transmit; for example the power, the wisdom, the love, the grace of God etc., through which qualities God acts and transmits to the world all good things (otherwise known as “charismas” (Greek=gifts)).  We must not construe these qualities as being a neutral or impersonal reality, existing in parallel to the hypostases within God. We should preferably see them in an ”inter-embracing” with the divine hypostases, or, rather, as a sublime unity, identity and coincidence, in the following context:  “The triunal God IS life, truth, love, wisdom,” etc.

That is, by coinciding the “being” and the “possessing” in the person of God, the Bible often represents God not only as a reality “in person”, but also as an impersonal reality, -that is, as “something Divine” - thus denoting the grace, the justice, the wisdom etc. that are manifested upon mankind. 

Besides, the very Bible itself distinguishes between the divine hypostases and their qualities – something that gives a legal right to have a theology on the qualities or energies of God. Even the theology of the West has not omitted to include chapters on the “attributes” of God in its Dogmatics, which by Orthodox Theology however are seen as unusual and extremely “human-prone” portrayals of the Triadic God.  Orthodox dogmatics however has never developed any teaching on God’s “attributes”. Any relative chapters that may perhaps be found in Orthodox Dogmatics have originated from the influence of western theology.

As mentioned previously, the “personal” and the “impersonal” element – or, rather, (as we shall see further along) – the “hypostatized” element are interwoven and inter-embraced in God in such a way, that God at times appears as “the One acting within us” (Phil. 2:13) and elsewhere as “His energy, that is potentially acting within me” (Colos. 1:29)

However, the Bible at times relates the divine hypostases to their qualities, as in the familiar verse of 1 Cor. 1:24: “Christ : the power of God and the wisdom of God”.  The fact that Christ Himself is not that wisdom per se, but that He contains within Himself the wisdom of God, is reduced from other relevant Scriptural passages, such as Coloss.2:3, where mention is made of “Christ, in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge are hidden”.

The theology of the first Christian centuries did not preoccupy itself particularly with the matter of divine energies and their association to the divine hypostases, instead, it conveyed in its works the relative testimonies of the Bible, more or less without suspecting that a problem existed.  [Compare with article «Energeia» by Ε. Fascher, in the “Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum”, V (1962), 4-51]. A formulated teaching on the energies of God did not exist  in the theology of the ancient Church. (P. Martin Strohm had a different opinion, in his article: “Die Lehre von der Energeia” (Gottes. Eine dogmengeschichtliche Betrachtung, in the volume Kyrios, VIII (1968), p. 63 onward).

Whenever the ancient ecclesiastic authors made use of the excerpt 1 Cor. 1:24 (and they used it frequently), they aspired to one thing only: to show that the Son is not a creation, but that He in fact belongs to the Divine reality. However, they never posed the question, nor did they confront the problem, regarding the association between hypostases and energies in God.  This problem had not as yet appeared.  What had preoccupied the theologians of the three first Christian centuries was mainly the divinity of the Son and His association to God the Father.  The problem of an association between the divine hypostases and energies appeared particularly during the era of the major Cappadocian Fathers who, after the divinity of the Son had been formally secured by the 1st Ecumenical Synod in Nice, found themselves in the need to confront the equally huge heresy (as compared to the Arian one) of Eunomius, who maintained precisely this:  that the Son is the work of God’s energy, and that the Spirit is the work of the Son’s energy [ (Gregory of Nyssa), “Against Eunomius”, A’ I’ 123: «the Son is the work of the precedent essence’s energy, and the Spirit is likewise another work of that work». Similarly on p.72 onwards ].  In this way, he was alienating the Son from the essence of the Father and the Spirit from the essence of the Son, by accepting three beings just as Arius had, except that each being was supposedly of “another essence”. [ (Gregory of Nyssa), “Against Eunomius”, A’ I’ p.92, according to which, Eunomius maintained the following with regard to the three hypostases: “instead, the essences are rent apart from each other, disintegrated into a sort of isolated nature”. And on p.91: Eunomius accepted that “the Son is different in nature and dissimilar to the essence of God and thus in every way does not partake of the Father through any natural familiarity”.]

In view of the introduction of the term “energy” by the heretic Eunomius in his speculations regarding God, the major Cappadocian Fathers were forced to focus on the term “energy” in more depth and to determine the relationship between this divine aspect and the essence and the hypostases of God.  Thus, all the Cappadocian Fathers (that is, Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great and John the Chrysostom) came to refer to the energies of God as “divine attributes”; but the one who preoccupied himself especially with the matter of divine energies was saint Gregory of Nyssa in his series of works “against Eunomius”, whom we shall mainly follow here.  However, it is not a true assertion that Gregory of Nyssa was the one who introduced the teaching on the energies of God, given that the main theologian on divine energies is in fact Basil the Great.  Gregory of Nyssa merely developed this teaching of his brother more systematically.  The subject of divine energies constituted both an opportune and a central chapter during the time of the major Cappadocian theologians, and for some time thereafter. This is testified, not only by the works of these theologians, but also by the texts of the great theologians who followed, whose texts were attributed to predominant theological and ecclesiastic personalities so that they could claim a greater prestige.  Such personalities were: Dionysios the Areopagite, Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Justin, etc.. (Check against Library of Hellenic Fathers, 4, 11 onwards, 36, 11 onwards). It is in these works – which quite possibly came from the same school – that the subject of divine energies is posed most vividly.

Consequently, the conflict regarding the divine and uncreated energies which appeared during the 14th century between the Latin monk Varlaam and his student Akindynus on the one hand and saint Gregory Palamas on the other, was not the first instance where the issue of divine energies was brought up.  On the contrary, it was rather a rekindling of the very ancient quarrel regarding the Holy Trinity – naturally now in a new form and a different variation thereof.  Gregory Palamas had undertaken the heavy burden of completing and systematizing the teaching on energies, based on the overall Orthodox dogmatic tradition which was precedent to his time. The existence, therefore, of divine energies – which are distinguished apart from the essence and the hypostases of God – constitutes a teaching that has existed from the time of the major Hellenic Fathers. And this is the teaching that is recognized, at least by Orthodox Tradition.

Prior to the Cappadocian Fathers, theology was rife with commentaries on divine energies; nevertheless, the issue of how they related to the divine hypostases was never brought up.  The authors of this period made references to the divine energies, without concerning themselves with whether the energies related to the divine hypostases or if they comprised a separate kind of reality in God, or in what kind of relationship they were to the essence and the hypostases of God.  One such example is Makarios the Egyptian, who, in his homilies made frequent references to divine energies and to other meanings that relate to energies (for example, Grace).  Makarios the Egyptian would present divine energies personified, as though acting on their own [ for example in one place he says: “in various ways does Grace mingle with them and in many ways does it guide the soul” (Library of Hellenic Fathers 41, 252) ] and elsewhere, he presents the divine energies as though dependent on the divine hypostases [ example: “the Lord gives Grace, when He comes and dwells within us” (Library of Hellenic Fathers 42, 87)] and elsewhere he presents them as “one” energy [example:  “…by the three hypostases of the one godhood…” (Library of Hellenic Fathers 42, 144) etc.]  This is why Gregory Palamas rightly acted, by never (or at least rarely) making mention of any authors prior to the Cappadocian theologians, when consolidating the teaching on divine energies.

The sole exception in this case was Athanasius the Great, who albeit not making any special mention on divine energies, nevertheless speaks very clearly on discerning not only between the three hypostases, but also between nature and its volition (compare with Athanasius’ “Against Arians” B’ 2,3, C’ 62, Library of Hellenic Fathers 30, 180-181, also “On the Nicene Synod”, 31, Library of Hellenic Fathers 31, 171). Thus, according to Athanasius the Great, the “sequels” and the works of nature and those of volition are entirely different things.  That which is “born” belongs to nature, and that which is “made” belongs to volition.

Without any actual discerning between divine nature and its volition, it would not be possible to discern between the “products” of nature and the “products” of God’s volition, that is, between the Son and the Spirit on the one hand and the works of nature on the other.  Volition, however, does not relate to nature, but differs from it and is discernible.  It is “the energy and the power of nature” (Patrologia Graeca C’, 127).  The “difference” between nature and volition in God constitutes one of the foremost arguments in Orthodox theology, whenever it supports the true distinction (between divine essence and its energy) that it professes.  [ Basil the Great (MB), “Against Eunomius” B’ 32, Library of Hellenic Fathers 52, 216-217 ]. Volition is not an essence; it is something “instrumental to the essence” (“On the Holy Spirit”, H’21, Library of Hellenic Fathers 52, 248). Similarly, Cyril of Alexandria:  “to make belongs to energy, whereas to give birth belongs to nature. Nature and energy are not the same thing” (“Treasures” 18, Patrologia Graeca 75, 312C).  Also, (Athanasius the Great, pseudepigraphed), “Dialogue on the Trinity”, Library of Hellenic Fathers 36, 48, 49, 70-73.  An extremely in-depth, philosophical-theological analysis of the “difference” between essence and volition is made by the unknown author of the texts which have been attributed to the apologete Justin: “Christian Questions addressed to Hellenes” C’1, Library of Hellenic Fathers 4, 160 onwards; also John the Damascene, in: “Precise edition of the Orthodox Faith”, I 8, published by B. Kotter, 1973, 18 onwards.  Finally, also according to Gregory Palamas: “energy is the volition of nature” (C’ 53; compare with B’ 167).

However, the theology on the existence of divine energies, which are truly discerned from the divine essence and the hypostases, is based exclusively on the Oros of the 4th and 5th Ecumenical Synods, where mention is made of the two natures and the two volitions and the two energies of Jesus Christ – that is, the divine and the human (compare to the Oros of the 4th, 5th and 6th Ecumenical Synods, in the work “Monuments” by John Karmiris, 1 (1960), pp.175, 185-200, 222-224). This was expressed by saint John the Damascene as follows: “Thus, when referring to the one, “god-human” energy of Christ, we understand it as implying the two energies of His two natures, that is, the divine energy of His godhood, and the human energy of His humanity”. (compare with John the Damascene, ref. III 19, B. Kotter 1973, 162. Similarly, pseudep. Athanasius the Great, “Sermon on the Annunciation”.. 6  Library of Hellenic Fathers 36, 209).

All the above have all been brought up in order to avoid the heretics, who “have mixed things together and have drawn into the same place the essence and the energy of the Only-begotten One” (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius B’ I, 331). Therefore, when expounding the present chapter on the energies of God, without neglecting the remaining related witnesses of Orthodox dogmatic tradition, we should firstly base ourselves on the two shapers of the Orthodox teaching on divine energies, that is, on Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Palamas


MacLaren's Expositions
MacLaren's Commentary- Expositions of Holy Scripture By Alexander MacLaren

 2 Peter 1:4
‘Partakers of the Divine nature.’ These are bold words, and may be so understood as to excite the wildest and most presumptuous dreams. But bold as they are, and startling as they may sound to some of us, they are only putting into other language the teaching of which the whole New Testament is full, that men may, and do, by their faith, receive into their spirits a real communication of the life of God. What else does the language about being ‘the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty’ mean? What else does the teaching of regeneration mean? What else mean Christ’s frequent declarations that He dwells in us and we in Him, as the branch in the vine, as the members in the body? What else does ‘he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit’ mean? Do not all teach that in some most real sense the very purpose of Christianity, for which God has sent His Son, and His Son has come, is that we, poor, sinful, weak, limited, ignorant creatures as we are, may be lifted up into that solemn and awful elevation, and receive in our trembling and yet strengthened souls a spark of God? ‘That ye may be partakers of the Divine nature’ means more than ‘that you may share in the blessings which that nature bestows.’ It means that into us may come the very God Himself.

I. So I want you to look with me, first, at this lofty purpose which is here presented as being the very aim and end of God’s gift in the gospel.

The human nature and the Divine are both kindred and contrary. And the whole Bible is remarkable for the emphasis with which it insists upon both these elements of the comparison, declaring, on the one hand, as no other religion has ever declared, the supreme sovereign, unapproachable elevation of the infinite Being above all creatures, and on the other hand, holding forth the hope, as no other religion has ever ventured to do, of the possible union of the loftiest and the lowest, and the lifting of the creature into union with God Himself. There are no gods of the heathen so far away from their worshippers, and there are none so near them, as our God. There is no god that men have bowed before, so unlike the devotee; and there is no system which recognises that, as is the Maker so are the made, in such thorough-going fashion as the Bible does. The arched heaven, though high above us, it is not inaccessible in its serene and cloudless beauty, but it touches earth all round the horizon, and man is made in the image of God.

True, that divine nature of which the ideal man is the possessor has faded away from humanity. But still the human is kindred with the divine. The drop of water is of one nature with the boundless ocean that rolls shoreless beyond the horizon, and stretches plumbless into the abysses. The tiniest spark of flame is of the same nature as those leaping, hydrogen spears of illuminated gas that spring hundreds of thousands of miles high in a second or two in the great central sun.

And though on the one hand there be finiteness and on the other infinitude: though we have to talk, in big words, of which we have very little grasp, about ‘Omniscience,’ and ‘Omnipresence,’ and ‘Eternity,’ and such like, these things may be deducted and yet the Divine nature may be retained; and the poor, ignorant, finite, dying creature, that perishes before the moth, may say, ‘I am kindred with Him whose years know no end; whose wisdom knows no uncertainty nor growth; whose power is Omnipotence; and whose presence is everywhere.’ He that can say, ‘I am,’ is of the same nature as His whose mighty proclamation of Himself is ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ He who can say ‘I will’ is of the same nature as He who willeth and it is done.

But that kindred, belonging to every soul of man, abject as well as loftiest, is not the ‘partaking’ of which my text speaks; though it is the basis and possibility of it; for my text speaks of men as ‘becoming partakers,’ and of that participation as the result, not of humanity, but of God’s gift of ‘exceeding great and precious promises.’ That creation in the image and likeness of God, which is represented as crowned by the very breath of God breathed into man’s nostrils implies not only kindred with God in personality and self-conscious will, but also in purity and holiness. The moral kindred has darkened into unlikeness, but the other remains. It is not the gift here spoken of, but it supplies the basis which makes that gift possible. A dog could not become possessor of the Divine nature, in the sense in which my text speaks of it. Any man, however bad, however foolish, however degraded, abject and savage, can become a partaker of it, and yet no man has it without something else than the fact of his humanity.

What, then, is it? No mere absorption, as extravagant mystics have dreamed, into that Divine nature, as a drop goes back into the ocean and is lost. There will always be ‘I’ and ‘thou,’ or else there were no blessedness, nor worship, nor joy. We must so partake of the Divine nature as that the bounds between the bestowing God and the partaking man shall never be broken down. But that being presupposed, union as close as is possible, the individuality of the giver and the receiver being untampered with is the great hope that all Christian men and women ought consciously to cherish.

Only mark, the beginning of the whole is the communication of a Divine life which is manifested mainly in what we call moral likeness. Or to put it into plain words, the teaching of my text is no dreamy teaching, such as an eastern mystic might proclaim, of absorption into an impersonal Divine. There is no notion here of any partaking of these great though secondary attributes of the Divine mind which to many men are the most Godlike parts of His nature. But what my text mainly means is, you may, if you like, become ‘holy as God is holy.’ You may become loving as God is loving, and with a breath of His own life breathed into your hearts. The central Divinity in the Divine, if I may so say, is the amalgam of holiness and love. That is God; the rest is what belongs to God. God has power; God is love. That is the regnant attribute, the spring that sets everything agoing. And so, when my text talks about making us all, if we will, partakers of a Divine nature, what it means, mainly, is this--that into every human spirit there may pass a seed of Divine life which will unfold itself there in all purity of holiness, in all tenderness and gentleness of love. ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ Partakers we shall be in the measure in which by our faith we have drawn from Him the pure and the hearty love of whatever things are fair and noble; the measure in which we love righteousness and hate iniquity.

And then remember also that this lofty purpose which is here set forth is a purpose growingly realised in man. The Apostle puts great stress upon that word in my text, which, unfortunately, is not rendered adequately in our Bible, ‘that by these ye might become partakers of the Divine nature.’ He is not talking about a being, but about a becoming. That is to say, God must ever be passing, moment by moment, into our hearts if there is to be anything godly there. No more certainly must this building, if we are to see, be continually filled with light-beams that are urged from the central sun by its impelling force than the spirit must be receiving, by momentary communication, the gift of life from God if it is to live. Cut off the sunbeam from the sun and it dies, and the house is dark; cut off the life from the root and it withers, and the creature shrivels. The Christian man lives only by continual derivation of life from God; and for ever and ever the secret of his being and of his blessedness is not that he has become a possessor, but that he has become a partaker, of the Divine nature.

And that participation ought to, and will, be a growing thing. By daily increase we shall be made capable of daily increase. Life is growth; the Divine life in Him is not growth, but in us it does grow, and our infancy will be turned into youth; and our youth into maturity; and, blessed be His name, the maturity will be a growing one, to which grey hairs and feebleness will never come, nor a term ever be set. More and more of God we may receive every day we live, and through the endless ages of eternity; and if we have Him in our hearts, we shall live as long as there is anything more to pass from God to us. Until the fountain has poured its whole fulness into the cistern, the cistern will never be broken. He who becomes partaker of the Divine nature can never die. So as Christ taught us the great argument for immortality is the present relation between God and us, and the fact that He is the God of Abraham points to the resurrection life.

II. Look, in the second place, at the costly and sufficient means employed for the realisation of this great purpose. ‘He hath given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might become partakers,’ etc.

Of course the mere words of a promise will not communicate this Divine life to men’s souls. ‘Promises’ here must necessarily, I think, be employed in the sense of fulfilment of the promises. And so we might think of all the great and wondrous words which God has spoken in the past, promises of deliverance, of forgiveness, and the like; but I am rather disposed to believe that the extreme emphasis of the epithets which the Apostle selects to describe these promised things now fulfilled suggests another interpretation.

I believe that by these ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ is meant the unspeakable gift of God’s own Son, and the gift therein and thereafter of God’s life-giving Spirit. For is not this the meaning of the central fact of Christianity, the incarnation--that the Divine becomes partaker of the human in order that the human may partake of the Divine? Is not Christ’s coming the great proof that however high the heavens may stretch above the flat, sad earth, still the Divine nature and the human are so kindred that God can enter into humanity and be manifest in the flesh? Contrariety vanishes; the difference between the creature and the Creator disappears. These mere distinctions of power and weakness, of infinitude and finiteness, of wisdom and of ignorance, of undying being and decaying life, vanish, as of secondary consequence, when we can say, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ There can be no insuperable obstacle to man’s being lifted up into a union with the Divine, since the Divine found no insuperable obstacle in descending to enter into union with the human.

So then, because God has given us His Son it is clear that we may become partakers of the Divine nature; inasmuch as He, the Divine, has become partaker of the children’s flesh and blood, and in that coming of the Divine into the human there was brought the seed and the germ of a life which can be granted to us all. Brethren! there is one way, and one way only, by which any of us can partake of this great and wondrous gift of a share in God, and it is through Jesus Christ. ‘No man hath ascended up into Heaven,’ nor ever will either climb or fly there, ‘save He that came down from Heaven; even the Son of man which is in Heaven.’ And in Him we may ascend, and in Him we may receive God.

Christ is the true Prometheus, if I may so speak, who brings to earth in the fragile reed of his humanity the sacred and immortal fire which may be kindled in every heart. Open your hearts to Him by faith and He will come in, and with Him the rejoicing life which will triumph over the death of self and sin, and give to you a share in the nature of God.

III. Let me say, lastly, that this great text adds a human accompaniment of that Divine gift: ‘Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’

The only condition of receiving this Divine nature is the opening of the heart by faith to Him, the Divine human Christ, who is the bond between men and God, and gives it to us. But that condition being presupposed, this important clause supplies the conduct which attends and attests the possession of the Divine nature.

Notice, here is human nature without God, described as ‘the corruption that is in the world in lust.’ It is like a fungus, foul-smelling, slimy, poisonous; whose growth looks rather the working of decay than of vitality. And, says my text, that is the kind of thing that human nature is if God is not in it. There is an ‘either’ and ‘or’ here. On the one hand we must have a share in the Divine nature, or, on the other, we have a share in the putrescence ‘that is in the world through lust.’

Corruption is initial destruction, though of course other forms of life may come from it; destruction is complete corruption. The word means both. A man either escapes from lust and evil, or he is destroyed by it.

And the root of this rotting fungus is ‘in lust,’ which word, of course, is used in a much wider meaning than the fleshly sense in which we employ it in modern times. It means ‘desire’ of all sorts. The root of the world’s corruption is my own and my brothers’ unbridled and godless desires.

So there are two states--a life plunged in putridity, or a heart touched with the Divine nature. Which is it to be? It cannot be both. It must be one or the other. Which?

A man that has got the life of God, in however feeble measure, in him, will flee away from this corruption like Lot out of Sodom. And how will he flee out of it? By subduing his own desires; not by changing position, not by shirking duty, not by withdrawing himself into unwholesome isolation from men and men’s ways. The corruption is not only ‘in the world,’ so that you could get rid of it by getting out of the world, but it is ‘in the world in lust,’ so that you carry the fountain of it within yourself. The only way to escape is by no outward flight, but by casting out the unclean thing from our own souls.

Depend upon it, the measure in which a man has the love of God in him can be very fairly estimated by the extent to which he is doing this. There is a test for you Christian people. There have been plenty of men and women in all ages of the Church, and they abound in this generation, who will make no scruple of declaring that they possess a portion of this Divine Spirit and a spark of God in their souls. Well then, I say, here is the test, bring it all to this--does that life within you cast out your own evil desires? If it does, well; if it does not, the less you say about Christ in your hearts the less likely you will be to become either a hypocrite, or a self-deceiver.

And so, brethren, remember, one last word, viz., that whilst on the one hand whoever has the life of God in his heart will be fleeing from this corruption, on the other hand you can weaken--ay! and you can kill the Divine life by not so fleeing. You have got it, if you have it, to nourish, to cherish, and to do that most of all by obeying it. If you do not obey, and if habitually you keep the plant with all its buds picked off one after another as they begin to form, you will kill it sooner or later. You Christian men and women take warning. God has given you Jesus Christ. It was worth while for Christ to live; it was worth while for Christ to die, in order that into the souls of all sinful, God-forgetting, devil-following men there might pass this Promethean spark of the true fire.

You get it, if you will, by simple faith. You will not keep it unless you obey it. Mind you do not quench the Holy Spirit, and extinguish the very life of God in your souls.



Theosis of the Early Church Fathers 
Paul Derengowski, ThM

”Any allusion to 2 Peter as a reference to support a given doctrine immediately becomes suspect because “This is the most problematical of all the New Testament Epistles because of early doubts regarding its authenticity and internal evidence is considered by many to substantiate those doubts.” (Donald Guthrie,
New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), 814.)  In fact, 2 Peter is unlike 1 Peter in its style of writing, incorporating language more consistent with Hellenistic Judaism than the biblical language in which the previous text was written. (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 433.)

  Bauckman points out that, “Our author uses ideas and language which had a long history in Greek philosophical and religious thought…The author of 2 Peter was doubtless aware of the currency of these ideas in the Hellenistic religious world, but he was probably more immediately dependent on the literature of Hellenistic Judaism, which had already adapted the terminology of Greek religion and philosophy in order to express its own religious tradition in terms appropriate to its Hellenistic environment.” (David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), vol. 50, Jude, 2 Peter by Richard J. Bauckman, 179-80.) Nevertheless, it remains a text which theosis exponents turn to support the idea of human deification.

Perhaps the reason why 2 Peter 1:4 is alluded to in support of the deification of humankind is its direct reference to humans partaking of the “divine nature,” as well as that it is deemed by some that “Peter” is speaking of something beyond the common fellowship (Gr. κοινωνία) existent between believers spoken of in the text.(Rakestraw, “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” 258.) Specifically it says, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  The issue in this verse, however, may be more semantical than anything, for a perusal of the surrounding verses seems to demonstrate that whatever partaking of the divine nature amounts to is centered in the godly development of moral rectitude in the believer; and this as a result of God’s divine power being granted to the believer whereby he main attain a life of “godliness” (v. 3, 6), “moral excellence,” “knowledge” (v. 5), “self-control,” “perseverance” (v. 6), “brotherly kindness,” and “love” (v. 7).  Later, in verse 10 is the admonition to be diligent, to make certain, and to practice the aforementioned.  In other words, the whole idea about partaking of the divine nature is a process which is often called sanctification in the Christian life, and this sanctification as alluded to in these qualities appear to have a reference to the development of the full person while on earth, and yet fully realized when united with God in eternity.

Athanasius is one church father who cites 2 Peter 1:4 as evidence for the divinization of humans.  In a personal letter to an Adelphius, Athanasius makes mention of the fact that Jesus by coming in the flesh did not diminish the glory of God by doing so.  Rather, “He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature,’ as blessed Peter wrote.”(Schaff and Wace, NPNF, s.v., Athanasius, Personal Letter 60 to Adelphius, Bishop and Confessor: Against the Arians, 4.60.4.) Here, once again, Athanasius is alluding to what has already been done for the believer, and yet it remains a process whereby the saints become…a holy race, which, if interpreted, is the language of sanctification in the West.  Furthermore, the process of becoming is not so much attributable to human effort per se, but is a direct result of Jesus “transferring to Himself our erring generation.”  And this is equally consistent with Western thinking, even though in term of deification language coming from the East.  The point is that even though 2 Peter may be a questionable book, and the language itself used to support the idea of theosis may be somewhat confusing — “partaking of the divine nature” — it may be concluded that all Peter and those among the church fathers, and the Eastern Orthodox, are saying is essentially what Protestants and Western theologians have advocated: Deification or the full realization of what God intended man to be is a sanctifying process whose inception began in the person of Jesus Christ at the cross, is nurtured along by the Holy Spirit, and culminated in the person of God the Father.  Yet, the only way this may be more clearly seen is by reviewing what some of the church fathers had to say about theosis themselves.  



"Ye Are Gods?"


Orthodox and Heretical Views on the Deification of Man

by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.


The first step in answering these interrelated questions is to recognize that talk about men being gods cannot be isolated from basic world views, or conceptions of the world and its relation to God. Norman Geisler and William Watkins have pointed out that there are seven basic world views: atheism (no God), polytheism (many gods), pantheism (God is all), panentheism (God is in all), finite godism (a finite god made the world), deism (a God who does not do miracles created the world), and theism, or monotheism (a God who does miracles created the world), which is the biblical view (and is held by orthodox Jews and Muslims as well as Christians). Not all doctrines can be neatly categorized into one of these seven world views, since some people do hold to combinations of two views; but such positions are inherently inconsistent, and usually one world view is dominant.

In this article our concern will be with doctrines of deification which claim to be strictly Christian. (This means that we will not discuss, for example, New Age concepts of deification.) Varieties of such "Christian" views on deification can be found among adherents of monotheism, polytheism, and panentheism.

Monotheistic Deification

It may surprise some to learn that a monotheistic doctrine of deification was taught by many of the church fathers, and is believed by many Christians today, including the entire Eastern Orthodox church. In keeping with monotheism, the Eastern orthodox do not teach that men will literally become "gods" (which would be polytheism). Rather, as did many of the church fathers, they teach that men are "deified" in the sense that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christian believers and transforms them into the image of God in Christ, eventually endowing them in the resurrection with immortality and God's perfect moral character.

It may be objected that to classify as monotheistic any doctrine which refers to men in some positive sense as "gods" is self-contradictory; and strictly speaking such an objection is valid. Indeed, later in this study it shall be argued that such terminology is not biblical. However, the point here is that however inconsistent and confusing the language that is used (and it is inconsistent), the substance of what the Eastern Orthodox are seeking to express when they speak of deification is actually faithful to the monotheistic world view. The language used is polytheistic, and in the light of Scripture should be rejected; but the doctrine intended by this language in the context of the teachings of the fathers and of Eastern Orthodoxy is quite biblical, and is thus not actually polytheistic.

Thus, it should not be argued that anyone who speaks of "deification" necessarily holds to a heretical view of man. Such a sweeping judgment would condemn many of the early church's greatest theologians (e.g., Athanasius, Augustine), as well as one of the three main branches of historic orthodox Christianity in existence today. On the other hand, some doctrines of deification are most certainly heretical, because they are unbiblical in substance as well as in terminology.

Polytheistic Deification

Two examples of polytheistic doctrines of deification are the teachings of Mormonism and Armstrongism, although adherents of these religions generally do not admit to being polytheists.

The Mormons are very explicit in their "scriptures" that there are many Gods; for example, the three persons of the Trinity are regarded as three "Gods." Since they believe that many Gods exist but at present worship only one -- God the Father -- at least one Mormon scholar has admitted with qualifications that their doctrine could be termed "henotheistic."[4] Henotheism is a variety of polytheism in which there are many gods, but only one which should be worshipped. Thus, the meaning of deification in Mormonism is radically different than that of the church fathers who used similar terms, despite Mormon arguments to the contrary.

The Worldwide Church of God of Herbert W. Armstrong (who died early in 1986) claims to believe in only one God. However, Armstrongism defines "God" as a collective term (like "church" or "family") referring to a family of distinct beings all having the same essential nature. Presently this "God family" consists of two members, God the Father and Christ, but it is their plan to reproduce themselves in human beings and so add millions or even billions to the God family.[6] Therefore, by the normal use of words on which our categorizations are based, Armstrong's world view is also polytheistic.

Panentheistic Deification

An important example of a panentheistic doctrine of deification within professing Christianity is Union Life, founded by Norman Grubb, who at one time was a respected evangelical leader. In 1980 Cornerstone, an evangelical magazine, ran an article arguing that Union Life was teaching pantheism or panentheism.[7] Union Life has attempted to argue[8] that panentheism, unlike pantheism, is not heretical (despite Grubb's admission that he does not know the definition of pantheism![9]). However, neither pantheism nor panentheism separates the creation from the essential nature of the Creator, though panentheism does posit a differentiation in which the creation is the expression of the Creator. The heretical nature of Union Life is made evident by such statements as, "there is only One Person in the universe," "everything is God on a certain level of manifestation," and "Nothing but God exists!"[10] Therefore, Union Life's claim to following the tradition of the church fathers[11] is no more valid than that of the Mormons.

Positive Confession: Monotheistic or Polytheistic?

Not all views of the deification of man are easily classifiable. Perhaps the most difficult doctrine of deification to categorize into one of the seven basic world views is that of the "positive confession" or "faith" teachers, including Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Frederick K.C. Price, Charles Capps, Casey Treat, and many others.

In brief, the "faith" teaching maintains that God created man in "God's class," as "little gods," with the potential to exercise the "God kind of faith" in calling things into existence and living in prosperity and success as sovereign beings. We lost this opportunity by rebelling against God and receiving Satan's nature. To correct this situation, Christ became a man, died spiritually (receiving Satan's nature), went to Hell, was "born again," rose from the dead with God's nature, and then sent the Holy Spirit so that the Incarnation could be duplicated in believers, thus fulfilling their calling to be little gods. Since we are called to experience this kind of life now, we should experience success in everything we do, including health and financial prosperity.

Some aspects of this teaching have been documented and compared with Scripture in articles published in previous issues of this journal.[12] Regarding the claim that men are "little gods," there is no question (as shall be demonstrated shortly) that the language used is unbiblical, but are the ideas being conveyed contrary to Scripture as well? Specifically, is the world view of the "faith" teaching monotheistic or polytheistic?

A simple answer to this question is somewhat elusive. The positive confession teachers have made statements that seem polytheistic, and yet often in the same paragraph contradict themselves by asserting the truth of monotheism.[13] At least two positive confession teachers, Frederick K.C. Price and Casey Treat, have admitted that men are not literally gods and have promised not to use this terminology again.[14] In many cases, the dominant world view appears to be monotheism, with their teachings tending at times toward a polytheistic world view. It seems best, then, to regard the "faith" teaching as neither soundly monotheistic nor fully polytheistic, but instead as a confused mixture of both world views. 

This means that the "faith" teaching of deification cannot be regarded as orthodox. Their concept of deification teaches that man has a "sovereign will" comparable to God's, and that man can therefore exercise the "God kind of faith" and command things to be whatever he chooses.[15] At least one "faith" teacher, Kenneth Copeland, seems to regard God as finite, since he says, speaking of Adam, "His body and God were exactly the same size."[16] Again, it is the context in which the doctrine appears that determines whether the teaching is orthodox or heretical. In this case, there seems to be significant evidence to show that some, at least, of the "faith" teachers have a heretical view of God, as well as a heretical view of the nature of the believer. Nevertheless, there also appears to be evidence that not all of the "faith" teachers are heretical in the same sense as, say, Mormonism or Armstrongism.

At this point we will turn to the biblical teaching relating to this subject to see whether the Bible teaches deification at all.


All of the various doctrines of deification discussed above appeal to the same passages of Scripture and the same biblical themes to validate their teaching. Besides the passages where men are called "gods" or "sons of God," there are the biblical themes concerning men in the image of God; the close relationship between Christ and Christians; and the statement in 2 Peter 1:4 that Christians are "partakers of the divine nature." In this article we shall discuss briefly each of these texts and themes.

Are Men Called "Gods" in Scripture?

The Bible in both Old and New Testaments explicitly and repeatedly affirms that there is only one God (e.g.,Deut. 4:35-39; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). Therefore, the Bible most definitely rejects any sort of polytheism, including henotheism.

The Scriptures also very clearly teach that God is an absolutely unique being who is distinct from the world as its Creator (e.g.,Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Rom. 1:25; Heb. 11:3). This teaching rules out pantheism and panentheism, according to which the world is either identical to God or an essential aspect of God. Since He is eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, God is totally unique, so that there is none even like God (e.g.,Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 40-46; Acts 17:24-28).[17] The Bible, then, unmistakably teaches a monotheistic world view.

In the face of so many explicit statements that there is only one God, and in light of His uniqueness, it may seem surprising that anyone would claim that the Bible teaches that men are gods. However, there are a few passages in Scripture which seem to call men "god" or "gods." Most or all of these, however, are irrelevant to any doctrine of deification. In practice, the question of whether the Bible ever calls men "gods" in a positive sense focuses exclusively on Psalm 82:6 ("I said, 'you are gods'") and its citation by Jesus in John 10:34-35.

The usual view among biblical expositors for centuries is that Psalm 82 refers to Israelite judges by virtue of their position as judges representing God; it is, therefore, a figurative usage which applies only to those judges and does not apply to men or even believers in general. If this interpretation is correct, Psalm 82:6 is also irrelevant to any doctrine of Christian deification.

An alternative interpretation agrees that the "gods" are Israelite judges, but sees the use of the term "gods" as an ironic figure of speech. Irony is a rhetorical device in which something is said to be the case in such a way as to make the assertion seem ridiculous (compare Paul's ironic "you have become kings" in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul's point is that they had not become kings). According to this interpretation, the parallel description of the "gods" as "sons of the Most High" (which, it is argued, is not in keeping with the Old Testament use of the term "sons" of God), the condemnation of the judges for their wicked judgment, and especially the statement, "Nevertheless, you will die as men," all point to the conclusion that the judges are called "gods" in irony.


If the former interpretation is correct, then in John 10:34-35 Jesus would be understood to mean that if God called wicked judges "gods" how much more appropriate is it for Him, Jesus, to be called God, or even the Son of God. If the ironic interpretation of Psalm 82:6 is correct, then in John 10:34-35 Jesus' point would still be basically the same. It is also possible that Jesus was implying that the Old Testament application of the term "gods" to wicked judges was fulfilled (taking "not to be broken" to mean "not to be unfulfilled," cf. John 7:23) in Himself as the true Judge (cf. John 5:22,27-30; 9:39).[18] Those wicked men were, then, at best called "gods" and "sons of the Most High" in a special and figurative sense; and at worst they were pseudo-gods and pseudo-sons of God. Jesus, on the other hand, is truly God (cf. John 1:1,18; 20:28; 1 John 5:20) and the unique Son of God (John 10:36; 20:31; etc.)

Neither the representative nor the ironic interpretation of Psalm 82 allows it (or John 10:34-35) to be understood to teach that men were created or redeemed to be gods. Nor is there any other legitimate interpretation which would allow for such a conclusion. The Israelite judges were wicked men condemned to death by the true God, and therefore were not by any definition of deification candidates for godhood.

If, then, the deification of man is to be found in Scripture, it will have to be on the basis of other biblical texts or themes, as Scripture gives men the title of "gods" only in a figurative or condemnatory sense.

The Image of God: An Exact Duplicate?

One biblical teaching upon which great emphasis is usually laid by those who teach some form of the deification of man is the doctrine of man as created and redeemed in the image of God. Of the many examples that could be given, two will have to suffice. Casey Treat's claim that man is an "exact duplicate" of God is based on his understanding of the meaning of "image" in Genesis 1:26-27.[19] The Mormon apologetic for their doctrine that God is an exalted Man and that men can also become Gods typically appeals to the image of God in man, and to the parallel passage in Genesis 5:1-3 where Adam is said to have begotten Seth "in his own likeness, after his own image" (Genesis 5:1-3).[20] 

These claims raise two questions. Does the creation of man in the image of God imply that God Himself is an exalted man (as in Mormonism), or perhaps a spirit with the physical form or shape of a man (as in Armstrongism)? And does the image of God in man imply that men may become "gods"? There are several reasons why such conclusions are incorrect.

First, there are the biblical statements which say that God is not a man (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Hos.11:9). Second, there is the biblical teaching on the attributes of God already mentioned, according to which God obviously cannot now or ever have been a man (except in the sense that the second person of the triune God became a man by taking upon Himself a second nature different from the nature of deity). Third, in the context of Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:1-3 there is one very important difference between the relationship between God and Adam on the one hand and Adam and Seth on the other hand: Adam was created or made by God, while Seth was begotten by Adam. To create or make something in the image or likeness of someone means to make something of a different kind that nevertheless somehow "pictures" or represents that someone (cf. Luke 20:24-25). It is therefore a mistake to reason backwards from the creation of man in God's image to deduce the nature of God. Genesis 1:26-27 is telling us something about man, not about God.

Besides the passages in Genesis (see also 9:6), the Old Testament says nothing else about the image of God. The New Testament teaches that man is still in God's image (1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9), but also says that, in some unique sense, Christ is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). Christians are by virtue of their union with Christ being conformed to the image of God and of Christ resulting finally (after this life) in glorification (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29-30), which includes moral perfection (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) and an immortal physical body like Christ's (1 Cor. 15:49; cf. Phil. 3:21).

Orthodox biblical theologians and scholars do have some differences of opinion as to how best to define and explain what these passages mean by the "image of God."[21] However, these differences are relatively minor, and do not obscure the basic truth of the image, which is that man was created as a physical representation (not a physical reproduction or "exact duplicate") of God in the world. As such, he was meant to live forever, to know God personally, to reflect His moral character -- His love -- through human relationships, and to exercise dominion over the rest of the living creatures on the earth (Gen. 1:28-30; cf. Ps. 8:5-8).

From the biblical teaching on the image of God, then, there is nothing which would warrant the conclusion that men are or will ever be "gods," even "little gods," as the "faith" teachers often put it.

Sons of God: Like Begets Like?

Although men are never called "gods" in an affirmative sense in Scripture, believers in Christ are called "sons" or "children" of God (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-23; Gal. 4:5-7; 1 John 3:1-2; etc.). Based on the assumption that sons are of the same nature as their father, some conclude that since believers are sons of God, they must also be gods. This reasoning is thought to be confirmed by those passages in John's writings which speak of believers as being "begotten" or "born" of God (John 1:13; 3:5-6; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).

As convincing as this argument may seem, it actually goes beyond the Bible's teaching and is at best erroneous and at worse heretical. The above Scriptures do not mean that the "sonship" of believers is a reproduction of God's essence in man for the following reasons.

1/ In one sense all human beings are God's "offspring" (Acts 17:28), so that even Adam could be called God's "son" (Luke 3:38); yet this cannot mean that human beings are gods or have the same nature as God, for the reasons already given in our analysis of the "image of God".

2/ Paul speaks of our sonship as an "adoption" (Rom. 8:15,23; Gal. 4:5), which of course suggests that we are not "natural" sons of God.

3/ John, who frequently speaks of Christians as having been "begotten" by God, also tells us that Jesus Christ is the "only-begotten" or "unique" Son of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). At the very least, this means that we are not sons of God in the same sense that Christ is the Son of God, nor will we ever be. Christ was careful to distinguish between His Sonship and that of His followers (e.g., John 20:17). For this reason Kenneth Copeland's assertion that "Jesus is no longer the only begotten Son of God"[22] must be regarded as false doctrine.

4/ Finally, the New Testament itself always interprets the spiritual birth which makes believers sons, not as a conversion of men into gods, but as a renewal in the moral likeness of God, produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and resulting in an intimate relationship with God as a Father who provides for His children's needs (Matt. 5:9, 45; 6:8, 10, 32; 7:11,21; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:6-7; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1-5).

The biblical doctrine that believers in Christ are children of God is a glorious teaching, to be sure, and what it means we do not yet fully know (1 John 3:2). But we do know something about what it means, as well as what it does not mean. It does mean eternal life with Christ-like holiness and love, in which the full potential of human beings as the image of God is realized. But it does not mean that we shall cease to be creatures, or that "human potential" is infinite, or that men shall be gods.