We Are Being Transformed

  • Description: This monograph argues for a version of deification in the thought of the Apostle Paul. I define Pauline deification as the reception of immortality and power as a consequence of assimilating to a divine being, Christ. The introduction provides a history of research on deification in Paul from Adolf von Harnack to the present. The meaning of deification is rooted in the ancient significance of “god” (θεός). Thus in my first chapter I show how Greeks and Romans thought of godhood in terms of immortality and power. Jews in the Greco-Roman world, including Paul, agreed that these basic characteristics constituted divinity. Although the rhetoric of ancient Jewish apologists has misled scholars into thinking that Jews rejected deification across the board, chapter 3 shows that Jews in the Mediterranean world were open to their own saints and heroes sharing in divine power and immortality. The rest of this chapter (closing Part I of the study) fleshes out the roots of deification in Jewish thought (focusing on the image of God and the king as Yahweh’s viceregent and begotten “son of God”).
  • In Part II, I make the argument for a Pauline version of deification. Pauline soteriology presents a vision of assimilating to a divine being (Christ). This assimilation to Christ has two post-mortem results: (1) the reception of immortality in a pneumatic body (1 Cor 15:44-52) and (2) the reception of cosmic power manifested in rule over the world and angels (1 Cor 3:21; 6:2-3; Rom 8:32; 16:20). Both of these eschatological benefits incorporate believers into the divine identity of Christ who is pneuma (1 Cor 15:45) and who rules the cosmos (1 Cor 15:25). The reception of the pneumatic body is rigorously compared to Stoic conceptions of deification contemporaneous with Paul. The cosmic rule of the saints is fitted not only into the tradition of ancient Judaism, but is presented as part of a larger Mediterranean type of myth called the “Battle of the Gods.”
  • Part III deals in-depth with potential objections to Pauline deification—namely, monotheism and the doctrine of creation. I argue that “monotheism” (a term of modern coinage) in Paul’s day amounted to a statement about God’s absolute power. It did not prohibit humans from sharing in God’s divine qualities. Similarly, creation in Paul’s day did not mean creatio ex nihilo and thus imply an absolute separation between God and the world. As the case of Christ shows, a human being could participate in divinity so as to truly enter into the category of god/divine being.
  • My conclusion presents an argument for why the language of deification is useful for historically conceptualizing Paul’s vision of salvation. The theological language of “participation” (E. Sanders) is too vague, and “mysticism” (A. Schweitzer) too vacuous to understand the logic of Pauline assimilation to Christ. Deification offers a native historical category of perception by which to understand Paul’s vision of believers’ eschatological transformation as well as their present and future union with Christ.