Much has been said of the revelation of theosis in the New Testament, but it is far less common to explore the evidence of God’s work in this area through the Old Testament. Part of this is simply an issue of progressive revelation – that God has revealed additional details by the time of the writing of the New Testament which may not have been quite so clear in the Old. New Testament authors are much better equipped to speak to some of the later elements of God’s plan for humanity simply because they have the extraordinary benefit of knowing the Son Himself. Knowing the Son and what He has revealed – namely, the ways in which He has opened the Scriptures to us as no one else could – the New Testament writers could then help to make plain some of what had previously been obscured in the writing of the Old Testament. We keep in mind, however, that even the Crucifixion and Resurrection was present in the Old Testament; it simply wasn’t yet clear as to why certain passages were significant. In the same way, theosis appears in the Old Testament writings and simply hasn’t been explored in great detail, especially in Protestant circles. This is why we spend our time investigating the specifics of theosis from this perspective in an effort to establish greater familiarity with the subject in traditions which may not otherwise be very familiar with it.
A particularly important passage for understanding the thought process behind theosis is Psalm 82, which will initially seem entirely unrelated until we explore it in greater depth. In this section we will examine some of the work of Dr. Michael Heiser, a biblical scholar who has done much work on this particular psalm as it relates to what is known as the divine council. If this particular topic interests you, I encourage you to examine his work in greater depth and detail, which can be found at drmsh.com.
When someone says “the Fall” in biblical terminology, we often think back to Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve were disobedient to God by consuming the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, the ancient Jews did not see only one fall in Genesis, but three. The first was what we all recognize when we discuss the subject; the other two were in Genesis 6:1-4 and Genesis 11. The latter we know as the Tower of Babel episode, but the former is a passage which we often skip over due to its complexity and bizarre content. Many a scholar and theologian (myself included, at one time) has simply explained the passage away without any understanding of what is taking place on a historical level behind the text.
Genesis 6:1-4 is written concerning the rebellion of the heavenly sons of God. God is relational, and He not only created human beings to be His family, but also heavenly sons who would dwell with Him where He is. The problem was, certain members of the heavenly host which comprised the divine council decided to enter into rebellion against God. The Book of Enoch records this episode, and although it is not a part of our Bibles (for which there are a few reasons), it was a common text in Israel (which is also referenced in the New Testament book of Jude). In Enoch’s account, over 200 of the sons of God enter into a pact with one another to do exactly what Genesis 6 states: to rebel against God by entering into lustful relationships with the daughters of humanity. Those who were originally intended to co-rule with God have severed their relationship with Him, and thus we find the reason for what is contained in Psalm 82:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men, you shall die, and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
Thus, with this psalm, God pronounces judgment on His rebellious sons in the heavenly realms and rejects them in their abhorrent state. By the end of the psalm, God has been exhorted to rise up and take His rightful place as the true ruler of the nations. Although God’s initial plan was to share power and the responsibilities of ruling with these divine sons, it appears He will now have to take matters into His own hands. However, the New Testament has an interesting shift in language which indicates that this is not necessarily the end of the story.
Sons of God
There is an interesting verse in the Old Testament which signals the forthcoming change in language which takes place in the New, found in Hosea 1:10 – “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’” Hosea clearly has some sort of special insight here: it is no longer the case that the sons of God (which is how this would read if translated more literally) are heavenly powers, but now the people of Israel receive this title. It is the fulfillment of what God has been working toward for many generations – an Israel which is no longer separated from Him by sin and corruption, but one which can rightly be called His own sons.
The New Testament, however, will take this idea of divine sonship and elaborate on it significantly, such that those who are not even a part of the nation of Israel will still find the title applied to themselves because of the work of Christ. Jesus Himself is the very first one to use this language: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Some may look at this and say it is merely in name only since Jesus says “they shall be called” instead of something like “they shall become.” But to those, we submit John 1:12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” It is clear that the biblical writers are not merely saying we as Christ followers receive an interesting title, but rather that something fundamentally changes about those who are in Christ. It will likely be surprising for those who have not necessarily considered this before, but this language is extraordinarily prevalent.
Matthew 5:44-45 – “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Luke 6:35 – “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Luke 20:36 – “…for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
Romans 8:14 – “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
At the risk of going on at too great a length, let it simply suffice to say that this is by no means an exhaustive list, and many more such verses can be found (Gal 3:26; 4:5; Eph 1:5; Phil 2:15; 1 John 3:1-3, 9-10; 5:1-2; Rev 21:7). Scripture is brimming with passages which demonstrate our adoption into the family of God. We who were once in rebellion and were separated from God have now become His sons and daughters, taking the place of the rebellious members of the heavens. What this means in terms of our future, we will examine in greater detail soon.
For now, let’s conclude with what I view as the New Testament answer to Psalm 82: Acts 15. Where the psalmist writes of God’s anger toward the corrupt sons of God and their expulsion from the divine council, the apostles reason together alongside the Holy Spirit in Acts 15:28 – “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements…” The message is clear: now the people of God share in the responsibility of ruling over the Church alongside Christ Himself. We, the co-heirs and co-rulers with Jesus Christ, are given a heavy charge.
To understand more on theosis, we must first understand our identity in Christ Jesus as adopted sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords. What God has in store for those who choose mere mortality is far different than that which awaits those who are in Christ. Again we clarify: do we become God? No! But we rather become image-bearers of Christ Jesus to the fullest extent possible, such that we fulfill what we were always intended to do in the greatest way. This is what we dive into in the posts to come.