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ONE WITH DIVINITY: THESIS IN EVANGELICAL

CHRISTIAN THOUGHT

by
D. Joshua Pruden

Submitted to Dr. Andr Gazal


in fulfillment of the requirements
for Masters Thesis

Northland School of Graduate Studies


Dunbar, Wisconsin
15 July 2015

Copyright 2015 by D. Joshua Pruden


All rights reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ................................................................................................................................1
Literature Review....................................................................................................................6
Historical Survey.................................................................................................................6
Contemporary Survey........................................................................................................10
Contribution to the Discussion ..............................................................................................12
Methodology.........................................................................................................................13
Chapter 1 ..................................................................................................................................15
1 Corinthians 15:45-49..........................................................................................................15
Pauls Argument ...............................................................................................................15
Putting on Language .......................................................................................................20
Old Testament Background...................................................................................................22
Genesis 2:7........................................................................................................................22
Daniel 7:13-14 ..................................................................................................................24
Implications for Thesis ........................................................................................................30
Chapter 2 ..................................................................................................................................31
Matthew 17:1-8.....................................................................................................................32
Context .............................................................................................................................32
Transfiguration: A Man of Dust Bearing the Image of the Man of Heaven ........................41
Implications for Thesis ........................................................................................................46
Chapter 3 ..................................................................................................................................47
John 10:34-38 .......................................................................................................................48

iii

Jesus Claim to Divinity ....................................................................................................49


Jesus Use of Psalm 82:6...................................................................................................51
2 Peter 1:3-4..........................................................................................................................55
Implications for Thesis ........................................................................................................58
Chapter 4 ..................................................................................................................................59
Created in Gods Image.........................................................................................................61
Creation Ideal....................................................................................................................62
The Fall: Image Marred.....................................................................................................63
Mediator: Image Restored .................................................................................................63
Union with Christ..................................................................................................................65
Regeneration .....................................................................................................................66
Justification.......................................................................................................................66
Progressive Restoration .....................................................................................................68
Sacraments........................................................................................................................68
Beatific Vision ......................................................................................................................72
Implications for Thesis ........................................................................................................73
Conclusion: Thesis in Evangelical Christian Thought? ............................................................74
BIBLIOGRAPHY.....................................................................................................................79

ONE WITH DIVINITY: THESIS IN EVANGELICAL


CHRISTIAN THOUGHT
Introduction
The terms thesis, deification, and divination1 when spoken to a crowd of typical
evangelical, reformed congregants will likely elicit looks of confusion, consternation, and quite
possibly even gasps of shock. However, for a large part of the life of the Church these terms, and
the ideas associated with them, have been quite common, even in the case of the Eastern
Orthodox Church central to discussions of theology. The West has not always been a stranger
to this language either; however, Western theology has tended to shy away from such
terminology, and instead to favor concepts of justification in the forensic sense. So are the terms
thesis, deification, and divination even useful in evangelical parlance? Or, should more familiar
phrases such as progressive sanctification or union with Christ be used exclusively?
First, we must define the terms. Thesis does not mean that humans can become one in
essence with God. Western mysticism has confused things in this regard. While mysticism
teaches a total absorption into the essence of God, this is an aberration from the traditional view
of Eastern theology. As Michael Horton defines it thesis is deification without pantheism,
union without fusion.2 The illustration of marriage has often been given as a correlation to the
relationship between God and the believer in thesis. Just as a husband and wife become one

These terms will be used interchangeably throughout the paper, although thesis will be preferred.

Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ (Louisville: Westminster John Knox,
2007), 269.

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in the marriage union but remain as two distinct individuals, so proponents of thesis say that the
believer becomes one with the divine, yet the ontological distinction between the two
participants remains. As Justin Martyr explains, That which participates in anything is distinct
from that which it participated in.3 Thesis understands the purpose of Gods creating the world,
and humanity specifically, to be the communication of Gods glory outside of himself that his
creation might then reflect that glory back to him.4
Additionally, thesis has to do with the renewal of the image of God in humanity through
the transformation of believers into the likeness of God.5 Renewal, because Genesis informs us
that humanity was originally created in the image of God.
Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have
dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock
and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God
created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he
created them.6
Gods intention in creation was to be united to it, which he was going to accomplish, by
his sovereign design, through creating humanity to image him.7 However, by chapter three of
Genesis the image had been marred. The serpent questioned the trustworthiness of Gods word
(3:5). Instead of trusting that they had been created like him to be made one with him, Adam and

Norman Russell, Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2004), 113.
4

Two passages of Scripture are pertinent here: Hab 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge
of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 1 Cor 15:28 When all things are subjected to him, then the
Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
These passages seem to indicate that the ultimate end of the world is union of the divine and the created.
5

Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, eds., Theo#


sis: Deification in Christian Theology, Princeton
Theological Monograph Series (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 1.
6

Gen 1:26-27. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright
2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
7

Andrew Louth, The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology, in Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A.
Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 36.

3
Eve attempted to achieve thesis on their own terms (3:6). While mankind was made to image
God in his eternality and holy character, at the Fall humanity came under the curse of the second
death and original sin. The image is not lost,8 but as Calvin said, humanitys will has been
distorted so that its desires are wicked and need to be restored.9
Not just humanitys spirit, or will, needs to be restored, but his whole person including
his body. 1 Corinthians 15:49 says that just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we
shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. Two aspects of Christs divine work illustrate
this. First, when Christ took on flesh he made it possible for humanity to be unified with God,10
fulfilling what our first parents could not. Some, especially Alexandrian, church fathers saw the
incarnation as so closely related to the concept of thesis that they used this understanding as an
argument against Arianism.11 The logic was that if the Son were not fully divine but, as the
Arians claimed, of a different substance than the Father then humanity would not be able to be
deified. Irenaeus said that Christ would make His salvation visible to all flesh; so that he would
become the Son of man for this purpose, that man also might become the son of God.12 This
happy exchange, as it is called, means that Christ exchanged his glorified condition for our
human one, so that he might not only pay the penalty by his atoning work on the cross, but that
he might also communicate his righteous state to us. Secondly, Christ made thesis possible for
us through his death and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 teaches us that Christs

Gen 9:6.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, edited by John T.
McNeill (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.15.8; 2.2.12, 26.
10

See Phil 2:5-11.

11

Russell, Doctrine of Deification, 7-8.

12

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The
Ante-Nicene Fathers, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 3.10.2.

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resurrection makes our resurrection possible; as verse twenty-two says, For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Our resurrection, Paul goes on to say in verse fortyfour, gives rise to our spiritual bodies. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If
there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. According to Bernard of Clairvaux, while a
measure of thesis takes place in this life, the only way to permanently achieve perfect love
(union with God) is in the spiritual body.13
While the image of God is genuinely restored in the believer at the point of regeneration,
we still await the final result, and thus the Christian life is a constant onward march of becoming
more like Christ. Clement of Alexandria put it this way: There is nothing intermediate between
light and darkness. But the end is reserved till the resurrection of those who believe; and it is not
the reception of some other thing, but the obtaining of the promise previously made.14
According to Romans 8:29, this promise is that we are being conformed to the image of Christ.15
In being conformed to the image of Christ, according to Colossians 1:1516 and Hebrews 1:3,17 we
are being conformed to Gods image. Eastern Orthodoxy speaks of an ontological change into a
restored human purpose. This does not mean that we somehow lose our humanity or our
personhood, but like a statue is chiseled out of a block of stone, so the image of God becomes
manifest in us when our old man falls away.18 The image that was distorted at the Fall is being

13

Dennis E. Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard, Columbia
Series in Reformed Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 67.
14

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, in ANF, 1.6.

15

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that
he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
16

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

17

[The Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

18

Louth, The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology, 39-40.

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restored, or as Basil of Caesarea put it, the Royal Image is being cleaned and restored to its
ancient form.19 But thesis does not happen passively; it is a divine-human activity. Divine life
is a gift, but also a task which is to be accomplished by a free human effort.20 While change into
Christs likeness is spoken of in Scripture as a definite result in the life of a believer,21 it must not
be spoken of as simply an automatic result of the change in the status of the Christian from
condemned to justified. Indeed, other passages of Scripture speak of change into Christlikeness
in imperatives.22 It must then be concluded that the process of recovering the image of God in
humanity is both a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and willing participation on our behalf.
As Clement reminded us, thesis is not something that takes place instantaneously or
even in this life. However we do look forward to the day that assimilation into Christs likeness
will be a reality. Peter calls it participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The apostle John
reminded his readers, Beloved, we are Gods children now, and what we will be has not yet
appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as
he is.23 Being exposed to the glory of God will instantaneously make us perfect, just as he is,
our whole persons being glorified. Paul told the Corinthians that the Spirit mediates to us in this
life visions of Christ. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are

19

Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, in NPNF2, 9.23.

20

Veli-Matti Krkkinen, One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification, Unitas Books
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004), 20.
21

1 Cor 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man
of heaven. 1 Cor 6:17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Rom 8:29 For those whom
he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers.
22

Mat 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Eph 4:24 Put on the new
self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Eph 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as
beloved children.
23

1 Jn 3:2.

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being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from
the Lord who is the Spirit.24 How much more will actually beholding our savior in his glory
change us into his likeness?25
Now that the topic has been clarified, the first task is to survey both historical and
contemporary opinions and themes in the discussion. In doing this we will answer the question,
Are these terms foreign to orthodox Christian thought? Second, a biblical and theological
explanation will be given that will give clarity to the origin of the concept. This will answer any
objections to the usefulness or biblical veracity of such terminology.
Literature Review
While historical studies will not provide the ultimate answer to this question, a sampling
of historical and contemporary viewpoints will provide a general understanding of the state of
the discussion. This is only a representative survey, and as such will focus more on those in favor
of using the terms, as the goal is to discover if using deification in the life of a believer is
appropriate in or foreign to evangelical Christian thought.
Historical Survey
As early as the church father Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies (c. 175-85) the
concept of thesis has been espoused. Irenaeus most famous statement on this topic being: Our
Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might
bring us to be even what He is Himself.26 This statement clearly sets forth the idea of

24

2 Cor 3:18.

25

Col 3:4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

26

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5, Preface, in ANF, 1.526.

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deification, yet even with this language the early church fathers were almost always careful to
clarify that thesis did not involve a sharing or confusing of essence between God and humanity.
This can be seen in Basil of Caesareas analogy in De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit). Just
as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become spiritual, and
send forth their grace to others. Hence comesabiding in God, the being made like God, and,
highest of all, the being made God.27 While Basil does not shy away from the language of
deification, he makes sure to differentiate between the essence of God (the sun) and his energies
(the sunbeam). The believer is transformed completely into the likeness of God, radiating the
same glory, yet he or she does not become God in essence.
Additionally, Gregory of Nazianzus discusses revelatory knowledge of God that results in
illumination, or salvation. In doing so Gregory picks up on Basils sunbeam imagery, again
making sure to distinguish between the sun and its effects. He goes on to say that whoever has
been permitted to escape by reason and contemplationand to hold communion with God, and
be associated, as far as mans nature can attain, with the purest Light, blessed is he, both from his
ascent from hence and for his deification therethrough the unity which is perceived in the
Trinity.28 Clement of Alexandria put it this way: There is nothing intermediate between light
and darkness. But the end is reserved till the resurrection of those who believe; and it is not the
reception of some other thing, but the obtaining of the promise previously made. For we do not
say that both take place together at the same time both the arrival at the end and the
anticipation of that arrival.29

27

Basil, De Spiritu Sancto in NPNF2, 8.15-16.

28

Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Great Athanasius 21.2, in NPNF2 7.270.

29

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1.6, in NPNF2 , 216.

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In the Middle Ages the French scholar Jean Gerson said, Mystical theology is
experiential knowledge of God attained through the union of spiritual affection with Him.
Through this union the words of the Apostle are fulfilled: He who clings to God is one spirit
with Him (1 Cor. 6:17).30 Calvin expounds this and makes even more explicit statements in his
Institutes. Therefore, relying on [the incarnation], we trust that we are sons of God, for Gods
natural Son fashioned for himself a body from our body, flesh from our flesh, bones from our
bones, that he might be one with us. Ungrudgingly he took our nature upon himself to impart to
us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.31
According to Calvin the soul is an immortal yet created essence. In shortsomething divine
has been engraved upon it.32 Conversion to righteousness, then, involves the restoration of the
will: It is changed from an evil to a good will.33 This happens through more than simple
knowledge of God, according to Calvin. What help is it, in short, to know a God with whom we
have nothing to do?34 In his commentary on the Catholic Epistles Calvin says, Let us mark that
the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to
deify us [quasi deificari].35 Dennis Tamburello clarifies that Calvins conception of this union is
a union of spirit (or will) and not of essences.36
Some, especially the New Finnish School, see deification in Luthers theology in his

30

Jean Gerson, Selections from A Deo exivit 64-65, quoted in Tamburello, Union with Christ, 11.

31

Calvin, Institutes, 2.12.2.

32

Ibid., 1.15.2.

33

Ibid., 2.3.6.

34

Ibid., 1.2.2.

35

John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 22 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 371.

36

Tamburello, Union with Christ, 40.

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understanding of our participation with Christ through faith. Tuomo Mannermaa, one of the
leaders of the school, quotes Luther from Sermo de duplici iustitiae (1518), Thus the
righteousness of Christ becomes our righteousness through faith in Christ, and everything that is
his, even he himself, becomes oursand he who believes in Christ clings to Christ and is one
with Christ and has the same righteousness with him. Mannermaa goes on to conclude, Thus
Luther teaches by means of philosophical analogy that the essence of the relationship to God is a
community of being.37 Luther sees faith as analogous to the vows performed at a wedding, thus
uniting the believer with Christ in a one flesh marriage. This enables Christ to endow on his
bride all that is his.38
Work has been done recently that serves to show that divine participation was also central
in the theology of the English reformers such as John Jewel and Richard Hooker.39 Not only is
this the end of salvation in the theology of these reformers, but union with Christ is seen to be
effected by means of the sacraments in their theological construct. So it seems that a historical
study proves to be not only insightful but also positive for the doctrine of thesis in Christian
thought. However, it seems that Western Christianity has largely neglected, or at the very least
sidelined, the topic since the reformation.40

37

Tuomo Mannermaa, Why is Luther So Fascinating?: Modern Finnish Luther Research, in Carl E.
Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1998), 6.
38

Helmut T. Lehmann and Harold J. Grimm, eds., Luther's Works: Career of the Reformer, vol. 31
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957), 351-53.
39

See Andr Gazal, Appareled in Christ: Union with Christ in the Soteriology of John Jewel in Sin and
Salvation in Reformation England Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom, 26-28 June 2013. And
Gazal, By Force of Participation and Conjunction in Him: John Jewel and Richard Hooker on Union with Christ,
Perichoresis 12 (June 2014): 39-56.
40

Exceptions to this statement do exist, of course. Jonathan Edwards, for example, in his Dissertation
Concerning the End for which God Created the World says that the chief end of the world is the glory of God
through salvation of man and Gods emanating his glory to them. Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards,
vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), 117.

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Contemporary Survey
This neglect has been felt and expressed by many, including the New Finnish School as
mentioned earlier. Yet the academic community is divided on whether this is a good thing or not.
Some would urge for resurgence in the use of the term, others would rather retire it, and others
think to replace it with progressive sanctification or justification by faith.41
Those in favor of retaining or reinstituting the terms thesis and deification want to see a
continuity of thought from earliest church history until now. They often see Reformation
language as insufficient for a proper understanding of the biblical data.42 According to Michael J.
Christensen, the language of thesis is a significant and enduring contribution to a centurieslong conversation on what it means to become god.43 Christensens premise is that thesis
should be retained, while he urges for a clear understanding of the concept and terms involved.
Christoforous Stavropoulous senses urgency in discussing the doctrine so that we do not neglect
clear themes in Scripture: God speaks to us human beings clearlyYou are gods, sons of the
most high all of you (Ps 82:6 and John 10:34). As human beings we each have this one,
unique calling, to achieve Theosis.44 Michael S. Horton notes that the convergences of
Reformed theology and thesis should be explored, for the good of both sides.45 Hortons
treatment of the topic in Covenant and Salvation highlights a theme that does not appear to me

41

Finlan and Kharlamov, Theo#sis, 8.

42

Ibid.

43

Michael J. Christensen, The Problem, Promise, and Process of Theosis, in Christensen and Wittung,
Partakers of the Divine Nature, 29.
44

Christoforous Stavropoulous, Parkakers of Divine Nature (Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1976), 17-18,
quoted in Krkkinen, One with God, 17.
45

Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 272-77.

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to be as prominent as it once was in Reformed faith and practice.46
Yet not everyone is as eager to accept this terminology back into the vernacular. John
Frame, for example, says, This terminology is quite obscure and, in my opinion, somewhat
dangerous. When discussing the significance that the incarnation has to thesis Frame reiterates
his sentiments: This language creates confusion and suggests that we are saved primarily by
Jesus incarnation.47 Michael Bird, in discussing some passages of Scripture that support
thesis, states that the Bible contains the ingredients for a doctrine of theosis or something like
it, but then goes on to say that the concept is rather slippery.48 Neither Reymond nor Berkhof
mention the concept in their systematics, and Erickson, thinking it unwise to use thesis,
recommends substituting it with union with Christ.49 Donald Fairbairn in his monograph Life in
the Trinity posits that the early church did a better job uniting the concepts of theology and the
living of the Christian life in the doctrine of thesis. Yet, in saying this Fairbairn also says,
Because this concept is so central and so crucial, and yet the word used to describe it is so easy
for contemporary Christians to misinterpret, I will normally not use the word thesis or
deification in this book.50 Although Fairbairn makes this negative statement about the word
thesis, the main premise of Life in the Trinity is that the idea of thesis is central to theology
and Christian life. Constantine Campbell, in his book Paul and Union with Christ, has
reservations about using terms like thesis. The question is raised as to whether the term

46

Ibid., 267.

47

John M. Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 1012 n888.

48

Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2013), 576.
49

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 904.

50

Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers,
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 11.

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divination is actually helpful or if it dies the death of a thousand qualifications.51 Yet in saying
this, Campbell in no way downplays the idea of the doctrine, as indeed it is the topic of the book.
Later, Campbell says that in defining union with Christ we must include the concepts of union,
participation, identification, and incorporation.52
Contribution to the Discussion
It seems from the survey of viewpoints that while there is historical precedence for using
the term thesis and including the concept in our treatment of theology, many Reformed,
evangelical Christians would rather not include it as a topic in a systematic theology course.
Many are satisfied that the loci of union with Christ, progressive sanctification, and final
glorification are sufficient to explain the passages of Scripture and theological realities
associated with thesis. I, however, am not. For one, union with Christ is too narrow to be
commensurate with thesis. Union with Christ is the means by which thesis is possible, not
synonymous. Progressive sanctification is the process by which thesis, the recovering of the
image of God in man, takes place, but as a substitute lacks the force that thesis carries. And
while glorification is the end, the not yet to the already of union with Christ and sanctification, it
too fails to account fully for the richness of the doctrine of thesis.
In relatively recent church history the term thesis, or deification, has fallen into disuse,
and even distain, in much of Western theology. Not only does this disregard centuries of church
history, a failure to teach and discuss thesis misses a grand and beautiful theme of Scripture
Gods reconciling of the world to himself. The imagery of the restoration of the image of God,
the poetic beauty of the incarnation, the glorification of believers bodies, the beatific vision, and
51

Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 366.

52

Ibid., 412-14.

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participation in the divine nature are all bolstered by a proper understanding of thesis. It should
not be dismissed out of hand and it most certainly should not be replaced with more
Reformation friendly terms. The effects of epistemological modernism are self-evident in this
regard. As a result, many express Christianity as a system of thought rather than as a way of
salvation.53 However, if Christianity is indeed the way to salvation, then thesis in the life of a
believer is the absolute design of human salvation to be anticipated, not an ancillary doctrine to
be brushed aside. Thesis should be taught properly and discussed regularly so that there will be
no need to qualify it and no reason to fear it.
Methodology
This paper will prove the aforementioned assertion in four chapters. Chapter one will
explore the implications of Pauls statement in 1 Corinthians 15:49: Just as we have borne the
image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. This chapter will
first examine the place of the verse in the argument of the passage as a whole. Next, chapter one
will examine the language of bearing the image in the context of the putting on language of
the Pauline corpus. This study will serve to prove the nature of what it means to bear the image
of both the man of dust and the man of heaven. The conclusion of chapter one will be an
exploration of two Old Testament passages that give context for the titles man of dust and
man of heaven. These will be Genesis 2:7 and Daniel 7:13-14, respectively. 1 Corinthians
15:49 is significant as it both recollects the believers original state and looks forward to the
believers future.
Next, chapter two will look at a passage of Scripture that brings both the aspects of the
53

Calvin would disagree with this estimation of Christianity. We are quickened by the true partaking of
himin order that no one should think that the life that we receive from him is received by mere knowledge.
Institutes, 4.17.5.

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man of dust and the man of heaven into one person in one moment of time Matthew 17:1-8.
The transfiguration is a foretaste the firstfruits of the glory that Christ, the man from heaven,
will display when he returns for the second time in triumph and victory with all things subjected
to him. However, as a human Jesus also represents the man of dust. This means that the
transfigured Christ is a prototype of what we can expect as we humans, men and women of dust,
bear the image of the man of heaven. Chapter two will end with a discussion of the implications
that this has for the doctrine of thesis.
Chapter three will answer the question, Is speaking of believers in terms of deification
appropriate? To answer this the chapter will first discuss another New Testament passage, John
10:34-38, which this time is a direct quotation of a verse in the Old Testament, Psalm 82:6. In
addressing this passage we will look first at Jesus use of the Old Testament in his quotation of
Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your Law, I said, you are gods? Next, in light of this, we will
examine Jesus defense of his divinity in using Psalm 82:6 to answer the charge that his
opponents made against him: You, being a man, make yourself God. Secondly, chapter three
will continue to defend the use of the term thesis by referring to 2 Peter 1:3-4. Specifically, the
language of being partakers of the divine nature will be examined. In summary, chapter three
will discuss the implications that John 10:34-38 and 2 Peter 1:3-4 have for the terminology of the
doctrine of thesis.
Finally, the fourth chapter will be a case study of sorts. In it the theology of a prominent
Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, will be examined. In doing so, this chapter will determine
whether or not influences of thesis can be seen in Calvins theology. Answering in the
affirmative, chapter four will go on to show how the motif of thesis can rightly be said to be
Protestant, evangelical, and biblical. In doing such a case study, this chapter will both display

15
what it looks like for a person to integrate thesis into his or her theology and more importantly
will show how far reaching the idea truly is. Thesis is less a topic of study within theology and
more a way of looking at theology as a whole, something of a key to place over ones theological
map that connects the dots and determines the outcome and purpose of the journey.
Chapter 1
If, in the doctrine of thesis, Eastern Orthodoxy is right to assume that regeneration is an
ontological change to a restored human purpose, then what was humanity created for and, as
believers, what will our redemption lead to? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:49, Just as
we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
According to Paul, it would seem that believers are on a trajectory that culminates in a definite
state of being. To understand what Paul means by this statement and its implication for thesis,
this chapter will first examine the place of verses forty-five to forty-nine in the argument of the
passage as a whole. Next, chapter one will determine what is meant by bearing the image of the
man of dust and the man of heaven by exploring the putting on language of the Pauline corpus.
Chapter one will conclude with Genesis 2:7 and Daniel 7:13-14, the two Old Testament passages
that give context for the titles man of dust and man of heaven. This study will be important
as it will recall humanitys original state and, as 1 Corinthians 15:49 says, it will anticipate what
believers can expect for their future.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Pauls Argument
For the purposes of this paper the context of Pauls argument, which culminates in 1
Corinthians 15:49, begins in 15:35. In verse thirty-five Paul anticipates two corresponding
questions: How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? He then answers

16
the first question in verses 36-44 and the second question in verses 45-49. Apparently the
Corinthian church was baffled over the notion of a resurrection of the physical body of believers.
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Fee argues that the Corinthians believed that they had
already entered into the heavenly or spiritual realm by partaking of the Holy Spirit.54 If this were
the case, the Corinthians reasoned, then all that remains for the believer is to slough off his or her
physical body in death and they would be free from anything holding them back from spiritual
fulfillment. Garland, on the other hand, disagrees with Fees take on the situation in Corinth and
instead posits that what the Corinthians were struggling with was not an over-realized sense of
their own spirituality, but were mystified by the notion of a terrestrial body becoming a celestial
one.55 Either way, the question of a resurrected body was seen as either unnecessary or
impossible in the eyes of the Corinthian believers. Paul sets out to correct their misconceptions
and explain the nature of a resurrected, or spiritual, body.
First, Paul answers the how by asserting that it is not only possible, it is, in fact,
necessary for our bodies to be changed from a natural body, sw/ma yuciko,n56, to a spiritual body,
sw/ma pneumatiko,n57 (v. 44). What Pauls concern is in contrasting the physical body with the
spiritual body is not to somehow differentiate between the essences of the bodies, as though
one were made of physical stuff while the other is made of heavenly stuff.58 Instead, Paul is

54

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New
Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 778.
55

David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2003), 735.
56

BDAG defines yuciko,n as physical in contrast to spiritual. In Jude 19 it is used to refer to people who are
devoid of the Spirit. Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1100.
57

BDAG: having to do with the (divine) spirit, 837.

58

Thiselton presents two views that would propose something along these lines. The first view is that the

17
contrasting the two ways of living or modes of existence.59 In Calvins commentary on 1
Corinthians he describes the difference between the two bodies as animation versus inspiration.60
In other words, a merely physical body is a person who has been given physical life,61 while the
spiritual body is a person who has spiritual life and is living under the influence of the Spirit.
Ciampa and Rosner explain how 15:36-49 leads up to 15:50 which says, I tell you this, brothers:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. In other words, Ciampa and Rosner say, it is
necessary for our bodies to experience this transformation from natural to spiritual because in our
present state, the natural body, we cannot live in or inherit the kingdom.62
Paul explains that this is how God has ordered the universe different bodies are meant
to live in different modes.63 He illustrates the physical/spiritual distinction by using examples
from nature including plants, animals, and planets. In using these illustrations Paul highlights
that the difference between the bodies is the amount or type of glory that each possesses. 64 In
verse forty Paul states it explicitly: There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory
of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. This understanding
helps underscore the continuity of the body while also showing that the change, while not in

pneu/ma represents a heavenly light substance, or the composition of the body. The second view is that Paul is
talking about a nonphysical body. Representatives of the first view include Otto Pfleiderer, Johannes Weiss, and
Dale Martin. Proponents of the second view include Louw and Nida. Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the
Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1276-78.
59

Ibid., 1276.

60

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 20, 51.

61

As in Gen 2:7.

62

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 827.
63

Fee, Corinthians, 786.

64

Ibid., 777.

18
essence, will be substantial. It is fitting that Paul uses the heavenly bodies as an illustration for
the resurrection as probably the clearest passage on bodily resurrection in the Old Testament is
Daniel 12:2-3, Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to
everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will
shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to
righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. This Old Testament background shows that the
splendor of the luminaries corresponds with the glory that will be assigned to the spiritual
body.65
Next in his argument, Paul answers the second question: What kind of body is it? He
does this by employing a kind of midrashic interpretation of Gen. 2:7 in light of the resurrection
of Christ.66 He contrasts the nature of the first or prototypical man, Adam, with that of the last
or ultimate man, Christ. In Genesis 2:7 God gives life to Adam and in 5:3 we see that those who
were descendants of Adam were born with Adams characteristics. Paul then applies this to
Christ in a greater sense by emphasizing that those who are begotten by Christ have spiritual life.
Christ can share his life with others because of his resurrection (15:20), so the Corinthians can be
assured that the kinds of bodies the dead will receive will resemble Christs and the way they
will receive this is, like Christ, through resurrection.67 Life begets life, as illustrated in Genesis
when God gave Adam physical life and the ability to reproduce after his kind. Those who have a
physical body necessarily resemble Adam. Resurrection begets resurrection, and those who
resemble Christ will receive spiritual bodies. So the kind of body that Paul describes to the

65

Ciampa and Rosner, Corinthians, 810.

66

Fee, Corinthians, 788.

67

Ibid., 789-90.

19
Corinthians is a resurrection body, modeled after and made possible by Christ.
The next logical question, not explicitly stated but answered implicitly, is, How does
one get a body like this? We have already seen that it is brought about ultimately in
resurrection, but Paul explains what that looks like by using the phrase in verse 49, Just as we
have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Before we explore what it means to bear the image of both the man of dust and the man of
heaven, we must interact with the textual issue of the phrase, we shall bear. The majority of the
manuscript evidence holds to the aorist subjunctive let us bear, compared to the future
indicative we shall bear.68 However, the majority of translations including the ESV, NIV, KJV,
ASV, HCSB, NASB, RSV, and Youngs Literal Translation choose the indicative, many of them
including a note about the subjunctive reading. The NET, Douay-Rheims, and Weymouth Bibles
all favor the subjunctive, along with many scholars including Fee, Tischendorf, von Soden, and
Findlay.69 However, the reason most translators opt for the future indicative when the external
evidence is largely in support of the aorist subjunctive is that the internal evidence, that is the
context of the passage, would lend itself to an indicative rendering of the phrase.70 Pauls
argument in this passage is eschatological Christ is the prototype of what believers can expect
for the future. This means that a reading of the passage that indicates a command left up to the
will of the believer would weaken the emphasis that Paul is placing on the certainty of future
resurrection. Instead, this should be seen as something that is going to happen. We will conform
to the nature of Christ just as we share in the nature of Adam. When this happens the image of

68

See Ciampa and Rosner, 824 n310; Fee, 787 n5; Garland, 738; Thiselton, 1288-89.

69

See Fee 787 n5 and Findlay, 939. Fee, commenting on the UBS committees decision to favor the
indicative, says The USB committee abandoned its better text-critical sense here.
70

Ciampa and Rosner, 824 n310; Garland, 738; Thiselton, 1289; Calvin, 341.

20
God will be restored in its fullness, both body and soul.71
Putting on Language
This brings us to explore what Paul means in this passage by using the image of bearing
or, it could be said, wearing the image.72 To do this a look at the use of this imagery in the
Pauline corpus is necessary. Most often this imagery is seen in Pauls use of put on.73
According to Constantine Campbell, Paul uses this language in three main ways: the current and
permanent state of believers, the adopting of certain behavioral characteristics, and the
transformation of mortal bodies into immortal ones.74 These three, while admittedly different
from one another, provide a full picture of what is meant by this imagery. A passage that
illustrates the first usage is Galatians 3:27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have
put on Christ. This implies a statement of fact concerning the state of a believer.75 He or she has
put on Christ having been baptized into Christ. Colossians 3:9, which says, Do not lie to one
another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices, implies that this is not only
the current state, but also a permanent state for believers. Romans 3:14, on the other hand,
illustrates the second usage of the picture. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no
provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. This passage implies a choice of behavior and

71

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 20, 341.

72

Fee, Corinthians, 794 n34; Jung R. Kim, The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus,
PhD dissertation (The University of Glasgow, 1998), 22. The word here in Greek is fore,somen and comes from
fore,w, which can be translated bear but has connotations of constancy and regularity, hence wear as translated in Js
2:3 and Jn 19:5. This is different from fe,rw which is often translated bear or carry as in lifting or movement
(BDAG, 1064, 1053).
73

The passages associated with the putting on or clothing imagery in Pauls writings include Rom 13:12-14,
1 Cor 15:49-54, 2 Cor 5:1-4, Gal 3:26-27, Col 3:9-12, Eph 4:20-24, Eph 6:11, and 1 Thes 5:4-8.
74

Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ, 320-21.

75

Ibid. 315.

21
leaves open ended the matter of permanence.76
Kim demonstrates the reconciliation of the two ideas by stating that the first usage
illustrates a change in the believers nature (from the old self [Adams nature] to the new self
[Christs nature]) that works itself out in ethical change in the practical life.77 This metaphor is
not only a symbol for union with Christ in salvation, but it also entails ethical injunctions to act
accordingly in conformity to Christ.78 The final usage of this symbol is what our passage, 1
Corinthians 15, illustrates. That is, Paul uses this imagery in an eschatological manner, looking
forward specifically to the resurrection. Pauls clothing imageryis associated with his strong
assurance that believers will experience a great change in their existence at the Parousia.79 Kim
goes on to show that in Jewish thought clothing imagery can indicate a change in mode of
existence, which would fit with Pauls use of the image in 1 Corinthians 15.80
In conclusion, the putting on language in the Pauline corpus would lead us to assume that
Pauls use of fore,somen in 1 Corinthians 15:49 entails the union of the believer with Christ in
regeneration and progressive sanctification, focusing specifically on the future outcome of that
union that involves a change from the natural body to the spiritual body. While this union is
inaugurated in this life, believers can expect the fullness of the promise when Christ returns and
restores the image of God in humanity. What exactly that looks like and its implications for the
doctrine of thesis must be explored further. Specifically, what does Paul mean by the man of
dust and the man of heaven in verses 47-49?
76

Ibid. 311. For a historical perspective on this passage see Gazal, Appareled in Christ, 7-10.

77

Kim, Clothing Imagery, 260-61.

78

Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ, 323.

79

Kim, Clothing Imagery, 257-58.

80

Ibid., 258.

22
Old Testament Background
Genesis 2:7
To understand the implications of what Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 15 we must look at
the Old Testament background that he was relying on. The first passage is apparent, as Paul
quotes Genesis 2:7 in verse forty-five, The first man Adam became a living being. Paul adds
first to emphasize the distinction between two men he is comparing,81 but he obviously has
Genesis 2:7 in mind. The phrase living being, or living creature in Genesis 2:7 simply refers
to the fact that Adam was an animate being.82 The phrase is used elsewhere in Genesis to denote
animal life as well (1:20, 2:19, 9:9).83 The implication is that Adam received life that is suited for
life in this world. Paul continues to borrow from this Old Testament background as he points out
in verses 47-49 that Adam is suited for life on this earth because he is made from the dust of the
earth.
Calvin says that God created humanity from the dust so that they would have no room for
boasting.84 Gregory of Nyssa says that God molded Adams flesh from the ground to show that
he is nothing.85 Gods creative work in fashioning humanity out of dust resembles the work of a
potter making a pot out of clay86 and connotes both sovereignty and intimacy. God purposely

81

Paul makes a similar contrast in Romans 5 when talking about the one man, Adam and the one man,

Christ.
82

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 1, 112. This goes back to the distinction that Calvin makes between animation
and inspiration in his commentary on 1 Corinthians. See note 60 above.
83

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Milton Keynes: Authentic Publishing,

1995), 60.
84

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 1, 111.

85

Andrew Louth, ed., Genesis 1-11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, vol. 1
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 51. Gregory contrasts the creating of Adams flesh by saying that God made
from nothing Adams soul; hence in the human person we have both nothingness and greatness.
86

Wenham, Genesis, 59. Although the differences are notable a potter would never use dust the

23
stooped down from heaven to the earth and, figuratively speaking, got his hands dirty. The play
on words is lost in English, but it could be translated something like, God formed an earthling
from earth.87 Ultimately, the context of Genesis 2:7 underscores the point of his argument. Man,
while set apart from the rest of creation in being made in Gods image (Gen 1:26-28), is
nonetheless still earthly in origin. He is neither divine nor is he heavenly.88
While Pauls point in referring to Genesis 2:7 is to highlight the earthly nature of
humanitys existence, it is also important to understand another aspect of the original state of
humanity. Humanity was made from the dust of the earth, but humanity was also made in the
image of God, according to Genesis 1:26-28. This fact gives dignity and a sense of royalty to all
humanity.89 God modeled humanity after himself and in this gave authority, dominion, goodness,
and immortality. However, if this were the case, then why would Paul say that the outcome of
humanity is to bear the image of another other than our father Adam?90 Inherent in Pauls
reference to the image of the man of dust is not only the physical body, the sw/ma yuciko,n,, but
the reality that humanity did not remain in the state in which God created Adam and Eve.
Genesis chapter three tells the dramatic story of the Fall of humanity as Eve disbelieves God and
craftsmanship, intricacy, and hands-on nature of the creation of man compared to that of the previous creation is
aptly pictured in the intimate art of pottery. In fact, the present participle of the word formed (ESV) is used in Jer
18:2 and is translated potter, so the allusion is valid.
87

Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 159. In Hebrew it is haadammin-haadamah.
88

John H. Sailhammer, Genesis, in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2,
Genesis Numbers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 41.
89

Hamilton, Genesis, 135.

90

Honorius of Autun in his Book of Eight Questions on Angels and Humanity brings up an interesting point
relevant to this discussion. In it he states that Christ would have necessarily become incarnate regardless of the Fall.
In other words, the state in which humanity was created (the man of dust) was never intended to be final. Rather, it
was the Fathers plan for humanity to be deified, a state made possible only by the Sons incarnation. Importantly,
then, Christs incarnation was not a result of sin, but of the predestination of human deification. See Honorius of
Autun on the Cause of the Incarnation, in Alister E. McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader (Chichester:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 243-44.

24
disobeys his command and Adam stands by and allows Satan to usurp the creation order as the
serpent takes dominion over the man. It is because of this that the image of God was defaced,
although not destroyed, in humanity and for this reason that life in the image of the man of dust
is not the final end of believers.91 As Genesis 5:3 says, Adam passed on his image to his son,
Seth, and therefore the image is passed on from generation to generation. However, all Adam
could pass on was the image distorted by the Fall.92
Daniel 7:13-14
The second Old Testament passage that Paul relies on is less obvious than the first;
however, it is not a stretch to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It was noted above93 that 1
Corinthians 15:40-41 resembles Daniel 12:2-3. Paul uses the illustration of the sun, moon, and
stars to describe resurrection bodies just as in Daniels vision heavenly bodies are used as a
metaphor for the resurrection. We can see that Paul relies at least to some extent on the book of
Daniel for his understanding of the resurrection. However, the exact phrase man of heaven in
15:49 appears nowhere in the Old Testament, nor does it appear anywhere else in Pauls writings
or the rest of the New Testament, for that matter. While it is clear from the context of 1
Corinthians 15 that the last Adam is synonymous with Christ, so we can assume that the man
of heaven is meant to represent Christ as well, what is not as apparent is where Paul gets this
nomenclature. It could be simply stated that Paul was doing nothing more than providing an
antithetical identity to the man of dust. The man of dust pertains to what is natural so the man of

91

Calvin, Institutes, 1.15.4.

92

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 1, 229.

93

Pg 17.

25
heaven pertains to what is spiritual.94 However, there is precedence for assuming that there is
indeed an Old Testament background for a person who is of, or from, heaven.
Not only has Paul already alluded to the book of Daniel in supporting the nature of the
resurrection, the book of Daniel also contains a reference to a man who pertains to or comes
from heaven. Daniel 7:13 says, Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of
man. This could be a coincidence, but Barrett argues not only that this could be the basis for
Pauls use of the phrase, but also that there is precedence in early Jewish literature for a man of
heaven based on Daniel 7:13.95 1 Enoch96 includes a vision of a man in heaven and 4 Ezra97 has a
man flying on clouds of heaven. This would mean that not only in Pauls mind, but also in the
minds of his readers there was a category for an eschatological man from heaven, probably
influenced by Daniels vision in chapter seven.98
In Daniel 7 God gives Daniel a vision. He first sees four great beasts in verses four
through eight. The first beast is said to be like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a
leopard, and the fourth beast was unlike the others, great and terrifying. These beasts, according
to verse seventeen, are four kings representing four kingdoms. These kingdoms are wicked
nations who oppress Yahwehs people and oppose Yahwehs rule. The vision continues in verses

94

Thiselton, Corinthians, 1287.

95

C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Durham: Harper & Row, 1968),

375-76.
96

1 Enoch 46:1 And there [in heaven] I saw One who had a head of days, and His head was white like
wool, and with Him was another being whose countenance had the appearance of a man, and his face was full of
graciousness, like one of the holy angels.
97

4 Ezra 13:3 In my dream, a wind came up out of the sea and set the waves in turmoil. And this wind
brought a human figure rising from the depths, and as I watched this man came flying with the clouds of heaven.
98

Thiselton disagrees with Barrett, and thus this paper, with the background of Pauls man of heaven and
sees the allusion to Dan 7:13 as fraught with complexity. Thiselton, Corinthians, 1287. However, Thiselton does
not provide a more satisfactory alternative, and given the influence of Daniel on the earlier verses, it is likely that
Dan 7:13 is the Old Testament background for the man of heaven.

26
nine through eleven with the Ancient of Days judging the fourth beast and taking away dominion
from the evil rulers. The vision climaxes in verses thirteen and fourteen with the inauguration of
a fifth kingdom. Daniel is given a front row seat at the coronation of a new king, but contrasted
with the beasts of the first four kingdoms this one is like a son of man.99 This fifth ruler is further
contrasted with the beasts as his origin is heavenly while the beasts come from the sea, the place
where evil resides.100 At the inauguration ceremony Yahweh gives all authority and dominion to
this anointed one. The vision is one of deliverance and vengeance.
The identity of this fifth ruler is debated. Some have argued that this heavenly being is
angelic, possibly Michael or Gabriel, and that the saints of the Most High in verses eighteen
and twenty-two represent the angelic host.101 Others, citing the corporate personality of Israel,
stipulate that this figure could represent national Israel receiving the kingdom in fulfillment of
Gods promises to his people in retribution over her enemies.102 Proponents of this view argue
that as the first four beasts in the vision represented kingdoms, this humanlike figure represents
the people of Israel as a whole. A third view is that this one like a human being represents the
long awaited Messiah, the anointed one from the line of David.103 While each view has its
strengths and problems, the first two can be ruled out relatively easily. First, no such dominion

99

John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 153, 155.
Goldingay presents a chiastic structure of the vision of Daniel 7 with verses 2-3, four creatures appear
corresponding with verses 13-14, a manlike figure appears.
100

James M. Hamilton, God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton:
Crossway, 2010), 199.
101

See Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman),
1994, 207 and Goldingay, Daniel, 171-72. Proponents include J.J. Collins and L. Dequeker.
102

See Miller, 208-09 and Goldingay, 169-71. Proponents include J.A. Montgomery, A. LaCocque, and
S.R. Driver.
103

See Miller, 209-10; Goldingay, 170; and Andrew Steinmann, Daniel, Concordia Commentary (Saint
Louis: Concordia), 2008, 357. This is the oldest and most documented view, going back to pseudepigraphal works.
See notes 92 and 93 these figures were messianic.

27
and authority has ever been promised to angels nor are angels depicted suffering the persecution
that the saints face as in verses twenty-one and twenty-five. Second, while corporate solidarity is
a theme throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets, this does not exclude the
important role that the Messiah plays in the future of Israel. In fact, without the Messiah figure
working on behalf of and ruling over the people, there would be no hope for corporate Israel.
This one like a son of man is meant to point to a specific individual, namely the Messiah.
The term son of man is not foreign to the Old Testament, and most commonly refers to a human
being, especially in the book of Ezekiel and in the Psalms.104 While this does not have to mean
that an individual human is in view here,105 the personal pronouns that are used as well as the
coronation setting seems to point in this direction. This individual is seen coming from heaven to
earth. This is obvious as the vision is located on earth and the one like a son of man is seen riding
on clouds from heaven, signifying his heavenly origin.106 Clouds often have divine connotations
in the Bible, representing either Gods glory or a theophany.107 However, not only does this
humanlike character originate from heaven, he also is given sovereignty and authority that
resembles Gods, and indeed is given to him by God. These divine nuances signal that this one
like a son of man is no mere human.
Calvin says that the purpose of this vision was to enable the faithful to expect the
redeemer in their time.108 This redeemer embodies the enthronement of the Messiah that is

104

Goldingay, Daniel, 150. E.g. Eze 33:2; Ps 8:4.

105

The beasts of the first four kingdoms certainly are not meant to be taken as literal animals.

106

Ibid., 167.

107

Miller, Daniel, 208-09.

108

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 13, 40.

28
spoken of in Psalms 2 and 110.109 Even the Jews in Jesus day, it would seem, equated this figure
with the Messiah.110 In John 12 Jesus predicted his death on the cross. At this the people in the
crowd balked, saying, We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can
you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? In using Christ and son of man
interchangeably, the crowd discloses that it was common knowledge that the son of man in
Daniel 7 is one and the same as the Messiah, Gods anointed one. Revelation also speaks of one
like a son of man.111 In Revelation 1:13 he is standing in the midst of the lampstands, glorious
and radiant in appearance, with white hair reminiscent of the appearance of the Ancient of Days
in Daniel 7:9. In Revelation 14:14 the son of man is seated on a cloud, judging the earth.
This humanlike figure of a heavenly origin who is Gods anointed king and has divine
attributes is none other than Jesus, the Son of God. Steinmann says that the hypostatic union is
implicit in this vision of this fifth kingdom leader.112 No other person could be said to possess
such God-like authority and glory and yet be in the likeness of a human. Jesus explicitly applies
Daniel 7:13-14 to himself in Mark 14:62, and it was for this that he was accused of blasphemy
and condemned to death. While in the minds of Daniels readers, and presumably Daniel
himself, the specific identity of this man was unclear, we have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight
vision. From Daniels vision we perceive immense theological significance concerning the
person of Jesus of Nazareth. As a son of man we see an intimation that Jesus was to take on
human flesh. This was necessary because as Calvin says, If we were required to seek God

109

Steinmann, Daniel, 359.

110

Miller, Daniel, 209.

111

Steinmann, Daniel, 357.

112

Ibid., 358.

29
without a Mediator, his distance would be far too great, but when a Mediator meets us, and offers
himself to us in our human nature, such is the nearness between God and us, that our faith easily
passes beyond the world and penetrates the very heavens.113 Secondly, we not only see his
humanity, but we see his divinity as well. While in his earthly ministry Jesus divinity was
largely hidden, this vision makes his union with the Father conspicuous.114 As Jerome rightly
points out, all that transpires in these two verses makes plain to the reverent mind that the Son
of God is truly equal with God.115
We also see a final premonition in this vision that anticipates the ministry of Jesus, the
Son of Man. Steinmann points out the now but not yet tension that characterizes all biblical
eschatology.116 While this vision prefigures Christs incarnation, it also looks past that to his
second coming; this time he will come not as the savior of our souls but as the king of a literal,
physical kingdom when we, his saints, will live under his reign for all eternity. Calvin wrote that
this vision was a picture of Christs ascension when he went to heaven to obtain supreme power
that he might be our mediator in human flesh.117 Cyril of Jerusalem notes that the aspects of
judgment and authority in Daniels vision befit Christs second coming.118 The kingdom of
heaven that John the Baptist prepared the way for was inaugurated at Jesus ascension, but the full
realization of the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ (Rev 11:15-19) with judgment for the evil

113

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 13, 45.

114

Ibid., 43.

115

Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Glerup, eds, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ancient Christian Commentary on
Scripture: Old Testament, vol. 13 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 238.
116

Steinmann, Daniel, 360.

117

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 13, 42, 44.

118

Stevenson and Glerup, Daniel, 236.

30
ones and reward for the saints is yet to come. So this vision enables us too, like the first readers,
to expect the redeemer in our time.
Implications for Thesis
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the
man of heaven. This statement is packed full of implications for the doctrine of thesis. In it we
have a roadmap, not just of where we have come but also where we are going as our final
destination. God fashioned the first man, Adam, out of dust from the earth, thus giving him a
body suitable for this world. God then breathed into Adam the breath of life, infusing his body
with a soul and making him a living person. Humanity was created in innocence in the image of
God. This image, as Gods, consisted of goodness and immortality. Yet when tempted, our first
parents failed to obey and believe God. The result of Adam and Eves failure was the distortion
of the image of God and an evil will. As God gave Adam and Eve the ability and mandate to
produce offspring in their likeness, all those who descend from Adam share in his image one
that is suited for life in this world yet unable to give us life in the Kingdom of God.
However, although all is lost in the first man, hope is offered in the last man. The last
man pertains to and comes from heaven. He is the image of the invisible God, crowned with
glory and authority. He is a mediator, fully human and fully divine, and as such is able to bring
those who are far from God, due to the Fall, near to God, due to his resurrection. This new image
of the heavenly man is given to believers by the Holy Spirit through union with Christ, exercised
in obedience throughout the believers life, and fully realized at Christs second coming. We
shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.119 As descendants of the spiritual man we

119

1 Jn 3:2.

31
are able to share in the spiritual qualities of the resurrection body, a body that is fitted for
spiritual life. It is then that the vision of Daniel 7:13-14 will be fully realized as all nations bow
their knees in submission to the authority of Gods anointed and Christs kingdom is established
on the new earth where his saints will reign as vice-regents in perfection with spiritual bodies.
Thus, the end of human salvation is in bearing the image of the man of heaven, restoring and
exceeding in the last Adam what was lost in the first.120 It is then that we can truly say we are
one with God.
Chapter 2
Chapter one, in exploring Pauls statement in 1 Corinthians 15:49, forecasted the telos of
believers; that is, the restoration of the image of God in humanity. At this point it is appropriate
to ask the question, What will it look like for humanity, men and women of dust, to bear the
image of the man of heaven? Does this refer to an amalgamation of humanity with divinity?
Will it be physical in some way or purely spiritual? Will we lose our personhood? Chapter two
will answer this question by looking at an event in the life of Jesus: the Transfiguration. This
passage (Mt 17:1-8) displays in one person, in one moment of time, what it is for a man of dust
to bear the image of the man from heaven. As Christ is displayed in all of his divine glory while
retaining, without confusion or distortion, all of his humanity, the Transfiguration is a foretaste
of what humanity can expect when they bear the image of the man of heaven. Humanity, while
remaining ontologically separate from the divine essence of the Godhead, will be partakers of the
divine nature, sharing in and reflecting Gods glory. Chapter two will end with a discussion of
the implications that the Transfiguration has for our understanding of the doctrine of thesis.

120

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 20, 339.

32
Matthew 17:1-8
Context
While the event of the Transfiguration is recounted in Matthew 17:1-8,121 it is appropriate
to start the investigation of the passage back in Matthew 16:24, as the event prior to the
Transfiguration is inherently related to and thus essential for understanding the significance of
the latter. At this point it is necessary to simply mention in passing the events leading up to verse
twenty-four in Matthew 16. Matthew employs the use of conjunctions and adverbs extensively in
the narrative sections of his gospel to both move the action along and make logical and
sequential connections for his readers. This is illustrated in this passage with its short narrative
phrases and logia.122 Two observations should be made regarding these verses. First, in verses
thirteen to twenty Matthew recounts Peters confession.123 Inherent in the confession that Jesus is
Gods Son and the long awaited Messiah is the expectation of the Day of the Lord. Apparently,
what Jesus followers were expecting in identifying him with the Christ was for an
eschatological breaking in from another world and the vindication of Gods special people.124
This is apparent from Peters response to Jesus prediction in verses twenty-one to twenty-three.
In this passage Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, which is the opposite of what his
disciples were expecting. Because of the unexpected, and in his mind ludicrous, nature of such a
121

The parallel passages in the other Synoptic Gospels are Mk 9:2-8 and Lk 9:28-36. This chapter will
assume that Matthew was reliant on or at least had access to Mark when writing his gospel (the two source
hypothesis) and as such will interact with Marks account to some extent in an attempt to understand where and why
Matthew differs from Mark. For a quick survey of the interdependence and priority of the synoptic gospels as well
as a good source for primary sources on the discussion, see D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the
New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 91-103.
122

W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to
Saint Matthew, The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments
(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 668.
123

Mat 16:16.

124

Deut 4:29-31; Dan 7:9-18; Micah 5; Joel 2:30-3:16; Mt 16:22; 26:51; Lk 22:38.

33
statement Peter vehemently scolds Jesus for even thinking that such treatment was fitting for the
Messiah. At this Jesus rebukes Peter for having such a worldly mindset and then goes on starting
in verse twenty-four to explain to his disciples the nature of discipleship and in so doing
redefines their expectations for the Day of the Lord.
One of the first differences that we see between Matthews gospel and Marks is that
Jesus addressed his disciples in Matthew, while Mark presents Jesus addressing the crowds.125
The reason that Matthew presents a change in the audience is that Jesus is making demands of
those who call themselves a disciple of Christ that he would not make of anyone else.126 What
this entails is a complete reversal of expectations. Instead of rising up against the Romans in
revolt and vengeance, Jesus tells his disciples that following the Messiah means submitting to a
Roman cross. The idea of bearing ones cross has lost considerable significance since the time
that Jesus spoke these words. Today, when someone says, We all have our crosses to bear, it is
usually in the context of an annoyance or a setback.127 Maybe they have to put up with a difficult
spouse or maybe they have a physical ailment to deal with. The force of Jesus words here is
considerably stronger.128 Being a follower of Jesus will, not might, include suffering. Jesus is
calling on his followers to willingly give up their lives to count themselves as already being
dead.129 Such a mindset necessitates complete self-denial, the opposite of self-promotion.
Probably the most familiar story of denial in the New Testament is Peters denial of Jesus the

125

Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 482.

126

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 670.

127

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1992), 431.
128

We might say, Put your neck in the noose.

129

John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 691.

34
night he was taken to the chief priest. When Jesus says that his disciples must deny themselves,
he is talking about this kind of attitude.130 Not only does Jesus redefine his purpose in verse
twenty-one, but he also makes it clear that his disciples are to follow him in that kind of suffering
so that they might find vindication in the future kingdom.131
Verse twenty-five is seemingly quite paradoxical. Jesus says that the attitude of selfpreservation that his followers were portraying will end up leading to the loss of everything that
they fought for. It is interesting to note that Jesus does not scold his disciples for wanting to save
their lives. Instead, he tells them that they way they are going about it is futile. If a person seeks
to preserve his or her physical, temporal life, they will end up losing their true self and the only
life that really matters.132 On the other hand, Jesus says that if his disciples give up their lives for
his sake they will find life that lasts. Now, this is not some kind of radical, reckless disregard for
safety or carelessness. Neither is Jesus referring to some masochistic activity; he is not referring
to someone who has such a poor self-esteem that his life crumbles.133 However, if for Jesus
sake a person considers this earthly life of low esteem, being willing to suffer even to the point
of death, they will find that their lives have actually been saved. This person truly knows the
nature of what it is to live.
Jesus adds clarity to his statement in the following verse. Even if it were possible for a
mortal to gain the power of and control over the whole world,134 nothing that this world could
offer would be able to save him or her from death. Ultimately, striving for everything can only
130

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 670.

131

Ibid., 690.

132

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 673.

133

Morris, Matthew, 431.

134

Ironically this is what Satan tempted Jesus with in Mt 4:8.

35
yield nothing.135 There is no physical reality that can be substituted for the soul of a person.136
The significance of this fact is highlighted in verse twenty-seven. While his followers were
expecting the Messiahs first advent to be the occasion of divine judgment that is spoken of in
the prophets, Jesus surprised his disciples by looking forward to another day that is coming in the
future. At this advent the Son of Man will come in glory and judgment, rewarding each for their
works; no amount of accumulated wealth, security, or prestige will be of any value at this point.
Thought of Gods future should encourage acts of discipleship in the present, for it is only the
final judgement and the final state that count.137 Because this world is passing away and the Son
of Man is coming, believers are to die to their preconceived notions of justice and follow the
Messiah in self-denial.
The advent spoken of in verse twenty-seven has dual implications. First, for those who
attempted to find their lives by striving for and holding on to them, this judgment will be
relentless. They will find that what they have done has earned them eternal loss. In trying to find
significance in themselves and in their own way of living they have missed the meaning of life.
On the other hand, this judgment will be glorious for those who loved not their lives even unto
death.138 Those who find themselves in this group will be repaid with everlasting life to the
fullest. For those who live for themselves and for the riches of what can be gained in this world
this day elicits fear and anxiety. For those who deny themselves by giving up their lives to follow
Jesus this day promises great joy and expectation.

135

Hagner, Matthew, 484.

136

Ibid., 433.

137

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 668.

138

Rev 12:11.

36
However, in saying all of this Jesus is doing more than just challenging the mindset of his
followers. He is also making implicit statements about himself that both confirm and challenge
what his disciples, with Peter as their representative, had just affirmed about him. The term Son
of Man is a favorite designation of Jesus for himself in Matthews gospel. Many reasons have
been given for why this is the case, but with the proximity of the previous chapter and its
discussion of Daniel 7:13-14 at least one reason should be fresh on the readers mind. At the very
least in Jesus claiming this title he is associating himself with the Father in an intimate
relationship. At the most he is claiming divine status.139
Matthew makes the divine nature of the Son of Man even more evident when he
attributes the heavenly host not to the Father but to the Son. In Marks gospel the Son of Man is
said to come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.140 While the referent is ambiguous
in the Markan account, a short survey of scripture would serve to show that it would be expected
that the angels belong to the Father. 141 However, Matthew unambiguously ascribes the angels to
the Son, thus heightening the perception of divinity of the Son of Man.142 Adding to this is the
glory that the Son of Man will come in. This picture of the Son of Man coming in glory recalls
the one like a son of man arriving with the clouds of heaven and the glory that is inherent in such
a mode of transportation.143 However, this instance is slightly different from the Daniel 7

139

A quick review of the previous chapters material will prove to show that the latter is probably the case.
See also Nolland, Matthew, 693-94.
140

See Hagner, Matthew, 482 for the differences between Marks gospel and Matthews in this section.

141

Deut 33:2; Job 15:15; Zech 14:5.

142

D.A. Carson, Matthew, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 379.
143

Nolland, Matthew, 694. Typically, the glory of God is associated with his special presence (Ex 16:7, 10;
24:17; 40:34; Ps 63:3; Is 60:1; Rev 15:8; 18:1; 21:23).

37
account. Instead of coming to be judged by the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man is coming as the
judge.144 This glory alludes to the unity of the Father and the Son.145
Again, at the end of verse twenty-seven the Son of Man is pictured doing that which is
usually only ascribed to the Father. While it is typical in the Old Testament to speak of Yahweh
giving due reward for ones actions, and indeed in Revelation we see God in this role, Matthew
ascribes this action of reward and punishment to the Son of Man.146 It is without a doubt that
Matthews purpose in saying all of this is to affirm Peters confession of Jesus divinity in 16:16.
However, he is at the same time juxtaposing that with Peters rebuke of Jesus. Peter understood
that Jesus is the Messiah who will make everything right. What he missed was the way that this
was to be accomplished. Jesus will come a second time as a judge, but this time he has come as
the suffering servant. Consequently, glory awaits the believer also, but only after suffering.147
Jesus goes on in verse twenty-eight to heighten the expectation of this event. Not only is
this coming of the Son of man a thing to fear for those who are wrongly related to him and a
thing to anticipate for those who are rightly related to him, this coming is immanent. To properly
understand what Jesus is referring to, this chapter must analyze what is meant by the two
phrases: there are some standing here who will not taste death and until they see the Son of
Man coming in his kingdom. In breaking down this statement into these two phrases this section
of the paper will further elucidate the meaning in light of what was just discussed and its
implications for what comes after.

144

R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 639.
145

Morris, Matthew, 433.

146

Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Rev 20:11-15. Nolland, Matthew, 694.

147

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 261.

38
It would seem that Jesus is referring to a specific group of people when he makes the
statement, There are some standing here. While it may seem obvious to the careful reader to
whom this designation is directed, several suggestions have been given as to who actually was
referenced. One postulation that has been made is that Jesus is referring here to spirits.148 The
reasoning goes that what Jesus says next does not actually happen in the lifetime of his disciples,
so he must be referring to the spirits of saints who have already departed who will observe the
events. There is no space nor is there any need to interact with this hypothesis other than to say
that such a misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying evidences logical gymnastics that does
not befit the natural reading of the text.149 A second suggestion is that the referent was not the
disciples themselves, but the generation as a whole. In other words, the Parousia would occur
during the church age, the current generation, and those who remain standing (steadfast) will see
the kingdom.150 While this view, like the previous one, interprets the language of the Son of Man
coming in his kingdom in a way that is straight forward and natural, what it fails to do is to
account for the natural rendering of some standing here. While plausible, this does not have to
be what was intended.
A third option is to take this phrase to mean that Jesus was indeed referring to some in the
group of his disciples. This option is further divided into three further opinions. One group
would say that when Jesus said that they would not taste death he was meaning that they would
not taste the second, spiritual death. In other words, Some of you will follow me and because of
that when the Son of Man comes a second time to judge the small and the great you will not

148

See Carson, Matthew, 380-81. Bruce Chilton offered this novel interpretation.

149

Again, see Carson for a thorough refutation of this suggestion.

150

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 681, although they favor this interpretation very tentatively.

39
experience the second death but you will experience the resurrection.151 This option is
problematic because the phrase taste death seems to imply an actual physical death,152 and
possibly even a violent one at that.153 A second group says that while Jesus was referring to some
of his disciples and he was referring to the Parousia, he was mistaken about the timing of his
Second Coming.154 However, this view is not very convincing since there is no way Christ would
make either an untrue statement or a statement that sounds so sure but could not be sustained. A
third subgroup of this third option, and the position of this paper, states that a (partial) fulfilment
of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom is what is in view here, thus Jesus is right in stating
that some of his disciples will indeed see the event referenced. Jesus makes it a point elsewhere
(Mt 24:36) to state that he is not interested in predicting the timing of the Parousia, so it would
be inconsistent for him to make a prediction of his Second Coming at this point.155
This leads into a discussion of the second phrase, until they see the Son of Man coming
in his kingdom. Again, several options have been suggested as to what is in view here. As was
alluded to in the previous discussion, some take this to be referring solely and specifically to the
Parousia. The language of the phrase has strong eschatological inferences, thus the Second
Coming must be in view.156 Another option is that what is being referred to is not the Parousia
but Christs resurrection and ascension.157 Others suggest that what is in view is Pentecost and/or

151

Morris, Matthew, 434 n67.

152

Hagner, Matthew, 486.

153

Nolland, Matthew, 695.

154

See Blomberg, Matthew, 261

155

Morris, Matthew, 434.

156

See Hagner, 485.

157

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 678-79.

40
the subsequent expansion and growth of the kingdom evidenced by the spread of the gospel.158
R.T. France, in exploring the other allusions to Daniel 7:13-14 in Matthews gospel,159 believes
that it cannot be the Parousia since Christ has obviously not come back yet. Instead, he sees this
coming as a coming to God to receive power and glory, not a coming to earth.160
However, a final suggestion has been given that will be allowed more space, since it is
the position of this thesis. This view states that the fulfilment of verse twenty-eight occurs
immediately following in the narrative at the Transfiguration. While proponents of this view
would say that the language of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom is typical of the Parousia,
the fulfilment of the kingdom can be seen in progressive stages. Partial fulfilment created the
expectation of a future, more adequate fulfilment.161 Or, others would say that the
Transfiguration is a foretaste of the Parousia, and thus is the fulfilment in the sense of
foreshadowing.162 2 Peter 1:16-18 reinforces this view. Peter tells his audience that the message
he is preaching is reliable because he was an eyewitness of the majesty of the Son when he
received glory and honor from the Father on the holy mountain, thus connecting Matthew 16:2728 with the Transfiguration. Whether in partial fulfilment or foreshadowing, this view tries to
take the natural understanding of what it means for the Son of Man to come in his kingdom, what
was said previously about those standing there seeing it, and the nature of inaugurated
eschatology.163 That being the position of this paper, we will now turn to Matthew 17:1-8 to see

158

Carson, Matthew, 382.

159

10:23; 24:30, 34; 26:64; 28:18.

160

France, Matthew, 637.

161

Nolland, Matthew, 695.

162

Blomberg, Matthew, 261.

163

Already/not yet aspects of fulfilment as well as typological fulfilment, with which Scripture is rife.

41
how the Transfiguration is a fulfilment of Matthew 16:28 and why it is placed at this point in the
narrative.164
Transfiguration: A Man of Dust Bearing the Image of the Man of Heaven
Matthew includes at the start of the chapter the time marker after six days.165 This is
unusual for Matthews gospel, as he is usually unconcerned about the exact timing of Jesus
ministry, until of course the Passion Week.166 This is probably meant to tie the events previous
even more closely to what follows. About a week after Jesus informed his disciples of the high
cost of discipleship, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the top of a high mountain so that
they might be alone. The text does not tell us if they had stopped and engaged in conversation or
if they had just made it to the top when suddenly Jesus was transfigured in front of his three
apostles eyes. The word metamorfo,w means to change in a manner visible to others.167 This
implies that this was not an allusion or a dream but an actual change that the three perceived. 2
Corinthians 3:18 might shed some light on the nuance of the word. And we all, with unveiled
face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one
degree of glory to another. While Jesus presumably retained his form, he was enhanced in his
glory.168
The change consisted of the alteration of the skin of Jesus face and his clothing so that

164

It is interesting to note that all three Synoptics have the sequence: Peters confession; Jesus prediction of
his death; Call to discipleship; and the Transfiguration.
165

Mark agrees, while Luke says about eight days. These are probably expressions to indicate that about a
week had passed.
166

France, Matthew, 641.

167

BDAG, 639. The common usage of the English word, metamorphosis, in an insect or amphibian is the
process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form. This recalls the discussion of 1 Cor 15:42-44.
168

France, Matthew, 647.

42
they shone with dazzling brilliance and whiteness, suggesting glory, sovereignty, and purity.169
The most familiar event in Old Testament history involving a shining face is the shining of
Moses face after being exposed to the glory of God. The difference here is that Moses face
shone as a result of being exposed to the glory of Yahweh, while the glory emanating from Jesus
came from himself.170 There is also a striking resemblance to the man of Daniels vision in
Daniel 10 whose face was like the appearance of lightning.171 Jesus bright clothing evokes
imagery of Gods clothing of splendor and majesty in Job 37:22 and the Ancient of Days whose
clothing was white as snow in Daniel 7:9.172 The visible alteration of Jesus demonstrates that he
is more than a merely human teacher.173
Then, appearing with Jesus the apostles recognized Moses and Elijah, who were talking
with him. The significance of each has been debated, but we can offer at least a couple of
suggestions. Most obviously, the connections between Moses and Jesus are legion in this
account. First, the fact that this occurred on a mountain recalls Mt. Sinai where Moses received
the law. Also, the cloud that appears later in the account is reminiscent of the Shekinah glory that
covered the top of the mountain at Sinai.174 Finally, while it is not picked up on in Matthews
gospel, Luke records the topic of Jesus conversation with Moses and Elijah his departure or,
literally, exodus.175 All of these correspondences, and many more, point to the significance of

169

Blomberg, Matthew, 263.

170

Carson, Matthew, 385.

171

Nolland, Matthew, 700.

172

Ibid., 701.

173

France, Matthew, 642-43.

174

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 701.

175

Luke 9:31 says that they were speaking about e;xodon auvtou// - his exodus.

43
the presence of Moses on the mountain.176
As far as Elijah is concerned, several suggestions can be given as to why he appeared.
The most important, however, is Elijahs eschatological significance. In Malachi 4 Yahweh
prophesied that a day would come when his people would remember the Law of Moses177 and
return to obedience. In that day, the Day of the Lord, Yahweh would come with vengeance over
Israels enemies and give victory to his people, turning their hearts back to their God. Before that
day came, however, Yahweh would send the prophet Elijah who would act as a harbinger and a
sign for his people of the coming salvation. Like Moses, Elijah was something of a suffering
servant a faithful but rejected prophet. Elijah was also connected to Moses in that he was
responsible for a revival the Law. Moses was the lawgiver and Elijah was the prophet who called
Israel back to obedience. Moses and Elijah were, in Jewish tradition, both deathless ones.178
While we do have the record of Moses death in the Old Testament, it became common in
Judaism to think of Moses in terms similar to Elijah as both of their bodies were transported
from the view of their contemporaries. Jesus, however, is even greater than these two in that
while he died, he was the only one to come back permanently from the dead.179
Peter, presumably speaking for the other two, suggested that the threes presence at this
moment was a good thing. Why this was a good thing Peter does not explain, but possibly his
next statement was at least part of the reason: If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for

176

Other suggested correspondences include the six days of preparation before Moses received the law (Ex
24:16), a select group of companions (Ex 24:1, 9), and the role as deliverer of Gods people.
177

Another connection to Moses.

178

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 698.

179

Other connections could be made, including that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets,
both were connected with periods of Old Testament miracles, both went up to a mountain to see God, both faced
rejection and hostility, both met strange ends, and both were expected to return at the end of time.

44
you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. The word for tent is skhnh, which in the Septuagint
was the translation of the Hebrew word mishkan, translated in most English translations as
tabernacle. This is significant because of the Jewish feast Sukkot, or the Feast of the
Tabernacles.180 This feast was to remind the people of the time when Yahweh dwelt in their
midst in the wilderness as well as to cause them to look forward to the fulfilment of the promise
that Yahweh would again tabernacle with his people.181 Apparently Peter mistook this event for
the real thing.182 He was certain, again, that suffering was not in the plan for the Messiah, but
that this was his time for glory and conquering. Mark and Luke both point out that Peters
statement was made in ignorance.183
Suddenly, a bright cloud184 enveloped them, and a voice cut off Peter in the middle of his
sentence. The scene recollects Jesus baptism in Matthew 3:17 and the same voice repeats what
was said then, this time exclusively for the benefit of the three apostles: This is my beloved
Son, with whom I am well pleased. In affirming the Son, the Father is doing at least two things.
One, he is confirming Peters confession. While Peter often gets a bad rap, and most of the time
rightfully so, what he said about Jesus in 16:16 is met with Gods seal of approval in 17:5. Even
though the disciples misunderstood the nature of Christs mission, what they affirmed about the
person of Christ was without a doubt veracious. Secondly, the Father is not only confirming the
sonship of Jesus, he is also granting his divine seal of approval on his mission, as he did at the

180

Carson, Matthew, 385.

181

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 700.

182

Nolland, Matthew, 703

183

Mk 9:6; Lk 9:33.

184

As on Sinai, the cloud represents the divine glory and presence (Ex 34:29-35; 40:34-38).

45
beginning of his ministry.185 If it is true that the Transfiguration is a foretaste of what is coming
in the Parousia, coupled with what Jesus previously told his disciples about his immanent death,
then the Father is confirming that the road to glory is through suffering.186
This is reinforced by what the divine voice from the cloud adds to the baptismal
statement: Listen to him. This is yet another point of contact with Moses.187 In Deuteronomy
18 when Moses is recounting the Law to the people before his death, preparing them to enter the
land, he tells them that Yahweh had purposed to raise up a prophet like Moses who would speak
Yahwehs words to the people. To this Yahweh adds, It is to him you shall listen. And
whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of
him. The Father is intentionally connecting Jesus with this prophet, informing the disciples that
even if their expectations are not met, what Jesus told them about the path to glory is not only
correct, it is Yahwehs plan.
At this Peter, James, and John fell on their faces, a response typical of encounters with
divine beings.188 Then Jesus, resembling the angelic figure of Daniel 10 and Revelation 1, came
to his disciples and comforted them, touching them and telling them not to be afraid. When they
looked up the vision had passed, and Jesus was alone on the mountain, his physiognomy restored
to its pre-glory condition. What Peter had mistaken for a permanent situation was not the fullness
of the kingdom that they were expecting, but a foretaste a preview of what was to come. This
was for their benefit and the confirmation of Jesus mission. Ironically, they probably would not

185

Blomberg, Matthew, 264.

186

Nolland, Matthew, 704

187

Carson, Matthew, 386.

188

Gen 17:3; Lev 9:24; Num 20:6; Jos 5:14; Jud 13:20; Eze 1:28; Dan 10:9.

46
fully understand the significance of what they saw until after the resurrection.
While it is human nature to want to avoid suffering and to long for glory, in Jesus
kingdom this is not the way. If a person desires to share in the glory of the Son of Man, they are
first to follow Jesus in self-abasing devotion. Humanity was created to be in union with God
we were created in his image to be made like him. However, in the Garden Adam and Eve
became dissatisfied and ungrateful with the state in which they were created and desired to be
like God in their own way by their own means. Because of their disobedience, Gods image in
humanity was marred, almost beyond recognition. Ever since that time humanity has attempted
to make a name for itself,189 grasping and longing for the glory that was lost at the Fall. In the
Transfiguration we learn that Gods program for the restoration of humanity to a right
relationship with himself to share in his glory will not come by expected means nor on our terms.
Instead, the one who would be like Christ must also first suffer with him.190
Implications for Thesis
The Transfiguration, however, is not just placed in the narrative for the purpose of
correcting the perceptions of Jesus followers regarding the mission of the Messiah and the
Second Coming of the Son of Man. Nor is it simply the fulfilment of Jesus prediction in
Matthew 16:28. The importance of discussing the Transfiguration is that this is the point in
history when what is later predicted in 1 Corinthians 15:49 for believers is prefigured here in the
person of Jesus Christ.191 Traditionally, the place of emphasis for the Transfiguration has been

189

Gen 11:4.

190

Rom 8:17.

191

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 696. It may not be irrelevant to keep in mind the expectation that the
bodies of the righteous will, in the end, undergo a transformation, for the transfigured Jesus is probably intended to
show forth what believers will become.

47
placed either on Christs humanity or on his divinity. For the Hesychasts of Byzantium, however,
these two aspects are correspondent.192 The glory that belongs to God alone transforms human
beings into what, through divine participation, humanity is destined for.
While Jesus was God and man for his entire human life, up until this point in his ministry
his divine person had been veiled.193 It is at the Transfiguration that the covers are pulled back
and the full effulgence of the divine glory emanated from the dust-bound human, thus displaying
what it looks like for humanity to be united with deity. This transformation was from an earthly
form into a supraterrestrial. Before the eyes of His most intimate disciples the human
appearance of Jesus was for a moment changed into that of a heavenly being in the transfigured
world.194 The man of dust meets the man from heaven on the mountain and it is here that Gods
plan for the ages is made manifest. Jesus purpose in coming to the earth was to restore what was
lost in Adam by uniting humanity with God; and one day we too will stand with Jesus, our
forerunner, on Zions hill one with God. The Transfiguration is both a glimpse of Christs
coming resurrection and what can be expected for the faithful at his Parousia.195
Chapter 3
Thus far this paper has shown first, the end of salvation in the recovery of the image of
God in humanity through Christ and second, the prototype of that end in the Transfiguration. The
two chapters previous have shown that the concept of thesis is a biblical one, but now it is the
burden of this third chapter to prove the usefulness of the term. The destiny of believers is being

192

Ibid., 705.

193

Hagner, Matthew, 489-90.

194

J. Behm, quoted in Morris, Matthew, 438-39.

195

Davies and Allison, Matthew, 688.

48
conformed to the image of God, recovering both the eternality and righteousness that was lost at
the Fall. However, is it appropriate or even biblical to talk about this predominant biblical theme
with terms like thesis or deification? First, chapter three will explore Jesus use of the Old
Testament as he quotes Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34 to defend his claim to be Gods Son. Then,
chapter three will discuss Peters language of partaking of the divine nature in 2 Peter 1:3-4.
This will lead to the implications that these passages of Scripture have for using the term thesis.
John 10:34-38
In John 10:24 some Jews gathered around Jesus during the Feast of the Dedication and
demanded that he tell them if he were truly the Messiah, Gods anointed servant. Jesus response
in verse twenty-five was terse: I told you, and you do not believe. Through his miracles,
claims, and teaching, Jesus had made plain to both his disciples and the crowds, including the
indignant Jewish leaders, that the question of his identity could only be answered by affirming
his divine calling as Israels Messiah. But the Jews were not asking this question out of sincerity;
if they were they would have already come to the correct conclusion. Jesus goes on in verses
25b-29 to show that his works confirm his personage. He explains that his followers (sheep) hear
his voice and in following him are given eternal life. This eternal life that is gifted by Jesus is
guaranteed because Jesus hand is impervious to sheep bandits. At this point the Jews are
probably disgruntled by Jesus claim to grant eternal life; however, what Jesus says next is what
infuriated them the most. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one
is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. Verse thirty is the
climax of the passage as Jesus makes the explicit claim that the Jews were hoping for. Why they
were so furious becomes clear in verse thirty-three when the Jews charge Jesus with blasphemy.
Technically, the definition of blasphemy according to Sanhedrin 7:5 (c. AD 200) is pronouncing

49
the Tetragrammeton; however, not all Jewish leaders agreed on such a specific definition.196
Other definitions include either ascribing to God qualities that are incongruous with his character
or else ascribing qualities to others that are only rightly ascribed to God.197 The latter is in view
here as what Jesus says about God is completely appropriate the Father is the guarantor of
eternal security. What is blasphemous, in the Jews minds, is that Jesus ascribed the same
attribute to himself immediately preceding. In claiming to do the same work as the Father, Jesus
is at the least claiming equality with God and conceivably even claiming to be God. Such a
claim, for a mere human, would indeed be blasphemous.
Jesus Claim to Divinity
What Jesus meant by I and the Father are one is not unambiguously clear. Some
commentators198 take this statement to refer to the actions of the Father and Jesus; that they are
one in deed. Since the noun is neuter, personhood is not being referred to but unity of work and
purpose.199 Others, however, disagree, citing the charge leveled by the Jews against Jesus.200
While Jesus does prove that his work is one with the Father, he is claiming much more than just
that. Claiming to be in unison with the works of God is one thing; claiming to be in union with
Gods person is quite another.201 Either way, Jesus makes a claim that is inappropriate for a mere

196

D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester:
Apollos, 1991), 396.
197

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 17, 418.

198

Ridderbos and Michaels; see Andreas J. Kstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New
Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 312.
199

Carson, John, 394.

200

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 523.
201

It is not unheard of elsewhere in the Gospel of John to talk about union with the Father in terms that are
not to be taken ontologically. John 17:22 is the perfect example of this where Jesus prays that his followers be one

50
human to make, which is why the Jews in verse thirty-one picked up stones to put him to death.
Jesus defense against this charge of blasphemy is compelling. Instead of defending his
claims by attempting to prove his identity, Jesus challenges the Jews commitment to Scripture
and in so doing refutes their slander.202 Is it not written in your Law? By framing the question
in this way Jesus emphasized the importance that the Jews claimed to place on the Old
Testament Scriptures,203 which sets the stage for his challenge to their approach to Gods Word.
Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6204 where individuals who were less than divine are addressed as gods
and sons of the Most High. The identity of these individuals is debated. Some say that Jesus is
referencing Israel at Sinai, the judges in the nation at the time of the writing of the Psalm, or
principalities and authorities.205 In Scripture, the phrase those to whom the word of God came
is always used in reference to human beings and often of those who speak in Gods name as in
Genesis 15:1, 1 Samuel 15:10, 2 Samuel 7:4, 24:11, 1 Kings 12:22, Ezekiel 37:15, Luke 3:2, and
many others.206 Most likely this phrase refers either to Israel at Mount Sinai or to the judges in
Israel who act on Gods behalf.207 Either way, Jesus, arguing in a Rabinic lesser to greater
fashion,208 makes the point that if Scripture is right to call gods those to whom the word of God

just as the Son and the Father are one. Obviously the Son is not completely identified with the person of the Father
(Sabellianism), but definitely he is one in a more complete way than you or I. See Carson, John, 395.
202

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 17, 421.

203

Kstenberger, John, 314 n82.

204

It is not unusual that Jesus referred to this passage in the Psalms as Law, as it was common practice to
refer to the entire Old Testament by referring to the first part, the Torah.
205

Carson, John, 397-98; Kstenberger, John, 315. See below, Jesus Use of Psalm 82:6, for a more
thorough discussion of the identity of those being addressed.
206

Kstenberger, John, 315.

207

Carson (John, 398) takes the former opinion and Calvin (Commentaries, vol. 17, 419) and Morris (John,
525) take the latter position.
208

Kstenberger, John, 315.

51
came, then how much more can the Messiah209 rightfully be called the Son of God? Thus Jesus
shows that this Scripture proves that the word god is legitimately used to refer to other than
God himself.210 Because the Scripture cannot be broken, or emptied of its force by being
shown as erroneous,211 Jesus is challenging the Jews to not set it aside because it is
inconvenient at that time.212 Again, at the end of Jesus response he points to his works, not
because believing in the works themselves is important, but because believing in the works that
he did will lead a person to an accurate understanding of who he was: one with the Father.213
Jesus Use of Psalm 82:6
It was mentioned above how Jesus response to the Jews was unique in that he did not
attempt to prove his identity, but rather established precedence for referring to beings other than
God with the term god, thus challenging the Jews view of Scripture. As this is the case, it would
be appropriate to examine the context of the verse that Jesus referenced so that a better
understanding of what he meant can be reached and its implications for this paper can be
discovered.
The setting of the Psalm is not a unique one in Scripture. In Job 1:6-12 there is a similar
situation where the sons of God present themselves before Yahweh with Satan as their

209

Jesus used the term consecrated which possibly refers back to his baptism when the Father spoke from
heaven and placed his divine seal of approval on the Son. In this way Jesus was consecrated for service. This might
be a reference to the time of year that it was as this interchange took place during the Feast of the Dedication. Like
the temple was dedicated as the place for the special presence of God on earth during its tenure, now, during his
earthly ministry, Jesus was designated as the presence of God among humanity.
210

Carson, John, 397.

211

Morris, John, 526.

212

Carson, John, 399.

213

Morris, John, 528.

52
spokesperson. 214 The wording of verse one in Psalm 82, the divine council, might make it
sound like this is a place for consultation, but the rest of the Psalm makes it clear that they are
assembled to be judged, not consulted.215 Although the title can refer to both the true God and
the subordinate gods,216 there is no confusion in the Psalm who is Elohim. Yahweh is the only
one worthy to stand in judgment.
However the question is, who are these elohim that God is judging? As was mentioned
in the discussion above, the identity of these individuals is unclear. If we take Job 1 as our rule
then it seems logical to assume that the gods are spiritual authorities or demonic forces.
Additionally, elsewhere in Scripture lesser heavenly beings are called elohim.217 However,
according to John 10, Jesus seemed to take these elohim to be human.218 Jewish Midrashic
interpretation takes the designation elohim in this passage and others like it to refer to Israels
judges.219 There is a possible solution to this dilemma that involves taking the Midrashic
interpretation and the seemingly plain understanding of the Psalm together. In Daniel 10:10-14
an angel is sent to comfort Daniel and help him understand the visions and prophecies that he
was trying to discern. However, the angels arrival was apparently delayed, which he explains to
Daniel in verses 13-14. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but
Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,
214

Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100, World Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 335.

215

Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (London: Inter-Varsity Press,
1975), 297.
216

John E. Goldingay, Psalms, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 561.
217

Ibid. E.g. Ps 86:8; 95:3; 96:4; 97:7, 9.

218

Based on the phrase those to whom the word of God came which most likely referred to Israel at Sinai
or the human judges.
219

Kidner, Psalms, 296.

53
and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. Then in
verse twenty-one the angel told Daniel that Michael is your prince. It is probable that what was
going on was spiritual, angelic warfare between the angels that represent the kingdom of Persia
and the angels that represent the nation of Israel. It seems that the nations, and conceivably the
individual rulers of each nation, are assigned angelic powers that act representatively on behalf
of the rulers themselves. So the Midrashic interpretation is taking the title elohim to refer to the
thing represented, the rulers, rather than the representatives, the angels. With this in mind it
would be appropriate to take either interpretation of the referent for elohim.
The problem that is addressed in verses 2-5 is that these rulers, human or angelic, are not
seeing to it that justice is being meted out. Instead, the poor and needy are being oppressed and
the powerful wicked are being favored. In Gods economy, he ordains rulers to oversee that
justice is being maintained and that those who are not able to help themselves are being taken
care of.220 When this is not being done the result is verse five: They have neither knowledge nor
understanding, they walk about in darkness; all of the foundations of the earth are shaken. There
is disorder, chaos, and confusion where God has ordained order and justice. It is for this reason
that the rulers must be judged. Verse six explains the condition in which the gods were
created,221 You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you. At their creation, the angelic forces
were made by God and ordained as his divine ministers, messengers on his behalf to carry out his
program in the earth. In a sense God is sharing his glory with these powers. However, if these
rulers truly were sons they would bear more of a family resemblance.222 Verse seven then

220

Goldingay, Psalms, 563. Tate, Psalms, 336. See also Job 29:12-13, 15-17.

221

Tate, Psalms, 338.

222

Goldingay, Psalms, 567.

54
describes the fall of the gods from the glory with which they were created.223 Nevertheless, like
men224 you shall die, and fall like any prince. This fall seems to be reminiscent of the fall from
grace that the rebellious angels experienced who followed Satan in his rebellion (Rev 12:4) and
foreshadowing the eventual demise of the devil and his followers in Revelation 19:19-20 and
20:7-10.225 The Psalmist ends this description of the abuse and failure of the ordained powers
with an expectant call on God, the only God that truly has power to do what is right, to stand up
and judge rightly the affairs of the earth.226 All of the nations are under his command and when
he comes to judge all things will be made right.
So Jesus purpose in quoting Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34 is two-fold. First he wanted to
prove to the Jews that his taking the name Son of God was appropriate because it is God who
designates who is to share in his glory. At Jesus baptism the Father spoke from heaven, This is
my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. If God was right in Psalm 82 to call them gods
who were less than God, then he is right to call his Son, who is himself divine, the Son of God.
And second, Jesus wanted to remind the Jews that their ancestors were, in a sense, called gods.
As representatives on the human level of Yahweh, Israel was to live in a way that was worthy of
their designation. They were to maintain justice and love those whom God loves, and in doing so
will rightly represent their Father and in a sense earn the title gods. Cyril of Jerusalem in his
Catechetical Lectures warns his catechumens not to be like the Jews who were given the law but
did not understand that in Psalm 82 they were being prepared for the one who would be called
223

Tate, Psalms, 338.

224

This is another reason why it seems that the gods in Psalm 82 are not human judges but spiritual beings
who represent and are responsible for human leaders.
225

See also the casting out from the divine council of Satan and his followers that occurs at Christs victory
on the cross in Revelation 12:7-9 and 20:1-3. Also Romans 8:38-39; Colossians 1:15-16; 2:15; and 1 Peter 3:22.
226

Kidner, Psalms, 298.

55
the God-Man.227 God was anticipating the unbelief of the Jews, and in love and mercy gave them
a passage like Psalm 82:6 so that they would be able to respond rightly to John 10:30. Sadly, the
Jews in John 10 missed the purpose of the Scriptures.
2 Peter 1:3-4
It seems that sharing in Gods glory, even his name, is something that God ordains;
therefore if becoming one with God is a biblical topic then scoffing at it or being afraid of it is
due to ones disregard for or confusion regarding Scripture, not a problem with the topic itself.
However, from the discussion previous, it is only apparent that using the term god or son of
god is appropriate and no comment on the idea of humans being one with God was made. So is
it appropriate to speak of the Christian life as participation in divinity as thesis proposes? It is at
this point that the chapter will turn to a discussion of 2 Peter 1:3-4.
Peter starts off his second epistle with a short introduction as is typical of epistolary
literature. He then dives right into the meat of the book with a mini sermon that spans verses 311.228 Verse three gets immediately to the heart of the letter.229 The heart of this section, and the
letter, is the benefits of knowing Jesus. But before he gets to that, Peter identifies some necessary
prerequisites to entering into a relationship like that. First, it is by his (that is, Jesus) divine
power. The language that Peter uses here comes from a Hellenistic religious background.230 In
other words, Peter is using concepts that his audience would understand and, as we shall see,

227

Quentin F. Wesselschmidt, ed., Psalms 51-150, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers
Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 146.
228

Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter and Jude, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1996), 40.
229

Actually, Peter already alluded to it in verse two, although it was simply that, an allusion.

230

Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 177.

56
redefining or clarifying them. According to Hellenistic dualism, divination is the process of
moving away from the material, or corruptible, and moving towards the spiritual, or immortal.231
The divine power that Peter is talking about, however, does not come from adding to something
that is within a person, as in the divine spark in Platonism,232 nor does it come from taking away
something from a person, as in dualism. This divine power comes from a person, Jesus Christ,
and it is through this divine power, the same power that we experienced at conversion, that we
have been given everything that we need to live godly lives and have hope for the future.233
How this divine power is available to believers Peter explains next. Through the
knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. It is through this knowledge
that we are able to partake of the blessings that God has promised us.234 Here we come to the
very core of what it is to be a Christian. The way for a person to be converted and then continue
on as a Christian in living in a way that pleases God is not through doing. Rather, it is through
knowing. Eternal life and godly living is obtained through an intimate and personal knowledge
of Jesus Christ who is, according to Peter, the one who called us. This elective and effective
calling is not based on anything we do or anything we are but is [by] his own glory and
excellence.235 We are elect because of Jesus glory, to glorify him, and because of his moral
excellence, not our own. In fact, if it were up to our abilities rather than his divine power, we

231

Ibid., 180.

232

Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 173.
233

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 22, 367; Bauckham, 2 Peter, 179.

234

Davids, 2 Peter, 169.

235

Ibid., 369.

57
would all certainly fail.236
Additionally, it is through his divine power and by his glory and excellence that we have
obtained and will obtain all of the promises that pertain to eternal life, righteousness, and
knowledge of God. It is to one of those promises that Peter goes next; that is, partaking of the
divine nature. Going back to the Hellenistic and pre-Christian Jewish understanding, we see that
Peters readers would have already had a notion of what it is to partake of the divine nature.237
According to several Hellenistic Jewish sources, the idea of participation in the divine has to do
with taking on the characteristics that distinguish deity, not a pantheistic absorption.238
Summarily, this would be immortality and incorruptibility not essence but quality.239 Calvin
says of this communion of attributes, We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that
God, then, should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be
sufficiently conceived by our minds.240 Through this participation the image of God is being
and will be restored in humanity.
Peter explains this further as he adds, Having escaped from the corruption that is in the
world because of sinful desire. This is where Peters conception of corruption diverges from the
dualistic background to which he is writing. The source of corruption in dualism is the material
world. According to Peter, believers have escaped not from the world but from the corruption
that is in the world; specifically, sin.241 To sum up what Peter is saying here, it is through

236

Ibid., 367-68.

237

Bauckham, 2 Peter, 180,

238

Ibid.

239

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 22, 371.

240
241

Ibid.

Bauckham, 2 Peter, 183.

58
knowledge of Jesus that his divine power enables us to live lives that are pleasing to God, and in
so doing we are becoming and one day will fully become partakers of Gods nature. We will be
like God. While this transformation commenced at conversion, believers are being brought,
through righteous living enabled by his power through union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,
more and more into fellowship with God.242 Then, one day we will finally escape corruption, that
is, death and the sin that is characteristic of worldliness.243 It is then that believers will finally
look like our Father, re-imaging him in his immortality and righteousness. 244 This line of
reasoning leads naturally to the moral exhortation in verses 5-11.
Implications for Thesis
The point of this chapter was to determine if the term thesis is appropriate in discussions
of evangelical Christian theology. The preceding chapters proved the validity and biblical
precedence for the concept, which most biblical scholars will concede. What not all scholars will
agree with, however, is the usefulness of the term. In John 10 and Psalm 82 we saw that God
ordained rulers who he called gods and sons of the Most High. In doing this God delegated
responsibility and charged others with the accountability of representing him. At first blush it
seems blasphemous to refer to any other being as god; however, Scripture does it in Psalm 82.
Jesus pointed out in John 10 that we either say that Scripture is wrong for doing so, or we adjust
our conception of what is appropriate or inappropriate. The same could be said for the topic of
thesis. Since it is a biblical concept to refer to individuals other than God with similar

242

Moo, 2 Peter, 44.

243

Thomas R. Schreiner, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman,
2003), 296.
244

Davids, 2 Peter, 176.

59
terminology and since it is clear in Scripture that the end of salvation is union with God, it is
appropriate to say that salvation is the process of thesis; one day believers will be like God and
will be one with God. Additionally, in the second chapter of his epistle, Peter refers to the
process of growing in knowledge of the Son and in godliness as partaking of the divine nature.
As this is the governing principle of thesis, it seems not only appropriate but also biblical and
necessary to talk about salvation in these terms. Davids comments, If 2 Peter were written
today, many would consider him new age.245 If there is something dangerous or confusing
about thesis, yet the Bible speaks in these terms, then the problem is not with the concept, but
with our understanding of it. While some choose to be afraid of and disregard the discussion, it is
the position of this paper that thesis, far from being a threat to theology, is the undergirding
theme of Christian theology. If explained properly and taught frequently, thesis will not be
something that is feared, but embraced and explored thoroughly.
Chapter 4
After having discussed what thesis is, what it means for believers, what it looked like in
the life of Jesus and in turn will look like in the future for believers, and the appropriateness of
the terminology, it is now time for this paper to examine what it might look like for an
evangelical believer to integrate an appropriate understanding of thesis into his or her theology.
Chapter four will do this by examining thesis in the theology of John Calvin.
There has been considerable discussion as to whether or not John Calvins theology
reflects the eastern notion of thesis or if his theology, in fact, excludes such themes.246 Some

245

Ibid., 172.

246

For a short survey see Tamburello, Union with Christ, 1-3. Also, J.V. Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with
Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700), Reformed Historical Theology, ed.
Herman J. Selderhuis, vol. 20 (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 13-28.

60
see thesis as the basis of his theology,247 others see thesis as integral for parts of his
theology,248 and some see little to no mysticism in his theology at all.249 Some contend that it is
not a significant component of his thought since Calvin does not devote an entire work or even a
single chapter to discussing the topic of thesis or mystical union.250 A.J. Ollerton offers a
helpful insight regarding this, stating that while this is the case, the motif shows up extensively
throughout his works.251 Disregarding thesis in Calvins theology for this reason would be
analogous to minimizing the role of the Holy Spirit in Calvins theology.252
Another major pitfall in coming to a consensus on the topic is that often each side ends
up talking past the other when both defining thesis and interpreting Calvin on the topic. One
example of this will suffice. In his Evangelical Theology Michael Bird, in discussing thesis,
provides a working definition and scriptural support for the doctrine. He then proceeds to cite
passages from Calvins Institutes that are commonly used to support thesis. Finally, he quotes
Todd Billings253 saying that Calvins theology would not stand up to the later Byzantine notion

247

See Lucien J. Richard, The Spirituality of John Calvin (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1974), 1, 8-9. Richard
does not use the term thesis, rather referring to spirituality in Calvins works; however he defines spirituality as
the personal assimilation of the salvific mission of Christ by each Christian. He goes on to say, It is my
contention that the works of John Calvin circumscribe such a spirituality.
248

For example, in his doctrine of justification or sanctification. Proponents include T.F. Torrance, J. Todd
Billings, and Dennis Tamburello.
249

E.g. Georgia Harkness and Albrecht Ritschl.

250

E.g. Thomas Wenger.

251

A.J. Ollerton, Quasi Deificari: Deification In The Theology Of John Calvin, WTJ 73 (Fall 2011):
240-41 n17.
252

In all of Calvins works there is neither a monograph nor is there even an entire chapter devoted
exclusively to the Holy Spirit. However, Calvin discusses the role and person of the Holy Spirit as he relates to
various aspects of theology constantly throughout his works.
253

J. Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ,
ThD dissertation, (Harvard Divinity School, 2005), 20-21.

61
of thesis, resting his case that thesis is not supported by Calvin.254 What he fails to mention is
that Billings goes on to say that while the Byzantine conception of thesis is not found in
Calvins theology, it is not the only definition of thesis and therefore it cannot be said that
thesis is absent from Calvins thought.255 With blunders like Birds misreading of Billings it is
no wonder that some respond to the question of whether thesis is commensurate with Calvins
thought with, Yes, it is, while others respond, No, it cannot be.256
It is the goal of this chapter, being careful not to foist foreign ideas or terminology, to
discover if the concept of thesis fits with Calvins theology and which aspects of it, if any, are
found in his doctrinal constructs. It will become apparent that while Calvin is careful not to go
past the vocabulary of Scripture, he does present a view of theology that is commensurable in
many respects with the concept of thesis. This can be seen specifically in the anthropological,
Christological, and soteriological themes of Calvins theology. This chapter will first examine
Calvins understanding of the image of God in humanity, then union with Christ, and finally the
beatific vision, comparing and contrasting these with thesis.
Created in Gods Image
The first argument that could be used against seeing thesis in Calvin is the vast
distinction that Calvin, rightly, presents between God and fallen humanity. Calvins immensely
high view of God coupled with what seems to be his perpetually negative view of human nature
might preclude any notion of a real union of God with humanity. But is this how Calvin views a
proper understanding of human depravity? It is interesting to note that when discussing original

254

Bird, Evangelical Theology, 577-78.

255

Billings, Calvin, 71-72.

256

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 238.

62
sin Calvin bolsters his understanding of the egregiousness of sin, and thus the separateness of
God from humanity, by referencing how far our first parents fell from their original place of
honor and dignity in being created in the image of God.257 This knowledge of ourselves
emphasizes the gap between God and humanity while simultaneously pointing us back to where
we came from, which was, according to Calvin, close to God.258 In meditating on our primordial
dignity we realize that, while we were created in Gods image and as his image-bearers were
the closest to him and the mediators of creation we have no way on our own to regain what we
have lost.259 Recalling our greatness in being created like God reminds us of our nothingness
without him.260 So far the picture is rather abysmal.
Creation Ideal
The key in understanding the importance that Calvin placed on a proper conception of
self, and thus a contemplation of original sin and human depravity, is that Calvin juxtaposed this
negative part of anthropology with the extremely positive creation ideal. This creation ideal was
that Gods glory would shine in creation through humanity as they come to knowledge of God.261
In creating Adam and Eve, God engraved on them something divine: that is, his very image.262
Humanitys intellect, ability to distinguish good from evil, freedom of will, and eternal nature all
reflect the creator in the created.263 This image was predominately spiritual, but rays of Gods

257

Calvin, Institutes, 1.1; 1.2.1; 2.1.

258

Ibid., 1.1.

259

Ibid., 2.1.3.

260

Ibid., 3.2.25.

261

Ibid., 1.2.1; 1.13.7.

262

Ibid., 1.15.2.

263

Ibid., 1.15.8.

63
glory extended to their bodies as well.264 Humanity was to bask in the rays of the image of God
and in doing so grow in righteousness and immortality.265 As God is the only one who is truly
good and eternal, it is obvious that Calvin believed that humanitys destiny was to be united with
God by becoming like God.
The Fall: Image Marred
However, instead of remaining content with basking in Gods glory, humanity desired to
be equal with God on their own terms and in turn chose rather to annihilate the glory of God.266
While not completely destroyed, the image of God in humanity became defaced and marred.267
Billings describes this loss as resulting in the powerlessness of the human to move toward the
good telos of creation.268 Although created with a conscience, immortality, and the impression
of divinity, all this was lost.269 Now, humanity is unable to achieve thesis even if they wanted
to.270
Mediator: Image Restored
After having lost divine favor, humanity was in need of a mediator.271 We lost wisdom,

264

Ibid., 1.15.3; 2.12.7.

265

Ibid., 2.1.1.

266

Ibid., 2.1.4.

267

Ibid., 1.15.4.

268

J. Todd Billings, United to God through Christ: Calvin on the Question of Deification, Harvard
Theological Review 98 (July 2005): 317.
269

Calvin, Institutes, 1.15.

270

Billings, United to God, 318.

271

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 242.

64
virtue, justice, and truth.272 However, Calvin reminds us that there was one who possessed this
kind of righteousness and eternal life.273 Christ became a son of man that we might become
children of God. He received what is ours to transfer to us what is his, making that which is his
by nature become ours by grace.274 Calvin presents Christ as a mediator who is qualified by his
humanity to not just stand in our place as Gods obedient Son, but to bring us with him into
Gods presence and glory by his divine nature.275 It is through the incarnation that mediated
righteousness becomes a reality.276 But Christs mediating function not only fills up what we are
lacking and in doing so restores us to our original glory; Christs incarnation makes thesis
possible. The hypostatic union, that Christ possesses two natures in his one person, shows us
how humanity can be united to God without confusion or mixture.277 Also, in holding divine
simplicity, Calvin argued that there is no way, contra Servetus, that Gods essence could be
divided up into various members of creation and no way, contra Osiander, that Gods substance
could be passed directly into humanity.278 Christs incarnation solves this apparent problem by
mediating the divine nature through Christ to those who are united with him.279 It is this
mediation of Christs hypostatic union by agency of the Holy Spirit that humanity is made one
with the divine nature without mixture or confusion.280 Ollerton reminds us that Calvins

272

Calvin, Institutes, 2.1.5.

273

Ibid., 2.1.6.

274

Ibid., 2.12.2.

275

Ibid., 1.13.26; 2.12.3.

276

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 242.

277

Calvin, Institutes, 2.14.4.

278

Ibid., 1.13.22; 1.15.5.

279

Ibid., 1.15.5.

65
explanation of mediated deification renounces the pagan notion of unmediated deification that so
many people are afraid of, and rightly so.281
Union with Christ
This next topic answers how it is possible for Christ to be our mediator and for us to
partake of and enjoy the benefits that come from that union. It also accounts for much of the
New Testament, especially Pauline, literature regarding the nature of our relationship with
Christ. Calvin says that by faith we embrace Christ, not at a distance or in imagination, but in
reality and in union.282 This is the doctrine of union with Christ and it encompasses the whole of
the Christian life and a prominent place in Calvins theology. Specific to the doctrine of thesis,
the reality of union with Christ is essential in Calvins theology of regeneration, justification,
progressive restoration, and the sacraments. According to Ollerton, Calvins doctrine of union
with Christ is thesis.283 Union with Christ, Calvin says, is like marriage. Two become one, each
posses the other, and all that was peculiar to each is now shared in common.284 Again, Calvin is
clear in describing this union as being by the agency of the Spirit, with no confusion of
essence.285 Yet at the same time Calvin asserts that the union is so real that one cannot separate
believers from Christ without dividing him.286

280

Ibid., 1.13.14. Calvin here borrows Basils sun and beam analogy to distinguish he essence from his

energies.
281

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 246.

282

Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.6.

283

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 250.

284

Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.3.

285

Ibid., 3.11.5.

286

Ibid., 3.25.3.

66
Regeneration
Regeneration is the reversal of the death that took place at the Fall. Calvin describes it as
the renewal of the image of God in humanity that restores what was lost, namely righteousness
and true holiness.287 Regeneration is accomplished when the flesh is put to death and the spirit is
brought to life.288 When the old nature is put away then new life and repentance are present.289
At the same time, the process of regeneration is only fully terminated at death.290 This flesh
mortification and spirit quickening happens only through our union with Christ.291 As humanity
is lifeless, faithless, and condemned we have no hope of achieving regeneration or recovering
salvation on our own without being united to Christ. It is for these reasons that God, as an
indulgent Father, gives Christ to us by faith.292
Justification
As the concept suggests, righteousness is necessary for justification. Humanity, however,
is full of depravity. This means that imputed righteousness through union with Christ is the only
means to justification.293 While not unique to him,294 Calvin applies the concept of a happy or
wonderful exchange in which Christ takes what is ours, including the weight and result of our
sin, and gives to us what is his, including his righteousness and obedience.

287

Ibid., 3.3.9.

288

Ibid., 3.3.5.

289

Ibid., 3.3.8.

290

Ibid., 3.3.9.

291

Ibid.

292

Ibid., 3.11.1.

293

Ibid., 3.11.3.

294

In fact, Luther taught a similar concept and was possibly the source of Calvins exposure to the idea.

67
This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made
with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that,
by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our
mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has
strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred
his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed
us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.295
As this quote from Calvin makes clear this exchange is not simply a re-designation from
unjust to just, but it is an intimate communion made possible by Christs incarnation by which
our union with him is made possible. Justification is not simply a decree, but is something that
occurs in Christ.296 However, the concept of justification is necessary because without
propitiation imputation would be impossible.297 In other words, it is not possible for us to be
united to God in thesis without having the righteousness that only Christ possesses. This goes
back to Calvins conception of the gulf that is fixed between God and humanity and dismisses
any idea of humanity becoming one with God in a pantheistic sense. This is seen explicitly in
Calvins writing when he attacks Osianders view of unmediated deification.298 Ollerton says
that The difference between Calvin and Osiander is not deification it is how it happens.
Calvin takes the mediated position, while Osiander says that divinity is infused in us.299 If the
result of the Fall is the loss of wisdom, virtue, and goodness, then that is what is restored to the
believer through union with Christ in justification.300

295

Calvin, Institues, 4.17.2.

296

Ibid., 3.11.4.

297

Ibid., 2.16.3.

298

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 242; Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.

299

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 242.

300

Calvin, Institutes, 2.1.

68
Progressive Restoration
While this paper is treating the concepts of justification and progressive restoration
separately, the concepts are inseparably linked.301 Calvin says, Whomever, therefore, God
receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption, by whose power
he remakes them to his own image.302 While righteousness is given to us in justification we still
struggle with our fallen nature and as such must constantly be in the process of renouncing sin
and growing in likeness to Christ. While some may fear that faith and works are incongruous,
Calvin says that justification by faith goes hand in hand with justification by works because the
works are not our own, but Christs.303 Justification can be thought of as full and final while
sanctification is the lifelong process of living out Christs righteousness.304 Thus we can be
confident when we say with Calvin that Christs presence is in the world through us.305 Christ
has engrafted us into his body and daily we grow closer and closer until we become one with
him.306 Calvin says in his commentary on the Catholic Epistles, Let us then mark, that the end
of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify
us.307
Sacraments
If we are to be deified, as thesis poses, and if we must do this through participation in

301

Ibid., 3.11.4.

302

Ibid., 3.11.6.

303

Ibid., 3.11.2.

304

Ibid., 3.11.11.

305

Ibid., 4.17.26.

306

Ibid., 3.2.24.

307

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 22, 371.

69
Christ, then how does this happen? According to Calvins theology union with Christ happens by
means of the sacraments with the agency of the Holy Spirit.308 The sacraments are a testimony of
Gods divine favor confirmed by an external sign.309 Consequently, there is no such thing as a
sacrament devoid of a promise; instead, the signs confirm and seal the promise.310 While the
thing is distinguished from the sign, they are received in tandem.311 So what is mediated is not
the water or the bread and the wine themselves but Christ himself.312 To be sure, God can and
does affect union with Christ apart from the sacraments, but in ordaining secondary means as
God does he has chosen these modes for communicating Christ to us. Additionally, the
sacraments are means of union not only with Christ but also with Christs body the Church.
Calvin argues that just as believers have a vertical participation in the body and blood of Christ,
they simultaneously have a horizontal participation in the church as body.313 So thesis has a
corporate dimension that is also addressed by Calvins sacramental theology.
Specifically, the believer is admitted to the fellowship of the church and engrafted into
Christ through baptism.314 Baptism is also the way that God ordained by which we participate in
Christs death.315 As was discussed under the topic of regeneration, mortification is made
possible for the believer only by being united with Christ in his death. This mortification begins

308

Calvin, Institutes, 4.14.17.

309

Ibid., 4.14.1.

310

Ibid., 4.14.3.

311

Ibid., 4.14.14-15.

312

Ibid., 4.14.16.

313

Billings, United to God, 330. Billings quotes Calvin in his commentary on 1 Cor 10:17.

314

Calvin, Institutes, 4.15.1. Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 251.

315

Calvin, Institutes, 4.15.5.

70
at baptism and continues until death, and is finally realized at the resurrection, according to
Calvin.316 Additionally, baptism tells us that we are washed and cleaned. Just as water washes
and purifies objects that are dirty, so immersion into Christs life inaugurated by baptism washes
away our sinfulness and replaces it with his purity.317
As for the second sacrament, it is through the Lords Supper that, gradually, we reach
immortality as we experience the mystery of secret union with Christ.318 By the Lords Supper
we participate in Christ as one substance as he shares with us his body and his blood.319 The
Lords Supper convinces us that the happy exchange is actually taking place.320 Importantly, the
Lords Supper makes sense of the connection between the incarnation and our participation with
Christ. Calvin explains that at the incarnation Christ made himself available for participation and
it is through the Lords Supper that we have access to this life.321 We participate in his body and
in doing so benefit from the hypostatic union as we are made members of both his body and his
spirit.322 Going back to the image of a marriage, as we are made one with him we participate in
all of the blessings that are his, including his union with divinity.323 If we do not participate in
Christ in reality, but reduce the Supper to a mere remembrance, then we have reduced Christs
body to a phantom and disregarded the importance of the incarnation.324 In rejecting the

316

Ibid., 4.15.11.

317

Ibid., 4.14.22.

318

Ibid., 4.17.1.

319

Ibid., 4.17.3; 4.17.5. Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 251.

320

Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.2.

321

Ibid., 4.17.8.

322

Ibid., 4.17.9.

323

Ibid., 4.17.11; 3.1.3.

71
Lutheran view of real physical presence Calvin concedes, But, when these absurdities have
been set aside, I freely accept whatever can be made to express the true and substantial partaking
of the body and blood of the Lord.325
Imperative in Calvins theology is that it is the Holy Spirit who applies these awesome
benefits of the sacraments to us. This is made clear when one understands Calvins definition of
a sacrament. A sacrament is a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward
sign, with mutual attestation of our piety [faith] toward him.326 The sacrament cannot be
separated from the promise, as it is the purpose of the sign to seal and confirm the thing being
signified.327 This is where the Holy Spirit factors in. Calvin says that the sacraments themselves
bestow no grace, but instead God performs what he promises through the agency of the Holy
Spirit.328 We are engrafted into Christs body through baptism not by the waters themselves, but
by the Holy Spirits uniting us to Christ. Participation in the immortal life of Christ is the work
of the Holy Spirit, not the bread and the wine themselves. This helps explain how, in the Lords
Supper, we are united to Christs body. According to Calvins theology Christ is present in
heaven, while we are present on earth. He rejects trans- and consubstantiation therefore we do
not partake literally of his flesh and blood. Therefore, it is by the Spirits mediation that in the
Supper we, who are on earth, participate in Christ, who is in heaven.329 At this point that Calvin
stops to appreciate the mystery of it all:

324

Ibid., 4.17.7.

325

Ibid., 4.17.19.

326

Ibid., 4.14.1.

327

Ibid., 4.14.3.

328

Ibid., 4.14.17. Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 252. It is the Spirit, not the sign, that performs the sacrament.

329

Ibid., 4.17.10.

72
We say Christ descends to us both by the outward symbol and by his Spirit, that he may
truly quicken our souls by the substance of his flesh and of his blood. He who does not
perceive that many miracles are subsumed in these few words is more than stupid. For
nothing is more beyond the natural than that souls should borrow spiritual and heavenly
life from a flesh that had its origin from earth, and underwent death. There is nothing
more incredible than that things severed and removed from one another by the whole
space between heaven and earth should not only be connected across such a great
distance but also be united, so that souls may receive nourishment from Christs flesh.330
Additionally, the mediation of the Spirit in the sacraments ensures that the non-elect
cannot participate in the benefits that are reserved for believers.331 In summary, Calvins
sacramental theology only makes sense when seen in light of his theology of deification.332 In the
sacraments that we are presented a picture of the essence of thesis. As we partake of the
elements Christ comes to us, picturing the incarnation, and we are brought to Christ, picturing
deification.333 This aspect prefigures what will be discussed next, the beatific vision.334
Beatific Vision
According to Plato, the ultimate good is found in union with the Form of the Good,335 as
creation longs to be restored to perfection.336 Calvin recognized that Plato was on the right track,
but then qualified his statements by showing that happiness, the summum bonum, is in being one
with Christ, of course being careful not to portray a mixture of essence.337 For Calvin, Billings
says, The fullest manifestation and final end of humanity are found in union with God through
330

Ibid., 4.17.24.

331

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 252 n83.

332

Ibid., 252.

333

Ibid., 253.

334

Ibid., 252.

335

Later thinkers, including Calvin, took the Form of the Good to be God.

336

Calvin, Institutes, 3.25.2.

337

Ibid., 3.25.10.

73
Christ.338 Calvin believed that the kingdom of God will be fully inaugurated when God is all in
all. This occurs when believers are exposed to a direct vision of the Godhead. When this happens
the need for Christs mediatory office will be obsolete, for when we see Gods glory and behold
it in its fullness, humanity and deity will be unified and Christ will have no more need of his
human nature.339 Thus the beatific vision is the end of thesis. Ollerton says, For Calvin,
complete union only occurs when mortal flesh is transferred into the immediate presence of
God and there transfigured to be like him.340 While Calvin often speaks of the knowledge of
God in terms of accommodation, at this point in humanitys relationship with God no
accommodation will be necessary.341 This is what the apostle John means when he says in 1 John
3:2, Beloved, we are Gods children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we
know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Of course
Calvin is careful to maintain the creature/creator distinction when discussing the beatific vision.
In his comments on 2 Peter 1:4 (So that you may become partakers of the divine nature),
Calvin says that we will be one with God as far as our capacities will allow.342 Believers will
truly be united with God, but not so as to lose their personhood.
Implications for Thesis
The main tenant of thesis that man is becoming one with God through a progressive
and superior restoration of the image of God lost at the Fall is how Calvin views the end of

338

Billings, United to God, 317.

339

Calvin, Institutes, 2.14.3.

340

Ollerton, Quasi Deificari, 250.

341

J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2011), 80-86.
342

Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 22, 371.

74
human salvation.343 That Christ took on humanity so that humanity might put on divinity is
essential for thesis and affirmed in Calvin. The motif in Calvins works of union with Christ
shows explicitly that mystical union with God is the foundation for all aspects of the Christian
life. The mortification of the flesh and the quickening of the spirit are only made possible by
partaking of Christs death and life. While imputation is necessary for justification, in Calvins
theology it is not a detached doctrine that puts Christ and the believer facing one another handing
off their respective robes. Instead, imputation is achieved by means of participation; and thus in
justification, by means of union with Christ, it can truly be said that the believer possesses
Christs righteousness. In progressive sanctification it can be said that salvation is both of faith
and works because neither are the individuals, but Christs. The means by which thesis is
possible for the believer can be seen in Calvins doctrine of the sacraments. All of this, according
to Calvin, is mediated to believers by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, thesis is finally
accomplished when we, the children of God, see him and are made like him. While Calvin does
not use the term thesis,344 and it can be said that Calvins theology does not fit with every
interpretation of the doctrine,345 it is safe to say that Calvins theology and the doctrine of thesis
are compatible. In fact, a comprehensive assimilation of John Calvins theology would lead one
closer to, not farther away from, a proper understanding of thesis.
Conclusion: Thesis in Evangelical Christian Thought?
The goal of this paper was to determine first if the concept of thesis is compatible with
evangelical Christian thought. The main tenet of thesis is union with God through participating

343

Ibid.

344

Although Calvin does speak of deification (Calvin, Commentaries, vol. 22, 370-71).

345

E.g. we cannot confuse Calvins theology with Byzantine thesis. Billings, United to God, 328-30.

75
in his divine attributes and the progressive restoration of the image of God in humanity by means
of union with Christ culminating in the beatific vision. The first two chapters showed that this is
not only the tenet of thesis, but also the over-arching story of redemption. Through examining
the nature of what it means to experience the bodily resurrection of believers at Christs Second
Advent, chapter one proved that the nature of bearing the image of the man of heaven is in union
with Christ. This union is made possible by Christs incarnation and bodily resurrection. It is
progressively being made a reality throughout the life of the believer but will only be fully
realized at the Resurrection. This general trajectory, however, is not unique to the New
Testament. From the very beginning of the Old Testament these themes are introduced. With the
creation of humanity in Gods image it is apparent that Gods design was to mediate his divine
nature and glory throughout all of creation by means of his image-bearers. After the Fall in
Genesis chapter three, the longing for the restoration of this relationship is seen throughout the
rest of the Old Testament. Glimpses of an appointed human servant who would mediate between
God and humanity show up in many places, some subtle and others more apparent. The vision of
Daniel 10 gives a foreshadowing of what is to come in a human-like being who is given divine
authority. While the identity of this one is ambiguous in the context, it becomes apparent in the
New Testament that this one is Jesus, the Son of God, who will mediate between divinity and
humanity by taking on a human nature so that humans might share in his divine nature through
his efficacious obedience and triumph over death.
Chapter two then showed how Jesus as mediator not only makes thesis possible, but also
modeled it on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17. This idea of the divine being united
with the human is not simply theoretical, it is possible. In fact, Jesus, in calling his disciples to
follow him in self-abasing self-denial and humility, proves that such humility is the God-

76
ordained road to exultation. The Father confirms this for the three apostles on the mountain as
they are given a glimpse of what it looks like for a man of dust to bear the image of the man from
heaven. Yet they are not simply spectators; they are told to listen to him and in listening to him
to follow his example and humility that they might participate in his glory and divinity when he
comes again to bring judgment and restoration. The major themes that are brought forth in these
two chapters go to show that God is in the process of uniting himself to humanity through his
Son. When all of this is finally accomplished thesis will be realized.
The second goal of this paper was to prove the usefulness and biblical precedent for the
terminology of thesis. The reason this needs to be argued is that some do not like or are afraid
of the word, even if they concede that the concept is biblical. Some might say that thesis
implies that believers can become gods, as in Mormonism, or that humans can share in Gods
essence, as in Pantheism. However, Peters discussion of participation in the divine nature in 2
Peter 1 seems to fit with the concepts that constitute thesis. This participation is not a dualistic
moving away from the material towards the spiritual. Nor is it a pantheistic absorption into the
divine. Rather, if seen through the lens of thesis, participation in the divine nature is the
ultimate end of human salvation and the greatest good in the universe. Instead of explaining
away or qualifying what Scripture says we must define thesis properly and talk about it
regularly. If this is the case then it will cease to be a point of confusion and rather become an
understandable part of our vocabulary. Additionally, the motivation for good works is make even
more poignant when living a godly life is understood partly as the means by which, through
Jesus divine power, we obtain the promises that his calling has secured for us, including
participation in the divine. According to Jesus use of Psalm 82 in John 10, if God were to call
someone god or call believers sons and daughters of the Most High, who are we to argue with

77
him? One must either reinterpret Scripture or change what they think about a topic, whatever it
might be, when they come across difficult passages in Scripture. Although the individuals who
were addressed in Psalm 82 failed in their divinely appointed stations, we are given hope that
Christ, as Gods Son, will succeed and in so doing will give us also the right to be called sons
and daughters of God.
Finally, as chapter four illustrated, thesis is not just a topic within theology or an
ancillary doctrine. Rather, thesis touches every part of theology. In addition, chapter four served
as a model for how thesis could be implemented into an evangelical conception of theology. It
was apparent in John Calvins theology that the concepts underlying thesis were present in
much of his theology. As a Protestant Reformer and one of the most influential theologians in
Western theology, seeing thesis in his theology should calm the fears of those who think that
thesis is opposed to concepts of forensic justification, progressive sanctification, or justification
by grace alone. In fact, a better understanding of Calvins theology will lead to a clearer
understanding of thesis.
In conclusion, the discussion of the topic of thesis is both biblical and rewarding. Not
only does thesis clarify much of the purposes and trajectory of Scripture, but it also motivates
the believer to knowledge and good works. There is also a future aspect of thesis that inspires
hope and challenges the convictions of a believer. While there will always be those who deride
the concept, a biblical approach to thesis is that of acceptance and a desire to understand it more
fully and talk about it more often. A topic that has traditionally been so central to discussions of
theology in the life of the Church such as thesis should only be discarded if there is sufficient
evidence in Scripture against it. However, both a survey of historical theology as well as a survey
of Scripture will prove that thesis is not a made up human idea, but central to the theology of

78
the Bible. Whether it is imputation, union with Christ, growth in good works, the sacraments,
final glorification, or divine participation, all of Scripture is saturated with the concepts
explained in thesis. If thesis is to be taken seriously, then a beautiful motif of Scripture, indeed
of Gods reconciling the world to himself, will be rediscovered. Humanity was created in Gods
image to reflect and enjoy him. Although our first parents failed, the restoration that is found in
Christ, mediated to us by his human nature, results in an even better state than humanity was
created in. In the end, salvation for believers will result in humanity being one with God,
creation finally one with divinity.

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