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Early Theologians on Becoming Divine

While the biblical concept of deification or divinization, exaltation to godhood, is commonly ignored or dismissed in modern Christian teaching, this doctrine was well established among early theologians of mainstream tradition.

Though the writings of these men are not always biblically accurate, the following quotes from their writings demonstrate that in the first centuries after the New Testament was written many still understood the clear implications of its teachings on this subject:

Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165): "[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods, and of having power to become sons of the Highest" (Dialogue With Trypho, chap. 124).

"We have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue" (First Apology, chap. 21).

Theophilus of Antioch (ca. 163-182): "If he [man] would incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as a reward from Him immortality, and should become God" (To Autolycus, Book 2, chap. 27).

Irenaeus (ca. 130-200): "For we cast blame upon Him [God], because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of His pure benevolence . . . He declares, I have said, You are gods; and you are all sons of the Highest [Psalm 82:6]" (Against Heresies, Book 4, chap. 38).

"How, then, shall he be a God, who has not as yet been made a man? Or how can he be perfect who was but lately created? How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that you, at the outset, should hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God" (Against Heresies, Book 4, chap. 39).

"There is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption [i.e., sonship as God's children]" (Against Heresies, Book 4, preface; compare Book 3, chap. 6).

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215): "Yea, I say, the Word of God [Christ] became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God" (Exhortation to the Heathen, chap. 1).

"But that man with whom the Word dwells . . . his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills. Heraclitus [the ancient Greek poet], then, rightly said, Men are gods, and gods are men " (The Instructor, Book 3, chap. 1).

"It leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods . . . After which redemption the reward and the honours are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification . . . Then become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour [or, some translate, 'with the other gods who are ranked next below the Savior']" (Stromata [Miscellanies], Book 7, chap. 10).

Tertullian (ca. 160-230): "It will be impossible that another god should be admitted, when it is permitted to no other being to possess anything of God. Well, then, you say, we ourselves at that rate possess nothing of God. But indeed we do, and shall continue to do—only it is from Him that we receive it, and not from ourselves. For we shall be even gods, if we shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, I have said, You are gods [Psalm 82:6], and, God stands in the congregation of the gods [verse 1]. But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods" (Against Hermogenes, chap. 5).

Hippolytus (ca. 170-236): "And you shall possess an immortal body . . . And you shall be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved by lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For you have become God . . . These [things] God has promised to bestow upon you, because you have been deified, and begotten unto immortality . . . You shall resemble Him, inasmuch as you shall have honour conferred upon you by Him. For the Deity, (by [this] condescension,) does not diminish anything of the divinity of His divine perfection; having made you even God unto His glory!" (Refutation of All Heresies, Book 10, chap. 30).

Origen (ca. 185-255): "The first-born of all creation [Christ], who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, The God of gods, the Lord, has spoken and called the earth [Psalm 50:1]. It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is The God, and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype" (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 2, chap. 2).

Athanasius (ca. 293-373): "For He [Christ] was made man that we might be made God" (On the Incarnation of the Word, chap. 54, sec. 3).

"He [Christ] was God, and then became man, and that to deify us" (Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1, chapter 11, sec. 39).

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): "But He that justifies does Himself deify, in that by justifying He does make sons of God. 'For He has given them power to become the sons of God' [ John 1:12]. If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods" (Expositions on the Psalms, On Psalm 50, sec. 2).

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