Is the Deification of Man an Unchristian, Unbiblical Doctrine? Kerry A. Shirts

Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in Library | Comments Off on Is the Deification of Man an Unchristian, Unbiblical Doctrine? Kerry A. Shirts

This paper will explore the idea using Biblical and extra-biblical

materials showing how new research from the Dead Sea Scrolls as well

as from the Syriac Christian perspective has opened the field into

interesting possibilities not thought feasible by many in Western

Christianity until now.

Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis has noted that the Qumran writings held a

belief in an angelmorphic or divine humanity, which is rooted “in the

prelapsarian identity of Adam, which is then recovered by Israel, her

patriarchal heroes, her lawgiver, mediatorial figures such as the

priest, king and prophet and specific communities such as those behind

the Dead Sea Scrolls and Therapeutae… it has long been recognized that

the Dead Sea Scrolls community believed that it shared its life with

the angels. It is now evident that the Engelgemeinschaft entailed

transformation.” (“Heavenly Ascent and Incarnational Presence: A

Revisionist Reading of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, p. 4)

This transformation is what Paul had in mind as well. The

transformation of the human to the divine. 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we

all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are

changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit

of the Lord.

The Greek word for “changed” is “metamorphoo” which is a

transfiguring, a change such as Jesus underwent on the Mount of

Transfiguration. The “Doxa Kuriou” the Glory of the Lord is what man

is changed into, following Paul’s understanding wherein he notes

“auton eikona metamorphoumetha” which is changed from glory to glory

into the same image.

This is why in the Qumran writings the hosts and servants, the inner

community of the holy ones are the angels of His glory. All community

members are called holy ones, which reflects the priestly

angelmorphism. Moses is understood to have been deified while he was

on mount Sinai. In a fragmentary text, Aaron is described as “you will

be God and an Angel of God you will be called.” (Fletcher-Louis, p. 7)

The true divinity of humanity is reflected also in the Dead Sea

Scrolls Words of the Heavenly Lights which are liturgies of prayers

for the seven days of the week, (4Q504, 4Q506). The formation of man

in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) is here interpreted through the language

of Ezekiel 1:28 as the creation of man as the embodiment of God’s

theophanic Glory: Adam is created “in the likeness of [Your] Glory

(4Q504.8 4). Fletcher-Louis notes bluntly that “…where the Songs use

peculiar language for angels – language normally used of humans – this

is because it is describing divine humans.” (p. 7). In several

passages of the Dead Sea Scrolls, (4Q491, 4Q427 7 ii 16-18, 4Q400 1 I

8, 17, 19) it has been noted that they express “the transferral of the

community member from the sphere of dust to a life in the heavenly

community: the sectarian is no longer a man of flesh, he is now

angelmorphic or divine.”(Fletcher-Louis, p. 13)

In all three texts the Songs of the Sage, IQSb, Sabbath Songs, we

discover an inner self-understanding in which mortality has been

thoroughly transcended in the direction of divinity or

angelmorphism…from the outset the Songs presume the corporate

transformation of the human participants in the liturgy such that

language which has hitherto been thought to described suprahuman

angels must now be taken to refer to angelized and divinized

sectarians.” (Fletcher-Louis, p. 19).

Alexander Golitzin has noted that the Glory of Adam which was given to

him is the very glory of the image of God, i.e., Adam is a divine

being, who was supposed to be worshipped actually! The first humans

were superior even to the angels. (Golitzin, “Recovering the ‘Glory of

Adam’: ‘Divine Light’ Traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the

Christian Ascetical Literature of Fourth Century Syro-Mesopotamia,” in

the International Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls, St. Andrews,

Scotland, June 28, 2001: 2)

In the Christian Syrian homilies of Marcarius, Adam’s glory was

originally with him in the Garden of Eden, but on falling, he lost

that original image of light from God, and became naked, subject to

mortal pains and temptations. He was “stripped” of the divine glory

which imbued his body, but this is precisely the glory which Christ

restores to mankind, Adam being the primordial man and image for all

mankind. Adam’s restored glory to mankind is the “deiform and living

image of God in man. (Golitzin, p. 3). When restored, man will also

wear robes and crowns of light in the heavenly realms, signifying he

is now a glorified being of God. These are the rewards of those who

walk in the Spirit. In fact, the robe is identified with the Holy

Spirit. It is specifically the Father of Christ who is identified as

the giver of the robes and crowns to the believers soul, not his body.

I.e., it becomes the believer, or rather, the believer becomes part of

the Glory of God the Father, which is signified by the believer

wearing the appropriate apparel. (p. 4)

Light and glory are equivalent according to Marcarius’ understanding,

with streams of fire coming from the heavenly realm of God, which is

manifest also in the Dead Sea Scrolls descriptions of the Glory of

God. It is a divine product. When the soul is filled with God’s glory

(i.e., divinized), it will shine brighter than the sun itself. Paul

himself features the visio dei luminis/gloriae, e.g., his conversion

by heavenly light in Acts 9 and 22, the glory in 2 Corinthians 2:18

and 4:6; the image of the heavenly man of 1 Corinthians 15:49 and the

body of his [Christ’s] glory of Phil 3:21. As in Merkavah mysticism

stemming from Ezekiel’s chariot, it is the soul of man which is the

throne, and the temple and the dwelling place of God. (Golitzin, p. 7)

Enoch is called the Lesser YHWH, becoming a God bearing the image of

God. He declares that he has been enlarged in stature and holiness

because he has received the Glory of God. In the Syriac-Christian

poem, The Hymn of the Pearl, we read that at the climax the recipient

encounters a robe of light bearing the divine image and woven for him

in heaven. This is the speakers heavenly double. The speaker clothes

himself with the robe and ascends to heaven to meet Christ, the

radiance of the Father, at the gate of greeting. This is the language,

as Golitzin clearly points out, of transformation and divination which

is in common in all the texts of Aphrahat, the Qumran texts, the

rabbinic era-Merkavah literature and the Acta Thomae. (Golitzin, p.


Golitzin’s next point is simply not to be missed! For Aphrahat as well

as Marcarius and the other Syrians, the recovery of the Glory of Adam

means first and foremost, being assimilated to Christ, becoming the

throne of God themselves as Christ is, bearing and having the same

glory as did Moses and the prophets. “Put another way, they all

express, if in a different idiom, what Athanasius of Alexandria summed

up as the Christian hope only a few years before Aphrahat wrote on the

sage: God became man that we may be made God.” (Golitzin, p. 11).

Golitzin has been actively researching and studying the early Syriac

Christians and demonstrating that the idea of human deification is

fundamental in Christianity. In his study of Dionysius the Areopagite,

whose theology stems back into the vision tradition of Apocalyptic

literature deriving from Early Christianity’s original matrix in

Second Temple Judaism, notes that Dionysius, writing of his mentor

Hierotheus, says “the final stage of our ascent is in fact to become

vessels for God’s presence, to suffer divine things.” (Golitzin,

“’Suddenly’, Christ: The Place of Negative Theology in the Mystagogue

of Dionysius Areopagites,” Forthcoming in “Mystics: Presence and

Aporia,” ed., Michael Kessler and Christian Shepherd, Univ. of Chicago

Press, p. 4)

Dionysius expression which had widespread current in Eastern Christian

thought was the idea of humans being created as somehow being “capable

of God,” “homo capax dei,” which is intended from Adam to be the

receptacle and manifestation of the divine presence. “This is, in

short, the famous deification, theosis, which has long been recognized

as a key to Eastern Christian understanding of the salvation offered

in Christ…” (Golitzin, p. 5) Dionysius, in fact, opens his first

treatise by stating that “we gain access (prosagoge) to God through IC

[Jesus Christ], the light of the Father.” (Golitzin, p. 5).

Deification is real the Areopagite argues, because God truly gives

Himself. Yet, while He is Himself the ‘deifying gift’, “theopoion

doron,” He still transcends the relations He enters into… the source

of the gift of deification is Christ.” (Golitzin, p. 10)

“Christ is the sacrament, at once the source and terminus of the

divine processions to us, both the vehicle and the goal of our

return.” (p. 11).

As Golitzin elsewhere noted, for the Areopagite, “it is Jesus who

makes our life, disposition and activity something divine.” (Golitzin,

“Revisiting the ‘Sudden’: Epistle III in the Corpus Dionysiacum,” p


Further to the point, Golitzin in discussing the “Fides Adorans

Mysterium” of Jacob of Serug, he notes that the imagery of “mingling”

in the earliest texts of the Syriac-speaking Christians, “denotes that

the Greek Fathers refer to as deification, theosis, the gift of

participation of God’s uncreated glory…Paradise, Sinai, and Temple,

heaven and the Church’s worship, are all of them joined in Christ, who

thus is the bond between both the beginning and the end, and between

those on high and those below.” (Golitzin, “The Image and Glory of God

in Jacob of Serug’s Homily, ‘On that Chariot that Ezekiel the Prophet

Saw’”, Based on a paper given at the North American Patristics Society

Conference, May 1998, p. 18)

Alan Segal notes that when Paul uses the word “transformed” (Romans

12:2), it means much more than just a renewal. This is a

transformation from one state to another, which suggests “a mystical

reformulation and immortalization process, which was discussed in

contemporary Jewish and apocalypticism and pagan spirituality.” (Alan

Segal, “Some Observations about Paul and Intermediaries,” Philadelphia

Seminar on Christian Origins, Feb. 4, 1988, p. 7) Segal further notes

that the language Paul uses in Philippians 3:7-11 “is not merely that

of analogy or imitation; it is that of transformation, metamorphosis,

from one state of being to another, in which he has become the same

substance as Christ through his death.” (Segal, p. 8).

“The term transformation was available to the ancient world to

designate the experience that we might call conversion, but they call

transformation because it involved the gaining of immortality and

changing one’s form.” (Segal, p. 11). Philo demonstrates that Moses

was deified, thus showing the possibility for humans who experience

what Moses experienced, which is the essence of the idea of Jewish

Mysticism and Ezekiel’s chariot throne- theophany revelation. (Segal,

p. 15). In the book of 1 Enoch believers come to share the being of

the Messiah. The Messiah not only saves but serves as the model for

transformation of believers. (Segal, p. 17). Similar to Enoch, Paul

understands that he was transformed into a more divine state. He is

actually in Christ with his transformation. (Segal, p. 19).

In line with this thought of St. Paul’s in the New Testament, is that

of Enoch, where, in reference to the Angels of the Presence, Enoch is

installed as a visionary of Sar-ha-panim, which is an identity with

his heavenly counterpart. “In 1 Enoch 71, Enoch is transformed and

identified with the Son of Man in front of God’s Throne. In 2 Enoch

22:6-10, Enoch’s initiation into one of the Prince’s of the Presence

also takes place in front of the fiery face of the Lord. This

encounter transforms Enoch into a glorious being. It is important to

note that after this procedure Enoch observes that he had become like

one of the glorious ones, and there was no observable difference.”

(Andrei Orlov, “The Face of the Heavenly Counterpart of the Visionary

in the Slavonic Ladder of Jacob,” the extension of this paper will be

published in Studies in the Scripture in Early Judaism and

Christianity, ed., C. A. Evans, Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, p. 17)

Based on non-Canonical literature during the age of Early Christianity

and Judaism, as well as on the meaning of the word “transformation” as

Paul uses the term in the New Testament, the deification of man does

not appear to be an aberrant doctrine. Rather it is fundamental to

Paul’s theology in his own transformation, as well as many other

biblical heroes who encountered the divine, recorded their encounters

as proof that Christ, indeed will save us, and we can all become One

with God in Christ, i.e. become Sons of God, divinized, as our true

potential is indicated in the scriptures.