What does the Bible mean when it says partaking of the divine nature in 2 Peter 1:4? By Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand what partaking of the divine nature means. Does this mean we can become a god? What does the term deification used in Easter Orthodoxy mean?
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
Question: “What is deification in the Eastern Orthodox Church?”
Answer: Deification or theosis, according to Eastern Orthodoxy, is a process by which one becomes “one with God,” and this is seen as the goal of the Christian life. This unity with God is a mystical concept that is often misunderstood by Western thinkers. The Eastern Orthodox Church is staunchly Trinitarian, and the term deification should not be misunderstood to imply that a human being can actually become God or a god, nor does this amount to pantheism. It is said that man cannot become one with God in His essence, but he can become one with His energies. Love, for instance, is a divine energy, and it is possible for the believer to be fully united and overcome by God’s love. *
Theosis is the belief, mostly found within the Eastern Orthodox Church that Christians can experience a union with God and become like him so much that they participate in the divine nature. This concept is also known as deification. Theosis does not mean that they become Gods or merge with God but that they are deified. They participate in the “energies” of God with which he reveals himself to us in creation. But, these Christians are said to not participate in God’s essence. Furthermore, this deification does not mean that a person stops sinning or no longer struggles with sin. Instead, theosis is a mystical union with God that proceeds throughout the person’s life and culminates in the resurrection of the body. Some have said that this is equivalent to sanctification as taught in the Western churches. **
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible regarding 2 Peter 1:4 carefully unpacks “partakers of the divine nature”:
“That by these – Greek, “through these.” That is, these constitute the basis of your hopes of becoming partakers of the divine nature. Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 7:1.
Partakers of the divine nature – This is a very important and a difficult phrase. An expression somewhat similar occurs in Hebrews 12:10; “That we might be partakers of his holiness.” See the notes at that verse.
In regard to the language here used, it may be observed:
(1) That it is directly contrary to all the notions of “Pantheism” – or the belief that all things are now God, or a part of God – for it is said that the object of the promise is, that we “may become partakers of the divine nature,” not that we are now.
(2) It cannot be taken in so literal a sense as to mean that we can ever partake of the divine “essence,” or that we shall be “absorbed” into the divine nature so as to lose our individuality. This idea is held by the Buddhists; and the perfection of being is supposed by them to consist in such absorption, or in losing their own individuality, and their ideas of happiness are graduated by the approximation which may be made to that state.
But this cannot be the meaning here, because:
(a) It is in the nature of the case impossible. There must be forever an essential difference between a created and an uncreated mind.
(b) This would argue that the Divine Mind is not perfect. If this absorption was necessary to the completeness of the character and happiness of the Divine Being, then he was imperfect before; if before perfect, he would not be after the absorption of an infinite number of finite and imperfect minds.” (1)
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on 2 Peter 1:4 correctly see the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” as escaping corruption, or sanctification:
“Ye might be partakers. — Better, become partakers. Rheims, “be made.” This idea of close relationship to God and escape from corruption is found in 1Peter 1:23. The change from the first person plural to the second is easy enough both in Greek and English: by it what is true of all Christians is applied specially to those whom the writer is addressing. We have a similar change in 1Peter 1:3-4; 1Peter 2:21; 1Peter 2:24.” (2)
Partake, Partaker – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[A-1, Noun, G2844, koinonos]
An adjective, signifying having in common (koinos, “common”), is used as a noun, denoting “a companion, partner, partaker,” translated “partakers” in Matthew 23:30; 1 Corinthians 10:18, AV (See COMMUNION, B); 2 Corinthians 1:7; Hebrews 10:33, RV (See COMPANION, No. 2); 2 Peter 1:4; :partaker” in 1 Peter 5:1. See PARTNER.
[A-2, Noun, G4791, sunkoinonos]
denotes “partaking jointly with” (sun, and No. 1), Romans 11:17, RV, “(didst become) partaker with them” (AV, “partakes”); 1 Corinthians 9:23, RV, “a joint partaker,” i.e., with the Gospel, as cooperating in its activity; the AV misplaces the “with” by attaching it to the superfluous italicized pronoun “you;” Philippians 1:7, “partakers with (me of grace),” RV, and AV marg.; not as AV text, “partakers (of my grace);” Revelation 1:9, “partaker with (you in the tribulation, etc.),” AV, “companion.” See COMPANION.
[A-3, Noun, G3353, metochos]
See FELLOW, No. 3, PARTNER.
[A-4, Noun, G4830, summetochos]
“partaking together with” (sun, “with,” and No. 3), is used as a noun, a joint partaker, Ephesians 3:6, RV, “fellow partakers” (AV, “partakers”); in Ephesians 5:7, RV and AV, “partakers.” (3)
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
“But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17)
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” (Hebrews 3:1)
“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
Q. What do these Scriptures have in common?
“partakers of the divine nature” – 2 Peter 1:4
“the renewing of your mind” – Romans 12:2
“he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” – 1 Corinthians 6:17
“put on the new man” – Ephesians 4:24
“your life is hid with Christ in God” – Colossians 3:3
“put on the new self” – Colossians 3:10
“partakers of the heavenly calling” – Hebrews 3:1
“partakers of his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10
Partakers of the divine nature and the other highlighted scriptural phrases mean nothing more than the believer is joining with Christ in the sanctification process. Furthermore, this connection with God seen in the above passages is spiritual. This connection with God does not make a man into a god.
Confessional support from the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 35:
Q: What is sanctification?
A: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, 1 whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, 2 and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.3
2. Ephesians 4:23-24. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Putting on the “new man” is saying the same thing as “partakers of the divine nature.” We should compare scripture with scripture rather than reading into the text twenty-first-century anachronisms.
A Contextual Contemporary Commentary on 2 Peter 1:3-4:
The transition from the preceding verse (v. 2) to these two verses is abrupt. The word knowledge gives the passage continuity, but the construction of verse 3 causes a break with the salutation. Perhaps the writer deleted a clause that would make the transition smooth between the two verses. Deletion of a clause is not uncommon in Greek manuscripts. If we include such a clause, we can bridge the gap between verses 2 and 3. For example, “We are receiving God’s grace and peace,
his divine power has given us everything we need.”
An alternative is to take verse 2 as the salutation and the next verse as the beginning of the letter proper, and indicate a definite break between them. Then we accept verses 3 and 4 as part of a lengthy thought with verses 5–7. But the words for this very reason (v. 5) do not lend themselves as a natural transition. Taking the simple rule of thumb, “Take Greek as it comes,” I prefer to see verse 3 as a continuation of the message that the salutation conveys and thus supply a short clause to introduce verse 3.
3. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Some translations, including the New International Version, omit the first Greek word in this verse. The versions that translate this word have the reading according as (KJV), seeing that (NASB), as (NKJV), or for (MLB). These translators use it as a bridge between the salutation (v. 2) and this verse.
a. “His divine power has given us everything we need.” To whom is Peter referring when he writes, “his divine power”? Commentators have different opinions. Some say that this is a reference to God, but that the pronouns him (“knowledge of him”) and his (“his own glory”) relate to Christ. Others say that Peter is thinking of Christ; first, because Jesus is mentioned in the preceding text, and second, because the entire epistle is an exposition of Jesus’ deity (e.g., see v. 1). Perhaps we can say that in this verse Peter fails to present a clear distinction between God and Jesus and, therefore, that we ought to refrain from being dogmatic.
The words divine power describe “the godhead and everything that belongs to it.” They are an example of the Hebrew fondness for using a circumlocution to avoid mentioning the name of God. Because of his divine power, God has given us everything we need. This is an amazing statement! In fact, in this introductory verse of the epistle we encounter a wonderful cheerfulness. Peter exclaims that he and the readers are the recipients of untold blessings; the word everything sums up this idea.
b. “For life and godliness.” Observe that God has granted and continues to grant us “everything for life and godliness.” He wants us to live in harmony with his Word by honoring, loving, and serving him. Eternal life is not an ideal that becomes reality when we depart from this earthly scene. On the contrary, we possess eternal life through our daily exercise of living for God and our fellow man. By obeying God’s will in our lives we practice godliness and experience the possession of eternal life.
c. “Through our knowledge of him who called us.” Peter tells the readers of his epistle that God grants them everything they need to enjoy life in his service. He indicates that God grants his gifts liberally “through our knowledge of him.” Once again Peter speaks of knowledge (see v. 2) and informs us that God makes his gifts available to us when we come to know him. Knowledge is a basic concept in Peter’s epistle.
The question is whether the phrase knowledge of him applies to God or to Christ. If we understand the pronoun to refer to Christ, then we have to conclude that the word us refers to the apostles. But the pronoun us in the first part of verse 3 is all-inclusive, for Peter speaks of himself and the readers. Should we interpret the pronoun to apply only to the apostles and not to the readers, we would negate the statements on equality within the church, which Peter teaches by implication in the first two verses of this epistle. We expect, however, that Peter is consistent in the use of this pronoun. Accordingly, we understand the word him to point to God and not to Christ. John Calvin observes that Peter “makes God the author of this knowledge, because we never go to him except when called.” God has called us, through Christ, to salvation (compare Rom. 8:28, 30; 1 Peter 1:15; 2:9; 5:10). And last, in the broader context of this chapter, Peter once more mentions the calling of the readers; he writes, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (v. 10).
d. “By his own glory and goodness.” The act of calling us is a demonstration of God’s own glory and goodness. These two characteristics are highly personal; the adjective own modifies both terms. Moreover, the two terms, although in a sense synonymous, differ. We are able to observe glory with our eyes (compare John 1:14), and we become aware of goodness (praise) with our minds and hearts. Conclusively, God reveals his essential being through visible glory and he displays his goodness in his deeds.
4. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
We see a correlation between verses 3 and 4 whereby the author is clarifying his message. Here is the parallel:
His divine power
has given us
everything we need
for life and godliness
through our knowledge
of him who called us by his
own glory and goodness.
he has given us
his very great and precious
so that through them
you may participate
in the divine nature,
having escaped the corruption
in the world caused by
Note also the cross-shaped configuration of some of the parts: “his divine power” (v. 3) corresponds with “in the divine nature” (v. 4), and “glory and goodness” (v. 3) is the antecedent of “through these” (v. 4). From another point of view, the conclusion of verse 4 contrasts with the last line of the preceding verse: “the corruption in the world” is the opposite of “glory,” and “evil desires” is antithetical to “goodness.”
a. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises.” To whom does the pronoun he refer—to God or to Christ? Scripture teaches that God has given his people numerous promises, but also Christ has promised his followers that he will return (1:16; 3:4, 9). Because Peter is not specific in distinguishing between God and Christ, we ought to refrain from restricting the meaning of the pronoun.
The promises themselves are an important part of this verse, for Peter describes them as “very great and precious.” Observe that he uses the superlative form to depict these promises. With the perfect tense he has given, he implies that God not only has given these promises to us but also has fulfilled them in the person and work of Christ.
b. “So that through them you may participate in the divine nature.” Peter needs an additional clause to tell us what God’s purpose is in giving us these promises (compare 1 Peter 2:9). He informs us that through these promises we share God’s nature. Although this statement lends itself to many interpretations, we ought to notice how precisely Peter has chosen his words. He says that we participate in God’s nature, not in God’s being. He has chosen the term nature because it indicates growth, development, and character. The expression being, by contrast, points to essence and substance. We can never participate in God’s essence, for we are and remain human beings who have been created by God. What Peter discloses is that we share God’s holiness, which we experience through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (see 1 Cor. 6:19). What, then, is God’s purpose in making us share in his nature? In the words of Calvin, “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.”
Peter borrows the term divine nature from the philosophical vocabulary of the Greeks. To refute his opponents (see 2:1) he employs their terminology but gives the words a Christian meaning. Greek philosophers taught that man who is living in a corrupt world of physical pleasure must become like the gods. They advised their followers to share the divine nature. Peter resorts to using the same expression, “participate in the divine nature.” But whereas the philosophers took their point of departure in man and claimed for him a share in the nature of the gods, Peter views our sharing of God’s nature in the light of God’s promises. “There is a world of difference between these two concepts. The first is humanistic and reflects the vaulted self-appraisal of natural man. The other is Christian and exalts the gracious provision of God.”
Through the promises in Christ, we obtain God’s holiness. God has called us into the sphere of holiness in which we have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). By fixing our thoughts on Jesus, we share in the heavenly calling and in Christ himself (Heb. 3:1, 14).
c. “And escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Already in his life, the believer participates in God’s divine nature by reflecting his virtues. He shuns sin and evil because he knows that he belongs not to the world but to God (John 17:14–18; also compare 1 Thess. 5:22; James 1:27). Surely, when he leaves this earthly scene and participates in eternal glory, he fully displays God’s nature. While on earth, he lives in the world even though he is not of the world. He has “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24; also see Col. 3:10; Heb. 12:10; and 1 John 3:2).
Doctrinal Considerations in 1:4
A skilled communicator expresses himself in the language of the people he addresses; he uses their vocabulary and idioms to identify with his audience. But as he employs their terminology, he is completely free to proclaim his own message.
Peter selects a phrase that was current in the Hellenistic world of his day: “participate in the divine nature.” Even though Peter avails himself of Hellenistic terminology, he does not teach a Hellenistic view of man, which advocated escape from this material world because of its corruption. “Peter is careful to define the nature of the corruption he has in mind, i.e. corruption that is in (en) the world because of (en) passion. There is a deliberate avoidance of the concept that the material world is itself evil.” Peter, therefore, teaches not the doctrine of Hellenistic philosophers who reason from man’s perspective. Instead, he presents God’s revelation, in which God calls man to have fellowship with him. In short, not man but God takes the initiative.
Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 1:3–4
ὡς—omitted in some translations, this particle performs the functions of introducing a genitive absolute construction: δυνάμεως (power) and δεδωρημένης (perfect middle participle from δωρέομαι [I give, present, bestow]). Verse 3, however, lacks a main verb, which perhaps has been deleted in the transition from verse 2 to verse 3. Notice that the perfect tense of the participle indicates a past action that has lasting effect for the present.
θείας—this adjective, meaning “divine,” occurs also in verse 4 and in Acts 17:29, where Paul uses it in his address to Athenian philosophers. It appears frequently in Hellenistic writings, “probably because its very broad usage gave it a polytheistic or pantheistic flavor.” We assume that both Paul and Peter accommodated themselves to the vocabulary used by their audiences. Jewish Christians who lived in a Hellenistic environment were acquainted with this word.
ἰδίᾳ δόξῃ—the Majority Text and Textus Receptus have the reading διὰ ξδόης (through glory), which has the support of some ancient manuscripts. Bruce M. Metzger comments that the majority of the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies edition preferred the reading ἰδίᾳ δόξῃ because it is “more likely that διά would have been written by mistake for ἰδίᾳ than vice versa; and ἴδιος is a favorite word with the author of 2 Peter, occurring six other times in three chapters.”
μέγιστα—as an adjective in the superlative degree, it is emphatic in the sense of “very” or “exceedingly.”
γένησθε—the aorist subjunctive from the verb γίνομαι (I become, am) expresses the process that occurs in regard to a believer’s sanctification. The aorist is constative.
ἀποφυγόντες—from the verb ἀποφεύγω (I escape), this active participle in the aorist tense denotes single occurrence. As a compound, the participle governs the genitive case without a preposition.” (4)
1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 2 Peter, p. 4718-4719.
2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, 2 Peter, Vol.3, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 444.
3. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 833-834.
4. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Peter and Jude, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 245-250.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/
** CARM Theological Dictionary https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html
St. Athanasius: “God became man so that men might become gods.” What did Athanasius mean by this? Was he promoting an early form of Mormonism where a man can become a god? Athanasius was explaining theosis. Eastern Orthodoxy uses the term deification or theosis. What do the Orthodox mean by this?
An Eastern Orthodox view on this:
Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature