Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | November 22, 2008

Adoption and Deification

In the comments on my post from Tuesday Ted referred us to a great article on the subject of deification in Orthodox theology.

You should definitely check out the article (here’s a link). It defines deification (also known as theosis or divinization) as the central theme of Eastern Orthodox theology and briefly explains it as our participation in God by which we grow more and more into the very likeness and character of God, as God was revealed in the man Jesus Christ.

This is very similar to what I mean when I say “adoption”. In both words we have the idea of perichoresis, that humanity is now in Jesus, and Jesus is in us, as Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The reason we can call the Father “our Father” is because the Son is sharing with us his nature as the Son.

One important question that the article raises is whether the use of words like “deification” or “theosis” raise more problems than they solve when used in Protestant communities.

I believe the words are problematic and that’s why I prefer the term “adoption”. Here’s a few reasons:

1. Using a work like “deification” carries with it the theological freight of centuries of Eastern Orthodox reflection on the subject. To say “adoption” is to acknowledge that we are working in dialogue with the Eastern heritage but are not attempting to join that stream of thinking fully.

2. Deification creates confusion in the minds of many Protestants because it sounds heretical, seeming to imply that we will somehow become God. That is not at all what deification means, but by the time you finish fully explaining it you’ve sort of lost your audience. (This happened to me in a personal conversation just last Sunday).

3. Deification is definitely Biblical (e.g. 2 Peter 1:4) but the word “adoption” has an equally valid claim on our usage because the Bible literally says that adoption is God’s plan (Eph. 1:5).

I definitely do not think that the word “adoption” is more Biblical or more “right” than deification. I just think that it is easier to explain in our culture, offers a fresh start for the neo-reformation in which we find ourselves, and expresses effectively what Jesus is telling us when he tells us that he has included us in his life with the Father (Eph. 2:6, John 14:20).



  1. Thanks Jonathan for the blog and the article.

    I enjoyed it and found that it opens further communication with the past which is really also our present. When I taught the “Exchanged Life” (even though it was a separation theology), I stressed the importance of Galatians 2:20, of Christ as Life as the new man in us. I agree with you that trying to explain even adoption of all humanity you start to lose people, so deification, even though I have no problem with the term, is best left with the small group who do enjoy deeper questions. Here are a few thoughts that have no problem being questioned! Question the questions for certainty is only found in His faith!

    Humanity was birthed Spirit to spirit into the being of Jesus (ontology) and He is spiritually present in all and we are complete in Him, (1 John 4:17, John 3, Romans 5& 6, etc).

    Humanity are living beings (soul) in space-time with minds, wills and emotions. The end of our Spiritual faith in us is the salvation of the soul, 1 Peter 1:9, and the rest of the chapter, 2 Peter 1:4, a day to day of coming to know reality. The indicative of the incarnate Jesus, the reality in us, is through the Spirit as He reveals Himself so that we may come to know the Father.
    We come to know through participation in the exchanged life by trust, a changing of our mind, and just resting in His reality. The imperative of the incarnate Jesus through the Sprit for the Father is a knowing ministry, (He knows and upholds all things in His reality which includes the Cosmos), and the Spirit convinces and teaches us to learn to live loved so that we may love others. Whether we know it or not (we may cover it up with our own self or flesh-life) Jesus is our life!

    However, the body has not been redeemed as yet today, even though we may live and control it; there is a battle between the flesh (human nature) and the Spirit,. The old man is dead, it has been crucified. The body where sin is present (sin not us anymore even though we still sin) is fighting against the spiritual objective reality in all of us,). It is our subjective participation as human beings that transforms so we may come to think from the reality that already is, from His mind. Call it what you will it is the complete work of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Romans 7:17&20, 8:23, 6:4-6)

    Here is a question? Do we still have a sinful nature or is this our flesh? See different translations of Galatians 5:16&17 and others. jg

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I agree that “adoption” substitutes nicely for the problematic term “deification” – particularly if we are careful to preserve the dynamic nuance of the word adoption as it is used by Paul to speak of our past (“were adopted”), present (“being adopted”) and future (“will be adopted”).

    Whatever the word used, it comes down to what happens to us, with us and through us as we participate in the divine nature (and are thus transformed by it).

    As the article notes, the nature of this participation is far more than the typical Western-Christian view of *sanctification* when it is seen as God acting *externally* upon us.

    In my view, it’s hard to beat “perichoresis” as the governing paradigm in conceptualizing all of this.

    Dance on!

  3. Thanks for the comments guys!
    John, you raise a lot of good points and questions, I’m not sure I’ve fully though through how to describe the war in which we find ourselves – “flesh”, “sinful nature”, etc. I just know that the reality of who I am is a child of the Father and the flesh in which I live has a hard time conforming to that reality!
    I agree, Ted, perichoresis is hard to beat at a theological level, but I still like adoption for ease of comprehension by the average person!

  4. A helpful article from Christianity Today on the topic of theosis is posted at

  5. Thanks, Ted, that’s another good article on the subject and easy to understand!

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