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Robert to BBS - Definition of Divine Nature

 

Hi, BBS,

Thanks, again, for your response.  I'm glad you went to the Bible to begin your comments on Divine Nature.  I think your reasoning is basically sound - that if believers take on the divine nature of God, then that nature cannot be unique -  but I think the premises upon which you base your reasoning are not entirely accurate.

I will admit, though, that I was careless in my use of the term "divine nature," although perhaps this will benefit our discussion, in that it precipitated this exchange between us.  If you'll look at my syllogism, I do not use the phrase "divine nature," but rather "God's Nature."  It is this to which I referred when I used the term "divine nature."  Of course, what I'm really trying to get at is what is it that makes God God?  There must be some characteristics that make Him God, and I submit that these characteristics are inherent in His Nature - or, put another way, that His Nature is the sum total of these characteristics (and, undoubtedly, others, which God did not choose to reveal to us).

So, in a way, the discussion of 2 Peter 1:4 is somewhat off the direct line of our inquiry.  However, it would have come up sooner or later, and we might as well delve right into it.

BBS:  I maintain that this is not the case. The term "divine nature" appears only once in the Bible, and in that instance it is used in reference to humans "partaking" of it.

The greek word rendered "partakers" is "koinonos" - Strong's Greek#2844, which he defines as "a sharer, IE an associate". It is a form of "koinos" - Strong's#2839, which he defines as "shared by all or several". "Koinonos" is variously rendered in the KJV as "companion, partner, fellowship - as well as "partaker".

ROBERT:  I don't see where being a "partaker" in the divine nature makes one divine, or confers the divine nature on the believer.  Indeed, when we look at the context of 2 Peter 1:4 in a moment, it is unlikely that Peter intended that meaning.  A quick check of the standard lexicons makes it clear that  KOINONOS does not imply that one becomes or takes on the thing or activity in which one "partakes" or "fellowships."  When Paul says he doesn't want the Corinthians to be "participants with demons" (KOINONOUS TON DIAMONION), he does not mean that he fears they will become demons, or even like demons.  Thayer writes of KOINONOUS in this verse, "I.e., brought into fellowship with them."  Moulton and Milligan cite a sense similar to Luke 5:10 in the BGU Papyrus:  "partner to the extent of a sixth share."  Note, given this usage, that even if we are said to "take on" something of the divine nature in 2 Peter 1:4, it need not be the entire nature, but only a small portion of it.  However, the semantic range of KOINONOS includes the idea of participating or fellowshipping in something which one does not "take on" or obtain, and this sense, I think, fits best with the context of 2 Peter 1:4, as we shall see, below.

BBS:  So in the only instance of the usage of the term "divine nature" in scripture, it is not characterized as being "unique to God" as you have suggested, but rather saved and resurrected (transformed) humans are said to be partners in it, associates in it, sharers of it, to hold it in common, companions or fellows in it - in short, to "partake" of it.

ROBERT:  The TDNT glosses 2 Peter 1:4 as follows:  "redemption brings participation in the divine nature."  Notice the term "redemption."  Redemption occurs when one accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, not after resurrection.  Let's examine the context of 2 Peter 1:4 to see why Hauck (the author of the article in TDNT) says this.  In verse 3, we read that Christ's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness."  Thus, Peter is discussing the sufficiency of Christ's power to sustain us in this life and to lead us to godliness (EUSEBEIAN, which according to Vine:  "denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him").

Peter continues in verse 4:  "Through these [the glory and goodness of Christ] he as given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may be partakers in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."  There is no sense in which "escape" means through death and resurrection - such a thought is not present in this context at all (indeed, Peter doesn't even mention eternal rewards until verse 11).  None of the standard lexicons cite a single example of APOPHEUGO (or its root, PHEUGO) being used metaphorically for death, resurrection, or exaltation (cf., Thayer, BAGD, Moulton & Milligan, Louw & Nida, Vine).  Rather, Peter is saying that the participation in the divine nature provides escape IN THIS LIFE from the "corruption in the world caused by evil desires."  The form of the verb 'to be,' here, is GENESTHE which is a deponent middle (subjunctive aorist middle deponent, to be precise), signifying that the subject performs the action.  (The middle voice typically signifies the subject taking action for himself; however, GINOMAI is a deponent verb, so the middle voice becomes active in meaning - see Wallace, _Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics_, pp. 428ff).  Peter's use of this voice makes sense if he is referring to "partaking" in this life, made possible by our coming to faith in Christ (an act we perform ourselves), but not if Peter is referring to future exaltation (an act performed by God).  Peter, doubtless, would have used a passive construction in the latter case.

He presses the point in the next verse:  "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness....For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Here, all the verbs are present tense, and the context clearly is earthly existence.

He concludes his thought in verses 10-11:  "For if you do these things, you will never fall and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."  Notice, even here when Peter first introduces the "rich welcome," it is the ultimate reward - the present reward is that "you will never fall."

So, BBS, I think it's clear that Hauck is right when he sees the participation occurring at the time of redemption - of coming to faith in Christ Jesus.  If so, Peter is not talking about "sharing" the divine nature in a future, exalted state, but here on earth through "knowledge" of Christ.  Since nowhere in the NT do I see any evidence that believers become "divine" in this life (using any accepted definition of THEIOS), I think it highly unlikely that Peter intended KOINONOS to have the connotation you suggest.  Instead, I think "fellowship" is closer to the mark.  Peter is saying that Christ's power provides everything we need devoutly to follow God's plan for our lives.  This power is manifested in a spiritual union with Christ and His Divine Nature - an intimate fellowship with Him - which safeguards us from evil desires and a sinful world.  This spiritual union begins when one comes to faith in Christ - being "born again," and grows as one's knowledge of Christ grows.  The idea of faith in Christ helping us avoid sin and live more godly lives is echoed in several places in the NT, perhaps most clearly in Romans 6.  This is not to say that believers become sinless through Christ's power, but by virtue of His Grace, we have a pure standing before God, and His power sustains us and leads us ever closer to Him.

The interpretation I have offered is not original with me - Hauck obviously would offer it, and it can be found in numerous commentaries, of which I will present a small sample:

"The NIV rendering 'and escape the corruption' might better be translated 'since you have escaped' in order to bring out the force of the aorist participle (apophygontes, 'have escaped'). Thus, in coming to know God through Christ, the believer escapes the corruption of sin; and Christ renews and restores the image of God in him" (Expositor's Bible Commentary).

"The thought is evidently not that of a metamorphosis into quasi-deity, for the results of this participation are expressed in positive human qualities. It is rather that to be truly human one needs an enabling which comes from God himself. The teaching is comparable with Paulís teaching on the new creation and the teaching in John on being born again" (NIDNTT).

"'partakers of the divine nature'óThe divine nature is the nature that characterizes God, the nature that is expressed in holiness, virtue, righteousness, love, grace, glory, etc. (see 1:5-7). By being regenerated with the divine nature, believers can partake of these characteristics of the divine nature. 'having escaped the corruption that is in the world'óBy being made partakers of the divine nature, we escape the corrupting elements in the world" (New Commentary on the Whole Bible, 2 Ed.).

"Because they are 'partakers' (KJV) of Godís nature, Christians can share in His moral victory over sin in this life and share in His glorious victory over death in eternal life. Because of the promise of the new birth (1 Peter 1:3), the promise of Godís protecting power (1 Peter 1:5), and the promise of Godís enabling power (2 Peter 1:3), believers can 'participate in the divine nature,' that is, become more like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:9; Gal. 2:20)" (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

"Peter is referring to the new birth as 1 Peter 1:23" (Robertson's Word Pictures, v.6).

BBS:  OK, that makes sense to me. I am sorry to say that, in all of this ensuing discussion, I have lost my grasp on your definition of "divine nature" and "nature". In light of the fact that saved humans will share in this nature, would you please give me a definition that I can consider?

ROBERT:  I hope I've helped you see that 2 Peter 1:4 does not suggest that believers WILL "share" in the Divine Nature, but that we do so NOW.  I  hope you therefore see that there is no suggestion that believers "share" in the Divine Nature in the same way that the Logos is said to in John 1:1. (Actually, John 1:1 says nothing of "sharing" anything - if THEOS is qualitative, it means that the Logos has all the qualities of God, just as John 1:14 says that the Logos has all the qualities of SARX - that is, is fully human).  And so, I will restate my original definition:  "God's Nature is the sum total of all qualities, characteristics, and attributes that make Him God."

It seems almost self-evident that in our earthly realm, animals and people have "natures."  The nature of a horse makes a horse a horse (of course ;-)), and not a cow.  Human nature distinguishes us from cows, horses, and horseflies.  Such is James' usage in his epistle (3:7).  If I were speaking to an evolutionist, and said, "HOMO ERECTUS was Man," I would be saying that our ancient ancestor was fully human, that he possessed human nature in equal measure with modern humans.  There are individual attributes that distinguish individuals WITHIN a nature, but we are speaking of generic attributes that distinguish beings of one species or kind from another.  And I see no reason not to apply what we see in the earthly realm to the heavenlies.  Are there beings of Spirit in heaven who are not God?  Yes.  But what makes God God and angels angels?  Such a distinction is explicit in several places in the Bible, such as Heb 1:3 (where HYPOSTASIS has the meaning Nature or Essence in relation to God and the Son), and is implicit in John 1:1-3.  You have mentioned attributes like omniscience and omnipotence - which I would agree distinguish God from all created beings - but since they distinguish between beings as different as God and angels, it seems clear to me that they must be generic attributes - by definition.  Perhaps you can clarify for me why you think they are not.

Best Regards,

Robert

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