SBL 2009 (pt. 1): Theosis

The annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, to be held this November in New Orleans, should be interesting for lots of reasons. My own specific interests are well represented, and I will be involved in and/or attending a number of these.

I am happy that the new 2 Corinthians group has invited papers on the topic of theosis, among others. (Among those presenting on 2 Cor will be my student here at Duke, David Litwa, who has a very fine article on theosis and 2 Cor 3:18 in the fall 2008 issue of Journal of Theological Interpretation.) My major paper at SBL will also be on theosis, but in the Theological Interpretation of Christian Scripture group, and specifically in its session on Romans. The other two presenters are Richard Hays and Beverly Gaventa.

Here’s the abstract for my paper:

Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis

In a recent book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, I have argued that Paul’s notion of cruciformity is really theoformity or, as the Christian tradition (especially in the East) has called it, deification, divinization, or theosis: becoming like God. That is, union with Christ in his death and resurrection is participation in the very life of God, effecting transformation by the Spirit into Christ the image of God; the result, Spirit-empowered Christlikeness, is actually Godlikeness.

This paper explores this overall interpretation of Paul by examining the presence of the theosis motif in Romans, beginning with 8:29. It argues that a central subject of Romans is in fact theosis, understood as present and future restoration of the image and glory of God through incorporation into, and conformity to, the Son of God. The prominence of this motif in Romans reveals that this letter, even in its pastoral and political particularity, is simultaneously the first extended Christian treatment of theosis. Because theosis is sometimes misunderstood as a private spiritual experience, this paper will demonstrate the communal and cruciform character of theosis as its practical implications are developed by Paul in chapters 9-11 and then 12-15, implications with ongoing significance for theological interpreters.

2 Responses to “SBL 2009 (pt. 1): Theosis”

  1. Michael,

    Your paper sounds fascinating. I’m going to do my best to be in attendance for it.

    BTW – Are you at Ecumenical Institute of Theology or Duke or both? Just checking.

  2. MJG says:


    Thanks; would be glad to meet you.

    I’ve been a visting professor at Duke this semester while on sabbatical and will return to my home institution, St. Mary’s/The Ecumenical Institute of Theology, this fall.

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