SBL 2009 (part 1): Romans and Theosis

The annual Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting, held each year the week before Thanksgiving (Friday-Tuesday), will be in New Orleans this year. There is quite an interesting lineup of sessions and papers. I will be giving one major paper, participating in a panel, and giving a presentation at one of the “Additional Meetings.”

My major paper this year is in the following session from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 21:

Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD
Theme: Romans as Christian Theology
A. Katharine Grieb, Virginia Theological Seminary, Presiding

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary
Reading for the Subject: Conflict and Lordship in Romans 14 (25 min); abstract here
Discussion (10 min)

Richard B. Hays, Duke University
Spirit, Church, Eschatology: The Third Article of the Creed as Hermeneutical Lens for Reading Romans (25 min); abstract here
Discussion (10 min)

Michael J. Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University
Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis (25 min); abstract here
Discussion (45 min)

Here is the abstract of my paper from the link above:

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.

This should be a very interesting session for several reasons: Beverly Gaventa is working on a commentary on Romans; Richard Hays continues to read Paul theologically and creatively; they have worked together on a new translation of Romans; and I am trying to flesh out my most recent book and its claims through a particular letter; I expect some strong “pushback,” as they say, from some quarters.

2 Responses to “SBL 2009 (part 1): Romans and Theosis”

  1. Michael N. says:

    I don’t know how I missed this session when I looked through the schedule, but I am glad for your post. Gives me another reason to try to make it this year.

    I am also looking forward in seeing how you work through the later chapters of Romans. Do you have any work that specifically addresses the communal and cruciform nature of the church as it relates to non-human creation? I saw glimpses of it in your latest book.

  2. MJG says:

    Hi, Michael,

    And thanks for the comment. I have not yet written much about the non-human creation, but I had some very interesting conversations this year at Duke with a doctoral student working on that very subject (from Romans 8 ) and with a theologian who speaks about the cruciform care of nature (or something like that).

    In my SBL paper, I will argue that for Paul, humanity’s theosis is inseparable from the liberation and transformation of the wider creation and that our transformation into the image of the Son implies appropriate care for that creation (our role in Genesis), though that subject will not be done at length.

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