What is theosis?

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.

Protestants do not use this term because of the natural error associated with becoming gods.  We are not God, and we will never be God.  God alone possesses His divine nature.  False religions sometimes teach that we can become godlike and even gods.  For this reason, we must be very careful when describing the doctrine of theosis, and we must also be careful not to adopt anything that would support the heresy of becoming divine by nature.  At best, we become more like Christ as we increase in our relationship with him, but we do not in any way become divine.

Verses used to support theosis are . . .

  • John 17:22-23, "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me."
  • 2 Peter 1:4, "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."

While it is true that we have a union with God as Jesus said in John 17 and where it is also true that we are made "partakers of the divine nature," these cannot and should not be interpreted to mean our deification in the sense of an ontological change.  We participate in God's holiness through the person and work of Christ who dwells in us.  It is being "partakers of the divine nature" that enables us to become more like Christ in our resistance to sin and increase in holy practice and attitude.

Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 460,

"The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." 

Though the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that we actually become gods, this quote in paragraph 460 of the Catholic Catechism is troubling because nothing in its context in the preceding or following paragraphs clarifies that we do not become divine within ourselves.  This is a great concern.

In addition, CARM does not support the Eastern Orthodox Church and considers it to contain serious errors.  We strongly recommend that the Eastern Orthodox Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, be avoided.  Nevertheless, we have provided several quotes from Eastern Orthodox sources so you might better understand what it teaches about theosis.

  • theosis, is becoming like Christ1
  • "The ascetic Fathers sought to experience this vision of the divine light through prayer and meditation. We call this theosis or participation in the divine glory."2
  • "The ascetic Fathers sought to experience this vision of the divine light through prayer and meditation. We call this theosis or participation in the divine glory."3
  • Such, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is the final goal at which every Christian must aim: to become god, to attain theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’. For Orthodoxy our salvation and redemption mean our deification."4
  • "the fact that a person is being deified does not mean that she or he ceases to be conscious of sin. On the contrary, deification always presupposes a continued act of repentance."5
  • 1. Coniaris, Anthony M. (2010-12-29). Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life (Kindle Location 1649). Light & Life Publishing Company: www.light-n-life.com. Kindle Edition.
  • 2. ibid, Kindle Locations 4249-4250.
  • 3. ibid, Kindle Locations 4249-4250.
  • 4. Ware, Timothy (1993-04-29). The Orthodox Church (p. 231). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  • 5. ibid., p. 236

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.