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.