Christian Deification and the Early Testimonia

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Abstract

In summary, the multiple quotations and discussions of Psalm 82:1, 6-7 in the fathers of the second and third centuries show that the Psalm had a very early use in the life of the church. It was used first and primarily as a proof text for the divinity of Christ. This use of the Psalm dates back at least into the first part of the second century and possibly predates the Gospel of John itself. Its use in the east and west probably points to common ancestor in the very early collections of tetimonia. Secondly, an echo of another debate can be heard in Justin and Irenaeus when they discuss the contrast between the Psalm's "I said, 'You are gods.'" and its "You will die like men." This debate arose because of the primary use of the text. It concerns which people are called gods and in what sense, on the contrary, that some die "like men." It is this debate over the meaning of Psalm 82 that gave impetus to the development of a doctrine of Christian deification. This doctrine was thus carved out of a text used for both Christological and soteriological purposes and led to the very close association of the idea of the incarnation and deification. So Irenaeus was largely producing an cxegetical summary when he produced the catchy phrase that the Lord Jesus Christ "became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is himself."43 And with only slight polishing, Athanasius generated a topos for centuries to come when he stated that "He became man, that we might become god."44

Christian Deification and the Early Testimonia

in Vigiliae Christianae

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