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3His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

The divine nature of Jesus is alluded to in verse 1 ("our God and Savior Jesus Christ") and probably again at the beginning of verse 3 quoted above ("His divine power"), and it seems to follow that it is this nature that Peter goes on to refer to in verse 4 highlighted above. But what does Peter mean by "partakers"? Is the suggestion that the readers ("those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours...") will at some point become like Jesus in having a divine nature (eg via hypostatic union), or does Peter mean something less, along the lines of "...you may become those who have come into contact with the divine nature of Jesus..."?

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5 Answers 5

A 'hypostatic union' is a specific term used in Christian theology to describe the trinity. It is meant simply to state that a being can have different persons under a same essence. In the incarnation, it is less frequently used but then means a being, a Unity, the Christ, exists as a single person 'under' which two distinct natures exist, human and divine. In both cases it is fairly complicated due to historical debates in Greek and Latin and more explanation from my own summary can be found here: hypostatic union

As we turn to a different subject, the unity of believers in Christ, whereby they are said to participate in God's presence and nature, innately and in a growing experience, we are speaking something like a hypostatic union (only in that it is nearly as incomprehensible) but very different from that used under trinitarian discussion in that 'equality of persons' in the union of participation is not suggested. Believers participate in something 'much greater' then themselves. The believer united 'in Christ' is a servant under a Lordship and the entire church is a body under a head, and branch deriving life from a vine. Believers derive all their spiritual wealth undeservedly from their Lord and King with inequality of they and Him as the basis.

So what does it mean then if not a hypostatic union? The scripture is full of references to the 'in Christ' union but I will only highlight one of them. Possibly the primary meaning of participating in Christ is an idea that is contrasted to our participating in Adam. Being 'in' Christ means were participate in His nature and all the benefits of salvation that this implies. (Romans 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22)) In Adam we participate in the fallen nature, the threat of God's law and eternal death under its wrath. In Christ, we participate in a new federal head of humanity. By being mystically joined into him, the external provision of Salvation for sinners is made to be our internal possession and real experience. In other words, the justification and sanctification of a believer is made to occur individually and effectually when and only when the Spirit removes our life from Adam and unites it into Christ. By this means the entire meaning of the gospel as explained in the Greek scriptures becomes a reality for an individual. It implies a kind of re-birth making it an innate experience regardless of personal growth in Christ as well as ensures and enables continued growth in Christ as a result of the gracious union.

The Bible refers to this participation in many ways. One good simple summary of 'sample words' all pointing towards the brief explanation I have provided can be found here:

A tract entitled “The Seven Togethers” sums up the Scripture testimony with regard to the Consequences of the believer’s Union with Christ:

  1. Crucified together with Christ—Gal. 2:20—συνεσταύρωμαι.
  2. Died together with Christ—Col. 2:20—ἀπεθάνετε.
  3. Buried together with Christ—Rom. 6:4—συνετάφημεν
  4. Quickened together with Christ—Eph. 2:5—συνεζωοποίησεν
  5. Raised together with Christ—Col. 3:1—συνηγέρθητε
  6. Sufferers together with Christ—Rom. 8:17—συμπάσχομεν.
  7. Glorified together with Christ—Rom. 8:17—συνδοξασθῶμεν.

Union with Christ results in common sonship, relation to God, character, influence, and destiny. (SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY A Compendium and Commonplace Book, AUGUSTUS HOPKINS STRONG, P802 )

Note: I have not chosen to comment much about the original Greek word translated as 'participate' as there is not a lot to debate about concerning it. The word translated as 'participate' means what most would understand by its English equivalent. It stems from the concept of a 'part' and is extended under the idea of sharing parts or having fellowship with partners. I have rather cut to the point by focusing on the concept of a union which is very common throughout the Greek scriptures. What would be worthwhile and which I decided against is to show the immediate context and its many supports of the idea I have summarized but this should be quite easy to perceive. The surrounding letter and verses show that it is within a view of a gracious evidence of God's power, being manifest by inward salvation through the ancient promise of a Messiah and outpouring of the Spirit, that we have participated in God. That is quite clear and consistent with the idea of 'in Christ' doctrine of which Peter refers to with the word 'participate'.

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Well done, Mike. I could not have said it better myself. My only addition would be in your citation: it should be AUGUSTUS HOPKINS STRONG, P802. –  DrFry Mar 25 at 14:02
    
Mike, well-done (very exceptional) and I agree +1,000% with EVERYTHING you say, but I bristle when I see references to Systematic Theology and terms like Hypostatic Union (which I embrace 1000%). Is there a way to connect the concepts with verses? In other words, it is not what you're saying, but how you are presenting what you are saying, which appears as Systematic Theology. Again, I bow and sit at your feet in humbleness and Christian submission to your interpretations, but we are more on the hermeneutical side here. Very Very Very Respectfully Submitted, Joseph –  Joseph Mar 25 at 15:15

This concept is fascinating, and a short survey of some New Testament will shed light on the questions at hand.

First, the word "nature" in the New Testament is the Greek noun, φύσις, which occurs with the following connotations as follows:

(1) The "nature" of heterosexuality (Rom 1:26-27)
(2) The "nature" of dictates of the conscience (Rom 2:14)
(3) The "nature" of uncircumcision occurring/appearing at birth (Rom 2:27)
(4) The "nature" of olive branches relating to their own olive roots (Rom 11:21)
(5) The "nature" of wild olive branches to be contrary to normal olive roots (Rom 11:24 x 3)
(6) The "nature" of short hair being distinctive to men (1 Cor 11:14)
(7) The "nature" of heart circumcision defining the authentic Jew (Gal 2:15)
(8) The "nature" of idols to be non-god entities (Gal 4:8)
(9) The "nature" of sinners as being children of wrath (Eph 2:3)

The principal idea concerns what is normative. For example, heterosexuality is "normal," and therefore homosexuality is contrary to nature. The fact that olive branches attach to olive roots is "normal," and therefore grafting wild olive branches into natural olive roots is contrary to nature. The distinction that men wear shorter hair than women is "normal," and therefore men wearing long hair is contrary to nature. The idea is the normative state unique to that entity (whether we are talking about people, olive branches, or idols). Finally, there is one more New Testament verse that goes one step farther and sheds more light on the idea of "nature."

James 3:7 (NASB)
7 For every species (φύσις) of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race (φύσις).

The grammatical case of the term "by the human race" is in the dative case, which means that the taming of the (nature of) animals adjusts to (the nature of) human beings, and therefore conforms to the domestic nature of man. On the other hand, what we see in 2 Pet 1:4 is the genitive case, which suggests that believers partake of the heavenly nature. So, unlike animals who conform to (dative case) human nature, believers partake of (genitive) the divine nature.

2 Pet 1:4 (NASB)
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 (φύσις), having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

In other words, piety is not conformance to the divine nature, but partaking of the divine nature. This divine nature is contrary to the nature of man. That is, the divine nature is not innate or "normal" to man.

Romans 8:3-11 (NASB)
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

The Spirit of Christ who indwells the believer provides the "divine nature," and his control and influence precipitate the "fruits of the Spirit" described in Gal 5:22-23. As briefly mentioned earlier in this discussion, the "nature" of the circumcision of the heart is what defines the "authentic" Jew. (Please click here for further discussion of the circumcision of the heart.) These believers partake of the nature of the Sprit of Christ. The following verses illustrate how people can conform to the divine nature, and yet not partake of the divine nature.

Matthew 7:22-24 (NASB)
22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Thus partakers of the divine nature are believers in Jesus Christ with circumcised hearts (whose erstwhile old "nature" to practice lawlessness is cut away). These verses illustrate the difference between conforming to the divine nature, and partaking of the divine nature. In the example of these verses, the individuals exhibited behaviors to conform to the divine nature, but they were never partakers of the divine nature. They never possessed the Spirit of Christ as discussed in Romans 8:3-11 (cited, above).

In summary, the old nature is the flesh ("normal" for all mankind born "uncircumcised" at birth), which is hostile to the Lord, but which is circumcised or cut away by faith (definition of the authentic Jew). The new nature, in turn, comes from the Spirit of Christ. The relationship of the believer to his Lord is therefore not one of superficial behavioral conformance (like the taming of an animal to adjust to human norms and behaviors), but the actual partaking of the divine nature, which results in authentic piety and true Christian experience.

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View No. 1

The nature of God is spiritual. As it is written, "God is spirit"( John 4:24).

This spiritual nature of God is one and indivisible and is the same nature of the Son and the Holy Spirit ( Exodus 3:14 --> Matthew 28:19) but it is reproducible [ as an image, as a copy] by will in a creature through his Holy Spirit ( 2 Peter 1:4, Ephesians 4:21, 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Christians got divine nature by being "born of God" just as Jesus is but the difference is that the former got it by grace and the latter got it by nature ( John 1:13, 1 John 5:18 KJV). Christians are being "conformed into the image of the Son"( Romans 8:21).

The Son:

divine nature by nature= sonship ( without beginning)

Christians:

divine nature by grace = sonship ( with beginning)

View No. 2

theias - divine quality, characteristic belonging to God, divine.

physeos - nature, natural quality/ disposition.

The nature [ natural quality] that belongs to God, that is, divine.

It is therefore a sort of redundancy.Perhaps, to stress the fact that there exists a characteristic in God that is communicable ( can be shared) to his creatures to the point of consubstantiality ex nihilo from the Holy Spirit versus the consubstantiality ad extra of Jesus from the Father.

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Your question is a good one. Moreover, in light of the abstractness of the first few verses of chapter 1, your question is quite natural and understandable, since the verses give us little by way of concreteness but plenty by way of nebulousness!

Nevertheless, by first, defining the key terms in verses 3 and 4, and then second, by interpreting those two verses in the context of verses 1-12 as a whole, we might be able to determine what the "divine nature" meant to Peter and, by extension, what it means to us.

Key Terms

  • God's power: the source and resource of the wherewithal for living a godly Christian life

and

  • Knowledge: progressive, intimate, and relational, friend-to-friend knowledge

and

  • God's glory and excellence (or virtue): the outshining of His sui generis character and infinite integrity through the instrumentality of His creation, particularly His vessels of clay (i.e., us; see Romans 9:23 and 2 Corinthians 4:7).

and

  • Partakers: those who appropriate existentially and progressively God's communicable, shareable attributes

and

  • God's nature: God's communicable, not incommunicable, attributes, with the latter being, for example, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, and the former, those attributes laid out by Peter in vv.5-7.

The Context

In the larger context, then, Peter develops a contrast between our old, sinful nature (à la Paul in Romans 7, 8, and 13) and our new-birth nature. Both natures are characterized by an evolution or progression. The latter nature actually de-volves in a downward spiral of corruption and death, both spiritual and physical (see, for example, Romans 5:14,17,21; 6:16,21,23; and 8:6).

The latter nature, however, evolves in a progressive, sanctified direction; first, because of God's induement of the wherewithal to live godly lives, and second, because of our ongoing decisions to live according to the principles laid down for us in the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints (v. 1; cf. Jude 1:3).

Our new life in Christ is acted out in stages, as God, with our permission, "adds" more and more Christlikeness to our characters (e.g., the building blocks of virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly/sisterly affection, and love).

As God's children, we have retained His image (Genesis 1:26), as does all of humankind. Though that image is spoiled by sin, it is redeemable. The image of God and the nature of God, however, are two different, albeit related, things. First, God's nature has never been, is not, nor ever will be spoiled or sullied, as was God's image in us. Second, whether believer or unbeliever, we still relate to God through our minds, emotions, and wills. To the believer, however, through God's powerful endowment in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4), we are enabled to live godly lives. Consequently, God's image in us is, in fits and starts, inexorably restored and re-created in us incrementally, step by step, as we fulfill our duties as God's bondslaves (v.1).

In other words, as we partake of, or appropriate, more and more of God's infinite, inexhaustible nature, we are continually sanctified, or set apart, for love and good works (vv.5-8,10; cf. Hebrews 10:24). Our spiritual maturity is a consequence of willingly, through God's enablement,

"applying all diligence"(v.5)

and

"practicing these [qualities],"

so that God imparts His character traits to our lives. In other words, we are to

"work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13,14; cf. Peter's concepts of usefulness and fruitfulness in v.8).

God's character traits, or attributes, are the building blocks I listed above (viz., virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly/sisterly affection, and the capstone, love), which are laid on the foundational cornerstone of "the faith" (v.1). We can think of God's work as a masterpiece which God desires to make of us through His granting of the necessary enduement (v.3), and His granting of precious and magnificent promises (v.4), all for our benefit and His good pleasure.

In summary, then, how do we become partakers of God's nature? In short, by simply appropriating, or making our own, all that God through His power and promises is willing and able to mediate to us through Jesus Christ. God may invest His power and promises in mere clay vessels, but those vessels can become, through His molding and shaping,

"pottery for noble purposes" (Romans 9:21).

This transforming process requires everyone who confesses the name of the Lord to

  • turn away from wickedness (2 Timothy 2:19b)

and

  • clean himself of wickedness (ibid., v.21a).

For in doing so, each Christian will become

"an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work" (ibid., v.21b).

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Those who are partakers of the divine nature are those who receive companionship of the Holy Ghost (Heb 6:4) and have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).

This is in contrast to the natural man, who "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14)

Having the Mind of Christ fits the broad definition of a hypostatic/mystical union or "essence", as it implies being perfectly aligned with His will. It's what enabled prophets like Isaiah to speak messianically (see chapter Isaiah 50).

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So is that a kind of "hypostatic union"? Please show all your logic... –  Jack Douglas Mar 11 at 13:39
    
You're right. I didn't explain 'mind of Christ', so I made an addendum. –  jasoncomely Mar 12 at 9:26
1  
Thanks jason, but I still don't follow all your logic, can you connect more of the dots for us? (that meta post I linked explains what I mean eg if you are going to use other writings by other authors can you explain how/why they link together into one big picture? –  Jack Douglas Mar 12 at 10:07

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