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Galatians 4:8 (DRB):

But then indeed, not knowing God, you served them, who, by nature, are not gods.

The question is so simple:

By the concept of dissent, does this verse mean that there are those who are by nature gods?

Of course, I exclude the Trinity. I mean are there classes of creatures (like angels, for example) who are by nature gods, i.e: (having Divine nature)?

Look:

  • 2 Peter 1:4.
  • Colossians 2:15.
  • Colossians 1:16.
  • The converse of serving them which are not gods, is to serve God. There are those who, by nature, are not gods (such as demons associated with idols). The converse of that is to serve him who is, in his nature, Deity. Being in the form (nature) God he thought it not robbery to be equal God. Philippians 2:6. I think you are confusing what is the converse of what Paul is saying. – Nigel J Jun 2 at 20:28
  • Your predicament lies with the translation of the Greek word translated as nature. They are not in the true sense Gods because they have a beginning (and an end). They are however elohim (also translated gods) because they are possessors of power/s (authorities). So if this were written in Hebrew, Paul could essentially have said these elohim (gods) are not by nature eternal Gods (without beginning AND without end). – Nihil Sine Deo Jun 3 at 4:24
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The question (in my words):

Does Galatians 4.8 mean that there are those (apart from God) who are by nature gods?

The short answer: No.

Galatians 4.8 is quoted in the OP in these words:

But then indeed, not knowing God, you served them, who, by nature, are not gods.

We could sum up the OP by asking, is it possible to read that sentence as implying 3 categories of being?

  1. God.
  2. Beings other than God who also have divine nature.
  3. Beings other than God who do not have divine nature.

If we limit our interpretation to this sentence alone, it's certainly possible to see three categories here. But we can't make that limitation. First, category 2 is not explicit to the verse, it's being implied or read into that verse. Second, and far more importantly, faithful interpretation requires us to understand to the best of our ability what the author himself meant. Paul here is the author, and we have a large collection of his writings to guide us. They consistently breathe the atmosphere of an educated and faithful first century Jew. His whole world view is based on his belief that there is only one true God. Consider these verses, selected from three different letters by Paul:

Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. (Romans 3.29-30)

There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4.6)

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8.4-6)

The third reference from 1 Corinthians is particularly interesting, because Paul is referring to 'gods' of all shapes and sizes. If we wanted to press the argument of the OP, this verse would be more promising material. Yet it is crystal clear that Paul is distancing himself from those who believe in different kinds of God. As a cross cultural evangelist he recognises that different people believe different things; there is a multitude of views about God out in the market place. "But for us", he says emphatically, "there is only one God." And all things have been made through that one God.

The New Life Version is an English translation using simplified language for readers with limited fluency in English. This is how that version expresses Galatians 4.8-9:

During the time when you did not know God, you worshiped false gods. But now that you know God, or should I say that you are known by God, why do you turn back again (to your former ways).

Now surely this translation brings out the intended meaning by Paul. He is strongly contrasting two categories, and only two categories. In the past you worshipped false gods; now you worship the true God; but I am worried, says Paul, lest you return to the false gods of old. If this is what Paul means, how can we possibly think that he would affirm a third category of beings with a true divine nature?

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  • thank you, your answer is very helpful. But I don't agree with you, I think, for example, that Angels have Divine nature, inspite of being created. – salah Jun 3 at 9:45
  • That may or may not be correct; I suspect that we have different ideas about 'divine nature' and what that means. (Which may be worth exploring through other questions.) But what is clear to me is that Paul is not making that point in this verse. – Peter Kirkpatrick Jun 3 at 9:59
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We must tread here with extreme caution. The operative word is φύσις (physis), most commonly translated "nature" and "instinct", etc. For a word that only occurs 14 times in the NT, its BDAG entry is quite extended showing that it is used far more outside the Bible. BDAG gives four basic meanings for this word, only the first two of which concern us here:

  1. condition or circumstance as determined by birth, natural endowment/condition, nature, eg, Gal 2:15, Rom 2:7, Eph 2:3, Rom 11:21, 24.
  2. the natural character of an entity, natural characteristic/disposition, eg, James 3:7, 2 Peter 1:4, Gal 4:8.

Notice that this word does not occur in Colossians and so Col 1:16 and 2:15 will not be discussed. However, another idea is closely related - the meaning of μορφή (morphe) in Phil 2:6, 7 is related but importantly distinct - more on this later.

Thus, φύσις (physis) describes the natural character of someone and is at the crux of the Christian message. It is about how a person displays their character or nature (see Matt 5:14-16). Paul goes to some length to tell us in unmistakable terms that were are by nature all sinners (Rom 3:10-18, 23, 5:12-19) and incurably sinful. John does the same (1 John 1:8, 10). See also Jer 17:9, Heb 3:13, Eccl 7:20, Eph 4:22.

By contrast, there is only one righteous One, Ezra 9:15 - YHWH God almighty, Himself. However, we are asked to "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and avoid those who are by nature not gods (Gal 4:8) - what does this mean if we are all sinners? It means two things:

  • Distance ourselves from the devil and his temptations who are described as the (patently false) god of this world (2 Cor 4:4) who is described as the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan is the very essence and "father" of all who are by nature/character not gods. The false idols, falsely called gods by pagans also fit this category because of the hideous acts they inspire. See quotes below.
  • We must become like Christ (Rom 12:1, 2) by being miraculously transformed into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18) and thus have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16, Phil 2:5) and take on His loving nature.

The Bible describes numberless ways to be like Christ; here is a short sample -

  • Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
  • Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
  • Lay down life for friends. John 15:13, Eph 5:2.
  • Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
  • Because Jesus was persecuted, so are His followers. John 15:20, 21.
  • Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
  • Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Jesus was baptised (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22) and so should we be baptised, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 10:48, 16:31, 22:16, Rom 6:1-9, etc.
  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. , Matt 6:12, Eph 4:32.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
  • Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
  • We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation/character/nature). 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
  • We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
  • Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
  • Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
  • Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
  • Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
  • Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.
  • Be “perfect” (= mature and generous to enemies) as the Father is. Matt 5:48.
  • Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved His people and gave Himself for her. Eph 5:25.

Again, this is not a process that we do ourselves - we cannot. It is a miraculous work done on our characters, to change our natures to be imitators of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, with our consent.

It is this divine miracle of the transformation of our natures that become called "children of God" (Gal 3:26, 1 John 3:1, 2 10, 5:2, Rom 8:14, 16, 9:8, Phil 2:15, etc.)

Several commentators arrive at similar conclusions about false gods.

Ellicott: Them which by nature are no gods.—The gods

of the heathen are called by St. Paul “devils.” (See 1Corinthians 10:20 : “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God.”)

Benson:

which by nature are no gods — “This is a true description of the idols worshipped by the heathen, for either they had no existence, being mere creatures of the imagination; or, if any of them existed, they were dead men, or evil spirits, or the luminaries of the heavens, [or other creatures of God, as most of the idols of Egypt were,] deified by human folly: and being destitute of divine perfections, they were utterly incapable of bestowing any blessing whatever on their worshippers.”

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  • @Dottatd so, you conclude that the trinity only by nature divine, i.e: there is no being who is by nature divine except the trinity. And we can be partiners of the divine nature by miraculous act. And false gods are not by nature divine. – salah Jun 3 at 3:30
  • Not quite - The Godhead is God - end of story. But "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16) and it is in this respect - the character nature of God that we are changed. We will never be God but we MUST imitate God by being loving. – Dottard Jun 3 at 3:36
  • @Dottard The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is not a 'work' that comes out of our flesh. And ... partaking of the divine nature is a matter of justification. To be accounted righteous (by God) and to receive the infilling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit - - is to partake of the divine nature (by repentance and faith). It is not a 'miracle' in the sense of a supernatural act occurring in the substantial and material sphere. It is a matter of faith and Spirit. (+1) nevertheless. – Nigel J Jun 3 at 11:50
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When Matthew says in 24:24 that in the last times many false Christs will appear, he does not mean that there are many true Christs, for all know that there is only one Christ.

That is how language works, why to quibble and torture the text when things are self evident? If I send an assassin to kill, say, Hitler, and I say to him: "Oh, you assassin, my dear! Beware, there are many false Hitlers, the doubles, who are not real Hitlers in person, avoid killing them!" The assassin will be completely inadequate if he will start searching for many real Hitlers in person.

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