Sperry Symposium: ‘2 Peter and the Doctrine of Becoming Like God (Theosis)’

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd


What the apostle Peter had to say about the doctrine of becoming like God was the theme of the Sperry Symposium presentation Oct. 25, by Andrew C. Skinner, professor of ancient scripture and former dean of religious education at Brigham Young University.

Brother Skinner drew his presentation from 2 Peter 1:4, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

“Though it is sometimes overlooked, the importance of this verse is way out of proportion to its small size, as I hope you will see,” Brother Skinner remarked.

“As the senior apostle on this earth in his era, Peter held the keys of the kingdom and was, according to President Harold B. Lee [October 1953 Conference Report], as much the president of the high priesthood in his day as Joseph Smith and his successors are in our day, to whom also these keys were given. It should not come as a surprise that Peter spoke of the most profound doctrines associated with the exalted state or condition of faithful saints.

“As the holder of all priesthood keys, Peter not only knew these doctrines intuitively but was entitled to declare them. One of these doctrines is the divine nature of God and how we as disciples of Jesus Christ may be made partakers of it.”

Adhering to the Father’s plan will bring happiness, redemption, exaltation and eternal life, he said, “and I believe these are in fact what the apostle Peter is referring to when he uses the phrase ‘exceeding great and precious promises.’”

Latter-day Saints thus did not concoct the concept of exaltation, or man’s potential to become like God, out of thin air, Brother Skinner said. “This doctrine has a rich and profound history, and even though some contemporary theologians attempt to redefine it, argue against it, even denigrate LDS theology for believing it and embracing it, there is tremendous evidence for the ancient belief in the doctrine of deification, and that is, in part, what Joseph [Smith] and his associates said was being restored in the last days, ‘the ancient order of things.’”

Brother Skinner cited the words of Athanasius, a Christian theologian who died in 373 A.D.: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

“Others before Athanasius … also spoke of the Christ-centeredness of the doctrine of partaking of the divine nature and thus laid the foundation for Athanasius’s axiom,” Brother Skinner said. “The earliest formal references to theosis [the doctrine of deification or becoming like God] occur in the writings of Iranaeus, about 175 A.D., and also Origen, who died in 254, both of whom anticipated that Athanasian axiom by several years.”

Brother Skinner cited several other early Christian and modern Greek Orthodox theologians and said, “The challenge for many non-Latter-day Saint Christians who contemplate the doctrine of theosis in modern times seems to be understanding what theosis means – what it really means to become God.”

Scripture from the Restoration, however, “presents exemplars of deification that are substantive, profound and complete,” he said, citing Doctrine and Covenants 132:37 regarding Abraham, Isaac and Jacob having entered into their exaltation “according to the promises.”

Testifying that “Christ became a real man, so we become real gods,” Brother Skinner said, “Deification is possible only solely through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. On this point at least, it seems all Christians who accept theosis or think about theosis can agree.”

He explained, “By obedience to the fullness of the gospel law, righteous men and women are adopted into the family of God so that they become heirs – joint-heirs with Christ, inheritors of all that the Father hath” (see Romans 8:17).

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