One God, One Lord, and Many Sons of God to Follow–Paul’s Idea of Mass Apotheosis

Those who have read my book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity might recall that in the Introduction I survey what I consider to be Paul’s “Six Major Ideas,” several of which are underemphasized, or even overlooked, in many standard treatments of Paul. One of those, which I explore in detail in chapter five, has to do with the idea of apotheosis or “divinization”–simply put, “becoming a god.”  Paul clearly asserts that “flesh and blood” human beings “in Christ” who are “begotten by the Holy Spirit,” are destined to become divine “Sons of God,” even as Jesus was glorified from flesh to Spirit through resurrection of the dead. In other words, “resurrection of the dead” in Paul is not so much about “making the dead live” to use the Hebrew expression, as affirming the participation of even those who have died “in Christ,” in the cosmic process of glorification of both living and dead at Jesus’ appearing (1 These 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:51-54). This is not a subsidiary teaching of Paul, but at the center of what he considers to be the very purpose of the Creation itself, as he makes clear in Romans 8:20b-23:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

A Painting by my late Son David Shannon Tabor

For years I had considered this idea of divination–that is being transformed into a “divine being” or “god,” in isolation from its wider Hellenistic context. When I began to study Hellenistic Religions with the late Jonathan Z. Smith at the University of Chicago, my conceptual world was shattered and broadened. He ended up directing my thesis, Things Unutterable, dealing with Paul’s ascent to Paradise, that was published as my first book in 1986. [1]It is now long out of print and copies sell for the ridiculous price of $250+ on Amazon! I plan to make it available to my readers soon in a revised format and will announce that here on the blog in … Continue reading Working with Smith was the high privilege of my academic life and I treasure the moments we had together, as a student and subsequently over the years of my career.

One early result of my new expanded perspectives were a series of articles I published in the 1980s, based on scholarly papers I presented at annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. I wanted to make a few of those available to my readers, as they explore details and offer perspectives, that delve into these things beyond what I do in my book, Paul and Jesus.

Here is the first, in PDF format, which you can read by scrolling through the arrows at the bottom of the upload. It was published in 1984, and if you want to cite or use it here are the details: “Firstborn of Many Brothers: A Pauline Notion of Apotheosis,” Society of Biblical Literature: 1984 Seminar Papers, ed. Kent Richard (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1984), pp. 295-303.

Tabor Many Sons to Glory SBL Seminar 1984


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