The doctrine of deification encapsulates the totality of the Orthodox teaching on salvation. St. Irenaeus of Lyons summarized the doctrine of deification in his third book of Against Heresies when he wrote, “for it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons?”[i] Most writings that deal specifically with the doctrine of deification from a biblical perspective typically turn immediately to 2 Peter 1:4 where he describes believers being partakers in the divine nature. Sometimes 2 Corinthians 3:18 is cited where St. Paul informs the church in Corinth that the Spirit is transforming them from one degree of glory to another into the image of Christ. From these two passages we can form a basic understanding of the biblical doctrine of deification where the indwelling Spirit grants believers a participation in the very glorious life of God and through this participation in the Spirit we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. While this is most definitely captures the basic meaning of deification, as it’s presented within the Holy Scriptures, the fact is that the themes and imagery of deification run all the way through the Holy Scriptures. Most of the time the doctrine of deification is presented in narrative form where a biblical character is exalted and presented in ways that reveal God-like characteristics. One such example is found in the life of Noah and in his life we see a clear biblical articulation of the doctrine of deification.
The story of Noah begins with priestly imagery. In Genesis 6 when Noah is introduced to the narrative he is immediately informed by God that He is going to judge the earth and is commissioning Noah to build an ark. Upon completion of the ark Noah is supposed to bring both clean and unclean animals into the ark. The imagery of the ark and of Noah bringing animals into the ark resonates with the imagery of the tabernacle/temple. The ark is described as being a three-storied construction just as the tabernacle/temple is a three-storied building.[ii] Noah building a three-storied ark is a prototypical temple. The image of Noah bringing all the animals into a three-storied building also presents him as a priestly figure. In the tabernacle/temple cult of Israel it was the priests who brought sacrificial animals into the house of God so when God instructs Noah to bring animals within the ark He is bestowing a priestly office upon Noah.[iii] The priestly ministry of Noah is seen more clearly after his exodus from the ark where he builds an altar and offers a selection from each clean animal as whole burnt offerings to God.[iv]
Noah begins his story as a faithful priest and is exalted by God to the office of kingship. Throughout the Holy Scriptures we see a progression from priest, to king, to prophet.[v] The priestly Noah is raised up by the Spirit of God onto a mountain, an image of kingship.[vi] Having been faithful to his priestly calling Noah is lifted up and inaugurated as a king of the new creation. After he comes out of the ark and makes his sacrificial offerings Noah is given dominion and authority over all the earth.[vii] As king of the new creation Noah is given the authority to wield the sword and execute judgment as a king.[viii] The exaltation of Noah is presented topographically; he begins as a priest laboring on the earth and then is raised up physically by the judgment of God onto a mountain as a king.
The final events of Noah’s story reveal that not only has God made him a king but that He has made him like Himself. The story of Noah ends with him planting a vineyard, resting in his tent, being sinned against by his son, and then pronouncing a curse of his sinful son.[ix] Details from the story echo the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. The image of the world being completely consumed be water presents the world being returned to the initial watery state of creation.[x] Just as the initial creation emerged from out of the primordial waters so too the new creation emerges from the receding flood waters.[xi] After God finished His initial creation He exhorts Adam to multiply and subdue the earth and so too He commissions Noah with the same tasks.[xii] We see then Noah being presented as a new Adam but he has been raised higher than Adam since Noah beings to perform the same tasks as God Himself performed. The planting of the vineyard by Noah echoes the planting of the garden of Eden by God.[xiii] Noah resting in His tent relates to God resting at the end of creation.[xiv] Just as Adam rebels against his Father in the garden so too does Ham rebel against his father.[xv] After the fall in the garden God pronounces judgement and curses and we see Noah doing the same.[xvi] Priestly kingly Noah has become godly Noah; planting vineyards, resting, and pronouncing judgment.
The story of Noah is the story of deification. The Orthodox doctrine of deification is about our progressive transformation into the likeness of God and we see Noah progress from priest, to king, to a God-like status. Thus we see that the Holy Scriptures teaches deification both directly and symbolically through various images and themes within her narratives.
[i] St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 3.19.1.
[ii] See Genesis 6:16 and Exodus 26-27.
[iii] See Genesis 7:2, Exodus 29:38-46, and Leviticus 1-5.
[iv] See Genesis 8:20.
[v] For a more thorough defense of this see James B. Jordan here https://biblicalhorizons.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/biblical-theology-basics-5-2/ and https://soundcloud.com/user-812874628/episode-008-priest-king-prophet.
[vi] The image of Noah being exalted in the Spirit is found with the association of the Spirit with water throughout the Scriptures (see Isaiah 44:3 and John 7:37-39 for example). The flood waters are also an image of God’s judgment; just as the water brings a judgment of condemnation to the wicked of the earth at the same time it brings exaltation to Noah in the ark. The association of mountains with kingship is also seen throughout the Scriptures (see for example Psalm 2:6, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill”).
[vii] See Genesis 9:1-7.
[viii] The associations between kingship, judgment, and the sword are seen most clearly in the case of Solomon judging between the two woman; see 1 Kings 3:16-28.
[ix] See Genesis 9:18-27.
[x] See Genesis 1:1-2; just as the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters at the initial creation so too the dove, an image of the Spirit, flies over the face of the waters after the flood.
[xi] See Genesis 1:9-13 and Genesis 8:1-14.
[xii] See Genesis 1:28-31 and Genesis 9:1-7.
[xiii] See Genesis 2:8 and Genesis 9:20.
[xiv] See Genesis 2:1-3 and Genesis 9:21. Concerning Noah’s drunkenness Eric Robinson writes, “According to the Hebrew text, Noah’s being “drunk” could easily have been considered more what we could call “impaired.”” (See https://theopolisinstitute.com/article/drunk-naked-and-accomplishing-gods-will).
[xv] See Genesis 3:6-7 and Genesis 8:22-23. Both accounts also involve nakedness (first Adam and Eve’s and then Noah’s) and the opening of eyes (Adam’s and Eve’s eyes are open and Noah’s are opened when he awakes from his sleep).
[xvi] See Genesis 3:8-20 and Genesis 8:24-27.