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2 Peter 1:4 and the Mormon Doctrine of Deification

2 Peter 1:4 and the Mormon Doctrine of Deification

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One of a dozen or so verses of the Bible used as a proof text for the Mormon doctrine of exaltation or human deification (becoming gods or completely like God) is 2 Peter 1:4, which says:

“Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire” (2 Peter 1:4 NET).

Is not Peter’s reference to becoming “partakers of the divine nature” exactly what Mormons are affirming? Not really. As with all such proof texts, one must go behind any seeming verbal similarities to determine what is really being said. One must understand clearly what Mormonism teaches about people becoming divine, understand what the biblical statement means in its ancient religious and literary context, and only then compare the two.

In LDS theology, divine nature is the natural potential of all human beings, a description of our own inherent nature as God’s spirit offspring. In Peter’s teaching, believers in Jesus Christ “become partakers” of the divine nature through God’s gracious promises. To “become partakers” here means that believers begin sharing in or participating in something that was not already their own. It does not mean that human beings were already divine beings, or even potential divine beings. Nor does it mean that they become divine by nature. Rather, what Peter says is that in some way they participate or share in the divine nature. This means that some aspect or aspects of the nature of God are shared or imparted to believers in Christ. One must read the verse in context to determine what those divine qualities or attributes are that God graciously shares with Christians.

Peter gives a clear indication of what he means at the end of the verse in question: “after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.” He is talking about moral transformation, not about becoming gods. The “cash value” of the hope that Peter expresses here is not that human beings will become omnipotent deities or creators. One searches the epistle in vain for any indication of such an expectation. Rather, those who believe in Christ will become people characterized by such attributes as virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, piety, brotherly affection, and love, as Peter says in the very next verses (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV):

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement
your faith with virtue,
and virtue with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control,
and self-control with steadfastness,
and steadfastness with godliness,
and godliness with brotherly affection,
and brotherly affection with love.

Salvation in Christ does result in a glorious change, but that change is moral and spiritual transformation, not exaltation to Godhood. Christians are supposed to become “like God,” not in the sense of becoming beings of infinite power, but in the sense of becoming as holy, truthful, dependable, and loving as God. We should not minimize the importance of this hope—it is absolutely wonderful—but we should also not misinterpret it to mean something it does not.