The Believers have the Divine Nature
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
A Winding Path
Since the Bible Answer Man declared open war on Witness Lee and the local churches at Melodyland October 2, 1977, I have followed his public utterances with a great deal of interest. I have found especially fascinating the winding path through the Bible down which he leads his radio audience every Saturday night.
A verse which he delights to quote on the radio is 2 Timothy 2:15:
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The verse is more accurately rendered by Alfred Marshall in his Interlinear Greek-English New Testament:
Be eager to present thyself approved to God, a workman unashamed, cutting straight [or, in a straight line] the word of truth.
For a number of weeks I have watched the Bible Answer Man cut, not a straight line, but a crooked one in “the word of truth.” Numerous examples of cutting a crooked course in the Bible have been exposed in previous articles in this paper. We have shown previously how the Bible Answer Man cuts a crooked path in Isaiah 9:6, trying to prove that the eternal Father in that verse is not the eternal Father of the Godhead. We have also pointed out the crooked way he has dealt with John 1:1 by translating the second instance of “God” as “Deity” to avoid saying that the Word was “the God with whom He was.” We have also shown the devious way he has dealt with 2 Corinthians 3:17 and with I Corinthians 15:45. In this article we come to another passage in the Word of God where the Bible Answer Man refuses to cut a straight line. It is 2 Peter 1:3-4:
Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and virtue, through which (things) He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (NASV).
The part of this passage to which the Bible Answer Man objects is the phrase “partakers of the divine nature.” On a recent radio broadcast he preferred to translate the word “nature” as “attributes,” making the passage read “partakers of the divine attributes.”
The Greek word in question is phusis. Concerning the Bible Answer Man’s preference for translating phusis as “attribute” rather than “nature,” we must ask several questions:
- Is attribute the real meaning of the Greek word phusis?
- Is the Greek word phusis translated attribute in any reliable translation of the Bible?
- What do leading commentators and Greek scholars say about the word?
- Would the Bible Answer Man himself be willing to consistently translate the Greek word phusis as attribute?
- Is it possible to have the divine attributes without having the divine nature?
Let us answer these questions one at a time.
In his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words W.E. Vine says:
PHUSIS, from phuo, to bring forth, produce, signifies the nature (i.e., the natural powers or constitution) of a person or thing,…”kind.”
Vine gives two references from the New Testament as examples of the way he has defined the word. They are Ephesians 2:3, and 2 Peter 1:4. Ephesians 2:3 says that before we were regenerated we “were by nature the children of wrath.” This verse indicates that before we were saved we had a certain kind of nature which could be described as the nature of the children of wrath. It was not only that we had the attributes or characteristics of unsaved people; it was that we had the very nature itself of the unsaved. This is in contrast to 2 Peter 1:4 which makes it clear that since we have been born again (1 Peter 1:23) we have the very nature of God Himself – what Peter calls the “divine nature.”
In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. IX, edited by Gerhard Kittel, the author states: “The expression ‘partakers of the divine nature’ seems to suggest [a] non-eschatological understanding of redemption…” He goes on to explain what he means by saying that the phrase indicates not a future expectation of partaking of the divine nature, but a “present participation in the divine nature…”
In answer to the question whether the Greek word phusis is translated “attribute” in any reliable translation of the Bible, I can say that in no translation of the Bible I know of is the word translated that way. In all of the following translations of the Bible the Greek word phusis in 2 Peter 1:4 is translated by the English word nature: Marshall’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, The American Standard Version 1901, The New American Standard Bible, J.N. Darby’s New Translation, Wuest’s New Testament, The Amplified Bible, and even Le Nouveau Testament by Louis Segond. In the French version the phrase reads “participants de la nature divine” (participants of the divine nature).
Concerning what two leading commentators and Greek scholars say about this word: A.T. Robertson, universally recognized as probably the top Greek scholar of this century, says regarding the phrase “divine nature” that “Peter is referring to the new birth as [in] 1 Peter 1:23.” Kenneth S. Wuest, a popular commentator on the New Testament, says:
The saints have become partakers of, sharers in the divine nature. Peter is here referring to regeneration as in 1 Peter 1:23. This divine nature implanted in the inner being of the believing sinner, becomes the source of his new life and actions. By its energy in giving him both the desire and the power to do God’s will, he has escaped the corruption that is in the world.
Both Robertson and Wuest point out that the divine nature of God was installed in the believer at the time of regeneration. The believer is born of “incorruptible seed” according to 1 Peter 1:23. This seed is the divine Word itself. Hebrews 4:12 calls this word “living and active.”
It is a self-evident principle that everything is born after its kind (Gen. 1:24-25); this point needs no argument. The newborn calf has the nature of its father and mother. The calf not only has the cow attributes; it has the cow nature.
According to John 1:13 believers in Christ were “born…of God.” John 3:6 says they were born of the Spirit and 1 Peter 1:23 says they were born again of the living Word. Surely this must mean that the believer has the divine nature. How could the believer in Christ be born of the divine Spirit, the divine Word, and the divine Father Himself, and yet not have the divine nature? The very thought itself is preposterous.
In 1 Peter 2:2 he speaks of “newborn babes.” This is the reference to the ones born again in chapter one, verse twenty-three. As painfully elementary as it seems, I would ask: Who is their father? Surely their father is the divine Father of the Godhead. Then I would ask further: Whose nature do they bear? Every newborn babe, of whatever species, has the nature of its kind. If the babe is a dog, it has a dog nature. If the babe is a human, it has a human nature. And if the babe is a child of God, it has the divine nature. This is why Peter says in 1 Peter 2:2 that these “newborn babes” [divine children] need the divine food [pure milk of the Word] to grow.
Would the Bible Answer Man be willing to be consistent in his translation of phusis as attribute, or is his translation of 2 Peter 1:4 a translation of convenience to avoid admitting the real meaning of the verse? Were he to be consistent in changing the word nature to attribute, the following verses would read this way: Romans 1:26 would say, “That which is against attribute“; Romans 2:14 would say, “Do by attribute the things contained in the law”; 1 Corinthians 11:14 would read, “Doth not even attribute itself teach you”; and Galatians 2:15 would read, “We who are Jews by attribute.” I doubt if the Bible Answer Man would translate any of these verses that way. In every case it is clear that the word phusis means nature and 2 Peter 1:4 is no exception.
Finally we would ask the Bible Answer Man: Is it possible to have divine attributes without having the divine nature? In fact is it possible to have the attributes of any kind of life without having the very nature of that life itself? The word phusis is found twice in James 3:7, referring first to the lower animals and then to man himself: “For every nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by the nature of man” (Gk.). As indicated in this verse, there are two kinds of natures and also two categories of attributes. No doubt man has certain attributes or characteristics, and the birds have other attributes or characteristics. The bird nature and the bird attributes go together. It is foolish to suggest that a creature could have the attributes of the bird without having the nature of the bird. It is also foolish to imagine that a human could have the attributes of a man without having the nature of man. In like manner, it is equally foolish to suppose, as the Bible Answer Man teaches, that one can have the divine attributes without having the divine nature. How anyone who purports to be an expert on the Bible could think so is a mystery.
Here we seem to be confronted with an excessive ignorance. We are assured by the Bible Answer Man that regenerated children of God do not have the divine nature, but do have the divine attributes. The believer has, he says, the attributes of God in some measure but not the nature of God. This is not only an affront to the clear teaching of the Holy Word; it is an affront to logic itself. The following quotation from J. N. Darby puts the matter in proper perspective:
The very essence of practical Christianity is our partaking of the divine nature, and having God’s moral attributes conferred on us, or implanted with His nature in us…. But an attribute being imputed to us is simple nonsense, being a contradiction in terms; because an attribute is something which belongs to, or is in, the being spoken of, so as to be a part of himself …The righteousness of God is an attribute of His nature (Collected Writings, Vol. X, pp. 53-54).
That the Christian may have in some measure the attributes of God but not the divine nature is shown by Darby to be fallacious on the face of it, for it is not possible to have an attribute that is in God, imputed to us abstractly. Whatever is in God is in His nature, and His nature is what we have received by virtue of the new birth.
Destined for the Throne
In 1975 a book appeared on the market, published by Christian Literature Crusade ( a very respected publisher of Christian books), with a forward by Billy Graham. An official of the Billy Graham Association said the book “unmistakably bears the imprimatur of the Holy Spirit of God.” The book is Destined for the Throne by Paul E. Billheimer. On his radio program of December 17 a caller read to the Bible Answer Man a portion of this book. When the Answer Man heard it, he said: “That is blasphemy.” When told that it has a forward by Billy Graham, he said: “I can’t believe it.” Then the caller pointed out that it is not only published by Christian Literature Crusade; he had also purchased it at Melodyland Bookstore. All of this is a great exposure of how short-sighted the Bible Answer Man is. It seems that he recognizes only himself as the standard of orthodoxy. To those uninitiated in what the Bible actually says, Billheimer no doubt uses some startling language. He even uses language which is much stronger than we in the local churches use. He points out that 1 John 3:1-2 refers to God’s children as “[generic] sons of God”; that in Hebrew 2:11 Christ and His brethren “are all of one [origin]”; that Matthew 12:48-50 indicates that He and His disciples were all “begotten by the same Father”; and that John 17:21-23 says, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”
He has a paragraph entitled “The Redeemed an ‘Extension’ of the Godhead.” This is the paragraph that was read to the Bible Answer Man:
We tread softly here. With bated breath we read I Corinthians 6:17: “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” This union goes beyond a mere formal, functional, or idealistic harmony or rapport. It is an organic unity, an “organic relationship of personalities” (Sauer). Through the new birth we become bona fide members of the original cosmic family (Eph. 3:15), actual generated sons of God (1 John 3:2), “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), begotten by Him, impregnated with His “genes,” and called the seed or “sperma” of God (1 John 5:1, 18 and 1 Peter 1:3, 23), and bearing His heredity. Thus, through the new birth – and I speak reverently – we become the “next of kin” to the Trinity, a kind of “extension” of the Godhead (p. 35).
When a person believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, he is “born again” (John 3:3), “born of God” (John 1:13), “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6), Christ comes to live in him (2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27), he receives the very life of God into his being (Col. 3:4), and he receives the nature of God Himself (2 Pet. 1:4). Anyone who considers that this is either hyperbole, delusion of grandeur, or blasphemy must remember that these are the words of divine inspiration and, unless the Word of God itself is meaningless, are no exaggeration. Such thoughts may stun the natural mind, and we may be tempted to qualify them by explaining them away or treating them as figures of speech. Unbelief often takes this way to emasculate the Word of God. But if we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and we take it literally, except in those cases where it is clearly indicated that the language is symbolic, then what it says must be allowed to stand exactly as it is. Only in this way can we “cut a straight line in the word of truth.”
A Divine Warning
To translate according to our fancy, as the Bible Answer Man does, to make the Bible fit the convenience of our preconceived theology is to commit the sin warned in Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it.
The Bible Answer Man has broken both halves of the admonition in Deuteronomy 4:2. By translating the Greek word phusis as “attribute” instead of “nature,” as almost all Bible commentators agree it should be translated, not only does he add a word to the text which does not belong there, but by doing so he also takes away from the meaning of the word. Thus it can be seen that he has both added to the word and taken away from it. But we in the local churches prefer to take “God’s eternal vocabulary” just as it stands, without qualification or adjustment. We fully believe the divine word when it teaches that God has elevated redeemed humanity to such a sublime position.
Without qualification we are able to say with Peter that we, the redeemed, have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
This is the first of a series of five articles.