The Apostle Paul has just cautioned the Colossian believers not to be taken captive by the philosophies and traditions of men which are not grounded in Christ (v. 18). There are various views about the so-called "Colossian Heresy" against which Paul was writing. It is possible that there was a specific heresy (so Calvin, Dibelius, Moule, etc.) or Paul may have been writing more generally (so Hooker). What is clear is that Paul is unequivocally asserting Christ's supremacy over whatever teachings might take the Colossians captive - teachings not grounded in Christ.
In verse 9, Paul gives the first of two reasons why Christ is superior to any human philosophy or tradition (verse 10a contains the second): "For" (Greek hoti with a causal sense: "because") in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells bodily. Christ is superior to the teachings of men and the elemental "powers" of the universe because in His incarnation, every aspect of the nature of the true God - all His attributes and power - found in Christ's body a congenial and permanent home.
This verse - perhaps more than any other verse in Paul's writing - teaches that Christ was God in the flesh. The word translated "Deity" signifies the "essence of being God" - what makes God, God (see Grammatical Analysis, below). And it was not a mere quality or limited sub-set of attributes - for Paul tells us that "all the fullness" of Deity dwelled in Christ. And this fullness did not merely sojourn for a time in Christ's consciousness, but rather "dwelled" there (Greek katoikeo: "to take up permanent residence"). It is a timeless present tense verb (Harris, Colossians, p. 98) - "continues to live." And this dwelling was "bodily," in Christ's physical body. This points to the incarnation, surely, but also to the resurrected Christ as well, who is now our mediator, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). As Robertson puts it: "The fullness of the Godhead ... dwells ‘in the once mortal, now glorified body of Christ'" (RWP).
oti en autw katoikei pan to plhrwma thV qeothtoV swmatikwV
hOTI EN AUTÔ KATOIKEI PAN TO PLÊRÔMA TÊS THEOTÊTOS SÔMATIKÔS
For in him dwells all the fullness of the Deity bodily
- Live, dwell, reside, settle (down) (BAGD, Thayer)
- More technically used, the verb refers to the permanent "residents" of a town or village, as distinguished from those "dwelling as strangers" or "sojourners" (Moulton & Milligan)
- Verb Indicative Present Active (Friberg) The present indicative indicates an action occurring while the speaker is speaking.
- The whole, all (the) (BAGD, Thayer)
- Sum total, fulness, even (super)abundance (BAGD)
- Fulness, abundance (Thayer)
- The plêrôma statements in Colossians present the full unity of the person and work of God and Christ, yet in such as way that neither the distinctness of person nor monotheism is imperiled. The differences between Ephesians and Colossians show that plêrôma is not here a technical term, and the fact that plêrês or plêroômay be used instead supports this conclusion. In part the plêrôma sayings relate to Christ's headship of the church. From him as the bearer of the divine fullness (col. 1:18ff) vital powers flow into the church, so that he may be said to fill it (TDNT).
- Deity, divinity, used as an abstract noun for qeoV (BAGD)
- Deity, i.e., the state of being God, Godhead: Col 2:9...Syn. qeothV, qeiothV: qeot. deity differs from qeiot. divinity as essence differs from quality or attribute (Thayer)
- Divinity ... The one God, to whom all deity belongs, has given this fullness of deity to the incarnate Christ. (TDNT)
- Deity, divine nature, divine being...'all the fullness of divine nature' Col 2:9...The expression 'divine nature' may be rendered in a number of languages as 'just what God is like' or 'how God is' or 'what God is' (Louw & Nida). Louw & Nida do not semantically distinguish theotes, theiotes, and theios, treating them each as synonymous with "diving nature" as they define it here.
- Bodily, corporeally ... Col 2:9 (prob. to be understood fr. 2:17 [cf. swma 4] as=in reality, not symbolically) (BAGD)
- Bodily, corporeally ... yet denoting his exalted and spiritual body, visible only to the inhabitants of heaven, Col 2:9, where see Meyer [Bp. Lightft.] (Thayer)
- Bodily-wise, corporeally, in concrete actuality (Moulton & Milligan)
- The sômatikôs in this statement denotes the corporeality in which God encounters us in our world, i.e., the real humanity of Jesus, not a humanity that is a mere cloak for deity (TDNT).
- Pertaining to a physical body ... 'In him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily' or 'in physical form' Col 2:9. It is also possible to interpret sômatikôs in Col 2:9 as meaning 'in reality,' that is to say 'not symbolically' (Louw & Nida)
Greg Stafford offers a comprehensive argument against the traditional view of Colossians 2:9 (Stafford, pp. 152-160). He suggests that Trinitarians read too much into this verse - and the word theotes in particular - and that this verse need not mean anything beyond the fullness of a divine quality dwelling in Christ - not by Christ's inherent nature, but by the Father's decree. I shall examine Mr. Stafford's key points, below:
Objection: Mr. Stafford writes:
Rhodes also objects to the translation of Colossian's 2:9 in the NWT, stating: "Colossians 2:9 is not saying that Jesus has mere divine qualities. Rather, it is saying that the absolute 'fullness of Deity' dwells in Christ in bodily form" (Rhodes, p. 81). In support of his interpretation Rhodes cites several scholars whose views are similar to his. For example, he says: "Greek scholar J. H. Thayer - whose Greek lexicon is called 'comprehensive' by the Watchtower Society - says that the Greek word in Colossians 2:9 refers to 'deity, that is the state of being God, Godhead'" (IBID, pp. 81-82).
First, it should be noted that the words Rhodes attributes to J. H. Thayer are not the words of J. H. Thayer! They are the words of Karl Grimm, the Lutheran lexicographer whose work Thayer translated from Latin to English...Of course, the reason our critics like to attribute words to Thayer is because they operate under the questionable assumption that Thayer was a Unitarian. Thus, they argue, "Well, even this Unitarian, one who would tend to be sympathetic to your view, argues for a Trinitarian understanding of Colossians 2:9! [See Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 79 - note 75] (Stafford, pp. 152-153).
Response: Rhodes, indeed, mentions several scholars who support the consensus view of theotoes, including Lightfoot, ("The totality of the divine powers and attributes"), Trench ("all the fullness of absolute Godhead...He was, and is, absolute and perfect God"), Bengal ("not merely the Divine attributes, but the Divine Nature itself"), Moule ("as strong as possible; Deity, not only Divinity"), Reymond ("the being of the very essence of deity"), Warfield ("the very deity of God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness"), and Thayer. These scholars do indeed support Rhodes' views and quite strongly.
Mr. Stafford is correct that the words Rhodes attributes to Thayer were originally Grimm's. However, not only does Thayer translate them without contradictory comment, he adds the following: "Syn. qeothV, qeiothV: qeot. deity differs from qeiot. divinity as essence differs from quality or attribute." He then refers the reader to two of the other scholars Rhodes lists: Lightfoot and Trench. Thus, Thayer clearly believed Grimm's definition to be correct. Rhodes fundamental point is that the 'comprehensive' Grimm-Thayer lexicon (in addition to the other scholars he cites) provides strong support for the meaning of theotes he advocates, a point which Mr. Stafford does not contest.
Objection: Mr. Stafford writes:
Really, though, considering the use of theotes in other Greek sources, one would be justified in defining it as "the quality of being a god" (Broyles, p. 224). Especially so in view of the OT concept of God...and in view of the fact that God gives his Son a divine nature (Stafford, p. 153, note 73).
Response: One would be justified in defining theotes in this way if one were referring to the pagan gods in classic Greek texts that Broyles was writing about:
By qeoV the Greeks always meant an individual god - as qeoV zeuV- even if they were not always careful to have in mind any particular god....The plural means the individual gods taken collectively...In historical times the gods were conceived in human form, having human natures and passions, capricious and independent, not subject to old age and death, and powerful to an enormous degree. qeoteV is the quality of being such a god (Broyles, pp. 223 - 224).
Broyles then quotes the same passage in Plutarch which Lightfoot, Trench, and others have used to illustrate the difference in semantic nuance between theotes and theitoes, that is, between essence and attributes (see Thayer's definition of theotes in the Grammatical Analysis, above, and the discussion of theotes and theiotes, below).
We may first note that Mr. Stafford's quotation omits the word "such." Broyles no more says that theotes may be defined as "the quality of being a god" than he says that theos may be defined as "a god having a human nature." Broyles says that theos refers to pagan gods when used by pagans, and that theotes is the quality of beingsuch a god. What type of god? A personal god. An individual. Broyles argues that theotes emphasizes the individual personality, rather than the "inscrutable Deity behind all gods" (IBID, p. 225), which Broyles sees as the pagan usage of to theion.
However, when dealing with Paul's use of the term, Broyles recognizes that Paul is not referring to pagan gods:
It is qeoteV that Paul uses in Colossians 2:9..."In him the fulness of godhead dwells embodied." Paul's diction specifies the divine personality as opposed to the divine properties (IBID, p. 224).
Thus, in this context, theotes refers to the quality of being the one God. Broyles concludes that centuries of development among Greeks made theotes, to theion, and theiotes "suitable for expressing the 'god-ness' in Christ and the mystery of the infinite-personal God" (IBID, p. 229). He does not define theotes as "the quality of being a god" in the way Mr. Stafford implies; instead, he notes that, like theos, theotes arose in a pagan culture and was used to refer to "a god" in that context. Broyles' article actually supports the argument Mr. Stafford is arguing against - namely, that there is a distinction between theotes and theiotes, and that in Paul's usage, the former signifies the full measure "godhead" (which Broyles defines as "Deity," "Godhood," or "God-ness" - the quality of being the one, true God) that dwells in Christ bodily.
Objection: Mr. Stafford writes:
The term theotes (of which theotetos in Col 2:9 is a genitive flexion) closely resembles, in spelling, the term Paul uses in Romans 1:20, namely theiotes (NWT: "Godship"). James White asserts a distinction between these two terms (theotes and theiotes) such that theotes (in Col 2:9) is "different from the weaker term used at Romans 1:20" (theiotes) [White, p. 85]. White is apparently not aware of the extensive study by H.S. Nash, who a century ago demonstrated quite convincingly that the two terms theiotes and theotes do not have the distinction in meaning attributed to them by White (Stafford, pp. 153-154).
Response: White, like Rhodes, rests his argument on a number of scholarly sources, including the Grimm-Thayer lexicon (White, by the way, makes the distinction between Grimm's words and Thayer's, which Stafford demands of Rhodes), Trench, and Warfield. White may well know of Nash's study, as do J. Stafford Wright (NIDNTT) and Gerhard Schneider (EDNT). Both Wright and Schneider reference Nash's study, yet advocate the distinction in meaning argued by White and others. The distinction may be inferred from BAGD, which defines theiotes as "divinity, divine nature" but theotes as "deity, divinity" (1); and also from the TDNT, which defines theiotes as "divinity," but theotes as "divinity, Godhead." Both lexicons refer to Nash's study. Though they perhaps regard the two terms as more synonymous than do Wright and Schneider, nonetheless, BAGD and TDNT both suggest that the two terms inhabit somewhat different semantic ranges, with theotes shading more towards "deity" (2). Thus, if modern lexicographers who are familiar with Nash's work draw a semantic distinction between theiotes and theotes, White cannot be faulted (3).
We may, however, fault Mr. Stafford for stacking the deck - resting his entire response to White's point on Nash's article, while failing to consider contrary evidence from the lexical sources mentioned. Mr. Stafford might have at least mentioned EDNT, since he quotes its definition of eudokeo just a few pages later (Stafford, p. 160).
But what of Nash's article? Does it prove that theotes and theiotes are completely synonymous and that the former may convey nothing more than a "divine quality" and not the essence of Godhood, as Trinitarians argue?
Nash argues that theiotes and theotes began life as completely synonymous abstract nouns just prior to NT times. He provides examples from various extra-Biblical texts which, he believes, demonstrate that the two terms were used more or less interchangeably until several hundred years after NT times, when theotes gradually superseded theiotes because of it's etymological derivation from theos, which made it a more suitable term in Christian usage.
It should be emphasized that Nash does not suggest that theotes may not signify deity in the traditional sense; he rather argues that theiotes may also be used in this same sense (4). Nash acknowledges that there is a subtle distinction between the terms, with theotes being more logically precise (5), but he strenuously argues that the theological distinction between natural and revealed religion which some scholars - notably Trench - derive from the semantic distinction is anachronistic when applied to Paul's usage (6).
Even granting Nash his argument, it is clear from the examples he provides of Christian usage, theiotes and theotes are used exclusively to denote the deity/divinity of the true God, and never is used of secondary "divine" beings (7). When Stafford quotes Nash to suggest that theotes may simply signify a general sort of "divinity" shared by lesser gods, he is doing so with Nash's argument from pagan usage:
But the reference to the "fullness" of divine attributes dwelling in Christ does not necessarily make him equal with God, and certainly does not imply a Trinitarian concept of deity. Nash points to several uses of theotes in philosophical literature where theotes is actually used of demons who mediate between gods and men. In one of his citations, Nash notes that "the rank of the deities in question, at the highest, is not above that of a demi-god, yet [theotes] is the term used [Nash, p. 12]. So the term is not elsewhere restricted in its application to the highest god or gods of pagan pantheons (Stafford, p. 158, emphasis added).
Of course pagan philosophers may ascribe deity to lesser gods or demons, but they could also ascribe theos to these gods as well. The issue is not what referents the words theotes and theiotes may modify, but rather the sense the two words may convey - deity vs divinity in the traditional view. In any event, Nash's examples of Christian usage make it clear that when used by a Christian writer, theotes refers to the deity belonging to the one God alone. The context of Colossians 2:9 makes it clear that the one God is in view - as Mr. Stafford himself argues: "For God to allow the fullness of His divine attributes and qualities to reside in Christ fits perfectly with Christ's mediatorial and reconciliatory role in God's purpose (Stafford, p. 159). Thus, by Mr. Stafford's own argument, what resides in Christ bodily is all the fullness of the "attributes and qualities" of the one God.
There is nothing in Nash's article that suggests that theotes in Colossians 2:9 has the lesser meaning for which Mr. Stafford argues. It signifies deity - and all the fullness of it.
Objection: Mr. Stafford writes:
Those who attempt to create a situation whereby Trinitarianism is made to agree with Colossians 2:9 try to disassociate what is said in 2:9 from what is said in 1:19. The reason for this is not hard to find. Colossians 1:19 tells us, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (NIV). The Greek word translated "pleased" is eudokew (eudokeo). In the Word Biblical Commentary we are told that the verb 'be pleased (eudokew ) which often appears in the OT to denote the good pleasure of God (ps 44:3; 147:11; 149:4) is particularly used to denote divine election (O'Brien, p. 52, emphasis added)....The Scriptures will not sustain the view that Almighty God's powers and attributes are something contingent upon the "will" or "decree" of another (Stafford, pp. 159-160).
Response: I agree with Mr. Stafford on three points: 1) Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 are speaking about the same thing; 2) the implied subject of eudokeô is "God" (NIV) or "the Father" (NASB); and 3) that Almighty God's deity is not dependent upon the "will" or "decree" of another. In reference to point 3, though, I will note that in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Father is seen as the 'source' of deity for both the Son and Spirit, and this formulation is considered to be orthodox, for the Son and Spirit share equally with the Father in the divine nature (8). Thus, even if Mr. Stafford is correct and we are to take Paul to be teaching that the Son derives His deity from the Father, this does not - in and of itself - present an insurmountable problem for the Trinity.
A simpler solution to the problem Mr. Stafford raises, however, is found in the context of Colossians 1:19 itself and the implications of it's thematic link with 2:9. Paul moves from speaking about the pre-existent Son of God in verses 15-17 to the incarnate and exalted Son in verses 18 - 20. Thus, when Paul speaks of the fullness dwelling in Christ, it is most natural to understand the reference to be to the indwelling of God's fullness in Jesus of Nazareth, who - by divine election and at the Father's good pleasure - was Emmanuel ("God with us"). Mr. Stafford argues that we should understand the fullness in verse 2:9 in light of the fullness in 1:19, and I agree with him (9). But the opposite is also true: we should understand the fullness in 1:19 in light of 2:9. In 2:9, the fullness of deity dwells in Christ bodily. As Mr. Stafford notes:
"It is unclear whether we should take the references to the dwelling of the 'fullness' of theotes in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 as referring to the historical person of Christ while he lived on the earth, or after his resurrection...It may be that we should take the references as beginning with his sojourn in the flesh on earth and continuing after his ascent to heaven" (Stafford, pp. 154 - 155).
Thus, even by Mr. Stafford's own reasoning, the good pleasure of the Father was that His Son should dwell permanently in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth. Mr. Stafford suggests that commentators who see the link between 1:19 and 2:9 probably do so "because they do not see the problem involved with eudokeô" (Stafford, p. 160). The more likely reason is that there is no problem with eudokeô. When we understand Paul's reference to be to the incarnation, there is no dichotomy between Paul's teaching and the Trinity. O'Brien, whom Mr. Stafford quotes with regard to eudokeô, says: "God in all his divine essence and power had taken up residence in Christ" (O'Brien, Colossians Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 53), with the clear implication that Christ's physical life on earth is in view. He is more explicit elsewhere: "Colossians 2:9 applies the words of the hymn to the Colossian situation, making clear how the entire fullness of deity dwells in Christ, that is, in bodily form by his becoming incarnate" (O'Brien, "Letter to the Colossians," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 151).(10). This view is echoed by a number of other commentators (11).
Colossians 2:9 presents one of the clearest declarations of Christ's deity in the New Testament. Attempts to weaken the force of "deity" or to argue for Christ as a "functional" manifestation of God's attributes and power must contend with Paul's language - which, when read in context and with an appreciation for the meaning of each key term - exalts Christ as preeminent in all things, because in His physical body, all the fullness of the nature of God made a permanent and congenial home. I pray that all who read this will find Him.
Soli Deo Gloria
1. The distinction is even clearer in the third edition of the Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich Lexicon (BDAG):
theiotes: The quality or characteristic(s) pert. to deity, divinity, divine nature, divineness
theotes: The state of being God, divine character/nature, deity, divinity
See also Bauer's Greek-German lexicon (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Grieschish-deutsch Wörterbuch, 1958), which served as the basis of BAGD:
theiotes: d. Göttlichkeit, d. göttliche Natur
theotes: d. Gottheit, d. Gottsein
Göttlichkeit means "divinity;" Gottheit means "deity, godhead." Gottsein is literally "God-Being, God-Essence." The same definitions are repeated in the most recent edition of Bauer's Wörterbuch (Bauer and Aland, Grieschish-deutsch Wörterbuch, 1988).
2. Most lexicons define theiotes and theotes as meaning "divinity," but recognize only theotes as meaning "deity" or "godhead." While "deity" and "divinity" are synonyms in English (just as theiotes and theotes are in Greek), there is a difference in semantic range. The Oxford English Dictionary is helpful in demonstrating both the overlap and the distinction in meaning between the two terms:
divinity (1) Character or quality of being divine; (2) a divine being, a god; (3) an object of adoration; (4) divine quality, virtue or power. Godlikeness
deity (1) The estate or rank of a god, Godhood, the personality of a god, Godship; (2) the divine quality, character, or nature of God. Godhood, divinity, the divine nature and attributes, the Godhead; (3) the condition or state in which the Divine Being exists; (4) a divinity, a divine being, a god; (4) an object of worship; (5) a supreme being as creator of the universe.
Notice that while each of the four definitions of "divinity" are also present among the definitions of "deity," the same in not true for "deity." "Deity" may signify the "estate or rank" or "personality" or "Godship" of a god. (#1). It may mean the "condition or state" of divine existence (#3). It is precisely these senses that White argues are contained within theotes and are lacking in theiotes, with strong concurrence from the modern lexicons cited.
3. Commentators who also acknowledge a distinction in meaning between the two terms include O'Brien (Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 111-112); Lohse (Colossians and Philemon, p. 100); Boice (EBC); Wright (Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 103); Hendriksen (Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, New Testament Commentary, p. 111); Bruce (The Epistles to the Colossians to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 101);and Dunn (The Epsitles to the Colossians and to Philemon, A Commentary on the Greek Text, p. 151). Harris is more cautious, saying that "If there is a valid distinction between the two words" theotes signifies "deity;" theiotes "divinity" (Colossians, p. 98). Elsewhere, he writes: "Nash has subjected [the] traditional distinction to a penetrating analysis and concluded 'that the two terms covered a common field, that they fought for existence, and that theotestriumphed'" (Jesus as God, p. 287, note 48). But in this view, Harris does not regard theotes as signifying anything less that absolute deity; he expresses the meaning of Col 2:9 as follows: "Jesus possesses all the divine essence and attributes" (Ibid, p. 288).
4. Nash notes that if the traditional view were correct, we should see it evidenced in the works of the Greek Fathers. Instead, he finds that Origen, Athanasius, Arius, Didymus, Eusebius, Theodore, and Chysostom all used theiotes and theotes interchangeably to refer to the deity of God the Father and of Christ (c.f., Nash, pp. 17-25). We may note here that the NWT renders theiotes in Rom 1:20 as "Godship" - clearly treating it as synonymous with "deity" - though the translators rendered theotes in Col 2:9 as "the divine quality." If Mr. Stafford's assertion is correct and there is no distinction in meaning between the terms, we may ask why the NWTTC chose to translate the two terms differently.
5. Nash says he "concedes" to the traditional view: "theotes possessed an inherent capacity for the expression of religious emotion, as well as logical precision, superior to the emotional and logical qualities of theiotes" (Nash, p. 28).
6. "The Rabbi in St. Paul was not at all likely to distinguish between the Being or Personality or Nature of God on the one side, and His attributes or majesty or glory on the other. And if the scholar in Paul did not travel that way, certainly the prophet in him, the creative Christian element, did not" (Nash, p. 5).
7. Nash notes that even Arius is not said to have done so by his opponents: "There is no hint that Arius drew any distinction between theotes and theiotes, but rather plainly suggested that Arius applied the word theiotes to the Father Himself. Asterius is soon after quoted to the same effect" (Nash, p. 17).
8. "Gregory of Nazianzus explains the position by saying, 'The Three have one nature, viz. God, the ground of unity being the Father, out of Whom and towards Whom the subsequent Persons are reckoned' (Or, 42, 15). While all subordinationism is excluded, the Father remains in the eyes of the Cappadocians the source, fountain-head or principle of the Godhead. Their thought (as we have already seen when discussing the Holy Spirit) that He imparts His being to the two other Persons, and so can be said to cause Them" (Kelly, pp. 264-265).
9. In response to James White's discussion of Mr. Stafford's view of Col 1:19 and 2:9 (White, p. 207, note 39), Mr. Stafford says: "There is nothing in the context of these two texts that should make us think Paul is using the same word in relation to Christ with two different senses (Stafford, p. 155, note 79). White's point is that plêrôma tes theotikos (fullness of deity) defines plêrôma, whereas the other verses in which plêrôma appears, the fullness is not qualified by a genitive adjunct - and thus is undefined. While I understand Mr. White's point, I respectfully disagree with him (but per contra, in support of White's view, see Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, p. 69). As Mr. Stafford notes: "It is actually uncommon in reading through different commentaries and articles that discuss issues connected with 1:19 and 2:9 to find a scholar who tries to disconnect what is said in the two passages" (Stafford, p. 160).
10. Even J.D.G. Dunn, who argues against the pre-existence of God's Son in his Christology in the Making, sees the incarnation being virtually implicit in 1:19: "The object here is simply to claim that divine fullness is evident in Christ's ministry on earth, above all in his death and resurrection, and that that is another way of explaining his preeminence in all things (1:18). The thought is not yet of incarnation, but it is more than inspiration; rather it is of an inspiration (in Greek, "God-possessed" - entheos, enthousiasmos) so complete ("all the fullness") as to be merging into the idea of incarnation" (Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and To Philemon, A Commentary on the Greek Text, p. 102).
11. E.g., Harris (Colossians, p. 51); Matthew Henry (Concise Commentary); Peake (Colossians, Expositor's Greek Testament, p. 508); Bruce sees it as a reference to Christ's exaltation (The Epistles to the Colossians to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 72) as does MacArthur (Colossians & Philemon, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, p. 52) and The Bible Knowledge Commentary; H.C.G. Moule sees the immediate reference to the incarnation, but with implications for a timeless fullness (Colossians and Philemon Studies, p. 87).
Latter Day Saints
In support of the LDS view of a corporate "Godhead" comprised of three distinct Gods, Richard Hopkins offers the following comments on Colossians 2:9:
Objection: Mr. Hopkins argues as follows:
The word God in the New Testament comes from the Greek word theos, which designates an "object of worship." No Biblical text demands that this word refer to a singular Person or Being except when the word is used to identify a specific individual who bears that title. Thus, the Bible teaches that there are three entirely separate individuals who are so perfectly organized and aligned in will, purpose and thought that they may be referred to as "One." They constitute a single, universal authority over all things, a single "God."
The term "God," used of the Three collectively in this manner, is best rendered Godhead. That term is derived from Paul's writings. He referred to theios ("the godhead" or "that which is divine") in Acts 17:29, theiotes ("divinity") in Rom 1:20, and theotes ("Deity") in Col 2:9. The KJV translators wisely rendered all three of these words "Godhead," and thereby correctly captured the sense of composite unity comprised in the Bible's teaching about the oneness of God" (Hopkins, pp. 93-940, emphasis in original).
Response: Mr. Hopkins concludes that the Bible teaches a composite unity of the "Godhead" ("Thus the Bible teaches...") on the basis of an argument from silence ("No Biblical text demands..."). The fact that no Bible text may demand that theos refer to a single individual (which is itself a questionable assertion), this is not positive evidence that theos does, in fact, refer to the composite "Godhead," as Mr. Hopkins understands the term. While theos may refer to any of the members of the Trinity individually, it is questionable that any occurrence of theos in the New Testament refers to "the Trinity" in either the Trinitarian or LDS sense (1). To support his position, Mr. Hopkins would need to provide examples of theos in classic or Koine Greek in which it clearly refers to a collective of two or more gods. The standard Geek lexicons - both classical and Biblical - define theos as an individual God or god (2). As Stephen Broyles notes:
"By qeoV the Greeks always meant an individual god - as qeoV ZeuV - even if they were not always careful to have in mind any particular god" (3).
When Mr. Hopkins says that "Godhead" is the best definition of theios, theiotes, and theotes, (all meaning "divinity" or "deity," as Mr. Hopkins correctly notes in his parenthetical definitions), he commits what D.A. Carson has termed the fallacy of "Semantic Anachronism" (4). The word "Godhead" is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning "deity" or "Godhood" (5). The suffix -head (frequently spelled in middle English -hede or -hed) has been replaced in current English usage by -hood or -ness (e.g., "manhede" = "manhood;" "boldhede" = "boldness"). The older forms of these words slowly became obsolete, with the exception of Godhead (= "Godhood") and maidenhead (= "maidenhood"). The translators of the KJV were actually using the same term that had been used by Wycliffe, Tyndale, and other English Bibles for over 200 years. While the term "Godhead" came to be virtually synonymous with "the Trinity" (and so a "composite unity" in Mr. Hopkins' understanding of the term), it did not have this meaning for the KJV translators (let alone Wycliffe or Tyndale), and it is only in later creedal statements and confessions that it began to take on the meaning it has today. Mr. Hopkins has assumed the modern, technical definition of "Godhead," rather than the definition it had at the time the first English Bibles were translated. When the translators rendered Colossians 2:9 as "for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," they meant "all the fullness of the Deity" - the plenitude of the qualities or character of being God.
If we follow Mr. Hopkins exegesis to its logical conclusion, Jesus would have all the fullness of the three Gods of the LDS trinity in Him bodily - to paraphrase Joseph Smith: "a strange God anyhow" (6).
1. So Harris: "In the NT qeoV regularly refers to the Father alone and apparently never to the Trinity" (Jesus as God, p. 47 n112); and Rahner: "Nowhere in the New Testament is there to be found a text with ò qeoV which unquestionably to be referred to the Trinitarian God as a whole existing in three Persons. In by far the greater number of texts ò qeoV refers to the Father as a Person of the Trinity" (Theological Investigations, p. 143).
2. c.f., BAGD, Louw & Nida, Thayer, Moulton & Milligan, LSJ.
3. Broyles, "What Do We Mean by 'Godhead,'" Evangelical Quarterly, 50.4 , pp. 223-224.
4. "This fallacy occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature" (Carson, Fallacies, p. 33).
5. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "Godhead" as: "The character or quality of being God or a god; divine nature or essence; deity." For a thorough discussion of the term "Godhead," see Broyles (op. cit.).
6. Joseph Smith, "Sermon by the Prophet - the Christian Godhead - Plurality of Gods," History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 473-479).
Copyright © 2001-2005 by Robert Hommel. For an Answer Ministries (http://www.forananswer.org). All rights reserved.