New World Translation is often criticised for its rendering of
Colossians 2:9, shown below for comparison in a number of translations:
οτι εν αυτω
το πληρωμα της θεοτητος [theotetos,
from theotes] σωματικως
because it is in
him that all the fullness of the divine quality
For in him
dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead
For in Christ all
the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form
quia in ipso
inhabitat omnis plenitudo divinitatis
For it is in
Christ that the fulness of God's nature dwells
embodied, and in Him you are made complete
For in him all the
fullness of deity lives in bodily form
Testament was not written in English, of course, but in Koine Greek. Of decisive importance for us is the precise
meaning of the original Greek word used in the Bible. Let's look at the dictionary definitions of the Greek word θεότης,
theotes, used by Paul in Colossians 2:9:
ητος η as an abstract noun for θεός (god); divinity, deity, Godhead, divine nature (CO
ητος f deity, godhead
; θειον, ου n: (derivatives of θεός
'God,' 12.1) the nature or state of being God - 'deity, divine nature, divine
παν το πληρωμα
'in him dwells all the fullness of divine nature in bodily form' Col 2.9
Liddell and Scott
divinity, divine nature, Luc.
ητος, η (deitas,
Tertullian, Augustine (de 104: Dei 7, 1)), deity i. e. the state of being God, Godhead: Col. 2:9. (Lucian, Icar. 9; Plutarch, de defect. orac.
10, p. 415 c.)
state of being god, divine
character/nature, deity, divinity, used as
abstract noun for θεός
(Orig., C. Cels. 7, 25, 9): το πληρωμα
της θ. the fullness of deity Col 2:9 (s.
Nash s.v. θειότης).
Thus, lexicons give expressions such as: divinity, deity, godhead, divine
nature, divine being. But what do these expressions mean? An
examination of some English dictionaries reveals that the meanings of these
words is considerably broader than some Trinitarians would like them to be.
let's look at the English terms that various English Bibles use to translate
the Greek word θεότης, theotes in this verse:
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2
The quality of being God or a god; divine nature
or essence; deity.
a. The Godhead, = GOD.
1 : divine nature or essence :
2 capitalized a :
GOD 1 b : the nature of God
especially as existing in three persons -- used with the
The estate or rank of a god; godhood; godship;
esp. with poss. pron. b. the divine nature
of God; Godhood; the Godhead.
concr. A divinity, a divine being, a god.
(with capital.) A supreme being as creator of the universe; the Deity, the
Supreme Being, God.
1 a : the rank or essential nature of a god :
DIVINITY b capitalized :
2 : a god or goddess <the deities of ancient Greece>
3 : one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful
The character or quality
of being divine; divineness; divine nature; Deity, Godhead.
concr. A divine being; a god; a deity.
Divine quality, virtue, or power.
2 : the quality or state of being divine
3 often capitalized : a divine being: as a
GOD 1 b (1) :
GOD 2 (2) :
Straight away, two things should be apparent: Firstly, none of the above-mentioned words -
Godhead, deity, divinity - necessarily mean that Christ is Almighty
God. True, they could all be interpreted
to mean that. But, then again, they
can all be used to mean having the nature of a god rather than Almighty
God. Secondly, all of these terms refer
first and foremost to character, quality, state, nature and then, by
extension, to identity.
"Divine Quality" a satisfactory rendering of theotes?
To answer that question we need to consider, not only whether the English expression divine
quality means the same as theotes,
but also whether it is as specific as its Greek equivalent. This second point is important, because when
critics object to the rendering 'divine quality', it is usually not because
they deny that Christ is full of the divine quality. What they do object to is that, in their view, the rendering 'divine quality'
understates the meaning of theotes, in other words fails to show that Jesus is
completely God. So is
"divine quality" a correct translation for theotes?
A look at the above
lexicons shows beyond any doubt that it is.
BDAG uses the expression "divine character", which means
basically the same as "divine quality". "Divinity" - a term used by Friberg, Liddell and
Scott's Lexicon and BDAG, is defined by the Shorter Oxford as "the
character or quality of being divine". This, too, shows the legitimacy of the
rendering 'divine quality'. In fact, as
shown above, all three terms frequently used to translate θεοτης have dictionary definitions that include the
words 'divine' and 'quality' or one of its synonyms. Thus, although none of the above-cited lexicons use the precise
expression "divine quality", critics are splitting hairs when they reject the reading as inaccurate.
Does Θεότης, Theotes Refer Specifically to the Qualities or
Essence of Almighty God?
The word theotes, then, does not necessarily refer to Almighty
God. Even the other expressions used by
the above lexicons, Deity and Godhead do not necessarily refer to the
Creator. The Shorter Oxford uses the
expression "a god" in defining 'deity', 'godhead' and 'divinity'
In Greek, the suffix -της, -tes is frequently used to make an abstract noun
out of an adjective or out of a concrete noun.
Thus kainos (new) produces kainotes (newness), adelphos (brother)
produces adelphotes (brotherhood). This, -tes can be seen to be similar
in certain respects to
English suffixes such as -ship, -ness, or -hood.
As can be seen from the
above lexicons, theotes is derived from the word theos, which means 'God' or 'a god'. It therefore could mean what the Louw-Nida Lexicon says, "the nature or state of
being God", because theos can mean
God. But it could equally mean
"the nature or state of being a god". Just as theos has that
range of meaning, so must theotes. In
this sense, the expression "fulness of divine nature," suggested by Louw-Nida is
appropriate, because the English adjective divine, like the Greek noun
theos, can pertain to God or to a god. Thus, the ambiguity of the
original text is preserved.
Of course, critics do not
generally accept that theos in the New
Testament can be used of Christ without implying that he is Almighty God. They feel that the term refers either to the true God or to false
Gods, nothing in between. Thus, they
assert that the term theotes might well
be translated divinity
or godship in a pagan context, but that such an
interpretation would be out of place in the monotheism of the New Testament.
What critics fail to
realize is that theos is also used of others. God has
caused others to exist whom he permits to be referred to as "gods". These
include human judges
and the corresponding Hebrew term elohim is used of
angels. In the Bible, theos is unquestionably used on
occasion to refer to God's representatives, including God's foremost
representative, the Word.
It is this confusion that
makes it so difficult for many critics to accept the New World Translation rendering of John 1:1c, a
rendering which some mistakenly believe to promote polytheism or henotheism. And, of course, a failure to understand the
semantic range of the word theos leads to a
similar failure to understand that of theotes. Until you understand that theos can properly refer to God's representatives, you will
never understand that theotes could
legitimately be applied to their qualities.
Differences between θεότης, Theotes and θειότης, Theiotes
Some critics argue that if
Paul wanted to say Christ was full of the divine quality, he would have used
the word theiotes rather than theotes.
The word theiotes is derived from theios, meaning divine. Thus Thayer's
θεότης deity differs from θειότης divinity, as essence differs from quality or attribute".
θεότης, like most nouns ending in -της, is an abstract noun. Scholar Dan
Wallace makes the following comment about abstract nouns:
nouns by their very nature focus on a quality.
However, when such a noun is articular, that quality is "tightened
up," as it were, defined more closely, distinguished from other notions.
The function of nouns ending in -tes,
then, is to show a quality, just as
words ending in -ship, -ness, or -hood in English show quality, not
identity. Both theotes and theiotes
are abstract nouns and, as such, focus on qualities. Theotes focuses on the quality of that which is theos,
and theiotes focuses on the quality of that which is theios. Since theios, divine, basically means
pertaining to God or to a god, then it is unsurprising that lexicons give
similar definitions for theotes and theiotes, Liddell and Scott's
Lexicon, for instance, giving virtually identical definitions for both words.
The Greek word theiotes is used in Romans 1:20. The
New World Translation renders this word as 'godship'. Although most
lexicons prefer the rendering 'divinity' for theiotes, it should be noted
that the word 'godship' is defined by
Merriam Webster Unabridged Online Dictionary as "the rank, character or personality
of a god", thus making it very close in meaning to the terms divinity and
deity, as defined in the lexicons referred to above.
Historical Use of
θεότης and θειότης
The Bauer Danker Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon, referred to above, cites the work of Nash
in its definition of theotes. This lexicon, in its entry under θειοτης also has the following reference: HNash, θεότης
- θειότης Ro 1:20, Col 2:9: JBL 18, 1899,
1-34. It would therefore be instructive to look at
some of Nash's
conclusions from the article in Journal of Biblical Literature
that was cited by this highly respected lexicon.
Among Nash's conclusions are the following:
Paul was not using the terms to distinguish between God's being,
personality and nature on the one hand and his attributes on the other.
There was no reason why pagan Greeks should distinguish between theotes
In the usage of the early Greek Church, the distinction between the
two terms was unknown.
H. S. Nash also explains why this
The chief fault in the exponents of the distinction
terms is that they have taken little or almost no
account of the
long history of the terms. They have made no attempt
correlate them with the history of thought. They have
whether the system of the author in question called
distinction, but, taking the terms as the isolated
an isolated theorem, have picked up an example
came their way. The only excuse for the hasty study of
larger context of the stock illustrations is the fact
traditional view, having ruled interpretations for six
has naturally fallen into the habit of taking itself
Further extracts of Nash's work have
been posted on the B-Greek discussion list and can be viewed by clicking
It is also worth
examining the context of Colossians 2:9 and the use of the
word πληρωμα, pleroma, usually translated 'fulness'.
This word is significant because Paul uses it just a few verses earlier
in Colossians 1:19, which is presented from a number of translations below:
κατοικησαι, oti en auto eudokesen pan to pleroma katoikesai
For it pleased the
in him [Christ] should all fulness dwell
For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in
For it was by
God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.
because [God] saw good for all fullness to dwell in him
the "fullness" referred to in these verses the same
"fullness" mentioned in Colossians 2:9? Methodist commentator Adam Clarke believes so. Commenting on Colossians 1:19, he remarks:
or fullness, must refer here to the Divine nature dwelling in the man Christ
Likewise, the Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown commentary
on the same verse says:
fulness — rather as Greek, “all the fullness,”
namely, of God, whatever divine excellence is in God the Father (Col
2:9; Eph 3:19; compare Joh 1:16; Joh 3:34)
Scholar A. T. Robertson says:
the fulness (pan to pleroma). The same idea as in Col 2:9 pan to pleroma tes
theotetos (all the fulness of the Godhead). “A recognized technical term in
theology, denoting the totality of the Divine powers and attributes” (Lightfoot)
However, Colossians 1:19 presents a major problem for
Trinitarians. According to the above
translations, Christ has this fullness because "it pleased the
Father" (KJV) or "by God's own decision". Greg Stafford makes a very telling point here:
The Scriptures will not sustain the
view that Almighty God's powers and attributes are something contingent upon
the "will" or "decree" of another. Such is the case,
however, with the fullness belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ. God
"chose" (Goodspeed), "decided" (Beck), "willed"
(Moffatt) to have all His attributes
displayed in the person of His Son.
Stafford is right. If Christ were actually God, then he would
have all the fullness of deity of his own right, not because of a decision
taken by someone else. Of course,
regardless of whether we understand Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 to be talking about
the same thing, Colossians 1:19 presents great difficulties for
Trinitarians. Whatever the plerotes
mentioned in that verse is, how come Christ received it? And what was his position before receiving
it? How does that affect his supposed
equality with God?
However, 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.
This is likely because they do not see the problem involved in the use of eudokeo
[the verb translated 'to please']