Bible Translation and Study 

"The Fullness of the Divine Quality" in Colossians 2:9

The 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 κατοικει παν το πληρωμα της θεοτητος [theotetos, from theotes]  σωματικως


because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily


For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.


For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form


quia in ipso inhabitat omnis plenitudo divinitatis[1] [divinity] corporaliter


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


Defining Terms

The New 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: 

Friberg Lexicon[2]

θεότης, ητος η as an abstract noun for θεός (god); divinity, deity, Godhead, divine nature (CO 2.9)

UBS Lexicon

θεότης, ητος f deity, godhead 

Louw-Nida Lexicon

θεότης, ητος f ; θειότης, ητος f ; θειον, ου n: (derivatives of θεός 'God,' 12.1) the nature or state of being God - 'deity, divine nature, divine being.' θεότης: εν αυτω κατοικει παν το πληρωμα της θεοτητος σωματικως 'in him dwells all the fullness of divine nature in bodily form' Col 2.9

Liddell and Scott

θεότης, η (θεός) divinity, divine nature, Luc.


θεότης, ητος, η (deitas[3], 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.)


θεότης, ητος, η  

the 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.

To demonstrate this, 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 volume)

Merriam Webster


1. The quality of being God or a god; divine nature or essence; deity.

2. a. The Godhead, = GOD.

1 : divine nature or essence : DIVINITY
2 capitalized a : GOD 1 b : the nature of God especially as existing in three persons -- used with the


1. The estate or rank of a god; godhood; godship; esp. with poss. pron. b. the divine nature of God; Godhood; the Godhead.

2. concr. A divinity, a divine being, a god.

3. (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 : GOD 1, SUPREME BEING
2 :
a god or goddess <the deities of ancient Greece>
3 : one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful


1. The character or quality of being divine; divineness; divine nature; Deity, Godhead.

2. concr. A divine being; a god; a deity.

3. 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) : GODDESS

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.


Is "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.[4]  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.[5]

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)[6].  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[7] and the corresponding Hebrew term elohim is used of angels[8].  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 Lexicon comments that θεότης deity differs from θειότης divinity, as essence differs from quality or attribute". 

However, θεότης, like most nouns ending in -της, is an abstract noun.  Scholar Dan Wallace makes the following comment about abstract nouns:

Abstract 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.[9]

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:

1.     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.

2.     There was no reason why pagan Greeks should distinguish between theotes and theiotes.

3.     In the usage of the early Greek Church, the distinction between the two terms was unknown.


H. S. Nash also explains why this misunderstanding arose:

The chief fault in the exponents of the distinction between the terms is that they have taken little or almost no account of the long history of the terms. They have made no attempt to correlate them with the history of thought. They have not asked whether the system of the author in question called for the distinction, but, taking the terms as the isolated expressions of an isolated theorem, have picked up an example wherever it came their way. The only excuse for the hasty study of the larger context of the stock illustrations is the fact that the traditional view, having ruled interpretations for six centuries, has naturally fallen into the habit of taking itself for granted.

Further extracts of Nash's work have been posted on the B-Greek discussion list and can be viewed by clicking here.


The Context

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:


οτι εν αυτω ευδοκησεν παν το πληρωμα κατοικησαι, oti en auto eudokesen pan to pleroma katoikesai


For it pleased the Father[10] that in him [Christ] should all fulness dwell


For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him [Christ]


For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.[11]


because  [God][12]  saw good for all fullness to dwell in him [Christ]


Is 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:

The πληρωμα, or fullness, must refer here to the Divine nature dwelling in the man Christ Jesus.

Likewise, the Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown commentary on the same verse says:

all 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:

All 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)[13]

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? 

Stafford continues:


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'][14]


Summary of Evidence

Thus, Mark McFall's statement that the "Watchtower Society can do no more than present a Latin translation of the Greek original for their defense and assert that they have "a solid basis" for their own translation" is certainly misleading.  From our brief review of the evidence, we can draw the following conclusions:

(1) Theotes is an abstract noun derived from theos.  Just as theos has a range of meanings, so does theotes.

(2) Standard Greek lexicons define the Greek word theotes using words such as divinity, divine nature, deity and Godhead.

(3) The English words used in many translations also have a range of meaning that encompasses the qualities of Almighty God but also includes the qualities of 'a god'.

(4) The New World Translation rendering "divine quality" is entirely consistent with the definitions of theotes given in the lexicons.

(5)  The context of Colossians 2:9 also indicates that Christ has the fullness of divine quality because God chose to give it to him.


Ironically, nothing in the New World Translation's rendering of Colossians 2:9 contradicts the belief that Christ is Almighty God.  Whether you accept Jehovah's Witnesses' view of Christ or not, you can still believe that Christ is full of the "divine quality".  So why all the fuss?

What Trinitarians are really objecting to is the fact that the New World Translation deprives them of one of their favourite proof texts, and such texts are few and far between.  However, there is no point in trying to force onto a text a meaning that is simply not there, or to artificially restrict the meaning of a particular word to fit ones own concept of God. 

This is eisegesis, rather than exegesis - reading one's own ideas into the text, instead of letting the Bible speak, allowing it to be precise where it is precise and vague, where it is vague.  And sometimes the words and expressions used are unclear - to us.  Paul's readers already knew who Jesus Christ was before reading the letter to the Colossians.  They would not have had to think twice about it.  We, today, can have the same understanding of God's word by discarding the blinkers of creedal views of Christianity and letting the Bible speak for itself.  This includes the following statements in Colossians:

  • God [not just the Father] and Christ Jesus referred to as separate persons. (1:1)

  • Jesus' Father is God. (1:3)

  • Jesus is [not God but] the image of God (1:15)

  • Jesus is the firstborn of all creation (1:15)

  • Christ is seated at God's right hand (3:1)

  • We should thank God through Christ (3:17)

It is quite obvious to anyone examining the question without Trinitarian bias that Paul conceived of God as one person (not three) and of Christ as another, separate person. 

[1] Scholar H. S. Nash, referred to later in this article, says of the Vulgate's use of divinitas: "The Vulgate gives divinitas as the equivalent of θεότης in Col 2:9; and from Tertullian down to Aquinas it is always so quoted. If that fact stood alone, it might not have much weight. It could then be fairly urged that the earlier text of the Vulgate was the work of translators, who, knowing Greek only in the rough, slurred over a fine distinction, like that between θειότης and θεότης, and, furthermore, when once the Vulgate had intrenched itself in liturgical use and popular reverence, it was next to an impossibility to change it. The fact, however, that the Greeks themselves did not know the tradition, knocks the bottom out of that argument."

[2] Friberg's Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament (2000 edition).

[3] Note, however, that the Vulgate uses divinitas, not deitas, to translate theotes.

[4] For this discussion, we have assumed that the genitive here in the expression fullness of the Godhead / Deity / divinity is a genitive of content.  In other words, it indicates the quantity or amount of theotes that is present in Christ (namely, all of it).  While we are persuaded that this is the correct understanding, and our discussion has therefore focused on the meaning of theotes, it must be remembered that the genitive case in Greek has many different shades of meaning.  Since Colossians 1:19 says that Christ has plerotes (fullness) by God's own decision, it might well be possible for someone to construct a case for a genitive of source, i.e. "the fullness that comes from the Deity."

[5] Mark McFall, in his article, "An analysis of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Watchtower Society  - "Theotes" in Col 2:9 and "Theiotes" in Rom 1:20" acknowledges that: "some scholars accept theotes as meaning divinity which could convey the rendering 'divine quality'".

[6] In defining αδελφότης, adelphotes, Thayer's Lexicon states that this is an example of 'the abstract for the concrete'.

[7] The human judges of Israel are called "gods" in Psalm 82:1, 6.  Christ quoted this Psalm in John 10:24, 25, pointing out that even human judges were called "gods" (theoi), so it was not improper for him to call himself the "Son of God".


[8] Psalm 8:5 reads: "You have made him [man] only a little lower than the gods" (Bible in Basic English).  Other translations use "the angels" (KJV, Vulgate, LXX), "God" (ASV, RSV) or another expression such as "the godlike ones" (NWT) or "the heavenly beings" (NIV).  The Hebrew elohim could mean God or gods.   Hebrews 2:7 confirms that the reference here is to angels.  Therefore, the angels can be referred to as elohim, or gods, godlike ones.

[9] Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 226.

[10] The object of the verb "pleased" does not appear in the Greek.  So it does not actually state who was pleased to give Christ all fullness.  Albert Barnes comments on this verse: "The words “the Father” are not in the original, but they are not improperly supplied. Some word must be understood, and as the apostle in Col 1:12 referred to “the Father” as having a claim to the thanks of his people for what he had done, and as the great favor for which they ought to be thankful is that which he immediately specifies - the exaltation of Christ, it is not improper to suppose that this is the word to be understood here."

[11] Note, however, that the expression "full nature of God" does not appear in the original Greek and is a paraphrase.

[12] Parentheses as in original.

[13] These quotations are taken from the respective modules of the e-sword program.

[14] Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, Second Edition, pages 158-60.

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