(From the RDB Files)
Col. 2:9 - "For in him [Jesus] the whole fulness [Gr. pleroma] of deity [theotes] dwells bodily" - RSV.
The word theotes appears only this once in the entire New Testament [NT] (and never in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament [OT]). It has been rendered in various trinitarian translations as follows: "Godhead" - KJV, ASV, NEB, REB, MLB; "deity" - RSV, NASB, NRSV, NIV, NAB, CBW, Mo, By; "divinity" - JB, NJB. It should be remembered also that "Godhead" as found in the older English Bibles (such as KJV) had a different meaning than it has come to have in modern English. "In older English ['Godhead'] was a synonym for divinity" - p. 221, Vol. 2, A Dictionary of the Bible, Hastings, 1988 printing; and p. 362, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott, Oxford University Press, 1994 printing.
Theotes simply does not literally mean "godhead," and the use of "godhead" by the KJV translators was not intended as some would understand it today. Actually, the heavenly Father, alone, is the closest thing to a literal "Godhead" to be found anywhere in the inspired Scriptures - see 1 Cor. 11:3.
Col. 2:9 is also rendered by noted trinitarian scholars with these translations of theotes: "The full content of divine nature" - TEV and GNB (also see Barclay); "God's whole being" - Beck (NT); "God's nature" - AT; "Yet it is in [Christ] that God gives a full and complete expression of himself (within the physical limits that he set himself in Christ)." - Phillips; "In him resides all the fulfillment of the divine" - Lattimore.
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The trinitarian argument that Col. 2:9 proves that Jesus is God overlooks the common understanding of "fulness of ..." and "filled with ..." by those who used those common phrases in New Testament times. For example, the person who became "filled with Holy Spirit" (Eph. 5:18) was greatly influenced by that spirit, but he certainly did not become the Holy Spirit.
And having "the fulness" of someone or something could similarly mean being greatly influenced by that person or thing. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says:
"Just as a person can be full of pain, joy, love, and virtue, he can also be said to be filled with God ..., i.e. possessed and inspired by God." - Vol. 1, p. 734.
Surely we wouldn't expect anyone who is "filled with" God or who receives the "fulness of" God to actually be God! Nor would we expect anyone who has the "fulness of" Christ to actually be Christ! In fact it clearly shows that he is NOT the person with whom he is "filled"!
So, when we read Eph. 1:22, 23 - "the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all" - we do not think that all real Christians are actually Christ. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (1977) tells us in a footnote for this scripture:
"the Church, as the fulness of Christ, is the complement of his mystic [figurative] person; he is the head, the Church is his body."
The noted trinitarian NT Greek scholar, W. E. Vine, explains:
"Fill, Fill Up": "... (a) of the members of the Church, the Body of Christ, as filled by Him", Eph. 1:23 (`all things in all the members'); ... in 3:19, of their being filled ... `with' all the fulness of God; of their being 'made full' in Him, Col. 2:10." - p. 426, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
Yes, at Eph. 3:19 we actually see Paul expressing the thought "that you [Ephesian Christians] may be filled with all the fulness of God" - RSV. And at Eph. 4:13 we find - "until we all attain ... to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" - RSV
Even the trinitarian reference work, the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, commenting about the word "fullness" at Col. 2:9 ("In his [Jesus'] body lives the fullness of divinity" - JB), tells us:
"this fullness which is described in Col. 1:15-18 is entirely related to Christ's cross (v. 20), death (v. 22), and resurrection (v. 18). For this reason believers also have this fullness in him (2:10)." - Vol. 1, p. 740, Zondervan, 1986. - See AT, CBW, NAB (especially 1991 ed.).
"Outside the NT the word occurs in Ignatius in a sense which is clearly influenced by the NT, and apparently in the meaning of the Divine fulness, as going forth and blessing and residing ["dwelling"] in the Church [the congregation]" - p. 1, Vol. 4, A Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, ed., Hendrickson Publ., 1988.
For exactly the same reasons that we don't allow such figurative language to persuade us that all true Christians actually are (or may become) God or Christ, we should not let it persuade us that Christ is actually God!
The Bible tells us how essential to eternal life it is to know God and Jesus (John 17:3 and 2 Thess. 1:8, 9). Therefore, if one "knows" Jesus as God and "knows" God as three (or two) persons and such "knowledge" turns out to be false, then he is certainly not on the road to eternal life!
And as we saw above, if Christians can be "filled with" God and receive the "fulness of" God, we know by this very wording that they are not God! And we know that those Christians who had the "fulness of" Christ could not actually be Christ! The very wording itself shows that someone else is "filling" (or influencing) the person who is being "filled" (influenced). In fact it clearly shows that he CANNOT be the person (or thing) with whom he is "filled"!
Therefore, those Christians who are "filled with" or have the "fulness" of God are not God! Those Christians who are "filled with" or have the "fulness" of Christ are not Christ! Those men and women who are "filled with" or have the "fulness" of the Holy Spirit are not the Holy Spirit!! And even if we interpret Col. 2:9 as meaning that Christ has the fullness of "Godhood" in him, it still cannot mean Christ is God!!
1. What about things and persons "dwelling" in us? Does this mean we are those things or persons? Of course not! Compare "dwell" at Ro. 7:20 (sin `dwells' in people); 8:9,11 (holy spirit `dwells' in us); 1 Cor. 3:16 (holy spirit "dwelling" in Christians); Eph. 3:17 (Christ "dwells" in our hearts); 2 Tim. 1:5 (faith "dwelt" in her); 2 Pet. 3:13 (righteousness "dwells"). Actually, the word "dwell" shows we cannot be those things or persons who "dwell" in us!
It is similar to the term "image of ...." If someone is the image of something or someone else, then he cannot be that person or thing. For example, men being the image of God (Gen. 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:7; 2 Cor. 3:18) proves, in itself, that none of them actually is God! No one and no thing actually are their own images! Therefore, when scripture tells us that the resurrected, heaven-dwelling Jesus Christ is "the image of God," it is certain that he is not God! - 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15. [Also "reflection" or "refulgence" in Heb. 1:3, RSV, NRSV, NJB, AT, MLB, GNB, CBW, NAB (`70), NAB (`91).]
2. "Divinity" is a word with various meanings and levels of meanings: "divinity ... 1. a being divine 2. a god 3. theology - the Divinity: God." - Webster's New World Dictionary, 1973.
3. "Godhead" has various meanings in modern English besides that of "the nature of God esp. when regarded as triune". In Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary (Unabridged) the #1 definition is "1: the quality or state of being divine" - 1962 ed. And the derivation of the word "godhead" shows that it originally meant "godhood" not "godhead": "fr[om] god + -hed, -hede - hood (akin to ME -hod, -had - hood)" - Webster's 3rd New Int.
"divine ... 1a: of or relating to God: proceeding from God ... b: of or relating to a god: having the nature of a god .... 2a: devoted or addressed to God: religious, holy, sacred ... 3a: Supremely good or admirable ... b: having a sublime or inspired character" - Webst. 3rd New Int.
4. Even in modern English idiom we say things like: "He is full of the Devil." But we don't intend to say he literally is the Devil or even equal to the Devil in the fullest sense. We merely mean that he may, in some respects, show certain "devil-like" or "devil-influenced" qualities! (Cf. Jn 6:70 and Mark 8:33 footnotes in NIVSB.)