THEOTETOS: MEANING AT COLOSSIANS 2:9
There really are no translational difficulties presented by Colossians 2:9. There are no textual variants to worry about, and the meanings of the various words are pretty clear. However, two of the words, theotetos and somatikos do need further elaboration.
The Greek of the passage reads as follows:
hoti en auto katoikei pan to pleroma tes theotetos somatikos,
The clause opens with the idea of purpose, hoti, forming the basis of Paul’s warning in verse 8. The rest of the phrase is so very expressive in the Greek language that a brief look at it is certainly in order.
The first consideration has to do with the phrase en auto katoikei. “In Him is dwelling” is the literal translation. The verb, katoikei, is in the present indicative active third person singular. One can easily see a gnomic present, but a regular descriptive present is also quite possible. If one were to take this as a regular present, Paul would be referring to the glorified resurrection body of the Lord Jesus as the place of residence of the “fullness of Deity.”This seems the best sense in light of the context of a polemic against gnosticism.
Katoikei is itself descriptive in meaning. Kenneth Wuest wrote:
The compound verb used of the permanent residents of a town as compared with the transient community. The verb is in the present tense, showing durative action. The translation reads: “Because in Him there is continuously and permanently at home all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily fashion.”1
Hence, the fact of the indwelling of Deity in Christ is not as an alien presence, but as an inhabitant in his own home.
The phrase pan to pleroma has already been discussed in the text of this work. Its significance in combating gnosticism is of great importance in understanding this passage.
Tes theotetos truly is the central word of this verse. The meaning as rendered by the New American Standard Bible seems to be the best: Deity. Most would be familiar with the King James rendering, “Godhead,” though the meaning of this word is more obscure than that of “Deity.”
The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker lexicon renders the word “deity, divinity, used as an abstract noun for theos.”2 Thayer’s lexicon says, “deity, i.e. the state of being God, Godhead: Colossians 2:9.” Thayer is here giving us Grimm’s words. However, he then goes on to provide some important information on his own, ”[SYN. theotes, theiotes: theot. deity differs from theiot. divinity, as essence differs from quality or attribute;”]3 This bit of information is vital. The word under consideration here, theotes, is not the same word as is found at Romans 1:20, theiotes. This difference is striking and purposeful. One cannot translate theotes as a simple quality or attribute – it refers instead to the actual essence of deity, not simply to its attributes. The most extensive passage on this important idea is found in Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament:
…yet they (theiotes and theotes) must not be regarded as identical in meaning, nor even as two different forms of the same word, which in process of time have separated off from one another, and acquired different shades of significance. On the contrary, there is a real distinction between them, and one which grounds itself on their different derivations; theotes being from theos, and theiotes, not from to theion, which is nearly though not quite equivalent to theos, but from the adjective theios…But in the second passage (Colossians 2:9) St. Paul is declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory which gilded Him, lighting up his person for a season and with a splendour not his own; but He was, and is, absolute and perfect God; and the Apostle “uses theotes to express this essential and personal Godhead of the Son;…4
The reader is encouraged to read all of Trench’s presentation.
Kenneth Wuest expanded on this idea in discussing the significance of theotes at Colossians 2:9:
The Greek is very strong here. One could translate, “For in Him corporeally there is permanently at home all the fulness of the Godhead.” That is, in our Lord Jesus in His incarnation and in the permanent possession of His human body now glorified, there resides by nature and permanently the fullness of the Godhead. The word “Godhead” is from our second word theotes. The word expresses Godhead in the absolute sense. It is not merely divine attributes that are in mind now, but the possession of the essence of deity in an absolute sense. The Greek Fathers never use theiotes but always theotes as alone adequately expressing the essential Godhead of the three several Persons in the Holy Trinity. The Latin Christian writers were not satisfied with divinitas which was in common use, but coined the word deitas as the only adequate representative of the Greek word theotes.5
The concept here put forth is striking. It is impossible to conceive of a higher view of Christ. This statement, however, is not inconsistent with Paul’s overall theology. Benjamin B. Warfield, while discussing Paul’s conception of Christ, wrote:
…we are told not only that (naturally) in Him all the fullness dwells (Colossians 1:19), but, with complete
explication, that “all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily” (Colossians 2:9); that is to say, the very Deity of God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness, has its permanent home in Our Lord, and that in a “bodily fashion,” that is, it is in Him clothed with a body. He who looks upon Jesus Christ sees, no doubt, a body and a man; but as he sees the man clothed with the body, so he sees God Himself, in all the fullness of His Deity, clothed with the humanity.6
There is little need to further elaborate on the obvious meaning of theotetos. Let it suffice to say that such scholars as Alford,7 Nicoll,8 and A. T. Robertson9 all view it in similar manner. Even a cursory glance at how some of the major translations render the word bear this out:
RSV: For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily…
NIV: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…
NEB: For it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied…
Barclay: For it is in Christ that godhead in all its completeness dwells in bodily form.
Amplified: For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead), continues to dwell in bodily form – giving complete expression of the divine nature.
What does all of this relate to us today? Can Paul’s attack on an ancient heresy called gnosticism have any relevance now? It certainly can, and it most assuredly does! Most of the modern heresies find their roots in the Church’s ancient foes (“So, there is nothing new under the sun.” Eccl. 1:9). Arianism and gnosticism is still rampant today. Paul’s sharp words in laying down the standard by which to test all teaching must be clung to with never weakening resolve today as never before! Does a certain group or teacher admit and proclaim that all the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ Jesus bodily? If they do not, they are placed by Paul right alongside “philosophy and empty deception.”10 This passage continues to speak today, and it will throughout eternity. May it shed its bright light on the Church until Jesus comes again!
To aid the reader in understanding some of the above material, the following definitions have been derived from Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics.
Gnomic Present: The gnomic present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact. It does not say that something is happening, but that something does happen.
Descriptive (progressive) Present: The descriptive present tense may be used to describe a scene in progress, indicating an event currently in progress.