"Divine Nature" or "Godhead"?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Mon Jun 21 07:39:38 EDT 1999

At 10:26 PM -0700 6/20/99, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>> Dear B-Greekers,
>> In Col. 2:9 the Greek word QEOTHTOS (please excuse me for the
>> transliteration if I am wrong, still trying to learn it, it is suppose to
>> be "theotetos"), could that be translated as "divine nature" instead of
>> "godhead"?

I'd like to approach this from a lexicographical angle rather than, as Clay
does, through examination of the commentaries. Perhaps this doesn't amount
to much, but I think that there's an issue being missed here.

Louw & Nida:
12.13 QEOTHS, HTOS f; QEIOTHS, HTOS f; QEION, OU n: (derivatives of QEOS
'God,' 12.1) the nature or state of being God - 'deity, divine nature,
divine being.'

theotês, êtos, hê, divinity, divine nature, Ep.Col.2.9, Plu.2.359d, Luc.
Icar.9, etc.; dia theotêta for religious reasons, Heliod.ap.Orib.50.7.1.

What bothers me about the traditional ways of understanding and conveying

is that a monotheistic--indeed, a traditional Judaeo-Christian assumption
about the meaning of "Deity" is taken for granted; I think one ought at
least to question it. I think that both L&N above and the very brief
definition of LJS cited from the Perseus site above are precisely right:

"deity" ought NOT, I think, to be categorized as a proper noun here, EVEN
if one holds monotheistic assumptions; -THS nouns in Greek, like -TAS nouns
in Latin, are abstracts based upon an adjective and refer to quality rather
than entity; thus QEOTHS should be understood to mean "what it is be be a
god" or "the quality of being a god." One may then go on, if one wishes,
and apply that in monotheistic terms, as "what it is to be God" or "the
quality of being God"--but it is still erroneous, in my opinion, to equate
this with QEOS or KURIOS in the sense of a name. We tend in English to use
the term "the Deity" as an equivalent of "God." I simply do not think that,
even with the article, hH QEOTHS is used like that in Greek. Consequently I
think that in Col 2:9 the meaning is rather that "in him dwells bodily the
entire fullness of 'what it is to be a god.'" One may then, if one chooses,
understand that monotheistically, but even so, I think, one ought to
realize that the Greek text is not talking about a divine person as a
divine person but about the quality of being a god.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/
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