Godhead - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


theiotes (G2305) Godhead
theotes (G2320) Divinity
Neither of these words occurs more than once in the New Testament; theiotes occurs only in Romans 1:20 (and once in the ApocryphaWisd. of Sol. 18:9), and theotes is found in Colossians 2:9. We have rendered both by "Godhead"; yet the words must not be regarded as identical in meaning or even as two different forms of the same word that have over time acquired different shades of significance. On the contrary, there is a real distinction between them that is grounded in their different derivations. Theotes comes from theos (G2316), and theiotes from the adjective theios (G2304).
In comparing the two passages, the appropriateness of using one word in one text and one in the other is apparent. In the first (Rom. 1:20), Paul is declaring how much of God may be known from his revelation in nature, from those vestiges of himself that men may everywhere trace in the world around them. Yet it is not the personal God whom any man may learn to know by these aids (God can be known only by the revelation of himself in his Son) but only his divine attributes, his majesty and glory. Paul uses this more abstract and less personal word precisely because he wishes to affirm that men may know God's power and majesty, his theia dynamis (G1411, divine power; 2 Pet. 1:3), from his works. But Paul would not imply that they may know God personally from anything short of the revelation of his eternal Word, Jesus Christ. Similar motives induce Paul to use to theion, rather than ho theos, in addressing the Athenians on Mars' Hill (Acts 17:29).
In the second passage (Col. 2:9), Paul is declaring that all the fullness of absolute Godhead dwells in the Son. No mere rays of divine glory gilded him, lighting up his person for a season and with a splendor not his own; but he was and is absolute and perfect God. The apostle uses theotes to express this essential and personal Godhead of the Son. Thus according to Augustine, in this verse theotes refers to "the being of him who is God." And Beza rightly states: "He does not say 'ten theioteta, 'that is, 'divinity,' but 'ten theoteta, 'that is, 'deity,' in order to speak even more distinctly.... He theiotes seems to signify attributes more than his very nature." And Bengel says that theotes refers "not only [to] divine virtues but [to] divine nature itself." De Wette has sought to express this distinction in his German translation, rendering theiotes by divinity (Göttlichkeit) and theotes by deity (Gottheit).
There have been those who have denied that any such distinction was intended by Paul. Such persons base their denial on the assumption that it is not possible to satisfactorily prove that there is an important difference of meaning between the two words. But even supposing that such a difference could not be shown in classical Greek, this of itself would not be decisive. The gospel of Christ might give words new shades of meaning and evolve latent distinctions, which those who previously employed the words may not have required but that had now become necessary. The distinction between deity (theotes) and divinity (theiotes) is one that would be strongly felt and expressed in Christian theology. Hence Latin Christian writers were not satisfied with divinitas which they found in the writings of Cicero and others and which they sometimes used. Instead, they coined deitas as the only adequate Latin representative of the Greek theotes. We have Augustine's express testimony to this fact: "This divinity or, as I might say, deityfor we are no longer reluctant to use this word to translate from Greek more clearly what they call theoteta [deity]." In addition to this statement and the different etymologies of the words, various examples support this distinction. Both theotes and theiotes, as is generally true of abstract words in every language, are of late introduction; and one of them, theotes, is extremely rare. Indeed, only two examples of it from classical Greek are knownone from Lucian (Icaromenippus 9), the other from Plutarch.

Thus from human beings to heroes and from heroes to demons the superior souls assume change. Of demons few, having been wholly purified through virtue over a long period of time, have partaken of deity.
To these a third example, also from Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride 22), may be added. In all of these examples, theotes expresses (in agreement with my view) Godhead in the absolute sense, or at all events in as absolute a sense as the pagan could conceive it. Theiotes is a much more frequent word, and its usage everywhere supports this distinction. It always shows a manifestation of the divine or of some divine attributes but never absolute, essential deity. Thus Lucian attributes theiotes to Hephaestion, when after his death Alexander would have raised him to the rank of a god. Plutarch speaks of the "divinity [theiotes] of the soul."
In conclusion, whether this distinction was intended (as I am fully convinced that it was) by Paul or not, it established itself firmly in the later theological language of the church. The Greek fathers never used theiotes but always theotes as the only word to adequately express the essential Godhead of the three separate persons in the Holy Trinity.

Trench's New Testament Synonyms Topics