Re: QEOTHS-Col. 2:9

From: Al Kidd (akidd@InfoAve.Net)
Date: Wed Sep 15 1999 - 05:43:48 EDT

Tony Costa wrote for Biblical Greek Digest for Monday, September 13, 1999.


Subject: QEOTHS-Col 2:9
From: "Tony Costa" <>
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 10:18:01 PDT
X-Message-Number: 5

Dear Friends,

  In Col 2:9 the word QEOTHS is used, and is usually translated "Deity" or
"Godhead". Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines it as "Godhead, the state
of being God". I believe this word only appears in this text in all the GNT.
Thayer comments that this word is different than QEIOTHS (Acts 17:29; Rom
1:20) which is usually translated as "Divinity". Does anyone know where in
other Greek literature contemporaneous or prior to the writing of Colossians
this word is used outside the GNT? Many thanks.

                                   Tony Costa, B.A.
                                   Univ. of Toronto


H.S. Nash (see below) points out that when there had come significant religious revival among the heathen in the second century so that even the philosophers became devout, then there was added impetus for men to make QEOS and its derivative QEOTHS to prevail over the colder, more abstract and philosophical QEIOS and its derivative QEIOTHS. Nash explains the phenomenon on the basis that QEOTHS had a warmer, emotional intimation. We cannot help but construe Nash to mean that QEOTHS actually was more the term for warming a man to a religious rapport with, a zealous emulation of, a deity's divine attributes than was ever the case for QEIOTHS, although, as Nash holds, both terms primarily signified divine attributes.

I feel that Nash's argument has far more going for it than Blass-Debrunner-Funk's (BDF's), for we see that his interpretation so admirably fits the context of the apostle's letter to the Colossians. How is that true? Well, we see right after Paul's use of QEOTHS in Col 2:9 a reference to the fact that such fullness that the Christ has is the basis for believers to enjoy a relationship with Christ under his governance, this so that his disciples also possess the fullness of a godly (nonfleshly) way of life (Col 2:10-15). QEOTHS has invoked in Paul a palmary view of his Lord's attributes for emulation!

In Col 2:9 we have reference to (Christ's) divine attributes. The divine attributes of the Creator as Creator are in focus in Ro 1:20; however, in Col 2:9 we have another reference to divine attributes, Christ Jesus'. At Ro. 1:20 we see (God's) attributes reflected in the wonders of creation--a subject that may be approached in a rather philosophical frame of mind, one that heavily depends on verbal precision in our presenting logical analogies for argumentation designed to persuade unbelievers that there is a personal Creator who is Universal Sovereign. (Compare Acts 17:22-31, especially use of QEION in v. 29.) But does not Paul make the matter of Jesus' attributes a thing we make proof of through our having come to an appreciation of the comfort and all the (spiritual) riches that belong to the unified fellowship of those knowing Christ? (See Col. 2:2.)

Actually, I am expressing what I find to be the implications of an argument made decades ago by Professor Nash. He argues that, as respects Col. 2:9, we should find that Paul purposefully selected QEOTHS over QEIOTHS because QEOTHS in his time had a history of contextual associations that, so to speak, put a face on the possessor of the divine attributes. In view of the context for Col. 2:9, QEIOTHS, being a word more philosophically austere than was so for the warmer QEOTHS, was passed over: QEOTHS was used instead.
H. S. Nash, "QEIOTHS--QEOTES, Rom. i. 20; Col. ii. 9," Journal of Biblical Literature (1899) 1-34. The following quotes of Nash's monograph build a case that we find to be a superior etymology and philology of the salients when once we have compared it against the etymology and philological implications for the salients in BDF. While I favor Nash's arguments, I should think that even if BDF is correct, still I am not required to abandon the conclusions I reviewed above for Paul's meaning at Col 2:9. This is so because Nash and B-D-F are that close in their respective argumentations for a sameness of semantic content for the salients.

Nash (pages 4, 5) concludes that nothing from Hellenistic Judaism influenced Paul in the matters at hand:

The final question for Philo does not deal with God's two ways of making himself known to the mass of men in this world; for God cannot make himself known as He is. It rather concerns the way in which the elect man, transcending at the same time all forms of positive religion and all forms of philosophical thought, swoons out of this world altogether.... [T]he rabbi in Paul was not at all likely to distinguish between the Being or Personality or Nature of God on the one side, and His attributes or majesty or glory on the other.

Nash (pages 10-12) concludes that the heathen philosophers knew nothing of the distinction in their uses of the salients:

At the outset, it may be said, without fear of contradiction, that there is a strong antecedent probability against the supposition that the distinction grew upon heathen ground. The thought and theology of heathendom made no demand for it.... There was nothing in the established religion to encourage any austere use of the term touching the Deity. Neither was there anything in the nature of deep Hellenic thinking to develop a clear distinction between God as He is and God as He is in the world.... [E.g., in Plutarch we find in one particular context a reference to some particular deities where t]he rank of the deities in question, at the highest, is not above that of a demi-god, yet QEOTHS is the term used . . . [and in another context he can make] it clear that the QEIOTHS refers to the deity as an abstract total.

Nash (page 19) concludes the following concerning whether or not early Christian writers knew of the much-touted distinction that we see in the modern commentators' treatment of the terms:

The evidence so far has been sufficient to show that the exegesis of the Greek Patristic period is either totally silent upon the point in question or is directly counter to the tradition [as we have since come to see it in modern commentators].

Nash (page 19) knows that Gregory of Nyssa began to separate the unity in the theological and philosophical reflections upon Deity, yet he did not use QEOTHS as pertinent to just that bifurcation for a higher kind of thinking about God as opposed to that symbolized by QEIOTHS.

Nash (pages 25-6) concludes the following concerning his study of a history of the words themselves as men used them from the second century down:

It is, then, plain that in the usage of the Greek Church . . . the traditional distinc- tion between QEOTHS and QEIOTHS was unknown.... If the two terms had ever divided the field of theological statement and definition between them, it would not have been possible for one of them [(QEOTHS )] to practically drive the other [(colder, less emotion-arousing QEIOTHS )] out of use. The fact that this happened plainly suggests the conclusion that the two terms covered a common field, that they fought for existence, and QEOTHS triumphed.

Nash (page 33-4) concludes that it was not until rationalism threatened the Church's tradition for arbiting theological truths that the Church created its concept for making an unbridgeable gulf between natural theology and revealed theology. It called for a radical reinterpretation for the text at Ro 1:20, which Thomas Aquinas gave when he made the distinction between divinity and deity.

Ibid., 29. Nash provides the following relevant to the Vulgate's uses of divinitas at Ro 1:20 and Col 2:9:

The Vulgate gives divinitas as the equivalent of QEOTHS 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 QEIOTHS and QEOTHS, 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. We are now dealing with the history of an error. Therefore, the fact that divinitas stood in the text from of Col 2:9 from the earliest days, is a fact that has weight in the history of the terms divinitas and deitas. The inference it suggests is that, in the early centuries of Latin Christianity, the Latins had one word, divinitas, in a field where the Greeks had QEIOTHS and QEOTHS . This is confirmed by the history of deitas....

Nash points out that Latin theologians introduced a number of Greek terms as well as introducing translation of a Greek word by various synonyms--
and the fittest translation survived.... It was work of this kind--work like that of students in the theological school . . . aiming at an almost slavishly literal translation---that introduced deitas into the Latin, as the equivalent of QEOTHS . . . Augustine nowhere indicates that he himself would make any dogmatic distinction between the two words [divinitas and deitas].

Ibid., 33-4 gives us this:

From the days of Origen Rom 1:20, the text with its context, had locus classicus for comments upon the connection between Nature and God. . . . When, therefore, the Church had taken a turn of thought so [anti rationalistically (to theology)] momentous, of necessity a new line of interpretation [for Ro 1:20] had to be marked out. A resistless dogmatic need entailed it. Thomas Aquinas gives the traditional exegesis of Rom 1:20 with perfect precision: . . . potius dixit divinitatem, quae participationem significat, quam deitatem, quae significat essentiam Dei. Whether he was the first to interpret the verse in this fashion I cannot say. But that the [traditional] interpretation[, which holds to a distinction between the salients at Ro 1:20 and Col 2:9,] came to the light after the middle of the twelfth century I take to be nearly certain.

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