Saturday, April 08, 2017

Colossians 2:9-"dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead"

Colossians 2:9

"for in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (ASV)

Does Col. 2:9 teach that a metaphysical, consubstantial relationship exists between the Son of God and his Father? What does Col. 2:9 signify when it professes that in Christ "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily"?

For starters, it is beneficial to understand what is meant by "dwelleth." The Greek word rendered "dwelleth" is KATOIKEI (Form of KATAOIKEO). This term finds its etymological roots in two Greek words, namely, KATA (down) and OIKEO (to dwell). Thus KATAOIKEO refers to a "certain fixed" or "durable dwelling" (Cf. Matt. 2:23; 4:13; Luke 13:4; Acts 1:19) per its etymology. At Matt. 23:21, Jesus relates how God metaphorically "dwelt" (Emphatic Diaglott) in the first-century temple of Jerusalem. And in Col. 1:19, Paul writes that Christ was vested with "all fullness [PLHRWMA]" by the will of Almighty God (Jehovah). This PLHRWMA dwelled in Christ, owing to the "good pleasure" of God.

While reviewing these points, it is also beneficial to pose some appropriate questions. What does the word "dwelleth" imply? Exactly when did the PLHRWMA of the Godhead [THEOTHTOS] "dwelleth" in Christ? Was Paul referring to the pre-existent Christ, or did he have in mind the relatively brief period of Christ's "enfleshment"? Conversely, could Col. 2:9 be referring to the time during which Colossians was written (i.e., when Paul discussed the PLHRWMA TES THEOTHTOS SOMATIKOS)? In other words, was Paul referencing Christ's present condition in the first-century when he professed that all fullness "dwelleth" in Christ "bodily"? Are there other possible answers to this question?

To potentially supply further enlightenment on this subject, let us analyze Col. 2:9 more closely. As mentioned, the Greek word rendered "dwelleth" is KATOIKEI. This Greek signifier can be used to denote a future event; this point is evident from 2 Peter 3:13. Peter therein prophesies, under the influence of holy spirit, that "righteousness" will "dwelleth" in the new heavens and new earth. KATOIKEI there appears in the present indicative active form. The present indicative active generally asserts that something is occurring at the moment wherein the speaker is making a statement. An example of this phenomenon is Matt. 7:17: PAN DENDRON AGATHON KARPOUS KALOUS POIEI--"Every good tree bears good fruit." But how can 2 Pet. 3:13 speak of future events while employing KATOIKEI in the present indicative active? One must not automatically infer that an event is past, present, or future, based solely on a verb's morphology. Moreover, KATOIKEO is sometimes used transitively, intransitively or metaphorically. Context and other factors must be taken into consideration before determining the actual significance of the imperfective aspect here, manifested by virtue of the present form.

2 Pet. 3:13 conscripts the present indicative active to describe conditions that will prevail in Jehovah's new heavens and new earth. Woodenly rendered, KATOIKEI in 2 Pet. 3:13 could be translated as "is dwelling" (KIT). Read from this perspective, Peter would be making a claim about the righteousness, which will come to fruition in God's new order--a system of things where justice will predominate. The point being made is that the present indicative active is employed at 2 Pet. 3:13 to denote an activity that is yet future. My treatment of 2 Pet. 3:13 is strictly grammatical in this case: it is not theological or doctrinal per se. This brings us back to the question of what "dwelleth" potentially denotes in Col. 2:9? Was Paul saying that Christ presently enjoyed the fullness of deity bodily or physically, while in heaven?

In order to unravel this mystery, it requires that we peer deeper into the Greek word KATAOIKEO (KATOIKEI). To help us in this regard, let us notice what scholars have observed concerning Col. 2:9, where we read that God saw good for all fullness to dwell in Christ.

Most scholars likely consider KATOIKEI (Col. 2:9) as proof that Christ was still human at the time Paul was writing, and many believe the Son maintains his human nature today. Matthew Poole's Commentary asserts that the Godhead now dwelleth in Christ by means of the hypostatic union (two natures in one person). Meyer's NT Commentary states: κατοικεῖ] The present, for it is the exalted Christ, in the state of His heavenly δόξα, that is in view.

However, see the Expositor's Greek Testament for the possible significance of the present tense.

Vincent argues that the "bodily" language of Col. 2:9 applies to the incarnate Christ, not to the Lord in his preexistence. As for how the Godhead supposedly dwells in him, "The indwelling of the divine fullness in Him is characteristic of Him as Christ, from all ages and to all ages?" That is to say, the fullness of deity purportedly dwelleth in him from eternity past to eternity future, as it were.


Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

I don't claim to "know" what Col. 2:9 means precisely, but I've long felt that the reference to God's "dwelling" in the temple may give us the most important clue. I've asked a number of Trinitarians the following question, and so far no one has offered an answer:

If God can "dwell" on a mountain or in a Temple yet the mountain and temple aren't ontologically divine, then why couldn't He dwell in a man or a spirit being yet the man or spirit being not be ontologically divine?

Granted, Paul didn't say that "QEOS" dwells in Christ, but is it possible that Paul was nevertheless thinking in 'image' categories at 2:9? In other words, God can dwell on a mountain or in a temple, but those locations can't "image" Him. However, God can cause his characteristics (love, power, wisdom, etc.) to dwell in a person thereby allowing that person "image" him perfectly.

I personally doubt that this verse is affirming the "deity" of Christ, and I suspect that those who choose to see such later ideas in the text are doing so precisely because their theological presuppositions are the very context or 'grid' within which they interpret all such sayings.


Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kaz,

That seems like a good/plausible connection between the divine quality/divinity indwelling Christ bodily and God dwelling in the temple. There are lots of things that could be fleshed out here, for example how did God dwell in the temple or how does Jehovah dwell in the Christian temple (the congregation)? But I think it's hard for Trinitarians to deny that God dwelt in the ancient temple without that structure being ontologically divine, as you say. One point for consideration is that col. 2:9 seems to be about deity/divinity itself indwelling Christ, not God himself per se. So I agree with you that the qualities are said to dwell in Christ.

Edgar Foster said...

From Solomon Landers, back in the day:

Actually, the noun at Col. 2:9 is QEOTHS (feminine), an abstract noun
for QEOS, and QEOTHTOS is the genitive singular feminine construct as
used in the sentence: "fullness OF THE divinity/divine quality, etc.
"Godhead" is a funny-looking word in English, since it really means
"God-hood," not God's "head." And, of coures [sic], God-hood is just
another way of saying "divinity."

Many current scholars find no textual difference in meaning between
QEOTHS and QEIOTES (divinity). See The Anchor Bible: Colossians, by
Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke (Doubleday, 1994), pp. 312 and 363;
also volume 3 of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by
Kittel, page 119.

"Abstract nouns by their very nature focus on a quality." (Wallace,
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 226. The NWT thus translates:
"Because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality
[QEOTHTOS] dwells bodily." Or, as a note in Kittel reads, "The hEIS
QEOS [One God] of the OT has attracted to Himself all divine power in
the cosmos, and on the early Christian view He has given this
fullness of power to Christ as the Bearer of the divine office."

Solomon Landers