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Bible Q

What are the meanings of the words “divine” and “divinity”?

This is a fairly straightforward question. In any language there will be a word which describes “god-ness” or “being like God/a god”. In English we distinguish:

a : of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god <divine love>
b : being a deity <the divine Savior>
c : directed to a deity <divine worship>

the quality or state of being divine

the rank or essential nature of a god
(Merriam Webster dictionary)

Use in English Bibles

1. To be like God. The three “divine” verses Acts 17:29, 2 Peter 1:3, 2 Peter 1:4 are self-explanatory. There is nothing too surprising that believers should “partake in the divine nature” since there are several verses which talk of both Christ and (eventually) believers being like God in one aspect or another. Though no verse says that either Christ or (less so) believers will be like God in every aspect.

2. Of the fullness of deity dwelling in Christ. Colossians 2:9 is the nearest that the Bible comes to equating Christ with deity. Except that it does not say Christ “is” deity or “has” deity, Paul only says that the fullness of [God’s] deity dwells in Christ, and then in Col.2:10, Paul continues to say “and you are full in him [Christ].” So the “fullness” is God in Christ, just as the “Spirit of God” dwells in believers in Christ (Rom.8:9).

It is also worth noting that the idea of “dwell in” in Bible language is less concrete than the expression sounds in English:

2 Co.6:16 “I will dwell among [Greek “in”] them, and walk among [Greek “in”] them”

Evidently “the fullness of the deity dwells in Chirst, and you are full in him” indicates a fuller in-dwelling of God’s nature in Christ than believers, without question. But this does not make Christ into God, any more than 2 Peter 1:4 makes believers into God. Again this is not too surprising since there are many verses which speak about God dwelling in Christ, and God dwelling in believers. This is not the same thing as saying “Christ is God”. If the Bible writers wished to say that, they could and would have done so. Why? As explained by 1Tim.2:6, John 8:40, Acts 2:22, 17:41, 1Co.15:21 and other verses where Christ is called “man”, and where God is called “his God”, “my God” etc. Ro.15:6, 2Co.1:3, 2Co11:31, Eph.1:3, Rev.1:6, Matt.27:46, John 20:17, Rev.3:12 (4x).

3. ‘Godhead’. This old word occurs in the KJV in Acts 17:29 for “the divine” (to theion), Rom.1:20 for “divinity” (theiotēs) and Col.2:9 for “deity” (theotēs). Godhead has nothing to do with God’s ‘head’ or being head. The spelling -head is from Middle English (13th Century), Wycliffe’s Bible, godhed, meaning “Godhood” as in modern German “Gottheit”: divine nature or essence. In modern versions these verses simply read “divine” etc.


For those wanting to distinguish more carefully the detail in the NT text there are four relevant Greek words:

  1. theos = God
  2. theotes = Godness
    Col.2:9 “for in him [Christ] dwells the fullness of deity bodily”
    θεότης A. deity, divinity, divine nature, Plutarch 2.359d, Lucian Icar.9, etc.; διὰ θεότητα for religious reasons, Heliod. ap. Orib.50.7.1.
    * Christian commentaries often distinguish that theotes is more concrete, and talks about “essence” rather than “quality” as theiotes. This distinction is not observed in classical Greek, and the word is unknown in Jewish Greek texts, nevertheless there is probably some truth in this, just as “motherhood” (from a noun base) and “motherliness” (from an adjective base) in English. But since the NT also talks about God himself dwelling in Christ, and in believers, whether the word means “deity” or “divinity” is somewhat academic.
  3. theios = adjective divine
    Acts 17:29 “we ought not to think that the divine is like unto gold and silver” (Paul talking to Greeks)
    2 Peter 1:3 “his divine power has been given to us”
    2 Peter 1:4 “so that you may be sharers in the divine nature”
  4. theiotes = adjectival noun, divineness
    Rom.1:20 “his eternal power and divinity so that they are without excuse”
    θειότης A. divine nature, divinity, Septuagint Wisdom 18.9, Philo In opfi 61 fin. SIG867.31 (Ephesus, ii A.D.), Plutarch 2.665a, etc.
    2. f.l.for ὁσιότης, Isoc.11.26, Plutarch 2.857a (Symposium 665a), and so probably in Id.Sull.6.
    II. as title of Roman Emperors, Orib.1.1.1, SIG900.23 (Panamara, iv A.D.), etc.

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