Godhead

GODHEAD. The term “Godhead” is a doublet of “Godhood” and is used to designate the state, dignity, condition or quality of a deity, or in Christian theology, of the self-revealed God. The terms occur as early as a.d. 1225, sometimes bearing the more explicit sense of the one divine essence in distinction from personal or hypostatic distinctions within God’s nature. Although encyclopedias a generation ago carried rather extensive essays under these headings (Bradley, A New English Dictionary on a Historical Basis), the terms have fallen into increasing disuse, though Godhead occurs more frequently than Godhood. B. B. Warfield noted that the disfavor of substantives ending in -head “has been followed by a fading consciousness...of the qualitative sense inherent in the suffix. The words accordingly show a tendency to become simple denotives” (“Godhead,” ISBE, II, 1268b). Most contemporary expositions simply use the term as a strong synonym for “God.” The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966) uses the capitalized “Godhead” for “the essential being of God; the supreme Being.” But Webster’s Unabridged now lists first the lower case “godhead” in the sense of deity or divine nature, and in secondary meanings curiously employs the capitalized form for “one of the Trinity” as well as for “the triune God” and “the Deity.” It is true that the term “Godhead” was used from the 16th cent. to designate the divine nature of Jesus Christ, as well as the essential nature of the triune God.

The word “Godhead” was used by KJV trs. to tr. three related Gr. words in three different passages; τὸ θει̂ον (Acts 17:29); θειότης, G2522, (Rom 1:20); θότητος (Col 2:9). The first word was in general Gr. use for “the divine,” which pagan religions saw in almost everything, and Paul employed it in addressing a heathen audience, but in a context that urges personal faith in the living God. The second word was used by non-Christians both of Artemis at Ephesus and also later of the imperial cult, and emphasized that quality that gives the divine, as deity, the right to man’s worship; Paul uses the term in association with the Creator’s power upon which all creatures are dependent. The third word, which emphasized deity at the highest possible level, is applied by Paul to the incarnate Logos: all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily.

The term “godhead” or “godhood” cannot be applied to the divine essence in distinction from the attributes, since the glory of God is precisely the totality of His attributes, and the attributes constitute His essence. God’s being is a living unity, in the sense that each attribute is identical with His essence; the attributes are human distinctions, but they have their basis in the divine nature, and are affirmed in view of God’s self-revelation. God is the infinite and eternal Spirit, the source, support, and end of all things. He is revealed in Scripture as Lord, Light and Love—the sovereign creator, preserver, and judge of the universe; the righteous source of moral and religious truth; and the Father of spirits, whose provision of redemption for sinners through the gift of His only Son is the supreme manifestation of agape.

The Biblical emphasis on divine immutability (Ps 33:11; Heb 1:12; James 1:17) has been under special attack in recent modern theology. It is now often argued by neo-Protestant writers that this insistence on the immutability of God is a by-product of speculative Gr. notions of God as a static being, whereas the God of the Bible allegedly is a God of “becoming” as well as of “being.” Adduced in support of this idea are the passages about God’s “repentance” or supposed change of mind, coupled with a process philosophy of creation (as by Samuel Alexander and A. N. Whitehead) as including growth in God’s experience through His relation to the world; sometimes the doctrine of the Trinity is similarly invoked, in view of the incarnation of the Logos and of the two natures of Christ.

The word “repent” is indeed used of Yahweh in numerous OT verses (1 Sam 15:35; Ps 106:45) but the sense is anthropomorphic, and hardly inconsistent with the overall emphasis on God’s changelessness (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Ps 110:4) (A. Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible [1950], 191). The tendency of modern evolutionary theory, moreover, has been to exaggerate the immanence of God and to modify His transcendence and independence of the universe (see God). The God of the Bible—of predestination, creation, calling, justification, reconciliation, and glorification—is assuredly not an isolated static being, but He is not on that account changeable and mutable. Expositions of the incarnation and atonement of the Logos promotive of the notion that the Godhead suffers, and correlating this denial of divine impassibility with doubts about divine immutability, are usually predicated on the prior abandonment of the Chalcedonian doctrine of two natures.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

god’-hed: The word "Godhead" is a simple doublet of the less frequently occurring "Godhood." Both forms stand side by side in the Ancren Riwle (about 1225 AD), and both have survived until today, though not in equally common use. They are representatives of a large class of abstract substantives, formed with the suffix "-head" or "-hood", most of which formerly occurred in both forms almost indifferently, though the majority of them survive only, or very preponderatingly (except in Scottish speech), in the form -hood. The two suffixes appear in Middle English as "-hede" and "-hod", and presuppose in the Anglo-Saxon which lies behind them a feminine "haeda" (which is not actually known) by the side of the masculine had. The Anglo-Saxon word "was originally a distinct substantive, meaning `person, personality, sex, condition, quality, rank’ " (Bradley, in A New English Dict. on a Historical Basis, under the word "-hood"), but its use as a suffix early superseded its separate employment. At first "-hede" appears to have been appropriated to adjectives, "-hod" to substantives; but, this distinction breaking down and the forms coming into indiscriminate use, "-hede" grew obsolete, and remains in common use only in one or two special forms, such as "Godhead," "maidenhead" (Bradley, as cited, under the word "-head").

The general elimination of the forms in -head has been followed by a fading consciousness, in the case of the few surviving instances in this form, of the qualitative sense inherent in the suffix. The words accordingly show a tendency to become simple denotatives. Thus, "the Godhead" is frequently employed merely as a somewhat strong synonym of "God" although usually with more or less emphasis upon that in God which makes Him God. One of its established usages is to denote the Divine essence as such, in distinction from the three "hypostases" or "persons" which share its common possession in the doctrine of the Trinity. This usage is old: Bradley (op. cit.) is able to adduce instances from the 13th century. In this usage the word has long held the rank of a technical term, e.g. the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 1571, Art. I: "And in the unity of this Godhead, there be three persons" (compare the Irish Articles of 1615, and the Westminster Confession, II, 3); Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 6: "There are three persons in the Godhead." Pursuant to the fading of the qualitative sense of the word, there has arisen a tendency, when the qualitative consciousness is vivid, to revive the obsolescent "Godhood," to take its place; and this tendency naturally shows itself especially when the contrast with humanity is expressed. Carlyle, for example (French Revolution, III, Book vi, chapter iv, section 1), speaking of the posthumous reaction against Marat, writes: "Shorter godhood had no divine man"; and Phillips Brooks (Sermons, XIII, 237) speaks of Christ bridging the gulf "between the Godhood and the manhood." "Godhood" seems, indeed, always to have had a tendency to appear in such contrasts, as if the qualitative consciousness were more active in it than in "Godhead." Thus, it seems formerly to have suggested itself almost as inevitably to designate the Divine nature of Christ, as "Godhead" did to designate the common Divine essence of the Trinity. Bradley cites instances from 1563 down. The fundamental meaning of "Godhead" is, nevertheless, no less than that of "Godhood," the state, dignity, condition, quality, of a god, or, as monotheists would say, of God. As manhood is that which makes a man a man, and childhood that which makes a child a child, so Godhead is that which makes God, God. When we ascribe Godhead to a being, therefore, we affirm that all that enters into the idea of God belongs to Him. "Godhead" is thus the Saxon equivalent of the Latin "Divinity," or, as it is now becoming more usual to say, "Deity." Like these terms it is rendered concrete by prefixing the article to it. As "the Divinity," "the Deity," so also "the Godhead" is only another way of saying "God," except that when we say "the Divinity," "the Deity," "the Godhead," we are saying "God" more abstractly and more qualitatively, that is with more emphasis, or at least with a more lively consciousness, of the constitutive qualities which make God the kind of being we call "God."

The word "Godhead" occurs in the King James Version only 3 times (Ac 17:29; Ro 1:20; Col 2:9), and oddly enough it translates in these 3 passages, 3 different, though closely related, Greek words, to theion theiotes, theotes.

To theion means "that which is Divine," concretely, or, shortly, "the Deity." Among the Greeks it was in constant use in the sense of "the Divine Being," and particularly as a general term to designate the Deity apart from reference to a particular god. It is used by Paul (Ac 17:29) in an address made to a heathen audience, and is inserted into a context in which it is flanked by the simple term "God" (ho Theos) on both sides. It is obviously deliberately chosen in order to throw up into emphasis the qualitative idea of God; and this emphasis is still further heightened by the direct contrast into which it is brought with the term "man." "Being, then, the offspring of God, we ought not to think that it is to gold or silver or stone graven by art and device of man that the Godhead is like." In an effort to bring out this qualitative emphasis, the Revised Version, margin suggests that we might substitute for "the Godhead" here the periphrastic rendering, "that which is Divine." But this seems both clumsy and ineffective for its purpose. From the philological standpoint, "the Godhead" is very fair equivalent for to theion, differing as it does from the simple "God" precisely by its qualitative emphasis. It may be doubted, however, whether in the partial loss by "Godhead" of its qualitative force in its current usage, one of its synonyms, "the Divinity" (which is the rendering here of the Rhemish version) or "the Deity," would not better convey Paul’s emphasis to modern readers.

Neither of these terms, "Divinity," "Deity," occurs anywhere in the King James Version, and "Deity" does not occur in the Revised Version (British and American) either; but the Revised Version (British and American) (following the Rhemish version) substitutes "Dignity" for "Godhead" in Ro 1:20. Of the two, "Dignity" was originally of the broader connotation; in the days of heathendom it was applicable to all grades of Divine beings. "Deity" was introduced by the Christian Fathers for the express purpose of providing a stronger word by means of which the uniqueness of the Christians’ God should be emphasized. Perhaps "Divinity" retains even in its English usage something of its traditional weaker connotation, although, of course, in a monotheistic consciousness the two terms coalesce in meaning. There exists a tendency to insist, therefore, on the "Deity" of Christ, rather than his mere "Divinity," in the feeling that "Divinity" might lend itself to the notion that Christ possessed but a secondary or reduced grade of Divine quality. In Ac 17:29 Paul is not discriminating between grades of Divinity, but is preaching monotheism. In this context, then, to theion does not lump together "all that is called God or is worshipped," and declare that all that is in any sense Divine should be esteemed beyond the power of material things worthily to represent. Paul has the idea of God at its height before his mind, and having quickened his hearers’ sense of God’s exaltation by his elevated description of Him, he demands of them whether this Deity can be fitly represented by any art of man working in dead stuff. He uses the term to theion, rather than ho theos, not merely in courteous adoption of his hearers’ own language, but because of its qualitative emphasis. On the whole, the best English translation of it would probably be "the Deity." "The Godhead" has ceased to be sufficiently qualitative: "the Godhood" is not sufficiently current: "the Divine" is not sufficiently personal: "the Divinity" is perhaps not sufficiently strong: "Deity" without the article loses too much of its personal reference to compensate for the gain in qualitativeness: "the Deity" alone seems fairly to reproduce the apostle’s thought.

The Greek term in Ro 1:20 is theiotes, which again, as a term of quality, is not unfairly rendered by "Godhead." What Paul says here is that "the everlasting power and Godhead" of God "are clearly perceived by means of His works." By "Godhead" he clearly means the whole of that by which God is constituted what we mean by "God." By coupling the word with "power," Paul no doubt intimates that his mind is resting especially upon those qualities which enter most intimately into and constitute the exaltation of God; but we must beware of limiting the connotation of the term--all of God’s attributes are glorious. The context shows that the thought of the apostle was moving on much the same lines as in Ac 17:29; here, too, the contrast which determines the emphasis is with "corruptible man," and along with him, with the lower creatures in general (Ro 1:23). How could man think of the Godhead under such similitudes--the Godhead, so clearly manifested in its glory by its works! The substitution for "Godhead" here of its synonym "Divinity" by the Revised Version (British and American) is doubtless due in part to a desire to give distinctive renderings to distinct terms, and in part to a wish to emphasize, more strongly than "Godhead" in its modern usage emphasizes, the qualitative implication which is so strong in theiotes. Perhaps, however, the substitution is not altogether felicitous. "Divinity," in its contrast with "Deity," may have a certain weakness of connotation clinging to it, which would unsuit it to represent theiotes here. It is quite true that the two terms, "Divinity" and "Deity," are the representatives in Latin Patristic writers respectively of the Greek theiotes and theotes. Augustine (The City of God, VII, 1; compare X, 1) tells us that "Deity" was coined by Christian writers as a more accurate rendering of the Greek theotes than the current "Divinity." But it does not follow that because "Deity" more accurately renders theotes, therefore "Divinity" is always the best rendering of theiotes. The stress laid by the Greek Fathers on the employment of theotes to express the "Deity" of the Persons of the Trinity was in sequence to attempts which were being made to ascribe to the Son and the Spirit a reduced "Divinity"; and it was the need the Latin Fathers felt in the same interests which led them to coin "Deity" as a more accurate rendering, as they say, of theotes. Meanwhile theiotes and "Divinity" had done service in the two languages, the former as practically, and the latter as absolutely, the only term in use to express the idea of "Deity." Theotes is very rare in classical Greek, "Deity" non- existent in classical Latin. To represent theiotes uniformly by "Divinity," if any reduced connotation at all clings to "Divinity," would therefore be to represent it often very inadequately. And that is the case in the present passage. What Paul says is clearly made known by God’s works, is His everlasting power and all the other everlasting attributes which form His Godhead and constitute His glory.

It is theotes which occurs in Col 2:9. Here Paul declares that "all the fullness of the Godhead" dwells in Christ "bodily." The phrase "fullness of the Godhead" is an especially emphatic one. It means everything without exception which goes to make up the Godhead, the totality of all that enters into the conception of Godhood. All this, says Paul, dwells in Christ "bodily," that is after such a fashion as to be manifested in connection with a bodily organism. This is the distinction of Christ: in the Father and in the Spirit the whole plenitude of the Godhead dwells also, but not "bodily"; in them it is not manifested in connection with a bodily life. It is the incarnation which Paul has in mind; and he tells us that in the incarnate Son, the fullness of the Godhead dwells. The term chosen to express the Godhead here is the strongest and the most unambiguously decisive which the language affords. Theiotes may mean all that theotes can mean; on monotheistic lips it does mean just what theotes means; but theotes must mean the utmost that either term can mean. The distinction is, not that theotes refers to the essence and theiotes to the attributes; we cannot separate the essence and the attributes. Where the essence is, there the attributes are; they are merely the determinants of the essence. And where the attributes are, there the essence is; it is merely the thing, of the kind of which they are the determinants. The distinction is that theotes emphasizes that it is the highest stretch of Divinity which is in question, while theiotes might possibly be taken as referring to Deity at a lower level. It it not merely such divinity as is shared by all the gods many and lords many of the heathen world, to which "heroes" might aspire, and "demons" attain, all the plenitude of which dwells in Christ as incarnate; but that Deity which is peculiar to the high gods; or, since Paul is writing out of a monotheistic consciousness, that Deity which is the Supreme God alone. All the fullness of supreme Deity dwells in Christ bodily. There is nothing in the God who is over all which is not in Christ. Probably no better rendering of this idea is afforded by our modern English than the term "Godhead," in which the qualitative notion still lurks, though somewhat obscured behind the individualizing implication, and which in any event emphasizes precisely what Paul wishes here to assert--that all that enters into the conception of God, and makes God what we mean by the term "God," dwells in Christ, and is manifested in Him in connection with a bodily organism.

Benjamin B. Warfield