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What does "Godhead" mean?

The word "Godhead" is used three times in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20, and Colossians 2:9). Although, the New King James Version only translates two of those verses with the word "Godhead" as follows:

  • "Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising." Acts 17:29 (NKJV)
  • "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse," Romans 1:20 (NKJV)
  • “For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily;” Colossians 2:9 (NKJV).

However, most modern translations no longer used the word "Godhead." Instead, the words deity, divine nature, and divine being are used. It is helpful to understand the history of the word and the underlying Greek words for which it is used.

The ending "-head", is not connected with the word "head". John Wycliffe introduced the term godhed into English Bible versions in two places, and, though somewhat archaic, the term survives in modern English because of its use in three places of the Tyndale New Testament (1525) and into the Authorized King James Version of the Bible (1611). In that translation, the word was used to translate three different Greek words:

Verse Strong's Concordance (Greek) Wycliffe 1395 Tyndale 1525 Modern
Acts 17:29 G2304 theios; divine

that godli thing

godhed divine being
Romans 1:20 G2305 theiotes; divinity, divine nature godhed godhed divine nature
Colossians 2:9 G2320 theotes; deity the Godhed the godheed deity

The terms "Godhead" and "deity" were interchangeable a few centuries ago

"First of all, the term ‘godhead’, as used in the 17th century simply meant 'deity', as a perusal of Puritan literature will reveal. Thus in his Commentary on John,[1] first published in 1657, George Hutcheson writes that John's statement in John 1.3 that all things were made by Christ is "a proof of Christ's godhead" (P. 11)....Matthew Poole wrote in 1685 on the same text that “The Divine nature and eternal existence of the Lord Christ is evident from his efficiency in the creation of the world.”[2] Also note that this is a comment on the same passage as the earlier quote from Hutcheson, incidentally showing that the old term ‘Godhead’ is a (now obsolete in this sense) synonym for ‘Divine nature’. Commenting on Colossians 2.9,[3] Poole uses ‘Godhead’ and ‘Divine nature’ interchangeably. ‘Godhead’ is in fact derived from the same root as the German ‘Gottheit’, Deity, that which makes God God, the essence of God. The Puritans – and the AV translators – use the word accordingly." --Highland Host blog.

By the late 1800s the term "Godhead" was already in dispute

In 1881, when the KJV was in common use and the first English revision of its New Testament was published, an article by H. V. Reed appeared in the magazine Restitution. He wrote: "The word godhead is not good English: it means nothing in itself and conveys no idea to the reader: What is a godhead?" It is merely a bad translation. The Greek manuscript word should be rendered 'divinity' or 'deity'. Many Bible scholars and translators have realized that 'godhead' does not convey clear meaning. Weymouth, Moffatt, Smith-Goodspeed, Farrar Fenton, RSV, Good News, NAS, Living Bible, NIV, J. B. Phillips, Bible in Living English, Jerusalem Bible, NWT, Emphatic Diaglott, and The Everyday Bible versions, all recognizing its inadequacy, use some word or phrase other than 'godhead' seen three times in the KJV, where, in Acts 17:29, Rom. 1:20, Col. 2:9, it represents a different Greek word each time. --A Bible study from Faithbuilders Fellowship.