The Godhead and Godhood

Christians do love their spiritual jargon, especially when it is has the epic overtones of the King James Version. Jargon is only useful when we properly know what it means. One such theological word found in and popularised by the KJV is “godhead.” The problem I have with it is that it is used synonymously for the Holy Trinity. As far scripture is concerned it isn’t.

The word “godhead” appears only three times in the KJV at Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:9. [1]The word is from Middle English and means the same as godhood, that is, the state of being god. The –head suffix is the same as –hood which we still use in modern English in words like fatherhood, the state of being a father. [2]Three different Koine Greek words, theion, theiotēs, and theotēs, in order of their appearance in the KJV, were translated as Godhead. Modern translations of the Bible do not use godhead but tend to use words like deity, the divine nature, or divine being depending on the context. The Greeks used such words to talk about god without referring to any specific one in particular. This particularly makes sense in Acts 17 at the Areopagus where Paul was addressing a Greek audience and presenting his arguments on the true nature of God. Even in somewhat formal English today we refer to God in sort of an impersonal manner by calling him the Deity. So where did this association with the Trinity come from?

On account of the continued popularity of the KJV, the word “Godhead” continues to stay in currency. The word was actually introduced into English translations by John Wycliffe, the great English Bible translator and Reformer. [3]As early as the 12th century B.B. Warfield remarks that it was used as a technical term used to refer to the ousia or the substance of God in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Since this predated Wycliffe it was probably an influence on why in his translation of the New Testament that term because of its added Trinitarian connotation was chosen. The KJV was heavily influenced by Wycliffe’s why is why the “Godhead” was probably used in the translation. Its popularity continued in later documents like Thirty-Nine articles of the Church of England and the Westminster confession.

Even though godhead is used to refer to Trinitarian doctrine, in the KJV it is used to translate words that have nothing to do with later theological developments. Even the basic meaning of the word is not Trinitarian and just means being divine. I fully recognise the meaning of a word is determined by how it is used and the word has for a long time assumed that technical theological meaning. All I am saying is whenever we pick up the KJV and read the word, we should not immediately assume it is a reference to the Trinity.





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