Note: This article will be modified/updated in the next little while. Mar 12, 2011.
The Issue: Whether this verse indicates Jesus is to be identified as "God".
Trinitarians claim that 'Jesus is God' because this verse says all the fullness of deity dwells in him bodily.
What the Evidence will Show
The facts will show that Trinitarians are first being inconsistent with their own doctrine. The facts will also reveal that Paul is speaking in the present tense and therefore only referring to the risen Jesus. The facts will also show that the context reveals Paul is referring to the risen Jesus. The facts will show that Paul is simply referring to the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. And the facts will also illustrate how Paul says in the very next verse that we too have this same fullness and that fullness is the Holy Spirit that we experience in the resurrection life of Jesus since we are members of his body. The facts will further show that Paul is referring to the resurrection reality of Jesus in that the fullness of God the Father, the Holy Spirit, has take up residence in Jesus bodily.
Examination of the Evidence
Trinitarians often make much noise concerning the meaning of the word theotes at Colossians 2:9. It is often translated as "Godhead" which is obviously a word conveniently employed by Trinitarians because it is more easily peppered with concepts of one Godhead of three persons. However the English word "Godhead" is a compound English word which nuances concepts totally vacant from the Greek word theotes or its form here theotetos. The verse is variously translated in major translations as follows:
"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally." (Douay-Rheims).
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (NIV).
"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (NASB).
"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (KJV).
"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (ASV).
"For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily" (NAB).
"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (RSV)
The Greek word theotes refers not to "God" in the sense of identifying a person but to the essence of deity and in this case the essence of deity of the Deity. Here Paul is saying that the essence of Jesus' God dwells in the risen Jesus bodily. The word theotes is not referring to "who" but "what."
Just what are Trinitarians trying to argue. On one hand they argue that the fleshly body of Jesus is his humanity. On the other hand, they are here arguing that he is bodily "God." They are being patently inconistent with the facts.
Paul is speaking in the present tense
A very, very common interpretation error here is to miss that Paul is speaking in the present tense and necessarily referring to the bodily nature of the risen Christ. Paul would not have made the same statement about the incarnate and yet unrisen Jesus.
If we turn back to the preceding context at Colossians 1:19, we find that Paul refers to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead and then he says in nearly identical manner, "in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell." We can see here that all the fullness dwelling in Jesus came as a result of him being the firstborn out of the dead.
Now notice Colossians 2:10 were Paul tells us that we Christians have this same fullness, an obvious reference to the Holy Spirit. The word used in verse 10 is the Greek word pleroo, "made full," and is the verb form of pleroma, "fullness," in verse 9. Now just because we too have this fullness of deity we cannot claim to be God.
Now that Paul has the risen Christ in mind is clearly proven by the context:
For in him all the FULLNESS (pleroma) of deity dwells bodily
and you have been MADE FULL (pleroo) in him
you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead
He made you alive together with Him
And for this reason, Paul goes on to say we should set our minds on things above:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, \where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2).
The facts make it quite clear that Paul has the risen Christ in mind. The facts also make it quite clear that we too have this same fullness. This fullness is partaking of the divine nature as Peter indicates (2 Peter 1:4).
Our Fullness and Jesus' Fullness
While we have this fullness of deity, our fullness is not quite the same as Jesus' fullness. Jesus' fullness is bodily. He is risen and glorified and we are not risen and glorified. Peter tells us that we are "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). This is a reference to being a "partaker of the Holy Spirit" (Hebrews 6:4). The Holy Spirit is God's divine nature. The Holy Spirit is inside of us. But Jesus was raised life-giving Spirit. This means that his own physical body was made one with the Holy Spirit.
The Trinitarian is very inconsistent. But Paul's comment here is not surprising since God is Spirit and Jesus was bodily swallowed up in Spirit in his resurrection, such that death was swallowed up in victory. And Paul tells us why we Christians also have this same fullness of deity. We have been circumcised in the flesh in baptism with Christ and raised up with him into the heavenlies. Paul is saying that since Christ "put off the flesh" at the cross, we too put off the flesh by dying with him in baptism and since Christ was then raised up by the power of God into that fullness we too are raised up by the power of God and into that same fullness. So Colossians 2:9 is a reference to the nature of Jesus' bodily resurrection, that is, Spirit. And of course having this fullness of deity does not make Jesus "God" anymore than it makes us "God" because we have that same fullness.
A large part of the misunderstandings of this passage are caused by ignorance of the nature of the resurrection body. "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24) and when Christ was bodily raised from the dead he was raised "life-giving" Spirit (1 Cor 15:45). This is just another way of saying all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ in bodily form. His physical body of flesh was spiritualized into the fullness of God such that his flesh and the Holy Spirit became one new creation without horizon between the two. His physical body is now fully animated by the Spirit such that the Spirit and his flesh became one new creation, the new man, new adam, the essence of spirit and flesh together as one, yet indivisible and without horizon, spiritual flesh. The Bible tells us that the Spirit is life. God is immortal life, and mortality was swallowed up by immortality, and death swallowed up by life, his flesh swallowed up by Spirit, pertaining to Jesus' body. Mortal flesh was swallowed up by the Spirit of life. We ourselves will be raised with a body of the fullness of deity just like his body (1 Cor 15:49; Php 3:20-21; cf. 1 Jn 3:2). This will not make us "God" although we will have God's divine nature just as Jesus does. This is what it means to be a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In this way, we becomes sons of God substantially (Rom 8:18-25). In Biblical thought, our bodies are like a house or a tent (see 2 Cor 4:17-5:5) and an unresurrected body with the Spirit is like a house with a light on inside of it. That is what it means to have the fullness of God inside of us now - the Spirit inside our body in our hearts (see Gal 4:6). But a resurrected body is like a house that is the light itself that needs no extra light to light it up - it becomes spiritualized with the fullness and glory of the Spirit of God (see 2 Cor 3:17-18). God is light and this is what it means to be bodily glorified (see also Rom 8:10-25; 1 Cor 15:40-45).
The Greek work katoikei ("dwells") is itself descriptive in meaning. It means the fullness of God has taken up permanent residence in Jesus. This is why Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and My God" to Jesus. The Holy Father who is Holy Spirit by nature was fully present and resident in the risen Jesus bodily. Colossians 2:9 simply means that in the body of Jesus is the fullness of deity of the Deity, not in the sense of fullness being "inside" his body but in the sense that his risen body is now itself that fullness of deity. His risen bodily nature is full deity in essence. This was not true of Jesus in his incarnate and unrisen state. Mortality was swallowed up in immortality in his resurrection. Spirit swallowed up his mortal flesh. At the cross, Jesus "put off the flesh" (died) and rose up again in that same body into the fullness of the essence of deity pertaining to his body which is what Paul is talking about at Col 2:9-15. Paul reminds Christians in the very next verse (2:10) that we also now have this same fullness of deity. But we do not yet have it in bodily form as Jesus does but it is the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This is what it means to be "filled" with the Holy Spirit or be "full" of the Holy Spirit. It means to be filled up with God in us. That is how much he loves us. But when we rise from the dead, our bodies will be made like his and all the fullness of deity will also be pleased to dwell in us bodily just as all the fullness is pleased to dwell in our hearts right now. This does not make us God and just as we won't be "God" because we will also have the fullness of deity in us bodily, it does not make Jesus "God" either. That title is reserved for his Father. Jesus is "of" God and so is deity of The Deity.