Comments On 1 Timothy 3:16


1 Timothy 3:16


And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.





Theologians have used this passage of scripture for many centuries as a proof text for the deity of Christ.  Widespread proliferation of the doctrine of the Trinity by the Roman Catholic Church during its long and insidious reign in Europe and the world is the main culprit for this common misinterpretation of scripture.


Christianity as it is known today inherited most of its dogma from Catholicism.  Hence the pagan creeds of the early centuries following the death of the apostles were embraced as true and correct interpretation of the Bible.  Most notably, the Athanasian and Nicean Creeds are used to explain the nature of the Triune godhead of Catholicism and to transform the Son of God into “God the Son.”


Development of the Trinity


The Latin theologian Tertullian first used the term trinitas in the 2nd century, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ. In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated; using terminology still employed by Christian theologians, the doctrine taught the coequality of the persons of the Godhead.


In the West, the 4th-century theologian St. Augustine's influential work De Trinitate (On the Trinity, 400-16) compared the three-in-oneness of God with analogous structures in the human mind and suggested that the Holy Spirit may be understood as the mutual love between Father and Son (although this second point seems difficult to reconcile with the belief that the Spirit is a distinct, coequal member of the Trinity).


The stress on equality, however, was never understood as detracting from a certain primacy of the Father—from whom the other two persons derive, even if they do so eternally. For an adequate understanding of the Trinitarian conception of God, the distinctions among the persons of the Trinity must not become so sharp that there seems to be a plurality of gods, nor may these distinctions be swallowed up in an undifferentiated monism.


The doctrine of the Trinity may be understood on different levels. On one level, it is a means of construing the word God in Christian discourse.  God is not a uniquely Christian word, and it needs specific definition in Christian theology.  This need for a specifically Christian definition is already apparent in the New Testament, where Paul says, “there are many 'gods' and many 'lords'—yet for us there is one God, the Father... and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). These words constitute the beginning of a process of clarification and definition, of which the end product is the doctrine of the Trinity.


At another level, the doctrine may be seen as a transcript of Christian experience: The God of the Hebrew tradition had become known in a new way, first in the person of Christ, and then in the Spirit that moved in the church.


On a third, speculative level of understanding, the doctrine reveals the dynamism of the Christian conception of God—involving notions of a source, a coming forth, and a return (primordial, expressive, and unitive Being).  In this sense, the Christian doctrine has parallels both in philosophy (the 19th-century German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's Absolute) and in other religions (the Trimurti of Hinduism).


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Creeds in the Christian Church


Creeds (Latin credo,”I believe”), authoritative summaries of the principal articles of faith of various churches or bodies of believers. As religions develop, doctrines that were originally simple are subject to elaboration and interpretation that cause differences of opinion. Detailed creeds become necessary to clarify the differences between the tenets of schismatic branches and to serve as formulations of belief when liturgical usage—for example, the administration of baptism—requires a profession of faith.


In the Christian church, the Apostles' Creed was the earliest summation of doctrine; it has been used with only minor variations since the 2nd century. In addition to the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are in common use in the Roman Catholic liturgy. In the Orthodox church, the only creed formally adopted was the Nicene Creed, without the insertion of filioque in connection with the procession of the Holy Spirit.


With the Reformation, the establishment of the various Protestant churches necessitated the formulation of new creeds, which, because of the many differences in theology and doctrine, were much longer than the creeds of the ancient church. The Augsburg Confession is accepted by Lutherans throughout the world, as is the Smaller Catechism of Martin Luther. The Formula of Concord, accepted by most early Lutherans, now finds more limited acceptance. The doctrines of the Church of England are summarized in the Thirty-nine Articles, and those of the Presbyterians, in the Westminster Confession.


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God Cannot Become A Man


1 Timothy 3:16


And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.  KJV


The translators who produced the New Testament in English were undoubtedly influenced by the dogma held sacred by the Church of England.  This doctrinal bias included the strong belief in the divinity of Christ, and his incarnation as the second person of the Trinity.  In other words, they held that God the Son (Christ) preexisted before his birth, at which time he “manifest” his divine nature in human form.


While it makes no logical sense whatsoever, the majority of Christians cling tightly to the incomprehensible “mystery of godliness” as being the manner in which God became a man.  In 1611 A.D. the KJV translators felt so strongly about this they actually falsified the text of 1 Timothy 3:16.


To prove the extreme prejudice of the KJV committee, one need look no further than some more modern and more credible versions of the text in question:


·         1 Timothy 3:16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.  NASU


·         1 Timothy 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.  (From New International Version)



·         1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. ASV


Most versions of the Bible that exclude the word “God” do so because the Greek manuscripts overwhelming agree it is omitted.  The New American Standard Updated Version sums up what is agreeably most acceptable saying, “He who was revealed in the flesh,” not, “God was manifest in the flesh.”


God cannot become a man, nor can he be born (implying he has a beginning).


·         Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that He should tell or act a lie, neither the son of man, that He should feel repentance or compunction [for what He has promised]. Has He said and shall He not do it? Or has He spoken and shall He not make it good?  AMP


God cannot and need not be “justified” or “vindicated” because He is eternally holy and pure.


·         Psalms 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (From New International Version)


God cannot be “taken up in glory” glory, because He is everywhere present!  1 Timothy 3:16 cannot refer to God, because the psalmist says of God, “If I ascend up into heaven, You are there.”  God is already in heaven, so there is no need for Him to be taken into glory.


·         Psalms 139:7-10 Where could I go from Your Spirit?  Or where could I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), behold, You are there. [Rom 11:33.]  If I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  AMP


By carefully translating the text of 1 Timothy 3:16 we can interpret easily in light of its simple context.  Before translating, one must read the verses of scripture surrounding the one in question to determine who and/or what is being spoken about.  Below, the verses preceding the text are provided:


·         1 Timothy 3:14-15 Although I hope to come to you before long, I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am detained, you may know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and stay (the prop and support) of the Truth.  AMP


The context of Paul’s letter is a reminder and admonition to Timothy and the church regarding their conduct as believers and members of God’s house, which is the church.  Paul’s words show the importance of a Christian’s behavior, “… if I am detained, you may know how people ought to conduct themselves…”


More specifically, the apostle Paul had written to Timothy instructing him with regard to the character and qualifications of an overseer in the church.  In 1 Timothy 3:2-7 several pragmatic aspects of what an elder needs who aspires to be an overseer in the church.


1 Timothy 3:2-7


2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,


3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money.


4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity


5(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?);


6 and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.


7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.   NAS


Paul extends his admonition to those who are “deacons” in the church:


1 Timothy 3:8-11


8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,


9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.


10 And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.


11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.  NAS


In verse nine, the word “mystery” is identical to the same word used in verse sixteen:


·         “Mystery” = NT:3466 musterion (moos-tay'-ree-on); from a derivative of muo (to shut the mouth); a secret or "mystery" (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites): KJV - mystery.  (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)


The application of the Greek word musterion in 1 Timothy 3:9 is a sacred oath between a man and God.  Any man who takes responsibility for the care of the church must do so by, “holding to the mystery (sacred oath) of the faith with a clear conscience.”


·         1 Timothy 3:13-15 For those who perform well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and also gain much confidence and freedom and boldness in the faith which is [founded on and centers] in Christ Jesus.  Although I hope to come to you before long, I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am detained, you may know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and stay (the prop and support) of the Truth. (AMP)


This thought is again echoed in 3:16, showing us that Jesus provided us the perfect example of one who kept a clear conscience in his service to others.


The Appropriate Translation

1 Timothy 3:16


·         So then, by consenting to {my} desire, of great importance is the one initiated into the sacred mystery of well-directed external piety, that which is rendered apparent in relation to ones’ external (behavior), {being} regarded as just or innocent in {your} mental disposition, looked at (from your past actions) by messengers (pastors),{worthy}  to be heralded as a crier (of the gospel) in relation to foreign (non-Jewish) races, entrusted as {being} credible in relation to the inhabitants of the world, having repetitiously taken hold of a fixed position of dignity.


Now it is apparent that 1 Timothy 3:16 has nothing at all to do with God manifesting Himself in the flesh, and everything to do with the behavior and character demonstrated by leaders in the church. SELAH



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