“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16
Other versions read:
“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.”
Note there is nothing in the verse that is speaking about neither the “mystery of the godhead,” nor the “mystery of the trinity” or anything consisting of three persons or Jesus being God.
For the use of the word “God” in the text, see Trinity Delusion.
I have my doubts that Paul wrote “God” in this verse. However, even if he did, one still has to read into the verse what trinitarians claim, that is, speaking of the supposed duality being of Jesus, or that Jesus is YHVH, or that it is speaking of a mystery of the trinitarian godhead.
God manifest in the flesh? We could say God was made manifest in the flesh, that is, was revealed in His Son in the flesh. But the text does not say “Jesus was God in the flesh,” as often misquoted.
Whatever the case, we only need to ask some questions and take into account the whole of Scripture and what it teaches.
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.
What is the “mystery” referred to here? It is referred to the “mystery of godliness.” What does “godliness” mean? The Greek word “godliness” is transliterated as “Eusebeia” which means “reverence, respect, piety toward God.”
Is the passage speaking of God’s own godliness (reverence, respect, piety) toward himself as a mystery?? Obviously it is speaking of someone else’s reverence toward God, not God toward Himself or the alleged “mystery of the trinity” or “trinitarian godhead.” The passage says nothing of a duality of natures in the flesh of Christ.
Contrary to pagan thought, throughout the Bible we are taught not to confuse God and Man. In Hosea 11:9, God explicitly tells us He is not a human being,
“…for I am God and not a man.”
The NRSV rendering is,
“for I am God and no mortal,”
1 Tim. 3:16 cannot be speaking of God because God cannot become a man, He is not mortal, He cannot die, nor can He be born (which implies He has a beginning).
God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19
We must look at some key words.
- Does God need to be “justified” or “vindicated”? This cannot be speaking of God because He does not need to be justified or vindicated because He is eternally holy and blameless.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Ps. 51:4
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isa. 6:3
- He was “seen” or “beheld” by angels. God was not only “seen” by angels, He was their Creator!
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matt. 18:10
The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” Luke 1:19
The passage in 1 Timothy 3:16 cannot be speaking of God. However, Jesus the Messiah was not “seen” until he was born.
- “Taken up in glory.” Did God have to be received up into glory? How can God be taken up in glory when He is everywhere? 1 Timothy 3:16 cannot refer to God, because the psalmist says of God,
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. Ps. 139:7-10
God does not need to be taken up into glory. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, was received up into glory. (Acts 1:9)
If in Paul’s letter he was trying to prove the deity of Christ, he had ample opportunity to be direct and use such phrases as, “God incarnate,” “very God and very man,” “God of very God,” “God of God,” 100% man and 100% God,” “Father and Jesus being of one being/essence,” etc. etc., but he did not.
1 Timothy 3:16 beautifully portrays an overview of Christ’s life and accomplishment, and nothing about him being “deity” (Godhead), but has everything to do with the behavior and character (godliness) of Jesus. It all fits with what we know of the man, Jesus the Messiah.
It is apparent that this “mystery” is understood by some (true believers), and yet it is a mystery to others. This mystery is so great. Why? Because of the total obedience and faithfulness of Jesus to his Father, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
“but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Tim. 1:10
Jesus was not sent to try and convince people he was God (YHWH). Jesus was sent by his Father to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This was Jesus’ main mission, his main purpose in his life and preaching (Luke 4:43; 9:2; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:18, 8:1; 9:2; etc.) and sent his disciples to do the same (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23; 28:31; etc. etc.).
Paul is not telling us that Jesus is the only true God. Paul knows who is the only true God (1 Cor. 8:6). Paul knew what Jesus taught.
Jesus prayed to his Father the night before his crucifixion,
“And this is everlasting life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”