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1 Timothy 3:16

(Berean Literal Bible) And confessedly, great is the mystery of godliness: Who was revealed in the flesh, was justified in the Spirit, was seen by angels, was proclaimed among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

(Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants]) καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον· Ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί, ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι, ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις, ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν, ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ, ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

There is a variant in the Textus Receptus, too rare to be noted in the NA27:

(NKJV) 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) How was piety/godliness ever a mystery?

2) What is the mystery?

3
  • I think you quoted from the NKJV, so I edited your post to reflect that. Please correct if I am mistaken.
    – user33515
    Dec 1 '17 at 1:03
  • @user33515 thanks for the edit pal. I appreciate it.
    – user20490
    Dec 1 '17 at 1:27
  • @robin correct!
    – user20490
    Dec 1 '17 at 1:32
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A difficult passage and connected with much of a controversy, for different mss say differently, some ὁς (who), some - the majority - θεός (God); the last reading is confirmed also by ancient theologians such as Ignatius of Antioch, who c. 107 AD seems to allude to the 1 Timothy 3:16 in saying in his letter to Ephesians: εις ιατρος εστιν, σαρκικος και πνευματικος, γεννητος και αγεννητος, εν σαρκι γενομενος θεος (one is the Physician, both fleshly and Spiritual, begotten and unbegotten, God who came to be in flesh (Eph. 7:2), and again: θεου ανθρωπινως φανερουμενου - "God manifested humanly" (ibid. 19:3).

The two questions should be put other way about, I guess, for first terminology and notions should be established and defined, and then the question containing those terms and notions dealt with; so first should be answered the question "what is mystery" in Pauline language.

Paul was addressing the representatives of Greco-Roman culture, and for this culture "mystery" (μυστήριον) represented an encounter with a divine, supra-human, which encounter was to change man, so that he would become an initiate. The etymology of the word is μύειν (to keep silence, keep mouth shut), which has two significances: a) it is not permissible to talk about the mystical experience (say, of Eleusinian mysteries: for instance Aeschylus was condemned to death - later to be changed by an exile - when he revealed some items of Eleusinian rituals in one of his plays) and b) it is impossible for human tongue to express the profundity of the experience.

The apostle just substitutes the Hellenic mysteries, which bore only a dim hope of eternal life (as Cicero says very vaguely: "we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope," Cicero, Laws II, xiv, 36), with true Christian mystery of a real transfiguring touch with God and His truth, with clear and unequivocal hope of eternal life (1 Cor. 15:19-21 and in many other places). Even Paul's idiosyncratic assertion - not to be found in any other NT author - that Christians are to participate in drama of their God, in Jesus' life and death, in order to be also risen with Him (Romans 6:5), is, not to say inspired, but influenced by Hellenic attitude of an initiate participating in drama of life and death of his god, say, of Osiris or of Dionysus; in this way, one can say that Paul appreciated some value of Hellenic attitudes, stamping them into his creatively elaborated message about the one true God revealed in Jesus (on this see more in W. H. Friend's Rise of Christianity (1984) in a chapter on Paul's mission).

This mystery, this truth, for Paul, was concealed before the advent of Christ, but after His advent was revealed to His saints (Col. 1:26). And this revelation of mystery is never something communicable as an information without inner participation, but mystery is an experiential knowledge, which makes a knower an initiate, a bearer of this mystery, for the word or essence of the mystery should become an "organic", intrinsic, existential and also governing aspect of entire human life, which is finely expressed by James 1:21 as ἔμφυτον λόγος or "word implanted in us", that is to say, that word, which grows in us "organically", experientially, and transfigures us to a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In fact, the mystery of the new, unprecedentedly intimate knowledge of God is not something outward and just informational, but this knowledge is a mystery that works within our hearts, for God Himself works in us (1 Cor. 15:10), providing to us greater and greater entrances and knowledge of unfathomable depth of His mystery, so that different people have different levels of the initiation, some being ready for "solid food", others yet only for "milk" (1 Cor. 3:2).

So far about the meaning of mystery.

Now, what is the content of it according to 1 Timothy 3:16? What is that novelty, which made possible this unprecedentedly intimate relationship of God with His creatures? Whether you put there θεός or ὅς, the idea is the same, for if subject is θεός (which I think is the case, but I do not go now into it for this is a subject of a separate and quite interesting textological discussion/controversy), it means that Jesus is God, revealed in flesh.

However, even if it is ὁς as referring to Jesus, that means that before being revealed in flesh, in history, He was necessarily in a supra-fleshly state; and where and with whom was He? Of course with His Father, and being with Him, He was equal to Him, as asserted unequivocally by Paul (ἴσα θεῷ)(Phil. 2:6). So, "he" (if we put ὁς instead of θεός) denotes the one who is equal to God and carries the entire fullness (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) of God in a bodily way (Col. 2:9). Now, the one who carries the entirety of God is necessarily Himself God, for if God is perfect, the one bearing the entirety of this perfection is equal to God and God Himself.

It is utterly unreasonable to assert that God's Son was not always and eternally so, and became perfect in some kind of a temporal process and only then through Him God created the universe (Hebrews 1:2), for then one must weave "godless myths of old wives" (1 Tim. 4:7) about some process before creation of the world, before even time, when Logos of God was growing from an imperfection and less-divinity to a perfection and full-divinity. This is an absurd supposition, for there cannot be temporal process before time. In fact, the very creation of the world is not a process but an instance that has no gradation, and only gradation can be measured by time, but creation is just positing of something that was not before and the act of positing from no-existence to yes-existene cannot be measured by time, being an instantaneous act. Therefore, if even the instance of creation cannot be measured by time, how much more the creative Principle, the Son of God, the Logos of God Who precedes this instance and who shared the identical glory with His Father before this instance (John 17:15), cannot be measured by any time and any process!

And exactly this is the mystery asserted in 1 Timothy : God has been revealed in human flesh, and "justified in Spirit", which means that this unfathomable mystery is acknowledged and made known to humans by the Spirit of God, who fathoms God (1 Cor. 2:11) and, through Whom only, we can understand that it is meet and correct to worship Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), for this "justified" has the similar power as "I will sanctify my holy name" in Ezekiel 36:23, that is to say, He will admonish Israelites not to profane His name; and similarly here, through Holy Spirit the mystery of Incarnation of God is justified and not to be tarnished by reducing it to any lesser significance.

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  • "The apostle just substitutes the Hellenic mysteries ..." None of the Church Fathers commenting on this verse make this observation, as far as I am aware. Did they just miss it or was it not important?
    – user33515
    Dec 5 '17 at 21:16
  • The Church fathers would not mention such things for political and ethical purposes in the time of acute opposition and polemics against Hellenes; but they also were full of Hellenic lore, especially the Alexandrians. But even such authors as John Chrysostom who rhetorically seethed against Plato and philosophers, would present a catalogue of categories of human desires and vices totally according to Epicurus, without, of course, mentioning him. But about Paul we read even from Acts that he appreciated Greek culture, quoting by heart even Greek poets like Aratus or Menander. Dec 5 '17 at 21:54
  • It's an interesting take. You say that "Paul was addressing the representatives of Greco-Roman culture," but wasn't he writing to Timothy personally. Would Timothy still have needed the kind of allusion that you suggest? (According to Orthodox tradition he was one of the Seventy). On the other hand, it would be interesting if the term τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον were used in Hellenic literature. Is this the case?
    – user33515
    Dec 5 '17 at 22:12
  • I can check in TLG this expression. As to Timothy, yes, it was a personal letter, but I do not think that Paul used the mystery language and notions of Hellenes only for rhetorical purposes, but he saw a depth and value in those forms of religiosity, even if wayward and polytheistic, but still searching and mystically longing for the true "unknown God" (Acts 17:23), and creative genius of Paul enriched as a matter of fact and deepened joyful message about the true Incarnate God through the best of Hellenic God-longing spirituality as well. Dec 5 '17 at 22:22
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If we remove the chapter and verse breaks, as I will do below, using the ESV, I think something becomes apparent that is otherwise difficult to see.

1 Timothy 3:14-4:11,

"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things."

What I see in the above passage is that "godliness" or εὐσεβείας relates primarily to the outward activities of the believer based upon the inner devotion and conviction that he or she has toward God and Christ (1).

In this way, the secret of εὐσεβείας relates back to how Timothy, and by extension, anyone else who reads this epistle, "ought to behave in the household of God". Why? Because the household of God is the pillar and buttress of truth.

Because the church is such, Timothy is ordered to behave in a certain manner, a decorous manner that reflects his piety toward God and Christ and respect for the truth.

Further into the passage, Paul writes that some will depart from the faith (that is, they lose their εὐσεβείας toward God and His Christ), and so apostatize, specifically through an anti-truth campaign waged against them by evil spirits and false teachers.

If the church is the pillar and buttress of God's truth, whatever these evil spirits are selling is the exact opposite. To apostatize into their hands is to lose all εὐσεβείας. Compare that to "those who believe and know the truth".

Finally, Paul adjures Timothy to share these insights with the churches in Ephesus, where Timothy was located (See 1:3), so that he may be a "good servant of Christ Jesus" having been trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine he followed (something he learned from Paul; See 2 Timothy 3:10-15).

And in this, Paul admonishes Timothy to "train [himself] for godliness or εὐσέβειαν, because it has "value in every way".

So then, what is the mystery or secret of godliness?

Godliness "holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come".

To live in a pious way, to maintain pious activity based on an inner devotion and conviction toward God, to behave properly when assembled with other believers, to refuse the campaign of deceit that evil spirits and false teachers bring against the pillar and buttress of truth, and to share these insights with the brethren, in order to be a good servant of Christ Jesus, is the means whereby the hidden (secret mystery) value of godliness can be revealed: that just like Jesus who lived a godly life, and was raised from the dead and taken up into glory (v. 16) it promises in this present life the obtaining of the promises given to believers in every age, for the life to come (See 1 Timothy 6:11-12).

(1) http://biblehub.com/greek/2150.htm

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  • Great insight there votive soul.
    – user20490
    Dec 4 '17 at 7:54
0

The piety in view is not that of "God" as the NKJV has (because of Trinitarian corruption of the text) but as the in tact versions have it, "he", referring to the Christ.

The Christ was the model of piety and devotion to God:

Philippians 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

This is a wonderful surprise (formerly undisclosed revelation). Titus, which was written by the same author as 1 Timothy speaks of the "appearance" of the grace of God that "teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age":

NIV Titus 2: 11For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

The reason this is a surprise and mystery is that righteousness, in the previous dispensation was contingent upon the activities of the Torah but in the current age was by the grace of God, redemption from the world and purification by the operation of God.

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  • "The piety in view is not that of "God" as the NKJV has (because of Trinitarian corruption of the text)" - what is the Trinitarian corruption of the text that you are referring to?
    – user33515
    Dec 5 '17 at 19:52
  • @user33515 The Textus Receptus has "God was manifested" while pretty much all other manuscripts have "[he] who was manifested".
    – Ruminator
    Dec 5 '17 at 20:14
  • Those sneaky Trinitarians
    – user33515
    Dec 5 '17 at 20:39
  • @user33515 There are many such Trinitarian manipulations in the TR which is why no one uses the TR anymore. They are obviously corrupt.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 5 '17 at 22:27
  • Yeah, we should shut down the Eastern Orthodox Church.
    – user33515
    Dec 5 '17 at 22:41
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Mystery

"Mystery" in English has a number of possible meanings, including:1

  • something difficult or impossible to understand or explain
  • secrecy or obscurity
  • a person or thing whose identity or nature is puzzling or unknown

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary explains the origin of the word:

The word mystery entered Middle English via Old French mistere or Latin mysterium. As with the associated word mystic, it ultimately derives from the Greek word mustērion, which has its root in muein ‘close the eyes or lips’, also ‘initiate’. The connection between these two meanings probably arose from secret religious ceremonies in ancient Greece, which were witnessed only by the initiated, who swore never to disclose what they had seen.2

The word translated as "mystery" by virtually all English Bibles since Tyndale (1526) is μυστήριον - mystērion. The sense of the Greek word in this case is not, I think, something that was deliberately kept "secret" (as only the ISV translates the word) and available only to future "initiates". I believe that it means rather something that was veiled or was not completely revealed; perhaps along the lines of what Paul intended when he wrote of that which was a shadow of things to come.3

The Mystery of Godliness

The Greek word here is εὐσέβεια - eusebeia. Although almost all English translations render this word as Godliness (or godliness), the root of the word is σεβω (sebō), not θεός (Theos), which means something like to show reverence for. "Piety" might be a suitable translation here, as is found in the Orthodox New Testament:

And confessedly, great is the mystery of piety

As to what this mystery comprises, Paul tells us in the same verse:

  • God4 manifest in the flesh (Θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί)
  • [God] justified in the Spirit (ἐδικαιώθη ἐν Πνεύματι)
  • [God] seen of angels (ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις)
  • [God] believed on in the world (ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν)
  • [God] received up into glory (ἀνελήφθη ἐν δόξῃ)

So the mystery that Paul is referring to here is the mystery of the Incarnation. It is described here in a kind of proto-Creed of the Church Paul referred to in v.15 as the pillar and foundation truth.

These things comprise a mystery because they had either not yet occurred or were hitherto not revealed. The mystery is described in terms of reverence (piety) because they are truths connected with the Church:

that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

One commentary that captures this particular sense of the verse comes, I think, from Cyril of Alexandria (378-444):

Great is the mystery of piety [εὐσέβεια], the self-emptying of God the Logos ... Who, though He was in the form and equality of the Father, chose to assume the form of a slave for our sakes, and came into likeness to us, and shared in flesh and blood, and graced everything under heaven with the economy of the Incarnation. This is how salvation came about with the Father recapitulating all things in Him, both the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth5, as it is written.6

Another good explanation of this verse comes, I think, from Hilary of Poitiers (310-368):

At the outset then, he who does not agree in this confession is not in the faith of God. For the Apostle leaves no doubt that all must confess that the hidden secret of our salvation is not the dishonour of God, but the mystery of great godliness, and a mystery no longer kept from our eyes, but manifested in the flesh; no longer weak through the nature of flesh, but justified in the Spirit. And so by the justification of the Spirit is removed from our faith the idea of fleshly weakness; through the manifestation of the flesh is revealed that which was secret, and in the unknown cause of that which was secret is contained the only confession, the confession of the mystery of great godliness. This is the whole system of the faith set forth by the Apostle in its proper order. From godliness proceeds the mystery, from the mystery the manifestation in the flesh, from the manifestation in the flesh the justification in the Spirit: for the mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh, to be truly a mystery, was manifested in the flesh through the justification of the Spirit. Again, we must not forget what manner of justification in the Spirit is this manifestation in the flesh: for the mystery which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, and believed on in this world, this same mystery was received up in glory. Thus is it in every way a mystery of great godliness, when it is manifested in the flesh, when it is justified in the Spirit, when it is seen of angels, when it is preached among the nations, when it is believed on in the world, and when it is received up in glory. The preaching follows the seeing, and the believing the preaching, and the consummation of all is the receiving up in glory: for the assumption into glory is the mystery of great godliness, and by faith in the Dispensation we are prepared to be received up, and to be conformed to the glory of the Lord. The assumption of flesh [i.e. the Incarnation] is therefore also the mystery of great godliness, for through the assumption of flesh the mystery was manifested in the flesh. But we must believe that the manifestation in the flesh also is this same mystery of great godliness.7


1. Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed.)
2. Ibid.
3. Colossians 2:17 (KJV)
4. Majority reading, Textus Receptus, Byzantine Lectionary and the Patriarchal Text of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Early manuscripts say "Which" (ὅ) or "Who" (ὅς)
5. Ephesians 1:10
6. On the Unity of Christ; tr. from the Greek in The Orthodox New Testament, vol. 2, pp.358-359.
7. On the Trinity XI.9

-1

1 Timothy 3:16 speaks about the Deity or godliness of Jesus Christ. The king James version of this scripture says: 1 Timothy 3:16

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.

In the words of Jesus, John 4:24

24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. God, who is a Spirit was manifested in the flesh. The scripture puts it this way in another place:

Colossians 2:9

9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Thus in writing about the mystery of godliness Paul was talking about referring to the Godhead of Jesus Christ, the tabernacling of the invisible God in human flesh. This is further clarified in other scriptures.

Colossians 1:15

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He was God veiled in human flesh. To get more light on this we can take a look at another scripture:

2 Corinthians 5:19

19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

Jesus was a human temple in which God abode. He was called Immanuel, God with us. Jesus Himself testified of this in the book of John:

John 14:6-11

6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

The Everlasting father dwelt in Christ and doing works through the Tabernacle called Jesus. That is, Jesus is God as verified in the scriptures below:

Titus 2:11-13

11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Jesus is here is referred to as the great God and saviour. God was manifested in the flesh in order to be a sacrifice of sin to be a fulfilment of the sacrifices offered under the law. In Jesus Christ God could shed blood to purchase a church:

Acts 20:28

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

By manifesting Himself in the flesh, God was fulfilling what he promised in the prophets:

Isaiah 9:6,7

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. Reading the above scripture of Isaiah we note, father, son, councillor, the might God are titles of the same one person the messiah who is to sit on the throne of David, after he has done the work of redemption. But why the throne of David. It is because The throne of David is the throne of Jehovah, David and Solomon in type sat temporarily on the throne that belongs to Jehovah, Shiloh. To get this we can take a scripture in the old testament:

1 Chronicles 29:23

23 Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.

In a shadow one day God, in the messiah was Going to sit on his throne and rule from Jerusalem. Let us confirm this from the scripture:

Isaiah 24:23

23 Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.

Zechariah 14:9

9 And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.

Jeremiah 3:17

17 At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. The mystery of godliness here is talking about the Godhead of the messiah, a mystery written in the Bible but understood by spiritual revelation. It is the mystery of God codensending in the flesh to rule over his purchased possession.

2
  • Jesus is never referred to as a 'Tabernacle' anywhere in scripture. He refers to his own body as 'destroy this temple'; but that is not his whole self.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 5 '17 at 22:26
  • The context in which tabernacle is used is from the dictionaryperspective of: any abode or dwelling place, especially of the human body as the temporary dwelling place of the soul, or life. Jesus referred his body as temple correct.
    – Samuel
    Dec 6 '17 at 9:36

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