What does justified in the Spirit refer to in

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.

What is its relation to Godliness?

  • @Lucian Please do not use comments to post "mini answers" to questions. They should be reserved for requests for clarification or suggestions on how to edit to improve posts.
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 13:09

6 Answers 6


What does justified in the spirit refer to in 1Timothy 3:16

According to the book "Truth in Translation" by Jason David BeDuhn , an associated professor of religious studies at Nothern Arizona University, a correct rendering is that of the NRSV which follows Paul's language without tempering with its meaning. (The NRSVACE, NCV and NRSV also follow the same rendering). He writes that there is no reason to think that "Holy Spirit" is involved in this passage. The parallel that is drawn with "in flesh" rules out such rendering.

1 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV)

16 "Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory."

A similar verse is that of 1 Peter 3:18 , the majority of translations render it as :

1 Peter 3:18 (NRSV)

18 "For Christ also suffered[a] for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you[b] to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,"


Jesus Christ by being faithful to the end , was made "alive in the spirit" was given immortality, declared righteous for the unrighteous, exalted to a higher position, sat at the right hand of God in heavens ,and so has set pattern for others to follow. Compare verses below.

1 Corinthians 15:42,45 (NRSV)

42 "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit."

1 Timothy 6:16 (NRSV)

16 "It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen."

Philippians 2:9-11 (NRSV)

9 "Therefore God also highly **exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,**10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

  • Excellent answer - good references. +1
    – user25930
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 20:57
  • So the Godliness spoken there, is it about His Godliness or our Godliness? Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 13:57
  • Siju George. The mystery of godliness in this verse refers to the first prophesy in the scriptures Gen 3:15 and which was gradually manifest by God to his servants, refers to Jesus Paul gives us an explanation of the mystery of godliness. (Eph 1:9-11 (NRSV) Compare Col 2:2 , 2 Tim 1:10. Eph. 3:1-4. There are questions "What did Paul mean by the mystery of piety in Timothy 3:16?" on this side. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 19:08

This is not justified as "made just" (like us sinners), but justified from all slanders. Vindicated or defended by the Holy Spirit, would be the idea here. Let see some examples.

The miracles that Jesus did were by the power of the Spirit

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. [Luke 4:18-19]

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. [Matthew 12:28]

After suffering on the cross, Christ was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. [Romans 8:11]

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4]

The teaching of the Apostles comes from the Spirit

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. [John 14:26]

And all the miracles that the Apostles performed in the name of Christ were by the same Spirit.

For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. [Romans 15:18-19]

In all this Christ is placed in His exalted place, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only then, but also now. All these actions combined:

  1. God was manifest in the flesh;
  2. Justified in the Spirit;
  3. Seen of angels;
  4. Preached unto the Gentiles;
  5. Believed on in the world;
  6. Received up into glory.

make our godliness possible. And that's the mystery, how can we become godly? Through the work of Christ, here summarized by Paul.


The best treatment of this verse (and the other passages in the bible that speak the same way) is Siegbert Becker's, The Christological Flesh-Spirit Antithesis. In his opening words, he writes:

The New Testament usage of “flesh” and “spirit” as designations for the old man and the new man in the believing child of God is familiar to all students of the New Testament. Paul says, for example, that the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Ga 5:17). Commentators some-times debate whether the word “spirit” in such passages should be spelled with a lower or upper case letter. In the final analysis it makes little difference how that question is answered. Any striving against the flesh that is carried on by the “spirit,” or the new man, is done only in the strength supplied by the Holy Spirit and under his guidance and direction.

Not nearly so well known and not as easily understood are those passages in the New Testament in which the flesh-spirit antithesis is used in reference to the Lord Jesus. Obviously when the New Testament speaks of the flesh of Christ it cannot have in mind the depraved side of man’s nature. To ascribe such a corrupt nature to the Son of God would be a blasphemous denial of what the Scriptures have to say about the sinlessness of Christ.

It is evident therefore that the use of the flesh-spirit antithesis in Christological passages must be approached from a radically different point of view. In these passages the spelling of the word “spirit” will change the meaning of the text significantly.

The question therefore arises, “How is this flesh-spirit antithesis in Christology to be understood?”

There are three passages in the New Testament in which we are confronted by this contrast between flesh and spirit in Christ. These passages, in the AV, are the following:

1 Pe 3:18c-19: (Christ was) put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.

1 Ti 3:16b: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.

Ro 1:3b-4: (Jesus Christ) was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

His premise is worthy of consideration. We are used to this common theme in the bible (especially in Pauline thought):

  • Flesh = sinful nature
  • Spirit = New nature (or Holy Spirit guiding new nature)

What do we do when this same dichotomy is applied to Jesus? He does not have a sinful nature. So how can we make sense of this? Becker's thesis is that this "antithesis" is, instead, this contrast:

  • Jesus' State of humiliation/exinanition
  • Jesus' State of Exaltation

Concerning 1 Tim. 3:16, he writes:

1 Timothy 3:16

This interpretation of the flesh - spirit antithesis also fits very well in the First Timothy passage, where we have the same contrast. There (3:16) Paul says, in the AV rendering, that “God was manifest in the flesh and justified in the Spirit.” ...

In this passage, too, as in 1 Peter 3:18, the Greek phrases are identical in form. However, instead of the simple dative, we have here a prepositional phrase with the noun in the dative, namely, en sarki and en pneumati. It would appear, therefore, that the two phrases ought to be translated in the same way in English, if that would yield a meaningful rendering. Yet about half of the versions cited translate the two grammatically identical phrases differently. However, if en sarki is translated “in the flesh,” en pneumati ought to be translated “in the spirit,” especially because this is actually more meaningful than “by the Spirit.”

Once again the article is missing in both phrases. Among the versions cited the only one which indicates this fact in English is Beck’s AAT, although Goodspeed clearly takes note of it in the first phrase.

Here, too, we are faced with the problem of whether the word “spirit” should be capitalized. We might ask what is meant if we say that he was “justified in the Spirit.” This sort of language is found nowhere else in the New Testament. The Bible does say that Jesus was led into the wilderness en too pnemati (Lk 4:1). However, Matthew, in telling the same story says that Jesus was led into the wilderness hypo tou pneumatos (Mt 4:1). In Acts 17:31 en is clearly used to indicate the intermediate agent. We may therefore conclude that both the NIV and the AV translate correctly in Luke 4:1 when they say that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. It should be noted, however, that in this passage pneumati has the article. There can be no doubt, because of the article and the whole context, that the word is clearly a designation for the Holy Ghost.

“Justified by the Spirit” might make sense. But there is no other passage in Scripture that speaks in this way. Moreover, because of the absence of the article and the antithesis between en sarki and en pneumati, such an interpretation would seem to be fraught with difficulties.

But if we understand the words sarx and pneuma here also as a reference to the two states of Christ, everything once more becomes clear. The word flesh is often used in the Scripture as a designation for man and particularly for man in his weakness (cp. e.g. Isa 40:6). Christ was manifest in flesh, that is, he appeared in this world as a lowly, despised and weak human being. But he was justified in spirit, that is, he was publicly vindicated by God as Lord and Christ (Ac 2:1,6) in that new glorified, spiritual state in which he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.

Every now and then I circle back to his paper and reread it. And every time I find it more cohesive and convincing. It's worth a read in its entirety.


The suggestion that the Lord Jesus had mortal blood from his mother is precarious. How does it fare in the face of ..even elementary biology?


Yeshua's dedication to doing right out weighed any desire of his own flesh once he put childish ways behind him. He matured well physically and spiritually not letting sin rule over him. That's what justified him. I believe he didn't fast for 40 Day's in the wilderness for no reason. He was letting God know, Hey I'm here and I'm yours and I'm dedicated to you and all you do. Then Satan came to test him and that's what put the icing on the cake for God. God knew at that point that the plan was definitely still in motion and full speed ahead

  • Please do not supply multiple answers. And neither of your answers has answered the question (from scripture) : Justified in the Spirit ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 17:37

See I looked at it differently. Yes Yeshua was Halfway God in the flesh. He had mortal blood from his mother as well. So the iniquities of her forefathers along with the learned behavior from Yosef who knows what small sin could have been committed. And that's all it takes to be a sinner. So I think this verse (Tim 3:16) is explaining that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory. But as Yeshua grew up he had the knowledge and the guidance from the father to become just(justified,vindicated) both meaning cleared of wrong doing. He was justified by the spirit and declared sinless, blameless and made whole by the father himself, THE righteous Judge, the Honorable ancient of days Elohiym

  • Are you saying Jesus sinned when he was young and later got justified? Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 13:12
  • 2
    'Halfway God in the flesh' does not convey any text in the bible that I ever read. And then you accuse Jesus of committing sin, without any evidence whatsoever.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 17:36

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