This is about the relationship of the Son to the Father, and to the fact of Who actually came into the world via the virgin's womb. Different translations of 1 Timothy 3:16 read:

Hos was manifested in flesh” (... 'who' was manifested) rather than “Theos was manifested in flesh” (God was manifested in flesh)?

“God was manifested in flesh” is what we still have in the Textus Receptus but they who follow the Westcott & Hort / Nestle text do not have it.

Can anybody quote from articles and/or articulate theological arguments for “God manifested in flesh”?

The hermeneutical aspect I'm looking for is not whether some Greek texts are superior to other ones, for that has been dealt with here, Is "theos" of the Textus Receptus of 1 Timothy 3:16 the original reading? Further, there will be no meeting of minds between the two different schools of translation here, so I wish to look at the theological reasons for why the WH/Nestle school could weaken the relationship between Father and Son by not saying God was manifested in flesh at the incarnation. Or does it not weaken that point at all?

  • 1
    This matter was extensively dealt with by Dean John Burgon in 1881 (and thereabouts) in the wake of Tischendorf, Tregelles, Griesbach and Alford and at the time of the propagation of the Westcott & Hort Greek text. I thoroughly recommend Dean John Burgon's thorough investigation of Theos against hos in 1 Timothy 3:16. –
    – Nigel J
    Dec 13, 2021 at 16:39

6 Answers 6


I wish to look at the theological reasons for why the WH/Nestle school could weaken the relationship between Father and Son by not saying God was manifested in flesh at the incarnation.

[Verbatim from OP]

Firstly, the statement in the Textus Receptus is wholly compatible with other scriptures, to name but two :

John's gospel expresses (in the literal Greek and with the actual Greek word order) "... God was the Word ... and the Word became flesh".

John's first epistle expresses (in the literal Greek) "... the life the eternal was with the Father ... and was manifested".

If God was the Word and Word became flesh ; then, indeed, God was manifested in flesh.

And if the eternal life which was with the Father (and since 'Father' is mentioned, then the life must be that of Son) was manifested ; then, indeed, God (the Son) was manifested in flesh which was seen and handled.

The extensive argument to retain Theos rather than hos and the extensive research into the horizontal line abbreviation involved is amply covered by Dean John Burgon in his many presentations in serial form in the circular of his day and published also, in lesser form, in his book Revision Revised to which @Andrew Shanks refers in his concise answer to the question quoted by by the OP.

Then, what is the force of 'God' rather than 'who' in 1 Timothy 3:16 and is there a weakening of doctrine if 'who' is adopted ?

Firstly, the force of the context is weakened.

The context begins with 'These things write I unto thee' : it is emphatic, it is authoritative, the epistle preempts the coming of the apostle in person, but if not then the epistle emphasises Paul's authority in absence.

Then, what is emphasised is the presence of God : in the house of God and in the church of the living God.

And subsequently Paul declares - the mystery of godliness.

To say 'who was manifested' is a hiatus. It is disjointed. It is uncontextual. It is unconstructive.

Nor has it any sensible antecedent.

Nor is it grammatical.

It is, in and of itself, a weak statement. And thus, as an expression of doctrine, it is weak.

But more importantly, the concept being expressed (if we adopt hos and say 'who') is that the 'mystery of godliness' was 'manifest in the flesh'. For the only other antecedent in the context is 'God'. Then if 'God' is the 'who' why not say 'God' ?

What purpose would there be in stating the pronoun, if God is the antecedent ?

And if the pronoun refers to 'God' then what harm can there be in re-stating the antecedent, in any case ?

But if the antecedent of 'who' is 'the mystery of godliness' then we are left with a meaningless statement.

In a vague kind of way, some are suggesting that 'Jesus' (my quotes emphasise that this is an improper way of referring to Jesus of Nazareth, who - now risen and ascended - is titled 'Jesus Christ' or 'Lord Jesus Christ') is 'the mystery of godliness' which could mean no more than that he is a human who was an example of godliness.

And thus is lost any relationship of Son to Father. Lost is any relationship of the Christ to God.

It could be inferred, from this passage on its own, that Jesus was an example of how to be godly and he was no more than that.

But that is not what the Textus Receptus says.

The TR says 'God was manifest in flesh'.

The reverberations of which are immense. And which are re-iterated in John's gospel and in John's first epistle.


Why did Erasmus in Textus Receptus emend the Nomina Sacra "ΘC" (from Codex Sinaiticus) with "Θεὸς" in [1 Timothy 3:16]?

George Howard argues that κς (κύριος) and θς (θεός) were the initial nomina sacra, created by non-Jewish Christian scribes who "found no traditional reasons to preserve the tetragrammaton" in copies of the Septuagint.

[ Source : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomina_sacra ]

During 330 CE, The purpose of Abbreviated Greek Titles like "θς" found in Codex Sinaiticus provided a reverent short-hand for scribes : http://www.sinaiticus.de/en/manuscript.aspx?book=47&chapter=3&lid=en&side=r&zoomSlider=0

In 1516 CE, The revised Textus Receptus of [1 Timothy 3:16] by Erasmus was to accurately clarify notations of the ancient Greek manuscripts - to read : "καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον· Θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ ἀνελήφθη ἐν δόξῃ"

In An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture (posthumously published in 1754), Isaac Newton argues that a small change to early Greek versions of this verse effectively changed "which" (referring to godliness) was changed to "God". This change increases textual support for trinitarianism, a doctrine to which Newton did not subscribe. There is evidence that the original Greek read 'ος' but was modified by the addition of a strikethrough to become 'θς' (see the excerpt from the Codex Sinaiticus, above). 'θς' was then assumed to be a contraction of 'θεος.' The biblical scholar Metzger explains, "no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεος; all ancient versions presuppose ὃς or ὃ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading of θεος."[24] In other words, Bible manuscripts closest to the original said 'who' and not 'God' in verse 16.

[ Source : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Timothy_3 ]


Good question of the OP. Perhaps she should ask the Devil why he has spent so much effort on this verse, denying it reads "theos". Don't expect an honest answer.

Perhaps she should ask his children why it is so important to them. Again, of course, don't expect an honest answer.

Their efforts tell us it is worth earnestedly contending for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.

In wikipedia on Codex Alexandrinus we have just this comment on 1 Timothy 3:16:

In 1 Timothy 3:16 it has textual variant ὃς ἐφανερώθη ('who was manifested') supported by Sinaiticus, Ephraemi, Boernerianus, 33, 365, 442, 2127, ℓ 599, against θεός ἐφανερώθη ('God was manifested') (Sinaiticuse, A², C², Dc, K, L, P, Ψ, 81, 104, 181, 326, 330, 436, 451, 614, 629, 630, 1241, 1739, 1877, 1881, 1962, 1984, 1985, 2492, 2495, Byz, Lect). Metzger's notation, Avid (for vidētur), signifies the reading is damaged and cannot be established with certainty.[60]

Is that really a fair summary of the evidence favouring "theos"?

There is no comment about the historical evidence in favour of (the nomina sacra of) "theos" in Codex Alexandrinus as I have outlined in my answer here, Is "theos" of the Textus Receptus of 1 Timothy 3:16 the original reading? which mostly relies on the hundred or so pages of evidence given by John Burgon in "The Revision Revised".

  • 1
    In view of the two opposing schools of thought already presented in answers here, you summation of the problem in your previous Stack answer, plus flagging up the lack of fair summary of evidence in Wikipedia is telling! And you tell it succinctly here. Appreciated. +1
    – Anne
    Dec 18, 2021 at 10:24

1 Timothy 3:16 makes a number of statements that Paul's audience could only understand as referring to the Christ. What flesh are we referring to when we say "manifested in flesh"? Unmistakably Jesus, right? And who was taken up? Not simply a pious human man, but rather one who had originated in heaven as God's son. (I would compare Ephesians 4:9,10).

For those who ascribe to the dogma of the trinity, the desire to infer the entire divine entity into this scripture using "theos" is strong. This is pointedly because it obscures that God was sending his son - the one individual to whom all the statements in verse 16 could be ascribed. Using "who" reminds us that Jesus Christ is an individual upholding his part of this divine mystery as God's Son.

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Dec 18, 2021 at 23:27

Of course, it's merely another case of MSS tampering.

If one looks at all of the corruptions courtesy of Rome, things become more transparent. As William Whiston aptly noted:

I Observe, that we certainly know of a greater Number of Interpolations and Corruptions brought into the Scriptures, the Apostolical Constitutions, and the other ancient Books of our Religion, by the Athanasians, and relating to the Doctrine of the Trinity, than in any other Case whatsoever. While we have not, that I know of, one single Example well prov’d, of any one such Interpolation or Corruption, made in any one of them by either the Eusebians or Arians.

W. Whiston, Mr. Whiston’s Second Letter to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of London, Concerning the Primitive Doxologies, 2nd ed. (London, 1719), 15.

  • Hi Jake, welcome to the site! Could you clarify how the source you cited does (or does not) apply to the verse in question? Mar 20, 2022 at 18:18
  • It applies to any Trinitarian MS corruptions (1 John 5:7, Mt 28:19, Acts 20:28, etc.).
    – user49371
    Mar 21, 2022 at 16:34
  • Given that my question is explicitly "Can anybody quote from articles and/or articulate theological arguments for “God manifested in flesh”?" I venture to ask you to enlarge on your answer, as that quote from Mr. Whiston is his opinion, with no hermeneutic proofs offered. It is also so general as to be inappropriate here. Has he delved into 1 Tim.3:16? Can you quote his proofs for that? But anyone claiming Arius or his followers have made no corrupt interpolations of scripture has rendered his theological credibility dubious. Can you quote his proofs for saying the text should say 'who'?
    – Anne
    Sep 6, 2023 at 6:16
  • Why would 1 Tim 3.16 advocate "God incarnate" while the entire NT refutes it? I won't go further into this but recommend Newton's "An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture," at: babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hw1vnb&seq=5
    – user49371
    Sep 7, 2023 at 9:59

The difference in the text is extremely small: OΣ [the pronoun] vs. ΘΣ (the nomina sacra).

Note that all early manuscripts (up to about 7th or 8th century, some much later) used nomina sacra and thus ΘΣ would be used for Θεὸς.

Let me begin by stating quite emphatically, the difference in reading makes no difference to the message or theology of the 1 Tim 3:16. This is because we have:

1. All early Manuscripts (eg, ESV, V15, 16)

... 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. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, ...

If we accept this reading then the antecedent of "He" (or "who" in some versions) is "the living God", namely, Jesus who appeared in flesh (compare John 1:14).

2. Most Byzantine Manuscripts (eg, NKJV, V15-16)

... so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, ...

If we accept this reading, it simply makes explicit what the above reading inescapably implies - the living God appeared in flesh (compare John 1:14).

Thus, the difference in the manuscripts of single stroke (OΣ vs. ΘΣ) makes no difference to the message or theology.


The difference between these two readings has nothing to do with anyone wanting to "weaken the relationship between Father and Son"; it is simply a statement of fact consistent with the textual philosophy of the particular version being used. More specifically:

  1. If we accept that earlier manuscripts are more likely to have the original text, then we essentially arrive at the UBS5/NA28 text. In 1 Tim 3:16 this gives "he/who" uniformly for all early MSS
  2. If we accept the much later Byzantine text, then we essentially arrive at the Robinson-Pierpoint text (quite different from the TR but similar to the majority text). In 1 Tim 3:16 this gives "God".

Again, either choice gives the same theology.

Note the comments of Ellicott:

God was manifest in the flesh.—Here, in the most ancient authorities, the word “God” does not occur. We must, then, literally translate the Greek of the most famous and trustworthy MSS. as follows: He who was manifested in the flesh. In the later MSS., and in the great majority of the fathers who cite the passage, we certainly find Theos (“God”), as in the Received text. The substitution can be traced to no special doctrinal prejudice, but is owing, probably, to a well-meant correction of early scribes. At first sight, Theos (“God”) would be a reading easier to understand, and grammatically more exact; and in the original copies, the great similitude between ΘC (“God”)—the contracted form in which ΘEOC was written—and the relative ΘC (“He who”), would be likely to suggest to an officious scribe the very trifling alteration necessary for the easier and apparently more accurate word. Recent investigations have shown, however, beyond controversy that the oldest MSS., with scarcely an exception, contain the more difficult reading, ΘC (“He who”). The Greek pronoun thus rendered is simply a relative to an omitted but easily-inferred antecedent—viz., Christ. Possibly the difficulty in the construction is due to the fact of the whole verse being a fragment of an ancient Christian hymn, embodying a confession of faith, well known to, and perhaps often sung by, the faithful among the congregations of such cities as Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome—a confession embodying the grand facts of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, the preaching of the cross to, and its reception by, the Gentile world, and the present session of Christ in glory. In the original Greek the rhythmical, as well as the antithetical character, of the clauses is very striking. In the English translation they can hardly be reproduced:—

“Who was manifested in the flesh,

justified in the Spirit,

seen of angels,

was preached among the Gentiles,

believed on in the world,

taken up into glory.”

Fragments of similar hymns to Christ are found in 2 Timothy 2:11, and perhaps also in Ephesians 5:14.

  • 3
    Sorry but voted -1. Who knows but older manuscripts survived because in those days everyone knew they were worthless/defective and so didn't bother to read them? Thus they weren't "thumbed" - i.e. damaged by constant use - and thus survived down to the present day. eg Codex Sinaiticus leaves out the resurrection in Mark's Gospel... So, older means defective. Also, it isn't just early versions of scripture themselves but also early quotes of scripture by the early church which should be examined, such as those of St Chrysostom and St Cyril of Alexandria. Dec 15, 2021 at 19:59
  • 1
    @AndrewShanks - this argument is old as it is defective because it is based on what we do not know (and thus suppose or want to be true) rather than the actual existing evidence. The oldest MSS are extremely well used. In any case, the correct reading (as your veiled defence of TR betrays) is not germane here because it does not alster the meaning of the text.
    – Dottard
    Dec 15, 2021 at 20:40
  • @AndrewShanks - I also note that if the supposed older MSS were so well used and "thumbed" to death then, concomitantly, they would have been copied more often, but there is no evidence of this. Thus, the "thumbed" argument is a rationalization to arrive at a pre-existing position.
    – Dottard
    Jan 12, 2023 at 22:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.