English Standard Version

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

From what I learned, the Greek ‘hos’ can not be translated as He because it is a relative pronoun.

Literal Standard Version

and confessedly, great is the secret of piety: who was revealed in flesh, declared righteous in the Spirit, seen by messengers, preached among nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory!

Here, the relative pronoun “who” (hos) does not have an antecedent, without which it is functionless!! And hence the sentence is incomplete because there is no Predicate (the verb phrase).

For clarity, I am giving an antecedent, “He” to “who” (as in ASV). Still, we have only the subject (noun phrase) and the predicate (verb phrase) is wanting.

Subject: He “who was revealed in flesh, declared..., taken up in glory”,

Predicate: Nil !

So, the question: hermeneutically and grammatically, is the word “God” not the correct word to be used here as we see in a number of manuscripts as follows?

Literal Translation of the Holy Bible

And confessedly, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit, was seen by angels, was proclaimed among nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Subject: “God”.

Predicate: the whole remaining part.

  • 1
    @Michael16 – Let me disagree with you. The primary verb “was” is part of the subject with a relative pronoun, as in the following example. Subject :- He who ‘was’ elected as the leader, Predicate :- came to see me. Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 18:27
  • by the way... welcome to the group Nephesh. If you have not done so already please take a look at the Tour and the Help pages (links below left). It will help you avoid "close" votes... although I admit I don't understand why someone voted to close this one. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 3:00
  • You are assuming that the whole sentence is subject without a predicate. There's no reason for it. "Great is the mystery that (He) who was elected, believed". Just combine it with the "great is the mystery" phrase.
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 5:17
  • @Michael16 – Assumption is the last thing I do with exegesis! In my opinion, you still miss the point. Look at my example: “Great indeed is my wonder that he who was elected the leader, was much loved by the people, was much devoted to them”……… (The Predicate, “came to see me” is still missing)! Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 10:00
  • Thanks Dan for the welcome. Yes, I am gradually getting familiar with this group. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 10:02

4 Answers 4


Here are the remarks of Bruce Metzger in his "Textual Commentary of the GNT" on the variation of Ὃς vs θεὸς, which in the original Uncial MSS was Ὃς with a line over it, ie, a Nomina Sacra.

The reading which on the basis of external evidence and transcriptional probability, bets explains the rise of the others is Ὃς. It is supported by the earliest and best uncials (א A, C G) as well as by 33 365 442 2127 syr(bmg) goth eth (pp) Origen Epiphanius Jerome Theodore Eutherius Cyril Liberatus. Furthermore, since the neuter of Ὃς (to bring the relative into concord with μυστήριον), the witness that read ὸ (D it (d, g, 61, 86) vg Ambrosiaster Marius Victorinus Hilary Pelagiu Augustine) also indirectly presuppose Ὃς to be the true reading. The Textus Receptus reads θεὸς, with א(e) (this correct is of the 12 century) A(2) C(2) D(c) K L P psi 81 330 614 1739 Byz Lect Gregory-Nyssa Didymus Chrysostom Theodoret Euthaliu and later Fathers. Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth century (psi) supports θεὸς; all ancient versions presuppose Ὃς or Ὃ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεὸς. The reading θεὸς arose either (a) accidentally through the misreading OC as OC (overlined), or (b) deliberately to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.

However, this is all something of a storm in a tea-cup - regardless of which reading is adopted, the result is exactly the same:

  • if θεὸς is used - Jesus is is called "God"
  • if Ὃς is used, the antecedent is clearly from the previous verse, viz, "the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth"

That is, which ever text we adopt, the result is the same - Jesus is called "the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" -

who appeared in the flesh,

was vindicated by the Spirit,

was seen by angels,

was proclaimed among the nations,

was believed in throughout the world,

was taken up in glory.

Now, whether one translates the relative pronoun as "who" or "He", again, does not matter as the meaning is the same - the antecedent is still "God".

He vs Who

According to BDAG, the pronoun Ὃς can be either a relative pronoun, ie, "who" in this case,; or, a demonstrative pronoun, "that person" and thus be translated "He" in 1 Tim 3:16. It is obvious that many modern translations take this view.

Other cases where this word Ὃς should be translated as "he" or "that one", etc, include, John 5:11, Matt 22:5, Luke 23:33, Acts 27:44, etc.

  • I don't edit often but appreciated this answer so much I wanted it to be perfect. +1 Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 3:13
  • @MikeBorden - many thanks for fixing errors - much appreciated.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 4:59
  • @Dottard – While I agree with your conclusion, I have to say that as per the language rule, a relative pronoun has to be placed very next to the antecedent as otherwise the meaning can funnily change. Example: “The interviewers who were found suitable shortlisted three candidates” (wrong). “The interviewers shortlisted three candidates who were found suitable” (correct). Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 10:08
  • @NepheshRoi - First, predicates are not necessary for proper sentence structure. Second, the pronoun Ὃς can at times be a demonstrative pronoun. I will add to my answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 10:19
  • 3
    @NepheshRoi - here is an example of a correct use of "who" where it is removed a little from its antecedent: "The Man in a black hat and pin-striped suit who was running down the street, tripped. " It is only necessary to place a relative pronoun immediately adjacent to its antecedent when there is any confusion. Otherwise, some distance is still acceptable.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 10:44

Barnes commentary Sheds the light that I agree with

The question which has excited so much controversy is, whether the original Greek word was Θεὸς Theos, “God,” or whether it was ὅς hos, “who,” or ὁ ho, “which.” The controversy has turned, to a considerable degree, on the reading in the “Codex Alexandrinus;” and a remark or two on the method in which the manuscripts in the New Testament were written, will show the true nature of the controversy.

Greek manuscripts were formerly written entirely in capital letters, and without breaks or intervals between the words, and without accents; see a full description of the methods of writing the New Testament, in an article by Prof. Stuart in Dr. Robinson’s Biblotheca Sacra, No. 2, pp. 254ff The small, cursive Greek letters which are now used, were not commonly employed in transcribing the New Testament, if at all, until the ninth or tenth centuries.

It was a common thing to abridge or contract words in the manuscript. Thus, πρ would be used for πατερ pater, “father;” κς for κυριος kurios, “Lord;” Θς for Θεος Theos, “God,” etc. The words thus contracted were designated by a faint line or dash over them. In this place, therefore, if the original uncials (capitals) were Θ¯C¯, standing for Θεὸς Theos, “God,” and the line in the Θ, and the faint line over it, were obliterated from any cause, it would easily be mistaken for OC - ὅς hos - “who.”

To ascertain which of these is the true reading, has been the great question; and it is with reference to this that the microscope has been resorted to in the examination of the Alexandrian manuscript. It is now generally admitted that the faint line “over” the word has been added by some later hand, though not improbably by one who found that the line was nearly obliterated, and who meant merely to restore it. Whether the letter O was originally written with a line within it, making the reading “God,” it is now said to be impossible to determine, in consequence of the manuscript at this place having become so much worn by frequent examination.

The Vulgate and the Syriac read it: “who,” or “which.” The Vulgate is, “Great is the sacrament of piety which was manifested in the flesh.” The Syriac, “Great is the mystery of godliness, that he was manifested in the flesh.” The “probability” in regard to the correct reading here, as it seems to me, is, that the word, as originally written, was Θεός Theos - “God.” At the same time, however, the evidence is not so clear that it can be properly used in an argument. But the passage is not “necessary” to prove the doctrine which is affirmed, on the supposition that that is the correct reading. The same truth is abundantly taught elsewhere; compare Mat 1:23; Joh 1:14 (refs2).

  • 2
    Faith Mendel – Thank you for the answer. Yes, you are talking about the nomina sacra. But I raised this question because there is a great controversy over whether it is “theta-sigma” or “omicron-sigma”. But Nigel J has added an answer on it. Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 18:35
  • See Cambridge commentary on this argument that it was Nomina sacra for theos
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 5:17

The fact remains for all that, that the original reading of A is attested so amply, that no sincere lover of Truth can ever hereafter pretend to doubt it... it is too late by 150 years to contend on the negative side of the question... The plain fact concerning Cod. A is this - That at 1 Tim. iii. 16, two delicate horizontal strokes in THEOS which were thoroughly patent in 1628, which could be seen plainly down to 1737, and which were discernible by an expert (Dr. Woide) so late as A.D. 1765, have for the last hundred years entirely disappeared, which is precisely what Berriman in 1741 predicted would be the case.”

Quoted from 'Textus Receptus' 1 Timothy 3:16

Revision Revised, 432-436

Dean John Burgon

  • This is factually incorrect - A originally had "who" not "God". It was a later "corrector" a few hundred years later that "corrected" A to read "God". Many of Burgon's arguments are similarly ill-founded.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 5:04
  • 1
    Well @Dottard I think I will not respond and I shall leave you to criticise a man who spent a lifetime in the most intimate study of the manuscripts and in such utter devotion to his vocation that it fair takes my breath away. I stand with John Burgon exactly where I have stood since 1969 when I read his book 'Revision Revised'. And I shall not be moving. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 7:13
  • 1
    Ah, yes @Dottard ,it is an exceedingly vast multitude. The majority has always been right, has it not ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 11:55
  • 1
    I only mention that multitude to show that Burgon's "utter devotion to his vocation" is not alone - others have made a similar devotion over longer periods such as Metzger himself. It is pointless having a contest of experts.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 19:33
  • 1
    Downvote deserved for knowingly promoting a two century old refuted argument, which is also irrelevant. More notably, both yours and Dottard's answers have nothing to do with the question, but repeats the textual issue alone. Unfortunately, such answers always receive the highest votes for the same emotional, sentimental reasons that you revere Burgon. Such content raises question on the quality of this site.
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 12:04

I recommend that the English.SE will be a better place to receive grammatical explanations. The antecedent of "He who" is the mystery of godliness. The reason He has been supplied in the English versions with the relative pronoun is merely for either for smoothness of English or clarification to emphasise that the mystery is Christ. It is a common practice in translation, and sometimes there is necessity to supply words where ellipsis has been used in the Greek.

The argument that "he who" has no predicate was used by 19th century proponents of the Authorised Version to attack the Revised Version. Some argued that the "he who" phrase has neither an antecedent proceeding it to be a relative phrase, nor it has a predicate. The antecedent is clearly "mystery" μυστήριον·, so their argument was that the masculine pronoun cannot be used for the neuter mystery. This is wrong, as the relative subject occasionally takes the gender/case/number of its antecedent or predicate, which is called the rule of attraction. Ex. Col 1:27

what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. τί τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς δόξης τοῦ μυστηρίου τούτου ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, ὅ ἐστιν Χριστὸς [some later mss also changes the pronoun to masculine: • ὅς ἐστιν] א (Sinaiticus) C D H I Ψ Byz ς (Textus Receptus)] Textus Receptus also changes the neuter "what" τί τὸ (the riches) to masculine • τίς ὸ] ς

Subject and Predicate:

Pronouns like "Who, He or That" can be a substantive subject of a sentence, and a sentence like "Who/That/It was" can be considered complete. A substantive is a word or a group of words that functions as a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. A substantive clause acts as a noun and can take the place of any noun-role in a sentence, including as a subject. A complete sentence must have a subject and a predicate. Therefore, a sentence like "Who was" or "It is" are complete sentences (in response to a question), with substantives/pronouns serving as the subject and "was/is" as the predicate. Also note, that the name of God means, Rev 1:8 (RV) "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty".

Great is the mystery that he was manifested in flesh; Or "Great is the mystery who/which was manifested". For further clarification, simply supply: Great is the mystery, that (it is) he who was manifested. There is nothing incomplete and ungrammatical here.

Since the subject pronoun He was added for clarification in the RV, that reading may have caused the confusion and awkwardness, which is why the modern versions simplified it by removing the relative pronoun "who".

NT Greek:

Wallace writes in his Exegetical Syntax, pp. 341-342 about the interpolation of the pronoun in 1 Tim 3:16 to theos/God:

The textual variant θεὸς in the place of ὃς, has been adamantly defended by some scholars, particulary those of the “majority text” school. Not only is such a reading poorly attested,’ but the syntactical argument that “mystery’ (uvotnptov) being a neuter noun, cannot be followed by the masculine pronoun (ὃς) is entirely without weight. As attractive theologically as the reading θεὸς may be, it is spurious. To reject it is not to deny the deity of Christ, of course; it is just to deny any explicit reference in this text.

fn: Young, Intermediate Greek, 76, enlists this text as an example of a gender shift, arguing that “the mystery of godliness” refers to Christ.
fn: In particular, it is impossible to explain the Latin reading of a neuter RP as deriving from θεὸς, showing that ὃς was quite early. Not one firsthand of any Greek witnesses prior to the 8th century read θεὸς. Since θεὸς was a nomen sacrum, it was contracted as OC in the MSS. The possibility thus exists that OC was misread as ΘC in about the fourth century and, owing to its richer theological content, thereby ended up in the vast majority of MSS. (See the discussion in Metzger, Textual Commentary, 641.)
fn: J. W. Burgon, The Revision Revised (London: John Murray, 1883) 426 (cf.also 497-501). Burgon adds: “Such an expression is abhorrent alike to Grammar and to Logic, —is intolerable, in Greek as in English.” Though eloquent in rhetoric, Burgon’s argument is lacking in substance.

The NABRE version mentions in its footnote under this verse:

3:16 Who: the reference is to Christ, who is himself “the mystery of our devotion.” Some predominantly Western manuscripts read “which,” harmonizing the gender of the pronoun with that of the Greek word for mystery; many later (eighth/ninth century on), predominantly Byzantine manuscripts read “God,” possibly for theological reasons.

For those who think the sudden masculine pronoun is unnatural, then I'd suggest following the Western mss variant which has the neuter pronoun for the mystery, that will be more appropriate and remove all problems. It is possible that which was originally the neuter pronoun, was changed to masculine for strengthening the interpretation, which was later changed to God, which is the worst variant. Though scholars argue that it is likely that ὅc be changed to ὅ than ΘC. This neuter pronoun is found in these mss, including many Old Latin Vulgate: • ὃ] D* (061 ᾧ) itar itb itc itd itdem itdiv itf itg itmon ito itx itz vg Ambrosiaster Victorinus-Rome Hilary Severian Pelagius Augustine Theodotus-Ancyra Marius Mercator Quodvultdeus Varimadum (from Laparola apparatus, Variant Readings commentary module).

Ὃς Translated as He

Quote from Mounce, Basics of Bible Greek:

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Upon searching for the occurrences where the relative pronoun (G3739 TR he) is translated as "He" using theWord Bible app, we get 25 results in KJV, and 37 for NET.

(KJV) Acts 9:39 Πέτρος συνῆλθεν αὐτοῖς· ὃν παραγενόμενον ἀνήγαγον εἰς τὸ ὑπερῷον Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him
13:30-31 Ὁ δὲ θεὸς ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν· ὃς ὤφθη ἐπὶ ἡμέρας πλείους τοῖς συναναβᾶσιν But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee

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