1 Timothy 3:16 (Misinterpreted Scriptures)


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.

Misinterpretation: The UPC uses this Scripture as one of their major proofs for the doctrine of the Oneness of God. They claim that the mystery of the Godhead is revealed in 1 Tim. 3:16, because God was manifest in the flesh (as Jesus), justified in the Spirit (as the Holy Ghost), and received up into glory (where He steps back into His role as the Father).

Facts: This Scripture says that the mystery of godliness is great, not the mystery of the Godhead.

To understand this Scripture we must back up and look at the context. Paul is explaining to Timothy how bishops and deacons should live. A good starting place to get an idea of the context is 1 Tim. 3:14:

1Ti 3:14-16 KJV
(14) These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:
(15) But if I tarry long, 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.
(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.

It is clear that Paul is explaining "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God." He then concludes with 1 Tim. 3:16.

So what was Paul’s point? Why did he jump from "how to live" to Jesus? The clearest answer that I have found is in The Complete WordStudy Dictionary’s article on the Greek word for "godliness." This is what it says:

In 1 Tim. 3:16, we are told that [godliness] is a mystery. This refers to a holy life resulting from God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ when that incarnation and all that it entails is truly believed. This is [godliness], a holiness initiated in the life of the believer by Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit1.

I think that this explanation makes sense, but some readers may disagree with me. Either way, the point remains the same: Paul was not talking about the Godhead in 1 Tim. 3:16.


  1. The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, "G2150" []

8 thoughts on “1 Timothy 3:16 (Misinterpreted Scriptures)

  1. Barbara

    You overlook a lot of things Jesus said about Himself, don’t you? Such as “all of the honor you give to the Father, you must give to the Son, and all of the honor you give to the Son, you must give to the Father.” John’s Gospel. God was manifest in the flesh. The Word was with God and the Word was God. Cpe. this to Revelation 19:13. I have power to lay down My life and I have power to raise it up again, Jesus said. Tear down this temple, and I will raise it up in 3 days. He meant His body. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but you should be familiar with these verses. Christ is our Creator, same as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Ref John 1:1-5. Nothing was made without Him, Go ye therefore…baptizing in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Christ always accepted worship. He never rebuked it like Peter, Paul and the Angel in Revelation. Your theology is in error, friend. If Jesus is not God, then He lied to us. But He didn’t lie to anyone, being God in the flesh. I pray that He, God the Son will verify His Word to your heart. You are not saved yet, but you still can be. Wish you the Best.

  2. Gbemisola Tunji

    I pity you.u seemed to be extremely learned and dats y u always giv ur own interpretation 2d word of God,not allowing the Spirit of God 2lead u n gv u a beta understandin.I hope u meet ‘3 persons’ on d day of judgemt so dt u’l b convinced.ur own words wil find u out.if 1tim 3:16,1jhn 5:20 n John 10:33 cant convince u dat Jesus is God,then d damnation of d pharisees await you John 8:24.

  3. Don

    “Finally, it doesn’t matter if 1 Tim. 3:16 is rendered as “God” or “He,” because the passage is clear either way. ”

    Honestly, you need to do some study of textual criticism. You would never say that even if you did just a little. 98% of existing Greek manuscripts have ‘Theos’ in 1 Tim 3:16…and to say that the phrase ‘…GOD WAS MANIFEST IN THE FLESH…’ is not a reference to the divine nature and the study of Christology…well, if you can say something like that, you really need to stop writing about Theology at all until you go and put some serious time into your study of Christianity.

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author


      The wonderful thing about Christianity is that we can differ on issues like this and still remain brothers in Christ :). I’m sure that if you pray for me and I pray for you then we can’t go wrong!

      In Christ,
      – Josh S.

  4. dwight davis

    Isaac Newton also challenged 1 Timothy 3:16 but from a different angle, that Jesus is not God at all, only a prophet. He wrote a treatise on the two notable corruptions: 1 John 5:7 & 1 Tim 3:16, a devoted Unitarian view.

    Now ‘new age’ evangelicals have changed the Greek 1 Tim 3:16 to remove the word THEOS and replace it with a weaker ‘he’ (ie, the Baptist ESV Version). Why? I think Michael Servetus gives us the answer.

    Servetus said, “If God is 3 persons according to classic metaphysical language of the 3rd-4th century, and these 3 persons manifest into a 4th person, then we a ‘quadrinity’. He makes sense to me.

    Admin edit: Removed link to 3rd party site.

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Hi Dwight,

      Couple of quick points.

      First, I removed the link to the Web site that you listed. If you were the author of a particular article on that site that you would like to reference then send me the link and I’ll consider including it.

      Second, I’m not sure what “new age evangelicals” mean, but I don’t think it was a compliment. Therefore, associating that statement with the Baptist denominations is an obvious slur, and it is not welcome on this Web site.

      In addition to those two things, it’s worth mentioning that the ESV is not a “Baptist translation.” The person who oversaw the committee was Reformed, and the committee itself was cross-denominational. It wouldn’t matter if they were all Baptist though. It wouldn’t even matter if they were all members of the New Age movement. None of that has any bearing on their ability to produce an accurate translation of the Bible. Trying to claim that their denomination or even their supposed non-Christian beliefs would affect their knowledge of the Greek language and their ability to render an accurate translation of the text is rather silly. It’s also an ad hominem fallacy (an attack on the person instead of the argument that the person is making). Fortunately for all of us, though, the ESV was not translated by a particular denomination, and I’m not aware of any members of the board being new age Christians (whatever that even is).

      Also, the Trinitarian doctrine does not teach that three persons manifest as a fourth person. That’s a fatal misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology. Trinitarian doctrine states that there is one Being (God) who exists in three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Understanding the difference between a “being” and a “person” is crucial to understanding that statement. In the Bible we define a person as expressing emotion, intellect, and will. With that definition in mind, a cat is a being but it is not a person. I, on the other hand, am both a being and a person. In our world we do not have any being that is more than one person. We have either beings or person/beings who exist in a one-to-one relationship. But why must we assume that it could not be that way? After all, God created us, we did not create Him. Why must we presume that He is like us? If the Bible says that there is only one God (it does) but it also refers to Jesus as being God and a distinct person, the Father as being God and a distinct person, and the Spirit as being God and a distinct person (which it also does) then the logical conclusion is that the one Being of God exists as three Persons. This is not tritheism (belief in three gods) and it is not a claim that three persons manifest themselves as a fourth person.

      Finally, it doesn’t matter if 1 Tim. 3:16 is rendered as “God” or “He,” because the passage is clear either way. It’s also worth noting that no English translation has the word “theos” in it because “theos” is a Greek word. Greek manuscripts do not always include the word “theos” either. Some manuscripts have “theos” and others do not, which is why different translations render the passage in different ways (it doesn’t mean it’s because they’re new age). Either way, the passage is clear: It’s is obviously referring to Christ, rather or not the word “theos” is explicitly used.

      In Christ,
      Josh S.

  5. William Jarvis

    “What ever causes light is light”. ” That which was, ‘In the beginning’, Geneses 1-3 is a prophecy, a mystery being revealed. “GOD said, Let us make man in our image , with our likness”
    What you have found is the evidence of the mystery of the Gospel! God, The Father, is in Messiah, Yeshuah, making a natural man of the dust into a spiritual man made into to the likness of HIS first SON.

  6. Ray Steiner

    Just finished reading your introductory pages. Thanks. God’s blessing you.

    We have a lot in common, I also spent seven years in the UPC fellowship before being led of the Spirit to expand my fellowship with the rest of the church body. I am interested in hearing what you have learned from the Word to be true, so I’ll stay in touch. Contact me if God leeds.

    PS I think the Complete WordStudy Dictioary’s definition of “godliness” is a better definition for your #4 Mission Statement. Love in Christ Ray

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