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.
- The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, "G2150" [↩]