A phrase that has been widely misunderstood for centuries is found in I 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.
The phrase “God was manifest in the flesh” has been said to mean that Jesus Christ was literally God manifested in the flesh. But is this in harmony with the many clear Bible verses on the subject of Who God is and who Jesus Christ is? Here are three notable verses that speak for themselves.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
I Timothy 2:5:
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
These clear verses tell us that God is Spirit and Jesus Christ is a man. So how do we handle this King James Version translation in I Timothy 3:16 that seems to say that Jesus Christ was literally God manifested in the flesh? What do we do to determine, What does the Word say?
God’s Word as originally given was perfect, and the whole Word fit perfectly from beginning to end. When we cannot make sense of a difficult verse such as I Timothy 3:16, there are some basic steps we can take to get back to God’s original intent.
In the foundational class on The Way of Abundance and Power, we learn an important Biblical truth we must adhere to: a difficult verse must be understood in light of the clear verses on the subject. For example, the idea that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh does not fit with the sixty-eight clear verses in the New Testament where he is directly referred to as God’s Son. Keeping the clear verses solid in our logic helps us be workmen of the Word who stand approved of God by rightly dividing His Word (II Timothy 2:15).
We must also understand and apply the truth that things similar are not identical. Jesus Christ is similar to God in many aspects, but they are not identical, as shown by points of dissimilarity. For example, we saw in John 4:24 that God is Spirit, but Jesus Christ appeared to his apostles in his resurrected body and said, “…handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). And in John 1:18 we read that no man has seen God at any time. Yet Jesus was seen of many, as shown by I Corinthians 15:5-7: “And that he [Christ] was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once…. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.” Just one point of dissimilarity proves that Jesus and God are not identical. Here are two, and there are many more.
Since the phrase in I Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh,” doesn’t fit with an accurate understanding of the clear verses, there is an apparent contradiction. When we come across an apparent discrepancy in the Scriptures, the first place to look is in our minds. Do we understand what is written in this verse? Have we introduced our own thinking or opinions into it? The words in I Timothy 3:16 are understandable, yet it is obvious that the statement “God was manifest in the flesh” does not fit with the many clear verses: God, Who is Spirit and cannot be seen, could not be manifested in the flesh, which is seen.
There appears to be no error in our understanding of this phrase in I Timothy 3:16, yet it does not fit with the clear verses on the subject. So then the error can only be at one other place: in the translation. The true Word of God cannot contradict itself. Mistranslations usually become clear when we check a few research materials.
The evidence from a number of Greek texts and textual authorities clearly indicates that the word “God” (theos in the Greek) was not originally in this verse. The King James Version was translated from the Stephens Greek text; and the Stephens Greek text does have in this verse the word theos, from which “God” was accurately translated. However, in Jesus Christ Is Not God, page 33, Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille reveals that in all the critical Greek texts other than Stephens, the masculine relative pronoun hos appears, instead of the word theos. These critical texts are documented in a note at the bottom of page 543 in The Interlinear KJV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English by George Ricker Berry. As noted in place of theos, these texts all have hos, meaning “who.”
The Companion Bible adds the understanding that it’s probable that an earlier reading was the neuter pronoun ho (which), to agree with mustērion, the Greek word translated “mystery,” which is also neuter. This agrees with the Syriac Version and all the Latin Versions….
This is an excerpt from the September/October 2014 issue of The Way Magazine.
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