And, without controversy - Undeniably, certainly. The object of the apostle is to say that the truth which he was about to state admitted of no dispute.
Great is the mystery - On the meaning of the word “mystery,” see the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:7. The word means that which had been hidden or concealed. The meaning here is not that the proposition which he affirms was mysterious in the sense that it was unintelligible, or impossible to be understood; but that the doctrine respecting the incarnation and the work of the Messiah, which had been so long “kept hidden” from the world, was a subject of the deepest importance. This passage, therefore, should not be used to prove that there is anything unintelligible, or anything that surpasses human comprehension, in that doctrine, whatever may be the truth on that point; but that the doctrine which he now proceeds to state, and which had been so long concealed from mankind, was of the utmost consequence.
Of godliness - The word “godliness” means, properly, piety, reverence, or religiousness. It is used here, however, for the gospel scheme, to wit, that which the apostle proceeds to state. This “mystery,” which had “been hidden from ages and from generations, and which was now manifest” Colossians 1:26, was the great doctrine on which depended “religion” everywhere, or was that which constituted the Christian scheme.
God - Probably there is no passage in the New Testament which has excited so much discussion among critics as this, and none in reference to which it is so difficult to determine the true reading. It is the only one, it is believed, in which the microscope has been employed to determine the lines of the letters used in a manuscript; and, after all that has been done to ascertain the exact truth in regard to it, still the question remains undecided. It is not the object of these notes to enter into the examination of questions of this nature. A full investigation may be found in Wetstein. 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 Matthew 1:23; John 1:14.
Was manifest - Margin, “Manifested.” The meaning is, “appeared” in the flesh.
In the flesh - In human nature; see this explained in the notes on Romans 1:3. The expression here looks as though the true reading of the much-disputed word was “God.” It could not have been, it would seem evident, ὁ ho“which,” referring to “mystery;” for how could a mystery “be manifested in the flesh?” Nor could it it be ὅς hos“who,” unless that should refer to one who was more than a man; for how absurd would it be to say that “a man was manifested, or appeared in the flesh!” How else could a man appear? The phrase here means that God appeared in human form, or with human nature; and this is declared to be the “great” truth so long concealed from human view, but now revealed as constituting the fundamental doctrine of the gospel. The expressions which follow in this verse refer to God “as” thus manifested in the flesh; to the Saviour as he appeared on earth, regarded as a divine and human being. It was the fact that he thus appeared and sustained this character, which made the things which are immediately specified so remarkable, and so worthy of attention.
Justified in the Spirit - That is, the incarnate person above referred to; the Redeemer, regarded as God and man. The word “Spirit,” here, it is evident, refers to the Holy Spirit, because:
(1) it is not possible to attach any intelligible idea to the phrase, “he was justified by his own spirit, or soul;”
(2) as the Holy Spirit performed so important a part in the work of Christ, it is natural to suppose there would be some allusion here to him; and,
(3) as the “angels” are mentioned here as having been with him, and as the Holy Spirit is often mentioned in connection with him, it is natural to suppose that there would be some allusion to Him here. The word “justified,” here, is not used in the sense in which it is when applied to Christians, but in its more common signification. It means to “vindicate,” and the sense is, that he was shown to be the Son of God by the agency of the Holy Spirit; he was thus vindicated from the charges alleged against him. The Holy Spirit furnished the evidence that he was the Son of God, or “justified” his claims. Thus he descended on him at his baptism, Matthew 3:16; he was sent to convince the world of sin because it did not believe on him, John 16:8-9; the Saviour cast out devils by him, Matthew 12:28; the Spirit was given to him without measure, John 3:34, and the Spirit was sent down in accordance with his promise, to convert the hearts of people; Acts 2:33. All the manifestations of God to him; all the power of working miracles by his agency; all the influences imparted to the man Christ Jesus, endowing him with such wisdom as man never had before, may be regarded as an attestation of the Holy Spirit to the divine mission of the Lord Jesus, and of course as a vindication from all the charges against him. In like manner, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and his agency in the conversion of every sinner, prove the same thing, and furnish the grand argument in vindication of the Redeemer that he was sent from God. To this the apostle refers as a part of the glorious truth of the Christian scheme now revealed - the “mystery of religion;” as a portion of the amazing records, the memory of which the church was to preserve as connected with the redemption of the world.
Seen of angels - They were attendants on his ministry, and came to him in times of distress, peril, and want; compare Luke 2:9-13; Luke 22:43; Luke 24:4; Hebrews 1:6; Matthew 4:11. They felt an interest in him and his work, and they gladly came to him in his sorrows and troubles. The design of the apostle is to give an impressive view of the grandeur and glory of that work which attracted the attention of the heavenly hosts, and which drew them from the skies that they might proclaim his advent, sustain him in his temptations, witness his crucifixion, and watch over him in the tomb. The work of Christ, though despised by people, excited the deepest interest in heaven; compare notes on 1 Peter 1:12.
Preached unto the Gentiles - This is placed by the apostle among the “great” things which constituted the “mystery” of religion. The meaning is, that it was a glorious truth that salvation might be, and should be, proclaimed to all mankind, and that this was a part of the important truths made known in the gospel. Elsewhere this is called, by way of eminence, “the mystery of the gospel;” that is, the grand truth which had not been known until the coming of the Saviour; see the Ephesians 6:19 note; Colossians 1:26-27; Colossians 4:3 notes. Before his coming, a wall of partition had divided the Jewish and Gentile world. The Jews regarded the rest of mankind as excluded from the covenant mercies of God, and it was one of the principal stumblingblocks in their way, in regard to the gospel, that it proclaimed that all the race was on a level, that that middle wall of partition was broken down, and that salvation might now be published to all people; compare Acts 22:21; Ephesians 2:14-15; Romans 3:22; Romans 10:11-20.
The Jew had no special advantage for salvation by being a Jew; the Gentile was not excluded from the hope of salvation. The plan of redemption was adapted “to man” as such - without regard to his complexion, country, customs, or laws. The blood of Christ was shed for all, and wherever a human being could be found, salvation might be freely offered him. This “is” a glorious truth; and taken in all its bearings, and in reference to the views which then prevailed, and which have always more or less prevailed about the distinctions made among people by caste and rank, there is scarcely anymore glorious truth connected with the Christian revelation, or one which will exert a wider influence in promoting the welfare of man. It is a great privilege to be permitted to proclaim that all people, in one respect - and that the most important - are on a level; that they are all equally the objects of the divine compassion; that Christ died for one as really as for another; that birth, wealth, elevated rank, or beauty of complexion, contribute nothing to the salvation of one man; and that poverty, a darker skin, slavery, or a meaner rank, do nothing to exclude another from the favor of his Maker.
Believed on in the world - This also is mentioned among the “great” things which constitute the mystery of revealed religion. But why is this regarded as so remarkable as to be mentioned thus? In point of importance, how can it be mentioned in connection with the fact that God was manifest in the flesh; that he was vindicated by the Holy Spirit; that he was an object of intense interest to angelic hosts, and that his coming had broken down the walls which had separated the world, and placed them now on a level? I answer, perhaps the following circumstances may have induced the apostle to place this among the remarkable things evincing the greatness of this truth:
(1) The strong “improbability” arising from the greatness of the “mystery,” that the doctrines respecting the incarnate Deity would be believed. Such is the incomprehensible nature of many of the truths connected with the incarnation; so strange does it seem that God would become incarnate; so amazing that he should appear in human flesh and blood, and that the incarnate Son of God should die, that it might be regarded as a wonderful thing that such a doctrine had in fact obtained credence in the world. But it was a glorious truth that all the natural improbabilities in the case had been overcome, and that people had accredited the announcement.
(2) the strong improbability that his message would be believed, arising from the “wickedness of the human heart.” Man, in all his history, had shown a strong reluctance to believe any message from God, or any truth whatever revealed by him. The Jews had rejected his prophets and put them to death John 17:5; see the notes on Acts 1:9. This is mentioned as among the “great” or remarkable things pertaining to “godliness,” or the Christian revelation, because it was an event which had not elsewhere occurred, and was the crowning grandeur of the work of Christ. It was an event that was fitted to excite the deepest interest in heaven itself. No event of more importance has ever occurred in the universe, of which we have any knowledge, than the re-ascension of the triumphant Son of God to glory after having accomplished the redemption of a world.
In view of the instructions of this chapter, we may make the following remarks.
1. The word “bishop” in the New Testament never means what is now commonly understood by it - “a Prelate.” It does not denote here, or anywhere else in the Now Testament, one who has charge over a “diocese” composed of a certain district of country, embracing a number of churches with their clergy.
2. There are not “three orders” of clergy in the New Testament. The apostle Paul in this chapter expressly designates the characteristics of those who should have charge of the church, but mentions only two, “bishops” and “deacons.” The former are ministers of the word, having charge of the spiritual interests of the church; the other are deacons, of whom there is no evidence that they were appointed to preach. There is no “third” order. There is no allusion to anyone who was to be “superior” to the “bishops” and “deacons.” As the apostle Paul was expressly giving instructions in regard to the organization of the church, such an omission is unaccountable if he supposed there was to be an order of “prelates” in the church. Why is there no allusion to them? Why is there no mention of their qualifications? If Timothy was himself a prelate, was he to have nothing to do in transmitting the office to others? Were there no special qualifications required in such an order of people which it would be proper to mention? Would it not be “respectful,” at least, in Paul to have made some allusion to such an office, if Timothy himself held it?
3. There is only one order of preachers in the church. The qualifications of that order are specified with great minuteness and particularity, as well as beauty; 1 Timothy 3:2-7. No man really needs to know more of the qualifications for this office than could be learned from a prayerful study of this passage.
4. A man who enters the ministry “ought” to have high qualifications; 1 Timothy 3:2-7. No man “ought,” under any pretence, to be put into the ministry who has not the qualifications here specified. Nothing is gained in any department of human labor, by appointing incompetent persons to fill it. A farmer gains nothing by employing a man on his farm who has no proper qualifications for his business; a carpenter, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith, gains nothing by employing a man who knows nothing about his trade; and a neighborhood gains nothing by employing a man as a teacher of a school who has no qualifications to teach, or who has a bad character. Such a man would do more mischief on a farm, or in a workshop, or in a school, than all the good which he could do would compensate. And so it is in the ministry. The true object is not to increase the “number” of ministers, it is to increase the number of those who are “qualified” for their work, and if a man has not the qualifications laid down by the inspired apostle, he had better seek some other calling.
5. The church is the guardian of the truth; 1 Timothy 3:15. It is appointed to preserve it pure, and to transmit it to future ages. The world is dependent on it for any just views of truth. The church has the power, and is entrusted with the duty, of preserving on earth a just knowledge of God and of eternal things; of the way of salvation; of the requirements of pure morality: to keep up the knowledge of that truth which tends to elevate society and to save man. It is entrusted with the Bible, to preserve uncorrupted, and to transmit to distant ages and lands. It is bound to maintain and assert the truth in its creeds and confessions of faith. And it is to preserve the truth by the holy lives of its members, and to show in their walk what is the appropriate influence of truth on the soul. Whatever religious truth there is now on the earth, has been thus preserved and transmitted, and it still devolves on the church to bear the truth of God on to future times, and to diffuse it abroad to distant lands.
6. The closing verse of this chapter 1 Timothy 3:16 gives us a most elevated view of the plan of salvation. and of its grandeur and glory. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to condense more interesting and sublime thought into so narrow a compass as this. The great mystery of the incarnation; the interest of angelic beings in the events of redemption; the effect of the gospel on the pagan world; the tendency of the Christian religion to break down every barrier among people, and to place all the race on a level; its power in overcoming the unbelief of mankind; and the re-ascension of the Son of God to heaven, present a series of most wonderful facts to our contemplation. These things are found in no other system of religion, and these are worthy of the profound attention of every human being. The manifestation of God in the flesh! What a thought! It was worthy of the deepest interest among the angels, and it “claims” the attention of people, for it was for human beings and not for angels that he thus appeared in human form; compare notes on 1 Peter 1:12.
7. How strange it is that “man” feels no more interest in these things! God was manifest in the flesh for his salvation, but he does not regard it Angels looked upon it with wonder: but man, for whom he came, feels little interest in his advent or his work! The Christian religion has broken down the barrier among nations, and has proclaimed that all people may be saved; yet the mass of people look on this with entire unconcern. The Redeemer ascended to heaven, having finished his great work; but how little interest do the mass of mankind feel in this! He will come again to judge the world; but the race moves on, regardless of this truth; unalarmed at the prospect of meeting him; feeling no interest in the assurance that he “has” come and died for sinners, and no apprehension in view of the fact that he will come again, and that they must stand at his bar. All heaven was moved with his first advent, and will be with his second; but the earth regards it with unconcern. Angelic beings look upon this with the deepest anxiety, though they have no personal interest in it; man, though all his great interests are concentrated on it, regards it as a fable, disbelieves it all, and treats it with contempt and scorn. Such is the difference between heaven and earth - angels and human beings!
And, without controversy - Και ὁμολογουμενες· And confessedly, by general consent, it is a thing which no man can or ought to dispute; any phrase of this kind expresses the meaning of the original.
God was manifest in the flesh - If we take in the whole of the 14th, 15th, and 16th verses, we may make a consistent translation in the following manner, and the whole paragraph will stand thus: Hoping to see thee shortly; but should I tarry long, these things I now write unto thee, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God. The mystery of godliness, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, is, without controversy, a great thing. And then he proceeds to show what this mystery of godliness is, which he sums up in the six following particulars:
Though all this makes a very plain and consistent sense, yet we are perplexed by various readings on the first clause, Θεος εφανερωθη εν σαρκι, God was manifest in the flesh; for instead of Θεος, God, several MSS., versions, and fathers, have ὁς or ὁ, who or which. And this is generally referred to the word mystery; Great is the mystery of godliness, Which was manifest in the flesh.
The insertion of, Θεος for ὁς, or ὁς for Θεος, may be easily accounted for. In ancient times the Greek was all written in capitals, for the common Greek character is comparatively of modern date. In these early times words of frequent recurrence were written contractedly, thus: for πατηρ, πρ; Θεος, θς; Κυριος, κς· Ιησους, ιης, etc. This is very frequent in the oldest MSS., and is continually recurring in the Codex Bexae, and Codex Alexandrinus. If, therefore, the middle stroke of the Θ, in ΘΣ, happened to be faint, or obliterated, and the dash above not very apparent, both of which I have observed in ancient MSS., then ΘΣ, the contraction for Θεος, God, might be mistaken for ΟΣ, which or who; and vice versa. This appears to have been the case in the Codex Alexandrinus, in this passage. To me there is ample reason to believe that the Codex Alexandrinus originally read ΘΣ, God, in this place; but the stroke becoming faint by length of time and injudicious handling, of which the MS. in this place has had a large proportion, some person has supplied the place, most reprehensibly, with a thick black line. This has destroyed the evidence of this MS., as now it can neither be quoted pro or con, though it is very likely that the person who supplied the ink line, did it from a conscientious conviction that ΘΣ was the original reading of this MS. I examined this MS. about thirty years ago, and this was the conviction that rested then on my mind. I have seen the MS. several times since, and have not changed my opinion. The enemies of the Deity of Christ have been at as much pains to destroy the evidence afforded by the common reading in support of this doctrine as if this text were the only one by which it can be supported; they must be aware that John 1:1, and John 1:14, proclaim the same truth; and that in those verses there is no authority to doubt the genuineness of the reading. We read, therefore, God was manifested in the flesh, and I cannot see what good sense can be taken out of, the Gospel was manifested in the flesh; or, the mystery of godliness was manifested in the flesh. After seriously considering this subject in every point of light, I hold with the reading in the commonly received text.
Justified in the Spirit - By the miracles which were wrought by the apostle in and through the name of Jesus; as well as by his resurrection from the dead, through the energy of the Holy Ghost, by which he was proved to be the Son of God with power. Christ was, justified from all the calumnies of the Jews, who crucified him as an impostor. All these miracles, being wrought by the power of God, were a full proof of his innocence; for, had he not been what he professed to be, God would not have borne such a decisive testimony to his Messiahship.
Seen of angels - By αγγελοι here, some understand not those celestial or infernal beings commonly called angels, but apostles and other persons who became messengers, to carry far and wide and attest the truth of his resurrection from the dead. If, however, we take the word seen, in its Jewish acceptation, for made known, we may here retain the term angels in its common acceptation; for it is certain that previously to our Lord's ascension to heaven, these holy beings could have little knowledge of the necessity, reasons, and economy of human salvation; nor of the nature of Christ as God and man. St. Peter informs us that the angels desire to look into these things, 1 Peter 1:12. And St. Paul says the same thing, Ephesians 3:9, Ephesians 3:10, when speaking of the revelation of the Gospel plan of salvation, which he calls the mystery, which From the Beginning of the World had been Hid in God; and which was now published, that unto the Principalities and Powers in heavenly places might be Made Known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God. Even those angelic beings have got an accession to their blessedness, by an increase of knowledge in the things which concern Jesus Christ, and the whole scheme of human salvation, through his incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.
Preached unto the Gentiles - This was one grand part of the mystery which had been hidden in God, that the Gentiles should be made fellow heirs with the Jews, and be admitted into the kingdom of God. To the Gentiles, therefore, he was proclaimed as having pulled down the middle wall of partition between them and the Jews; that, through him, God had granted unto them repentance unto life; and that they also might have redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Believed on in the world - Was received by mankind as the promised Messiah, the Anointed of God, and the only Savior of fallen man. This is a most striking part of the mystery of godliness, that one who was crucified as a malefactor, and whose kingdom is not of this world, and whose doctrines are opposed to all the sinful propensities of the human heart, should, wherever his Gospel is preached, be acknowledged as the only Savior of sinners, and the Judge of quick and dead! But some would restrict the meaning to the Jews, whose economy is often denominated הזה עולם olam hazzeh, this world, and which words both our Lord and the apostles often use in the same sense. Notwithstanding their prejudices, many even of the Jews believed on him; and a great company of the priests themselves, who were his crucifiers, became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7. This was an additional proof of Christ's innocence.
Received up into glory - Even that human nature which he took of the Virgin Mary was raised, not only from the grave, but taken up into glory, and this in the most visible and palpable manner. This is a part of the mystery of godliness which, while we have every reasonable evidence to believe, we have not powers to comprehend. His reception into glory is of the utmost consequence to the Christian faith; as, in consequence, Jesus Christ in his human nature ever appears before the throne as our sacrifice and as our Mediator.
This text, therefore, will never apply to the Romish Church, till that Church be, both in doctrine and discipline, what the Christian Church should be. When it is the established religion of any country it gives no toleration to those who differ from it; and in Protestant countries its cry for toleration and secular authority is loud and long. I wish its partisans the full and free exercise of their religion, even to its superstitions and nonsense; but how can they expect toleration who give none? The Protestant Church tolerates it fully; it persecutes the Protestants to bonds and death when it has power; which then is the true Church of Christ?
Just before us is the closing struggle of the great controversy when, with “all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness,” Satan is to work to misrepresent the character of God, that he may “seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositaries of His holy law and to vindicate His character before the world. Those to whom has been committed a trust so sacred must be spiritualized, elevated, vitalized, by the truths they profess to believe. Never did the church more sorely need, and never was God more solicitous that she should enjoy, the experience described in Paul's letter to the Colossians when he wrote: We “do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” 5T 746.1
*****Read in context »
The death of the martyrs can bear no comparison with the agony endured by the Son of God. We should take broader and deeper views of the life, sufferings, and death of God's dear Son. When the atonement is viewed correctly, the salvation of souls will be felt to be of infinite value. In comparison with the enterprise of everlasting life, every other sinks into insignificance. But how have the counsels of this loving Saviour been despised! The heart has been devoted to the world, and selfish interests have closed the door against the Son of God. Hollow hypocrisy and pride, selfishness and gain, envy, malice, and passion, have so filled the hearts of many that Christ can have no room. 2T 215.1
He was eternally rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. He was clothed with light and glory, and was surrounded with hosts of heavenly angels waiting to execute His commands. Yet He put on our nature and came to sojourn among sinful mortals. Here is love that no language can express. It passes knowledge. Great is the mystery of godliness. Our souls should be enlivened, elevated, and enraptured with the theme of the love of the Father and the Son to man. The followers of Christ should here learn to reflect in some degree that mysterious love preparatory to joining all the redeemed in ascribing “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, ... unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” 2T 215.2Read in context »
We see the advantage that Timothy had in a correct example of piety and true godliness. Religion was the atmosphere of his home. The manifest spiritual power of the piety in the home kept him pure in speech, and free from all corrupting sentiments. From a child Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures. He had the benefit of the Old Testament Scripture, and the manuscript of part of the New, the teachings and lessons of Christ (Letter 33, 1897). 7BC 919.1
16 (1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; see EGW on John 17:17). Beyond Finite Comprehension—There are some that may think they are fully capable with their finite judgment to take the Word of God, and to state what are the words of inspiration, and what are not the words of inspiration. I want to warn you off that ground, my brethren in the ministry. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” There is no finite man that lives, I care not who he is or whatever is his position, that God has authorized to pick and choose in His Word. 7BC 919.2
It is true that the apostle has said that there are some things that are hard to be understood in the Scriptures. So there are. And if it were not that there are subjects that are difficult and hard to be understood, well might the skeptic who now pleads that God has given a revelation that cannot be understood—well might he, I say—have something else to plead. God's infinity is so much higher than we are, that it is impossible for man to comprehend the mystery of godliness. 7BC 919.3Read in context »