1 Tim. 3:16

By Martin A. Shue

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.

Perhaps the most axiomatic of all the Fundamentals of the Christian faith is the Deity of Jesus Christ. One of the most explicit verses in the Bible testifying to the fact that Jehovah-God became incarnate in the flesh is 1 Timothy 3:16. In 1857 Jonathan Philpott (The Gospel Standard) prophesied that this very verse would be tampered with should any revision of the AV be attempted by anybody. Very ominously Philpott’s prediction was fulfilled by B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort and the entire Revision Committee of 1881. Just as Philpott had foretold Hort convinced the Revision Committee to remove “God” from His own Incarnation in 1 Tim. 3:16. In place of the AV reading, “God was manifest in the flesh” the Revised Version (RV) reads “He who was manifested”. Those that support such a reading along with the many omissions and changes in the modern versions purport that no doctrine has been effected. However, this is simply not true as you can see by the example set before us. One of the members of the Revision Committee, Dr. Vance Smith, certainly did not see it this way. Dr. Vance Smith, the Unitarian Minister of S. Saviour’s Gate Chapel, York, openly denied the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ yet he was permitted to work on the translation of the RV. On June 22, 1870 Dr. Smith attended a Communion service with the rest of his fellow Revisers in Westminster-Abbey in Henry VII’s Chapel. Here at this service Dr. Smith partook of Holy Communion only to declare the next day “that he received the Sacrament on this occasion without ‘joining in reciting the Nicene Creed,’ and without ‘compromise,’ (as he expressed it,) of his principles as an ‘Unitarian.’” Despite what our modern textual critics and supporters of the modern versions say Dr. Smith positively believed that by changing 1 Tim. 3:16 they were changing doctrine. Dr. Smith made the following comments regarding this passage:

The old reading is pronounced untenable by the Revisers, as it has long been known to be by all careful students of the New Testament....It is in truth another example of the facility with which ancient copiers could introduce the word God into their manuscripts,--a reading which was the natural result of the growing tendency in early Christian times...to look upon the humble Teacher as the incarnate Word, and therefore as ‘God manifested in the flesh’” (Burgon quoting Dr. Smith, Revision Revised, p. 515)
From Dr. Smith’s quote you can see very clearly that altering this verse does in fact affect doctrine. Because of this we will be examining the possible readings for 1 Tim. 3:16 in this article in order to determine which is the correct reading.

It would be to our advantage to first set forth and explain the possible Greek readings. There are in essence three possible Greek readings for this passage of Scripture: 1) qeos (Theos or God) 2) os (Hos or Who) 3) o (Ho or Which). In reality the two rival readings are Qeos efanerwqh (‘God was manifested’) and to ths eusebeias musthrion, os (“the mystery of godliness, who”). We should also explain the “nomina sacra”, which simply means that words such as “God”, “Christ” and “Jesus” were routinely abbreviated in the Unicals. In the example set before us “Theos” would be abbreviated QC with a line written over both letters (which unfortunately I am unable to duplicate here so just remember there is supposed to be a line over the letters) indicating that an abbreviation has taken place. It should also be noted that “who” is written OC in the Unicals without the line above the letters. By now it should be growing increasingly obvious how some of the MSS. were corrupted to read OC (who) instead of QC (God)(remember the line above the letters) since the only thing that distinguishes the two are two horizontal strokes---one above the letters and the other a small stroke that distinguishes Q (Theta) from O (Omikron). One of the causes of such corruption is due to the fact that it was the custom by scribes to make these lines “so wonderously faintly” that on occasion they escape detection. To demonstrate what I am talking about we will look at the often disputed Codex A (Alexandrinus).

Bishop Ellicott, head of the Revision Committee of 1881, stated that “Os is read with A [indisputably; after minute personal inspection...]”. In making this proclamation Bp. Ellicott joined Westcott/Hort, Griesbach, Tregelles, Tischendorf, et al. Ellicott claimed that the reason Codex A appeared to read (Theos) was because on the back of the page was found an Epsilon (E), which he professed had bled through the page thus making the Omikron (O) appear to be a Theta (Q). However, he was, as is common among the textual critics, long on theory but short on facts. Scrivener, Burgon and many others proved him to be wrong by a simple experiment, viz. by holding the MS. up to a very bright light proving that the sagitta of the Epsilon only covered one third of the Theta and as Prebentary Scrivener pointed out it “cuts much too high” to be mistaken for the diameter of the Theta (Q). In addition to this we have the testimony of others who have either collated A or have personally inspected the MS.

Patrick Young was the first to collate Codex A (1628-1652) and it is certain that he read “Theos” (God). For Young transmitted this reading to Archbishop Ussher, who in turn passed this reading on to Hammond before 1653. It is certain that the scholar Huish read “Theos” in Codex A when he sent his collation to Brian Walton, who published his New Testament in 1657. In 1659 Bishop Pearson unquestionably read “Theos” when he made the statement, “we find not os (who) in any copy”. Then 16 years later (i.e. 1675) Bishop Fell further witnessed to the fact that Codex A reads “Theos” when he published his New Testament. Another individual, Mill, who worked on the New Testament from 1677 to 1707 declares that he read “Theos” in this place in the MS. Another who collated Codex A, Bentley (1716), knew no other reading than “Theos” in 1 Timothy 3:16. Still yet, one of the most resounding testimonies was made by Wooton in 1718:

“There can be no doubt” (he says) “that this MS. always exhibited QC [remember the horizontal line over the leters]. Of this, any one may easily convince himself who will be at the pains to examine the place with attention (Burgon citing Wooton, Revision Revised, p. 433).” [words in brackets mine]
In 1716 Wetstein relayed to the Rev. John Kippax that someone had apparently “retouched” the middle stroke of the Q but that the original stroke of the Q could still be seen protruding from each end of the correctors stroke. In addition to this Berriman, who gave Lectures on the authentic reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 in 1737-1738, reached the following conclusion,
If therefore” (he adds) “at any time hereafter the old line should become altogether undiscoverable, there will never be just cause to doubt but that the genuine, and original reading of the MS. was QC: and that the new strokes, added at the top and in the middle by the corrector were not designed to corrupt and falsify, but to preserve and perpetuate the true reading, which was in danger of being lost by the decay of Time (Burgon citing Berriman (1741), Revision Revised, p. 433).”
Many others who examined the Codex also testified that it read “Theos”, however, so as not to abuse the patience of my readers I shall only mention two more. Perhaps one of the greatest and most learned scholars of all time, F. H. A. Scrivener, had this to say concerning Codex A:
I have examined Codex A at least twenty times within as many years and seeing (as every one must) with my own eyes, I have always felt convinced that it reads QC (Scrivener, Introduction, p.553)
The next and last witness we shall call is Adam Clarke. In his commentary on this verse Clarke makes the following observation:
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 “Theta”, in “Theos”, happened to be faint, or obliterated, and the dash above not very apparent, both of which I have observed in ancient MSS., then QC, the contraction for “Theos”, God, might be mistaken for “os” 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 “Theos”, 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 “Theos” 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 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 (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 8, ppg.151-152).
I couldn’t agree more with Clarke as to the enemies of the Deity of Christ going through “much pains” to destroy the evidence that this verse offers. It would seem obvious that these enemies have succeeded in destroying this evidence in the many modern versions. I would also concur with Mr. Clarke that the reading of the modern versions makes no “good sense” and that the reading of the “commonly received text” is the genuine reading. With this we will dismiss ourselves from the discussion surrounding Codex A.

We will now turn our attention to the evidence afforded us by the whole body of Greek manuscripts. In order not to confuse the reader I will deal with each of the 3 variants separately:

1) We will begin by looking at the evidence for the reading “HO” or “which” as it is translated into English. There is very little evidence attesting to this particular reading. It has the support of five ancient versions, viz. the Latin, the Peshitta, the Coptic, the Sahidic, and the Ethiopic Versions. This type of support is certainly not to be overlooked but if it is to be considered authentic it should also have the support of the Greek MSS. as well as Patristic support. This is where the support for the reading “which” breaks down severally. Of the mass of Greek MSS. the reading “HO” is found in only Codex D (Claromontanus)(6th century). Further it is only cited by two Church Fathers, viz. Gelasius of Cyzicus (A.D. 476) and an unknown auther of a homily in the Appendix to Chrysostom. Thus, with such support, or rather lack of, it would seem obvioius that “HO” (“which”) is not the original reading of 1 Timothy 3:16. We pass on to our next variant.

2) We will now look at the evidence for the reading “HOS” or “who”. The fact of the matter is “HOS” doesn’t fair much better than “HO” in its support. Among the ancient versions it receives the support of only one version, the Gothic. Interesting to note it does not receive support, in the way of a citation, by a single Greek Church Father. Likewise, it is only to be found in six Greek extant MSS., Aleph (Sinaiticus), Paul 17, 73; Apostolic 12, 85, 86. It may be of some interest to the reader to note that the revered B (Vaticanus) is silent concerning 1 Tim. 3:16 because it does not contain the book of 1 Timothy at all. Considering the reading “HOS” (“who”) rests on such scant evidence it has no doubt found its way into the modern versions due to it being found in the other adored MS., Aleph. It is simply unfathomable how any serious textual critic or any translational committee would even give earnest consideration to this reading. Yet, it was adopted by Westcott and Hort in their Greek Text. In like manner it is the reading found in the Nestle/Aland Greek Text and the UBS Greek Text. Therefore, nearly all of the modern versions have rejected “Theos” (God) in favor of “HOS” (who). Some of the popular translations read as follows:

New International Version- “He appeared in a body,”

New American Standard Version- “He who was revealed in the flesh,”

New Revised Standard Version- “He was revealed in flesh,”

American Standard Version- “He who was manifested in the flesh,”

Today’s English Version- “He appeared in human form,”

As you can readily see most of the modern versions don’t really follow ANY Greek Text in this passage. In a weak attempt to avoid using “Theos” and to make sense out of an unintelligible sentence most versions have erroneously inserted the word “He”. This shows willful intent on their part because “He” is not found in ONE SINGLE GREEK MANUSCRIPT. As Dean Burgon said,

“And now, will you listen while I state the grounds on which I am convinced that your substitution of “HOS” for “Theos” in 1 Tim. iii. 16 is nothing else but a calamitous perversion of the Truth (Burgon, Revision Revised, p. 485)?”
3) The reading “God” in 1 Tim. 3:16, without a doubt, rests on the most overwhelming evidence by the ancient authority (i.e. Greek MSS., Church Fathers, Ancient Versions). We will address the Greek MSS. evidence first. In his masterful Dissertation on 1 Tim. 3:16 John Burgon pointed out that there existed 302 cursive copies of Paul’s Epistles. Burgon stated,
Out of this number, 2 are fablous:--1 has been destroyed by fire:--and 6 have strayed into unknown localities. Add, that 37 (for various reasons) are said not to contain the verse in question; while of 2, I have been hitherto unseccessful in obtaining any account:--and it will be seen that the sum of the available cursive copies of S. Paul’s Epistles is exactly 254 (Burgon, Revision Revised, ppg. 491-492)
It has already been noted that 2 of these cursive copies (Paul 17 and 73) read “who”. I am happy to say that the other 252 copies read “Theos” (God). Consider that for a moment---out of the 254 cursive copies 252 copies read “God” just as the Authorized Version does at 1 Tim. 3:16. In addition to these 252 manuscripts we have already established that the Unical Codex A exhibits “God”, to this we can add K, L and P (all of the 9th century) and we would not think ourselves dishonorable to also claim for our side C (5th century), F and G (9th century). We can also add to this number 33 ancient copies of the ‘Apostolus’. The ‘Apostolus’ is simply the book of the Lectionaries which contains Paul’s Epistles. These Lectionaries are significant in that they reflect the Ecclesiastical Tradition. In the early church the various Scripture readings where divided up into lections and were read in the churches based on the lectionary schedule. As you can see these Lectionaries reflect the text the early church used and consider original. Again, Burgon demonstrated that there are 36 known copies of the ‘Apostolus’--out of these 36 copies “God” is found in 33 of the copies and “Who” survives in only 3 copies. It is plain to see that the Ecclesiastical Tradition is clearly against the readings “who” or “which” being almost unanimously in favor of “God” in this passage.

Now we will examine the evidence provided us of the Early Church Fathers. In his Dissertation on I Tim. 3:16 Dean Burgon cites no less than 23 Fathers who support the reading “Theos”. A few of these follow:

Ignatius (A.D. 90) writes:

"There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual; made and not made; God in the flesh" (Ephe. 2:7) and "God himself being made manifest in the form of a man." (Ephe. 4:13).
It is of particular interest to note that Ignatius uses the Greek word for God (theos), and for flesh (sarki) in the first citation and the Greek word for manifest (using the form peanerasas) in the second, as does the Greek text of the KJV in 1 Timothy 3:16.

Hippolytus (A.D. 190) writes:

“A man, therefore, even though he will it not, is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject,” and “And even as He was preached then, in the same manner also did He come and manifest Himself, being by the Virgin and the Holy Spirit made a new man; for in that He had the heavenly (nature) of the Father, as the Word and the earthly (nature), as taking to Himself the flesh from the old Adam by the medium of the Virgin, He now, coming forth into the world, was manifested as God in a body, coming forth too as a perfect man (Hippolytus, Against The Heresy Of One Noetus, viii and xvii)
Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 370) writes:
How is it that he who speaks thus fails to understand that God when manifested in flesh did not admit for the formation of His own body the conditions of human nature, but was born for us a Child by the Holy Ghost and the power of the Highest; (Gregory, Against Eunomius, 2:7)
Gregory of Nyssa is found to quote this place at least 22 times, each time he quotes “Theos” (God).

The ancient versions that attest to “Theos” are, the Georgian Version (6th century), the Harkleian Version (7th century) and the Slavonic Version (9th century). This reading is also authenticated by the following English translations:

Tyndale 1534--God was shewed in the flesshe.

Great Bible 1539--God was shewed in the flesshe.

Geneva N.T. 1557--God is shewed in the fleshe.

Bishops' Bible in 1568--God was shewed manifestly in the flesh.

Young 1862--God was manifested in flesh.

Here we will bring to a close our discussion of 1 Timoty 3:16. I believe as one surveys the evidence set forth that no other conclusion can be reached other than the fact that “Theos” was the word penned by the beloved Apostle Paul. It must also be concluded that the modern versions (NIV, NASV, NRSV, NLT, etc.) have indeed erred at 1 Tim. 3:16 by rendering this verse “He who” etc. and by doing so have altered one of the most fundemental of all Christian doctrines. Further, this reading makes no logical sense in the context of the verse. For there is no “great mystery” in a man being manifest in the flesh. I concur with Dr. Berriman who concluded:

“From whence can it be supposed that this general, I may say this universal consent of the Greek MSS. should arise, but from hence,---That “Theos” is the genuine original reading of this Text (Burgon quoting Berriman, Revision Revised, p.446)?”
The readings of the modern versions are so absurd that even James White (The King James Only Controversy p.207ff), who is certainly no friend of the Traditional Received Text nor of the Authorized Version, admits that"there is much to be said in defense of the KJV rendering," and that he "prefer[s] this reading, and feel[s] that it has more than sufficient support among the Greek manuscripts.”

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John 17:17