1 Timothy Chapter 3
1 Tim. 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
If a brother desires the office of a bishop, he desires “a good work.” However, the office has certain conditions and responsibilities, and behavioral conduct has to be within the parameters, or guidelines, listed in verses 2-7.
Q: What is the distinction between a “bishop” and an “elder”? (See 1 Tim. 3:1,2; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:7; and 1 Pet. 2:25 for “bishop”; Acts 1:20 for “bishopric”; and Titus 1:5 for “elders.”)
A: The Roman Catholic Church has used various terms to justify a hierarchy of power (priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope), and the Protestant churches have ministers. However, the Bible teaches that there are only 12 apostles and 7 messengers.
A “bishop” is not necessarily confined to one congregation but is like a pilgrim in some respects, traveling around and giving advice to other ecclesias or congregations. We feel that Paul was more or less saying to Timothy, “Keep up the good work.” When Timothy went around from place to place, brethren looked to him for counsel and advice, knowing that he had been with Paul during much of the apostle’s ministry. In his two letters, Paul gave instruction and advice that Timothy could pass along to others in his travels. Accordingly, Paul was suggesting that Timothy have a larger ministry than just the local area. Thus, incontradistinction to a brother who was more or less confined to one area, a bishop traveled from place to place, establishing the faith and giving advice. Down through the Gospel Age, there have been many bishops. For example, many of the Reformers were bishops.
Q: In Titus 1:5-7, the terms “elder” and “bishop” seem to be used interchangeably. Is that thought correct?
A: The word “bishop” means “overseer.” Although an elder is an overseer in a local ecclesia, a bishop oversees a larger area. Although the qualifications are the same for both, the New Testament does make a distinction. Both have positions of much responsibility. They should not be domineering or have peremptory authority as overseers but should be shepherds guiding the flock. Perhaps we could say that an elder is a bishop is a localized sense, and some elders are favored in a broader sense in their ministry.
In other words, the local brethren were shown the advisability of having a leader, what his qualifications should be, and that the election should be determined by raising the outstretched hand. We are taking time to explain these points because of the prevailing thought that the clergy and the laity were two separate bodies with the laity having nothing to say. We need to break up the old thinking with regard to the priesthood.
1 Tim. 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Verses 2-7 give the qualifications for an elder or bishop. A list of qualifications is also given in Titus 1:6-9, and a few additional squibs are in other epistles. When all of the information is consolidated, it describes the ideal elder or bishop, but we cannot always have elders who match the ideal, for most do not possess all of these qualifications. Thus there is the practical aspect, and there is the ideal aspect. For example, a congregation might bar a brother from eldership because they think his children are not under his control. First, brethren have different ideas of what it means to have a household under control. Second, many do not take into consideration the free moral agency, age, physical circumstances, etc., of the child. Even King David, who was loved by God, had disobedient children, so we must be reasonable in our judgment of the situation. If we view the matter too rigidly, who would qualify for eldership?
The first qualification is that an elder or bishop “must be blameless.” The thought is that one who wants the office should be able to judge himself as blameless. The person in that office needs to be blameless because the larger his sphere of influence, the greater the responsibility.
For example, Paul was criticized and his apostleship questioned, but he knew he was blameless and had pure motives. He knew his chief aim in life was to develop Christlikeness and to serve God fully. Had Paul lacked the knowledge, the zeal, and the perseverance to keep going under pressure, persecution, and rejection, he would not have been received by brethren.
To be “blameless” means to be above reproach and of good character. The words “faultless” and “blameless” are not synonymous. We all have faults, but we might be blameless for a particular fault. Certainly bishops are not perfect in thought, word, and deed, but from God’s standpoint, they are blameless through the robe of Christ’s righteousness. The thought is that their heart condition and manner of life are above reproach; there is nothing special to find fault with. Those who are hypercritical may still find fault, as some did even with Jesus, so the thought is that bishops must be of good character among the brotherhood.
At the same time, we should keep in mind the statement “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” and some of that persecution may come from brethren (2 Tim. 3:12).
Since slander and evil speaking can adversely affect an elder’s ministry, we cannot say that one should be barred from eldership if another finds fault with him. Generally speaking, only those who fail to take a positive stand on any issue, never speak on prophecy (for example), and always talk on nice, innocuous topics or illustrations do not receive persecution. In fact, in large classes, such individuals usually get more votes than those who are much better qualified.
A bishop must be “the husband of one wife”; that is, monogamy is the teaching of Jesus. With regard to this stipulation, several points have to be considered. The implication is that a bishop must be the husband of one wife at a time. For example, if a brother is married and his wife dies, he is scripturally free to remarry and still be a bishop, for that is having one wife at a time.
Another situation is that some who consecrated and came into the early Church already had more than one wife, so they were barred from becoming a bishop. We think one reason the gospel went westward instead of eastward is that the custom of having multiple wives was very prevalent, even in our Lord’s day, in the nations going eastward. Confusion, turmoil, and many perplexing situations would have resulted in distracting disputes and problems.
Incidentally, in the lands where the gospel went, the practice of having more than one wife phased out very naturally and quite quickly, as did the gift of speaking in tongues when the apostles died.
If an elder divorces his wife not on scriptural grounds and remarries, he has two wives in the eyes of the Lord and should be removed from office by the ecclesia. When a divorce occurs, the brother (or sister) should make the grounds known to the class. However, an elder cannot necessarily be held responsible for a disobedient wife. Each situation has to be considered separately and the facts weighed in view of these Scriptures.
Of course an elder does not have to be married; he can be celibate.
A bishop must be “vigilant,” that is, watchful, but in what sense? He should be concerned for the character and well-being of others as well as for himself. In addition, he should be vigilant in regard to not only prophecy but also doctrines becoming prevalent that may be pernicious or harmful to the faith of the brotherhood. In other words, a bishop should be alert enough to inform the brotherhood in both of these areas.
A bishop must also be “sober.” He should be serious-minded as a general trend and not given to frivolity. Although cheerfulness can be a good quality, it should not be pursued when damage would result to the subject matter at hand. The principle is that we should sympathize with those who sorrow and rejoice with those who are happy.
A bishop is to have “good behaviour,” that is, good conduct. Blamelessness is both inward and outward, with inward character being generally manifested by outward behavior. We appraise an individual by his words, his actions, and his normal habit of thought.
The term “blameless” pertains to one’s reputation with others, whereas “good behaviour” pertains to actions that are observed.
A bishop should be “given to hospitality”; that is, he should be hospitable within scriptural limits, which caution us not to tolerate spongers, for example. Since a bishop’s goods are the Lord’s, they should be used for, or shared with, the brethren. He should want to help the brethren as opportunity affords. In other words, being hospitable is not limited to the home. Wherever we are, we should make brethren feel welcome.
A bishop must be “apt to teach.” This requirement applies to an elder, not to a deacon. Aptness to teach, which is not necessarily public speaking, is the ability to communicate doctrines and truths to others.
1 Tim. 3:3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
Here are some other versions for this verse:
(ASV) no brawler, no striker; but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money;
(BBE) Not quickly moved to wrath or blows, but gentle; no fighter, no lover of money;
(CEV) They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money.
Not given to wine,.... Margin, “Not ready to quarrel and offer wrong, as one in wine.”
One that does not sit at it, or is continually drinking it, and is intemperate in the use of it; otherwise it is lawful for persons in such an office to drink wine, and sometimes absolutely necessary; see 1Ti_5:23 it signifies one that is not given to much wine, as in 1Ti_3:8 is not addicted to it, or a follower of it; the Syriac version renders it, "who does not transgress over wine", or go beyond due bounds in the use of it, who is not immoderate in it; the Arabic version renders it, "not insolent through wine", as one that is heated with it is fierce and furious, and wrangling and quarrelsome, and often very mischievous and injurious; and this sense is followed by some.
Another qualification for elder is to be “no striker”; that is, he is not to be given to blows or have a violent temper. A person who is righteously indignant might think he has the liberty to exert force because he sees a matter in its proper light. If someone does not agree, he feels justified in laying down the law with a little authority.
Bad tempers are part of the fallen nature in some people. If this tendency is not overcome following consecration, such individuals may suddenly lash out. If one with this tendency partakes of wine, violence is even more apt to occur. The “striking” could be either physical or verbal. For an elder to get violent would be a serious matter indeed.
The requirement of not being a “brawler” is related to not being a “striker.” Brawling is sometimes defined as being “quarrelsome,” a tendency that must be curbed.
An elder is not to be “greedy of [for] filthy lucre [riches, wealth, money, property].” He should not be primarily seeking reward, gain, excessive property, etc. Money becomes “filthy” when it is the center of one’s love and ambition. A good example of this principle is those in the Prosperity ministry or other televangelists, who are always asking for money, and live a very extravagant lifestyle.
An elder should be “patient.” Other translations have “kind,” “gentle,” and “of a forbearing disposition.” However, this quality should be considered in context. Being patient is related to wine. A person who is relaxed and off his guard with wine tends to talk about topics that are not profitable for the new creature. Drinking wine is contrary to vigilance, sobriety, hospitality, and good behavior, and it leads to being a striker, greed for filthy lucre, impatience, being quarrelsome, and covetousness. In other words, “patience” is the opposite of losing one’s temper or allowing wine to alter one’s personality.
What is the difference between covetousness and greed for filthy lucre? Being “covetous” is desiring what someone else has, whereas being “greedy” is wanting more and more money, property, etc., for oneself.
1 Tim. 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
David, Samuel, and Eli all had disobedient children, but only in some cases did the Lord charge the parents with responsibility. When a doctor examines a patient to see if he is healthy or sick, he usually relies on a number of factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature for any symptoms or clues. The same principle applies when we consider a brother for eldership and look to see if he has certain qualifications. Generally speaking, an elder or bishop should be able to manage his household well, but there can be extenuating circumstances such as an unconsecrated wife who is pulling the children in an opposite direction. The point is that we should not make a decision against eldership because just one quality is lacking. However, the lack of two or more qualities would require serious consideration, based on the principle “in the mouth of two or three witnesses” is a matter established (2 Cor. 13:1).
On the aside, if we neglect our assembling together, we will not know our elders well enough to intelligently vote or not vote for them. Brethren who only show up for Memorial and voting of congregational offices do a great disservice to the entire congregation.
Incidentally, the word “gravity” should be “respect” (see the RSV and the NIV). A bishop’s or elder’s children should be submissive (under control) and respectful.’
1 Tim. 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
Verse 5 is common sense. If a brother cannot rule his own house, how can he preside in the Church? For children to be allowed to carry on disrupting and run up and down in the aisle during a discourse is a reflection on the consecrated parent(s).
1 Tim. 3:6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
“Novice” is a good word, for one can be a novice regardless of his chronological age. An elder should not be a newcomer. Paul was warning against inducting a brother too quickly into office. One’s age “in the truth” is what is important. Thus, depending on the level of maturity in character and understanding, a brother does not have to be consecrated for 15 or more years in order to be considered for elder.
A bishop or an elder should not be a novice because he could be “lifted up with pride” and thus “fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The Adversary was lifted up with pride, and a novice is susceptible to that same temptation. Lacking a firm foundation, he is more vulnerable to the influence of the Adversary along various lines.
Congregational or Ecclesia members who elect a novice would bear some of the responsibility should he “fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
1 Tim. 3:7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
An elder “must have a good report of them which are without,” that is, outside the Church, in the world. This requirement does not mean that the unconsecrated will praise and think highly of a bishop or an elder, but they should know that he is not a thief, a robber, a murderer, etc.—that there is nothing against his record in that sense. Consider John Bunyan, who was a reprobate of the worst kind. When he became a Christian, the public was startled by his remarkable conversion and had to acknowledge that he had changed.
An elder is to have a good report “lest he fall into [the] reproach ... of the devil.” Some people are critical not only if an individual is overly righteous but also if they can find a flaw in his character. Therefore, the “reproach ... of the devil” means that if the Adversary can find a conspicuous flaw in a bishop’s or an elder’s character that is observed by others, he will capitalize on it. Consider how Satan dared to accuse Job, a righteous man, by saying to God in allegory, “Look what you have given him—lands, a house, riches, etc. No wonder Job serves you faithfully! If you remove these temporal riches, he will cease to serve you.” If Satan could find fault with a righteous man, accusing him of a form of hypocrisy—that is, of rendering obedience because of prosperity—what would happen if the individual had a conspicuous blemish in his character? Satan would say, “Look at him. He is doing this and that, yet he calls himself a Christian!” From his vantage point, Satan can look down and be very sarcastic. Thus the “reproach” of verse 7 would be on the Adversary’s part—he would reproach the Christian.
There is an additional aspect as well. A bishop or an elder must have a good report among the unconsecrated “lest he fall into ... the snare of the devil.” A “snare” is a hidden trap; that is, it is a premeditated trap that is set and concealed in advance by one who is devious. Accordingly, the Adversary sometimes prepares traps, and this thought would be scary if it were not for the protection of Providence. As Paul said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood [merely], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). In other words, if a bishop or an elder does not have a good report among the unconsecrated, Satan will cause a reproach to fall on Christianity, on the cause of Christ.
1 Tim. 3:8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
Younger men, referred to as deacons, were appointed to subordinate tasks, especially the relief of the poor, Act_6:1-15. Though their service was less important, their character must be of the highest quality. The strength of a church is as much in the godliness of those who fill subordinate offices, as in its acknowledged leaders. The caretaker of a church should be a man of as high ideals as its elder. Nothing is common or unclean, nothing trivial and unimportant, where Christ’s honor and glory are concerned. In the prophet’s vision the very snuffers of the candlestick were of gold. F.B. Meyer
The requirements for a deacon are similar to those for an elder, except that the guidelines are a little less stringent. Deacons must be “grave” (serious, sober, and earnest) and “not doubletongued” (saying one thing to one person and another thing to another person). Being double-tongued is a subtle form, or the early stages, of hypocrisy. Double-mindedness is apt to go hand in hand with being double-tongued. A deacon should be stable in his conduct, thinking, speech, answers, and teaching.
The Cambridge Bible commentary gives this thought: not doubletongued] Or, better, not talebearers. The word is used here only in N.T. Xen. de Equestri, viii. 2, uses the noun of repeating gossip.
As we study the qualifications for elders and deacons, we should keep in mind that they are the ideal situation, for mitigating circumstances sometimes exist.
A deacon should not be “greedy of filthy lucre [money].” Money is necessary in order to buy goods and services, but it can be contemptible in the sense that the love of money is the root of much evil.
1 Tim. 3:9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
Barnes: Holding the mystery of the faith - On the word “mystery,” see notes on 1Co_2:7. It means that which had been concealed, or hidden, but which was now revealed. The word “faith” here, is synonymous with “the gospel;” and the sense is, that he should hold firmly the great doctrines of the Christian religion which had been so long concealed from people, but which were now revealed. The reason is obvious. Though not a preacher, yet his influence and example would be great, and a man who held material error ought not to be in office.
For a deacon to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” means that his conduct is consistent with his profession. Paul mentioned the thought of a pure conscience several times in his two epistles to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:5,19; 2 Tim. 1:3).
Gill: in a pure conscience; with a conscience sprinkled by the blood of Christ; with a conscience void of offence both towards God and man; with a suitable life and conversation; a conversation becoming the Gospel of Christ, and by which it is adorned: and this part of their character is necessary, that such may be able to instruct and establish those who are weak in the faith, and oppose and refute the erroneous, and also recommend the Gospel by their own example; otherwise should their principles or practices be bad, their influence on others might be very pernicious and fatal.
1 Tim. 3:10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.
A brother should not be elected deacon right after he consecrates but should be tested for stability first. Several years ago a brother seemed to grasp present truth so joyously and enthusiastically that the ecclesia made him a deacon almost immediately after his consecration, but that sad mistake caused much distress and grief. Had the class waited a little while and tested him, the unstable condition would have manifested itself.
Clarke: Let these - be proved - Let them not be young converts, or persons lately brought to the knowledge of the truth. This is the same in spirit with what is required of the bishops, 1Ti_3:6.
Let no man be put into an office in the Church till he has given full proof of his sincerity and steadiness, by having been for a considerable time a consistent private member of the Church.
Being found blameless - Being irreproachable; persons against whom no evil can be proved. The same as in 1Ti_3:2, though a different word is used. See the note on 1Ti_3:2.
1 Tim. 3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.
The Revised Standard has, “The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” The Greek word gune, rendered “wives” in the King James Version, is more properly translated “women” in this instance. Moreover, a footnote in the New International Version has “deaconesses” as an alternate translation for “wives.” Thus this verse can be considered as referring to deaconesses, a thought that is permissible under certain circumstances. When the gifts to the Church are enumerated, they are always in the male gender: apostles, teachers, etc. Nevertheless, there are exceptions in some cases, such as a sister being a deaconess.
Gill: Even so must their wives be grave,.... Some instead of "wives" read "women", and understand them of deaconesses, such as were in the primitive churches; whose business it was to visit the poor and sick sisters of the church, and take care of things belonging to them; but it is better to interpret the words of the wives of the deacons, who must be as their husbands, "grave" in speech, gesture, and dress, of an honest report, a good behaviour, and chaste conversation; which will reflect honour and credit to their husbands:
Verses 5 and 12, which pertain to elders and deacons “ruling ... their own houses well,” include the wife. She should be in subjection to her husband and not be irresponsible and wild.
Not slanderers: “Literally, not devils. This may be properly enough translated slanderers, backbiters, tale-bearers, for all these are of their father, the devil, and his lusts they will do.” (Clarke)
sober, temperate, not given to wine.
Faithful in all things - To their husbands, to their families, to the church, to the Saviour.
1 Tim. 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
In the New Testament, the family lives and situations of the apostles and the disciples are not discussed, whereas the Old Testament provides information on some of the families of the Ancient Faithful of Hebrews 11. When we combine verses 4, 5, and 12, should a brother be barred from the office of elder or deacon if his children are unruly? Are the ages of the children a factor? Some in the Old Testament who were men after God’s own heart had derelict families. David, for example, did some unusually commendable deeds, such as standing up to Goliath, yet certain sons were rebellious. Therefore, a person’s deeds should be weighed against any family problems. God made an allowance because of David’s repentance and public confession, and we should do the same. Thus family problems are not necessarily a barrier to election as elder or deacon.
The qualifications for deacon are very much like those for elder. The missing qualification is being “apt to teach” (verse 2).
1 Tim. 3:13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Consider some other translations of the verse:
(Darby) for those who shall have ministered well obtain for themselves a good degree, and much boldness in faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(EMTV) For those who have served well as deacons obtain a standing for themselves and much boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(ERV) Those who do well as special servants are making an honorable place for themselves. And they will feel very sure of their faith in Christ Jesus.
(WNT) For those who have filled the deacon's office wisely and well, are already gaining for themselves an honourable standing, and are acquiring great freedom of speech in proclaiming the faith which rests on Christ Jesus.
The word “ministered” (meaning “administered”) is in the King James margin. “For they that have administered the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith.” In other words, if a brother makes his calling and election sure, that is one thing. If a deacon makes his calling and election sure, that is another thing. And if an elder makes his calling and election sure, that is still another thing. According to the degree of responsibility assumed and faithfulness to that degree, consecrated brothers purchase to themselves varying degrees of honor in the Kingdom. The reward will be proportional to faithfulness in the area in which one operates.
Deacons are elected for a special kind of work. If they have other talents, they should be encouraged to use them--and in time the class might choose them as elders.
Good degree: A good degree of liberty, privilege, opportunity, preferment, and honor in the church by their faithfulness as deacons. (Russell)
It means, properly, “a step,” as of a stair; and the fair meaning is that of going up higher, or taking an additional step of dignity, honor, or standing. So far as the “word” is concerned, it may mean either an advance in office, in dignity, in respectability, or in influence. (Barnes)
And great boldness in the faith - The word here rendered “boldness” properly refers to boldness “in speaking;” see it explained in the Act_4:13 note; 2Co_3:12 note; Php_1:20 note. But the word is commonly used to denote boldness of any kind - openness, frankness, confidence, assurance; Joh_8:13, Joh_8:26; Mar_8:32; 2Co_7:4. As it is here connected with “faith” - “boldness in the faith” - it means, evidently, not so much public speaking, as a manly and independent exercise of faith in Christ. The sense is, that by the faithful performance of the duties of the office of a deacon, and by the kind of experience which a man would have in that office, he would establish a character of firmness in the faith, which would show that he was a decided Christian. (Barnes)
1 Tim. 3:14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:
Paul had been in prison under Nero, so this statement indicates that either he had just been released or he was about to be released. Probably it was the latter situation, but in either case, the year was AD 64 or 65, and he expected to go shortly to Timothy in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3).
While Paul hoped to go to Timothy shortly, he saw the possibility or likelihood that he might be delayed in coming. Should the delay be long, or if Paul could not get there at all, he wrote this first epistle to instruct Timothy what to do in his absence. Paul wrote so that Timothy would know how to “behave” (conduct) himself in the house of God, the Church. Timothy was thus instructed how to react to others and their teaching, the degree to which he would be responsible for rebuking or admonishing, what pitfalls to avoid, how to advise various ecclesias (congregations) on their government or administration, etc.
1 Tim. 3:15 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.
1 Tim. 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.
In all translations except the Diaglott, “the pillar and ground of the truth” is part of the same sentence, but that is not correct. Verse 15 should end with the words “the church of the living God.” “The pillar and ground of the truth” should be included in the next verse for several reasons
The truth is God’s Word, so instead of the Church being the foundation of the truth, the reverse is true. The Church is built upon the foundation of truth, which is God’s Word built upon the foundation of Christ.
Verse 16 should read, “The pillar and ground of the truth—and without controversy great—is the mystery of godliness.” Verse 9 mentions the “mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,” and now verse 16 adds the “mystery of godliness [piety, reverence].” These are synonymous terms. Holiness is a pervading theme of this epistle.
“The pillar and ground of the truth, and without controversy great, is the mystery of godliness.” This godliness was manifested by the life of Jesus from beginning to end, from birth to death, throughout his First Advent. Jesus is the example of one approved of God. The mystery of godliness was manifested in Jesus’ life and ministry here on earth, and then he was received up into glory. The “mystery” is that Jesus is the Messiah and that he provided an example of the course to be followed by others.
In other words, both the pillar and the foundation of the truth are the mystery of godliness. Godliness is so important, so supreme—this truth is so basic—that it is the foundation of the truth.
The thought is, “Without question, the mystery of godliness is great, and it is the pillar and ground [foundation] of the truth.” The sentence should end there, and the next sentence explains what the “mystery of godliness” is. The King James Version has, “God was manifest in the flesh,” but ancient and modern translations are worded differently; namely, “He who [‘He,’ ‘Who,’ or ‘The One’] was manifested [past tense] in the flesh.” This is a reference to Jesus. (We should keep in mind that nearly all of Timothy is missing in the Vatican 1209 manuscript, including this part.) Jesus “was manifest[ed] in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
(ASV) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.
(CEV) Here is the great mystery of our religion: Christ came as a human. The Spirit proved that he pleased God, and he was seen by angels. Christ was preached to the nations. People in this world put their faith in him, and he was taken up to glory.
(DRB) And evidently great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, was justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, hath been preached unto the Gentiles, is believed in the world, is taken up in glory.
(ERV) Without a doubt, the secret of our life of worship is great: Christ was shown to us in human form; the Spirit proved that he was right; he was seen by angels. The message about him was told to the nations; people in the world believed in him; he was taken up to heaven in glory.
The Diaglott footnote reads, “This is according to the pointing of Griesbach. Nearly all the ancient MSS., and all the versions have ‘He who,’ instead of ‘God,’ in this passage. This has been adopted. The latter reading, however, is also according to the analogy of the faith, and well supported.”
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. (Barnes)
For “God was manifest in the flesh,” the usual explanation is that if God Himself were to come down here to earth, He would behave exactly as Jesus did. In this sense, Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. However, a better translation is that “Jesus was manifested in the flesh.”
The Apostle John said, “We saw him, we heard him, and he acted in accordance with what he claimed to be: the Son of God. He was as the Son of God in our presence” (1 John 1:1-3 paraphrase).
From the time Jesus went to Jordan to be baptized, several things happened that were further justification of his Messiahship—the dove came down from heaven; the voice said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”; and he performed miracles for 3 1/2 years. Thus, after his consecration, Jesus was justified in the Holy Spirit as a new creature. He manifested godliness not only as a man but also as a new creature, and his changed life was a further confirmation that he was the Messiah. Jesus was “manifest[ed] in the flesh” and “justified in the Spirit” during his earthly ministry, not by his resurrection.
And Jesus was “seen of angels.” Both the holy and the fallen angels witnessed Jesus’ birth as a human, his development into manhood, his consecration, etc.
Next he was “preached unto the people”—not unto the Gentiles, for Jesus had instructed his apostles, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5,6). However, even though Jesus came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, certain Gentiles heard him, such as the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was healed by him and the centurion whose servant was cured (Mark 7:25-30; Matt. 8:5-13). Jesus was preached to the people when he was here. Announcements and miracles called attention to his being the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus was “believed on in the [Jewish] world [at the First Advent].” This statement does not refer to the world down through the Gospel Age. Not only did Jesus preach to the nation of Israel at his First Advent, but some of the Jews in that nation believed. Finally, he was “received up into glory.” In short, verse 16 furnishes a sequence.
Paul stressed the theme of godliness throughout this epistle, and this “mystery” is exemplified in Jesus. Therefore, godliness is the pillar and ground of the truth. Stated in reverse, the pillar and ground of the truth, as far as we are concerned, is to have the piety and reverence of Christ for his Father. We state the principle that justice is the foundation of God’s throne, but we can go a step further and say that the principle of godliness is not only the foundation but also the superstructure of God’s throne.
To state the matter another way, Paul said he was writing this letter in case he was deferred in getting to see Timothy in person. He wanted Timothy to know what his duties were—how he should behave himself in the “house of God.” Paul gave a long list of instructions on what should be done, but throughout that list, he emphasized purity, holiness, and godliness time and time again. Now he came to a point where he said, “Godliness is the basic quality if you are to be a faithful Christian.” “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Therefore, Paul was saying, “A fundamental truth, a cardinal tenet, which you must always keep in mind, Timothy, is that godliness is the key to understanding the true mystery of God.” The mystery of godliness is such a great and important truth that it is the pillar and the base foundation of the truth. Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. The understanding of verses 15 and 16 is very important to the Christian.