“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.” 1 Tim.3:16.
by Shaun Willcock
This is a beautiful text of Holy Scripture. There is a “mystery of godliness”, and it has to do with the Son of God Himself, and only Him. This “mystery of godliness” is Christ Himself, and it is the Gospel of Christ. We will see how this is so.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness”. There is no controversy about it. There is no argumentation; no disputation about it. Oh, unregenerate men may argue about it, dispute it, and deny it; but for the believer, there is no controversy, no argument: it is true, it is the Gospel truth, and he believes it and loves it and holds firmly to it.
But why is it said to be “the mystery of godliness”? What exactly does this mean?
The rest of the verse tells us what the “mystery of godliness” is. There are six things said about Christ, in this verse, which form the mystery of godliness, and all six are aspects of the Gospel of Christ. This is why I said this “mystery of godliness” is Christ Himself, and His Gospel. The mystery of godliness is Christ; and the mystery of godliness is the good news about Christ to lost sinners.
I will explain the “mystery” aspect first, and the “godliness” aspect afterwards. Let us study these six aspects of the “mystery of godliness”. And may your souls be edified, warmed, and thrilled by the careful study of these things.
“God was Manifest in the Flesh”
Here the modern Bible versions get it horribly wrong, and provide us with a glaring example of why we should reject these versions as being perversions of God’s Word, not accurate translations of it. Instead of saying, “God was manifest in the flesh”, numerous modern versions say something along the lines of, “He was manifest in the flesh”.
For example, the Revised Version says, “He who was manifested in the flesh”. The Revised Standard Version says, “He was manifested in the flesh”. The New English Bible says, “He who was manifested in the body”. The J.B. Phillips New Testament says, “The one who showed himself as a human being”. And the Good News Bible/Today’s English Version says, “He appeared in human form”. These are just a few of the many modern versions which utterly distort this lovely text.
And a distortion it most certainly is! After all, what is so unique about this statement: “He was manifest in the flesh”? Nothing whatsoever! I am manifest in the flesh, and so are you! Every human being who has ever lived, in fact, has been manifest in the flesh. This is what we are, as human beings. We are flesh!
But that God was manifested in the flesh – ah, there is the mystery of godliness indeed! There is the greatest wonder of all! This is the miracle! This is nothing less than the Incarnation!
“Flesh”, here, means not merely the human physical body, but the entire human nature in all its fulness. And “God was manifest in the flesh” speaks of the essential deity, and the pre-existence, of the Lord Jesus Christ. More about this in a moment.
But how did such an error come into these modern perversions of the Holy Scriptures?