The Mystery of Godliness

Hello everyone. Welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are continuing our Trinitarian Bible Study. We are in the Pauline epistles now and tonight, we’re going to be looking at 1 Timothy 3:16. This is a passage that has much debate over the wording in the manuscript, but I think it can easily be agreed it shows a high Christology. Let’s go to the text:

16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

So what’s the textual question? The question at the beginning is if the “He appeared in a body” refers to Christ or God as some manuscripts do have God. It is most likely, however, that the word is really “os” and is referring to Jesus.

We will go with this interpretation, however, it would lend to a stronger argument for the identity of Jesus if it did say “God”, but we can’t go with a reading just because we like it. We need to go by what is most likely in the text and it seems most scholars of the text would agree that it should be “He.”

The first statement that we have is that he appeared in a body. This should tell us that it is not the natural mode of existence of the one who appeared in a body, and Jesus being fully God does not naturally dwell in a body. Instead, he willingly took one on to complete the divine mission. This was already a form of humility that brings to mind the Philippians kenotic passage.

The vindication of the Spirit would refer to the being made alive in the Spirit. Jesus was vindicated in the face of his oppressors. While they accused him of blasphemy, God approved of the work that he did and thus verified all of his claims. In response to the same he experienced on Earth, he was honored by the Father. The honor/shame paradigm is rich here.

He was seen by angels. There are mixed opinions on what this means. Some think it refers to fallen angels to whom Jesus appeared in triumph to. I would instead think that it would refer to holy angels who were witnesses of the incarnation. We can also remember that angels were there at the resurrection.

He was preached among the nations as well. His message spread all around the world. This is just a few decades after the resurrection event and already, the gospel had spread amongst the nations. I do not know of any scholar of the time period who would deny how far the Christian message had spread.

It was preached successfully as he was believed on in the world as well. The gospel had spread far and had many converts. We know that there was an expulsion from Rome within a few years of the events of the resurrection.

Finally, he was taken up in glory. What does this mean? Could it refer to the ascension? It could. It could also mean his glorification as a result of the preaching of the gospel to the nations. Or, it could be some combination of both.

Either way, we have a high Christology and the fact that this is a hymn sung in honor of Christ should show that he was seen in a high light in the early church.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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