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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL TO TIMOTHY - Chapter 3 - Verse 16

Verse 16. 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 Barnes "1 Co 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," Col 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 was yeov, God, or whether it was ov, who, or o, 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 of 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 Bibliotheca Sacra, No. 2, pp. 254, seq. 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, pr would be used for, pathr, father; kv for kuriov, Lord; yv for yeov, God, etc. The words thus contracted were designated by a faint line or dash over them. In this place, therefore, if the original were yC, standing for yeov, God, and the line in the y and the faint line over it, were obliterated from any cause, it would be easily mistaken for ov, 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 yeov —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. Comp. Mt 1:23; Joh 1:14.

Was manifest. Marg., Manifested. The meaning is, appeared in the flesh.

In the flesh. In human nature. See this explained See Barnes "Ro 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, o, which, referring to "mystery," for how could a 'mystery'" be manifested in the flesh? Nor could it be ov, who, unless that should refer to one who was more than a man; for how absurd would it be to say that a "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; for

(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 indicate, and the sense is, that he was shown to be the Son of God by the agency of the Holy Ghost; 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, Mt 3:16; he was sent To convince the world of sin, because it did not believe on him, Joh 16:8,9; the Saviour cast out devils by him, Mt 12:28; the Spirit was given to him without measure, Joh 3:34; and the Spirit was sent down, in accordance with his promise, to convert the hearts of men, Ac 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 a wisdom as man never had before, may be regarded as an attestation of the Holy Ghost 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 Ghost 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. Comp. Lu 2:9-13; 22:43; Lu 24:4; Heb 1:6; Mt 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 men, excited the deepest interest in heaven. Comp. See Barnes "1 Pe 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 Barnes "Eph 6:19"; See Barnes "Col 1:26, See Barnes "Col 1:27"; See Barnes "Col 4:3".

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 stumbling-blocks 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 men. Comp. Ac 22:21; Eph 2:14,15; Ro 3:22; 10:11-20.

The Jew had no peculiar 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 men by caste and rank, there is scarcely any more 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 men 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 favour 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 Ghost; 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 men 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, Mt 23; Ac 7, and had at last put his own Son—their Messiah—to death. Man everywhere had shown his strong inclination to unbelief. There is in the human soul no elementary principle or germ of faith in God. Every man is an unbeliever by nature—an infidel first, a Christian afterwards; an infidel as he comes into the world; a believer only as he is made so by grace. The apostle, therefore, regarded it as a glorious fact that the message respecting the Saviour had been believed in the world. It overcame such a strong and universal reluctance to confide in God, that it showed that there was more than human power in operation to overcome this reluctance.

(3.) The extent to which this had been done may have been a reason why he thought it worthy of the place which he gives it here. It had been embraced, not by a few, but by thousands in all lands where the gospel had been published; and it was proof of the truth of the doctrine, and of the great power of God, that such high mysteries as those relating to redemption, and so much opposed to the natural feelings of the human heart, should have been embraced by so many. The same thing occurs now. The gospel makes its way against the native incredulity of the world, and every new convert is an additional demonstration that it is from God, and a new illustration of the greatness of this mystery.

Received up into glory. To heaven. Comp. Joh 17:5. See Barnes "Ac 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 New 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 any one 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 peculiar qualifications required in such an order of men 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 Ti 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 Ti 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 labour, 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 neighbourhood 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 Ti 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 intrusted 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 intrusted 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 Ti 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 heathen world; the tendency of the Christian religion to break down every barrier among men, 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 men, for it was for men and not for angels that he thus appeared in human form. Comp. See Barnes "1 Pe 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 men may be saved; yet the mass of men 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 men!

{a} "mystery of godliness" 1 Co 2:7 {1} "manifest" "manifested" {b} "flesh" Joh 1:14; 1 Jo 1:2 {c} "Spirit" Mt 3:16; Joh 16:8,9; Ro 1:4; 1 Pe 3:18; 1 Jo 5:6

{d} "seen of angels" Mt 4:11; Lu 2:13; Eph 3:10; 1 Pe 1:12

{e} "believed" Ac 13:46,48; Ro 10:12,18

{f} "world" Col 1:6 {g} "into glory" Lu 24:51; Ac 1:9

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