Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does 1 Timothy 3:16 Affirm the Deity of Christ?


Sam Shamoun

In order to be fair and balanced I have decided to include citations from those Christian scholars who actually believe that theos is the original reading so as to let the readers decide for themselves where the evidence points to.

I have also included quotations from the church fathers which are often used as evidence by these same scholars to support their case.

The late renowned Bible expositor and scholar Albert Barnes felt the evidence pointed more in the direction of the reading theos than hos, and provides the reasons why he thought that it did:

"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.

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 Biblotheca Sacra, No. 2, pp. 254ff. 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, πρ would be used for πατερ pater, 'father;' κς for κυριος kurios, 'Lord;' Θς for Θεος Theos, 'God,' etc. The words thus contracted were designated by a faint line or dash over them. In this place, therefore, if the original uncials (capitals) were ΘC, standing for Θεὸς Theos, 'God,' and the line in the Θ, and the faint line over it, were obliterated from any cause, it would easily be mistaken for OC - ὅς hos - '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 Θεός Theos - '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; compare Matthew 1:23; John 1:14.

"Was manifest - Margin, 'Manifested. The meaning is, 'appeared' in the flesh.

"In the flesh - In human nature; see this explained in the notes on Romans 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, ὁ ho, 'which,' referring to 'mystery;' for how could a mystery "be manifested in the flesh?" Nor could it be ὅς hos, 'who,' unless that should refer to one who was more than a man; for how absurd would it be to say that '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." (Barnes' Notes on the Bible; *; bold emphasis ours)

The late Adam Clarke, who was another reputable Biblical commentator, also believed that theos was the original reading:

"Though all this makes a very plain and consistent sense, yet we are perplexed by various readings on the first clause, Θεος εφανερωθη εν σαρκι, God was manifest in the flesh; for instead of Θεος, God, several MSS., versions, and fathers, have ὁς or ὁ, who or which. And this is generally referred to the word mystery; Great is the mystery of godliness, Which was manifest in the flesh.

"The insertion of, Θεος for ὁς, or ὁς for Θεος, may be easily accounted for. In ancient times the Greek was all written in capitals, for the common Greek character is comparatively of modern date. In these early times words of frequent recurrence were written contractedly, thus: for πατηρ, πρ; Θεος, θς; Κυριος, κς· Ιησους, ιης, etc. 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 Θ, in ΘΣ, happened to be faint, or obliterated, and the dash above not very apparent, both of which I have observed in ancient MSS., then ΘΣ, the contraction for Θεος, God, might be mistaken for ΟΣ, 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 ΘΣ, 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 ΘΣ 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 John 1:14, 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." (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible; *; bold and capital emphasis ours)

We also recommend that our readers peruse the late John William Burgon’s monumental work titled The Revision Revised, since many consider his arguments for the reading theos to be the best and most thorough defense for this position that has been made thus far.

This leads me to my next section.

The Patristic Witness

Burgon appealed to the writings of the early church fathers to prove that 1 Timothy 3:16 originally read theos which was then later corrupted to either hos (“He who”) or ho (“Which”).

Now some of the citations which Burgon quoted do not necessarily prove his point. But they do, however, confirm that the language of 1 Timothy 3:16 can only be understood in terms of the early Christians believing and proclaiming that Jesus is the preexistent divine Son of God who later became incarnate.

I will try to limit my comments in this section so as to allow a particular father to speak for himself. I will only say something when I feel it necessary to show how the statements of a specific writer proves that 1 Timothy 3:16 can only be explained from the perspective of Jesus’ prehuman divine existence and subsequent incarnation.

Ignatius of Antioch

Chapter 7. Beware of false teachers

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured. There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible— even Jesus Christ our Lord…

Chapter 19. Three celebrated mysteries

Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; italic emphasis ours)

Chapter 8. Caution against false doctrines

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians; italic emphasis ours)

Ignatius’ statements are quite clear that he not only believed that God revealed himself through his Son, but that Jesus Christ is actually God manifested in human form!

Seeing that these statements come from around the time of 107-112 AD by a bishop that was an eyewitness and disciple of the Apostles themselves, and who was on his way to martyrdom, makes them all the more significant.

Epistle of Barnabas

“For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling. For it is written concerning Him, partly with reference to Israel, and partly to us; and [the Scripture] says thus: ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities: with His stripes we are healed. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb which is dumb before its shearer. Isaiah 53:5, 7’ Therefore we ought to be deeply grateful to the Lord, because He has both made known to us things that are past, and has given us wisdom concerning things present, and has not left us without understanding in regard to things which are to come. Now, the Scripture says, ‘Not unjustly are nets spread out for birds.’ This means that the man perishes justly, who, having a knowledge of the way of righteousness, rushes off into the way of darkness. And further, my brethren: if the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, ‘Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness, Genesis 1:26’ understand how it was that He endured to suffer at the hand of men. The prophets, having obtained grace from Him, prophesied concerning Him. And He (since it behooved Him to appear in flesh), that He might abolish death, and reveal the resurrection from the dead, endured [what and as He did], in order that He might fulfil the promise made unto the fathers, and by preparing a new people for Himself, might show, while He dwelt on earth, that He, when He has raised mankind, will also judge them. Moreover, teaching Israel, and doing so great miracles and signs, He preached [the truth] to him, and greatly loved him. But when He chose His own apostles who were to preach His Gospel, [He did so from among those] who were sinners above all sin, that He might show ‘He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Then He manifested Himself to be the Son of God. For if He had not come in the flesh, how could men have been saved by beholding Him? Since looking upon the sun which is to cease to exist, and is the work of His hands, their eyes are not able to bear his rays. The Son of God therefore came in the flesh with this view, that He might bring to a head the sum of their sins who had persecuted His prophets to the death. For this purpose, then, He endured. For God says, ‘The stroke of his flesh is from them; and when I shall smite the Shepherd, then the sheep of the flock shall be scattered. Zechariah 13:7’ He himself willed thus to suffer, for it was necessary that He should suffer on the tree. For says he who prophesies regarding Him, ‘Spare my soul from the sword, fasten my flesh with nails; for the assemblies of the wicked have risen up against me. And again he says, Behold, I have given my back to scourges, and my cheeks to strokes, and I have set my countenance as a firm rock. Isaiah 50:6-7’” (Chapter 5. The new covenant, founded on the sufferings of Christ, tends to our salvation, but to the Jews' destruction; bold emphasis ours)

“When, therefore, He has fulfilled the commandment, what says He? ‘Who is he that will contend with Me? Let him oppose Me: or who is he that will enter into judgment with Me? Let him draw near to the servant of the Lord. Isaiah 50:8 Woe unto you, for you shall all wax old, like a garment, and the moth shall eat you up. Isaiah 50:9’ And again the prophet says, ‘Since as a mighty stone He is laid for crushing, behold I cast down for the foundations of Zion a stone, precious, elect, a corner-stone, honourable.’ Next, what says He? ‘And he who shall trust in it shall live for ever.’ Is our hope, then, upon a stone? Far from it. But [the language is used] inasmuch as He laid his flesh [as a foundation] with power; for He says, ‘And He placed me as a firm rock. Isaiah 50:7’ And the prophet says again, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner.’ And again he says, ‘This is the great and wonderful day which the Lord has made.’ I write the more simply unto you, that you may understand. I am the off-scouring of your love. What, then, again says the prophet? ‘The assembly of the wicked surrounded me; they encompassed me as bees do a honeycomb, and upon my garment they cast lots.’ Since, therefore, He was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, His suffering was foreshown. For the prophet speaks against Israel, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counselled an evil counsel against themselves, Isaiah 3:9’ saying, ‘Let us bind the just one, because he is displeasing to us.’ And Moses also says to them, ‘Behold these things, says the Lord God: Enter into the good land which the Lord swore [to give] to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and inherit it, a land flowing with milk and honey. Exodus 33:1; Leviticus 20:24’ What, then, says Knowledge? Learn: ‘Trust,’ she says, ‘in Him who is to be manifested to you in the flesh’— that is, Jesus. For man is earth in a suffering state, for the formation of Adam was from the face of the earth. What, then, means this: ‘into the good land, a land flowing with milk and honey’? Blessed be our Lord, who has placed in us wisdom and understanding of secret things. For the prophet says, ‘Who shall understand the parable of the Lord, except him who is wise and prudent, and who loves his Lord?’ Since, therefore, having renewed us by the remission of our sins, He has made us after another pattern, [it is His purpose] that we should possess the soul of children, inasmuch as He has created us anew by His Spirit. For the Scripture says concerning us, while He speaks to the Son, ‘Let Us make man after Our image, and after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea. Genesis 1:26’ And the Lord said, on beholding the fair creature man, ‘Increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth. Genesis 1:28’ These things [were spoken] to the Son. Again, I will show you how, in respect to us, He has accomplished a second fashioning in these last days. The Lord says, ‘Behold, I will make the last like the first. In reference to this, then, the prophet proclaimed, Enter into the land flowing with milk and honey, and have dominion over it. Exodus 33:3’ Behold, therefore, we have been refashioned, as again He says in another prophet, ‘Behold, says the Lord, I will take away from these, that is, from those whom the Spirit of the Lord foresaw, their stony hearts, and I will put hearts of flesh within them, Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 36:26’ because He was to be manifested in flesh, and to sojourn among us. For, my brethren, the habitation of our heart is a holy temple to the Lord. Ephesians 2:21 For again says the Lord, ‘And wherewith shall I appear before the Lord my God, and be glorified?’ He says, ‘I will confess to you in the Church in the midst of my brethren; and I will praise you in the midst of the assembly of the saints.’ We, then, are they whom He has led into the good land. What, then, mean milk and honey? This, that as the infant is kept alive first by honey, and then by milk, so also we, being quickened and kept alive by the faith of the promise and by the word, shall live ruling over the earth. But He said above, ‘Let them increase, and rule over the fishes. Genesis 1:28’ Who then is able to govern the beasts, or the fishes, or the fowls of heaven? For we ought to perceive that to govern implies authority, so that one should command and rule. If, therefore, this does not exist at present, yet still He has promised it to us. When? When we ourselves also have been made perfect [so as] to become heirs of the covenant of the Lord.” (Chapter 6. The sufferings of Christ, and the new covenant, were announced by the prophets; bold emphasis ours)

“… You have in this also [an indication of] the glory of Jesus; for in Him and to Him are all things. Colossians 1:16 What, again, says Moses to Jesus (Joshua) the son of Nave, when he gave him this name, as being a prophet, with this view only, that all the people might hear that the Father would reveal all things concerning His Son Jesus to the son of Nave? This name then being given him when he sent him to spy out the land, he said, Take a book into your hands, and write what the Lord declares, that the Son of God will in the last days cut off from the roots all the house of Amalek. Exodus 17:14 Behold again: Jesus who was manifested, both by type and in the flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16 is not the Son of man, but the Son of God. Since, therefore, they were to say that Christ was the son of David, fearing and understanding the error of the wicked, he says, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. And again, thus says Isaiah, The Lord said to Christ, my Lord, whose right hand I have holden, that the nations should yield obedience before Him; and I will break in pieces the strength of kings. Isaiah 45:1 Behold how David calls Him Lord and the Son of God.” (Chapter 12. The cross of Christ frequently announced in the Old Testament; bold emphasis ours)

The author refers to Jesus as the sovereign Lord and divine Son whom the Father spoke to in Genesis 1:26 when he was about to create mankind. This is rather amazing since this means that the writer believed that Jesus is Co-Creator with the Father!

He further proclaims that Christ is the Son who manifested himself in the flesh, thereby echoing the language of 1 Timothy 3:16!


17. These testimonies are sufficient for the believing who study truth, and the unbelieving credit no testimony. For the Holy Spirit, indeed, in the person of the apostles, has testified to this, saying, And who has believed our report? Therefore let us not prove ourselves unbelieving, lest the word spoken be fulfilled in us. Let us believe then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven, (and entered) into the holy Virgin Mary, in order that, taking the flesh from her, and assuming also a human, by which I mean a rational soul, and becoming thus all that man is with the exception of sin, He might save fallen man, and confer immortality on men who believe in His name. In all, therefore, the word of truth is demonstrated to us, to wit, that the Father is One, whose word is present (with Him), by whom He made all things; whom also, as we have said above, the Father sent forth in later times for the salvation of men. This (Word) was preached by the law and the prophets as destined to come into the world. 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. For it was not in mere appearance or by conversion, but in truth, that He became man. (Against Noetus; bold emphasis ours)

On Psalm 2

From the Exposition of the Second Psalm, by the Holy Bishop Hippolytus.

When he came into the world, He was manifested as God and man. And it is easy to perceive the man in Him, when He hungers and shows exhaustion, and is weary and thirsty, and withdraws in fear, and is in prayer and in grief, and sleeps on a boat's pillow, and entreats the removal of the cup of suffering, and sweats in an agony, and is strengthened by an angel, and betrayed by a Judas, and mocked by Caiaphas, and set at nought by Herod, and scourged by Pilate, and derided by the soldiers, and nailed to the tree by the Jews, and with a cry commits His spirit to His Father, and drops His head and gives up the ghost, and has His side pierced with a spear, and is wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb, and is raised by the Father on the third day. And the divine in Him, on the other hand, is equally manifest, when He is worshipped by angels, and seen by shepherds, and waited for b, y Simeon, and testified of by Anna, and inquired after by wise men, and pointed out by a star, and at a marriage makes wine of water, and chides the sea when tossed by the violence of winds, and walks upon the deep, and makes one see who was blind from birth, and raises Lazarus when dead for four days, and works many wonders, and forgives sins, and grants power to His disciples. (Fragments from the Scriptural Commentaries of Hippolytus; bold emphasis ours)

Gregory Thaumaturgus

“To maintain two natures in the one Christ, makes a Tetrad of the Trinity, says he; for he expressed himself thus: And it is the true God, the unincarnate, that was manifested in the flesh, perfect with the true and divine perfection, not with two natures; nor do we speak of worshipping four (persons), viz., God, and the Son of God, and man, and the Holy Spirit. First, however, this passage is misapprehended, and is of very doubtful import. Nevertheless it bears that we should not speak of two persons in Christ, lest, by thus acknowledging Him as God, and as in the perfect divinity, and yet speaking of two persons, we should make a Tetrad of the divine persons, counting that of God the Father as one, and that of the Son of God as one, and that of the man as one, and that of the Holy Spirit as one. But, again, it bears also against recognising two divine natures, and rather for acknowledging Him to be perfect God in one natural divine perfection, and not in two; for his object is to show that He became incarnate without change, and that He retains the divinity without duplication. Accordingly he says shortly: And while the affections of the flesh spring, the energy retains the impassibility proper to it. He, therefore, who introduces the (idea of) passion into the energy is impious; for it was the Lord of glory that appeared in human form, having taken to Himself the human economy.” (A Sectional Confession of the Faith, A fragment of the same Declaration of Faith, accompanied by glosses. From Gregory Thaumaturgus, as they say, in his Sectional Confession of Faith; bold emphasis ours)

Apostolic Constitutions

A Thanksgiving at the Divine Participation.

XXVI. After the participation, give thanks in this manner: We thank you, O God and Father of Jesus our Saviour, for Your holy name, which You have made to inhabit among us; and that knowledge, faith, love, and immortality which You have given us through Your Son Jesus. You, O Almighty Lord, the God of the universe, hast created the world, and the things that are therein, by Him; and hast planted a law in our souls, and beforehand prepared things for the convenience of men. O God of our holy and blameless fathers, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, Your faithful servants; You, O God, who art powerful, faithful, and true, and without deceit in Your promises; who sent upon earth Jesus Your Christ to live with men, as a man, when He was God the Word, and man, to take away error by the roots: even now, through Him, be mindful of this Your holy Church, which You have purchased with the precious blood of Your Christ, and deliver it from all evil, and perfect it in Your love and Your truth, and gather us all together into Your kingdom which You have prepared. Let this Your kingdom come. Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed be He that comes in the name of the Lord — God the Lord, who was manifested to us in the flesh. If any one be holy, let him draw near; but if any one be not such, let him become such by repentance. Permit also to your presbyters to give thanks. (Ibid; Bold emphasis ours)

St. Basil of Caesarea

To the Sozopolitans.

I have received the letter which you, right honourable brethren, have sent me concerning the circumstances in which you are placed. I thank the Lord that you have let me share in the anxiety you feel as to your attention to things needful and deserving of serious heed. But I was distressed to hear that over and above the disturbance brought on the Churches by the Arians, and the confusion caused by them in the definition of the faith, there has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture. You write that there are men among you who are trying to destroy the saving incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, so far as they can, are overthrowing the grace of the great mystery unrevealed from everlasting, but manifested in His own times, when the Lord, when He had gone through all things pertaining to the cure of the human race, bestowed on all of us the boon of His own sojourn among us. For He helped His own creation, first through the patriarchs, whose lives were set forth as examples and rules to all willing to follow the footsteps of the saints, and with zeal like theirs to reach the perfection of good works. Next for succour He gave the Law, ordaining it by angels in the hand of Moses; then the prophets, foretelling the salvation to come; judges, kings, and righteous men, doing great works, with a mighty hand. After all these in the last days He was Himself manifested in the flesh, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Galatians 4:4-5 (Letter 261; bold emphasis ours)

These next examples are all the more significant since 1 Timothy 3:16 is cited as reading “God” as opposed to “He” or “Who.”

Gregory of Nyssa

“… Nay, I do not even think it necessary to bring forward in detail the utterances of Paul, since they are, as one may say, in all men's mouths, who gives the Lord the appellation not only of God, but of great God and God over all, saying to the Romans, Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever Romans 9:5, and writing to his disciple Titus, According to the appearing of Jesus Christ the great God and our Saviour, and to Timothy, proclaims in plain terms, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit…” (Against Eunomius, Book XI; bold emphasis ours)

“The Christian Faith, which in accordance with the command of our Lord has been preached to all nations by His disciples, is neither of men, nor by men, but by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who being the Word, the Life, the Light, the Truth, and God, and Wisdom, and all else that He is by nature, for this cause above all was made in the likeness of man, and shared our nature, becoming like us in all things, yet without sin. He was like us in all things, in that He took upon Him manhood in its entirety with soul and body, so that our salvation was accomplished by means of both:— He, I say, appeared on earth ‘and conversed with men Baruch 3:37,’ that men might no longer have opinions according to their own notions about the Self-existent, formulating into a doctrine the hints that come to them from vague conjectures, but that we might be convinced that God has truly been manifested in the flesh, and believe that to be the only true ‘mystery of godliness 1 Timothy 3:16,’ which was delivered to us by the very Word and God, Who by Himself spoke to His Apostles, and that we might receive the teaching concerning the transcendent nature of the Deity which is given to us, as it were, ‘through a glass darkly 1 Corinthians 13:12’ from the older Scriptures,— from the Law, and the Prophets, and the Sapiential Books, as an evidence of the truth fully revealed to us, reverently accepting the meaning of the things which have been spoken, so as to accord in the faith set forth by the Lord of the whole Scriptures , which faith we guard as we received it, word for word, in purity, without falsification, judging even a slight divergence from the words delivered to us an extreme blasphemy and impiety. We believe, then, even as the Lord set forth the Faith to His Disciples, when He said, ‘Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit Matthew 28:19’. This is the word of the mystery whereby through the new birth from above our nature is transformed from the corruptible to the incorruptible, being renewed from the old man, according to the image of Him who created at the beginning the likeness to the Godhead. In the Faith then which was delivered by God to the Apostles we admit neither subtraction, nor alteration, nor addition, knowing assuredly that he who presumes to pervert the Divine utterance by dishonest quibbling, the same ‘is of his father the devil,’ who leaves the words of truth and ‘speaks of his own,’ becoming the father of a lie. John 8:44 For whatsoever is said otherwise than in exact accord with the truth is assuredly false and not true. (Ibid, Book II, 1. The second book declares the Incarnation of God the Word, and the faith delivered by the Lord to His disciples, and asserts that the heretics who endeavour to overthrow this faith and devise other additional names are of their father the devil; bold emphasis ours)

“Repeat, then, Eunomius, repeat this clever objection of yours to the Evangelist: How do you give the name of 'Father' in your discourse, how that of Only-begotten, seeing that all bodily generation is operated by passion? Surely truth answers you on his behalf, that the mystery of theology is one thing, and the physiology of unstable bodies is another. Wide is the interval by which they are fenced off one from the other. Why do you join together in your argument what cannot blend? How do you defile the purity of the Divine generation by your foul discourse? How do you make systems for the incorporeal by the passions that affect the body? Cease to draw your account of the nature of things above from those that are below. I proclaim the Lord as the Son of God, because the gospel from heaven, given through the bright cloud, thus proclaimed Him; ‘for This,’ He says, ‘is My beloved Son Matthew 17:5’. Yet, though I was taught that He is the Son, I was not dragged down by the name to the earthly significance of Son, but I both know that He is from the Father and do not know that He is from passion. And this, moreover, I will add to what has been said, that I know even a bodily generation which is pure from passion, so that even on this point Eunomius' physiology of bodily generation is proved false, if, that is to say, a bodily birth can be found which does not admit passion. Tell me, was the Word made flesh, or not? You would not, I presume, say that It was not. It was so made, then, and there is none who denies it. How then was it that ‘God was manifested in the flesh’?By birth,’ of course you will say. But what sort of birth do you speak of? Surely it is clear that you speak of that from the virginity, and that ‘that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost, and that the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth Luke 2:6-7,’ and none the less was her purity preserved in her child-bearing. You believe, then, that that birth which took place from a woman was pure from passion, if you do believe, but you refuse to admit the Divine and incorruptible generation from the Father, that you may avoid the idea of passion in generation. But I know well that it is not passion he seeks to avoid in his doctrine, for that he does not discern at all in the Divine and incorruptible nature; but to the end that the Maker of all creation may be accounted a part of creation, he builds up these arguments in order to a denial of the Only-begotten God, and uses his pretended caution about passion to help him in his task. (Ibid, Book IV, 1. The fourth book discusses the account of the nature of the "product of generation," and of the passionless generation of the Only-Begotten, and the text, "In the beginning was the Word," and the birth of the Virgin; bold emphasis ours)

John Chrysostom

Ver. 16. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God [He who] was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.

Here he speaks of the Dispensation in our behalf. Tell me not of the bells, nor of the holy of holies, nor of the high priest. The Church is the pillar of the world. Consider this mystery, and you may be struck with awe: for it is indeed a great mystery, and a mystery of godliness, and that without controversy or question, for it is beyond all doubt. Since in his directions to the Priests he had required nothing like what is found in Leviticus he refers the whole matter to Another, saying, God was manifest in the flesh. The Creator was seen incarnate. He was justified in the Spirit. As it is said, Wisdom is justified of her children, or because He practiced no guile, as the Prophet says, Because he had done no violence, neither was guile found in his mouth. Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22 Seen of Angels. So that Angels together with us saw the Son of God, not having before seen Him. Great, truly great, was this mystery! Preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world. He was heard of and believed in through all parts of the world, as the Prophet foreshowed, saying, Their sound is gone out into all the world. Psalm 19:4 Think not that these things are mere words, for they are not, but full of hidden realities. Received up into glory. He ascended upon clouds. This Jesus, it is said, Who is taken up from you, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven. Acts 1:11 (Homily 11 on First Timothy; bold emphasis ours)

No man has seen God at any time. By what connection of thought does the Apostle come to say this? After showing the exceeding greatness of the gifts of Christ, and the infinite difference between them and those ministered by Moses, he would add the reasonable cause of the difference. Moses, as being a servant, was minister of lower things, but Christ being Lord and King, and the King's Son, brought to us things far greater, being ever with the Father, and beholding Him continually; wherefore He says, No man has seen God at any time. What then shall we answer to the most mighty of voice, Esaias, when he says, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up Isaiah 6:1; and to John himself testifying of Him, that he said these things when he had seen His glory? John 12:41 What also to Ezekiel? For he too beheld Him sitting above the Cherubim. Ezekiel 1 and 10 What to Daniel? For he too says, The Ancient of days did sit Daniel 7:9 What to Moses himself, saying, Show me Your Glory, that I may see You so as to know You. Exodus 33:13, partly from Septuagint And Jacob took his name from this very thing, being called Israel; for Israel is one that sees God. And others have seen him. How then says John, No man has seen God at any time? It is to declare, that all these were instances of (His) condescension, not the vision of the Essence itself unveiled. For had they seen the very Nature, they would not have beheld It under different forms, since that is simple, without form, or parts, or bounding lines. It sits not, nor stands, nor walks: these things belong all to bodies. But how He Is, He only knows. And this He has declared by a certain prophet, saying, I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes by the hands of the prophets Hosea 12:10, that is, I have condescended, I have not appeared as I really was. For since His Son was about to appear in very flesh, He prepared them from old time to behold the substance of God, as far as it was possible for them to see It; but what God really is, not only have not the prophets seen, but not even angels nor archangels. If you ask them, you shall not hear them answering anything concerning His Essence, but sending up, Glory to God in the Highest, on earth peace, good will towards men. Luke 2:14 If you desire to learn something from Cherubim or Seraphim, you shall hear the mystic song of His Holiness, and that heaven and earth are full of His glory. Isaiah 6:3 If you enquire of the higher powers, you shall but find that their one work is the praise of God. Praise Him, says David, all His hosts. Psalm 148:2 But the Son only Beholds Him, and the Holy Spirit. How can any created nature even see the Uncreated? If we are absolutely unable clearly to discern any incorporeal power whatsoever, even though created, as has been often proved in the case of angels, much less can we discern the Essence which is incorporeal and uncreated. Wherefore Paul says, Whom no man has seen, nor can see. 1 Timothy 6:16 Does then this special attribute belong to the Father only, not to the Son? Away with the thought. It belongs also to the Son; and to show that it does so, hear Paul declaring this point, and saying, that He is the Image of the invisible God. Colossians 1:15 Now if He be the Image of the Invisible, He must be invisible Himself, for otherwise He would not be an image. And wonder not that Paul says in another place, God was manifested in the Flesh 1 Timothy 3:16; because the manifestation took place by means of the flesh, not according to (His) Essence. Besides, Paul shows that He is invisible, not only to men, but also to the powers above, for after saying, was manifested in the Flesh, he adds, was seen of angels. (Homily on John 1:18; bold emphasis ours)

“In this feast namely Epiphany, holy Easter, Ascension and Pentecost have their beginning and their purpose. For if Christ hadn't been born according to the flesh, he wouldn't have been baptised, which is Epiphany. He wouldn't have been crucified, which is Easter. He wouldn't have sent the Spirit, which is Pentecost. So from this event, as from some spring, different rivers flow–these feasts of ours are born. But not only on this account would it be right to give precedence to this day, but also because what happened on it is much more awe-inspiring than all other days. I say this because of the fact that Christ died after becoming human was the consequence of that: even if he didn't commit sin, still he assumed a mortal body. And that too was an amazing fact: that, although God, he was willing to become human and to condescend to take so much on himself that not even the imagination can embrace. It's this that's most awe-inspiring, and completely perplexing. Even Paul said in amazement: ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion’ (1 Tim. 3:16). How great? God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). And again he says elsewhere: 'For surely it's not with angels that God is concerned, but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect’ (Heb. 2:16-17). (John Chrysostom (The Early Church Fathers), Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen [Routledge, 2000], Concerning Blessed Philogonius, Homily 6, p. 148; bold emphasis ours)

Cyril of Alexandria

“The Divine Paul says that great is the Mystery of godliness. And this is true, for the Word was manifested in the flesh, since He is God; justified in Spirit, for in no wise is He seen to be holden by our infirmities, albeit for us made Man, for He did no sin; seen moreover of angels, for neither were they ignorant of His generation after the Flesh; He was preached moreover unto the Gentiles, as God made Man; and thus believed on in the world. And this the Divine Paul proved thus writing, Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands, that at that time ye were without Christ, aliened from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. The Gentiles were therefore without God in the world, when they were without Christ; but when they acknowledged Him to be truly and by Nature God, themselves too were acknowledged by Him confessing the faith. And He was received up into glory, Divine glory that is; for blessed David sings, God is gone up in joy. For He went up verily with Body, not in bare Godhead, for God was Incarnate.” (Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten Son, 12. That the Word being God was made Man, and that not man merely honoured with bare connection was called to equal Dignity or Authority with God the Word, as some suppose; bold emphasis ours)

For they shall lay down every robe that was gathered by guile and garment with its change and shall be willing if they shall have been burnt with fire; for a boy has been born to us and a son given unto us whose rule is upon His Shoulder and His Name is called The Messenger of the great Counsel. Hearest thou that He was called a Boy because He underwent a birth like us? But Him a Boy by brightest star did the sky point out, did the Magi worship coming from the uttermost limits of the earth, did the Angels bear good tidings of to the Shepherds saying that a Saviour was born, and proclaiming Peace and the Good will of the Father. He is also the Messenger of the Great Counsel: for He made known to us the Good-will of the Father, Who in Him was pleased to save the earth, and through Him and in Him to reconcile the world unto Himself: for being reconciled to Christ, we are reconciled to God: for God and truly Son of God the Father is He. That He is therefore the Counsel of the Father Whose Messenger He has been to us, Himself will teach saying, For so God loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that every one that believeth in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life. But the Only-Begotten Son is He Who was born of the holy Virgin, for the Word Himself was made Man, Who was God in the flesh and thus appeared to those on earth. Finally He says, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. And that through Him and in Him we believe on the Father, He hath set forth saying, He that believeth on Me believeth not on Me but on Him That sent Me and he that seeth Me seeth Him that sent Me.”(30. Another; bold emphasis ours)

And here is the Greek of Cyril’s De Recta Fide Ad Reginas, taken from Patrologia Graeca Tomus, Volume 76, p. 1331 (which is p. 677 in the pdf file):

Kai homologoumenos mega epi to tes eusebias mysterion – Theos ephanerothe en sarki edikaiothe en Pneumati, hophthe angelois, ekeruchthe en ethnesin, episteuthe en kosmo, anelemphthe en doxe

This is identical to the Greek manuscripts (mss) underlying translations such as the King James Version, with the only difference being that Cyril has the preposition epi instead of the verb estin.

Didymus of Alexandria (Also known as Didymus The Blind)

Here is how this writer quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 in his De Trinitate Liber Primus, paragraph 83, as found in volume 39 of the Patrologia Graeca, p. 404 (which is p. 295 in the pdf file):

Homologoumenos mega estin to tes eusebias mysterion – theos ephanerothe en sarki, edikaiothe en Pneumati, hophthe angelois, ekeruchthe en ethnesin, episteuthe en kosmo, anelemphthe en doxe

Didymus explicitly mentions that he is quoting from the letter to Timothy. This too is identical to the Greek mss underlying the Textus Receptus.


Eran.— Let us inquire then how the invisible was seen.

Orth.— Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.

Eran.— You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.

Orth.— You know how a moment ago we made the word of the evangelist clear by means of the testimony of the apostle; and that the divine apostle showed us how the Word became Flesh, saying plainly for verily He took not on Him the nature of angels but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. The same teacher will teach us how the divine Word was seen upon the earth and dwelt among men.

Eran.— I submit to the words both of apostles and of prophets. Show me then in accordance with your promise the interpretation of the prophecy.

Orth.— The divine apostle, writing to Timothy, also says “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.”

It is therefore plain that the divine nature is invisible, but the flesh visible, and that through the visible the invisible was seen, by its means working wonders and unveiling its own power, for with the hand He fashioned the sense of seeing and healed him that was blind from birth. Again He gave the power of hearing to the deaf, and loosed the fettered tongue, using his fingers for a tool and applying his spittle like some healing medicine. So again when He walked upon the sea He displayed the almighty power of the Godhead. Fitly, therefore, did the apostle say “God was manifest in the flesh.” For through it appeared the invisible nature beheld by its means by the angel hosts, for “He was seen,” he says, “of angels.”

The nature then of bodiless beings has shared with us the enjoyment of this boon.

Eran.— Then did not the angels see God before the manifestation of the Saviour?

Orth.— The apostle says that “He was made manifest in the flesh and seen of angels.”…

Orth.— After the incarnation, however, He was seen also of angels, as the divine apostle says, not however by similitude of glory, but using the true and living covering of the flesh as a kind of screen. God,” he says, was made manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels.” (Dialogue 1; bold emphasis)


Euthalius is another Patristic writer who read 1 Timothy 3:16 as theos:

[9.] Euthalius, A. D. 458, who undertook a new division of the Greek text into chapters, and wrote out a copy of Paul's Epistles with his own hand, reads in like manner, Theos ephanerothe en sarki, "God manifest in the flesh;" and entitles the chapter or division in which the words occur: peri Theias sarkoseos, "of the Divine Incarnation." (Ebenezer Henderson, The Great mystery of Godliness Incontrovertible Or Sir Isaac Newton And The Soncinians Foiled In The Attempt To Prove A Corruption In The Text, 1 Tim. III. 16 [Holdsworth and Bald, London], p. 63)

The Greek heading can actually be found on p. 781 of Volume 85 of Patrologia Graeca.