by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 5 Lincolnton, NC March 27, 2005
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.
1901 ASV Translation:
16 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.
There are two textual differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26. The first is the difference between the Textus Receptus' "God was manifest..." and the Nestle/Aland 26's "He who was manifest...". The actual difference here consists of the first two letters in the Greek word for "God". The Textus Receptus has them in its text and the Nestle/Aland 26 does not. The second is the difference in the spelling of the word translated "received up". Both spellings seem to be acceptable to the grammarians, and the meaning is completely unaffected.
I. At Issue...
A. What is the linkage in the thoughts between 3:15 and 3:16?
1. Paul has gone to significant lengths to lay out the qualifications of those who are to be permitted to guide/serve the local church.
2. He has gone to these lengths because Timothy needed to understand how important it is for the local church to be organized to function in God's way.
3. This importance is underscored by Paul's characterization of the organism that is to be so organized. It is the "dwelling of God"; it is the "summoned assembly" of the living God; it is that which establishes the content of Truth in a local area; and it is that which provides for an on-going existence of the Truth in a local area.
4. Then he wrote the succinct statement of 3:16. It appears that he is detailing the particulars the "Truth" that is to be established and maintained in a local area by a local church.
B. What is the characterization of the particulars that Paul sets forth?
1. First, these "particulars" are "without controversy".
a. This word is only found here in the Greek New Testament.
b. It is, however, not "rare" in that it is simply an adverbial form of a present passive participle of a word used more than 20 times in the New Testament.
c. The word is most often translated in the KJV by "confess" or one of its variations. It's meaning is rooted in the idea of "agreement" that exists at a "fundamental" level. That is why it can be rendered "without controversy" even though that is the negative way of saying what the word actually means. In translation, translators serve us best when they translate according to actual "sense" rather than "spinning" so that they bring in a "sense" that, although technically possible, is not there. There is not a lot of difference between "without controversy" and "by common confession", but "without controversy" unnecessarily adds the concept of "controversy" where the indication is that Paul simply wanted Timothy to have a succinct statement of those things "universally agreed upon". This "sense" exactly fits Paul's characterization of the "summoned assembly" as the "pillar" (that which establishes the content) of the Truth in that it is a description of certain aspects of the "content" of the "mystery of godliness". These particular aspects of that content are "verbalized in common by the members of the summoned assembly".
2. Second, these "particulars" are the core details of what Paul calls a "great mystery".
a. A "mystery" is something not normally understood. A person who hears another person speak, but cannot understand because he does not share the understanding of the language of the speaker, is said to be hearing "mysteries" (1 Corinthians 14:2). A person who has never been informed in any way of a given "content of data" is said to be incapable of grasping the "mystery" that the data could unveil. This indicates that a "mystery" is something that has never been "revealed" to a person or group of persons. In the New Testament, Jesus uses "mystery" as a way to speak of dogma that people do not understand, not because they do not hear "revelatory words in a language they know", but because they are so resistant to the true meaning of those words that they run through their minds like water off of a duck's back.
b. The "greatness" of the mystery seems to indicate that Paul considered the "truth" to be so profound that no one would ever really plumb its depths. This concept is endemic to the nature of the problem of Omniscience attempting to "explain itself" to finitude. This, of itself, inserts two opposite issues. The first is that Paul signals his understanding that no one is going to ever "have a final handle on" the Truth of the Gospel. The second, and opposite, is that Paul has little to no tolerance of those who do not grasp certain aspects of the "mystery" when it comes to exercising any really significant level of influence in/over the house of God. This means, inescapably, that tension is a fact of life without remedy as long as "love" remains "unperfected". John said as much in 1 John 4:18. This "greatness" thesis could be a useful tool in the production of one of the most fundamental instruments of an "acceptable" level of maturity: humility. Humility, on the first hand, would readily acknowledge the only-partial development of one's spirituality ("I have not arrived" -- a paraphrase of Paul's statement in Philippians 3:12); and, on the second hand, would create a huge disposition to "learn" and "be taught" so that there wouldn't be a significant resistance to the Holy Spirit in the context of examining biblical revelation.
C. What is the Focal Point of the Great Mystery?
1. Paul chose the word translated "godliness" to identify the core issue of the "great mystery".
2. He, then, spun off six verbal ideas to draw a string around what he meant by "godliness" in respect to its vast mystery.
3. This indicates that we need to understand at least a little bit of what "godliness" means.
4. Thus, the issues of "godliness" in general...
a. The word so translated is used 15 times in the New Testament. 10 of those times it is used by Paul in the pastorals (1&2 Timothy and Titus). The other 5 times it is used by Peter (Acts 3:12; and 4 times in 2 Peter).
b. In his uses in the pastorals, Paul makes "godliness"...
1) A fundamental objective of the Christian life (1 Timothy 2:2 and 4:7-8).
2) The fundamental issue of sound doctrine (Our current text, 1 Timothy 6:3, and Titus 1:1).
3) The foundation of the experience of "Life", whether now or in eternity (1 Timothy 4:8 and 6:5).
4) One of five fundamental "objects of the chase" in living in the Truth (1 Timothy 6:11).
c. In his uses, Peter does not add much to Paul's concepts except that he strongly implies that "godliness" only comes on the heels of a developed "patience" and lays the foundation for developing "brotherly kindness" (2 Peter 1:6-7).
1) The OnLine Bible claims that the essential meaning of "godliness" is the action of "worshipping God aright" (i.e., correctly).
2) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament claims that "godliness" is the proper conduct of oneself toward the gods as distinct from the proper conduct of oneself toward one's neighbors and the proper conduct of oneself toward one's self.
3) Neither of these sources seem to grasp a very basic fact: that "godliness" cannot be as fundamental as Paul and Peter make it and be an "action". It has to be an "attitude", or a very basic focus of heart and mind, that makes itself known by action.
4) That "godliness" is drawn out, by Paul, by means of six verbs that all have to do with the time/space historical reality of Jesus Christ, also indicates that "godliness" has more to do with what happens to a person who "commonly confesses" these six verbal claims than it does with some "action taken".
5. Then, the issues of "godliness" in a six-verb specificity...