by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 6 Lincolnton, NC April 3, 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. The Six Issues Involved in the Mystery of Godliness.
A. In overview:
1. God manifest in the flesh.
2. God justified in the spirit.
3. God seen of angels.
4. God preached among the nations.
5. God believed on in the world.
6. God received up into glory.
B. In detail...
1. God manifest in the flesh.
a. The Textus Receptus actually has the word "God"; the Nestle/Aland 26 has, rather, only the last two letters in the word, which consist of the pronoun "he". In any case, however, the "mystery" is about "godliness" and He is the only legitimate object of faith in any setting. Thus, whether the text is as overt in its declaration that the mystery of godliness is about "God" or about "he who was "believed on in the world", the text is still about "God".
b. Therefore, the first of the six issues involved in the mystery has to do with "God incarnate".
c. The most basic issue involved here is that we are dealing with one of the most basic claims of Christianity: that the "Christ" is "God incarnate".
1) This claim is a major point of contention in religious debate.
2) It was, according to the enemies of Jesus, the reason for their antagonism (John 10:33).
3) It is the "point of reference" for several major doctrines of the New Testament.
a) It is crucial to the concept of the "love" of God. It's one thing for God to "love" enough to sacrifice a "creature"; it is altogether another thing for God to "love" enough to sacrifice "Himself".
b) It has enormous overtones for the concept of "substitutionary atonement". The question of how a "creature's death" could possibly be sufficient for the sins of the whole world makes this a core issue.
i. Law requires equal loss for equal time (eye for eye).
ii. The death of Christ is promoted everywhere in the New Testament as a sufficient answer to the Law's demand.
c) It is crucial to the idea that "we beheld His glory" as the glory of the Word Who was with God and is God. This addresses the most fundamental precept of "interpretation" of "revelation" (it should be obvious that there is little hope for any significant "truth" if we have misconstrued the identity of the central figure of that revelation).
d) It addresses the issues of "faith" and "worship" at a most fundamental level (only God is a legitimate object of trust -- Exodus 20:3; and only God is to be worshipped -- Revelation 19:10).
e) If we understood with clarity, it is inescapable that the dogma that God became incarnate is absolutely tied to every other detail in the Truth, because it is the nature of "truth" to be "consistent".
d. The most basic impact of the "incarnation" of "deity" is what Paul labels as "manifest".
1) The word "manifest" means...
a) Acts 4:16 implies that anything "manifest" is no longer "deniable".
b) The other uses of the word in the New Testament put "manifestation" into the realm of what can be known by the combination of experience and reason.
c) The meaning is, thus, tied to a certain level of inescapability of knowledge by the "normal" human being.
2) John echoed Paul's words when he wrote "we beheld His glory" as a consequence of His "incarnation" in John 1:14 and following.
e. The fundamental instrumentality of "manifestation" is "the flesh".
1) The "in" of the phrase "in the flesh" should be understood in terms of the "instrumentality" by which the "manifestation" is accomplished...i.e., "manifest by means of flesh".
2) In this context, Paul does not use the word "flesh" in the sense often found in his writings that includes the presence and dominion of sin.
a) The word "flesh" simply means "physical body".
b) It is the "physical body" that enables "sensory perception" to take place (sight, feel, sound, taste, smell).
3) This context ignores the "problem" of the limited exposure of humanity to the physical body of Jesus that could be stated: if "words about" Jesus suffice for the vast majority of those who believe in Him, why was it necessary for Him to have been "manifest by the flesh"? At least a part of the "answer" to this "problem" is that the "words about" Jesus are rooted in the actual physical experience of some men (Note. 1 John 1:1-3). It is not a "small" thing that biblical Christianity is rooted in space-time history.
4) 1 John 4:3 actually makes "incarnation" a "decisive" doctrine.