In a booklet which defends the true reading and doctrine of 1 Timothy 3:16 the writer from the Trinitarian Bible Society says, “The denial of the eternal Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ has troubled the Church in every period of its history. Although the opponents of the truth have been known by different names, Arians, Socinians, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, they have had many things in common, including an intense hostility to the doctrine set forth in this text (1 Tim 3:16) of Holy Scripture”. It then shows how “Professor A. A. Hodge, expounding the true doctrine on the basis of this verse, declares that Socinians, Arians and Trinitarians worship different gods and that every non-Trinitarian conception of God presents a false god to the mind and conscience. He contends that it is an historical fact beyond dispute that in whatever church the doctrine of the Trinity has been abandoned or obscured, every other characteristic doctrine of the Trinity has gone with it. There can be no mutual toleration without treason” (TBS booklet p 3).
If you use a modern English version, you won’t have the above reading which is such a powerful testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ; indeed, it is one of the clearest declarations that Christ is truly God; and you will be very much the poorer for its absence in your bible. This verse is an early creed with clear statements of doctrine, and at the top of this creed is the central doctrine that God became truly human. Without this fundamental and crowning statement, the others don’t have any value for us. If the Divine Son of God did not become truly human and die in our place, our sinless Substitute and atonement, what does it matter if he was justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, and received up into glory? Was he not that anyway? And what does it matter if he was preached to the Gentiles and believed on in the world – what would be the point? What would we be putting our faith and our trust and believing in – a great teacher? There are plenty of great teachers for us to choose from. A great example? What good is that to fallen sinners who are at enmity with God? What did he achieve for us if he was not God manifested in the flesh? He couldn’t die in our place if he wasn’t human, and his death would be of value only to himself if he wasn’t God; so who really cares about what else he did, however kind, loving and noble? I speak metaphorically, of course – the things that Jesus did are important, but if we don’t have salvation, we will end up in hell; consequently, no matter how lovely Jesus is, we’d never be able to have anything to do with him. Without his being God and born as a human being, all the rest is useless to our eternal salvation, and we’ll languish in hell for ever, without him.
So what reading do the modern versions based on the Critical Text have if they don’t tell us that it was God who was manifest in the flesh? Instead of “God”, they have “He” or “Who”, or “He who”, or “Which”, or “the one”. A couple of them do have “Christ”, but the word “Christ” alone isn’t an unequivocal declaration that Jesus is God. And besides, the word “Christ” isn’t even in the text. A Jehovah’s Witness can say that Christ came in the flesh but they don’t believe that he is Jehovah. Even a Muslim will say that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and thus came in the flesh, but they categorically deny his deity. Unless you have a King James Bible, you will be without the clearest statements of Jesus’ divinity. And with all the enemies ranged against us as Christians, we need every such verse with all their clarity and unequivocal and unapologetic definitions we can get.
Which is Correct, and how did it Happen?
The Greek word for “God” is “Theos” and it consist of three letters – the first letter, “th”, is named “theta”; The second letter, “e”, is named “epsilon”; the third letter, “s”, is named “sigma”. Theta is signified by “O” with a bar or stroke across the centre; sigma is signified by a symbol identical to our capital “C”. It was normal practice for scribes when copying the early manuscripts to write everything in capital letters, or “uncials”; and it was also normal for them to abbreviate the name of God to Theta Sigma, with a short line above the word to indicate it had been shortened. Thus, “God” appears as “OC” with a little stroke through or across the centre of the “O”, with both letters beneath a small horizontal line.
There is another word in Greek which is almost identical to the contracted form of God; it is the word for “who” or “which” or “that”. It consists of two letters – the first letter is named “omicron” and is signified by “O”. The second letter is named “sigma”. So “who” appears as “OC”, and the difference in appearance between “Theos” and “who” is a little stroke of the pen. When copying these words it would be very easy for a scribe to miss the pen stroke in the letter “theta”, especially if the manuscript was worn and faded, and would therefore be written as “O”.
The verse only makes sense and becomes significant if it reads “God was manifest in the flesh”. To say “Christ was manifest in the flesh” is obvious, because he was a man, and it doesn’t necessarily ascribe deity to him anyway. To say “who” or “which” or “that” was manifest in the flesh doesn’t make sense. You don’t start a sentence with a relative pronoun out of the blue – it must refer to something antecedent to itself. But there is nobody in the passage to whom it could refer except God (verse 15). And the word “he” isn’t even in the text; it had to be inserted into it by the translators to try and make the verse more intelligible than leaving it as “who”, “which” or “that”. David W. Daniels writes, “Without a doubt, the Scripture says, ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’ The vast testimony of history shows us clearly that the word in question is ‘God’, not ‘he’ or ‘who’” (Daniels, 2003, p 62).