1 Timothy 3:16 – Who Was Manifest in the Flesh!?

Inspector Gadget will figure this out . . .

A good friend of mine recently shared a Bible passage which encouraged him. It spoke about the deity of Christ. This is the passage in the KJV:

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,” (1 Tim 3:16)

It is obvious that the text says that God was manifest in the flesh, and the context is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ. Good stuff. I like it. But, why does another version read completely differently? Here is the ESV:

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory,” (1 Tim 3:16)

You can see that, instead of God, we have the word He. In fact, every modern English translation reads He instead of God. Is this some kind of sinister plot? Not at all! It depends which Greek text your English translation is based on. The KJV and the NKJV are based on the Textus Receptus. Every single other major, modern English translation is based on the critical Greek text – the latest editions of which are the NA-28 and the UBS-5.

Regarding the mysterious case of God vs. He in 1 Timothy 3:16, it is obvious that “He” is the original reading. Let me show you an example from the earliest manuscript which contains both options – Codex Sinaiticus (ca. 4th century):


The portion of the text I highlighted reads who. This is obviously what the manuscript originally read, because it’s written in line with the rest of the text. In modern English translations, they clean this up a bit by supplying the implied antecedent “He.” But, did you notice what was scribbled in smaller print just above it?


The normal scribal abbreviation for God is scribbled above the original who. It looks just like something we’ve all done when writing with pen – we scribble an addition to a previously written text above the original.

What’s truly fascinating is what people did to the other earliest manuscripts for 1 Timothy 3:16. In a manuscript from the 5th century (A), somebody did exactly the same thing – they scribbled “God” above the original “who.” In yet another manuscript from the 5th century (C), you see precisely the same thing again. In another 5th century manuscript (D), the text reads “which,” and a later hand scribbled in “God” above the line there, too.

It is very clear that the original reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 is “who” (i.e. “He”), and not “God.” Somebody scribbled “God” into the manuscript at a later date. Now, I agree that Jesus certainly is God, but the text doesn’t say that here.

More on English Bible Versions

William Tyndale hard at work on his English translation of the New Testament

I’ve begun translating the Book of Jude over the past week or so. I’m doing this for three reasons:

  1. Jude is a really short and managable book,
  2. I want an excuse to use and improve my Koine Greek, and
  3. I want to use my study as an opportunity to discuss why Christians should switch their primary English Bible translation for something a bit different

I’ll be comparing my own translation with a couple of others, most likely William Tyndale’s 1526, the KJV, NASB, ESV, ISV and the NET. My translation won’t be very good, and certainly won’t be the best English in the world. I’m not doing this so I can win any Koine Greek awards or stylistic points. Instead, this is a great opportunity to point out why using different English translations can give you an extra glimpse or insight into the Biblical text that one single translation simply cannot do. For instance:

  • Is Jude the servant or slave of Jesus Christ?
  • Is he the brother of James or Jacob?
  • Did Jude write to Christians who are beloved by God, or to those who have been made holy and sanctified by Him?

Depending on which English translation you read, each of these questions will be answered completely differently – and that’s just from the first half of verse 1!

Looking forward to talking about this in the next few weeks . . . once I finish translating Jude!