A closer look at 1st Timothy 3:16 will reveal a different interpretation than our traditional view. Leaders of religious studies are quick to say, you must look at “context” before considering a passage!
When we apply context, the key word to consider is “Godliness”.
Godliness is about the conduct of believers, the whole 3rd Chapter of 1st Timothy is about Godliness.
Paul reflects on Godliness again in 2nd Timothy the third chapter and there it says “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
When we remove the eyes of bias, it is clear verse sixteen is speaking of God manifesting in the flesh of believers! Lets look at each line of the verse.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness
“Godliness, denotes character and conduct determined by the principle of love or fear of God in the heart” (Int’l Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
God was manifest in the flesh
The word “manifest” is the Greek word “phaneroo” which means; “appear or show”. It is used many times in the Bible with the primary meaning of “appearing or showing” something.
Justified in the Spirit
Believers are justified! “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification. (Rom 4:24-25)
Seen of angels
Angels took a special interest in the Gospel when it was preached by those whom the Holy Ghost had fallen (1st Peter 1:12).
Preached unto the Gentiles
Jesus was clear about his mission during his time on earth and it did not include the Gentiles (Matt 15:24). He warned his disciples not to preach to the Gentiles (Matt 10:6). Peter was the first to preach to the gentiles and it was after the resurrection, “Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.” (Acts 15:7)
Believed on in the World
When Jesus was in the flesh the world did not believe on him; “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11).
Received up into Glory
Saints are also raised in Glory! “So also, is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.” (1 Cor 15:43), another verse “That you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1Th 2:12)
1st Timothy the 3rd chapter is about the “mystery of godliness” not the “Godhead”!
It stands to reason the same power bringing about godliness in “2nd Timothy 3” is the same power of God bringing about godliness in “1st Timothy 3”.
When we see the words “manifested in the flesh” we lean towards thinking it is the flesh of Jesus, however a similar use of the phrase is also seen in 2nd Cor 4:11; “for we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh”.
1st Timothy 3:16 is clearly speaking of God manifesting in the flesh of Saints. The whole 3rd chapter and every other verse in the bible that includes the word “godliness” is speaking of saints!
Let us not cast aside “Context” if it does not fit what we want the passage to mean.