1 Timothy 3:14-16

14 These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly;

15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.

how you ought to conduct yourself (v.15) = lit. “how it is necessary to behave” or, what sort of conduct is necessary — not directed exclusively to Timothy

house of God (v.15) — there is no article in the original, so it’s referring to any assembly and not a building

pillar (v.15) — a column supporting the weight of a building — the church is supposed to maintain sound doctrine as a pillar maintains a building

ground (v.15) = support, bulwark, stay, prop

without controversy (v.16) = incontrovertibly, confessedly — great without doubt

mystery (v.16) — truth previously hidden, which when revealed, is understood by the hearer — so, the mystery of piety toward God on the part of men is the truth Paul is about to state

godliness (v.16) = reverence, respect — piety toward God — always used of men, not of God

Stam believes the latter part of v.16 refers to godliness, not to Christ specifically. So … godliness is visible in the flesh of men, justified in the spirit sphere in men, seen in men by angels, preached to the nations, believed by some and will be caught up at the Rapture.

Godliness is the subject of this whole chapter, and ungodliness is the opening subject of the next. It seems most natural, therefore, that the apostle should close this section by saying, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness.” — Stam, page 83.

I can see his point. I am undecided whether I agree with him or with the more common view that Christ Himself is in view. Since Christ Himself is the cause and power of godliness, I don’t see a doctrinal problem with either view. Most of my notes on the rest of the chapter follow the view that Christ is the subject of v.16.

God (v.16) — not in the original where it just says “Who” — Most commentators believe this refers to Christ. Stam believes it refers to godliness.

The last part of v.16, beginning with “Who” may have been an old hymn.

manifested (v.16) = made visible — If this is referring to Christ, it implies His preexistence — God is a spirit. He became visible when He became flesh.

justified (v.16) = here “vindicated, proved, pronounced as

spirit (v.16) — Again, if this is referring to Christ, there is some question whether the spirit here is His spirit or the Holy Spirit.

In His spiritual nature, in all its activities and manifestations, His own claims were vindicated, and as the counterpart of this the Father expressed His approbation in His resurrection, itself the entire vindication of His sinlessness and perfection.

The other view that the spirit is here the Holy Spirit, regards the justification as the witness conveyed to Him and to His people by the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Him, a witness given, for example, both at His baptism and His transfiguration. — Vine, pages 173-174


The words “flesh” and “spirit” are set in opposition to one another. The former word refers to our Lord’s life on earth as the Man Christ Jesus. The latter word refers to what He was in His preincarnate state as pure spirit, as Deity, as being in the form of God and as being the express image of God’s substance. To simplify the matter further, let us say that the word “flesh” refers to His humanity, the word “spirit,” to His deity. During His life on earth, His humanity was clearly seen, but His deity was usually hidden underneath the cloak of His humanity. Yet, at times, momentary flashes of His deity were seen, such as on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the occasion when the Father’s voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.” It was seen by His exalted and spotless character, by His works of love and power, by His words of authority. All these vindicated, proved, endorsed, pronounced Him for what He was, Very God of Very God manifest in human flesh. — Wuest, page 64.

in glory (v.16) — with attendant majesty

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