Friday, November 22, 2013

Revealed in the Flesh: 1Timothy 3:16 and Oneness Pentecostalism


Michael R. Burgos Jr.

The phrase “God was manifest in the flesh” as it is found within the King James Version rendering of 1 Timothy 3:16, has served as a virtual creedal statement within Oneness Pentecostal preaching, books, and other literature.[1] There are anywhere from 14 to 24 million Oneness adherents worldwide,[2] and given the place of prominence the verse enjoys within Oneness teaching, a textual, exegetical, and theological analysis  of the text is warranted.
Textual Analysis

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 Timothy 3:16 KJV)

και ομολογουμενως μεγα εστιν το της ευσεβειας μυστηριον θεος εφανερωθη εν σαρκι εδικαιωθη εν πνευματι ωφθη αγγελοις εκηρυχθη εν εθνεσιν επιστευθη εν κοσμω ανεληφθη εν δοξη[3] (1 Timothy 3:16 TR)

There exists within Oneness Pentecostalism a significant trans-denominational faction that asserts an exclusive authoritative primacy to the King James Version. While this position is present among many Oneness churches, there is no Oneness denomination that has institutionalized the King James Version to the exclusion of other English translations. However, within the movement there still remains a high level of dependence upon the textual choices present within the King James Version, especially regarding 1 Timothy 3:16. In light of this, if one does not begin with an a priori belief in the authenticity of either the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text, there is good reason to suspect the reading as being less than authentic.

Regarding the relevant phrase, there are three distinct readings that find attestation among the manuscripts of the New Testament.[4] Below, I have listed them with their supporting witnesses according to their attested chronology.

ὃς ἐφανερώθη (trans. “Who was manifested”)
Unicals: Siniaticus (4th c.), Alexandrinus (5th c.), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.), Augensis (9th c.), and Boernerianus (9th c.)
Miniscules: 33 (9th c.), 1175 (11th c.), 2127 (12th c.), 365 (13th c.), and 442 (13th c.)
Versions: Present in a marginal note within Syriac Harclean (7th c.), and in Ethiopic texts (14th c.)
Patristic Citations: Origen (Latin Translation, 3rd c.), Didymus of Alexandria (4th c.), Epiphanius of Constantia (early 5th c.), Cyril of Alexandria (5th c.), and Theodoret of Cyrrhus (5th c.)

ὃ ἐφανερώθη (trans. “Which was manifested”)
Uncials: Claromontanus (6th c.)
Miniscules: None
Versions: Vulgate and some Old Latin texts (7th c.)
Patristic Citations: Victorinus of Pettau (early 4th c.), Ambrosiaster (4th c.), Hilary (4th c.), Pelagius (5th c.), and Augustine (5th c.)

θεος εφανερωθη (trans. “God was manifested”)
Uncials: a 6th century correction of Ephraemi Rescriptus, a 9th century correction of Claromontanus, a correction (by a later hand) of Alexandriunus,[5] Athous Laurensis (8th/9th c.), Mosquensis (9th c.), Angelicus (9th c.), and Porphyrianus (9th c.), 0150 (9th c.), 075 (10th c.),
Miniscules: 81 (11th c.), 104 (11th c.), 1505 (11th c.), 330 (12th c.), 1241 (12th c.), 614 (13th c.), 6 (13th c.), 263 (13th c.), 630 (14th c.), 1881 (14th c.)
Versions: Georgian (6th c.), Syriac Harclean (7th c.), and Slavic (9th c.)
Patristic Citations: Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.), Didymus (4th c.), Euthalius (4th c.), Theodoret of Cyrrhus (5th c.)

The strength of ὃς ἐφανερώθη is evident. It is found in the earliest witnesses of 1 Timothy 3:16 and it possesses excellent patristic and versional support. By contrast, the earliest witness for θεος occurs hundreds of years later by the work of a corrector. ὃ ἐφανερώθη is far too an isolated reading, and thus it is not difficult understand why the Nestle-Aland 28th edition and the United Bible Societies 4th edition relegate all but ὃς to the apparatus. The New English Translation textual commentary has rightly noted that ὃ ἐφανερώθη is “a reading that indirectly supports ὅς since it could not easily have been generated if θεός had been in the text.”[6]

Metzger concluded,

“Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεος; all ancient versions presuppose ὃς or ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading of θεος.”[7]

Given the nature of the uncial text, the variant can be explained by supposing that a scribe mistook OΣ for the nomen sacrum ΘΣ. However as Comfort has noted,

“It is difficult to imagine that how several fourth- and fifth- century scribes, who had seen thousands of nomina sacra, would have made this mistake. It is more likely that the change was motivated by a desire to make the text say that it was “God” who was manifest in the flesh.”[8]

It is probable that the variant was the result of a scribal emendation. Perhaps there could have been a theological motivation, or it could be the result of a scribe attempting to clarify the subject. However, there isn’t a way to account for the converse, and as Mounce notes, “It is almost inconceivable that a scribe would change θεος to a pronoun.”[9] So too, the relative pronoun is the more difficult reading, as the text assumes an antecedent, but makes none explicit.[10] Therefore, both internally and externally, the critical editions provide the most probable reading.

Exegesis and Theological Application

The epistle is emphatically didactic. The Apostle has set forth parameters for Christians; from pedagogy to practice. In between his warnings, exhortations, and instructions, Paul slowed his stride and wrote to his beloved son in the faith,

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)

To Paul, the church is that people in which God resides- the household of God is the body of Christ.[11] It is the body of Christ in whom the Spirit of God dwells. Thus, the people of God stand as the στῦλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας- the pillar and support of the truth. In verse 16, he annunciates the reality of that truth to which the household of God testifies:

“He[Who] 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 Timothy 3:16 ESV, brackets mine)

It is important to note that this confession presents its subject by means of the passive voice. The six part construct speaks of what has been done to and for this one who has been made visible in the flesh. The confession speaks of the reality of one being revealed in flesh (ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί).[12] Thus, the text implicitly communicates that the subject who is revealed exists prior to his being made visible in the flesh, and that his revelation in flesh is from the perspective of this text,[13] the result of the active work of another.

But who is the subject?  Unquestionably, the subject is the Son of God. It was he who was manifest in the flesh. Each one of the six clauses reflects a chronology of the redemptive work of God in Christ.

Whereas the phrase “vindicated by the Spirit” refers to the bodily resurrection of the Son of God by means of the Spirit, “He was manifested in the flesh” speaks of his incarnation by the work of the Father. That is, it was not the Father “who was manifested in the flesh,” but rather the Son. Redemption is a work inextricably connected to the Triune God.

Similarly Paul speaks of the preincarnate actual coexistence of the Father and Son when he wrote,

“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3 ESV)

If the Son was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, logic demands that the he previously exist in a state wherein he did not bear that likeness. Likewise, since the Son was revealed in the flesh, his revelation presupposes his pre-incarnational existence with the Father. Even if we were to accept the reading “God was manifest in the flesh,” the text would still demand by virtue of its grammar and context that the Son was revealed in the flesh.  Hence, the foundational basis of Oneness Pentecostal theology (i.e., unitarianism) is refuted by the very text that Oneness adherents appeal to most often.





[1] For example, one can find the clause in the doctrinal statement of the United Pentecostal Church International (http://www.upci.org/about-us/beliefs/21-about-us/beliefs/91), prominently in popular works such as David K. Bernard, Pentecostal Theology Volume 1: The Oneness of God, (Hazelwood, MO; Word Aflame Press, 2001), and in scholarly works such as David Norris, I Am: A Oneness Pentecostal Theology, (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2009). 
[2] David Bernard suggests worldwide constituency at “24 million or more,” and he cites Talmage French as an authority. Eric Patterson and Edmund Rybarczyk eds., The Future of Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007), 124, 136. However, David Reed has estimated worldwide constituency somewhere between 14 to 17 million. Stanely M. Burgess and Eduard M. Van Der Maas eds., New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 940.
[3] Maurice Robinson ed., 1624 Elzevir Textus Receptus : With Morphology, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2002).
[4] This is not entirely true, as a few late manuscripts possess the reading ὁ θεός (e.g. 88 [12th c.]), and 061 (5th c.) contains the singularly unique reading ω εφανερωθη.
[5] Regarding the correction of A, it is apparent that the omicron sigma (OΣ) was transformed into a nomen sacrum (ΘΣ), especially when one compares an actual nomen sacrum (from the context) to the correction. Of the correction, Tregelles noted, “The ink in which this has been done in A is sufficiently modern and black to declare its recent application…” Samuel P. Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament: With Remarks on Its Revision Upon Critical Principles, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 228.
[6] Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.
[7] Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed., (New York, NY: American Bible Society, 1975), 641.
[8] Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), 663.
[9] William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 214.
[10] Wescott and Hort wrote that ὃς “is intrinsically improbable,” and “Its difficulty is solely grammatical, at least on any interpretation which allows the antecedent of ὃς to be Christ.” B. F. Wescott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: With Notes on Selected Readings, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 134.
[11] See Col. 1:24, cf. Eph. 5:23. See esp. Eph. 2:19-22.
[12] Φανερόω is defined as “to cause to become visible, reveal, expose publically.” Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), 1048.
[13] It is well worth mentioning that the all too similar hymn, Philippians 2:5-11, makes it evident that the Son played an active role in his incarnation. Note the reflexive pronouns as it was the Son who emptied (vs. 7) and humbled himself (vs. 8).   

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