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Chapter 18

A Crucial Text

 

No passage of Sacred Writ more powerfully verifies Christ’s deity than that found in Paul’s epistle to Timothy.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16

Here is presented one of the two mighty mysteries of the universe—the mystery of godliness. The second mystery is its antithesis—the mystery of iniquity. Paul introduced God’s people to this mystery when he wrote to the early church in Thessalonica. There he declared,

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work. 2 Thessalonians 2:7

While the mystery of godliness is explained—that God appeared in human flesh—Paul does not define the mystery of iniquity. Could this mystery be the denial that Christ came in the flesh? Indeed, Scripture confirms this precise definition.

In a letter to the Thessalonians, Paul prophesies of the emergence of the Papacy, whom he refers to as the man of sin and the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The apostle John uses alternative terminology to identify the papal apostasy. It is in relation to this synonym, antichrist, that he reveals that the denial that Christ came in the flesh is the precise doctrine of the papal power.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist. 1 John 4:3

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 2 John 7

If there is one characteristic of Satan above all others, it is the trait of deception. Since 1 Timothy 3:16 provides the key to the understanding of the mystery of iniquity, it is to be expected that, desiring to veil his true character, the devil would make every effort to pervert that text. This he has done by placing a question over the divinity of Christ. Many astute Bible students have grasped this fact, but few have perceived that by minimizing Christ’s deity, the devil has equally challenged His humanity.

First, let us examine the alteration in the corrupted Greek manuscripts which have destroyed this text as a powerful witness confirming Christ’s divinity. The Latin Vulgate first destroyed this passage. Instead of the Latin Vulgate using the word Deus (God) in the appropriate place in 1 Timothy 3:16, it has altered the word to quod (which). This alteration is reflected in Wycliffe’s and the Douay-Rheims translations. Since he based the first English Version of Scripture upon the Latin Vulgate, John Wycliffe in 1380 translated this passage as

that thing that was shewid [showed] in fleisch [flesh]. 1 Timothy 3:16, Wycliffe translation

Not surprisingly the 1582 Jesuit version (Douay-Rheims Version) also destroyed Christ’s divinity. It translates the passage:

which was manifested in flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16, Douay-Rheims Version

Modern Catholic versions also destroy this passage.

Revelation made in human flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16, Ronald Knox’s Version, 1945

But no English Bible of the Protestant Reformation affronted our Lord in this manner. They translated this passage as follows:

God was shewed in the flesche. Tyndale, 1534

God was shewed in the flesche. Great Bible, 1539

God is shewed in the flesche. Geneva New Testament, 1557

God was shewed manifestly in the flesh. Bishop’s Bible, 1568

Virtually all modern translations with the exception of the New King James Version follow the lead of Catholicism and despoil this text. A selection of translations is quoted.

Who was manifested in the flesh. Alford

It is he who was manifest in the flesh. Moffatt

He who appeared in the flesh. New World - Jehovah’s Witness

Who was revealed in the flesh. Berkeley

The One who appeared in human flesh. Phillips

He who was manifested in the body. New English Bible

But while these translations rely on a handful of corrupted manuscripts, especially the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, they ignore the extensive testimony to the contrary.

It was a simple matter to alter God to who in the Greek. This was accomplished by the omission of two letters. This alteration could be achieved by deliberate decision or by accident. Similarly who could be altered to which by the careless omission of the second letter. The progression can be seen when the Greek equivalents of the three words are cited:

qeos God
os   who
o
which

Beside the overwhelming evidence of extant Greek manuscripts, the testimony of the early church fathers powerfully supports the word God in 1 Timothy 3:16. Second-century writers such as Barnabas, Hippolytus, and Ignatius, third-century writer Dionysius of Alexandria, Diodorus of Tarsus (died A.D. 370), Gregory of Nyssa (died A.D. 394), Chrysostom (died A.D. 407), and the fifth-century writer Euthalius are among those who testify the presence of the word God in this vital text.

Another important source of evidence is the Codex Alexandrius "A." This Greek manuscript was presented to King Charles I of England (ruled 1625 - 1649) by Patriarch Cyril Lucar. It is a fifth-century manuscript and contains the word God in the passage. Some have cast doubt upon its evidence because the two strokes which distinguish God from who are of more recent vintage. Indeed some have used this fact as evidence of a later alteration. But the evidence is all against this conclusion.

The original custodian of the manuscript, Patrick Young, in whose hands the manuscripts were from 1628 to 1652, assured Archbishop Ussher that the original reading was God. Many others who carefully examined this manuscript confirmed the same fact. Huish (1657), Bishop Pearson (1659), Mill (1677), Wotton (1718), Wetstein (1716), Berriman (1737), Woide (1785), and Prebendary Screvenier (1885) were among those who confirmed this fact. Each personally noted that although

the middle stroke has been retouched, the fine stroke originally in the letter is discernible at each end of the fuller stroke of the corrector. Wetstein, 1716, quoted in David Otis Fuller, True or False?, 33

The overwhelming weight of evidence supports the Textus Receptus in its rendition of 1 Timothy 3:16.

Some adopt a casual attitude to such changes. They suggest that there are no grounds for concern since even in modern translations there are other passages supporting Christ’s divinity. Such thinking indicates that God provided surplus evidence which may be discarded at man’s will without causing damage to the message of Scripture. But every passage of God’s Word contains vital truth.

Further, such an argument also disregards the crucial connection between this passage and the identification of antichrist as noted earlier in the chapter. Clearly there is no deep mystery in a man being manifest in the flesh. While each conception and birth is a true miracle, nevertheless it is a miracle of such daily occurrence that it does not rate a place among the deep mysteries of mankind. But for God to be manifest in the flesh is not only characterized by being unique, but is a mystery beyond human comprehension as well, and one which draws our most sublime love for our Saviour.

The second deep mystery of the universe is that of the mystery of iniquity. It was a mystery in its origin—that in a universe knowing nothing but perfection and selfless love, sin and its attendant evils could originate. That mystery is perpetuated in the lives of sinners. Initially Lucifer did not contemplate that his rebellion would be utterly repulsed. Only after God was manifest in human flesh, and paid the supreme penalty for man’s sins, was man’s redemption assured. This act of infinite love, so contrary to the character of Satan, he has ever sought to conceal.

As we have seen, John testifies that this deception is the specific identification of antichrist. Many, identifying antichrist as the Papacy, will hasten to protest that the Roman Catholic Church upholds the truth that Christ appeared in human flesh. But does this apostate power really declare the biblical truth of this matter? Does its view, that Christ did not take our nature but the human nature of unfallen Adam, truly realize the depths to which our Saviour descended in order to save us from our sin? Listen to the testimony of Scripture:

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. Romans 1:3

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Romans 8:3

It is little wonder that modern translations seriously distort Hebrews 2:16. Its testimony is so strong and availing that the enemy of souls dare not let it stand. It will be noted in the next two verses (Hebrews 2:17-18) that Christ’s very High Priestly ministry for us is predicated upon His possession of our human nature—that He was made like unto His brethren in every respect.

In accepting the fifth-century error of Augustine, bishop of Hippo, the Roman Catholic Church incorporated the mystery of iniquity into its dogma, for Christ’s living sacrifice in accepting the nature of weakened man elevates the trials He endured. Only thus could He be our true Example, as testified by Peter:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. 1 Peter 2:21-22

From the basic tenet of the mystery of iniquity (that Christ’s nature was different from ours), the Roman Catholic Church has fashioned the evil doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary), original sin, limbo, infant baptism, the confession of sins to priests and "saints," the mediatorial role of Mary, and other doctrines offensive to our pure and holy God.

Thus the alteration of that single word in 1 Timothy 3:16, regarded by many as an innocent alternative, provides ample testimony to ramifications of even a change in a single word of Scripture. Our God does not provide us with extraneous material or details of little consequence.

At a time when Protestantism is moving ever closer to Rome and has lost all understanding of the biblical doctrine of antichrist, the destruction of one relevant verse is disquieting. All great Protestant Reformers were agreed that the antichrist power is the Papacy; virtually all nineteenth-century Protestant writers agreed. But in the twentieth century the church has lost this doctrine in a sea of wild and nonsensical speculation.

In a recent two-page spread in the Sydney Sun-Herald (February 17, 1991), not one religious leader showed even an elementary understanding of the subject of the antichrist. Uninformed guesses as to the identity ranged from the absurd thought that he will be a homosexual to the ridiculous concept that probably Henry Kissinger is the antichrist. The title of the article demonstrated further confusion—Is Saddam Hussein the Antichrist? 1

How precious is the pure Word of God, which shines as a beacon of truth in the mind of every true Christian to defend the purity of the Word of God and uphold its every word, for it is in those words, and those alone, that we find the revealed will of our God!

1 See Colin Standish and Russell Standish, The Antichrist is Here, 1990, Hartland Publications, Box 1, Rapidan Virginia 22733, U.S.A.

 


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