Does 1 Timothy 3:16 say Jesus is God?
by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)
“1 Timothy 3:16″ speaks of a personal manifestation of God – God in the second person was manifested” (The Impeccable Christ) 
The above and many other such similar remarks and statements are commonly found in Christian literature that favour Jesus’ divinity. In my own exchanges with Christians when discussing the alleged divinity of Jesus they would more likely than not reference 1 Timothy 3:16 as evidence for the incarnation of God into this world and that Jesus(the incarnation) is indeed God. Many of them do not realise however, that the reading that they so quickly grab and utilise is untenable. “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.” This is the reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 that would be championed by so called KJV only Christian fundamentalists and those whose agenda is to deify Jesus. The evidence will show that their position and belief is unwarranted and without good foundation.
The reading which has “God manifested in the flesh”(theos ephanerothe en sarki) is found in the King James Version which is based on the Textus Receptus or Received Text which is the work done by Desiderius Erasmus and published in 1516. The standard position in modern Biblical studies is that the Textus Receptus is an inferior text as it is based on very late mss. of the Byzantine tradition(12th and 13th century) as Prof. Raymond Brown states, “Scholarship at the end of the 19th century finally won the battle to replace the inferior Textus Receptus by new editions of the Greek NT based on the great uncial codices and other evidence made available since Erasmus’ time…” Michael A. Barber summarises the situation of the TR nicely in the following:
“The translators of the King James version of the 1611 used the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, for their translation. At that time this Greek text was so highly regarded that many considered it to be inspired of God. Its text read “God was manifest in the flesh.” However, the value of the Textus Receptus has since been discredited by scholars and superseded by the three major manuscripts (among others), all of them of great antiquity, and therefore nearer to the original writings of the inspired penmen: The Vatican manuscript No. 1209 of the 4th century, the Sinaitic manuscript also of the 4th century (discovered by Tischendorf at a monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in 1844) and the Alexandrine manuscript of the early 5th century.” 
The Trinitarian fundamentalist Christian who is predisposed to the KJV’s reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 is evidently at least on shaky grounds as the book itself is based on the inferior Textus Receptus. The text in question has been proven to have undergone alteration. In both Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus the original reading was hos ephanerothe en sarki with the relative pronoun “hos” rather than the noun “theos” as found in the Textus Receptus. Any child can tell the difference between a pronoun and a noun. Clearly, there has been a change. The question is how did the change occur? In brief, the word hos orthographically looks quite similar with the abbreviation for theos. Abbreviating sacred epithets was common practice among scribes of the ancient world. Hos in Greek looks like OΣ(omicron and sigma) whilst the abbreviation for theos(which is called a nomina sacra i.e. sacred name) looks like θΣ (theta and sigma) with a horizontal line on top of the sigma. In Greek to change a sigma to an omicron one need only add a horizontal line in the middle of the O which will yield a theta θ. There are two ways of approaching this anomaly in Textual Criticism. Some scholars argue that the change was accidental/coincidental without any theological motives behind it whilst another group of scholars argue that it was intentionally done with the obvious theological implication. James White in his book The King James Controversy favours the former position. The foremost textual critic Bruce Metzger in his The Text of the New Testament briefly mentions the error in 1 Timothy 3:16 as an item under the discussion of “UNINTENTIONAL CHANGES” under the subheading of “ERRORS ARISING FROM FAULTY EYESIGHT” which means that in this 1968 work he favours the position of accidental change.  In a later work(1975) however, he does admit intentional change as a possibility(though with less probability) of what happened with the text. He explains this in the following:
“The reading which, on the basis of external evidence and transcriptional probability, best explains the rise of the others is ὅς. It is supported by the earliest and best uncials (א* A*vid C* Ggr) as well as by 33 365 442 2127 syrhmg, pal goth ethpp Origenlat Epiphanius Jerome Theodore Eutheriusacc. to Theodoret Cyril Cyrilacc. to Ps-Oecumenius Liberatus. Furthermore, since the neuter relative pronoun ὅ must have arisen as a scribal correction of ὅς (to bring the relative into concord with μυστήριον), the witnesses that read ὅ (D* itd, g, 61, 86 vg Ambrosiaster Marius Victorinus Hilary Pelagius Augustine) also indirectly presuppose ὅς as the earlier reading. The Textus Receptus reads θεός, with אe (this corrector is of the twelfth century) A2 C2 Dc K L P Ψ 81 330 614 1739 Byz Lect Gregory-Nyssa Didymus Chrysostom Theodoret Euthalius and later Fathers. Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεός; all ancient versions presuppose ὅς or ὅ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεός. The reading θεός arose either (a) accidentally, through the misreading of ος as ΘΣ, or (b) deliberately, either to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or, with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.” 
One of Metzger’s top students, Prof. Bart Ehrman favours the second option stating the following:
“The change must have been made fairly early, at least during the third century given its widespread attestation from the fourth century on. It can therefore best be explained as an anti-adoptionistic corruption that stresses the deity of Christ.” 
Reiterating the same point in his popularly received Misquoting Jesus he states, “This would be an example of an antiadoptionistic change, a textual alteration made to counter a claim that Jesus was fully human but not himself divine.” 
Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger disagree with Ehrman’s position though they do concur that there is a “scribal switch” in 1 Timothy 3:16 and that the original reading is not “God manifested in the flesh”.  Biblical scholars Keith Elliot and Ian Moire’s position lends support to Ehrman’s thesis in their own work as they write the following:
“Another reason for the deliberate change from ‘who’ to ‘God’ is that the church may have wished here to emphasize its belief in the divinity of Jesus…’God’ was the preferred reading of a later generation and the change in those manuscripts was no mere accidental misreading. It seems ‘who’ is the text to print.” 
Reporting on the findings of textual critics Biblical scholar and theologian Sir Anthony Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting write:
“Some manuscripts have inserted the word “God” for the words “he who.” The alteration is admitted by modern translators to be unwarranted. “God” is most unlikely to have been part of the older manuscripts. Such interpolations, like the famous spurious Trinitarian addition in 1 John 5:7, which is omitted by modern translations, suggests that someone was trying to force a new idea on the original text.” 
Echoing the same point with more elaboration in his latest work he writes:
“Modern versuibs have corrected the word “God” to “He who.” The alteration of an original “He who” (in Greek ὅς) was very sneakily accomplished when some scribes changed the O (omicron) into a θ (theta) giving θς (theta sigma). The reading THS was an abbreviated form of the Greek word theos, God. All that had to be done was to draw a little line across the middle of the O to produce the Greek letter theta (θ). Then the text was made to sound Trinitarian and to support the Incarnation: God was manifested in the flesh.” “He who” (Oς) was made to read “God” (θς).” 
As if copying from one another(though obviously they have not) Michael Barber writes:
The very old manuscripts used abbreviations for commonly used words such as THE.OS’, “God,” and KU’RI.OS, “Lord,” etc. The abbreviation for THE.OS’ was ΘϹ(with a horizontal line on top). However, were it not for those two horizontal lines, this is identical to the word OC, meaning “who.” The Alexandrine manuscript was found to have originally read OC, who, but this ‘much later hand’ added those two small lines, changing the reading to ΘϹ(with a horizontal line on top), THE.OS’, “God.” It was only examination by microscope which revealed this!
The Sinaitic manuscript and the Vatican manuscript No. 1209 read OC, “who,” giving the most accurate reading:
“Who was manifest in the flesh.” – 1 Timothy 3:16 ” 
The reading “God” is so insignificant in terms of providing any material meaning to New Testament christology that Raymond Brown in discussing dubious Biblical references that use the title “God” as a reference to Jesus relegates the 1 Timothy 3:16 to just a footnote and remarks:
“I shall discuss only those that I think have some merit, ignoring, for instance, 1 Timothy 3:16, where some witnesses have a reference to God being manifested in the flesh instead of a pronominal reference to Jesus. The attestation for such a reading is not strong enough to warrant serious consideration.” 
In conclusion, whether 1 Timothy 3:16 was changed deliberately or accidentally what all experts of the Bible excluding fundamentalist KJV groupies agree on is that the original reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 does not have “God” in it. The word theos was a later insertion, that is, a corruption of the text.
 Best, W. E. (1971). The Impeccable Christ. U.S. : Lightning Source Inc. p. 23
 Brown, R. E. (1997). An Introduction to the New Testament. U.S. : Yale University Press. p. 52
 Barber, M. A. (2006). Should Christians Abandon the Doctrine of the Trinity?. Boca Raton, Florida: Universal Publishers. p. 47
 Metzger, B. M. (1968). The Text of the New Testament : Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. p. 187
 Metzger, B. M. (2002). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 4th ed. London: United Bible Societies. pp. 573-574
 Ehrman, B. D. (1993). The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Madison Avenue, New York: Oxford University Press.
 Ehrman, B. D. (2005). Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 157-158
 Kostenberger, A. J., & Kruger M. J.(2010). The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. p. 222
 Elliot, K., & Moir, I. (1995). Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament: An Introduction for English Readers. London: T&T Clark Ltd. p. 73
 Buzzard, A., & Hunting, C. F. (1998). The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound. Lanham, Maryland: International Scholars Publications. p. 303
 Buzzard, A. (2007). Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus. Morrow, Georgia: Restoration Fellowship. pp. 257-258
 Barber, M. A. Op. Cit. p. 48
 Brown, R. E. (1994). An Introduction to New Testament Christology. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 177
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