"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 verse seems like It does not merely teach that God was manifest in the flesh as some have argued. It also says that "God" was justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory. "Manifest in the flesh" was just the first thing mentioned. I don't think you can say this verse is compatible with a human Christ unless it said "God manifest in the the flesh was..."
That's a good and significant question, and helpful to dig into. The answer to it lies in a difference between English grammar and Greek grammar, and particularly how the translators chose to deal with the sequence of Greek phrases.
In the English of the KJV here, there is only one explicit subject, "God", which as rendered carries through into all following verbal phrases - this is actually a very common feature in KJV English, and other English versions too. But it does not need to be rendered that way. That is because in Greek, verbs implicitly include the pronoun; there is normally no separate subject pronoun, such as "he" (although one can be used for emphasis, as in 'ego eimi' which Jesus and others use: "I, I am"); in English translation, sometimes an explicit pronoun is used, but sometimes it is not. So the fact that the KJV presents only one explicit subject is more a question of style and smoothness of rendering than of necessary meaning. We could equally translate this passage as:
God was manifest in the flesh; he was justified in the spirit; he was seen of angels; he was preached unto the Gentiles; he was believed on in the world; he was received up into glory.
Does that make any difference? Yes it does. Consider for comparison John 1:14, expanded in the same way to bring out a verb subject explicitly (I underline the added pronoun in English):
And the Word was made flesh, and he dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Who is the "he" that "dwelt among us"? Is it simply "the word"? No. In context, it has to be "the word, become flesh", that is, Jesus. Jesus is not the word itself in its original form, that is, what God said. Rather, he is that same word "become flesh". Just as what God said became real by his spirit working in creation - "God said: 'let light become', and light became", the same happened with Jesus, when he was begotten of the father in the womb of Mary out of the holy spirit, exactly as God had promised he would be. Here, the subject of the verb "dwelt" is not "the word", but the result
of the first stated event, "the word became flesh", that is, "the word become flesh", that is, Jesus.
Going back to 1 Tim 3:16 (and justified in doing so by a direct linkage through the word "flesh") we can apply the same principle. We are told at the start of the sequence that "God was manifest in flesh"; this parallels how "the word became flesh" in John 1:14. And just as the "he" who dwelt among the disciples was not "the word" but "the word become flesh", so the "he" who was justified in spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory
, is not "God", but the result
of "God was manifest in flesh", that is, "God manifest in flesh", that is, Jesus.
Edited by Mark Taunton, 09 June 2012 - 10:55 AM.