Does 1 Timothy 3:16 Affirm the Deity of Christ? Pt. 1
It is time to once again address the distortions of one of Islam’s most conniving and deceptive internet dawagandists. Ibn Anwar, the Muslim–turned apostate–turned Muslim again–turned apostate again–turned Muslim once again, has produced an article where he seeks to undercut any attempt of using 1 Timothy 3:16 to establish the Deity and Incarnation of Christ. Here is how the text reads in the New King James Version (NKJV):
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh (theos ephanerothe en sarki), Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.”
However, as the neophyte himself realizes, this is a rendering which is in dispute since other English versions that are based on much older Greek witnesses read differently:
“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh (hos ephanerothe en sarki), was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
The reason for the difference is that whereas the Greek manuscripts (MSS) underlying the King James and New King James versions have theos the reading that is found in some of our earliest MSS is actually hos. Yet that is not to say that the theos reading doesn’t have early manuscript (MS) or patristic support as well. As the NET Bible translators explain:
24 tc The Byzantine text along with a few other witnesses (אc Ac C2 D2 Ψ [88 pc] 1739 1881 Ï vgms) read θεός (qeos, “God”) for ὅς (Jos, “who”). Most significant among these witnesses is 1739; the second correctors of some of the other mss tend to conform to the medieval standard, the Byzantine text, and add no independent voice to the discussion. A few mss have ὁ θεός (so 88 pc), a reading that is a correction on the anarthrous θεός. On the other side, the masculine relative pronoun ὅς is strongly supported by א* A* C* F G 33 365 pc Did Epiph. Significantly, D* and virtually the entire Latin tradition read the neuter relative pronoun, ὅ (Jo, “which”), a reading that indirectly supports ὅς since it could not easily have been generated if θεός had been in the text. Thus, externally, there is no question as to what should be considered original: The Alexandrian and Western traditions are decidedly in favor of ὅς. Internally, the evidence is even stronger. What scribe would change θεός to ὅς intentionally? “Who” is not only a theologically pale reading by comparison; it also is much harder (since the relative pronoun has no obvious antecedent, probably the reason for the neuter pronoun of the Western tradition). Intrinsically, the rest of 3:16, beginning with ὅς, appears to form a six-strophed hymn. As such, it is a text that is seemingly incorporated into the letter without syntactical connection. Hence, not only should we not look for an antecedent for ὅς (as is often done by commentators), but the relative pronoun thus is not too hard a reading (or impossible, as Dean Burgon believed). Once the genre is taken into account, the relative pronoun fits neatly into the author’s style (cf. also Col 1:15; Phil 2:6 for other places in which the relative pronoun begins a hymn, as was often the case in poetry of the day). On the other hand, with θεός written as a nomen sacrum, it would have looked very much like the relative pronoun: q-=s vs. os. Thus, it may have been easy to confuse one for the other. This, of course, does not solve which direction the scribes would go, although given their generally high Christology and the bland and ambiguous relative pronoun, it is doubtful that they would have replaced θεός with ὅς. How then should we account for θεός? It appears that sometime after the 2nd century the θεός reading came into existence, either via confusion with ὅς or as an intentional alteration to magnify Christ and clear up the syntax at the same time. Once it got in, this theologically rich reading was easily able to influence all the rest of the mss it came in contact with (including mss already written, such as א A C D). That this reading did not arise until after the 2nd century is evident from the Western reading, ὅ. The neuter relative pronoun is certainly a “correction” of ὅς, conforming the gender to that of the neuter μυστήριον (musthrion, “mystery”). What is significant in this reading is (1) since virtually all the Western witnesses have either the masculine or neuter relative pronoun, the θεός reading was apparently unknown to them in the 2nd century (when the “Western” text seems to have originated, though its place of origination was most likely in the east); they thus supply strong indirect evidence of ὅς outside of Egypt in the 2nd century; (2) even 2nd century scribes were liable to misunderstand the genre, feeling compelled to alter the masculine relative pronoun because it appeared to them to be too harsh. The evidence, therefore, for ὅς is quite compelling, both externally and internally. As TCGNT 574 notes, “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.” Thus, the cries of certain groups that θεός has to be original must be seen as special pleading in this case. To argue that heretics tampered with the text here is self-defeating, for most of the Western fathers who quoted the verse with the relative pronoun were quite orthodox, strongly affirming the deity of Christ. They would have dearly loved such a reading as θεός. Further, had heretics introduced a variant to θεός, a far more natural choice would have been Χριστός (Cristos, “Christ”) or κύριος (kurios, “Lord”), since the text is self-evidently about Christ, but it is not self-evidently a proclamation of his deity. (See ExSyn 341-42, for a summary discussion on this issue and additional bibliographic references.)
The Muslim neophyte quotes a number of authorities to prove that the original reading is hos, not theos, and assumes that this somehow refutes the point of trying to use this verse as another testimony to Christ’s divine preexistence.
Yet, as we shall seek to demonstrate, irrespective of the reading one chooses it is still clear from the context that this text points to the Deity and Incarnation of Christ since it affirms Jesus’ prehuman existence. After all, the Holy Bible nowhere speaks of a normal flesh and blood human manifesting or being revealed in the flesh, which is exactly what this hymn says about Jesus. This presupposes that Christ initially existed as a divine spiritual being who later became human, just as the following scholarly sources indicate:
“As already noted, a mystery was a hidden, sacred truth that is revealed in the New Testament. The mystery of godliness parallels the 'mystery of the faith' (v. 9). It refers to the great truth of salvation and righteousness through Christ, which produces godliness (eusebeia) in those who believe. It is also possible to understand the mystery of godliness as a reference to Jesus, who was the very revelation of true and perfect 'godlikeness,’ since he was God. Godliness, then, first refers to the incarnation and secondly to those who are saved and become the godly in Christ… The authorized Version opens the hymn with 'God.' The earliest and best manuscripts, however, read hos (He who), not theos ('God'). For a discussion of the textual issue see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [New York: United Bible Societies, 1975, 641]. Although no antecedent for hos is given, the hymn can only be describing Jesus Christ, who is the purest mystery of godliness–the hidden God revealed perfectly. This marvelous hymn gives us six truths about our Lord.
“First, Jesus Christ was revealed in the flesh. God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Phaneroo (revealed) does not mean 'to bring into existence,' or 'to create,' but 'to make visible.' It thus affirms Christ's preexistence (cf. John 8:58; 17:5). At the Incarnation, Jesus ‘although He existed in the form of God … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and [was] made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:6-7). Our Lord Jesus Christ made the invisible God visible to human eyes (cf. 1:17; 6:16; John 14:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)… It is at precisely this point that the cults and false religions of the world deceive. Satan invariable attacks the Person of Christ, denying that he is the living, eternal God in human flesh. (MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy [Moody Publishers, Chicago, Il., New Edition 1995], pp. 139-140)
16 The “mystery of godliness” is revealed in a Person, even Jesus Christ. The creedal statement in this verse speaks particularly about the incarnate Christ. (1) The eternal Son of God, existing as pure spirit, was made visible in his incarnation, when he became a human being. (2) Christ’s profound claims were vindicated by his miracles, climaxing in his resurrection; these were sure evidences that he was the sinless Son of God. (3) During his earthly ministry angels watched over him (Mt 4:11; Lk 22:43). (4) After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the message of Christ (cf. 1 Co 1:23) and of salvation in his name was proclaimed among the Gentile nations of the world. (5) People all over the world believed in Christ as they heard the preached message. (6) Finally, he “was taken up in glory”–a reference to his ascension in Acts 1:1-11. This was the climax of his earthly ministry. Preaching Christ means preaching his life, death, resurrection, and ascension as the glorified Lord. (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, eds. Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger III [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1994], Volume 2: New Testament, pp. 900-901; italic emphasis ours)
“ephanerothe depicts Christ as one who is ‘made known’ by another, i.e., God the Father. The emphasis is thus on the revelation and the implication is that he who is revealed previously existed but was unknown (cf. the other PE occurrences of the verb, 2 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 1:3; see also the same verb form used of Jesus’ incarnation in 1 Pet. 1:20; Heb. 9:26; 1 Jn. 1:2; 3:5, 8). en sarki designates his becoming human; sarx thus has here the same significance as Jn. 1:14 (cf. Phil. 2:7, 8; Christ as the second Adam in Rom. 5:12ff.; 1 Cor. 15:20ff., 45ff.). The manifestation of Christ takes place, therefore, by means of the incarnation (cf. especially Heb. 2:14, 15, 17).” (George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary), eds. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K. 1992], p. 184; bold emphasis ours)
“These verses, thought to be from an early hymn, present Christ's career in the descending-ascending pattern we have seen in such Pauline writings as Philippians 2:6-11. My focus is on the first line of the hymn because this discusses Christ's origin. Like the sending statements of Paul and other New Testament authors, the manifestation language of this hymn seems to presuppose Christ's prior existence in a nonearthly state. Schweitzer says the first line 'obviously presupposes existence in heaven.' Knight argues ephanerothe shows Christ was 'made known' by another, the other in this case being God the Father. Thus the line emphasizes revelation and 'that he who is revealed previously existed but was unknown.' The words translated 'in a body' mean Christ became human, so the line is saying Christ's manifestation occurred through his incarnation.” (Douglas McCready, He Came Down from Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith [IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Il. 2005], pp. 97-98; bold emphasis ours)
There is corroborating testimony from Paul’s letters to Timothy (as well as Titus) which confirms this interpretation.
For instance, earlier in this same epistle the blessed Apostle exhorts his young protégé to fully embrace the following statement:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (Christos ‘Iesous elthen eis ton kosmon hamartulous sosai) —of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15
Keep in mind that elthen is the 3rd person singular aorist active indicative form of the word erchomai, since we will see examples from the NT where this specific term is employed in reference to Christ’s prehuman existence.
And here are just some of the comments made by both NT scholars and commentators concerning this verse:
“… Christ is the anointed King who came to redeem, and became the earthly Jesus at the Incarnation. That He came into the world implies not only His incarnation but His preexistence. Note carefully that it does not say that He came into existence, or that He was created. He existed somewhere else before coming into the world. This phraseology is used frequently by John, who often speaks of Christ's coming into the world (cf. John 1:9; 3:19; 6:14; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37).” (MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy [Moody Publishers, Chicago, Il., New Edition 1995], p. 32)
“… Thirdly, the essence of the gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. The law is meant for the condemnation of sinners; the gospel for their salvation. That Christ 'came to save' sounds like one of his own statements. It alludes to both his incarnation and his atonement, and clearly implies his pre-existence…” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (The Bible Speaks Today) [IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Il. 2001], 2. Paul’s Writings, p. 52; bold emphasis ours)
“This verse is similar to the Pauline sending passages we have already examined. As with those passages, the emphasis here is not on Christ's preexistence but on his work as Savior. The efficacy of this salvific work, however, depends on the truth of the preexistence Paul has presupposed: Christ is one who came from God to us, not a man who rose up from among us to represent us before God. Knight concedes 'coming into the world' need not by itself indicate preexistence, but argues that when applied to Christ that is precisely what it means–as can readily be seen in John. R. G. Hammerton-Kelly says the christology of the Pastorals is governed by the thought that Christ appeared in the world in the incarnation and will appear again at the end of time. He concludes, 'Obviously, this type of thought presupposes the idea of pre-existence of Christ before his epiphanes.'” (McCready, p. 97; bold emphasis ours)
“Christ came into the world to save sinners: Recitative 'that' (hoti) introduces a quotation (BDF 397 and 470). The aorist tense indicates a completed action. The reference is to the historical Jesus' ministry. Johannine use of the phrase 'came into the world' (see John 1:9; 3:17; 12:46-47; 16:28; and see 1 Tim 3:16) suggests Jesus' preexistence and incarnation for a salvific end, which the saying here declares. The earlier Pauline letters and Pauline Christianity (see 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 8:9; Rom 8:3, 29-30; Phil 2:6-8; Col 1:15-20) maintain views similar to the one expressed here (see also 2 Tim 1:9). The 'world' (kosmon) refers to a physical as well as a moral and spiritual environment (compare 1:10). Salvation was accomplished in Christ once and for all (the sense of the aorist). Jesus' coming to save sinners is declared also at Matt 9:13; parr.; John 3:17; 12:47.” (Benjamin Fiore, S. J., Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus (Sacra Pagina Series), ed. Daniel J. Harrington, S. J. [Liturgical Press, 2003], p. 50; bold emphasis ours)
“The first line alludes to Christ's preexistence, incarnation, and human existence. Romans 1:3-4 has a similar flesh/spirit antithesis. 'Flesh' (sarx) refers to the humanity of Jesus (e.g., John 1:14; Rom 8:3; Col 1:22; 1 Pet 3:18). The incarnation is referred to at 1 Tim 1:15. 'Reveal' is a quasi-technical term here referring to Jesus' human history (John 1:31; Heb 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 1:2; 3:5, 8 and compare 2 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:3)…” (Ibid, p. 85; bold emphasis ours)
The immediate context of this specific reference provides additional confirmation for the Apostle’s belief in Christ’s divine preexistence:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord (Kai charin to echo… Christo ‘Iesou to kyrio hemon), who has empowered me, because He considered me faithful by appointing me to this service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. But I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:11-14
“Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16
Paul thanks Christ for strengthening him, as well as for showing him grace and mercy by saving him from his sins. He even does so by using the same prayer language that he employs elsewhere in reference to thanking God!
“I thank God (Charin echo to theo), whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,” 2 Timothy 1:3 – cf. Luke 18:11; John 11:41; Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4, 14; 14:18; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2:13; Philemon 1:4
Noted Evangelical scholar Gordon D. Fee shows how Paul’s statements point to and presuppose the absolute Deity of the risen and exalted Christ:
“The second issue is whether the implied subject of the ‘divine passive’ episteuthen (I was entrusted) is ‘God’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’ In favor of ‘God’ is the fact that this passive immediately follows the mention of ‘the blessed God.’ Thus, the TNIV’s ‘which he [God] entrusted me.’ But there are good reasons to think otherwise, since the thanksgiving that follows is directed specifically to Christ, who in turn is the subject of the repeated passive ‘I was shown mercy’ in vv. 13, 16. Indeed, everything in the thanksgiving that follows focuses on both Christ’s initiatory and his effective role in Paul’s apostleship.” (Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study [Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MS 2007], Part 1: Analysis, Chapter 10: Christology in the Pastoral Epistles, p. 423; bold emphasis ours)
Three significant christological matters catch one’s attention in these opening words, significant in part because, as throughout the corpus, they do not appear to be intentionally christological.
1. With the single exception of Rom. 16:4, thanksgiving in Paul’s writings is always directed toward God, both in thanksgiving reports and in exhortations to give thanks (e.g., 1 Thess 5:18). Indeed, only here in the corpus is the kind of thanksgiving that is elsewhere directed toward God (to theo) now offered to Christ. That it is offered to Christ is made plain by both the grammar and the context.
Such an interchange between God and Christ is typically Pauline in two ways. First, Paul has done this same thing with regard to prayer reports. For the most part, and as one would expect of a Jewish monotheist, prayer is directed to God the Father: but in 2 Cor 12:8 Paul reports that three times he “pleaded with the Lord” (= Christ) to take away a “thorn in his flesh.” To which request Christ answered, “My grace is sufficient for you.” So also here with regard to thanksgiving: for case-specific reasons, what is ordinarily addressed to God the Father is now offered to Christ.
Second, one is struck by the thoroughly unrehearsed way this happens in both cases. How is it, one feels led to ask, that a rigorous monotheist can offer prayer both as petition and as thanksgiving to Christ as though he were God?
2. Even more significant for christological purposes is the fact that Christ is the subject of all the verbs EXPRESSING DIVINE ACTIVITY that follow, activities that ordinarily belong to the province of God. In turn, Paul affirms that (a) Christ “enabled/empowered me” (endunamosanti me); (b) Christ “considered me faithful/trustworthy” (piston me hegesato); and (c) Christ “appointed me to this ministry” (themenos eis diakonian).
Thus, even though later on Paul will emphasize the soteriological aspect of Christ’s mercy toward him, that is not the case in this opening note of thanksgiving. Rather, he is referring to the divine activity of the reigning Lord, since these verbs all refer to the exalted Christ’s role in Paul’s becoming his apostle.
3. Without breaking stride, Paul moves on to describe the kind of person Christ had chosen for this ministry: one who up to the point of his call and conversion had steadfastly stood over against Christ in every way–blasphemer, persecutor, violent in his opposition. His appointment, Paul asserts, was an act of divine mercy (“but I was shown mercy”), where the assumed subject of the divine passive once more is Christ. To think otherwise is to miss Paul’s point–mercy was shown by the very one against whom Paul had stood in such violent opposition–and would thus disrupt the christocentric nature of the testimony. As before, under ordinary circumstances one might presume God to be the assumed subject of the verb, but both here and in v. 16 all the emphasis is on what Christ has done on Paul’s behalf; and as 1 Cor 7:25 makes clear, Paul is not adverse to using this verb with reference to Christ.
Again, therefore, here is a divine attribute that is quite matter-of-factly attributed to Christ, not as something Paul is setting out to demonstrate but as something that is simply a matter of course. (Ibid, pp. 424-425; bold emphasis ours)
“Having described the kind of person he had been before his encounter with Christ, Paul now expands on Christ’s mercy toward him. In doing so, he offers the christological basis of his divine appointment, which he does with a sentence that by its very intentional christocentricity–the repetition of reference to Christ–comes off awkwardly for us. Thus some are prepared to make ‘our Lord’ in this case refer to God. But that is to ‘clean up’ for our sakes what was not messy to the author. Everything God has done for us in salvation has been effected through Christ, both in his sacrificial death and now as the reigning Lord on high. Thus both the ‘grace’ that overflowed to Paul and its accompanying faith and love come directly from Christ himself.
“As noted in ch. 2, almost all of Paul’s letters conclude with a benedictory prayer of ‘grace’ from Christ: yet there are three places in the body of his letters, including this one, where he expresses current grace as from Christ rather than from God. The striking feature of the sentence is the addition of ‘faith and love’ as the ‘attendant circumstance’ of Christ’s grace. As always for the apostle, our faith in Christ and love for others both have their locus in Christ and are together the necessary accompanying expressions of Christ’s prior grace in our behalf. What is of christological import is that these ‘graces’ in this case are pointing not to the historical work of the cross but to Paul’s experience of grace in his personal encounter with the living, reigning Christ.” (Ibid, pp. 425-426; bold emphasis ours)
In regard to v. 16 Fee writes that:
“In this final sentence of the thanksgiving Paul repeats from v. 14 the fact that Christ showed him mercy, but Paul does so now to emphasize the exemplary nature of his conversion. His point is that if Christ can so embrace his most brazen enemy, then there is abundant hope for all others as well. Here is the passage that makes certain that Christ is the implied subject of the divine passive ‘I was shown mercy,’ since his saving Paul was the ultimate display of Christ’s own immense long-suffering. And this in turn is another significant christological moment, since the word makrothumia is for Paul an expression of God’s character. This is explicitly stated in Rom 2:4 and 9:22 and is implied in texts such as 1 Cor 13:4 and Gal 5:22. Moreover, the verb endeiknumi is an especially Pauline word in the NT, used often as a powerful demonstration of divine character.
“This incredibly profound divine attribute, which by the Spirit is to characterize believers’ love for others, has been put in full display in Christ’s coming into the world to save sinners…” (Ibid. p. 428; bold emphasis ours)
And now for another verse which affirms that Christ is a preexistent divine Being:
“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing (tes epiphaneias) of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:9-10
The word epiphaneias is quite significant since in Paul’s day it was employed to speak of the visible appearance or glorious manifestation of a deity:
“… This word occurs five times in the Pastoral Letters (cf. 2Ti 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13) and only once elsewhere in the NT (2 Th 2:8; see comment on that verse). It is found in late Greek writers and in the inscriptions of the period for the visible manifestation of an invisible deity. It is also used frequently in the LXX for manifestations of God’s glory.” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2, p. 907; bold emphasis ours)
As such, this becomes another explicit testimony from the blessed Apostle that Christ is indeed God Incarnate.
In fact, this same word is used in another passage where there is no doubt that Paul identifies Christ as the visible appearance of Yahweh God:
“while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (kai epiphaneian tes doxes tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon ‘Iesou Christou), who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:13-14
Paul refers to Christ’s return as the time when our great God and Savior shall appear!
The following Evangelical scholars bring out the implications of Paul’s statements:
“One of the most striking references to Christ’s second coming is in Paul’s epistle to Titus… We have already shown in chapter 12 that this text does, in fact, call Jesus ‘our great God and Savior.’ Here we wish to draw attention to something quite significant. Paul tells us to be looking for Christ’s glorious ‘appearing.’ The Greek word Paul uses, epiphaneia, is the word from which English derives the word epiphany… The actual meaning of epiphaneia in religious contexts in the Greek of Paul’s day is the appearance of a deity in some visible form. That Paul uses the word with this meaning is clear from the fact that he speaks of the epiphany ‘of our great God and Savior.’ Paul consistently uses epiphaneia in his writings to refer to the appearance of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13) Andrew Y. Lau, in his dissertation titled Manifest in Flesh: The Epiphany Christology of the Pastoral Epistles, has shown that the epistles to Timothy and Titus view Christ’s future appearance or ‘epiphany’ as the visible revelation of God. The point of Titus 2:13 is that ‘at the epiphany of Christ the otherwise invisible and holy God Himself will take on a personal visible appearance.’ Thus, the coming of Jesus Christ will be the visible coming of God.” (Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case For The Deity Of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Part 4: Infinitely Qualified: Jesus Shares in the Deeds That God Does, 18. Here Comes the Judge, p. 226; bold emphasis ours)
The inspired Apostle also ascribes to Christ the very divine functions which the OT attributes to Yahweh God, i.e. it is Yahweh who comes to redeem a people to be his treasured possession:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 7:6 – cf. 4:20; 14:2
“They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 37:23
“Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” Psalm 130:7-8
Hence, Jesus does what only Yahweh can do, namely redeem a people from their sins in order to make them his very own possession. Yet in order for Jesus to be able to do this he must be Yahweh God (even though he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit)!
As Robert M. Bowman Jr. explains:
“So far the exposition has depended somewhat on our previously drawn conclusion that Titus 2:13 calls Jesus Christ ‘our great God and Savior’ (although some aspects of the exposition have provided further support for that conclusion). We have been arguing that if Jesus is here called God, it must mean that he is Yahweh, not some inferior deity.
“When we come to verse 14, though, even this assumption is not necessary. In fact, it would not be too strong to say that even if we did not have verse 13, verse 14 alone as applied explicitly to Jesus Christ would be sufficient proof that Paul thought of Jesus as Yahweh.
“The line to be considered here, ‘that he might redeem us from every lawless deed,’ is essentially a quotation from Psalm 129:8 LXX (130:8 Heb.). The Psalmist expresses the hope that the Lord ‘will redeem Israel from all his lawless deeds’ (kai autos lutrôsetai ton Israêl ek pasôn tôn anomiôn autou). Paul applies this in the first-person plural to we who believe in Jesus Christ, i.e., the church. Once again, what the OT said Yahweh would do, the NT says Jesus Christ has done…
“Woven together with the quoted words of Psalm 129:8 LXX are words taken from Ezekiel 37:23. There Yahweh says, ‘I will deliver them from all their lawless deeds [apo pasôn tôn anomiôn autôn], in which they sinned, and I will purify them [kathariô autous], and they will be my people [laon], and I the Lord will be their God [theon].’ Notice that both OT verses speak of the lawless deeds; the Psalm speaks specifically of being ‘redeemed’ from them, a term picked up in Titus 2:14. But the primary text on which Titus 2:14 appears to be based is Ezekiel 37:23. Yahweh speaks of delivering Israel ‘from all their lawless deeds,’ of ‘purifying’ them, and says that the result is that they will be his ‘people.’ What is startling here is that whereas in Ezekiel, Yahweh is the one who will cleanse them to be his people, in Titus it is Jesus Christ who cleanses us to be his people. Now we have Jesus not only doing what the OT said Yahweh would do – save and redeem and purify us – but doing it to make a people for himself, whereas the OT said that Yahweh would do these things to make a people for himself, i.e., for Yahweh. In short, what the OT said would be done by and for Yahweh, Paul says was done by and for Jesus Christ…
“The Greek word periousios (‘own possession’), used in the NT only in Titus 2:14, appears only five times in the OT, always as a modifier of laos (‘people’), and always with reference to Israel as a people for Yahweh’s own possession (Ex. 19:5; 23:22; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). Its first occurrence, in Exodus 19:5, is as part of the foundational description of God’s intention for Israel (presented after they have escaped into the wilderness and just prior to the giving of the Law). Thus, the expression laos periousios would be immediately recognized as a description of Israel that has now been applied to the church. Exodus 19:5 is also applied to the church in 1 Peter 2:9, where peripoiêsin is used instead of periousios.
“In Titus 2:13-14, then, Paul applies the title ‘God’ to Jesus Christ. Paul characterizes the nature of Christ in the way the OT characterizes the nature of Yahweh (as the ‘great’ God). He speaks of Christ doing what the OT said Yahweh would do (save, redeem, and purify his people) and of doing it to create a people for himself, just as the OT said Yahweh would do for himself. In this one sentence, then, Paul attributes to Jesus Christ titles, characteristics, works, and honors reserved in the OT for Yahweh. The evidence is overwhelming that Paul was intentionally speaking of Jesus Christ as Yahweh, the great God and Savior.” (Sharp’s Rule and Antitrinitarian Theologies: A Bicentennial Defense of Granville Sharp’s Argument for the Deity of Christ, pp. 39-40; bold emphasis ours)
Here is the last passage which we want to look at from what Paul wrote in the Pastoral Epistles (PE), i.e. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus:
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6
Paul’s testimony that Christ gave up his life as a ransom for all people is another clear indication of his Deity since the OT Scriptures emphatically testify that no mere human being is capable of ransoming a single life, let alone everyone. This is something that the inspired prophets claim that only Yahweh can do:
“Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit… But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah” Psalm 49:7-9, 15
“What man can live and never see death? Who can save himself from the power of Sheol? Selah” Psalm 89:48
This again presupposes that the inspired Apostle believed that Jesus Christ is actually God Incarnate.
Thus, the evidence that we have mustered from the PE conclusively proves that Paul taught that Jesus is the divine preexistent Son of God who became man in order to redeem his people from their sins in order that they might escape from the wrath to come. The hymn of 1 Timothy 3:16 must therefore be understood in light of this background.
We are not finished yet since there is much more evidence from the rest of Paul’s letters which supports the fact that the hymn of 1 Timothy 3:16 does point to Christ’s divine preexistence.
It is now time to proceed to the second part of our rebuttal in order to take a look at this evidence.