An Early Confession
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
“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)
One of the specific reasons Paul wrote this letter to Timothy is contained in our text. The church is to guard and declare the “mystery of godliness.”
A “mystery” in Scripture is something which was previously hidden, but which is now revealed. Here the mystery is the blessed truth that God is in the business of producing godliness in the lives of men and women; in this context, it is through the work of the church (v. 15). This ministry of the church in proclaiming this mystery was augmented by a doctrinal confession, or hymn, which was presented in:
“God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.” “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), and was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4). This couplet relates Christ’s human/divine nature. His humanity was evident to all; His divinity was declared through the Spirit.
“Seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles” (or nations). Angels observed, and to some degree participated in, Christ’s earthly ministry, but the salvation and godliness He offered was only to men, “which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).
“Believed on in the world, received up into glory.” Other teachers have gained a following, but only Christ ascended directly into heaven following His resurrection.
Doctrinal confessions or hymns can be an aid in learning and remembering truth, but the goal of each is godliness—“this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). JDM