Why do modern Bibles replace the deity of Christ in 1 Tim 3:16 with a generic “he”?

Because they attack the deity of Christ.

When we first started reading the Bible, we became very interested in studying it in great detail. Thus, we studied the words of God, listened to men’s sermons, read their commentaries and studied the marginal cross references. It became evident very early on that there were some problems with modern translations. We were shocked to find, for instance, that “God” had been removed from 1 Tim 3:16, since this was by far one of the clearest verses on the deity of Christ.

We thought, “Why would anyone take God out of that verse?” So, we began to study a little manuscript evidence (see the question What About 1 Jn 5:7? for a brief discussion of manuscript evidence) and we found out some very interesting things.

The word for “God” in Greek is spelled theta, epsilon, omicron, sigma. The word was often abbreviated by contracting it to just theta, sigma. The word for “he” in Greek is spelled omicron, sigma. The difference between an omicron and a theta is essentially the addition of a horizontal stroke in the middle of the letter. Scholars attacking the deity of Christ have attested that the appearance of the horizontal stroke was, in some cases, a “bleed through” from printing on the other side of the page.

Doesn’t it seem inconceivable that someone would corrupt the words of God on such a flimsy argument? It does, unless you consider a couple of things about Bible translators and writers. In Jesus’ day, these guys were called “scribes.” As a group, they had two outstanding characteristics.

First, they had no authority (Matt 7:9; Mk 1:22). The words of God must be the authority in your life and you must believe what they say. If not, then you are (or somebody else is) the authority and you will pass judgment on God’s words, choosing for yourself what to believe and what not to believe (Gen 3). The scribes did that and came up with a tradition that didn’t look anything like the words of God (Mk 7: 5-13). Today, the modern scribes operate on the same basis as the scribes in Jesus’ day; they have no authority higher than themselves or their scholarship.

Second, they rejected the deity of Jesus Christ. They rejected his deity while he hung on the cross (Matt 27:40-42); when he forgave a man’s sins (Mk 2:6-7); when he professed that God was his Father (Jn 5:18); when he testified of his second coming (Matt 26:64-65); etc. If Jesus were not God, he could not have saved us from our sins and from an eternity in hell and he wouldn’t be coming back to rule the world (Is 9:6-7). The modern scribes reject the deity of Jesus just like their predecessors.

After Jesus Christ ascended, men were busy corrupting God’s words. The disciples were preaching him everywhere, and when Paul was saved he began to preach and write his epistles. In his 2nd epistle to the Corinthians, he said, “We are not as many which corrupt the word of God,” (2 Cor 2:17). Even in his day, there were MANY who corrupted God’s words. Well, if there were MANY in his day, just imagine what’s going on today!

To believe what the Bible says is to believe that God manifested himself in the flesh as a man named Jesus. Thus, Jesus was all of God and all of man. In the gospels, he is called both the Son of man (Matt 8:20) and the Son of God (Matt 27:54). He was the Son of man because Mary was his mother, and he was the Son of God because God was his Father (Jn 17:11). As such, he had simultaneously a divine nature and a human nature (Jn 9:33, Jn 19:28).

According to 1 Tim 3:16, not only was God manifest in the flesh but he was justified in the Spirit (Matt 3:16, Jn 1:32-33); seen of angels (Matt 28:2, Lk 2:23); preached unto the Gentiles (Col 1:27-28); believed on in the world (Mk 16:15, Col 1:23); and received up into glory (Acts 1:2). Even the scribes and Pharisees were smart enough to know that when Jesus claimed that God was his Father he made himself EQUAL with God (Jn 5:18, Phil 2:6). Hence, they attacked him and likewise their descendants attack him, today.

To testify that “he” was manifest in the flesh is to testify nothing, really. Every human being, dead or alive, was manifest in the flesh. To testify that a man named Jesus did the things that Paul listed in 1 Tim 3:16 is to simply support what the gospels have already recorded. So, there would be no “GREAT MYSTERY of godliness” concerning Jesus Christ, if he were simply “He.” The GREAT MYSTERY, without controversy, is that GOD himself showed up down here in a man’s body.

Hope this helps,

Pastor Bevans Welder