1 Timothy 3:16 as cited by Church Fathers

Among the clearest texts in the Bible that show that Christ was both man and God is 1 Timothy 3:16. The Authorised Version translated this as:

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.

The bold section, “God was manifest in the flesh,” is missing in all modern translations. A typical translation, like the NIV, has this in 1 Timothy 3:16:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, 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.

God no longer appeared in a body, it has become a description of any man, however gifted. Modern translations don't have this verse as written by Paul, because they are based on a few corrupted manuscripts. Manuscripts rejected by the Church. This is not an isolated example, many verses that confess the deity of Christ have been scrubbed from the modern translations.

But this article isn't about the evidence of the manuscripts, for that read Scott Jones' excellent article. What this article does is look at the patristic evidence cited by Scott Jones and present that in a format that readers can easily verify. Scott Jones doesn't use any references and certainly no links. This article therefore supplies full quotes and references that can be easily verified by anyone who knows how to click on a link.

The trigger for this article is a quote found on a website, denying the Trinity:

This version of the verse cannot be found absolutely anywhere in early Christian writings before the Trinity was developed. Considering the fourth and fifth century men were having a crisis in the church concerning the nature of Christ and his relationship to God, it is preposterous to claim this version of the verse is valid and they overlooked this passage.

As there are close to twenty church fathers who quote or allude to this passage, that's quite a preposterous claim to make! I've challenged the webmaster to put up the links to the Church Fathers that quote it, and he said he was willing to do so, if I supplied the links. So here we go.

John William Burgon (1813 - 1888)

Before giving the citations of the Church Fathers who quote 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in the Authorised Version, I have to acknowledge my debt to John Burgon. He was Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London.

I'm very sure everyone who quotes any Church Father as citing 1 Timothy 3:16 got his references from John Burgon. And so will I. His work was so thorough, although his references are sometimes maddeningly hard to verify, that I have not seen a new citation since then, and I wonder if anyone has had an original thought on the subject since then. His arguments stand to this very day. I have used his The Revision Revised. On page 424 starts his discussion of 1 Timothy 3:16. A shorter version of the discussion is found on page 98 and that one is enough for the reader who wants to acquaint himself with the major arguments.

The Greek text

I've tried to quote the English translations of the works of the church fathers, but a translation is not always available. So we need a bit of Greek to be able to read the original. The portion in question is this:

θεος φανεροω εν σαρξ

Or in English:

Greek Transliteration English
θεος theos God
φανεροω phaneroō manifest
εν en in
σαρξ sarx flesh

Ignatius (ca 50 - between 98 and 117

Ignatius was an apostolic father, someone who had received his instruction straight from the apostle John. He was bishop in Antioch, and at the end of his life was eaten by the lions in the Colosseum in Rome.

Although Ignatius does not quote 1 Timothy 3:16 exactly, the Apostolic Fathers seldom quote exact verses, he alludes to it clearly in 3 places says John Burgon.

I'll give one quote, from Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians (taken from chapter 7 and chapter 19).

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh ... God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life

Dionysius of Alexandria (ca. 190 - 265 AD)

Dionysius was bishop of Alexandria between 247/8 to 264/5. After St. Cyprian he is called the most eminent bishop of the third century.

The quote from Dionysius of Alexandria is a prime example on the difficulties one faces when verifying this quote. The source that is usually quoted is something like Concilia, i. 853a. But it is hard to believe that the people who give this citation have actually stumbled upon this citation themselves.

The person who found this citation, as far as I can verify, is John William Burgon. In the Revision Revised, page 101, footnote 4. John Burgon cites this as Concilia, i. 853d.

This is a reference to a collection of Greek councils published by the Jesuits Philippe Labbe and Gabriel Cossart in 1671. The full title of this work is Sacrosancta concilia ad regiam editionem exacta. Clearly not a collection of volumes, 17 in total, that the typical layman has in his book case. For example on the Southern Hemisphere there's only one library who has a copy, the National Library in Canbera. But thanks to Google it is now availalable on the internet!

In this volume we can find a letter from Dionysius to Paul of Samosata, a heretic. John Burgon quotes this as:

θεος γαρ εφανερωθη εν σαρκι

which is a literal quotation of the traditional reading of 1 Timothy 3:16, except for the addition of the word γαρ:

θεος φανεροω εν σαρξ

(My apologies for leaving out the diacritics, they just didn't look good on my system; perhaps I don't have the right font).

The National library of Australia has a service to request scans of books and they were able to give me a scan of this letter. The extract quoted by John Burgon is below:

Dionysius of Alexandria citing 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in Concilia volume i column 853d

But this is not the end of the matter though. Philip Schaff claims that the letter is not written by Dionysius:

An epistle purporting to have been written by Dionysius to Paul of Samosata is given by Labbe, Concil. I. 850–893, but it is not authentic.

Which does not mean it is not ancient of course. In the Historical commentaries on the state of Christianity during the first three hundred and twenty years, Volume 2, by Johann Lorenz Mosheim, James Murdock we read:

Some very erudite men, and for reasons worthy of consideration, deny indeed, that this Epistle was written by Dionysius. The Epistle is unquestionably very ancient, and it was addressed to Paul by some bishop or presbyter, whose name being omitted in the early copy, some person, recollecting that Dionysius was an opposer of Paul, ascribed the Epistle to him.

So although we do not have an author, we have a very ancient source for the traditional reading of the text. Or to quote Terence Harvey Brown, secretary of the TBS from 1958 - 1990:

"It has been alleged that the letter to Paul of Samosata was not actually the work of Dionysius, but it cannot be denied that it belongs to the 3rd century and has "God".

See also John Burgon's comments on the disputed authenticity of this letter:

... the epistle must have been written by somebody: and that it may safely be referred to the IIIrd century;

Didymus of Alexandria or Didymus the Blind (c. 309/314 - 398)

Didymus was head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in the 4th century. He became blind at the age of four.

Didymus also quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 in the traditional version. John Burgon gives the reference as:

De Trin. p. 83. - where the testimony is express.

Which is an extremely unclear reference. Anyway, thanks to the internet, we can do somewhat better. Didymus' De Trinitate is published in volume 39 of the Patrologia Graeca.

De Trinitate (On the Trinity) was written after 379 according to the Roman Catholic encyclopedia, while John Burgon thinks it might have been around 347 AD, and survives mostly.

The reference “p. 83” refers to paragraph 83 in De Trinitate.

Didymus mentions Timothy and quotes the text verbatim. Look at column 404, starting at line 8 where he mentions Timothy, and line 13 where the disputed text is quoted. Here a screenshot:

Didymus citing 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in Patrologia Graeca, volume 39

If you download the PDF, paragraph 83 is page 295 in this PDF. The book itself starts on page 208 of the PDF.

Diodorus of Tarsus (- 392)

Diodorus was bishop of Tarsus. His most famous disciple was John Chrysostom. Only fragments of his works survive.

In the Revision Revised John Burgon mentions him as quoting the traditional text of 1 Timothy 3:16. He gives as reference Cramer's Cat. in Rom. p. 124. A few hundred pages later he adds:

Diodorus adduces S. Paul's actual words and expressly says that he finds them in S. Paul's Epistle to Timothy.

Cramer's Cat. in Rom. refers to Dr. John Anthony Cramer who published Catenae Graecorum Patrum in Novum Testamentum in 1844. To even my amazement, this book is also online. The citation is indeed on page 124, line 8 and it is asserted it is found in the epistle to Timothy.

Gregory of Nazianzus (c 325 - 389)

Gregory of Nazianzus (or Nazianzen) was archbishop of Constantinople.

Burgon mentions that Gregory of Nazianzus quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 in two places. As reference he gives i. 215 a. and i. 685 b.

Graham Thomason has discoverd these references were not to the Concilia as I believed, but to Patrologia Graeca. The correct reference and Greek text can be found in his excellent comprehensive summary.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – probably 395)

Quoting from The Life and Writings of Gregory of Nyssa:

In the roll of the Nicene Fathers there is no more honoured name than that of Gregory of Nyssa. Besides the praises of his great brother Basil and of his equally great friend Gregory Nazianzen, the sanctity of his life, his theological learning, and his strenuous advocacy of the faith embodied in the Nicene clauses, have received the praises of Jerome, Socrates, Theodoret, and many other Christian writers. Indeed such was the estimation in which he was held that some did not hesitate to call him `the Father of Fathers' as well as `the Star of Nyssa' ."

According to John William Burgon Gregory of Nyssa quoted 1 Timothy 3:16 twenty two times. I've made no attempt to find them all, but a simple grep of the texts the NPNF volume has on his writings, produced the following citations.

The first citation is Against Eunomius, Book XI, paragraph 2:

Nay, I do not even think it necessary to bring forward in detail the utterances of Paul, since they are, as one may say, in all men's mouths, who gives the Lord the appellation not only of "God," but of "great God" and "God over all," saying to the Romans, "Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever ," and writing to his disciple Titus, "According to the appearing of Jesus Christ the great God and our Saviour," and to Timothy, proclaims in plain terms, "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit11 ." Since then the fact has been demonstrated on every side that the Only-begotten God is God, ⃨

The second is On the Faith:

So that, since we recognize two things in Christ, one Divine, the other human (the Divine by nature, but the human in the Incarnation), we accordingly claim for the Godhead that which is eternal, and that which is created we ascribe to His human nature. For as, according to the prophet, He was formed in the womb as a servant, so also, according to Solomon, He was manifested in the flesh by means of this servile creation.

The third and last one is The Great Catechism, Chapter XII:

If a person requires proofs of God's having been manifested to us in the flesh, let him look at the Divine activities. ⃨ On the same principle, as regards the manifestation of God in the flesh, we have established a satisfactory proof of that apparition of Deity, in those wonders of His operations

The last book has more such quotes, which are easily found.

John Chrysostom (c. 347 - 407)

St. John, named Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) on account of his eloquence, came into the world of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a model of virtue. He studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age. In 374, he began to lead the life of an anchorite in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest.

In 398, he was elevated to the See of Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire, and became one of the greatest lights of the Church.

He quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 literally in Homilies on the Gospel of John, Book XV, John 1:18:

And wonder not that Paul saith in another place, "God was manifested in the Flesh"; because the manifestation took place by means of the flesh, not according to (His) Essence. Besides, Paul shows that He is invisible, not only to men, but also to the powers above, for after saying, "was manifested in the Flesh," he adds, "was seen of angels."

And he quotes it of course in his homilies on 1 Timothy:

Since in his directions to the Priests he had required nothing like what is found in Leviticus he refers the whole matter to Another, saying, “God was manifest in the flesh.” The Creator was seen incarnate.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 - 444)

Cyril quotes the disputed text literally. John Burgon quotes one of the places where Cyril uses this verse, and gives the reference as Opp. V. part 2, p 124 c.d (= Concilia, iii, 221 c d.). Which is as unclear a reference as I've seen. The Concilia isn't online unfortunately.

But in the text Burgon gives more details as he says there that the quote is found in a treatise addressed to Empresses Arcadia and Marina. This is Cyril of Alexandria's De Recta Fide.

That allows us to locate the reference. It is found in volume 76 of the Patrologia Graeca, page 677 in the PDF.

Cyril explicitly mentions that he is quoting from the epistle to Timothy, the section heading is Ex priori ad Timotheum, and starts on paragraph 124 (page 706 in the PDF). Here the quote:

Cyril of Alexandria citing 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in Patrologia Graeca, volume 76

Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393 – c. 460)

Theodoret was born at Antioch towards the close of the fourth century and died at Cyrus, or Cyrrhus, the capital of the Syrian province of Cyrrhestica, in 457. He was educated in the monastery of St. Euprepius, near Antioch, ordained a deacon by Bishop Porphyrius, and elected bishop of Cyrus in 420 and 423.

As a pupil of Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, he joined, at the synod of Ephesus (431), the minority which disposed Cyril, but by the Synod of Ephesus (449) he was himself disposed and banished to the monastery of Aparnea. By the synod of Chalcedon, however (451), he was again restored to his see.

He cites 1 Timothy 3:16 in his Dialogues. The “Eranistes” or “Polymorphus” of the Blessed:

The divine apostle, writing to Timothy, also says “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.”

New Advent is another source for the same quotation.

John Burgon mentions that Theodoret cites 1 Timothy 3:16 a total of four times in the traditional sense.

Unknown author (430)

John Burgon mentions this reference as an unknown author of the age of Nestorius. As reference he gives the unclear Apud Athanasium, Opp. ii. 33. I think he refers to volume 28 of Patrologia Graeca where, in the “dubia” section, there is a letter called De incarnatione dei verbi, not to be confused with a book of the same name by Athanasius of Alexandria. Check where footnote 3 is used and the full text of 1 Timothy 3:16 is readily found.

Unknown author, 5th century

John Burgon mentions also a citation by an unknown writer who has been mistaken for Athanasius. As reference he gives Ap. Athanas. i. 706.

We can find this in volume 28 of the Patrologia Graeca in the Spuria section with title “Sermones contra diversas haereses”. If you download the PDF, it is page . Or check the online version, column 1345. Check where footnote 49 is used (in the Latin column, and find “manifestatus est in carne”) and then the reference is readily found on the right hand, a little bit above the Latin translation.

Unknown author, 5th century, quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in Patrologia Graeca, volume 28

Euthalius (5th century)

Euthalius was a deacon of Alexandria and later Bishop of Sulca.

In the fifth century Paul's letter was divided in sections, each with a title. Euthalius attributed these titles to a “wise and pious Father” so it seems they were in use for already quite a while. The title for the portion that contains our text in question is “On God in the flesh, ” which clearly indicates the original reading of the verse. Actually this particular section starts with 1 Timothy 3:16, and ends with 1 Timothy 4:7.

The works of Euthalius are published in the Patrologia Graeca, volume 85. His section titles are found in column 781 (page 397 in the PDF).

Euthalias's section titles for 1 Timothy 3:16 as found in Patrologia Graeca, volume 85


Given the wealth of evidence presented, we may conclude that the statement as “This version of the verse cannot be found absolutely anywhere in early Christian writings before the Trinity was developed” is not based upon facts.

The last words go to Scott Jones:

In all, there are upwards of TWENTY church fathers who quote or strongly allude to this passage as found in the TR/AV. These citations are EARLY and geographically diverse.