Who are the angels in 1 Timothy 3:16?

1 Timothy 3:16 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.

Who are the angels in this verse? When did they see Christ? Why we are told about Christ's being seen by them in this key NT verse?

The angels are supernatural beings.
75% (3 votes)
The angels are human messengers.
0% (0 votes)
The angels are both supernatural beings and human messengers.
0% (0 votes)
It is unclear who the angels are.
25% (1 vote)
Total votes: 4
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There are 12 Comments

RajeshG's picture

The statement about Christ's being seen by angels is after His being manifest in the flesh and justified in the Spirit but before His being preached unto the Gentiles. Based on the chronological sequence of these statements and on what precedes it and follows it, it seems to me that the phrase "seen by angels" has something to do with Christ's being seen after His Resurrection and prior to His being preached to the Gentiles.

Kevin Miller's picture

I'm not sure the statements would be chronological. Didn't Jesus get received up into glory in Acts 1, before he was preached unto the Gentiles? The "seen of angels" portion could be referring to a time after the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew 4;11 says, "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

I'm not sure the statements would be chronological. Didn't Jesus get received up into glory in Acts 1, before he was preached unto the Gentiles? The "seen of angels" portion could be referring to a time after the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew 4;11 says, "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."

Yes, the receiving up into glory was prior to His being preached and believed on.There is clearly, however, a chronological progression from the beginning (manifested in the flesh) to the ending (received up into glory) of the verse. How the other parts are to be understood in relation to one another is one of the many challenges in interpreting this verse.

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

I'm not sure the statements would be chronological. Didn't Jesus get received up into glory in Acts 1, before he was preached unto the Gentiles? The "seen of angels" portion could be referring to a time after the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew 4;11 says, "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."

I am still wondering why His being seen by angels at any time during His earthly life prior to His resurrection would be a great mystery. Angels see God in heaven regularly so why would their seeing Christ during His time on the earth, such as after His temptation, be such a great mystery?

Furthermore, the point of Matt. 4 isn't really that angels saw Him; it speaks of their ministering to Him. Are we really supposed to understand that event to be at a similar level of importance to the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, etc?

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

 

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

I'm not sure the statements would be chronological. Didn't Jesus get received up into glory in Acts 1, before he was preached unto the Gentiles? The "seen of angels" portion could be referring to a time after the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew 4;11 says, "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."

 

 

I am still wondering why His being seen by angels at any time during His earthly life prior to His resurrection would be a great mystery. Angels see God in heaven regularly so why would their seeing Christ during His time on the earth, such as after His temptation, be such a great mystery?

The verse doesn't say that each of the individual items IS the great mystery. Godliness is the great mystery. To me, that is saying that a great mystery is found in the way that the supernatural world of Christ and the Spirit and angels and glory has interacted with our physical world, providing each of us physical-world humans with a connection to that spiritual world through the preaching of the gospel and our belief.

Quote:
Furthermore, the point of Matt. 4 isn't really that angels saw Him; it speaks of their ministering to Him. Are we really supposed to understand that event to be at a similar level of importance to the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, etc? 
Well, the ministry of angels shows a connection between the spiritual world and the physical world. Hebrews 1:14 says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" So to me, the idea of godliness is not simply about "following some rules" that God wants us to live by, but living our lives based on the connection that we believers have with the spiritual world of God. Notice the verse right before I Tim 3:16. Verse 15 says, "if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." The way we conduct ourselves (godliness) is based on the mysterious connection that exists between the physical world and the holy spiritual world.

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

The verse doesn't say that each of the individual items IS the great mystery. Godliness is the great mystery. To me, that is saying that a great mystery is found in the way that the supernatural world of Christ and the Spirit and angels and glory has interacted with our physical world, providing each of us physical-world humans with a connection to that spiritual world through the preaching of the gospel and our belief.

I think that the verse does say that each of the items is part of the mystery that is great. The commentaries that I have take the six phrases all to be aspects of the mystery. Leedy in the diagramming module of BibleWorks 10 takes it that way as well. My Greek NT sets them off as a unit as well.

The commentaries also talk about these six phrases as being part of a NT hymn. Analyzing the structure of the hymn adds yet another dimension to a right interpretation of this verse.

Kevin Miller wrote:

Well, the ministry of angels shows a connection between the spiritual world and the physical world. Hebrews 1:14 says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" So to me, the idea of godliness is not simply about "following some rules" that God wants us to live by, but living our lives based on the connection that we believers have with the spiritual world of God. Notice the verse right before I Tim 3:16. Verse 15 says, "if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." The way we conduct ourselves (godliness) is based on the mysterious connection that exists between the physical world and the holy spiritual world.

I agree that the verse is talking about our godly conduct (and also our sound doctrine), but I do not see the passage setting forth that it "is based on the mysterious connection that exists between the physical world and the holy spiritual world."

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

I think that the verse does say that each of the items is part of the mystery that is great. The commentaries that I have take the six phrases all to be aspects of the mystery. Leedy in the diagramming module of BibleWorks 10 takes it that way as well. My Greek NT sets them off as a unit as well.

I think of them as a unit as well. That's the way I thought I had phrased it. I don't think we can separate each of the things out as their own mystery, but we need to look at them as a unit, with each item being being "part of the mystery" of godliness.

Quote:
The commentaries also talk about these six phrases as being part of a NT hymn. Analyzing the structure of the hymn adds yet another dimension to a right interpretation of this verse.
I don't think we could analyze the structure of the hymn without having the whole hymn.

Quote:
I agree that the verse is talking about our godly conduct (and also our sound doctrine), but I do not see the passage setting forth that it "is based on the mysterious connection that exists between the physical world and the holy spiritual world." 
That's fine. I was simply giving my impression. In fact, I probably should have included "in my opinion" or "my impression is" as I wrote the post. 

I found it interesting, when looking at commentaries, that there is controversy over whether the Greek word should be translated as God in "God was manifested in the flesh.," as the KJV has it. The NIV and the ESV just use "He"

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

Quote:
The commentaries also talk about these six phrases as being part of a NT hymn. Analyzing the structure of the hymn adds yet another dimension to a right interpretation of this verse.

I don't think we could analyze the structure of the hymn without having the whole hymn.

Many commentators apparently disagree because they write at length about the structure of what we have in the verse concerning whether there are 1, 2, or 3 sections. In any case, my interest at this time focuses on the identity of the angels.

"Angelloi" is used for both human messengers and angels in the LXX. If it is taken in 1 Tim. 3:16 to refer to human messengers instead of angels, this passage comes into important alignment with another key Pauline passage:

 1 Corinthians 15:5 καὶ ὅτι ὤφθη Κηφᾷ εἶτα τοῖς δώδεκα· 6  ἔπειτα ὤφθη ἐπάνω πεντακοσίοις ἀδελφοῖς ἐφάπαξ, ἐξ ὧν οἱ πλείονες μένουσιν ἕως ἄρτι, τινὲς δὲ ἐκοιμήθησαν· 7  ἔπειτα ὤφθη Ἰακώβῳ εἶτα τοῖς ἀποστόλοις πᾶσιν· 8  ἔσχατον δὲ πάντων ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώματι ὤφθη κἀμοί.

In support of this reading, note the four-fold use of ὤφθη with the dative in 1 Cor. 15:5-8 and compare it with the use of the same form of the same verb with the dative in 1 Tim. 3:16:

1 Timothy 3:16 καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον· ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί, ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι, ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις, ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν, ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ, ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

On this reading, ἀγγέλοις here would be a collective reference to all the various people who saw the risen Christ in His resurrection appearances and then became His messengers who witnessed to His resurrection.

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

On this reading, ἀγγέλοις here would be a collective reference to all the various people who saw the risen Christ in His resurrection appearances and then became His messengers who witnessed to His resurrection.

Sure, that reading could be valid, but I'm still inclined to believe that the mystery of godliness is being described with an actual spiritual component of real angels due to the contrast that Paul mentions in the very next verse. I Timothy 4:1 provides a contrast to godliness by describing a departure from the faith, which includes a supernatural element. "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

On this reading, ἀγγέλοις here would be a collective reference to all the various people who saw the risen Christ in His resurrection appearances and then became His messengers who witnessed to His resurrection.

 

Sure, that reading could be valid, but I'm still inclined to believe that the mystery of godliness is being described with an actual spiritual component of real angels due to the contrast that Paul mentions in the very next verse. I Timothy 4:1 provides a contrast to godliness by describing a departure from the faith, which includes a supernatural element. "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."

Yes, there is a contrast between those two verses, but I do not see that the contrast is really relevant to identifying who the angels are in the sense that you are setting forth.

Concerning the angels, 1 Tim. 3:16 says that the Messiah was seen by them--it does not speak about what the angels did in their interactions with humans. By contrast, 1 Tim. 4:1 speaks of people who fall away because of the actions and teachings of demons.

To put it differently, in the former, the Messiah is the subject of the action of a passive verb. In the latter, people are the subject of the action of an active verb.

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

Yes, there is a contrast between those two verses, but I do not see that the contrast is really relevant to identifying who the angels are in the sense that you are setting forth.

Concerning the angels, 1 Tim. 3:16 says that the Messiah was seen by them--it does not speak about what the angels did in their interactions with humans. By contrast, 1 Tim. 4:1 speaks of people who fall away because of the actions and teachings of demons.

 I know that I Tim 3:16 simply says that angels saw the Messiah, but if the very next verse talks about real spirit beings, then it seems logical to me that a reference to angels in 3:16 would also be referring to real spirit beings. The difference in verb forms between 3:16 and 4:1 wouldn't give us any indication as to whether 3:16 refers to spirit beings or humans. I don't think the word "demons" in 4:1 would be referring to humans, so I doubt whether the word "angels" in 3:16 refers to humans, but I have admitted that it could be possible.