This is part 2 of this paper. The first part can be read here.


1 Timothy 3:16

In 1 Timothy 3:16 we will see that the Holy Spirit vindicated Christ by raising Him from the dead. The nature of this vindication is forensic in its action. The forensic work was the act of raising Christ from the grave in light of his unjust condemnation.

1 Timothy 3:16 is in a hymn or creed[1] which was used by the early church. The focus of the hymn is Christ, the mystery of godliness (τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον) spoken of in verse 15. The hymn is a theological and salvation-historical explanation of Christ.[2]

There is much debate about the structure of the hymn.[3] Since we are not clear on how the readers of the letter would have understood the structure of the hymn, we do not have absolute certainty about its exact structure. The debated understandings of the structure, however, do not present any conflict with the interpretation proposed by this paper.[4] Thus, this discussion will be passed by and the interpretation of the verse will be discussed.

The single line which this paper wants to expound upon is the second one in the construction: “vindicated (or justified) by the Spirit” (ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι). Let us look at the phrase “by the Spirit” (ἐν πνεύματι) first, then, we will see what is meant by the term “vindicated” (ἐδικαιώθη).

Debate ensues on the meaning of ἐν πνεύματι. Does it mean, “by the Spirit,”[5] or “in the spirit,”[6] or “in the Spirit”?[7] When it comes to the identity of πνεύματι (either being spirit, or of the Holy Spirit), Knight makes a good observation that the very next usage of πνεῦμα in 4:1 is without qualification and undoubtedly refers to the Holy Spirit.[8] Thus, it is best to see the identity of πνεύματι in 3:16 as being the Holy Spirit.[9]

With that being the case, should we read ἐν as expressing agency or location? Does vindication happen “by” or “in” the Spirit? Even though context would favor understanding it as locative (all other usages of ἐν in the verse are locative): it is best to see vindication has happening “by” the Spirit. The reason being is that it makes no sense to say that Christ was vindicated in the Holy Spirit in the same sense as all the other locations listed. What would that location be? How is there a location, as in the other sense of ἐν, in the Holy Spirit?[10] Thus, the best way to read this phrase is that Christ was vindicated by the Spirit.[11]

What was the act of this vindication which was done by the agency of the Holy Spirit? Parallels with Roman texts strongly point to the resurrection as being the means by which the Spirit vindicated Christ.[12] Romans 1:4 speaks of Jesus being “declared to be the Son of God…according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Romans 8:11 testifies that Spirit raised Jesus from the dead: “The resurrection of Christ is the Spirit’s work…the Spirit raised Christ so that he would be exalted and glorified.”[13] Such parallels strongly attest to seeing the phrase in view as speaking to the same thing.[14]

The nature of the vindication needs to be discussed. The hymn uses an aorist passive rendering of the word δικαιόω, which is translated either “justified” or “vindicated” in all translations.[15] Christ was vindicated or shown to be right[16] by the Spirit through His resurrection. This vindication would most certainly be tied with Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah. “The resurrection ‘vindicated’…the claims that Christ had made during his lifetime.”[17] Also, “His claim to be Christ was demonstrated and validated by the resurrection.”[18] Thus, Christ’s witness concerning Himself was vindicated by the Spirit in resurrecting Him.

Yet, the vindication needed did not stop with Christ’s claims about Himself during His life. Christ’s life cannot be separated from His death. It was not only that the people ignored Christ’s claims to be the Messiah. The vindication needed is not only about dignity and correcting error. They heard the claims He was making and killed Him for them. It should be pointed out that the cross should not be forgotten in this vindication. Thus, along with Christ’s claims during his life being vindicated, one should also see a forensic aspect to the vindication.[19] Jesus was legally sentenced to a criminal’s death by means of crucifixion for his claims.

The reality of the crucifixion permeates the need for a forensic vindication, for the culminating point of Jesus’ ministry to the people of Israel was their crucifixion of Him. Man heard Christ’s claim of Messiahship—and killed Him;[20] that was their judicial rendering on the validity of His claims. However, the Spirit had a different rendering in light of the evidence! He overturned the unjust rulings of evil man by raising Jesus from the dead. A forensic dimension has to be understood in the usage of δικαιόω here. Thus, the Spirit vindicated or justified Christ by resurrecting Him.

According to what we read in 1 Timothy 3:16, Jesus Christ was vindicated and justified by the Holy Spirit by His resurrection. He was declared right in the sight of the Father because His testimony concerning Himself was true. The Spirit fulfilled one of His parts in redemptive history by making Jesus conquer the grave over against the unjust acts of man. In doing so, the Spirit proved to the world that Jesus was indeed who he claimed to be.

[1]“One may debate whether the statement is more like a creed or more like a hymn, but absolute certainty seems elusive.” George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 183. For purposes of ease it will be referred to as a hymn from now on. Though, this does not mean that this paper is taking the position that it is a hymn.

[2]I. Howard Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1999), 499.

[3]For a helpful overview see Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 183-184.

[4]Cf. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 40. ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Book, 2000), 216-18. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 183-184


[6]ASV, NRSV (they remove the article).


[8]Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 185.

[9]Contra Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 526 and A. T. Robertson, Epistles of Paul, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), 577.

[10]Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 766, would say that Christ was vindicated in the spirit. Meaning that, the location of the vindication is not in the Holy Spirit but in a spiritual realm of existence. This realm was entered into by Christ when He resurrected. But the verse does not say he was vindicated, “to enter into” but, “in” or “by.” His interpretation does not work with the words.

[11]See also Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 185.

[12]Ibid., 184-185.

[13]Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 487.

[14]See also Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 525.


[16]Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996, c1989), S. 1:743.

[17]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 227.

[18]Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), S. 2:214-215. Cf. also Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 525; Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 184.

However, all the above authors stop with just saying that the vindication is about the life of Christ. No forensic aspect with the death of Christ as part of the vindication is stated.

[19]For good argument for the forensic aspect see Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007), 53-54.

[20]“Paul identifies Christ with the revealed ‘righteousness of God’ to which Israel refused to submit.” Mark A. Seifrid, Christ, our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification, vol. 9 in New Studies in Biblical Theology ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 47.