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By definition "immortality" means one cannot die; immortal. However, 1 Timothy 6:16 (KJV) the greek word ἀθανασίαν is translated as "Immortal"

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

Is this simply a poor translation? If not, why does Paul characterize Jesus as "immortal" if he did in fact die on the Cross?

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  • This is an important question, as edited by James Shewey. In short, Mr. Barnard is asking the fundamental question about, really, not just one but numerous verses in the NT that simply make no sense. If Jesus "died" on the cross, but he was already immortal and incapable of death, then where was the "sacrifice"? Apr 5, 2017 at 14:14
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    Between a handful of edits to the question, I'm unsure of what the actual text under discussion is supposed to be. First Timothy 6.16, at present, is only referenced to provide context for what the word 'immortal' means. But the title and body make it clear the question is supposed to be about Paul's characterization of Jesus as immortal. In what text does Paul make this characterization, in order for us to examine and exegete?
    – user2910
    Apr 5, 2017 at 20:14
  • It seems that Paul uses the word "immortal" in Timothy 6:16 which has been present in every edit. The OP put 4:14 in the initial post, but it appears to have been a simple typo which was corrected by N.Ish Apr 6, 2017 at 2:16
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    Correct, but 1 Timothy 6.16 is not speaking about Jesus, which was noted in the original version of the question (the antecedent of 'he' is God in v13). This is the discrepancy with the way the question has been edited: It's nominally about a text where Paul identifies Jesus as 'immortal', but the only cited text does not feature such an identification. Unless, then, the question being asked is whether 6.16 is about Jesus, but that's not clear.
    – user2910
    Apr 6, 2017 at 15:06
  • I wonder why this question was allowed to survive, much less receive 11 answers. In the original version it asks about a specific doctrine (Trinity), which makes it unsuitable for this site. Then it explicitly asks for "Your thoughts?", which doubly makes it unsuitable. Sep 5, 2022 at 13:39

11 Answers 11

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The passage in question is not referring to Jesus but rather to God Almighty, otherwise God would not be immortal (since it says "only"):

KJV 1 Timothy 6:16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

In addition, Jesus cannot have had immortality since he was killed. Jesus' life, like that of all is entirely dependent on God:

ESV Acts 13:34 And as for the fact that he [God] raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

God's steadfast love for his servant, the "son of David" means that God will never turn away his messiah:

ESV 2 Chronicles 6:42 O LORD God, do not turn away the face of your anointed one! Remember your steadfast love for David your servant.”

In fact, God has made Jesus to have "life in himself". That is, he has become the source of everlasting life for others:

ESV John 5:

25“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

But as you can see, Jesus is utterly dependent on Almighty God (the Father) for his own life and for the ability to confer everlasting life on others.

So 1 Timothy 6:16 is consistent with itself and the other passages I've cited in noting that only God has immortality, not only his son.

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I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion.

1 Timothy 6:16 does not refer to the Lord (of us) Jesus Christ, but to the only Sovereign, the Lord of all lords: to God.

Paul charges Timothy to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach ‘until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ’. This appearing is what ‘he will display [show] (δείξει) at the proper time’ - if this action would be carried out by Jesus, it would have read ‘show himself’ (ἑαυτὸν).

There are a couple more clues that point to verse 16 as a description of God and not Jesus Christ:

He is referred to as the ‘only Sovereign’, and he ‘alone has immortality’. Given that this sentence begins by referring to both God AND Jesus, it seems obvious which of the two would most likely be the only Sovereign.

‘Whom no one has ever seen or can see’ - certainly doesn’t refer to Jesus. The gospels and the witness of the apostles can attest to that.

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What leads you to believe that he is discussing the immortality of Jesus? The verse before is a clear reference to God the Father. Therefore, what would follow is a continuation of speaking of God the Father until the person we are talking about switches to Jesus. Yes? See here in verse 15, the preceding verse: "15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen"

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for this contribution. This is NOT a forum but a question and answer site. Take the tour to see how a good answer should be framed.
    – user25930
    Nov 5, 2018 at 8:38
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I'm not a big fan of Paul, but I have to help him out here. Paul isn't calling Yeshua immortal. This is from Expositor's Greek Testament...

ὁ μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν: God the Father is the subject of this whole attribution; and it is the Catholic doctrine that He alone has endless existence as His essential property, (οὐσίᾳ ἀθάνατος οὐ μετουσίᾳ, Theod. Dial. iii. p. 145, quoted by Ell.)

The rest of their analysis doesn't make any sense, but I wanted to show that I'm not the only one who believes this verse is not about Yeshua. Paul may have believed that Jesus preexisted as some divine son of God entity, but he still knew there is only one God, YHVH.

Notice the preceding verses...

That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Which in his (God's) times he (God) shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

People saw Yeshua, so this is obviously about God.

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  • Anonymouswho: Paul was definitely talking about Jesus. The whole text is talking about Jesus in comparison with HUMAN kings and lords. So, in this case, out of all of them, Jesus alone possess immortality, which he was given by God at the moment of his resurrection. If Paul were talking about YHVH, Paul's statement would've been inaccurate because at the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, both YHVH AND Jesus possessed immortality. God because he is the King of Eternity and can NEVER die. And as stated earlier, Jesus by then had been given/made immortal by God. Sep 26, 2018 at 15:36
  • @JoseToribio by that same logic, verse 16 couldn't refer to Jesus because both God and Jesus were immortal at that time. On the other hand, it could refer to God because Jesus doesn't count as immortal because He died. Or else you could argue that Jesus and God are one. Actually, the pronoun in verse 15 is disputed among scholars according to "Believer's Bible Commentary". However, the pronoun of verse 16 all seems to refer to God. Compare "whom no man has seen or can see" with John 6:46. Jan 1, 2019 at 0:27
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after Jesus died, YHVH, bestowed upon him "life within himself". Unlike human kings or lords, Jesus now has immortality. No human (including kings or lords) can see Jesus as this immortal king, since he dwells now in unapproachable light along side his God and Father YHVH. As a human, Jesus was not immortal, and was truly human, in order to, as a human, provide a corresponding ransom, equal to what Adam forfeited. Human perfection. Adam as a perfect human, chose to sin and died for it. As a human Jesus chose to remain loyal, thus perfect, (God was his perfect father), and chose to offer his perfect human life as the purchase price for what Adan lost.

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In 1 Timothy 6:16 why does Paul characterize Jesus as “Immortal”?

By definition "immortality" means one cannot die; immortal. However, 1 Timothy 6:16 (KJV) the Greek word ἀθανασίαν is translated as "Immortal"

In context of Paul's writing and his contrast to humans , these words "who alone possesses immortality" apply to Jesus and not to God. Jesus now alone possesses immortality and in the invisible heavens, he is unseen to human eyes.

1 Timothy 6:14-16 (NASB)

14 "That you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen."

Immortality.

Jesus by being faithful to the end, was granded the gift "immortality", something he did not posses before his ascension to heaven, is shown by the inspired words of Paul, who wrote:

Romans 6:9 (NASB)

9 "Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him."

Similarly in the book of Revelation, John wrote Jesus words to him:

Revelation 1:17-18 (NASB)

17 "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."

Conclusion.

Paul in describing Jesus as "the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality." (1 Tim. 6:15-16) clearly shows that Jesus is distinct from the other human kings and lords and High priests of Israel that were mortal and died. Similarly Daniel wrote,And to Him "Jesus" was given supreme authority Glory and a kingdom:

Daniel 7:14 (NASB)

14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every [b]language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed."

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The question of how could Jesus be immortal God and also die for our sins is only arising if one believes in the doctrine of the Trinity.

What does the Trinity teach about immortality?

Trinitarian’s have been taught that immortality is no different from mortality. Why? Well, Trinitarians believe;

  • that Jesus is God
  • that God is immortal
  • that Jesus died for our sins
  • therefore (at least in one case) an immortal being can die

I read one attempt by a Trinitarian to explain this bizarre conundrum. They “explained” that Jesus was immortal God until he inherited mortality from his mother. Then he became immortal once again after he died and was resurrected. This farfetched theory, which is certainly not mentioned in the Bible, supposes that immortality can be switched off and on at will, like an electric light. It is based on another major false teaching that Christendom absorbed from the pagan world, the immortality of the human soul. The “immortal to mortal and back to immortal” theory, upon which the whole Trinity depends, also leads to another big question, if Jesus was dead, did he actually resurrect himself back to life? I’ll address that later.

So did Jesus actually die for the sins of mankind, or did he not really die? Did he pretend to die? Was the ransom sacrifice some sort of divine conspiracy? Are we to believe that Jesus' “apparent death” was a kind of sleight-of-hand, like a card trick? Clearly, this is offensive and incorrect!

The difference between immortality and everlasting life

The myth of an immortal god that dies to pay for our sins is simply not what the Bible teaches. The Bible provides a logical explanation about Jesus' mortality and immortality. To understand the truth, first of all, it is necessary to understand the difference between “everlasting life” and “immortality”. Although they may be similar and both result in living forever, they are not equal.

EVERYTHING LIFE IS LIFE WITHOUT. This is the gift that Jehovah gave Jesus and the angels and even Adam and Eve. However, it is conditional upon obedience. As in the case of Adam and Eve, when they decided to rebel against their creator, they forfeited the privilege of everlasting life. They grew old and died. In the case of the disobedient angels and their leader Satan, when they sinned, they too forfeited everlasting life. The Bible tells us that at the end of the thousand years, they will be permanently destroyed. This tells us that not one of them was created with immortality.

IMMORTALITY IS INDESTRUCTIBILITY. It has the basic meaning is “deathlessness,” and refers to the quality of life that is enjoyed, its endlessness. (1Co 15:53, 54) Jehovah God is and has always been immortal.

To claim that one is initially immortal and then later dies and then becomes immortal again is ridiculous as it contradicts the very meaning of the word immortal. Again we see that the trinity requires its own dictionary.

What does the Bible really teach about Jesus mortality and immortality?

Contrast the logic of the following with the illogic of the Trinity teaching (Jesus the immortal God that died for our sins).

Jehovah alone existed forever and will never stop existing because He is immortal.

Habakkuk 1:12 - Are you not from everlasting, O Jehovah? O my God, my Holy One, you do not die…

1 Timothy 1:17 - Now to the King of eternity, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Jesus was Jehovah’s first creation. Jesus was made as an invisible spirit creature with everlasting life, similar to although superior to the angels. Like all angels, Jesus was created mortal.

The first humans, Adam and Eve, were created with perfect physical bodies. Like the angels, they were granted everlasting life but they were mortal. Their everlasting life was conditional upon obedience to the Creator. If they disobey, the gift would be taken away. Had Adam and Eve not disobeyed, they would still be alive on earth today. However, neither the angels nor humans were created with an immortal soul.

Genesis 3:3 - But God has said about the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden: ‘You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it; otherwise you will die.’”

As shown in the case of Adam and Eve, sin resulted in loss of everlasting life. It resulted in their eventual death.

Genesis 5:5 - So all the days of Adam’s life amounted to 930 years, and then he died.

Because Adam and Eve sinned before producing offspring, their entire human family inherited sin and death.

Romans 5:12 - That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned.

Although created as a perfect mortal spirit creature or angel, Satan was the first to rebel. Therefore he will be put to death.

John 8:44 … he did not stand fast in the truth…

Romans 16:20 - For his part, the God who gives peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. May the undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Hebrews 2:14 - … through his death he (JESUS) might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil.

Like their master, Satan, the demons were created as perfect spirit angels with everlasting life and because of sin, they too will be destroyed.

Matthew 25:41 - “Then he will say to those on his left: ‘Go away from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels“.

Prior to Jesus’ birth on earth, angels had appeared on this planet in human form, apparently materialising suitable bodies for the occasion, then dematerialising them after completing such assignments. However, it was different in the case of Jesus.

When Jesus' perfect mortal spirit life was transferred from heaven to the womb of Mary as a mortal human, it was shielded from the imperfection that she inherited from Adam.

John 1:14 - So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of divine favour and truth.

The fact that Mary and Joseph needed to flee to Egypt to protect the baby Jesus from being killed confirms that he was a real human and could die, therefore was not immortal.

Jesus being a perfect sinless man would have continued living forever on earth had he not been violently executed.

Philippines 2:8 - More than that, when he came as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, yes, death on a torture stake.

Jesus remained dead, in the literal sense of the word dead, for parts of three days.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 - For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten.

Acts 10:40 - God raised this one up on the third day and allowed him to become manifest.

Jesus died as a human and was resurrected by his Father and given an indestructible immortal spirit body.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ died once for all time for sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

When he resurrected his Son, Jehovah raised him to a position superior to what he had in heaven before he was sent to earth. Whereas previously Jesus was a mortal spirit creature with everlasting life, following his resurrection he was given the superior position of being an immortal indestructible spirit, like his Father.

Philippines 2:9 - For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name,

Revelation 1:18 - and the living one, and I became dead, but look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of the Grave

Acts 13:34 - And the fact that He resurrected him from the dead never again to return to corruption, He has stated in this way: ‘I will give you the expressions of loyal love promised to David, which are faithful.’

Romans 6:9 - For we know that Christ, now that he has been raised up from the dead, dies no more; death is no longer master over him.

Jesus' case illustrates that if he wills it, Jehovah can change a mortal being into an immortal one. The reverse is illogical and therefore impossible.

The Bible teaches that Jehovah has selected 144,000 imperfect mortal humans to serve with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven and after these die as humans they will be resurrected with immortal spirit bodies, similar to that of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:53, 54 - For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this which is corruptible puts on incorruption and this which is mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: “Death is swallowed up forever.”

1 Peter 1:3, 4 - Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you,

The rest of faithful humans that survive Armageddon or are resurrected or at born during the 1000 year reign of Christ will be given everlasting life after they pass a final test of obedience.

In brief

Jesus was created as a mortal spirit creature with everlasting life.
Jesus changed from a mortal spirit to a mortal human when he was in Mary’s womb.
Jesus was born a perfect human with the potential for everlasting life.
Jesus' life was taken away when he was executed.
Jesus was dead for about three days.
Jesus was resurrected as a superior spirit with immortal life.

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  • Where is he a “mortal spirit creature with everlasting life”? He says he is not a spirit, he says he is a man. “ Jesus changed from a mortal spirit to a mortal human” where did you get this from? As a non trin. person, none of this makes sense to me, or the bible!
    – Steve
    Nov 21, 2021 at 3:24
  • This verse isn’t speaking about Jesus anyway.
    – Steve
    Nov 21, 2021 at 3:28
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    This question is not asking for a refutal of the Trinity doctrine. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 6:15 makes it clear that verse 16 applies to God.
    – Lesley
    Nov 21, 2021 at 10:01
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How could Jesus be "immortal" if he did in fact die on the Cross?

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5–8 (NLT)

  • Jesus was immortal.
  • Jesus gave up his immortality during his incarnation.
  • Jesus died.
  • Because he had lived a sinless life, the Father was able to resurrect Jesus and restore his immortality and other divine privileges.
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It is true that Christ died bodily in human form, but he also was resurrected in his same human form, thereby conquering death. In Ephesians Paul writes (4:8-10):

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Athanaius (whose name coincidentally is derived from the Greek word for immortality in your verse - ἀθανασία/athanasia) wrote in the 4th century:

It is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised.1


1 On the Incarnation, V.29

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17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
-- John 10:17-18 (KJV)

What life did Jesus lay down? The life that all men have -- that of the body that breathes, walks and talks, and interacts in this earthly creation. If one chooses to believe the Gospel narrative, his body was nailed to a cross, it ceased to breathe and was buried. If Jesus body was all the "life" he had, then by what means could he take it again?

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
-- John 5:26 (KJV)

The "life" that Jesus has, and gives, is independent of the body.

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
-- John 11:25-26 (KJV)

When my body ceases to breathe, and I die, my body will be destroyed (buried/burned), and since I don't have the power to take it again the grave will be my eternal estate. Unless, that is, someone who does have the power chooses to exercise it on my behalf.

So, what Jesus did for himself, he will do for those who want what he has to offer: "life" in the realm where God dwells and Jesus rules according to heavenly governance.

Believest thou this?

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Mortality applies only to created beings. To eternal, infinite (i.e. unbeginning and unending) beings - or rather Being, for such is only one - mortality does not apply. The Son/Logos of the Father is co-eternal and co-infinite with the Father, because the Father created the entirety of the universe, i.e. the complete fullness of the created order of reality, through His Son. This means that the Latter is uncreated and thus exempt from death, just like the Father is.

Mortality applies to the human nature of Jesus and He indeed underwent death like all humans did and will. However, Jesus does not have separate human mortal person and separate divine immortal Person (this is the heresy of Nestorius /5th century/), but only one immortal divine Person/Hypostasis, who not only did not die, but cannot die, just as Father cannot die. In fact, He says that it is He who resurrects the dead (John 6:40), so how can the one who is the very Principle of bringing back from death to life die? Thus, it is 100% correct to say that Jesus, the Eternal Logos of the Father resurrected His own dead body on the third day (John 10:18) together with the Father, so we can say that They Both have resurrected the dead body of Jesus, just like They Both have created the world.

To think that the only divine Person of Jesus, the Son of God was dead and out of existence during the three days when His dead human body laid in the tomb, is absolutely the same sacrilege - nay, more a stupidity - as to say that Father-God committed suicide.

Indeed, if Logos is necessary for the Father to create universe, the entire created order of all things, that means that this Logos is also co-Uncreated and co-Creator with the Father; and since to sustain world in existence is the same exertion of energy and the same action as to bring the world into existence, then let any mislead student of the Holy Writing know: if Logos ceased to exist during those three days when His body laid dead in tomb, then in these three days the entire universe would have ceased to exist, for Father can sustain this universe only through His co-eternal and co-uncreated Son-Logos, who is a distinct divine Person/Hypostasis from the Hypostasis of the Father.

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  • @Down-voter Hey, my anonymous celebrity! Has not your grandmother taught you in childhood the rules of decency? If you have objections, lay down them to me, what a cowardly and ignoble act to down-vote without giving a reason! I have 0 care for points, for they are nothing before the Trinity, but I care for truth and I loathe cowardly and pusillanimous behaviors. Nov 21, 2021 at 5:06

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