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?

  • 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 '17 at 14:14
  • 1
    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 '17 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 '17 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 '17 at 15:06

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.


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."


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."


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."


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.


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.


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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    – user25930
    Nov 5 '18 at 8:38

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.


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.

  • 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 '18 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 '19 at 0:27

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


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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