I am primarily interested in the phrase "the King eternal":
New International Version 1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
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The is a need to carefully look into the following corollary passages to answer the question.
John 1:18: No one has seen God at any time;
John 4:24: God is Spirit [therefore incorporeal];
John 6:46: Not that anyone has seen the Father;
Colossians 1:15: There is invisible God (also see 2Cor. 4:4: ... the image of God);
1Tim. 6: 15-16: ..., He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone ha immortality, dwelling in UNAPPROACHABLE light, whom no man has seen or can see, ... (also read Exodus 19: 16-18; 20:18; and 33:20, “ ..., You cannot see My face; for no man SHALL see Me, and live.”
1John 4:12: No one has seen God at any time.
All the above passages of the Holy Scripture are consistent in declaring that 1Tim. 1:17 is about God the Father, and Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, the only true God of John 17:3; 1Cor. 8:6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1Tim. 2:5; and James 2:19).
Paul, in 1 Timothy, has the expression twice:
That these refer to God the Father is fairly clear to me and every commentator I consulted. The grammar also makes this clear in both cases. However, and this is the interesting part, the NT gives all these epithets to Jesus as well:
Therefore, while Paul obviously had the Father in view, we note that the NT is keen to make Jesus receive the same epithets.
Is 1 Timothy 1:17 about God or about Jesus?
1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Seems easy enough.
Jesus wasn't immortal - now, risen, exalted, he has eternal life.
knowing that Christ, having been raised up out from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer rules over Him. Rom 6:9
Jesus wasn't invisible - he has flesh and bones, so he is still not invisible.
See My hands and My feet, that I am He. Touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see Me having." Luke 24:39
Jesus isn't God, so that rules him out there too.
There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live. 1 Cor 8:6
So that leaves us with God - the only immortal, invisible and eternal King.
While the passage starts off referring to Jesus (v12), Paul changes the focus as he prepares to close the passage with an 'amen', by coming back to the Father and God.
Is 1 Timothy 1:17 about God (IE: the Father) or about Jesus?
"King Eternal" a title applied only to Jehovah, both OT and NT writers knew that God never dies and will therefore reign for all eternity to come, the Psalmist says that God is King for ever and ever.
Psalm 10:16 (ASV) Jehovah is King for ever and ever: The nations are perished out of his land.
Psalm 90:2 (NET Bible)
2 Even before the mountains came into existence,[a] or you brought the world into being,[b]you were the eternal God.
Jeremiah 10:10 (NIV)
10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.
Exodus 15:18 (ASV) Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever
And in the book of Revelation the apostle John quoted voices out of heaven that said about the Lord God: "He will rule as king forever and ever." John certainly knew that the Creator will rule "into the ages of the ages"
Revelation 11:15 (NET Bible)
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,and he will reign for ever and ever.”
The title "King Eternal" is also applied in the parallel verse Revelation 15:3
Revelation 15:3 New Heart English Bible
They sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, O King eternal.
ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 15:3 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)
3 και αδουσιν την ωδην μωυσεως του δουλου του θεου και την ωδην του αρνιου λεγοντες μεγαλα και θαυμαστα τα εργα σου κυριε ο θεος ο παντοκρατωρ δικαιαι και αληθιναι αι οδοι σου ο βασιλευς των αιωνων
In light of John 14:8-10a, I agree that a more interesting and difficult question is why Paul chose the particular appellation that he did.
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?
Nevertheless, the previous verses to I Timothy 1:17, beginning with "but" in verse 14, address the work of the Messiah Jesus through to the end of verse 16. Then, beginning with the "and" in verse 17, Paul differentiates and describes God as the King of the eons . . . with glory and honor to the eons of the eons.
Strengthening that observation, we see in verses 11 and 12, a mirror image that conveys gratitude first to the Father and then to Jesus, the Son. Mirror images make me look for evidence of a chiastic structure, which I think is mildly present in verses 19 and 20, mirroring verses 10 and previous.
Setting aside all personal (theological) theories, the context shows the verse 1 Timothy 1:17 refers to none other than Lord Jesus Christ.
The immediate ‘historico-grammatical’ context, which begins in verse 12, sans the a-priori ‘theological’ overload, shows clearly that Apostle Paul is talking thankfully about “Jesus Christ, our Lord” who put Paul “into the ministry”. Again in verses 14, 15, and 16, Paul is talking about Jesus Christ and Him only. Then he breaks into a praise and the above-mentioned context shows that the praise is addressed to Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Verse 14 talks about “our Lord”. I checked the phrase in the entire Pauline epistles (62 other times). Every time Paul talks about “our Lord”, he refers to Jesus Christ alone! So there is no room for a mistake; verse 17 talks about Jesus Christ as “God”.
King eternal – Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14) whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away” (Daniel 7:14).
Incorruptible (aphthartos) – Jesus was incorruptible before His Incarnation (John 17:5). He is incorruptible after the Resurrection (2 Corinthians 3:17). In fact, not only Jesus but even the resurrected saints are going to be incorruptible in the resurrection at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Invisible – Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:26) was invisible (Hebrews 11:27). At His Incarnation, He was visible for a time as “flesh” which naturally is visible to other fleshes. Now He is invisible (Hebrews 13:8).
Only God – Jesus Christ is the only God (John 1:1; John 20:28). Consider, the son of a human is very much human, the son of a lion is very much lion, the son of an eagle is very much eagle. If so, the (only) Son of God is very much God. The Bible says Jesus is Monogeneis of God (John 1:14,18). It means “only of its genus or kind”!!
Even the Old Testament witnesses the same truth more than once! One such example: in Genesis, the Yahweh appears in human form (Genesis 18:1-2) – along with two angels (Genesis 19:1) - and meets Patriarch Abraham before He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Scripture, which Jesus declared “cannot be broken” (John 10:35), accurately says, “And YHWH (the One who appeared to Abraham in human form) rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from YHWH out of the heavens (God the Father)” (Genesis 19:24).
Also, Yahweh says, “I am the First and I am the Last” (Isaiah 44:6). The resurrected Jesus Christ says, “I am …. the First and the Last” (Revelation 22:13; verse 16 confirms it is Jesus speaking). So if Yahweh is infinite God then by the same definition Jesus is infinite God. In fact, Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, who interacted actively with the patriarchs and the children of Israel (Isaiah 45: 22-25 and Phillip 2:10-11)
So the context of 1 Timothy 1:17 is unambiguous; Jesus Christ indeed is our God and our Lord!
Those words most probably apply to the Father alone, because Paul speaks about Jesus Christ just before this passage, and distinguishes the referent of this passage from Jesus Christ by the adversative particle δὲ ("but", "as to").
But this does not imply that to Jesus Christ cannot or is not applied the term "God" by Paul, for the Apostle clearly asserts eternal existence of the Person of Jesus Christ with God-the Father and the Former's equality with the Latter (ἴσα θεῷ) (Philippians 2:6), and equal to God can be only God.
Even if in the same 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul did not write himself "θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί" but "ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί" (which is hardly plausible, for the proponents of ὅς, besides the oldness of the mss traditions with this rendition - which oldness is not a proof, for old manuscript can contain errors - have to explain the salient weirdness of grammar by assuming or phantasizing about a certain hymn allegedly existing in Paul's time which the Apostle alludes to and inserts in his letter; however, on the contrary, θεός makes a perfect sense grammatically and meaningfully also!), it is totally in tune with Paul's Christology, for he explicitly says that in Christ dwells the entire fulness of God in a fleshly fashion (Colossians 2:9), and it is impossible for the "entire fulness of God" to be housed by any creature, but by the one who shares the everything of God, i.e. is the Latter's equal and as such God Himself. Thus, if Jesus Christ has entire perfection of God-the Father in a bodily way, then He is God necessarily, for only God is perfect, which divine attribute Paul explicitly eternally ascribes to the Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:28).
That's why Paul explicitly prays not to the Father, but directly to Jesus as to Lord and God, for nobody, unless one either blasphemes or is out of one's wits, prays to a creature (be it even a highest among them, like any highest of angelic hosts, be he Michael or Raphael etc.), to deliver him from a demonic presence as Paul does pray to Jesus (2 Cor. 12:8-9) to deliver him from the tormenting presence of an "angel of Satan" in him, but let me use Ockham's razor and stop here from drawing so many other Pauline examples.
Non-Trinitarians are necessitated to bring all their merciless, dishonest text-torturing interpretative machinery to derive other conclusions, but what can I do? Only wish them all the good things with all sincerity.
Rather than get into an opinion-based argument about what the passage "really means" I prefer to accept that it IS ambiguous and open to various interpretations. Although phrases like "eternal king" usually refer "God" (the Father) rather than Jesus, the verses immediately preceding this one express gratitude to Jesus rather than "God."
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry... 14 Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. 16 But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life. 17 To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
In context, the interpretation of vs. 17 boils down to whether the author has switched gears from the previous verses to express gratitude to God (the Father) rather than Jesus, or whether the verse is a continuation of a paragraph expressing gratitude to Jesus, here called "Eternal King" rather than "Lord" or "Christ."
Conclusion: the verse is ambiguous. Those who believe that Jesus is God may (or may not) interpret it one way, those that believe that God is not synonymous with Jesus will interpret it another.
It is important to consider the verse in context:
1 Timothy 1:15-16 (DLNT):
15 The saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance— that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. 16 But for this reason I was shown-mercy: in order that in me, the foremost, Christ Jesus might demonstrate all patience, for a pattern for the ones going to put-faith upon Him for eternal life.
The passage is introduced as the saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance. As Charles Ellicott states, this indicates Paul is repeating a common Christian confession:
[these] were formulas expressing weighty and memorable truths, well known and often repeated by the brotherhood of Christians in the first ages of the faith. 1
It must be remembered, the basic Christian confession, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, is not found in the Old Testament. By way of contrast, a Jew could recite the Shema. For both Jewish and Gentile Christians this daily recital fails to articulate their belief about salvation and eternal life. Christians needed new sayings which expressed their faith. Paul has included a common Christian confession.
Perhaps he does "personalize" it by adding his own experience: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, [of whom I, Paul, am foremost], but for this reason I was shown mercy. In order that in me, [Paul, the foremost], Christ Jesus might demonstrate all patience for a pattern for the one going to put faith upon Him for eternal life. Nevertheless, in Paul's Gospel, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it may well be the entire expression was recited by all.
Before the doxology, it is obvious 1:15b-16, is a fundamental statement of what every Christian believes. Perhaps it was baptismal, or part of weekly worship, or like the Shema, a daily expression of belief. Therefore, the question of what follows is whether it is a continuation of the trustworthy saying or just Paul's personal expression of praise:
|Common Christian Saying||Paul's Personal Confession (?)|
|Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners||of whom I am the foremost|
|For this reason I was shown mercy|
|That in me Christ Jesus may demonstrate all patience||the foremost|
|for a pattern putting faith upon Him for eternal life|
Praise to the King
The NIV rendering of the doxology varies from the literal text:
1 Timothy 1:17:
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)
and to the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, [is] honour and glory -- to the ages of the ages! Amen. (YLT)
τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων ἀφθάρτῳ ἀοράτῳ μόνῳ θεῷ τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων ἀμήν
The verse begins with
τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων or simply
βασιλεῖ αἰώνων a phrase unique to the New Testament. As noted in the comments, it is found in the Greek translation of Tobit. The Pulpit Commentary examines the meaning there:
The Greek has the unusual phrase,
τῷ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, "the king of the worlds or ages," which is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is found twice in the LXX. - Tobit 13:6 and 10-and in the Liturgy of St. James, in the
εὐχὴ τῆς ἐνάρξεωςand elsewhere. The similar phrase,
ὁ Θεὸς τῶν αἰώνων, is also found in Ecclus. 36:17. In all these passages it is quite clear that the phrase is equivalent to
αἰώνιος, Eternal, as a title of the Lord, as in Romans 16:26. The genitive
τῶν αἰώνωνis qualitative. In Tobit 13:6 he is "the Lord of righteousness," i.e. the righteous Lord; and "the King of the ages," i.e. of eternity, i.e. "the eternal King," the King through all the ages. And in ver. 10 it is said, "Bless the eternal King," who, it follows, will, as King, "love the miserable
εἰς πάσας τᾶς γενέας τοῦ αἰῶνος" 2
The genitive phrase
τῶν αἰώνων may be eternal, but this understanding conflicts with the ending,
αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. The NIV must change the meaning of the second
τῶν αἰώνων since it cannot be age of eternal. The YLT treatment is consistent, both are the ages. Additionally, if the first is meant to be eternal, nothing needs to be added. Therefore,
αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων adds something. It is "more" than the initial. The NIV's eternal and forever and ever conflates two different expressions into the same meaning.
The BDAG states
αἰών can describe a segment of time or the spatial world.3 The passage speaks of a King
τῶν αἰώνων then honor and glory
αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. The YLT approach of conveying a distinction between the rule of the King, and honor and glory preserves the distinction in the original text. Within the doxology the praise to the King recognizes a temporal (or spatial) distinction with honor and glory, which are rightly understood as being eternal, forever and ever, or having a greater scope, age of ages.
ἀφθάρτος which the NIV renders as immortal is used to describe that which is imperishable and/or incorruptible.4 Rather then the NIV's redundant eternal, immortal, the YLT understands the King of the ages is praised for being incorruptible.
The concept of living now in an age ruled by an incorruptible King is Christian, not Jewish. It agrees with the Christian belief all authority in heaven and earth has been vested in the resurrected Christ Jesus (Matthew 28:18); who is at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 1:13, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22); who is the righteous judge (eg. 2 Timothy 4:8). Moreover, the New Testament does not call the Father, King. That title is used extensively with Jesus. For example, Jesus is called King of Israel (Mark 15:32, John 1:49) and King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2, 27:11, 29, 37; Mark 15:9, 12, 18, 26; Luke 23:3; John 18:39, 37, 39, 19:3). Jesus also tells Pilate He has a kingdom which is not of this world (18:36). In other words, the Gospels identify Jesus as a King
τῶν αἰώνων (plural). He is King of Israel, King of the Jews, King of an other worldly kingdom.
There is no reason to bifurcate the passage into a trustworthy saying and Paul's personal doxology. Verse 17 belongs with 15b-16. It is the logical response to the Christian belief in God's plan of salvation. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; He now reigns as King. He should be praised for both saving sinners and His current rule of the ages.
It is possible Paul added a "personal touch" to the Christian confession; it is also possible Paul has faithfully recorded the confession. Everything in 1:15b-17 is consistent with Christian beliefs.
Recognizing Christ Jesus as the King in this Christian confession does not necessarily mean Paul also equates Him with God. At the same time, one has to consider Paul omits the Father from a passage which connects King and God. Given the New Testament overwhelmingly connects King and Christ Jesus, it is difficult to accept Paul intends the reader to make a different connection, King and Father.
With respect to a Trinitarian understanding, Paul's omission of the Father can be explained by recognizing God is not only Father, but Father, Son, and Spirit:
and to the King of the ages (Christ Jesus), the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God (Father, Son, Spirit), [is] honour and glory -- to the ages of the ages! Amen.
1. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
2. Pulpit Commentary
3. William F. Arndt F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 1957, pp. 32-33
4. Ibid., pp. 155-156.
The following is what Gill also stated: "Or else to God the Father, in agreement with a parallel place in Romans 16:27 who is the only true God, in opposition to nominal and fictitious deities, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit; and to whom the several epithets here used may be unquestionably given:"
Notice Gill says, "not to the exclusion of the Son and the Spirit." No "ambiguity" here. Also Peter said the following at 2 Peter 1:1, "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to hose who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
Now, I understand the "tension" as it pertains to the persons of the Trinity and who is the speaker in certain text.
Where there is not distinction made, it is obviously unnecessary to make a distinction. The persons of the Trinity are persons in relation to each other, any one of the person in relation to us is simply God. In that there is only One God. If God says to us His glory He will not give to another, that is because there is only One God.
Or to put it another way. The Holy Spirit is a person in relation to the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is God in relation to us. If you are in a relationship with the Father/Son/Holy Spirit, then you must be in a relationship with them all, for there is only One God. If you deny one, you deny them all. Btw, I don't think "mojo" or good luck has anything to do with it.