[1Ti 6:11-16 ESV] (11) But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (12) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (13) 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. Amen.

mGNT 6:16 ὁ μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον ὃν εἶδεν οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων οὐδὲ ἰδεῖν δύναται ᾧ τιμὴ καὶ κράτος αἰώνιον ἀμήν

This is normally and understandably taken as Christ being the only one who is intrinsically eternally indestructible. But is it possible that "holding immortality" might refer to the fact that Christ is the single point of access to everlasting life?:

[John 6:68 ESV] (68) Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,

Might we say, "who alone has [in him] everlasting life"?:

[Jhn 5:26 ESV] (26) For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

IE: Paul's point being then that Jesus is the tree of life of the LORD's planting and is the only one available.

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    I would have assumed from the phrases that follow in v16 that Paul here is talking about God, not Jesus. (I'm not denying those elements to Jesus. I'm just not convinced that he is the person being referred to here.) Apr 21, 2019 at 22:17
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    I've gone back and forth but I think that if I'm right about this reading then it tips the scale over to Jesus being the referent. Always a challenge!
    – Ruminator
    Apr 21, 2019 at 22:22
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    The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he [Christ Jesus] will display sounds a bit convoluted, doesn't it ? On the other hand, God revealing or manifesting Christ at the proper time seems to flow more naturally, and the following phrase, whom no one has ever seen or can see, seems to remove all doubt.
    – Lucian
    Apr 23, 2019 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


1 Tim 6:13-16 is a tricky passage because of the unusual parade of implied pronouns and antecedents. Recall that unlike modern English, Greek antecedents can reach back more than a "paragraph" at times. In this passage, there are other matters to be noted shortly. However, it is clear that the passage is primarily about God the Father with Jesus mentioned only in passing. Thus, I would translate the passage:

  • V13: I charge you before God (the one giving life to all things) and Jesus Christ (the one having testified before Pontus Pilate the good confession)
  • v14: to keep the commandment spotless [&] irreproachable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • v15: which [ie, the appearing of Jesus] in his [ie, God's] own times the blessed and only potentate [ie, God] will show, the King of kings and Lord of lords
  • v16: the only [one - ie God] having immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen nor can see, to whom be honour and eternal power. Amen.

Thus, it is God (the Father) who is the referent in v16. Several versions attempt to make this clearer because when translated literally, it appears (in English) that Jesus is the referent in v15.

  • NIV: which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords

  • NLT: For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

  • CSB: The glorious God is the only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords. At the time that God has already decided, he will send Jesus Christ back again.

Thus, if God (the Father) is correctly understood as the referent in v15 & 16, then the text declares that God will reveal Jesus at the appropriate time (presumably His second advent) and that the Father is the one whom no one has seen nor can see.

I also note that Ellicott and the Pulpit commentary also understand that v15 and 16 refers to God.

  • Please clarify the second to last paragraph because "whom" is ambiguous. IE: Who only has immortality and in what sense? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 29, 2019 at 13:21
  • Thanks, Ruminator - that paragraph was rather garbled so I have edited and clarified it.
    – user25930
    Apr 29, 2019 at 21:17

Indeed, if the referent of the 1 Tim 6:16 is Jesus, the understanding that Jesus is the only one who is eternally and intrinsically indestructible, just like the Father, is the most plausible interpretation, because otherwise, had He been a creature and not eternal, then the phrase of Paul would lose the sense, for if Father just gives immortality to Jesus as to a creature, so that Jesus has immortality by participation and not intrinsically and inseparably (and, thus, eternally) then there will be no ontological difference between Jesus and any holy man, say a prophet Daniel, for both would have immortality bestowed upon them by the Father, who would be thus the only one properly speaking immortal. However, Jesus is ontologically different from all, be they greatest angels or greatest prophets and saints. Paul stresses this elsewhere as well, saying that when even apostles (the most ardent aspirants towards God's Kingdom) fall or falter, "He remains steadfast, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:11-13), just like to say "if everything will dry out, water (in all its conditions) will remain wet, for it cannot deny itself", (and indeed, on the condition that water remains, it will be wet necessarily), for God cannot not be God.

Paul speaks, in fact, by this expression, of Jesus properly possessing the immortality, that without Him nobody can have immortality. Father ontologically cannot bypass Jesus when He bestows immortality to humans, for Father cannot give immortality unless through Jesus, who shares proper immortality with Him for all eternity, not any less than, to give an analogy, a sun cannot enlighten without its rays, for as rays and radiation is intrinsic to the sun, so also - yet in an incomparably sublime, indivisible and unapproachable way - the Son/Logos is intrinsic to the Father. What is greater, to create and bring from non-existence to existence, or to keep something in existence after the creation? According to the brilliant insight of Descartes, absolutely the same exertion of energy is needed both for creation (i.e. bringing something from non-existence to existence) and for the keeping of this creation into existence. If so, then as the Father is completely and perfectly impotent to create world without His Logos, so also, He is similarly impotent to bestow immortality on anybody without His Logos, without Jesus, who is the very Logos incarnate.

Just for a little fun: can one imagine such a situation: Father wants to give immortality to the late Nelson Mandela, and usually He does so through Jesus, but this time He decided not to bother Jesus and do it immediately by His own separate agency; Jesus sees then Nelson Mandela immortalized and asks: 'Father, I have no reason to object, but still why did you do it without me?', 'Oh, My Only-Begotten, don't be cross on Me! You were fatigued, so I decided to spare You'" and such kind of absurdity; a gross absurdity indeed, because the Father's action is impossible without the immediate co-action of the Son. Exactly that is what Jesus says in John 5:30 "By Myself I can do nothing", and more clearly in John 5:19: Jesus gave them this answer: "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does". This statement necessarily implies that neither Father does anything without the Son, for if "whatever (i.e. everything that) Father does the Son also does" then all actions of the Father, among them the action of creation and that of immortalisation is also done by the Son, while the Son must be uncreated, because had Father acted the creation of the Son as well, then given that He (Father) does only those things that the Son also does, there will obtain an absurdity that the Father acts the creation of the Son with the Son co-acting. And Paul's theology is in no manner different from that of John in this respect.

However, one still can say that Father "gives" immortality to Logos in a sense that Father is the eternal Source of the Son, so that what the Son has, He has from His eternal Source, but without any temporal succession, for this is instantaneous and eternal and essential giving, for the Father gives everything to the Son, and everything means the entirety of His essence/being, so that the Son's being is the very same being as the Father's.

Grammatically, the subject of the 1 Timothy 6:16 can be both the Father and the Son, and theologically there is no problem with any of the option, given the arguments presented above; but perhaps, stylistically Father is more fitting. The notion that this subject "nobody can see" does not exclude Jesus as a referent, even though Jesus was seen in His earthly sojourn, because Paul distinguishes the physically tangible Christ from the invisibly and innately perceived Christ (2 Cor 5:16), but when we perceive Christ in this latter way, that is to say, through the "Mind/Spirit of Christ" indwelling in us (1 Cor 2:16), then we also perceive the Father, for Jesus Himself claims that Father is "seen" in this way (cf. John 14:8-10). Thus, in Their divinity neither Father nor the Son are seen or can be seen either by bodily eyes or by the best of human intellectual efforts, but Both are "seen" through the gift of Spirit.

  • Why, though, would Paul say that no one has ever seen Christ?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 23, 2019 at 10:48
  • Thanks for the pertinent question; I will address this it on Thursday or Friday for for two days I am too pressurised by different errands. Apr 23, 2019 at 11:27
  • @Down-voter Dear down-voter, having down-voted my answer, I believe you can substantiate your decision by an argument that you believe is convincing for you. If so, and if you believe the answer is mistaken, please, take a couple of minutes to share your objections with it with both the author of the post and its readers. That is surely not your obligation in any way according to the rules of the site, but according to a general humanity it is, if not an obligation, then at least a sign of a good upbringing and conduct. Apr 27, 2019 at 8:50
  • @Ruminator The subject of the 1 Timothy 6:16 can be both Father and the Son, I guess stylistically Father is more plausible; yet even if Christ is the subject, one can still apply the notion of "unseen" to Him as well, for Paul distinguishes the physically tangible Christ from the invisibly and innately perceived Christ (2 Cor 5:16), but who perceives so Christ, he also perceives so the Father, for Jesus Himself claims that Father is "seen" in this way (cf. John 14:8-10). Thus, in Their divinity neither Father nor the Son are seen by bodily eyes, but both are "seen" through the gift of Spirit. Apr 29, 2019 at 8:57

Jesus continually stated that everything he had was given to him by God, including his life. So this cannot be Jesus being referenced here, unless you believe that Jesus has always coexisted with God from eternity. If he had, then you really can't say that Jesus lives because of the Father, as he himself said. Logically, this must be God the Father being referenced, as the only uncreated, unsourced, unbegotten God. Everything else, including Jesus, must have had a beginning, for this passage to make sense. And if Jesus had a beginning, it cannot be said that he, alone, has immortality.

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