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1 Timothy 6:13-16 (YLT):

13 I charge thee, before God, who is making all things alive, and of Christ Jesus, who did testify before Pontius Pilate the right profession,
14 that thou keep the command unspotted, unblameable, till the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 which in His own times He shall shew -- the blessed and only potentate, the King of the kings and Lord of the lords,
16 who only is having immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable, whom no one of men did see, nor is able to see, to whom [is] honour and might age-during! Amen.

Leaving aside the discussion of whether the referent of verse 16 is God or Jesus, what is clear is that the attribute of immortality belongs exclusively to one being ("who only is having immortality"). If only one being possesses the attribute of immortality, to the exclusion of all others, what are the implications for human beings? Does it follow from the passage that the souls of human beings are not inherently immortal?

How should we understand the word immortality in context as an exclusive attribute and the implications this has for human souls?


Related questions

On 1 Timothy 6:13-16:

On the immortality/mortality of the soul:

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    If souls were immortal, how is it even possible that God alone possesses immortality? That is a clear contradiction. If only God has immortality, then no other being that isn't God has immortality; it's as simple as that. We have an explicit scripture saying that only God has immortality(1 Timothy 6:15). We have no explicit scripture saying that souls are immortal(and if we did, that would contradict 1 Timothy 6:15). I think we know the correct answer to this question. :)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:06

6 Answers 6

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The root word for immortality here is ἀθανασία ("athanasia"), also used by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:53-54, therein to describe the change from a mortal body which will die to an immortal body that can never die (through the resurrection).

Life in and of Himself

Gill's commentary is helpful:

Who only hath immortality,.... Angels are immortal, and so are the souls of men, and so will be the bodies of men after the resurrection; but then neither of these have immortality of themselves, they have it from God; who only has it, of himself

See also similar comments from Ellicott:

Who only hath immortality.—The holy angels—the souls of men—are immortal. “But one alone, ‘God,’ can be said to have immortality,” because He, unlike other immortal beings who enjoy their immortality through the will of another, derives it from His own essence.

Jesus affirmed this in John 5:26:

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

Indeed this attribute is described by the very name Jehovah:

Jehovah is the Anglicized rendering of the Hebrew, Yahveh or Jahveh, signifying the Self-existent One (Talmage, Jesus the Christ p. 36)

Conclusion

The passage from Timothy does not describe the duration of the life of a human, but rather its source. This is in sharp contrast to the impotence of the false gods worshipped in Ephesus, where Timothy resided at this time (see 1 Tim. 1:2-3) -- they had no life to offer here or hereafter.

As John beautifully put it in his prologue:

In him was life (John 1:4)

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I agree that the 1 Tim 6:16 clearly teaches that God is the sole source of life - all other beings and creatures depend upon God for existence and life. We see this several times:

  • Col 1:17 - And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
  • Matt 10:28 - Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [See my answer to this question: A living soul cannot exist without a body (Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 15:44-45) but killing the body doesn't kill the soul (Matt 10:28). Is this a contradiction? ]
  • Eze 18:4, 20 - Behold, every soul belongs to Me; both father and son are Mine. The soul who sins is the one who will die. ... The soul who sins is the one who will die.
  • 1 John 5:12 - Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
  • 2 Thess 1:9 - They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might,. [According to the above references, such an arrangement, separated from God means we cannot exist because we are dependent of God for life.]

Recall that the "soul" is the combination of the breath of life and the body as per Gen 2:7 [Again see my answer to A living soul cannot exist without a body (Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 15:44-45) but killing the body doesn't kill the soul (Matt 10:28). Is this a contradiction? ] Only God can destroy the person completely - but God can also resurrect the person as well.

Thus, no one is inherently immortal - we all depend on God for life and existence. Thus when a Person is permanently separated from God, that person/being ceases to exist.

Let me state the same thing in a different way - if souls/people were immortal, then they would not be dependent on God for life but would have an independent existence. God could not destroy them. Such an idea is unthinkable!

Stated another way - humans and other beings have what is known in technical theology speak as "conditional immortality" meaning that we (as resurrected saints) and heavenly angels only have life and immortality as long as we remain connected to the source of life, God.

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  • You said: “Thus when a Person is permanently separated from God, that person/being ceases to exist.” How can that be when the same fate the unrighteous face is the same as the devil? Compare Matthew 25:41 with Revelation 20:10, the same fate of the wicked will be that of the devil; namely: “tormented day & night forever & ever. So again, how does anyone cease to exist??
    – Cork88
    Feb 6, 2022 at 0:31
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    @Cork88 - not so fast - the lake of fire is highly symbolic - it also has hell and death thrown into it. The only other things that enter it are the beast the the false prophet which are also symbolic. Do not make the symbolic literal.
    – Dottard
    Feb 6, 2022 at 0:46
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    I would respectfully counter; symbols usually point to a higher reality, if that’s the case then what is described in Revelation 20:10 is far worse than what is presently shown from the text. Definition of Symbol is: (a letter, figure, or other character or mark or a combination of letters or the like used to designate something). If everlasting fire is symbolic (Matt 25:41) then it must point to a higher reality, yet Jesus doesn’t use symbolism in Matthew 25. Revelation may have much symbolism in it; yet it doesn’t show a contrast in doctrine with Jesus words in Matthew 25:41.
    – Cork88
    Feb 6, 2022 at 2:40
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    @Cork88 - We are told what the Bible means by "eternal fire" - fire that is eternal in its effect not duration as per Jude 7 - the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning. In any case, an eternal fire by definition, cannot destroy or consume. The only effect it has is to torture and that makes God an sadistic monster who punishes people infinitely for finite crimes. That is NOT a God of love or forgiveness. It also means that Jesus did not take our punishment. See 2 Thess 1:7-10.
    – Dottard
    Feb 6, 2022 at 5:35
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    If we were to again disagree then I was going to say the same thing, namely “agreeing to disagree”. However, the whole “You serve a different God from what I do” statement doesn’t hold water if we are both “in Christ”(Romans 8:1). Your assumption that I serve some sadistic monster for having a different hermeneutic than you is a very odd thing to assume on your part. I’m sure you’ve dealt with many other true Christians with a different viewpoint than you. Eternal punishment(ECT type) has been a historical doctrine for many centuries. I serve the God & Father of our Lord Jesus.
    – Cork88
    Feb 6, 2022 at 7:42
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“Immortal” is a term that means “not subject to death...everlasting” (American Heritage Dictionary). God alone is immortal, and we derive our immortal bodies at the resurrection from Him (1 Corinthians 15:53).

But the definitions that matter are biblical definitions - not dictionary one. Example - define ‘death’? Biblically death means separation. Example, at ‘physical’ death, you separate from your ‘earthly’ body.

Everlasting ‘death’ means being separated from God - forever. And God being the ‘source’ of life, means this equates to everlasting death - as opposed to everlasting ‘life’, which is forever joined with God. (through or ‘in’ Christ). Man needs God for immortality. Man ‘needs’ a source of ‘life’.

Now to your Q. Are ‘souls’ inherently immortal? This requires an understanding of the makeup of man. Man himself [spirit] is ‘known’ via his soul. But ‘it’ [his soul] needs a ‘body’. That’s what happened in Genesis 2:7.

Your ‘soul’ needs a ‘body’ in order to ‘express’ yourself. But via the fall, that ‘body’ became subject to ‘death’. Hence, the resurrection will result in - a ‘new’ body. Now importantly, ‘immortal’ is a term that applies to the body - and the ‘soul’ gets or inherits this from the ‘body’. So the answer to the Q “are souls inherently immortal” is no, or yes.

Back to the definition of ‘immortal’ - “not subject to death”. Our present ‘bodies’ are not immortal - so our ‘soul’ isn’t. But with a ‘new immortal’ body, it [our soul] will be.

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    "you separate from your ‘earthly’ body." Which scripture says this? "Everlasting ‘death’ means being separated from God - forever" Which scripture says this?? "And God being the ‘source’ of life, means this equates to everlasting death" I hope you realize what God being the only source of life implies; that if one were to be separated from God, they could not live... You say that, in being separated from God, people are separated from life, but then you go on to say that they have eternal life being tormented in hellfire! That is highly inconsistent! "is no, or yes." Yes or no?
    – Rajesh
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:15
  • Very effective description of what death is, +1 Feb 5, 2022 at 21:05
  • I like this answer as well. +1.
    – Dottard
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:52
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I think that more and more biblical scholars (including F. F. Bruce, many year ago), are coming around to the belief that John 3:16 is literal. That there are two choices before us, either to "perish," or to experience the gift of "everlasting life." Not only is 1 Timothy 6:16 extremely clear, but also consider 1 Corinthians 15:53. Also, 2 Timothy 1:10. It's interesting that in Genesis 3:22, God says: “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out with his hand, and take fruit also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—

The concept of one having an immortal soul began in Ancient Greece during the 5th and 6th centuries B. C. Even Origen, a highly sought after ancient Catholic theologian was influenced by these Greek thinkers in this regard. This belief has been so wide spread since that time that it's been adopted and incorporated into almost every Christian tradition. But the "gift of eternal life," is just that. The gift is to live forever, and not only to live forever, but to live forever in the present of Christ.

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Neither human intelligent soul, being a creation, is inherently immortal, for inherently immortal is only Three - Father, the Logos, and H. Ghost, the Three being One in their co-eternal and co-unbegun existence and essence.

When Paul says that "only He has immortality", he cannot possibly deny immortality of the Father and the H.Ghost, but that among men only the man Jesus Christ has inherently immortality, for His human nature became an eternal aspect of His divine Person/Hypostasis, so that the eternal, divine, uncreated Person/Hypostasis of Logos after His incarnation or inhumanation cannot be any longer considered without His human nature, to the effect that Jesus Christ is since the Incarnation the name of the Logos/the Son. And so much so that even we can freely worship the dead body of Jesus Christ in tomb before its resurrection while lying there three days without committing an idolatry, for this body is beginnedly but eternally hypostatized and impersonalized by the uncreated divine Person/Hypostasis of Logos; and also, we can freely say that Jesus Christ created the universe along with the Father, for Jesus Christ is exactly the same hypostasis of Logos, who being God is changeless both in the infinity of before and the infinity of the after (Hebrews 13:8), and moreover "before" and "after" apply to Him only from our point of view, while from His own point of view His being is eternal that has only "is" or "am" as a proper tense of the verb to be applied (John 8:58).

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Answer

A soul is a physical entity. It is not a spiritual element in our body. A soul needs food and drink to survive just as a body requires clothes. Jesus Christ says so.

Explanation

Some people believe that man “has” a spiritual element in his body which is the soul. In other words, the soul is a spiritual element a person possesses in his body.

Soul and Spirit are Different

But the Scripture differentiates between spirit and soul. These are different and separate.

“For the Word of God is living, …………………and piercing as far as the DIVISION of both soul and spirit” (Heb 4:12).

So, a soul is different and separate from spirit.

Man is a Soul

Man IS a soul; he does not have a soul. The Scripture clearly shows this:

“And Jehovah God formed the man out of dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7).

Notice carefully that it doesn’t say ‘man has a soul’ but it says clearly that ‘man became a soul’ when he gained the breath of life.

Also it becomes clear that a soul is a “breathing” (respiration) creature!

Soul is Physical

Jesus Christ said:

“Because of this, I say to you, Do not be anxious for your soul, what you eat and what you drink, nor for your body, what you put on. Is not the soul more than the food and the body than the clothing?” (Mat 6:25).

It is so plain. Just as “body” is more than the clothing, “soul” is more than the food!

So, according to Jesus Christ, soul needs food!

[“Respiration” (breath of life) is in fact using oxygen to break food into energy for the use of bodily functions]

Soul is physical!!

Psychology Comes from Psuche=Soul

The English word “psychology” comes from the Greek word “psuche” which is translated as “soul” in the Bible.

We know that psychology has nothing to do with spiritual.

Soul is Mortal

Twice the Scripture says the soul is mortal:

“The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek 18:4).

“The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek 18:20).

  • Abraham knew this: “Please say that you are my sister, so that it may be well with me for your sake, and my soul shall live because of you” (Gen 12:13).

  • Lot knew this: “Please let me escape there! Is it not a little thing, that my soul may live?” (Gen 19:20).

  • The Psalmist knew this: “Let my soul live and praise you” (Psalms 119:175).

  • Jeremiah knew this: “And Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, ……….. then your soul shall live” (Jer 38:17).

Conclusion

If there is one unifying factor that ties all the religions in the world together, it is this one false thing: all religions including Christianity believe that “the soul is immortal”!

But the Scripture is unique and is emphatic: the soul is mortal.

Post Script:

Jesus Christ witnessed concerning Satan:

“When he tells a lie, he is only doing what is natural to him, because he is a liar and the father of all lies” (John 8:44).

This happened in the Garden of Eden.

God said to the first parents: “You shall die” i.e., the soul is mortal (Gen 2:17).

Satan said to the first parents: “You shall not die” i.e., the soul is immortal (Gen 3:4).

This was a lie!

And this lie spread to all the religions and to all humanity from the Garden of Eden.

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