1 Timothy 6:16 shows that Jesus is not God

Is 1 Timothy 6:16 referring to Jesus or the Father?
by Ibn Anwar

In a recent debate between Dr. Joshua Sijuwade and brother Jake Brancatella*, during the Q&A session, I asked the former regarding 1 Timothy 6:16 in light of his claim during the debate that the Father and Jesus are ontologically the same, i.e., they both share the exact same intrinsic nature or essence. In trying to reply to the question that did appear somewhat difficult for him, he attempted to claim that the one meant in 1 Timothy 6:16 may, in fact, be Jesus and his reason for that is because verse 15 identifies the being as the King of Kings and Jesus in his view is also identified as King of Kings. He did not have the time to cite the verses that do say that, but he must have had in mind one of two references, Revelation 7:14; 19:11–16, which do identify Jesus as King of Kings. What Dr. Kijuwade seemed to have been suggesting is that because Jesus is known as King of Kings, that must mean that 1 Timothy 16:15 is about him and so, too, would the next verse. The problem with this understanding is that others besides Jesus are also called King of Kings, for example, King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:37 and Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:12. Further, the context would not allow 1 Timothy 6:16 to be interpreted as though it was about Jesus. The context begins in verse 13. Let’s consider the context as follows:

13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you

14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

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. (New International Version)

In some translations, the passage may seem somewhat ambiguous as they translate the verses (verses 14 and 15) literally with the third person pronoun ‘he’ and that might tempt some Trinitarians to view that Jesus might actually be the reference, but the NIV and some other Trinitarian translations helpfully demystify the ambiguity by rendering the text like the above, whereby in place of the pronouns, ‘God’ is used, so that readers can understand that the one meant is, in fact, God and not Jesus.
It is quite plain that the text is speaking about God in the absolute sense. It is speaking of God in His full being. If Jesus is that God, then, the verse dictates three things:

1. He cannot die.
2. He dwells in unapproachable light.
3. No one has ever seen Him nor can anyone see Him.

All three points above clearly disqualify Jesus as a candidate for the God meant in 1 Timothy 6:16. For point number one, God cannot die, but Jesus, according to Christians, most definitely died. Point number two, God is in unapproachable light, but Jesus was not glowing with light and anyone that had the opportunity to meet him had no problems approaching him and even being close to him. In fact, he was in his mother’s womb, which means that a woman was able to not only approach him but carry him in her body before releasing him into the world. As for the third point, this coincides with the second point because every Tom, Dick or Harry in and around Jerusalem, Galilee, etc. saw him when he was on earth. Additionally, Trinitarians often appeal to John 20:28 where Thomas is alleged to have declared Jesus’ godhood upon seeing him in his supposed resurrected form. If that text actually means Thomas saw Jesus’ godhood in Jesus, then, that contradicts 1 Timothy 6:16 which clearly says no one has ever seen him nor can ever see him and this text was written after the incident in John 20:28 took place. If John 20:28 is to be taken as authentic, then, it must be understood in a hyperbolic or metaphorical sense to avoid coming into conflict with the clear meaning of 1 Timothy 6:16. Also, the expression “no one has ever seen Him nor can anyone see Him” ill befits Jesus because it coincides with John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12, both of which are typically interpreted as referring to the Father, and not to Jesus.

Commenting on 1 Timothy 6:16, unitarian scholar Prof. (Dr.) Anthony Buzzard in his commentary of the New Testament writes as follows:

“The Father is the One God 1300 times in the NT. He alone has immortality inherently. God cannot be born or die. God conferred immortality on Jesus and promises immortality to the faithful in the resurrection to come at the return of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:23).” [1]

Trinitarian exegete John MacArthur agrees with Buzzard that this quality of immortality as mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:16 is an innate or inherent quality of God:

“…Paul emphasizes that God alone possesses immortality. That phrase describes God’s eternity. He alone possesses immortality in the sense that He is inherently immortal. Angels and men, having come into existence, will exist forever. Their immortality, however, derives from God. Immortality does not translate aphtharsia, which means “incorruptible,” but athanasia which means “deathless.”God has an unending quality of life, and is incapable of dying.” [2]

Saint Francis of Assisi as cited by Father John Hardon also identifies 1 Timothy 6:16 as a specific reference to the Father as he states, “Sacred Scripture tells us that the Father dwells in “light inaccessible” (1 Timothy 6:16)…” [3]
Making the same identification Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology and Church Ministries at Moody Bible Institute, John Koessler writes on 1 Timothy 6:16 as follows:

“According to 1 Timothy 6:16, God the Father is the One “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Timothy 6:16)” [4]

In the foregoing discussion, we have established that 1 Timothy 6:16 is, in fact, a reference to ONLY the Father. Since that happens to be the case, the argument propounded by Dr. Joshua Sijuwade that both Jesus and the Father are ontologically the same as they share the same inherent essence must be necessarily false. Since 1 Timothy 6:16 identifies the Father as being the only one with absolute and underivative immortality, or as MacArthur puts it “deathlessness,” that is inherent in His intrinsic being, that must necessarily negate Jesus from having the same essence as the Father, therefore, they cannot be ontologically the same and by that, the Trinity fails.
* To watch the debate, play the video below.

[1] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, the One Man Messiah Translation: New Testament with Commentary. (n.d.): Restoration Fellowship. p. 525 fn. 18

[2] MacArthur, J. (1995). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy. Chicago: Moody Publishers. p. 277

[3] Hardon, J. A. (1997). The History of Eucharistic Adoration: Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church. Illinois: CMJ Marian Publishers. p. 5

[4] Koessler, J. (1999) . God our Father. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 56
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One Response to “1 Timothy 6:16 shows that Jesus is not God”

  1. Jo says:

    I’d agree that the section is talking about God rather than Jesus. However since Christians believe that Jesus died, I can’t see the problem with not describing Him as immortal.

    No doubt if pushed on what he said, Paul would have added that sort of, in a sense, Jesus was immortal, but it’s a hymn of praise and not the place for footnote mania.

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