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All Scripture texts are from the King James (Authorised) Version unless stated otherwise.
1 Timothy 6: 14: ‘[K]eep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 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.’
Answer: Commentators of differing theological persuasion offer an array of explanations on this text, applying it 1) to Jesus alone; 2) to God alone; 3) to Jesus and God jointly.
These three quotations illustrate the range (only the third takes the Trinitarian point of view):
This passage is somewhat ambiguous; that is to say, in the way it is presented, it would be possible to take two different views, and if someone would claim that it was the Heavenly Father who was meant, we would not have any special controversy with him over the matter. In giving our own view of what it signifies we have already stated, and still believe it refers to our Lord Jesus. If it referred to the Father, it would mean that He alone has immortality, and that would imply that the Lord Jesus would not have immortality, whereas the Scriptures declare that He has. Then, if we apply it to the Lord Jesus and say He only hath immortality, it does not cut out the Heavenly Father . . . because, as the Apostle explains, God is always excepted in every rule and proposition . . . . (What Pastor Russell Said (1913))
To what kind of creatures [God] is invisible we learn from a passage which teaches that our Lord [Jesus] in His glorified body is invisible. The passage in question is 1 Tim. 6: 16. In its pertinent part it reads as follows: ‘whom no man hath seen, nor can see.’ Hence God is invisible to animal beings, like man and the lower creation. But some may object that this passage treats of our Lord Jesus and not of God Himself, and that therefore we should not infer from it that God is invisible to animal beings including man. To this we reply that the Bible teaches that our Lord’s glorified body is the very image of the Father’s person (literally substance). Therefore if the Son’s body is invisible to all animal beings, certainly the body of which it is the very image must also be invisible to all animal beings, and thus to man. (God, pp. 40, 41)
Of whom are these things said? Of the Father, or of the Son? Of the Son, undoubtedly: and it is said for the consolation of Timothy, that he may not fear nor stand in awe of the kings of the earth. . . . But he says, ‘only,’ either in contradistinction to men, or because He [Jesus] was unoriginated, or as we sometimes speak of a man whom we wish to extol. . . . ‘Who only hath immortality.’ What then? hath not the Son immortality? Is He not immortality itself? How should not He, who is of the same substance with the Father, have immortality? . . . ‘Whom no man hath seen nor can see.’ As, indeed, no one hath seen the Son, nor can see Him. (Homily 18, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed.)
In favour of applying 1 Timothy 6: 16 to Jesus is the use of the expression in v. 14, ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’, evocative of Revelation 19: 16. Additionally, the period to which the ‘appearing’ in 1 Timothy 6: 14 applies is the epiphany, the revealing of Christ as Lord of the world in His Second Advent.
On the other hand, in favour of its application to Jehovah God are the expressions, ‘whom no man hath seen, nor can see’ and ‘dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto’. The first is reminiscent of God’s warning to Moses, ‘there shall no man see me and live’ (Exodus 33: 20). See also, John 1: 18, where Jesus says that ‘No man hath seen God at any time [emphasis ours]’, and the identical statement in 1 John 4: 12. Naturally, Jesus while in the flesh had been ‘seen’, though both Paul and John later teach that following Jesus’ glorification we ‘henceforth know . . . him no more’ (2 Corinthians 5: 16) and that ‘it doth not yet appear what we shall be but . . . we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3: 2, emphasis added).
The light ‘which no man can approach unto’ of 1 Timothy 6: 16 perhaps evokes the shekinah glory-light of Jehovah, which purportedly hovered over the mercy seat in the Most Holy of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. The High Priest alone could enter into this place, but on pain of death, and only on specified occasions.
Summing up, the Scriptures generally agree that the attribute common to both God and Jesus is that of immortality – a condition in which, among other things, death is impossible. God has possessed this attribute from eternity, for with Him it is unacquired. Jesus had this attribute bestowed on Him by God, following His resurrection. See John 5: 26 (emphasis added): ‘For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.’ The expression ‘given to the son to have’ implies that the Father promised to give His Son divinity. This pledge being fulfilled at Jesus’ resurrection, Christ now sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1: 1-3).
Copyright August 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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