Monday, August 17, 2015

1 Timothy 6:15-16 (God the Father or Christ Jesus?)

[Edited for this blog]

Dear blog readers,

Someone asked me off-list about 1 Tim 6:15-16 and I want to share my thoughts on the passage with the entire group and hopefully get some input.

Most commentaries and lexicons that I have consulted say that Paul (or the writer of this epistle) is talking about God (the Father) when he speaks of the blessed and only Potentate (DUNASTHS). But I currently take the position that 1 Tim 6:15-16 is focusing on the resurrected and glorified Christ--the reasons for my conclusions are listed below:

(1) The immediate context deals with Christ. Paul writes about "the fine public declaration" that Christ made "before Pontius Pilate" (1 Tim 6:13 NWT). 1 Tim 6:14 also references the "manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ."

(2) Additionally, the title "King of kings and Lord of lords" is applied to Jesus in the NT (Rev 17:14; 19:16). While similar titles are used of YHWH (Jehovah) in the OT/Tanakh, I'm not sure that the exact title, King of kings and Lord of lords is ever applied to the Father (YHWH).

(3) 1 Tim 6:16 is evidently comparing the happy and only Potentate to those who rule as kings and lords. In contrast to these men, Christ is the "one alone having immortality." However, God the Father is not the only immortal being, since Christ assumed immortality when resurrected by God; moreover, those who share in the first resurrection are also granted the gift of immortal life (Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:50-54; Heb 7:16).

(4) According to Acts of the Apostles, Christ dwells in "unapproachable light" since his glorification. The apostle Paul beheld the glory of the resurrected Christ and he was blinded by the unique and awesome spectacle (Acts 26:12-13). Jesus assured his apostles that humans would behold him no more, but his disciples would, because he lives and they live through him (Jn 14:19). How appropriate the words of 1 Tim 6:16 describe the exalted Christ.

Conversely, one might apply the language contained in 1 Tim 6:15-16 to God the Father. One could point to Paul's use of DUNASTHS in this text and look at its use elsewhere in Greek literature. A student of the scriptures could also point to Paul's use of MAKARIOS and MONOS as well. But I think the context and Paul's phraseology favors the interpretation advanced here. Yet I am open to other suggestions.


Sean Killackey said...

HI Edgar,

Thanks for giving some thoughts on that and responding so quickly.

I did fail to note that Jehovah, the Father, is not called Lord of lords or King of kings in the Greek scriptures. (However by being Jesus' Lord, God is the Lord of the Lord of lords, so to speak, but I digress.)

I wonder how you understand the phrase "whom none of men have seen or can see," it, on its face, seems to suggest that men have never seen Jesus EVER, but of course he was seen. I would have to say that it means no one has seen Jesus since his ascension even though that such is not explicitly stated.

The reason that I have been giving this scripture consideration recently is because of a Trinitarian counter-argument from a certain site (that I can't remember anymore) - - - "John 1:18: No one has seen God, but men have seen Jesus, e.g., 1 John 1:1-2; but note that no man can see the glorified Jesus either, 1 Timothy 6:16, and to see Jesus is to see the Father, John 14:9."

I see no "threat" in the statement, "and to see Jesus is to see the Father," because it is plain that "see" is not meant literally, otherwise it would suggest that the Trinity came down as Jesus, rather than the Son. Augustine asserts that this applies to Trinity (God), but in doing so he is forced to add more to what immortality means.

I'm thinking that whoever we say it applies to, or whether we are Trinitarian or not we have to look elsewhere in the scriptures to interpret what is not explicitly stated. I will have to look at all the scriptures that mention Jesus' immortality. Thanks again.

Duncan said...

Cyrus the great:-

"The Great King, King of Kings, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Corners of the World"

I think the answer lies somewhere between this historical usage and the language of 1 kings 1:37.

Also the OT uses "king of kings" for those appointed to rule by YHWH.

Edgar Foster said...

Jehovah is also called "God of gods, and Lord of lords" (Deut 10:17 KJV) and "a God of gods, and a Lord of kings" by King Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 2:47. Cf. Dan 11:36.

I likewise reason that 1 Timothy refers to the resurrected and exalted Christ in particular when it states that no man has ever seen or can see him. Compare Acts 26:13. It does take the immediate context or other related texts to understand the referent of 1 Tim 6:15-16.

This verse in Timothy seems like slender support to me for the Trinity.

Duncan, I appreciate the example from Cyrus, but I wonder how you think 1 Kings 1:37 might clarify matters. Just curious.

Edgar Foster said...

Other scriptures for comparison are Ezra 7:12; Ps 136:3; Ezek 26:7.



Sean Killackey said...

I agree that it is weak support for the Trinity, for at its best it can only be used as a counter-argument against John 1:18 and its related argument. And if you say that, as Augustine does, that it refers to the whole Trinity, then it doesn't help your position either.

On a related, but separate matter I was wondering though what your thoughts are on the claim that in the NT "Lord" is just interchangeable with "God." For let us say that Person A says "1 Cor 8:6 proves that Jesus is 'our one Lord' and the Father is alone God." Person B would reply, "God and Lord are synonymous (such as at Romans 14:3-12) and even the Father is called Lord of heaven and earth at Matthew 11:25, so here the Father being God doesn't rule out Jesus as being God."

At my blog ( I wrote my some thoughts on it.

I figure that there is something special about being "our Lord" as opposed to "Just" being a Lord, even the Highest Lord. For Jesus (and not the Fahter) is the Son over the house of God (us), but Jehovah is the builder. Further I thought of an illustration, a ship whose crew has one commanding officer, even though they are still subject to admirals (who are their CO's COs in the same way I said that Jesus' Lord is Jehovah).

I thank you for your time and wish you a good day.

Duncan said...

1 kings 1:37 lxx may one lord and king be greater than another lord and King. Human appointments and differing levels of authority.

Philip Fletcher said...

It is a comparison to other Kings, we have to remember, Jesus wasn't seen in human form as a King, so it is referring to his position since his glorification. He is of all called Kings, the King of Kings and Lord of Lord. It is also possible to share his kingship, because the anointed are called kings and priest to our God. Rev.5:9,10. In bible times it was not unusual for the eldest of sons to be a co-ruler with his father. Think Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Others examples as well.

Duncan said...

Not strictly true. John 19:19-22.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

I'm not comfortable with the argument that God and Lord are synonyms. I would ask my interlocutor to demonstrate philologically that kurios and qeos are synonyms. Yes, they may be coreferential at times, but that does not make them necessarily synonymous. Abraham was Sarah's kurios, but not her qeos. Two titles may also be used for the same person, but that doesn't make the titles synonyms.

Edgar Foster said...

Good illustration also, Sean.

Duncan said...

LXX Psa 136:2 Let us confess to the God of gods, for into the eon is his mercy!
LXX Psa 136:3 Let us confess to the lord of lords, for into the eon is his mercy!

I think that demonstrates your point, also Daniel 2:47 "God of gods and a Lord of kings".

Edgar Foster said...

What about Acts 2:36? Jehovah made him Lord.

Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,
I remember thinking about the scripture that says, "he made him both Lord and Christ," as it was the theme for he drama at the convention. Some one said that it doesn't mean that Jesus wasn't lord before, because he is called Lord at Psalm 110:1 and by Elizabeth ("what is the mother of my Lord doing here?"). And the angels said (or the shepherds, well someone said it), "to you Christ has been born in David's city," (or something like that).

However in the case of Psalm 110:1 David was calling Jesus Lord, but not neccessarily in the way that Christ is Lord now, something similar could be said for Elizabeth's remarks. Further the fact that Christ was announced as Christ doesn't mean Jehovah made him Christ before his anointing with the Holy Spirit when he was 30. For Daniels prophecy indicates that Jesus would appear at the 69th week, which would be about 30 years after his birth was announced. He was not yet Christ, but he was called such.

See also the decree "I today have become your father," which didn't refer to David's day, or "Today, if you hear his voice..." This one applies after Christ came, yet when David wrote it he was 1000 years prior to Christ's appearence, and yet he speaks as if it was "today." Also Jehovah "took a hold of Cyrus," before Cyrus even existend, unless the text is not read hyper-literally. And if Enoch's prophecy, "Jehovah CAME ..." it was as good as having happened, but it was set for a later time. I think that this later point is important in understanding the decree of the angels. ELizabeth's remarks could be understood as calling him Lord, but not in the way that he is now, for now he is "exalted above the heavens." (Just some thoughts.)

And about the Lord = God thing, it primarily comes from the fact that Jehovah's name is not in the surviving manuscripts (except as Alleluia) and is rendered Lord (or so I've surmised. And that some scriptures spoken to Jehovah are applied to Jesus (using "Lord") such as in Hebrews 1 (Hebrews also applies Psalm 40:8 to Jesus, but those were written by David, who also said that he sinned, yet that doesn't make them think that Jesus is David or that Jesus sinned).

Sean Killackey said...

Also they argue that Jesus is Lord in a way beyond human use. They cite the scripture "No one can say "Jesus is Lord," except by spirit." for proof. However I don't see how this proves that Lord is the same as God. This seems to be more than just a declaration of fact, for the demons, if they believe in God as James says, know (if the Trinity is true) that Jesus is Lord, and even if Jesus is not God (and Lord isn't the same thing), they still know that Jesus is Lord. Action (such as "bringing all thoughts into subjection to Christ" and the like) is involved.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

I think you're right. A good case can be made that Ps 110:1 is using "Lord" proleptically. It doesn't mean that he was Lord or Christ in his preexistence.

It also seems hard to understand how 1 Cor 12:3 supports that Jesus is Lord in that he is God. The verse is notorious to exegete, but the point might be that no truly ecstatic utterance in the midst of the congregation like "Jesus is Lord" can occur unless God's spirit inspires such utterances. We must read the verse within its first-century setting.

See James Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus, page 116 and footnote 51 on the same page.

Best regards,


Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,

I see that there is no reason to say that Jesus certainly was already Lord (which they say is interchangeable with God). In fact the fact that he was made "Lord" shows us that his Lordship is not like God's being called Lord which usually is just a substitute of his name. (On that note I would be interested if you have any resources on the use of the divine name in the NT)

It, I think is disingenuous for Trinitarians to say that only the Trinity can work in certain cases (John 2:19, Hebrews 1:8,10, and in this case). Because there are other (reasonable) explanations that are backed up by similar occurrences to others (scriptures originally applied to Jehovah are applied to Jesus (well they both are responsible for creation), yet that doesn't prove that Jesus is Jehovah, for scriptures applied to Solomon are applied to Jesus (well they are both rulers on Jehovah's throne)).

On a similar note to this being made Lord vs. already being Lord: what does it mean that 'Today Jehovah has become Jesus' Father?" This seems like a possible proof that Jesus can be "made" Lord even though he was are aleady Lord. I am unsure exactly what to make of it, for Jesus was clearly the Son of God before being called such a new. Some Tritarians apply it to Jesus' resurrection, others to his being made man and others to when he came into existence (but that is to say into external existence, which is (I think) Logos Christology and is not so widely used today (or so I think)).

And in Daniel's vision Jesus is given rulership in heaven, but after his resurrection, before he came before Jehovah, he says "all authority has been given me." Is he given authority before being given rulership? Of course Daniel had a vision, but it would seem to be taken in a "literal" way in that in some sense Jesus came before Jehovah and was given rulership. (Maybe this is a relevant point: Jesus gave his disciples the glory he had gotten, but they obviously were not exalted in heaven yet and were not yet kings and Peter says "you are a royal priesthood, but they were not yet royal or priests. So, like other instances Jesus was saying that all authority was as good given him in heaven and earth, in much the way he says "the Son judges" even though the judging has not yet started (like "I play sports" even though your match isn't in the present, but next week).

I'd develop my thoughts further, but they are not done yet, so if you could give some imput I'd appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

On the subject of Jesus becoming God's Son, the Bible uses that expression in more than one context. Ps 2:6-7 uses the expression within an enthronement context. The Messiah becomes God's Son insofar as he ascends to the throne by divine appointment. We believe that event occurred in 1914.

But Heb 5:5-6, the words are applied to Christ when God appoints him as a king-priest in the manner of Melchizedek. Paul suggests that the declaration quoted in Hebrews might have been a done deal in the 1st century.

In Acts 13:32, those same words are applied to his resurrection. So it has been argued that the Messiah becomes Son to Jehovah at different times and in different senses.

In the case of Mt 28:18, the authority spoken of there may differ from the event we read about in Rev 12:10ff. I can agree with your reasoning in the last paragraph too.

Best regards,


Edgar Foster said...

We have an example of the anointed being "sons" of God, but yet that filial relationship with Jehovah enters another phase when the anointed are glorified. See Romans 8:23. said...

Dear sir,I am not near the scholar of your other posters but I will add my two cents to this subject. It seems to me there was shift in power and authority between Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection. God, the Father, was Lord of the old covenant but Jesus is Lord of the new covenant. I don't need to look any further than Philippians 2:6-12. Jesus laid aside His Godhood to come to earth as a man. Only a man could redeem mankind from sin. But the scriptures tell us God highly exalted Jesus at His resurrection, giving Him the name above every other name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. The word, God, must apply to the Father, which means the Father transferred His power and authority onto Jesus. You guys have left out the word, only, in your discussion. Paul called Jesus "the blessed only Potentate." The word, Potentate, means ruler, which suggests God the Father and the Holy Spirit transferred all their power onto Jesus, just as Jesus said, "All power in heaven and earth has been given to me." This also explains why Jude would call Jesus the only wise God. Each of the Godhood plays a role. Jesus and the Holy Spirit perfectly supported the Father in the establishment of the old covenant but the Holy Spirit and the Father are serving in supporting roles to Jesus in the new covenant. Jesus literally is the only ruler under the new covenant because the Father and Holy Spirit have stepped aside. The Father was so impressed with the depth Of Jesus' humility and suffering on the cross, He stripped Himself of His Godhood to convey all power onto Jesus. I will invite you to visit my webpage,, and check out my blog page.