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Refuting the Deity of Christ?

Understanding How the Use of Exclusive Language Functions in the Holy Bible [Part 1]

Sam Shamoun

Anti-Trinitarian groups are fond of quoting John 17:3 to prove that both the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are unbiblical, man-made teachings. The reason is that in that particular passage Jesus affirms that the only true God is the Father:

“Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Not only does Jesus profess the Father as the only true God he also personally distinguishes himself from that true God, e.g., instead of saying that both the Father and the Son are the only true God Jesus actually claims that the Son was sent by him who is the only true God.    

Anti-Trinitarians assume that Jesus’ words affirm unitarianism outright and therefore exclude any possibility of the Trinity being Biblical.

Seeing that we have already addressed this verse and examined its meaning in light of the context of John’s Gospel and the teachings of the Holy Bible as a whole we won’t be discussing it here. For anyone interested in reading our discussion of this passage we suggest consulting the articles which will be posted at the culmination of our discussion in part two.

What we want to do in this article is to analyze how the Holy Bible often employs exclusive language such as “one,” “only,” “none” etc., to describe the characteristics and/or functions of a specific Person of the Godhead without this implying that the same exact descriptions do not also apply to the other Divine Persons of the blessed Trinity.

We will show that when such language is applied to a specific Divine Person in respect to his Divine titles, characteristics etc., this in no way is intended to undermine the Deity of the other Persons of the Godhead since the inspired Scriptures teach that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit possess all of the essential attributes of God. The Holy Bible also affirms that all three of them possess these Divine qualities to the same degree and extent that the others do, i.e. the Father isn’t more Divine and doesn’t possess more of the essential characteristics of Deity than the Son and the Holy Spirit.   

With that just said it is vitally important to note that the distinct Persons of the Holy Trinity have specific properties which distinguish them from one another. For instance, the property of sending forth both the Son and the Holy Spirit belongs to the Father, whereas being sent is a property that belongs to the Son and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, being the Son of God is a property that belongs only to the Son. Thus, even though all three Divine Persons equally possess all the attributes of Deity they do not share all of the same properties.

The one and only Lord and Agent of creation

According to the Apostle Paul there is one God the Father and One Lord Jesus Christ:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came (di’ hou ta panta) and through whom (di’ autou) we live.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

What makes this ironic is that this is one of the texts that anti-Trinitarians often use to prove that Jesus can’t be God! However, these same individuals overlook the fact that this passage expressly says that Jesus is the one Lord and Agent of creation and redemption, e.g. all things were created through Christ and the redeemed live because of him. Thus, if the Father being the one God proves that Jesus cannot also be God then Jesus being the one Lord and Agent of creation and salvation proves that the Father is neither Lord nor the Agent of creation and redemption! 

The blessed Apostle further wrote that all things were created by, through and FOR Christ!   

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For BY HIM (en auto) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created THROUGH HIM (di’ autou) and FOR HIM (eis auton). He is before all things, and IN HIM (en auto) all things hold together. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Colossians 1:15-20

By stating that Jesus is the one Lord through whom all things were created and redeemed Paul has taken OT language concerning Yahweh and ascribed it to Christ , and in so doing the Apostle has basically identified Jesus as Yahweh (cf. Job 9:8; 38:4-7; Psalm 102:25-27; Isaiah 42:5; 43:6-7, 20-27; 44:24; 45:12, 18-25; 48:11-13). This means that the word “Lord” for Paul functions as a substitute (or synonym so to speak) for the Divine Name!   

“But what does Paul mean in verses 5 and 6 when he uses the term ‘lord’? As discussed in chapter 1, this oft-used term has a wide range of meaning, but this did not prevent Paul from intentionally using Old Testament Yahweh texts in reference to Christ. But the question here is whether, in 1 Cor 8:4-6, Paul intends to use kyrios in this manner. The context here is very instructive. Since the situation addresses the question of God and Christ in opposition to idols, it is clear that Paul’s use of the term ‘lord’ here goes far beyond the master/servant analogy. The question is a religious one and involves the status of spiritual beings as ‘gods.’ Paul holds up the one as the true God – Yahweh and Christ together – in opposition to the false gods of the world, which are nothing. The oneness language here is all the more striking because Paul is contrasting Jesus and God with the ‘many’ gods of verse 5. Somehow the Jewish Paul understands God the Father and the ‘Lord’ Jesus Christ to be one.” (Suzanne Nicholson, Dynamic Oneness: The Significance and Flexibility of Paul's One-God Language [Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon: January 2010], 2. The Function and Coherence of Paul’s Monotheistic Concepts – 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, p. 52; bold emphasis ours)

In fact, there is somewhat of a scholarly consensus that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, has actually taken the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one”) and expanded it to include Jesus within the identity of the one Lord God of Israel. In other words, Paul has Christianized the Shema in order to show that Jesus is the one Lord professed in this OT confession of faith!

Here are some quotes to prove this:

“… The confessional and formulaic character of v. 6 suggests the presence here of a creedal statement in which we see Christology coming to birth. The Jewish Shema‘… is here split apart into a statement about God, the creator of the world and the goal of salvation, and a matching statement about the Lord, now taken to mean Jesus Christ, the medium of creation and redemption. The two are clearly distinguished (3:23; 11:3; 15:27-8) but the way in which Paul reads them both out of the Jewish declaration of monotheism is suggestive of the ways in which Christian theology will struggle to define Christ’s exalted status without falling into ditheism (see further Hurtado 1988 and Dunn 1991).” (The Oxford Bible Commentary, edited by John Barton and John Muddiman [Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford 2001], p. 1121)

“The pagan pantheon cannot simply be dismissed as metaphorically nonexistent and therefore morally irrelevant. It signals an actual phenomenon within the surrounding culture faced and dealt with, not simply sidestepped. For this reason – which Paul will deal with in more detail in ch. 10 – the allegiance of local paganism to his or that ‘god’ and ‘lord’ must be met with nothing short of the Christian version of Jewish-style, Shema-style, monotheism. It is this that Paul now states. Whatever its links with Hellenistic-Jewish world of Philo and others, v.6 resonates thoroughly with echoes of the far more ancient and widespread formulae from Deut 6.4 …

“What Paul seems to have done is this. He has expanded the formula, in a way quite unprecedented in any other texts known to us, so as to include a gloss on theos and another on kyrios

“Paul, in other words, has glossed ‘God’ with ‘the Father’, and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’, adding in each an explanatory phrase: ‘God’ is the Father, ‘from whom are all things and we are to him’, and the ‘Lord’ is Jesus the Messiah, ‘through whom are all things and we through him.’ There can be no mistake: just as in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from OT’s quarry of emphatically monotheistic texts, of the doctrine that Israel’s God is the one and only God, the creator of the world. The Shema was already, at this stage of Judaism, in widespread use as the Jewish prayer. Paul has redefined it christologically, producing what we can only call a sort of Christological monotheism.

“This fact is becoming more widely recognized in recent scholarship, though its omission from some of the older literature remains remarkable … Jesus, in this newly coined formula (newly coined, that is, either by Paul or by someone not long before) takes the place of kyrios within the Shema, and also takes the sophia of within the hypothetical Hellenistic Judaism.” (NT Wright, The Climax of the Covenant Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology [T & T Clark International, 2004 reprinted], Part One: Studies in Paul’s Christology, 6. Monotheism, Christology and Ethics: 1 Corinthians 8, Publishing, pp. 128-130; bold emphasis ours)

“This Christology therefore stands firmly beside that which we have found in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. Here, as there, we find a statement of the highest possible Christology — that is, of Jesus placed within the very monotheistic confession itself — set within an argument which itself is precisely and profoundly monotheistic …” (Ibid., p. 132)

“In 1 Cor. 8.6 Paul responds to those who claim to have gnosis as a way of justifying their eating meat offered to idols with a traditional formulation that contains pre-Pauline and pre-Christian elements, a formulaic statement that contrasts the ‘one’ God and the ‘many’ gods. In confronting this matter of Christian conduct within the believing community  and the pagan society at large, Paul bases his argument against his opponent’s position upon the Jewish monotheistic confession, the shema (cf. Deut 6.4), which distinguishes and marks the Jewish way of life. As Paul A. Rainbow has indicated, while ‘pagans applied heis– and monos–formulae to multiple gods and goddesses in a merely elative sense, Jews never applied this type of formula to their intermediaries, but reserved them very stringently for God alone.’ What is most astonishing here is that Paul, a Pharisee who will never relinquish his inherited monotheism, has split the shema in an unprecedented manner: by glossing God with the Father and Lord with Jesus Christ, Paul aligns Jesus with the kyrios of the OT (LXX) and places Jesus within the explicit Jewish monotheistic framework. He therefore has modified the Jewish religion at its most essential point and redefined the shema christologically, indicating a dual referent in theos and kyrios as well as acknowledging Christ’s sharing of the Father’s status and functions. Apart from showing a tacit identification of Jesus with the Lord spoken of in the OT by taking over the use of kyrios, we must also note that ‘Iesous Christos is understood not only as heis kyrios who is the mediator of creation and redemption, but the Son of God as it is implied by the designation theos as ho pater. The fact that Paul does not consider heis kyrios to be an addition to the confession but a constituent part of a “christianized” shema indicates ‘a sort of christological monotheism.’” (Andrew Y. Lau, Manifest in Flesh: The Epiphany christology of the Pastoral Epistles [Coronet Books Inc., December 1996 (Paperback)], Chapter Four: The Use of Christological Traditions in the Pastoral Epistles, pp. 73-74; bold emphasis ours)

“[in 1Cor 8.6] Paul refashions, in the light of Christ, the traditional portrait of the one, sovereign, and covenant God. The Shema is reconfigured according to Christian convictions about the centrality of Christ. Thus ‘Jesus Christ’ appears at the heart of an axiomatic Jewish affirmation concerning God … Before his conversion, Paul would have prayed the Shema every day and understood ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ as two terms referring to Israel’s sovereign and covenant God. At some point after his conversion, however, Paul began to understand all this differently, taking ‘God’ as referring to ‘the Father’ and ‘Lord’ as referring to ‘Jesus Christ’ (cf. esp. Phil 2:9-11; so also throughout the Pauline corpus).

“That Paul’s resurrection faith entailed Trinitarian, or at least binitarian, belief also emerged clearly when he split the confession of monotheism expressed in that central Jewish prayer, the Shema (Dt 6:4-5). The apostle glossed God with Father and Lord with Jesus Christ to put Jesus as risen and exalted Lord alongside God the Father … (1Cor 8:6). Here the title one Lord expanded the Shema to contain Jesus. Using the classic monotheistic text of Judaism, Paul recast his perception of God by introducing Jesus as Lord and redefining Jewish monotheism to acknowledge a personal distinction within the godhead and produce a Christological monotheism. Interestingly, the apostle did not need to argue for this redefinition of monotheism. He assumed that his Corinthian readers and hearers would agree with him. By and large, Paul reserved God for the Father, whereas he used Lord (or Son of God) for Jesus. In its highest religious sense ‘Lord’ referred to Jesus more often than to the Father in the Pauline letters.

Paul’s redefining of Jewish monotheism also involved acknowledging Christ as agent of creation (‘through whom are all things and through whom we exist’). To speak of Christ in such terms was to attribute to him a divine prerogative, that of creating human beings and their universe. To be the agent of eschatological salvation (that is, of God’s final kingdom) was equivalent to being the agent of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Now, what held true at the end must be true also at the beginning; eschatological claims about Christ led quickly to protological claims or claims about ‘first things,’ namely, that he was involved in the divine act of creation … Our earliest Christian writer (Paul), in applying to Christ the Sophia or Wisdom, was in fact expressing his divine identity, just as one of the last NT writers (John) did when he gave the title Logos to Jesus of Nazareth. John quite explicitly associated with Logos with the divine creation (Jn 1:3,10). Paul, although he attributed to Christ the divine prerogative of creation (1 Cor 8:6) and called him the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:17-2:13), did not quite clinch matters by writing of ‘the one Wisdom of God, Jesus, through whom all things exist.’ It is significant, however, that after calling Jesus ‘the Power of God and Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24), Paul went on in the same letter to attribute to Jesus the functions of Lady Wisdom – in creation (1 Cor 8:6) and in preexistent, saving activity for the chosen people (1 Cor 10:4).” (Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity [Paulist Press, Mahweh, New Jersey 1999], pp. 55-57; bold emphasis ours)

“Paul, in order to combat this, goes back to first principles, drawing on the Jewish Shema and putting Jesus right in the midst of the most fundamental assertion in early Judaism of its monotheistic faith. I would suggest that, as was the case with his use of Isaiah spoken of in the previous section of this study, so here he is reading the Shema through the later sapiential reflections on monotheism, Wisdom, and idolatry. The quote from Philo (Quod Det. 54, 84) is especially relevant at this point. Paul is taking what was formerly said of God the Father and Sophia, and now saying the same of the Father and Jesus Christ. But there is even more to this because Paul is also willing to use the term Lord of Christ, which in the Shema refers to Yahweh … This formula has to do not just with redemption but even more so with creation, as would be expected in the light of the immediate context which discusses matters of creation (are idols anything?) and also in light of the sapiential background and the roles predicated of Wisdom in texts like Wisdom 9 … Christ is the one through whom God made the universe, just as the same was said in Wisdom of Solomon. Once one believes this, then, a statement like 1 Cor. 10:4 hardly comes as a surprise …

“Thus Wright is correct that this new Christian Shema is exactly what Paul needed at this juncture of his argument to reassert a proper Christian monotheism and also the primacy of love as well, and perhaps counter any underestimation of Jesus Christ that might have existed in Corinth at the time.

When a crucified Christ who took on the form of a slave for the world’s redemption becomes part of the definition of deity there is no room for self-indulgent practices such as eating in pagan temples in religious feasts that violate the conscience of the believers. No gnosis but the one gnosis of the one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ will do as the heart of the Christian faith.” (Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom [Fortress Press, First paperback edition, 2000], 7. Paul the Apostle: Sage or Sophist?, The Christian Shema and the Christ of the Exodus: 1 Cor. 8:10 and 2 Corinthians 3-4, pp. 316-317; bold emphasis ours)

“We should also note 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, where there is another indication of the liturgical acclamation of Jesus as Kyrios, and the close association of him with God in devotional practice. Here, in explicit contrast to the worship practices of the polytheistic environment, Paul affirms a two-part exclusivistic confession of ‘one God [heis Theos] the Father’ and ‘one Lord [heis Kyrios] Jesus Christ’ (the latter phrase resembling the longer, sonorous wording of the acclamation of Phil. 2:11).  In this astonishing bold association of Jesus with God [1Cor 8.5-6], Paul adapts wording from the traditional Jewish confession of God’s uniqueness, known as the Shema, from Deut 6.4 … (Kyrios heis estin [LXX], translating Heb. Yahweh ‘echad). This adaptation of the Shema may be Paul’s own creative formulation here, but, as we have seen, the acclamation of Jesus as ‘Lord’ obviously had long been a traditional feature of Christian devotional practice in Pauline Christianity and in other Christian circles as well, in both Greek and Aramaic.” (Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI 2003], 2. Early Pauline Christianity, Christological Language and Themes: Jesus as Lord, p. 114)

24.2. 1 Cor. 8.6. This verse is widely thought to be a quotation by Paul and so very possibly the earliest statement of belief in the pre-existence of Christ … It is obvious that there are indeed pre-Pauline and pre-Christian elements in v. 6. The confession that God is one is clearly Jewish (cf. particularly Deut. 6:4; James 2:19); the confession that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is particularly beloved by Paul but was certainly characteristic of Hellenistic Christianity apart from Paul (Rom. 10.9; I Cor. 12.3; Eph. 4.5; Phil. 2.11); and the use of prepositions ‘from,’ ‘through’ and ‘to’ when speaking of God and the cosmos (‘all things’) was widespread in the ancient world and typically Stoic. But there is no real parallel to Paul’s formulation (not even 1 Tim. 2.5), and it seems to me more probable that Paul himself has put together these earlier and widespread elements in response to the situation confronting him in Corinth …

Thus he starts from the common ground of the basic monotheistic faith (‘There is one God, the Father’); first he adds ‘from whom (come) all things’, an assertion with which the Corinthians would have been familiar and with which they would no doubt have agreed; but then he also adds ‘and we to him’ or ‘from whom we exist’ (RSV). Next he appends to this the basic confession of Hellenistic or Gentile Christianity, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’. But with this he does three striking things. First he asserts that Christ the Lord also is one; thereby he splits the Shema (Deut. 6.4), the Jewish confession of monotheism, between God the Father and Christ the Lord in a way that has no earlier parallel. Second he adds ‘through whom (came) all things’; thereby he splits the more regular Stoic formulation also between the one God (‘from him’, ‘to him’) and the one Lord (‘through him’; contrast Rom. 11.36), in a way that is best paralleled in Jewish Wisdom tradition (as we have seen). Third, he again adds a reference to himself and his readers – ‘we (exist) through him’ – using the same preposition as in the preceding phrase. (James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: Second edition, 1996], VI. The Wisdom of God, 24. Christ as Wisdom in Paul, pp. 179-180; bold emphasis ours)

Dunn is quick to make the point that Paul’s splitting the Shema between the Father and the Son doesn’t undermine the Apostle’s commitment to monotheism:

(d) Perhaps we should see I Cor. 8.6 as an extension of the thought of I Cor. 1-2. As there he claims that the crucified Christ is the one who fulfils God’s plan of salvation, who embodies God’s wisdom, so here he extends the thought to assert in effect that God’s plan of salvation is continuous with his power in creation. Here the ‘folly’ to the Gentiles would be that he has united creation and salvation so closely together (breaking down the Hellenistic dualism between spirit and matter; cf. 6:12-20). And the ‘stumbling block’ to the Jews would be that the one Lordship of God (Deut. 6.4) has to be divided with a crucified Christ. Paul is not thereby abandoning his monotheism (and he seems to recognize no such tension in his affirmation of Jesus’ Lordship elsewhere – Rom. 15.6; I Cor. 15.24-8; II Cor. 1.2; 11.31; Eph. 1.3, 17; Col. 1.3; even Phil. 2.11, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’), then presumably he must intend something (a word missing??) the same in I Cor. 1 – Christ who because he is now Lord now shares in God’s rule over creation and believers, and therefore his Lordship is the continuation and fullest expression of God’s own creative power … (Ibid. p. 182; bold emphasis ours)

Elsewhere he writes:

In an astonishing adaptation of the Shema (Deut. 6.4), Paul attributes the lordship of the one God to Jesus Christ. And yet his confession of God as one is affirmed. Evidently the lordship of Christ was not thought of as any usurpation or replacement of God’s authority, but expressive of it. The one Lord attests the one God. This also ties in with Phil. 2.10-11. As noted above, the universal confession of Jesus’ lordship is understood as glorifying God the Father …

“The only obvious resolution of the tension set up by Paul’s talk of Jesus as Lord, then, is to follow the logic suggested by his reference of Yahweh texts to Jesus as Lord … That is, Jesus’ lordship is a status granted by God, a sharing in his authority. It is not that God has stepped aside and Jesus has taken over. It is rather that God shared his lordship with Christ, without it ceasing to be God’s alone.

“In this light it becomes a matter of little surprise that Paul can speak both of ‘the judgment seat of God’ (Rom. 14.10) and equivalently of ‘the judgment seat of [the] Christ’ (2 Cor. 5.10). Christ is envisaged as acting as God’s representative. In the final day God will judge the secrets of humankind ‘through Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 2.16). Alternatively expressed, the Lord at his coming ‘will bring to light the things hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart’; but the resulting commendation will be from God (1 Cor. 4.5). Similarly, Paul’s talk of ‘the day of the Lord’ is obviously modeled on traditional eschatological expectation. But evidently Paul regarded that as focusing on Christ. Hence, the variations ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘the day of the Lord,’ ‘the day of Jesus Christ,’ ‘the day of Christ.’ It is in Christ that God’s purpose reaches its climax. Similarly in Rom. 11.26, the hope of a final deliverer (Isa. 59.20) is transferred from Yahweh to Christ, though the focus in the remaining verses is solely on God (Rom. 11.28-36). This christologizing of traditional theistic eschatology is the best example of a more diffuse phenomenon in which ‘God-language’ becomes implicitly christological, without the Christology ceasing to be theocentric.

“In all this it is clear that Paul’s understanding of God’s purpose and of God’s revelation have been radically altered, but not his understanding of God as one and finally sovereign. Jesus as Lord shares in that sovereignty and exercises it at least in part. If at least the exalted Christ is conceived of as God’s vice-regent, it is not clear what the implied ‘more than (vice-regent)’ amounts to.” (Dunn, The Theology of Paul The Apostle [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI: Paperback edition, 2006], Chapter 4. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 10. The Risen Lord, 10.5 Jesus as God?, pp. 253, 254-255; bold emphasis ours)

That this belief in Jesus being Yahweh and the Agent of creation was widespread and early can be seen from the fact that Paul doesn’t defend or explain his application of OT Yahweh texts to Jesus or of attributing the roles and function of Yahweh to Christ. This shows that these were teachings that Paul held in common with all of the first Christians:

“It is striking that the language of the formula is not the basis of the disagreement. Both Paul and the Corinthians agree that for Christians there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we in him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him. This exclusive oneness language is set in opposition to non-Christian pluralistic ‘gods’ and ‘lords.’ Christ is included in the ‘one’ who is in opposition to the many. This structure, the parallel language, the use of ‘lord’ in a religious context, the parallels with Stoic though regarding one God/one Lord as the origin and goal of all that exists, and Paul’s ascription elsewhere of Old Testament Yahweh texts to Jesus, all indicate that this theology is not new to the Corinthians. The synergy of Paul’s own experience of the risen Christ and his reinterpretation of Jewish Scripture has led him to this conclusion.” (Ibid., pp. 69-70; bold emphasis ours)

The NT further teaches that Jesus, not the Father, is our only sovereign Master and Lord:

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our ONLY Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon despoten kai kyrion hemon 'Iesoun Christon). Jude 1:4

There is more. According to the NT Jesus is the only Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords who alone has immortality:

“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, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time — he who is the blessed and ONLY (monos) Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who ALONE (ho monos) has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:13-16

It is clear from the context that the nearest antecedent of the pronouns is Jesus Christ, which means that Paul is speaking of Christ here. Paul provides further confirmation that Jesus is the subject of the above verses since elsewhere the Apostle says that Christ brought forth life and immortality by destroying death. Paul further writes that Jesus is the One who will appear and also offers praise to him, much like he does in 1 Timothy 6:16:

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.” 2 Timothy 1:8-11

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge … Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing … Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:1, 8, 14-18

Moreover, Jesus is explicitly said to be the Ruler of all earthly kings since he is the King of kings and Lord of lords:

“and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” Revelation 1:5

“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:11-16

All of these factors strongly support that Jesus is the subject of 1 Timothy 6:15-16 and therefore he is the One whom Paul says is the only Sovereign who alone possesses immortality!

Amazingly, even an anti-Trinitarian group admits that Paul was speaking of Christ in 1 Timothy 6:15-16! 

Jehovah is the “happy God” and his Son Jesus Christ is called “the happy and only Potentate” (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15)… (Aid to Bible Understanding [Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1971], p. 711; bold emphasis ours)


How can Jesus be “the one alone having immortality”?

The first one described as being rewarded with immortality is Jesus Christ. That he did not possess immortality before his resurrection by God [sic] is seen from the inspired apostle’s words at Romans 6:9: “Christ, now that he has been raised from the dead, dies no more; death is master over him no more.” (Compare Re 1:17, 18). For this reason, when describing him as “the King of those who rule as kings and Lord of those who rule as lords,” 1 Timothy 6:15, 16 shows that Jesus is distinct from all other kings and lords in that he is “the one alone having immortality.” The other kings and lords, because of being mortal, die, even as did also the high priests of Israel. The glorified Jesus, God’s appointed High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, however, has “an indestructible life.” – Heb 7:15-17, 23-25. (Insight on the Scriptures [Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY 1988], Volume 1. Aaron-Jehoshua, p. 1189 – see also p. 1032)

To say that the explanation offered here is desperate would be a wild understatement. The NT doesn’t teach that Jesus possesses immortality because of the indestructible life he received by virtue of his resurrection. Rather, Jesus has this quality by virtue of being Life itself who gives life to all!  

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” John 1:4

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’” John 11:25-27

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6

“You killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” Acts 3:15

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of lifethe life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that Eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3

Therefore, since Jesus is Life, Eternal Life, and the Author of Life it was impossible for Jesus to remain dead:

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24

In fact, Jesus himself said that no one could take his life away and that he would personally raise himself up from the dead:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I WILL RAISE IT AGAIN in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” John 2:19-22

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10:17-18

Yet despite their erroneous interpretation the fact remains that an anti-Trinitarian cult such as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract society of the Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly sees and readily admits that Paul was referring to Christ as the only Sovereign who alone possesses immortality!  

With that said, if the anti-Trinitarian hermeneutical principle and logic were sound then we would be forced to conclude that the Father cannot be Yahweh or our sovereign Master, nor can he be the Agent of creation and salvation, i.e. the Father is not the one Lord who created all things through his agency or for himself, since these titles and roles are ascribed and belong to Jesus. This would also prove that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit have immortality since only Christ possesses this quality!

However, we know that such is not the case since the NT attests that both the Father and the Holy Spirit are and give life and must therefore be immortal:

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will … Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,” John 5:21, 25-26

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63

“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31

“who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6

“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” 1 Timothy 6:13

“how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

We also know that everything exists through and for God the Father:

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him (ex autou) and through him (di’ autou) and to him are all things (eis auton ta panta). To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

Nicholson explains:

“The second half of the statement, although parallel with the first half in almost every way, only uses one preposition for the relationship between Christ, all things, and Christians. The term dia here refers to agency. Paul uses the agency category of to refer to human agents and to Christ; he rarely uses it to God as agent. In at least two instances, however (Gal 4:7 and Rom 11:36), Paul refers to God directly as an agent in a similar manner to the way Paul refers to Christ as an agent. 1 Cor 8:6 Paul uses the term dia to refer to Christ as the agent through whom all things exist; Paul then draws the further, more specific application that Christians (specifically, Paul and the Corinthians) exist through Christ’s agency.

“These observations suggest that Paul prefers using ek of God and dia of Jesus, but at times he intermingles these. This may indicate that Paul is blurring the lines between Christ and God. While this may seem to be drawing too strong a conclusion from common prepositions, the context in which these prepositions occur communicates significant theological ideas that Paul would not take lightly. Rather, this former Pharisee would take great care in formulating arguments that are foundational for the rest of his Gospel. Thus, this blending of terms – and thus the mingling of theological roles for Christ and God – indicates that Paul is already making significant claims regarding the unique divine identity. That these two sections of this statement are so similar suggests that Paul is intentionally making the same statement about God and Jesus – they are the basis, foundation, source, reason, cause, means etc., for all that exists; without them, creation would be, literally, nothing.

“It is noteworthy that Paul does not even use an explicit verb in this verse; eimi is implied throughout. Even more significant is the fact that Paul does not change verbs when referring to Jesus. He does not explicitly state that all things exist in God but have relationship through Christ or that we exist in God but draw near through Christ; he uses the same phrasing as he uses for God – we exist/live/have our being through Christ. Certainly if Paul wanted to make a distinction between God and Jesus, he easily could have been more explicit and intentional. Instead, Paul chose to use parallel language for God and Jesus.” (Dynamic Oneness: The Significance and Flexibility of Paul's One-God Language, pp. 54-56; bold emphasis ours)


“Paul’s doxology in Romans 11:36 may be instructive at this point. In that context, Paul uses the same three prepositions (ek, eis, dia) as in 1 Cor 8:6, but in Romans God is the sole referent. This is perhaps to be expected, since the doxology concludes the discussion in chapters 9-11 in which Paul addresses the nature and efficacy of God’s plan of salvation for Israel. Commentators here also see the text referring to God as the source and goal of the universe. Brendan Byrne, for example, maintains that ‘The three prepositional phrases bring together the sense of God’s acting in creation (“from him”), redemption (“through him”) and final salvation (“to him”). “All things” … that is, both the entire creation in static sense and the dynamic sweep of events, are gathered into the one supreme purpose – “the glory of God” (v 36b).’ Paul is thus making a statement in Romans about the nature of reality and its ultimate relationship with and dependence upon the one God.

“A slight variation occurs in Paul’s formula in Romans in that the prepositions are listed in a different order. In Romans, all things are ek God, dia God, eis God, whereas in 1 Corinthians all things are ek God, eis God, and dia Jesus. This could simply indicate that there is no set formula for describing God as the ultimate source of all reality. The fact that all three elements are present in both texts, however, is significant. Paul uses the same language of Jesus that he uses of God, and the Romans formulation suggests that his language for Jesus in Corinthians is not simply an addendum to the ek/eis formula. Rather, the dia language is something that, within a few years of the writing 1 Corinthians, Paul considers to provide an important description of God.

“The fact that such strikingly similar concepts are present in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and include Jesus as the one on whom, with God, everything depends makes a significant statement about Christ’s identity …” (Ibid., 56-57; bold emphasis ours)

Moreover, the NT expressly teaches that the Father is both kyrios and despotes:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ (ton Christon kyriou). Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord (despota), as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.’” Luke 2:25-29

“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (pater, kyrie tou ourano kai tes ges), because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.’” Luke 10:21 – cf. Acts 17:24

“When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord (Despota),’ they said, ‘you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord (tou kyriou) and against his Anointed One.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord (kyrie), consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.’” Acts 4:24-29

The NT even calls the Holy Spirit Lord or kyrios!

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

What the above shows is that just because the NT says that Jesus alone possesses immortality, and that he is the only sovereign Master and Lord this doesn’t mean that the NT denies that Father and the Holy Spirit are immortal, Sovereign, Lord etc., since they most certainly are. In the same token just because the NT says that the Father is the only true God this doesn’t mean that the Son and the Holy Spirit are excluded from also being the true God.

Biblical passages which affirm the sole, unique Deity of the Father are intended to contrast him with all the false gods and idols that people mistakenly and wrongly worship and serve:

“But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.” Galatians 4:8

“For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” 1 John 5:20-21

As the above passages clearly show, such inspired statements are not meant to contrast the Father as the only true God with the Son and the Spirit since the explicit testimony of the Holy Bible is that these three are one in essence, power, glory, and majesty.

With that said we now proceed to part two of our discussion.