“Whom no man hath seen, nor can see”—who is this in 1 Timothy 6:16?

“WHOM NO MAN HATH SEEN, NOR CAN SEE”—WHO IS THIS IN 1 TIMOTHY 6:16?

by Shawn Brasseaux

First Timothy 6:16 reads: “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.” Who is this, He “whom no man hath seen, nor can see?”

Years ago, this verse puzzled me also. If you have not yet noticed the difficulty, start with verse 13 and read through to verse 16: “[13] I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; [14] That thou keep 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.”

Did you get the impression that verse 16 claims that no one has seen, or can see, Jesus Christ? Is this the proper reading of the verse though?

Try John chapter 1: “[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men…. [14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Now, 1 John chapter 1: “[1] 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, of the Word of life; [2] (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; )….”

Over 500 believers saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection. Even in His glorified (heavenly, ascended) state, Saul of Tarsus saw Him. First Corinthians chapter 15: “[3] For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; [4] And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [5] And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: [6] After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. [7] After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. [8] And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

Notice Acts 22:13-15: “[13] Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. [14] And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. [15] For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.” (Paul heard Jesus Christ and saw Him in Acts chapter 9.)

Scripture is quite clear that Jesus Christ was made flesh and dwelt among men. He was not only seen by human eyes, but was also touched with human hands. We just surveyed a few verses to prove this point. First Timothy 6:16 therefore must be referring to someone else when it says, “whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” This cannot be Jesus Christ. Who is it then?

The chief reason why 1 Timothy 6:13-16 is so challenging is that it is a single sentence in the King James Greek text and now transferred into English! Our Apostle Paul used nearly 70 Greek words to form it; it translates to over 90 English words. (If this “short” sentence intimidates you, take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14!) With such massive sentences, it is easy to get lost in pairing clauses, connecting nouns to their pronouns and adjectives, and so on. If we can take each verse at a time, though, it will become easier to grasp. We are not so much interested in covering every little point of 1 Timothy 6:13-16. Our primary goal is to demystify verse 16.

Back to 1 Timothy 6:13-16 for some cursory analysis!

“[13] I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;….” There are five persons here. Firstly, there is Paul (writing and commanding). Secondly, there is Timothy (whom Paul is writing and commanding). Thirdly, there is God (the Father is inferred). Fourthly, there is Christ Jesus. Fifthly, there is Judaean governor Pontius Pilate.

“[14] That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:….” Here, we have only two persons—Timothy and 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;….” There is only Jesus Christ here.

“[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.”

Verse 16 is where it gets especially tricky. How many persons are here in this verse? At least one. Who is the first person? He “only” has immortality—no one else is like Him. To be “mortal” means “subject to death;” “immortal,” consequently, means “unable to die.” Appealing to what we established at the beginning of the sentence, and using the process of elimination, we can figure out who this is. Is it Paul? Timothy? Pontius Pilate? Of course not. They were all subject to die—and did die. That leaves two possibilities—Father God and Jesus Christ. Father God never possessed a physical body, so He was never on the verge of dying anyway. Jesus Christ, however, assumed a physical body and did die.

(Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him [Christ—verse 8] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The emphasis here is on the word “bodily.” There is a physical body likened unto ours. It is something that can be seen and has been seen. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit cannot be seen directly, but they can be seen indirectly in the Person of Jesus Christ [God the Son]. Jesus Christ is their representative, the Spokesman and Representative for the Trinity/Godhead.)

Jesus was resurrected, never to die again. As of this moment, He alone has been resurrected. He is the unique Person of the universe. He is a spirit being, still in a physical body that cannot and will never again die. He alone has immortality. “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” would also be true of Jesus Christ.

The semicolon between “unto” and “whom” in the middle of verse 16 splits the thoughts to make them easier to grasp. “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; [different person] whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”

The “who only hath… can approach unto” has already been established to mean Jesus Christ. The “whom no man hath seen, nor can see” must refer to someone else. As noted earlier, there are too many verses that prove that Jesus Christ was seen of men and can be seen of men. Returning to our list of people in verse 13, we use the process of elimination once again. It would be totally absurd for Scripture to say no man has seen or can see Paul, Timothy, or Pontius Pilate. The only person not accounted for is now Father God. Father God has to be Him “whom no man hath seen, nor can see.”

A colon, not a comma, immediately follows this, and the Bible text reads thereafter, “…to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” This would have to be referring back to the beginning of the verse. The word “power” links to “Potentate” in verse 15, and the “only Potentate” (powerful), “the King of kings and the Lord of lords,” is none other than Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 17:14 and Revelation 19:16).

In summation, with the persons’ names added, personally, I would read the passage as follows: “[13] I [Paul] give thee [Timothy] charge in the sight of God, [God/Father] who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who [Jesus Christ] before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; [14] That thou [Timothy] keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: [15] [Our Lord Jesus Christ] Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; [16] [Our Lord Jesus Christ] Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; [God/Father] whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [our Lord Jesus Christ] be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”

Also see:
» “No man hath seen God at any time?”
» Is the Trinity/Godhead a biblical concept?
» Can Jews who believe in God, the Father, but who reject Jesus, be saved from eternal damnation?

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