A Question I Was Asked:

Does God Alone Possess Immortality? If So, How Are We Saved?

If the soul of man is immortal (on the basis of the Christian expectation of an 'after-life' that must be so), how could Paul write to Timothy that God "alone has immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16)? If God alone has immortality, then how can man also be immortal - or is "immortal" the wrong word to use? The fact that our souls live on, either in Hell, or in Heaven, seems to show some sense of immortality, as do these various 'near-death' experiences. I would love to have some of your teaching on this.

UK Apologetics Reply:

In fact, astonishingly, many have recounted this return journey of the soul to Heaven when temporarily 'dying' on the operating table, then being 'sent back' because their time had not yet come...

Okay. First we need to get the entire quote in its context. Let us look at that:

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. (1 Timothy 6:13-16, NIV).

Paul was encouraging Timothy to use his office wisely and appropriately.

Of course, Christian theologians have fought a few battles in this 'immortality' area. Some Protestants have taught that since the doctrine of the 'Immortal Soul' comes from the Greeks, yes, including Greek pagans, then it must surely be wrong, but I don't necessarily accept this. I believe that God prepared the Greek people to be recipients of the New Testament; through their philosophy they had the 'logos' teaching, as well as some concept of the soul as being potentially eternal; not, of course, that all their philosophies and teachings were correct.

God alone has real immortality in the fullest understanding of the word just as 1 Timothy 6:16 states. We do not have real and intrinsic 'immortality,' since this is a property of God alone. Nevertheless, God Himself is able to give immortality to others, to the angels, for example. In the case of us human beings made in His (God's) own image, He has granted us what one might call 'gifted immortality.' This is - as far as we can understand - given to creatures made in God's image, it is not available in the animal kingdom. If we reject God's marvellous offer of Eternal Life, our eternity will be spent in Hell. But all who are God's Elect, and all who deeply repent to God right at the end, can indeed inherit Eternal Life, but I think there will be some 'grading,' even of the righteous in Heaven. I don't think every single saved soul will be granted to sit around His throne - at least, that's my reading of it. See Matthew 25:14-30.

If we teach that the stubbornly unrepentant "will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life," that - in itself - is the teaching of an immortal soul, whatever we might call it. Also, at death, Christians teach (or should teach) that,

"... the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

In fact, astonishingly, many have recounted this journey of the soul to Heaven when temporarily 'dying' on the operating table, then being 'sent back' because their time had not yet come!

Jesus also taught:

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11:25-26).

In short, the soul of man is just that: a living soul, it has qualities of immortality, which we might best refer to as 'gifted immortality.' Apart from the future gift of Eternal Life, this must be so because we know that the Lord 'knew us' before we were born! So enough is stated in Scripture for us to say that it must be wrong to simply state: 'man has no immortality of the soul.' If Bible teaching is correct - which, as Christians we should surely all agree upon - then men and women - through the favour and offices of God alone, do have access to immortality. Consider the following:

6. God "will repay each person according to what they have done." 7. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8).

Notice, there will be "wrath and anger" for those who reject God, but it does not state 'death.' Yes, a 'Second Death' is indeed taught in the Bible but the indications are that this is not a total lack of consciousness but seems to refer to a permanent residency in Hell! Likewise, in the 'sheep and goats' Scripture of Matthew 25:31-46, the sheep inherit Eternal Life, but the goats go into "eternal punishment" - but apparently not into death! (Matthew 25:46). Paul also made an interesting comment to Timothy:

9. He 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, 10. 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. (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

So the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings "life and immortality to light," in other words, in Christ, we learn more of the true nature of our life and immortality - none of this knowledge was available until Christ came. Sure, several Old Testament passages seem to hint of it but no more than that.

So, in choosing to make man "in His own image" (Genesis 1:27), God has indeed included immortality in the deal, yet true immortality continues to belong to God alone. 'Gifted immortality' is just that: a gift from God. So in the sense that God Himself is everlasting and immortal, God alone possesses true immortality, yet He is able to impart this to others. The immortality in men and women does not amount to the teaching of the 'immortal soul' (as in Greek philosophy) but to what one may call 'gifted immortality.'

Some Christian teachers like to say, 'God only gives immortality to the saved, all others are destroyed forever.' The idea of 'annihilationism' comes from that (God just burns up the wicked who are then destroyed forever); this might sound neat and logical but I cannot see that this is what the Bible teaches. Hell seems to be taught as an ongoing reality, the fire element seems to be symbolic of the ongoing anguish of being separated from God forever, yet those therein will have purposely rejected God.

Eventually the souls of saved believers in Heaven go forward to the resurrection of the dead after which they will have new, all-powerful bodies. This resurrection of the dead occurs at Christ's return.

Robin A. Brace. March 24th, 2016.