Mortal, Mortality, Life, and A-Thanasia (Deathlessness)

Mortal, Mortality, Life, and
A-Thanasia (Deathlessness)

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CHRISTIANS rejoice in the Bibles' promise of victory over death (Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 25:8, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). When our minds perceive God's plan for tomorrow, hope dispels our fears. The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures that death shall be forever vanquished (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26). Resurrection and life will conquer the grave (John 11:25, 26, Revelation 20:13, 14). In that glorious morn all who are so blessed in that victory will have escaped its power and be without death, that is, deathless.

An extensive discussion of life and deathlessness affords an opportunity to note the different opinions which exist regarding them, and how they may have formed. Reasonable questions touch this subject. Was Adam mortal or im-mortal when created? That question is sometimes put another way: Was Adam mortal or im-mortal before he sinned? And what change occurred in his state or constitution when he sinned and was driven from the garden of Eden? Answers to these questions affect our understanding of the future state of the intelligent creation as foreseen in God's plan. 

Different opinions on this subject which exist among sincere Christians result largely from misunderstanding of the definition of words. Fewer differences of opinion would exist on mortality, life, and deathlessness if the meanings of the main words used in the Bible's Greek manuscripts on this topic were understood and applied. If one person holds a correct view of the meaning of mortal and mortality, and another person attaches divergent ideas to the words, it is manifest that the two might discuss the point extensively and remain in disagreement. It may be, however, that two agree as to the meaning of words, but are mistaken in their definitions, as would be so if believing that "mortality signifies a state or condition ... in which death is a possibility." 

Word Structure 

It is noticed when looking at the English words mortal and im-mortal, that the latter carries the prefix "im-". The "im-" means not, as in im-perfect, not perfect. This shows that the word im-mortal is a negative term. It expresses a condition that is not, rather than a condition that is. Therefore, the meaning of im-mortal depends entirely on the definition of mortal. Dictionaries indicate mortal means: "subject to death, destined to die"; "that must eventually die"; "appointed to die." Thus it is clearly understood that man was not created mortal. In view of that, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Adam and Eve were im-mortal before disobedience. 

But some disagree with such conclusion, believing that im-mortal life, from the Latin im-mortalis, meaning "imperishable," is life that cannot die, it being admitted that our first human parents perished in death. There is a simple solution to such disagreement: determine the meaning of words used in the oldest record of God's New Testament promises of recovery from sin and death. An understanding of the meaning of pertinent words in that language is essential to knowing what Paul meant when he wrote the Greek word a-thanasia, translated "im-mortality." Discussions should be based on mutual acceptance of word definitions by competent authorities. 

Authoritative Definitions 

The key word in this discussion is the Greek thnetos. All Bibles show "mortal" as the translation of thnetos{1}; and dictionaries agree on the meaning of mortal -- "subject to death, destined to die," "that must eventually die," "appointed to die." 

A-thanatos,{1,2} a word not used in the New Testament, is part of this study because of its meaning and contrast with thnetos. Liddell &Scott Greek-English Lexicon shows a three-part definition for a-thanatos: "undying, immortal, opposed to thnetos{3} and brotos."{4} Consideration of the three words -- thnetos, mortal and a-thanatos -- indicates that a-thanatos means the opposite of death and dying. The related Greek word a-thanasia{5} means deathlessness, not death, without death, a state in which there is no death.{6} The deathless state is held out as a hope and reward to dying members of Adam's race who believe in Christ -- "this mortal shall put on immortality [a-thanasia- deathlessness]" (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54). At their resurrection, those who have believed into Jesus will become im-mortal, that is, undying; they will receive deathlessness. 

In view of the translation of the word thnetos and the authoritative definition of "mortal," seen above, any teaching that "mortal does not signify dying" is inharmonious. 

Meanings Attached to Words 

Several factors have contributed to some misunderstanding of the meaning of thnetos, translated mortal, and consequently also of a-thanasia, translated immortality: 

(1) meanings attached to words;
(2) use of "liable" in definition of thnetos;
(3) inadequate consideration of Strong's definitions;
(4) insufficient attention to Bible contexts in which im-mortality (deathlessness) and expressions thought to define its qualities are used. These points are now considered. 

Many meanings not present in the Greek a-thanasia have become attached throughout the centuries to the word im-mortality. A single dictionary (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, International Edition, 1961) shows "im-mortal" as having fifteen synonyms, among which are deathless, endless, imperishable, indestructible, and indissoluble. But of them only deathless(ness) appears with im-mortality in Greek-English lexicons to define a-thanasia. Other synonyms of im-mortality are not part of the definition of a-thanasia, and their acceptance as such hinders appreciation of related Bible teachings. 

"Deathlessness" should be read wherever im-mortality appears as a translation of a-thanasia to preserve accurate perception of its meaning and prevent confusion of thought which any non-authoritative definitions of the Greek word might create. For that reason, "deathlessness" often appears immediately after "im-mortality" in this article. A hyphen has been placed in im-mortal and im-mortality to remind readers of their word structure and relationship to "mortal." 

Several Bible passages reveal that its writers did not use a-thanatos or a-thanasia to convey the added meanings which dictionaries show for im-mortal. They realized that those Greek words lacked the meaning of "imperishable," "life inherent," and "life within one's self." Note examples which indicate this: 

(a) When John recorded our Lord's testimony seen in Revelation 1:18, he wrote in Greek the meaning he must have heard: "he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." He did not use a-thanasia -- deathlessness -- apparently for the reason that more was intended than the thought which it holds. 

(b) The author of that which the KJV renders "endless" in Hebrews 7:16 wrote the Bible's only use of the Greek akatalutou rather than a-thanatos or a- thanasia, because he understood that neither word means "endless." 

(c) If the meanings other than "deathless(ness)" which dictionaries show for "im-mortal" and "im-ortality" were what Paul had in mind when he used a- thanasia, it is fair to think that he would have used akatalutos or a related word rather than a-thanasia

(d) A-thanasia is not used in the Bible's record that Jesus had been given to have "life within Himself." The phrase "life inherent" is not seen in the KJV. 

"Liable" in Definition of Thnetos 

A mistaken view as to what "mortal" means might not exist if there were only the simple, clear, definition of thnetos -- "mortal"-- which is listed in Liddell & Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (1843), Prof. C. L. Wilibald Grimm's Greek-English Lexicon (1879), Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon (1852 -- later, Harold K. Moulton), Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon (1886), and Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon (1957), or the "mortal, dying" definition in Robert Young's Analytical Concordance (1879). But the two authorities first listed above incorporated in their definition of thnetos the expression "liable to death." To Prof. C. L. W. Grimm's Lexicon, Thayer added 'subject to death, and so still living," in contrast to "nekros, actually dead." Thayer's addition did not change, but rather clarified Grimm's definition. Later, James Strong's Greek Dictionary (1894) defined thnetos as meaning "liable to die."{7-9} 

Strong's Definitions

The use of the word "liable" has contributed to, but surely is not responsible for, the development of theological concepts with regard to both spirit beings and human beings. Such concepts came, in part, out of the unwarranted supposition that those of the above authorities who used "liable" intended us to perceive the meaning of "possible." But an understanding of what James Strong intended to convey by "liable" in his "liable to die" definition of #2349, thnetos, is supplied by his explanation of "liable" under #3805, pathetos: "liable (i.e. doomed) to experience pain." Surely Strong would intend the same meaning for "liable" each time that word was used in his dictionary. 

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page 85, also uses both "liable" and "doomed" in its definition of thnetos: 'subject or liable to death, mortal ... in 2 Corinthians 4:11 it is applied to the flesh, which stands, not simply for the body, but the body as that which consists of the element of decay, and is thereby death-doomed."{8,9

Strong would not have written "liable to die" while intending "possible to die"!{10} It is improper to read "liable to die" and think "possible to die."{7-10} Strong realized what all must know: when thnetos was written in Scripture of men, they were already dying due to sin, and thus "liable to die," being bound to that eventuality. 

The authoritative definition of mortal should be kept in mind when studying this topic: 'subject to death, destined to die," "that must eventually die," "appointed to die." The element of possibility is not present in definitions of mortal. 

Examination of Bible Contexts 

Some concepts regarding im-mortality (deathlessness) may be so firmly entrenched in one's mind as to prevent unbiased consideration of the Greek from which it is translated. A certain view may be so strongly embedded in one's thoughts as to unconsciously prevent perceptions. A good method of study into a topic is to consider the context of each Bible passage in which it is discussed. Such is now intended, and the following passage is worthy of first consideration. 

"I charge before God the one quickening all things, and Christ Jesus the one having witnessed in the time of Pontius Pilate the good confession, thee to keep the [this] commandment unspotted without reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the blessed and only Potentate will show in its/His own times, the King of the [ones] reigning and Lord of the [ones] ruling, the only [one] having im-mortality [deathlessness], inhabiting light unapproachable, whom no one of men saw nor can see, to whom [be] honour and might eternal: Amen" (1 Timothy 6:13-16 Marshall Interlinear's brackets). 

"Who Only Hath Im-mortaliy" (deathlessness) 

From early times, opinions of Christian writers have been divided as to whether the King and Lord Paul wrote of in verses 15 and 16 is God or Jesus. But before looking at that point, first observe the entities in the comparison established by two uses of the word "only"; then consider of which deity Paul wrote. The opening phrase of verse 16, "the only one having im-mortality [deathlessness]," teaches of the one alone who is greater than all other reigning and ruling kings and lords. The word-for-word translation above, which Emphatic Diaglott, Berry, Rotherham, RSV margin, and Henry Alford Notes affirm, defines the comparison. Only one King and Lord involved in the comparison has im-mortality (deathlessness). Rather than teaching that God alone of all existing beings had im-mortality (deathlessness), the Apostle declared by that comparison that all other reigning kings and ruling lords are mortal, and thus 'subject to death," "destined to die." The point of his exhortation is that the one King having deathlessness, is the only Lord worthy of service.{11} 

Who Is Meant -- God or Christ Jesus? 

Both Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 refer to Christ Jesus. The Greek words from which the plural kings and lords in those verses are translated have different Strongs numbers than those from which came the plurals used in 1 Timothy 6:15, 16. Understanding that Paul's words in Timothy apply to God rather than to Christ Jesus does not conflict with the teaching in Revelation. Various considerations favor the view that Paul's superlative tribute was of God: 

(a) It is likely that the Bible's only two references to deity joined to the Greek word translated "blessed" were written of the LORD God: "The blessed God," 1 Timothy 1:11; and "the blessed and only potentate," 1 Timothy 6:15. 

(b) Paul would have been familiar with the tribute to our Almighty God seen in Psalm 136:1, 2: "O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords; for his mercy endureth for ever." Language similar to "whom no man hath seen" is used twice, in John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12 ("No man hath seen God at any time"), each of which apply to God. 

(c) The Greek word translated "potentate" is used only here with reference to deity. 

(d) Marshall Interlinear footnote says, "The antecedent to this relative pronoun ['which,' opening of verse 15] is 'appearance,' not 'Jesus Christ.' " In view of that, what the KJV renders "in his times he shall shew," Marshall translates "in its/His own times will show." This suggests that in the epiphaneias the excellency of the One written of will be shown or made known. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that it is God who is to be "all in all," and in Ephesians 1:23 that Jesus is "Him that filleth ["is filling" -- three interlinears] all in all." Christ Jesus has been given authority to bring that condition to completion. It is therefore probable that in 1 Timothy 6:14-16 Paul is teaching that "in the appearance" it is the great excellency of God which Jesus will make known. 

God is the only one who has im-mortality (deathlessness) in the inate sense, and all other im-mortal (undying) beings have received it from Him. Commentators who see only that teaching in 1 Timothy 6:15, 16 overlook the comparison made by the Apostle. But most students of the Bible, indeed all, when misunderstandings are banished, acknowledge the existence of other im-mortal (undying) beings. The meaning of a-thanasia -- deathlessness{6} -- is pertinent to 1 Timothy 6:15, 16. 

"Im-mortaliy" (deathlessness) Represented by "Life" 

In 1 Corinthians 15:54 Paul assures that both incorruption and im-mortality (deathlessness){12} shall be conferred upon faithful Christians at their resurrection. He taught that before it can be said "death was swallowed up in victory," "this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on im-mortality [deathlessness]" -- Marshall, Emphatic Diaglott, Berry ("death has been swallowed up in victory" -- Weymouth, NIV, Rotherham). See also the similar verbal tense expressed in its Old Testament source, Isaiah 25:8, in Rotherham and Young's Literal Translation. 

As often as not Paul wrote the word meaning "life" where the evident comparison in the sentence would lead one to expect to read "im-mortality" (deathlessness). One such instance is in 2 Corinthians 5:4: "that mortality [literally "the mortal"]{13} might be swallowed up of life." The Corinthian brethren, having read the former epistle, with its present 1 Corinthians 15:53 -- "this mortal must put on im-mortality [deathlessness]" -- would have seen the thought of deathlessness in the comparative word life [zoe in the Greek]. The thought expressed through contrast of opposites would have been neither changed nor strengthened if he had written 'swallowed up of immortality [deathlessness]." 

Many translations obscure the presence of some of the elements of reward listed in Romans 2:7. The passage may properly read, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption [Marshall Interlinear -- some versions show "incorruptibility"; the Greek is inaccurately represented by im-mortality in KJV and other translations], eternal life [which does represent im-mortality -- deathlessness]." 

The same grammatical method is used by the Apostle in assuring Timothy of the two frequently-linked elements of reward, but again the translators inappropriately represented the Greek. The proper translation of 2 Timothy 1:10 shows a wondrous result of Jesus" faithful obedience: ". . . who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel." The gospel of God "hath brought to light" "life [representing im-mortality (deathlessness), if the Apostle intended to again couple the two elements] and incorruption." The faithfulness of Jesus abolished His own death, in that His obedience required His resurrection. "It was not possible that He should be holden of it [death]." (Acts 2:24). And because He did "taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9), He owns the right to abolish death everywhere for all who will believe. 

Faulty translation has obscured meaning in yet another passage involving these concepts. "Now unto the King of the ages, incorruptible [Greek a-phthartos, incorrectly translated im-mortal{10} in KJV], invisible, [the] only God [be] honour and glory unto the ages of the ages. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:17 Marshall). This tribute to our great LORD God corroborates His eternal kingship, supports the teaching of 1 Timothy 6:15, 16, and testifies to the pure, just, and inviolate nature of His majestic rulership

"Life Within Himself" 

Before suggesting the meaning of the expression "life within Himself" used in John 5 of both the Father and the Son, full agreement is expressed with a concept which some think those words teach. Assuredly the great First Cause and the granter of all life has life inherent; that our un-dying (1 Timothy 6:16), incorruptible (1 Timothy 1:17) Father, the Creator, is not dependent upon any outside source for His sustenance. But "inherent life" conveys thoughts beyond the meaning of the Greek a-thanasia -- "without death, deathlessness" -- rendered "im-mortality." Consider now the meaning of "life within Himself" as indicated by its context. 

Jesus represented His Father in the earth so faithfully that God gave to be used by His beloved Son life-instilling authority similar to His own. John 5:17-27 indicates: a) why Jesus claimed such authority; b) when Jesus uses that authority; c) what is accomplished through its use; and d) who benefits therefRomans All of this is in our Masters'sresponse to Jewish anger after He healed an impotent man on the Sabbath. Jesus confessed that He was merely doing His Father's work. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Our Master said in simple words, "I do nothing of My own origination, but only what I see the Father do. For what things He doeth, these also do I, the Son. The Father loves Me, and shews Me all things which He does, and greater works than these He will show Me, that ye may marvel." 

Then Jesus explained to them the works He was introducing, greater than His healing of the impotent man. He realized that the Father had raised dead persons in prior times (1 Kings 17:17-23, 2 Kings 4:20-37), had counted the faith of the faithful unto them for righteousness, not imputing to them their iniquities (Romans 4:3-8, Psalms 32:1, 2, 119:50, 93), and was even then drawing faithful men unto the Son (John 6:44). In view of this, Jesus could now say, "For as the Father raises the dead and quickens, so also the Son quickens whom He wills." Having been shown such works by the Father, the Son saw and understood: now "the Son quickens whom He wills." The Father would no longer decide whom shall be so favored, because He "hath committed all judgment unto the Son." 

Delegation of such authority to the Son changed His position relative to mankind. Since the great undertaking by Jesus to ransom the human family from death and the grave, God intends "that all men may honour the Son as they honour the Father." Past favors were attributed to the Father only. Now the Father desires mankind to understand the Son's special participation in the Father's work, and honour Him appropriately. The redemptive feature of the Father's plan is so dependent upon the Son's service and obedience that honour is due the Son, and any "that honoureth not the Son thereby fail to honour the Father which hath sent the Son." 

"I tell you, because it is so very true," Jesus continued, "that He that heareth My word, and believing Him having sent Me, has life eternal, and comes not into judgment, but has passed over out of death into life. I say to you, because it is so very true, an hour comes and now is [referring to processes of the spiritual Kingdom of Christ, which had even then begun among men, but which was not fully instituted until the day of Pentecost], when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself; so also to the Son He gave to have life in Himself. And He gave Him authority to do judgment [to decide whom to now bless with life], because He is son of man." (Please read again John 5:17-27, where the above is taught.) 

The prospects of eternal life were already being laid hold upon by forceful men as a result of the processes of the Son's judgment (Luke 16:16, Matthew 11:12, 13). Jesus was quickening whom He would, whoever "heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me," because God had given "to the Son to have life in Himself." 

A few days later our Master continued His explanation of how a believer is quickened. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63). In other words, Jesus quickeneth through the power of His words "whom He will" -- all who truly repent. "He quickeneth" by giving life-containing words, words which, as He testified in John 17:8, 3:34, and 8:47, came from God. Realizing this, Peter acknowledged that Jesus had "the words of eternal life." (John 6:68). It is seen from the above Scriptures that the expression "life within Himself" was not intended to define a quality or dimension of life of all those who have or who receive im-mortality (deathlessness). 

God's Greatness Unmatched 

The preceding four subheads have considered not only all Bible uses of the word im-mortality (deathlessness), but also other passages which some think limited Biblical im-mortality (deathlessness) to God and to His only begotten Son. God's eternal majesty and greatness, and the glory and power of Christ Jesus, remain unaffected by these perceptions. God has glory beyond all others. It is eternal, and will not be given to others (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11, 43:11, Psalms 90:2, Exodus3:14, 34:5-7). "God also hath highly exalted" His obedient Son, who acknowledged after His resurrection that "all power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." (Philemon 2:9, Matthew 28:18). No Scripture limits their glory to that excellency which is properly expressed in the Biblical meaning of the words im-mortality (deathlessness) and incorruption. Finite minds of flesh may never comprehend the extremities of glory, power, and might which are encompassed by such a majestic, infinite and Almighty being as our God and by His exalted Son. 

Adam -- Created Mortal or Im-mortal (undying)? 

Consider now mans'srepresentative in the divine judgment of human disobedience. When Adam was created and drew breath, he "became a living soul," hence a soul not dying, a being in which there was no death, a being who could have lived forever had he remained obedient to his Creator (Genesis 2:7). The LORD's words when man was driven from the garden -- "lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" -- indicate that Adam could have lived forever had he not disobeyed (Genesis 3:22). 

Although no text plainly states in so many words that Adam was created im-mortal (undying), or was immortal (undying) before disobedience, this is no basis for denial that it was so. Surely all acknowledge that no Bible passage teaches that man by creation received life which "must eventually die." The meaning of words directs the conclusion that Adam was not mortal, he was un-dying -- without death -- when God set him over the Garden to dress and keep it, and constituted him lord over all the animal creation. 

The Genesis account does indicate when Adam became mortal, that is, 'subject to death," "destined to die." From the meaning of words later used with regard to man, it is concluded that Adam became mortal, began to die, as soon as he brought himself under the penalty of death which God said would be inflicted if he disobeyed. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17). He did not begin to die before he sinned, but his dying started upon his disobedience. Eve, too, was without death before sin, and became mortal upon disobedience. With Adam she was cast out of the garden to die, being deprived of the foods of the garden which had been adequate to sustain the perfect life with which they had been created. 


Scripture is God's revelation to man. Many things regarding the angels are not discussed in the Bible. It is not unusual for students of the Bible, by reasoning upon that which they know or think they know, to seek understanding of things not stated. It is not surprising, then, that Christians often give thought to what dimension of life the angels possess. 

The words thnetos (mortal) and a-thanasia (deathlessness, translated im-mortality) are not used relative to the angels. But it is almost certain that they have remained without death, and there is nothing in word definitions or in Biblical instruction to deny their deathless state. Undoubtedly one of the factors behind Satan's lie through the serpent, "Thou shalt not surely die," is that the deathless state of the intelligent creation had been continuous to that time. 

The Logos 

Consider now the relationship of the Logos to the article topic. It is proper to discuss this because some have thought the Logos was mortal, due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of that word. Logos, Greek for "word," was the name of the Son of God from "the beginning," and is also descriptive of the function He has served in God's plan. The Father has done all His work through this Son. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God[like]." Following that assertion in John 1:1 (as rendered by Dr. William Barclay, who understood that the closing theos in that verse functioned as an adjective), the Apostle affirmed that "all things became through Him, and without Him became not one thing which has become" (Marshall). 

Paul taught the same truth. "Who is the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation, because in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through Him and for Him have been created; and He is before all things and in Him all things consisted" (Colossians 1:15-17 Marshall Interlinear). 

It is unnecessary to assert that Him through whom all things have been created, among which were living, undying, not-'subject-to-death," not-mortal beings, would Himself have had life of at least equal excellence, power, and glory. He had been "over all" (John 3:31), and His prayer, "glorify thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5), has been more than fulfilled. He is now "far above" everything created through Him, "every name" (Ephesians 1:21, Philemon 2:9). 

Corruption, Incorruption (Incorruptibility) 

Now consider incorruption, the element which Paul frequently linked with life and with im-mortality (deathlessness). The relation of words to the verb, the formation of negative words, and their grammatical function is with a-phtharsia{14}, the Greek word translated "incorruption" (in some versions "incorruptibility" or "imperishable") similar to that with a-thanasia, deathlessness, im-mortality, seen foregoing. 

Our Lord brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Sin had brought death, and our whole race was decaying in every sense of the word -- morally, mentally, and physically. There was no man who could redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (Psalms 49:7). But Christ came, the perfect offering for sin, the absolutely incorrupt One, having in Himself no sin, nor any cause of death (1 Peter 2:22, 1:19). He paid the ransom. He purchased the race of sinners (1 Timothy 2:4-7, Romans 14:9). And by the good news of the gospel that glorious fact is brought to light, made manifest, to those who will listen to the message. 

Incorruption is an aspect of the hope of salvation which the Scriptures encourage all true Christians to anticipate in addition to im-mortality. Paul teaches how the promised resurrection will affect not only believers who had died, but also the corruptible mortals: "the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on im-mortality [deathlessness]" (I Corinthians 15:52, 53).{15}

The noun a-phtharsia means that which is incorruptible and cannot decay. A person or thing may be properly described as undecaying, which in the course of time might decay. But when it is said that a person or thing possesses the quality of incorruption, it is meant that he or it can not spoil or decay. Thus Adam before he sinned was not decayed. But he did not possess a nature which could not decay, for after sin came moral decay, and eventually death, and its consequent corruption. 

How blessed the assurance, oft repeated, that eternal life, unending existence, shall not be marred by sin or corruption. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life." (John 10:27, 28). Those who attain life will have it in perfection. The Church, now being called to be joint-heirs with Christ, shall inherit incorruption at their resurrection. Having been fitted for everlasting life by faith and obedience to the development of their characters, they shall then be "changed" into the glorious image of Christ. 

The saved of mankind who will live in perfection on the earth will also be prepared and tested for their inheritance of life such as Adam had before he fell, when he was without mortality, living and without death. As human beings, their lives will be sustained by eating, as was Adams's Digestion and the elimination of waste will necessarily follow partaking of food; but all the processes of nature will be healthy, and there will be no corruption. In character they will be incorruptible; they will be so established in righteousness and holiness that they will not yield to any kind of temptation. In this way shall the whole creation, which groaneth and travaileth in pain, be itself also "delivered from the bondage of corruption (Greek phthora) into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21, 22).

Inharmonious Concepts 

An understanding of the definitions of Bible manuscript words shown in Greek lexicons enables one to see God's merciful provisions for His intelligent creation. Such understanding brings freedom from mistaken assertions that "mortality" and "im-mortality" signify "a condition in which death is a possibility" or "an impossibility," respectively. Competent authorities show that "mortal" means "that must die," "destined to die." 

The mistaken idea that only God and the resurrected Jesus were im-mortal (undying) developed because the comparison presented in 1 Timothy 6:15, 16 was not perceived and the authoritative definition of a-thanasia (deathlessness) was not given its force. That led to other mistaken conclusions, now listed for close examination:  

(1) All beings but God before the resurrection of Jesus were mortal;
(2) "Mortal" applies to creatures not condemned to death;
(3) A-thanasia, translated immortality, means more than deathlessness;
(4) Undying angels are mortal;
(5) Adam could not have been immortal because he died;
(6) Perfected mankind will always be mortal;
(7) Beings dependent on any kind of food can not be im-mortal;
(8) Any being who could possibly lose life could not be im-mortal.

 The foregoing eight affirmations, all inharmonious with Bible teaching, disappear when the following nine points are understood and appreciated:

 (1) 1 Timothy 6:15, 16 does not teach that there was only one im-mortal (undying) being.
(2) Mortal means 'subject to death," "that must die."
(3) A-thanasia, always translated im-mortality, means "deathlessness."
(4) The angels have been deathless.
(5) The Bible nowhere teaches that an im-mortal (undying) being could not lose im-mortality (deathlessness).
(6) The Bible does not say that "life within one's self" is a quality of im-mortality (deathlessness).
(7) There is no Bible teaching that every im-mortal (undying) being is indestructible.
(8) There is no Bible teaching that every being having im-mortality (deathlessness) is self-existent, that is, without dependence on external conditions, food, etc.
(9) There is no Bible teaching that some im-mortal (undying) beings cannot have vastly greater qualities and powers than deathlessness.


 The perception of God's purpose for His intelligent creation is affected by an understanding of the words in the title of this article. A series of Greek manuscript words pertaining to death, dying, and their opposites, are derived from the verb thano -- death. A-thanasia, the only Greek word consistently translated "im-mortality," represents the meaning of New Testament immortality -- deathlessness.

 Lexicons agree that the Greek thnetos, always translated "mortal," means "liable to death, mortal." Thnetos "can only be used of men yet alive." That to which mortal man is "liable," that is, "answerable to" or "responsible to," is death. Dictionaries agree that mortal means 'subject to death, destined to die," "that must eventually die," "appointed to die." The idea that "mortal does not signify dying" is a mistake, and every teaching built upon that concept is without Biblical support.

Consideration of the context wherever "im-mortality" (deathlessness) appears is essential to understand the sense and meaning of its use. Especially pertinent is the comparison made in 1 Timothy 6:15, 16. Paul frequently used "life" in places where one would expect to see the word "im-mortality" (deathlessness). This is another indication that Paul understood that a-thanasia (deathlessness) did not hold the several additional qualities which have become attached to im-mortality, from the Latin im-mortalis.

John's record in which Jesus affirmed that "the Father hath given the Son to have life within Himself" teaches of His authority to transmit the impulses of spiritual life to those He judges worthy. "Life within one's self" is not a definition of a-thanasia; such meaning is beyond its specific lexical definition, deathlessness. Nor does a-thanasia mean "life inherent," a phrase not seen in Scripture.

Acknowledging that intelligent beings were not mortal when created does not detract from God's unmatched greatness. Angels have remained deathless. Created perfect and not having death, man will be restored to the glory of his former relationship, becoming deathless. Reason requires that the Logos, through whom deathless beings were created, would Himself have had life of even greater excellence and glory.

The promise of incorruption for members of the overcoming church at their resurrection assures that they will receive that which cannot decay. When mankind, having benefited from the lessons afforded by the experience with sin and death, individually achieve restoration to perfection through faith, obedience, and love, each in character will be incorruptible. They will be so established in righteousness and holiness that they will never yield to any kind of temptation. Thus will the creation itself be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21, 22). 


{1} Thnetos (mortal) is among four other words pertinent to this study that are derived from the verb thnesko, Strong #2348, meaning "to die." The other words are thnetotes (mortality), not used in the New Testament; thanatos (death), a-thanatos [the prefix a meaning "without," literally without death, undying, deathless] (im-mortal), not used in the New Testament; and a-thanasia, deathlessness (im-mortality). It is readily seen that the primary meaning contained in the above words relates to death, dying, or their opposites. 

{2} The following explanatory information is from Strongs'sGreek Dictionary: #1, Greek letter alpha, is used "(as a contraction from #427)." #427 is the Greek aneu, meaning "without." #2288 is thanatos, a word seen in Note {1} foregoing. In this article, a hyphen has been put after the prefix a to show its significance, as does Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon. 

{3} "Mortal" is the consistent translation of thnetos in its four appearances in the Septuagint. 

{4} Brotos does not appear in the New Testament. Its 17 uses in the Septuagint, translated mortal, mortal man, mortals, and men, are all in the book of Job. 

{5} The word a-thanasia was formed by prefixing "a [alpha] (as a negative particle)" to a modified form of thanatos, death. 

{6} The complete definition which both Young's Analytical Concordance and Strong's Greek Dictionary render for a-thanasia is "deathlessness." Early as well as modern translations obscure the Biblical meaning of im-mortality by showing "im-mortality" for Greek words of different meaning. 

{7} Oxford Unabridged Dictionary's primary definition of "liable" is: "1. Law. Bound or obliged by law or equity, or in accordance with a rule or convention; answerable; legally subject or amenable to." Its oldest use of the word related to this study is cited from the year 1682: "all would be liable to die, subject to powerful mortality." There is no question as to what condemned, mortal man is bound and obliged to do. It is to die (Hebrews 9:27) (See Strong's #2349 definition.) Man's inescapable response for sin is death; because of sin man is answerable to death. 

{8} Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, first edition (1843), predated the first edition of Strong's Concordance (1894) by 51 years. The definition of thnetos in its fifth edition (1864) -- "liable to death, mortal" -- is followed by the assertion, "The word [thnetos] can only be used of men yet alive" (italics by Liddell & Scott). This indicates that as a definition of thnetos, "liable to death" was written of people who would die but, not yet having done so, were still "liable to death" -- "the wages of sin is death." 

{9} "Death" is a noun; "die" is a verb. "Liable to death" speaks of the divine penalty for sin. A definition of "doom" in Oxford Unabridged Dictionary is "irrevocable destiny"; in Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary, 'something that is inevitably destined to befall." "Doomed" connects the meanings of "liable" and "mortal," one definition of the latter being "destined to die." 

{10} Oxford Unabridged Dictionary is the most exhaustive dictionary of the English language. The word "possible" is not used within its over 1000 word definition-discussion of "liable." Similarly, the word "liable" is not among the more than 1000 words in its definition of "possible." 

{11} Only here does the KJV and some other translations incorrectly render #936 and #2961 "kings" and "lords." 

{12} All appearances in KJV of mortal, im-mortality (deathlessness), and incorruption in the New Testament translate the writing of Paul. 

{13} Neither "mortality" or "im-mortal" appear in accurate translations of the New Testament Greek text. "Im-mortal," from a-phthartos, #862, should read "incorruptible" in 1 Timothy 1:17, as indicated by Strong's Greek Dictionary, Young's Literal Translation, Rotherham, ASR margin, Amplified, NWT; by Berry, Emphatic Diaglott and Marshall interlinears; and by Vine, Fausset, Henry Alford, and Adam Clarke commentaries. 

{14} The Greek phtheiro is from phthio, Strong #5351, verbs defined "(to pine or waste): properly to shrivel or wither, i.e., to spoil (by any process) or (genitive case) to ruin (especially figuratively by moral influences, to deprave)." The most-used word derived from the verb is the noun phthora, "corruption," "a bringing or being brought into an inferior or worse condition, a destruction or corruption." -- Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 

The two adjectives derived from the verb are phthartos and, with the prefix a ("as a negative particle"), a-phthartos. In a word, they mean, respectively, "decaying" and "undecaying (in essence or continuance)." Both are used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 -- "Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible." Uses of a-phthartos in Romans 1:23, 1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Peter 1:4, 23, 3:4, declare that God, His Word, the crown of the overcomer, the heavenly inheritance, etc., are undecaying, incorruptible. From a-phthartos is derived the noun a-phtharsia, Strong #861, "incorruptibility; genitive case unending existence; (figuratively) genuineness" (see further in Note 16). It is variously translated incorruption, im-mortality, and sincerity. -- Romans 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 53, 54, Ephesians 6:24; most texts end Titus 2:7 after "gravity." 

Other related nouns, with citations: diaphthora, "thorough decay" (dia, meaning "through," prefixed to phthora, seen above), is used five times, stated negatively, with reference to the dead human body of Jesus, and once to that of David, Acts 2:27, 31, 13:34-37. The noun a-phthoria, "uncorruptness, free from (moral) taint," is used only in Titus 2:7, and is similar in meaning to a-phtharsia (some texts read a-diaphthoria, "not thorough decay"). 

{15} The reward of "incorruption" is assured to both the dead and the living members of the faithful church. "This corruptible" that "must put on incorruption" refers to living believers who walk in the footsteps of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:10-12), daily presenting their bodies as a living and acceptable sacrifice to God, which is but a reasonable service (Romans 12:1). The body is corruptible (Greek, phthartos, Strong #5349, "liable to decay"{16} (Vines'sDictionary of New Testament Words). That is why, writing of the body "thou sowest," Paul affirmed that believers are 'sown in corruption," Greek, phthora (1 Corinthians 15:37,42, 50). Such statements are of living disciples, whose mortal, corruptible elements are incompatible with the heavenly kingdom inheritance (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53). Doubtless the Greek diaphthora would have been used if Paul had been writing of deceased believers{14}, who 'shall be raised incorruptible," Greek a-phthartos, "not liable to corruption or decay, incorruptible" (W E. Vine). Their awakening in incorruption means freedom from every moral taint or defilement. As seen under the 'strong's Definitions" subhead in this article, both Strong and Vine used "liable" in connection with something that was "doomed" to happen. 

{16} Three authorities (Strong, Young, and Thayer) do not list "immortality" or "im -mortal" as a definition for Strong's #861 or #862. The two lexicons which list Greek words not used in the New Testament (Liddell & Scott and Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich) do show "im-mortality" and "im-mortal" among their definitions for those Greek words. The former lists no Bible reference for either; the latter makes neither definition applicable to any Bible passage. 

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