The: Way, Truth, Life

John 14:6 is the text above all quoted by evangelical Christians for the necessity of going through Jesus to get to God.

6 Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

It is taken to mean rather as a road journey, where to get to B you must go through A: if you want to approach God, and if you want to know what God is like, then it has to be through Jesus, the exclusive gatekeeper.

It rather means something different.

The setting of chapter 14 is a rather artificial Farewell Discourse. In the presentation, Jesus is going away and will be back, yet without the triumph and victory that the resurrection meant in the synoptic gospels: the start of physical changes to the whole world. There they sealed who Jesus was, but in John he was this from the beginning. So the resurrection appearances were but continuous and spiritual: things are indeed becoming more heavenly, and less earthly.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The experiences of him present having ended, there will be the  second coming, but for a while it is as if he will not be there.

The community John wrote this for felt the same. If he is there (say in worship), it is not counted as the resurrection (which was distinct). So what to do without any understanding of presence, as a guide, before he is present again? One answer is he will have sent a paraclete or spirit, almost a replacement for Jesus:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

So Jesus is replaced, as such, by the Spirit of truth. This helps John the author underline that those other experiences called resurrection were of Jesus Christ, specifically. There is another answer too. It comes with Thomas' question:

5 Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?'


Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.'

In other words, they have of known Jesus, and if they know him (properly) then they will know God. They are assured that by knowing God, they will know him - Jesus. So, to emphasise:

From now on you do know him and have seen him.'

So how will they know they are on the right lines? They have a guide, certainly, not Jesus but another, but they also know now that through God they still know Jesus the guide.

Therefore it means:

6! Jesus meant, 'Know God and you know me. People find me when finding the Father.

It is rather the opposite way around from the usual use, and it is an example of Christian inclusivism.

It is also not trinitarian (persons, co-equality and co-eternity) because the helper is someone else, and Jesus is a guide but it is through the Father that he is a guide.

By way of further explanation:

This is a situation where the author is generating a parallel situation to the one being asked after traditions like Pentecost have been set. They are asking how they know Jesus the guide when he has been resurrected and gone, and is yet to come back. So as ever, the answer is by going back to authority, and using Jesus' name. The answer is a) God will be asked to send another to guide and b) in any case, knowing God as they do (reassures John) then you do know Jesus.

Put this way around, it becomes one of the most inclusive and not superior statements (rather a point I had missed - I'd set up the opposite and forgot to follow through with the resolution). So anyone who knows God will know Jesus. This is Christian inclusivism, using the very "gatekeeper" text often quoted for exclusivity.

Let's get very close to the text of verse 7:

If you know me, you will know my Father also.

So they have to know him, and often do not. But then something more certain:

From now on you do know him and have seen him.'

Which suggests a statement of assurance, that they do know God. Well if this is so, then the first if statement follows. It is this way around. The assurance is about God, but knowing God then activates the first if sentence. When Jesus is absent, they can rely on God.

The discourse is artificial because:

John's gospel is different with a pre-existent Christ talking. The Gospel of Thomas or Mary Magdalene are often said to be so different, and so is this one. Yet this raises questions of authenticity and artificiality of the synoptic gospels. In one sense, they are all artificial and all have claims to authenticity given the religious culture of the day.

A Positional Point:

Although my presentation is to suggest the text is Christian inclusivist and not Christian exclusivist, I am myself a pluralist. This means that religions make sense in their own terms (as do philosophies for living) and I am not suggesting sympathy with a view that a Hindu believer in God, for example, has necessary knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Hindu believer in God has the necessary knowledge only of what is important to him and her, in whatever form of Hinduism: that is, what constitutes that belief and practice. I do think that Christian inclusivism can become as arrogant as Christian exclusivism, if it insists on the necessity of one definition of belief, however gentle and even if it starts with God. The inclusive position has to be one from within the Christian language, not as a form of universalism outside it.

Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful


Drawing from my contributions to discussion boards on 30 and 31 December 2004