This pit thread, around pages 5 and 6, evolved into a discussion of the interpretation of the following biblical verse:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6)
I had always thought this was Christ saying that He Himself must be worshipped, in order to get to heaven.
Others in the thread favored the interpretation that is simply means one must emulate Christ in order to go to heaven.
I admitted that it sounded like that interpretation was at least possible, but now I find other verses that seem to support my oriignal interpretation:
“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)
In any case, what I’m really interested in is the thoughts of those who have studies the earliest versions of Bible, and what they feel the verse means based on their knowledge of the language it was written in. Does anybody know if there is a consesus among biblical scholars what this means?
I’m not a Christian, so my interest in this is merely academic.
The ‘exclusivist’ interpretation is essentially correct- Jesus spoke of Himself as the Middleman between God & humanity, the Doorman, the Bouncer, the only Way to God. Othertimes tho He emphasized being good to other people & focusing on God as the way to Eternal Life. How do I reconcile these? Those who know about JC & are able to trust Him & yet reject Him as Lord & Savior will “die in their sins/perish”. Many who do not know JC yet live in grace & compassion & devoutness & gratitude will arrive in Heaven to find that it was JC incognito who was the source of their “saving grace”. And even those who have perished/died in their sins for rejecting JC may well have opportunity to recognize Him & thus reconcile to God through Him.
I’m a Evangelical Inclusivist, Hopeful Universalist.
I’m not a Biblical scholar by any means, but here’s what I think.
God is kind of a difficult person to get to know. He (I use that pronoun strictly out of habit, and, I suppose, convenience) is omniscient, omnipotent, transcendant and eternal, perceives the whole universe of time and space in one timeless instant, is infinitely wise, infinitely just, and infinitely complex … If you accept the doctrine of the Trinity (not all Christians do), you have to believe that God is a remote and ineffable Creator, and an omnipresent, invisible, but very real force in the here and now, and a dead Jewish philosopher … all at the same time. I suspect that getting your head round that little lot is only practice for trying to comprehend the true nature of God.
Basically, it isn’t possible for mortal, temporal, intellectually limited human beings to understand the immortal, eternal, boundless nature of God … without help. If we assume that God wants us to come to an understanding of Him, and to be with Him … then God has to help us.
This, to me, is the point of the Incarnation. It’s God meeting us half-way. It’s God taking on all the frailties and limitations of our mortal lives, and explaining to us, as far as we can understand it, how things are meant to be. Jesus Christ is the name by which Christians know that aspect of God which is reaching out to help us to know Him. And, if you are searching for God - no matter how you’re searching (and I believe there are followers of other religions, and none, who are truly seeking the truth of existence) - then the first thing you’ll find is that aspect of Him … the part that’s searching for you.
Christ is not the bouncer at the door to God. Christ is the door. Christian belief is one way to reach it … but God is all-loving and all-merciful, and He will not turn away anyone who seeks Him, no matter what path they’re on. We have His assurance: “Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.”
God loves us and wants us to love Him. Exclusivity doesn’t enter into it.
But if that path does not have Christ at the door, then how can it lead to God? In fact, Matthew 7:14 and Luke 13:24 both say that the gate to God is narrow, and that very few find it. This suggests that it’s not true that any path will lead to God, so long as someone is seeking him.
No one says it has to be easy … in fact, people seem to agree that religion, in both the mystical sense (getting closer to an understanding of the fundamental truths behind existence) and the moral sense (working out how to treat the people around us decently), is pretty darn difficult. (One of the few things people do tend to agree on, when it comes to religion ;).)
But the difficulty, I think, is intrinsic to the process … it’s not a matter of “easy if you follow the right set of rules, impossible if you pick the wrong ones”. There’s no magical “one right answer” that means you’ve got it right … faith is hard. Any faith. (At least, I know I find it difficult … but my faith, at the end of the day, is in a God of love, who will not condemn people for honest mistakes or failure to follow a narrow set of rules. The way may be narrow, but the rules aren’t.)
(If it isn’t clear, I should, perhaps, point out that this is a personal statement of faith and interpretation … I don’t know if my viewpoint has any, as it were, official endorsement. All I can say, really, is that it works for me.)
Unfortunately, the bible doesn’t give a clear answer. The early Christians were not a unified group who all believed the same thing, and amoung the early Christians this was a huge matter of debate.
Some Christians believe that salvation is pre-determined and that it doesn’t matter what beliefs or works we do. Or, that grace is what determines salvation. Since grace is given to us by God at God’s discression, we can not control it.
Other Christians believe that faith is the only way to God.
Other Christians believe that work alone is responsible
1 Peter 1:17
Or others believe a combination of work and faith.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Now to look at Matthew 7:14
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
What is “the gate” in this passage? Perhaps the “doing unto others”, certainly a rare quality. Also, the quality of truly “seeking after God” is quite rare. I might also see it as a funnel- a lot of stuff can fit into a funnel but by the time it’s ready to go through the spigot, it must be constricted a lot. If it’s a solid, it must be reduced by a lot. Multitudes may be seeking God by a variety of paths, but eventually will come to Jesus Christ, the Door, and can only enter through Him. I believe that many may well face this prospect in the afterlife & that multitudes of Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, etc. who never even considered Christianity as a real option may at first be a bit alarmed & confused but will then take it as a happy & amusing surprise as they surrender to & embrace Jesus as Lord & Savior. Scripture indicates there may even be much in Christian believers that will have to be burned away upon entering Eternal Life- I Corinthians 3:
13. Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Such is the destruction of “the broad way”.
I think you will find that most scholars of Early Christianity don’t take much of John’s gospel to be actual things Jesus said. (See for instance The Five Gospels in which a large group of respected scholars vote on which sayings are authentic.) The main problem is that Jesus doesn’t say things like this in the other Gospels, or in other early Christian writings. These speeches “sound like John”, rather than Jesus. (And by “John” I mean the author of the Gospel, not the disciple: they were certainly not the same person.)
As far as what it actually means, that seems pretty clear from the next verses:
Jesus, for John, is the one link between humans and God. As has been noted already, other Christians had other opinions.
• Jesus of Nazareth might (theoretically) have said, meant, and believed that no one could know God except as a consequence of worshipping him, Jesus, and accepting him as God, etc. If so, Jesus was wrong. It ain’t so.
• My general read on the entire context of Jesus and what he had to say has long since led me to believe that in statements like this Jesus is using his personal self as a metaphor for the things he is “about”, in much the same way that someone might say “You can’t really provide quality education to young children except through Montessori”. In the latter case, we would not interpret the speaker to mean that young children cannot be educated unless Signor Montessori himself, in person, is invoked and involved in the process — if pressed to think about it, we would not even assume the speaker meant that one must even know of this Montessori fellow’s existence, insofar as it’s always possible that some other person could come up with the same insights and essentially formulate the “Montessori method”. It is in that sense that I think Jesus of Nazareth said “I am the way, and the truth and the light; no man comes before God except through me”. Jesus of Nazareth, as you may recall, said love your neighbor as yourself, even your hateful neighbor who isn’t loving you in return; share what you have, even with those who will not be paying you back, and don’t keep track of who did and who didn’t; forgive those who mistreat you, multiple times over, and don’t expect thanks or favors for having forgiven; and don’t do all these things to impress your community with what a holy man you are, either". That is what constitutes the way, the truth, and the light, and you shall not be one with God apart from that. He who taught these things was not the kind of egomaniac who insists on his self-importance as an individual personality.
• For the sake of the willfully literally-minded who really don’t like that interpretation, umm, it is hypothetically possible that Jesus of Nazareth meant that only those he swallowed whole and caused to enter into his Holy Belly, their sins perhaps being washed in the hydrochloric acid of Christ, thenceforth to be transported by peristalsis through the coils of his intestine and bathed in the bile and pancreatic trypsin, amylopsin, and steapsin of the Lamb, and finally evacuated from the bowels of the Savior can truly say that they candidates for coming face to face with God, having sought to arrive before him through the Lord Jesus Christ. But I doubt it, and, again, if that’s what he meant, I’d say he’s wrong.
I posted the following in response to the original Pit rant earlier today. Hopefully it’ll copy over clearly here:
Context, as has often been said, is everything.
This is, undeniably, a valid Scripture passage. It’s taken from Psalm 14:2b, and is something quoted to me by a skeptical friend a while ago. In context, of course, it’s what “the fool sayeth in his heart.”
So what’s the context of “No one comes to the Father except by me”? And, please note, Revtim to the contrary, there is not one word about “worship” in that passage.
Well, it’s part of the Maundy Thursday discourse in John. Jesus and the Twelve have just had dinner, with the sharing of the bread and the cup that led to the Eucharist, and Jesus is expecting to get arrested that night, or is at least aware that He’s put matters in motion that will lead to the climax of His ministry – we cannot be sure exactly how much He knew ahead of time, thanks to the kenosis that left Him only partially aware of His fate.
But here’s the context:
In short, the whole thing is about Jesus having compassion on his followers, whom John (like the other Evangelists) depicts as something like dolts. He knows what’s down the pike for Him, and for them as well – and He is dealing with their misunderstandings of it.
Peter is claiming that he will follow Jesus anywhere – and Jesus says, “Nope. Before dawn tomorrow you’ll deny me three times. But don’t sweat it – I have got everything under control.”
If Jesus is going away, as He’s said, Thomas wants to know the way He’s going. I hear this as Thomas thinking Jesus is talking metaphor again – “the Way” as some mystical, Zen concept that Jesus is trying to get across to His followers.
And Jesus says, in essence, “Chill out, Thomas. It’s cool – the Father loves you, and so do I. You don’t have to learn some mystical Way – I am the way to the Father. You know Me – so you know Him too. Follow Me – I am the Way that you need to know. I’m the truth you need to learn; I’m the life you need to live.”
To convert this into an exclusivist “If you don’t believe in the Nicene Creed, you’re damned” or “Give your life to Jesus” bit of theology is completely contrary to the context – the statement is part and parcel of the idea that Jesus’s Atonement brings man and God together, out of love by God for man. He understands us and has compassion on us. He is the way – not some satori insight but the person whom He is. Through His work man and God are reconciled.
Pull a verse out of context, and you can make it mean any damned thing you want it to mean – and the word “damned” is used advisably there. Jesus is trying to comfort Thomas with that statement. It’s His love that will make things all right – that will triumph over Caiphas and Herod and Pilate and death itself.
Obviously, this whole thing requires a response from us. But that’s the point behind the Holy Spirit being sent – and Jesus gets into this later in the same discourse. The Holy Spirit is supposed to guide people into the response that God wants from them individually – not a “one size fits all” altar call but the life that He expects, individually, of Polycarp and Siege and Aries28 and Gobear and Kalhoun and Revtim and Vanilla and you who read this. And it is one founded in the love that He bears for each person individually, and not the holding of a particular theological tenet or a particular act of repentance or contrition or whatever. It is the living of the particular life that He calls each person to.
This is more or less the take that Steve Wright seems to have placed on it, above. The question of what “by [or through] Me” means is IMO actually irrelevant to the discussion. He is the mode by which one gains access to the Father.
Not, be it noted, “accepting Him as one’s Lord and Savior” or “being baptized by a priest in the Apostolic Succession established by Him” or “being filled with the Holy Spirit” or any of the other interesting variations that assorted Christians of one stripe or another have placed on this. He doesn’t say “except by answering an altar call” or “except by repenting of your homosexual lifestyle” or “acclaiming Him as Lord and Savior” or any of the other variations on the theme. And, be it noted, this is part of the gospel of John – the one that begins with the concept that the Word of God through which the Universe was created became a human being as this Jesus of Nazareth, itinerant rabbi and Messiah. It doesn’t say you have to do thus and so – it doesn’t say anything about how one “comes to the Father through Him.” It says that He is the way to the Father. But that’s not just the historical figure – it’s the Eternal Son of God who loves all those whom He has called into existence. He loves Vanilla and me and Gobear and the late Representative Knight of California and Fred Phelps and Gaudere and Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft equally – and sees our foolishness and failure to grasp what He was driving at, and loves us anyway.
There’s a lot of stuff packed into that short passage – and one obvious example is the idea of “salvation.” The modern tendency to see that as a “Get out of Hell free” card is the last thing the original Gospel writers, working in Greek and perhaps Aramaic, would have meant. Compare what Latin salvus means – the context, outside late Church Latin, is not one of religion, but rather of health. If one is salvus, one is not suffering from ills, but has been healed of them. The idea under which “salvation” in the modern sense derives from this, much as “member” stopped meaning “finger or penis” and started meaning “person who belongs or an organization,” is that Christ heals of spiritual ills – makes one healthy and whole again – even from the power of death. (Which of course opens another can of worms about life after death, and I suspect we better not go there.)
But at rock bottom Jesus’s message, as conveyed by John, is that one need not fear the idea of trying to figure out what it is exactly that God wants – the Way that He expects you to follow – but rather to accept the gift that Jesus brings – God’s unconditional love for you – and to let Him work in you to heal and transform you into someone who can enjoy living forever.
I’ve read your post two or three times, and I admit I am having trouble understanding it. Perhaps some more concrete examples would be helpful.
For example, what precisely, do you mean by “accept the gift that Jesus brings”. What does a person have to do or feel to do that? Can, say, Jews, who do not believe Jesus was the messiah, ever do it, while sticking with the tenets of their faith, including the non-divinity of Jesus?
I see the problem. But I’m not sure how to confront it.
Most people, coming across this passage out of context, read it as an exclusionary doctrine. In order to “come to the Father,” you must fulfill the necessary criteria for becoming a Christian according to the particular church in question – accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, or be baptized according to a particular formula by someone eligible to do so, or have a conversion experience, or something.
But that is not what Jesus is saying. If you’ll remember, the Jewish community of the time had three main schools of thought on proper behavior vis-à-vis God: the Pharisees looked to do His will by fulfilling every jot and tittle of the Law, even constructing “fences” to ensure that they didn’t come close to violating its precepts. The Saduccees held to ritual purity – God could be placated by proper Temple worship, offering up the right sacrifices to keep Him in a good mood. And the Essenes looked to a mystical following of the Way of Righteousness, which one was supposed to grasp, apparently in a Zen-like satori, and then abide by.
Jesus’s principal teaching is that God is a loving Father, who cares deeply about His children, and will not willingly see any one of them perish – though He is wise enough not to force them to do His will. But like the Father of the Parable of the Prodigal, He will keep watch and welcome them back to Him as though they had never been gone. To be sure, like any Father, He expects certain behavior of His children – but for their own ultimate good, not out of some power trip that He is on. But that is very much secondary to Jesus’s main point – He alludes to it in the “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” passage a bit later, but it’s not the focus of the Message that He is trying to get across.
But “man creates God in his own image” – as has been wisely said. And the god whom they created was very much a legalist, or an Olympian deity hungry for sacrifice, or a distant entity whom one could encounter only through spiritual, mystical exercise. And that was Jesus’s point – He had been sent to restore the relationship of love between God and man. God is not a cosmic producer of Fear Factor, requiring the figurative eating of worms or balancing on a slippery surface in a simulated rainstorm to keep Him happy. He doesn’t require legalistic obedience, or sacrifice to atone for sin, or devotion of one’s life to meditation and prayer – He wants to love and to be loved.
Jesus’s job was to be the Atonement – the bridge that love builds between God’s heart and man’s. Not a Judge but a Judd. He is the truth that one must know to find God. His is the life that one must live to please God. And most importantly, He is the way by which God and man find their way back to each other.
But that does not mean that one needs to accept a doctrinal statement about Jesus’s life nor pray the Sinner’s Prayer or any of the other ways that we have found in the years since His earthly life to rebuild God once again in our own image. The eternal Son is the one that took human likeness in Jesus, and it is He who rebuilds that link, who bridges the gap between man and God. And He is accessible to all people – because He loves and has created them all. “He became as we are, in order that we might become as He is,” to quote an old and wise teaching of the Church.
It’s in the context that not through study of Torah or transcendental meditation or proper ritual or being “born again” in a revival altar call, but in His Atoning work, that that bridge is rebuilt, that you need to read this passage. He is not seeking worship or pledging of a formula or a particular style of baptism or any other human folderol – He is seeking to enter into a love relationship with man – as God, not as a particular human being who founded a particular religion.
It’s like asking what particular methodology one can use to keep one’s wife (or husband) happy – there’s not a particular methodology. How to keep one’s wife happy is to love her – if one does that, the rest falls into place naturally. One buys roses for her, not because the rules of etiquette demand it, but because one loves and wants to please her.
God wants your love and your trust. Not necessarily your adherence to a particular set of tenets concerning His nature, not necessarily your participation in a particular ritual which He is claimed to have prescribed – He wants you, the whole of you, body and soul, given to Him in love. And, as love has a way of doing, in giving all of oneself to another, one is not diminished but enriched immeasurably.
So, a person of the Jewish faith, who never converts to anything else, and dies never thinking of Jesus as anything but a rabbi who died 2000 years ago, goes to heaven? Assuming the Jew loved God.
How about an atheist, who dies not believing that God even exists, let alone came to Earth in a human disguise? The atheist is doomed, sounds like.
Also, I see your point about John 14:6 is Jesus comforting his disciples, but why would he say “no one comes to the Father, but by me” and not something like “since you know me, you will come to the father.” The way it’s written, seems to me, can only be an exclsuionary statement. If he meant something else, he wouldn’t have said it like that. (Or this is a muffed translation and he indeed didn’t say it like that)
Having no access to my Greek New Testament (it’s in storage five miles away) and without a commentary that deals with the original of this passage, I’ll have to defer to Diogenes or one of the other folks with a competent background here. The sole thing I remember is that the preposition is kata and no English preposition completely carries the right flavor for what the Greek for “by/through me” means. But I do know that the “flavor” of Greek is often imperfectly translated: take for example the passage that says that Mary did not (carnally) know her husband until she had brought forth her firstborn son. The English carries a strong sense that she did in fact engage in sex and have other children – the “until” and “firstborn” imply as much. But the Greek conjunction for which “until” is the best translation does not imply a perfective state – “up to that point and no further” as “until” does, and “firstborn” is the designation for the child who is the heir of the extra portion in Jewish culture (with its strong primogeniture) whether or not there are additional children. This got argued at length on a Christian board I’m part of with several Catholics pointing out (accurately) that the Greek original of that passage does not militate against their doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, as the English translation appears to do. So I concede that the English for the clause in question does sound exclusionary, despite its being placed in a clear context of compassionate wisdom – but I want to see the Greek for that verse and get a comment on its connotative sense before arguing this further.
As much as I like Polucarp’s interpretation, my trouble comes from the combination of the passage “no one comes to the Father but through me” and the doctrine of original sin. With original sin, there is a wall between man and God that man could not breach, a sin on all men that could not be forgiven. Christ was necessary for the forgiveness of that sin–He died to atone for the original sin of man, and so created a bridge between God and man. Each individual must still atone for his/her own sins, but, once they are brought into the community of Christ (baptism), original sin no longer prevents them from knowing God.
Without the concept of original sin, Polycarp’s interpretation makes sense, but what place/purpose then does original sin have in Christianity?
IIRC, Original Sin is not even mentioned in the Old Testament, but comes into play only in Romans & Corinthians, as mentioned by Paul. It seems to me that the entire idea of Original Sin depends on Paul’s writings:
But doubtless someone more scholarly and knowlegeable in this area will be along soon.