Dwelling place: the way

 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.

In vv.6-11 we have the explanation the disciples seek.  In v.6 there is a shift from the “where” (as in , “where you are going” – to the way to get there (“how can we known the way”). In response to this shift Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life.” This statement contains the sixth of seven ‘I am’ sayings with predicates in the Fourth Gospel (6:35, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5). Fundamental to Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question was that Jesus himself is the way (and it this context that Jesus is the truth and the life seem to be supporting statements).

Within Judaism, “the way” denotes the life-styles of the “wise” – those who live in accordance with the teachings of the sages (Prov 28:2,20).  In the Psalms the “way” describes a life lived in accordance with the will and desire of God.  Within this context, O’Day makes two interesting notes on these verses:

This is the heart of the good news for the Fourth Evangelist, that in Jesus, the incarnate word, the Son of God, one can see and know God in a manner never before possible. (743)

In many ways, John 14:6 is both truism and tautology, because, following John 1:18, it is indeed only through the incarnation that the identity of God as Father is revealed. John 14:6 is not a general metaphysical statement about ‘God’; Jesus does not say ‘No one comes to God except through me,’ but ‘No one comes to the Father except through me,’ and the specificity of that theological nomenclature needs to be taken seriously. John 14:6 is the very concrete and specific affirmation of a faith community about the God who is known to them because of the incarnation. . . . ‘God’ is not a generic deity here; God is the One whom the disciples come to recognize in the life and death of Jesus. When Jesus says ‘no one,’ he means ‘none of you.’ In John 14:6, then, Jesus defines God for his disciples; the Fourth Evangelist defines God for the members of his faith community. (744)

Did that last quote give you pause? O’Day’s assertion that “no one” means “none of you” is only that – an assertion. The expression in Greek (oudeis) in fact means “no one” or “nothing” [EDNT 2:541] and is rather absolute in use and meaning. Also, given the larger theological context of John 14 (as pointed out above by Fr. Brown), the context is not as simple as revealing only one “aspect” of God, namely God as Father.  The relation is highly Trinitarian and thus points to the fullness of God.

O’Day goes on to assert that these verses (vv.6-7) are simply a joyous affirmation of a particular religious community, in a particular place and time in history, and was the means of defining themselves – who are in fact a minority within their own time and place. She asks the question of the verse “No one comes to the Father except through me”: is this a firm ontological statement that admits of no exceptions – e.g., a 21st century Muslim would find a different way to God, but not to the Father – or is it simply a statement of what we Christians believe?

This topic is called the “scandal of particularism.”  In short, the scandal (that which causes people to stumble) is stated as: Would God really have uniquely picked Israel, and its fulfillment in Christianity, as the one and only particular way to achieve salvation?  Some answer – “for Christians, yes; for others, who knows?” The Catholic Church proclaims Christ as the sole and unique savior for all and strongly rejects any idea that Christ is one among many others – i.e., the Church rejects, Jesus for Christians and some other person/name for others faiths. Since 2006 at least three catholic theologians have been censured for writing texts that the Church authorities held to espouse another doctrinal position.


Notes

John 14:4 the way: here, of Jesus himself; also a designation of Christianity in Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. The word “way” (hodos) carries the same variability of meanings: a road, geographical direction, the means to get somewhere, obtain something, etc.

John 14:6 the truth and the life: He is also the way to God because he is the truth: he brought the truth of God into the world (1:14, 17; 8:32, 40, 45–46; 14:6; 18:37), proclaiming it and embodying it. Therefore, when people come to Jesus, they come to the one in whom the truth about the Father is found. Jesus is also the way to the Father because he is the life. In various ways the Fourth Gospel speaks of Jesus as ‘the life’. In 1:4 we are told, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men,’ and in 5:26 Jesus says, ‘as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself’. In 6:33, 35, 48, 51 Jesus speaks of himself as the ‘bread of life’, and in 11:25 he says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ All these texts reflect the fact that the life of God was found in Jesus. Therefore, when people come to Jesus they come to the one in whom the life of the Father is found, and in this sense also Jesus is the way to the Father.

Sources

  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29b in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 617-36
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 739-46
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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