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Note of the Day – November 6 (John 14:4-7)

John 14:4-7 (continued, v. 6)

In response to the disciples’ question in verse 5 regarding where Jesus is going (v. 4, cf. the previous day’s note), he answers with the declaration of verse 6, one of the most famous statements in the New Testament:

“Yeshua says [le/gei] to him {Thomas}, ‘I am [e)gw\ ei)mi] the way, and the truth and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not [i.e. except] through me.”

Both the statement in v. 4, and the question of v. 5, use the word o(do/$ (“way”) with an adverb/particle (of place) derived from the pronoun po/$ (“who/what/which”):

  • “the (place) which/where [o%pou] I am going…you have seen/known the way [o(do/$]” (v. 4)
  • “we have not seen/known what(ever place where) [pou=] you are going…how can we see/know the way [o(do/$]?” (v. 5)

It seems to suggest a specific location with a distinct path that leads to it (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 7:13-14 par). However, Jesus’ response in verse 6 makes clear that he himself (emphatic pronoun e)gw/, “I”) is the path or way (o(do/$). This point of emphasis is all the more solemn in its use of the pronoun + verb of being (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”), with its Johannine connotation of identifying Jesus with God the Father (YHWH). For other “I am” sayings of Jesus in John, cf. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 15:1, 5; 18:5; and note also the foreshadowing of the expression in 1:20ff; 3:28, and the distinctive use of the verb of being (ei)mi) in 1:1-15. Especially worth noting, is the parallel with 14:4-5 in 7:33ff, where Jesus says:

“(It is only) a little time yet (that) I am [ei)mi] with you, and I go away [u(pa/gw] toward the (one who) sent me. You will seek (for) me and you will not find [me], and the (place) where [o%pou] I am [ei)mi] you are not able to come (there).” (vv. 33-34)

There is an interesting parallelism within this saying:

  • ei)mi (“I am”)—Jesus’ presence with the people (i.e. his disciples)
    u(pa/gw (“I go under/away”)—his departure back to the Father
    o%pou (“the [place] where”)—where he is, with the Father
  • ei)mi (“I am”)—His presence with God the Father (1:1ff)

The statement that Jesus goes “toward” (pro/$) the Father is important, and the basic expression occurs numerous times in Gospel of John. In the prologue, the orientation of the eternal Word (Lo/go$) is toward (pro/$) God the Father (1:1-2), and the Son ultimately goes back toward Him (13:1, and throughout the Last Discourse). Similarly, the preposition is used for people (believers) who come to Jesus—toward him, toward the light, etc., as in 3:20-21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44-45, et al. It is only in coming toward the Son (Jesus), that is, by believing/trusting in him, that one is able to come toward the Father. This dynamic is not spelled out in detail, but the basic image in the Last Discourse is that Jesus will return (future eschatology) to bring believers with him to the Father (14:3; 17:24, etc). However, at the same time, in a different sense (‘realized’ eschatology), the Father (with the Son) is already present with believers, residing in them (14:23, etc). Both aspects are found in chapter 14, and both should be understood as relating to the idea of Jesus as the way to the Father. That he is the only way was expressed already in the parable/illustration of the shepherd and sheep-fold in chapter 10 (vv. 1-5)—Jesus is both the door leading into the sheepfold (vv. 7-9) and the shepherd who guides the sheep into the fold (vv. 11-16). Something of the same image of the door is certainly implied in 14:6, since Jesus speaks of believers as coming to the Father through (dia/) him.

The motif of the way (o(do/$) was extremely important in the earliest Christian tradition, though, without the book of Acts, this fact would have been almost completely lost to us. One of the earliest names or labels for Christians and Christianity was, collectively, “the Way” (o( o(do/$)—cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. This is perhaps the most distinctive and precise parallel between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), since both referred to themselves this way. Both traditions would seem to derive from an interpretation of (and identification with) Isaiah 40:3ff, which, in combination with Mal 3:1ff, would be associated with the early Gospel traditions regarding John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—cf. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4; Jn 1:23. For Isa 40:3 and the religious identity of the Qumran Community, cf. especially the ‘Community Rule’ [1QS] 8:12-16.

Jesus’ declaration in Jn 14:6 expands upon the identification of Jesus with “the way”:

“I am the way, and the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the life [zwh/]…”

Both words are important and occur frequently in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John. Probably here they are best understood as epexegetical, qualifying and characterizing Jesus as the Way—i.e., the “way of truth“, “way of life“—though certainly they can also be viewed as separate (related) “I am” declarations. For the idea of a way leading to life, see Gen 3:24; Psalm 16:11; Prov 6:23; 15:24; 16:17, as well as Jer 21:8 (also Ezek 3:18; 13:22) which prefigures Matt 7:14 and the “Two Ways” religious-ethical tradition that developed in early Christianity (Didache 1-6; Barnabas 18-21). Similarly, the “way of truth” has its background in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—cf. Psalm 86:11; 119:30; Tob 1:3; Wisdom 5:6; 1QS 4:15-16, etc.; the expression is found in 2 Pet 2:2 (cf. also v. 15). The Gospel message is called the “way of salvation” in Acts 16:17; cf. also 18:25-26. There is an echo of Jn 14:6 in the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Truth (mid-2nd century?):

“This is the gospel of the one who is searched for, which was revealed to the ones who are perfect through the mercies of the Father—the hidden mystery, Jesus, the Christ. Through it he enlightened those who were in darkness. Out of oblivion he enlightened them, he showed (them) a way. And the way is the truth which he taught them.” (translation G. W. MacRae in the Nag Hammadi Library [NHL], ed. James M. Robinson)

Here we see one of the clearest differences between the Gospel of John and the Gnosticism of the 2nd century A.D. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus himself (i.e. the person of Christ, the Son) is the way. By contrast, in the ‘Gospel of Truth’, the way is the gospel (message), the revelation of truth which Jesus brings to the Elect (believers). This is a seemingly small, but very significant difference, and it thoroughly colors how one understands “knowledge” (gnw=si$) from a Christian (and Christological standpoint). The emphasis on knowledge will be addressed in relation to the final verse (14:7) to be discussed here, in the next day’s note.

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