Today I will hold a Bible study in my house church about the first half of John 14, which of course includes Jesus’ famous line “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v. 6). Now, there’s been a lot of debate about this verse recently here in Sweden. Bishops in the theologically liberal Lutheran church have had a hard time accepting that Jesus really is the only way to God, and so they have used various techniques to explain away Jn 14:6 – all of which are examples of horrible eisegesis.
1. He didn’t say He’s the only way
This argument has been used by the current archbishop of the Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén. It doesn’t make any sense. Jesus explicitly says that no one comes to the Father except through Him – how could that not mean that He’s the only way? In fact, as Jesus says that he is the way that in itself shows that He’s the only way, otherwise He would have said a way.
2. Jesus is the way just for us Christians
There is no way this is what Jesus and the early Christians meant. The command to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:18-20) clearly asserts that Christianity is the only true religion. As the apostles encounter various different believers in the book of Acts they always evangelize and try to bring them into the church.
Even in the Gospel of John itself it’s evident that Jesus thinks that salvation is only available in Him: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Jn 3:18) “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (Jn 14:9, 11).
3. Jesus’ disciples made Jn 14:6 up
Yes, bishops have indeed argued for this over here. They say that since the Gospel of John is late and written in a context of Christians being expelled from the synagogues, Jn 14:6 rather reflects the views of Christians of that time rather than those of Jesus. But the exclusivity of Jesus has always been a Christian doctrine, Paul’s early letters say that only faith in Jesus saves (Rom 10:9), that those who fall asleep in Him will rise again (1 Thess 4:14) and that every knee will bow before Him (Phil 2:6-12), the latter probably being a hymn that predates Paul.
Then we have the other Gospels that proclaim Jesus’ exclusivity (Mk 8:34-38, Mt 10:33, etc) and the simple fact that bishops, along with all other Christians, are supposed to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). It’s sad to see them deny their Lord and abstain from evangelizing, but we who still take Jesus and the apostles seriously just have to gear up and start evangelizing to them.