“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
For most Christians this quote is typically supposed, with others like John 3:16, to clarify beyond any doubt that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, was the one and only incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and from that point forward is the only guide we should trust to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Such quotes have been regarded as divine declarations that Christianity is the one and only religion acceptable to God, which has in turn been wrongly considered as justification for every form of disregard, condescension, discrimination, and cruelty against non-Christians.
But is that the only way we can understand this statement? Are there other ways of understanding Jesus’ words that make theological sense and also harmonize more completely with the message that God’s love is for all (Acts 10:34-36, Romans 2:11)?
Yes, there are such ways to understand this and other passages dealing with the divinity of Jesus, and they can make a profound difference in how we live our faith and relate to other human beings. I am about to dive into one of those views and I caution the reader that it may be challenging to your beliefs. Please understand it is not my intention to dissuade anyone from the common view, but instead to present an option for those who are interested, and to reach out to others who see things in a similar way.
The view presently offered begins by noting that the original Greek of the first chapter of the Gospel of John identifies Jesus as an incarnation of the Logos, which is usually translated into English New Testaments as “Word”. Logos literally means “word”, “speech”, or “reason”, but long before the time of Jesus it had become a philosophical term, especially among the Platonists and Stoics, referring to the rational spiritual principle emanated directly from the One to animate material existence. In this role, the Logos serves as God’s “only begotten son”, the cosmic architect and intermediary between heaven and earth.
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
The Gospel of John’s view is remarkably similar to Philo the Jew of Alexandria’s identification of the Logos as the “Angel of the Lord”, or God’s messenger as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Although Philo’s work was largely unacceptable to Jews of the times, early Christian theologians found much to admire in it. Philo’s life (approx. 20 BCE to 50 CE) closely predated the Pauline Epistles (approx. 50-60 CE) and the Gospel of John (approx. 85-90 CE), and the ideas and language in these texts is at times so strikingly similar to Philo’s that some scholars have suspected more than a coincidental relationship, perhaps much more. In any case, it remains that early Christians equated certain Jewish ideas about a messiah with Greek ideas of the Logos, and saw them embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they therefore honored with the Greek title equivalent to Messiah, “Xristos”, meaning “the anointed one”. A highly significant point in making this connection is that the Logos was considered inherently present in all creatures, which is also to say that Christ is present in all people, whether they realize it or not.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
So Christ is the Logos, the rational animating principle of Spirit that is the bridge between heaven and earth, present in every human being, even those who lived before Jesus, those who have never heard his name, and those who never consider him their savior. The simple fact that someone exists is proof of the Logos present and active within that person. The uniqueness of Jesus is therefore not in being an incarnation of the Logos, but in being the most celebrated exemplar of one who has fully awakened to himself as an incarnation of the Logos.
From this perspective, when Jesus speaks about being the only way to the Father, he is not speaking of himself as a historical figure with whom one must be acquainted in order to be with God; he is instead speaking on behalf of the Logos that can be recognized and embraced as God’s presence in each of us, its precious unique manifestations. The Logos is the life in our own bodies, the spiritual Breath breathed into us by God that makes us one with God, the Inner Light of mind that makes it possible to realize the depth and fullness of “I am”.
Therefore Jesus said to them, When ye have araised man’s Son, then ye shall know, that I am, and of myself I do nothing; but as my Father taught me, I speak these things. (This is the Wycliffe translation of John 8:28, which remains faithful to the original Greek text and does not add “Him,” “He” or anything else after “I am.”)
In Part 2 we’ll look more closely into Jesus’ message about knowing the Logos as the Way to realize union with God.