The Way, the Truth, and the Life – Part 1
“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.
As soon as I saw that you had published a new post, I resolved that I wasn’t going to comment, but darnit if this one isn’t like raw meat dangled in front of a dog….
So, you’ve said nothing in particular that I can disagree with so far (and I love to disagree with people), but one obvious question remains: Is Jesus’ position as Christ unique? Is he the only incarnation of the Logos? Obviously it would be possible – at least in theory – for Christ’s Divine nature (being infinite) to unite itself with more than one human nature, but where does this leave those of us who have chosen to place our faith in Jesus as the fullest possible expression of God’s self-revelation? If you admit the possibility – or even the probability – of “other Christs”, I’d be interested to know who fits the bill.
On another note, I sometimes get a kick out of the tags that people attach to their posts. I’m curious to know why you tagged this one “Bhakti Yoga”. I didn’t see any reference to Bhakti Yoga, unless you mean to say something about cultivating devotion.
I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts, as always, Chuck. 🙂
Chuck – I apologize for my lack of attention to your point. I just reread the post and I see that you are saying that Christ is present in all people – it just happens that Jesus attained a higher “realization” of that truth than most.
You wrote: “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.”
I grant that Christ is mysteriously present in all people –
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). The “brethren” Jesus refers to here is not his followers, but it’s the poor, the downtrodden, those sick and in prison – i.e. those in whom we would perhaps be least likely to recognize Christ.
Still, it seems that the uniqueness of Jesus is something that is central to New Testament revelation – whatever may be said of higher criticism, etc. One does not need to hold to a verbal plenary view of the inspiration of Scripture (I’m not sure that I do) in order to think that Jesus is the Christ in a unique sense. So, how do you deal with all of the NT verses that seem to make the specifically “Jesusian” (if I can make that a word) incarnation of Christ central to Christian life?
Hope you weren’t put off by my comment about the dog and the red meat. I wasn’t planning to attack you in any way, I just enjoy a juicy theological argument. 🙂
Seth, I was confident you would catch the point about the Logos in all. 🙂 Also, your comment was not the least off-putting. In fact, I chuckled because I share your enthusiasm. Regarding the Bhakti Yoga tag, you’re onto something! 😉 More to come. About the term “Jesusian,” in *The Political Teachings of Jesus*, Tod Lindberg uses it to distinguish a category of ethical teachings that can be ascribed to Jesus that are not, in Lindberg’s view, primarily about his role as a spiritual savior, or even necessarily about being right with God, though the connections, particularly with the latter, seem impossible to entirely avoid. But I digress, and I will respond to your last question in my response to Steve. 🙂
Is Jesus the only Christ, or are we all called to be Christs as our circumstance and ability allows?
“and to reach out to others who see things in a similar way”
I’m with you. Thank you!
My personal view is that Jesus was perhaps “dipped in a different batter” than the rest of us humans. I think that his human nature was (is) much different than what we experience. In that sense we are never able to “be” Christs. There is a larger and eternal mystery of Christ which Jesus personified.
St. Paul often talks about being “in Christ” and “putting on Christ”. In Paul’s case his conversion was a revelation and represented his awakening to the fact that: “All belongs to you, you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”(Cor. 3:22-23) Perhaps that’s why Jesus said that no one could come to the Father except through him.
That does leave the very thorny issue about what happens to everyone else. I’m inclined to think that the Roman Church’s view of this problem was incomplete or incorrect. But, who am I to say anyway? I’m willing to accept the very gray areas along with the clear cut ones.
I have always had a problem with the exclusionary practices of most Christians. However, once the conversion experience has been established, these issues probably become less and less important and ultimately of no consequence. It’s at that point we will be able to speak with authority on these matters. In the meantime, I just love the speculation!
Hi Steve and others,
First, to all, it’s wonderful to see the mutual respect for the fact that we are discussing *mysteries*. That humility coupled with agape is beautiful. It’s good to find kindred spirits and like-minded souls at least in those ways, if not others. Shawn, and all, it’s a pleasure to walk beside you. 🙂
Seth rightly raised the issue of Scriptural criticism and interpretation. My current view is that the Bible mixes revelation with personal understandings that have varying degrees of clarity and accuracy; that both the revelations and the personal understandings are often in metaphor; that both are often laced with multiple meanings; and that both are often nearly impossible to discern from each other. In a sense, I suspect we *need* it to be this mysterious; it has more potential to speak to each of us as we have ears to hear. As a mystic, I trust the Still Small Voice to guide me through contemplation, and I do my best to respond to it with a well informed intellect and a commitment to openness, honesty, integrity and, above all, love. This is part of what it means to me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, to prove the will of God, and to think of myself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to me (Romans 12:1-3).
As to our potential to *be* Christs, or to as fully realize the Logos within ourselves “as circumstance and ability allows”, I’ll address that a bit more in part 2. Right now, I’ll just say that in this theology we all have the one Logos within, or rather that we are all of the one Logos. It’s simply apparent that we differ in the degrees to which it is realized and manifested by us, yet I cannot ignore that Jesus said his disciples would go on to do greater things than even he had done, and I don’t think that is limited to the Apostles.
Regarding the uniqueness of Jesus – even if 90% of what we know about Jesus is a fabricated myth (and I don’t believe it is that high), I won’t write it off to mere happenstance that he came into the world at the right place and time, and with the right words and actions, to become the keystone for a tremendously (and arguably the single most) significant social and spiritual movement in history. To me that suggests there were and are some very special metaphysics at work. With this understanding, out of all the avatars, seers, saints and sages in history, to profess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is to acknowledge the story of the man we call “Jesus” as the one I find most compelling, and that it led me to know the spirit of Christ, the Logos, as my primary guide. Finally, I don’t think that once a person professes Christianity all other options are then off the table, such that to follow or even convert to another tradition is to be shunned by God. I hear the spirit of Christ repeatedly telling me that God doesn’t play favorites. Yes, I’m a universalist.
Thanks for your words Chuck. I greatly enjoy reading your posts as I do all of the others who come by to share their wisdom and experience.
It is truly fortunate and “mysterious” that all of us are kindred spirits and share the same hunger for the Truth.
May God guide us from this moment as He always has and always will while we gaze upon this vast expanse of no-path and set our courses.
Very interesting thoughts expressed on this site. Most are very similar to my own. The discussion of Jesus being the Truth and the Way and as being the only path to God is particularly interesting to me because that has been the one area where I have not been able to figure out what was really meant. I have always thought that Jesus could not have meant that to mean one must first declare him and lord and savior and if they don’t they head off to hell. That is definitely not consistant with the God that I know. Also, that would make him sound like a regular egocentric guy, at least to me. Besides he said he came here to serve, not to be served. So I have thought there must be more to it than how it is typically interpreted and what Chuck has writting not only makes sense to me it just has a ring of “truth” to it. It is my belief that Jesus is “savior”, and that he represents God in man. I believe this not because the Bible says so, although that was a starting point, but because of experiences I have had. He sorta came out of nowhere to me, totally unexpected, during a prolonged and rather painful search. So I am thinking that he meant that one WILL find him on your quest or way for the Truth. He’s there inside and individual circumstances (the search) can apparently make him “known” to one. The question I have, and apparently others, is he the only manifestation of the “logos”. He was for me and is apparently for many or most others but is he for all or is the logos in a different form for people of different cultures and/or backgrounds? Is that why we have so many different religions? Is the Bhuddah another logos manifestation? Just curious about what others think.
I wanted to raise a question to see where everyone stood on the issue of the crucifixion and resurrection. If we all possess the Logos, and Jesus was the only one (or one of the only ones) fully aware of the Logos within Himself, then I guess you are saying that the only way to the Father is to become aware of the Logos within ourselves like He did. But then what is the significance of His death and resurrection? These aren’t events that can be just tossed out. They are forshadowed throughout the Old Testament, and a major part of the New Testament is obviously devoted to these events as well. If we are quoting from the gospels, we can’t ignore that all four gospels climax with the story of His death and resurrection. So if salvation is attained through finding the Logos within ourselves, then what was the point of those events. By the way, I’m not trying to start an argument with anyone, I would just like to know where everyone stands on these topics. I am constantly searching for Truth, and everytime I find it, it changes shades in a new light. With Jesus, I know the answer is there, but I’ve struggled with where the answer lies; in the red letters or in the crimson fountain. In the words of Life or in the coming back to Life. I have met Christian mystics who hold the death and resurrection as THE essential mysteries, and I have met others who say it’s not even necessarry to believe in them.
Jerry, that was an intriguing comment, one that I just can’t leave alone. I think I’m a bit on the “orthodox” side of things when I say that I do believe that the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ are essential Christian mysteries revealed to very few to “know” and even fewer to speak about.
As I understand it, the traditional view of “Christian Salvation” is our ultimate transformation into Christ. And Christ’s incarnation is God’s revelation to man of our ultimate oneness with God. The center of this oneness being in the Logos as opposed to our human nature.
In the resurrection Christ reveals to us the true nature of our body, in that our “apparent” perception of the body is not the reality or “Truth” of the matter. Christ is risen in a different (glorified) state. For Roman Catholics, as I am, we somehow mysteriously experience this “dance” between form and matter or matter and form when we participate in the Eucharist.
While this is impossible for me to fathom, it has for me anyway, become a matter of faith and trust as opposed to merely a belief. While it all seems so far-fetched to me, sometimes I pretend to be a child again, believing it all, falling into it and resting there.
In any case I think that is the significance of the resurrection for Christianity.
As far as other religions and traditions are concerned, I do believe there is revealtion in all of them. What we cannot comprehend on our own must, of necessity, be revealed to us by God. If there is Truth in it we must embrace it and keep going. What makes Christianity different and unique is the belief in the Trinitarian nature of God. I think it also makes Christianity “almost” impossibly difficult.
“…but I’ve struggled with where the answer lies; in the red letters or in the crimson fountain.”
I don’t know why we would make that an either/or proposition. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock….” and “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Blood is mentioned 447 times in the King James version of the Bible; 101 times in the New Testament alone. Granted, not every mention is a direct reference to Jesus’ blood – sometimes it’s a reference to the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of the prophets, blood money, etc. Still, as uncomfortable as this discussion will make some people, blood is a significant symbol in the NT. Don’t forget perhaps the most famous use of blood in Christian religion: in the cup offered at a table inscribed with the words “Do this in remembrance of me.”
I’ll be honest I haven’t read all of the responses, but Thank you, Thank you, Chuck for writing this post!! I absolutely love it and the responses I’ve read thus far. I will get to all of them, just no time now. You make my head spin, weeeeeeeeeee!!
There are so many worthwhile things to discuss and questions to ponder! I admit it’s tempting for me to jump into discussion of the mysteries of the crucifixion and resurrection, but it seems too big a task for me to do it much justice here. Further discussion is welcome here, but perhaps this would make a good topic of discussion in the forum? Anyone care to start that up? If so, feel free to copy and paste some of the comments here to get it started. For now I’ll just say that I know there are many angles of interpretation and understanding, and I think all of them have value. It’s more important to me to explore the value of each with the counsel of the Holy Spirit and loving companions than it is to make a doctrinal ruling, and I sense many others are of the same mind. It’s a blessing, at least in my estimation, that there is such willingness to share and be at least tolerant of different views. 🙂
Note: Shawn has continued this discussion here: The Death and Resurrection of Christ
I teach a college course on the World’s Religions and have struggled with the uniqueness of Jesus. A thought that came to me recently is that what happened with Jesus’ death and resurrection was the breaking of the power of KARMA. All actions have a consequence and most religions see this consequence as continuing after our physical death on “planet earth”. What if, because of Jesus, the human, Christ the Logos, we no longer have to suffer the consequences of our KARMA?
Hi Pamela, and welcome! I am going to copy and paste your interesting comment into the group discussion: The Death and Resurrection of Christ.
We are little Christs.