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John 14:6

Exclusivist interpretations

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Reminder:

John 14:6: in the King James Version is translated as: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

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Exclusivist interpretations by fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians:

In the past, most conservative Protestants have promoted the belief in religious exclusivity: that Christianity in its conservative Protestant form is the only true and valid religion. From their interpretation of the Bible, they conclude that personal salvation and the attainment of heaven after death is only available to those who have first trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Of the over 90% of the human race who are either:

bulletRoman Catholics, or
bulletOrthodox Christians, or
bulletOther Christians who have never been saved, or
bulletPersons who follow other religions,

the vast majority will end up being tortured for eternity in Hell after death.

John 14:6 is perhaps the most frequently verse that evangelicals have cited to support this belief.

bulletWell known evangelical, John MacArthur, comments:

"In the New Testament, the message is equally clear. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). ... Again and again, Scripture stresses that Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation for the world. ... Only Christ can atone for sin, and therefore only Christ can provide salvation. 5

bulletJames Burton Coffman comments:

"Another of the great 'I am's' of John, this is one of the profoundest teachings ever uttered. It presents Jesus as the unique means of access to God. ... As the way, Jesus is the answer to man's sin; as the truth, he is the answer to man's ignorance; and as the life, he is the answer to man's mortality.

"Man is constitutionally ignorant, endemically wicked, and irrevocably mortal ... There is no book logic to refute or uphold these contentions, only the logic of life ... Man is not delivered from his lower life by his own power but remains helpless without the Great Companion."

"Jesus is the way. Apart from him there is no solution of the problem of sin. ... In trying to find out how to live, men try to evaluate and compare various concepts and systems, and by deduction hope to find what is best; but the universal experience of humanity has demonstrated that whatever of the good, the pure and the beautiful that men have discovered - all of it derived from him who is the way. The sin problem is solved only in Christ. He alone reveals man's sin, ransoms him from the tyranny of it, removes him from the practice of it, remits it, and even overrules it for his benefit - provided only and always that the sinner must yield himself to the Lord and walk in his way; for he is the way." 7

bulletPatrick Henry comments:

"Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; that is,

  1. He is the beginning, the middle, and the end. In him we must set out, go on, and finish. As the truth, he is the guide of our way; as the life, he is the end of it.
  2. He is the true and living way (Heb. 10:20); there are truth and life in the way, as well as at the end of it.
  3. He is the true way to life, the only true way; other ways may seem right, but the end of them is the way of death. ..."

"Fallen man must come to God as a Judge, but cannot come to him as a Father, otherwise than by Christ as Mediator. We cannot perform the duty of coming to God, by repentance and the acts of worship, without the Spirit and grace of Christ, nor obtain the happiness of coming to God as our Father without his merit and righteousness; he is the high priest of our profession, our advocate." 8

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Biblical support for exclusivism:

Support for an exclusivist interpretation of John 14:6 can be found in other biblical passages.

bullet1 Timothy 2:5 states that Jesus is the "one mediator" between God and humanity.
bulletActs 4:12 says that there is "no other name" by which persons can be saved.
bulletJohn 1:14 describes Jesus as the "only begotten Son of God"
bullet1 Corinthians 15:21-22  explains that just as all died in one man, Adam, so all will be brought to life in one man, Christ
bulletHebrews 9:12 states that what took place in Christ was "once and for all".

The Baháí  Library Online describes a summary of these verses as interpreted by exclusivists:

"Jesus Christ is the one name under heaven by which all must be saved, that the cross of Jesus Christ is the universal means of salvation, that Jesus is the unique incarnation of the divine, that the Christian revelation gives definitive access to the divine." 9 (Emphasis ours)

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A change in the evangelical position:

In recent years, many evangelical theologians have abandoned the exclusive view of other religions in favor of an inclusive position. This asserts that non-Christian religions contain some truths, in spite of their many errors and inadequacies when compared to Christianity. They believe that it may be possible for some individual members of other religions to be saved and spend eternity in Heaven.

Exclusivist and inclusivist Evangelicals still generally believe that their version of Christianity is the only one which possesses the complete truth.

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References used:

The hyperlinks below were used to prepare the above essay, but are not necessarily still valid today.

  1. Wallace D. Wattles, "Jesus: The Man And His Work," at: http://www.rgveda.com/
  2. Other biblical translations are available at: http://www.biblegateway.com/
  3. "Fausto," "Reinterpreting John 14:6" Socinian Blogspot, at: http://socinian.blogspot.com/2005/09/reinterpreting-john-146.html
  4. Brian McLaren, "A reading of John 14:6," at: http://www.brianmclaren.net/
  5. John MacArthur, "Brian McLaren and the Clarity of Scripture, Part 4," Grace to You, at: http://www.gty.org/
  6. Matthew J. Slick, "Is Christianity the One True Religion?," Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry CARM), 2005-2008, at: http://www.carm.org/questions/onlytrue.htm
  7. James Burton Coffman, "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament: John 14," at: http://www.searchgodsword.org/
  8. Patrick Henry, "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, John 14, at: http://www.searchgodsword.org/
  9. Seena Fazel, "Understanding Exclusivist Texts," Baháí Library Online, at: http://www.bahai-library.org/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2008-MAY-13
Latest update: 2008-MAY-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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