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."
A pluralistic interpretation of John 14:6 by a Unitarian:
"UUs" are members of congregations affiliated with
the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). In the past,
the term "Unitarian" meant a Christian who rejected
the idea of the Trinity and who believed, as do Jews
and Muslims, that God is an indivisible unity. Many
religious conservatives still use this definition to refer to UUs. In reality,
fewer than 15% of UU's still regard themselves as Christians; most identify
themselves as Humanists.
One Unitarian using the penname of "Fausto"
commented on his/her understanding of John 14:6.
"That verse from the Gospel of John is taken by many Christians and
non-Christians alike as a defining boundary between Us and Them, an
insurmountable barrier to common acceptance and understanding. I suspect,
although it is rarely discussed in UU circles, it may be near the center of
many UUs' aversion to Christianity: if we can find glimpses of truth in many
traditions and cultures, how can we affirm one that denies all the others?
Yet John 14:6 doesn't need to be a wall, even though many Christians do
indeed understand it that way, and therefore unwittingly use it that way. I
would argue that to read it that way is a misunderstanding.
Fausto suggests that the "whole premise of the gospel of John" is to develop
an association between the Jewish idea of God and the Greek concept of divine
Logos (Word). John saw:
"... that the "God of Israel" was merely one culture's limited
apprehension of a universal divinity that was in fact available to all
peoples, but also that the same divinity had already been apprehended
outside the Jewish tradition, by peoples the Jews considered "Gentiles" or
"John perceived, in particular, that in the Jewish figure of Jesus was also
a manifestation of the Logos recognized by the Greeks ... Hence John wrote
(at 1:14): "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us". The rest of
the Gospel is an embellishment of that idea, a portrayal of Jesus as an
embodiment of that humanly accessible, cross-culturally inclusive,
manifestation of the Hellenic idea of divine Logos.
"Where John (at 14:6) portrays Jesus as saying "I am the Way, the Truth, and
the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through me," it would be a
misinterpretation to understand those to be the verbatim words of Jesus,
decreeing eternally as the one true God of Israel, that the only way to
escape an eternity of burning torment in the afterlife is strict adherence
to a set of abstruse doctrines about himself that would not even be defined
until hundreds of years later by politically charged conferences of fallible
men. Rather, it is John's attempt to illustrate Jesus' identity with the
divine Logos, which the Greek philosophers believed to be present
everywhere. When Jesus speaks in John's Gospel, he speaks on behalf of the
universal Logos. John is saying that Logos is the Way, the Truth, the Life,
and if you would know the Father, the God of Israel, then also get to know
Now, John himself was only concerned with reconciling Hellenic and Jewish
apprehensions of divinity. He was writing only for Jewish and Greek
audiences, not Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Taoist, or Native American
ones. But as the influence of his writing spreads beyond his original
audiences, I think we must apply his original attitude of inclusivity and
commonality of apprehension to analogous new circumstances. We should not
allow what he intended as a dissolution of barriers and fusion of disparate
understanding to be used to erect new barriers instead.
What does John 14:6 mean today, then? I think this: If you would know not
only the God of Israel, but if you would also know Brahman, if you would
know the Tao, if you would know Ahura Mazda, if you would know Wakan Tanka,
then know also that like the God of Israel, despite similar cultural
differences, they too are in essence one with the Logos of the Greek
philosophers, the Christ of the Christians." 3
Brahman is the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Absolute Reality in
Hinduism. The Tao is the ultimate principle of the
universe in Taoism. Ahura Mazda is the name of God in
Zoroastrianism. Wakan Tanka is the name given to "Great Mystery" -- often translated as
the Great Spirit -- among the Lakota, Nakota, or Dakota nations.
Fausto later comments on a reader's posting:
"To read 14:6 superficially is to court exclusivity and raise barriers;
it sanctifies those who are within the "club" and dehumanizes those who are
not, and at its extreme it leads to Crusades and
Holocausts. However, as Jesus said, a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.
Since the verse is so close to the core of Christian faith, and since a
superficial reading seems so clearly (at least to us nonconformists) to bear
bad fruit, then either it must have another, truer meaning, or it reveals
all of Christian tradition to be a bad tree.
I may not agree with sizable chunks of orthodox Christian doctrine, but I
don't want to call all of Christianity a bad tree. For one thing, it is the
tradition that produced our own denomination and bequeathed to us our own
ideals. For another, no other religion has produced such a clear vision of
those ideals -- including radical forgiveness, reconciliation, humility,
service, charity, compassion, and justice -- as Christianity's concepts of
"grace" and "the Kingdom of God".
The hyperlinks below were used to prepare the
above essay, but are not necessarily still valid today.