This is the question we all come back eventually don’t we? Is belief in Jesus as the Son of God the only way to God/ Heaven/Salvation?
This is the primary and cornerstone verse for Christianity that so boldly claims that Christianity is the ONLY true religion, that there are no other religions that can lead to salvation, and that only through Jesus can one go to heaven / not go to hell.
I found myself in a debate with a good friend regarding this verse and it got me thinking about the exclusivity of Jesus again. I realized how little this verse now means to me. Not because I don’t care about Jesus or salvation, but because I don’t stress/carry/burden myself with extremist views such as these anymore. This made me realize how far I’ve removed myself from religion and unlearned myself the religious dogma that I so eagerly accepted and learned most of my life.
But let’s step back a bit…
As a Christian for most of my life I believed this verse unequivocally. No questions asked. Only now do I see that interpreting this verse in such a way (that only Jesus can lead to salvation) condemns the rest of the world to hell. This makes Christianity the most arrogant religion out there. Ahh yes but there’s so many counter arguments for this “arrogance” statement isn’t there. After all I was the one defending this verse with white knuckles. I know them well.
- How can the truth be arrogant? If it’s he truth its the truth and you can’t change that? I don’t say believing in gravity is arrogant do I?
- Jesus doesn’t force this on anyone and his salvation remains free of “deeds”. His salvation is a gift, but a gift still needs to be received, and you receive with an open hand outstretched.
- Spiritually there is no higher being and regard for the person of Jesus. All submit to him. He is the way. The only way.
But to be honest, deep inside this verse always bothered me. This verse meant death and suffering in hell for so many people. Good people. Honorable people. People that I loved, respected, honored are now going to spend a lifetime in suffering hell just because they don’t believe/ interpret one verse in the entire bible differently?
So lets look at the actual and main/only verse that claims Jesus is the only way to salvation and discuss a few alternative possibilities of what this verse can mean. For clarity the discussion is not whether or not Jesus leads to salvation, no. The debatable topic is whether Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation. So all those verses you may be thinking about where the writer mentions Jesus leading to salvation, being the gate, loved the world so much, sacrificed all so we can have life, etc. They do not apply because they do not EXCLUSIVELY name Jesus as the only way (therefore excluding any and all other ways) but name him as A way. Only John 14:6 exclusively calls Jesus the ONLY way.
So, back at the beginning of John chapter fourteen, Jesus says,
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Now we have reached the crucial verse five in which Thomas asks Jesus,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
So Jesus says to him,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
In this famous, or infamous John 14:6, Jesus is answering Thomas’ question. And Thomas’ question is not “Jesus, are all non-Christians going to hell?”
Context, context, context.
- Background: Jesus is talking privately to His disciples and preparing them for his departure.
- Who is Jesus talking to: His disciples
- Who were his disciples: Young men from various backgrounds, all Jewish.
- Jesus is answering a specific question asked: Thomas is asking how he/they will know “the way” when Jesus leaves them.
The answer is clear, Jesus is saying to Thomas and his 12 very close believers that they must see/believe in Him as the way, truth and life. Only then will they find they’re way to God. Jesus’ statement about being the way, the truth, and the life is a response to a question by Christians, and Jesus’ answer is directed to Christians and is about Christians.
Reading the verse with the above in mind how on earth did we think it possible to apply the verse to ALL HUMANITY? Jesus is providing the only way, truth and life FOR HIS DISCIPLES. Applying bible verses universally to all humanity is dangerous and then at least there needs to be consistency of this application through-out the entire bible right. If John 14:6 applies to all humanity then there are plenty of other verses that currently Christians DO NOT apply universally to all humanity. This one comes to mind:
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission – 1 Cor 4:34”
But its interesting how the above verse gets analyzed and applied to only the specific group the letter was written to/ group being addressed. How is this different than John 14:6?
Christian theologian Wesley Ariarajah writes that,
When my daughter tells me I’m the best daddy in the world, and there can be no other father like me, she is speaking the truth, for this comes out of her experience. She is honest about it; she knows no other person in the role of her father. But of course it is not true in another sense. For one thing, I myself know friends who, I think, are better fathers than I am. Even more importantly, one should be aware that in the next house there is another little girl who also thinks her daddy is the best father in the world. And she too is right. In fact as the level of the way the two children relate to their two fathers, no one can compare the truth content of the statements of the two girls. For here we are not dealing with the absolute truths, but with the language of faith and love. …
The language of the Bible is also the language of faith….The problem begins when we take these confessions in the language of faith and love and turn them into absolute truths. It becomes much more serious when we turn them into truths on the basis of which we begin to measure the truth or otherwise of other faith claims. My daughter cannot say to her little friend in the next house that there is no way she can have the best father, for the best one is right there in her house. If she does, we’ll have to dismiss it as child-talk!
In my experience, the claim that Christianity holds sufficient truth for salvation does not mean that it has to hold that truth exclusively. This revelation became particularly real for me when I realized other spiritual leaders I’ve studied ( Mohatma Ghandhi (a Hindu) and Thich Nhat Hanh (a Buddhist), Krishna Murti, come closer to the Jesus truth, the Jesus way, and the Jesus life than most of the Christians I know.
Two quotes I really hold close are:
“Defined by Jesus, not confined to Jesus.” – Theologian Huston
“I walk the Christ-path into the mystery of God, but I do not believe that God is a Christian.” – Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong