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  • Writer's picturewakehadley

How Do We Make Sense of John 14:6 in Our Modern Society?

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As I grew up in the Christian tradition, I LOVED these words. They brought me so much comfort and hope. After all, this verse unequivocally declares that anyone who follows Jesus will eventually be led into the presence of God. And I knew I was following Jesus.

But then I started to become friends with people outside of my religious tradition, and all sorts of troubling questions rushed into my mind:

-What does God think about someone who is an atheist, who spends their whole life feeding the hungry, providing care for the poor, visiting people in prison, and clothing the naked?

-Does God allow Jewish people into heaven, who believe the majority of (what my tradition told me was) the Bible, or does God turn Their back on them because they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus?

-When a Muslim prays, “Dear Allah…” does God plug Their ears because the Muslim did not begin their prayer with, “Dear Jesus…”?

And when I asked these questions to elders in my tradition, the most common answer that came back was that, while all of these people were still God’s children, NONE of them were on a path that would lead them to encounter or experience God. Some even went so far as to say there was no way that anyone outside of Christianity would be permitted into heaven.

And when I asked how they knew these things to be true, the answer would, almost always, come back to John 14:6, when Jesus said that the only road to God was through the belief in Jesus.

In my lifetime, I have found that many Christians use John 14:6 as a line in the sand.

You’re either in with God by way of belief in Jesus,

or you are entirely out of God’s good graces.

And whenever Christians start drawing lines in the sand,

even when quoting verses as well-known as John 14:6,

they are always shrinking the love of God.

To discuss John 14:6, I want to approach it from five different vantage points. We’ll start with broad strokes about theology, and then continually zoom-in until we are left with only the words of John 14:6.

Vantage Point 1-Big, Rational Thoughts about God

We must always remember:

God is more generous, inclusive, and forgiving than any one human being can hope to be.

Which means anyone following God will become more generous, inclusive, and forgiving.

The reason John 14:6 troubles so many of us today is because we intuitively know it leads us in the opposite direction of this gracious God, and instead leads us to believe that God is petty, exclusive, and angry.

Vantage Point 2-Jesus Christ’s Relationship with All Religions

The nature of God is paradoxical. God is both transcendent and intimate. God is both specific and universal. God is both particular and ubiquitous.

The Christian tradition acknowledges this reality with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Jesus refers to the humanity of Jesus Christ, while Christ refers to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

And so, while Jesus lived for about 30 years in 1st century Palestine,

every human being has interacted with and known God (or, as Christians would say, “the Christ”) from the beginning of time.

This means that God was just as present on Calvary

as God was present in the Cave of Hira

as God was present during the reign of King Josiah

as God was present during the Buddha’s enlightment

as God was present in the Indus River Valley when the initial ideas of Hinduism were formed

as God was present when Kesha wrote, “Hymn” in 2017.

And if we truly believe in the theology of Jesus Christ

then that belief will always lead us into deeper appreciation for other religions

and a deeper appreciation for our own.

Vantage Point 3-Jesus Christ’s Relationship with All Four Gospels

The Gospel of Mark was written sometime around 70 CE, followed by the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke being composed around 85 CE, followed by the Gospel of John being finished sometime around the year 100 CE.

While these books were bound together in the New Testament 200-300 years later,

we must always remember that these books were written with the intent

to be stand-alone biographies about Jesus.

I point this out, because while some would say John 14:6 is foundational to Christian belief, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, do not mention that Jesus ever said these words.

Which means that…

  1. …they were unaware Jesus said this.

  2. …they were aware Jesus said this, but chose not to include it.

  3. …the claim that Jesus said this was disputed, so they chose not to include it.

  4. …Jesus never actually said this.

While we don’t know for sure which of the four options listed above is correct, one thing we do know for sure is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, felt the story of Jesus was complete without Jesus ever saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

In other words, 75% of the Gospel writers did not feel that what Jesus said in John 14:6 was essential to telling the story of Jesus.

So it’s OK if you don’t think this teaching is essential to the story of Jesus too.

Vantage Point 4-Jesus’ speech in John 13-17

The Gospel of John is 21 chapters long. FIVE of those chapters (24% of John’s Gospel) are one speech that Jesus gives to his twelve disciples at the last supper, right before his execution.

In that speech, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

But Jesus also says, “In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you?” (14:2)

Which raises the question, “Why do we so frequently hear from Christians about the only way to the Father being through Jesus, and not the MANY dwelling places that are in heaven?”

If we emphasized John 14:2 over John 14:6, then we would be a more generous, inclusive, and forgiving people, which (as we discussed earlier) is where God is always leading us.

I point all of this out because human beings, particularly in regards to religion, tend to emphasize that which is frightening over that which is generous.

Vantage Point 5-John 14:6

When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Christians often interpret it to say, “(Correct beliefs about me are) the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (correct beliefs).”


“(Participating in one specific religion is) the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (this one specific religion).”


“(Whatever the person quoting me says is) the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (obeying the person who is quoting me).”

For me, I interpret Jesus’ words to be:

“(The experience of the Christ is) the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (the experience of the Christ).”

And what is the “Experience of the Christ”?

Well, when you look at all four Gospels, the authors disagree on a number of things,

but there are some stories in which all four authors agree, “This story is essential to telling the larger story of Jesus.”

They are:

  1. Jesus’ baptism by John

  2. The feeding of the multitudes

  3. The anointing of Jesus by a woman

  4. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem

  5. The last supper

  6. The garden of Gethsemane

  7. The execution of Jesus

  8. The resurrection of Jesus

These stories, contain the Christ experience for me. In these stories, the Christ lives, affirms humanity, feeds the hungry, eradicates discrimination, brings peace, doubts, is betrayed, and dies.

But the Christ does not allow death to have the last word.

For me, this is the way, the truth, and the life,

and I have found there is no way to encounter God

without going through these things.


  1. This blog post is adapted from a larger sermon I wrote entitled, “But What about the Way, the Truth, and the Life?” You can watch the sermon here.

  2. Richard Rohr was the first person I encountered who highlighted the theology of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend his book, “The Universal Christ” on this topic if you want to read more.

  3. While I have heard multiple people interpret Jesus’ words in John 14:6 as applying to the experience of Christ. I most recently heard about it in Peter Enns’ book “Curveball” which I also highly recommend.

  4. Thank you to David and Becky Crees for asking a question that sparked this entire conversation.

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