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The God Squad: What did Jesus mean in John 14:6?

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Periodically when I refer to my favorite metaphor about interfaith harmony, which is the idea that there are many paths up the mountain to God, I receive comments like this one from R in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I know you are familiar with the story. Jesus was addressing his disciples, and he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know where I am going. Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me’” (John 14:1-6, RSV). Jesus could not have been more clear as to Who God is, and how to live with Him forever. This is why accepting Christ as one’s Lord and Savior is so crucial, especially at this time in the history of humankind. To know God, one must ask Christ’s Holy Spirit into your heart, and commune spirit to Spirit as we live (hopefully) according to God’s leading. Thank you for considering this letter. May God continue to wonderfully bless you.

A: Thank you, dear R, for the sincerity of your faith and the humility of your question. I understand deeply that perhaps the most vexing question for Christians is the question of why the people who knew Jesus best because he was one of them did not accept him as the Christ – the messiah? As a Jew I do not have to answer any questions about Christianity in order to be Jewish. We preceded and followed the time of Jesus. However, every Christian must understand their relationship to Judaism because their Messiah was a Jew and yet for some reason his own people do not accept his messianic claims.

The first answer that may surprise you is that in the writings of Paul it is clearly stated that the Jews are saved by their covenant with God and Jesus did nothing to abrogate that covenant (Galatians 3:15-18),

“Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”

 

So, however deep is the need of non-Jews to accept Jesus as the Christ, that need does not apply to the Jews who were saved and who are saved by the promise of God’s original covenant with Abraham – the first Jew.

The second point about John 14 is that even if Jesus is necessary for salvation it is not at all clear what Jesus meant by “No one comes to the Father but by me.” It could be that Christianity is correct that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were necessary to atone for the sin of Adam. What is not at all clear is that people have to acknowledge this truth. I do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but it is possible that despite my rejection of that fundamental Christian belief I am saved anyway by the sacrificial death of Jesus. In the words of the theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984) I may be an “anonymous Christian”. I do not believe this, but I am grateful for Rahner’s attempt to resolve the problem of Christian exclusivism raided by John 14.

Dear R, we have to decide if we can bridge our theological differences and work together to bring the words of God into our broken world. Continuing to claim that there is only one path up the mountain to God only weakens the bonds of interfaith harmony. Let me prayerfully ask, can you not see that our world needs people of faith to come together now? Even if you are right that there is just one path, can’t you wait a bit for us to get up the mountain together and there under the wings of God’s protecting and gracious love, we can all be given the truth together?

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)

©2024 The God Squad. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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