What did Jesus mean by
saying, ‘I am the way.’?

 

George Desnoyers

 


In John 14:6 the author of the Gospel of John wrote, “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” (KJV)

 

Jesus’ words in John 14:6 are often cited as “proof” that one must be a Christian in order to be saved.  Sometimes the person will quote only the words, “I am the way,” to make the same point.

 

To use Jesus’ words in John 14:6 in the above way is an abuse of scripture.  The words are being used outside of their original context in the Gospel of John, and are being interpreted erroneously.  To understand what Jesus meant by the words reported in the verse, one ought to look closely at the surrounding verses.  Here is John 14:1-12 (KJV):

 

1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

11: Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

 

Notice that the four words, “I am the way,” are the very beginning of Jesus answer to a question from Thomas.  Thomas said (verse 5) “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”  In modern English Thomas’ question is, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way to go there?”

 

Note that Thomas asked his question immediately after Jesus had said (verse 4), “You know where I’m going, and you know the way to go there.”  So, Thomas, by asking the question of verse 5 was doing two things: first, denying the truth of what Jesus had just said, and second, asking Jesus to tell him [Thomas] more clearly where Jesus was going and how Thomas could go there too.

 

Obviously, Jesus words of John 14:6 did NOT mean that Thomas had to be a Christian to be saved.  Christianity, the religion about Christ, had not been invented yet.  Jesus’ religion was Judaism.

 

In Jesus’ four words, the accent should not be placed on the “I,” but on the “am.”  In answering Thomas, Jesus is not saying “I am the way,” but “I AM the way.”  In other words, Jesus is telling Thomas that Thomas should know the way, NOT from any words Jesus might tell him, but rather by Thomas' own observations of Jesus’ deeds.  Jesus is saying, “You’ve been with me, Thomas, and watched me.  You know how I’ve lived.  You know how I’ve put others first.  You know how I love others, and the importance I place on caring for them.  Live as I have.  The way is not something I can TELL you.  I AM the way.”

 

Jesus’ words, "I am the way,” therefore, do NOT mean one has to nominally be a Christian, i.e., be a Christian in name, to go where Jesus is going, to Jesus’ Father.  What it means is that one needs to follow the example which Jesus set during his life on earth.  One must live a life of love and compassion for others as Jesus did.

 

It isn’t whether you call yourself a Christian, or whether others call you a Christian.  It isn’t the church you go to, or even whether you go to a church at all.  What’s important is whether you live Jesus’ kind of life, a life of love and compassion for others.

 

A Jewish person could live a live of love and compassion for others.  We can be sure of that, because Jesus was Jewish.  But an Islamist could do it, too.  A Hindu could do it.  A Buddhist could do it.  A secular humanist could do it.  An atheist could do it.  A Democrat or Republican could do it.  A communist or capitalist could do it.  It’s NOT what you call yourself or what you’re called.  It’s how you live, whether you love, the kind of works you perform, the things you say and do.

 

To confirm that Jesus' words in John 14:6 are telling us that it is the kind of life we live that is important, look at the rest of the passage, verses 7-12.

 

In verse 7, Jesus continues his mild rebuke of Thomas: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.”  Thomas’ observation of Jesus’ works should have shown Thomas not only the kind of person Jesus was, but also the kind of person Jesus’ Father [God] is.

 

In verse 8, Philip asks a follow-up question: “Philip saith unto him, ‘Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.’”

 

Then Jesus answered Philip, also with a mild rebuke, telling Philip that he too should have found it sufficient to have observed Jesus’ manner of life.  In verses 9-10, we read: “Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”

 

Note how the passage closes (verses 11-12): “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

 

Could Jesus have made it any clearer?  It is the kind of life we live, the love we show and the works we perform, that counts.  It’s whether our lives are like Jesus’ life.  It is NOT what creedal words we recite or what church we attend (if any).  When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” he meant that his life, his example in words and deeds, has shown us the way we should live.

 

 

 

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