No one comes to the Father

“I am the way,” Jesus replied. “I am the truth and the life! You can only come to the Father through me.” 

John 14:6

When we read this verse, it triggers a whole landscape of thoughts, a whole edifice of ideas and explanations that are not even present in the verse.

What do we hear? And what could it also mean?

I am the way

For many, the beginning of the verse with “I am the way” will conjure up an image of two paths. The broad way and the narrow way, one of which leads to destruction, the other to the kingdom of heaven.

Another association, which goes a little deeper, is perhaps quite similar:

Train the boy in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it when he grows old!

Proverbs 22:6

This second verse is interesting in that it comes from Hebrew. Hebrew is related to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. The way of thinking is the same and so different from Greek thinking.

The word rendered “way” in most translations of Proverbs 22:6 is “derek”. The German translation Elberfelder translates the verse thus:

Train up the boy according to his nature; he will not depart from it, even when he grows old.

Proverbs 22:6

If we transfer this to our verse, we get something like:

I am the model, the pattern, the nature of man.

I am the truth

About truth. We immediately hear something in the sense of right and wrong, and find ourselves confirmed in the association with the first part with the two paths.

However, the word “aletheia”, which the Bible uses here and elsewhere in the New Testament, does not mean anything like this. It means “to not hold back, to not hide”. Let’s apply this to our verse:

I hold nothing back from you.

I am the life

Now we come to another association that can only be understood in the context of the line of thought we have taken with the verse so far.

The argument goes something like this: If we are talking here about the two ways, the broad way and the narrow way, and about the right way to live, then the next thing we are talking about is eternal life.

But “zoe” first of all means “life”. Outside the Bible, it emphasizes span of life and livelihood, but in the Bible it is used as an image for divine life.

In commentaries, divine life is described as eternal life, as the portion that does not die. The uncreated, incorruptible, indestructible, eternal life of God, the zoe life.

The use of the word “eternal” in the description makes the mental leap possible to make it the eternal life of every individual, and the thoughts around the beginning of the verse make it the conditional eternal life in heaven, which I attain if I walk in the right way and do the right thing.

None of that is written here.

“Zoe” also means “existence” or “way of life”. Although in our understanding the term “way of life” is immediately interpreted morally and filled with concepts such as right and wrong, it is initially value-free.

Applied to our verse, this could mean:

I am and embody the way of life.

No one comes to the Father except through me

With all the liberties we have already taken in our thoughts, all the interpretations we have already read into the text, it is now clear: “No one comes to the Father except through me” means that no one goes to heaven unless they know Jesus, have accepted him as Lord and now live a godly lifestyle.

But if we read the verse differently, a completely different picture emerges.

Let’s put it together. I am not saying that this interpretation is not just that – an interpretation. But in my opinion, it is freer from theological associations.

I am the model of human nature, I hold nothing back from you and embody the way of life for you.

Here, I no longer automatically arrive at this meaning for the rest of the verse.

Let’s add some theological thought to this. The Gospel of John emphasizes precisely the here and now and not life after death. The technical term is present-tense eschatology. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that John emphasizes that the kingdom is in our midst.

This gives rise to a new interpretation. Jesus is possibly saying that we can only come to an awareness of the Father here on earth if we follow his example, an example about which he holds nothing back.

Another interpretation is that we can very well live a divine life without Jesus’ example. Enoch did this before the Flood, Abraham before the Law and David under the Law.

But they could not arrive at an image of God as Father. This dimension was still hidden from them, but Jesus does not hold it back.

In summary, we can say that through the example of Jesus, who showed us the way to live without reservation, we can already recognize God as our Father here and now, which is not possible without his example.

But if we take a closer look at Jesus’ way of life, I would not say that it was primarily about law-abidingness. It was about relationship. It wasn’t about right or wrong. It was about love.

My associations

Jesus came into this world to show us how human life really works: to be yourself, to be true to your mission, uncompromising to the point of death.

Kazimierz Dabrowski shows us that very few people are themselves. Representatives of developmental psychology also say that most people do not reach stages such as self-authoring and self-transforming. We are talking about low single-digit percentages here.

Could this be the narrow path?

I am reminded of Robert Frost’s “The road not taken”.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.