Daily Bible Nugget #469, John 17:3

The Nugget:

John 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 

My Comment:

John 17:3 is a striking statement near the very beginning of the longest recorded prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a most misunderstood verse by those who follow false religions, including the Jehovah Witnesses and the Moslems. These two groups are anti-Trinitarian so they choose this text to prove that Jesus, praying to His Father, called His Father the “only true God,” thus excluding Himself and so denying that He, Himself, is God.

This is the ancient Arian heresy now dressed up in modern garb, as if such arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity have never been answered. However, as I made a search of this site, apparently I have never discussed John 17:3 here before. Well, it is time for me to discuss and carefully explain it, so here it comes!

First of all, Jehovah Witnesses make much of this verse, focusing upon the idea that to receive eternal life we must know the Father, the only true God. They focus upon “knowledge” as a matter of being properly taught information in an intellectual sense. Perhaps that is why they are so diligent in providing literature to supposedly help their members and the public understand the Bible more accurately.

This is actually a mistaken understanding of what Jesus prayed for. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible gets it right when it translates the word “know” here as “get to know.” The emphasis is upon knowing a person as in a personal relationship, not merely knowing about someone. If the intended emphasis had been to know accurately, another form of the word in Greek would have been used here, but it is not. I suspect the last thing the Jehovah Witnesses would want to teach is the subject of knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, for they do not believe in being “saved,” and they do not believe anyone can be “born again” (John 3:7) today.

The issue Jesus is addressing has to do with knowing Him in the sense of a personal relationship, as may be seen clearly by what Jesus said in answer to Philip:

Joh 14:6  Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 

Joh 14:7  If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 

Joh 14:8  Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 

Joh 14:9  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? 


When Jesus prayed, “that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” does Jesus necessarily exclude Himself from being “the only true God”?  Muslims and Jehovah Witnesses say “Yes.” Knowledgeable Christians who understand the Scriptures say “No.”

Daniel Waterland (Works, Vol. 2, p. 427) has it right when he writes: “[T]he giving the name sometimes to one singly, is no argument that the same name may not also justly belong to both together. On the contrary, it is certain, that if both are joined in the same one common Godhead, either of them singly has a  right to be called the one God, not excluding the other from the same right.”

Waterland turns the tables on those who would misuse John 17:3. He states, clarifying Novatian’s assertion, that “when our Lord said, ‘They might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,’ his joining himself to the Father in that manner shews that he must be God also. The strength of his argument lies only in the conjunction and: there are but two constructions of it; either thus, Know thee, and also know Jesus Christ, (according to which there is nothing like an argument, at least not according to Novatian), or else thus, Thee the only true God, and also Jesus Christ. Thus indeed the text does afford an argument of Christ’s being God, and only God too. For it comes  to this, that the Father, and also Christ, is the only true God.”

John, author of the Gospel of John, makes a similar statement about Jesus Christ in his first letter:

1 John 5:20  And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

Daniel Waterland makes a very significant observation about 1 John 5:20, stating “And I have not yet met with so much as one ancient writer that ever understood those words in 1 John 5:20 of God the Father.” He refers to the words, “This is the true God” as a reference to our Lord Jesus Christ being directly called “the true God.”

This entry was posted in Apologetics Issues--Other Faiths, Daily Bible Nuggets, Doctrinal Discussions, False Religions, How to Study the Bible and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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