John G. Kelley Jr. and the Rev. Randall Mimbs have stirred up a Christian storm. What does John 14:6 really mean? “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Does that mean people who are not Christians will be damned? How about our close Jewish friends? How about all the millions of Hindus and Buddhists, and all those who believe in Taoism and Sikhism and Baha’i? Will they all be damned because they have not become Christians? We’re talking about billions of people each year. Come on!
But John’s gospel seems to say just that to many Christians, and certainly to the Rev. Mimbs, but not to Mr. Kelley. Read the whole Chapter 14. John has Jesus saying this over and over again in many different ways. For John, Jesus is the only means of getting to the Father. No doubt about it.
I remember one of my seminary professors taking us through John’s gospel and explaining it this way: “Well, people can believe in Christ indirectly; that is, if they follow their conscience, they’re following Christ.” That seemed much too easy at the time.
For me, the real issue has always been John’s gospel itself. Scholars say it was written around the year 110 C.E., by one or several Christians who used the familiar Apostolic name of John to lend acceptance. It certainly doesn’t follow the plot-line laid out in Mark and followed by Matthew and Luke. It is truly unique. John’s theme is direct and simple: Jesus is God, just believe it.
John begins his gospel with the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning,” and proceeds to have Jesus right there creating the world. Throughout every page of his gospel, Jesus and God (or the Father) are synonymous. Jesus and the Father are one! The three synoptics never say that. They refer to Jesus as the son of God like David, or the son of man like the book of Daniel (Mark 14:52), or the Messiah. They gradually give him god-like qualities like the Romans gave to their emperor, but they never say Jesus was Yahweh. Why not?
Because a Jew would never say that. For the Jews, there is only one God: Yahweh. And Jesus could never be Yahweh. The three synoptic gospels are very Jewish and would never make that heretical mistake no matter how much they loved the hero of their gospels. So why does John make this claim on nearly every page?
First, let’s acknowledge the improbability of John finding these “divine” quotes of Jesus after 70 years of time have passed and the three earlier evangelists have missed them completely. Unless God whispered into the ears of these “John-authors” (which I cannot in good conscience buy), these “words of Jesus” were never spoken by Jesus himself, nor could they have been — since Jesus was himself a very good Jew (even if he was, as John claims, God.) So where do they come from?
Here is where I part company with many of my good Christian friends. They firmly believe that every word in the New Testament is literally true just the way it is written. When it says: “Jesus said …,” then Jesus really said it. I don’t laugh at their belief, I just respectfully disagree, especially when it’s in John’s gospel.
In later columns, I will identify over 50 “sayings of Jesus,” stated word for word in both Matthew and Luke that I feel were probably spoken by the historical Jesus. But very few of the quotes in John ever reach that standard. John had a different goal; he didn’t even pretend to be writing history. John was reflecting on the thinking and feelings of second-century Christians who had finally — after 70 years — come to this one conclusion: Jesus was God. Whoever approaches God approaches Jesus. Therefore: “No one comes to the Father (God) except through me.”
None of the three synoptics have Jesus making this exclusive statement. When I read the other three gospels I can’t find this sentence, nor do I find this attitude. I have to say that John invented it because his second-century Christians believed it.
However, what if I’m wrong? What if John’s gospel is the only correct one, and John really is quoting the Galilean Jew named Yeshua? What if this is really what Jesus said and meant: “you must belong to my religion or you will not be saved?” Think a moment: Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Remember?
I think if people today are looking for God or Allah or Yahweh or Buddha, and they’re following their conscience, my old professor got it right: It would behoove all Christians to say: “You go, brother, I’ve got your back.”
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.