What if John 14:6 isn’t even about Salvation?

Over the past two months we have been having a lot of fun talking about John 14:6.  The release of Brian McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  and our subsequent live event with him at Wild Goose West (audio here) got us started.

Then Jericho Books gave us some copies to give away so we put out the John 14:6 Challenge. People stepped up with posts and used the speakpipe to leave us messages.

I swung first with “Jesus wasn’t talking about Muslims in John 14:6″ and followed it up with “an alternative to John 14:6″ saying that one that famous passage is off the table for thinking about how to deal with other religions … where does one start? What are the alternatives?

Last week, Tripp and I recorded a TNT that will come out this afternoon where we listen to some of the calls and talk about some of the posts…  in that midst of that conversation, (beginning in minute 15)  we put out an idea that I thought should be in written form and not just audio.  Here it goes:

Not only is John 14:6 not about other religions – since it is a disciple’s invitation – but it is not even about salvation. It is about relationship and not salvation.

I blame it on lazy reading that results in conflating subjects. I think that Jesus is inviting those who follow him to relate to ‘the Father’ (Abba) as he relates to Abba by:

  • living the life he laid out,
  • walking the way he modeled and
  • embodying the truth we proclaim.

Tripp implies that is has something to do with Calvinism and it’s histroical impact of making salvation:
A) transactional instead of relational
B) individual instead of communal

So I want to ask the question (you may want to listen to the TNT episode to hear the whole context):

What if John 14:6 is not only not about other religions – but isn’t even about salvation? How would that impact your use of that passage and where else would you turn in the Bible for an alternative?

Personally, I would go to Acts 4:12 “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Mainly because it has the word ‘saved’ in it AND sounds semi-exclusive … which is what people TRY to get John 14:6 to be – but simply isn’t.   That is the conflation that I am talking about.

Thoughts?  Responses?   

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32 comments
JosefGustafsson
JosefGustafsson

A lot of answers here already so I'm just going to point out something that wasn't mentioned in the TNT. I believe that there is a close correlation between Thomas' question and the question posed by the rich young ruler in Mark 10 (Matthew 19, Luke 18). Hence Jesus says 'if you love my, keep my commands' in John 14.15 and 'sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven' in Mark 10.21. Both these passages are clearly not about 'going to heaven when you die' but I question whether it is right to say that they are not about salvation. If salvation means responding to Jesus' call to love and follow him and live by his commandments then both passages are highly relevant. If, as Luther said, sin is to have your heart turned upon itself and salvation is a liberation from this state of being in order to have your heart opened up for God, the world and your fellow human beings, then what better passages can you choose to read if you want to know how to enter such a life of new creation? I listened to the podcast while driving so maybe I wasn't focused enough but I think that the term 'salvation' that was used could be debated further. Anyway, I'm not going to elaborate this more but here is a post I wrote on 'dying with Christ' that I think is very important in relation to enter the new life with Christ. http://freestylechristianity.com/2012/07/16/father-forgive-them/ Thanks for the great work you do!

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

Personally, I don't think Jesus was about salvation. He was about feeding the sheep and setting the captives free. So if salvation in the harps-and-halos-in-the-clouds-with-Ma-and-all-my-friends-forever sense is off the table, where would Jesus be inviting these disciples, or all disciples, to go that he wouldn't want everybody to go? 

 

Jesus wasn't promoting Christianity. He wasn't against any "religion", not even his own. 

philstyle
philstyle

I'm not sure that Chapter 14 is NOT talking about salvation. However, I do think it supports universal salvation…(I’ll get onto that in last part of this reply)

 

From the OP " I think that Jesus is inviting those who follow him to relate to ‘the Father’ (Abba) as he relates to Abba"

 

Despite the valiant attempt to shed more light on John 14, I still think there is ample and fairly persuasive (perhaps not conclusive) evidence to suggest that Jesus is discussing "salvation". This comes up in John 14: 2 to 4.

 

Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away from them in order to prepare a place for them also (in his fathers house). He also tells them that he will come back to take them there also. And that they already know the way there.

 

Thomas is incredulous. How can we know the way there, we don't know where you are going? 

 

It is to this question that Jesus responds with his quotable quote. Thomas' question is not asked in isolation, it's asked in the context of Jesus being taken away from them (to die as the author knows). Jesus is trying to calm their fears by saying that he is going a "place" with spaces for them. That they know the way there, because they know him. He is the way there, to this place.

 

14:6 is pretty telling in that context. Jesus really does seem to, clearly and unambiguously, suggest that not only with these individuals comes with him (because they know him) but also that unless people do "know" him, they cannot follow to that place. The place is this "fathers house" with "many rooms to which Jesus claims he is imminently departing to.

 

It's certainly not apparent to me that viewing this as a reference to what Christians historically took for "salvation" is not at all a lazy reading.  If we're going to call the traditional reading "lazy", then lets' acknowledge that there are enough pointers and problems with the idea that the text excludes salvation for that proposed reading to be equally categorised as lazy.

 

At this stage in Jesus' ministry the disciples do not seem realise that Jesus was "god" or perhaps that he was even a path to God. Philip is still asking Jesus to show them the Father!! 

Why does the author (who supposedly has the highest Christology) allow the disciples to have such an apparently low Christology? 

 

Look at verses 22 and 23? What the hell is going on there? The other Judas asks Jesus why he did not/ will not reveal himself to the "world" (seems a bit odd given the Gospel of Matthew's insistence that all sorts of phenomena went along with Jesus arrival) .

 

Jesus answers that " Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching". I think this is interesting. It appears that Jesus only reveals himself to (and God then choses to abide with) people who already follow his teaching BEFORE he announces who he is! There's some strong support for a kind of limited-universalism here. That is, that people might be obedient to Christ, without knowing who he is. .. 

 

It's not 100% convincing.. but it's interesting

 

sean muldowney
sean muldowney

I'm challenged to try to see this with fresh eyes now.The whole passage is bookended in v.1 & v.27 with "do not let your hearts be troubled." The disciples seem to be scared because of Jesus's "I'm leaving" talk. They didn't know where he was going (to the Father), and they didn't know the way he was going to get there (the cross). I see resurrection here, and counting the cost of discipleship. The *way* is death, the *truth* is that the disciples will really know and be with the Father, the *life* is on the other side of death...death is defeated in the resurrected Christ, who is one with the Father. Jesus leaves his peace and promises the Spirit because he knows the disciples are in a tenuous place, not knowing how the whole story plays out...just like Peter in another episode, they are not ready for him to go! All that to say I agree - no salvation talk in the modern sense, but lots of promise and assurance for those who are (and will be?) disciples of Christ.  

ngilmour
ngilmour

I'll admit that I get nervous when arguments from absence get too prominent.  It always makes me think of right-wingers who insist that "the Bible never says that democratic governments should help the poor" and "the Bible never mentions militarism, so it must not condemn it" and such things.  Certainly the absence of the word "salvation" here (not a characteristically Johanine word anyway, if my rusty Biblical studies background serves) doesn't mean that something analogous can't be going on.  

 

Mind ye, I still wouldn't hold this up as a text about "other religions"; I just approach arguments-from-absence a bit more cautiously than what I see here.

Paul Davidson
Paul Davidson

I agree, John 14:6 is the ultimate clobber text trotted out by people with no sensitivity to literary and historical context. It's an answer given in response to a question from Thomas. The question is *not* "Which world religion is the correct one?" 

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

Understanding that individuals and cultures are at different evolutionary stages of development helps on this topic. Religious believers at the traditional/mythic stage of development will assert that only their religions are literally true, all other views must be invalidated. At higher and less fear-based levels of consciousness one will make space for other perspectives. And yes, I am a Ken Wilber/Integral Theory snob.

 

I agree, this statement is aimed at the Christian initiate. As a contemplative, I like what Cynthia Bourgeault says about this. At the Mesoteric level, Jesus is saying "I am a path, walk me" to get to the Father.

Father Josh
Father Josh

I like that it is a statement to the disciples, which can be a larger meaning for everyone. The bullet points you lay out above though are very interesting in that this reading of John 14:6 highlights the fractal structure of John's Gospel: that the Father and the Son are one, and the Son includes all others into that relationship. 

jeffreydean225
jeffreydean225

If it is a disciple invitation (BTW are we not all disciples?) then why does it say "no man".

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour  I would say that an 'argument from silence'  is more like "Jesus never talked about homosexuality ... so it isn't important."   That is not what I am saying. 

 

I am saying that salvation is not in this text any more than automated car-washes and video games are. I'm not arguing from silence ... I'm pointing out the absence of any reference in the text. 

 

What if I said "John 14:6 isn't about video games". That's not an argument from silence, that is pointing out the obvious ;)    -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Corey D UH OH! WILBER ALERT!!!     Oh man... you have no idea how conflicted this type of a post makes me  :)

On the +  I think that you are right about your reading of it and your translation. 

On the - it sounds SO condescending & paternalistic to say 'we get this' and you are just struggling to comprehend what it REALLY means...  

 

ya know what I mean?  -Bo   (but I hear ya ... I really do) 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @jeffreydean225 Well ... I would just want to clarify two things there. #1 is that Hindus are not disciples of Jesus ...  so I would not say that we are all disciples.  #2  no one can have the relationship that Jesus is inviting them into without Jesus. No one.  

 

I really think it is that simple.  Was that what you were looking for?  -Bo 

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders I think you've made a categorical sidestep there.  If soteria has to do with living-with-the-Father, and it's hard to deny that Pauline and Synoptic accounts of soteria have to do with that, then John 14:6 is at least related.  Since the Johanine corpus, as far as I know, only uses soteria once (though my database skills might fail me here), to say that John 14 doesn't use the word strikes me as a matter of literary style rather than of theological content.

 

Like I said, I still think that the question of soteria and the question of "other religions" are very distinct in the New Testament, so I still would run with you in finding alternatives to John 14 for that question, but I think that this particular argument is, rhetorically speaking, going to come across as slippery more than scholarly.

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

The keys to holding a developmental view are inclusivity and nondualism.

 

If I were to take the stance of “I’m s-o-o much more evolved than those troglodyte fundamentalists” or “I’ve transcended the limitations of those annoying deconstructionist post-moderns”, then how is that any less exclusivist than “all non-believers of my particular ideology are going to roast in eternal torment”? One must transcend and include in love.  Recognize and respect that people are where they are, but that we all have the potential to grow. You guys touched on this in your conversation with Rob Bell. Having spent a few too many years at the mythic level myself, I find that in many ways it was a case of arrested development.  However, I do not condemn those who operate from there. It can sound condescending labeling groups of people, sure, but these developmental perspectives and levels of awareness do exist – like it or not. Are you the same now as you were 10, 20, 30 years ago? Is there a certain point when you just *boom* become a fully realized human being with a complete grasp on ‘reality’?

 

Also, it is important to recognize the truth in different perspectives, even seemingly paradoxical ones. The ego generally only understands concepts in a binary either/or framework. That’s why I try to use terms like “helpful”, and I like how you point out strengths and weaknesses of a particular view.  Jesus was a nondual master who spoke on a multitude of levels at once.  BOTH the exoteric/discursive/conceptual understandings of Christianity AND the esoteric/ transformational inner work aspects can be valid at the same time.

 

Br. Corey, OSA

jeffreydean225
jeffreydean225

 @BoSanders  @jeffreydean225

 Yes Bo I agree with #1 and I understand your point that not everyone can be a disciple of Jesus. But on #2, your own statement here implies that this scripture does indeed mean Salvation if the the only to have a relationship with Jesus is by accepting the invitation offered by Jesus. Am I understanding this correctly?

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders No need to apologize,  boss.  You know I enjoy sparring with you.

 

I suppose I've just seen too many abuses of "that word's not there" to be entirely sanguine about the move, rhetorically speaking.  One of the big ones for me is precisely the Johanine phrase "eternal life."  I've spent more than a decade trying to teach people that it's something other than disembodied post-mortem bliss, and it's the complexity, not the one-shot presence/absence assertions, that help people to grasp that.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour sorry - I should have been more clear. I 100% agree with YOU.  It's those who think 'comes to the father'  = salvation = go to heaven after you die  that I am working against here. 

You and I are on the same page!  and I really like what you are saying about the complexity of the concept.  -Bo 

 

 

ngilmour
ngilmour

 @BoSanders I don't believe I equated them.  I said they're related.

 

Let me take another run at this: I'm concerned both to note that soteria as Paul and the synoptics use it isn't exhausted by "going to heaven" (it's a much more universal and encompassing metaphor) and to note that the Johanine texts use phrases other than soteria (eternal life, abiding, and such) to name the apocalyptic, already/not-yet promised existence. 

 

In other words, I'm more concerned  that the "no salvation there!" move is more of a distraction from the positive complexity than it's worth than I am with asserting any simplistic one-to-one equation between words or phrases.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @ngilmour  Isn't it more slippery to equate 'comes to the Father' and 'salvation'.   That seems like quite an assumption ... and is what I am referring to a 'conflating' two things ... one of which isn't even in this text.  That seems slippery to me ;)  -Bo 

 

I want to be careful about high-shcool locker-room idioms where 'knockin' boots' or 'a roll in the hay' all mean the same thing. "comes to the Father" can't be just a stand in for Paul's view of salvation.  Not every phrase means the same thing.  All I'm saying is that I don't think 'comes to the father' is a idiom for Paul's 'salvation'.  That is conflating. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Corey D Well done, thanks for the note and for the clarification. -Bo 

Justin vR
Justin vR

 @Corey D I can see why you would think that Corey.  

 

I guess the thing that I like and admire about his work is that he provides a cut through from all the doctrinal and theological jargon that we use by saying all those things become irrelevant if we allow the text to be the historical-narrative text that it is as opposed to the text being a theological guide book of orthodox terms and doctrines.

 

Please Bo and Tripp. Hear and respond.  Perriman would be a cool dude to get on the pod cast! :)

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

I have to preface this remark by saying that I am an admirer of Andrew's work and would also LOVE to hear him in dialougue on HBC.

 

However, while he is extremely intelligent and articulate, I can't help but think his view is like a more well-informed version of biblicism.

Justin vR
Justin vR

 @BoSanders  @Corey D  @EvelynSweerts I think that Andrew has a perspective or approach that would be a useful voice to hear on HBC in so much as you are helping people 'brew' their Christianity.  You are right that it is essentially what you are saying but I what I think is good about Andrew (as well as being his ultimate weakness) is that he advocates for an unflinching focus on the narrative-historical context of the text which circumvents any particular theology or doctrine by saying 'what is the historical-narrative trajectory of the story' and allows it to shape and define how we see God acting in scripture.  Andrew attempts to remove any theological bias and fights against a practice of reading our theological orthodoxy and history backwards into the text.  So in short (I know this hasn't been short) he advocates that for as much as humanly is possible we must allow the narrative to say only what it is saying to only the people it is saying it to only in the historical context it is said in.  Many say they do this but I've not found anyone else that does it so methodically as he does.  Would be great to hear him on HBC.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Corey D  @Justin vR  @EvelynSweerts I mean ... its ok.  It is basically what I have been saying. It's alright ...  I am curious what you think is so intriguing about it. 

Don't get me wrong, I like it. I like it a lot!   but ... it doesn't seem extraordinary. ... what grips you there ?   -Bo 

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

 @BoSanders  @jeffreydean225 

I agree with Bo - don't worry about me! It was not my intention to cast judgment upon anyone in particular on this thread. Feeling like a bit of a jerk if my comment is running people off. 

 

Peace to you, jeffreydean, and please don't leave due to the likes of me.

 

Br. Corey, OSA

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @jeffreydean225 Don't worry about Corey :)  Ken WIlber is a ... well lets just say that Ken is doing his own thing!  

 

For me - this is about conversation. Pure and simple. If you listened to the latest podcast with the amazing Walter Bruegemmann, he says that it is ALL about dispute and conversation... I am glad that you ask follow up questions.  it helps me think through stuff and it helps sharpen me for ongoing conversations.  please DON'T react or stop. I love it. 

 

I value you as a conversation partner and a friend. People say things. Don't stop being you :)   -Bo   

jeffreydean225
jeffreydean225

 @BoSanders

 Okay Bo, I see what you are saying. But I feel after reading what Corey D posted that I no longer will follow or post on these blogs. I guess we neanderthal christians "just don't get it". I respect what you are trying to do in opening new pathways into how we read and understand the bible, I truly do. I wish you the best.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @jeffreydean225 my point is that Jesus never mentions 'salvation'. It is no where in the text. WE put it in there.  It is simply NOT what Jesus is talking about.  

Said a different way: Salvation is foreign to this text. It does not belong in this conversation.  -Bo