Who Is The Only True God According to Jesus?
Introduction to John 17:3
Jesus in John 17:3 says, as we explore below, that the Father "is the only true God."
Paul has few quotes of Jesus, but this is one of them: "for us there is but one God, the Father." (1 Cor. 8:6.)
As an introduction to this topic, I wish to emphasize that a correct Christology says Jesus is Divine due to the indwelling presence of the Father in Jesus. (John 14:10)("Father..dwells in me.")
While I dearly love Jesus, and worship / do homage to him as King-Messiah appointed over me, a correct Christology must reject as violative of the First Commandment to say Jesus alone is God-the-Son or simply "God." See our article "Exaltation that turns Idolatrous."
And while Apostle John in John 1:1,14, says the "Logos [was] made flesh" Jesus is not the Logos. As Jesus in 14:24, says the "Logos you hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me." This is why Jesus says in John 5:30:
I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.
Jesus clearly directs us always to worship God as the Father, and that apart from God-the-Father, Jesus is powerless. Hence, the familiar claim there exists a "God-the-Son" who is not "God-the-Father" (and not "God-the-Holy-Spirit") is contradicted by Jesus.
The misunderstanding that Jesus is God apart from the Father's indwelling presence comes from a mistranslation of John 1:14. In John ch.1, we read that the Logos, translated as the Word, is God. In verse 14, we are told the Logos comes to "dwell" (shekinei in Greek) in flesh and was the "monogenes." It meant "one and only" (God) became flesh. However, this was mistranslated as "only begotten," which made us think Logos must be the begotten son Jesus, rather than the ONE AND ONLY GOD.
However, "begotten" in the translation was wrong on two scores: (a) God is eternal and in no sense can be begotten, which should have been a hint that the translation of monogenes was wrong; and (b) "monogenes" we now know (through better scholarship) meant "one of a kind," or "unique," and not "only begotten." See our webpage on "The One and Only Issue in John 1:14."
The ONE AND ONLY GOD, the LOGOS came to DWELL, says John, in flesh. (John 1:14.) The word for dwell is shekeinei --- a Greek transliterated form of the Hebrew word that means divinity dwelling. It is this attribute of the LOGOS in Jesus which gives us the right to call Jesus DIVINE. Why? Because in Judaism when God dwelled in the Temple at Jerusalem, His Shekinah (Dwelling Presence) was there, and Jews call this "Divinity Abiding" or "Divine." See our article "Correct Christology" for more discussion.
Hence, with this preface, one can see we need a slight, but substantially important, adjustment in how we hold Jesus in our hearts -- as the King Messiah appointed by Yahweh over us. To obey Jesus properly, we must see He points us to follow and love and adore Yahweh, the Father, always as "the only true God," as we shall now see.
John 17:3 - Jesus Says Father is "Only True God"
Jesus in John 17:1-3 states:
1These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
The Geneva Study Bible admits what this says:
(b) He calls the Father the only true God (GSB at John 17:3.)
The oldest discovered sermon in Christianity from the 2d century used the words of John 17:1-3 to make the same point:
To the only God invisible, the Father of truth, who sent forth unto us the Savior and prince of immortality, through whom He also made manifest unto us the truth and the heavenly light. To Him be the glory for ever and ever. (Cobern, New Archaelogical Discoveries and their Bearing on the New Testament (1917) at 277.)
However, the Geneva Study Bible (GSB) reads more into John 17:3. The GSB tries to say the "Father, the only true God" does not exclude the Holy Spirit and Jesus as also God independent of the Father being God:
(b) He calls the Father the only true God in order to set him against all false gods, and to include himself and the Holy Spirit, for he immediately joins the knowledge of the Father and the knowledge of himself together, and according to his accustomed manner sets forth the whole Godhead in the person of the Father. So is the Father alone said to be King, immortal, wise, dwelling in light which no man can attain unto, and invisible; Ro 16:27; 1Ti 1:17.
This is just gobbly-gook after the important admission. Nothing like this ("immediately joins knowledge of the father and knowledge of himself together") exists in the passage. Rather, mention of the "only true God" as the "Father" is set apart from Jesus Christ rather than including as God our Lord Jesus (i.e., our master Jesus whom God spoke from heaven twice that we should obey) as "God."
As one author puts it, "Jesus did not identify himself as the only true God" in this passage. (Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition? (Author House, 2006) at 151.) Navas points out that but for extra-biblical tradition, the Father as "the only true God" would be a "definitional statement" of true Christianity -- "Jesus taught he was sent by the only true God." Id. And in this statement the "only true God" is a reference to a specific being -- the Father, and not a "first person" among three. Navas concludes correctly:
John 17:3...is a presentation of essential Christian doctrine in its purest and fullest and clearest expression--from the very mouth of the Lord and founder of the Christian faith. Id.
Moreover, the words of Jesus do not merely call the Father the "only God" but affirm the Father is "the only true God." This rules out any other than the Father, distinct from the Son or the claimed distinct person of the Holy Spirit.
The correct Christology is that the Father dwelled in Jesus -- in a unique and special way so that whatever Jesus said or did was an exact replication of what the Father was saying or doing. See John 14. See our article "The Correct Christology." This did not make the man Jesus God Himself apart from the Father indwelling Him. Rather, Jesus was Divine as the presence of God (which was in Jesus) was known as "Divinity" or "Shekinah" just as resided at the Temple in Jerusalem. It now resided fully in Jesus, rendering Him Divine.
Consistent with this is the fact the Apostles make numerous references to God using Jesus as a Servant whom God (not simply 'the Father') glorified. These Bible quotes below exclude the later 381 AD notion that Jesus Himself apart from the Father was God. The Apostles spoke thus:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22)
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. (Acts 3:13)
Jesus Also Identified The Father As His God
Jesus said to one of the women who found Him after the resurrection, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
Furthermore, Jesus said He was not the Father. Jesus says in John 8:14-18 that He and the Father constitute TWO distinct witnesses. If Jesus were the Father whom Jesus said in John 17:3 was the "only true God," then Jesus' statement would not add up to two beings, as Jesus says they constitute in 8:14-18, but one being. Since Jesus said they are two witnesses, they are not ONE in the intrinsic sense of being.
What About John 10:30-The Father And I are One?
Then what about John 10:30, "the Father and I are one"? What does it mean?
The Father and Jesus are one in the same sense we are one with Jesus, because next Jesus says in the same prayer that He prays His disciples and Himself would be ONE even as 'we' (Father and Jesus) are one.
If Jesus' prayer was answered by the Father and ONENESS meant organic being, then each of us is or would become God. This is because if the Father and Jesus are organically ONE being because Jesus said they are "ONE" in John 10:30, and thus each are indivisibly God, then this must be true for us too if God answered Jesus' prayer that we and Jesus be one. That is, if we are now one with Jesus if God answered Jesus' prayer for ourselves and Himself to be one, then we are logically the same ONE with the Father as Jesus is, and if we contend that Jesus's "ONENESS" with the Father means God-hood, we too would become indivisibly God.
Hence, this is an absurd reading. In other words, if you wish to absurdly claim you are GOD, you can defend this by saying Jesus' statement means Jesus was God when Jesus says "I and the Father are one." Because Jesus prayed that we-followers and Jesus would be "one" with Jesus just as Jesus is one with the Father. But this is heresy and absurd. Obviously what Jesus meant is He was one in mind and spirit with the Father just as Jesus prayed we would be one in mind and spirit with Himself.
But if you contend this statement "I and the Father are one" represents Jesus was organically part of the being of God and hence was God, then you must address the absurd heresy that this would mean that if God answers Jesus prayer we will become God too. Do you really think this is what Jesus means about us being one with Him? If not, then you know this is not what Jesus meant by saying "I and the Father are one."
Instead, if Jesus meant He enjoyed a ONENESS of mind and spirit with the Father, proven by how Jesus replicated everything the Father did and said to Him, Jesus was praying to the Father that we too would be so one in mind and spirit of Jesus, rather than affirming we too become God.
Thus, we share a oneness as much with Jesus, if this prayer of Jesus is answered in our individual cases, as Jesus shared with the Father. But this sharing with Jesus does not make us able to say "I am God."
I trust each of us do not share the Mormon heresy that we are all little gods, and thus I trust we all reject that John 10:30 says the Father and Son are intrinsically persons in one God-head, any more than our oneness with Christ could make each of us identical to being God.
Other References to the Father As God Alone
Compare Jude 4 to Jesus' words in John 17:3 ("father...only true God"):
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4.)
Notice, this speaks of the Lord-God and distinctly our "Lord-Jesus Christ." God set Jesus over us as Lord. But being Lord is not synonymous with being God. Lord is an old word, but it simply meant 'Master.'
John elsewhere spoke the same way that Jesus is distinct from "His God and Father":
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood [i.e., Jesus], and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5b–6)
Paul likewise repeatedly identifies the One God as the Father:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4–6)
yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Corinthians 11:31)
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians 1:17)
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:3)
Godhead Explanation is Backwards
The concept that there are multiple persons in the God-head is backwards. Rather, there are multiple persons in the Man Jesus -- Jesus and the Father dwelling in Jesus. So Jesus is DIVINE by the DIVINE presence in HIM. Jesus is not God-the-Son co-existing since eternity as a separate and distinct person of independent MIND and WILL from God-the-Father. That would be the heresy of polytheism even though it is excused by many as accepting a "plurality" in the essence of God. That is a nice word for the same thing as polytheism. We need to accept what Jesus said: the Father "dwells in me." (John 14:24.) See our article, "The Correct Christology" We need to reject polytheism even if many delude themselves they do not defend polytheism in their incorrect Christologies.
Counter-Arguments on John 17:3
1. Supposedly 'Just A Single Verse' Rebuttal
The Christian Apologetics ministry has a web page on John 17:3. They say one should not rely upon one verse to deny the trinity doctrine by which it means the Roman Catholic version of the Trinity Doctrine from 381 AD adopted into Protestantism i.e., three distinct persons of independent mind exist in the one being of God. (The correct trinity doctrine was set forth by the first proponent of the trinity, Tertullian, in the 200s that Jesus was indwelled by the Father, and that Jesus was not God but divine due to the indwelling presence of God and His spirit. See our webpage on the Correct Christology.)
The argument based upon John 17:3 is not the only proof of the same point that the Father is the only one true God. There are many references similar to John 17:3 which describe the Father as the only God or as the God of Jesus, which conforms to the Father being the only true God: Acts 2:22, 23; 3:13; John 20:17 ("my God and your God"); Jude 4; Rev. 1:5-6; Eph. 4:4-6 ("one God and Father of all"); 1 Cor. 8:6 ("one God, the Father"); 2 Cor. 11:31; Eph. 1:17; Col. 1:3.
The Christian Apologetics webpage does not address any of this supporting evidence to what John 17:3 signifies, including the two instances of identical statements to what Jesus said in John 17:3.
2. 'Jesus is God' and 'Eternal Son' Rebuttal
The second argument is that the context of John 17:3 was "Jesus was speaking as a man to his God." Christian Apologetics then says "remember Jesus is both God and man, second person of the Trinity (John 1:1, 14.)"
In other words, Christian Apologetics argues "Jesus is...God" from John 1:1, 14, and they believe this can be reconciled with Jesus' words which say the "Father...is the ONLY true God." (John 17:3.)
However, Christian Apologetics does not follow through, and show us how to reconcile these two propositions. The only way they are true simultaneously is if Jesus is the Father.
And this is close to the truth that the Father fully indwelled Jesus (John 14:24), and that is all that John 1:1 and 14 says. (For our discussion of those passages, see "Correct Christology.")
But Roman Catholic doctrine (which we Protestants adopted) does not teach this truth. Instead, it teaches that Jesus was God-the-Son, and was the eternal son. This RCC doctrine was made a Protestant doctrine when Servetus was burned at the stake by Calvin's Geneva in 1553.
So not suprisingly, Christian Apologetics then simply asserts this Roman Catholic Doctrine as the proper understanding of John 17:3 even though this RCC doctrine of Jesus as an eternal son has utterly no scriptural support. We read in this Christian Apologetics site:
[John 17:3] reflects the sonship of Jesus. The Father and the Son have a unique relationship. Jesus is the eternal Son. The terms Father and Son denote a relationship which is why God is called the God of the Son in 2 Cor. 11:31.
There is nothing about John 17:3 that reflects the son as eternal and thus as God. Instead, John 17:3 reflects that the Father is the "only true God." In fact, to say Jesus' God was the Father excludes the proposition that Jesus, the Son, exists eternally as God Himself too unless we are polytheists.
Furthermore, these explanations are childish non-sense. A begotten son is not "eternal" and thus the claim of eternal sonship for a begotten son and giving that same being independent god-hood leads to dangerous idolatry, just as Tertullian warned in the 200s. ("Risk of Idolatry in Worshipping a Man.") We must stop letting Roman Catholic tradition from the 300s guide us into errors and absurdities such as the 'eternal son' doctrine which nowhere appears in Scripture.
Rather, what John 1:1, 14 and John 17:3 say when properly reconciled is what Jesus explained in John 14:24. Jesus was fully indwelled by the Word / LOGOS sent by the Father. It is this attribute that gives Jesus DIVINITY, and reconciles all the passages.
3.John 10:30 'Oneness' Rebuttal
I dealt with this verse above. But because Christian Apologetics mentions it and lays out the argument in such absurd degrees to rebut John 17:3, it is useful to hear how the argument is actually defended. In John 10:30, Jesus says "the Father and I are one." From this, Christian Apologetics argues:
So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is the True God.
But to say Jesus and the Father are one is not the same as saying Jesus is God. Rather, Jesus explains the Father fully dwells in Himself. (John 14:24) That creates a unity. It does not logically follow that "Jesus is the Father" or that "Jesus is the true God."
Otherwise, we are all God too for Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples be "one" with Jesus "even as we [Father and Jesus] are one." The notion of "oneness" in John 10:30 thus cannot imply that Jesus is God unless we wish to say we are God too because we must believe God answered (or would answer) Jesus' prayer that we are "one" with Jesus.
Thus, while we have many reasons to regard Jesus as Divine due to the divine presence in Him, it is idolatrous to take it too far, and raise a man to God-hood. That was the polytheistic direction Rome wanted to go in the 300s, but it is non-Scriptural besides dangerous. It actually is contrary to the first proponent of the trinity -- Tertullian's -- understanding of the trinity in the 200s.
4. 1 John 5:20 - Rebuttal Arguing It Says Jesus is God
Christian Apologetics cites 1 John 5:20, and says "Jesus is called the only true God" in that verse. However, this is false both in English and Greek. As typically translated in English, it reads:
20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (NIV)
Trinitarians insist the "most natural referent" of "the true God" is Jesus. (Eric Snow, A Zeal for God at 641.) However, as rendered by the NIV, this is untrue. It is also untrue as a matter of Greek grammar -- "the true God" is a reference to the Father:
Nevertheless, 'the most natural reference' (Westcott) is to him that is true. In this way the three references to 'the true' are to the same Person, the Father.... " (The Epistles of John, An Introduction and Commentary by Rev.J.R.W.Stott (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Tyndale Press, London, 1964) at 195, 196.)
In agreement by examining the Greek is Winer's Grammar of the New Testament Greek (trans. W.F. Moulton)(1870) at 195. Winer explains that the houtos that begins 5:20b translated "he is" is a referent to the nearest psychological equivalent, that is the "Father" who is identified in 5:20a. This althinos theos in 5:20b is thus to be equated to the father in 5:20a because it is a "constant and exclusive epithet for the father." Id. (Quoted in Michael A. Barber, Should Christians Abandon the Trinity? (Universal Publishers, 2006) at 44.)
Even if one does not like to listen to experts, one does not need a scholar's advice to see this by reading the context of 20a and 20b. "The true God" is not referring to Jesus. Rather, the "his Son" in the preceding verse uses "his" to mean the "father." The preceding verse keeps the father in view again saying "him who is true" -- a second reference to the father. And thus the next sentence -- the one at issue -- is simply still speaking of the Father when John says "he is the true God and eternal life" -- another reference to the same 'he,' 'him' and the one who is 'true' in the preceding sentence: the Father. And of course, John refers to Jesus as the "Son of God," not God in the preceding sentence, so it would be a shock to now call this Son God. (For more on the case that "God" refers to the Father in 1 John 5:20, see Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God (2008) at 239-53.)
Another way of saying this is to observe the parallelism between 20a and 20b. Douglas Rustad in Is the Jesus God? at 179 argues:
"Thus, 'the true God' (second sentence) is related to 'him who is true' (first sentence), and 'eternal life' (second sentence) is related to 'his Son Jesus Christ."
Another view by a trinitarian actually argues on one hand 20b althinos theos refers to Jesus, but then "admits" althinos theos means here "the true OF God," not the "true God." Henkel in 1830 read 20b as "this is the true of God and eternal life." He point blank says that in Greek it does not say this is the "true God." Then he tries to argue it still supports trinitarianism because the 'true' of God means co-substantial with the 'Father' of the preceding sentence. See David Henkel, A treatise on the person and incarnation of Jesus Christ (1830) at 74. But that does not logically follow. That is doctrine overlaid on a verse that Henkel translates as Jesus is the "true (one) of God." Thus, even if we accepted the reference in 5:20b were about Jesus and not the Father, Henkel, a trinitarian, translates this to not say "true God," but the "true of God." The important lesson from Henkel is that in Greek it does not necessarily say "He is the true God" in reference to Jesus even if it were referring to Jesus.
Thus, both in English and Greek grammar this does not talk about Jesus as God. As Jesus says in John 17:3, the "only true God" is the Father. John in 1 John 5:20 merely repeats what Jesus said in 17:3.
5. 'Glory Jesus Shares with the Father' Argument
Another clever argument which relies upon faulty semantics involves the issue about the glory God gives Jesus. But it is described fallasciously as the glory Jesus "shares" with the Father to create a semantical proof when Isaiah 42:8 is introduced. Stephen Ray in St. John's Gospel (Ignatius Press, 2002) at 302 argues that if God will not share his glory with another per Isaiah 42:8, then what glory did Jesus claim to have shared if Jesus was not God? The only verse he cites that pertains is John 17:24 which reads:
"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." (John 17:24.)
In that verse, however, Jesus says God gave Jesus glory. It was not God's glory transferred to Jesus or shared with Jesus. By the way, the Greek word doxa is simple in meaning, and causes no mistake in the nature of 'glory':
honor, renown, glory splendor (#1391)
So isn't it possible for God to give Jesus honor and renown that are distinctly belonging to Jesus? If so, God has not given His own honor and glory to Jesus or "shared" it with Jesus, but given Jesus His own honor and glory. In fact, in the quote of John 17:24, Jesus refers to it as "my glory," or "My doxa" = "my honor." So that perfectly makes sense, and destroys Ray's argument.
Moreover, the Original Testament is perfectly consistent. In Daniel 7:14, the Son of Man will return on clouds of glory:
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
So is there any conflict when God says in Isaiah 42:8 "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols"?
No, because God permits or gives glory (honor) to the Son of Man. It is not "my glory" of God by definition, putting Daniel and Isaiah together. The honor God gives makes it belong to Jesus distinctly as the Son of Man.
So now listen to Ray's argument, and you can see how it fallasciously misleads by implying God 'shared' His glory with Jesus rather than gave Jesus a glory of Jesus' own:
What glory did Jesus share with God's glory before the world began? (Gen. 1:26, John 1:2, 17:24; Phil. 2:5-7) Jesus asks to be glorified with God. [Note: Not 'as God.'] Can God share his glory with another? (Isaiah 42:8, 42:11.) If Jesus shares God's glory, what does this say about Jesus? Jesus shares the Father's glory -- it is a clear claim of deity." Id., at 305.
The argument is based upon a faulty assumption that the Bible says God shared His glory with Jesus.
Does John 1:2 help? It speaks nothing about glory. It is just an old favorite for the post-381 AD version of the trinity. To repeat, John 1:2 says the LOGOS is God, but it never says Jesus is the LOGOS. That is tradition which says that. It is NOT IN THE BIBLE! More important, Jesus says "the Logos is not mine but the Father's" in John 14:24. Logos in 14:24 is the same noun singular as used in John 1:2, contrary to how the NIV renders 14:24 ("these Words are not mine") to make one believe Jesus is not speaking of the same Logos as is spoken about in John 1:2.
Rather, the Word, LOGOS, which is God (John 1:1), was made "flesh" (Jesus) and "dwelled among us"(John 1:14) in the body of Jesus. This does not make the LOGOS an independent being known as Jesus prior to birth. It makes the LOGOS, God, an indwelling presence in Jesus - a substantial connection but not independent DEITY for Jesus apart from the indwelling presence of the LOGOS / Father. Jesus in His own words depicts the relationship clearly:
10Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words [remata, plural] that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.
24he who is not loving me, my words [plural]doth not keep; and the LOGOS (singular) that ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me. (John 14)
Thus the same LOGOS that is God in John 1:1 Jesus says is dwelling in Him, and is "not mine, but the Father's." The Oneness of God is preserved, while Jesus is properly DIVINE as the Shekinah presence in the OT wherever it dwelled was said to be "DIVINE" or "DIVINITY ABIDING." See Correct Christology.