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“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” What did Jesus Christ actually mean by this claim recorded in John 14:6?
Generally, this sentence gets quoted out of the context of the full verse, as if it has no connection to the whole dialogue between Christ and his beloved disciples reported in the Gospel of John.
Often, the passage is presented as if Christ were asserting that he alone can bring the human soul to God, that all other ways are either false or inferior. Using this one line, some Christians learn to view loyalty to Jesus Christ as requiring the belief that Jesus represents the sole way to God.
So let’s explore – is this really what Jesus Christ meant?
As we read through the entire dialogue in the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus did not actually refer to the other prophets of God and claim that he alone represents the path of salvation – instead, he refers to the Deity and said that we human souls cannot reach the Deity directly, but only through God’s intermediary.
Like Christianity, the Baha’i Faith teaches that the purpose of all creation is for the human soul to know God. In one of his tablets, Baha’u’llah wrote: “The supreme cause for creating the world and all that is therein is for man to know God.”
A multitude of Baha’u’llah’s writings address this exalted theme. His greatest doctrinal work, the Book of Certitude, contains a lengthy section that provides spiritual guidance to the “true seeker” who pursues “the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days.“
Related to this deep principle – that union with God forms the true purpose of life – is the Baha’i teaching that when we seek to know God we cannot connect directly to the Author of the universe. Instead, we are connecting with the intermediaries the Creator has sent to humanity. These Beings are known by many titles – prophets, messengers, great teachers, even “the Word of God.” The Baha’i writings often refer to them as manifestations of God.
In 1947 Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote this definition of a manifestation through his secretary:
We cannot know God directly, but only through His Prophets. We can pray to Him, realizing that through His Prophets we know Him … We find God only through the Intermediary of His Prophet. We see the Perfection of God in His Prophets.
In his mystical book The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah wrote:
For God, in His Essence, is sanctified above all ascent and descent, egress and regress; He hath through all eternity been exalted beyond the attributes of His creation, and will ever remain so. No man hath ever known Him; no soul hath ever fathomed the nature of His Being. In the valley of His knowledge every mystic wandereth astray; in the comprehension of His Essence every saint standeth bewildered. Sanctified is He above the understanding of the wise; exalted is He beyond the knowledge of the knowing!
The Baha’i Faith, like all other revealed faiths, provides a path to the fullness of the knowledge of God. That knowledge is attained through the manifestations the Creator sends to humanity. Baha’u’llah wrote “He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation.“
Baha’u’llah also wrote:
The door of the knowledge of the Ancient Being hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, closed in the face of men. No man’s understanding shall ever gain access unto His holy court. As a token of His mercy, however, and as a proof of His loving-kindness, He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self. Whoso recognizeth them hath recognized God. Whoso hearkeneth to their call, hath hearkened to the Voice of God, and whoso testifieth to the truth of their Revelation, hath testified to the truth of God Himself. Whoso turneth away from them, hath turned away from God, and whoso disbelieveth in them, hath disbelieved in God. Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above, and the Standard of His Truth unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His Truth, and the signs of His glory.
Understood in context, then, we see that in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is saying the same thing:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”
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When he said “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” – the passage, seen in the context of the full chapter, shows that Jesus did not present himself as true and all other prophets as false. Instead, he said the same thing Baha’u’llah said – that there is no direct route to the Deity without the divine Intermediary:
For the Apostles and Messengers of God have ever been the channels of His abounding grace, and whatsoever man hath received from God hath been through the intermediary of those Embodiments of holiness and Essences of detachment, those Repositories of His knowledge and Exponents of His Cause.
Striving prayerfully to comprehend the true meaning of Christ’s words by seeing the full Biblical passage will help us to neither broaden nor narrow their intended meaning, and lead to the acceptance of all of the Creator’s prophets and manifestations.