Knowing the One true God: A reflection on John 17:1-6 by PS Rudolph P Boshoff.

(10-minute read).

In my last two debates with respected Muslim Scholars Sheikh Molana Abu Bakr Akoo and Sheikh Musa Adam, both mentioned John 17:3 as a prime example of Jesus’ denial of His own Divinity. It reads as follow:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 E.S.V.).

 

Both mentioned a similar point in that Jesus pointed up to heaven (something the text does not show) and affirmed that the ‘Father’ was the only true God. The argument they present is then that Jesus nullifies His own presupposed ‘divinity’ by affirming the Divinity of the One true God. In the following post I will look again at the intention of the New Testament text and the common witness John reveals about Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. It is important to keep in mind that Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on His own perceived identity. Matthew (16:13-20 NIV) relates in his account:

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

 

Jesus vindicates the claim of Peter in that he was both the expected Messiah as well as the Son of the Most High God. In both the Quran and in the Bible we find a mention of Jesus or Isa, which has a particular aim in the explication of his work and character. Biblically, it is claimed that Jesus claimed that He was the central message of all of Scripture. In Luke’s account (24:27) Jesus relates everything in Scripture to be explicated in Himself:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself.

 

In the Book of Acts (8:35) His Disciple Philip writes:

“So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.”

 

It is important to see that both Jesus and His earliest Disciples perceived Him to be the expected Messiah AND the culmination of the Jewish eschatological expectation. Pastor and theologian J. Sidlow Baxter writes:

“Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, “I am the bread.” He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the light.” He did not come merely to show the door; He said, “I am the door.” He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, “I am the shepherd.” He did not come merely to point the way; He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (1).

 

What about ‘Isa’s (Jesus) message in the Quran? Muslim author Mustafa Akyol in his 2017 book ‘The Islamic Jesus’ ventures to say:

“In the Qur’an, one never learns about the temptation in the wilderness, the preaching in Galilee, the cleansing of the Temple, the agony at Gethsemane, the trial at Pilate’s court, the drama of the Crucifixion, or the joy of the Resurrection. Such themes about the Jesus’ life and ministry simply do not exist in the Qur’an, and for one simple reason: Jesus is not the main character of the Qur’an.”

 

Directly opposing this, Jesus says to the Jewish leaders in John’s Gospel (5:39-40) that:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

 

The essential difference between Jesus of Gospels and Isa of the Quran is that one is the object, and the other is merely a subject. What did Jesus reveal about Himself? Biblically, John the Beloved Disciple of Christ writes in John 1:18;

“No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him [Greek: exē gēsato]”.

 

The central Christian claim is that the God of Scripture is a revealed God through the Person of Jesus Christ. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes;

“The Christian revelation of Jesus Christ has revealed…the essential nature of the Godhead. We have no absolute revelation of God’s nature without a transcendent act on the part of God. The Transcendent, which alone is able to reveal the nature of the Revealer, and which is never wholly comprehended by any immanental process. On the other hand, unless such a revelation consummates by completing God’s previous indwelling in the world, we have no continuity and no means of understanding that revelation. The Incarnation, the process is fulfilled by an act without the process; immanence is completed in Transcendence, in which it lives and moves and has its being.”(Pg. 6).

 

John the Beloved Disciple of Christ writes in John 14:7, 9;

“If you know Me, you will also know My Father…The one who has seen Me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

 

Dr Ken Samples makes the observation that:

“In equating Himself so intimately with the Father, Jesus became, at minimum, an extension of Yahweh.” (3). 

 

The required promise of Israel’s One God in the Old Testament is the fulfilment that they will Worship their God that would be known and present to them. Moses states in Deuteronomy (4:39) that we can; 

Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.”

 

In fact, the essential promise includes not only Israel but also the nations of the World from which Christ will draw those the Father has given Him. The prophet Zechariah (8:22) gives a prophecy;

‘So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’

 

In Genesis (22:18) Yahweh speaks to Abraham and mention;

‘And through your offspring, all nations of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed My voice.”

 

Paul the Apostle mentions in Galatians 3:8& 16:

“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and foretold the gospel to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your seed,” meaning One, who is Christ.”

 

The Prophet Jeremiah (4:2) affirms:

‘and if you can swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then the nations will be blessed by Him, and in Him they will glory.”

 

By who and in who will the nations be blessed? By the full revelation of the Messiah Jesus Christ. The Apostle John (6:29) writes:

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.

 

The Apostle John writes to the Samaritans (4:22-23):

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.”

 

The Samaritans confirm:

Verse 41-42 “Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

 

Paul the Apostle understands that the full revelation of Christ gives life to the worship of God when he writes to the Philippians (3:8);

“More than that, I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.”

 

We can recognize that the Old Testament promise is fulfilled in the coming of the Son in His office as Messiah. Timothy C. Tennent writes in his “Theology in the context of World Christianity”(Pg.38-39);

“When we say, “We worship God,” what we mean is that we worship the God who reveal Himself and became incarnate in Jesus Christ. We worship the Triune God. We worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We worship Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who, as God incarnate, suffered on the Cross for our sins. We worship Jesus Christ who said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). We worship our Lord Jesus, about whom the apostle Paul declared, “For in Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” (Col.2:9). All of these proclamations are central to our identity as Christians; without them, the term Christian means nothing. Without them the term God, itself is transformed in meaning beyond recognition… While terms like theism or monotheism are generic and freely embrace both Islam and Christianity, Christian theism or Christian monotheism is unintelligible apart from Christ. Without him we lose our identity and find ourselves talking about some vague “God” of philosophic enquiry or abstract thought, not the God who became fully enfleshed in Jesus Christ.

 

The Biblical claim is that we engage with God our Father as a result of His own Divine prerogative. S. D Gordon said:

“Jesus is God spelling Himself out in language that men can understand.”

 

It is clear that without the expressed revelation of Christ, there is ultimately no revelation of God. Here is the essential difference between the Biblical claim of Christ and the Quranic claim of Isa. Without the full self-revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, you do not have a full revelation of God. This leads us to the exact place that Scientific Naturalism believes in that ultimate reality is impersonal and void of any knowable substance. This is why Muslim Scholars maintain: “Kullu ma khatar fi balik fahwa halik, wallahu bikhi lafi thalik” which can be translated as ‘whatever you conceive in your mind, God [Allah] is not that!’ It could, therefore, be affirmed that the Allah that Muslims worship is ‘above’ them in all aspects. In the Maqalat al-Islamiyin by Al-Ashari, he asserts:

“Nothing that can be said of any of His creatures could be used to describe him…”

 

That is why the demand from the Quran that Christians should divorce the idea of Jesus Christ being associated with the full revelation of God is evident. Sūrat l-nisāa (The Women) (4) 171 (Pickthall):

“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.”

 

The Isa of Islam leaves its adherents without any proximity as to the nature of Allah and the essential revealed character of His being. The Biblical account claims that without the self-revelation of the One God, as expressed in Jesus Christ the estimation of our understanding about God implodes upon itself. Dr J A Dorner mentions:

“an absolute hidden God is for man virtually no God, and such a pretended purification of the concept of Deity closely approaches to Atheism, but also because the concept of Deity cannot otherwise be preserved from self-contradiction. If God be thought as the pure Absolute, in the sense that He cannot come into contact with the finite, then is He no longer the Absolute; since He can have nothing to do with the finite, the latter is without Him; that is; He is no more the Absolute, if it is not He who reveals Himself in the finite… In Jesus of Nazareth… the unity of the Divine and the human has appeared in a personal and unique mode.” (4). 

 

Scripture makes it clear that in the one person Jesus Christ both the properties of transcendent infinitude and immanent finitude came together, not as ‘one’ blended state, but as one mediated whole. Scripture does not give us the luxury to deny the life and potency of Jesus Christ. This is the reality the Beloved Apostle lays down in his prologue (John 1):

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.” 10 He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. 14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 18 No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side— He has revealed Him.

 

For the Christian, in the Person of Jesus Christ, we have both the transcendent and the infinitude manifest alongside one another without them being monistic or one reality. It is important to understand that Christianity strongly maintains the Creator-creature distinction as fundamental. When we speak about the Hypostatic Union of Christ, we hold that He embodies two radical perspectives; one of transcendent infinitude & one of immanent finitude. Paul therefore affirms this reality when he writes to Timothy (1 Tim.2:3-6):

“This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (What is the knowledge of the truth?) “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself—a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.”

 

Jesus is the full revelation of God’s own self-disclosure and to get Him wrong is to get God wrong. In fact, Jesus sets Himself up as the standard by which we can know the only true God. Now the objection is usually that this passage in its isolation depicts a purely ‘human’ Jesus. The unfortunate reality is just a chapter after this the very same book depicts a solely divine Christ without hesitation or any confusion. Paul (1Timothy 3:16) writes; 

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godlinessHe was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

 

That is why John the Beloved (John 17:1-5), after affirming the fact that Jesus was the full revelation of God, maintains that:

“Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said: Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, 2 for You gave Him authority over all flesh; so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him. 3 This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ. 4 I have glorified You on the earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed.

 

Jesus clearly maintains in this portion that in His task He shares the glory of the Father, and exalts the Father something no one else shares with Yahweh (Isaiah 48:11). Please note Jesus prays differently from Muslims in His posture looking into heaven and addressing God as Father. Jesus also has authority over all flesh and grants eternal life from His own volition. Both these prerogatives ascribe only to Yahweh. The very heart of salvation is to ‘know the Father’ as displayed by the Son Jesus Christ. Jesus also mentions that He completed the work of the Father. This is important because He shows that there is no future revelation or messenger necessary because He sufficiently completes this work Himself. Lastly, the Son shows He pre-existed with the Father and He will return to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. John the Beloved (John 17:6-7) also maintains that Jesus said:

I have revealed Your name to the men You gave Me from the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they know that all things You have given to Me are from You, because the words that You gave Me, I have given them.’

 

Because Jesus is the perfect mediator between God and Man, he can communicate who this God is flawlessly. The God of the Bible is therefore both “transcendent” and “immanent” where Allah of the Quran is wholly “transcendent.” Christians maintain that Biblically, Jesus visibly displays to us that He has two natures (100% God/Man) unified in the person of Christ (hypostasis). There is therefore no violation of the “perfect being” of Jesus as God because as the perfect God He is also the perfect man. The Quran emphatically denies this reality.

 

In Surah Al-Maida (5) 116 it relates:

“And (remember) when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection): “O ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)! Did you say unto men: ‘Worship me and my mother as two gods besides Allah?’ “He will say: “Glory be to You! It was not for me to say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, You would surely have known it. You know what is in my inner-self though I do not know what is in Yours, truly, You, only You, are the All-Knower of all that is hidden and unseen.”

 

The Quran clearly mentions that Allah knows all things, yet, Jesus denies the very fact of his own importance as revealed in the Christian Scriptures. I am always amazed that the demand is made that Christians should show a clear passage that states where Jesus demanded worship and mentioned he was God, yet, this is the claim of the very Quran. Muslims should at least show us where the Scriptures contain such a statement if in fact the ‘knower of all things’ in fact mention it is so. But we do not find any such assertions in the Christian Scriptures as the Muslim Apologists will have us believe. All we can assuredly say is that in the Unitarians zeal to preserve the ‘otherness’ of Allah, their God ultimately becomes the unknown and he becomes solely dependent on His creation to make himself known. This is not the claim in all of the Christian Scriptures. Our God is known by the revelation and incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ. The Son distinctly separates and maintains the balance between the transcendent and the immanent. Clearly revealing God to us! The central revelation of God in Scripture find and built on the full extent of who Christ is. Jesus reveals the Triune God, and the One True God maintains both diversity and Unity as the only unique God of the Christian Scriptures.

 

John the Beloved Disciple mentions in his Epistle (1 John 5:20):

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One—that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Is the Father the Only true God at the expense of the Son, absolutely not! Just as the Son is not the sole Saviour of the World at the expense of the Father when we read for instance Acts 4:12. There is not any reduction of the one at the expense of the other. 

Selah.
Rudolph.

 

Sources:

(1) Explore the Book (1987) pg. 308.

(2) Immanence and transcendence, Pg.133/263.

(3) God amongst Sages, Pg.6. 

(4) The Doctrine of the person of Christ Pg.2

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