John 17:3 The Only True God

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3

This is a “favorite” verse of the Jehovah Witness cult. They use this verse to deny the deity of Jesus, to support their theology that Jesus was actually an angel named Michael.

In recent years, Muslims have latched on to this old Jehovah Witness proof-text for their own agenda, to deny the trinity. The argument is this:
If Jesus said the Father is the only true God, that means Jesus himself is not God. Thus, the trinity is debunked. Simple. Cut and dried. Case closed. Or is it?

There is a problem. Every verse must be understood in light of the context of Scripture. Let me give you an example as an illustration…

The Quran says in Sura 107:4, “Woe to those who pray.”
That’s it. Wait a minute.
Can I conclude from this verse that Allah is condemning those who pray? It would be very dishonest and deceptive of me to go around touting this verse as evidence that Allah does not want you to pray! This is a false interpretation and a gross misrepresentation of what the verse actually says. How can we know what the verse means? Easy. Read the context. In this case, the very next verse tells us that 107:4 applies to those who are HEEDLESS in their prayer. If I cherry-pick 107:4 on its own, wrench it out of its context, I can even accuse Allah of rebuking those who pray! After all, that is exactly what the verse says!

Muslims are guilty of this very dishonesty and deception if they read John 17:3 in this manner, out of its context. If we read verses 1, 2, 4, and 5 of John 17, we learn that Jesus was claiming something for himself that no one can claim except God. If, in verses 1, 2, 4 and 5, Jesus speaks of His divinity, then, He was not excluding Himself when speaking of the only true God in verse 3!

When Jesus said that the Father is the only true God, that is absolutely right. The Father IS the only true God COMPARED to other false gods. But this statement does not deny the deity of the Son.

In Hebrews 1:8, the Father says that the Son is God.
“But of the Son, he [the Father] says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom….“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning and the heavens are the work of your hands.” (Hebrews 1:11)

What’s going on? If the Son says the Father is God and the Father says that the Son is God, are there two Gods? No. The Bible clearly teaches there is one God. This one God is the only true God and is a plural Being, Yahweh.

So when Jesus addresses the Father as “the only true God”, it does not mean he is excluding Himself, just as it does not mean that the Father is excluding Himself when He addresses the Son as God.

Most Muslims misread and misunderstand the verse. They think the verse says “ONLY the Father is the true God.” That is not what it says!

In John 13;13, Jesus said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.”
If Jesus claims to be Master and Lord, does it mean the Father is not Master and Lord?
Furthermore, Jude writes, “…ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4)
Here, Jesus is called our ONLY Master and Lord. If Jesus is our ONLY Master and Lord, does it mean the Father is not our Master and Lord? Of course not! This is the logic that Muslims use in arguing that John 17:3 means Jesus is not God. In fact, John 17:1-5 is perfectly compatible with the doctrine of the trinity.

Scriptures must be understood in totality. You cannot rip out one verse and read your own biased presupposition into it. If Muslims think they are debunking the trinity using John 17:3, they need to re-think their claims because John 17:3 actually demolishes Allah as god! Imagine that! They’re quoting a verse that acknowledges the Father as the only true God! And yet Allah is not Father! He is never called Father in the Quran and specifically denies it! What a blunder for Muslims! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Cutting your nose to spite your face? We agree that the Father is the only true God as opposed to other false gods (like allah!)

In fact, the one who penned John 17 is the same one who wrote the opening of the book, John 1:1, introducing Jesus as God! The author, John already starts his book by telling us that Jesus is God!

Furthermore, this same author writes in 1 John 5:20, “And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.


Let’s examine verses 1 to 5 in John 17 to get a grasp of the context of the passage to give us a better understanding of what John 17:3 means.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…

John 17:1

Glory only belongs to God and we know He shares his glory with no one. No mere man can demand to be glorified. Yet, here we see Jesus doing that! He was talking about the mutual glory of the Father and the Son.

“The Son glorified the Father by revealing in this act [the cross] the sovereignty of God over evil, the compassion of God for men, and the finality of redemption for believers.” (Tenney)

(Side note: Notice the posture. “Lifted up his eyes to heaven.” Muslims like to claim Jesus prayed like a Muslim. Which part of the Muslim prayer does a Muslim “lift up his eyes to heaven”?)


…since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him

John 17:2

Jesus claims that he possesses authority over all flesh! That means Jesus has authority over all mankind! (That includes Muhammad!) Who has authority over all flesh except God? Can a mere man make such a claim?
Not only that. Jesus claims he has the authority to give eternal life! Once again, who has the authority to give eternal life except God? Can a mere man make such a claim?

These are clear and startling claims to deity; no One but God could truthfully and knowingly make such claims.
Jesus here claimed “authority to determine the ultimate destiny of men.” ~Tasker


And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3

Having established clearly in verse 2 that Jesus is divine and he himself has all authority over mankind and the giver of eternal life, now we come to verse 3.
What is verse 3 really about? Most Muslims miss it because they’re not even really reading the verse! IT IS ABOUT ETERNAL LIFE!
Eternal life is found in KNOWING experientially the Father AND the Son. The Bible inextricably links eternal life with the Person of Jesus Christ. Here, Jesus equates “eternal life” with knowledge of the Father and of the Son. There is no knowledge of the Father without the Son, for it is through the Son that the Father reveals Himself.

The author, John, spells it out in his epistle that Jesus is the very personification of eternal life itself!
“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” 1 John 1:2

The only way we can know and have eternal life and the only way the Father reveals and gives us eternal life is…through Jesus, the eternal divine Son.
And this is that testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12

And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20


I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

John 17:4-5

Jesus was aware of His pre-existence and of the nature of that pre-existence. Jesus understood there was a time in eternity past when God the Son and God the Father enjoyed a shared glory.

i. Jesus could not truthfully or sanely pray this if He were not Yahweh Himself, equal with God the Father. In Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11, Yahweh proclaimed that He shares His glory with no one. If God the Father and God the Son share their glory, they must both be Yahweh. (Guzik)

ii. “He had one main petition: that the Father would receive him back to the glory he had relinquished to accomplish his task. This petition for a return to his pristine glory implies unmistakably his preexistence and equality with the Father. It confirms his claim that he and the Father are one (John 10:30).” (Tenney)


Conclusion

And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:20

More than any other way, God has revealed Himself to us by Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the key and the focus of it all. We see the personality and character of God by looking at Jesus.

The phrase “Him who is true” also reminds us of the importance of true belief, of trusting in the true Jesus, not a made-up Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible is Him who is true, who is His Son Jesus Christ.

This is the true God and eternal life: Here John tells us who Jesus is. He was a man (as John declared in 1 John 1:1, 4:2, and 5:6), but He was not only a man. He was totally man and the true God and eternal life. John does not, and we can not, promote the humanity of Jesus over His deity, or His deity over His humanity. He is both: fully God and fully man. (Guzik)

John Stott says of the statement, this is the true God and eternal life: “This would be the most unequivocal statement of the deity of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, which the champions of orthodoxy were quick to exploit against the heresy of Arius.” (Stott)

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.

2 Peter 1:2

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