John 17:3, "The only true God."

by Matt Slick

"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent," (John 17:3).

the only true GodThe Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, cite John 17:3 as a proof-text to deny the Trinity and claim that Jesus Christ is not God. They reason is that if Jesus were God, then He would not have called the Father, "the only true God." If the Father is the only true God, then it must require that Jesus cannot be God.

First of all, it is not proper to make a theological doctrine out of one verse. Of this, the Jehovah's Witnesses are sometimes guilty. Nevertheless, they do tend to take one or two verses on a subject and use them to interpret all the others. Instead of getting a balanced position, they arrive at an interpretation that is in agreement with their theological position. This is called "proof-texting" and is something the Jehovah's Witnesses frequently do.

Second, the context of Jesus' comment was that He was speaking as a man to His God. Remember, Jesus is both God and man, the second person of the Trinity, and the word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Since He was both divine and man, as a man, He would naturally and properly say that His Father was the only True God. He was not denying His own divinity but affirming the Trueness of God as was done in the OT: "Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God," (Isaiah 37:20). The truth is that Jesus was a man made under the Law (Gal. 4:4); and as a man, He would be subject to God. Only, in this case, Jesus was subject to the Father. That is why Jesus called the Father the only true God; but it is not a phrase that excludes Christ, for Christ Himself said, "Before Abraham was, I am," (John 8:58) and did not deny being called God by Thomas in John 20:28.

Third, John 17:3 must be examined in the light of the totality of scripture. We see that Jesus is called God in John 1:1, 14; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; and Heb. 1:8. Therefore, John 17:3 cannot be interpreted in a way that disagrees with other scriptures. Of course, some people simply state that John 17:3 cannot allow for Jesus being God, but the simple fact is that Jesus is called God by God and others. Therefore, the whole of scripture must be harmonized.

Fourth, this verse 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.

Fifth, Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is the True God. Also, in 1 John 5:20, Jesus is called the only true God: "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." Jesus is not contradicting the word.

Sixth, if we are to be consistent using the Jehovah's Witness logic that the Father is the only true God, then the following verses present a problem - if we use their logic.

  1. "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ," (Jude 4).
    1. Does this mean that the Father is not our Master and Lord? Of course not. Yet, Jesus is called our only Master and Lord.
  2. "There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him," (John 1:9-10).
    1. Here we see Jesus being called the true light. Does this mean that the Father is not the true light? If not, then we have both the Son and the Father being the true light.
  3. "And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone," (Mark 10:18).
    1. Does this verse mean that Jesus is not good? Jesus said only God was good. Then, if we use the Jehovah's Witness logic, Jesus is not good. Of course, that doesn't make any sense.
  4. "I, even I, am the Lord [YHWH}; And there is no savior besides Me," (Isaiah 43:11).
    1. We know that Jesus is the Savior. Again, according to Witness logic, Jesus could not be the Savior since the Bible tells us that YHWH is the only Savior.
  5. "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders," (Psalm 72:18).
    1. Jesus performed many miracles. But if the Lord [YHWH] is the one who alone performs wonders, how then can it be that Jesus also?
  6. "Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, 'I, the Lord [YHWH], am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone,'" (Isaiah 44:24).
    1. According to John 1:3 and Col. 1:16-17 Jesus made all things. With JW logic you would have a problem.
    2. Col. 1:16-17 says, "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Since God alone created all things, how could Jesus have done it? For more on this subject see the JW paper on Col. 1:16-17.

As we can see, we cannot simply make a doctrine out of one verse. To do so is to invite error and it only serves to use the Bible to validate preconceived ideas about doctrine.







About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.