John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
It goes without saying that much discussion takes place relative to the idea of only one true God. The “Only True” God is not so difficult to understand, however, when understood in light of the light already considered regarding the Personhood of Christ and the Holy Spirit, as well as proper understandings of the “LORD is one.” But there is more to consider.
Was Jesus really suggesting in John 17:3 that His Father was the only true God, and therefore negating His equal participation in the Godhead and that of the Holy Spirit, and discouraging worship of the two of them?
As we have already seen,
(1) Christ is clearly spoken of as God in the Old and New Testament, and in the writings of Ellen White.
(2) As God, Christ is self-existent.
(3) Christ is clearly spoken of as being equal to God in the Old and New Testament, and in the writings of Ellen White.
(4) Christ’s incarnation and ministry was full of supernatural events.
(5) Christ made claims and gave assurances that only a Deity could make and assure.
(6) Christ is clearly spoken of as accepting the worship of human beings in the Old and New Testament, and in the writings of Ellen White.
(7) We are told that Christ came to earth as man and will ascend to heaven as God.
(8) We will welcome Christ as God at the time of the second coming.
(9) We are told that we will worship the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit in heaven.
(10) Adults and children are encouraged to pray to Christ. In light of this evidence, Christ’s statement cannot possibly suggest that the Father is the only “true” God and that Christ is not God and inferior.
John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 20:28-29 “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Since John stated that Christ was God in John 1:1 and John 20:28-29, John 17:3 must not be understood to negate Christ’s Godhead.
How are we to understand John 17:3? I would suggest that John 17:3 is not a statement on whether Christ is God, rather a statement comparing the creator God to other pagan gods. Notice the evidence of Jeremiah 10:10-11:
*Jeremiah 10:10-11 “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation. 11 Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.”
The phrase “true God,” first mentioned in Jeremiah 10:10, defines the “true God” as the Creator God who “hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion,” and contrasts the “true—Creator—God” to the false “gods that have not made the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 10:11).” The Hebrew word for God in Jeremiah 10:10 is “ʼĕlôhîym,” such as is found in Genesis 1:27, 11:7 and Exodus 20:3.
These verses do not say the Father is the “True God” and Christ a false god—absolutely UNTRUE! and blasphemous. Or that the Father is the “only true god,” and Jesus Christ is a lesser god. Rather these verses compare the true Creator God with pagan gods. Speaking further of this Daniel Bediako states:
“In the passages that assert the oneness of God, the contrast is consistently between the God of Israel on the one hand and the gods of Canaanites on the other. The contrast is never between the one-person God and a plurality with that one God. In other words, when the Old Testament asserts the oneness of God, such oneness excludes only false deities, not a plurality of persons within the true God.”
Proof of this fact are the incidences already mentioned where the three are mentioned in the Old Testament.
In John 12:27-33 Jesus speaks of having come at a particular time—“for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27), for a particular purpose—“now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31), and asks the Father to “glorify His own name”—the Father’s name. In other words, in coming Jesus emptied Himself of any glory and did not seek to attract attention to Himself.
In John 17:1-5, at the end of His ministry, Jesus implores the Father to reinstate the glory He [Christ] had prior to his humbling Himself and coming to earth: “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee (John 17:1).” In reminding the Father that eternal life comes to those who recognize “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3),” Jesus is pointing to the casting out of the “prince of this world,” mentioned in John 12:31. Christ concludes by asking that the glory He enjoyed prior to coming to earth would be reinstated: “Glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 17:5)”
Far from stating that His Father was the only true God and Himself an inferior being, Jesus is asking for a reinstatement of the same glory He had from the beginning—equal to the Father. The NKJV renders it, “O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was (John 17:3).”
Beyond that we should not comment. This falls into the “unsearchable and past finding out” that awaits our discovery in heaven.
Remember: “The greatness of God cannot be measured or comprehended. And that doctrine that denies the absolute Godhead of Jesus Christ, denies also the Godhead of the Father; for no man knoweth the Son but the Father.” Signs of the Times, June 27, 1895, par. 3.