I was wondering if there was a hidden meaning to John 17:3.

In John 17:3 Jesus calls Father the only true God, but in John 14:6 Jesus says that He is the Truth. You can't have a "True" God without the Truth.

So, is Jesus trying to show his eternal relationship with his Father in John 17:3?


Fr. Cornelius à Lapide, S.J., explains in his commentary on John 17:3:

That they may know Thee, the only true God. Hence the Arians infer that Christ is not true God. In reply,

  1. S. Augustine (in loc.), Bede, and others, connect together Jesus Christ and the Father under the one term “Deity,” and interpret thus, As the Father is true God, so is the Son also true God. (See S. Hil. lib. ix. de Isaiah.) The statement would otherwise be imperfect, for if we believed that the Father alone was true God, we could not have anything else to say about Jesus Christ, unless we understood that He was true God also. The Fathers, in fact, infer from this Christ’s Godhead.

  2. S. Chrysostom, Cyril, and others reply that the word “only” does not exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit, but merely idols and false gods. And the meaning is that they may believe in Thee, who art that God, who only is the true God, as is also the Son and the Holy Spirit. That the Son is true God is sufficiently indicated, when it is said that eternal life consists in the knowledge of Him and of the Father alike. For eternal life necessarily consists in (the knowledge of) the one supreme and true God. (See S. Ambrose de Fide, v. 2.) Christ therefore through modesty does not call Himself God, but one sent by the Father, as the Redeemer of the world. For such He was when Incarnate, and made man. And hence we infer that faith in the Incarnation and the Trinity is required in order to salvation. For the Father cannot be fully believed in, apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit, for the Paternity of the Father requires also the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit.


Notice two important things. First, he doesn't say, "You alone are the true God," (i.e. and therefore I am not) but "You are the only true God." Since, "the only true God" is synonymous with "God," are we to believe that Christ's affirmation of the Father's being God is a denial of His own divinity? Or worse: that Christ is a false God? Rather, He constantly affirms He can do nothing without the Father: He is not a renegade or other god, nor asking you to believe in another: "You believe in God [i.e. the Father], believe also in Me" (Jn. 14:1). He is the expression and image of the invisible God itself. No one has ever interacted with God except by means of His Word. The Son is God for the same reason the Father is God: they belong to the divine nature fundamentally, and Scripture affirms this in multiple places (e.g. Jn. 1:1; Phil. 2:6; Rev. 1:17 cf. 22:13).

But inasmuch as Christ has two natures, including a real human nature, making Him a man as well as God (not a God which is a man, Num. 23:19), He can say things not true of His divine nature but true of His human, and vice versa, or speak of Himself as separate from God or the Divinity, since His humanity truly is distinct and different than the Divine Nature: His person only uniting the two (i.e. the Hypostatic Union, or the fact that Christ's two natures cohere only in that the same Person owns them both, not that there is confusion or admixture between them).

For example, He can say, "I am the First and the Last," and in the same sentence, "I died" (Revelation 1:17). Or St. Paul could write, "they would not then have killed the Lord of Glory" (1 Cor. 2:8). Clearly God cannot die, but the sense in which God took on a human nature allows Him to say He died in a sense which doesn't violate this fact: and which moreover is a very plain and obvious sense.

In other words, if the Father is not the only true God, then the Trinity is false, so it cannot possibly be an argument against it. Likewise, if Jesus can't distinguish between "Jesus Christ whom you have sent," and the Divinity, then the Divinity and the incarnate Jesus are identical, whereas this would be the heresy of Modalism, Monophysitism, and Patripassionism all mixed into one monster heresy.

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