In John 17:3, Jesus addressed the Father as 'the only true God'' which semantically means that no one else is true God except the Father. However, Jesus is also addressed as ''God'' in the same gospel (John 1:1, 18, 10:33, 20:28) and still, Jesus addressed others as 'gods' in John 10:34.

John 1:1 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants]

ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

John 1:18 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants] θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

John 10:33 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants]

ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι Περὶ καλοῦ ἔργου οὐ λιθάζομέν σε ἀλλὰ περὶ βλασφημίας, καὶ ὅτι σὺ ἄνθρωπος ὢν ποιεῖς σεαυτὸν θεόν.4

John 10:34 Greek NT: Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants] ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς Οὐκ ἔστιν γεγραμμένον ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ὑμῶν ὅτι Ἐγὼ εἶπα Θεοί ἐστε;

John 17:3 τη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωὴ ἵνα γινώσκωσι / γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν.

John 20:28 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants]

ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου.

What is the meaning of the phrase 'only true God' in John 17:3? I am seeking an answer that sees John 17:3 in conjunction with other passages where others are being addressed as God/god. Please do not answer using preconceived Christological ideas (i.e. Unitarian or Trinitarian etc.). Your answer might reflect either of these, though. I highly encourage the usage of your own words as opposed to using traditional words (consubstantial, essence, trinity, unitarian etc. ) when expounding this scripture.

  • Did you mean to say "discouraged" in the final sentence?
    – Ruminator
    May 10, 2019 at 16:15
  • I encourage an answer that relies heavily on expounding the passage in question.
    – R. Brown
    May 11, 2019 at 3:38
  • Within the aforementioned Gospel, Christ is regarded as being the incarnation of God's divine word. However, the Word of God is precisely that: the divine (godly) Word of the one true God, as opposed to that of some other deity.
    – Lucian
    May 11, 2019 at 11:35

9 Answers 9



And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (ESV)
αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

The phrase the only true God, τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν, is unique to the both the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. An abbreviated form ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς is used in one place:

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)

In the New Testament, true God is found only in the Gospel when Jesus speaks and John's letter.

The use in the LXX is also rare. Isaiah uses and repeats the most grammatically emphatic phrase τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν:

Which shall be blessed upon the earth; for they shall bless the true God, and they that swear upon the earth shall swear by the true God. For they shall forget the first affliction, and it shall not come up into their heart. (LXX-Isaiah 65:16)1

Deuteronomy uses θεός ἀληθινὰ to describes His works:

God - his works are genuine, and all his ways are justice. A faithful god, and there is no injustice, a righteous and holy Lord. (LXX-Deuteronomy 32:4 NETS)

Chronicles has a prophet speaking to Asa of the true God. He uses θεῷ ἀληθινῷ:

1 And Azarias son of Obed – a spirit of the Lord came upon him. 2 And he went to meet Asa and all Ioudas and Benjamin and said, “Hear me, Asa and all Ioudas and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him, and if you seek him, he will be found to you, and if you abandon him, he will abandon you, 3 And for many days it has been for Israel without a true god and without a teaching priest and without law. 4 And he will return to the Lord, God of Israel, and he will be found to them. (LXX-2 Chronicles 15 NETS)

The omission of the article reflects the fact a genuine monotheistic expression is that of one God. In this case, the God and true God are identical terminologies.

As the LXX shows, a genuine monotheist knows there is only one God who by nature must be the true God. Even though ἀληθινός is unnecessary, on rare occasion God is called true God and even then the article is unnecessary. Nowhere does this phrase require additional qualification. The book of Isaiah ends with a picture of judgment and salvation before the new heaven and new earth. All people will bless and swear by the true God, τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν.

Clearly the terminology in the Gospel is unique and deviates from both the Old Testament and the similar phrase in First John:

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As evidenced by the LXX and John's Letter, the terminology to describe the true God does not require the additional term, μόνον. This raise questions. What reason does Jesus have to add this otherwise unnecessary term? Does μόνον have anything to do with Jesus referring to Himself in the third person? What reason does John have for changing what Jesus said by removing μόνον in the Letter?

The Fourth Gospel has many places where a key word has a dual meaning. For example, in His discussion with Nicodemus Jesus uses and repeats the term ἄνωθεν which means both again and above (cf. John 3:3, 7). This raises the question, does Jesus mean entrance to the kingdom of heaven requires being born again or being born from above?

Immediately before praying Jesus shows μόνον has another meaning:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16)

In English the sense of only in μόνον is one of separation: being alone, by himself. In addition to what Jesus says immediately before His prayer, 8 of the 10 uses of μόνον clearly mean alone, as in by himself. After feeding the 5,000 Jesus left the disciples and crowd; He went by Himself alone to the mountain (John 6:15). The next day the crowd realizes the disciples also departed; they had left alone (John 6:22). In the confrontation over the woman caught in adultery, after hearing Jesus' response the scribes and Pharisees leave one by one until Jesus is alone (John 8:9). The Father has not left Jesus alone (John 8:16, 29). A grain of wheat must die and remain alone to bear fruit (John 12:24).

Only in 5:44 is μόνον understood differently. Yet even here there are 14 translations which consider the sense of alone as proper:

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44 ESV)
How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? (John 5:44 NRSVA)

As there is no reason to add anything to true God, something additional is being conveyed. In the situation where Jesus prays to His Father in heaven, Jesus acknowledges His coming to earth left His Father by Himself, and so alone until He returns.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the God who is [at this moment] alone [by Himself] and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The meaning of alone agrees with Jesus' speaking of Himself in the third person and why John removes the word in the Letter. Once Jesus returns, the Father is no longer by Himself. Therefore, after the Resurrection, eternal life is found in He who is the true God.

The triune nature of God was interrupted when the Son was sent. While praying in His human form He addresses His Father and states eternal life is found in the Father who is by Himself and Jesus Christ whom He sent and who is soon to be put to death. When He returns, the triune nature of God was restored so it can be said "He is the true God and eternal life."

  1. Translation from R.R. Ottley, The Book of Isaiah According to the Septuagint (Codex Alexandrinus), Cambridge University Press, 1909, p. 321
  • 1
    Of course Jesus is calling God the only true God, but people who use this to prove Jesus is not God must interpret this to mean, "You alone are the true God," which is distinct from "You are the only true God." Obviously if Christ is deity by nature, then He also is the only true God. The Trinity doesn't posit multiple Gods, or multiple only true Gods. It posits one God, which nature three distinct and eternal persons constitute. Nov 23, 2019 at 20:57
  • @SolaGratia. How is three not multiple, where in the bible can we find your assertion? If Jesus had a beginning, how can he be as old as his Father and God? When Jesus was circumcised, does that mean God was circumcised too? Jul 11, 2023 at 2:09
  • Incarnation, Trinity, Person (be it 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Person of the Trinity) are all preconceived denominational words/terms NOT found in the Bible and which are creating a lot of confusion to understand the Holy Scripture. Hebrews 1:3 declares that the Son/ Logos is the EXPRESS IMAGE/PERSONA of the one true God who is INVISIBLE (John 4:24; Colossians 1:15). Jul 11, 2023 at 9:32
  • @TesfayeWolde "Words and terms not found in the Bible." This is a trivial argument or rather a red herring/strawman logic. For example, is the word polytheism in the Bible? If not are we to suppose the Bible is silent on the matter? It is a common practice to use a single word or phrase to summarize a subject. The inescapable fact is μόνον has two meanings. I assume you believe the correct one is only not alone as by himself...despite the fact it is rarely, if ever used like that in John's Gospel and despite the fact John "reworks" the words of Jesus in the Letter. Jul 11, 2023 at 15:40
  • @RevelationLad — With due respect I disagree with your statement. Aren’t these terms the ones loaded with fundamental doctrinal concepts which bitterly divided those who allegedly follow Christ and led to severe persecutions recorded in the history of Christianity throughout centuries since the 3rd Century a.d.? Oct 8, 2023 at 13:29

[I've tried not to assume any theology, and base everything on the context of the passages.]

"The only true God"

"Only" refers to the fact of there being only one God. This is the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments (Deuteronomy 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

"Only true" as an alternative to the above, being more specific, refers to the fact that other "so-called gods" (ibid.) are not true Gods (Psalm 96:5; 1 Corinthians 10:20).

"The only true God" refers, then, is simply synonymous with "God."

Implications for Trinitarian and other Non-Unitarian Theology

Since this phrase only identifies the Father as the true God (of which there is only one: "the only"), and does not say "only the Father is the true God," Trintarian theology is not precluded by this passage: only if Unitarianism is assumed can "only the Father is the true God" and "the Father is the only true God" be conflated.

Others Being Called Gods

When Christ quoted "I said you are gods," He was quoting Psalm 82:6: "I said, You are gods—sons of the Most High, all of you." This is a psalm about corrupt and immoral judges who didn't care for their people, and did not uphold justice. They were called "Gods," as Moses was (Exodus 7:1), because they exercised juridical authority and in some sense played the role of God, although legitimately and by His own delegation. Jesus' point here was that if they can be called Gods, to whom the word of God came, merely, how is it that it is wrong for the Word, "who [is] God," (John 1:1) to be called God, as He truly is? That is, one who is truly God in the divine sense, can surely be called God if mere humans can be called it who only have a divine authority.

This is not just a Trinitarian eisegesis. Observe that Jesus' response only answers their objection if the above is true. Saying, "but others were called 'gods'" is not an answer to the objection that He was claim to be God: "you, being a man, make thyself God" (John 10:33). And on notion that it should be translated, "make thyself a god," all I will say is that it is precluded what caused them to want to stone Him: "for saying, I an the Father are one." Or as John himself declared: "[Jesus] said God was his Father, making himself equal to God" (5:18; notice this is John's own testimony of why they wanted to stone Him, and not what they said). And also that this gospel begins, written by monotheist John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God" (1:1).

Again, when Thomas said to Jesus, "My Lord and my God," He was clearly addressing Jesus as such ("he said to him"). Not only is the suggestion that Jesus approved of and blessed this use of the name of the Lord in vain ("OMG!) blasphemous and antihistorical (Jesus being a Jewish Rabbinical teacher), but it doesn't even fit as a theory: no one specifies the two things God is (your Lord and your God) while using the name of the Lord in vain; whereas identifying Christ as the risen God in the flesh certainly warrants such an identification. After all, Thomas' faith was perhaps weak when before this point, Jesus had plainly claimed to be God:

John 16:25-30 (DRB) These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The hour cometh, when I will no more speak to you in proverbs, but will shew you plainly of the Father. In that day you shall ask in my name; and I say not to you, that I will ask the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father. His disciples say to him: Behold, now thou speakest plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now we know that thou knowest all things, and thou needest not that any man should ask thee. By this we believe that thou camest forth from God.

Seeing Christ risen, and all His claims confirmed and incontrovertable occasioned this confession by Thomas.

  • The other beings called "Gods" By capitalizing the lettter "G" for the "Gods" you mentioned, are all these "Gods" the almighty YHWH? Jul 11, 2023 at 2:21

Jesus said :

I and my Father are one. John 10:30 KJV.

He did not say 'I and my Father is one'. They are not the same person. The Father and the Son are in perfect unity - within one Divine nature. Each possesses divine nature. And they are one, within that single divine nature.

What is true of one (with regard to that divine nature) is as true of the other. Perfectly.

But as to the matter of person : one is Father, one is Son.

The Deity of the Father is the only true Deity. There only is one deity - only one divine nature. In the nature of deity, there can only be one deity. For one attribute of deity is fulness. No other fulness can exist, but the one.

But the perfection of unity that unites Father and Son causes there to be a perfectly shared fulness, within one diety.

Anything other than this - is not true. It is not real. It does not exist.

Jesus said also :

πνευμα ο θεος John 4:24 TR.

'Spirit, the God'. 'God is a spirit' (KJV).

That divine nature which is possessed by Father and Son, that unity which perfectly unites Father and Son, is one Divine Spirit.

A perfection of unity, in one Spirit. An everlasting begetting - Father and Son.

This is the true God : and eternal Life.


What is the meaning of the phrase 'only true God' in John 17:3?

Jesus in his prayer to his heavenly Father for the sake of the sheep , not only shows the oneness that exist between him and God, but also does not speak of himself as God, but says to his Father.

John 17:3-6 (NASB)

3" This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I glorified You on the earth, [a]having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word."(Compare John 17: 20-24)

Notice, (Verse 6) who was it that gave men out of this world to Jesus?

When Jesus said that his Father “the only true God” gave him disciples out of this world, Jesus did not mean that he as God gave himself something. Jesus spoke of all his disciples, not as a gift made by himself to himself, but as a gift made to him by the “only true God,” his heavenly Father.

John 1:1

John 1:1 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants]

ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. Many translate John 1:1 as follows:

John 1:1 (NASB, NRSV)

1" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Others translate it as follows:

Translations by James Moffatt, Edgar J. Goodspeed and Hugh J. Schonfield render part of the verse as "...the Word [Logos] was divine". (Source:Wikipedia)

James Moffatt New testament of John 1:1

1 "THE Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine.

The following is from the book "The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated", by Count Leo Tolstoy, as follows:

If it says that in the beginning was the comprehension, or word, and that the word was to God, or with God, or for God, it is impossible to go on and say that it was God. If it was God, it could stand in no relation to God.*

In view of Revelation 19:13, what must John 1:1 mean, at most, regarding the Word?

John proves that the Word who was with God “was made flesh” and became Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ was “the Son of God.” So it would be proper to say that the Word was the Son of God. For anyone to say that the Word was God, “the only true God,” would be contrary to what the apostle John proves by the rest of his writings.

In the last book of the Bible, namely, in Revelation 19:13, John calls him “The Word of God,” saying: “And his name is called The Word of God.” (NASB, NRSV)) Note that his name is not called “God the Word,” but is called “The Word of God,” or God’s Word. Hence John 1:1 must mean, at most, that the Word was of God.

John 1:18

John 1:18 Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants] θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

John call the "the only begotten god"who is in the intimate presence of the Father, because he is given power and authority from the almighty God , the Father: Read below Mat.28:18, 1 Cor. 8:6, Heb 1:2

John 1:18 Amplified Bible (AMP)

18 "No one has seen God [His essence, His divine nature] at any time; the [One and] only begotten God [that is, the unique Son] who is in the intimate presence of the Father, He has explained Him [and interpreted and revealed the awesome wonder of the Father]."

Matthew 28:18 (NASB)

**> " And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been

given to Me in heaven and on earth."**

1 Corinthians 8:6 Amplified Bible (AMP)

"Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, who is the source of all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things [that have been created], and we [believers exist and have life and have been redeemed] through Him."

Paul says that God spoke to their forefathers by means of the prophets and now he has spoken to them by means of his Son . Hence Jesus cannot be God.( Heb.1:1-2)

Hebrews 1:1-22 (NRSV)

God Has Spoken by His Son

1 "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds."

John 10:33-34 NASB

For clearer understanding why the Jews wanted to stone Jesus and Jesus reply I have quoted from verses 31-39 , you will notice that the Jews falsley accused Jesus of making himself "God". If Jesus did claim to be God, it would have been a blasphemy and the Jews were right to stone him. However Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God and to prove this, he replied from the Psalm 82:6 “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?{human judges representing God, not divine beings }

John 10:31-39 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

31 "The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?"

35 "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may [a]know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” 39 Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.

John 20:28 (NASB)

28 "Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Some view the expression of astonishment as directed to Jesus, whilst others says that although spoken to Jesus it was actually directed to God. Therefore the intention of the expression “my Lord and my God” should be best understood in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures.

Thomas heard Jesus prayer to his Father calling him the "only true God", (17:3) so there is no reason for Thomas to believe that Jesus was the Almighty God.

Thomas also heard "Peter's confession to Christ", “You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:15-17 (NRSV)

15 "He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

Thomas was also present when Jesus "Foretold his death and resurrection"

21" From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

If we are to interpret the expression as being directed to Jesus, as being the Almighty God,then we have to say that Peter is Satan, we certainly know that this is not so, therefore John 20:28 should be understood in tha same manner, and in harmony with the scriptures.

  • 1
    Lots of Speculation here Dec 3, 2022 at 21:24
  • 1
    Very good answer based on Scripture, Ozzie. Your answer is free of the labeling like Trinitarian, Unitarian, …etc, which is based on theological arguments. Truth has nothing to do with denominational partisanship. Truth is the foundation of faith. God bless you. Upvoted. Jun 9, 2023 at 19:17
  • 1
    -1 As if John expects a reader to ignore the clear and unambiguous meaning of what he wrote to be refuted by someone who studies what was written elsewhere. Why would John make a statement which could so easily lead someone to a wrong conclusion and can only be understood (correctly as you maintain) by reading what others wrote elsewhere? If your position as any validity, then one would expect John to state what you claim he means in no uncertain terms, not something which is so blatantly incorrect (according to you). Jul 17, 2023 at 16:10
  • 1
    Repeatedly throughout John's Gospel, he adds "narrator comments." He does so to explain what was misunderstood at the time by explaining what was really intended or what was the correct understanding. If Thomas "got it wrong" as you say, one does not expect silence from John, as if to say "go search what others say to harmonize what I said Thomas said." One would expect John to give the reader the correct understanding - just as he does elsewhere. The fact John lets Thomas' words stand without correction, can only mean that is exactly how they are to be understood. Jul 17, 2023 at 16:18

In Mark 13:19, Jesus refers to "the creation which GOD created". He doesn't say, "the creation which I created", or the creation which WE created". If he'd meant "I", or "we", would he not have said as much? Was Jesus not speaking plainly and clearly to his disciples here? Clearly, Jesus is speaking here of God the Father, the same being he calls "the only true God". To say that there's a vast difference between saying " the only true God" versus " the one God" is sheer speculation.


First of all, Jesus addressing the Father as "You, the only true God" does not semantically mean "that no one else is true God except the Father." That could be inferred only if Jesus had said "You, Who alone are the only true God". It is most evident that the statement "the Father is the only true God" does not imply the statement "the Father alone is the only true God".

Addressing the question, the meaning of Jesus calling the Father "the only true God" is just to confirm that there is only one omnipotent eternal God, Creator, Sustainer and Lord of everything that exists outside Him, which is a truth accessible by the natural light of human reason (Rom 1:19-21) and explicitely revealed in the OT:

"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God [el] formed, neither shall there be after Me. (Is 43:10)

"Thus says YHWH, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, YHWH of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. (Is 44:6)

Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God [eloah] besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.'" (Is 44:8)

"I am YHWH, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; (Is 45:5)

"Declare and set forth your case; indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, YHWH? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God [el] and a savior; there is none except Me. (Is 45:21)

Now, it is well-known that the name Elohim, literally "the gods", has two meanings in the OT: a) the only omnipotent, eternal Creator God, YHWH, in which case the plural has a majestatic sense and the name is the subject of a singular verb, and b) the gods, either existing super-human entities created by and subordinated to YHWH (in pre-exilic texts only, of which I make the case below) or the imaginary gods of the gentiles, in which case is the subject of a plural verb.

Thus, verses like Is 44:6 and 45:5 which say literally "besides Me no Elohim/elohim" can be understood in either of two senses, depending on the sense of Elohim/elohim: with "Elohim" in sense a, as "besides me no omnipotent, eternal Creator God", and with "elohim" in sense b, as "besides me no gods", so that someone intent on affirming that post-exilic Jews did NOT reserve the term "god" for YWHW can reject these verses as proof to the contrary by saying that they use Elohim in sense a only, and therefore do not preclude the existence of lesser, subordinated, created gods which should not be worshipped.

Therefore I emphasized above the instances where "God" translated a singular Hebrew name, either "el" (Is 43:10) or "eloah" (Is 44:8), which I gave between []. From these instances, it is clear that for post-exilic Jews all names referring to a divinity, both the majestatic plural "Elohim", which in Greek would be "ho Theos", and the singular "El" and "Eloah", which in Greek would be "Theos", were reserved to YHWH. The other existing superhuman real entities, the angels, were created by YHWH and wholly subordinated to Him, so that they could not be called "gods". And the "gods" of the idolatrous peoples were not real: "For all the gods [elohe] of the peoples are idols, but YHWH made the heavens" (Ps 96:5).

I wrote the 3 previous paragraphs to preemptively dispel the notion that in Jn 1:1 the final unarthrous "Theos" is actually "theos" and refers to a created superhuman entity, as non-trinitarians (or more precisely, as people denying the numerical identity of ousia between the Father and the Son) posit. But Jesus calling the Father "the only true God" in Jn 17:3 achieves exactly the same: because if the Father is "the only true God", then there are only two possible ways to understand the final clause "the Word was God" (or "the Word was god") in Jn 1:1:

A. The homoousian way: the Word is all that God the Father is (except Father), i.e. the Word is also the only true God;

B. The heteroousian way: the Word is a fake god.

So, while the meaning of Jesus calling the Father "the only true God" is quite straightforward and not new to the NT, the reason why John recorded it is to preemptively dispel any heteroousian reading of the passages where Jesus is called theos. Because if there is only one true God, the Father (also in 1 Cor 8:6), and the Son is not all that the Father is (except Father), then the Son is a fake God.

Since I have used the noun ousia by itself and composed with homo/hetero, I note that it is the noun directly deriving from the verb "to be" in Greek, first person singular "eimi" and present participle "on", meaning what a subject is, and that Jesus used that verb to state his divinity in John's Gospel in two ways: 4 times with Himself as subject without further qualifications, as "I Am", "Ego Eimi", clearly in the sense of the Name of God in the first person revealed in Ex 3:14, in Jn 8:24,28,58 and Jn 13:19, and once with Himself and the Father as subject, "I and the Father are one" in Jn 10:30. Refraining from using a noun which derives directly and naturally from a key verb used in the Gospel is unnatural and unwarranted.

To place the above in the context of other NT passages containing "Theos", we must first note that the NT uses two terms, "ho Theos" and unarthrous "Theos".

The term "ho Theos" or its genitive "tou Theou", dative "to Theo", or accusative "ton Theon", refer to God the Father, except in the 5 passages where it refers to the Son, none of which calls Jesus simply "ho Theos" without qualification: Mt 1:23, Jn 20:28, Ti 2:13, 2 Pe 1:1, 1 Jn 5:20. But even in these cases "ho Theos" refers always to a divine Person, not to the divine ousia.

On the other hand, unarthrous "Theos" can refer to either

  • the one and only divine ousia, what each divine Person Is, in which case it is the attribute of a copulative sentence whose subject is the Son (Jn 1:1, Rom 9:5) or the subject of a passive predicative sentence, or

  • a divine Person, usually God the Father when it appears without qualification or the Son in "monogenēs Theos" (Jn 1:18).

So, Jn 1:1 says:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God the Father, and the Word was all that God the Father was (except Father)."

Where from monotheism, "all that God the Father was" is understood in a sense of numerical identity, not of merely qualitative identity. "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30), not "I and the Father are equal". "Homoousios", i.e. "of the same ousia" (numerical identity), not "isoousios", i.e. "of identical ousiai" (merely qualitative identity).

In terms of the four possible theological positions: consubstantial Trinity (nicene orthodoxy), tritheism, Arianism and modalism:

  • Modalism is directly discarded by holding the Gospel text as true.

  • Tritheism is discarded by the OT and also by Jn 17:3 (and 1 Cor 8:6): there are not two or more true Gods.

Thus, you can either hold the consubstantial Trinity, whereby the Son is also the only true God, the Father's design "that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (Jn 5:23) implies worshipping the only true God, and the statement "I and the Father are one" is meant in an ontic sense,

or hold Arianism, whereby the Son is a fake god, the Father's design "that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (Jn 5:23) implies divinely mandated idolatry, and the statement "I and the Father are one" is meant in a merely moral sense.


It seems to me that the author(s) of the gospel of John is probably too intelligent a writer to contradict the opening statements of his gospel. Maybe you could logically prove that there is a contradiction but I think at least he thought there was not one. So we know (assuming no textual corruption) that in the author of John's opinion:

A. The Logos is or was God (in at least some sense)

B. The Father is greater than the Son (in at least some sense)

C. The Father is the only true God (in at least some sense)

And it seems to me that because these can be taken in multiple senses, there are multiple ways to resolve the issue. They would in a sense all be satisfactory because they would all resolve the issue, but they would also all in a sense be unsatisfactory, because we could not confidently say this is what the author thought. Here's some possible solutions I see, in no particular order:

  1. The Father is the only true God, but since the Son shares the Father's essence, so is the Son. This is an awkward but not impossible interpretation of John 17:3. This would immediately resolve A, and then B could be resolved by saying that the Son is only temporarily inferior to the father as a result of his kenosis (but this is awkward, since kenosis is a concept taken from writings outside of John). Not the cleanest solution but I think it works and this is probably more or less how Nicene Christianity tackles it.

  2. The Logos is God, but in a lesser sense. He is not the only true God- not the origin of all being because he is begotten of the Father. Here, God is being used in a sense similar to that in Psalm 82, or a sense higher than Psalm 82 but lower than "true God". This resolves A, B, and C quite cleanly in my opinion. I don't think it's particularly harmed by the fact that people in the gospel of John refer to Jesus as God; they could also be saying so in this sense. Really the only problem with this interpretation I see is how to reconcile it with other scripture/Nicene Christianity, which you may or may not feel obligated to do.

  3. The Logos was the true God, but in becoming flesh it transformed its essence and became something that was no longer the true God and was now subservient to God. This is a kind of permanent kenosis. Like #2 this solution seems to me a more elegant harmonization of John's statements than #1 but it raises the question "Why would the Logos do that?" and would be difficult to reconcile with other writings, if one felt the need to do so.

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    Feb 28, 2023 at 23:29

What does it mean that the Father alone is “the true God” in John 17:3?

Does it refer to an ontological nature or functional authority?

Jesus did not deny that he is “God” in John 20:28 and thus, even the writer of the gospel of the 4th began it with that affirmation (“the Word was God”) which formed an inclusio to his gospel. The Father is the only true God according to Jesus Christ in John 17:3 yet there are other true gods too in the rest of the 4th gospel since a god that is not a false god is logically a true god (John 1:1, 1:18, 10:35, 20:28).

Since there are many other true gods mentioned in the gospel of John, the writer’s use of “monos” (only) should be examined in relation to determine what precisely is the nature of the Father’s being “alethinos theos” (true god).

John 10:35 comes to mind very handy because it was a quote of Jesus from Psalm 82. In Psalm 82, an explicit polytheistic language is used to refer to the relationship of God either with Israel or the angels depending on which tradition one accepts. If the earliest, it would be the angels as evident in the dead sea scrolls and Greek copies of the old testament prior to the advent of Christ as well as the Targum prior to the MT. The reading of the MT (Israel) is from ca. A.D. 900–1000. The name “god” and “son” in Psalm 82:6 are synonymous, in the sense that both refers to those whom God shares his authority for the purpose of doing his will. On the other hand, the “most high god” is deemed to be the only god that is to be worshiped and he is worshiped even by all the other gods. In the gospel of John, we also see an instance of this in Jesus, who though “God” himself, is declaring the Father as the “only true God”. The Father alone is “genuinely” God is in the sense that he alone is the “father” of everyone (Ephesians 3:14–15) so that everyone’s his “offspring” (Acts 17:23–28). In other words, the Father alone is the true God in the sense that no one is above him but that he is above everyone, including Jesus.

Jesus is also true God but only in the sense of being “monogenes theos” (“only God” ESV, “God the only Son” NRSV, “uniquely existing God” ISV, the only one, himself God” NET) (John 1:18).

By basing on grammar alone, and when read literally, the Father is shown to be the only true God in John 17:3 but by basing on context, we learn that the “Father” alone is the only true God , not by nature, but by role, in that the sense that he is above all and the source of all.

Upon close scrutinisation, John 17:3 cannot be interpreted to mean that the Father alone is the “only one divine person” (Unitarianism). Rather, exegetical analyses have shown that the accurate meaning of John 17:3 is that the Father “alone was the only divine person who had the function or role of being having supreme authority”, in the sense of being a ‘father’, which means that ‘everyone’ (excluding himself) is ‘subordinate to him’.

  • Why was this answer down voted Dec 3, 2022 at 21:28

It can be misleading to snatch out this expression outside the entire sentence in which it is, and the sentence goes as such:

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

Look, the focus of the sentence is eternal life and what is necessary for it; and necessary is knowledge; and knowledge of not anything but only of two things - a) Father - the only true God and b) Jesus Christ, whom He, the Father sent. Now, “know” here relates to both Father and Christ, to the effect that we are told that it is impossible, yes, ontologically or theologically impossible to know the Father and have eternal life unless by also knowing Christ whom He sent. If so, then Christ is absolutely and essentially necessary for the Father to communicate the salvational knowledge to humans, and, without His Son - Christ, the Father is perfectly impotent to save humans, i.e. to provide them knowledge sufficient for them to have eternal life. Such an essentially necessary one for God the Father can be only the one who ontologically, theologically and indispensably pertains to the Father, and thus, if the Father is the only true God, then the one who pertains to Him necessarily and essentially, yes, such a one is also the only true God.

Take a famous ancient analogy for clarity: the sun rays, the sun radiation says: “I wish that skins of all humans get salubrious D-vitamin from you, o, sun-disc, the only true luminary, and from me, whom you have sent to them”. Yes, no D-vitamins to human skins unless through both sun-disc and its rays/radiation.

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