How does the fact that the Father is the “only true God” (Θεός) at J 17:3 in a convertible proposition affect the sense in which Jesus is θεός?

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    – Soldarnal
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 1:03

4 Answers 4


In what way does the convertible proposition between σέ and τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν affect the subset proposition1 between ὁ λόγος and θεὸς? Here are the two passages:

...and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1) [NIV except as noted]

...καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

1...“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17)

1... πάτερ ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα δόξασόν σου τὸν υἱόν ἵνα ὁ υἱὸς δοξάσῃ σέ 2 καθὼς ἔδωκας αὐτῷ ἐξουσίαν πάσης σαρκός ἵνα πᾶν ὃ δέδωκας αὐτῷ δώσῃ αὐτοῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον 3 αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

Obviously both σέ (17:1, 3) and σου (17:1) refer to "Father," (the lack of the article implies "My/His" not "the") whose relationship in the passage connects with τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν:

(My/His) πάτερ (17:1) <---> σέ (17:3) <---> τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν

Contrasting John 1:1 and 17:3 is an argument used by Jehovah Witnesses against the deity of the Word.2 It is meant to show the Word is not God because, as Daniel Wallace states, the best understanding of the subset proposition in John 1:1 is that is the point the writer intends:

John 1:1 ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Again, a subset proposition is envisioned here. The λόγος belongs to the larger category known as θεὸς. The force of this construction is most likely to emphasize the nature of the Word, not his identity. That is to say the Word is true deity, but he is not the same person as the θεὸς mentioned earlier in the verse.3

Ignoring the incongruity of devising a literary work which begins with a subset proposition introducing The Word in a way that can be understood as God (versus simply saying "the Word was not God" if that was the writer's point in 17:3) and then using a convertible proposition to undo the confusion from the beginning, interpreting a text involves more than grammar:

Obviously the interpretation of this text cannot be solved on the basis of grammar alone..."4

In John 17:3, Jesus has placed πάτερ and τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν within the framework of his prayer which is speaking about eternal life. Interpretation must begin with that in mind. Grammar cannot strip the passage of its purpose in order to posit a definition of either πάτερ or τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν. Rather, to answer in what sense Jesus is God, the primary purpose, eternal life must guide interpretation:

  • With regard to eternal life, what is the temporal condition created by the particle δέ which separates πάτερ and τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν
  • The meaning created by adding the adjective μόνον to the correct monotheistic description of the true God, τὸν ἀληθινὸν θεὸν
  • Regardless of the convertible proposition, the text clearly states eternal life requires both Father and Jesus Christ, who was sent

Obviously for anyone who does not accept a tripartite Godhead, μόνον is unnecessary and so is nowhere else used to describe the "the true God" (cf. 1 John 5:20; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Isaiah 65:16). Moreover, like many words at key points throughout this Gospel, μόνον has a double meaning (only/alone). Therefore, where τὸν ἀληθινὸν θεὸν might logically be seen as that which is exclusive to the Father, the semantics of the intentionally ambiguous τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν does not permit that conclusion.

Finally, the fallacy of trying to use the convertible proposition in John 17:3 as a definition of the one true God (who is only the Father) to understand the nature of the Word in the subset proposition John 1:1 is obvious by simply applying the supposed interchangeability:

...the Word was with God [the Father] and the Word was God [the Father]

Clearly "God" in John 1:1 and "the Father" in John 17:3 are not interchangeable. In fact, the inability to use the interchangeability of the "one" true God who is the Father with God in John 1:1 is arguably a grammatical proof the writer is trying to convey to the reader the equivalency of Jesus Christ and His Father as God.

The Temporal Component

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

αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

This statement begins αὕτη δέ ἐστιν... literally this now is… The BDAG does not state how the particle δέ is used in this verse, apparently treating it as that which need not be translated:

δέ (Hom.+) one of the most common Gk. particles, used to connect one clause to another, either to express contrast or simple continuation. When it is felt that there is some contrast between clauses - though the contrast is oft. scarcely discernible - the most common translation is 'but'. When a simple connective is desired, without contrast being clearly implied, 'and' will suffice, and in certain occurrences the marker may be left untranslated.5

However, the particle δέ is continuative and adduces a more precise definition of ζωὴ αἰώνιος (eternal life).6 It should be rendered as "now" as in many translations:

For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. This now [αὕτη δέ] is eternal life...

When He is praying, Jesus is yet not able to "give" (δώσῃ) eternal life as He has yet to be glorified (crucified and resurrected).7 Only after these events will He be the source of eternal life. So the passage references three different periods in time:

  • Future ...he might give eternal life
  • Present ...this now is eternal life...
  • Past ...whom you have sent. [For the reader this statement is always in the past; it is also temporarily in the present before Jesus dies. This is most likely the reason Jesus refers to Himself in the third person.]

In talking about eternal life with Nicodemus, Jesus used this same device to convey a change in the basis for judgement (which leads to eternal life):

16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 he one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 19 Now this (αὕτη δέ) is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. (John 3 NET)

αὕτη δέ reflects a temporal contrast. The previous basis for judging is replaced. Now one must believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God, because God sent Him. In other words, had the Son not come, the previous system of judging would still be in effect. However, since God sent the only-begotten Son, not only did a change occur, it is now in effect.

Therefore, the temporal contrast must be taken into consideration to grasp the significance of what Jesus is saying to His Father:

1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life [after he is glorified] to all those you have given him. 3 Now this [before he is glorified] is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began [so that after I am glorified, I might give eternal life]. (John 17)

As with judgement, there is a temporal aspect in the text. Where His entry into the world brought a change to the basis for judgment; His departure, which at the time of His praying is still a future event, will bring a change to the basis for eternal life as John clearly explains:

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7)

The True God
The glorification of Jesus brought a new source of eternal life. It also brought back the previous way in which the true God is described:

15 For you shall leave your name for fullness to my chosen ones, but the Lord will do away with you. But to those who are subject to him, a new name shall be called, 16 which shall be blessed on the earth; for they shall bless the true God, and those who swear on the earth shall swear by the true God, for they shall forget their first affliction, and it shall not come into their heart. (LXX-Isaiah 65)

15 καταλείψετε γὰρ τὸ ὄνομα ὑμῶν εἰς πλησμονὴν τοῗς ἐκλεκτοῗς μου ὑμᾶς δὲ ἀνελεῗ κύριος τοῗς δὲ δουλεύουσιν αὐτῷ κληθήσεται ὄνομα καινόν 16 ὃ εὐλογηθήσεται ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εὐλογήσουσιν γὰρ τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν καὶ οἱ ὀμνύοντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ὀμοῦνται τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν ἐπιλήσονται γὰρ τὴν θλῗψιν αὐτῶν τὴν πρώτην καὶ οὐκ ἀναβήσεται αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν

19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also [now] 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 by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5)

19 οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν καὶ ὁ κόσμος ὅλος ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται 20 οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἥκει καὶ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν ἵνα γινώσκωμεν τὸν ἀληθινόν καὶ ἐσμὲν ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος

Eternal life after the Resurrection is, His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God (ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς) and eternal life and the ambiguous μόνον has been removed as in Isaiah:8

Before being sent:             τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν
Prayer (before glorification): τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν
Letter (after glorification):   ὁ  ----- ἀληθινὸς θεὸς

After Jesus is glorified μόνον is no longer needed; just as it was unnecessary before He was sent. μόνον is only needed when Jesus is on earth praying to His Father who is separated from Son and Spirit at that moment in time.

John 17:3 separates the two statements about Jesus Christ and θεὸς:

The Word was with God and the Word was God
His Father, the μόνον true God and Jesus Christ whom His Father sent
His Son Jesus Christ the true God and eternal life [the Son returned to the Father]

The sense of μόνον is not exclusivity which denies deity; it is one which acknowledges a physical disruption as a result of Jesus Christ being sent and becoming human. In the beginning He was God and then ...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7) After His glorification the Word became flesh (1:14), the first-born of the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5) and the (present-day) source of eternal life.

Moreover, when seen in the context of eternal life, the tripartite nature of God is clearly conveyed. When the Word who was with God was sent and came to His own. While on the earth, the Holy Spirit also descended and abode with Him (cf. John 1:32) during this time they (Son and Spirit) were separated from His Father. Nevertheless, after returning to the Father John says:

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true
οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἥκει καὶ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν ἵνα γινώσκωμεν τὸν ἀληθινόν

Jesus Christ is come (present tense) and has given (perfect tense) understanding of Him who is true. This is the work of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent after He was glorified:

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me. (John 15:26)

Now (at this time) the Spirit of truth is come to give understanding about Him who is true (the Father and the Son).

1. Subset proposition: The significance of the S-PN construction affects more than mere translation precisely because S and PN do not normally involve total interchangeability. The usual relationship between the two is that the predicate nominative describes the class to which the subject belongs. This is known as a subset proposition (where S is a subset of PN). Thus the meaning of “the Word was flesh” is not the same as “flesh was the Word,” because flesh is broader than “the Word.”…It can be thus be seen from these examples that ”is” does not necessarily means “equals.” - …a convertible proposition, this construction indicates an identical exchange. That is to say, both nouns have an identical referent. The mathematical formulas of A=B, B=A are applicable in such instances. [Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, p. 41.]
2. The Arians, Socians, and Unitarians also interpret John 17:3 to deny the deity of Jesus Christ.
3. Wallace, pp. 45-46
4. Daniel B. Wallace, The Semantics and Exegetical Significance of the Object-Complement Construction in the New Testament, Grace Theological Journal 6.1 (1985) pp 99 [in discussing Philippians 3:18]
5. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 213
6. Meyer's New Testament Commentary
7. Expositor's Greek Testament
8. Arguably the point John is making is the complete fulfillment of Isaiah 65:15-16 as it is expressed in the LXX is found in the Word who became flesh and is now the true God.

  • 2
    God is a spirit, not flesh. God has no equal. Isaiah 46:5. Jesus is begotten. God is not. Jesus is a god that prays to the true God John 17:3.He himself says God is greater than him.
    – user35499
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 3:33
  • Wonderful Answer. Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 21:40
  • @User35499. All your propositions are believed by a Trinitarian. And yet they know and understand that Jesus is God Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 21:41

The OP has just provided one of the standard arguments for the plurality of the Godhead. I congratulate him.

Using the same terminology as in the question, we find (correctly) that Jesus' statement in John 17:3 is a "convertible proposition", namely, that the Father is the One True God.

In John 1:1 we find another which is NOT a "convertible proposition", namely, "The Word was God." (see David Bentley Hart's translation of the NT). This latter proposition is what is known in Greek logic as a category statement and is equivalent to saying "My car is red."

This use of the verb "to be" defines a category as does John 1:1 - Jesus is in the category of "God" and since the Father is the "one true God" (John 17:3) and Jesus is One with the Father, John 1:1 makes Jesus "the One true God" as well.

There are numerous other times where the NT makes similar statements - here is a sample.

  • John 1:18, “…but God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made him known”
  • John 5:17, 18, “In his defence, Jesus said, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was calling God his own Father, making him equal to God.” See also Luke 22:69-71.
  • John 20:28, “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God.’”
  • Rom 9:5, “…Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
  • Phil 2:5-8, “…Jesus Christ: who, being in very nature God…”
  • Titus 2:13, “…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
  • Heb 1:8, “About the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever’”.
  • 2 Peter 1:1, “…righteousness of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
  • Dottard, you evade the grammar of the OP. If J 17:3 was a subset proposition it might be possible to allow for more than the Father as the only true God. J 1:1 is a subset proposition as you note. But there is no basis to conclude that the Word has all the qualities of the class is θεός typified by θεός at J 1:1b. I make that point in this paper: drgregoryblunt.wordpress.com/john-1
    – user33125
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:03
  • 2
    Good for you but I disagree and this is not the place to debate nor discuss. The problem here is that "God" as a class is unique and anyone who is a member of that class is part of the One true God.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:07
  • 1
    Up-voted. An excellent clarification : reference to 'category' statements. This clarified what was obscure in the OP. The OP over-focussed on convertible propositions as though the one example given excluded all other types of argument. Very balanced and succint. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:16
  • 1
    Oh come now @ThomasPearne, don't be a bad loser and start accusing me of 'theology' again. Dottard exposed the fallacy of your argument fair and square and I applaud him.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:20
  • 1
    Ah now that is where you misunderstand the fulness of Deity @ThomasPearne . Deity can never be 'exhausted', sir. Such is the perfection of union of the Father and the Son (in One Holy Spirit) that neither the Father is 'exhausted' of the Son nor the Son 'exhausted' of the Father (in the union of One Holy Spirit). By using the word 'exhaust' you (again) expose the fallacy of your way of thinking, sir.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:40

Who is the "only true" Thomas Pearne?

Is he the bag of bones preferring to keep an air of mystery about himself, who, presumably, walks about somewhere on the planet? What does it matter? His "flesh profiteth nothing", it is his "spirit that quickeneth" his bag of bones.

The spirit of Thomas Pearne believes that Jesus is not God, and though I have never encountered the bag of bones that bears that name, I know his heart. The words his spirit moves his bag of bones to type at his keyboard (and presumably utter with his lips), declares it!

19Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father?
Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.
20These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come. 21Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
22Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
23And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. 24I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

-- John 8:19-24 (KJV)

"For if you believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." Who is the referent of the pronoun "he"? When Jesus said "I", he was clearly referring to the bag of bones before the eyes of the Jews to whom he was speaking. But who is the "he"? It's pretty important that they/we get it right, since they/we will die in their/our sins if they/we don't.

I won't presume to dictate for others who the "he" refers to, but for me the answer is contained in the passage just quoted.

Using BDAG as a referee in order to sew up a grammatical argument that "proves" Jesus is not the "only true God" might be persuasive to the one making it, but no one, not even the spirit of Thomas Pearne, would attribute BDAG as the word of God, and the word of God makes it abundantly clear what Jesus meant by, "I am he."

  • My words are simply to bring to your attention the words of God. The authority I quote is what all Christians agree are the words of God, the Holy Bible. In particular my answer quotes the Word of God, who John attests is Jesus Christ.
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 1:58
  • I have answered the question so in what sense is he [Jesus] θεός without contradicting John 17:3. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing..." John 6:63 (KJV). The exclusive, eternal Spirit that moved the bag of bones that bore the name Jesus to declare the means by which mankind must come to Father, was/is the self-same exclusive Spirit that moved God to create the Cosmos, and that moves the Comforter to convince men of their sin (i.e. not believing the "I am he"). The Spirit is what matters, the form by which the Spirit is manifest "profiteth nothing".
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 2:48

Because the Only God is eternally Father, therefore the coeternal and co-God with the Father is also the Son, for Father is such, that is to say, “father”/“begetter”, only in virtue of having Son.

Both the Father and the Son shared the same glory before the world began (John 17:5), but time and succession of events occurred only with the world, while before the world began there was only divine infinity and eternity, with 0 (zero) succession. Thus it is impossible for Father to have had the Son in terms of any temporal succession, but only co-eternally, in an eternal causality, as the Son's eternal Cause. Thus, it is absolutely correct term in theology to call the Son συνανάρχος i.e. "co-unoriginated" with the Father.

It is an Arian blasphemous mythology to say that God was initially non-Father God and then He became also father by giving birth to the Son and all this process of God's initiation into fatherhood was happening in timelessness that excludes any possibility of such processes :)

But such stupidities are not even to be mentioned in this respectable site.

P.S. To my dear anonymous downvoter(s):

Let you know that by those anonymous "-" -es I get my share in mini-persecution for affirming and confessing the Godhead of Jesus Christ; not a great deal, for in the past many a saint paid with their lives for the same confession. Thus, you smugly think to have harmed me in this not very noble - to put it mildly - way, but in fact vouchsafed for me a blessing from Him who said "blessed are those who are persecuted in My Name's sake", and this name is the name of the one before whom every knee should bow (Philippians 2:10), and this name can be only that of God, for it is sin to bow to anybody save God. The necessary outcome - hear you well my present Arian or Jehovawitnessian foe, but hopefully future Trinitarian friend! - is that Father cannot be worshipped unless with Jesus co-worshipped, and not to co-worship the Son is an insult to the Father.

  • 2
    "But such stupidities are not even to be mentioned in this respectable site" John Calvin believed that Dr Michael Servetus' "Non Trinitarian" beliefs were worhty of death and had him executed by burning. Are reasonable questions and answers "stupidities" just because they do not agree with your dogma?
    – user35499
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 14:34
  • Oh, not with m y. dogma, and just forget all d o g m a s, but heed a biblical text+common sense I have presented above. p.s. and that Kalvin was a bit of an idiot, has nothing to do with my comment. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 18:35

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