Augustine in his commentary on John 17:3 said “ The proper order of the words is, That they may know You and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent, as the only true God.” https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701105.htm

What does this mean? Was he changing the text for theological reasons, is there a manuscript that says otherwise?


Augustine wrote,1

Ordo verborum est, ut te et quem misisti Iesum Christum cognoscant solum verum Deum.

which may be translated as,

The right order of the words is: “so that they may know you and whom you sent, Jesus Christ, [as] the only true God.”


        1 PML, Vol. 35, p. 1904, Tractatus CV, 3.

There is actually no question about the order of the words. The Greek text was plainly visible for him and others to see.

Γʹ αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν TR, 1550

The Greek text simply does not corroborate Augustine’s Latin translation of the Greek text. One should also note that the Vulgate does not exhibit Augustine’s word order, either.2


        2 haec est autem vita aeterna ut cognoscant te solum verum Deum et quem misisti Iesum Christum

If the Greek text had stated, τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν σὲ καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν (“the only true god, you and whom you sent, Jesus Christ”), then he might have a basis for his argument. However, look closely at the Greek text. σὲ by itself precedes τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν, and therefore, τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν (“the only true god”) is in apposition to σὲ (“you”) alone.

Why, then, did Augustine make such an assertion? He was unable to explain John 17:3 as it stood in the Greek text.

Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer wrote,3

Although τ. μόν. ἀλ. θεὸν refers solely to the Father, the true divine nature of Christ is not thereby excluded (against the Arians and Socinians, who misused this passage), all the less so as this, in accordance with His (Logos) relationship as dependent on the Godhead of the Father, forms the previous assumption in ὃν ἀπέστειλας, as is certain from the entire connection of the Johannean Christology, and from ver. 5. Hence it was unnecessary,—nay, even a perversion of the passage, and running counter to the strict monotheism of John, when Augustine, Ambrose, Hilary, Beda, Thomas, Aretius, and several others explained it as if the language were: ut te et quem misisti Jesum Christum cognoscant solum verum Deum. Only One, the Father, can absolutely be termed the μόνος ἀληθ. θεός (comp. ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεός, Romans ix. 5), not at the same time Christ (who is not even in 1 John v. 20 the ἀληθινὸς θεός), since His divine entity stands in the relation of genetic subsistence to the Father, i. 18, although He, in unity with the Father, works as His commissioner, x. 30, and is His representative, xiv. 9, 10.


        3 Meyer, p. 462


Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis. “In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus CXXIV.Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Prima. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 35. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1845.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John. Trans. Urwick, William. Ed. Crombie, Frederick. New York: Funk, 1884.

  • 1
    I believe Augustine himself said Greek was hard for him to understand – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 17 at 18:43

The only variation in text forms in John 17:3 is listed below:

NA28, NA27, NA4, UBS5, UBS4, Byzantine text, GOC 1904, TR 1550, etc

Αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή, ἵνα γινώσκωσίν σε τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεόν, καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν χριστόν.

TR 1894, Scrivener, NA4, Majority text, etc

αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή, ἵνα γινώσκωσί σε τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν Θεόν, καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν.

The main difference being the highlighted word meaning, "they may know" vs, "they may know" - ie, it makes almost no difference.

The NASB reads:

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

As best I can tell, this is essentially the same as Augustine quotes.

  • 2
    The difference being whether the verse is read as affirming Jesus's divinity or not. Which remains a question even though it's not a textual criticism question. – curiousdannii Apr 17 at 12:10
  • Appears to be how to interpret the uncials. – Perry Webb Apr 17 at 13:22

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