This excellent Bible verse is quite familiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses and other students of God’s Word. In the New World Translation it reads:

“This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”

What does this scripture really mean? What is it saying to us? It’s not as obvious as we may think. Lots of us have referred to this as the “Study the Bible” scripture. Which is not in and of itself wrong, because the rendering in the NTW certainly lends itself to that application- that of getting a householder to see the importance of Bible study. But as with other verses, when you compare them to other translations, and especially to the original Greek wording, what do you find?

Well here is the scripture in the original Greek from the Kingdom Interlinear:

And from the Apostolic Bible:

So here we see that knowing Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus are of utmost importance. You could know your mailman and say hello to him occasionally and be aware that his personal name is Al. But do you really KNOW him?  A deep personal relationship with them is absolutely necessary for us as Christians. If we read this verse a thousand times to a thousand different people, does that alone aid us in knowing God better?

Here is the rendering from several other translations as taken from the Bible Gateway:

So it is apparent that knowing God is the thrust of the verse according to the original language. “Taking in Knowledge” as rendered by the NWT is important, but more than that is needed to gain a close relationship and come to know our Heavenly Father and his Son intimately. From the scholarly website comes this explanation of John 17:3:

The expression “eternal life” primarily relates to its quality or nature rather than to its duration. According to John 17:3, eternal life is “knowing” the true God and the one whom he sent. This “knowing” means having a relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. It is a family relationship, with those having faith in Jesus being recognized by the heavenly Father as his approved children. Once that relationship comes into being, children of God have “eternal life,” but its full enjoyment is yet future. Death does not sever the permanent family relationship and, therefore, does not mean the loss of the real life that came into the possession of believers. For all children of God who have died, resurrection is a certainty and will mean their continuing to enjoy the real life in the glorified state of their sinless resurrection bodies. The heavenly Father is eternal, and the life of all with whom he has a relationship is therefore also eternal. (This is from the Notes section regarding John chapter 6. Bold type added.)

The following are the comments on John 17 (the heading Jesus’ Prayer for His Apostles):

He referred to eternal life as being a life distinguished by an enduring relationship with him and his Father. It is a knowing of the Father as the only true God and Jesus Christ as the one whom he had sent. This “knowing” is an intimate relationship of oneness with the Father and his Son. A life that harmonizes with Jesus’ example and teaching and so also with his Father’s will confirms the existence of this relationship. Recognizing that Jesus had been sent by the Father would require acknowledging the reason for his being sent, putting faith in him, and accepting the atoning benefits of his sacrificial death. Being a relationship that does not end, the life that is distinguished by a relationship with the Father and his Son is eternal and will be enjoyed in the complete sense in the sinless state. In that state, the most intimate knowing of the Father and the Son will be possible. (John 17:3)

Interestingly, this dovetails perfectly with two references from the Society’s publications. The 1976 9/15 Watchtower, pages 562-563 pars. 9-12 says this:

The surpassing importance of this knowledge was further emphasized by Jesus when he declared: “This is what the eternal life is, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3, Byington.
10 What does it mean to “know” the Father? Does it mean to know that God exists? or, further, to recognize God as Sovereign and to be baptized as a servant of his? Knowing these things, yes. But much more is meant. The Greek word translated “to know” carries a deeper meaning than our English word “know” generally implies, though often when we say we know a person we mean that we understand him and his qualities. In these Bible contexts the verb form of “to know” means “to come to know, to get acquainted with, to understand.” In John 17:3 it indicates a continuing relationship between God and the person that brings ever-increasing knowledge of God and Christ; what is known about God is not merely partial information but is of value or importance to the one who grows in knowledge. It also implies a closeness of trust and confidence. (John 17:3, Kingdom Interlinear) In fact, the apostle John says: “He that does not love has not come to know God.”—1 John 4:8.
11 So to know Jehovah God would be to attain to an understanding friendship with him. Since heart knowledge, not mere head knowledge, is meant, to know God the Christian would be in tune or “rhythm” with God and his ways. He would feel as God feels about matters. He would see things through God’s eyes, as it were. And he would immediately “sense” something wrong when confronted by false notions about God and His ways. He would not blame God for his trials and hardships.—Jas. 1:13.
12 The Christian who knows God will be a person who ‘through use has had his perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.’ (Heb. 5:14) He will not generally have to go to some Bible commentary or to someone else to see what is right or what is wrong about a matter. Because of his Christian training, it will become a part of him to love what God loves and to hate what God hates.—Rom. 12:9.

And from the 1975 2/15 Watchtower, pages 117-118 pars. 15-16:

15 Getting to know God, then, involves knowing both him and his Son. Jesus Christ pointed this out when saying in prayer to his Father: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of [or, “knowing,” An American Translation] you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Such “knowing” of God and his Son is not just head knowledge, acquired information. It actually means to recognize the authority of God and his Son and to submit to it. By way of illustration, a worker might have a specific job assignment from his manager. However, were he to receive a conflicting assignment from a lesser supervisor, he might say to such one, ‘I know no other manager.’ In saying that he would not mean he did not know the lesser supervisor existed or that he did not know him as a person. Nevertheless, he “knows” or recognizes no manager other than the one under whom he works as having authority over him.
16 Similarly, a person may acknowledge that Jesus Christ exists and that he is the Son of God who sacrificed his life for the world of mankind. But that is not the full extent of “knowing” the Son of God. According to Jesus’ own words, he has been given “authority over all flesh.” (John 17:2) So the person who really knows Jesus Christ as having such authority shows this by obeying his commands. (John 14:15; 15:10) As the apostle John called to the attention of fellow believers: “By this we have the knowledge that we have come to know him, namely, if we continue observing his commandments. He that says: ‘I have come to know him,’ and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person.” (1 John 2:3, 4) Since Jesus’ commands actually originated with his Father, knowing or recognizing the Son as one deserving of obedience also means knowing or recognizing the Father as being one deserving of full submission.—John 7:16-18; 14:10.

So back in the 1970s John 17:3 was accurately explained and understood. So why do we continue to gloss over this verse and turn it into the “Study the Bible” scripture? It reminds us of what Paul said at Hebrews 5:12-6:3 which reads:

For, indeed, although YOU ought to be teachers in view of the time, YOU again need someone to teach YOU from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God; and YOU have become such as need milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.
6 For this reason, now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, 2 the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands, the resurrection of the dead and everlasting judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God indeed permits.”

Why is it that 99% of the friends don’t really know what this verse means? Just because most of us have it memorized doesn’t mean we understand it. And how accurate is the unusual rendering given to this verse by the New World Translation? Though not intentional, the rendering is slightly misleading as it would suggest that the word “knowledge” (epiginosko)  appears in the Greek text when it does not. During our last circuit overseer visit, the CO emphasized delving deep into the scriptures. He encouraged the servants and elders to analyze what Bible verses really mean and endeavor to understand them. John 17:3 seems like a good place to start.

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6 Comments on John 17:3- What it Really Means

  1. Difficult Places Common to Scripture says:

    Good article. Many of the friends are accustomed to letting the Governing Body and the Writing Dept. do the thinking for them. But not all. There are JWs who study and research on a regular basis and they are the better for it.


  2. Scepticalone says:


    Yes, there are those among the Watchtower organization that go deeper into the Bible than the Governing Body or the Writing Dept. But there are many who, I noticed, during a Watchtower study when dealing with a verse by verse discussion, are unable to comment as to what they understand about the Chapters and verses under discussion even when the they are invited to do so. The comments from the audience are far and few between the reading of the paragraphs. Has anyone ever noticed that? I have. Why is this so? Is it because they are use to having the understanding of the Bible verses laid out for them every step of way? Is it because they have been completely trained to parrot the written answers?

    The burden, I am afraid should not be placed up the JW membership only, but upon those in the leadership who make the membership completely dependent upon the teaching authority of the organization. Furthermore, the ideas and thoughts of the writers of the Watchtower articles do not get all of their answers from within themselves but they consult Bible Commentaries and other sources for the exegesis of the scriptures. Why is not the rank and file encouraged to do the same like the article above which quotes from the Werner Commentary, which by the way I consult from time to time. It is an excellent source of understanding.


  3. Jolly Roger says:

    To a great extent I agree with you; however, I’ve heard this complaint about the WT being “scripted Q&A” and plain vanilla boring. But you gotta remember, the WT study is, for the most part, a public meeting and therefore potentially have folks who are curious about the WT but not really up on the lingo and idioms that the friends toss about without thinking.

    One elder I had met at the congregation was a guy that seemed particularly interesting, but his answers were always right out of the WT Book of Answers #13A type. One day I happened to be talking with him and found out that he had been a missionary in Columbia, which really piqued my interest, and so I began to ask him about it. He was quite open and told me about how Columbia is pretty much 100% mountains and that to get any where in the country you were either going down a mountain or up one, or both. He told me about how travel had to be done on a bus, with a load of farmers and peasants and chickens and pigs on a dirt road just barely wider than the bus and with, usually, a hundred or so meter drop off on one edge. Then he told me about the bandits, who would ambush the buses, rob the passengers, and sometimes kill them (or kidnap them if they thought they were worth anything). Then, he told me about how they would occasionally pass by piles of bodies left over from previous bus-loads and ambushes and how the passengers would critique the way the bodies were mutilated, because that would indicate which outlaw gang was active that day. It seems that each gang had their particular “trademark” way of mutilating it’s victims. “You ever hear of a Columbian necktie?” has asked me once. Gee, now wouldn’t that be a swell thing to bring out during a public meeting?

    There was another elder who, from the platform, relayed an incident that occurred to him when he was out in service with an individual who was going out for the very first time. According to the elder, at the very first door they knocked on, some 6’4″ grizzled, obviously hung-over and upset dude in a T-shirt throws open the screen door and jams a .357 under the elders chin and tells him to “Get the &*&%$ off my porch and don’t ever $%&&^$$^ come back!” The elder excused himself and turned around and left, with the new recruit in tow, who managed to squeak out, “Does this happen a lot?” Of course, all the friends got a chuckle out of that story, knowing that it was an extreme rarity; but, I imagined what some newbie in the audience was probably thinking at that point, “Jesus Christ! These people are crazy! I wonder how long it is going to take for me to get to my car?”

    Now, you could argue that, well, in the search for Bible truths, open discussion is necessary, and you would be correct; however, the truths that you currently hold, did you get them through discussion with other people or through your own personal study, meditation, and application? My guess is that your methodology would tend toward the latter less we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Most folks that I have heard before with this complaint usually end up admitting that they weren’t being allowed to hold a debate, which simply isn’t the purpose of the group studies.


  4. bruceguth says:

    JJ, I remember this discussion from the 70s, now that you bring it up, over John 17:3. A very good reminder.

    This is good for any Christian to reflect on, and as we learn to walk with Jesus and the Father we know and understand these fuller meaning(s) you bring out.

    This reminds me of an eye-opening article that my friend and brother Mark Miller has written, which is helpful for any seeking a progressive relationship with God, and particularly helpful for those struggling to get past mere stop signs among organized religion.

    Please take a look at this. It is well-stated!


    Also, it is now 5 days since Mark went into the hospital with heart trouble, and I have not yet heard back from him or his son. If anyone hears anything, please let us know.



  5. amday77 says:

    So interesting governing body now has a new bible that corrects John 17:3. This whole time its been explained off track.. Although I’ve never seen the gb to be men who know everything as some do.. Just glad Jehovah had them correct that!..


    • JJ says:

      It is in line with how virtually every other English language Bible renders it now, but they still retained the old, “taking in knowledge” phrase in the footnote.


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