There are some Christian believers who teach that Jesus Christ the Nazarene had no pre-existence before his birth in Bethlehem. While most in the Christian Church accept the pre-existence of the Messiah before his human birth, what are their reasons based on the Bible?
For nearly two-thousand years some worshippers of God have believed the foretold Messiah would come from heaven and would have existed before his human birth. This is suggested, according to some Biblical scholars as early as the first and second centuries of Christianity. Note Proverbs 8:22, “Yehowah created me as the beginning of his way. He established me before time began, in the beginning, before He made the earth. … When He prepared the heaven I was present with Him.” [Septuagint]
That Messiah would have a pre-existence was foretold by the prophet Micah: “From [Bethlehem] will come out to me the One who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from ancient times, from before the Periods of time began.” [Micah 5:2 NCMM]
Despite these prophecies, there is a small group of Bible students, and so-called Christian “scholars,” who claim Jesus of Nazareth had no previous existence before his human birth. In considering one popular book and the arguments there presented one discovers: a) the misapplication of Scriptures; b) the omission of important key texts; c) the tyranny of authority [ = “leading scholars”]; d) straw-man arguments; e) sweeping generalizations without support [the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust].
However, what of the Christian Bible itself? Did inspired Nazarene preachers and teachers originally believe that Messiah would have a pre-existence? Or, did they believe he would only first come in existence at his human birth? Consider 16 proofs that the Bible clearly teaches the pre-existence of Christ.
The first one to testify regarding this was the beloved apostle John. He introduces his own Gospel with the words suggesting the pre-existence of the Messiah: “In [the] beginning the Word existed, and the Word faced toward The God, and the Word was divine. This same one was facing toward The God in the beginning. By means of him everything came into existence and without him nothing came into existence. … The social order of humanity came into existence by his agency.” [John 1:1-3, 10 NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©]
Those who believe Jesus had no pre-existence argue that the “Word” [or, Logos] here are the words of God expressed from his own thoughts. However, the Greek word PROS suggests someone facing another to receive something. Compare the phrase PROS TON THEON in the Jewish Greek Septuagint at Exodus 3:15, 16 in the example of Aaron facing Moses to receive God’s words.
Some also argue that the AUTOU is only “it” and not “him” but a consideration of the Greek AUTOU in John 1:1-18 will reveal right there it is often used clearly as “him.” We have John’s own testimony that the Lamb of God was also “the Word of the God” at Revelation 19:13, using AUTOU in the same breath as “him.” Consider also 1 John 1:1, 2, “The Word of Life [TOU LOGOU] -- he was from the beginning [ARCHES] and we actually heard him! We actually saw him with our own eyes and our hands actually touched him! That Life was made manifest and what we saw we are relating to you. We are giving our own eyewitness evidence regarding that everlasting Life. That Life actually faced toward [PROS] the Father! And he appeared to us!” [NCMM Paraphrase]
Did any 1st Century non-Christian Jews agree with the idea that the LOGOS was a Son begotten of God? Consider the 1st Century Jewish philosopher, Philo Judaea: “But the aeionian LOGOS of the Eternal God is the most strong and firm support of the universe. He [AUTO] it is who, being extended from the middle to the ends and from the extremities to the middle, runs the full length of nature’s invincible course, bring all the parts together and binding them fast. For the Father who begat Him made Him an indissoluble bond of the universe. … since the Divine LOGOS sets himself as a boundary of the elements.” [Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel]
Having based his arguments on the Hebrew Bible, as well as 1st Century Jewish scholars, concludes regarding the pre-existence of the Son: “Such are the doctrines received from the Hebrews which we have preferred to the erroneous polytheism and demonism of the Greeks. … For even the only-begotten god [HO MONOGENES THEOS = John 1:18] and Firstborn of the whole world [Colossians 1:15], the beginning of all, commands us to believe his Father along true God [John 17:3] and to worship only Him.” [Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel, volume 1, page 327]
John the Baptist was also inspired to know that Messiah had a pre-existence. He speaks to the Jews in this manner: “The One arriving after me has gone before me because he existed before me.” [John 1:15, 30] The Baptist repeats this twice. Since John was about six months older than Jesus there is no way that Christ could have first come into existence in Mary’s womb and still existed before John. Clearly, the Baptist believed Jesus had a pre-existence before his birth.
Jesus himself taught on several occasions that he had a pre-existence. Compare the following statements he made in the hearing of his disciples:
John 3:13 - “No human has ever ascended to heaven but the Son of Humankind who descended from heaven.” If the Son of Humankind “descended from heaven” it strongly infers he had a pre-existence.
John 6:62 - “What if you behold the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” The Nazarene makes clear he had existed “before” becoming a human being. [Daniel 7:13]
John 8:58 - “I existed before Abraham came to be.” Though translators show their bias - whether trinitarian or unitarian - there are enough of them who agree with this rendering to suggest strongly that Jesus is stating he existed before Abraham.
John 17:5 - “Father, now glorify me with the glory I had at your side with the glory I possessed beside You before the human social order existed.”
Paul also taught the pre-existence of Christ. Note the following:
Romans 10:6 - “In contrast, that righteousness resulting from conviction says, “Do not state in your heart [Deuteronomy 9:4], ‘Who will ascend into the heavens,’ [that is to bring Christ down].” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul’s inspired interpretation of Deuteronomy 30:12, 13 has several views. In Deuteronomy the context is the Saying or RHEMA in the LXX and Paul goes on to interpret this as the “Saying of Conviction.” Later Jewish Targums viewed the phrase as trying to ascend to Sinai to bring Moses down (called the Christ at Hebrews11:26); or, ascending into the sea to bring up Jonah, both Messiah-types. Beyond accepting Paul’s interpretation we leave other views to speculations. It seems to fairly prove that Paul believed in the pre-existence of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:4 - “All the Israelites were immersed into Moses. … They all drank the same spiritual drink. Because they use to drink from the pneumatic Rock that followed them. And that Rock was the Christ.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] It is believed by some that Paul refers to the Angel of Yahweh who followed the Israelites in the wilderness and represented the Rock. This “angel of Yehowah” was the pre-existent Christ. [Exodus 3:2; 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2] [See further notes in Error of the Trinity, Nazarene Commentary 2000©.]
Ephesians 4:8, 9 - “That is why David writes, ‘When he ascended on high he led in procession captives as prisoners of war and these he gave as gifts to people.’ Now what does, ‘he ascended,’ mean but that Christ also descended into the lowest places on earth? The person who descended to the earth is the same one who ascended above the entire celestialum. This was so that Christ might fulfill completely everything (purposed).” [NCMM (paraphrase), Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul references Psalm 68 and then gives his inspired application of the implications of the word “ascended.” He argues this leads to the conclusion that Christ had to first descend to the earth, thus indicating a pre-existence.
Philippians 2:5-7 -
‘This be the mind in you
which was also in Christ Jesus
who was existing in a form of a god
(but) thought not equality with the divine
as something to cling to
but he emptied himself
taking a form of a slave
having been born in likeness of men
and having been found in fashion as a man
becoming obedient he humbled himself unto death
(but death of a stake).
And thus, also, The God exalted him
and gave him the name above every name
that in the name of Jesus
every knee should bend ---
those in heaven and on earth and underground ---
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.’
[NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©]
Is it unfair to conclude that here the Christ pre-existed first in the “form of a god” [or, “divine” as Martin Werner, Professor Emeritus of Bern University has it. See notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000©] and then after became a human being?
Colossians 1:15-17 - “Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God, the Firstborn and Lord of all creation. For in Him was created the universe of things in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, thrones, dominions, princedoms, powers--all were created, and exist through and for Him. And HE IS before all things and in and through Him the universe is a harmonious whole. Moreover He is the Head of His Body, the Church. He is the Beginning.” Several matters point to a pre-existence of Christ:
Hebrews 1:1-3 - “On many occasions, and in a variety of ways in ancient times, The God spoke to our [Hebrew] forefathers by means of the Prophets. In these last days He spoke to us [Hebrews] by means of a Son whom He appointed heir of the Universe. By means of [His Son] [The God] made the Periods of Time. [The Son] is ‘the very reflection of His glory’ [Wisdom 7:22] and the very ‘imprint of His substance’. [Wisdom 7:22] [The Son] upholds the Universe by his powerful word. After [the Son] made a cleansing of the sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of’ [Psalm 110:1] the Majesty in exalted places. [The Son] became so much better than the angels, becoming very much different compared to them by inheriting a superior name.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul writes that the Son was the agent of creation [Wisdom personified at the beginning of the Universe]. It is difficult not to read Proverbs 8:22-30 and Wisdom 7:22 into these allusions.
Hebrews 1:6 - “And again, when He brings His Firstborn [Psalm 89:27] again into the inhabited world of humankind, He says, “And let all God’s angels bow before him.” [Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX] One view held by serious Bible students is that the word “again” suggests Christ was brought into the earth twice: a) Christ was born into the earth; and, b) upon Christ’s resurrection he was brought back into the earth again. Some see the allusion to a pre-existence, particularly based upon the context in the introductory verses.
Hebrews 2:9 - “But, we do behold Jesus -- having been made less than angels -- now crowned with glory and honor because of suffering the death.” When was Christ made “less than the angels” [or, Hebrew, “god”]? The suggestion is that Christ was once either equal or superior to the angels in general. This infers a pre-existence when the Son was a unique being as “the only-begotten god.” [John 1:18]
Jude 9 - “But (in contrast) Michael the Archangel, when disputing with the Devil, he argued about the body of Moses but did not dare bring a blaspheming condemnation against him. Rather, Michael said, “The LORD rebuke you!” Some sincere Bible students believe one of the names of the pre-existence Christ was Michael, which means either “WHO IS LIKE GOD” or “WHO IS LIKE GOD?” On the argument that Michael is the pre-existent Christ see the word “Michael” in De Trinitatis Erroribus [Error of the Trinity] in Nazarene Commentary 2000©.
Revelation 3:14 - “… the beginning of the creation of The God.” The glorified Jesus Christ calls himself “the beginning of the creation of The God.” If this is the correct rendering [Trinitarians disagreeing] then the Christ had to have a pre-existence in order to be the “beginning of God’s creation.”
There seems considerable Biblical evidence that Christ DID have a pre-existence.
See also the article An Allusion to Christ’s Pre-existence in the Synoptics.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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