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What Do You Mean “Preexistence”?
by Anthony Buzzard
The so-called “preexistence” of Christ presents your mind with a vague “fog word,” and many do not think this through. How can you preexist yourself? Have you thought about that? Most have not. Jesus is supposed to have “preexisted.” But what does that mean?
Now the word “preexist” is very easy when we use it intelligibly, say of a “preexisting condition.” You apply for health insurance and you already have a condition needing attention. The disease existed before you got the insurance! It was a preexisting condition.
But what — think this through — is the “preexistence” of Jesus? Do you mean there was a person called Jesus who lived from eternity and then one day reduced himself to a fetus and got himself born? Many churchgoers believe something like that. Does it not strike you as very odd, if not strange and even pagan? Are you getting upfront, clear sermons in church to clarify all this?
Where are the sermons and Sunday School lessons tackling this very important issue which dramatically affects your notion of who Jesus is? It seems as if it is a taboo subject. Yet the identity of Jesus and your belief in the right, rather than a fictitious Jesus is crucial (2 Cor. 11).
Suppose you say that the Son of God was alive before he was born. Or was it God the Son, a second member of the Trinity? Again, how can you exist before you exist? Can you actually begin to exist in the womb of your mother, if you already exist? If you exist before your conception, would your conception/begetting really be a “coming into existence”?
The simple answer is that you cannot come into existence if you already exist. If you already exist you can be transformed or transform yourself and begin to live in a different mode of existence. But you are not coming into existence. You are being transmuted into a different order of existence.
The Bible does not call for any of this complexity. Read Matthew and Luke first. The fact to be squarely faced is that Luke and Matthew declare that Jesus, the unique Son of God, began to exist by biological miracle in Mary (Matt. 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). That means of course that he did not exist before that, except in the sense that his existence was planned ahead of time by the One God his Father. The begetting = coming into existence of Jesus was in God’s mind (1 Pet. 1:20; cp. Jer. 1:5).
That explanation is simple, and avoids the enormous complexities and tangled, technical vocabulary involved in trying to work out how the Son of God (or “God the Son,” itself a phrase not found in Scripture) “put on” a human body or human nature (but not a human personality: so the official creed says) in Mary. This would mean that Mary was really the mother of a human body, but not the Son of God. Is that sort of Son of God really a human being, or is he really just GOD dressed in a human body?
Some Bible readers will produce an almost automatic reflex. They will say, “But what about John 1:1?” The proper reply to that objection is to say, “Let’s not oppose John to Matthew and Luke!” The fact is that John did not write, “In the beginning was the SON of God.” He wrote “In the beginning was the word,” not, as wrongly capitalized in many translations, “Word.” Who gave the translators the right to impose on you what they thought John ought to say?
The word “word” occurs hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible (the OT) and it never appears as “Word.” It never means a spokesperson or Son. It invariably means “word,” “promise,” “affair,” “thought,” “intention,” etc. It is never a person, much less a Son of God. And never an angel.
I am thrilled at the good words of the professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Colin Brown who writes, “It is a patent misreading of John 1:1 to read it as if it said ‘In the beginning was the Son.’” Why not then give up that bad habit and harmonize John with Matthew and Luke and the rest of Scripture? It will put the mind into a state of harmony and rest!
Most people avoid thinking about any of this. That is why it is important that we write about it. The importance of defining God and Jesus properly are incalculable.
Here is an encouragement for further reflection. This frank remark is from the very celebrated Bible scholar, the late F.F. Bruce. I had asked him in correspondence some 40 years ago about “preexistence” and this was his frank reply:
“On the preexistence question one can at least accept the preexistence of the eternal word or wisdom of God, which (who?) became incarnate [embodied] in Jesus. But whether any New Testament writer believed in his separate conscious existence as a second Divine Person before his incarnation is not so clear…When Paul speaks of the pre-incarnate activity of Christ this I think is because he, like other NT writers, identified Christ with the creative word or wisdom of God which certainly existed as long as God did” (June 13 and July 29th, 1981, from Derbyshire, UK).
What caution, wisdom and candor! Bruce admits here that there is no reason for writing the “word who,” leading you on to believe that it means a preexisting God the Son. What if we just go with “the word which”? Then all is easy and agreement with Matthew and Luke is kept intact. What preexisted with the One God, the Father, was His wisdom, word, intention and plan. It was “with Him,” a very Hebrew way of saying it was the intention of His heart (Job 10:13, etc.).
(Bruce did think that “on the whole” John had taken the further step to a preexisting Son. But not Paul.)
Now consider the dire results of treating the word in John 1:1 as a second Person, Word. It leads immediately to two Persons who are God — i.e. the Father and the Son. Two who are God of course means two Gods. “This person is God and this other Person is God” makes two Gods! This is a step from which we should shrink in horror.
Secondly, when “God the Son” (of post-biblical theology) is transformed into a human being, and Mary just adds a human body to him, is that person really and truly a lineal, biological descendant of David? Remember that he must be related to David biologically (“of the fruit of your loins,” Ps. 132:11) to qualify as the Messiah. Adding a preexisting “God the Son” to a body or “human nature” created in Mary makes it impossible for Jesus the Son to be truly human.
On the Trinitarian theory the Son had no beginning. He was “eternally begotten.” The core of his personality as Jesus was not human at all. He did not arise within the biological chain of the human race. Is that really the Messiah, son of David? The true Jesus of history and the New Testament?
The secret to success in understanding this subject is the brilliant oracle recorded in Psalm 110:1. Uniquely in the Psalms, we have “a divine utterance” by the One God referring to the Messiah, Son of God, who was to come a thousand years after the time of David. “The Lord [YHVH] gives this oracle to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool under your feet.’” For the NT writers of Scripture this is the most favorite of all verses, quoted or alluded to in the NT some 25 times! It is essential to understand its meaning. It defines who Jesus is. (Strong’s Concordance will not show you this.)
 “Trinity and Incarnation,” Ex Auditu, 1991, p, 89.
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