Why Preexistence vs. Non-Preexistence Does Matter
How do you know that a “pre-existing,” “prehuman” Jesus is not a different Jesus from the Jesus of Scripture? “Another Jesus” is to be avoided as highly dangerous and misleading, and exposed as false Christology. How do you know that a Jesus, who began in a preexisting life, as an angel or Son of God according to some, can also qualify as the real Messiah, Son of God, coming into existence = beginning to exist, in Mary (Matt. 1:20)? This is one of the great, central, essential questions in the mind of Jesus, the best theologian of all. “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). That is the question of all questions. It matters as a matter of life and death. We dare not guess at the question as to who Jesus is.
2 Corinthians 11:4, CSB:
“For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!” – The Apostle Paul
Paul here shows his impatience! Paul is strongly against carelessness in our belief.
Disagreement on this issue is not less than confusion over the identity of God and His Son. As Dan Gill told us at the recent Kingdom of God Missions Conference: “We must get God and Jesus right.” These are nonnegotiable issues of truth and error. Hebrews 1:1 says that God did not speak in a Son in old times, i.e., in Old Testament times. That should settle the issue about the identity of the real and only Son of God, easily.
If there is a pre-existing, pre-human Jesus, then that would feature clearly in the NT Apostolic documents. Preexistence or non-preexistence dramatically affects who Jesus is! The whole NT is profoundly interested in defining who Jesus is. But there is not a hint of any preexistence in the first three gospels or Acts! You mean that Dr. Luke did not bother to tell us about a pre-human, preexisting Jesus?
Raymond Brown: “There is no evidence that Luke had a theology of Incarnation or pre-existence; rather for Luke (1:35) divine sonship seems to have been brought about through the virginal conception.” Can we not settle on that easy statement of fact?
Raymond Brown’s comments on Luke actually fully admit that the “orthodox” idea of preexistence is false to the Bible. On Luke 1:35 Brown makes a fascinating comment on the words “for that reason [the miracle in Mary] Jesus will be called the Son of God.”
Brown observes that “orthodoxy” disagrees with Luke: “This [Luke 1:35] has embarrassed many orthodox theologians, since in pre-existence Christology a conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s Son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology…Luke does not think of a pre-existent Son of God…The child is totally God’s work — a new creation.”
I am with Luke! – AB
Come into Existence
The Greek word gennao means “to cause to come into existence, to begin to exist or be.” Note too how John in his epistle emphasizes this same fact about the origin of the Son, Jesus. 1 John 5:18 tells us that “the one who was brought into existence [i.e., Jesus] preserves and protects the believers.” It is quite obviously destructive of Scripture and the identity of Jesus to contradict this easy idea, by holding that the Son was existing before he began to exist!
The truth of the identity of Jesus must be taught everywhere if it is taught at all — and it is not. If we have any regard for the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), we must teach all the truth, not just one or two parts of it. In Hebrews 11:23 Moses was born, i.e., brought into existence (same word gennao). So also was the Son of God (1 John 5:18; Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20). This is very easy truth about origins. Jesus, to qualify as the second Adam, cannot possibly start as non-human!
It is well-known that the church quickly departed from truth, from the second century on, and Gnosticism was the evil, fatal influence! Our own Kegan Chandler, among many, has very powerfully documented this truth in his full account in The God of Jesus in the Light of Christian Dogma (see especially chapter 3 “Another Jesus.”)
“The Christians we find utilizing some of the most peculiar metaphysical tenets of Trinitarianism in the first two centuries of the Church were, in fact, the Gnostics…It cannot now be denied that the Gnostic schools had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent formation of Christian doctrine…Many of mainstream Christianity’s most treasured Christological ideas may in fact be owed to the Gnostics’ early pressing of the historical Jesus through the preexisting Platonic framework…The direct Apostolic conflict with the Gnostic movement is easily detected in the late first-century writings of the Apostle John” (p. 83-84).
Exactly so, but are we on guard against repeating the same mistake today? It was the Gnostics who used, or rather abused, the Gospel of John to twist the truth and to promote a non-fully human Jesus. Let us not ever risk believing this pagan Gnosticism.
In fact John’s Gospel was abused as it still is to this day, and Gnosticism introduced a second God Person by simply capitalizing the word as Word in John 1:1. If we say it does not matter whether a person believes in a preexisting, pre-human Jesus — if we say that both preexistence and non-preexistence are equally good and valid — then we might as well say that truth and error please God and Jesus equally. How do we know that we are not falling for the very lie which John called the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:2; 2 John 9)? These facts demand close attention in the interests of saving truth and fleeing from error.
Note too that “there is nothing in Matthew’s narrative, either here [1:1] or elsewhere throughout the Gospel, to suggest that he knew or subscribed to the notion that Christ had existed prior to his birth.”
How very unreasonable then to force this view on John! A preexisting Son is a different Jesus, and this is not a matter of indifference. Do we really want to disagree with Luke and Matthew as to who the true Jesus is? Luke wrote more of the NT than even Paul.
It is an assault on Scripture to find a preexisting Son of God only in John! To do this is to follow the Gnostics and other Protestants and the Catholics, that John is to be taken as superior to the other Gospels (who said?!). To do this is to follow and repeat the same pattern of apostasy as occurred nearly 2000 years ago.
I maintain that the Abrahamic Faith people in the 1830’s recovered a colossal restoration of lost truth about who Jesus is, about his identity as fully human, and about the Gospel of the Kingdom. It will be to our shame to give this revelation away now! It would be a terrible slap in the face to our predecessors, as well as to the Bible.
Kegan’s good historical analysis of how pagan Gnosticism twisted the Bible is to be studied carefully. The danger to which Kegan and I are pointing involves “a subtle embrace of the docetic Jesus” (p. 90), that is a Jesus who only seems to be, but really is not a fully human person. Kegan quotes Barnes: “John says that we must accept only what John provides, that is only an acknowledgement of the Christ as a real human being. That the Son of God was really a man” (p. 91). Kegan italicizes this for emphasis!
“Orthodoxy” says that “In Chalcedon and the theological development that flows from it, Jesus is called ‘man’ in the generic sense (human), but not ‘a man.’ He has a human nature, but is not a human person.” The author of that remark, a Roman Catholic critical of the “orthodoxy” of Chalcedon, says that Chalcedon “makes a genuine humanity impossible.”
Lampe: Wise Words from Cambridge
The late Regius Professor of Theology at Cambridge, Geoffrey Lampe, was one of many who are critical of the Chalcedonian, Trinitarian definition of Jesus. He argued that if Jesus preexisted his human life as God, and was therefore fully God, then he could not also be fully human. This, as we have seen, is admitted by the writers quoted above. They confirm that a person who is not a human person cannot be fully man! Lampe describes the unfortunate and confusing implications of the traditional dogma that Jesus is God possessing “impersonal human nature.” What Lampe says applies equally to any form of preexistence, Trinitarian or Jehovah’s Witness/Arian:
“The concept of the preexistent Son reduces the real, socially and culturally conditioned personality of Jesus to the metaphysical abstraction ‘human nature’… According to this Christology, the ‘eternal Son’ assumes a timeless human nature…which owes nothing essential to geographical circumstances; it corresponds to nothing in the actual concrete world; Jesus Christ has not, after all, come in the flesh.” – Geoffery Lampe, Cambridge
John gave us a deliberate and clear test for recognizing the difference between truth and error, and John warned us to shun the error and embrace the true and only Jesus, the one who is fully human (who came “in the flesh,” 1 John 4:2; 2 John 9, emphatically not “into the flesh”). No one can be genuinely human if he is “pre-human”! So let us be warned.
John 1:1 and 1 John 1
“The word” (not Word), John 1:1c said, “was God.” But note that it is illegitimate to start with a huge preconception that word is really Word (capital W)! John was well aware of how his gospel could be confused and abused. In his first epistle, John countered the errors already being made out of his own gospel of John! John said six times that he had not said that the Son of God had pre-existed, but that “eternal life” had preexisted with the Father. It was “eternal life which was with God” (1 John 1:2). He called this a “that which,” a “what” six times! It was “eternal life,” not the Messiah pre-existing with the father. This is John’s own inspired and clarifying and corrective comment on his earlier words in the Gospel of John. What preexisted was the word (not Word) which, not who, was God in John 1:1c. Jesus is what the word became in John 1:14.
In John 1:1c “God” is in emphatic position. The word, not Word (capital W) was God Himself and not someone else. 1 John tells us that by “God” in the gospel, John means the Father. It is dangerous to propose a non-human, pre-human Son of God based on John, twisting him and contradicting the rest of the NT. So John 1:1c tells us that the word in John 1:1 was the Father and no one else.
The word was God
The predicate noun “God” as found in John 1:1c is never to be translated as “a god.” Look at John 1:18 in the same context. Here too the sentence begins with theon, God: “God, no one has ever seen at any time” or “No one has ever seen God,” definitely not “a god.” This would be impossible as equally in 2 John 9: “Whoever in the name of progress does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God (theon),” not “a god.” This cannot possibly mean “does not have a god.”
An exact parallel to “the word was God” is the statement that “God is spirit” which was wrongly rendered as “God is a spirit” in the KJV (John 4:24). This again shows that “the word was God” cannot be rendered as the word was “a god.”
We have also “God is love” and “God is light.” These are not “God is a love” or “God is a light.” No standard modern translation has in John 1:1c, “The Word was a god.”
There are only 2 NT examples of theos as “a god” — where Herod thought of himself as “a god,” and where Paul was thought to be “a god,” when he was unharmed by a snake (Acts 12:22; 28:6).
If there was “a god” Jesus, preexisting as Son, where is he mentioned in the Hebrew Bible? What did he say? What did he do? When was he begotten as Son? He is just not there! A preexisting Jesus is nowhere in the records.
The word “word”
In the OT “word” is found 727 times and never once does it mean a person, Word (capital W). So a supposed preexisting Son disappears! Does not exist! The whole idea should be firmly rejected.
In John’s Gospel “word” (no capital) is “God thinking and planning.” That is the meaning of “word” throughout the OT. The capitalizing of “word” in John 1 simply facilitated the appearance of a second “God” or “god.” The truth is that “Jesus is what the word became, not one to one equal with preexisting Word,” as Goppelt says in his Theology of the NT (Vol. II, p. 297).
In John 1 “word” is a personification like “wisdom,” and not a person. That is, not a person before Jesus “came,” i.e. was born. The capital on Word in John 1:1 is not warranted by the Greek text. – Goppelt
It is essential to point out that many scholars recognize that the Bible does not teach the “eternal generation” of the Son. Many also recognize that John “is as undeviating a witness as any NT writer to unitary monotheism (Rom. 3:30; James 2:19; Jn. 5:44; 17:3).”
In the flesh
The spirit of antichrist is to be recognized by this test: Every teacher who does not confess Jesus as having come “in the flesh” (en sarki), not “into the flesh.” Jesus, the Son of God, came from the womb of his mother, as all humans do (except Adam and Eve!).
Luther could not deal with this “in flesh” in the Johannine test for recognizing the only genuine human Jesus. And so Luther forged the Greek of 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 9 to read “come into the flesh.” So desperate was he to make his traditional theology of Jesus fit the Bible!
Raymond Brown observes that “come into the flesh” would be an attempt to force preexistence and thus Incarnation into the text. Brown thus fully endorses my point that “come in the flesh” cannot support Incarnation and thus does not support a literal preexistence!
Brown rightly points out that if Scripture supported a preexisting Son, such a Son would indeed have come “into the flesh.” Luther was desperate, willing to alter Scripture to make it fit with his traditional Incarnation of a preexisting Jesus. On no account should we do this! This would be tampering with the Bible.
Not going back
There is a perfectly good Greek word for “preexist” in the NT (prouparchein). It is never, ever used of Jesus. There is a perfectly good word for “transform,” but no text ever says that Jesus was transformed from pre-human to human.
There is a perfectly good Greek word for “return, go back” but Jesus is nowhere said to “return” or “go back” to the Father. See John 13:1, 3; 16:28; 20:17. That is simply because Jesus had not been there before! But there is a “crime scene” in some modern versions (including NIV), which do say that Jesus “went back” to the Father. This should alert us to the tendency to want to make Jesus fit with the later error of preexistence, which was the first step towards the Trinity!
How do you know that a preexisting, pre-human Jesus is not a different and false Jesus, to be exposed as antichristian and to be avoided as such?
All the Bible writers were obviously Socinian, i.e., non-literal preexistence unitarians. The later move away from Jesus to an alien definition of God as triune is one of the most remarkable shifts away from and loss of essential information, in the history of (mis)communication. Jesus expressed his unitarian confession of faith as we know by asserting that the “Father is the only one who is true God” (John 17:3; 5:44). He told the Jews that his God was the same one Person whom the Jews claimed as their God.
These unitarian texts merely repeat the 1300 NT references to GOD as the equivalent of the Father. Jesus declares himself to be not GOD, which would make two Gods, but God’s unique human agent.
The simplicity of the confession in John 17:3 may be illustrated like this:
“You [singular], Father [singular], are [singular] the [singular] only [singular and exclusive] true [singular] God [singular].”
Standard commentary finds itself obliged to write: “How often may these last solemn words of Jesus have stirred the soul of John. To this corresponds the self-consciousness, as childlike as it is simple and clear in its elevation, the victorious rest and peace of this prayer, which is the noblest and purest pearl of devotion in the whole New Testament. For plain and simple as it sounds, so deep rich and wide it is that none can fathom it” (Luther).
“Spener never ventured to preach on it because he felt that its true understanding exceeded the ordinary measure of faith; but he caused it to be read to him three times on the evening before his death.”
Meyer comments on John 17:3, “Only one, the Father, can absolutely be termed ‘the only true God,’ (comp. ‘God over all,’ Rom. 9:5), not at the same time Christ (who is not even in 1 John 5:20 ‘the true God’).” – Meyer
Meyer correctly says that the Son is in unity with the Father (John 10:30) and is His representative (14:9-10) and unique agent or shaliach. Meyer later loses himself in a befuddling confusion over the “genetic subsistence” of the Son, but he has already admitted to the unitarian statement of Jesus.
The famous commentary by Barrett notes that in Wisdom literature (Prov. 11:9) “through knowledge the righteous will be saved,” and that the world will
eventually be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab. 2:14), and that “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6; Isa. 5:13).
“Clearly then the notion of knowledge as the ground of salvation is very widespread…knowledge and believing are not set over against each other but are
correlated. The God whom to know is to have eternal life is the only being who may properly be so described; He, and it must follow, He alone is truly God.”
This is straightforward unitary, non-Trinitarian monotheism. The origin and beginning of Jesus, if he is truly human, is in Mary’s womb (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35;
1 John 5:18, not KJV).
1 Birth of the Messiah, p. 432.
2 Ibid., p. 291 (referencing Lyonnet), 314.
3 Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p. 89.
4 Thomas Hart, To Know and Follow Jesus, pp. 44, 46.
5 God as Spirit, p. 144, emphasis added, quoted with strong approval by Kegan on p. 90- 91.
6 Dr. J.A.T. Robinson, Twelve More New Testament Studies, p. 175
7 Meyer, 1884, p. 475.
8 Barrett, Commentary on John, pp. 419-20
Buzzard, Anthony (January 2022). Excerpt from, Focus on the Kingdom Magazine – Vol. 24 No. 4