“If there is, among the distinctive articles of the Christian faith, one which is basic to all the others, it is this: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man for our salvation,” writes a prominent theologian and educator.
This statement would agree with the catechisms and teaching of the major part of Christendom. That Christ is eternal as the Father and has existed with Him from the beginning is almost universally accepted. The doctrine has been so long established that to the average layman its truth is beyond question. But is it the teaching of the Bible? Will it stand the test of “Prove all things”?
Background of the Doctrine
Christianity began with the Man Christ. Jesus Christ, miraculously conceived of the Virgin Mary, was first an infant, then a youth, then a mature man. The early disciples understood Him to be a man, the Son of God; a man who walked and talked with them, a man who taught them with simple illustrations about the glorious Kingdom of God. They witnessed His brutal murder; they saw Him and ate with Him after His resurrection from the dead. They saw Him depart from them as He was taken up into heaven. All these events were historical happenings such as might have happened to any one of them.
But time has an uncanny way of changing things. The Christian Church, originally established in His absence by His disciples and followers who used His life and His teachings as the basis of their faith, soon departed so far from this humble beginning as to be barely recognizable. From the simple teachings of the Man from Galilee men developed a whole new system of religion, a mixture of philosophy and Christian ethics. The church was divided and sub-divided until today so-called Christian religions range all the way from small Bible Study groups in private homes to the ornate pontifical High Mass of the Catholic faith in St. Peter’s glittering Cathedral in Rome.
How did it happen? The change was subtle and gradual, an evolutionary process. The earliest Christians had been content to believe in God and the Son whom He had sent. They gave no thought to defining precisely the relationship of God. Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They looked up to God in heaven as the One Supreme Being, the Creator of all things. They did not think it necessary to demonstrate by processes of reason that their ideas of Him and His Son were true. But association with Greek philosophy changed all this. Speculation replaced knowledge, with the result that the commandments of God were displaced with the doctrines of men. Reasoning along the line of the philosophers, the church fathers decided that the Bible could not possibly contain all that man should know and believe. The philosophers were great thinkers, and should not their thoughts be as worthy of consideration as the Scriptures?
According to Edwin Hatch (a 19th century Bible scholar), the history of the second century is the history of the clash and conflict between these new mystical and philosophical elements of Christianity and its earlier true form. On the one hand were the original churches, still holding to the concept of Christianity which they had received from those closest to Christ, “a religion of stern moral practice and of strict moral discipline, of the simple love of God and the unelaborated faith in Jesus Christ.” And on the other hand were the new communities with their tendency to speculate, with their concept of knowledge side by side with faith. The result was division. The old-fashioned Christians, refusing to compromise, detached themselves from the others. The old clung to the teachings of Christ while the new gradually lost what little resemblance they had to Christianity.
Under the influence of the philosophers, the early church fathers such as Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen (Who gave us our subject) were led to expand the Scriptures and to interpret and re-interpret them in the light of Greek knowledge until they had developed a whole new system of faith, a doctrine foreign to the true gospel of Christ. It is to these men that we are indebted for such doctrines as Adamic condemnation, original sin, the vicarious atonement, the trinity, the immaculate conception, the incarnation, the pre-existence, and many others—all doctrines of men and not of the Bible.
No part of Scripture has suffered more at the hands of these philosophizing religionists than that which concerns Christ. The generally accepted ideas concerning His pre-existent nature are summarized in these lines quoted from an unknown poet:
He stepped from the measureless aeons of eternity
Into the confinements of time and space.
He laid aside the shining garments of glory
To be clothed in the flesh of a helpless infant.
He left the immortal fragrances of heaven
For a world sick with the scent of mortality.
He turned His back on gem-studded mansions
To live where He had no place to lay His head.
He removed the crown of His son-ship
In exchange for thorns and scars on His brow.
He closed the gates to heaven’s courts
To stand accused while Pilate washed his hands.
He descended the ethereal battlements on high
To climb a hill called Golgotha.
He moved away from a throne of honor
To be nailed to a cross which was His curse.
He gave up heaven’s deathless climate
For the airlessness of Joseph’s tomb.
These lines contain all the common misconceptions about the nature of Christ. The author places the beginning of Christ’s life not at His birth but in “the measureless aeons of eternity,” making Jesus as old as His Father. Jesus is said to have left “gem-studded mansions” in heaven for a mortal existence on earth, to have left “heaven’s courts” and “a throne of honor to be nailed to a cross” on Golgotha. He is said to have exchanged the crown of His son-ship for one of thorns. All these statements are gross misrepresentations. Christ never denied His Son-ship even in the face of certain death, nor did He leave a heaven He had never inhabited.
Christ is acknowledged as the foundation of the Christian religion by all who profess His name. But who was He? A man? A God? A God-man? The Son of God? God come to earth in the form of a man?
Was He with the Father at the Creation ages ago or was He born about two thousand years ago? Did He meet Moses on the Mount? Did He lead the children of Israel through the wilderness?
These are some of the questions we will attempt to answer in this study. As with all subjects we study, the rule is: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). To prove or disprove any belief we must rely on the word of God, not on the words of men, voluminous though they may be. Historical evidence is acceptable only as it confirms the words of Scripture.
Understanding the Doctrine
The doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is self-defining; it is existence before existence. As used by theology it depicts a prior existence of Christ, an ethereal existence with the Father before His birth of the Virgin Mary; that Christ was one member of a triune Godhead composed of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The doctrine is inextricably entangled in the doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation.
And what are these? According to the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Trinity is “the central tenet of the Christian faith,” and states “that God is one, personal, and triune.” Incarnation describes how this pre-existent Christ became a man and lived on earth. The same dictionary defines it as a “teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was the eternal Word who became flesh,” and explains that this doctrine was adopted by the church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D.
The word incarnation is derived from the Latin in and carno, meaning, “in flesh.” It is further defined as “the act of assuming flesh; in theology, the gracious voluntary act of the Son of God in assuming a human body and human nature.” It is “the common confession of the church, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.”
It is readily admitted that the words trinity, incarnation, and pre-existence do not occur in the Scriptures, but they are said to be “implied,” “inferred,” “implicit rather than explicit,” and “presupposed.” These doctrines are attributed to the apostles. But were they the doctrines of the early Christian Church`? Have we any reason to believe that the apostles were teaching such doctrines? Could it be that the doctrines have been read into the apostles’ words-not read out of them’?
Let us look briefly at the history of these doctrines to ascertain their origin.
History of the Pre-Existence
It is for good reason that the words trinity, incarnation and pre-existence do not occur in the Scriptures: They were coined by poets, philosophers and theologians during the early centuries after Christ and were unknown and unheard of during the time of Christ and the apostles. All three doctrines have been written into church creeds by individuals influenced by Greek philosophy; the doctrines do not come from Scriptures.
Pre-existence has long been a philosophical tenet of poets and philoso-phers who made no claim to a Biblical origin for the idea. The 18th century poet William Wordsworth believed that all men enjoy a perfect state of pre-existence out of which they are born into this world of evil. He intro-duced the pre-existence idea to his students through these lines:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
The American philosopher and poet Emerson explained his idea of the pre-existent soul in these words: “The soul of man, embodied here on earth, went roaming up and down in quest of that other world of its own out of which it came into this.”
A contemporary American author states that “Most, if not all, of the reflections upon pre-existence, at whatever level they have been mediated to our culture, draw upon the philosophy of Plato, the Greek philosopher.” Research done by Edwin Hatch, a devout English scholar of the 19th century, bears this out. Mr. Hatch made an in-depth study of Greek influence on Christian doctrine and wrote at length on the subject. His findings shed considerable light on our subject.
Greece has long been noted for its mythology and its philosophy. Many so-called “mystery religions” developed in Greece and spread throughout the area around the Mediterranean where the Christian Church was developing in the centuries that immediately followed Pentecost and “influenced all contemporary religious thought and practice.” writes Mr. Hatch. The church fathers at first regarded the “mysteries” as heresy, and spoke boldly against them, warning Christians of the danger of Greek influence, especially of the philosophers. But as more and more educated Greeks became associated with the Church. Greek influence became more apparent.
“The first point that is obvious.” Writes Mr. Hatch is “the change in the center of gravity from conduct to belief” which was “coincident with the transfer of Christianity from a Semitic to a Greek soil,” until “within a century and a half after Christianity and philosophy first came into close contact, the ideas and methods of philosophy…filled so large a place in it as to have made it no less a philosophy than a religion.”
The ideas for the trinity and the incarnation came from the philosophers, not the Scriptures, by a unique mixing of Greek philosophy and Christian teaching. The pre-existence doctrine evolved from the other two. for if Jesus was God incarnate, He must have had a previous existence, they reasoned.
Christian writers of the second and third centuries tried to make excuses for the acceptance of Greek philosophy into the church doctrines. “We teach the same as the Greeks,” says Justin Martyr, “though we alone are hated for what we teach. The teachings of Plato are not alien to those of Christ, though not in all respects similar.” “Some of our number,” says Tertullian, a well-known early church writer who was versed in ancient literature, “have composed books by means of which it may be clearly seen that we have embraced nothing new or monstrous.”
Greek philosophy led these early church fathers to debate the ideas of Christ’s pre-existence, whether He was God or man and how He could be part of a triune Godhead—three in one and one in three. The controversy over these matters raged for many years, and it was such theological debate, following the lines of the philosophers, that led to the development of the church dogmas that are to be found in the catechisms of today’s churches. Philosophy was the victor, not the vanquished. The issue was settled, not from the Scriptures, but by the church hierarchy at various councils in the third, fourth and fifth centuries.
The doctrine of the trinity (stating that God and Jesus are co-eternal). and the incarnation (the process by which Jesus became God in the flesh) were described as a “mystery” when they were debated. and today they are as much a mystery as ever. Volumes of theology have not clarified them in the least. A statement from The New International Dictionary, of the Christian Church concerning the nature of Christ illustrates this point:
“He had a human nature and He had a divine nature. He is God Himself not like God, but just God.…He is not God appearing as a man; He is a man. He is not only a man or only God; He is the God who became a man. He did not cease to be God when He became a man, He did not exchange divinity for humanity; rather He assumed humanity so that as a result of the incarnation, He is both human and divine, the God-man.”
This “double-talk” represents the common theological teaching on the nature of Christ.
Jesus Christ: Who Is He?
Ask this question of any theologian, and your answer will be comparable to this statement by a Professor of Theology holding several college degrees: “Jesus Christ is the eternal second person of the holy Trinity who became incarnate at Bethlehem. Christian faith stands or falls with the truth that Jesus Christ is really God the Son and distinctly God the Son. Upon this the doctrine of the trinity rests firmly. He is called God unambiguously by the New Testament writers.”
When Jesus was teaching in the area of Cesarea-Philippi, He asked His disciples a similar question: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man am’?” And the disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He then asked: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter had a ready answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:13-16).
Had Peter’s answer been incorrect, Jesus would have been quick to correct him, for He had rebuked Peter before. But He let Peter’s answer stand, and it was recorded for all who would read it in the future: He was not God, but the Son of God. The idea of a “holy Trinity” of which Jesus is one part is neither found nor implied in the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are rich with testimony of Christ, who He was, His nature and His life.
He was born as any human.
“And she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). This was the beginning of His life; He was conceived in the womb by miraculous means, but born as every other human.
He grew and learned.
“And the Child grew and become strong in spirit, filled with wisdom;…And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:40, 52). He was not a God omniscient, possessing all knowledge from the beginning. His development as a child was comparable to that of any other child of His day. Had He been born perfect He would not have had anything to learn. The writer to the Hebrews said of Him: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9, New International Version).
He was not immortal.
To pre-exist through all eternity, Christ would have to have been immortal. Immortal beings cannot die (Luke 20:36). Christ died on the cross, hence He was mortal: “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost,” or as rendered in the New English Bible, He “breathed his last” (Matt. 27:50). Had He been God, He could not have died. Now, seated at the right hand of His Father’s throne awaiting His return to earth. He is immortal, having been rewarded by His heavenly Father.
He was not equal to His Father.
Jesus, through His own words, gives credit to His Father for His supernatural abilities: “I can of Myself do nothing….I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.…My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.…I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.…I always do those things that please Him.…For My Father is greater than I” (John 5:30; 7:16; 8:28-29; 14:28). Jesus could do only those things delegated to Him by His Father; had He been God, He would have possessed the power to do all things at will. Christ always subordinated His will to that of His Father.
He was to be “raised up.”
Jesus said to the unbelieving Pharisees: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me: for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). Moses spoke of Jesus in prophecy: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst from your brethren. Him you shall hear,” (Deut. 18:15). His coming was future. He was to be raised up—He was not already in existence, else He could not have been the subject of prophecy.
Isaiah prophesied concerning Him: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). He was yet to be conceived; His was an entirely new life, not an old one incarnated.
He was a Man, not God.
During His ministry, Jesus was known by the title Son of God, but this in no way suggests that He was God. Speaking of Him to Timothy, the apostle Paul said, “For there is one God [not two or three], and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1Tim. 2:5). The “man Christ Jesus” is to be the mediator between God and men. Jesus was a being distinct from God, of a different substance than His Father, as are any human father and son.
He was part of a human family. We read, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2–3). Again we read of “His mother and brethers” who waited outside to speak with Him (Matt. 12:46).
Jesus Christ in the Old Testament?
There is admittedly no passage of Scripture which states directly that Christ pre-existed, but in the eyes of those who espouse it, the doctrine is assumed in dozens of instances. Suppositions are common in theology and philosophy. Supposition forms the core of the pre-existence doctrine—and for good reason: there is nothing else on which it can be based!
With the doctrine already firmly fixed in their minds, it is not difficult to see how Christ’s pre-existence is read into the Scriptures. Christ is thought to have existed even before the Bible record begins-in the beginning when God created the earth. With such thinking, the “us” of Genesis 1:26 becomes God and Christ; the glory reflected in the face of Moses is understood as that of the pre-existent Christ who was there to deliver the Law to Moses; the Pillar of fire which led the Israelites can be none other than the pre-existent Christ.
We will discuss these and some other instances from the Old Testament where believers in the pre-existence hold that Christ was present.
Jesus and Abraham
We have been asked: “When Jesus said ‘I Am’ was He claiming to be the ‘I Am’ of the Old Testament?” One text in particular is found in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
We cannot believe that Jesus was claiming a prior existence by His statement in John 8:58. To accept the idea of previous existence contradicts the plain truth of the Bible concerning the nature of Jesus. Had Jesus been making such a claim, He should have said, “Before Abraham was, I was, “ not “I AM. “ He neither claimed existence before Abraham’s time nor did He claim to be the great I AM. The term “before” need not refer only to time sequence. One may be “before” another in rank, in authority, in dignity. Christ is before Abraham in rank because He is to be the King over the whole earth. He may also be said to be before Abraham in that He is now immortal; He alone possesses immortality, while Abraham and all other worthies of old (except Enoch and Elijah) sleep in the grave, awaiting the future Day of resurrection and exaltation.
How did Abraham see Christ’s day? He said to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Note that He did not say Abraham rejoiced to see Me in his day. Abraham’s day? and Christ’s day were two distinctly different times. Only by the eye of faith, by divinely revealed knowledge, did Abraham “see” or know about the day of Christ.
This thought is borne out in newer translations of the verse: “Abraham was delighted to know of My day” (Beck); “Abraham was extremely happy in the prospect of seeing My day” (Berkeley); “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day” (NIV); “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He knew I was coming and was glad” (TLB).
The context in which John 8:58 occurs shows plainly that Jesus was not claiming to be God, to be equal with God, or to have been eternally pre-existent with God. The doctrine of the “triune God who is one in essence vet three persons” is as unscriptural as the pre-existence. Nowhere in the Bible is there any assertion of a triune God; it is a doctrine of men, not of God. Anything that “verges into mystery” belongs to philosophy, not to Scripture and true religion.
Jesus and the Creator
Proponents of the pre-existence theory believe that Christ was with God helping with the creation of all things. But in Genesis 1:26 where God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;” contrary to popular thinking there is nothing to indicate that the “us” consists of God and Christ. The Hebrew word translated “us” is Elohim, which is defined in Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon as, “in a plural sense of gods or deities in general.…Not a few interpreters, both ancient and modern, have regarded Elohim as denoting angels (See Ps. 8:5). Hebrews, chapters 1:1-6 and 2:7-9 show plainly that this word sometimes means angels, and the authority of the New Testament decides the matter.” Angels, endowed with the power of God would certainly possess the power to create.
Christ was not “in the beginning” with God. We are told in Hebrews 2:17 that He was made in all points like His brethren. If Christ pre-existed, then all His followers pre-existed, for they are all brethren. Theology limits pre-existence to Christ only. Had He existed before, the doctrine should be clearly stated and not left to assumption.
Jesus and Moses
Was Jesus in existence in the time of Moses`? Were we to accept as evidence the words of the church “fathers,” we would have to agree. Some of them firmly believed in His pre-existence, as do some theologians today; but more than firm belief is necessary to render a doctrine the truth of the Scriptures.
Modern writers have pointed to many instances in the Old Testament which they believe to be pre-existent activities of Christ: the call of Moses at the burning bush; the giving of the Law on Sinai; the pattern for the tabernacle; the pillar of cloud and fire.
What shall we say? Let us look at each individually.
The Call of Moses
In Exodus 3:1-6 we read of the incident of the burning bush. Moses was tending sheep in the desert of Mt. Horeb when “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush, So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.” Moses turned to investigate, and a voice spoke to him out of the bush, identifying itself as “the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Writes one author, in support of the generally accepted belief, “That it was Christ who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is a common theme among the [Church] Fathers. There are at least two references in Justin.…The same identification will be found in Iraneus.…Chrysostom, who is no fanatic for finding Christ in the Old Testament, is perfectly clear on this point.…Compare also Eusebius.…”
We cannot accept the witness of the early fathers of the Catholic Church as proof of the pre-existence of Christ. Tradition weighs nothing in the balances of the Almighty. We must abide by what the Bible says, and there is nothing in the Bible narrative to suggest that it was Christ who appeared to Moses in a pre-existent state. Angels are glorified beings, hence angels were responsible for the bright light that made the bush appear as if it were on fire. It could not have been Jesus, because the Gospel of John recorded of Jesus twelve centuries later, during His ministry, that “Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
A. T. Hanson, an English Professor of Theology, has written a book called “Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.” In it he writes: “The pre-existent Jesus was actually present at certain points in Old Testament history.” Citing 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, he says “Here we have, according to Paul, the actual presence of Christ.” Commenting on another author’s use of the text as a “type of Christ,” Mr. Hanson says, “Where Christ is present there is no room for the type of Christ, and Christ was certainly present here according to Paul.” Referring again to the same text, Mr. Hanson makes a broad statement: “This is the one passage in the New Testament where everyone admits that we have a clear example of Christ’s pre-existent activity in Old Testament history.”
The Scripture reads, “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). But need a spiritual rock be a literal man`? Has Paul not already defined his terms in the preceding verse? “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The spiritual meat, spiritual food, and spiritual Rock were all—Christ, the spiritual Christ, the whole system of divine Truth.
Christ was not in existence in Moses’ day, for Moses prophesied of Him that He would be “raised up” from among the people. Moses said further that He was to be “like unto me [Moses]”-and no one suggests that Moses pre-existed.
The Giving of the Law on Sinai
Because Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus road as “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13), proponents of the pre-existence theory conclude that the “Lord [who] descended upon it [Mt. Sinai] in fire” was none other than Christ (Ex. 19:18). The idea is expressed that because the title “Lord” is printed in all capital letters as LORD it refers to God’ but a careful study of the title “Lord” throughout the Bible does not bear this out.
A case in point is found in Genesis 16, when the angel of the Lord came to Hagar in the wilderness. In verses 9-12 the “angel” was speaking to Hagar, and in verse 13 Hagar spoke: “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, Have I also here seen Him who sees me`?” An angel was speaking (vs. 9, 11), and he is also identified as “LORD” in all capital letters-the two were used interchangeably.
Also, the glory reflected in Moses’ face when he returned from the mountain, according to pre-existence believers, came from a meeting with the pre-existent Christ. Such a conclusion is merely conjecture. It is impossible, for the non-glorified Christ (John 7:39) would not have shone. Furthermore, Stephen, well versed in Jewish history, stated that the Law was given “by angels” (Acts 7:38, 53).
It has been suggested that in making this statement, Stephen was adding a new dimension, since the angels are not mentioned in the Old Testament record of the giving of the Law. However, we can be confident Stephen knew whereof he spoke, for Stephen possessed the Holy Spirit power (Acts 6:5). It is common Bible usage to say that “The Lord said” or “God said,” when His angel was delivering the message. Angels are members of God’s heavenly family, and they bear His name (Exodus 23:20-21). The angels present on Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the Law caused the mountain to appear as filled with “fire.” Though they are not mentioned in the account in Exodus, Moses, reporting on the mountain experience at a later date, stated definitely the presence of angels: “He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand Came a fiery law for them” (Deut. 33:2). We have no right to add to the words of Stephen or any other Bible writer, or to speculate what he might have been
thinking but did not say. Such speculation amounts to private interpretation of Scripture. which is strictly forbidden (2 Pet. 1:20).
The Pattern for the Tabernacle
In his discourse before the council (Acts 7) Stephen related how Moses was instructed to set up the tabernacle in the wilderness “according to the pattern that he had seen.” The writer to the Hebrews stated that Moses “was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He Said, See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5).
Pre-existence advocates see in this event the pattern being given by none other than Christ in His pre-existent state. To say thus is to read into the Scriptures something that is not there. It is but conjecture. To add to the Word of God is dangerous practice: “Do not add to his words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:6)-and all liars have their part outside the Kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8, 27).
The Pillar of Cloud and Fire
Believers in the pre-existence see Christ’s presence in the pillar of cloud because the title LORD is written in all capitals, but as explained above, a careful study of Scripture does not support the claim. The Bible expressly states that God’s angel both led and protected the Israelites on their journey (See Exod. 23:20 and 14:19.) There is nothing to indicate that the angel was Christ. This and all other claims of Christ’s pre-existence in Moses’ day are unfounded; there is no Bible evidence to support them.
Jesus in the Psalms?
What is there in the Psalms that suggests Christ’s pre-existence?
Psalm 2:7 reads, “The Lord hath said to Me, You are My Son; Today I have begotten You. “
Because the Psalmist spoke in the present tense, “Today.” need we believe Jesus was already begotten`? No, God was revealing His plan through King David and Jesus was an important part of that plan. His birth centuries in the future was so certain that it could be spoken with certainty. God could foresee the future with the same certainty. that we view the past. The remainder of Psalm 2 looks even further into the future, when Christ shall be established as King and shall subdue the forces of evil, an event yet future. If we take one part of the chapter as current fact at the time because of the tense, we should also have to believe that the heathen were raging at that time (v. 1) and that Christ was already sitting upon his “ holy hill of Zion” (v. 6). But such was not the meaning the author intended, nor would such an idea harmonize with other prophecies and statements of Scripture.
Psalm 40:7-8 reads, “Then I said, Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart. “
Some people see this as Christ’s words spoken in the time of David, but is this what was intended?
The passage definitely refers to Christ, for the author of Hebrews quoted it as such (see Heb. 10:7). But must the person referred to as “I” in the text be the speaker at the time? Do not secular authors use the first personal pronoun to refer to persons other than themselves? Could not God empower a man to speak prophetically of Christ and what His attitude would be?
If we claim that Jesus was present in David’s time to speak these words to David, then we should also say that John the Baptist was present when Isaiah spoke the words which the New Testament records were his; for we read in Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God”; and in Matthew 3:3, John is clearly the voice uttering those words.
But no one claims John the Baptist pre-existed.
Jesus was to be God’s representative; it was “written…in the volume of the book.” He was to speak only the words given to Him by His heavenly Father. Moses, speaking for God, said: I [God] “will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My [God’s] words, which He speaks in My [God’s] name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:18-19). If Moses could speak for God, could not David as well?
No. we have no reason to believe Jesus was existing in David’s time.
Psalm 102:25-27 is used by believers in Christ’s pre-existence to show that Christ was present at the time of Creation, helping His Father in the act of creating. They project this idea because these verses are quoted in Hebrews 1: “You, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but you remain;”
The text in Psalm 102 is a clear reference to God, not to His Son Jesus. David said in verse 24: “I said, O my God,…” addressing God as the Creator. God is the supreme Creator. David understood this truth, for he wrote in another Psalm: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Ps. 33:6). According to the prophet Isaiah it was “Who is God; Who formed the earth and made it; who has established it” (45:17-18).
Did the author of Hebrews have a different idea? Let us examine his words closely and see.
Hebrews 1 begins with “God, who at various times and in various ways” spoke to the fathers by the prophets, and who in recent times had spoken to that generation “by His Son.” Verses 3-6 picture Christ’s greatness, His exaltation by the Father, His sonship by birth, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit. (Note that in all this review of Christ, nothing is said about His pre-existence.)
Verse 8 reveals the enduring quality of His throne when it is established upon earth and the impeccability of His righteous administration. Verse 9 pictures His own flawless character, His superior accomplishment in holy living, and reveals His reward: “Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” And there the succession of thoughts about Christ ends.
Then, referring again to God, the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 102, vs. 25-27: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.” Some of the newer versions place Hebrews 1:10-12 in quotation marks, as “And elsewhere: `Lord, thou hast laid the foundations of the earth”‘ (Knox translation). And in a footnote in the Knox translation we read, “It is not clear why these words should be understood as addressed to the Messiah, unless this was suggested by the use of the word `Lord.”‘
But we should note that verse 7 concerns the role of the angels, verses 8 and 9 concern the role of the Son, and verses 10-12 concern God. There is no confusion of terms when we see what the author is saying. And Christ will surely be “Lord” in His eternal Kingdom.
There is no reason to believe Hebrews 1:10 applies to Christ.
Jesus and the Prophets
Believers in the pre-existence also see references to it in the prophets.
Micah 5:2, they say, is sure proof that Jesus was with the Father long before He was born. The verse prophesies Christ’s birthplace as Bethlehem, after which the Prophet adds, “Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Can it be that Micah, while prophesying of the place from which Christ should come, thinks He is already living in heaven’?
The passage is not clear in our Common Version, but newer translations clarify its meaning. The New English Bible renders it, “But you. Bethlehem in Ephrathah, small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel, one whose roots are far back in the past, in days gone by.” The Jerusalem Bible reads, “his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old.” The Moffatt Bible reads, “one whose origin is of old, of long descent,” and the American Translation is similar: “Whose origins are from of old, from ancient days.” The Prophet was not telling us that Jesus had a prior existence, but that He would be descended from an ancient family. “of long descent,” “one whose roots are far back in the past.”
Isaiah and the Pre-Existence
Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 9 is often used to support the theory that Jesus is God come to earth in the form of a man. Verse 6 reads: “And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Notice the tense of the verse: “His name will be…” Again this is common of prophetic language, speaking of things that “do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17).
Why, then, is He called “The mighty God, the everlasting Father”? Christ was to be the Son of God, and as such would bear His Father’s name, but He is clearly said to be “Immanuel, which is translated, God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Just as Moses was to be “God” to his people, in that his word would be authority among them (Ex. 4:16), so Christ will be “God with us” when He returns and establishes His new government of righteousness and justice. And this is just the event which the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7 focuses upon: “And the government will be upon His shoulder, And…Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end.”
The idea that Christ is the “everlasting Father” is not carried in all versions of the Bible. The Douay Version words it, “Father of the world to come,” while the New English calls Him the “Father for all time.” The term “everlasting” does not denote all time past; again, reference is to the time when the new government is set up, and it will be everlasting-as will be its Head and Ruler. Christ will be the Head, or Father, of the world to come, His Kingdom.
Christ Himself never claimed to be God; rather He identified Himself as the “Son of God” (John 10:36). He subordinated Himself to His Father with the words. “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Jesus-the Wisdom of God?
“More Scriptures showing the pre-existence of Christ before his birth in Bethlehem of Judea are found in the eighth chapter of Proverbs,” says a writer in defense of the doctrine. He then quotes Proverbs 8:22-30 and concludes, “What beautiful Scriptures showing Christ’s pre-existence! Christ existed before the creation of the world!”
Is this statement true’? Is the Wise Man telling us that “Christ existed before the creation of the world”? Let us read the verses in question.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, From the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no tountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet He had not made the earth, or the fields, or the primal dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, When He established the clouds above, When He strengthened the fountains of the deep, When He assigned to the sea its limit, So that the waters would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth, Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman, And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him.”
Proverbs 8 is the voice of “Wisdom” speaking, but there is nothing to indicate that that “wisdom” is Christ. Verse one of the chapter reads: “Doth not wisdom cry out And understanding lift up her voice?” Wisdom is personified, but there is no reference to Christ.
Personification was common in Hebrew literature. From the Interpreter’s Bible we learn that “the Hebrew was fond of personifying the things he saw about him. For instance, the prophet says that `The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you’ (Isa. 55:12). This tendency to personify led the Hebrew to personalize abstract ideas and principles. The process in this particular instance of wisdom is quite clear. The unifying, directing principle … called wisdom came … from God. It was an easy matter for the Hebrew to personify this principle….The next step was to regard wisdom as a distinct or separate personality.”
The entire chapter speaks of wisdom as though it were a person, but there is no reference to Christ. It connects the work of creation with the wisdom of God, a connection similar to other statements in Scripture, but that is not to say that Christ had any connection with the Creation.
God’s wisdom was an agent in creation: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up,” (Prov. 3:19-20). God does everything according to His wisdom.
In 1 Corinthians 1:24 the apostle Paul identified Christ as “the wisdom of God” in recognition of His being the embodiment of that wisdom, but he said nothing to indicate that Christ was the wisdom of the Old Testament Scriptures. Christ possessed and lived by the wisdom of God so completely that He could be called “the wisdom of God” in that He spoke only the words He received from God. This was not something He possessed prior to His birth, but something He had to acquire. It was necessary for Him to learn “obedience by the things which He suffered, And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
No, Proverbs 8 does not teach the pre-existence of Christ. To draw the conclusion that Christ is the “wisdom” of Proverbs 8 because Paul identified Him as the “wisdom of God” is to read into the Scriptures something that is not there. God performed all His mighty works by His eternal wisdom, not by His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Pre-Existence of Christ in the New Testament?
“Jesus was continually expressing the fact of his pre-existence,” says one writer. “The Jews were astonished at his doctrine, saving, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60).
Have we any proof that Jesus taught His disciples that He had a prior existence? Was it His pre-existence that constituted an “hard saving”:’
To have had an existence thousands of years prior to His birth Jesus must have been immortal, and He must have been deity. Both assumptions pose problems: They are not supported in Scripture. If Christ were immortal, or if He were God, He could not have died-and He did die. Also. we are told that Christ was “in all things…made like His brethren” (Heb. 2:17). His brethren were mortal men, men who lived and died as other men. No one has suggested a prior existence for any save Jesus Christ. How then could Jesus be in all points like His brethren if He had a prior existence?
Jesus and Pre-Existence
Was Jesus “continually expressing the fact of his pre-existence”: casual reading of the Gospels might lead to this conclusion. But is it true” Must we disregard the plain statements concerning His birth, life and death, and grant Him the status of deity in order to give Him a prior existence in heaven?
Yet, what about texts that suggest a pre-existence?
John 3:13, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
Casual reading of this text might lead one to believe that Jesus had indeed been in heaven with the Father. But to accept this idea would force us to deny other plain teachings of the Bible; hence let us consider well.
The main difficulty in understanding this verse-and others-lies with the use of the term “Son of man” or “Christ.” The Bible uses the term Christ in three distinct ways with three distinct meanings. There is a) the man Christ, b) the knowledge or wisdom of God, which the literal Christ personified in His exemplary life, and c) Christ’s spiritual body, the Church, often called Christ.
Christ the man was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. He grew to manhood and at thirty years of age went out to “every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1).
Christ the knowledge of God is the spiritual Christ, the Word of God personified. Christ lived the law of God so perfectly that He was in a sense the living Word. In Him men saw the life God required. And it is this spiritual Christ that can be in someone, as “Christ in you, the hope of glory”(Col. 1:27).
Christ the Church consists of Christ the Head and the Church His body, as in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”
When Jesus said, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven,” we are confident He was not teaching that He had a prior existence in heaven. The Son of man, as used in these verses, is the wisdom of God, the knowledge that the man Christ personified. This “Son of man” came from God in heaven. Jesus Himself testified to this fact when He said He spoke only what He had received of the Father: “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28).
The latter part of John 3:13 indicates that Jesus did not mean His statement literally, for Christ was speaking on earth and was not “in heaven” at that time. It was the knowledge of God which Christ personified which was in Him and in heaven.
John 6:50-58, “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven:…This is the bread which comes down from heaven. “
Here again casual reading of Jesus’ words might lead us to think Jesus was saying He had come from heaven. But let us look deeper.
First, what brought about the discussion? The Jews had been seeking Jesus: and when they found Him, He accused them of looking for another free meal; or as worded in the Living Bible, “The truth of the matter is that you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you believe in me.” Jesus was more concerned with the spiritual food and He attempted to turn their minds in that direction.
“My Father gives you the true bread from heaven….I am the living bread which came down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;…the bread that I shall give is My flesh,…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you….For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:32, 51, 53, 55, 56).
The Jews could see only the literal, and so concluded that Jesus’ words were unreasonable: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” and “How is it…that He saith, I came down from heaven?”
But Jesus’ words show that He was not telling them about literal flesh and literal blood which they were to eat and drink. The flesh and blood must be spiritual, representatives of something far deeper.
How can we know what Jesus meant? Jesus said He was the living bread which came down from heaven, which if a man should eat “he shall live for ever.” Again He said it was His flesh and blood which men must eat to live.
If Jesus meant either statement literally, we could never have future life, for we have no access to Jesus’ literal flesh and blood. But Jesus explained this statement by another statement which follows: “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me, will live because of Me” (v. 57). Jesus lived by eating of His Father, His divine wisdom, His principles, His promises; and in the same manner we can live by eating of Jesus, that is, the principles and divine knowledge which He personified. Jesus lived by the Father; we live by partaking of Jesus. His flesh and blood. the vital knowledge which kept Him spiritually alive. Jesus confirms this thought in verse 63: “It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” The literal “flesh profiteth nothing.” It is “the words that I speak,” says Jesus, which “are life.”
Now if His “flesh and blood” which give life are His words. His teaching, divine wisdom, must not the living bread which came down from heaven be the same? for it, too, is said to give life; and we know that there is only one way to life. The living bread which came down from heaven was the wisdom Christ personified in His life, the divine knowledge by which He so completely directed His life. “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” The whole passage refers to this life-giving knowledge of God. What meaning there is, then, in these words: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before”, He was saying, What if you should lose all that I have given you if the divine wisdom which can show you the way to life should suddenly return to heaven, what would you have left`? You would starve, spiritually; you would have no hope.
This is just what Peter said when replying to Jesus’ words “Do you also want to go away?” He answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go`? You have the words of eternal life” (vs. 67-68). The words of divine knowledge were the bread of life which had come from heaven, the bread which was being made available to them by Christ.
John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
To the person believing in the pre-existence doctrine, this verse is conclusive evidence because it seems to claim a prior “glory” for Jesus with the Father in heaven, glory which He had “with you before the world was.”
But was this Jesus’ meaning? Did He intend to say that He shared a glory with the Father in heaven before the beginning of His life on earth’ To draw such a conclusion is to contradict many definite statements in the Scriptures, hence we must look deeper into His words.
The Greek word para, translated “with” in the text, is used with the dative case, and is defined as, “A being by the side of any person or thing;…before; in the presence of, often of being heard before judges.” Jesus asked to be glorified in His Father’s presence or before Him.
The Greek word used for “world” in this text is kosmos, meaning a particular arrangement of things upon this planet. Had it referred to the physical earth upon which we live the Greek ge would have been used.
In the context of this chapter Christ is speaking of the future world, the time when this earth shall come under His dominion, a promise not vet fulfilled. The fulfillment of this promise will be accompanied by glory for Christ for He will be King over the whole earth (Zech. 14:9). The word “was” at the end of the verse is the infinitive form “to be,” hence it is the “world to come” (Heb. 2:5).
It was for this “world to come” that Christ spent His whole life on earth. He had already qualified Himself for the Kingship and was so certain of receiving it that He could speak of it as though it were an accomplished fact. His heavenly Father, knowing all things from the beginning, knew that Jesus would live His life so perfectly that He gave Him the promise of future glory. Were we to say that Jesus had experienced glory with the Father in heaven, we would be accusing Jesus of contradicting the record of John 7:39 which states that “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
No, Jesus, at that time, had never been with His Father in heaven. After His resurrection He told Mary that He had not vet ascended to His Father. He was glorified after He ascended to heaven and was to be “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33).
John and Pre-Existence
The first fourteen verses of the Gospel of John, commonly known as the prologue to the book, are cited by those who espouse the doctrine as definite proof that Christ pre-existed with the Father in heaven as long ago as the creation of the earth. Basic to this belief is the term logos, a Greek word translated “Word” and understood by nearly all Christendom as referring to Christ.
Is there any basis for equating Christ and the logos? Was John here teaching a pre-existence for Christ`? What is there in Scripture to support the claim that Christ was the logos? Let us study these verses to ascertain John’s teaching.
Verses 1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” With the idea firmly fixed in their mind that Christ is the logos, theologians see in these verses the pre-existent Christ assisting His Father in the creation of all things. In the first verse, it was the logos that was with God, hence the “him” of verse 3 is the logos. But have we any reason for assuming that the logos and the “him” are Christ?
What is the logos?
Theologians are sure that it is Jesus Christ, but we can find no proof in the Scripture for this claim. Some Bible scholars believe that the term should have been left untranslated because there is no one-word equivalent for it in the English language. According to Berry’s Greek-English New Testament Lexicon, logos means “a speaking, a saying, a word, as the expression of thought…, the thing spoken.” There is nothing to indicate that a person is meant; theology has added that meaning.
The idea that the logos was a person and that that person was Christ is one of many that came from the Greek philosophers. The belief was developed over a period of time during the centuries immediately following the Apostolic Age. It was the Church fathers, under the influence of the Greeks, who were responsible. Iraneus put the doctrine into written form and it persists today in much the same words as those he wrote.
What is the logos that was “in the beginning” with God? It is the wisdom of God. This logos or wisdom existed “with God” and through this logos or wisdom God created all things. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens,” wrote the Wise Man (Prov. 3:19), echoing the words of the Psalmist, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all” (Ps. 104:24).
The translator’s application of the personal pronoun “him” to the logos is no proof that it refers to Christ. The Greek pronoun used could be translated “it” with equal authority. It is so rendered in Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott as well as in the Concordant Version of the Bible: “All came into being through it, and apart from it not even one thing came into being which has come into being.”
The phrase “the Word [logos] was God” is a poor translation. It is better translated “…the Word was divine,” as it is rendered in the Moffatt Bible and the Goodspeed Translation.
Understanding the logos to be the word or wisdom of God, we can better understand John’s words. The logos is to God what thought or idea is to man. In the beginning, when God formulated His plans for the earth, the logos, or wisdom was already in existence and it is through this wisdom that God does all things.
Verse 4. “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” Here we have the same “Him” as in verse 3, but must it be Christ? No, the “Him” is again the logos or wisdom of God which was in the beginning with God. Only through this wisdom or knowledge of God is eternal life possible. “For wisdom is a defence, as money is a defence: But the excellence of’ knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it” (Eccl. 7:12).
Christ personified this wisdom of God by living it out in His daily life in order that men might gain eternal life by following His example (1 Pet. 2:21). He lived it out so completely that His life became the “light” or pattern for those who came afterward to follow.
Verse 5. “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The “light” that God sent into a dark world in the beginning was His logos, His wisdom, not Christ in a pre-existent state. The man Christ did personify this wisdom by living it so perfectly hence was called “the light.” The phrase “the darkness did not comprehend it,” is better rendered “the darkness overcame it not.” as in the Scofield Reference Bible. Throughout the centuries there were those who tried to put out the light of God’s Word, but always without success because God willed it so. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” said King David in Psalm 119:105.
Verses 6-8. These verses are a clear reference to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who was sent to “bear witness of the Light.” The Light to which he bore witness was Christ, but He had no existence prior to His birth. Because John was “sent from God” as this verse states, no one assumes that he pre-existed. Why must we assume a pre-existence for Christ because He testifies that His Father sent Him’?
Verse 9. “That was the true Light, which gives light to every man coming into the world.” Theology applies a literal interpretation to this verse, but such is not possible because everyone that has come into this world has not heard of Jesus Christ. Uncounted numbers have been born, lived and died without ever hearing the name. But everyone that comes into the new world, the new order of things after Christ comes and sets up His Kingdom, will be enlightened by Christ, the true Light. The “world” of this verse is “the world to come” of Hebrews 2:5. In the original the Greek word kosmos refers to a particular arrangement of things, not the earth on which we stand.
John was not teaching that Jesus Christ had been enlightening every one that existed throughout the ages in a pre-existent state, but was showing God’s plan for this earth when all who would live will come to the light of God’s knowledge, when “all shall know [the Lord], from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jer. 31:34). When this prophecy is fulfilled, Christ will be lighting every man that comes into the world, that comes into the new order.
Verses 10 and 11. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive him.” The word translated “made” in this verse occurs over five hundred times in the New Testament and is nowhere translated “create.” It means “to come to pass,” “to be born,” “to arise.” “occur,” “be appointed,” “be done,” “be changed.” There is no idea of “creating” among them, and John is not telling us of a pre-existence of Christ: it is the “world to come” which is under Christ’s authority, or the “world of believers” who were “changed” by Him.
Verse 14. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. “ Jesus Christ in His ministry was “the Word made flesh” because He personified the Word of God by living it out in His life.
The Pre-Existence in the Acts?
In the words of one writer, “it is quite probable that Paul often quoted a poem, a hymn, or liturgical formula already used in the [religious] community to express the pre-existence of Christ.” If such a doctrine had been prevalent in the time of the apostles, we should find it in the Acts. Let us see what they were preaching.
Peter in his first sermon after Pentecost preached “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs,” a man who was crucified and “whom God raised up.” There is no mention of any pre-existence (Acts 2:22-38).
Again, at Caesarea, he testified to the Gentiles concerning Jesus whom “God raised up the third day.” Peter also told how Jesus had commanded them to “preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which”—always existed with the Father from the beginning? No, “it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick [living] and dead” (Acts 10:36-42).
There is nothing whatever in Peter’s preaching to indicate that he thought of Jesus as pre-existent. He and the other apostles knew Jesus as a man, not as the God of heaven in human form.
Philip, chosen by the apostles as a man “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), “went down to…Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip” (Acts 8:5-6). And we read that “they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 12). Philip taught as did Jesus Himself, concerning the Kingdom, and concerning Jesus. There is no hint of pre-existence in his preaching.
Philip later met the Ethiopian eunuch and “preached unto him Jesus,” or as rendered in the New International Version, he “told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). It was the “good news,” which is the gospel that he was preaching. It was the same gospel preached by Jesus Himself, the “gospel of the kingdom” which He went about preaching (Matt. 4:23; 9:35), and which Paul said “is the power of God unto salvation,” and “by which also [we] are saved if [we] keep in memory” what has been preached to us (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:2).
Paul, speaking to the people at Antioch reviewed the history of God’s people, showing how God fulfilled His promise through Jesus, affirming how God “raised Him from the dead.” and “that through this man [not the God of heaven] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:14-38). Nowhere do we find Paul making any mention of pre-existence. We are confident that the doctrine of the pre-existence had no place among the beliefs of the early Christian Church.
The Pre-Existence in Paul’s Epistles?
Supporters of the pre-existence doctrine admit that any clear proof is lacking in the gospels, but most claim firm support from the Apostle Paul. Fred B. Craddock, in his book on pre-existence, says. “A preliminary reading of his [Paul’s] most explicit statements of the pre-existence of Christ indicate three major themes: . . . 1) a pre-existent Christ is related not solely to redemption but to creation as well; 2) a pre-existent Christ who becomes existent: 3) a pre-existent Christ is not limited to the Christian era but figured in Israel’s history as well . . .” In other words, Mr. Craddock believes that Paul taught “the pre-existence of Christ . . . in relation to creation, to incarnation, and to history.”
If Paul was teaching the pre-existence, the term should appear at least once in his epistles–but we fail to find it. We will discuss some texts from Paul’s writings which supporters of the doctrine claim support their view.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4. “All our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea;…all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. “
Was Paul here teaching a pre-existent Christ, one who did not begin with the Virgin Mary but who accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness? Believers in the pre-existence would answer in the affirmative. But must we assume that the meat, drink, and rock of which Paul wrote were the Man Jesus Christ’?
The use of the adjective “spiritual” with all three nouns indicates clearly that Paul had no intention of teaching pre-existence for Christ. Were we to assume that the physical Christ was intended, we would also have to take literally the portion of the verse that says the people ate and drank these objects, hence they would have been eating the man Christ.
As explained in greater detail in our previous lesson on this subject, the term “Christ” in the Bible does not always refer to the man Christ. Its use here designates the gospel or truth that He taught, the “spiritual Christ.- It is the same as the “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Common sense tells us that the literal Christ cannot be in anyone.
We are confident that Paul, who in other epistles identified Christ as “descended from David” (Rom. 1:3, RSV), and as God’s Son. “born of woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4, RSV), was not here describing Him as pre-existent.
Romans 9:5. “Of whom are the fathers, and from whom according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” Was Paul here giving Christ the same status as God, inferring pre-existence?
Paul was simply showing the descent of the Jewish people-especially Christ—from the patriarchs, which he follows with an exclamation of praise to God. Newer translations make the text clearer: “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them, in natural descent, sprang the Messiah. May God, supreme above all, be blessed for ever!” (New English); “They [the Jews] are descended from the patriarchs, and Christ, as a human being, belongs to their race. May God, who rules over all, be praised forever!” (Today’s English Version). It is God who rules over all, not Christ. There is no thought of pre-existence here.
Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. “
To those who believe in the pre-existence and the atoning death of Christ on the cross, these verses describe His mission on earth. But let us remember that these are the words of Paul, who according to Peter, “has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Let us try to better understand Paul’s words.
How was Jesus “in the form of God”`? Certainly not in power, for He said Himself, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). He was “in the form of God” in substance, being the Son of God. The writer to the Hebrews described Him as the “express image of His [Father’s] person” (Heb. 1:3). Paul was speaking of Christ’s relationship with His Father during His life. There is nothing to indicate a prior existence.
Did Jesus, who said His Father was greater, claim to be “equal with God”? Paul was put into the ministry by Christ Himself. Certainly he would not contradict His words. The statement that Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” seems demeaning; however, the trouble is not with Paul’s statement, but with the translation of his words.
According to the Greek-English Lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, the Greek word here translated “robbery” has other meanings which would come closer to Paul’s thought. “Robbery,…is next to impossible in Phil. 2:6,” says the Lexicon, as “the state of being equal with God cannot be equated with the act of robbery.” This same Greek word is also used of “a piece of good fortune, a windfall;…prize, booty…and only the context and an understanding of Paul’s thought in general can decide whether it means holding fast to a prize already obtained or the appropriation to oneself of a prize which is sought after.” We are confident Paul had no thought of “robbery”: newer translations also omit the thought.
A more logical translation of the text might be: Christ, though being the possession of God and made in the likeness of God, did not consider (His advantages) a prize to be appropriated to Himself alone-He led (others) to be like God.
Verses 7 and 8 emphasize Christ’s humility. But Paul was not telling of some former existence Christ had enjoyed with His Father in heaven. Christ was “made in the likeness of men” from the beginning, having been “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4. NEB) and “made like his brethren in every respect” (Heb. 2:17, RSV). All of His deeds were performed during the space of time between His birth and His ascension; He had no prior existence, and Paul claims none for Him.
Colossians 1:15-18, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation: For by Him all things were created that are in heaven, and that are on earth,…All things were created through Him and for Him, And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist, And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. “
Without the closing sentence of this passage, we might have difficulty understanding Paul’s statement. But Paul is not teaching pre-existence. Rather, he is pointing to Christ as the “firstborn from the dead,” the “firstfruits” as in 1 Cor. 15:23, the first to be rewarded with eternal life. As Paul wrote in his Epistle to Timothy, it is He “only [who] hath immortality.Because of the supremacy of His position, He is worthy of being the “head of the body, the church,” as in verse 18, and to have preeminence over these. He is the first of our race to possess immortality, hence is called “the firstborn of every creature,” again referring to His rank, not His place in time.
Surface reading of verses 16 and 17 might relate Christ to the creation of all things. But we are confident that Paul, who explained the true God to the men of Athens as “God that made the world and all things therein,” had no intention of attributing the creation to Christ. Rather, he alluded to the new heavens and earth which Christ will create as though they were a finished product, speaking of “things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17). Christ is “before all things” of this new creation, “and by him all things [of the new creation] consist,” because He will be the king, the head of the new arrangement that will replace our present government at His return.
Ephesians 1:22-23, “And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Here again Paul refers to Christ as the head of the new creation, again speaking of “things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17).
All things are not yet put under His feet, as the writer to the Hebrews stated it: “But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Heb. 2:8b). The time is yet future when all things will be under Christ. The writer is here referring to the same time he referred to in Colossians 1:15-18. Not until the Kingdom is fully established will all things be under Christ.
Romans 11:36, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever.” This is yet another text from Paul’s words to which those who believe in the pre-existence fly for proof. But have we any reason to think it was Christ of whom Paul spoke?
Verse 36 standing alone might be construed to mean Christ. But let us begin with verse 33 to get Paul’s thought: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has become his counsellor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” (Rom. 11:33-35).
It is obvious from the context that Paul’s reference throughout was to God. The change to “Lord” in verse 34 does not alter the line of thought. God Almighty is often referred to as Lord in the Bible. The whole passage refers to God and not Christ. There is no pre-existence here.
1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” Believers in the pre-existence understand the “mystery of godliness” to be the process by which the pre-existent Christ became a human baby, born of the Virgin
The Greek word for “mystery” does not mean mysterious as we might think of it. Rather, it means “revealed truth,” things formerly hidden, but now revealed. It is purely assumption to say that the “mystery of godliness” refers to the incarnation of Christ. Paul was saying, Great is the revealed truth of our religion; he was not describing the religion of Christ as a mystery.
Newer translations give no indication of incarnation. The New English Bible renders it, “He who was manifested in the body, vindicated in the spirit. seen by angels; who was proclaimed among the nations, believed in throughout the world, glorified in high heaven.” The description is of Christ, not God and offers no proof of pre-existence or incarnation.
Can You Answer These?
l. Give Scripture texts where the words “trinity,” “incarnation,” and “pre-existence” are used.
2. What is the source of the doctrine of the trinity? When was it adopted by the church?
3. What was Peter’s reply to Jesus’ question: “Whom say ye that I am?” What did Peter’s answer mean?
4. List five ways in which Christ was not equal to His Father.
5. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am”?
6. How can we know Jesus was not present with God at the time of the creation of the earth? What is the meaning of Gen. 1:26?
7. Why is Christ referred to as the “wisdom of God”?
8. Explain Isaiah 9:6, “and His name will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Why is Christ called the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father”?
9. Cite one text to show that Christ was not born perfect.
10. What testimony in Scripture says that God and Christ worked together in creating the literal earth?
11. What is the definition of logos as it was used by the apostle John`?
12. What is the meaning of the word “mystery” as used in Scripture?
13. Give two Bible texts that show Jesus’ nature. Did He exist before He was born? How can we know?
14. Where did the idea of a pre-existent saviour originate?
15. In what sense is Christ the “spiritual Rock”? Does this suggest that Christ pre-existed?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and the pages of this lesson.)