Pre-Existence of Christ

Editor's Notes

One of the four central Gospels of the Bible, the Gospel of John, contains a number of Verses that many Churches seem to want to overlook! These are from the KJAV Bible text:

  • John 3:13 And no man hath ascended to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man who is in heaven.
  • John 3:31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
  • John 6:33 For the bread of God is he who cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world.
  • John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
  • John 6:41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.
  • John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: ...
  • John 6:62 [What] if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
  • John 8:23 And he said to them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
  • John 8:29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
  • John 8:58 Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.

There are other Verses in the Bible which also firmly establish in Jesus' own words that He came down from Heaven to join human society. The wording of the Nicene Creed also includes the same reference:

he came down from heaven (common recent wordings)

Who for us men and for our salvation came down (wording, in amplified form, from Constantinople, 381 AD)

There were at least four earlier variants mentioned at the Council of Sardica in 341 AD.

Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man (original wording of 325 AD).

All these fully accepted texts appear to make extremely clear that Jesus Pre-Existed Mary. This is therefore an established fact, which makes some parts of the traditional Birth Narrative seem less important or less credible than is generally assumed.

Mary was certainly necessary for Jesus to be able to join human society without drawing excessive attention to some miraculous appearance. But many Churches choose to devote immense importance to Mary, which might not seem quite as justified if Jesus already was Alive before Mary was even born!

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Indeed, the extreme importance that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church center on the Virgin Mary may be the explanation that those Churches do not even address the issue of Christ Pre-Existing! If they openly discussed Pre-Existence, it very easily might instigate questions over exactly what Mary's importance was about. In any case, we note that neither of those Churches even seem to have ever published any articles about Pre-Existence of Christ, even though those many Verses cited above seem to make it an established fact.

However, even accepting the Pre-Existence of Christ, it seems very proper to see Mary as an extremely unique person. God CHOSE Mary for the singular purpose of enabling Jesus to join human society, and that Choice in itself makes clear that Mary merits immense honor and reverence.


Preexistence of Christ

General Information

That Christ pre-existed before his birth as God is made plain in the Holy Scriptures. The gospel according to St. John has shed light surrounding the mystery of His pre-existence. John began his gospel massage with the introduction of Christ's pre-existence to the lost world standing in need of a great Saviour and eternal life, and said:

That Christ pre-existed in eternity is reported in many passages of the Scriptures. One of these remarkable statements as regards His Deity was made by St. Paul to indicate that our Lord Jesus came into this world as God incarnate to dwell and die in our place on the cross. This great mystery of Christ's Divinity is unfolded to all salvation-seekers with a view to make known to them His actual identity. The knowledge of Christ's is essential, because it's the spring-board of faith in His salvation work on earth. Any salvation-seeker that lacks this all-important knowledge of Christ's divinity is short of the saving truth. Under this condition, the fellow may regard Him as an ordinary human being, also standing in need of salvation.

Anyone that regards our dear Lord as an ordinary human being has erred concerning the gospel truth. This mistaken belief has led to the destruction of masses. But, the issue about Christ's Divinity, to St. Paul, who was once a persecutor, is without controversy. The fact is that Christ is the son of God, and is therefore God without doubt. As God, He was made manifest in the human flesh with the supreme power of the Almighty.

Through the gospel according to St. John, the credentials of the God-given Savior have been presented to all the world, by the way of divine introduction. God has recommended Him to all perishing nations that His only begotten Son is the only personality, capable of saving them from sufferings and the bandage of death, because His son was with Him as His Co-Creator. Jn. 1: 1-3.

All salvation-seekers should know that the salvation work is in hands of the Creator Himself: “He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. Ps. 33:9

He is the Alpha and Omega, the fist and the last, who pre-existed in eternity as God, and came to us by birth as human being.


Preexistence of Christ

General Information

The preexistence of Christ is part of the foundation of Christian faith on which these other doctrines depend. It is a necessary premise for belief in Christ's deity, but by itself it is not sufficient. Because Christ's preexistence is foundational, how one understands it or rejects it affects the remainder of Christology and one's overall understanding of Christianity. This has been nowhere more evident than in the modern attempts to explain (or explain away) the doctrine. Those modern theologians who ignore or deny Christ's preexistence do so because it is incompatible with their understanding either of Jesus' humanity or of the nature of religion.

McCready, He came down from Heaven": The Preexistence of Christ Revisited, p. 419)


Preexistence of Christ

General Information

The pre-existence (or preexistence) of Christ refers to the doctrine of the ontological or personal existence of Christ before his conception. One of the relevant Bible passages is John 1:1-18 where, in the Trinitarian view, Christ is identified with a pre-existent divine hypostasis called the Logos or Word. However, other non-Trinitarian views question the aspect of personal pre-existence or question the aspect of divinity, or both.

The Trinitarian belief is that Christ pre-existed before Creation as the Logos or God the Son. After his Incarnation the title Son of God is also used.

The concept of the pre-existence of Christ is a central tenet of the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinitarian Christology explores the nature of Christ's pre-existence as the Divine hypostasis called the Logos or Word, described in the passage John 1:1-18.

This being is also called God the Son or the Second Person of the Trinity. Theologian Bernard Ramm noted that "It has been standard teaching in historic Christology that the Logos, the Son, existed before the incarnation. That the Son so existed before the incarnation has been called the pre-existence of Christ."

Other aspects of Christology explore the incarnation of this Divine being as the man Jesus. In the words of the Nicene Creed, Christ "came down from heaven, and was incarnate." Some Christians believe that God the Son "emptied himself" of divine attributes in order to become human, in a process called kenosis, while others reject this.

Douglas McCready, in his analysis and defence of the pre-existence of Christ, notes that whereas the preexistence of Christ "is taken for granted by most orthodox Christians, and has been since New Testament times", during the past century the doctrine has been increasingly questioned by less orthodox theologians and scholars.

James D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, examines the development of this doctrine in early Christianity, noting that it is "beyond dispute" that in John 1:1-18, "the Word is pre-existent, and Christ is the pre-existent Word incarnate," but going on to explore possible sources for the concepts expressed there, such as the writings of Philo.

Apart from John 1:1-18 and other New Testament passages, some Trinitarian denominations also consider a number of Old Testament texts as supporting or consistent with the doctrine, including Gen. 3:13-15, Gen. 49:10, Job 19:25-29, Num. 24:5-7, Jos. 5:13-15, Ps. 2:7-12, Ps. 22, Ps. 110:1, Pro. 30:1, Isa. 9:6-7, Isa. 53, Dan. 3:24-25, and Dan. 9:24-27. For example Tertullian in Against Marcion Ch.21 sees a pre-existent appearance of Christ in the fiery furnace of one who is "like the son of man (for he was not yet really son of man)"

Other non-Trinitarian Christians with belief in pre-existence (below) may have different or similar interpretations of such verses.

Non-Trinitarian belief in the doctrine

It is possible to accept the pre-existence of Christ without accepting his full divinity in the Trinitarian sense. For example, it is likely that Arius and most early advocates of Arianism accepted the pre-existence of Christ. Likewise Michael Servetus, although denying the doctrine of the Trinity accepted the personal pre-existence of Christ.

Today, several Non-Trinitarian denominations also share belief in some form of the pre-existence of Christ, including Jehovah's Witnesses who identify Jesus as the archangel Michael, interpreting John 1:1 by translating with the phrase "a god," rather than "God." Mormonism teaches Christ's pre-existence as first and greatest of the spirit sons.

John Locke and Isaac Newton appear to have maintained belief in the pre-existence of Christ despite their rejection of the Trinity.

Oneness Pentecostals are non-Trinitarian Pentecostal Christians who do not accept the pre-existence of Christ as distinguished from God the Father, believing that prior to the Incarnation only "the timeless Spirit of God (the Father)" existed. Afterwards God "simultaneously dwelt in heaven as a timeless Spirit, and inside of the Son of Man on this earth."

Although Oneness Pentecostals accept that "Christ is the same person as God," they also believe that "The 'Son' was 'born,' which means that he had a beginning." In other words, "Oneness adherents understand the term [Son] to be applicable to God only after the incarnation." They have consequently been described as holding an essentially unitarian position on the doctrine, and of denying the pre-existence of Christ. However, some members of the movement deny this interpretation of their beliefs.

Throughout history there have been various groups and individuals believing that Jesus' existence began when he was conceived. Those denying the pre-existence of Christ can be broadly divided into two streams:

1. Those who nevertheless accept the virgin birth. This includes Socinians, and early Unitarians such as John Biddle, and Nathaniel Lardner. Today the view is primarily held by Christadelphians. These groups typically consider that Christ is prophesied and foreshadowed in the Old Testament, but did not exist.

2. Those who also deny the Virgin birth. This includes Ebionites and later Unitarians, such as Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson, as well as modern Unitarian Universalists. This view is often described as adoptionism, and in the 19th Century was also called psilanthropism. Samuel Taylor Coleridge described himself as having once been a psilanthropist, believing Jesus to be the "real son of Joseph." Friedrich Schleiermacher, sometimes called "the father of liberal theology", was one of many German theologians who departed from the idea of personal ontological pre-existence of Christ, teaching that "Christ was not God but was created as the ideal and perfect man whose sinlessness constituted his divinity." Similarly Albrecht Ritschl rejected the pre-existence of Christ, asserting that Christ was the "Son of God" only in the sense that "God had revealed himself in Christ" and Christ "accomplished a religious and ethical work in us which only God could have done." Later, Rudolf Bultmann described the pre-existence of Christ as "not only irrational but utterly meaningless."

Bibliography:
Bernard L. Ramm, An Evangelical Christology: Ecumenic and Historic, 1983
Pope Pius XII condemned this in 1951 in Sempiternus Rex Christus, and Protestant theologian Wayne Grudem likewise denies it in his Systematic Theology, 1994
Douglas McCready. He Came Down From Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith, 2005.
James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament inquiry into the origins of the doctrine of the Incarnation, 1996
Carl Theophilus Odhner, Michael Servetus, His Life and Teachings, 1910
John Marshall, Locke, Socinianism, "Socinianism", and Unitarianism, from p. 111 in M. A. Stewart (editor), English Philosophy in the Age of Locke (2000),


Preexistence of the Messiah

Jewish Information

This includes his existence before Creation; the existence of his name; his existence after the creation of the world. Two Biblical passages favor the view of the preexistence of the Messiah: Micah v. 1 (A. V. 2), speaking of the Bethlehemite ruler, says that his "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting"; Dan. vii. 13 speaks of "one like the Son of man," who "came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days." In the Messianic similitudes of Enoch (xxxvii.-lxxi.) the three preexistences are spoken of: "The Messiah was chosen of God before the creation of the world, and he shall be before Him to eternity" (xlviii. 6). Before the sun and the signs of the zodiac were created, or ever the stars of heaven were formed his name was uttered in the presence of the Lord of Spirits (= God; xlviii. 3). Apart from these passages, there are only general statements that the Messiah was hidden and preserved by God (lxii. 6-7, xlvi. 1-3), without any declaration as to when he began to be. His preexistence is affirmed also in II Esdras (about 90 A.D.), according to which he has been preserved and hidden by God "a great season"; nor shall mankind see him save at the hour of his appointed day (xii. 32; xiii. 26, 52; xiv. 9), although no mention is made of the antemundane existence either of his person or of his name (comp. Syriac Apoc. Baruch, xxix. 3).

Thus also the Rabbis. Of the seven things fashioned before the creation of the world, the last was the name of the Messiah (comp. Ps. lxxii. 17; Pes. 54a; Tan., Naso, ed. Buber, No. 19; and parallels); and the Targum regards the preexistence of the Messiah's name as implied in Micah v. 1 (A. V. 2), Zech. iv. 7, and Ps. lxxii. 17.

The "Spirit of God" which "moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. i. 2) is the spirit of the Messiah (Gen. R. viii. 1; comp. Pesiḳ. R. 152b, which reads as follows, alluding to Isa. xi. 2: "The Messiah was born [created] when the world was made, although his existence had been contemplated before the Creation"). Referring to Ps. xxxvi. 10 and Gen. i. 4, Pesiḳta Rabba declares (161b): "God beheld the Messiah and his deeds before the Creation, but He hid him and his generation under His throne of glory." Seeing him, Satan said, "That is the Messiah who will dethrone me." God said to the Messiah, "Ephraim, anointed of My righteousness, thou hast taken upon thee the sufferings of the six days of Creation" (162a; comp. Yalḳ., Isa. 499). The preexistence of the Messiah in heaven and his high station there are often mentioned. Akiba interprets Dan. vii. 9 as referring to two heavenly thrones—the one occupied by God and the other by the Messiah (Ḥag. 14a; comp. Enoch, lv. 4, lxix. 29), with whom God converses (Pes. 118b; Suk. 52a).

K.L.B.

Bibliography
Buxtorf, Lexicon Hebraico-Chaldaicum, ed. Fischer, ii. 642-644 (containing passages from the Targum);
castelli, Il Messia Secondo gli Ebrei, pp. 207 et seq., Florence, 1874;
Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, i. 105 et seq., 107, 245-248, Leipsic, 1899;
Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, etc., London, 1877;
Frank, Kabbala;
Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 790-792;
Hühn, Die Messianischen Weissagungen des Israelitisch-Jüdischen Volkes bis zu den Targumim Historisch-Kritisch Untersucht, pp. 89, 108, 111 et seq., 129 et seq., Freiburg, 1899;
Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. xii. 731-735;
Schürer, Gesch. ii. 496-498, 528-530;
Weber, Jüdische Theologie, Leipsic, 1897.


Preexistence of Christ

Advanced Information

The preincarnate existence of Christ may be "only a simple, contemplative inference backwards from the spiritual glory of the present Christ" (Deissmann); certainly its clearest expression is found in later writing reflecting upon the rudimentary messianic, even adoptionist, assessment of Christ in the primitive Christian community (Acts 2:22 - 23; 10:38). Yet preexistence is at least implied in words of Jesus himself: "The son of man came"; the owner of the vineyard "had still. . . a beloved son: finally he sent him." It is explicit in sayings attributed to Jesus in John's Gospel: "I came down from heaven"; "The glory I had with thee before the world was."

Jewish scholars attributed "ideal" preexistence to things (law, temple) and persons (Adam, Moses) deeply reverenced, echoed perhaps in Paul's calling Christ "last Adam. . . from heaven." Greek thinking, reflected in Philo, was familiar with preexistence of souls. But it is unnecessary to find here more than a source of usable terms. The idea that the Son of God, eternally preexisting in glory with the Father, moved by love became incarnate was too central to Christian faith to depend upon coincidences of language for its basis.

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Paul appeals for generosity because Christ, "through rich, became poor." He pleads that converts live as sons because "God sent forth his son"; argues for self effacement from the fact that Christ, being in the form of God, "emptied himself"; contends, against the Gnostics' pleroma filling the gulf between God and creation, that "all things were created in, through, and for Christ... who is before all things." As "Lord from heaven" Christ provides the pattern of our resurrected humanity; as he first descended, so he has ascended, the measure of his triumph and assurance of ours (2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:5 - 6; Col. 1:15 - 16; Eph. 4:8 - 9). For such practical, pastoral exhortations one does not argue from fringe speculations, but only from familiar, accepted, foundation truths.

John's Gospel and Epistle, assuming that Christ came from God and went to God (John 13:3), emphasize his being sent by the Father on divine mission, expressing divine love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9 - 10), a revelation of the unseen Father by one belonging "in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18), a divine Word, present when God spoke at creation and now again conveying meaning and power to the world (John 1). For John as for Paul, mankind's salvation derives not from any human initiative but from the inbreaking of the eternal Son into time. That is the crucial truth here at issue.

The implications of preexistence are a concern of subsequent Christian thought. Does it impair the manhood of Jesus? (Christological controversies: answer, No, two real natures coexist in one person). Why the delay in Christ's arrival? (medieval: answer, God patiently prepared). Does preexistence imply continuity of memory between the eternal Son and Jesus? (modern: answer, No, a growing consciousness of his uniqueness). But the fact of preexistence is not questioned, except where Christ's deity and divine mission are wholly denied.

R E O White

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
D M Baillie, God Was in Christ; H R Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Christ; O Cullmann, The Christology of the NT.


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