Saturday, November 18, 2017

Was Jesus Christ alive before his life on earth began? (Part Two)

Christ Foreknown by God

In Romans 8:29 we read that those in the body of Christ were foreknown by God and designated beforehand. The saints in the body of Christ didn’t exist when they were foreknown by God; had they existed, they wouldn’t have been “foreknown” by God. They would’ve simply been “known.” Now consider 1 Peter 1:20, where we’re told that Christ was “foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world, yet manifested in the last times because of you…” (1 Peter 1:20). Had Christ personally existed before the disruption of the world, he wouldn't have been “foreknown” by God at this time. He would have simply been known. As is the case with us, the fact that God foreknew Christ before the disruption of the world presupposes that Christ didn’t exist before the disruption of the world. Just like his sacrificial death (Rev. 13:8), the only sense in which Christ could be said to have existed before the disruption of the world (or at any point prior to his conception) was in God’s foreknowledge.

We also know from Hebrews 1:1 that it is “in the last of these days” that God “speaks to us in a Son” (as opposed to other “portions and modes” before the “last of these days). The Son has not always been the means (or even “a” means) through which God has spoken to humanity. The Son is simply the most recent (and the ultimate/final) agent through whom God has chosen to speak and make himself known to his creation. The “last of these days” does not refer to any time prior to when Christ was “generated” by his God and Father. This means that any celestial being speaking on behalf of Yahweh at any time prior to when Christ was generated by God (and which some Christians have claimed or suggested was the “pre-incarnate Christ” speaking to people) was, necessarily, not the Son of God. The only time that Jesus, the Son of God appears in the Hebrew Scriptures is in prophecy, or in some sort of vision of the future (e.g., Daniel 7:13-14).

Critical to Jesus’ identity, then, is the fact that he is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This, again, has to do with Jesus’ identity since the time of his conception. The titles “Christ” and “Son of the Living God” are the titles of one who was generated in the womb of a human mother and who is a fully human being. Until Jesus was generated by God, there was no person in existence named “Jesus” who also had (or would be given) the title of “Christ” and the designation “Son of the living God.” Prior to Jesus’ conception, there was no person in existence who could validly claim either of these designations. The Lord Jesus Christ in whom we believe did not personally exist before his conception in his mother’s womb. And to know and believe in Christ in accord with the truth of Paul’s evangel, we must know him according to his post-conception identity.

God the Sole Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Paul was very clear in his teaching concerning who, exactly, was responsible for bringing everything into existence. To the men of Athens Paul declared: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed anything...Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all, by raising him from the dead” (Ac. 17: 24, 25, 30, 31).

Paul made no mention of anyone other than God as having been involved in the creation of “the world and everything in it.” Rather, Paul credited God (the Father) alone as the one responsible for the creation of everything. The “man,” Jesus (whom Paul said God had ordained), is not said to have had anything to do with it. Similarly, Christ himself appears to have been completely unaware that anyone other than God, the Father, had anything to do with the creation of the universe. Whenever Christ referred to the creation event recorded in Genesis, he gave God—whom he referred to in the third person—full credit for it (Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6; 13:19).

Those who hold to the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ typically deny that God, the Father, was the one who directly created the universe. Rather, they believe that, after directly creating Jesus, God then created everything “through” Jesus, with God using Jesus as an intermediary agent in his creative work (I will be considering those verses thought to support this view later on). I assume that those who believe that God created everything through the pre-incarnate Jesus believe that Jesus created everything through the exercise of his will in some way. Thus, according to this view, it was Jesus – and not God – whose will directly brought everything into existence. Regardless of how Jesus is thought to have created everything, those who believe God created everything through Jesus must believe that God was not directly or immediately responsible for bringing anything into existence (with the only exception being the creation of Jesus himself).

The problem with this view is that it seems to be contradicted by what God himself has declared concerning his involvement in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Consider, for example, the following verses where we read of Yahweh speaking of himself as having brought the universe into existence by the direct use of his power:

Isaiah 45:12
I (Yahweh) made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”

Isaiah 48:13
My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.”

Isaiah 66:1-2
Thus says Yahweh: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,” declares Yahweh.

The idea being conveyed through the words “my hands,” “my hand” and “my right hand” is simply that God created everything by his own power and authority (cf. Jer. 10:12-13). Moreover, the same divine being whose “hands” are said to have created everything (which, again, refers to God’s authority and power) is elsewhere said to have created the heavens by simply speaking/declaring them into existence:

Psalm 33:6, 9
“By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host...For he [Yahweh] spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm…”

Notice how the words “by the breath of his mouth” qualify the words, “by the word of Yahweh.” The Psalmist was not talking about a person distinct from Yahweh himself being involved in the creation of the heavens and all their hosts. This is, of course, in perfect harmony with what we’re told in the original Genesis account: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...and God said...” (Gen. 1:1, 3). The words “and God said” are repeated ten times in chapter one. As is clear from Psalm 33:6 (and elsewhere), the one who brought the universe into existence by his declaration/command was Yahweh alone. Moreover, the person speaking in Gen. 3:15 is the same divine person described as speaking in chapter one, and yet he referred to the “seed” of the woman – i.e., Jesus, the Messiah - as a person distinct from himself (“he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”).

But what about the plural “us” found in Genesis 1:26-27, 3:22 and 11:7? Some see the word “us” as a “veiled reference” to either a multi-personal God (consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit) or to God and a pre-existent Son (who was either directly or indirectly involved in the creation of humanity and the confusing of humanity’s language at Babel). However, I don’t think that either Moses or the original readers of this book understood the “us” to imply either a multi-personal God or a pre-existent Son of God.

A more likely interpretation of these verses is that God was speaking to, and on behalf of, the celestial members of his heavenly court. This is the view found in the NIV Study Bible as well as in the NET Bible (, both of which affirm the pre-existence of Christ. In the NET Bible notes under Genesis 1:26 we read,

In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isaiah 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.

The Hebrew people were not only monotheists in the most natural and straightforward sense of the word (believing that God was a single individual or person), they also believed that Yahweh, the one God, dwelled in heaven with a countless multitude of created, personal beings that served and worshipped him (see, for example, Job 1:6-12; Psalm 82; 89:5-7; 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-8). Consequently, it is natural to understand these verses as a reference to the participation and involvement of these celestial beings in God’s work in some way. To insert either a multi-personal God or a pre-existent Jesus into the words “us” is simply unwarranted.[1]

Lest there remain any doubt as to who, exactly, was involved in creating the heavens and the earth (and who is said to have spoken everything into existence in Genesis 1), the following verse should clear up any misunderstanding:

Isaiah 44:24
Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…”

If Yahweh had wanted to communicate the fact that he created everything directly and without anyone else’s involvement, I’m not sure what more he could have said to more clearly express this fact than is stated in the above verse. It is evident that only one person was speaking these words, and the words “alone” and “by myself” rule out any sort of intermediary agent used by the person speaking to accomplish the creation of the heavens and the earth. If the one speaking is to be understood as Yahweh himself, then he created everything without the involvement or aid of Jesus Christ. If it was Jesus Christ speaking, then he created everything without the involvement or aid of his God and Father. Since the latter is clearly impossible, then we must understand God, the Father, to have been the sole creator of the heavens and the earth.

Christ a “pre-existent man?”

There are some who believe that Christ not only existed before he was generated by God, but that he pre-existed his conception as a human being. However, I think that a straightforward, face-value reading of scripture will naturally lead one to the conclusion that Adam – and not any being who pre-existed Adam - was the first human created by God, and the first of only two human beings (the other being Christ) who came into existence without the involvement of a human father.

The Genesis narrative seems clear that mankind/humanity – i.e., the “kind” of created being which was miraculously generated by God in Miriam’s womb - did not actually begin to exist until the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:5-7; 5:1-2). Whatever existed prior to the creation of Adam – whether celestial or terrestrial – cannot be categorized as the same kind of creature that God made when he created Adam. And Paul seemed to confirm this natural, straightforward reading of Genesis when, in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, he twice referred to Adam as the “first man”:

If there is a soulish body, there is a spiritual also. Thus it is written also, The first man, Adam, “became a living soul:” the last Adam a vivifying Spirit. But not first the spiritual, but the soulish, thereupon the spiritual. The first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord out of heaven.

One proponent of the view that Christ pre-existed as a man (who is a friend of mine and a believer) asked the following question in an email correspondence: “Concerning Adam, might we consider him to be the first human of the earth variety?” We could, of course, theoretically consider any number of things, and the less that is revealed in scripture concerning a particular subject, the more one can speculate about it (which means that those who believe in the pre-existence of Christ have more than enough “room” for speculation and conjecture). I think a better question than that asked by my friend would be, “Was there any othervariety’ of human in existence before Adam?” And when we ask this question, Scripture does not give us so much as a whisper in response. Rather, all we get from Scripture in response to this question is sustained silence.

Considering Adam to have been the “first human of the earth variety” would be like considering him to have been the “first human of the living variety,” or the “first human of the conscious variety!” Again, Paul simply referred to Adam as “the first man,” without any implication whatsoever that there was, at the time of his creation, some other man already in existence (e.g., some celestial “man” who was not “soulish” or “soilish”/“out of the earth”). Had Paul wanted to convey the idea that there was no other man in existence before Adam, I can’t think of a clearer and more succinct way of conveying this truth than with the words, “the first man, Adam.”

Moreover, Paul explicitly wrote in this same passage that the “spiritual” is NOT first, but rather than soulish. And since, in the context, Paul links “spiritual” with “celestial” and “soulish” with “soilish” - they are, for Paul, intimately connected rather than separable – we could make a similar statement concerning man using this second pair of contrastive words – i.e., “But not first the celestial, but the soilish, thereupon the celestial.” This simple fact completely undermines the idea that Christ preexisted as a glorified, spiritual and celestial “man” (a “man” biologically unrelated to “the first man, Adam,” until his “generation” in Miriam’s womb) who, nearly 4,000 years after the creation of Adam, came to bear the soilish image of the “first man” before returning to the spiritual and celestial state he supposedly enjoyed long before the “first man” was ever created.

It has been suggested by some who believe that Christ pre-existed as a human that Christ was the “original” man of whom Adam was merely a “copy.” However, in light of what scripture reveals, I think it’s safer to speak of Christ as being the “second man” rather than the “original man.” Adam, the “first man,” was the first and earliest “model” (definitely in need of a major “upgrade,” but still perfect for the “job” for which he was created). Christ, on the other hand, is the second/last/final version of man. Christ is not the “original man” but rather the perfected man. He is what man was always ultimately intended by God to be, and the one through whom this intention will be realized for all humanity.

Understood in this way, while it would certainly be true to say that Adam was created by God with Christ – the “second man” and “last Adam” - in mind (i.e., as the one who will completely undo what Adam did and bring the human race – and the entire universe - to perfection), it would not be true to say that “Adam was a copy of Christ.” A copy, of course, is “a thing made to be similar or identical to another,” and to copy means “to make a similar or identical version of; reproduce.” Instead of reading about Adam being “a copy of Christ,” we read of Adam being a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14). This implies that the antitype (Christ) didn’t actually exist yet.

We also read of Christ partaking of the same “flesh and blood” in which all humanity is presently participating (Heb. 2:14) and of his being “made LIKE the brethren,” “in all things.” Such wording seems to imply the exact opposite of the view that Adam and his flesh-and-blood descendants were “modeled after” a celestial, spiritual Man, or made into a similar version of such a being; rather, these words imply that Christ “copied” (i.e., he was made into a similar version) of Adam and his flesh-and-blood descendants. And after “copying” the original man and his descendants, Christ then became (after being vivified by God) the final, perfected version of Man. It was after Christ was vivified and glorified that he then became the “original” from which future “copies” will be made:

“Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also. Romans 8:28-30

Next: Objections Considered (Part One):

[1] In Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, we read: “The Old Testament can scarcely be used as authority for the existence of distinctions within the Godhead. The use of ‘us’ by the divine speaker (Gen. 1:26, 3:32, 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His consciousness of being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men (Isa. 6:8)” (A.B. Davidson, "God," Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 205).

Similarly, Gordon Wehham’s Word Commentary on Genesis (p. 27) remarks as follows: “From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural is used because God is addressing his heavenly court, i.e., the angels (cf. Isa. 6:8). From the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr, who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have traditionally seen this verse as foreshadowing the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”

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