Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pre-Existence of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

(last updated 6/23/14)

The following is a re-working of my comments to a review of Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Become God. Here's a LINK to the actual review.

I wrote the comments (and this blog post) attempting to build a bridge that would help someone starting from a liberal and unbelieving scholarly position to a believing conservative scholarly position. That's why I'll make my case in very modest terms and admit to possible weaknesses in my argumentation.

An essential aspect in defense of the fully Deity of Christ is to provide evidence of Christ's pre-existence. It's often argued by skeptics that the deity of Christ and His pre-existence is something that developed in the early Church a long time after Christ's crucifixion. However, if Christ's pre-existence can be supported by the Synoptic Gospels, then that lends credence to the doctrine's early origins since they preserve the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth to some degree or another (depending on one's approach to the topic, whether liberal or conservative). Also, if it can be shown that some Jews, both before and after the time of Christ, expected the Messiah to be Pre-existent on the basis of Old Testament teaching, then that too would lend credence to the possible early origins of the doctrine of Christ's pre-existence. Since, it would not be a doctrine completely alien to Old Testament theology if even non-Christian Jews derived Messianic pre-existence from the Hebrew Scriptures.

The antiquity of the doctrine of the personal preexistence of Christ within the church can be documented as early as the first half of the 2nd century. Tim McGrew wrote:
The Apology of Aristides, discovered in 1889, was addressed to the Emperor Hadrian, who became emperor in 117 and died in 138. Aristides writes: “It is acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, and that by the Holy Ghost He came down from heaven for the salvation of men. And that having been conceived of a holy virgin without seed and incorruptibly, He took upon Him flesh, and was manifested to men.” Only John, of the four Gospel writers, uses the expression “... came down from heaven ...” in connection with the incarnation (John 3:13, 6:33, etc.); and only John speaks of Jesus’ human nature as “flesh,” a distinctive term in Greek.

Part 1

 Simon Gathercole's three part Lectures on the Preexistence of Christ in the Synoptics can be downloaded HERE or HERE (or on YouTube HERE). He gives special emphasis on Jesus' oft repeated statement "I HAVE COME..." I highly recommend listening to all three lectures.

The following is a list of Gathercole texts which he says can imply or hint at Christs pre-existence in the Synoptic Gospels. I've included some of my own comments with Gathercole's comments.

Gathercole cites 10 sayings

Spoken by Demons
1. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God."- Mark 1:24

2. And behold, they cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?"- Matt. 8:29

"I Have Come..." Sayings Proper

3. And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."- Mark 1:38
Compare with  Luke 4:43; John 9:4-5; Luke 4:18

4. And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."- Mark 2:17
Compare with Matt. 9:13; Luke 5:32

5. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.- Matt. 5:17

6. "I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!- Luke 12:49

7. Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.- Luke 12:51
The parallel in Matthew uses the word "sword." It may allude to the Old Testament example of the Angel of the LORD with a sword (Num. 22; Josh. 5; 1 Chron. 21).

8. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.- Matt. 10:35

Jesus' Statement of the "Son of Man" Has Come

9. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."- Mark 10:45

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."- Matt. 20:28

10. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."- Luke 19:10

An 11th one that I'm including in Gathercole's list is:

Matt. 11:19 & Luke 7:34-35

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."- Matt. 11:19

 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."- Luke 7:34-35

Apologist Tony Costa has said that Mark 1:1ff (esp. v. 2) alludes to Exodus 23:20 which refers to "the angel". Specifically, Costa says Mark 1:1ff is likely a cluster of three (3) quotations/allusion, not merely two (2). That's because Mark 1:2 in the Greek most closely resembles Exodus 23:20 (in the Septuagint) which refers to an angel/Angel whom God promised He would send. If 1. Mark really is alluding to this passage in Exodus, and 2. if that angel is The Angel of YHVH, then Mark is likely connecting Jesus with the Angel of YHVH. If so, then that kills at least two birds with one stone. It undermines versions of Unitarianism that 1. deny Christ's Preexistence and 2. versions of Unitarianism which affirm Jesus is only/merely a human savior.

Tony Costa made the above claim in the following debate at 1:18:05 into the debate.

Part 2

The following is my modified comments at Triablogue with many additions.

[That was a] Good review by Kruger but I wish he included evidence for Jesus' pre-existence in the Synoptics. I've included his review to a collection of links to my blog Resources Responding to Bart Ehrman

Post Christian Jewish tradition includes the notion held by some Jews that the messiah would be pre-existent before his birth. If I recall correctly, some Jewish traditions prior to Christ do too. One of the reasons why both some Jews and Christians have believed in the pre-existence of the Messiah is that the Tanach hints at it often.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. - Micah 5:2
The above is probably THE classic passage in the Hebrew Scriptures suggesting that the Messiah would be pre-existent.
 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isa. 9:6
The phrase "a son is given" might suggest pre-existence. The phrase "Everlasting Father" has the meaning of "possessor of eternity" (i.e. possessing eternality), and hence suggests or at least is consistent with pre-existence. Though, one intepretation would be that it refers to eternality in the direction of future, but doesn't touch on the question of past eternality. In which case, it wouldn't be a prooftext of messianic pre-existence. The name "mighty God" is also used in the very next chapter (Isa. 10:21) in reference to YHWH/Jehovah/Yahweh the most high God of Israel. Therefore, it's not inconsistent to possibly interpret the name "mighty God" in Isa. 9:6 as teaching the divinity of the Messiah. In which case, the Messiah would be pre-existent since that's an attribute of divinity.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know! - Prov. 30:4
The above passage describes the prerogatives of God and then asks whether the reader knows the name of God's son. It seems unlikely that God's son here is a reference to Israel since people did know Jacob and Israel's name. Rightly or wrongly, this understandably has been interpreted to be a Messianic passage by Christians (and presumably by some Jews too, even if only a minority). Notice it doesn't say, what SHALL his name be, but what IS his name. Thus, suggesting the son's current existence and therefore the pre-existence of the Messiah. Which is in keeping with the concept that the Messiah would be God's "son", if not in the ontological sense that Christians would latter believe, then as the Davidic king as even many Jews believe.

Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there." And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit. - Isa. 48:16
The passage above could be interpreted in such a way as to be limited to Isaiah's pronouncement of his own commissioning. However, another possibility here is that Isaiah is speaking not only of his own commissioning but also of the Messiah's commissioning in a sort of dual meaning as some commentators suggest. If so, then it also suggests the messiahs pre-existence.

Here's one example of a commentary interpreting it to have a dual meaning.
The prophet here speaks, claiming attention to his announcement as to Cyrus, on the ground of his mission from God and His Spirit. But he speaks not in his own person so much as in that of Messiah, to whom alone in the fullest sense the words apply (Isa_61:1; Joh_10:36). Plainly, Isa_49:1, which is the continuation of the forty-eighth chapter, from Isa_48:16, where the change of speaker from God (Isa_48:1, Isa_48:12-15) begins, is the language of Messiah. Luk_4:1, Luk_4:14, Luk_4:18, shows that the Spirit combined with the Father in sending the Son: therefore “His Spirit” is nominative to “sent,” not accusative, following it.- Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary

"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.- Prov. 8:22ff.

Regardless of whether Prov. 8:22ff is actually prophetic of Messiah or not many Jewish and Christian interpreters have thought so (e.g. some of the church fathers like Athanasius, and possibly pre-Christian Jews).
Which again supports the notion that the pre-existence of the Messiah didn't spring up in a vacuum without some justification from the Old Testament.

 The classic 1906 Jewish encyclopedia states:

Preexistence of the Messiah:

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 C.E.), according to which he has been preserved and hidden by God "a great season"; nor shall man8kind 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)......

[more info omitted to fit blog post character limit]

If anyone is interested, here's my blog post Markan Christology

My additional comments here on this blog post

Matthew makes reference to Isa. 7:14 which he points out translates into "God with us" (Matt. 1:23). This is additional evidence that at least one the Synoptic authors believed in the pre-existence of the Messiah. Probably also in the Messiah's divinity, even though the Hebrew word "el" can be used to refer to spiritual beings other than the true God.

Moreover, Matthew's citation of Isa. 7:14 is also additional evidence that there is Old Testament data that could be construed to imply (rightly or wrongly) that the Messiah would pre-exist His birth (assuming that Isa. 7:14 has dual fulfillment, as many Christian commentators have argued). Thus undercutting the allegation that the concept of a pre-existing Messiah is theological innovation without some basis in the Tanach.

Finally, it should be stated that the evidence for Jesus' claimed pre-existence in the Gospel of John has been excluded because the Gospel clearly teaches it (e.g. John 1:14; 3:13, 31; 6:38, 62; 8:14, 23, 42; 10:36; 13:3; 16:28; 17:4-5 etc. [cf. 1 John 4:9-10, 14]). There are also the numerous times in the Gospel of John when Jesus said that He was sent by the Father (e.g. John 3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38; 6:29, 38, 39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28, 29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44, 45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21). Then there are the verses in John where Jesus said He "came" or had "come" from the Father. However, it's generally agreed upon that it was the last canonical Gospel to be written and therefore [according to liberal scholarship] gives the least reliable account of Jesus' actions and sayings from a non-Christian HISTORICAL perspective. That is, from a non-Christian view of history. Presuppositional apologists would argue that there is a specifically Christian approach to history and that non-Christian historical approaches, methods and criteria aren't warranted or coherent. See for example the blogs at Ronald W. Di Giacomo's blog Reformed Apologist. There Ron applies the presuppostional insights of both Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark to the issue of the possibility of historical research from a non-Christian point of view. Having said that, I want to reiterate that I wrote this blog attempting to build a bridge that would help someone starting from a liberal and unbelieving scholarly position to a believing conservative scholarly position. That's why I made my case in very modest terms and admitted to possible weaknesses in my argumentation.

Even More Additional Notes

It should also be noted that there are references and allusions to Christ's pre-existence in the New Testament epistles. The primary focus of this blog was on Christ's pre-existence in the Synoptic Gospels. I'll be adding some passages in the epistles below as I have time to type them up; focusing on the undisputed Pauline epistles. Along with more passages from the Gospels.

Phil. 2:6-11 (esp. verses 6-7). Notice that the book of Philippians is one of the earliest books of the New Testament. It ante-dates any of the Gospels. Yet, even here Jesus' pre-existence (and that "in the form of God") is asserted and affirmed. He is said to have been distinct from the Father, conscious, thinking thoughts (taking consideration), having an attitude of humility, making decisions and taking action (i.e. "emptying Himself). See James White's book The Forgotten Trinity. He summarizes his interpretation of Philippians 2 in a sermon on The Carmen Christi: Philippians 2:5-11. See also his Review of the Ehrman/Gathercole Unbelievable Exchange.

Galatians 4:4 implies (or positively teaches) Christ's pre-existence. Christ was God's Son who was, in the fulness of time, born of a woman.

Romans 8:3 also implies (or positively teaches) Christ's pre-existence. God sent His Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh (i.e. the incarnation of the pre-incarnate Christ).

In Mark 2:27 Jesus refers to Himself as the "Lord of the Sabbath." This is a subtle (or not so subtle) claim to full deity. As I've argued elsewhere, this suggests Christ pre-existence [even full deity].

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;- Heb. 10:5

Hebrews 10:5 is so clear to me that I would have to excise it from the NT canon if I were to maintain a non-personal pre-existence of Christ.

In the Synoptic Gospels the title "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite self-designation. Many of those passages include the idea of the Son of Man "coming." Sometimes the "coming" refers to some future or past time. The past times include Matt. 11:19; 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 7:34; 19:10. When these passages of the coming of the Son of Man in the past are coupled with Dan. 7:13, they imply (at the very least) the pre-existence of Christ. When those passages that refer to the future coming of the Son of Man are coupled with Dan. 7:13, they imply the full deity of Christ. See my argument for this in my blogpost titled,

Regarding Mark 14:62 and Daniel 7:13; Jesus Coming With the Clouds

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