Will the real Jesus step forward from behind the mists of church tradition which have shrouded him in obscurity?
In post-biblical tradition he arrives, avatar-like, from the sky, from a previous existence. This is the stuff of legend, but it has been forced into John’s gospel by improper capitalizing of logos (Word) which should be “word,” the expression of the One God (John 1:1).
The word “pre-existence” is thrown around, but what content does the word have? We all understand that if you sign up for insurance and you already have a disease, you have a “pre-existing” condition. But how does a person, a self, preexist? What does this mean? If Jesus preexists, what is the object of the verb preexist here? Jesus preexists what? Himself? He preexists himself? How can you do that? How can you be before you are? Let the exponents of “preexistence” tell us what they really mean, and in so doing, they may find themselves at a loss for clear understanding. This will lead to a change of mind.
There is a perfectly good word “preexist” in the Greek even of the NT but it is never, ever referred to Jesus!
What really is meant by this foggy term “preexist”? Is it that there is a person (according to the theory the Son of God or God the Son) who really never gets begotten (brought into existence) in the womb of his mother? How can he really begin to exist (since to be begotten means to begin to exist), if he already exists? So then, if the Son of God antedates his own conception and begetting, you are being invited by the Church to believe the impossible! Luke and Matthew say Jesus begins to exist in the womb, not that he already existed! Can you begin to exist if you already exist?
Thus on the theory of preexistence the Son does not have a beginning of existence (i.e. is not brought into existence = begotten in Mary), because on the theory he already exists.
So what hides behind this fog language is really a theory of “transformation” from one form of existence to another. The Son of God would be in transit from a non-earthly existence to another form of existence. But if he is already in existence before he exists, it seems that his coming into existence = being begotten, is in fact imaginary, a non-event. You can’t begin to exist if you already exist.
A friend, urging the Trinity, said, “Remember your Church creed: ‘begotten not made.’” But a much better procedure would be: remember the Scripture: begotten and made. To beget is a form of creation, making, procreation. Luke, working out of Isaiah 9:6, spelled all this out — astute doctor and historian that he was, privileged, talented and erudite enough to write more of the NT than any other writer!
In Isaiah 9:6 the Hebrew text says, “To us a child has been begotten, to us a son has been given.” The well-recognized rules of Hebrew parallelism tell us that the two bolded statements reinforce each other. They say the same thing twice for emphasis and clarity. The being begotten of the child is equivalent exactly to the gift of a Son.
The “being begotten” (passive form) has no subject and we naturally infer that this is what grammarians call a divine passive, i.e. God is the subject. God is the one who caused the child to be begotten, brought into existence, and God is the one who gave this Son. This is exactly “God loved the world in this way: that He gave His uniquely begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Luke unpacked this in greater detail, working out of this grand prophecy of the Messiah, who is to be begotten, though no human father is mentioned (Isa. 9:5-6). That is beautifully clarified in Luke 1:32-25. God is the procreator, begetter of the Son by miracle in Mary and “for that reason exactly [and for no other] the Son so procreated, to be begotten, will be the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Of course! The story is entirely coherent if you know your Old Testament prophecies. Of course, too, the text in Isaiah 7:14 spoke of a sign by which a virgin would conceive and bear a child and call him “with us is God” (Immanuel). The child indeed would embody the activity of God who worked in and through him. “God was IN Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). Not “God WAS Christ,” making, horror of horrors, two GODs.
Psalm 2 had made a similar, spectacular prophecy when it spoke of an oracle directed to a Son of whom it would be said: “You are my Son. Today I have begotten you” = brought you into existence = caused you to begin to exist. Nothing at all about the Son being in existence or alive before he began to exist (was caused to exist)!
The people of Israel would have been severely deceived if they were meant to gather from these sublime, beautiful prophecies that there was a pre-human Son who underwent a transformation into a human Son. After all, what had Israel been taught to look forward to as Messiah? When they protested that they did not want to hear the voice of YHVH literally again, God granted their request.
In place of God’s literal voice, they were promised, “I will raise up a prophet like Moses originating from the family of Israel” (see Deut. 18:15-19). All quite straightforward and clear, as prophecies need to be if they are to have a coherent and recognizable fulfillment.
Many have noted that the Church has had a tendency to be anti-Semitic. How true! What is the greatest act of anti-Semitism? It is surely to reject the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of the Jewish Jesus and replace him with a strange triune God. This would be the greatest possible slur against the Jewish people. “Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus observed (John 4:22), and surely the Jewish definition of God would be the only valid one, the one guarded by the Jews “to whom the oracles of God were entrusted” (Rom. 3:2). Jesus agreed entirely with the Jewish, Hebrew view of God as One Person (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29).
Is it credible that the Jews, as custodians of and faithful adherents to the unitary monotheistic creed of Israel, could have sanctioned a switch to a Triune God? Jesus certainly never envisaged such a monumental shift. He is on record as agreeing wholeheartedly with a fellow Jew that the greatest of all commands is “Listen, Israel, the LORD our GOD is one LORD.” How could this be a three-in-one Lord? Could the Jew so have understood Jesus, when he echoed back the words of the Master: “You have well said that HE is one and there is no other than HE” (He-three?). But are we listening? Or has our cherished tradition made us deaf to the words of Jesus? Was that not the constant complaint of Jesus, that it is possible to be “in error, not knowing the Scriptures…” ?
Every historian of the Bible knows that Jesus here confirmed the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the only true God. In John 17:3, not contradicting the rest of John of course, Jesus uttered these stupendous and clear words: “This is the life of the age to come, that they come to know you [Father], the only one who is true God.”
This, we submit, is a very plain unitary monotheistic definition of God, following the whole of Israel’s heritage and history. And Jesus, who asserted that “salvation is from the Jews,” confessed and instructed us to believe in that one God of Israel, his own God.
Shocking indeed is the subsequent history, as a new definition of God replaced Jesus’ own definition. The church fathers displayed a lamentable anti-semitism when they admitted that in defining who God is they “rejected the Jewish error” (Jesus’ view of God as unitary!) and put in its place an “improved” version of who God is. Church father Gregory of Nyssa, one of the architects of the detail of the later Trinitarianism, explained that in place of the Jewish error they preferred a midway or mean between the two extremes. One extreme was the Jewish error (a unitarian view of God — Jesus’ view!) and the other was the tritheism or polytheism of the pagan world. The Trinity was touted as being the ideal between the two positions, rejecting the “coldness” of the strict monotheism of Israel and favoring the “warmth” of paganism with its concept of God as community. In fact it was a blatant compromise with paganism, and a clever one!