By Kevin George
Note: my main article begins below. However, this introduction is for those who may be too quick to dismiss my claims as being based on some liberal university professor or some “off the wall” history source, selected just so I can use them as a basis for my claim. What I want to show in this introduction is that some well-known Bible teachers also admit these same historical facts that I point to.
At https://youtu.be/Sh72wgZEcKk you can listen to RC Sproul giving a lecture in which he unashamedly admits these same facts that I appeal to. Here are some transcriptions of what he said, which is what I also point to in my article. (I discovered Dr. Sproul’s admissions several weeks after I wrote my article. He is not the source of my information. I read history books.)
RC Sproul quotes, referencing the minutes and seconds in the lecture:
17.10 – 17.48 “Judaism, at its core, celebrated what we call monotheism, one God. Now the problem that the early Christian church faced in dealing with her theology was that the Christian community of the first century was totally committed to monotheism. They embraced the Shema, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God is one.”
18.48 – 19:26 “Remember that the Christian faith grew out of Judaism, and with the embracing of Jesus, there was not at the same time – there was not a repudiation of classic, biblical monotheism. But the difficulty that the church had in understanding her faith was to reconcile the multitude of references in the Scriptures that would indicate the Bible’s teaching that Jesus was God incarnate. He shares titles that belong only to God.”
26.00 – 26.44 “…So that the deity of the Logos is clearly confessed here by John in this writing. Do you see why the church then had to go to the drawing board and say, “How can we understand this? How can someone be on the one hand identified with God, and on the other hand distinguished from God, so that you have an identity and a distinction?” And therein came the development of Trinitarian theology.”
RC Sproul admits historical facts that so many apologists and pastors do not want to face. He does not, however, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) of the first century Christians, but contends for a later, future development of that faith, a faith that was a new “development” by the church’s use of Greek philosophies that he resorts to repeatedly in his lecture. That, my friend, is where we part company. I simply want to stick with his historical admissions as he referenced above. Sproul has no restraint or objection to having the original faith mentioned in Jude 3 developed further, based on the ideas and philosophies of non-Jewish men who read the Scriptures through an entirely different frame of reference.
So, if you do not like my conclusion, that is your right. But please don’t accuse me of making up history or being selective of obscure claims as the basis of my beliefs. To the contrary, for most of my life I believed, taught, and defended the view which Mr. Sproul teaches regarding this subject. It was not until I looked under the rug of history and dealt with the theological implications of these facts that I was forced to take a different road, much against my original intent.
Here is my article:
This is my explanation as to why, in order to maintain my personal integrity, I was forced to abandon what is commonly referred to as “orthodox Christianity”. I still consider myself very much a follower of Jesus, the Messiah of the Bible. That has not changed at all. What I mean by “orthodox Christianity” is the doctrinal package which I was taught (and which I taught to others) as a requirement to be considered a genuine Christian.
I was told that what I was being taught at church and even at my Bible college was Sola Scriptura. For me, Sola Scriptura is to seek to understand the Bible according to the language, times, customs and understanding of when it was written, which means a 1st century interpretation of Scripture. However, my extensive research has revealed, to my great disappointment, that most churches today have a 4-5th century interpretation of Scripture. When Sola Scriptura is mentioned, the unspoken and missing disclaimer is that it is Sola Scriptura – as interpreted according to the beliefs of the “church fathers” of the 4-5th century. So, what they have is really a modified version of 4-5th century Roman Catholicism.
For most of my life I believed in the fundamentals of the faith. I still do in a sense. However, I now know that those fundamentals are not the same. What has “ruined” me, from the perspective of so-called “orthodoxy”, are two things: 1. Bible software, and 2. Church history.
Bible software has enabled me to quickly compare text with text, especially in the original languages, and see “behind the curtain” of translator’s bias and established dogmas. I find that at convenient times words like “which” are changed to “who” (Acts 5:32, Romans 8:16, Jn. 14:26), “perceive” is changed to “know” (Jn. 16:30, etc.), “in” is changed to “by” (Col. 1:16), and words are added (“going back” Jn. 16:28, “returning” Jn. 13:3 NIV), all to lead the reader to understand the Bible in a manner that fits into the philosophical world view of the 4-5th century fathers. Whether this is intentional or not, only God knows, but it is deceptive, and Bible software makes these facts available to any computer-savvy person who wants to check it out. We no longer need “experts” to tell us what the Bible really says.
Before Jesus died, there was only one true religion: Judaism. Well-established history freely admits that the very early church, such as the 3000 who joined on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, were strict monotheistic “devout Jews” (Acts 2:5) (as was also Jesus Himself in Mark 12:29 and John 4:22, in reference to the words “our” and “we”, by which He was embracing the standard Jewish definition of only one God). The message they heard Peter proclaim in Acts 2 was that “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did through Him…” (Acts 2:22), that “…according to the flesh, He [God] would raise up the Christ [Messiah] to sit on his [David’s] throne” (vs 30) and that “God has made this [Man] Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (vs 36) NKJV. Absolutely nothing in this message would have led the strict monotheistic devout Jewish listeners who believed in this Man Jesus to “convert” to believing in a different tri-person God which is the theological product of Jew-hating Greek philosophic theologians of later centuries. (Several years later, in Acts 10:38, Peter is led by God to Cornelius, and Peter tells essentially the same message – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”) (Side note: 3000 “devout Jews” joining the church in one day is comparable to 3000 one-God JWs joining a Trinitarian church, no questions asked! Think about it…).
In Romans 3:1-2 we read Paul’s Jewish hermeneutic (basis of interpretation): “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision [Jewish identity]? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God.” Paul is putting the church at Rome on notice that, while the Jews are not right about everything, God’s Word was given to the Jews first, in their language, and should therefore be understood from their point of view. He later warned repeatedly in other epistles to not resort to philosophies of men (1 Tim. 6:20, Col. 2:8). Yet this is precisely what we see developing in the second century (Justin Martyr, etc.) and increasing through the following centuries, leading to various church council proclamations that would have been alien to anything the apostles had ever believed.
It does not take much reading into the history of the early church councils before being shocked and disgusted. I assumed that the councils were occasions when Scriptures scrolls were laid out on tables and men debated between the meaning of texts and prayerfully rendered their verdict. But the reality is much different. They were full of bullying, intimidation, accusations, fights, greed, bribery, and politics. The winner would obtain the backing of the emperor, so much more was at stake than a sincere desire to find truth. As just one example of the proceedings, the Council of Chalcedon met in 451 to reverse the prior council’s ruling of 449 in which a riot broke out and bishop Flavian was beaten and died 3 days later! What we have been given, even in the seminaries, is a white-washed version of history to make the winners look good, while ignoring the ungodly process by which they won. No wonder I have never been in a church that encouraged the congregation to learn church history! It seems best to keep these facts hidden in order to protect “orthodoxy”. I am not saying that this is a conspiracy, but the facts of history are certainly devastating to what is called “orthodoxy”.
I have heard through the years from various pastors that they only regard the church councils to the degree that they correspond to Scripture. But that is no different than someone saying that they believe in the Book of Mormon to the degree that it corresponds to Scripture. (At least The Book of Mormon, mostly fiction, has entire chapters copied from the Bible.) This is a bad precedent in my view, and is an excuse to continue resorting to these corrupt councils to affirm certain beliefs in order to obtain favor, approval, and finances from their peers.
I found it rather shocking that in Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (used in many seminaries) he deceives when he says, “Written Scripture is our final authority” and “people sometimes (intentionally or unintentionally) attempt to substitute some other final standard than the written words of Scripture” (pages 84-85). Yet, on page 558 when defending his claim that Christ has a dual nature he writes, “It seems we have to do this [split Jesus into two natures] if we are willing to affirm the Chalcedonian statement about “the property of each nature being preserved.” (My underlines.) Then he admits on page 546 that a dual reference to the meaning of “logos” as a “unifying principle of the universe…allowed it to make sense, in Greek thinking.” But the writers of Scripture were writing as Jews who are Hebrews, not Greeks! Hebrews in Israel did not use Greek abstract philosophical concepts to explain God. Yes, there were some Jews like the Egyptian Philo who blended the Hebrew Scripture with Greek philosophy, but he was rejected by his own people and his writings were preserved by the gnostic elements of the “Christian” church! Philo should not have any credibility today, yet it is his writings that Christian apologists resort to when defending certain claims, particularly when the word “logos” is taught to be understood from a Greek philosophic perspective instead of a linguistic perspective! (For example, if I tell you, “I give you my word. I will send my son to cut your grass.” When my son appears, my word has become flesh in my son. He is my word to you. My word is me, and an extension of me, just as my hand is me and an extension of me. Simple. No need to get philosophical.)
I used to blindly accept, and believe, and even teach what the “experts” were saying, supposing that they had studied into the issues with a genuine desire to discern truth, wherever that truth may lead. But when I was able to see, through Bible software and history, how the texts were being massaged and manipulated to fit into their philosophic version of 4-5 century theology, and that this is their standard of truth, not original first-century Sola Scriptura, then they lost my trust.
You may have never considered this, but the fact is that if this 4-5th century theology defines true Christianity, the “ABCs” of what one must believe for salvation, then until this version of “Christianity” was defined by these early Roman Catholic church councils, nobody was truly saved. Not even the very apostles themselves believed this, so they could not have been saved. That is pure nonsense, an insult to the original Gospel message and to Christ Himself. If Jesus needed Greek philosophic theologians to iron out His teaching and finally “get it right”, He was a bumbling, incompetent teacher. That is a very low view of Jesus, a different Greek version of Jesus, not the true Son of God – the Jewish Messiah who walked on earth in the 1st century.
Here are some examples of serious error when this Greek thinking is used:
When reading Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” I find that he has a difficult time getting Jesus to actually and truly be dead. This is what happens when Jesus is defined according to Greek philosophic (Gnostic) ideas instead of reading the text as Jews spoke and understood things in normal, everyday Jewish speech of that day. Grudem says, “Jesus also possessed the divine attribute of immortality, the inability to die (page 548), but on page 559, “It is true that when Jesus died his physical body died…” and “The person of Christ experienced death.” He says that Jesus “experienced a death that is like the one we as believers experience if we die before Christ returns.” (My underlines.) So, he has Jesus dead “in his human nature”, and really only “experiencing” what it is like to die, because the real Jesus/God cannot die. Dying “in a nature” is an incomprehensible claim and is never mentioned in Scripture. Did He die IN this nature, or did the nature die? Is this abstract concept of a nature even something that is alive that can die? None of these questions are ever dealt with.
When investigating the claims of a “nature” I find that it is a philosophical concept that is pre-Socratic and comes from the Greeks. It is not a Hebrew way of speaking about things. It is the idea that a “what” (a nature) determines the “who”. In this view, a dog is not a dog because God designed it that way, but rather because a “dog nature” dwells in it. In a similar manner, we are considered humans because we have a “human nature” within us. This makes our bodies to be containers in which one or more “natures” can dwell, which is Greek thinking from Plato. If we had a dog nature assigned to us we would be dogs in human bodies! This is pagan, unbiblical thinking. Bunk. But it is applied to Jesus whose body can live or die “in” one nature (whatever that really means) and yet He is simultaneously alive “in” another nature. (When pressed to explain, a Gnostic explanation is typically given, by which Jesus is living inside His body, like an astronaut in a space suit. But this means Jesus only had flesh, yet He is not truly flesh, so Jesus did not really die!)
As I understand it, a nature is an “it”, a concept, not a living thing. Yet this non-living “it” concept regulates and determines what the “who” is like. When applied to the Trinity, we have 3 Persons and one Nature. Therefore, the Trinity is 3 Persons and one It, and the “It” is really the GOD of the Persons, for without this Super-Divine “IT-NATURE” the 3 Persons would not be Gods! This is the result of Gnostic thinking, which is denied as a doctrine, yet is constantly utilized in order to make Jesus’ Divinity “make sense, in Greek thinking” (to use Grudem’s words, page 546).
To complicate matters further, Grudem goes on to state on page 561, “Now we must affirm that anything that is true of the human or the divine nature is true of the person of Christ.” (My underline.) Wow, so then did the “person” of Christ really die on page 559, or did this “person” just “experience” something that is “like” death? He says, “Therefore, even though Jesus’ divine nature did not actually die, Jesus went through the experience of death as a whole person, and both human and divine natures somehow shared in that experience.” (My underlines.) So, His human nature “shared” death? Is this “human nature” alive? Is it even a thing? Can a thing, or an abstract concept, actually share? Can an “it” die?
Another outspoken Trinitarian debater, James White, in his book “The Forgotten Trinity,” calls this divine Nature the “Being” of God. He says, “How does one describe the “being” of God? Terms have been used down through the centuries, such as essence, or in Greek, ousia, or in Latin, essentia. It’s the “stuff of God.” I like to say it is that “which makes God, God.”” (Page 169) Incredible! So, God depends on the Being to “make” Him God? Then, who would God be if this Being had not made Him God? And, doesn’t this make the Being to be God’s God? Also, if the Being is God, then we no longer have a Trinity, but a Quadrinity! This is the kind of twisted thinking that the “scholars” are using, and it is what happens when first century Jewish-based theology is thrown off in exchange for later Greek-based theology.
Scripture insists that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we have nothing to offer but empty words: “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:15-17 KJV)
Therefore, simply redefining “death” to mean “separation from God” does not work because Scripture also says that God is immortal, so whatever definition you use for death, it cannot apply to God, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.” (1 Tim. 6:16 KJV)
I was taught to read human and divine natures into the Scriptures as a means to understand how Jesus can be fully God and fully man. Now, after historic and linguistic research, I find that these were later Gnostic ideas that were brought to bear on the text to make Jesus become someone different than who the first century Jewish apostles knew Him to be. When I set out to prove that my upbringing orthodox teaching was correct, I found that I had been deceived, and so are most others who believe this way. I do not assign to people any deliberate deceptive intent, except perhaps for those who are like Grudem and White who are scholars who seem to know better but have chosen to persist in teaching the deception.
My primary point is that “orthodox” theology is 4-5th century-based, and not rooted in Jewish thoughts and linguistics as the Jews in the 1st century intended them to be understood and believed. Paul wrote, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us [the Jewish apostles], either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Jude also appealed to hold on to the original faith: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This is what I call 1st century faith, and is what I seek. Jude 3 shows that the faith of the first century was sufficient and complete. There was no need for the faith to be modified, developed, and refined in order to make it palatable to later Greek neo-platonic philosophic minds, thereby removing the inherent Jewishness of the Gospel that was considered offensive to men like Augustine, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, etc. A non-Jewish gospel is another gospel that is inherently anti-Jewish Messiah, and denies the very reason for Jesus being God’s Messiah – He became the second Adam through whom God will restore all things (Luke 9:20, Acts 3:21). That which is anti-Messianic is anti-Christ!
My intention several years ago was to study apologetics to strengthen and defend my faith in preparation for further ministry opportunities. I downloaded free Bible software (scripture4all.org) and used it as a tool to further my own Bible reading. When I began seeing discrepancies I began to read more church history to see when and why certain doctrines arose. Little by little many of my closely held beliefs had to yield to the beliefs of the first century Christians. Is there a possibility that I am wrong regarding some of these things? Certainly! But my error is on the side of trying too hard to believe what the 1st century church believed, and I do not see how to reconcile this with 4-5 century beliefs. They are incompatible! Therefore, I cannot in good conscience continue to turn a blind eye to what I now see as indefensible error, so I must move on, pursuing the original faith of the 1st century believers.
My advice to you, dear reader, is that if you are in love with orthodoxy at all costs, then stay away from serious books about church history and doctrinal history, and don’t check too deeply into the Bible text in the original languages, as these words were understood at the time they were written. Orthodoxy redefines key words and ideas to conform to a later century framework which rejects the Jewish context that was not according to supposed superior Greek philosophical knowledge. In short, the “ABCs” of orthodoxy are based on the words of Augustine, Basil, and the Cappadocian Fathers. The “ABCs” of the 1st century are based on the words of the Apostles, the Bible, and Christ.
May the “only true God” (Jn. 17:3), who is the literal Father of His literal human Son, Jesus the prophesied Jewish Messiah, the last Adam who is anointed by God as the head of humanity, reveal Himself in our hearts so that we may worship God in spirit and in truth.
*For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he [Jesus] must reign until he [God] has put all his enemies under his [Jesus] feet [Psalm 110:1]. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he [God] is excepted who put all things in subjection under him [Jesus]. When all things are subjected to him [Jesus], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him [God] who put all things in subjection under him [Jesus], that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:21-28 [bracketed words added]
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 ESV
Parting thought: In about 50 years of being a Christian, I have never once heard anyone pray directly to the Trinity. Think about it. If the Trinity is the ultimate GOD, why not pray to the Trinity? I have heard many multi-God prayers to the Father, then to the Son, then to the Holy Spirit, but never a prayer to the Trinity!
*The Bible consistently points to Jesus being a man, and on this basis alone He was able to make a covenant in His blood, dying in our place. Never once does the Bible state that Jesus had to be God to die in our place. This idea is imported into theology because of other theological claims, none of which are actually stated in Scripture, but assumed to be true based on ideas which came into theology from later non-biblical (non-Jewish) sources which are injected into Scripture and the translations. These ideas are primarily the immortality of the soul, and inherited sin.
According to the account in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost there were thousands of devout religious Jews gathered for the celebration. These Jews were monotheistic/Unitarian Jews who believed in the singular God proclaimed in the Old Testament. (The New Testament had not been written. This was the first sermon of the new Church age.) Peter spoke to the crowd and told them that Jesus was a man from Nazareth through whom God did many miracles (“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” verse 22, ESV). Peter expanded further about this man, and summarized his teaching in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Notice that Peter says that God delegated the positions of Lord and Messiah to Him. According to Peter, Jesus was not Lord and Messiah because He was this by some inherent nature!
When the Jewish crowd asked what they should do, “Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”” verse 38, ESV.)
The result of Peter’s first gospel sermon? “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls”, verse 41. There is nothing in Peter’s sermon which told these monotheistic Jews to believe that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God. That theology developed gradually over the next 400 years until the time of Augustine and the council of Calcedon (451 AD). The original Gospel message was fully monotheistic, and the first 3000 church members were Jewish Unitarians! The Trinitarian gospel of today is a later blend of Jewish monotheism with Greek philosophy, which splits God and man into two natures – the Divine Nature and a human nature, two “whats”. The Jews simply saw two “whos”: God and man.
Note: God had Peter take the same Gospel message to Cornelius several years later. It was the same message of a man: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Paul’s message in Athens was also that God chose a man (Acts 17:31)! (See also 1 Corinthians 15:21, 1 Timothy 2:15).
If Peter were to visit your church today and managed to speak from the pupit, he would likely be rapidly dismissed as a full heretic for not teaching the philosophical Greek (early Roman Catholic) version of the gospel of Augustine.
The Gospel message which you believe, is it according to Peter, or according to Augustine?
Most people read the Bible with the presupposition that it teaches literal preexistence. However, is this really what it is stating, or are we reading Hebrew speech and Hebrew idioms with western, Greek thinking? Which view does the Bible portray?
Preexisting Human Beings
First, lets examine specific humans which the Bible states were known by God before they existed in our reality of existence:
(Note: all texts are quotes from the New King James Bible, unless otherwise noted.)
1. Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
God had foreknowledge of Jeremiah, and made plans to use him. Some people, like Mormons, use this as a proof text to claim that Jeremiah preexisted as a spirit being before birth. But biblical Hebrews did not ever teach literal human preexistence, but notional preexistence in the mind of God. It was a special preplanned existence within the plans and purposes of God.
2. Isaiah 45:1-5 “Thus says the Lord to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you And make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze And cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, And Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me.”
God spoke to king Cyrus about 150 years before he was born, even calling him His anointed (His christ)! Does this mean that Cyrus literally existed in heaven before coming to earth? No! He only existed in the mind of God, for His plans and purposes. Notice that God even says “you have not known Me.” If Cyrus had existed in reality when God was speaking, he could not have not known who God was. God was speaking of something prophetic, as if it was in the present. This brings us to our next verse:
Romans 4:17 [Speaking about Abraham] “(as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;”
Notice that “God…calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Reality in fact begins in the mind and plans of God, who can speak in the present time about things that are future, because He decides what reality is and what reality will be as time unfolds. Once God decides something is absolutely going to happen, then it is as good as done. It is God’s reality at that moment, even though it may have not yet existed in real earth-time.
Sometimes people point to the various passages that say Jesus was sent by God, and conclude that He therefore already existed in reality before being sent. However, we read the same of John the Baptist in John 1:6 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” God also sent the prophets, but they are never considered to have had prior conscious existence. Being sent is a Hebrew idiom, a Hebraic way of communicating someone having a divine mission, not a prior existence.
Preexistence and Predestination
Notice that the following predestination passages have a similar preexistence concept. Does this mean that those who have been predestined actually preexisted?
Ephesians 1:4-5 “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons…”
Romans 8:29-30 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Even the glory is given as past tense, because it has been predetermined in the mind of God, and is a promise as sure as if it has already happened!
2 Thessalonians 2:13 “… God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”
If we were bound and determined to claim that we literally preexisted in heaven before coming to earth, we could use these verses as proof texts. Thankfully, this is not a common problem.
Preexistence of Things
James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 3:15 is another example)
Is James saying that God has His good gifts literally float down out of the sky? Certainly not! Coming down from above is a Hebraic way of pointing us toward the primary provider, not the mechanism of how it is literally given. James is the actual half-brother of Jesus Christ. Jesus used similar language when He said that He came down from heaven. It would have been a shocking revelation to the Jews to have heard that Jesus was saying that He literally descended from heaven, as if He was one of the mythological Greek gods. There is no indication that His disciples, nor even His enemies, understood Him to be teaching this, or they would have used this as an accusation at His trial. They only accused Jesus of claiming to be the Son of God, not a God, nor God the Son.
2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Believe it or not, I have heard some teach that we have a literal body stored in a heavenly closet, waiting for us when we die! The very next verse clarifies what Paul means by having something in heaven:
2 Corinthians 5:2 “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.” Our future habitation is to come from heaven, just as James says that all good things come down from above. This does not mean that our future body will float down from the sky! It simply means that God has our future as a promise in His mind, and we will receive it from Him in the proper time and in His manner of doing.
Matthew 5:12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…”
In what way is our reward in heaven? It is there because God sees and knows our deeds and our sacrifices, and will reward us with His blessings in the future. The reward is a guaranteed promise in the mind of God, and will be given in accordance with His purpose and plan.
Preexistence of the Messiah
Considering the above Hebraic view of describing preexistence in the mind, purposes, or plans of God, lets now consider what the Scriptures state about the preexistence of Jesus, our Messiah. (The basic meaning of the word “messiah”, or “christ”, is literally “anointed”. Cyrus, mentioned above, was also anointed before he existed.)
1 Peter 1:20-21 “He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (See also 1 Peter 1:1-2)
The Greek word “foreknew” is “proginosko”. This is the same sense as God foreknowing Jeremiah and Cyrus, and the elect. Yes, we can proof-text a conscious preexistence into this passage, but it does not flatly state it any more than the other passages above. It must always be inferred.
Revelation 13:8 “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
This clearly speaks of what was determined in the mind, plans, and purposes of God since the very beginning. Nobody teaches that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was literally slain since the beginning. This was predetermined and became a reality in human history at a particular point in time. This is clearly stated by Peter:
Acts 2:23 “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”
Jesus did not determine and purpose this for Himself. God is the One who, through His foreknowledge, predetermined, or preplanned, this event. Jesus submitted and obeyed (Hebrews 5:8).
1 Corinthians 15:45-47 “And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.”
Prov. 30:4 “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound 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, If you know?”
This speaks of God knowing the name of His Son. The name had already been chosen, but he challenges the people to guess at what it is.
Psalm 2:7-8 “…The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance…”
God speaks to His Son, like He did to Cyrus, as if He has already been begotten, even though this was done centuries later in Mary. Some church leaders have tried (and continue to try) to get around this verse by claiming that Jesus was begotten before time, and is being eternally generated. But this violates the text as well as the word “today”. If “today” is outside of time, then “today” has no meaning at all!
What does God say regarding His future son?
2 Sam. 7:13-14, 16 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son … And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Acts 2:30 “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne…”
When Nathan tells David about his future son, the message from God was that, “I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son.” Peter affirms that this passage was a reference to Jesus in Acts 2:30. If Jesus already existed in full conscious form as His Son, then we would expect God’s words through Nathan to be “I am His father and He is my Son.”
Texts Used to Claim Literal Preexistence
The one text that seemed to offer the firmest proof of preexistence to me was Pilippians 2, until I read it from an Old Testament perspective.
Philippians 2:6-11 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ESV
Paul is asking the readers to consider the human example of Jesus, which they can relate to, not some out-of-this-world example that is beyond what we can comprehend and then somehow are to attempt to emulate.
We should also be careful to not have an anti-Hebrew bias. Today’s typical interpretation of Philippians 2 is as a Greek philosopher would think. What happens if we instead read it through the mind of a Pharisee, based on the Old Testament writings? Paul, even many years after following Jesus, still referred to himself as a Pharisee, in this same letter (Phil. 3:5, Acts 23:6). This means he was not a philosopher, and his writings should therefore be read as the writings of a Pharisee who believes that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and not someone who held a Greek concept of deity. Paul’s underlying framework of thought is Moses and the Prophets, not Plato and Aristotle!
Genesis 3:5 [the serpent tells Eve] “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3:22 “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.”
Only God has the right to define good and evil. Adam and Eve disobeyed, by taking a right that belonged only to God and making themselves equal with God in this respect. God had established an order which was to be followed and obeyed. By rejecting this order and choosing to create their own order under their own authority, they took the place that belonged only to God, thus making themselves equal with God.
In contrast, we see that God gave Jesus the power to do miracles (John 5:19, 30), and thus operate as God among men. He chose to not abuse the power for His own personal use (like turning stones into bread), but maintained it in submission to God, as a servant of God. He had the form, or function of God, but took the form, or function of a servant. If He had chosen to use the power outside its intended purpose, then He would have been making Himself equal with God.
The word “form” (“morphe” in Greek) has been a source of confusion. It literally means “1. the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision, or 2. external appearance” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/morphe.html). What did people see when they saw Jesus? They saw a man who had divine powers, but who lived the low life of a servant. The word “form” has nothing to do with attributes, unless you also apply attributes to the word “servant” as well. In this case, we would be dealing with the attribute of rank, the rank or function of a servant, versus the rank or function of God, but not ontological attributes, as a servant form is not ontological.
In the final analysis, when Philippians 2 is read from the perspective of a Christian pharisee, we see that Paul was asking his readers to consider how the human Jesus, though invested with powers of God, did not usurp these powers but instead remained as a humble servant. We should do likewise. When read from the perspective of a Jewish pharisee instead of a philosopher, Philippians 2 has nothing to do with preexistence.
What about John 1:1?
John 1:1-14 is one of the first passages typically used to show that Jesus had a literal preexistence. We have two basic choices when approaching this passage. We can approach it as a Greek philosopher, as did the church fathers, or we can approach it as as the Jewish author who is a Hebrew believer in the Torah.
If the passage is read with the intent of making it indicate preexistence, then you can find this here, just as you could find it with Cyrus, Jeremiah, and many other writings. However, you have to assume that the word which God spoke to create all things is an actual conscious Being apart from God Himself. Is it not more proper to read this as the writer, a Hebrew, would have most likely used the meaning of “word” from the Hebrew Old Testament? The Bible links light, life, and the word of God together. Consider the following:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105 – KJV
The unfolding of your words gives light. Psalm 119:130 – ESV
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light. Proverbs 6:23 – ESV
(See also 2 Peter 1:19, Isaiah 60:1, John 8:12, and many others.)
All Bible students recognize that the word which became flesh is a reference to Jesus. But the mistake that many make is to think that Jesus is the absolute Word, as if God has no more words! No, Jesus is what God’s word looks like, to its fullest extent, when grasped, or accepted, by a man. God spoke at the baptism of Jesus, the transfiguration, and on other occasions. Jesus, therefore, is the image, the revealing, the display, of God‘s word when fully and properly applied in a man (Col. 1:15).
Nowhere in this John 1 passage is the author (John) claiming that the word, all alone, is a living, conscious, independent Person preexisting outside of God in some mystical form. John is showing the fact that the spoken word which was originally within God, which is the same as being God, is also the light and instruction of God given to men, and is revealed and displayed in living form in Jesus, God’s Son, who is being called “the word of the God” (literal from Rev. 19:13). At most, John may have personified the word of God, but he was not revealing a new doctrine of the word as a preexisting person independent of God. A new doctrine of literal preexistence would have been revolutionary to the Hebrew mind, and should have been clearly stated, not simply inferred through mystical philosophies.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Believing that Jesus is the literal Son OF God is not complicated, but simple. The problem is that it is too simple, and the pagan Gentile minds do not want to submit to the Jewishness of the gospel. They complicated it by mixing it with their own ideas, and thereby arose all this conflict over the identity of Jesus in relation to God.
Historically, the pagan Gentile mind has refused to submit to the one and “only true God” Jewish creed of the Jewish founder of the Christian faith. The simplicity found in Jesus needed elaboration in terms of the philosophies of Greek culture, if it was to be accepted by the elite. This caused the conflict over the identity of Jesus in relation to God.
On a historical note, Justin Martyr is the first documented source to introduce the idea of literal preexistence around 150 AD. Justin was a former Greek philosopher who, likely due to persecution, attempted to show that Christianity was compatible and blendable with accepted Greek philosophy, and hoped that by showing this he could influence political leaders into ceasing the persecution (it didn’t work).