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Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc.: Responding to Questions

May 15, 2014

Well, my postings over the last couple of days have certainly generated a number of responses, including several rather vigorous ones, and have raised some entirely understandable questions.  Instead of responding to the comments individually (thereby burying both questions and my responses down in the “comments” material), however, I thought I’d try to address them here in this blog-posting.  I’ll try to be as concise as clarity allows, but this will be a somewhat “longish” posting.

1.  First, in response to my emphasis that the NT makes God’s actions (esp. in raising Jesus from death and giving him glory) the basis for the “high” Christological claims and the remarkable devotional practice in which Jesus was included with God, what about the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles, authoritative actions, etc.?  Doesn’t this suggest that Jesus was actually exercising his divine power during his earthly life?

The first thing to note is what the Gospels and other NT writings portray as the responses to these actions, particularly the more “friendly” responses.  For example, in response to Jesus’ questions to his disciples about what people make of him (as portrayed, e.g., in Mark 8:27-30), the options reported are “John the Baptist” (which I take as meaning “another one like John”), Elijah (possibly in part because Jesus’ reported miracles often mirror those attributed to Elijah),”one of the prophets” (the opinion that Jesus was a “prophet” is reported elsewhere in the Gospels also, e.g., John 6:14; and 7:25-30 where people wonder if he is Messiah).  And the disciples’ response (on Peter’s lips) was “Messiah/Christ”.  There is no statement of deification, no “cultic” worship offered, and Jesus doesn’t demand it, or claim divinity.

In Acts 10:38, in a speech ascribed to Peter, Jesus is referred to as having gone about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Note that this statement is in the context of far more exalted claims about Jesus reflective of the “post-Easter” period:  e.g., “the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead . . . everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:42-43).  So, for the author of Acts, both things are true:  Jesus’ earthly ministry was “anointed” and empowered by God (it was not a god working miracles on the earth, as in Greek myths).  But, by virtue of God’s resurrection of Jesus (10:40), Jesus is now judge and the one valid medium of salvation (vv. 42-43).

To be sure, there is good reason to think that Jesus was known as a charismatic healer and exorcist, that he acted with a charismatic/prophetic authority in his teaching, that he excited expectations that he was (or was to be ) Messiah.  Indeed, it is even not entirely impossible that Jesus could have trusted in the kind of vindication that is expressed in Mark 14:61-64 (although I personally suspect that as reported this statement is seriously reflective of post-Easter convictions about Jesus).  But all of this put together doesn’t amount to a direct claim of divine status, of bearing divine glory, and of being worthy of worship.

As I’ve contended in my book, Lord Jesus Christ (53-64), Jesus himself (his actions and their impact on others) was certainly a major factor/force in the subsequent eruption of “Jesus-devotion” reflected in the NT.  But the NT writings rather consistently place that eruption in the “post-Easter” period, and base it heavily on God’s exaltation of Jesus and designation of him as “Lord and Christ” (e.g., Acts 2:36), “The Son of God” (e.g., Rom 1:3-4), the glorified ruler (e.g., 1 Cor 15:20ff; 1 Pet 3:22), etc.

2.  What about texts such as John 1:1-2, where, of the “Logos” (here, the “pre-incarnate” identity/form of the incarnate Jesus), we read:  “he was with God and he was God”?  Well, the first thing to emphasize is that both statements have to be read together, and taking the one without the other results in a serious loss of meaning.  The Logos here is portrayed as both “with” God (i.e., distinguishable from “God” albeit in closest relation to God) and “was God” (i.e., in some way partaking of this status).  The next statement helps “unpack” this a bit:  The Logos was the agent of creation.  Creation in biblical perspective is God’s act, and so positing the Logos as the agency through whom God created “all things” places the Logos outside of “all things” and into the action of God.  But note that the Logos is the agent/medium of creation, “God” remaining the creator in ultimate sense.  (This distinction remained pretty central even in much later creedal developments.)

This role as agent of creation, by the way, isn’t original or confined to GJohn.  Decades earlier it is affirmed in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, where explicitly the “Lord Jesus Christ” is posited as the one “through whom are all things and we are through him” (to render the Greek somewhat woodenly).  Here, likewise, the “one God the Father” is the one “from who are all things and we (are) for him” (“God the Father” the creator and the ultimate destiny of believers).

3.  What are we supposed to make of statements ascribing “pre-existence” to Jesus (to use the typical theological buzzword)?  If you entertain these, how could Jesus not have known this and spoken of it?

First, a historical note:  The ascription of “pre-existence” to Jesus wasn’t a late development, but appears already presupposed in texts as early as the 1 Cor 8:4-6 text cited above, and also, e.g., in the famous passage in Philippians 2:6-11 (esp. vv. 6-8).  (Interesting to note Bart Ehrman’s recognition of this in his new book, and his admission that it took him by surprise and required him to correct earlier suppositions.)  Indeed, we can’t really chart some evolutionary scheme in the earliest explosion of Christological beliefs.  It all happened so quickly that by the time of Paul’s letters (written scarcely 15-20 yrs after Jesus’ execution) it’s all presupposed as long and widely known among believers.

But how could people ascribe a heavenly “pre-existence” to a real human and mortal figure of recent history?  To understand this, you have to enter into the “logic” of ancient theological thought, and especially “apocalyptic” thought.   I’ll sketch it briefly.  God doesn’t make up his game-plan as the game goes along, but has the plan (of world history, redemption, judgement, etc.) all laid out even before creation.  So, as God acts in revelation, each action is also an unveiling of his prior purpose and plan.  So, “eschatological” events were actually in God’s purpose from the beginning:  “final things = first things” (to paraphrase a scholarly formula).  Indeed, in ancient Jewish texts there are references to various things, e.g., Torah, or the “name” of the messianic figure in the “Parables” of 1 Enoch (37-70) as “pre-existent” (see, e.g., my article, “Pre-Existence,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. G.F. Hawthorne, et al., pp. 743-46 (and bibliography there).

So, in this case, if Jesus has been vindicated by God and exalted to heavenly glory, made Lord and judge, declared to be “the Son of God,” and the unique redeemer, then in some sense this is the eschatological revelation and articulation of what must have been God’s purpose, and the revelation of heavenly realities, from before creation.  As various other scholars as well have observed, the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to heavenly/divine glory seems to have triggered the logical corollary that he must, in some sense, have been “there” from the beginning, and that God’s redemption work is tied closely to God’s creation work.  (Note that NT statements about Jesus’ “pre-existence” are essentially confined to connecting him to creation, and there is scant interest in speculations about what else his “pre-existence” involved.  There, isn’t in other words, the proliferation of elaborate “myth” narratives about the matter such as we have in the classic Greek myths of the gods.)

But the NT also, even more emphatically, insists that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, mortal, human being, not a “god-in-drag” walking the earth, only pretending to eat, sleep, die, etc. (in contrast, e.g., to the angel Raphael in Tobit).  “Born of a woman” declares Paul (Gal. 4:4), and “crucified and buried” is a pretty sure indication of things!  Moreover, the NT doesn’t present Jesus as raising himself from death, as if by his own innate divine power, but declares Jesus was raised by God (e.g., 1 Thess 1:9-10).

As a human, say the NT texts, Jesus was only able to declare what God had revealed to him (even, perhaps especially, in the Gospel of John, e.g., 5:30-38).  He is pictured as empowered by God (via God’s Spirit) for his ministry (e.g., the descent of the Spirit in the baptism scenes).  He declares ignorance of “the day or hour” of eschatological consummation (Mark 13:32, a text that clearly troubled some early readers, as the variant readings show).  It has been a common mistake to assume that if Jesus bears divine glory, status, etc., now (in Christian faith), and if in some sense he was “pre-existent”, then this must have affected (or even limited) how he could have been truly human.  To think this, however, is both to ignore the NT texts, and (in theological terms) to descend into a kind of heresy (classically called, “Docetism”).  Indeed, in later creedal statements, “orthodox” Christian “Fathers” often declared “that which the Son did not take on him self he cannot redeem” (meaning that a fully human Jesus was necessary for him to be an adequate redeemer of humans, an emphasis that actually emerged as early as Hebrews 2:5-18).  In short, ascribing to Jesus divine honour, status, glory, etc., in the NT texts was never at the expense of Jesus being truly, fully, human.  The statement in John 1:14 bears as much force as the statement in 1:1-2.  “The Word became flesh” (i.e., fully, mortal human).  And so, e.g., operating within the knowledge available to humans, whether about themselves or anything else.

4.  What about subsequent creedal controversies and formulations?  E.g., the three “persons” (or “hypostases”) that comprise the “Trinity,” etc.?

To my mind, these should be seen as valiant and impressive attempts by Christians living in later (than the NT texts) times, engaging and appropriating conceptual categories of those later times, to address questions and issues that had arisen then.  But these conceptual categories and issues weren’t always the same ones that we find in the NT texts.  E.g., referring to “persons” of the “Father” and the “Son” seems to have emerged sometime in the 2nd century (e.g., Justin Martyr’s references to the “prosopon” of the Son or the Father (literally = “face”, the Latin “persona” a subsequent attempt at an equivalent term).  Simply reciting NT terms and expressions wasn’t sufficient (and is never sufficient for the theological task, to my mind).  The questions had shifted, and the conceptual categories (heavily shaped by Greek philosophy) were different (the NT texts still heavily steeped in biblical/Jewish categories), and couldn’t rightly be avoided.

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant!   Were the patristic texts and creedal statements  saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say?  Certainly.  Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations?  Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort.  But that’s a historical judgement about that later period, and/or a theological judgement.  And my emphasis is on the historical question of what the NT texts say and how to understand them in their own historical context.

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57 Comments
  1. Thank you and congratulations by the clear and well-built exposition , professor.

    I’d like to ask you to talk about such says concerning “The Groom” in Gospels, echoing the role of God as “The Groom of Israel” in the OT, In your opinion it does’t suggest a high Messianology, and if the indications are rather due to the Christians or may report the Jesus himself?

    • There are a number of things ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels that reflect a “high” view of him as, e.g., Messiah, and unique agent of God. But my posting was making the point that we don’t see Jesus claiming a divine status for himself or being given worship during his own ministry. These things came as a result of the conviction that God had exalted him to heavenly glory and that God now required Jesus to be reverenced.

  2. Arvo P-L permalink

    Hello, Professor!

    Thanks again for your excellent insights and your ability to not read into the sources things that are not there.

    What about Jude 5? If Jude wrote that Ιησους saved Israel, as opposed to the more ambiguous θεος or κυριος, was Jude saying something about Christ’s preexistence? And if Jude was indeed Jesus’ little half-brother who at one time thought him off his rocker, it would seem to be quite a weighty statement. It seems that Jude’s view of Jesus’ actions of saving the people out of Egypt and destroying the unbelievers would not allow for preexistence in a merely proleptic sense.

    • Arvo: There are two such texts that are very interesting: the Jude 5 text (which has the several variant-readings you mention, one of which has “Jesus” as the one who “saved a people from Egypt”), and the other one 1 Cor 10:4, where Paul refers to Israel drinking from “the spiritual rock that followed them,” and says “the rock was Christ” (no textual variants here).
      Each text has its own curiosities, and some interpreters see the authors as ascribing to the pre-existent Christ an active role at some points in OT events. It is interesting that both texts make statements about events connected with the Exodus from Egypt, perhaps because these events were seen as paradigmatic for early Christians. So, again, it’s not a body of freely elaborated stories about a pre-existent Jesus but specific links of eschatological salvation with the its OT “type”.

  3. sir, now i understand and i agree that lukan quotations dont require pre-existence (neither son of man sayings). But what about Historical Jesus own expectation of his exaltation . what about Mark 14:62. how could historical human Jesus ( no sense of divine nature) expect such kind of exaltation. Why should a human historical Jesus should expect God to exalt him to the right hand of the Mighty one. On what basis Jesus made this claim (if he had no self consciousness of his divine nature).Why should historical Jesus claim such kind of the highest position (without having divine status)?

    • As illustrated in the Qumran text, the “Self-Glorification Hymn” (4Q491), it appears that individuals could have the experience and conviction that they were exceptionally chosen by God for unique honor and status. So, it’s not impossible for Jesus to have felt this. But it doesn’t amount to the sort of claims, status, and worship given to him in the “post-Easter” period.

  4. Patrick permalink

    How do you interpret the transfiguration in Matthew?

    • Patrick: Taken as a narrative it affirms Jesus as God’s unique “Son” who is to be listened to, his teaching authoritative, and on whom divine favour rests. It appears to be intended by the authors also as a foretaste of the resurrection of Jesus.

  5. Sir, if historical Jesus did not consider himself to be pre-existent( as you say) , then what about the following lukan quotation “I have come to cast fire upon the earth”. What kind of lens we can use to understand this above statement. I did not use pejorative statement.It is true that scholars use their own lens ( historical presuppositions) and claim they are using the original author’s (Matthew,mark,luke,john) lens!. What about the son of man statements which occur nearly more than 80 times in the synoptics alone!. Thank you for your formidable work on the field of christology. I am not saying anything in a accusing way. After reading your book and James dunn’s book , i have come to understand this kind of interpretation.

    • Sekarosse: The statements such as you cite all exhibit a strong sense of personal, unique commission (from God), to be sure. They don’t require a sense of “pre-existence”, nor do they express a divine nature/status.

  6. Rick permalink

    dear Dr. Hurtado, we never are going to know if Jesus was or not preexistent, I personally do not know what to say ,I would like to believe that it is true but what changes if he is not preexistent in our faith in God?

    • Rick, My main purpose in posting about the matter (and in my publications on the origins of “Jesus-devotion” over several decades) has been simply to understand as much as we can in historical terms: How/when it began, what were the factors prompting and shaping the development, what did it originally mean?
      Questions of what it means to Christian faith today must be dealt with separately, and are best put off and not allowed to interfere too much with the simple task of trying to understand what things were and meant in the past.

  7. Michael permalink

    “the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to heavenly/divine glory seems to have triggered the logical corollary that he must, in some sense, have been “there” from the beginning..”

    In your view as a critical observer, was this ‘trigger’ that led some (perhaps disciples?) to believe in a more “robust” ‘preexistence’ of Jesus (post easter) a historically accurate illustration of what you know of the historical Jesus according to Gospel traditions?

    From your observations/opinion was this “trigger” that assumed that Jesus must have been “there” from the beginning..” biblically justified/the right understanding of Jesus mode of existence and his beginning from what you know about the historical Jesus?

    In your view what would Jesus’ response be if some told him “Paul thinks that you subsisted in a more robust form of ‘ preexistence’ than the the jewish ‘notional’ sense?”

    ..and if someone explained to Jesus that your disciples held “the conviction that you had been exalted to heavenly/divine glory seems to have triggered the logical corollary that you must, in some sense, have been “there” from the beginning..” What would Jesus response be in your view of what you know about the historical Jesus?

    • Michael, You’re missing the point of my posting. Implicit in your questions is the very assumption that I’ve challenged: That the “historical Jesus'” own view of himself is the criterion for subsequent beliefs about him. As I’ve repeatedly noted, the primary basis given in NT texts for the astonishing beliefs about Jesus in the “post-Easter” period is that God has now done a new and remarkable work of raising Jesus from death and exalting him to heavenly glory, bestowing on him now the name/title “Kyrios”, etc. So, obviously until God had done this, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to comment!!

      • Chris permalink

        Out of curiosity, would you extend that assessment to other historical Jesus reconstructions of his self conception. e.g. Allison’s ‘apocalyptic prophet’ Crossan’s ‘1st century healer’ etc?

      • Chris: I’m not clear what it is you have in mind by “that assessment” of “historical Jesus reconstructions”. I don’t recall engaging any.

  8. chrisp@peb permalink

    Thankyou for your blog posts, they are invaluable in gaining extra perspective upon the wide raft of academic work in the arena of Christology and especially the EHCC.

    One of the aspects that I am curious about, and this comment could interact with either this post or the GJohn post, is the balance between the ‘high’ Christology implied by pre-existence in GJohn and as expressed later in equality in the God-head (if you will allow that anachronism), and the subsequent implications of subordination in GJohn.

    From the academic material it appears that many scholars seek to balance this through affirming functional subordination but equivalence in ousia. But this appears terribly anachronistic to me when looking at early Christology. I also wonder whether some of this has come about by the implications of using the term ‘binitarian’ in our discourse on the topic (I note that in your latest paper you have a piece on ‘dyadic’ nomenclature); and whether we are importing much of our Nicean Trinitarianism into the 1st century discussion.

    Furthermore, i wonder whether for the author of GJohn the question of equality/subordination was even an issue at hand? The apparent disregard for resolving the tension would work well with James McGrath’s argument for GJohn working within a framework of legitimation, and so the issue at hand was Christological rather than binitarian/trinitarian.

    I suspect your answer to some of these questions may lie in God in New Testament Theology, but i dont have a copy of that currently.

    As an aside thankyou for all your hard work in Christology, and the EHCC over the years. I have enjoyed wrestling with the material in the last few months.

    • Chris: I’m not sure I get some of your musings, but I’ll respond to what I do get. Use of categories such as “ousia” (Greek = “being”) are reflective of Christian discourse of a later period than the NT writings. Here’s the key factor that prevents McGrath’s scheme from fitting also: On the one hand, Jesus is defined with reference to God (“the Father”), e.g., sent forth by God, empowered by God, vindicated by God, etc., all of which can fit an “agent” category (as I noted in my 1988 book, long before McGrath!: One God, One Lord: early Christian devotion and ancient Jewish Monotheism).
      But, and here’s the problem, we not only have “high” Christological claims such as these, but, more significantly, we have also an eruption of a new devotional pattern, with a whole constellation of devotional practices in which the exalted Jesus is central (as laid out in One God, One Lor, and repeatedly thereafter), and these amount to an unprecedented “mutation” in Jewish devotional practice.
      So, the result is something that does and does not fit prior patterns of “principal agent” thinking and practice. That’s why early Christianity struggled for centuries to try to come up with a way of thinking about the matter that was coherent and did justice to all the data.

      • Chris permalink

        Agreed on the nature of the gospels describing Jesus in the agency framework (and i appreciated One God One Lord), but i was thinking of McGrath’s argument in John’s Apologetic Christology as to why the agency framework was used in GJohn to express a high Christology, while also allowing for a low Christology in terms of subordination.

        Certainly the extension of worship practices in the early first century would indicate that this is more than merely a one-sided polemical presentation in GJohn. I think that the argument for legitimation of this practice within the Jewish circles of the Johannine community appears to make sense of why certain aspects (agency, worship, pre-existence etc) are directly addressed. While other seemingly gaping holes (e.g. subordination/equality) are left open.

        Im wondering whether it might be that doceticism, Sabellianism and the other host of conflicts that have arisen from the Christology in GJohn were just not on the agenda for the Johannine community and as such never addressed; and so a significant number of the questions we arrive at the Johannine texts with are never intended to be directly answered in them.

      • Chris, Well, if I understand you, yes, the Gospel of John does seem to have triggered (inadvertently) a number of subsequent developments. So, naturally, those subsequent developments aren’t addressed in GJohn.

  9. if Jesus did not consider himself to be pre-existing then John 8:58 which reads” before abraham was i am” becomes a theological fiction ! Most of the scholars who deny Jesus’ self consciousness of his pre-existence will always operate with a lot of (often faulty) theological presuppositions. They neatly cut off the passages that relate to pre-existence as latter formulation or a kind of Post easter revelation! It is imperative that Jesus scholars must reduce the percentage of their theological imagination and must try to do real history!

    • “Sedarrose” (your name??): The term “theological fiction” is, of course, pejorative, reflecting a the sort of unreflective assumptions that I’ve tried to identity. The Gospel of John (where exclusively among the NT Gospels we have such statements as you cite) tells us explicitly (in John 14–16) the basis for such statements: THe Paraclete comes after Jesus’ death and “glorifies” Jesus and leads believers into “all truth”, and the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus told through the lens of this.
      It’s not a matter of scepticism, but of trying to understand the working model of the author of Gospel of John. Lighten up and just consider the matter.

  10. Michael permalink

    hmmm.. my understanding is that Second Temple Jewish expectations of the Messiah carried an understanding of notional preexistence not a literal or a distinctive variant form of preexistence where the messiah existed as an actual person prior to his original creation..

    From paul’s ( ‘variant form’) preexistence perspective, was the human Jesus, during his earthly existence in galilee, aware of his preexistence? do you see any of Paul’s notion of preexistence conceptualized in the gospels?

    • Neither Paul nor the other NT texts engage in the sort of speculation that you moot, except for the GJohn, where Jesus is pictured as sayings such as “before Abraham was, I am”, etc. But, as I’ve contended before, these likely reflect the post-easter “revelations” of the Paraclete which the author then uses to tell his story of Jesus. As to Paul, I know nothing that suggests that he ascribed any effect upon the human Jesus of the “pre-existence” that Paul came to hold. There’s no interest in such psychological questions.

      • Michael permalink

        “As to Paul, I know nothing that suggests that he ascribed any effect upon the human Jesus of the “pre-existence” that Paul came to hold.”

        If so, then from whom or where did Paul inherit his ‘variant form’/notion of pre-existence?… the disciples?

      • As with his Christological stance in general, I think he essentially reflected views held by the ekklesias before him and more widely. See my book, Lord Jesus Christ, esp. the chapter on “Pauline Christianity”.

      • Michael permalink

        In regards to author of Gjohn, is it not reasonably to assume that Second Temple Jewish expectations of the Messiah carried an understanding of notional (not literal) preexistence, and therefore such passages in the Gospel of John could quite reasonably be interpreted along similar lines:

        “Before Abraham was, I am” -John 8:58

        “Glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the world was” -John 17:5

      • I don’t think that “notional” pre-existence does justice to what seems to me the more robust view reflected in Paul and Hebrews and GJohn.

      • Michael permalink

        Do you believe that the ekklesias’ distinct ‘variant form’ / notion of ‘preexistence’ as adhered by Paul *rightly* reflects Jesus” self understanding of his mode or form of existences as one who currently sits at the right hand of God? what do you think Jesus would say about how paul has conceptualized his mode or form of existence? Would Jesus say ” yep Paul is right” or ” not quite right”?

        From what ive gathered here on your blogg the historical Jesus knew nothing about preexisting in a way conceptualized by Paul

      • Michael, as I’d hoped to have made clear, (1) the notion of Jesus as “pre-existent” seems to have emerged only after Jesus’ earthly life (so he couldn’t have held the idea), and (2) Paul exhibits no interest in the sort of psychological/speculative questions that you pose. So, it’s pointless to pose them.

  11. CJ Tan permalink

    Thanks Dr Larry – comprehensive (for a blog-post) and thought-provoking.

    We need to have a better appreciation of how the apostles and early church (consisting mainly of Jews) had to come to grips with both the exaltation of Jesus as the resurrected Son of God and their devotion and belief in only one True God of Israel (i.e. monotheism).

    Your work (and the work of others in this area) help us appreciate this better.

    Blessings,
    CJ Tan

  12. Michael permalink

    “As various other scholars as well have observed, the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to heavenly/divine glory seems to have triggered the logical corollary that he must, in some sense, have been “there” from the beginning,….”

    The nature of this manner of preexistence is notional , being in the mind of God from the beginning as articulated in jewish thought, not a literal pre-existence, right?…. As in Jesus the Son of God did not literally exist prior to Jesus’ birth/creation?

    • Michael: I’m not sure that a “notional” pre-existence does adequate justice to Paul’s statements about the role of “the Lord Jesus Christ” as agent of creation in 1 Cor 8:4-6, or to the claims in Philip 2:6-8, where Christ is portrayed as making a choice not to treat “equality with God” a “harpagmos (however you choose to interpret that word). I.e., Paul seems to me to envision a much more robust “pre-existence” than what we have ascribed to the “Chosen One” of the Parables of Enoch.

      • Michael permalink

        Paul envisions a concept/mode of pre-existence that is distinct /outside the notional jewish idea of pre-existence?(in God’s mind from the beginning)

      • Paul’s notion of Jesus’ pre-existence does seem to me to be a distinctive “variant-form” of Jewish notions of the pre-existence of other entities. Probably, this is because for Paul the pre-existent figure in question is a real, historical figure also, not simply a divine attribute (e.g., Lady Wisdom) or the named-but-not-yet-revealed “Chosen One” of the Parables of Enoch. As Paul is Jewish, his notion has to be seen as a form of “the Jewish notion,” but it seems to be a distinctive form of it.

  13. You have deftly insulated yourself, especially the last sentence, from any criticism. The downside to this is losing real-world relevance. You could take some lessons from Luther in plain speaking also.

    • “Alex the Less”: You could take some lessons in careful reading! By no means is my posting spared “criticism”. The sentence you complain about simply frames the parameters of the issues I’m engaging, and is designed to prevent us wandering off into other things. So, focus on what I wrote, not on your imagination. Is that “plain” enough?

      • well, thats the whole problem, isn’t it? you have tightened the parameters so closely on some of these issues that a danger of a skewed understanding exists. for instance while Paul may have been “quizzical” with the term “trinity” he would have understood the revealed triunity of the godhead much more than you are willing to give him credit. the way you frame it presents a red herring.

      • One more time, Alex: Read before you comment. And maybe even read something more than blog-posts. E.g., my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon, 2010). I refer to the “triadic” shape of God-discourse in Paul & the NT, noting that it is historically connected to, but differentiated from, the “Trinitarian” discourse of later times. No red herrings, Alex. You need to check your spectacles for phantom fish!!

  14. Thanks for the great post. Out of interest, do you have any specific patristic references for the principle that “that which the Son did not take on himself he cannot redeem”? You note it is already suggested in Hebrews, but I’d really appreciate some patristic citations if possible. Thanks.

    • “What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .” (Greek: το γαρ απροσλεπτον, αθεραπευτον ὁ δε ἑνοται τω θεω, τουτο και σοζεται)
      —Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101

  15. Allen Black permalink

    Are John the Baptist’s references to Jesus existing before him(John 1:15, 30) and Jesus’s references to himself as descending from heaven and existing before Abraham (e.g., John 3:13; 6:33, 38; 8:58 ) indications that Jesus and even John the Baptist affirmed Jesus’s preexistence? Or do you view these statements as “seriously reflective of post-Easter convictions about Jesus” (as you surmised concerning Mark14:61-64)?

    • Allen: I take these distinctive Johannine statements as examples of how the author tells the story of Jesus through the “lens” (so to speak) of the post-Easter revelation of “all truth” (about Jesus). Read my article cited in my posting this week on GJohn for the argumentation for this.

  16. Thank you for these three posts and all the comments. I don’t see any question on John 10:18, the authority of the good shepherd to lay down his life and to take it up again. It is clear that Israel as son did not have such authority, nor did any of Israel’s line of kings, pace Psalm 72 which could not possibly apply to Solomon (his grave is with us to this day). And it is clear today that we as humanity do not have such authority – we scarcely lay down our lives for others, and it is not us who take them up again if we do. What is the author of John saying about the good shepherd here – and can we identify unambiguously Jesus as the good shepherd, implicitly identifying this human one with the Lord Hashem of Psalm 23?

    • Bob: The author in John 10:18, as elsewhere in GJohn, is presenting what he knows to be the truth about Jesus, as disclosed more fully by the Spirit in the “post-Easter” period. Read my article cited in my posting this week on the GJohn and its Christology. That is, this and many other sayings in GJohn appear to be retrospectively shaped by the fuller perception of Jesus that came to early circles under the impact of Jesus’ resurrection and the Spirit’s revelations (as they saw them).

  17. I agree with your comment that the early Christians attributed Jesus’ resurrection to God. I actually did a survey on all the texts in the N.T. and the apostolic fathers, and they’re completely consistent on the issue…

    Except for GJohn 2.18-22 and Ignatius to Smyrna ch.2, which have Jesus raising himself from the dead (active), rather then being raised by God (passive). Even in the GJohn example the author immediately switches back to Jesus being passive in the event (v.22, ‘was raised’), but the implication that Jesus raised himself has already been made. What do you make of these rare exceptions?

    • More precisely (as you indicate), GJohn 2:18-22 has Jesus claim to “raise” the “temple”, which the author then says alluded to Jesus’ being raised (passive, egerthe, by God). So, it’s still the case that in actual refs to Jesus’ resurrection, God is the actor, and Jesus acted upon.

      • John 10.17-18 goes a little further re Jesus’ active raising (but not to gainsay the general impression as you stated)

      • Hmm. Yes, in some measure. But interesting that the text has Jesus able to “take up again” his “life” (psyche), not his body. And in any case, his “authority” (exousia) is given to him by his “Father”.

  18. Michael permalink

    Dr Hurtado what are your thoughts on Ehrman’s ‘exaltation christology’? I find much agreement to what you have expressed here in regards to the sublime reverence and exaltation of Jesus as a human being.

    Thankyou kindly for yr succinct responses.

    • I think that Ehrman’s discussion is partly correct and partly incorrect. He’s right that Jesus’ “exaltation” was the initial basis/impetus for treating him as worthy of worship, but he doesn’t seem to realize that in the “logic” of ancient apocalyptic thought (as I described briefly in my posting), “pre-existence” (and so “incarnation”) were immediate consequences as well.

  19. Michael permalink

    Dr.Hurtado, is the ‘logos’ in the Gjohn 1-1-2 conceptualized as a preexistent self aware ‘person’ that was God’s agent in creation that incarnated in the human jesus? as emplified in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6?

    ….what is the meaning of “Lord Jesus Christ” is posited as the one “through whom are all things” in reference/in relation to the nature of the Logos as articulated in Gjohn?

    • Michael: It’s not in the purpose of the author of GJohn to go into such psychological details as you ask. Roughly, that the Logos is “with God” suggests that the author thinks of the Logos as distinguishable in some way from “God”. That’s all we can safely say.
      As for your second question, Paul apparently thinks that “the Lord Jesus Christ” is in some direct manner also the one through whom the world was created. He doesn’t specify, and it’s not his purpose to indulge in such speculation. He’s more interested simply to make the claim that Jesus is both unique agent of redemption and unique agent of creation.

      • Michael permalink

        Have i grasped correctly that the conceptualization and the nature of the pre-existent Logos as the Son of God(before the incarnation in the human jesus) articulated in trinitarian thought is not representative of the conceptionalization of the nature and notion of pre-existence of the Logos exemplified in the Gjohn and pauls letters?

      • Michael: It’s not exactly the SAME. That’s all I’m saying.

  20. Ross Macdonald permalink

    Thank you for taking the time to write more fully in response. Following up with your fourth point, I understand that your focus is on the NT texts and context and not the development of or around them in subsequent centuries. Bearing that in mind, nonetheless, when you speak of the ‘continuing theological task’ (that e.g. would lead to such early councils and creeds) can it be considered as flowing out of the providence of God, or perhaps His inspiration of the NT qua Divine Author and not contingent human author? (Obviously I’m showing my hand, vainly hoping to see yours).
    The mechanics of systematization can be built without proper contextual exegesis, of course, but in a Protestant sense of ‘sola Scriptura’ – in contrast to an abiding authority within unfolding revelation (i.e. tradition) – the idyllic if unattainable goal has been to build systematic theology upon the sound use of Scriptures.
    I suppose I am curious about the basis of your (I’ll assume for argument’s sake) belief in the Trinitarian implications of Jesus’ divinity. If such a belief comes not from the relative NT texts but from later theological developments, the question arises: ‘on what basis are later formulations authoritative or at least commendable to faith?’
    You’ve plugged his excellent book on inscriptions some time ago, and I was windering if you’re familiar with B. H. McLean’s “Biblical Interpretation and Philosophical Interpretation” (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012). In it he discusses the relativity of language and contextual reception/use, with a ‘founding sense-event’ of language developing toward a new context or frame of reference, in which the founding sense-event bears its significance within a ‘present sense-event’. Such a model would explain both the departure of later creeds from the founding sense of the NT texts, and yet their utilization as a present signification. McLean argues that biblical studies as a discipline has been obsessed “exclusively” with uncovering the ‘founding sense-event’, as a limit point of interpretation. Thus in reviewing the past century of philosophical hermeneutics he (with a Thiselton-like gravitas) seeks to wed such rigorous ‘socio-historical’ exegesis with the panoply of interpretive possibilities belonging to a broad horizon of pregnant significance. To his strength, McLean can thus enjoy both the fruit of biblical studies research as well as sincerely adopt earlier expressions and commitments of faith…. but somehow I feel this approach to original context and later development would not sit well with you. I’m curious to know if so and why. Might I lastly join the throng with those who do not find the relevance of their discipline by embracing pluralism; nor want to see historical research become “post-historical”!

    • Bob: To you lengthy comment, this brief response (for now): I direct you to my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), in which, among other things, I do explore the question of the historical relationship between what I term the “triadic” God-discourse of the NT and the subsequent theological developments that led to the doctrine of the “Trinity”.

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