The Word in John 1:1-5
In recent decades a significant number of
theologians have demonstrated that John 1:1 speaks of only one person, namely
the Father, and that 'the Word' is not a person, not Jesus Christ ; but is,
in fact, God's word that brought forth the Genesis creation as in Psalm 33:6
"By the word of Jehovah the heavens were made." This is just
as Genesis chapter one describes how God spoke the creation into existence
by His word. The Hebrew word 'davar', the Aramaic term 'Memra' and the Greek
'logos' mean more than simply 'word', but speak of God's self-revelation,
The many lexicons show 'logos' variously
to mean: utterance, command, decree, plan expression of mind, creative thought,
purpose, promise, message, wisdom, or reason. 'Word' is an inadequate translation
of 'logos' because 'logos' encompasses 'Thought', 'Speech', and 'Action'.
So the phrases 'God's creative thoughts expressed into activity', 'God's
expressed / decreed purpose or plan.' 'God's commanded purpose', or similar
phrases more adequately reflect the meaning of 'logos'. So John, in typical
Jewish fashion, spoke of God’s Grand Design in His mind.
A great help to our understanding is found
in the prologue of John's first letter which is a partial commentary
on the prologue of his Gospel. From 1John1:1-3 we learn that, 'the word' is
God's decreed purpose or promise to bring eternal life or 'life of
the coming age." So the impersonal promise,
declared purpose or planned expressive activity
is "what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what
we have seen...concerning the word of life...and the life was manifested"
becoming 'visible' so that the disciples could see and touch it , that is
when "the decreed purpose to bring about life of the coming age, became
flesh." This was just as when the 'word' i.e. God's self expressed actions
brought about the original creation.
John 1:1-5 shows no conversations between
God and 'the word' like those that are recorded between God and Jesus.
This further demonstrates the impersonality of 'the word.'
When a literary piece is poetic, as John’s
prologue is it is generally given to metaphorical interpretation, which in
this case is the figurative language of personification.
Roger Haight Jesuit scholar explains: "Hypostatization means making an idea
or a concept into a real thing...the symbols Wisdom, Word, and Spirit, which
are found in the Jewish scriptures and refer to God, are not hypostatizations
but personifications...A major development occurred when a personification
became transformed into hypostatization." p257. ‘Jesus Symbol of God’
The personification in John's prologue is
appropriate because his sources were Hebrew /Aramaic literature where personification
was freely used. For instance, the Hebrew term 'dabar' translated 'word' is
often personified in the Hebrew Scriptures ("With speed his word runs" Psalm
So a personified impersonal logos was not
a new idea to John or his readers. Additionally 'logos' although grammatically
of masculine gender in Greek does not mean that it is actually sexually
masculine when translated into English. This is just the same as when
a French masculine or feminine noun is logically neuter when translated into
The Greek word logos appears in the LXX OT
some 1500 times and is never used of a literal person. It also appears over
300 hundred times in the Christian scriptures and is only capitalized as a
person in John 1 (but legitimately in Rev 19:13). As Dr. Colin Brown of Fuller
Seminary comments: "To
read John 1:1 as if it means 'In the beginning was the Son' is patently
wrong." Also Professor of Theology at Heidleberg H.H. Wendt says:
"We should not argue from Philo's meaning of 'word' as a...pre-existing
Further, Professor of Divinity James Dunn
says "in the earlier
stages of the poem we are still dealing with the Wisdom...not as a personal
being, but as the wise utterance of God personified"
And again Roger Haight says: "One thing is certain, the Prologue
of John does not represent direct descriptive knowledge of a divine entity
or being called Word, who descended and became a human being. To read
a metaphor as literal speech is misinterpretation;..."
This was the view of some of the early church
fathers: Origen's commentary on John says: "logos - only in the sense of the utterance
of the Father which came to expression in a Son when Jesus was conceived."
Tertullian (155-230) translates 'logos' as 'speech' and states:
"It is the simple use of our people to say [of John 1] that the word
of revelation was with God." This view survived in Spain and southern
Gaul until at least the 7th century.
Regarding translations; prior to the 1611
KJV, seven major translations used a small "w" for word and there
are numerous translations since 1611 that reflect the fact that a second person
is not being spoken about here e.g. Concordant , Diaglott, the
1985 translation by the Jewish historian Hugh J Schonfield and the 1993 translation
by Robert W. Funk. The Elberfelder and Luther bibles have 'Das Wort' ('Das' being neuter
and a capital letter being standard for all nouns in German) and the French
Segond version has 'La parole' (feminine) and in Russian it
is ‘slovo…en bylo’(neuter).
Modern English examples are:
"At the beginning God expressed Himself. That
personal expression, that word, was
with God and was God..." J.B Philips.
"In the beginning was the purpose,
the purpose in the mind of God, the purpose which
was God's own being...this purpose took
human form in Jesus "
G. B. Caird. New Testament Theology
"In the beginning there was the
divine word and wisdom. The divine word and wisdom
were there with God. It was there
with God from the beginning. Everything came to be by means of it.." Robert Funk
From the above it seems that an appropriate
rendering of verse 1a could be:
Verse 1a. "In the beginning was the
Decreed Purpose and the Purpose was
Noteworthy, is the fact that the poem is
arranged in what is called 'staircase parallelism' form in which the last
word of one phrase becomes the first word of the next finally rising to the
Below are given further translation comments
on verse 1.
Verse 1b "and the Decreed Purpose was CHARACTERISTIC
Grammatically this can be translated. 'the
word was god' or 'the word was godlike (of the very nature
and character of God or 'divine' )' "Lack of a definite article signifies
than identification' (NAB
notes). Predication means to state as a property of or attribute of
Philip Harner's article entitled 'Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns' states that "anarthrous
predicate nouns preceding the verb [of which the second occurrence of theos
in John 1:1 is an example] may function primarily to express the nature
or character of the subject......that the qualitative force
of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite."
Dana and Manty's Manual Grammar of the Greek N.T makes the same points as
does the UBS Handbook Series which says: "Since 'God 'does not have the
article preceding it, 'God' is clearly the predicate and 'the Word' is the
subject. This means that 'God' here is the equivalent of an adjective, and
this justifies the rendering "the Word was the same as God."
The following translations reflect this grammatical point:
"the Word was with God and shared his
nature." The Translator's Translation
"and what God was, the Word was"
Revised English Bible
"the nature of the Word was the same
as the nature of God" Barclay
"the Word was divine" Moffatt, also Smith
There is no justification for capitalizing
in the phrase "the Word was God" as if identifying
a second person, namely, 'the Word' as God. The Greek does not read as ‘the
Word was the God.” Knowledgeable Trinitarians also recognize that a one-one
identity is incorrect because it destroys the unitary monotheism of the scriptures.
"For us there is but one God, the Father." 1Cor 8:6. Also John 17:1,3
With reference to the translation 'a god', "Such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation" according
to the foremost of biblical Greek scholars - Bruce M Metzger.
Although ‘word for word’ it is correct, yet
grammatically and as a translation it is incorrect because it fails to reflect
the purely qualitative aspect of the phrase. The overwhelming majority of scholars who have
addressed this subject understand John to be emphasizing the qualities or
character of the Logos and not an identity as a second god. Prior to Phillip
B.Harner’s study of qualitative anarthrous predicate nouns, “qualitative”
nouns were viewed more or less as “indefinite” nouns. Harner found
that 80% are qualitative and 20% are “definite” and none are exclusively
indefinite. Since then Paul Dixon has shown that of the three semantic
forces, namely, the definite, the indefinite and the qualitative only
one of these three is John’s intended meaning. Don Hartley
took this further in his studies concluding that qualitativeness is a valid
semantic category apart from definiteness or indefiniteness. He notes
that from the standpoint of pure analysis, THEOS in John 1:1c is most likely
The problem with the rendering ‘a god’ is
that it is mixing the categories of ‘qualitativeness’ with that of ‘indefiniteness’
to produce an identity – a second god; whereas the above facts show that John
is giving a purely ‘qualitative’ nuance.
NOTE: The often quoted Jason BeDuhn, as
in favour of the rendering 'a god', has his PhD in Comparative
Religious studies, not in Biblical languages and, unlike the above mentioned
scholars, is not recognized in the scholarly community as an expert in Biblical
Greek, although his degree does require an intermediate level of competence
Further if John had wanted to say 'divine'
he could have used the Greek adjective 'theios. Yet 'divine' does express
the above meaning, though rather weakly. Qualitative anarthrous predicate
nouns provide a meaning significantly stronger than an adjective alone. Nevertheless,
if ‘divine’ is used, as with Moffatt, and Goodspeed it does not mean ‘divine
being’ but only the quality of divinity.
Appropriate renderings are: “the word was part of God”, “the word was
of the nature of God”, “the word pertained to God”, “the word was characteristic
of God”, “the word was expressive of God”
THE BASIS FOR UNDERSTANDING.
God’s ‘logos’ is impersonal in vss 1-5. The
vocabulary is largely derived from the theological language of the Aramaic
Targumim in common use in the first century.
Memra; to speak’, is the Targumic reference
to God’s activity of commanding, therefore memra (Aramaic), dabar (Hebrew),
logos (Greek) = God’s decreed purpose. This is the subject of the opening lines
in vss 1,3, 10,14
The prologue maintains the distinction between
the logos and Jesus throughout with Jesus not being directly mentioned until
vs 17 but with indirect references to him in vss 9,11,14
IT IS GOD’S LOGOS -- HIS DECREED PURPOSE
Verses 1and 2
"In the beginning was God’s decreed purpose (memra, dabar,
logos), and the purpose was with God, and the purpose was characteristic
of God. This was in the beginning with God.
This refers not directly to the Genesis creation,
but to a time prior to that creation when God formed a purpose to produce
humans as immortal beings. "In the beginning" also has soteriological
overtones of the New Creation.(vs13)
The phrase "was with God" means it [the word] originates with Him as
in Job 27:11 "That [knowledge] which is with the Almighty I shall
GOD’S DECREED PURPOSE BRINGS EVERYTHING INTO
EXISTENCE INCLUDING HIS REVEALED TRUTH [light] THAT
LEADS TO LIFE IN THE AGE TO COME
Verses 3 - 5
All things [the universe] came to be through it [God’s
decreed purpose], and without it nothing came to be that has come to
be. In it was life [of the coming age] and the life was the light of
men. The LIGHT
[God's revealed truth] shines in the darkness (of lies from
Satan in Eden), and
the darkness did not overpower it. [Gen 3:15 and onward]"
Prior to the 1611 KJV and also in some modern
translations 'autou' in vss 3, 4 is translated "IT" not "he."
The use of the pronoun IT with reference to 'the word' is appropriate because
the poem moves forward from impersonal to personification.
NOTE: Raymond Brown comments " the Greek word zoe (LIFE) never means
natural life in John's writings" and that "The prologue is
speaking of eternal life." That is life in the age to come
JESUS IN THE REST OFJOHN’S
Although John's gospel was written last it
cannot be maintained, that whilst the other gospels and writings do not speak
of pre-existence, that John is providing a new revelation as to who Jesus
was. Jesus never changed the Jewish definition of what the Messiah was to
be i.e. a descendant of David.
“We also see that there has been no evolution
or change in the basic identity of Christianity’s founder. Peter, in conversation
with Jesus in the 30’s A.D provides the creedal statement about Jesus as Messiah,
Son of God. And John writing probably in the 90’s makes the same identity
of Jesus the whole point of his gospel-writing. This should put an end to
any theories of “progress” through the New Testament period…everything John
included in his gospel was to demonstrate the Messiahship and sonship of Jesus.”
"these things have been written down
that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) the
Son of God....”
Rather than any pagan idea that Jesus had
a past life as a divine being, John’s gospel was written to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, thereby
maintaining harmony with the synoptic writers. In this very Gospel
that is most quoted to prove pre-existence, John did not present Jesus' sayings
so that we would believe that he had a pre-human existence as God or an archangel.
John is, however, unique in concentrating on the 'words' of Jesus (5:24,
THE TRANSLATION OF JOHN 1:15 AND 30
"The one behind me has advanced in front
of me, because he existed before me” NWT
Because Jesus was born 6 months after John
was born this translation is used to prove that Jesus must have pre-existed.
However, when we examine the Greek Interlinear it becomes evident that it
is the pre-eminent status of Jesus that John speaks of. Also it concerns
the time immediately prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and does not
concern Jesus’ coming into existence as compared with John’s time of birth.
Word for word from KIT:
“The one behind me coming in front
of me has come to be, because first of me he was”
"The one coming behind me has come to
be in front of me, because he was first of me" or
“The one coming after me has moved ahead
of me, because he was my superior (or chief).”
The Revised Version says: ”because he is
first (protos – in rank) in regard of me.”
Geneva Bible "He that cometh after me
was before me: for he was better than I"
Diaglott "He who comes after me is in
advance of me; for he is my superior"
Rotherham "He who after me was coming,
before me hath advanced; because my chief he was"
This verse is about the importance of Jesus’
ministry as compared to the importance of John’s ministry since it would be
Jesus who would be pre-eminent in bringing about the salvation of mankind.
This verse makes no reference to Jesus’ birth as being after John’s birth
but refers to Jesus’ superior ministry as beginning after John’s ministry
In the NWT PROTOS is variously translated: Top-ranking, first
(in the sense of rank), best one, principal (men/women/cities). It
is generally translated chief or first (in rank).
Only for John1:15, 30 has protos been translated
as "before" in most translations .(Wigram's Greek Concordance
shows how 'protos' is translated in its entirety.)
Most modern bibles rearrange the sentence
structure to say:
"He who comes after me ranks before
me, because he was (existed NASB) before me" ESV.
It makes no sense to say that someone has
advanced in front of someone else simply because he existed before him; but
it makes sense to say that even though John began his ministry 6 months before
Jesus began his, Jesus has advanced in front of John because he is John’s
An appropriate paraphrase is:
“The one whose ministry started later than
mine has advanced in front of me because he was my superior.”
Other examples of Jesus outranking John:
Matthew 3:11 "the one coming after
me is stronger than I am, whose sandal I am not fit...."
Mark 1:7 "After me someone stronger
than I am is coming; I am not fit to stoop..."
John 1:27 The Baptist said: "the one
coming behind me but the lace...I am not worthy to untie..."
MESSIAH’S GLORY IN JOHN 12:41
This verse is used in an attempt to prove
either that Jesus is Jehovah (trinitarian) or that Jesus pre-existed with
Jehovah in Isaiah's
John 12:38 (quoting Isa 53:1):
"So that the word of Isaiah was fulfilled
which he said: 'Jehovah who has put faith in the thing heard by us? And as
for the arm of Jehovah to whom has it been revealed."
John 12:40 (quoting Isa 6:10):
"He has blinded their eyes and he has
made their hearts hard, that they should not see..."
"Isaiah said these things because he
saw his (Messiah's) glory and he spoke about him."
Although all cross-reference bibles give
Isa 6:1 "I got to see Jehovah sitting
on a throne and His skirts were filling the temple" as the reference
for John 12:41 because it is the closer verse to Isa 6:10 there is, however,
no direct proof that this is the reference that John had in mind. It seems
more likely that 12:41 is a reference to Isa 52:13 (the suffering servant)
which connects with Isa 53:1. This is especially so given the context of John12:41
which is that of the suffering servant's death (vs32,33) and his glory (vs
"Behold my servant shall understand,
and be exalted, and glorified (Gk 'doxasthesetai') exceedingly."
If Isaiah 6:1 is not the reference then there
is no reference to Jehovah and therefore Jehovah is not associated with Jesus
in John 12:41. If, however Isaiah 6:1 is the reference, then John applies
Isaiah's vision of the glory of Jehovah to Jesus as the one through whom God's
glory shines during his life of self-sacrificing love as the suffering servant
described in both Isa 6 and 53 ("and spoke about him")
The unbelief of the Jews is prophetic, making
God's glory in the Messiah also prophetic and future. Therefore,
this is not about an already literally existing Messiah with a pre-human glory,
This may be similar to "Abraham rejoicing at the prospect of seeing my (Jesus') day, and
he saw it" It is God's revelation of His glory through Jesus
that has caused the blindness and hardness.
THE ENIGMATIC AND FIGURATIVE STATEMENTS IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Unlike the Synoptic gospels, the Gospel of
John is written from the standpoint of Jesus’ post-resurrection glory. It
unifies the earth-based Jesus with the exalted "Christ". This is
evident from the use of the literary devices of prolepsis and heterosis. Therefore,
single texts from John cannot be used legitimately as proof texts for pre-existence.
They must be seen in the light of the all the gospels.
In John almost all of the sayings of Jesus
are given in obscure and figurative language. This should not surprise us
because even in the synoptics more than one third of Jesus’ teaching is in
parables i.e figurative language. Raymond Brown states with reference to the
fourth gospel that:
"Jesus frequently uses figurative language
or metaphors to describe himself or to present his message."
"These things I have spoken to you in
figurative language" John 16:25 NASB ('figures of speech'
Regarding the fine shepherd in 10:6 John
says "This figure
of speech Jesus spoke to them"
Just as Jesus speaks figuratively to Nicodemus
about being 'born from
above' but misunderstood by him to being literally born again so too the
statements of the Son of Man in John's gospel of ascending to / descending
from heaven are often figurative.
It is only a superficial or cursory reading
of the following verses that seems to suggest Jesus’ self–consciousness of
a literal pre-existence; but when one understands Jewish ways of thinking
i.e that the Jew would speak of future things as already existing in heaven,
and would use numerous types of figures of speech, then one can draw out the
SON OF MAN DESCENDED FROM HEAVEN
"no man has ascended into heaven,
but he that descended from heaven [i.e. has his origin in God]
the Son of man (which is in heaven KJV)." 'Son of man' means the ideal or perfect
human.. Did such a human literally come from heaven? The Adam Clarke
Commentary says 'This seems a figurative expression for 'No one hath known
the mysteries of the kingdom of God'
The CONTEXT is that of the figurative statements
made to Nicodemus and thereby indicating that vs 13 is also figurative. The
NASV gives Deuteronomy 30:12 and Proverbs 30:3, 4 as cross-references to John
3 :13 giving similar figurative use of ascending/descending language
"It is not in heaven that you should
say 'who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it...but
the word is very near you..."
The phrase "has ascended" implies that the Son of
man is, at that moment, in heaven. This can not be literally so, since Jesus
is with Nicodemus. Also, Jesus had not, at that time, literally
ascended .This is what he told Mary according to John 20:17. Jesus is, therefore,
figuratively in heaven in constant communication with his Father
as described in John 1:18. It is Jesus "who is in
the bosom of the Father that has explained him." (note NIDNTT
on John 3:13).
"The knowledge of the Most Holy
one I do not know. Who has ascended to heaven that he may descend?" i.e.
bringing that knowledge down. Jesus therefore, acts as Jacob's ladder
between heaven and earth for bringing down the "heavenly things"
which Nicodemus fails to understand. These "heavenly things"
are' the mysteries of the kingdom of God' which are communicated to
Jesus. In Ephesians 2:6 believers now have the similar status of being figuratively
"seated in heavenly places.”
HE THAT COMES FROM ABOVE
John 3:31 and 8:23
John 3:31 "He that comes is over all others...He that comes
from heaven is over all others."
"You are from below. I am from above."
These statements simply mean that Jesus is from God, as the one who is
commissioned by God. He is in the higher spiritual position compared to these
Jews who do not think God's thoughts.
It is the same as in John 3:3,7 where Jesus
encourages Nicodemus to be "born from above" Rotherham, NAB, and Diaglott. The footnote
in NWT says "Lit, 'should be generated from above’”
HE WHO COMES FROM GOD
John 16:28 and 13:3
"I came out from the Father and have
come into the world..."
This does not mean that Jesus literally travelled
from God to the earth, but rather that he was commissioned by God.16:28
says: 'out I came out of (ek) the Father' KIT.
CHRISTIANS COME FROM GOD YET DID NOT PRE-EXIST
John 8:47 'the one [The ordinary believer] being
out of (ek) the God the sayings of the God is hearing.' KIT
NWT gives 8:47 as "He that is from God listens
to the sayings of God."
NJB gives "Whoever comes from God listens to the
words of God; the reason why you do not listen is because you are not
from (ek) God"
NAB, NIV give "Whoever belongs to God hears
the words of God..."
As believers are 'from God' - 'belong to
God' - 'come from God' but do not travel from God to the earth; so in the
same manner Jesus ‘comes from’, belongs to God and was commissioned by him.
Also note the 'bread of life discourse', and John's baptism --as 'being from
BREAD FROM HEAVEN
"For the bread of God is the one who
comes (present tense) down from heaven"
6:38,42 "I have come down from heaven"
6:41,58 "I am the bread that came down
6:51 "I am the living bread that
came down from heaven ; if anyone eats of this bread he will
live forever ; and for a fact, the bread that I shall give is
my flesh in behalf of the world."
A flesh body did not descend from
heaven because Jesus came into existence in Mary. See Matt 1:1,18 KIT
CONTEXT: nominal disciples were shocked at Jesus' metaphor
of eating his flesh and blood. More shocking were the words that
implied that Jesus was greater than Moses and was uniquely associated with
God. Concerning God's miraculously feeding their ancestors with the manna
at vs 31 Jesus says "He gave them bread from heaven to eat
" Yet the manna was not literally sent from God's throne in heaven.
At Exodus 16:4 Jehovah speaks figuratively of 'raining down bread
for you from the heavens' but what happens in reality is "the
layer of dew evaporated and here upon the surface of the wilderness there
was a fine flaky thing upon the earth" Similarly, Jesus' 'coming down
from heaven' means his being God's provision for everlasting (permanent)
life, in contrast to the bread that came through Moses vs 32 the eating
of which did not give them permanent life vs 49. There is a past and present
aspect to it. Similar statements of things that figuratively 'come down from
heaven' are found at:
"Every good gift and every perfect present
is from above, for it comes down from the Father"
James 3:17 "the wisdom from above
Luke 20: 4 "Was the baptism of John
from heaven or from men?" meaning: did it originate
with God ? Of course, there were no baptisms
literally in heaven.
THE ONE WHO HAS SEEN THE FATHER
"Not that any man has seen the father
except he who is from God; this one has seen
CONTEXT: Vs 45 quotes Isa 54:13 "
'they will all be taught by Jehovah'. Everyone that has
the Father and has learned comes to me"
In Greek 'knowing' and 'seeing' are near
synonyms. Kittel and Friedrich's Theological Dictionary of the NT. The Greek word used here 'eoraken' is from
'horao' = "to perceive or to become acquainted with by experience."
"He who has seen me has seen the Father"
John 12:45 "He who sees me sees the
One who sent me
These cannot mean simply 'caught sight of'
Jesus, but those who get to know Jesus get to know the Father.
Job 42:5 “In hearsay I have heard about you,
but now my own eye does see you.” Job did not physically see God,
yet after his experience he knew God far better than before.
John 8:38 "What things I have seen
with my Father I speak" = 'learned' with my Father
So, Jesus and true Christians can see (learn
from) the Father figuratively with the eyes of faith by the study of scripture
and experience; and thereby come to know him better.
"So now you, Father, glorify me alongside
yourself with the glory that I had alongside you
before the world was". The glory was
alongside or with God as a scripturally stated promise to the Messiah
John Chapter 17 contains many proleptic sayings, (the prophetic past tense). That is future things
anticipated, yet spoken of as if they are present reality. There is
a switching in and out of the prolepsis which follows the pattern of
prolepsis elsewhere in the scriptures.
Examples of switching in and out of the proleptic
sayings in the Scriptures:
Isaiah 53:5 “he was wounded for our
transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement
that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed…” ESV
Isaiah 9:6 “For there has been a child
born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will
come to be upon his shoulder,…” Meaning ‘a child will be born’ – future
as in ‘will come to be upon his shoulder’
John 3:36 “He that exercises faith in the
Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not
In John 17: 5 it was only the glory that
proleptically pre-existed. It was the glory that Jesus, in full confidence,
knew would be his after he was resurrected and exalted.
Note : Jesus doesn't say "give me back the glory I had.
Examples of proleleptic sayings within John
verse 10 "all things that are...yours,
are mine and I have been glorified among them."
Jesus had yet to die and be resurrected before
he would have God's things and be glorified.
verse 11 "I am no longer in the
world." He evidently still was until he died.
verse 12 "When I was with them,
I used to watch over them on account of your name...
not one of them is destroyed except
the son of destruction". Judas, at this time, had not been
verse18 "I also sent them forth
into the world." This was yet to happen at Pentecost.
verse 22 "I have given them
the glory that you have given me." Such glory would
not be theirs until the Kingdom comes. Similarly Romans 9:23 speaks
of "Vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory."
It is not possible that Jesus would be asking
his Father for a past glory because glory comes with exaltation and
Jesus’ exaltation came after his life course of perfect obedience leading
to his death. See OUTLINE 43
WAS EXALTED – HE WASN’T PREVIOUSLY PRE-EMINENT’ giving Philippians 2:8, 9 and Colossians 1:18,
19 as verses that show that Jesus was “highly exalted” that he
“might become pre-eminent”
"Among the Latin fathers and some Ethiopic
Mss. there is support for the reading 'that glory which was
with you,' reading 'een' = 'was,' instead of 'I had' " from the
In all of these texts Jesus speaks as though
he were already living his future exalted life; because all these things had
been promised by his Father and therefore, were certain of fulfilment. So,
the glory that Jesus had...before the world was evidently was glory that was
laid up for him as a deposit potentially his in God's plan. Matt 25:34 tells
of the sheep who are directed to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world".
Similarly, this glory and God's love vs 24
were prepared for him before the founding of the world.
THE JEWS BELIEVED IN IDEAL (NON-LITERAL)
WHICH MEANS BEING FOREKNOWN
This means that God holds in mind a picture
of what He intends to accomplish, how it will be accomplished and who will
be involved; none of which things actually exist until their time. This is the Jewish way of thinking. The Greek
word for pre-existence 'pro-uparchon' is never used in the scriptures.
"God...calls the things that are not
as though they are." e.g. Jeremiah was foreknown but did not literally
pre-exist. Jeremiah1:5. Also Romans 8:29;9:23; Ephesians 1:4
Colossians 1:5 "the hope that
is laid up for you in heaven" NASB
1Peter 1:4 "the unfading inheritance.
It is reserved in the heavens for you."
Mark 11:24 "be having faith that you
received, and it will be to you." KIT.
IDEAL PRE-EXISTENCE AS APPLIED TO THE MESSIAH
"He (Jesus) was foreknown before
the founding of the world but he was made manifest at the end of the times".
Christians are similarly foreknown:
1Peter 1:1,2 "The ones chosen according
to the foreknowledge of God"
Ephesians 1:4 "He chose us...before
the founding of the world". Christians did not literally pre-exist.
To foreknow is the ability to known someone before they exist as with Jeremiah
"the scroll of life of the Lamb who
was slaughtered, from the founding of the world"
word for word: "book of the life of the lamb the one having been
slaughtered from the throwing
down of the world." Was the Lamb
literally slaughtered before the foundation of
the world? Rather he pre-existed in God's
mind. (There is no comma in the Gk)
"this man...delivered up by the determined
council and foreknowledge of God." ('predetermined plan'
NASB, 'determined purpose' NKJ)
MESSIAH IS SEEN IN DANIEL'S VISION
"What,…if you should see the Son
of man ascending to where he was before?"
This is a case of ideal / notional pre-existence
i.e. being foreordained as shown in 1 Peter 1:20 and Acts 2:23. Could the
ideal human have been in heaven before his birth? Jesus saw himself
as fulfilling the "Son of man" (i.e. the human Messiah) program
laid out in advance in the scriptures.
"How is it written of the
Son of man..." Mark 9:12.
"The Son of Man is to go just as
it is written about him" Matt 26:24
The place where the Son of Man's ascending
is written about as part of the Messianic program is found in Daniel 7 where
the human Messiah was seen (i.e. before) in heaven in the vision of
verse 13 and hence of the future. If this verse is interpreted literally it
would mean the impossible case of ‘the Son of Man a mortal human had been
MESSIAH PRE-EXISTED ABRAHAM NOTIONALLY
"Before ABRAHAM came into existence
I have been"
word for word :- KIT "Before
Abraham to become I am" ( Gk. ego eimi )
UBS "Before Abraham came into being
A. All other instances of this Greek phrase (ego eimi)
are translated as "I
am he" or "I
am (he)"or "I am the one", see John 4:26, 8:24,
8:28, 9:9, 13:9, 18:5. This is recognized as correct by all scholars. There
is no contextual reason to render 8:58 any differently. Only the Diaglott
Edwin Freed comments: "Jesus is reported as affirming his
messiahship through the use of 'ego eimi'" and that John
4:26 is "the
clue to understanding all other passages where the words 'ego eimi'
So what did Jesus mean? In John 4:25, 26
the woman at the well says "I
know that Messiah is coming" Jesus said to her: "I
who am speaking to you am he".(ego eimi). So he is saying "I
am he the Messiah". Hence in 8:58 he is telling them
the same thing, that is, that he is the Messiah.
B. This is also a case of ideal / notional pre-existence
i.e being foreordained as shown in 1 Peter 1:20 and Acts 2:23.
The subject here in its immediate CONTEXT
(8:53) is who is the greater, Abraham or Jesus-
- who takes precedence Abraham or the Messiah.
The Jews ask: "Who
do you claim to be." By pointing out that he is the Messiah THAT WAS
PROMISED, he shows he is greater than Abraham.
The proof that only in this NOTIONAL SENSE DID JESUS PRE-EXIST
ABRAHAM comes when Jesus says in:
8:56 "Abraham rejoiced greatly at the prospect
of seeing my day and he saw it (through eyes of faith
or possibly a vision) and rejoiced." So Abraham was privileged
to see into the future –to Jesus’ day. He looked forward and saw the
coming Messiah before he came into history. So when Jesus says "Before
Abraham came into being I am he" he is not making a statement about
literal pre-existence, but simply claiming to be the One who was promised
to come, which promise existed before Abraham was born and which Abraham was
privileged to see in his mind – an ideal or notional pre-existence of Messiah.
The Jews, as ever, misunderstand and think
that Jesus was meaning that he -- Jesus had seen Abraham (8:57), but Jesus
is emphasizing that he takes precedence over Abraham because of his superior
position in being the promised, foreordained Messiah notionally
Abraham came into being..."that is in the sense that the planned
Messiah was in God's mind (Genesis 3:15).
J.A.T Robinson makes the point that ”to say that Jesus is “before” him is not
to lift him out of the ranks of humanity but to assert his unconditional
precedence. To take such statements at the level of “flesh” so as to infer,
as “the Jews” do that, at less than fifty, Jesus is claiming to have lived
on this earth before Abraham (8:52 and 57), is to be as crass as Nicodemus
who understands rebirth as an old man entering his mother’s womb a second
time (3:4).” p.384 of ‘The Priority of John’
Revelation 13:8b states
"The lamb who was slaughtered from the
founding of the world" speaks not of a literal pre-existence but of
foreordination. So, as the promised Messiah, Jesus existed in Jehovah's mind
before Abraham was born.
Note: even if 'I have been' was a correct translation (grammatically
'from the past to the present') it would refer to him as the Messiah i.e.
"I have been he (the Messiah)." This, however, cannot mean literal
but only notional (foreordained in God's mind) pre-existence because the Messiah,
the Son of God came into existence at his conception. Luke 1:32,35
The Priority of John by J.A.T Robinson
Born Before All Time? by Karl-Josef Kuschel