Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ
is his existence before he was born of the Virgin Mary. That he really did exist, is plain from John 3:13; John 6:50 , &c; John 8:58; John 17:5; John 17:24; 1 John 1:2; but there are various opinions respecting this existence. Some acknowledging, with the orthodox, that in Jesus Christ there is a divine nature, a rational soul, and a human body, go into an opinion peculiar to themselves. His body was formed in the virgin's womb; but his human soul, they suppose, was the first and most excellent of all the works of God; was brought into existence before the creation of the world, and subsisted in happy union in heaven with the second person of the Godhead, till his incarnation. These divines differ from those called Arians, for the latter ascribe to Christ only a created deity, whereas the former hold his true and proper divinity. They differ from the Socinians, who believe no existence of Jesus Christ before his incarnation; they differ from the Sabellians, who only own a trinity of names: they differ also from the generally received opinion, which is, that Christ's human soul began to exist in the womb of his mother, in exact conformity to that likeness unto his brethren of which St. Paul speaks, Hebrews 2:17 . The writers in favour of the preexistence of Christ's human soul recommend their opinion by these arguments:
1. Christ is represented as his Father's messenger, or angel, being distinct from his Father, sent by his Father, long before his incarnation, to perform actions which seem to be too low for the dignity of pure Godhead. The appearances of Christ to the patriarchs are described like the appearance of an angel, or man really distinct from God; yet one, in whom God, or Jehovah, had a peculiar indwelling, or with whom the divine nature had a personal union,
2. Christ, when he came into the world, is said, in several passages of Scripture, to have divested himself of some glory which he had before his incarnation. Now if there had existed before this time nothing but his divine nature, this divine nature, it is argued, could not properly have divested itself of any glory, John 17:4-5; 2 Corinthians 8:9 . It cannot be said of God that he became poor: he is infinitely self-sufficient; he is necessarily and eternally rich in perfections and glories. Nor can it be said of Christ, as man, that he was rich, if he were never in a richer state before than while he was on earth.
3. It seems needful, say those who embrace this opinion, that the soul of Jesus Christ should preexist, that it might have an opportunity to give its previous actual consent to the great and painful undertaking of making atonement for our sins.
On the other side, it is affirmed that the doctrine of the preexistence of the human soul of Christ weakens and subverts that of his divine personality.
1. A pure intelligent spirit, the first, the most ancient, and the most excellent of creatures, created before the foundation of the world, so exactly resembles the second person of the Arian trinity, that it is impossible to show the least difference except in name.
2. This preexistent intelligence, supposed in this doctrine, is so confounded with those other intelligences called angels, that there is great danger of mistaking this human soul for an angel, and so of making the person of Christ to consist of three natures.
3. If Jesus Christ had nothing in common, like the rest of mankind except a body, how could this semi-conformity make him a real man?
4. The passages quoted in proof of the preexistence of the human soul of Jesus Christ, are of the same sort with those which others allege in proof of the preexistence of all human souls.
5. This opinion, by ascribing the dignity of the work of redemption to this sublime human soul, detracts from the deity of Christ, and renders the last as passive as the first is active.
6. This notion is contrary to the Scripture. St. Paul says, "In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren," Hebrews 2:17 : he partook of all our infirmities, except sin. St. Luke says, "He increased in stature and wisdom," Luke 2:52 . Upon the whole, this scheme, adopted to relieve the difficulties which must always surround mysteries so great, only creates new ones. This is the usual fate of similar speculations, and shows the wisdom of resting in the plain interpretation of the word of God.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/p/pre-existence-of-jesus-christ.html. 1831-2.