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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Pre-Existence

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PRE-EXISTENCE

The OT conception of the Messiah was, for the most part, limited by the horizon of this present world. The prominent thought is that of a king of the line of David, born of the human stock (Jeremiah 30:21), though supernaturally endowed and blessed. There are, however, traces of another and higher conception, in which the Messianic king tends to be identified or closely associated with the personal self-revelation of Jehovah. The most remarkable of these are the titles ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Father of Eternity’ in Isaiah 9:6; the statement of Micah 5:2, that the Ruler who is to come forth from Bethlehem will be one ‘whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.’ To these may perhaps be added Baruch 3:37. Such passages as these, whether they are understood as implying definitely the personal pre-existence of the Messiah, or only his existence in the eternal counsels of God, tended undoubtedly to raise the Messianic conception to a higher level, and to prepare for the claims of Christ Himself, and the developed teaching of the pre-existence of Christ which is found in NT and the Christian writers generally.

In the more ‘popular’ teaching of Jesus Christ which is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, though His continued existence, even to the end of time, is clearly stated, there are but few hints of His pre-existence before His human birth. His question to the Pharisees concerning Psalms 110 (Matthew 22:41-45, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44) would seem to imply, in the background of the Speaker’s mind, His pre-existence before His birth of the line of David. A similar conclusion might be drawn from the language of the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (see esp. Mark 12:6). And possibly the lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34, taken in connexion with Deuteronomy 32:11) implies that the attempt to ‘gather together’ the children of Jerusalem had extended over a much longer past than the three years’ ministry.

There can be no question that St. John was profoundly convinced of the eternal pre-existence of Jesus Christ as the personal Logos. This is most clearly stated in the Prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1-18). Similarly John the Baptist is quoted as bearing witness of Jesus in this respect (John 1:30). And in the discourses of Jesus Christ which are contained in this Gospel, addressed apparently to a different type of audience from that of the Synoptics, and conveying a fuller self-revelation, there are most startling claims to pre-existence. To Nicodemus (John 3:13), Christ claims to know the heavenly things as having Himself descended from heaven. The same claim was made in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:33-42), and produced strife and astonishment. A little later the Jews of Jerusalem attempt to stone Christ for blasphemy. He claimed not only priority to Abraham, but apparently an eternal pre-existence (John 8:58). And in the climax of self-revealing at the Last Supper, Jesus in His communing with the Father twice refers to His own personal relations with the Father before the world began (John 17:5; John 17:24).

The sermons in the Acts confine themselves to the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ, the prophetical preparation for it, and the Second Advent. But in the writings of St. Paul an increasing consciousness of Christ’s pre-existence and definiteness in speaking of it can be traced. In 1 Corinthians 15:47 Christ is ‘from heaven,’ in 2 Corinthians 8:9 His earthly poverty is contrasted with an antecedent richness. It is, however, in the Epistles of the First Imprisonment that pre-existence is not only hinted at, but expressed and defined. The remarkable passage Philippians 2:5-11 predicates deliberate will and choice of Christ Jesus, before His Incarnation. He willed to surrender (from a human point of view) His natural equality with God, and chose the glory which came through humiliation and sacrifice of self. And, still more definitely, in Colossians 1:15-17 not only priority, but an eternal priority to all creation is ascribed to Him: ‘he is before all things.’ With this passage should be compared the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where not only similar descriptions are given of the nature of Christ, but the words of Psalms 102, contrasting the eternity of the Creator with the transitoriness of creation, are boldly and without any explanation applied directly to Christ (cf. also Romans 10:9-15). The language of the Apocalypse is strictly parallel (Revelation 1:17; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13).

See artt. Divinity of Christ, Incarnation.

Literature.—Sanday, art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; Liddon, Divinity of our Lord (Bampton Lectures for 1866); Westcott, Gospel of St. John, 1882; Dorner, Chr. Doet. (English translation ) iii. (1882) 283; Lobstein, Notion de la préexistence du Fils de Dieu (1883); Godet, ‘Person of Christ’ in Monthly Interpreter, iii. (1880) 1; Beyschlag, NT Theol. (English translation ) ii. (1895) 249; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus (English translation ), ii. (1892) 168; Denney, Studies in Theology (1895), 51; Orr, Chr. View of God and the World (1893), 508; Barton, ‘Jewish-Chr. Doct. of Pre-existence of Messiah’ in JBL [Note: BL Journal of Biblical Literature.] xxi. (1902) 78; Du Bose, The Gospel in the Gospels (1906), 221; Barrett, The Earliest Chr. Hymn (1897), 23.

A. R. Whitham.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pre-Existence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/pre-existence.html. 1906-1918.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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