Feb 15, 2009

The Son's Preexistence in the Synoptic Gospels - Part I

We have seen in the previous articles that the belief in the pre-human existence of the son of God was present among first century Christians, including writers of the New Testament. Most prominently among these writers is Paul, whose influence among the first century churches must have have been strong.

Considering that his writings and his ideas were so influential, one would expect to that the writers of the Synoptic Gospels would have been at least aware of this belief, and even share it themselves - at least Luke, who was a co-worker of Paul.

We will examine these Synoptic Gospels, Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's, for elements of this belief, and in particular, in this first part, the formula used by Jesus in these gospels regarding his coming:

the "I have come" + purpose formula

Here are the ten saying we will examine:

  • He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43)
  • "But go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32)
  • "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)
  • "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)
  • "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51)
  • "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:35)
  • "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28)
  • "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)
And the sayings of the demons:
  • "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?" (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34)
  • And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29)

Jesus uses the "I have come" + purpose formula to sum up his earthly life and ministry as a whole. As Gathercole notes1, this formula was not used by people generally - or even by those specially commissioned by God - to sum up their lives' work.

As Gathercole notes further, this formula "is most closely and most abundantly paralleled in the announcements by angels of their coming from heaven". He attempts to provide a background for the Synoptic "I have come" sayings by listing ancient Jewish literature instances where angels do sum up their earthly activity for a particular visit, using this formula. An exception to the identity of these beings would be made in the case of the heavenly Elijah, who uses this formula while coming down on earth for a specific purpose, centuries after his ascension.

Why bring angels into this picture? As noted by Gathercole, Jesus uses this formula to refer to the mission he received from God in its entirety, just like angels do when they use it, summing up the entirety of their mission they were sent into the earthly realm to accomplish. The language used by them refers to their intrusion into the earthly, human realm, and Jesus is known to have himself referred to his mission in relation to this earthly realm (Matthew 9:6; 10:34; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24; 12:49, 51). And so, the coming of the angels, to fulfill a divinely ordained function - which is the purpose of their mission - corresponds very well with Jesus' coming.

Of course, this does not make Jesus an angel, as it neither makes the angels to be the Messiah. As Gathercole notes, a common heavenly provenance and an analogous coming to the earthly realm do not imply any particular similarity in nature between Jesus and angels.

Angelic Beings using the "I have come" + Purpose Formula

There are many instances in ancient Jewish literature where it is said about angels that they have come to do something, after they have already penetrated the human realm, but where it is not the angel who says this. For example, here's a rabbinic exegetical solution to the puzzle of the identity of the three "men" who meet Abraham near the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18):

Who were the three men? - Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Michael came to bring the tidings to Sarah; Raphael came to heal Abraham, and Gabriel came to overturn Sodom. But is it not written, "And there came the two angels to Sodom in the evening"? - Michael came with him to rescue Lot. Scripture supports this too, for it is written, "And he overthrew those cities", not "And they overthrew": this proves it. (b. Baba Metzia 86b).
Gathercole also provides another example from Numbers Rabbah 1.112, where God says that:

"the Angel of Death, coming to slay Israel, ... will find the tribe of Levi mixed up with them and will put them to death with the rest of Israel"
Sometimes, not as frequent, there are references to angels coming down, a language similar to that of John's gospel in reference to Jesus. Gathercole provides an example from Exodus Rabbah3:

"Gabriel came down to deliver Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah"
Later the angel says:
"I went down to save Abraham"
Next we will explore the instances where the angels themselves use the "I have come" + purpose formula.

1-2. Daniel 9:22-23

Daniel 9:20-23 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.

3-6. Daniel 10:12, 14, 20; 11:2

Another angel comes to Daniel in a vision, and tells him in verse 12 that:

Daniel 10:12 Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.
While the angel says his coming is a cause of Daniel's words, it is clear that he has come in order to bring an answer to Daniel's prayers (compare the fact that this verse says Daniel has set his heart on understanding, with 9:2, and the prayers following afterwards), so the purpose of his visit is implicit.

Interestingly enough, this angel continues by saying that the prince of the kingdom of Persia has withstood him for twenty-one days, and so Michael came to help him:

Daniel 10:13 "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.
Then the angel adds:

Daniel 10:14 "Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future."
And later angel (possibly a different one, see v. 16) asks:

Daniel 10:20 Then he said, "Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come.
Obviously, this angel does not reveal the purpose of his coming because he asks Daniel if he knows it; nevertheless, he provides the answer to this question:

Daniel 11:2 "And now I have come to tell you the truth. Behold, three kings ..."
Note that the expression "I have come to tell you" (kai nun elthon ten aletheian hupodeixai soi) is only present in the Old Greek.

So here again in these instances, the angel is summarizing the purpose of the mission he has to accomplish in the human realm.

7. Tobit 5:5

Tobit tells his son, Tobias, that despite the fact that they have become poor, they still have ten talents of silver which he left in trust with Gabael the son of Gabrias at Rages in Media (Tobit 4:20). He is sending Tobias to get them, and tells him:

Tobit 5:3 "Find a man to go with you and I will pay him wages as long as I live; and go and get the money."
So Tobias went to look for someone acquainted with the roads who would travel with him to Media. He finds Raphael, who is in fact an angel, one who hides his identity from Tobias. The Old Greek text says:

Tobit 5:4-5 And he went out and found Raphael the angel, standing before him, and he didn't know that he was an angel of God; and he said to him [to Raphael]: "Where are you from young man?" And he [Raphael] said to him: "From the sons of Israel, from your brothers, and I have come here to work"
Although Tobias does not know this is the angel Raphael, the readers know this all along, and can readily associate this statement of "I have come" + purpose as an angelic one, of a kind used by other angels in other instances.

Later, Raphael discloses the fact that "God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah." (12:14), and adds:

Tobit 12:18 As for me, when I came to you it was not out of any favor on my part, but because it was God's will.
Now Tobias knows what the reader has known all along, that the "man" who said "I have come here to work" was an angel. Indeed, Raphael came to "work": his is arranging the marriage between Tobias and Sarah, heals Tobit of his blindness and serves a guide to Tobias in order to guarantee the success of his mission, of finding the man with the ten talants.

We then have a case here where the mission of the angel is not merely to deliver a message or to give understanding to somebody. Raphael's mission spans over a considerable amount of time, which he sums up in 5:5 and 12:14.

8. The Sode Raza

Another example comes in the words of the angel named Raziel. This Hebrew text was published by A. Jellinek among others (Das Noah-Buch), who disproves Zunz's theory that the text was composed, not copied, by Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (ca. 1176-1238). Jellinek says the text is closely associated with the Book of Noah, which was written as a sequel to 1 Enoch. He therefore seems to imply that the text has its origins in the Esenne community.

After a prayer of Adam, the angel Raziel appears to him and reveals that his coming serves two purposes:

"I have come to make known to you pure words and great wisdom, and in order to make you wise by the words of this holy book"4

9. Apocalypse of Moses

This text is usually thought to have been composed around the 1st century A.D. Eve recounts for her children what has happened in paradise, how she came to sin. In XVI:3 she says that the devil came to the serpent and said:

"I hear that thou art wiser than all the beasts, and I have come to counsel thee"5
Again we have an angel coming to earth, using the formula we are examining.

10-11. 4 Ezra 6:30; 7:2

This text is usually dated to the end of the 1st century A.D. The angel Uriel says6:

I have come to show you these things tonight. If therefore you will pray again and fast again for seven days, I will again declare to you greater things than these, for your voice has surely been heard before the Most High; for the Mighty One has seen your uprightness and has also observed the purity which you have maintained from your youth. Therefore He sent me to show you all these things.
Later Uriel says:

"Rise Ezra, and listen the words which I have come to speak to you"
An angel uses again this formula which Jesus uses in the Synoptic Gospels.

12. 2 Baruch 71:3

The text is usually dated as 4 Ezra above. The angel Ramael tells Baruch:

This is the vision which you have seen, and this is its explanation. For I have come to tell you these things since you prayer has been heard by the Most High.

13. Testament of Isaac

This text's date of composition is uncertain. According to some, this text represents a Christianization of a Jewish text, though not a thoroughgoing one7. Gathercole says that "the "coming" saying ... is clearly dependent on the Jewish angel-tradition, whether this particular statement was written by a Jew or a Christian"8. The version preserved in the Ethiopic tradition says that Michael tells Isaac:

Be curageous in your spirit, for I come to you from the presence of God in order to bring you up into heaven, into the presence of your father Abraham and all the holy ones9.
So again, an angel saying he has come with a purpose.

14. The Jeremiah Apocryphon

This is a text10 that survives only in Coptic and Arabic versions. Harris argues in a 1927 book11 that this is a Christian text; later, Marmostein disagrees with him and argues for a Jewish origin, saying that the work could be explained only with reference to the Talmud and Midrash12. In a more recent work, Kuhn agrees with Marmorstein, saying that apparently, the Christian elements can easily be detached, and that the work is basically Jewish13.

Either way, this angelic tradition of using the formula we examine, is part of this text. In it, Michael speaks to Jeremiah saying in the Coptic version translated by Kuhn14:

"Jeremiah, chosen one of God, behold I tell thee: I have come to redeem this people and to take them to the land of their fathers"
The Arabic version15 says:

"I have come to you today to save your people, because for this God sent me. Here is what the Lord whom you serve says: 'I have taken pity on this people and I have decided to make it return in its country so that it might glorify me'"
Again, as in the case of Tobit, the mission of the angel is not only to deliver God's message; it is a mission spanning over quite a considerable amount of time, which the heavenly messenger introduces with the known formula, "I have come" + purpose.

15. Numbers 22:32

In Numbers 22:32, an angel stands in the way of Balaam and tells him:

"Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me"
As Gathercole notes, it is not absolutely clear if the text has a noun or a verb here, it could be both:

I have come here as an opponent
I have come here to oppose
Either way, a purpose is clearly stated, therefore we have another instance of this formula being used by a heavenly messenger.

16. Targum of Joshua 5:14

Another example Gathercole examines is the Jewish interpretation of Joshua 5:14. An angel appears here to Joshua, and Joshua asks him:

Joshua 5:13-14 "Are you one of us or of our enemies?" He replied, "Neither. I am the captain of the host of the LORD and I have just arrived."
Gathercole notes that the Talmud supplies a reason for this angel's mysterious coming, saying that this being admonishes Joshua:

"this evening you have neglected the regular afternoon sacrifice and now you have neglected the study of Torah" (b. Megillah 3a)
So Joshua asks him "In regard to which you have come?" "I have come now" the angel replies, that is, referring to the study of Torah which Joshua has now neglected. A purpose is therefore attached to this coming.

There is a fragmentary Targum discovered in the Cairo Genizah, written in Palestinian Aramaic, containing another commentary on this episode. The authors of an edition treating this manuscript note that is has some very interesting theological leanings, and so they date it somewhere in the intertestamental period16. Here's what this Targum says, in Gathercole's translation:

Joshua fell before him on the ground, and asked him and said to him, "Is it to support us that you have come? Or do you belong to our enemies and seek to kill?" And he said to him: "I have not come to support, and I am not an enemy. But as the angel who is sent from Yahweh I have come to complain because of the evening in which you have neglected the sacrifice, and today you have neglected Torah-study". And he [Joshua] said "For which of these two reasons have you come?" And he said to him, "I have not come to support". And Joshua fell on his face...
Again an example of this formula being used by a heavenly figure.

Midrash Tanhuma to Exodus 23:20 and Joshua 5

This text is dated around the 4th century A.D. When discussing Exodus 23:20, where God tells Moses "I send you an angel", the angel that appeared to Joshua in chapter 5 reappears here:

The Holy One said to Moses: "I am sending an angel before you but not before them". He (Moses) said: "If you send him out before me, I do not want him." But Joshua saw the angel and fell down before him. What did he say to him (in Joshua 5:13)? "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" When he (Joshua) said to him (the angel), "Are you for us?", he (the angel) began to cry in a great anguish: "No, but I am the Captain of the Lord's host. Now I have come to give Israel an inheritance. I am the one who came in the days of your master Moses, but he rejected me"17.

Again, the angel's mission is not simply to convey God's words, but to help Israel get into the promised land.

20. Testament of Abraham (A)

In the 16th chapter of this text18, Michael attempts to take Abraham's soul but fails. The Angel of Death is then sent to try:

Abraham said to him: "Why have you come here?" And Death said: "I have come for your righteous soul". [Abraham answered:] "I know what you are saying, but I will not follow you"; and Death was silent and answered him not a word.
Although the Angel of death does not use the infinitive, "to bring your soul to God", his purpose is implicit in the text; he came to do what God has told him to: "take him and bring him to me".

21. Midrash Rabbah to Deuteronomy 11.10

In this text, God asks Michael to take the Moses' life, but he refuses saying he cannot do that since he was Moses' teacher. Then God asks Sammael, the Angel of Death to do it. He goes to Moses, who asks him why he has come. The angel replies:

"I have come to bear away your breath"19
Moses' question is reminiscent to Abraham's here. Gathercole mentions that Buhner cites more examples of the Angel of Death using this formula of "I have come" + purpose, among them a story included in Gaster compilation Exempla, where the angel of death is saying to a man called ben Sabar: "I am the angel of death, who has come to take your soul"20. In another compilation, that of Bin Gorion, the angel of death similarly says "My son, I am the angel of death and behold, I have come to take your soul"21. Of course, these examples coming from a much later date than the Deuteronomy Rabbah, are of less value.

22. Acts of Thomas

Although this text is Christian, it shows familiarity with the Jewish angelic formula we are examining. A demon tells Thomas "I have come to destroy".

23. Proclus, Discourse 6

Another Christian writing showing familiarity with the Jewish angelology is Proclus' Laudatio sanctae Dei genitricis Mariae, Praise for Holy Mary, Mother of God. A dialog is presented here between the angel Gabriel and Mary. At one point, he tells Mary:

"I have come to report to you the things which have been decreed by the creator of all, and - surely - to interpret to you what has been hidden from all"22

24. The Hebrew Apocalypse of Daniel

Gathercole indicates that the text is preserved in a late Hebrew manuscript dating from the 10th century23. Here's the relevant part:

I, Daniel, stood by the river Hebar, and the dread vision was heavy upon me, and I was amazed. And there came to me Gabriel, captain of the heavenly host, and said to me: "I have come to tell you that the Mighty Holy One commanded me, 'Go, Gabriel, and reveal to Daniel what is to be at the end of days'"
Another example of angels using this formula to show the purpose of their visit.

The Elijah traditions

The expectation that Elijah will return from the heavenly realm was widespread in the Jewish community. As Gathercole notes24, his coming from heaven was already brought into association with the angels by the rabbis, a fact evident from the discussion they were having about their air speeds:

R. Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the achievement] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: "Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim", whereas of Gabriel it is written: "The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight etc." How do you know that this [word] "one" means Michael? - R. Johanan says: by an analogy from [the words] "one", "one". Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me". A. Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. In the time of the plague however, [the Angel of Death, too, reaches his goal] in one. (n. Berakhot 4b)
There is an abundance of references to the coming of Elijah and its purpose. For example:

Rabbi Joshua said ... Elijah will not come to declare unclean or clean, to remove afar or bring nigh, but to remove afar those [families] that were brough nigh by violence ... The likes of these [families] Elijah will come to declare unclean or clean, to remove afar and bring nigh". Rabbi Judah says "To bring nigh but not to remove afar". Rabbi Simeon says "To bring agreement where there is matter for dispute". And the sages say "Neither to remove afar nor to bring nigh, but to make peace in the world, as it is written: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet ... and he shal turn the heart of the fathers to their children and the heart of the children to their fathers (Mal 4:5-6)" (m. Eduyoth 8:7) 25

Interestingly, Jesus states he has come for the opposite, not to bring families together and peace on earth, but bring the sword, and division among the families (Luke 12:51-53).

But the "coming" of Elijah with a purpose is not restricted to a cosmical, eschatological event. As indicated by Gathercole, Strack and Billerbeck provide examples where Elijah comes to help those in distress 26. The earliest reference available is from the New Testament, where the Jews misunderstood Jesus' cry of dereliction, thinking he was calling for Elijah to provide relief:

Mark 15:36 "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down."
One example Gathercole presents further is that of the exegesis of Proverbs 9:2 in the Midrash to Proverbs. Here Elijah comes to Joshua of Gerasa, who was taking care of the imprisoned R. Aqiba; Joshua asks him who he is, and he replies:

"I am Elijah the priest, who has come to tell you that your master, R. Aqiba, has died in prison" (Midrash Mishle 9).
The dating of this tradition is difficult - although we know R. Aqiba died around 135 A.D. As Gathercole says, one can notice the rabbinic tradition of Elijah having descended from Levi and so being a priest, an idea much disputed in rabinnic circles.

But what is relevant here is that Elijah is presented as intervening into the human affairs even after his ascension to heaven, and use of the formula we focus on is made to present this.

Buhner27 also indicates an instance where Elijah comes to warn a bridegroom that he will be approached by the angel of death, saying:

"My Son, I am Elijah, and I have come to bring you good news"
In another instance, Elijah tells three men, each of them in a different type of discomfort:

"Listen to me my masters, and do not be anxious. Behold, I have come to rescue you from your toil and your groaning, and you will return to your houses in great glory28.
To the third man he gives a magic coin which multiplies, but with a condition: he must build a bet midrash, a Torah school. When the man fails to do that, Elijah comes back and tells him:

And moreover, I said to you, "Found a bet midrash" ... But you have rejected ny words... Therefore I have come to you now so that you might return the coin to me.


In conclusion, we have seen that this formula, "I have come " + purpose, is not used by humans in ancient Judaism to sum up the ministry/work of their entire life. It is used nevertheless by heavenly, preexisting beings who enter the human realm with a prior intent, to accomplish something. They do sum up their earthly activity using this formula.

This is the background the Jews had for the use of this formula; they were acquainted with it coming from heavenly beings, who crossed into the human realm with a mission from God; the idea that the one speaking in this way was a pre-existing being, was a natural one. We can see then the writers of the Synoptic Gospels in a different light, against this background. We can perceive what they would have thought about Jesus when he said,

"I have come to preach",
"I have come to fulfill",
"I have come to cast fire on earth",
"I have come to call the sinners",
"I have come to bring the sword",
"I have come to set father against son"
"I have come to serve"
"I have come to seek and save the lost"

1 The Preexistent Son, p. 113 (back)
2 See Freedman and Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Numbers (London: Soncino, 1977) p. 17-18 (back)
3 See Freedman and Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Exodus (London: Soncino, 1977) p. 220 (back)
4 Jellinek, Das Noah-Buch, 157 (back)
5 See the text here (back)
6 Gathercole's translation (back)
7 Kuhn, The Testament of Isaac, 425; Stinespring, Testament of Isaac, 904 (back)
8 p. 125 (back)
9 Gathercole's translation (back)
10 Not to be mistaken with a text found at Qumram, see here (back)
11 A Jeremiah Apocryphon, 137-8 (back)
12 Die Quellen des neuen Jeremia-Apocryphons, 328 (back)
13 A Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon, 103 (back)
14 p. 316-7 (back)
15 Translated by Amelineau in French, Contes et Romans, 2:144 (back)
16 Fahr and Glesmer, Jordandurchzug und Beschneidung als Zurechtweisung, 109-10, 133 (back)
17 Townsend's translation, from Midrash Tanhuma, Volume 2, Exodus and Leviticus, 123-4 (back)
18 For a translation see newadvent.org; see also The Jewish Encyclopedia and Early Jewish Writings (back)
19 For translation see Freedman and Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Deuteronomy, (London: Soncino 1977), 185. (back)
20 page 95 (back)
21 Mimeqor Yisrael, 354 (back)
22 Gathercole's translation (back)
23 Published and translated by Sharf in "Byzantine Jewry", 201-204 (back)
24 Page 138 (back)
25 Translation of H. Danby, The Mishna, 436-7. (back)
26Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash, 4/2:769-98. (back)
27 Der Gesandte und sein Weg, 142 (back)
28 Gathercole's translation, from Bin Gorion, Mimeqor Yisrael, 411 (back)

Jan 22, 2009

Excursus: The Divine Messiah and Ancient Jewish Monotheism

A previous article was discussing what Paul might have meant when he said Christ was in the form of a god before becoming human (Philippians 2:5-8). It was mentioned that the ancient Jews viewed supernatural beings as being "gods". This article will provide a wider image of this belief, as reflected by the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.

Strict Monotheism or Jewish Monoteism?

Most of today's religions that promote some kind of monotheism, hold to the idea that there is only one God. All other beings that would be called gods are necessarily false gods. This can certainly be labeled as strict monotheism. But is this only a modern version of monotheism?

As this article will show, the ancient Hebrews had a broader definition. Not only was there one God who created everything, and a lot of other false gods which the nations were worshiping. There was also a third category of gods: the supernatural beings populating the spiritual realm. These gods were not false gods because they were not competing with the one true God for worship, and were not worshiped.

Supernatural Beings

A first example of beings from this category can be found in 1 Samuel. The medium of En-Dor tells Saul what she sees:

1 Samuel 28:13 "I see a divine being coming up out of the earth."

NASB translates divine being but the Hebrew word used by the medium is Elohim, which means god(s). She literally says she sees an elohim, in other words a god, a supernatural being. The medium certainly believed that what she saw was a supernatural being, so she called it a god.

Other people too have seen supernatural beings - for real this time - and called them gods. Here's what happens to Jacob:

Genesis 32:24-30 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."
Hosea 12:4 makes it clear that the "man" Jacob physically fought with that night, was an angel. He says he has seen "God" face to face. But does the Hebrew text have Jacob saying he saw Almighty God himself? This is a relevant question, since we know that God says:

Exodus 33:20 "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"

If we compare the Hebrew text for 1 Samuel 28:13 where the medium says she saw a god, with the text having Jacob saying he saw elohim, we notice they both use the same phrase.

When the Septuagint - a translation from Hebrew to Greek made by ancient Hebrews - translates this verse, it has no definite article before theos, god. The Septuagint therefore has Jacob saying he saw a god, not God Almighty himself, whom nobody can see and live. Similarly, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into English, made by Jews and published by The Jewish Publication Society, called

The TANAKH, a new translation (into contemporary English) of The Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text (Masoretic). The Jewish Bible: Torah, Nevi'im, Kethuvim.
translates Genesis 32:30 (31 in this version) this way:

Genesis 32:31 So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, "I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved."
This certainly explains why Jacob didn't die, and why the angel tells him "you have striven with elohim", that is, with "a god" (vs. 28). Again in this verse, the Septuagint translates "a god" and JPS' Tanakh reads "you have striven with beings divine and human".

Also, the text itself indicates that Jacob knew this was an angel and not God himself, since this "man" asks his permission to leave, Jacob wrestles him and asks for his name.

In conclusion, there are strong indications that Jacob said he has seen a god, a supernatural being. Another instance of somebody saying they've seen a god when they've seen a supernatural being, can be found in Judges 13:

Judges 13:20-22 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. So Manoah said to his wife, "We will surely die, for we have seen God."
At first, Manoah and his wife don't know this "man" was in fact an angel of God. But after he ascends in flames, they know it was in fact a supernatural being, an angel of Yahweh. But then they say "we have seen God"!

Is it possible that like in the case of Jacob, they are actually saying they saw a god? The Septuagint lacks again the definite article before theos, allowing this to be "a god", just as the same Septuagint again lacks the definite article before "angel" in the previous verse, where many English translations (like KJV) read:

Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD

Just as the Septuagint and JPS' Tanakh say:

Judges 13:22 And Manoah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen a divine being."

This particularity of Hebrew thought, designating supernatural beings as gods, can be also seen in other parts of the Septuagint, where there are several instances where the Hebrew translators thought that a certain verse referring to elohim was referring to angels - who of course are supernatural beings. The most well-known instance is Psalm 8:4-5 where NASB says:

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God [elohim], And You crown him with glory and majesty!
The "English Bible in Basic English" translation says a little lower than the gods, while others like NIV say a little lower than the heavenly beings. Indeed, elohim can be translated as god or gods. The Hebrew translators of the Hebrew Scriptures used the plural, and not only the plural, but translated angels:

"Thou madest him a little less than angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour" - Brenton's translation of the Septuagint.
They clearly thought that when the psalmist wrote elohim, gods, he referred to angels, therefore viewing angels as gods, because they are supernatural beings, reflecting the power and glory of the Almighty God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews agrees, quoting the Septuagint:

Hebrews 2:6-7 But one has testified somewhere, saying, "What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him? You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
Other instances where the Hebrew idea that angels are gods is reflected:

Psalm 97:7 Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods [elohim in Hebrew, angels here in the Septuagint].

Psalm 138:1 A Psalm of David. I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods [elohim in Hebrew, angels here in the Septuagint].

Daniel 2:11 "Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods [elohim in Hebrew, angels here in the Septuagint], whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh."
Interestingly enough in the case of Daniel 2:11, it is indeed the angels who explain the meaning of Daniel's visions - see 7:16, 23; 8:16; 9:23; 10:12, 14, 21.

It is therefore to be noted that ancient Jewish monotheism cannot be identified with today's strict version of it. The ancient Hebrews could designate certain beings as "gods" without being polytheistic. These angelic beings were gods in contrast with fragile and mortal humans, they belonged to the spiritual realm to which the Almighty God also belonged. They were not gods in a religious sense - nobody was trying to worship them - but rather in a sense where their nature was contrasted with the weak material human nature.

But this godly status was not restricted to supernatural beings in ancient Jewish monotheism. Although not as often as in the case of supernatural beings, humans were called gods as well. Psalm 82's Hebrew text says:

1 god stands in the congregation of god, among gods he is judging [...]
6 [god says] "you are gods, sons of the supreme all of you"

This is a psalm where God is admonishing these gods for not judging justly (vs. 2-4). They are humans, because they "will die like men and fall like any one of the princes" (vs. 7), despite being gods. Jesus certifies as well that these gods are humans by quoting this verse in John 10:34, and then adding that these were the ones to whom the word of God came, that is, humans.

Why were the unjust judges of Israel called "gods"? Judging is certainly a prerogative and a privilege of God, one He delegated to the human judges of Israel. They were called gods because they were performing a divine activity.

Supernatural Messengers, Divine Representatives of God

An additional reason for designating angelic supernatural beings as "gods" could be the fact that often, the angels of God are messengers sent to humans, representing Yahweh himself. We will inspect some of the instances where this is the case.

Abraham and the Visiting Angels

Yahweh visits Abraham:

Genesis 18:1-2 Now the LORD [Yahweh] appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,
Although it is said that Yahweh visits him, he sees three "men" visiting him. These are certainly angels, as the writer of Hebrews acknowledges:

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

The text of Genesis itself indicated this. Genesis 18:22 says "the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom"; later, 19:1 says

"Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening".

They were only two now, because after the writer says that "the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom", he adds that Abraham was still standing in front of the LORD:

Genesis 18:22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD.
Not all three angels proceeded to Sodom, one remained in the company of Abraham. The three angels were representatives of Yahweh, were not Yahweh himself. Nevertheless, they speak as if they are God, saying "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son" - 18:10. Verse 13 says that the LORD, Yahweh, asks Abraham something, and then verse 17 reads "The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" (also vs. 19-20, etc).

This angel speaks like he is God himself, in the first person. This is possible because it is God himself who speaks through him, just as he told Moses about Aaron:

Exodus 4:15 You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.

It was God's words that were coming out of the angel's mouth. Another instance where an angel stands for God himself:

Genesis 22:11-12 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
The angel once again speaks as if God himself speaks. The same thing happens with Hagar, Abraham's servant:

Genesis 16:9-10 9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count."

Moses and the Angels of God

The same thing happens with Moses in Exodus 3. The angel of the LORD appeared to him (vs. 2). But it is said that "when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him" (vs. 4). It is God who speaks, although we know it is an angel of God. Then the angel says:

Exodus 3:6 "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Not only does the angel say "I am the God of you father", but the writer himself notes that Moses was afraid of God. The angel is just a mere stand-in for God. It is God who speaks and who is there present - through his angel of course. Moses speaks to God (vs. 13), and God sends him to the elders of Israel to tell them:

Exodus 3:16 The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me
Christians in the first century knew very well also, as verse 2 says in fact, that this was an angel of God:

Acts 7:30-32 After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.
While it is said that God gives the Law - including the 10 commandments - to the people of Israel gathered at mount Sinai, the first century Christians knew God did that through angels:

Exodus 19:11, 17-19 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. [...] And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.

Exodus 20:1-4 Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. [...]

Nehemiah 9:13 "Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments.

Galatians 3:19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.

Hebrews 2:2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty

Acts 7:53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.

Again, angelic supernatural beings are acting in behalf of God. Also, when Moses climbs the Sinai mountain, where he spends 40 days in the company of God, it is known by these Christians that God was there with him through an angel:

Exodus 34:2 So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain.

Acts 7:38 [Moses] is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai

Liberation from Egypt

God saves Israel from the Egyptian slavery. "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt" He says (Exodus 20:1). It is said that God was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night:

Exodus 13:21-22 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Numbers 14:14 [...] They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.

Nehemiah 9:12 "And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go.

But a bit later, just before crossing the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their tail, we are told that in fact it was an angel of God who was going before them in the pillar of cloud:

Exodus 14:19 The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.

Numbers 20:16 'But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt
Again, a supernatural being acts as a stand-in for God, as God's representative. In the same vein, God tells Moses after they escaped from the Egyptians:

Exodus 33:14 And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."

But just before that, God says how He will do that:

Exodus 33:2 "I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.

Exodus 23:20-23 "Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.

So how did God's "presence" (Exodus 33:14) go with the Israelites? God was present on the road among them through his angelic supernatural being. Isaiah also writes:

Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
Other instances where angels stand in for God:

Judges 2:1 Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you

Judges 6:11-12, 14, 16, 20-23 Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah [...] The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him [...]

The LORD looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" [...] But the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you [...]

The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat" [...] Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand [...] When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face." The LORD said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die."

Zechariah 3:1-2 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!
Notice how the LORD says to Satan "The LORD rebuke you". Of course, God himself would not say "God rebuke you" since He is the God who would do the rebuking. The LORD that speaks these words is an angel of the LORD who represents the LORD himself.

The Divine Messiah

When the ancient Hebrew translators rendered elohim - "god(s)" - as angel(s) in Psalm 8:5, 97:7, 138:1 and Daniel 2:11, thus revealing their belief that these texts spoke of supernatural beings, they did not stop there, but did the same thing in a text speaking of the Messiah.

Isaiah 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God [Angel in the Septuagint], Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The phrase "Counselor, Mighty God" is translated by them in Greek as: "Angel of Great Counsel". So if they are consistent in their reason for translating "god(s)" as "angel(s)", they might view this Messiah - who is given to Israel by being born as a child - to be a supernatural being.

But this is not necessarily so. The noun "angel" means "messenger" in Greek and Hebrew. The same word is used for human messengers, and for the supernatural messengers of God. So one could argue that this messenger could be in fact simply a human messenger.

That is one possibility, but how probable would this possibility be? Let us not forget what is the starting point of all this: "a mighty god". Were any of the human messengers ever described to be gods? Not really. So the fact itself, that the translators of the Septuagint applied to same treatment to this "god" as to the other "god(s)", these other "god(s)" being viewed as supernatural beings, gives weight to the conclusion that they viewed the Messiah as a supernatural being.

This background then, of ancient Jewish Monotheism, where Hebrews call supernatural beings "gods" although they know there's only one Almighty God and that He is the Creator of these beings, sheds light on some of what is said in the New Testament.

The disciples of Christ Jesus were Hebrews, as was he himself one. They all had this background. Then Thomas' exclamation towards Jesus saying "my1 god" (John 20:28), does not step out of the frame of ancient Jewish Monotheism, just as patriarch Jacob and the parents of Samson never did when they called the supernatural messenger sent by God to them as "god". Especially since Thomas received the message Jesus sent through Mary that Jesus has his own God (John 20:17).

The same can be said about John 1:1 where the Word was a god2, and Philippians 2:6 where the preexistent Son was in the form of a god3.

Another aspect of this ancient Hebrew Monotheism, that these supernatural messengers stand in for God, acting in behalf of God and speaking God's words to the ones they are being sent to, is also significant in the case of Jesus. He says:

John 14:24 the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

John 12:49 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.

John 14:10 The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.

John 14:24 the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

John 17:8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them

John 17:14 I have given them Your word
Like the supernatural messengers sent in the past, Jesus speaks the words God told him to. In fact, more than a thousand years before his coming, God said that:

Deuteronomy 18:18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

Jesus also testifies that he came as a representative of God, just like those angels did:

John 5:43 I have come in My Father's name
In fact, he explicitly says he stands in for God:

John 12:45 45 "He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me.

John 14:8-9 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father '?

Matthew 10:40 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
But even when he stands in for God, he explains that "a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16).


In conclusion then, ancient Jewish Monotheism is not identical with today's strict monotheism. No strict monotheist today would call other supernatural beings "gods".

The difference between Ancient Jewish Monotheism and the strict version is defined by two aspects:
  • Supernatural beings are called "gods". This is probably done to contrast their nature with the weak, physical human nature.
  • Angelic supernatural beings are often presented as a stand-in for God. They act in behalf of God and their action is ascribed to God (liberation from Egypt for example), and they speak often as if God himself speaks, even speaking in the first person. God puts his words in their mouth.
What is said about Christ Jesus comes in agreement with the above points. His divine status is defined by the context of his time, the ancient Jewish Monotheism.

1Thomas not only says that Jesus is a god but that he is his god; Jesus was already his master, and Thomas his disciple, therefore Jesus is his god.(go back)

2See Jason Beduhn, Truth in Translation, p. 113 for a discussion on the translation "a god" in John 1:1.(go back)

3See the discussion on Philippians 2:6 here. Paul knows as well that Jesus has his own God (Ephesians 1:3,17 etc) (go back)

Jan 21, 2009

The Pre-Human Existence of Christ Outside the Gospels - Conclusion

In part I, II and III we have examined some of the books in the New Testament that contain the idea of a personal pre-human existence of the son of God. A common characteristic of all these books is that the writer's topic is not the personal pre-human existence of the son of God. They do not argue for it, they always assume it and employ it in their exhortations.

This means the recipients of these letters shared with the authors this belief, otherwise the writers would not have based their arguments on the pre-human existence of Christ.

Paul's influence on early Christianity cannot be understated. The churches he visited and founded must have been familiar with this preexistence. Those who were associated with him in his missionary work would have been acquainted with his understanding of Christ's preexistence - among them Luke, the writer of the synoptic gospel that bears his name.

In the next articles, we will examine how the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke - point to the personal pre-human existence of the son of God.

Jan 17, 2009

The Pre-Human Existence of Christ Outside the Gospels - Part III

It is often said that John's is the only gospel in which the idea of a personal pre-human existence of Christ could somehow find support. It is claimed that in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this idea is absent.

In order to appraise the validity of this claim, we will explore what other books of the New Testament have to say on Christ's pre-human preexistence; by doing so, we will determine if it would be likely or not to find any references in the synoptic gospels to Christ's pre-human existence.

The argument is that if we can find the idea of Christ's pre-human existence present before 70 AD, it would be more plausible to find this idea in the synoptic gospels - and one would even expect then to find it there. It would be helpful to see how other Christians viewed this issue, because that would help us put the synoptic gospels into the 1st century context of Christian thought.

The first part of this article reviewed the writings of Paul. In the second part, the epistle to the Hebrews was reviewed. This third part will examine the epistle of Jude and the Revelation of John.

In the Epistle of Jude

Jude 5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.

The question is, which Lord does Jude mean here, to have saved Israel out of Egypt: the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Lord Yahweh, Christ Jesus' Father? The question is relevant because there are many versions of this verse in the Greek manuscripts. Some say Jesus, some Lord, others God.

UBS' 4th edition of the Greek New Testament, on which the majority of the modern translations are based on, chose from all these possibilities the second one, Lord. But the decision was a difficult one. Here's how the committee explains its decision:

Despite the weighty attestation supporting Iesous (A B 33 81 322 323 424c 665 1241 1739 1881 2298 2344 vg copsa, bo eth Origen Cyril Jerome Bede; o Iesous 88 915), a majority of the Committee was of the opinion that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility, and explained its origin in terms of transcriptional oversight (KC1 being taken for IC2). It was also observed that nowhere else does the author employ Jesus alone, but always Jesus Christ. The unique collocation theos christos (God Christ) read by P72 (did the scribe intend to write theou christos, "God's anointed one"?) is probably a scribal blunder; otherwise one would expect that Christos would be represented also in other witnesses. (Metzger, Textual Commentary 2nd ed, p. 657)


[Critical principles seem to require the adoption of Jesus, which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses (see above). Struck by the strange and unparalleled mention of Jesus in a statement about the redemption out of Egypt, (yet compare Paul's reference to Christ in 1 Co 10,4), copyists would have substituted (o) kurios - Lord or o theos - God. It is possible, however, that (as Hort conjectured) "the original text had only o3, and that OTIO4 was read as OTIIC5 and perhaps OTIKC6" ("Notes on Select Readings," ad loc.).

It was indeed a difficult decision, as the D rating was assigned by the committee to this rendering of Lord. They explain what the the D rating means:

The letter A indicates that the text is certain.
The letter B indicates that the text is almost certain.
The letter C, however, indicates that the Committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.
The letter D, which occurs only rarely, indicates that the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision.7
What is striking about this decision is that it is a purely theological one, based on internal grounds, one that willingly disregards the weighty attestation of the Jesus reading. Three out of five, the majority of this committee, decided that it was impossible for Christ to have been the one who liberated the Jews from Egypt. Despite the fact that "critical principles seem to require the adoption of Jesus, which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses". Osborn, the author of the most extensive treatment of Jude 5, also writes:

the former reading has the best attestation among Greek and versional witnesses and ... critical principles require its adoption.8

So let's see the supporting manuscripts for each version 9. God and Christ God are poorly attested.

This is the attestation of the Lord reading:

  • Codex Sinaiticus (IV A.D.)
  • Codex Ephraemi C (V)
  • Codex Athous Lavrensis (IX/X)
  • Codex Mosquensis K (IX)
  • Manuscript number 1175 (X), 2138 (1072 A.D.), 1243, 1846, 945 (XI), 436 (XI/XII), 1241, 1505 (XII), 1611 (XII), 630 (XII/XIII), 1292 (XIII), 1067, 1409 (XIV)
  • Some individual manuscripts of the Vulgate against the majority of the Vulgate
  • Syriac Harklensis (616 A.D.)
  • Coptic versions (transl. began III A.D.)
  • The M group 10
This is the attestation of the Jesus reading:
  • Codex Vaticanus B (IV A.D.)
  • Codex Alexandrinus A (V)
  • Jerome (420 A.D.)
  • Cyril (444 A.D.)
  • Bede (735 A.D.)
  • Manuscript number 33 (IX), 1739 (X), 1735 (X, has Lord Jesus), 81 (1044 A.D.), 2344 (XI), 424 (XI, later correcting hand), 323, 1241, 2298 (XII), 1881 (XIV), 322 (XV)
  • The Vulgate (transl. began IV/V A.D.)
  • Coptic Sahidic and Bohairic versions (transl. began III A.D.)
  • In the margins, manuscript 1739 (X) attributes this comment to Origen (d. 254): "Jude says in his epistle, 'For Jesus once saved...'"
  • Ethiopic version (transl. began 500 A.D.)
  • Old Latin (ar manuscript, XI)
The weight of the external witnesses in favor of the Jesus reading is undisputed by the Committee, but they find it impossible to be the original reading based on internal grounds. The committee has also another argument in favor of Lord: nowhere else does the author employ Jesus alone, but always Jesus Christ.

But this is a rather unconvincing argument, taking into account the shortness of Jude's epistle. In response to this one might answer that almost every time Lord is mentioned, it is in reference to Jesus.

The committee explained the origin of the Jesus reading in terms of transcriptional oversight (KC being taken as IC, see above). In instances where a reading does not make too much sense this could be true. The only problem is, as Gathercole says 11, "a brief examination of the apparatus to NA27 does not seem to give any indication of this"change from KC to IC ever happening. Here's what Bauckham has to say (though he favors Lord):

It should be noted initially that to some extent this textual situation is not unusual, since there are many places, especially in the Pauline corpus, where the text varies between two of the three words kurios, theos and Christos, and in some cases between all three ... What is exceptional in Jude 5 is the reading Iesous which there seems to be no evidence of scribes deliberately substituting for kurios [Lord] or theos [God] elsewhere. - Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives, 308
Gathercole comments on Bauckham's observation saying:

What this means is that "Jesus" is more likely to be original, since kurios is more likely to be replaced by Christos or theos. It is difficult to imagine why a scribe would change KC (kurios) to IC (Iesous).
Gathercole then goes on to say that the change from Jesus to Lord would be understandable since to a scribe it would have appeared odd to use Jesus with reference to an action that occurred prior to Christ's incarnation. So he would have wanted to clarify that not the fleshly Jesus saved Israel from Egypt, but rather maybe a preexistent Lord.

So it is no wonder that 2 (against 3) of the committee thought there are good reasons to adopt the Jesus reading. Gathercole also points out that out of the 3 members of the majority, one was "operating with a very limited range of options, either Lord or Joshua", not Jesus - but Joshua was clearly not the one who got the Jews out of Egypt.

But the internal grounds are not too much against the reading Jesus. One important aspect is what the previous verse says:

Jude 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So even if Jude initially wrote Lord, he still could be referring to Lord Jesus Christ, whom he just mentioned. But why would Jude think Jesus in a pre-human state has saved Israel from Egypt? Did not God himself do that? He surely did, but Exodus mentions an angel - literally a messenger in Hebrew - just before crossing the Red Sea:

Exodus 14:19-21 The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
Could it be that Jude thinks God saved Israel from their Egyptian oppressors through his Son? If yes, this puts the Son as existing before the Flood, for Jude continues:

Jude 1:6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day

For more information on why Christ would be the messenger who liberated Israel from Egypt, see the discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:4 in the first part of these series, and the section "Liberation from Egypt" in the The Divine Messiah and Ancient Jewish Monotheism article.


The evidence for Christ's pre-human existence is not clear-cut in Jude 5, since we do not know with absolute certainty if Jude wrote Jesus or Lord. But there seem to be good reasons to believe he wrote Jesus.

Date of the Jude's Epistle

Jude 1:17-18 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts."

Jude reminds the recipients of his epistle of what the apostles told them. As Gathercole concludes12, perhaps this church received at one time a delegation consisting of some of the apostles. Taking into account that 1 Corinthians 9:5 says that "the brothers of the Lord" were involved then in missionary work, this could be placed in the mid-50s. This would allow for the missionary work of Jude - who was brother of James, and hence of Jesus - to be placed around the fifties.

In the Revelation of John

Revelation 3:14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

The Greek word translated by NASB as "beginning" is arche, and it has basically two meanings: "beginning" and "ruler". BDAG says about this word:

1. the commencement of someth. as an action, process, or state of being, beginning, i.e. a point of time at the beginning of a duration.
2. one with whom a process begins, beginning fig., of persons: (Ge 49:3; Dt. 21:17, ...)
3. the first cause, the beginning
6. an authority figure who initiates activity or process, ruler, authority
So different translations have different renderings of this word. Some say "beginning", some say "source/origin", some say "ruler". These are among the ones saying "beginning":

  1. The New American Standard Bible
  2. Geneva Bible 1599
  3. King James Version
  4. Revised Standard Version
  5. American Standard Version 1901
  6. The English Darby Bible 1884/1890
  7. The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition
  8. English Revised Version (1885)
  9. English Standard Version
  10. New Living Translation
  11. The Bishops' New Testament (1595)
  12. The English Revised 1833 Webster Update 1995
  13. The Tyndale New Testament (1534)
  14. The English Noah Webster Bible 1833
Did John want to say Jesus was the beginning of the creation or the ruler of the creation? It is interesting that, as BDAG points out at number 2, in Ge 49:3; Dt. 21:17, the Septuagint uses arche to say that the first born ofthe family was somebody's arche teknon, that is literally the beginning of [their] children:

Genesis 49:3 Ruben, thou art my first-born, thou my strength, and the first [arche] of my children, hard to be endured, hard and self-willed.

Deuteronomy 21:17 But he shall acknowledge the first-born of the hated one to give to him double of all things which shall be found by him, because he is the first [arche] of his children, and to him belongs the birthright.13
BDAG says about the occurance of arche in Revelation 3:14 that "the meaning beginning=‘first created’ is linguistically probable". If John understood it this way, he certainly believes Christ has a pre-human existence, as the first creature of God.

1 "IC" is an abbreviation for Ἰησοῦς, Jesus in Greek. See Nomina Sacra (back)

2 "KC" is an abbreviation for κύριος, Lord in Greek. See Nomina Sacra (back)

3 o would mean "he" in English in this context. (back)

4 In the manuscripts there were no spaces; OTIO would be OTI and O, which would mean "that he" in English in this context. (back)

5 In the manuscripts there were no spaces; OTIIC would be OTI and IC, which would mean "that Jesus" in English. See the previous notes on why IC means Jesus.(back)

6 In the manuscripts there were no spaces; OTIKC would be OTI and KC, which would mean "that the Lord" in English. See the previous notes on why KC means Lord.(back)

7 The Greek New Testament, UBS, 4th ed.(back)

8 "The Text of Jude 5", C.D. Osburn, Biblica 1981, 107-115. (back)

9 See NA27, UBS 4th ed and Metzger Textual Commentary.(back)

10 Manuscripts of the Byzantine Imperial text, plus Codex Monsquensis K (IX A.D.), Codex Angelicus L (IX A.D.) and others - see The Text of the NT by Kurt and Barbara Aland p. 249 for what M comprises.(back)

11 The Preexistent Son, 38.(back)

12 The Preexistent Son, p. 36. He quotes others who estimate as possible a date between 40 and 70 A.D. (back)

13 Both verses as they appear in Brent's translation of the Septuagint.(back)

Jan 13, 2009

The Pre-Human Existence of Christ Outside the Gospels - Part II

It is often said that John's is the only gospel in which the idea of a personal pre-human existence of Christ could somehow find support. It is claimed that in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this idea is absent.

In order to appraise the validity of this claim, we will explore what other books of the New Testament have to say on Christ's pre-human preexistence; by doing so, we will determine if it would be likely or not to find any references in the synoptic gospels to Christ's pre-human existence.

The argument is that if we can find the idea of Christ's pre-human existence present before 70 AD, it would be more plausible to find this idea in the synoptic gospels - and one would even expect then to find it there. It would be helpful to see how other Christians viewed this issue, because that would help us put the synoptic gospels into the 1st century context of Christian thought.

The first part of this article reviewed the writings of Paul. This second part will examine the letter to the Hebrews, whose author does not identify himself. As it could be seen in the first part, the pre-human existence of Christ is always assumed, not argued for.

In the Letter to the Hebrews

Just like Paul, the writer believes that God created everything through his Son.

Creation of the World through the Son

Hebrews 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world1.

Adopters of the no preexistence theory are arguing about John 1:10 that the Word - through whom the world was made - was merely the word of God, the word saying "Let there be light", and that this impersonal word became later the person of Jesus. But Hebrews 1:2 states clearly that this Word of whom John speaks was not an impersonal utterance of God: this Word is the Son himself. It is through his Son that God made the world. The writer of Hebrews repeats this:

Hebrews 2:9-10 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, [...] For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.

All things are through Jesus, just as John says, that "all things came into being through Him" (John 1:3). The writer of Hebrews clearly states that this Son was the agent God used to create everything:

Hebrews 1:10 And, "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands"
The writer quotes here Psalm 102:25 and applies it to Christ, despite it being addressed by the psalmist to Yahweh, the Father of Christ:

Psalm 102:25 Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
Putting this statement together with the previous ones, that the world was made through the Son, by God, we can easily understand what the author of Hebrews does when he attributes the creation work to Jesus: he states that the one executing the order "Let there be light" was Jesus Christ himself. He is the agent through whom God made the light and the world, the one who carried out the creation act. God ordered, and his Son executed.

Therefore, to the author of Hebrews, Christ clearly preexisted, and not only before becoming a man, but before everything else was created!

Partaker of Flesh and Blood

The idea of pre-human existence appears to be the substrate of the following statements:

Hebrews 2:14,17 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, [...] Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Notice how these two statements are necessary and relevant if the author thinks the Son existed in a non-human personal form before coming to earth, and how redundant they are if in the author's mind, the Son could never be anything else but flesh and blood! In his mind, the Son who created the world was in a no-flesh-and-blood state before coming to earth, but it was necessary for him to become flesh and blood in order to make propitiation for the sins of the people. This idea is reflected again in 5:7:

Hebrews 5:7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
If in all his days of existence Christ was nothing but flesh and blood, then what is the point of saying "in the days of His flesh"? What other days other than the ones he was in the flesh would we able to talk about? The writer obviously believes that the days the Son was in the flesh were just one period of his existence.

So what does the writer believe about Jesus' existence, did it began by being born through Mary?

High Priest Forever According to the Order of Melchizedek

Hebrews 6:20 - 7:3 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings [...] was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness [...] Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.
In this part of the letter, the writer intends to deal with Jewish objections to the idea that Jesus could be a High Priest of God. How could he be one, since he was not from the tribe of Levi? Joseph was not a Levite, Mary was not a Levite, Jesus' genealogy therefore is not a Levite one. But according to the Law, only Levites could become High Priests. So, the Jews would argue, how can anyone even suggest the possibility that Jesus might be a High Priest? Jesus was not satisfying the conditions of being one!

That is why the writer of Hebrews brings Melchizedek into the picture. He was like Jesus, without a Levite father, without a Levite mother, without the right genealogy that would have enabled him to be High Priest; but despite this, he certainly was a High Priest of God! The first known High Priest then, was not a Levite, did not have to possess a Levite ancestry, was with no Levite father and Levite mother; and so is Jesus. Melchizedek was like Jesus in this respect, and since Melchizedek was rightfully a High Priest, so is Jesus.

But there are two more elements mentioned by the author that Jesus and Melchizedek have in common: having neither beginning of days nor end of life. These show that there is more involved here than just the lack of Levite genealogy.

It is hard to believe that the writer thought Melchizedek had no beginning of life. Every man has one. But unlike the patriarchs and prominent individuals in the Scripture who the Jews knew who their father and mother was, knew their genealogies, when their lives started and ended - because they were recorded in writing; but there's no written record on all these aspects when it comes to Melchizedek. Melchizedek's birth and death are not recorded, they are unknown. This shows that the writer intends in fact to say that Melchizedek had no known Levite father and mother, no known Levite genealogy - in contrast with every Levite High Priest - and neither known beginning of days nor known end of life.

Did the writer think that Christ as a person had neither known beginning of days nor known end of life? It is unlikely that the writer did not know Christ had a human mother, Mary. He certainly knew Jesus had no human father. He also most probably knew approximately when Christ's human life began, since according to tradition Jesus was about 30 years old when he was baptized; if the writer was not an eyewitness of Jesus, to be able to count the years that have passed since he last saw him, and so to know the year he was born, he would have had access to eyewitnesses or people who had access to eyewitnesses in order to find out, just like Luke did (Luke 3:1).

If the writer believes that the Son who created the world had a pre-human existence - how else would he have created the world? - he can certainly view Jesus as a being that was not brought into existence by a human mother. In this case, he certainly does not know when Christ's life began, because all the Jewish Scriptures say is that his origin is from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2); and finally, Christ also is without and end of life since he continues to live to this day - hence no end of life.

So if the writer knows that the Son had a human beginning - and he most certainly does know that- by being born from Mary, then by saying that the Son is without a known beginning of days he is effectively saying that his human birth was not the beginning of his days, but his days began in fact earlier. Thus, he existed as a person before he became flesh.

Dating the Letter to the Hebrews

The Anglo-American scholarship seems to enjoy a growing consensus on dating this letter prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.2

The writer speaks in the present tense about the Jewish priests offering both gifts and sacrifices and serving at the altar (8:3-5; 13:10). This could not entirely be in itself a proof that these things were still happening, it could just be a case of historical present, like Josephus and Clement use. But the lack of any reference at the destruction of the temple is significant because it would have helped the writer's argument significantly.

Also, he writes in chapter 10:

Hebrews 10:1-2 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?

If the temple wasn't destroyed, the sacrifices would have been still continually offered, they obviously did not cease at the time of the writing. If written after 70, this would be an awkard thing to say. The writer expects his readers to answer with "yes" to this question. Also:

Hebrews 8:13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
The writer would have had a much easier job arguing that the Law has expired if he would have mentioned the destruction of the temple and all the rituals centering around it. This verse shows that this did not happen yet, the Law covenant was only "ready to disappear", not disappeared.


As in the case of Paul in part I, Jesus' pre-human existence is always assumed by the writer of Hebrews, not argued for. Just like John and Paul, the writer believes that through the Son the world was made. He participated in the act of creation.

The writer also has preexistence in the background when he says the Son had to partake of flesh and blood, calling his human existence "days of his flesh".

The writer also does not believe Christ's personal existence started by being born from Mary, although it was known among Christians that he was born of a virgin.

1 The word "world" appears in plural in the Greek text, aionas, and is sometimes translated as "ages". It also occurs in plural in 9:26 (the consummation of the ages) and 11:3 (the worlds were prepared by the word of God).(back)

2 See Simon Gathercole, The Preexistent Son, p. 32 (back)