The Preexistence of the Son?

by
Jason Dulle
JasonDulle@yahoo.com


Question:

According to Oneness theology the Son did not exist before the incarnation, and therefore "Son" is only applicable when referring to Godís existence in the flesh. If so, then why do several NT Scriptures speak of the Son creating the worlds?:

Colossians 1:15-16ó"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him--all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers--all things were created through him and for him. (NET Bible)

Hebrews 1:1-2ó"After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world."

Why does the text say the Son created the worlds if the Son had no real existence before the incarnation? Would not God be misleading us through such language?

Also, why in John 17:5, does Jesus say that he had glory with the Father prior to the incarnation?:

"And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created." (NET Bible)

It seems that "Son" cannot be limited to the incarnation only.

  


Answer:

I will be honest and say that these are some of the most problematic Scriptures for the Oneness position. Every theological position has its problematic verses that it must hurdle, and these are ours. I will agree that the above Scriptures seem to teach a pre-existent Son who was the instrument for creation. If the "Son" preexisted the incarnation as a distinct deity from the Father, then Oneness believers are in error for claiming that "Son" only refers to God's existence in the flesh, for indeed it would refer to His existence before the incarnation too. I do believe, however, that the above Scriptures harmonize quite well with Oneness theology.

I would contend that the Bible never teaches that the "Son of God" preexisted the incarnation, but Jesus as the Spirit did preexist as the logos, both in the morphe of God (Philippians 2:6), and as the expression of God. Just as Jesus can be said to be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), without having a physical body to be slain until the incarnation, and having been slain in time, it can be said that the God created the worlds through the Son without the Son personally existing (as a human).

Even in Trinitarian thought, Son not only refers to the eternal second person of the Trinity, but also to the incarnation. We never read of the "Son of God" in the OT. It only appears in the NT. The references in Hebrews and Colossians about the worlds being made through the Son could be referring to an eternal second person, or it could also be referring to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The former has no connection to the incarnation, while the latter does. While Trinitarians insist that the term "Son of God" is not purely incarnational, they realize that the Scripture uses the term in the NT to refer to the incarnation over and over again. How is Colossians and Hebrews using "Son," then? If the term is most often connected with incarnation in the NT (and Oneness people would argue that it is always connected with the incarnation), then maybe it is being used that way here too.

But one would object that it cannot be because the incarnation did not exist until 2000 years ago, not at creation. While that is true, think about the way we use language. At this point in time I know George W. Bush as President Bush. Because I am living on this side of his presidency, when talking about his birth I would naturally say that the President was born on such and such a day, or did such and such when he was 20, and nobody would find anything inaccurate about that statement. Was he the President then? Of course not, but I read his present designation back into his historical existence. What is it so strange to think that this could be what Paul and the author of Hebrews were doing? Since Oneness believers confess that the deity of the Son of God is no one other than the one God of the OT, Yahweh, then it would be legitimate to say that the Son was the creator of the worlds, because His eternal deity is that of the creator.

A comment from Daniel Segraves concerning Hebrews 1:1-3 would be fitting, in which he demonstrates that "Son" in the context of Hebrews 1:1-3 is referring to the incarnation:

There is no suggestion that prior to the Incarnation the Word was known as the Son. Though it may seem at first that the word "Son" here [Heb 1:3] is a preincarnational reference since He is the One 'through whom also He {God} made the worlds,' the statement that God has 'in these last days spoken to us by His Son,' which contrasts with God's prior communication through the prophets, indicates grammatically that God has not spoken by His Son prior to 'these last days.' If we could use 'Son' in a preincarnational sense, it would be incredible to think that God never spoke by the Son from all eternity and throughout the entire era of the Hebrew Scriptures until the Incarnation.1

There are many Scriptures which teach that Jesus preexisted the incarnation (John 6:62; 8:58; 16:28; 17:5). I cannot deal with all of these verses, so let me use John 17:5 as a test case. It is obvious that Jesus was not referring to His humanity previously having glory, or being in heaven, since His humanity did not exist until the incarnation. In John 17:5, Jesus' reference to "me" surely includes His humanity. We cannot say that only Jesus' deity was speaking here (for that would be a Nestorian splitting up of Christís person), but rather the God-man was speaking (which includes humanity). Since Jesus' humanity must be included in this statement, and His humanity did not preexist, He must be referring to His deity. The question is, in what way did Jesusí deity preexist the incarnation?

As has already been noted, as it pertains to the deity of the Son, He was YHWH. The Bible never says that the Son of God preexisted the incarnation, but Jesus as the Spirit did preexist as the logos, both in the morphe of God (Philippians 2:6), and as the expression of God. Just as Jesus can be said to be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), without having a physical body until the incarnation and having been slain in time, God can give glory to His logos before the logos is ever made flesh. God does call those things which are not as though they were (Romans 4:17). Jesus could rightly say that He came forth from the Father. The logos was with God, and then was made flesh, coming to the earth (John 1:1, 14). Jesus did return to heaven. He ascended to the Father, from whence He came some thirty-seven years or so before. Since the logos was God, He did not come as one of the three persons in the Godhead, but it was the deity of the Father Himself who came in flesh.

Why would Jesus even speak like this if His deity is the deity of the uni-personal God of Oneness theology, and not a distinct person in the Godhead? Because of the incarnation. With the assumption of a complete, authentic, and genuine humanity to Godís divine nature, He acquired a consciousness and identity which He never possessed before the incarnation. He had a human psyche not overwhelmed or consumed by His deity. The exercise of Jesus' human nature (such as His consciousness, spirit, will, mind, emotions, and flesh) in such a way requires that in the incarnation, Jesus be spoken of as possessing an identity distinct from, but not separate from the Father.2

While you may not agree with my understanding of these verses, I have demonstrated that these verses do not throw a monkey-wrench in Oneness theology. They harmonize quite well with Oneness theology when interpreted in light of the incarnation.

Switching from the defensive to the offensive, let me say that the idea of an eternal Son is not without its complications. If "God the Son" existed prior to the incarnation as an eternally distinct person in the Godhead, and God is eternally three persons, then why do we not read anything about Him in the OT? It is not until the NT that we read about the Son. Are we to believe that in all of the OT the Son would never be mentioned when He is consubstantial, coeternal, and coequal with the Father? Why was the Son not revealed? I would suggest to you that He was not revealed in the OT because there was no distinct person called "Son" in the OT. "Son" only arises in the NT because it refers to the one uni-personal God's incarnation into a human existence in the person of Jesus Christ.

"Son" and "Father" terminology arose only after the incarnation to describe the relationship between God's existence beyond humanity, and as a human being who was conceived by the Holy Ghost. God actually fathered a child, so Jesus is the Son of God. If there was no distinct person from the Father in the OT what would we expect to find in the OT concerning the Son of God? Nothing. What do we find? Nothing. Trinitarians must account for the fact that God has never disclosed His threeness until the incarnation.

The typical Trinitarian response to my question is that doctrine is often revealed progressively in the Scripture; the tri-personal Trinity being no exception. While I would agree that doctrine is often revealed progressively, the identity of God is quite another thing. While I am aware of the fact that God's character and attributes were progressively revealed, to say that His very identity as a tri-unity was never revealed is quite another thing. How could God fail to mention that there are two other persons besides Him?

If God has been eternally three, but did not make this clear until after 1500 years of revelation, it would be quite confusing because all of the previous revelation portrayed God as one person. Why would God fail to disclose the fact that there are two other persons in His one essence?

While both Trinitarian and Oneness theology must account for the new revelation of God in the incarnation, there is a difference between saying that the same person who revealed Himself to Moses in the OT became a man in the NT (Oneness theology), and saying that a second person in the Godhead became a man in the NT (Trinitarian theology) when we never knew He existed before this time. While Oneness may be shocked to see that God would become a man, Trinitarians would be shocked to see who showed up! In Oneness theology the person who shows up is the same character we've been reading about in the OT, not a different person in the Godhead that we never read about before. Your theology has a whole other being in the Godhead show up on the scene in flesh, who is personally distinct from the character we have been reading about in the OT. In Oneness theology we do not find a part of God that we have never seen before; we find the same familiar God manifest in flesh.


Footnotes

1. Daniel Segraves, Hebrews: Better Things. Vol. 1 (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1996), 31-32. <back>
2. Daniel L. Segraves, Systematic Theology I. (Stockton, CA: n.p., 1997), 38. <back>

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