Pre-existence : Part I
John gives the spiritual presentation of Jesus that the other gospels lack and, unfortunately, it is from a banal interpretation of these spiritual words that the incarnation and pre-existence doctrines draw their support.
One major reason for the universal misunderstanding of certain statements in John's gospel is a failure to discern the framework within which the work is set. Another is the practice of proof-texting to support various points of doctrine.
The work was written after the resurrection. Being removed from the misjudgements of the moment, it represent a clear, analytical appraisal of Jesus' life and work viewed in relationship to its impact upon accepted thought and contemporary values.
The author speaks of others besides Jesus as being "sent" by God and being "begotten" of God (1:6,12).
The yardstick for determining if a man is sent from God is whether he does, or does not, speak the words of God (3:34).
In the case of those "begotten" of God, it is obvious that the author is speaking in spiritual strain as they were procreated by normal means. 1 John 4:7 makes it clear that the "begotten of God" are those who love the brethren.
Being written after the resurrection, there is no anomaly in John's reference to Jesus as the "only-begotten" son of God. The day of Jesus' resurrection was the day he became the "only-begotten" son (Acts 13:33).
The author, along with four disciples, at least at one stage, had believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph, thus of human parentage (1:45). He did not find this thought incompatible with the Baptist's PREVIOUS identification of Jesus as "the son of God" (1:34), nor with the SUBSEQUENT similar identification by Nathaniel (1:49).
"Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph...Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel."
When the Baptist spoke of Jesus as being "before" him, he was not referring to time but to status.
If the author of John is also the author of 1 John,* he could not possibly be testifying that Jesus is actually YHWH because he states: "No man has seen God at any time; The only-begotten son, he has declared him."
With this framework in mind, we may now examine the opening words of John's gospel.
In the beginning was the Word
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not."
In this transition from Creation to his own time, John omitted one connecting link which he provides later: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father" (1:15).
This last statement puts all into perspective and we see that:
- The 'Word' existed at Creation
- It was made flesh
- Jesus' life - the Word made flesh - was the light of men.
As a first step, it is necessary to determine exactly what the 'Word' was before it became flesh. Fortunately, John provides the answer himself in his First Epistle:
"That which was FROM THE BEGINNING, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning THE WORD OF LIFE, and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, THE ETERNAL LIFE, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." (1 John 1:1-2)
"And the witness is this, that God gave unto us ETERNAL LIFE, and this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11)
Paul leaves no doubt that it was the WORD OF ETERNAL LIFE that existed from the beginning:
"holding forth the WORD OF LIFE; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain." (Phil 2:16)
"Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in hope of ETERNAL LIFE which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal." (Titus 1:1-2)
It is very clear that the the "Word" is actually the "Word of Eternal Life," and that this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11). Jesus taught love, not a weak, sentimental love, but the meek love which is the sign of a truly great character, the only kind of love whereby it is possible to 'love your enemies'. It is the application of this teaching to the living of a Christian life that brings the reward of life in the Age to Come.
"It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, they are Life." (6:63)
"And I know that his commandment is Life Eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak." (12:50)
"Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of Eternal Life."** (6:68)
*“The three Epistles and the Gospel of John are so closely allied in diction, style, and general outlook that the burden of proof lies with the person who would deny their common authorship.” (B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1930 p460.)
** The Greek nouns aionas and aionon are plural forms of the Greek aion, which simply means an “eon” or “age”. The word aion always means a period of time. All English words based on the Greek aion, such as "eternal", "endless" and so on, are incorrect. "Eternal Life"actually means "Life in the Age to Come".