Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Rebuttal to Martin Zender’s “The Preexistence of Christ, Part 2”: Philippians 2:5-8 Revisited

"A Rebuttal to Martin Zender's 'The Preexistence of Christ, Part 1'" can be found here: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-rebuttal-to-martin-zenders_10.html


Introduction

Even apart from the somewhat vitriolic, mocking tone that seemed to characterize parts of Martin’s second rebuttal, I found reading it a rather frustrating experience for at least two reasons. First, Martin seems to have completely misunderstood one of the points I was trying to make in my explanation of what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8. And, having misunderstood this point, Martin proceeded to mercilessly thrash a straw-man. What made Martin’s straw-man thrashing such an unpleasant spectacle to watch (rather than simply something by which to be amused) is what it could be understood as implying (I’ll have more to say about this later, in part two of my rebuttal).

Second (and this is related to the first reason), I, myself, am not 100% satisfied with everything I wrote concerning Philippians 2:5-8, and feel that (to a certain extent at least) my defense of how I believe these verses should be understood fell somewhat short. Not only were there points I could have (and should have) made but didn’t, but there were certain thoughts I expressed and certain points I did make (or at least tried to make) which ended up “muddying the waters” a bit, and which I’ve come to realize were not necessary to understanding what Paul wrote (and which, I believe, served to complicate more than simplify). Ironically, one of the very points that I believe Martin so badly misunderstood is one that I no longer believe even had to be made (again, more on this later).

At the same time, if I was at all guilty of “muddying the waters” of Phil. 2:5-8 somewhat (and if my original explanation of this passage was in need of some refinement), I believe Martin is guilty of draining the passage of its actual meaning and then refilling it with a completely foreign substance. As much as my understanding and explanation of Phil. 2:5-8 was in need of some “tweaking,” I remain convinced that Martin’s interpretation of the passage is not even salvageable (being informed, as it were, by dubious assumptions that are based on the very doctrinal position that he feels is being so clearly revealed in the passage).

In light of what I perceive as being certain shortcomings in my original remarks on Philippians 2:5-8, I want to first present what I believe to be a less “muddied” interpretation of Philippians 2:5-8 than that which I articulated in the article to which Martin was responding. My approach this time around will involve simply quoting each verse and then commenting on it. After “revisiting” this passage and commenting on it verse-by-verse (which I believe will serve to remedy the deficiencies in my original exposition), I’ll then respond to those parts of Martin’s article that I feel need to be addressed in light of my (slightly) revised explanation of Phil. 2:5-8.

Part One: Philippians 2:5-8 Revisited

Philippians 2
5 For let this disposition be in you, which is in Christ Jesus also…

In reading Philippians 2:5-8, it’s important to keep in mind that the entire passage is based on Paul’s exhortation in verse 5, which itself is a continuation of what he’d said in the preceding verses of this chapter:

If, then, there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any communion of spirit, if any compassion and pity, fill my joy full, that you may be mutually disposed, having mutual love, joined in soul, being disposed to one thing -- nothing according with faction, nor yet according with vainglory -- but with humility, deeming one another superior to one's self, not each noting that which is his own, but each that of others also.

In light of how Paul wanted the saints to relate to each other (vv. 3-4), he presents Christ Jesus as the ideal example of someone whose disposition (or mindset) was - and is - characterized by humility and a willingness to serve others. Presenting Christ as an example for the saints to follow is, therefore, the primary aim of the passage. Moreover, given the practical basis for what Paul went on to say in verses 6-8, it may be helpful to consider the degree to which one’s interpretation of verses 6-7 best answers the practicality of Paul’s exhortation to the saints. Although such a consideration cannot, of course, be a determining factor in how we understand the verses that follow, I think it’s an appropriate mindset to have as we approach the text in order to figure out just what, exactly, Paul was saying.

6 …Who, being inherently in the form of God, deems it not pillaging to be equal with God…

Before we consider the meaning of the above words, let’s first consider what it is that Paul didn’t write. We’re not told that Jesus Christ “preexisted inherently in the form of God.” If one believes that Paul had in mind Christ’s preexistence in this verse, it’s not because this is actually stated in the verse. The concept of preexistence must be imported into this verse by those who, for other reasons, already believe (or are inclined to believe) that it’s true. Neither the word translated “inherently” in the CLNT (huparcho) nor the word translated “form” (morphe) tells us when Christ came into existence. Thus, this verse is entirely consistent with the view that Paul was talking about what was true of Christ Jesus as “the Man, Christ Jesus” (i.e., the fully human being who was generated by God in the womb of his mother), as opposed to a pre-human celestial being which most Christians believe Christ Jesus existed as before he became a human being.

So what does it mean for Christ Jesus to have been (and to be) in the “the form of God?” In his commentary on this passage, A.E. Knoch remarked that the word translated form denotes “outward appearance,” and referenced 2 Tim. 3:5 in support of this fact (“having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power”). I agree with Knoch, and believe there’s more than sufficient scriptural evidence to support this understanding of “form.” And given the assumption that God lacks a visible, “outward appearance,” Christ’s being in the “form of God” can’t be understood as involving anything other than Christ’s being the one who represents God to others. And this is precisely how I understand how Christ was (and is) “inherently in the form of God.” Being the Son of God, Christ Jesus was invested with the privileged authority to be his Father’s representative on the earth (which involved speaking and acting on God’s behalf), such that when one saw Jesus, one saw the Father (John 12:45; 14:9). It was this unique and elevated status that I believe Paul had in mind when he wrote of Christ’s being “inherently in the form of God” (and, as we’ll see, the words “equal with God” can be seen as supporting this understanding as well).

But what about the word translated “inherently” (huparcho)? Does this word suggest that Christ has, in a fully realized and active sense, been “in the form of God” since the very beginning of his existence? And if Christ’s existence began at the moment of his conception (as I believe), wouldn’t this imply that Christ was speaking and acting on God’s behalf from the moment he was conceived? Not at all. Using the same word huparcho, Peter declared that David was “inherently a prophet” (Acts 2:30). This, of course, doesn’t mean that David was prophesying from the moment he began to exist. Similarly, James declared that the believing Jews in Jerusalem were “all inherently zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20), while Paul elsewhere wrote that Abraham was “inherently somewhere about a hundred years” old when he received God’s promise concerning his son (Rom. 4:19). There are other similar examples that could be provided in which someone is said to have been “inherently” something without there being any implication that they were, from the beginning of their existence, actively being or doing whatever is associated with what they were “inherently” said to be. Thus, when used in reference to Christ’s being “in the form of God,” the word translated “inherently” simply means that Christ was (and is) in the form of God “in a permanent, essential, or characteristic way” (which is what the English word “inherently” means). Understood in this way, the word is easily applicable to Christ during his lifetime on the earth.

As far as Christ’s being “equal to God,” this is, I believe, connected with his being “inherently in the form of God.” Contrary to the beliefs of Trinitarians and Modalists, we shouldn’t understand Christ’s “equality with God” in an absolute sense; the meaning of this expression (or, at least, an important clue as to its meaning) can, I believe, be found in John 5:18: Therefore, then, the Jews sought the more to kill Him, for He not only annulled the sabbath, but said His own Father also is God, making Himself equal to God.I think both the context and the verse itself give us enough information to draw some conclusions concerning what sort of “equality” is in view here. It would seem that this “equality” has primarily to do with Jesus’ being the Son of God, and God’s being Jesus’ Father (and, in connection with Jesus’ being the Son of God, it most likely further involves Jesus’ having been invested with the authority and prerogative to speak and act on God’s behalf). In any event, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus’ being “equal with God” has to do with Jesus’ superior status as the Son of God. That is, Jesus’ equality with God (as referred to in both John 5:18 and Phil. 2:6) should best be understood as involving the status that belonged (and belongs) to Jesus, and which is based on his unique relationship with God (a relationship that the rest of humanity didn’t – and doesn’t - have).

So far, then, we have seen that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Paul was trying to say anything at all about Christ’s having preexisted the time when he was generated by his God and Father. But what about verse 7? This is, apparently, when those who affirm the doctrine of Christ's preexistence think the doctrine virtually “jumps off the page.” However, as I hope to demonstrate, those who see this verse as implying preexistence have completely missed the point here, and are simply reading their own doctrinal bias into the text.

7 …nevertheless empties Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming to be in the likeness of humanity…

What does it mean for Christ to have “nevertheless emptied himself?” We know that the expression “empties himself” is not to be understood literally, for no one can literally “empty themselves.” It’s figurative imagery. Strong’s defines the word translated “empties” (kenoō) as,to make empty, that is, (figuratively) to abase, neutralize, falsify.” The first definitions provided by Bill Mounce  (a scholar of New Testament Greek) are, “to empty, evacuate;, αυτόν, to divest one's self of one's prerogatives, abase one's self, Phil. 2:7” (emphasis mine). What Paul went on to say immediately after declaring that Christ “empties himself” can be understood as further clarifying what he had in mind here, and as giving us the sense in which Christ “emptied himself”: Christ took “the form of a slave.” But what does it mean for Christ to have taken “the form of a slave?” As noted earlier, “form” refers to “outward appearance.” But if this is the case, then how does a person come to have the “outward appearance of a slave?” Being a slave is not about having a distinct physical appearance or particular physical constitution, and so “taking the form of a slave” has nothing to do with that. Rather, having the form of a slave concerns one’s actions in relation to others. The “job description” of a slave is to serve the one to whom one belongs as a slave. Merriam-Webster defines “slave” as “a person held in servitude as the chattel of another.” Slavery is all about servitude, and the lack of liberty that a slave has is only a means to an end (the end being, of course, servitude). For someone to take the “form of a slave,” therefore, is for them to serve others, treating them as if they were superior to oneself in status. It is, therefore, serving others that gives one the “form” (or “outward appearance”) of a slave.

This fact should have led A.E. Knoch to question his belief (as expressed in his commentary on Phil. 2:7) that Christ’s “taking the form of a slave” took place “at His incarnation” (i.e., when Jesus was conceived and his mother became pregnant). Knoch should have reasoned, “Since taking the form of a slave involves having the outward appearance of a slave – and since having the outward appearance of a slave involves serving others as if they were superior to oneself – then how could Christ have taken the form of a slave “at His incarnation?” But apparently, Knoch was too in the grip of his theory, and was reading this verse through the lens of his doctrinal bias concerning the preexistence of Christ. The fact is that a human’s being conceived and their “taking the form of a slave” have nothing to do with each other, and such an interpretation only introduces confusion and absurdity into what Paul wrote. To refer to a human zygote (or an unborn child at any stage of development) as being “in the form of a slave” - i.e., as having the “outward appearance of a slave” - is to empty the words “form of a slave” of any clear and intelligible meaning. And yet, this is precisely the interpretation that Knoch’s doctrinal bias forced him to adopt when commenting on this particular verse.

In contrast with Knoch’s interpretation (according to which an unborn child is to be understood as being in “the form of a slave”) Christ’s “taking the form of a slave” is better understood as involving the way in which our Lord voluntarily conducted himself during his time on earth, and which was so clearly put on display during – and especially at the end of - his public ministry, as described in the four Gospel Accounts. Again, to “take the form of a slave” involves assuming the outward appearance of a slave with regards to how one relates to others. It involves treating others as if they were superior to you, and serving them rather than expecting - and demanding - that they serve you. Despite Christ’s superior, elevated status as the Son of God (a status which was expressed in the words “being inherently in the form of God” and being “equal with God”), our Lord emptied himself (i.e., abased himself), living a life of humility and servitude (John 13:1-17; Luke 22:27; Matt. 20:26-28; Mark 9:35). Christ’s taking the form of a slave (which, again, meant serving others) was no more clearly manifested than Christ’s death on behalf of sinners:

And, calling them to Him, Jesus is saying to them, “You are aware that those of the nations who are presuming to be chiefs are lording it over them, and their great men are coercing them. Yet not thus is it among you. But whosoever may be wanting to become great among you, will be your servant. And whosoever may be wanting to be foremost among you, will be the slave of all. For even the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many.Matthew 10:42-45

“The Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul a ransom for many.” The very one whose elevated status made him deserving of being served by humanity chose to "abase himself" and humbly “take the form of a slave” on humanity’s behalf, and - in the words of Paul - give himself as “a correspondent Ransom for all.” And by taking the form of a slave, Christ came to be in the likeness of those who were (and are) inherently inferior to him.

In light of what has been said above, we are now in a better position of understanding the last part of verse 7: “…coming to be in the likeness of humanity…” The word translated “humanity” in the CLNT (anthrōpos) is simply the plural of “human” (or “man,” considered as a kind of being) and is translated “men” in the Dabhar translation, Rotherham’s, Young’s, and in nearly every other translation I’ve looked at (the NET Bible translates it as “other men,” which – although not literal – is, I believe, accurate with regards to the meaning). The word translated “humanity” in Phil. 2:7 is also the same word found in 1 Tim. 2:5, where we read that “the Man, Christ Jesus” is the “one Mediator of God and mankind.” The “humanity” in whose “likeness” Christ came to be is the same “humanity” or “mankind” of which Christ is the Mediator. It is that group of people constituted by every human being except Christ himself (hence the translation “other men” in the NET Bible).

The humans for whom Christ died (and of whom the “humanity” of Phil. 2:7 is constituted) are, of course, inferior to Christ with regard to status and rank. Despite being himself a human (as Paul notes in v. 8), Christ is on a completely different level than every other human; no other human could, for example, be said to be “inherently in the form of God,” or could “deem it not pillaging to be equal with God.” And yet, Christ Jesus - the one who was and is inherently superior to all other humans ("humanity") - conducted himself in such a way that he took “the form of a slave.” And, in doing so, he “came to be in the likeness” of those inherently inferior to him (which, again is the same “humanity” or “mankind” of which Christ is the “one Mediator”).

This, I believe, is the simple and beautiful truth being expressed by Paul here, and powerfully illustrates the humble disposition of Christ that Paul wanted to be in the saints. Despite being superior in status to the rest of mankind, the Man, Christ Jesus, lived in such a way (expressed in the words, “taking the form of a slave”) that gave him the “likeness” of those who were inherently inferior to him. Rather than expecting and demanding that humanity serve him during his time on earth, our Lord “emptied himself” and became like a slave to the very ones whose sins were the reason he had to ultimately lay down his life in obedience to God (“And whosoever may be wanting to be foremost among you, will be the slave of all. For even the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many). That is true humility.

This verse, then, need not be understood as having anything at all to do with a celestial, non-human person becoming a human. It was those humans who did not share Christ’s superior status whose likeness Christ came to be in by “taking the form of a slave,” and humbly serving those inferior to himself. Thus, in whatever way that Christ can be understood as having “taken the form of a slave” during his mortal lifetime (and as having acted as a servant on behalf of those who were inferior to himself), he thus came to be “in the likeness of humanity,” resembling those inherently inferior to him (which, again, is in accord with Paul’s words in verses 3-4: “…nor yet according with vainglory…but with humility, deeming one another superior to one's self, not each noting that which is his own, but each that of others also”).  

8 …and, being found in fashion as a human, He humbles Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

I feel that what’s been said so far has sufficiently demonstrated that the common use of Phil. 2:7 as a “proof text” for the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ is completely unjustified. It is simply not necessary to understand v. 7 as having anything at all to do with Christ’s having preexisted the life that began when he was generated by his God and Father. What Paul wrote in this verse makes perfectly good sense apart from the doctrine of preexistence being read into it. And if v. 7 doesn’t support the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ (and it doesn’t), then verse 8 certainly doesn’t.

After referring to Christ’s “taking the form of a slave” and “coming to be in the likeness” of those inherently inferior to himself (i.e., “humanity” or “mankind”), Paul then makes the point that Christ was no less human in nature than those individuals constituting the “humanity” on whose behalf he took “the form of a slave.” That is, despite his superior status as the Son of God (being “inherently in the form of God”), the one who humbled himself by “becoming obedient unto death” was just as much a human being as the humans of inferior status on whose behalf he died. Thus, rather than having anything to do with Christ’s having preexisted his life on earth, the words “being found in fashion as a human” have everything to do with the simple fact that Christ was, and is, a human. Moreover, had Paul just gotten through explaining that a pre-existent Christ became a human (as most Christians understand v. 7), it would be redundant for him to then add that Christ was “found in fashion as a human.” Only if the words “being found in fashion as a human” are making a point that Paul wasn’t making in v. 7 (and which couldn’t be directly inferred from the point made in v. 7) is this sort of redundancy avoided.

In conclusion, Philippians 2:5-8 has to do with the fact that Christ Jesus - the (human) Son of God - humbled himself rather than exalted himself, and became a servant to those of inferior status who ought to have been serving him. Jesus exalted his God and Father, but humbled himself. He humbled himself by “taking the form of a slave” on behalf of humanity, both before, during and at the end of his public ministry (when he voluntarily submitted to a humiliating death on the cross). And it is this humble and servant-minded disposition that belonged to Christ which Paul wanted to be in us as well.

Part Two: A (Direct) Response to Martin Zender

I want to begin part two of this rebuttal by commenting on one of Martin’s cartoons (which appears toward the end of his article). In the cartoon (which, although intended to mock my position, was sort of funny), Martin has John the baptist telling Jesus after his baptism, “Okay, now get yourself out of here and get human.” The biggest problem with this little jab at what I believe is that Paul didn’t say that Christ “became human,” or that he “came to be a human.” Rather, Paul wrote, “…taking the form of a slave, coming to be in the likeness of humanity….” These statements are grammatically parallel in structure and in the tenses used, and can be understood as referring to the same event (whether understood as occurring in a single moment – as Martin apparently believes - or as occurring over a period of time, and as descriptive of Christ’s conduct during his lifetime).

When explaining how he understands what it means for Christ to have come to be “in the likeness of humanity,” Martin stated that this involved “the coming of Christ’s literal human body (Philippians 2:7)—not the mere existence of that body but the coming of it.” However, this interpretation simply betrays Martin’s doctrinal bias. Paul did not say that Christ “came to be a human” or that Christ’s “literal human body came into existence” in Phil. 2:7. This is nothing more than Martin’s own interpretation (which he is trying to pass off as something that he says Paul was “anxious to describe to us”). If Paul was so anxious to describe what Martin interprets him as having said in this verse, then he could’ve easily said exactly that. He could’ve easily written in Phil. 2:7 that Christ “came to have a human body,” or simply that Christ “came to be a human.” However, he didn’t write either of these things.  

Instead, Paul linked two statements together (“taking the form of a slave, coming to be in the likeness of humanity”) - such that the latter must be understood in light of the former – and worded the last statement in a way that does not at all have to be understood as meaning what Martin interprets it as meaning. As argued in part one of this rebuttal, Christ’s “taking the form of a slave” should best be understood as referring to the way in which Christ voluntarily conducted himself on earth (And whosoever may be wanting to be foremost among you, will be the slave of all. For even the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many”). Given this fact, Christ’s “coming to be in the likeness of humanity” refers, not to his “becoming a human” and “coming to have a human body” (as Martin interprets Paul as saying), but rather to his coming to be in the likeness of those who were inherently inferior to him (i.e., by "taking the form of a slave" on their behalf).

Martin went on to attempt to defend his interpretation of Phil. 2:7-8 as follows: The only way that our Lord could have chosen to take the fashion of a human (for, as Paul writes, He “empties Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming to be in the likeness of humanity and being found in fashion as a human...’”) was if He preexisted His arrival in Bethlehem. Which He did. For it was in Bethlehem that He came to be in fashion as a human.”

There are at least two problems with the above statements (one being, admittedly, more trivial than the other). First, it’s simply not the case that Jesus “came to be in fashion as a human” in Bethlehem. Even according to what Martin himself believes, it was in Bethlehem that Christ was born, and not where he was “incarnated.” Surely Martin believes that Jesus had human DNA and “was found in fashion as a human” before his actual birth in Bethlehem (i.e., while he was being carried in Miriam’s womb for approximately 9 months). If so, then Martin’s claim that it was “in Bethlehem that [Christ] came to be in fashion as a human” is surely the result of some careless thinking on his part.

A more serious error than this, however, is Martin’s claim that, in v. 8, we’re being told that that Christ chose to “take the fashion of a human.” We’re not being told that at all. The fact that Christ was “found in fashion as a human” is a fact that was just as true of Christ when he humbled himself and became “obedient unto death” as it was at any time before his crucifixion. Paul was simply stating that Christ was, in fact, a human. Had Paul just finished saying that Christ had become a human (as Martin thinks he was saying in v. 7), then going on to add that Christ was “found in fashion as a human” would be completely unnecessary and redundant (as argued toward the end of part one of this rebuttal). Martin’s interpretation essentially involves Paul’s pointing out to his readers something that would’ve been obvious from what he’d just said in v. 7. On the other hand, if Paul was previously emphasizing the fact that Christ came to be in the likeness of those who were inferior to him (by his “taking the form of a slave” on their behalf), then it makes sense why he would go on to point out that Christ was just as human as those on whose behalf he took “the form of a slave.”

Martin: “It is this second-greatest glory that Aaron Welch robs from Christ, torturously interpreting the above passage and others so that misguided expositors attempting to prove the Trinity might have less ammunition. Yes, this is Aaron’s chief motivation—to rob Trinitarians of an already illicit “proof text.” Trinitarians require the preexistence of Christ as the foundation of their fallacy, so Aaron says, “Oh, no you don’t.” But instead of merely saying “Oh, no you don’t” and setting the truth of the preexistence of Christ away on a high shelf—away from the Trinitarians—he attempts to blow up the truth of the preexistence of Christ so that no one can misuse it. This is akin to punching one’s fist through the Mona Lisa so that no one will steal it.”

Martin misunderstands my “chief motivation” for believing what I do concerning when Christ’s life began. However, I can’t say that it’s all his fault. In response to a similar assertion made by another believer on Facebook (who agrees with Martin’s position), I replied as follows:

“I agree that arguing against the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ is not at all necessary to refuting the doctrine of the trinity, and I'm pretty sure I never said that it was. What I believe I said (or at least should have said, if I didn’t) was that, if the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ is unscriptural, then it would be further evidence against the doctrine of the trinity (since the doctrine of the trinity depends on it). But I want to emphasize that the implications which my position has regarding the doctrine of the trinity is not among my reasons or “motivations” for believing what I do on this subject. That was simply one of my reasons for deciding to share what I believe on my blog.

“However, in retrospect, I regret my decision to introduce the subject by talking about its implications concerning the trinity, because it seems to have given people the impression that it’s the main reason (or at least a reason) why I believe what I do. It’s not. I came to reject the doctrine of the trinity about a year before I came to reject the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ (which was more than 10 years ago). My reasons for believing what I do are, and always have been, based on what I believe scripture teaches (and what I believe scripture doesn’t teach). So whether I’m sincerely right or sincerely wrong (and I’m sure you’d say it’s the latter), I hope you and others will understand that I sincerely believe that my position is scripturally-based, and that this is the primary reason I’ve taken the time to put my thoughts out there for others to read and consider.”

Martin: “In fact, Aaron’s argument is so back-asswards that the very opposite of what he insists, is true. Up until age thirty, Jesus Christ fits the very definition of what Aaron says didn’t happen until after He was thirty: He refuses to use “His God-given power and authority in any way that would elevate Himself above the rest of humanity, and above all the various evils that are common to humanity, including death itself” and He also “chose to live and act in such a way that gave him the ‘likeness’ of the rest of humanity (i.e., humanity in general).” This describes His life to a T from His birth to the time of His baptism, but certainly not after.”

In my introduction, I expressed my frustration that Martin had badly misunderstood a point I was trying to articulate in my original explanation of Phil. 2:5-8. This is what I had in mind. Based on how Martin contrasts Christ’s public ministry with Christ’s life prior to this 3 ½ year-long period of time, he seems to be saying that my argument was that Christ never (or perhaps only rarely) exercised his God-given authority by performing miracles during his public ministry. If so, then I’m honestly surprised that Martin thought that I was attempting to argue for this. One would think that, rather than lambasting me for trying to defend a position that he refers to as “back-asswards” (a position which even the most casual reader of the Gospel Accounts couldn’t mistakenly come to believe), Martin might’ve given me the benefit of the doubt and sought to understand what I was trying to say in a way that was consistent with the obvious and undeniable fact that Christ did, in fact, exercise his God-given authority and use his power to perform many miracles during his public ministry. This certainly would’ve been the most charitable thing for Martin to have done. Unfortunately, it would seem that Martin’s great zeal to defend, at all costs, his position against my “evil doctrine” (and to attempt to undermine any possible influence that I might have on other saints in the body of Christ) simply could not coexist with such a charitable disposition, and consequently precluded him from considering that, maybe - just maybe - he’d simply misunderstood the point I was trying to make.

In any case, the point I was trying to make was that, after Christ began his public ministry, he did not use his God-given power to serve himself, or use it in a “vainglorious” way (I have in mind here Paul’s exhortation in Phil. 2:3-4, where he wrote, “…nor yet according to vainglory…but with humility…”). When I wrote that Christ didn’t use his power to “elevate himself above the rest of humanity and above all the various evils that are common to humanity, including death itself,” I simply meant that Christ, during his public ministry, didn’t use his God-given power to make his own life more comfortable and free from suffering than those around him. The one anointed and empowered by God – the Messiah - didn’t use his God-given power to live like a king or demand that others serve and honor him as such. That’s all I meant here. I even tried to further clarify my point with the words, “[Christ] didn’t use his unique status as God’s only begotten Son to his own selfish advantage.” Unless Martin believes that Christ did, in fact, exercise his authority and use his power to his own selfish advantage (and by this I clearly mean something that would've been unbefitting - and even sinful - of Christ to have done), then he very much misunderstood my point.

So, irrespective of whether or not Martin thinks that this point has anything at all to do with what Paul was saying in Phil. 2:6-7 (and even I think that I was “muddying the waters” a bit here), one would think that Martin would’ve at least tried to understand what I was trying to say in the best possible light rather than in the worst (but, again, I suspect that Martin’s intense hostility toward my position simply precluded any charitable inclination on his part to try and understand what I wrote in a way that at least makes some sense, even if it’s somewhat beside the point with regards to what Paul wrote in Phil. 2:6-7).

Another point that needs to be made (despite the fact that it’s a moot point in light of my updated remarks on Phil. 2:5-8) is that Martin is simply mistaken in thinking that Christ’s life before the start of his public ministry involved his refusal to use his God-given power (or that a refusal to use his God-given power “describe[d] His life to a T from His birth to the time of His baptism”). Just so the reader knows that I’m not misunderstanding Martin’s position here, Martin made the same point earlier, on the same page: “Did not Jesus, between the ages of twelve and thirty, refuse to use His God-given power and authority in any way that would elevate Himself above the rest of humanity? He certainly did.”

The reason I believe Martin is mistaken here is that scripture doesn’t reveal that, before Christ was anointed by God at his baptism, he possessed the God-given power which he is described as using during his public ministry. In fact, not only does scripture not reveal that Christ had the God-given power to perform miracles before he was anointed by God at the start of his 3½ year-long public ministry, but Peter’s words in Acts 10:36-38 seem to confirm that Christ’s power to heal (and, by implication, perform other miraculous works) was derived from the spiritual anointing he received from God immediately after being baptized by John:

"Of the word He dispatches to the sons of Israel, bringing the evangel of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all),37 you are aware, the declaration coming to be down the whole of Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John heralds: Jesus from Nazareth, as God anoints Him with holy spirit and power, Who passed through as a benefactor and healer of all those who are tyrannized over by the Adversary, for God was with Him."

Contrary to what Martin seems to believe, Christ’s power to do what he did was not innate or a natural capacity that he had from the start. His power was given to him by God at a certain point in his life, and this took place immediately after he was baptized by John. It was at this point that God anointed his Son and equipped him for the work to which he’d been called. Moreover - and even apart from the clear statement from Peter above - it could be reasonably inferred that Christ’s power to perform miracles was derived from God’s spirit descending upon him after his baptism, for scripture elsewhere associates the descent of God’s spirit upon men (or of the spirit’s coming to rest on men) with the receiving of special powers/abilities from God. A number of examples of this could be given from the Hebrew scriptures (e.g., Ex. 31:3, Numbers 11:25, Judges 14:6, 15:14, 1 Sam. 10:6-10, 1 Sam. 16:13-14), but probably the most well-known example is found in Acts 2:1-4 (where we read of the holy spirit descending upon the twelve apostles). In short, the descent of God’s spirit upon people is consistently described as resulting in their being endowed with some sort of power or gift. And - Martin’s contrary opinion notwithstanding - I believe scripture supports the view that, for Christ, it was no different.   

In light of the above, I think that the correct, scripturally-informed answer to Martin’s above question (and to which he provides the answer, “He certainly did”), is, “No, he most certainly didn’t, because Jesus didn’t actually have this power yet.” It would seem, then, that Martin’s zeal to refute my “evil teaching” and defend his own doctrinal position not only caused him to completely misunderstand a rather non-controversial point I was trying to make in my original comments on Phil. 2:5-8 (as unnecessary as the point may have been), but that his attempt to expose and refute my “blunder” ended up involving him in an error concerning when, exactly, Christ received his God-given power to perform the miracles he performed during his earthly ministry.

Martin: “Tell me if you think that any of the following could possibly be construed as Christ refusing to use His God-given power and authority in any way that would elevate Himself above the rest of humanity, and above all the various evils that are common to humanity, including death itself. And these are just a few examples
 
He turns water into wine
He walks on water
He raises the dead
He commands the weather and it obeys Him
He glorifies Himself on the Mount of Transfiguration
He miraculously feeds 5,000 people
He drives demons from the possessed
He makes blind people see
He makes deaf people hear
He makes crippled people walk

“Enough said? Rather than submitting Himself to the various evils common to humanity, “including death itself,” He exercises His power—almost daily for three years—over the various evils that are common to humanity—including death itself.”

I find it hard to believe that Martin seriously thought that, when I wrote, “including death itself” (for example), I was suggesting that Christ didn’t resurrect people during his public ministry, or that I’d somehow forgotten this basic fact. I assumed that I would be interpreted by those reading my article as referring to the fact that Christ didn’t exercise his authority to keep himself from dying on the cross (as he himself stated that he could’ve done; see below), but, alas, I was wrong. I suppose that’s what I get for assuming too much.

Had Martin understood the actual point I was trying to make, he would’ve realized that not one of the above examples of Christ’s exercising his authority and using his God-given power during his public ministry is inconsistent with what I said in my original article. For, again, my point was simply that Christ didn’t exercise his God-given authority or use his God-given power in a vainglorious way, or in a way that made his own life on earth more comfortable and suffering-free than that of those around him. In fact, one of the very things that was said to Christ while he was on the cross and close to death was, “Others he saves! Himself he cannot save!” (Matt. 27:42) Replace the words “cannot save” with “does not save” and the idea being expressed could be understood as summing up the point I was trying to make. Christ used his power to save others from death (and, in doing so, glorified his God and Father; John 11:40), but he didn’t use his authority and power to save himself from being arrested, beaten, spit on (etc.), and then, finally, from “the death of the cross.” And even during the years of his public ministry prior to his arrest in Gethsemane, Christ didn’t use his God-given authority and power to make his life any easier or more comfortable than those he ultimately died to save.

With regard to Martin’s 5th point above (i.e., “He glorifies Himself on the Mount of Transfiguration”), we’re not told that Christ “glorified himself” at this time. It is, I believe, far more plausible to understand Jesus’ God and Father as having been the one who glorified his Son at this time, transforming his appearance while he knelt praying (Luke 9:28-29). In fact, it’s possible that both the radical change in Jesus’ appearance and the appearing of Moses and Elijah in glory alongside him at that time occurred in a vision that was given to the three disciples who were present with him on this occasion (Matt. 17:8-9). In any event, we know for a fact that Jesus received “honor and glory” from God when he spoke to him (2 Pet. 1:16-18), so it’s likely that it was also God who glorified his Son by giving him the shining appearance he is described as having had at this time.

Martin: “How insulting Aaron’s unworkable theory is to Christ! According to Aaron’s theory, Jesus Christ was sent here involuntarily, just like the rest of us. He didn’t really sacrifice anything more than any other common human martyr.

“The baby that came into existence in Bethlehem had absolutely no intention of being here, or coming here, or doing anything noble or worthy. It’s divine task was forced upon it, just like any other human martyr’s. He walked toward death, just like any other human martyr….My main point is that, not only does Aaron insult our intelligence with this “I’m really going to humble Myself after my baptism” thing, but he destroys the beautiful truth of the willing (not forced) sacrifice of the Son of God…”

It’s unfortunate that Martin’s extreme doctrinal bias drove him to the position expressed above. Apparently, Martin would be unable to believe that Christ voluntarily sacrificed himself in obedience to God and on behalf of humanity apart from his belief in Christ’s preexistence. Based on the above, it would seem that it is only Martin’s belief that Christ preexisted as a celestial being who volunteered to become a human being that enables him to see Christ’s death for our sins as something more than the death of a “common human martyr.” No wonder Martin seems so emotionally invested in the doctrinal position he’s trying to defend; if he didn’t believe it was true, he would, evidently, no longer be able to see Christ’s death for our sins as a beautiful truth that involved a “willing (not forced) sacrifice.”

The view that Christ’s death on the cross would not be the beautiful truth that it is if Christ didn’t preexist his conception and volunteer to be transformed into a human zygote is, I believe, so far removed from what scripture actually says about the obedient (and thus voluntary) nature of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins that I am shocked that Martin holds to it. What Martin is saying above seems to have the following implication: To whatever extent Christ’s decision to be “incarnated” makes his sacrificial death something of greater value, beauty and consequence than the death of “any other common human martyr,” then any acts of obedience performed by Christ after his incarnation which led to his being crucified are, to that extent, trivialized and emptied of intrinsic value and significance. If, as Martin believes, it was Christ’s decision to become a human that makes his sacrifice something more than a “forced” sacrifice, then every act of obedience made by Christ after his “incarnation” would necessarily have to be considered of relatively minor consequence and importance in comparison to the voluntary act that Martin believes makes Christ’s death such a “beautiful truth.” What Martin’s position inevitably ends up doing, then, is belittling the voluntary acts of obedience that Christ performed during his public ministry – acts of obedience which led to the final act of obedience, on the cross (which was, of course, committing his spirit to God).

The fact which Martin seems completely oblivious to is that Christ wasn’t a passive victim during the final 3 ½ years of his mortal lifetime on the earth. Everything that occurred to Christ during this time (as well as prior to it) involved his voluntary obedience to God’s will. This included the time from his betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane to the moment he committed his spirit to God and breathed his last on the cross. Everything that Christ allowed to happen to him during this dark time fulfilled prophecy, and was done in humble obedience to God. Christ had to die in the exact way and in the exact circumstances in order to remain obedient to God, and to fulfill all that was written concerning him. And while Martin’s position entails that Christ’s obedience to God during this difficult and trying time was a rather trivial and insignificant matter (at least, when compared to Christ’s supposed decision to be transformed from a celestial being into a human zygote), Christ certainly didn’t see it that way. I doubt, for example, that Christ understood his tearful and heartfelt yielding to God’s will while praying in Gethsemane as something other than a voluntary act of obedience, apart from which the prophecies concerning him would not have been fulfilled:

Then Jesus is coming with them into the freehold termed Gethsemane, and He is saying to His disciples, “Be seated, till I come away and should be praying there.” And taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He begins to be sorrowful and depressed. Then He is saying to them, Sorrow-stricken is My soul to death. Remain here and watch with Me…And coming forward a little, He falls on His face, praying and saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass by from Me. However, not as I will, but as Thou!” Again, coming away a second time, He prays, saying, “My Father, if this can not pass by from Me if I should not drink it, let Thy will be done!” And, coming again, He found them drowsing, for their eyes were heavy. And, leaving them, again coming away, He prays a third time, saying the same word. (Matthew 26:36-44)

In Luke’s account Christ explicitly acknowledged that what he was about to do would fulfill prophecy (Luke 22:37), which means that Christ was very much aware of the fact that his (voluntary) actions were completely necessary to the fulfilling of prophecy (and apart from which prophecy wouldn't have been fulfilled). We’re also told in this same account that, while praying to God to let the “cup” pass by from him, our Lord came “to be in a struggle,” and that “His sweat became as if clots of blood descending on the earth.” What could this struggle have involved if not the choice to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” rather than avoiding it? Christ’s obedience was always voluntary, and the acts of obedience that resulted in Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion were no different. Christ even acknowledged that, had he chosen to, he could’ve exercised his authority to avoid being arrested (and thereby avoid the “death of the cross’):

Then Jesus is saying to him, “Turn away your sword into its place, for all those taking the sword, by the sword shall perish. Or are you supposing that I am not able to entreat My Father, and at present He will station by My side more than twelve legions of messengers? How, then, may the scriptures be fulfilled, seeing that thus it must occur?” (Matt. 26:52-54)

Does Martin seriously believe that these voluntary acts of obedience to God’s will (which included Christ’s finally committing his spirit to God, and which Christ knew he had to perform in order to remain obedient to God, and in order that the Scriptures could be fulfilled) were insufficient to make Christ’s death a “beautiful truth” that involved the “willing (not forced) sacrifice of the Son of God?” If so, then I find this position to be far more shocking and outrageous (and, I dare say, insulting to Christ) than the doctrinal position which denies that Christ preexisted his conception as a celestial being.

Consider the following: If I’m wrong about when Christ’s life began, then I’m guilty of ascribing too much value, importance and consequence to the acts of obedience that Christ performed during his lifetime on earth (and especially the acts of obedience which most directly led to, and resulted in, his humiliating death on the cross). In other words, I’d be guilty of putting too much emphasis on, and ascribing too much worth and importance to, the very voluntary acts of obedience that Scripture so clearly emphasizes as being the very reason for our salvation and for Christ’s “greatest glory.” On the other hand, if Martin is wrong concerning his belief that Christ preexisted as a celestial being who volunteered to become a human, then he is guilty of believing that the only thing that makes Christ’s death “a beautiful truth” (and his death of greater value and consequence than that of a “common human martyr”) is something that never actually happened. I, for one, would much rather be guilty of the former than of the latter when I’m manifested in front of the dais of Christ.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Rebuttal to Martin Zender's "The Preexistence of Christ, Part 1"

Introduction

I first met Martin Zender near the front desk of a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama (which was the day before the 2014 Birmingham conference). As we approached the front desk, I called out (perhaps too enthusiastically), “Hey, Martin!” Martin turned around with a big smile on his face, shook my hand and gave me a warm greeting. After checking in, Martin and I (along with my wife) chatted in the hotel lobby for a little while. It was a surreal experience for me, since I had (and still have) a great deal of respect for the man, and considered it a great privilege to finally get to see and talk to someone who’d been such a tremendous blessing to the saints in the body of Christ over the years. And, despite our present doctrinal disagreement, I still very much feel this way.

Although I don’t remember everything that was said during our relatively brief discussion that evening in the hotel lobby, there is one thing that Martin said (and which I’ve heard him say on other occasions) that especially stood out to me. In essence, his observation was as follows: “Everything that mainstream Christianity teaches is wrong. If someone wants to believe the truth, they just need to believe the exact opposite of what Christians believe.” In light of this strongly worded belief expressed by Martin when we first met, I find it a bit ironic that Martin has taken it upon himself to defend (and with great zeal, I might add) a fundamental Christian doctrine against a series of articles I’ve written in which I’ve defended an alternative view. Obviously, this fact doesn’t mean that I’m right and Martin’s wrong (and anyone who thinks it does would be guilty of fallacious reasoning). However, I can’t help but find the irony of the situation somewhat amusing.

Given the fact that this is a rebuttal to a rebuttal, I suppose it goes without saying that I don't think Martin has (yet) given me any good reasons to “recant” what he calls my “evil teaching.” In fact, if anything at all, Martin’s first rebuttal has given me more confidence that I’m “on the right track,” scripturally speaking, concerning when Christ’s life began. It’s not that I don’t feel that Martin put a good bit of thought into his rebuttal. I think he did. However, I don’t yet think that the position he’s trying to defend really poses a threat to my position (and no amount of “proof-texting” or talk of the “evil teaching” of those who disagree with him on this subject can really help his position). At the end of his article, he accused me of making certain “interpretive mistakes.” I believe this accusation is unfounded and misguided, and I hope to make this clear in the course of my rebuttal. Martin's a terrific writer (it's his profession, after all), and is quite skilled in the art of persuasive writing. However, parts of his rebuttal seemed, to me, to be not only excessively critical in tone but to border on being rhetoric-based propaganda that could be considered more “style over substance” than anything else. And I can’t help but feel that the actual jabs taken at my doctrinal position ultimately failed to hit their target.  

I also found it ironic that Martin would criticize (one could even say mock) my attempt to closely and thoughtfully analyze a given text in order to come to a better understanding of what it means. As much as I hate to say it, this type of attitude expressed by Martin in his rebuttal seems more characteristic of a Christian clergyman who would rather his congregants “take his word for it” than think too much about something, or look into something too closely (for that, of course, could result in their coming to believe differently than what is preached from the pulpit). In general, Martin’s strategy in his rebuttal has, so far, involved (1) the staunch assumption that the standard, traditional interpretations given to approximately eight verses of scripture (verses which are believed by most Christians to support the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence) are unquestionably correct, and (2) reading the rest of scripture through the filter of the standard interpretations of these various “proof texts.” It would appear that Martin sees the standard interpretations of these eight verses as being so obviously true that one would have to be willfully blind or perverse to even think about questioning them or understanding the verses in a different way. In any case, it is, apparently, inconceivable to Martin that any of the verses he’s referred to as his primary proof-texts have (even possibly) been misunderstood by him.

I was tempted to include some remarks on each of Martin’s supposed “proof texts” (and actually had them prepared to be included in this article), but I figured that it would be better to just wait until after the next installment(s) of Martin’s rebuttal comes out (in which, I’m assuming, these verses will become the main focus). Needless to say, however, I still believe that Martin has misunderstood each and every “proof text” that he referenced in his rebuttal, and that the only reason he thinks that these verses so clearly and unambiguously teach the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence is because he already believes this doctrine (and, indeed, has believed this doctrine for most of his life, even before he became a believer). In other words, it’s because of his own doctrinal bias that I believe these verses appear to Martin to so obviously affirm what he thinks they affirm, and why he can’t see them any other way.

“Knockout Punches” and the Burden of Proof

Martin begins the “meat” of his rebuttal as follows: “If there is a knockout punch for Aaron’s position (since he’s trying to explain away some easy, straightforward passages, he needs a knockout punch), it surely doesn’t live here. “Who will argue that Jesus Christ was generated by God? How is this an argument in favor of the non preexistence of Christ? Bethlehem in 3 B.C was where and when He was generated as an Adamic human. Before that, He was created by God to be His Image: “God’s creative Original “(Revelation 3:14). It’s no more complicated than this.”

I must remind the reader that my position is that the life of a particular human being – i.e., our Lord, Jesus Christ (whom Paul referred to as the “last Adam”) – began when he was supernaturally “generated” (or “begotten”) by God. Thus, the position for which Martin is demanding a “knockout punch” argument (and apart from which he apparently cannot even take seriously) is that the life of a certain human being who was given the name "Jesus" actually began when he was conceived. In contrast with Martin, I think that, when one approaches scripture to try and discover the truth about Christ’s origin, it’s reasonable to begin one’s scriptural investigation with the assumption that the life of a particular human being begins at conception, and to consider such a belief as being reasonably and prima facie true unless one can prove that certain verses of scripture clearly and unambiguously reveal otherwise.

The belief that the life of a human being – even one supernaturally generated – does not begin until they’ve been begotten is one of the most natural beliefs to which one can hold. In fact, I would be very much surprised if I were to learn that Martin believes that, when Joseph and Miriam first heard and believed the words declared to them by the messenger Gabriel in Matt. 1:20 and Luke 1:30-37, they thought to themselves: “I can’t believe it! The oldest created being in existence – the one through whom God created the universe – is about to be ‘incarnated’ on earth as “an Adamic human”!” When Miriam and Joseph were told the straightforward facts concerning the generation of God’s son, they most likely didn’t reason to themselves that the “generating” of which Gabriel spoke would involve someone who was already alive. No one who isn’t already presupposing the truth of the doctrinal position that Christ preexisted would come to this conclusion when reading the above verses, since (again) it’s entirely natural and reasonable to believe that a human being – even one supernaturally generated – comes into existence when they are generated by their father. And if this is, in fact, the case, then it is actually those who deny that Jesus’ life began when he was conceived in his mother’s womb from whom one should demand a “knockout punch” argument in defense of their position (and apart from which one should feel no rational obligation whatsoever to cease holding to the entirely reasonable position that Christ’s life began at conception).

Thus, I think Martin has it exactly backwards. He’s demanding a “knockout punch” for a view that no one should be expected (or feel rationally obligated) to reject or doubt until they’ve been given compelling reasons to believe otherwise. But the belief that Jesus’ life began when he was conceived in his mother’s womb is not something that one should reject or doubt as being true until and unless one can be 100% certain that the rest of scripture is consistent with it. Instead, the belief that Jesus’ life began at conception is an entirely reasonable starting point when we’re considering the subject of Jesus’ origin, and one shouldn’t be embarrassed to demand compelling scriptural evidence to the contrary rather than having to provide a “knockout punch” argument against a position that is nowhere hinted at or suggested in the actual inspired accounts we have of Christ’s origin.

Martin: It is hard to believe that Aaron wrote this. “The burden of proof,” he writes, “is, I believe, on those who would disagree with the conclusion of this argument.” Really? This argument? The preceding three points? That argument?

Here is the argument to which Martin is responding:

1. The person who was given the name “Jesus” and the title “Christ” is said to have been “generated” (gennao) by God.

2. When referring to an event for which the father of a child was understood as responsible, the word translated “generated” or “begotten” in scripture (gennao) is to be understood as involving a person’s being brought into existence.

3. The person who was given the name “Jesus” and the title “Christ” was first brought into existence by God within the womb of his mother, Miriam, and after he died was subsequently brought back into existence by God when he was roused from among the dead.”

I’m not sure why Martin finds it so hard to believe that I wrote what I did. Martin’s apparent bewilderment and incredulity notwithstanding, I stand by what I wrote. Martin admits that everywhere else in scripture where we read of humans being generated/begotten by their fathers, their being generated/begotten involved their coming into existence, and the actualization of a unique father-child relation. Martin simply thinks that Christ is the “exception to the rule” of premise two. In the next section, we’ll consider whether this is even a reasonable position to take. However, for now, let’s assume that premise two is simply a “rule” to which there might possibly be an exception. If that’s the case, then what Martin must do to avoid the conclusion of the argument is prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Christ is, in fact, an exception to the “rule” of premise two. But the only way he can do this is by proving that his “proof texts” must be understood in a way that is necessarily inconsistent with the “rule” of premise two being applicable to Christ. Thus, in light of this argument, I considered the burden of proof to be on the proponent of the doctrine of Christ's preexistence to prove that their particular interpretation of a given verse is undoubtedly correct, and that the interpretation which sees the verse as being consistent with the conclusion of my argument as being clearly wrong. Martin certainly hasn’t succeeded in doing this in part one of his rebuttal, for all he’s done so far is referenced his “proof texts” without actually providing any argumentation yet. I’m assuming that he will begin to attempt to make his case in the next installment(s) of his rebuttal.

Was I being too generous to the “preexistence of Christ” doctrinal position?

Everything I’ve said above has been said under the assumption that the doctrinal position which affirms Christ’s preexistence might, in some way, be consistent with the historical account of Christ’s origin as found in Matthew and Luke’s Accounts. However, I’m inclined to believe that, by presenting this doctrinal position as if it were potentially compatible with the fact that Christ is said to have been generated by God, I was actually being too generous to this position. What I’ll now be arguing is that, in order to make this fact compatible with Martin’s interpretation of certain proof texts that he thinks support the preexistence doctrine, he has to completely disregard what it actually means for a human to be generated by their father. Let’s take another look at Luke 1:31-35:

And lo! you shall be conceiving and be pregnant and be bringing forth a Son, and you shall be calling His name Jesus. He shall be great, and Son of the Most High shall He be called. And the Lord God shall be giving Him the throne of David, His father, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for the eons. And of His kingdom there shall be no consummation.” Yet Miriam said to the messenger, “How shall this be, since I know not a man?” And answering, the messenger said to her, “Holy spirit shall be coming on you, and the power of the Most High shall be overshadowing you; wherefore [i.e., as a result of which] also the holy One Who is being generated [gennaō] shall be called the Son of God.”

The same word is found in Matt. 1:20 we read that Gabriel told Joseph that the child being generated in [Miriam] is of holy spirit.” As remarked in my first article on this subject, the exact idea that the writer or speaker intended to communicate by means of the Greek word translated “generated” in Luke 1:35 (gennaōdepended on its usage. When the word was used in reference to what a child’s father was understood as being responsible for, it means “to generate” or “beget” (see, for example, Matt. 1:2-16). In fact, this is the primary meaning of the word; only in a secondary sense does it ever apply to a mother. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, for example, the word means “to procreate (properly, of the father, but by extension of the mother).” The Perseus Greek Word Study Tool defines it as simply, “beget.”

So what, exactly, does it mean for a human to be generated or begotten by their father? When a person is generated or begotten by their father, does this event involve an already-existing person being transformed into some other form? No. It means they begin to exist, and that a unique relation between father and child becomes actualized. “To bring into existence” is precisely what the English word “generate” means (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/generate), while “beget” can be defined as, “to cause to exist,” “to produce as an effect,” “to generate,” “to procreate” or “to father.” Thus, in the above scriptural passage, we’re essentially being told that, as a direct result of God’s own spirit coming upon Miriam and the power of the Most High overshadowing her, Jesus (“the holy One”) was brought into existence by God, and that this bringing into existence of Jesus resulted in God’s becoming Jesus’ Father, and Jesus becoming God’s Son. Rather than denying this simple, straightforward truth just because one has always believed that certain other verses contradict it, I believe one would do well to rethink their interpretation of these other verses (and this is especially so given the fact that we in the body of Christ have good reason to be suspicious of standard Christian interpretations of scripture).

To assert that Jesus didn’t, in fact, begin to exist – and that God didn’t, in fact, become his Father – when Jesus was generated/begotten by God is to simply disregard the very idea that the word gennaō was intended to convey in this context. We know what it means for a human to be “generated” or “begotten” by their father. This isn’t something that anyone should consider “open to interpretation.” Thus, when we find this same word being used in reference to the origin of the Son of God, we’re not at liberty to say, “The word can’t express that idea here, because if it did, it would contradict my interpretation of some other verses found elsewhere in scripture.” But this, I submit, is essentially what Martin is doing here. He’s having to explain away the meaning of the word gennaō in reference to Jesus’ origin simply because the actual meaning of the term in this context doesn’t suit his doctrinal position.

Earlier, I quoted Martin as saying, “Bethlehem in 3 B.C was where and when He was generated as an Adamic human.” If by “generated” Martin means the event for which Jesus’ Father was directly responsible (i.e., Jesus’ conception), then this event most likely occurred in Miriam’s home town of Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27). It certainly wasn’t in Bethlehem (which, of course, was where Miriam actually bore the son that Gabriel declared in Luke 1:31 she would be “bringing forth”). Regardless of where Miriam was where Christ was generated, however, for Christ to have been generated/begotten (brought into existence) by God “as an Adamic human” (to use Martin’s somewhat peculiar expression) he was still brought into existence by his Father. Adding the words “as an Adamic human” doesn’t in any way change the fact that Christ was brought into existence by God, and that God became Jesus’ Father at this time. Also, I can’t help but wonder what, exactly, Martin was intending to express or emphasize by the words “generated as an Adamic human.” Imagine how bizarre and unnatural it would’ve been for the messenger Gabriel to have informed Miriam and Joseph that Jesus was going to be “generated as an Adamic human” (was there some other kind of human in existence when Christ was generated that he might’ve been generated as instead of an “Adamic human?”). What I think would’ve been a better expression for Martin to have used is, “generated as the Son of God.” At least, this wording would’ve been more informed by the context in which Christ’s being generated by God is actually referred to (Luke 1:30-35).

Moreover (and as I noted toward the end of my first installment, but which Martin apparently thought it best to overlook), the same word translated “generated” in Matt. 1:20 and Luke 1:35 (gennao) is translated “begotten” in Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5. Again, the idea of a son’s being brought into existence by his father is inherent in the word gennao when used of that for which a father is responsible. And in each of these verses, it is the resurrection of Jesus - rather than his conception - that is in view; thus, the gennao of Jesus by God referred to here should be understood as a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. If this is the case, then this usage of gennao provides even further evidence that, when used in reference to that for which a father is responsible, the word involves the child’s being brought into existence by his father. For, as Martin cannot deny, Christ ceased to exist when he died. That is, for three days and nights, the Son of God did not exist, and was utterly dependent on his God and Father for bringing him back into existence by resurrecting him. Christ’s resurrection was essentially the second time that the Son was brought into existence by the Father. Although Jesus did not become the Son of God for the first time when he was resurrected, it was at this time that he was “designated the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1:4). Christ wasn’t alive in another state of existence when he was begotten by God a second time. Thus, a consistent understanding of what it meant for Christ to have been “generated” or “begotten” by God demands that we understand that Christ wasn’t already in existence when he was begotten/generated by God the first time.

I also pointed out in my original installment that Christ’s being the “Son of God” is the result of his being generated by God. Here, again, is Luke  1:35: And answering, the messenger said to her, “Holy spirit shall be coming on you, and the power of the Most High shall be overshadowing you; wherefore [i.e., as a result of which] also the holy One Who is being generated [gennaō] shall be called the Son of God.” It is because of the fact that Jesus was generated by God at this time that he can “be called the Son of God.” Jesus’ being the Son of God is, in other words, based on the event referred to in Luke 1:35 (in fact, what Gabriel said here is simply an explicit affirmation of the truth that is implied by the fact that Jesus was generated, or begotten, by God in the womb of his mother Miriam, since becoming the son or daughter of someone is inseparably connected with the primary meaning of gennaō). A corollary of this fact is, I submit, that Jesus didn’t exist before he was generated by God and became God’s Son. How so? Well, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus was, in fact, the first person created by God (preexisting as a celestial being, as Martin believes). If that were the case, Jesus would’ve already been God’s Son, from the time he was first brought into existence until the time when his mother first became pregnant.

For many, this fact will appear obvious and intuitive. For those who don’t yet “see it,” consider the following: We know that other created, non-human persons are called “sons of God” or “sons of the Most High” (Gen. 6:1-2; Deut. 32:8; Job 1:6; 38:7; Psalm 82; 89:5-7), and that these non-human beings were directly brought into existence by the agency of the same being (which I believe to be God himself). Thus, if Christ had been the first being brought into existence by God, we can reasonably conclude that he – perhaps more so than any other celestial being - would’ve been deserving of the designation, “Son of God.” And yet, scripture reveals that Jesus’ being the Son of God is the result of his being generated by God at the time when his mother, Miriam, became pregnant. It follows logically from these facts that Christ didn’t exist before he was generated by God. It was at this time that God became Jesus’ Father, and Jesus became God’s Son. It was at this time that “the Man, Christ Jesus” – our Savior and Lord – was brought into existence by his God and Father.

For the sake of clarity, here’s a more formally expressed version of the above argument:

Premise 1: Non-human celestial beings who were directly brought into existence by God before God created mankind on the earth are called “sons of God” and “sons of the Most High” (Gen. 6:1-2; Deut. 32:8; Job 1:6; 38:7; Psalm 82; 89:5-7).

Premise 2: If Christ was the first being brought into existence by God (i.e., before all of the other “sons of God”) and thus existed before his mother became pregnant with him, then he would’ve been the “Son of God” and “the Son of the Most High” during this time of “preexistence.”

Premise 3: Scripture reveals that Jesus’ being the “Son of God” is the result of his being generated/begotten by God (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:24), and that it was at this time that God became Jesus’ Father and Jesus became God’s Son.

Conclusion: Christ Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t exist before he was generated/begotten by God.

Given everything said above, I feel that I’ve been giving the preexistence doctrinal position far too much credit. I’ve been approaching the debate in such a way as if the preexistence interpretation of certain verses could, in some way, be consistent with the fact that Jesus was generated/begotten by God. Irrespective of the validity of my point concerning who has the “burden of proof” in this particular debate, it really becomes a moot point when one realizes that there’s no other valid way of understanding the generating/begetting of Jesus by God except as being the event by which Jesus was brought into existence by God, and which resulted in Jesus' becoming God’s Son and God becoming Jesus’ Father. The doctrine of the “preexistence of Christ” thus turns out to be nothing more than the doctrine that the Son of God was brought into existence before the Son of God was brought into existence. It’s contradictory nonsense when we understand what it actually means for Jesus to have been generated by God (as well as the necessary connection that Jesus' being generated by God has to his Sonship). It means that those who believe that there are other verses of scripture which "clearly reveal" that Jesus was brought into existence before his conception are, necessarily, mistaken, and have simply misunderstood whatever verses they consider to be “proof texts.”

The “exception to the rule” argument

Martin: 2. Needless to say, Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Needless to say (except I apparently need to say it), Jesus Christ is the exception to pretty much every rule, but especially the rule of preexistence; He is the only being Who chose to come here. For humans, the word “generated” is understood as “involving a person’s being brought into existence,” because no human being besides Jesus Christ existed before his or her earthly existence. In Jesus Christ’s case, He did exist before His earthly existence. We know this from the eight verses I listed at the beginning of this article. These verses are written of no one else but Christ. None of them apply to you or to me. This makes Jesus Christ unique. Any verse stating Jesus Christ to be generated as a human being, therefore, makes no comment as to His preexistence in another form.

Remember the strategy I mentioned earlier? Well, here’s a prime example of it. Martin's basically arguing, “We can’t believe that Christ was brought into existence when he was generated/begotten by God (as the word seems to so clearly express, and as is the case with every other human being who has been generated) because that would contradict my interpretation of certain other verses (which, of course, we know is correct). It must be that Christ was simply an exception to the rule in this regard; he is, after all, an exceptional human being.” 

I obviously don't share Martin's confidence that the eight verses he listed at the beginning of his article support his position, but I do look forward to reading his defense of his interpretation of these verses against what I've written concerning them elsewhere on my blog. Perhaps his defense of how he thinks these verses should be interpreted will involve an argument I've never heard before. We'll see. In any event, I don't find Martin's appeal to Christ's exceptional nature in defense of his position at all compelling. 

Christ is clearly an exceptional human being in a number of important respects. The problem with this (at least, insofar as Martin’s argument is concerned), however, is that there is absolutely nothing about Christ’s exceptional nature that gives us any good reason to even suspect (let alone conclude) that when Christ was generated by God he wasn’t brought into existence by God. We cannot simply argue that, because Christ is an “exceptional human being,” therefore X [fill in the blank] is true, or even probably true, of him. Here are just a few examples demonstrating why the “Christ is an exceptional human being” argument just doesn’t work:

“Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Therefore, he never cried.”

“Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Therefore, he didn’t have to learn obedience.”

“Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Therefore, he didn’t have to learn or be taught anything.”

“Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Therefore, he couldn’t have been ‘tried in all respects like us.’”

“Jesus Christ is an exceptional human being. Therefore, he never suffered physical pain.”

I could, of course, go on and on with more and more erroneous statements like the ones above, with each of them serving to further undermine Martin’s assertion that “Jesus Christ is the exception to pretty much every rule.” The fact is that, unless scripture clearly informs us of how Christ is the exception to some rule concerning human existence, we shouldn’t simply assume that he is. I believe, for example, that Christ never sinned. But I don’t believe this because of some presupposition about Christ’s being “the exception to pretty much every rule.” It’s because I find this truth revealed in scripture. I also believe that Christ came into existence apart from the involvement of a human father. But this belief of mine is not due to some presupposition about Christ’s being “the exception to pretty much every rule.” It’s because I believe this truth is revealed in scripture. It is scripture – and not some presupposed “principle” - that should inform our understanding about how, exactly, Christ is “an exceptional human being.”

“Christ…foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world…”

Martin: Aaron makes the argument that because Christ was said to be foreknown (1 Peter 1:20) and members of the body of Christ are also said to be foreknown (Romans 8:29), that therefore Christ did not exist before His birth because we did not exist before our births. Well, hmm. The commonality of being foreknown should not get anyone too excited that they and Jesus are running in the same race. I am pretty sure that dinosaurs, raisins, redwood trees, snowblowers, underwire bras and French’s mustard were also all foreknown.

I’m puzzled by Martin’s remark about one’s “getting too excited that they and Jesus are running in the same race.” Is this how Martin sees those within the body of Christ who don’t agree with him that Christ preexisted his conception? Does Martin seriously think that I believe I am “running in the same race” as Christ, or that my position logically leads to this sort of belief? I hope that’s not the case.

In any event, I’m not sure Martin fully appreciates or understood my argument here. Martin reminds us that God foreknew “dinosaurs, raisins, redwood trees, snowblowers, underwire bras and French’s mustard.” Yes, that would be correct. And did any of these things exist when they were “foreknown” by God? No, they didn’t. That’s why it’s correct to say that they were “foreknown” by God; their non-existence at the time when they were foreknown by God is what makes the word “foreknown” appropriate here. Inherent in the meaning of the word “foreknowledge” is the concept of having knowledge of something before it actually exists or occurs. Insofar as someone (or something) is an object of God's foreknowledge, the person (or thing, or event) cannot be said to exist (or to have occurred) yet. It therefore wouldn't make any sense to say that God foreknew Christ before the disruption of the world if, during this time period, Christ already existed. Thus, the fact that Christ was “foreknown before the disruption of the world” presupposes that Christ didn’t exist before the disruption of the world.

Consider the following argument:

1. That which is foreknown by God cannot exist/be occurring at the same time that it is being foreknown by God (for God’s having foreknowledge of something involves his having knowledge of it before it actually exists or occurs).

2. Christ was foreknown by God before the disruption of the world (1 Pet. 1:20).

3. Christ didn’t exist before the disruption of the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2 and “the last of these days”

Martin devoted a considerable number of words in his rebuttal to respond to what was a relatively brief remark I made concerning this verse (and which was relatively inconsequential to my overall article and argument). So do Martin’s remarks concerning Christ’s prophetic office undermine the view that Heb. 1:1-2 is more consistent with my position than with his? I’m not convinced that they do. The most likely reason why the author referred to the prophets here at all is because - as God’s “spokesmen” (whose divinely-sanctioned office involved speaking to mankind on behalf of God) - the prophets represent the means of communication between God and the rest of humanity.

The contrast the author is making here is not between Jesus-as-prophet and the rest of the prophets (for if that were the case, it wouldn’t even be true, since God continued “speaking in prophets” other than Christ even after Christ began his prophetic career). Instead, I believe the point of these verses is that a new Spokesman had arrived on the scene who is superior to those in whom God spoke before the “last of these days” began. The contrast being made in verse 1-2 is between how God spoke “of old” and the new way in which God speaks to us “in the last of these days” (which is “in a Son”). The implication is that God had not yet spoken to us “in a Son” prior to the start of “the last of these days.”

Moreover, if Martin believes that the “pre-incarnate Christ” ever spoke to “the fathers” during the time of his “preexistence,” his position would entail that God had been speaking “in a Son” long, long before “the last of these days” actually began. This would, I believe, completely trivialize the contrast and point being made in verses 1-2. It would be like saying, “Although God spoke to the fathers in a Son before the last of these days began, the Son wasn’t a prophet at the time!” Okay, but so what? The force of the contrast being made is derived from the implied fact that God had never communicated to mankind “in a Son” before the last of these days began, and before the Son to whom the prophets bore witness came on to the scene. Although Christ was foreknown by God (and foretold by the prophets) before the “last of these days” began, it was not until the “last of these days” that he came to be “manifested in the last times because of [the saints]” (1 Pet. 1:20).

“Through Whom He also makes the eons”

Martin thinks that the words “through Whom He also makes the eons” contradict my position that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, didn’t begin to exist until the “last of these days” began. Martin writes, “But besides all of this, the writer of Hebrews, in order to make sure that no one such as Aaron Welch could mistakenly conclude from this “speaking as a prophet” business that the Image of the invisible God never spoke before or in any other way besides that of a prophet, finishes Hebrews 1:1-2 with: “...through Whom He also makes the eons.” Aaron never mentions this part of the verse, in this context. Obviously (to most people, anyway), a Being Who “created the eons,” would have necessarily existed before His manifestation in flesh in Bethlehem (which occurred during the eons) and thus before being appointed a prophet in a long line of mere Adamic spokespeople.”

In another article (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/) I’ve argued that “the eons” that the writer had in view in Heb. 1:2 - the ones which we’re told God makes through his Son - should best be understood as the “eons of the eons” (i.e., the two future eons during which the Son will be reigning). I need not repeat everything said in that article in this rebuttal (and I’m sure there will be another opportunity to say more about this expression after future installments of Martin’s rebuttal come out). For now, I’ll simply give three reasons why I believe the immediate context in which the words “through whom he makes the eons” are found is more supportive of the interpretation for which I’ve argued elsewhere than Martin’s interpretation (which I believe is simply based on him reading his own doctrinal bias into the text):  

1. It is through his Son that God makes “the eons” which the writer had in view. However (as argued earlier) Jesus is God’s Son by virtue of the fact that he was generated/begotten by God. It was at this time (and not before) that God became the Father of Jesus, and Jesus became the Son of God. This fact make sense of why God hadn’t spoken to anyone in his Son until “the last of these days” began (for the Son of God in whom God is now speaking didn’t exist yet). It also means that, if the Son must already be in existence before he can be the one through whom God makes “the eons” that the writer had in view, then these eons cannot have begun prior to the human lifetime of the Son.  

2. Related to the above point, the expression “in the last of these days” can be reasonably understood as providing us with not only the timeframe for when God began speaking to us in his Son but also for when “the eons” in view are being made (or will begin to be made – the tense of the word “makes” allows for a present or future act) by God through the Son. In other words, since the focus of v. 2 is clearly on what began to be true “in the last of these days,” it would be more reasonable to understand the making of “the eons” in view as being the activity of God through the Son during the “last of these days” as well. Again, it is this period of time that is the focus of this passage (and arguably the entire book of Hebrews). A reference to some event in the distant past after having just put the focus on what was now true in “the last of these days” would be completely out of place.

3. We’re also told in the same verse that it is the Son “whom [God] appoints enjoyer of the allotment of all.” Like the expression “in the last of these days,” this, too, should be understood as providing us with a particular time frame revealing when God “makes the eons” through his Son. When we understand when and why Jesus was “appointed enjoyer of the allotment of all,” we find that this is yet another indication that the writer had the eons of Christ’s reign in view. Verses 3-4 shed some important light on this. There, we read concerning the Son of God: “Who, being the Effulgence of His glory and Emblem of His assumption, besides carrying on all by His powerful declaration, making a cleansing of sins, is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heights; becoming so much better than the messengers as He enjoys the allotment of a more excellent name than they.”

Christ was appointed by God with (and thus began to enjoy) the “allotment of a more excellent name than they” after his death and resurrection, and not before (see, for example, Heb. 2:5-9 and Phil. 2:8-11). It was Christ’s sacrificial death that made him (and no one else) worthy of this supreme allotment. And it is this “allotment of a more excellent name” that we can reasonably conclude enables Christ to be the one through whom God “makes the eons.” This is further confirmation that the eons in view are the eons of Christ’s reign, and not the eons that began before the "last of these days" began.

Moreover, let’s consider what it actually means for God to “make” an eon, or for him to “make” multiple eons. To better understand what this involves, let’s consider what it is that separates one eon from the next. What, for example, is it that separated the present eon from the last eon, or the last eon from the first eon, or the first eon from what came before it? It must be some event(s) that take place which mark the beginning or end of an eon. Thus, making an eon involves, at the very least, causing or bringing about whatever events that are needed to take place in order for an eon to begin or end. The present eon, for instance, can be understood as having been made by means of the cataclysmic events that occurred in Noah’s day. It was these cataclysmic events which concluded the previous eon and ushered in the present one. And the first eon was, apparently, concluded by a similar (and perhaps greater) cataclysmic event (2 Pet. 3:5-6). However, there is no indication from scripture that Christ was involved in bringing about any of these cataclysmic events.

Not only is there no indication that Christ was involved in bringing about these past cataclysmic events, it’s reasonable to conclude that the sort of authority that one would need to have in order to bring about such cataclysmic, world-ending events was not even given to Christ until after his death and resurrection (when he was made “Lord of all” and given “all authority in heaven and on earth”). However, we know that, having been given all authority in heaven and on earth and made Lord of all, Christ is more than able to be the agent through whom God makes the eons during which his Son will be reigning. We also know for a fact that Christ is the one who will initiate the cataclysmic events through which the present eon is brought to a close (hopefully soon!), and is the one whose return to earth will usher in the next eon. And we also know that Christ’s being worthy to be the one responsible for initiating the consummation of the present eon (and then to inaugurate the next eon) is inseparably tied to his sacrificial death (see Rev. 5). Evidently, then, the sort of authority that Christ needed to be the one through whom God makes the next eon (and, by implication, the final eon) is the supreme authority that he received because of his obedient death. To believe, therefore, that Christ was the one through whom God made (past tense) the first three eons is to fail to understand and appreciate the fact that the very authority and power which enables Christ to be the one through whom God “makes the eons” was given to him because of his obedient death on the cross.

Is it only “relatively true” that God is the sole Creator of the heavens and the earth?

Martin believes that it’s only in a relative sense that God was the sole creator of the heavens and the earth, and he attempts to prove this by appealing to the context of some of the verses in which God appears to be saying that he was the sole creator of the heavens and the earth (e.g., Isaiah 44:24). Although I commend Martin for attempting to make sense of this (or any) verse by appealing to the context, the problem, for Martin, is that there is nothing about the context that in any way justifies the view that God’s words in Isaiah 44:24 should be understood as anything less than absolutely true. It is, therefore, Martin’s own doctrinal position (based on certain verses that he "knows" prove it) - and not the larger context in which Isaiah 44:24 is found - that demands that God’s words here be understood as true in only a “relative sense.”

As Martin points out, one of the themes of this chapter is the worthlessness of pagan idols and the inability of the false gods of the nations to save anyone. However, this fact doesn’t make Isaiah 44:24 express a truth that can (or should) be understood as true in only a “relative sense.” The fact that no false gods assisted Yahweh with the creation of the heavens and the earth (which can be understood as an implied fact of Isaiah 44:24) can itself be understood as being based on the more fundamental fact that no one assisted God with the creation of the heavens and the earth. Had they been present at the time of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the false gods of the nations would’ve had nothing to do because - according to Isaiah 44:24 - Yahweh did it all himself.

Another point to take into consideration is this: What reason would the original readers/hearers of the book of Isaiah (or indeed, any Israelite from the time that this book was written until the time of Christ) have had to understand the words of Isaiah 44:24 as anything less than absolutely true? Is there anything at all about the context of Isaiah 44 that would’ve given them any reason to doubt that God wasn’t speaking absolutely? No, and I doubt that Martin would dispute this. From this consideration I think we can reasonably conclude that the only reason one would even be inclined to try and understand Isaiah 44:24 as expressing a “relative truth” is because one’s doctrinal position required it. Martin must understand this verse as expressing a relative truth, because if he didn’t do so the verse would contradict what he believes concerning the preexistence of Christ.

Responding to my remarks on Paul’s words in Acts 17:24, Martin writes: Here, Paul claims that “God made the world and everything in it.” Does this prove that God did not make the world through Christ? No. In fact, this same Paul states elsewhere (1 Corinthians 8:6) that, “Nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father, out of Whom all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we through Him.” To show you that even here there is a comparison made to the possibility of other deities pitching in, Paul directly precedes this statement with, “For even if so be that there are those being termed gods, whether in heaven or on earth, even as there are many gods and many lords, nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). Even in the midst of multiple gods, Paul states that there is only one God. If God can be said to be “the only God,” even in the midst of multiple deities, then surely He can be said to have created the world “alone,” even while creating it through Christ.

I don’t think 1 Cor. 8:5-6 is a good example for Martin to use in support of the point he's trying to make. Paul clearly qualifies the “one God” of whom he is speaking as the God “out of whom all is, and we for him.” There is only one God of whom this can be said, so I don’t think Paul was saying that there is only one God “relatively speaking” (or one God “in a relative sense”). Rather, Paul’s expressing an absolute truth here. No other god in existence is the god “out of whom all is, and we for him.” Thus, it is absolutely (not relatively) true that there is one God concerning whom this fact is true. Similarly, when Paul said that there is only “one Lord” (Jesus Christ), he qualified this with the words, “through whom all is, and we through him.” No other lord in existence is the lord “through whom all is, and we through him.”

Psalm 33:6, 9 and John 1:3

What Martin considers “the least convincing verse of all” (with regards to supporting the position that Yahweh acted alone when he created the universe) is Psalm 33:6, 9. There, we read: “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host...For he [Yahweh] spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm…" Martin then explains how he thinks these verses can be understood in a way that is consistent with his position: “Yahweh gives the word and breathes—and the world is created through His appointed channel (1 Corinthians 8:6) and through His appointed Image (2 Corinthians 4:4), and through the personified Word (John 1:3).

At least Martin has made it clear that he believes the “word” referred to in Psalm 33:6 was, in fact, Yahweh’s word. It would seem, then, that with regards to Psalm 33:6, Martin believes the following concerning the sequence of events which resulted in the heavens being made:

1. As an expression of his will, God declared that the heavens come to be.
2. In response to the word of God, Jesus Christ (in his “preexistent” state) then willed that the heavens come to be.
3. The heavens came to be.

Where Martin and I differ, then, is in the fact that I understand the “word of Yahweh” referred to in this verse as being the same “word” that John had in view in John 1:1-3 (and which Peter had in view in 2 Pet. 3:6). Thus, I believe this word of Yahweh was the only means through which Yahweh created the universe “in the beginning.” So, with regards to Psalm 33:6, my understanding of the sequence of events would simply be as follows:

1. As an expression of his will, God declared that the heavens come to be.
2. The heavens came to be.

I think Martin would agree that the second sequence is not only consistent with Psalm 33:6, but that it most accurately reflects what we’re actually told in Psalm 33:6 (rather than what we’re not told). Thus, apart from any clear scriptural revelation indicating that something else needs to be “added to the equation” and inserted into the sequence of events found in Psalm 33:6, it would be reasonable to believe that the sequence of events revealed in Psalm 33:6 is not missing anything of importance. Given this fact, let’s now compare Psalm 33:6, 9 with John 1:3 (which Martin considers to be one of his “proof texts,” and which he referenced in my last quotation of him):

Psalm 33:6, 9: “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host...For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm…” 

John 1:3 (CLNT): “All came into being through it [the “word” of vv. 1-2], and apart from it not even one thing came into being which has come into being.”

What’s worth noting is that, in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation - a translation with which the apostle John would’ve likely been very familiar - the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word for “word” in Psalm 33:6 is logos. It is, in other words, the same word found in John 1:1-2. Thus, in Psalm 33:6 we’re being told that it was by the word (logos) of God that the heavens were made, and in John 1:3 we’re being told that all came into being through the word (logos) of God. It would appear, then, that one of the very “proof texts” that Martin has referenced (and which he considers to be a “knockout punch” argument for his doctrinal position) seems to be expressing the same basic truth concerning how God created everything in the beginning as the truth that Martin himself would agree is being explicitly affirmed in Psalm 33:6, 9 (which is that Yahweh’s word, or logos, was the means by which God made what was made).

Psalm 33:6 and other related verses (such as Gen. 1:3) would’ve undoubtedly informed John’s understanding of how God created everything in the beginning, and, in light of these sort of verses, I’m honestly not sure how Martin can view John 1:3 as a “knockout punch” that clearly and unambiguously supports his position. Instead, it seems to be Martin’s own doctrinal bias that has led him to view John 1:3 as a “proof text,” and to see a need to explain Psalm 33:6 in a way that is consistent with his doctrinal position. Simply put, there is nothing said in John 1:3 that need be understood as revealing anything that the Jewish readers of John’s account (who were already familiar with verses such as Gen. 1:3 or Psalm 33:6, 9) didn’t already know, or which they couldn’t have inferred from what had already been revealed. John 1:3 would not, in other words, have been a “new revelation” for them. It was simply an affirmation of the truth explicitly expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

At this point, Martin might object, “But the ‘word’ referred to in John 1:1-5 is said to have ‘become flesh’ in v. 14!” Yes, and this is perfectly consistent with the view that the word through which God created everything in the beginning was the spoken expression of God’s thoughts (which, again, Martin would agree is in view in Psalm 33:6). Martin himself referred to Christ as “the personified Word,” and the event referred to in John 1:14 is, I believe, precisely when God’s word became personified. One definition of “personification” (and which is probably the definition Martin had in mind when he referred to Christ as “the personified Word”) is “the representation or embodiment of a quality, concept or thing in human form.” Thus, to consider Christ as being the “personification” of God’s word is simply to regard him as representing or embodying God’s word. I believe that when we’re told that “the word became flesh,” we’re being told that the “personification” of God’s word took place when Jesus was generated by his Father. It was at this point that the person whom God pre-designated to be (and foreknew would be) the perfect representation and embodiment of his word came into existence.    

“One Lord through whom all is”

With regards to Martin's reference to 1 Cor. 8:6, I don't see this verse as providing any support whatsoever for the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence or his involvement in the creation of the heavens and the earth in the beginning. Paul was referring to what was true (and remains true) since the time that Jesus Christ became the “one Lord…through whom all is, and we through him.” And when was this? When did Jesus Christ become the “one Lord…through whom all is, and we through him?” Was it before God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning? Was it at any time prior to when our Lord was generated/begotten by God, his Father, and the “Son of God” came into existence? No.

Jesus Christ became the “one Lord” – and was given the authority to be the one “through whom all is” – when he was roused from among the dead by God. Christ became the “one Lord through whom all is” when God gave him “all authority in heaven and on the earth” (Matt. 28:18) and made him “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36; cf. 2:34-36). In Rom. 14:8-9, Paul wrote, “Then, both if we should be living and if we should be dying, we are the Lord’s. For for this Christ died and lives, that He should be Lord of the dead and of the living.” To understand what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 8:5-6 as having been true of Christ before he was roused from among the dead as “Lord of all” is to completely lose sight of the fact that Christ became worthy and deserving of this exalted status and position of unrivaled authority because of his sacrificial death on the cross.

It would seem that Martin believes my teaching is “evil” because it supposedly robs Christ of what he refers to as Christ’s “
second-greatest glory.” However, I believe that it is, in fact, the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence that tends to distract from (and even compete with) Christ’s greatest glory, and to make less of what Christ accomplished by the act of obedience that made him worthy of this glory. As noted above, it was not until Christ died in perfect obedience to God - and was subsequently roused in glory by his Father - that he was given the absolute authority over all creation that enabled (and enables) him to be the “one Lord through whom all is, and we for him.” Even if Christ had been the first being created by God (as is Martin’s belief), it was his obedient, sacrificial death on the cross that enabled Christ to have his present exalted status as the “one Lord” of 1 Cor. 8:6. It was this that entitled Jesus to his present preeminent position as “Lord of the dead and of the living” and “Lord of all.” Jesus’ supreme Lordship – i.e., his being the “one Lord through whom all is” - is inseparably tied to the fact that he was highly exalted by his Father and graced with “the name that is above every name.” And the receiving of this preeminent position and unrivaled authority was the direct result of his death. 

To believe and teach that Christ was the “one Lord through whom all is” before he died in obedience to God is, I believe, to unintentionally distract oneself and others from the true basis of Christ’s present exalted status and supreme worthiness in relation to the rest of creation. The fact that Christ lived a sinless life and died on behalf of all in obedience to God is the true basis of the worthiness that enables him to be the “one Lord” of 1 Cor. 8:6. Thus, I believe that to read Martin’s doctrinal position into certain texts (such as this one) causes one to fail to appreciate the full magnitude and significance of Christ’s death, and what Christ accomplished through it. And insofar as this is the case, the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence should be seen as simply a subtle means of distracting us from the truth of the sufficiency of Christ’s death, and from the beauty and significance of that which is Christ’s greatest glory.