My recent debate on the nature of Jesus Christ’s preexistence in the Bible

Last Saturday I participated in my very first formal debate. The title of the event was: “Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ literally preexisted his birth?” Those who are regular readers of the blog or those in possession of my latest book The Son of God know that I regard the ‘preexistence of Jesus’ within the Bible to be notional, that is, within God’s mind and plans. My debate partner, David Barron, argued that the Bible does indeed depict literal preexistence.

Being my first debate, I feel that although I prepared well I was a little rough around the edges. So forgive me if I do not appear calm during the entire engagement, as I was very excited and passionate about my subject.

Here is the video to the debate, which lasted 2 hours and forty-five minutes.

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32 thoughts on “My recent debate on the nature of Jesus Christ’s preexistence in the Bible

  1. I look forward to the opportunity to review this discussion. Christology is the central focus – and Theology proper will be naturally corrected with the Biblical Christology.

  2. Hello Dustin,

    I really appreciated listening to the debate. Even though I’m in closer agreement with Mr. Barron’s beliefs, I found your push back very helpful in order to better understand the issue and I agreed with many of your statements.

    Around the 1:34:00 mark, you emphasized the language used in Isaiah 44:24, insisting that it necessitates that Yahweh brought about his work of creation completely alone, effectively ruling out the possibility for agency. Given that, I’m genuinely interested in how you understand a verse like Deuteronomy 32:12 where it says, “The LORD alone led him [Israel]”. Does this mean that Yahweh always led Israel directly and by himself, with absolutely no intermediary agents involved that work? Don’t we see angels being sent by God to give direction and even Moses being appointed to lead Israel? If that’s the case, why in your view is it stated so plainly that God “alone” led Israel?

    Another point for which I am interested in hearing your perspective comes from the same context as the former passage above. Isaiah 43:11 says, “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.” How do you reconcile this statement with your belief that Jesus is your savior? As you’re likely aware, our Trinitarian friends would argue that this verse requires the understanding that Jesus is God himself.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Phrases like “by myself” and “all alone” are pretty clear. The rest of Deut 32:12 says what the verse means, that there were no other gods there. Also, God being the only savior in Isaiah proved that Jesus, the other savior, was not in existence yet.

      1. Hi Dustin,

        Thanks for your (quick!) reply. I completely agree with your assessment of Deuteronomy 32:12. Yahweh is comparing himself to rival foreign gods, and it is therefore in respect to them that he can honestly say that he “alone” led Israel. In my view (and evidently yours as well), his servants like Moses and his angels aren’t even being considered here.

        That said, would it not then be at least understandable to see how one could use that exact same viewpoint at Isaiah 44? In other words, wouldn’t it be a valid interpretation to say that God acted alone with respect to the other gods (who are the idols being spoken of here), but not necessarily alone with respect to his servants (who are not being considered here)? My opinion is that it’s the very same type of comparison being made in Isaiah 44:24 as we see at Deuteronomy 32:12. And I use your reasoning for Deuteronomy 32:12 for both passages.

        As for the example of “savior”, I think you gave one valid interpretation of it. Of course, in my experience Trinitarians love to point out what comes immediately before it at Isaiah 43:10, “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” Given that that plain statement seems to rule out any other past or future gods, they might then point you back to earlier on in the book, to Isaiah 9:6, where it is prophesied, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…and his name shall be called…mighty God.” They then conclude that a Trinitarian explanation is required in order to harmonize these verses.

        Now I’m sure you have a way to resolve this surface contradiction by explaining the words within their respective contexts, but then how would you respond to a counter charge/accusation were they hammer you that by even giving such an explanation, you’re not taking Isaiah 43:10 seriously, where it says clear as day NO OTHER GODS? (This happens to me all the time when I try to qualify the term ‘god’ or ‘savior’.)

        Thank you.

      2. I think it is a case of special pleading and dishonesty to say that when Isa. 44:24 says “by Myself” and “all alone” along with six Hebrew verbs which are singular verbs (rather than plural verbs) to suggest that Isaiah really meant that there was more than one person in view in this act of creation. This is nonsensical. Why is it so difficult to take seriously the obvious and plan conclusion of this verse?

      3. Hi Dustin,

        I did not say that Isaiah 44:24 “really meant that there was more than one person in view in this act of creation.” I said the comparison there is between Jehovah and rival gods, the very same comparison being made at Deuteronomy 32:12 where you (correctly, IMO) explained the qualification on “alone” yourself. Whether or not God used other agents to carry out his work of creation (just as he used his agents to lead Israel) isn’t even being considered by Isaiah because that’s not what the argument there is about.

        Hammering on “alone” or “by myself” over and over misses the point, just as it would if you used it for Deuteronomy 32:12.

    2. With respect to Dustin, with whom I am in complete christological accord, I do not believe this line of reasoning is strong and your identifying it as less than satisfactory makes perfect sense.

      Here is an example why – Judges3:9 – Othniel is ALSO a Savior to Israel… same word as in Is43:11. Without further review, I believe there are other saviors as well.

      Thus, this becomes an issue for BOTH camps – how can at one time Jehovah claim to be the only savior BUT we see there are other saviors? In fact this sort of issue is not unusual. We see this with worship as well – and I suspect a few other areas that I have not considered.

      In this instance, this text is best used to refute Arianism as the statement does seem to be beyond Jehovah and His created order (cf the Jesus baptizing more disciples than John language) and simply refer to Jehovah alone.

      1. Othniel was dead at the writing of Isaiah 43, so the statement is still true. God was the only savior at that point.

      2. Dustin,

        Hmmm… that does not sound like the sense of the passage. The sense of the passage is that God is for once and all time the only Savior – that he was savior while Othniel was savior. To chop up time periods “to make sense” of the scripture seems a sort of mis-direction from digging to find a genuine synthesis.

      3. Hi Greg,

        I tend to agree with you that there may be a better synthesis. The reason I brought up Isaiah 43:11 along with 44:24 is because it likewise fits into this compare-and-contrast theme that seems to be present here, pitting Jehovah against any rival gods. The evident purpose being to vindicate Jehovah’s superiority.

        For example, after Jehovah is called the only Savior, the very next verse explicitly makes the comparison: ” I…have saved…when there was no strange god among you.” Later on in the next chapter it reads: “he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me! You are my god!’ They know nothing, they understand nothing.” (Isaiah 44:17-18) Essentially Jehovah is arguing like this:

        ‘Who is really God? Me or them? ONLY me!’
        ‘Who can really save you? Me or them? ONLY me!’
        ‘Who created all things? Me or them? ONLY me!’

        Jehovah stands alone when he is compared to the gods of the nations. And while angels and men are sometimes properly called gods or saviors elsewhere in the Bible (in some sense of agency), those types of roles are simply not what is being considered here. They are not rivals of Jehovah and so this passage cannot rightly be used as proof against the existence of those working in such intermediary roles, subject to God. For example, Othniel is not a rival god bringing salvation to Israel, rather he is the instrument through which Jehovah brings salvation to his people (in this instance).

      4. Agreed – that is a much more Biblically sound exegesis.

        I think you are capturing a critical concept – that the agents of God have the same title/position of God – God alone is Savior – but HOW he saves is through men – through the man Christ Jesus, through the man Othniel, through the man Moses, etc., etc.

        This is where a lot of people who generally ignorant of this critical concept get confused when Jesus appears to be identified as God. In fact Jesus is IN God – just as we, who in IN Christ, are IN God – and thus all part of Him.

        A great example is when Jesus spoke to Paul and said “Why are you persecuting ME”???? But is was NOT Jesus PERSONALLY – as He was in heaven.

        Does this make sense??

      5. Greg,

        Your example perfectly illustrates the concept of agency and I am in complete agreement. When reading through the Bible, I once marked all the obvious examples of representational agency that I came across. My Bible is now full of these markings.

        While your example is concise and to the point, if I have the time sometimes I like to ask a skeptic to read Matthew 8:5-13 and really picture the event playing out in their mind. Afterwards I ask them to read the parallel account found in Luke 7:1-10. They’re usually thrown by this at first, but then they get the idea.

        A lot of the confusion today surrounding Jesus’ relationship to God is really due to Jesus being God’s primary representative, acting with his authority and teachings. ‘God did X’ and ‘Jesus did X’ does NOT necessitate that Jesus is God.

      6. Likewise God having A title and Jesus having A title does not mean Jesus is God – any more than a whole raft of individuals have Kurios as a title – or Father as a title or Xristos as a title or whatever. Etc.

        Great texts re Centurion – would love to see a trin synthesize this…:-) There is a clearly Bibliology issue here as well (looks like may be two distinct pericopes that simply represent this event differently….). The notion that Oral tradition is flawless is, of course, baloney.

        BTW – I trust you are familiar with the concept of anhypostasis? How do you deal with a Jesus who is not a man – but simply an impersonal human nature…??

      7. Hi Greg,

        I am familiar with the scriptural use of the term and the later role the term played in the development the Trinity as well as the hypostatic union. I’m honestly not sure what you’re looking for, but my personal view of the situation is that the personal logos humbled himself and became flesh by taking on a human form via a virgin birth in order to become a ‘second Adam’. At that point the logos was a real man.

        I suppose I don’t really see an issue with a person taking on another nature given that we also have the concept in the NT of Christians taking on “the divine nature” and all that that transformation entails. (2 Peter 1:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-54) But admittedly I haven’t given all of this as much thought as the issues directly related to refuting the Trinity. That is why this subject interests me. 🙂

      8. TJ

        Thanks for the follow-up. First – could you please provide the scriptural text that employs this term?

        You did identify that there is a relationship between the concept and the hypostatic union. Absolutely true – in fact, the anhypostasis is really the core of the HU – but almost no one knows this….

        Here is what I am looking at – per the HU, Jesus is merely an impersonal human nature – actuated by a deity… That simply is NOT “a man”. A man is NOT a divine person actuating a human puppet. In contrast, scripture repeatedly, clearly and formally states – Jesus IS a man. Here are the core texts which you probably familiar with –

        Matthew 9:8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power to men.

        Luke 24:19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man [ἀνὴρ] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
        Note: Jesus did not chastise them because of errant Christology ….

        John 1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man [ἀνὴρ] who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

        John 3:27 John answered and said, A man [ἄνθρωπος] can receive nothing except it is given him from the heaven.

        John 8:40 but now you seek to kill me, a man [ἄνθρωπος] who has told you the truth that I heard from God.

        Acts 2:22, 23 “Men [Aνδρες] of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man [ἄνδρα] and attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men

        Acts 17:30, 31 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [ἀνὴρ] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

        Rom 5:15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man [ἄνθρωπος] Jesus Christ abound unto the many.

        I Cor 15:21 For as by [δι’] a man [ἄνθρωπος] came death, by [δι’] a man [ἄνθρωπος] has come also the resurrection of the dead.

        I Cor 15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [ἄνθρωπος] is from heaven
        ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος ἐκ γῆς χοϊκός, ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ.

        Phil 2:7b, 8 7b being made in the likeness of men; 8 and being found in fashion as a man [ἄνθρωπος], he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.

        I Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man [ἄνθρωπος] Christ Jesus,

        Zechariah 6:12 And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man [אִ֞ישׁ (right to left)] whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.

      9. Hi Greg,

        Slight misunderstanding on my part: I thought you meant ‘an hypostasis’ with an indefinite article. But indeed you meant the negative prefix. My apologies; that term, to my knowledge, is not in scripture.

        I’ve always been interested in the dueling schools of thought between Alexandria and Antioch, the Word-flesh vs Nestorianism debate which eventually was ‘settled’ in Rome’s victory of the imposition of the HU. I tend to agree with you that since they literally needed the Son to be in two places at once, they kept the idea of a deity ‘puppeting’ a human form while also busy in heaven being…God. They use this doctrine to arbitrarily switch back and forth between Jesus being God when it suits them and Jesus being man when it suits them, though nothing in the text even hints at being justification for such an exegesis.

        My view is that Jesus did not simultaneously exist in two separate natures, but that he was man on earth, ALL man, baby. 🙂 If you’d like to discuss these issues further perhaps we should take it off blog. Maybe opportunity for your second blog post?

      10. TJ

        Makes perfect sense. You are obviously familiar with the term and the critical nature AND the neat back-forth of man or god as needed (and God is F/S/HS or just one as needed) that we all groan at when we encounter.. a concept that, as I understand was sort of fully developed under Gregory around 600 or some such.

        I like you “all man” statement (though I try to limit to just “a man” since that is the repeated text) but it leaves me a little puzzled. Earlier, assuming I correctly understood what I read, you provided some sense that Jesus personally existed pre-“conception”/”incarnation”. I am lost on a person of deity eliminating every aspect of his deity to become a human person/substance, etc. (assuming that is your suggested concept… I may have misunderstood). We would still see – at least according to my Arian friends – a Jesus that knew of his pre-incarnate personal state (Jn8:58) – which, unless you know of an exception, men don’t do that…:-).

        Also, I would have no notion as to why we would need to posit such a fantastical conception that is seemingly so foreign to the entire body of scripture.

        I am okay with another blog – however, I tend to find people are interested in these sort of discussions here (at this point, my people are Bible geeks – a not entirely healthy preoccupation due to the severely addictive elements…). If you set something up, I would be happy to follow.

      11. Hi Greg,

        My current understanding is that, at a certain point at least, the man Jesus did know of his pre-incarnate existence and referred back to that knowledge. Is that something that is unique among all men? Yes. But then again, so are the circumstances of his virgin birth as well as other aspects of his life.

        As I’ve said, I haven’t had much opportunity previously to delve into the personal/impersonal logos debate. There’s some (perhaps not fully developed) reasons why I think a personal preexistence better fits the scriptural evidence and I think there may be some implications of an impersonal logos (depending on what that term means) that may pose some serious difficulties in other areas of theology.

        But I don’t want to wear out my welcome here on Dr. Smith’s blog. If you’d like to continue the discussion at the mint-condition, hardly-ever-used forum below, I’d be happy to respond when I have the time:

        http://www.agreatcloud.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=63

      12. TJ

        Very good – we can move to the new venue. I think our erstwhile readers will want one bit of clarification to understand our discussion – a critical item I omitted.

        Is the pre-incarnate person that you are advocating consubstantial with the Father – or are you advocating essentially an Arian Christology?

      13. I suppose it’s more of an Arian christology, though I’m not crazy about adopting such a term for my beliefs any more than some here probably like the Socinian label. But I understand the reason for the terms.

      14. Fair enough – thanks for your honesty – that changes the entire discussion as you may guess.

        I acknowledge your distaste for using the Arian label – and I am open to another easy one or two word label if you have one. At least you have a meaningfully ancient doctrinal reference – and one with some stature – rather than such a painfully late dated, meaningless label as Socinian. I am completely at loss as to why Buzzard went for this – it just saps the credibility (though I have noticed that his debate tactics are much more moderate than some of his analytical ability…:-) ).

        Ok – for posterity’s sake – I add the following. First, I usually do not interact with Arians – for a very simple reason. They refuse to stick to standard hermeneutic of words retaining their standard meaning. As an example, for an Arian “man” does not mean “man” – “man” essentially means a divine being in a human body – but we still get to call it “man” – even though it really isn’t – well, because it fits our doctrine – regardless of reality. At this point, the discussion is pretty much ended since when one makes up their own meaning to words, then the texts become irrelevant. This is essentially simply a form of eisegesis and is perhaps even more dishonest than trin flip-flopping with Jesus’ natures and the person’s of God at will when the text does not fit their basic doctrine.

        I typically add the text – “I alone created…” and they will grasp at something like “well, Jesus baptized… but…”

        So before we go on – my real question is – what is the point or benefit? You already know my exegesis – I already know how you use text. Until you get “foreknowledge”/”notional pre-incarnate” (plainly taught IPet1:20, Rev13:8, Eph1:4, etc), until you get Jesus as referenced in creation rather than an agent in creation (ICor8:6, Col1:15), until you get the Logos as the Logos rather than some strange creature of God and lastly the “sent”/”coming from above” language as essentially meta-phoric, there is no further need to communicate as far as I can tell. Thoughts?

      15. Hi Greg,

        I am primarily interested in discussing what, in your view, the Logos actually is and then exploring the implications of that view. I have no interest in any type of high-intensity, frustrating debate. Rather, I’m genuinely interested in better understanding your Christology. For example, you seem to have a very defined view of what is/isn’t a man; I’m interested in knowing how the incarnation of the Logos does/doesn’t play a factor in that definition and then how that answer relates to God’s overall purpose (I can explain what I mean by this more in-depth).

        I had said from the outset that I’m more aligned with David Barron’s view, and from that viewpoint I noticed several areas where Dr. Smith was sort of ‘talking past me’ because he’s viewing the text from such a different outlook that his arguments didn’t really even address my beliefs (Isaiah 44:24 was just one instance). I can understand why that sort of thing might be frustrating if you think you’re hitting the heart of the matter, only to see your opponent seem completely unmoved by your reasoning.

        From the objections listed in your last paragraph, I think I may see places where you might similarly be ‘talking past me’, and I’m likewise interested in exploring the reasons for that. Differences in understanding are not always due to dishonesty.

      16. BTW,

        Above you mentioned, “the Jesus baptizing more disciples than John language” and again in your last post you said, “I typically add the text – ‘I alone created…’ and they will grasp at something like ‘well, Jesus baptized… but…'”

        What are you referring to here?

      17. TJ

        Fair enough – I appreciate the sincerity and humility in your response – and genuine desire for knowledge (not that I am the source – God is the source).

        Ok – let’s pull our last couple posts into an OP on GreatCloud and see what happens.

        BTW – I was unaware that Barron was Arian… that would be disappointing – I was expecting him to be trin with which I am much more interested.

  3. Dustin

    I have essentially completed Round 1 of reviewing your debate here. There were some very strong points and a couple obvious weak points – and I did see your “youthful exuberance” that you had mentioned. Well, now you know where to do your homework…:-).

    I would like to detail some of my observations – however, please know that the quality of the recording off of YT is very mediocre and difficult to listen to. Is it possible that you have a quality recording that you could forward? I would like to go through a couple times as there seems to be real merit in the exercise you two engaged.

    A key point that BUs should note is that really we are kind of “a young science” in respect ONLY to answering every possible crazy incarnationalist cherry picked support text. That is, there is no uniform exegesis among BUs – some are stronger, some are less strong – none of us is complete (unless you have Heb1:10-12 down…:-) ).

    OTOH for us to show our position is simple – we can really do it in two vss ICor8:6 and ITim2:5 – another couple dozen that all say the exact same thing, e.g. Acts 2:22 and ICor15:21. And, well, what else is there but to do good works… However, the incarnational “heretics” keep us busy as they come up with all sorts of crazy notions….. and that is not easy to keep up with them. There “depart from clear scripture” approach is where the challenge is…

    Here is one approach re the Christ as Agent Creator thing –

    “The issue is not whether Jesus was personally involved in creation – no text states that – and the NT is clear that Jesus was a conceived man – so the issue is the exegesis of those texts. Frankly, I do not always know exactly what Paul had in mind because Paul NEVER explained what he had in mind – he just stated it – and you made an assumption based on an existing conclusion (or, some such).”

    Of course, ideally, we would develop a clear, complete and concise exegesis of each of those passages….!!

    Greg

  4. We need a good copy of this debate – the one on YT is not very clear – speakers are far too distant from the mic.

    Both speakers brought up some great points that the other had trouble answering and it would be worthwhile to clearly hear them to assess.

  5. Dustin, I felt your presentation was very convincing and scripturally convincing, except for your explanation of Christ’s role in creation by referencing Christ as the wisdom of God. As Dale Tuggy expressed in his recent interview, it seems very awkward to refer to Christ as creator when the creation by God’s wisdom was long before Christ existed. This logos, or wisdom, can well be referred to in John’s prologue as creating all things–but this was before the word became flesh as Jesus. A more contextual explanation of other references to all things created in or through Christ is that Christ is the second Adam through whom the Father’s original creation will be recreated, restored, and brought to its intended purpose. Check out this excellent video, which is a little lengthy, but that is because it is quite thorough and clear in its presentation. http://youtu.be/5SGzbjvLji8

    1. Robb – Thanks for your thoughtful statement. The other area Dustin appeared to struggle was in dealing with the ascend/descend in Jn3. While I agree with his ultimate thesis, a clearer more concise exegesis is needed to immediately respond to his protagonist – who is, based on personal experience, like a dog with big bone.

      You input on this – but, even more so, on Heb1:10 – 12 – would be great. I note that David Barron did not touch Heb1:10 – 12…for obvious reasons…:-)

      1. Greg – Not to depend only on this one site, but I think he has much insight, here is the best explanation I have found on Heb. 1:10-12. I highly respect Anthony Buzzard, and he may have some insight here, I think this link is the most satisfying one I have found. (Again, a little long but worth it. Why study something and not cover all the bases to actually come to a good understanding?) https://youtu.be/ytgWiK0HVro

    2. Thanks for responding. I think in the end we come up with the same conclusions. I do think, however, that Paul (and others) have speak back and forth between Wisdom and Jesus without considering any contradiction. In 1 Cor 1:30 he says that Jesus is the Wisdom from God. Having established this, he can speak, as he does, about Jesus back in the OT just as Jews spoke of Wisdom (1 Cor 10:4). This is not my argument, however, this is what Dunn and McGrath also argue.

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