Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Pre-Existence in the Hebrew Mind
The Hellenistic Christian Church gave prominence to the pre-existence of the Messiah, but is this what the Bible teaches -- or is this what the early New Testament Church understood? The fact that the 1st-Century Jewish understanding of "pre-existence" did not imply a literal, physical pre-existence, as well as the biased rendering of the "Word" in the book of John, would indicate that the 1st-Century Christians had an entirely different understanding of the Nature of the Messiah!
by John D. Keyser
There are two basic points that we need to consider in the New Testament book of John. These two facts are ESSENTIAL to a proper understanding of the apostle's writings. Not only that, but they are essential to a proper understanding of the entire New Testament! It is a fact that the Christian world in general fails to acknowledge or understand these two points because of an intentional anti-Jewish approach that so-called Christian leaders take in their study of the New Testament. Also, an ignorance of things Jewish creates this lack of understanding among sincere Christians. "Christian" leaders of the first variety DO realize the import of these two basic facts, but purposely conceal them because of the damage they would do to many orthodox dogmas of modern "Christianity." The two facts in question are as follows:
1. The Jewish understanding of "pre-existence" DOES NOT necessarily imply a LITERAL, PHYSICAL pre-existence
2. The term "logos" has other renderings that are FAR more logical and understandable than the common and VERY BIASED rendering of "Word".
The Hebrew Mind and Preexistence
The importance of this topic cannot be overemphasized because the need to understand scripture from the CONTEXT in which it was written is a leading cause of the lack of understanding covered by this article. It is crucial for us to understand what was written from the context of those that wrote it, and from the times in which it was written. It is an irrefutable fact that nearly ALL the authors were Jews that thought, lived, and wrote entirely within a Hebraic framework. Therefore, it is critical to interpret the Bible within the proper context -- and that task is just as relevant to the issue of preexistence as it is to anything else.
The topic of "preexistence" is especially applicable to the book of John; however, it is also applicable to the entire New Testament writings. There is no better example of the tragic breakdown in communicating Jewish writings to the Western world than has occurred with the concept of "preexistence". The typical understanding of John's writings is the result of a failure (in fact, premeditated misrepresentation) to properly describe the Hebraic concept of this crucial issue. In particular, the common Christian concept of the preexistence of the Messiah has been divorced from the purely Hebraic mind set of the New Testament authors. Two of the many catastrophic outcomes of abandoning this Judaic context are the Trinity and the belief that Yeshua is God. Many reject the Trinity yet still cling to the belief that Yeshua is "God" because of confusion over the question of preexistence At the very least, the book of John has been grossly misinterpreted because of the failure to apply the proper context to it's interpretation.
We need only reference a single Hebraic source to clarify the issue. The clarity of the reference leaves no room for misunderstanding, and removes the veil of deceit so long used by the church to conceal the truth. Following is a quote from Everyman's Talmud -- The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages, by Abraham Cohen. It should be realized this is the GENERAL, STANDARD HEBRAIC understanding of this issue. This quote is on page 347 and is taken from the section which discusses the Messiah in the chapter on the "Hereafter."
The belief was general that the sending of the Messiah was part of the Creator's plan at the inception of the Universe. "Seven things were created before the world was created: Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden (i.e. Paradise), Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah" (Pes. 54a). In a later work there is the observation: "From the beginning of the creation of the world king Messiah was born, for he entered the mind (of God) before even the world was created" (Pesikta Rab. 152b)
So, here we see how the "preexistence" of the Messiah was understood by the Jewish mind. Remember that NEARLY ALL THE BIBLE'S WRITERS WERE JEWISH! The Messiah was "born" in the MIND (thought, motive, plan) of YEHOVAH God before creation but did NOT literally exist! The concept of a PHYSICAL literal preexistence is arrived at by most Christians only because they have unknowingly (or knowingly) abandoned the Jewish concept. We can't overemphasize this issue. It's importance is unequaled. IT MUST BE NOTED how the preexistence of the Messiah is defined in terms of his (the Messiah's) existence IN THE MIND OF YEHOVAH GOD the Father since before Creation. There is absolutely no literal preexistence assumed at all! Why? Because the Hebraic mind is so overwhelmed and awed by the magnificence, power, splendor, and infinite nature of YEHOVAH God that it assumes to "exist" whatever is in YEHOVAH's mind long before His "thought" actually physically manifests itself. The certainty of YEHOVAH's plan (thought) makes it as though the "thought" had already happened. YEHOVAH's intent or thought or motive or plan is so certain that it is said to "exist" despite its absence in the physical world! Obviously, since the "intent" or "plan" or "motive" of YEHOVAH God has always included the coming Messiah, the Hebraic mind assumes him (the Messiah) to have "existed" in the Mind of YEHOVAH since before creation! However, this "preexistence" was NOT considered literal or physical!
This concept is corroborated by Paul in the New Testament. In Paul's epistle to the Church of YEHOVAH God in Rome we find the following:
Romans 4:17: Just as it is written: "I have appointed you a father of many nations." This was in the sight of the One in whom he had faith, even of God, who makes the dead alive and CALLS THE THINGS THAT ARE NOT AS THOUGH THEY WERE (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures).
The phrase "calls the things that are not as though they were" has as its literal rendering, shown in the center column reference of the NASB, "calls the things which do not exist as existing". The New King James Version renders this phrase as, "calls those things which do not exist as though they did," These phrases present PRECISELY the same idea as the Hebraic concept just outlined. And no wonder, since Paul was a "Hebrew of Hebrews." So, in his epistle, Paul provides STRONG evidence that supports the traditional Jewish meaning of preexistence in his description of YEHOVAH as a "God who ... calls those things which do not exist as though they did." Therefore, for those that wish proof from the New Testament, you now have it! Better yet, it comes from the very epistle -- and the very apostle -- Traditional Christianity exalts the most! For those of you that prefer the King James Version, it is even more clearly stated as:
Romans 4:17: (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were (The King James Version, Cambridge: 1769).
Writes James D.G. Dunn in Christology in the Making --
It is clear from all this that Paul has no concept here of Christ as a pre-existent hypostasis (the Logos of God); it is simply that Christ is so much the centre and focus of the gospel that to speak of the word is to speak of Christ -- the good news is Christ, particularly his crucifixion and resurrection. It is NOT that he identifies Christ with the divine Logos of Hellenistic Judaism or Stoicism and goes on from that to identify Christ (the Logos) with the word (logos) of preaching; it is rather that Christ is the heart and substance of the kerygma, not so much the Word as THE WORD PREACHED (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1996, p. 231).
In the book of Revelation we find another verse that provides further evidence regarding the fact that preexistence is NOT literal, notice!
Revelation 13:8: Everyone living on earth will worship it except those whose names are written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb [the Messiah] SLAUGHTERED BEFORE THE WORLD WAS FOUNDED (Jewish New Testament).
If we apply the logic of those promoting a literal preexistence of the Messiah to this verse, we would have to conclude that the Messiah was slain upon the tree long before Creation! Obviously, the Lamb (Yeshua the Messiah) was not slain until long after "the foundation of the world". Trinitarians and those in the Churches of God promoting the "preexistence" of the Messiah hate this verse because of the damage it does to their erroneous "preexistence" doctrine. So, here we see just one more verse from the New Testament that buttresses the argument that preexistence in the Jewish, SCRIPTURAL context is NOT a literal preexistence Instead it is to be understood as the state of existence in the mind, thought, plan, or motive of YEHOVAH God. YEHOVAH's divine plan included the Lamb (the Messiah) before the foundation of the world; however, the Messiah did NOT literally exist until he was manifested at his appointed time!
Also note that the context from which Revelation 13:8 was taken describes the end of the pagan Roman Empire and the rise of the Papal Roman Empire in its place, and how it will deceive virtually the entire world. The Papacy ruled over the same territory as the pagan empire, but it also retained the same power of dictatorship. The Catholic Church maintained the same totalitarian power of the Roman Emperors, but it was now directed through a Pope! It is this very church that is promoting the anti-messiah (replacement Messiah), "other gods", and rebellion against YEHOVAH's eternal instructions (Torah or Law)! Sadly, most "that dwell upon the earth" DO in fact worship Catholic-based, traditional Christianity!
Finally, Jewish tradition believes that ALL souls are "pre-existent" and await the time when they will be placed within mortal beings. With this in mind, ALL of us could be said to be "pre-existent" which would, of course, include the MAN, Yeshua. However, even within this belief, the LITERAL, PHYSICAL preexistence is not present and Yeshua's "preexistence" would not at all be unique. The notion is that every soul that will ever live was created in the beginning and, upon their appointed time, enters into the physical body. It is more of a "spiritual" form of preexistence
Comments James Dunn --
In each case (perhaps including Rom. 1.3f.) what was determined long before in the will of God came to historical actuality in Christ -- not, of course, in the sense that Jesus just happened to be the one who fitted the divine specifications, but in the sense that Christ was the one who from the beginning had been pre-ordained for this role. At the same time this MAY NOT be understood as an affirmation of Christ as himself preexistent It is the divine purpose for Christ which 'existed' from the beginning, NOT the one in whom it should be fulfilled; just as Paul can speak of the divine purpose similarly predetermined for those who believe in Christ (Rom. 8.28-30). NO THOUGHT of the personal preexistence of either Christ or believers is involved (Christology in the Making, p. 235).
Why do most Churches of God choose to conceal the TRUE Hebraic concept of preexistence as they supposedly attempt to educate others regarding Jewish roots? Could it be for the same reason as Traditional Christian theologians? Could it be that their death-grip on the Biune or Triune God will not allow them to accept Truth? Could it be that they will promote ONLY (often with distortions, such as their pagan Greek Binity or Trinity) those Jewish foundations that support their biased doctrinal beliefs?
We will be more specific in the application of this FUNDAMENTAL BIBLICAL CONCEPT in those verses where it needs to be remembered; however, its use should be obvious in the book of John.
Preexistence and the Logos
Interestingly, the term "logos" dovetails perfectly with the previous sure Biblically Hebraic fact. Why do we say this? Because, if the translators had not been so biased in passages such as the famous ones of John 1 where they render the term as "Word", it would be obvious. However, since they were, we will explain. The translators even expanded upon their bias in John 1 by rendering the term "Word" with a capital "W" -- a totally unsubstantiated and blatant show of bias!
Let's look at the possible Greek meanings of the term "logos." The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines some of the meanings as follows:
2. mental faculty
6. Divine Expression
What is really illuminating is the fact that, according to Strong's Concordance a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus first used the term "logos" around 600 B.C. to designate the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. Thus, we have a historic precedent which shows the proper understanding of "logos" is as the "Divine Plan, thought, or motive" of the Almighty Creator. Furthermore, when this corrected rendering is applied to John 1:1-3 the term "logos" can be shown to not be referring specifically to the Messiah (much less some mysterious "Word-man") but, instead, refers to the Divine Plan from (or through) which YEHOVAH God created all things and which included the Messiah as the crowning achievement! As a side note, the use of the personal pronouns "he" and "him" are NOT concrete and early versions of Scripture -- Tyndale's original translation for example -- used the term "it".
John 1:1-3: In the beginning was the Divine plan/motive/thought, and the Divine plan/motive/thought was with God, and the Divine plan/motive/thought was God. The same (Plan) was in the beginning with God. All things were made by it and without it was not any thing made that was made.
This makes perfect sense! In the beginning YEHOVAH God had a Divine Plan. This Divine Plan was, of course, with YEHOVAH since it was His master plan -- conceived in His Divine Mind. The only information mankind has available to understand YEHOVAH God is His Torah (instructions) -- His Divine Plan. Through study of that Plan one can grasp aspects of YEHOVAH God. There is nothing else available with which the characteristics of YEHOVAH God can be understood. Therefore, His Divine Plan -- being the very manifestation of YEHOVAH's Divine thought and Mind -- is YEHOVAH! Yeshua the Messiah, as the perfect servant and appointed emissary of YEHOVAH God, revealed the character of YEHOVAH God the Father more than any other man; however, everything he did and preached was accomplished within the sphere of YEHOVAH's Plan. Therefore, the Plan of YEHOVAH God is still the only way we have of understanding the Father. Of course, since YEHOVAH God is Spirit, the use of terms such as "mind" are anthropomorphic so that we can grasp the basic concepts.
Anthropomorphism: attribution of human characteristics or to nonhumans: the attribution of a human form, human characteristics, or human behavior to nonhuman things such as deities in mythology and animals in children's stories.
The concept that the Torah or Mind (thought, Plan) of YEHOVAH God is inseparable from YEHOVAH is a long standing, traditional Jewish understanding of the Creator! It is comparable to you and your mind (mental faculty, reasoning) being inseparable. It can be said that you ARE your mind; thus, you ARE your "logos" (thought, mind). (It does seem, however, that Traditional Christian and Church of God leaders may have somehow become separated from their mental faculties -- or "lost their minds".) So, just as a human can be said to be his/her mind, YEHOVAH can anthropomorphicly be said to be His mind (logos). Later verses could be correctly construed to interject the sublime and ultimate ingredient of His Plan, which is the Messiah. However, this "Plan" or intent for a future Messiah was only in the Mind of YEHOVAH God and did not physically and literally get "begotten" until Yeshua the Messiah physically appeared upon earth some 2000 years ago.
According to James Dunn:
...Christ was NOT thought of as a divine being who had pre-existed with [YEHOVAH] God but as the climactic embodiment of God's power and purpose -- his life, death and resurrection understood in terms of God Himself reaching out to men. Christ was identified NOT with some heavenly redeemer figure but with God's creative wisdom, God's redemptive purpose, God's revelatory word expressed in a final way that made the Christ-event the normative definition of divine wisdom and revelation -- God's clearest self-expression, God's last word (Christology in the Making, p. 262).
There is no argument that "word" is one possible rendering; however, why would the translators choose the most nebulous possible rendering of the term "logos" in areas such as John 1? The rendering of "word" is completely illogical in the first chapter of John unless one is already predisposed to belief in the Biune or Triune God and intentionally biases the translation to support a "mysterious" inner meaning. The historic precedent mentioned earlier, and the more clear rendering of Divine "plan" or "motive" or "thought" or "intent," makes far more sense and removes all mystery! So what we have in crucial verses of the New Testament is an intentionally ambiguous and biased translation done in such a way so as to hide the far clearer translation of the Greek word "logos"!
Additional support for the opinion that "intent" or "motive" or "thought" is the better rendering of "logos" in John 1 is its clear agreement with the standard Jewish understanding of the preexistence of the Messiah which we covered earlier! JOHN WAS A HEBREW -- A JEW -- A MAN WITH A JUDAIC/HEBRAIC MIND THAT THOUGHT AND WROTE FROM A THOROUGHLY HEBRAIC MINDSET! In order to believe that the common rendering of "logos" as "word" is correct, or that the common notion of the literal preexistence of the Messiah is correct, one must TOTALLY REJECT the basic Hebraic foundation of ALL the writings of the Bible! Unfortunately, since Christianity as we know it today was originally invented in the 4th century to do that very thing, we now have a typical orthodox Christian understanding of extremely critical passages that is completely wrong and utterly violates basic Hebraic concepts! Without a doubt, the Messiah WAS in the mind of YEHOVAH God long before Creation, and this "thought" or "intention" was "manifested in the flesh" much later when the "Plan" for the Messiah materialized. So, the "logos" was, indeed, "manifested in the flesh"; however, when properly translated, what we see is that "the plan/intent was manifested in the flesh."
James Dunn understands that
the subject of which I John 1.1-3 speaks is NOT Christ, not even Christ the incarnate Word, but 'that which concerns the word of life' (the relative pronouns are neuter, NOT masculine); and what 'was manifested' is NOT Christ or the Word, but the life, 'the eternal life which was with the Father.' In other words, it is CLEARLY the content of the message which is in view, NOT the person as such. It is not so much Christ the incarnation of the preexistent Word that the author speaks of, but Christ whose life, death and resurrection is the content of the proclamation and the means to eternal life (Christology in the Making, p. 245).
So, in summary, the doctrine of the Biune and Triune God, and the deity of the Messiah, rides largely upon a grossly incorrect understanding of "preexistence" and an intentionally ambiguous and "mysterious" translation of the Greek term "logos." A correct understanding of Jewish concepts renders as completely impotent and inconclusive the often, and fiercely promoted, "traditional" understanding of many "proof" passages used by "orthodox Christians" and Church of God leaders as they attempt to promote one of the many false doctrines of the Catholic Church and her harlot daughters.
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