Is the Son of God eternal, as the Church has believed from its earliest days, or was there a time when He did not exist? That is the question that I hope to answer from Scripture in this blog. There are some modern-day versions of third century Arianism, like the Jehovah Witnesses and the followers of A. E. Knoch, who argue that the Son is not eternal, but rather was the first being created by the Father. Others, like the Christadelphians, believe that the Son of God didn’t even exist prior to being conceived in Mary’s womb, being merely a man whom God enabled to overcome His own fallen sinful flesh, thereby showing us the way of salvation. After examining the Scriptural evidence for the eternal existence of the Son, I will be considering some of the proof-texts these groups make use of in order to deny Christ’s eternal preexistence.
Does it really matter?
Some believe that the Deity of Christ and His eternal preexistence is peripheral to the Christian faith and not an issue that we should divide over. However, according to Scripture, no one other than Yahweh Elohim Himself could have ever been our Savior. Yahweh repeatedly declared there can be no savior besides Him. He said:
“I, even I, am the Lord (Yahweh), and besides Me there is no savior.” (Isa 43:11)
“Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me.” (Hos 13:4)
“And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.” (Isa 45:21)
Being a just God, there could not have been another savior besides Himself. If God were to have sent one of His created beings to suffer the just penalty for our sins against Him, rather than bearing that penalty Himself, that would have only served to compound injustice. A. E. Knoch and his followers even present God as being the original source of evil. Try to imagine a God who first creates evil, and then sends one of His creatures to suffer in order to satisfy His own offended justice, which was in reality the result of the very evil He Himself created!
The psalmist understood that no mere creature could redeem another’s soul from Sheol: Our Redeemer had to be God Himself. He said:
“No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him 8 For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever — 15
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” (Ps 49:7-8,15 NASU)
We see that our ransom price is owed to God, but no man is able to pay it. Only God Himself could have paid it. If the one who died for us upon the cross had been merely an angel or a man divinely enabled to undergo such suffering instead of the Son being God Himself incarnate, His suffering and death would not have had sufficient value to make propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Some, failing to understand the Triune nature of God, have ridiculed those who believe in Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement, saying that one man suffering for six hours on the cross wouldn’t have had sufficient value to atone for all the sins committed throughout history. What they fail to take into account is that it was God in flesh who bore our sins on that tree, and therefore His sacrifice of Himself had infinite value.
Had He been a mere man, His blood would not have atoned for the sins of even one soul, let alone the sins of the whole world. That is why there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, except for the name of Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves” (Acts 4:12). That is why Jesus said to those who refused to believe that He was who He said He was: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I AM (ego eimí), you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Jesus is the Eternal I AM
“I AM” is the name by which Yahweh identified Himself at the burning bush when Moses asked Him by which name He should be called (Ex 3:14). From this point forward, we see Yahweh referring to Himself numerous times as the I AM (Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10; 43:13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6). It is significant that Jesus is the only one who identifies Himself as the I AM in the New Testament.
The verb “to be” normally requires a predicate in order to make a complete phrase, whether it be in Greek or in English. Each time Jesus refers to Himself as I AM, He is affirming His Deity as the eternal Yahweh (Jn 8:56-59; 13:19; 6:19-20; 4:26; 18:3-8). I demonstrate this in more detail in my blog, Jesus Christ the Eternal I AM. Here I just want to point out a couple of these instances in which Christ most emphatically identifies Himself as Yahweh, the eternal I AM.
In Isaiah alone, Yahweh uses the title I AM, referring to Himself as the eternal self-existent One, 6 times. One of these is especially significant, since Jesus later identifies Himself as being that same Yahweh. Yahweh says:
“I, the Lord (Yahweh), am the First; and the Last; I AM (LXX ἐγὼ θεὸς πρῶτος, καὶ εἰς τὰ ἐπερχόμενα ἐγώ εἰμι.).” (Isa 41:4)
This is one of the most emphatic declarations of Yahweh’s eternality. When the glorified Christ appeared to John the Revelator, He identified Himself in the same manner saying:
“Do not be afraid; I AM (ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimí) the First and the Last.” (Rev 1:17, cf. Rev 22:13)
Here Jesus identifies Himself as being the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the First and the Last. While it is possible for the one Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to coequally be the First and the Last as One, it is not possible that the Christ also be the First and the Last if indeed He had been subsequently created by Yahweh who alone is said to be the First and the Last.
Not only this, but Jesus also declares Himself to be the Almighty (Rev 1:8). While a created being may be called mighty, there can only be one Almighty, yet Yahweh who appeared to the Patriarchs also repeatedly called Himself the Almighty. Clearly, the Son of God has always been the visible manifestation of the one and only Triune Almighty God. There cannot be two separate Almighties.
Those who deny the Deity of Christ often say that He wasn’t God, but merely His representative. They appeal to the Hebrew practice of appointing a legal representative or emissary (Heb. shaliah) who was basically a legal agent appointed to make transactions in representation of another person. However, in reality, this is nothing unique to the Hebrews, since every society utilizes legal representatives with authority to make transactions in the place of another or go in representation of another. However, a shaliah only represented those who sent them, they never impersonated them. A shaliah would speak and act in representation of the Almighty, but they would never say “I am the Almighty.” That would have been blasphemy, even for a shaliah. A shaliah never impersonated the one whom they represented.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ 57 Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimí).’ 59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (Jn 8:56-59)
The obvious reason why the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus was because of His declaration, “before Abraham came to be, I AM.” They understood Him to be declaring His eternal preexistence as the I AM and sought to stone Him for blasphemy. If indeed Jesus were merely the representative of the eternal I AM, surely He would have explained it to them in order to avoid being mistaken as claiming to be God Himself, but He didn’t. Even if He had said “I WAS before Abraham,” they wouldn’t have sought to stone Him. They understood that He was claiming to be Yahweh, the eternal I AM. Knowing the Scriptures, they knew that He was claiming to be the one and only Yahweh I AM, as emphatically declared in Isaiah:
“You are My witnesses,’ says the LORD (Yahweh), ‘And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I AM (LXX ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimí). Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.” (Isa 43:10)
There is no reasonable way in which John 8:58 can be reconciled with the belief that the Son of God who calls Himself the I AM is not eternal but merely a god who was formed or created by Yahweh – not to mention the claim of the Christadelphians that the Son didn’t even exist at all prior to being conceived in Mary’s womb.
Jesus is the Yahweh Elohim of the Old Testament
Many have overlooked the fact that Christ, as well as the New Testament authors, often quoted passages from the Old Testament referring to Yahweh Elohim, applying them to Christ, the Son of God. In my blog, Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, I cite fourteen texts which clearly identify Christ as the Yahweh of the Old Testament. Here I will just cite a couple of them for brevity.
1) Only Yahweh / Jesus is the Creator of All
Yahweh Elohim is not only presented as the only Savior, but He is also presented in the Old Testament as the only Creator of heaven and earth. Isaiah says:
“For thus says Yahweh, who created the heavens, who is God (Elohim), who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am Yahweh, and there is no other.’” (Isa 45:18)
In Psalm 102 the psalmist worships Yahweh Elohim as the eternal Creator who never changes. He says of Him:
“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.” (Ps 102:25-27)
The writer of Hebrews directly acknowledges Jesus as Yahweh when he quotes directly from this Psalm preceded by Psalm 45:6, which is also quoted word for word, identifying Jesus as Yahweh Elohim:
“But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God (Elohim), is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom… 10 And: “You, Lord (Yahweh), in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 11 They will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; 12 Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.’” (Heb 1:8,10-12, cf. Psa 45:6-7)
Here we see that Hebrews 1:10-12 is a direct quote from Psalm 102:25-27, identifying Jesus as the Yahweh who created all things. If that affirmation of His deity were not clear enough to silence those who claimed that He was a mere angel, he continues by saying in the next verse: “But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?’” (Heb 1:13)
This passage in Hebrews clearly affirms that Jesus is the eternal Yahweh Elohim, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8), and the Creator of all things. As John says:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (Jn 1:10).
When the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, it is a declaration of His eternal existence, just as His identification of Himself as the I AM, or the First and the Last. In Hebrews 7:3 he says that Melchizedek was a type of Christ in that he had, “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Christ’s eternal preexistence couldn’t have been expressed any clearer!
2) Isaiah saw Yahweh / Jesus’ glory
At the time Yahweh anointed Isaiah as a prophet, Isaiah saw Him on His throne in a heavenly vision. He describes it in Isaiah chapter six:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw Yahweh sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’… 5 So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts… 9 And He said, "Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 "Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.” (Isa 6:1-5,9,10)
Jesus manifested His glory, performing signs and wonders, and the people still did not believe Him. John quotes Isaiah 6 to explain the reason why they did not believe, even though Jesus had manifested His glory in their presence. In doing so, he clearly identified Him as Yahweh. He said:
“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord (Yahweh), who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord (Yahweh) been revealed?’ 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw HIS glory and spoke of HIM.” (John 12:37-41)
John, consistent with the entire gospel of John, affirms the full divinity of Christ, presenting Him as being the same Yahweh who appeared to Isaiah. The New Testament authors consistently identified Jesus as being Yahweh.
There are many more Scriptures which present Christ the Son of God as eternally preexisting. John 1 says that the Word who became flesh was with God in the beginning and He was God. John 1:3 continues saying: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” That in itself refutes the claim that He had a beginning, having been created.
We see in Philippians 2 that Christ existed in the form of God prior to His incarnation. He always was the visible form or expression of the invisible God. In the incarnation He humbled Himself, coming as a servant in the likeness of men. No one has seen God the Father. Every appearance of Yahweh Elohim in the Old Testament was the preincarnate Christ. He has always been the only visible manifestation of the invisible God. I demonstrate this in my blog: The Christophanies of the Old Testament.
In Jesus’ intercessory prayer in John 17, on the night of His passion, before being crucified, He prayed to the Father saying:
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5)
Obviously, in order for Christ to have shared in the Father’s glory before creation He had to have existed prior to creation. One may be chosen from the foundation of the world without having yet known or experienced it, but it is impossible to have had the Father’s glory with Him without ever having known or experienced it.
Having seen that no one other than Yahweh Himself could have been our Savior, and that Jesus is identified in the New Testament as the Yahweh I AM, the First and the Last, the Almighty, without beginning of days, nor end of life, the Creator and sustainer of all things which exist, we now have a foundation upon which to base our understanding of the Son of God. Those who deny Christ’s eternal preexistence, must ignore, or try to explain away, the obvious meaning of these clear affirmations of the eternal existence of the Son.
In the next blog I will be considering the texts commonly presented to argue against the eternality of the Son of God. Most who use these proof-texts fail to take into account the economic relationship that exists within the Godhead. While we can see in Scripture that they are co-equal in essence and attributes, nevertheless, as expressed by the titles Father and Son, they are not the same in authority, but rather enjoy a loving complementary relationship. The Son is subject to the Father and the Holy Spirit likewise carries out the will of the Father and glorifies the Son. When Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I,” it must not be misconstrued as meaning that the Son is somehow inferior in essence to the Father, any more than my son is inferior to me. Rather, the Father is greater in authority than the Son.
Another thing those who deny Christ’s preexistence fail to take into account (especially the Christadelphians), is that, while Christ was one hundred percent God, He was also one hundred percent man. While He continued being the Son of God, He also became the Son of Man. When He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, coming in the likeness of men, He submitted Himself to the limitations of a fleshly body. Even though, as the Son of God, He continued being the One who sustains all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17), in His humanity He had to grow in wisdom and stature (Lu 2:39). While as God He knew all things, in His humanity He had to grow in knowledge. He suffered fatigue as any other man, and as a man in the likeness of sinful flesh He was tempted in all points as we, yet without sin (Rom 8:3; Heb 4:15). This union of the Divine and human nature of the Son is referred to as the hypostatic union. All these considerations are fundamental to a proper understanding of the Son of God, as we shall see in the next blog.
 The Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Trinity