BIBLE DIGEST - Number 66 August 1996

Allon Maxwell

There are a number of Bible verses which are often quoted as appearing to support of the pre-existence of Jesus. Such a conclusion is too casual by far. 
A closer look at these verses will show that they never use the word "pre-exist", or anything like it! 

The truth is that our conclusion about their meaning will be affected by our pre-existing theology!

If we are truly logical, we will discover that this assumed pre-existence is in direct conflict with other Biblical claims that Jesus was, and still is a REAL MAN .

If we start from that position, we will read those verses quite differently to those who start from a position of "preconceived pre-existence" . Our eyes will be open to the TRUTH that if Jesus is a real man, then He began His life at His birth ...... just as all the rest of us did! 


In the Old Testament there is not one reference that speaks of Jesus as a person then presently existing.

What we do have is many prophecies which speak of the future existence of the MAN who was to be born as Son of God. This happened when Jesus was born of His virgin mother. That was when His existence began.

References like Isaiah 42,1 show how God sometimes speaks of future events in the present tense to express the certainty of their fulfilment. (See also Romans 4,17 KJV which shows how God speaks of things which do not exist, as though they already do exist).

Certainly, in the New Testament there are some verses, which are sometimes thought to support the notion that Jesus pre-existed.

However, if they are approached from the correct premise that Jesus is a man, and that men simply do not pre-exist, (for then they are not men!) a vastly different picture emerges. 

A few of these references are discussed below.

1. John 1:1-2

"In the beginning was the word ..... "

The Greek word "lsgoV" (logos), which is used here is NOT a proper name. (It does not have a capital letter, as is incorrectly shown in most translations!) It is a noun which simply means "a spoken word". It can also mean the inward thought which is expressed by the spoken word.

Of course, in Greek, "logos", is a masculine noun. However this is no proof of personality!

Many words which are neuter in English, are either masculine or feminine in Greek. For example, in Greek the word translated "beginning" in this same verse, is feminine. No one would seriously claim that this means that "beginning" should be regarded as having a feminine pre-existent personality! 

In the same way it is quite improper to give "logos" a masculine personality , or make it into a proper name, as the theologians have done.

For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see Bible Digest papers Nos 6 &33.

2. John 1:15

"After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me". 

This does not mean that Jesus existed before John. He was, in fact, conceived six months after John.

It does mean that Jesus ranks above John , not in time but by right of birth. The Greek verb "was" literally means "came into existence". The Greek word translated "before", can mean either "before in time" or "superior in rank". 

Clearly, it is the second of these meanings which is intended here. The verse is saying that Jesus holds His superior rank, not by right of prior existence, but because He was born to it as Son of God. 

3. John 6:38

"I have come down from Heaven".

Again, the words are simply a statement of divine origin - not of personal pre-existence in heaven. All Jesus is saying is that He is like the manna which God miraculously provided for Israel. (see verses 31, 32, 51, and 48 -58 of the same chapter).

4. John 6:62

"What if you see the Son of man ascending where he was before".

These words are spoken in the same context as the previous verse discussed. (See John 6:38 above)

Certainly they do speak of His personal ascension to the place where He had His origin . However Jesus is not speaking about personal pre-existence in that place of origin! 

All that is implied is that, after His death and resurrection, He will ascend in person to be with the God who is the source of His existence. (and effective "spiritual eating" (see verse 52) depends on our faith in those things.

5. John 8:23

"You are from below, I am from above".

For the Jews, the source of their physical existence and their spiritual values was "from below". This contrasts with Jesus, whose physical existence and spiritual values had their origin "from above". 

The Jews lived in the Kingdom of men. Jesus lived and served in the Kingdom of God. 

6. John 8:38 

"I speak of what I have seen with my Father".

Any man who knows what it is to spend time with God in the secret place, ought to know what this means. In the place of prayer, deep within our hearts and minds, heaven comes down to earth and a man communes with God until he is able to speak, not on his own authority, but as he is taught by God. (John 8,28).

7. John 8:42

"I proceeded and came forth from God".

This is simply a statement in Jewish idiom, of the biological origin of Jesus. Every Jew "came forth" from his father's body. (see Gen 15,4 and 2 Sam 7,12).

In using this language, Jesus is expressing his claim for His divine origin and begettal. 

The one essential difference in his case, of course, was that Jesus came forth from his Father's mouth as a spoken word which accomplished God's purpose through the miracle of the Virgin Birth.

8. John 8:42

"I came not of my own accord, but he sent me".

Jesus is not the only one who was "sent by God". Almost identical words are used about John the Baptist. (John 1,6).

And the same words are used of disciples to say that they also are sent in exactly the same way that Jesus was. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you". (John 20,21).

These words when used about Jesus do not imply that He pre-existed in Heaven any more than they do for John the Baptist, or for us.

9. John 8:56

"Abraham rejoiced to see my day."

This statement by Jesus refers to the story (in Gen 17,15-17) where God promised 99 year old Abraham that his 89 year old wife would conceive and bear a son. Abraham fell on his face before God, rejoicing in faith. 

God's long standing promise that the savior of the world would be his descendant (Gen 12,3) was about to begin its fulfilment, with the birth of Isaac.

10. John 8:58

"Before Abraham was, I am."

Jesus is usually said to be claiming the divine name "I am" for Himself. This is supposed to show that He is God and therefore existed before He was born!

However a careful study of other uses of the words "I am" in John's Gospel, shows that they are used repeatedly by Jesus, without any suggestion at all that the divine name is meant.

In fact, the Greek grammar requires that in this verse, another word should be understood as implied after "am". In other places, where Jesus uses the words the translators have recognised this by inserting the word "he".

e.g John 8,24,28, "I am He".

If this is also done in verse 58, as it ought to be, then we are left with the simple statement by Jesus that He is the one spoken of in the prophetic writings, long before Abraham's time.

[For a more detailed discussion of this verse, see HOUSMAIL No 47.]

11. John 17:5

"Glorify me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made".

God spoke in a similar way about Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 1,4)

The words spoken of Jesus do not imply pre-existence for Him any more than they do for Jeremiah! All the verse says is that before the world, was made, it was God's plan to glorify Jesus. 

It does not mean that Jesus was present when the plan was made.

12. Philippians 2:5-11

"Though he was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (note here - "grasp" = "steal") but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

This is something Jesus did as a man ..... not something He did before He was born!

"(He) emptied himself" of all human ambition for recognition, status, power and authority. (The KJV says "He made Himself of NO reputation" -- meaning no reputation amongst men

For a more detailed discussion of these verses, read Bible Digest No 65.

13. Colossians 1: 15-16

"The firstborn of all creation."

In the Hebrew language, the word "firstborn" means more than simply "born first in time". It also means to be born as the first son of a father, the first of a family, who is by right of that birth, the legal heir to his father's estate.

The word when used about Jesus, describes Him as God's first and only begotten Son, the first born of God's family, taking rank and precedence over all others, as the heir of all creation.

He is first born in rank because of His divine begettal.

He is also in a special sense, first born in time, not because He pre-existed His human birth, but because He is the first to be raised from the dead. (Acts 13,33 "This day have I begotten thee . )

He was raised (or begotten) from the dead, both as the firstborn in time, and the firstborn in rank, of all God's "new creation". (Col 1,17-18).

14. Hebrews1:2

"Through whom He created the world".

This does not mean that Jesus was actually present at the Creation, doing the work!

What it does mean is that because Jesus was CENTRAL to the whole PLAN of Creation, it can be said that ALL came into existence by (or through) God's intention to be the Father of Jesus.

In another "spiritual" sense, it can also be said that Jesus brought us all into existence by His death on the cross. Without that Adam would have perished unforgiven, in the day that he sinned, and none of us would have been born!

This is another one of those areas where Biblical language often speaks of things which do not yet exist, as though they already did! (Romans 4:17)

15. Hebrews 5:7

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth". NIV (Other translations have "In the days of His flesh")

It has been suggested by some, that "life on earth" implies another life before His time on earth.

However, that is saying much more than is written!

If there is a contrast, it is surely between His time on earth, and the life that He now experiences in Heaven. ( after His time on earth).


If we start with the impossible theory that Jesus somehow personally existed before his human birth,

it leads to great confusion. It becomes virtually impossible to regard Jesus as really a man.

If, instead, we begin with the scriptural premise that Jesus really is a man, just like all other men, (with the sole exception of His virgin birth and His sinless life), there is no longer any "mystery" requiring us to abandon all logic.

In spite of His supernatural origin, and the miracle of His virgin birth, Jesus is not himself a supernatural being. He is just like us in every way. He is a man who makes God real to other men. He reveals what it will be like for us when God lives in us, as He does in Jesus.

That IS Good News. If it is possible for one man to please God, then other men are left without excuse for their failure. 

Other men also, can become what God wants them to be. 

Under the Lordship of Jesus, the grace of God not only forgives the past, but also guarantees that our sinful carnal nature can be transformed, until we have become just like the man Jesus.