pre-incarnation glory?

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darinhouston
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pre-incarnation glory?

Post by darinhouston » Fri Dec 23, 2022 10:01 am

I thought this was a well-reasoned discourse on John 17:5.

From https://open.substack.com/pub/snemes2/p ... medium=web

The glory which I had in your presence

One of the texts commonly brought in support of the idea that Jesus personally preexisted his human life is found at John 17:5. There Jesus prays to the Father: “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” But I am not sure that this text is really such a help to catholic theology as it is commonly assumed. Here is my argument.

Suppose we read this text as implying that Jesus personally enjoyed a certain glory in the presence of the Father prior to his becoming human. Call this the “preexistence reading.” The fact that Jesus is asking to be glorified now with that glory from back then implies that he had lost it in the meantime. After all, there is no sense in asking for something which you already have. You can always ask for more of what you presently have, as one might have water in one’s cup but ask for more of it, but that is not the way Jesus speaks in this passage. He asks to be glorified, not to be further glorified. What is more, John the evangelist even says explicitly that Jesus had not been glorified prior to his crucifixion (John 7:39; cf. 17:4, 19:30). Thus, there is no avoiding the conclusion that Jesus is asking for glory when he does not have any. If we read this text in such a way as to imply that Jesus personally preexisted his human life, we must therefore also draw the conclusion that in becoming incarnate he had lost the glory which he personally enjoyed with the Father prior to the creation of the world.

Anyone who knows catholic theology can appreciate that this reading produces theologically unacceptable consequences. For the Son to lose his glory upon becoming incarnate would imply that the Son is mutable, i.e. can undergo change, an idea which was anathematized at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The catholic idea, to the contrary, is that Christ does not cease to be immutably God in becoming human. As Hilary of Poitiers writes, “He does not cease to be God because He becomes man, nor fail to be man because He remains for ever God” (On the Trinity 9.3). If that is the case, then whatever glory may have belonged to Christ prior to his human life in virtue of his consubstantiality with the Father could not have been lost upon his becoming incarnate. He would still have it. And yet there would be no sense in Christ’s asking for that glory at John 17:5 if he still had it and indeed could not in principle lose it. This text therefore cannot be reconciled with catholic orthodoxy.

In my opinion, Jesus speaks about having glory with God prior to the existence of the world in the same way that God tells Abraham that he has been made an ancestor of many nations before any of his children were born (Gen. 17:5), or just as the elect are said to have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and thus before they themselves existed (Eph. 1:4), or just as Jesus is described as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world even though he only died much later than that (Rev. 13:8). Call this the “predestination reading.” This is the language of predestination. Whatever is predestined by God can be spoken of as actual even before it happens in reality, just as one might say that one football team has won the game even before time runs out because it is impossible for the other team to prevent their victory. It is spoken of as actual because it is as good as actual, being guaranteed by God’s providence. Thus, when Jesus speaks of “having” glory with God before the world existed, he means to refer to God’s predestined plan to glorify him. Jesus “had” that glory with God in the sense that God has always had in mind to glorify Jesus in the way he is asking for.

This reading is arguably supported in context. Just before these words in v. 5, Jesus prays: “I glorified you on earth by finishing (τελειώσας) the work that you gave me to do” (17:4). And yet Jesus has not yet died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. From the cross, as he is dying, he says: “It is finished” (Τετέλεσται; 19:30). He thus speaks about something that strictly speaking hasn’t happened yet as though it has already happened because it is sure to happen. There is consequently nothing out of place with suggesting that the same thing is happening in v. 5. There Jesus speaks of having glory with the Father before the existence of the world, not because he was personally preexistent, but rather because his glorification was predestined by God from the absolute beginning. He can speak about his possessing this glory as a fact even prior to its obtaining because it was predestined and thus guaranteed to happen.

Suppose one is not convinced by this reading. That is fine; people can disagree about these things. But it seems to me clear that the text at John 17:5 lends no support at all to the orthodox catholic doctrine of Christ’s preexistence, according to which the Son does not cease to be God in becoming human. To the contrary, if it is read with an eye to Christ’s preexistence, this text would rather teach that the Son had lost the glory which he had with the Father prior to becoming human, which would imply that the Son is mutable and lesser than the Father, contrary to the Council of Nicaea. Thus, even if one does not accept the predestinarian reading, it is clear that the preexistence reading is unacceptable for the person committed to catholic orthodoxy.

dizerner

Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by dizerner » Fri Dec 23, 2022 10:28 am

Great article, Jesus does imply he no longer had a glory he once had.

What you will notice among a lot of classic Trinitarianism is the language of ontological change describing the incarnation—Jesus "left" heaven and "came down," Jesus "became" a man and flesh, Jesus was "made poor" so that we might be made rich, Jesus "gave up" the divine rights and privileges, Jesus "became sin" for us, etc., etc.

But because they then turn around from this intuitive feeling into intellectual analysis, they don't like the logical results, so they come up with the "hypostatic union," which basically, makes the man Jesus an extra "add on" to the divine nature that we can talk about while leaving the divine unchanged.

A better systematic that more closely matches the data of Scripture is called "functional kenosis." Under this systematic we can take the words for their most natural and plain interpretation, just accepting them for what they say—since all things are possible with God, God can indeed experience ontological change.

Now we have a Gospel that is not just "for show" where God sticks on an associated "avatar" to himself and calls it "God," but instead we have the ultimate humiliation, sacrifice and love on clear and full display, the greatest miracle that could ever be described or conceived, God Almighty actually became a lowly little man.

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dwight92070
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Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by dwight92070 » Mon Dec 26, 2022 12:21 am

The only problem with all of that is that it contradicts what John the Baptist said in John 1:30: "...After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me." And yet we know that John was born about six months before Jesus.

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darinhouston
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Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by darinhouston » Mon Dec 26, 2022 10:15 am

dwight92070 wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 12:21 am
The only problem with all of that is that it contradicts what John the Baptist said in John 1:30: "...After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me." And yet we know that John was born about six months before Jesus.
Well, I do agree it requires one to reconsider what is meant in John 1:30. You obviously see that differently than I do and are less willing to be flexible in your understanding of that verse than I am to reconcile these challenges. That's ok. You're in good company. It just resolves more difficulties for me to let alternate interpretations govern that passage - same with a very few other verses. On balance, it makes better sense of the rest of scripture for me to do so - it does not seem so for you and that's why we tend to disagree. If I had solid uncontrovertible reasons to hold fast to the prevailing interpretation of that/those passage(s) then I would probably change my position - but, so far I do not. But, even Arian believed in Jesus' pre-existence, so perhaps even that wouldn't resolve this issue completely.

dizerner

Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by dizerner » Mon Dec 26, 2022 11:29 am

In other words even though we read "the Word was God" and "the Word became flesh" we are precommitted to make it mean something other than what it says.

That's not a position anyway can influence of change.

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darinhouston
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Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by darinhouston » Mon Dec 26, 2022 3:06 pm

dizerner wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 11:29 am
In other words even though we read "the Word was God" and "the Word became flesh" we are precommitted to make it mean something other than what it says.

That's not a position anyway can influence of change.
I think you meant to post this on another thread - but, it's not a matter of being pre-committed -- it's a matter of trying to make sense of something that doesn't cohere with the rest of what I'm understanding is pretty clear throughout scripture. It's a passage that every honest theologian agrees makes use of highly unusual literary devices and many throughout history have struggled with. So, I'm not pre-committed to what it does mean, but I have become fairly committed to what it does not mean.

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dwight92070
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Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by dwight92070 » Tue Dec 27, 2022 1:20 am

darinhouston wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 3:06 pm
dizerner wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 11:29 am
In other words even though we read "the Word was God" and "the Word became flesh" we are precommitted to make it mean something other than what it says.

That's not a position anyway can influence of change.
I think you meant to post this on another thread - but, it's not a matter of being pre-committed -- it's a matter of trying to make sense of something that doesn't cohere with the rest of what I'm understanding is pretty clear throughout scripture. It's a passage that every honest theologian agrees makes use of highly unusual literary devices and many throughout history have struggled with. So, I'm not pre-committed to what it does mean, but I have become fairly committed to what it does not mean.
So, by being fairly committed to what it does not mean, you have essentially ruled out at least one possible understanding of what it does mean. I think I can safely conclude that that one possible understanding which you are fairly committed to not accepting is the traditional view that probably most of Christendom holds, along with dizerner and myself. So then, you are willing to consider any possible meaning other than that one.

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darinhouston
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Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by darinhouston » Tue Dec 27, 2022 10:17 am

dwight92070 wrote:
Tue Dec 27, 2022 1:20 am
darinhouston wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 3:06 pm
dizerner wrote:
Mon Dec 26, 2022 11:29 am
In other words even though we read "the Word was God" and "the Word became flesh" we are precommitted to make it mean something other than what it says.

That's not a position anyway can influence of change.
I think you meant to post this on another thread - but, it's not a matter of being pre-committed -- it's a matter of trying to make sense of something that doesn't cohere with the rest of what I'm understanding is pretty clear throughout scripture. It's a passage that every honest theologian agrees makes use of highly unusual literary devices and many throughout history have struggled with. So, I'm not pre-committed to what it does mean, but I have become fairly committed to what it does not mean.
So, by being fairly committed to what it does not mean, you have essentially ruled out at least one possible understanding of what it does mean. I think I can safely conclude that that one possible understanding which you are fairly committed to not accepting is the traditional view that probably most of Christendom holds, along with dizerner and myself. So then, you are willing to consider any possible meaning other than that one.
Not at all - but, it does mean that I have explored it sufficiently to require some solid reasoning as to why it is correct to reconsider it because I see the language to be highly subject to interpretation even though it may seem very clear on the surface (taken alone). If it "can mean" something else and that coheres better with the larger story and so many other texts, then that's where I lean. Just as an example, putting aside what the Logos refers to, whatever it is, all greek scholars agree that "the Word was God" is not explicitly and unequivocally a statement of identity between that Logos and the eternal God or that "the Word was with God" is an unequivocal statement of proximity and temporal location with the eternal God. So, if it both have a range of semantic meanings, then we don't use one meaning as a guidepost to nail down a doctrine or to interpret other passages.

That is why I seek reason and dialogue here and not just citations. I would, in fact, RATHER see these few passages differently. But, I need solid reasons to do so and better explanations of other passages that seem very clear and consistent with one another and repeated throughout scripture. It does seem I'm less recommitted than you seem to be.

dizerner

Re: pre-incarnation glory?

Post by dizerner » Tue Dec 27, 2022 11:43 am

What it looks like you're doing from an outsid perspective:

The text says "The dog ate the cat." Sure, the most straight-forward and obvious meaning is there, but it's definitely not all that it could possibly mean.

A cat still has 4 legs, fur, eyes, ears, all the same internal organs, it's actually pretty close to a dog. Notice it says "the" cat, instead of just "a" cat, which might mean that this so-called "cat" may just share the properties of a cat.

And when we get to "dog," I mean I had a cat that acted like a dog, we even gave it a dog's name. It's not entirely impossible to think of a dog as in fact, being a cat, if the cat is acting very dog-like.

If I see no reason to think the dog in fact was a mean dog or that there even was a real cat around for it to even eat, in fact, I've never even seen a dog actually eat a cat, and I can't even imagine it. I'm perfectly justified in taking the meaning in a different way.

And "ate," well it doesn't necessarily have to mean ingest, you can mean that in many different ways. People say they "eat it up" when they didn't literally eat anything. And since I've established this is a highly unusual context, ate might mean just to lick.

So when we read "the dog ate the cat", it really could very well mean "The cat licked the dog."

Now that might seem silly, but I've seen many things that are in fact not as far from that as you'd think. And this is why I always recommend prayer over intellectual study. There was an example of a single short sentence that could be taken with 7 different meanings. This shows all interpretation is subjective and only the author really knows what was meant.

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