jesus

Christmas: Not the Beginning of Jesus’ Existence

A frequently heard phrase this time of year is the “birth of Jesus.” And that’s good. But, it’s possible to miscommunicate something essential about Christ. Typically, when we mention someone’s birth, we think of it as the beginning of the individual’s existence. Obviously conception marks the beginning of existence, but for convenience sake (and avoidance of some awkward conversations) we do not celebrate one’s conception day, but birthday. You get the idea.

A few days ago, I was chatting with my kids about Jesus’ birth.

“OK, girls, did you exist before you were in mommy’s tummy? Before that, were you running around somewhere?” They shouted a theologically astute, “No, dad!” They’re plunging the depths of theological profundity, no doubt.

I asked, “How old were you when you were in mommy’s tummy?”

“Zero!”

So, here’s the difference between you and Jesus: he was already old when he was in his mommy’s tummy. Really, really old. That’s because he already existed for a long, long time before his conception and before his birth.

Genealogies are not wasted space in Scripture. Matthew and Luke spill lots of ink on Jesus’. Luke records the genealogy back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Matthew shows his genealogy from Abraham (Matt 1:1-17).

Two qualifications for the Messiah were that he must be of both Abrahamic and Davidic descent. Matthew and Luke establish that. But there is one more messianic qualification: he has to be God (Isa. 9:6). Jesus demonstrated his deity in countless ways. His healings; his miracles; fulfilling messianic prophecies, and his own self-testimony all proclaimed it. But his deity is also demonstrated in a genealogy.

John’s gospel also has a bit of a genealogy for Jesus. It goes farther back than David, Abraham, and even Adam.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

 

There’s a chance that if you asked Jesus what his favorite verse was in the Bible, this would be it. It’s one of the most stunning sights in Scripture. It rivals the greatest statements among the literature masterpieces of the world. And the verse is truly a mountain-top experience. Consider God’s brilliance in John 1:1.

“In the beginning.” The “beginning” refers to the beginning of all things that can be called “things.” This discussion about Jesus begins not with a manger in Bethlehem, but at the beginning of the universe.

“Was the Word.” “The Word” (logos) refers to Jesus before he was incarnate and given the name, “Jesus.” In ancient Greek culture, you’d hear “logos” tossed around by philosophers as they debated the existence of the universe. The “logos,” some said, is that which gives existence, logic, and reason to the universe.

Even more, among Old Testament believers, the word described the power and revelation of Yahweh. So the term “logos” tells us, at least, that the Word is the One who is the source of logic, reason, power, and existence of the universe, who reveals the power and person of God.

“In the beginning was the Word.” Never in the history of the universe was the word “was” so important. The original word is in the imperfect tense. Thus, it describes an event occurring in past without regard for beginning or end. In other words, the Greek word could have the idea of “was being.” Thus, “In the beginning, the Word was being…”

So, it’s saying that the moment that the universe came into being, the Word was already existing. Greek philosophers often discussed the idea of being and cause. Who’s the greatest Being? What caused it? What caused, or made, that Being who caused all things? The text answers here, in effect, “There was the Being, the Word, who is the cause of all things. Thus, he is uncaused.”

“and the Word was with God.” The Holy Spirit takes an ordinary word such as “with,” and promotes it to weighty status. The word communicates association or in company. So, in the beginning, the Word was existing in relation with God.

There are two colossal implications. First, from all eternity the Word was always an individual, but different than the one identified as “God” in the verse. Second, the Word was always being in companionship with the one identified as God here.

Now, some might say, “See, Jesus was different than God; it says he was with God! Therefore, you have God, then this other Jesus, so he’s not God.” But the Spirit who breathed the Bible knows how to cover his bases. He is God, after all. Notice the next phrase:

 

“and the Word was God.” Again, that word “was,” communicates the idea that, “The Word was being God.”

So, we could say at least a few things about John 1:1. The Word has existed eternally. He is uncaused and uncreated with no beginning. Also, the Word was being in relation with God before the universe came into existence. And, the Word was always being God.

In case the reader didn’t get it by now, John states in a different, but plain way in vv. 2-3.

“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:2-3).

The Word was being in the beginning. He made everything. And everything that is a thing came about by him.

But who is this, “Word”?

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”’ For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17).

The Jesus Christ of the Bible is the Word. He has existed eternally. He is uncaused and uncreated with no beginning. He existed in relation with God the Father before the universe came into existence. And, Jesus has always been God.

Sidenote, the Watchtower attempts a sleight of hand here. When they come to your door with heretical John 1 jargon, don’t sweat it. They claim that since there is no definite article associated with the word “God” in the Greek, then it means, the Word “was a god.” Thus, they assert, Jesus was divine, but not really God. This explains the abominably erroneous NWT translation.

A couple things on that. First, there are 282 occurrences of “God” in the NT without the definite article. Only 6% of the time does the Watchtower translate it indefinite (“a god”) (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 267).

Not only that, if we follow their translation principle consistently, then “the beginning” should be “a beginning,” “life” should be “a life” (John 1:4), and “John” should be “a John” (John 1:6). This will not do.

But what about the definite article thing? Colwell’s rule in grammar says that, “An anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominative is normally qualitative, sometimes definite, and rarely indefinite” (Wallace, 262). Put simply, “God” in John 1:1 is definite; speaking of God the Father.

Jesus Christ is God. The birth of Jesus Christ was not his origin, but his incarnation. He has no origin. Jesus is the only person in history whose birth, or conception, did not mark his beginning of existence.

I suppose this made Jesus’ human birthdays awkward. “Happy 16th birthday Jesus!” “Thanks, mom. But actually, it’s my ∞ and 16th birthday, but who’s counting.”

Christmas does not celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ existence, but the beginning of his incarnation.

As J. Oswald Sanders, “Jesus was the meeting place of eternity and time, the blending of deity and humanity, the junction of heaven and earth.”

The eternally existing Christ would then go on to give his body as the sin-bearer of his people, to bear the wrath of God due us.

Hallelujah! There’s no God like Christ. Worship him. Give your life to him. May his glory thrill our hearts this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Cripplegate.

Source: The Cripplegate