A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Christians believe that John 8:58 proves that Jesus is God because he claimed to have existed before Abraham. However, the Bible says that both Solomon (Proverbs 8:22) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) existed before their human births. Doesnt this show that they are God also? Besides, Jesus didnt say he existed before Adam, only before Abraham, and even angels existed before both Adam and Abraham.
Before we address the point being raised by the objector, we first quote the immediate context of John 8:58 so as to fully appreciate what the Lord Jesus claimed for himself:
"He said to them, You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." John 8:23-24
"Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me." John 8:42
"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps MY WORD, HE WILL NEVER SEE DEATH. The Jews said to him, Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, "If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death." Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be? Jesus answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, He is our God. But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. HE SAW IT and was glad. So the Jews said to him, You are not yet fifty years old, AND HAVE YOU SEEN ABRAHAM? Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being (genesthai), I AM. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." John 8:51-59
The Lord Jesus, in this reference, states that he is from above, that he came from God, claims he repeated on several occasions:
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. They said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?" John 6:38, 41-42
"Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending TO WHERE HE WAS BEFORE?" John 6:62
"for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father." John 16:27-28
Jesus says that his word prevents a person from ever dying, a point he reiterates elsewhere:
"Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me SHALL NEVER DIE. Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." John 11:25-27
Jesus also claims that Abraham saw him, and that he existed even before Abraham was created which explains how it was that Abraham could see someone who had walked this earth nearly 2,000 years after him. No wonder the Jews sought to stone him!
Now as far as Christ existing before Adam is concerned note carefully what Jesus says elsewhere:
"And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." John 17:5
Compare this with Johns prologue:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-3, 10, 14
Not only did the Lord Jesus exist before the world itself, he was also the Agent whom God used to actually create every created thing, which makes him an eternal Being and therefore shows that he personally existed before the angels. In fact, he created the angels according to John!
With the foregoing behind us we can now address the specific objection in question. In the first place none of the passages referred to refute the explicit NT witness to Jesus prehuman existence, or of his being absolute and eternal Deity. The only thing these verses would show is that Solomon and Jeremiah existed before their human births as angelic beings, i.e. since neither of them are said to be God they must have therefore existed as angels. To therefore appeal to them in order to refute the Deity of Christ is nothing more than a non sequitur and fails to refute anything.
Secondly, and more importantly, neither passage is at all similar to what is being said in John 8:58. In fact, the Proverbs 8 passage is actually being misinterpreted and misapplied since it isnt speaking of Solomon, but rather it is speaking of Gods own Divine Wisdom, his personal attribute of Wisdom. The entire chapter is personifying Gods attribute of Wisdom so as to highlight its importance in a persons salvation and godliness:
"Does not WISDOM CALL? Does not UNDERSTANDING RAISE HER? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals SHE CRIES ALOUD: To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. I, WISDOM, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old." Proverbs 8:1-22
As one can see this text has absolutely no connection with an alleged prehuman existence of Solomon.
Regarding the Jeremiah passage, that citation does not say that Jeremiah existed with God before his formation in the womb. It is simply pointing out that God had appointed Jeremiah as his prophet even before he had created him:
"Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:4-5
The word "knew" in Hebrew is yada. Depending on the context yada can refer to intimate relations or to personal choices one makes. Note the following examples:
"Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD. And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him." Genesis 4:1, 25
Here, yada means that Adam knew his wife intimately through sexual union.
"Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:1-2
The word "known" in the above simply means that from all the nations God had created he chose Israel to be his people. This is precisely how other versions translate the verb in this reference:
"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth..." NASB
"You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth " NIV
"You only have I known (chosen, sympathized with, and loved) of all the families of the earth " Amplified Bible
In other words, God is simply telling Jeremiah that he personally chose to love the latter and appoint him as his spokesperson even before he had been created. This is far different from John 8:58 since Jesus, in this reference, didnt say that before Abraham was born God had already known Christ. Christ instead says that he already existed even before Abraham ever came into being, accounting for his claim that Abraham had seen him and rejoiced as a result of it.
Another explanation that is given to refute the plain exegesis of John 8:58 regarding Christs prehuman existence is the assertion that Jesus was simply claiming to have existed in the foreknowledge of God. In other words, God knew and decreed the creation and mission of Christ even before Abraham actually lived, much like in the case of Jeremiah.
This explanation is plainly erroneous for if this is all that Christ meant then he could not say that he was there before Abraham since even the latter existed in the foreknowledge of God (as well as everyone else for that matter).
Furthermore, Christian Apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr. gives another reason why this explanation makes no sense whatsoever:
" As has already been mentioned (in chapter 6), John Calvin debated persons in his day who interpreted the passage to mean that Jesus was eternally known by God in his foreknowledge. This view survived late into the nineteenth century, when it was effectively put to rest by the orthodox observation that the emphatic ego allowed for no other interpretation but that Jesus himself was the one who existed eternally. Thus, Godet, a famous nineteenth-century biblical scholar, wrote:
If, says Luthardt, it follows from the apposition between to be and to become, in this saying, that the existence of Christ is eternal, it follows quite as clearly from the ego that this existence is personal. This, too, is proved by the comparison with Abraham. For there would have been a touch of charlatanism on the part of Jesus in suddenly substituting an impersonal principle for His person, in His reply to the Jews, who were accusing Him of making Himself the contemporary of Abraham. If one of the two existences compared is personal, the other must be so too, otherwise, this statement, marked as it is by the greatest solemnity, is not a serious one." (Bowman, Jehovah's Witnesses & Jesus [Baker Book House; Grand Rapids, MI, 1995], p. 113; bold emphasis ours)
Therefore, if this interpretation is correct then Jesus statement at this point would have been meaningless and the reaction of the Jews in wanting to stone him would have been without any basis.
The evidence is clear; Jesus Christ is the eternal Lord of Glory, the blessed and beloved Son of God forever and ever. Amen.
A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Answering Islam Home Page