The preexistence of Christ is an important topic of discussion among modern scholars. According to R. E. O. White in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, edited by Walter A. Elwell, “The preincarnate existence of Christ may be ‘only a simple, contemplative inference backwards from the spiritual glory of the present Christ,’ certainly its clearest expression is found in later reflecting upon the rudimentary messianic, even adoptionist, assessment of Christ in primitive Christian community.” In other words, the preexistence of Christ is the understanding that when looking back into the Old Testament scriptures, clear evidence of the messiah that Christians recognize as Jesus Christ can be found; whose sacrifice on the cross would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. Discussion of the preexistence of Christ is important because if Scripture demonstrates Jesus Christ’s existence is found prior to His incarnation described in the New Testament, such evidence would provide further justification for his claims to divinity, a central tenet of Christianity. However, there is no unanimous agreement that Christ can be found in Old Testament Scripture. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Rather then simply advocating for or against the preexistence of Christ, this paper will attempt to determine what factors cause one to stand on either side of this argument. As a result, we will discover that neither side of this argument, based on the evidence alone, is strong enough to outweigh the opposition. This paper will show that prior theological paradigms become the single determining factor in how to interpret the textual evidence for and against the preexistence of Christ. Before beginning an analysis of how paradigms influence arguments, the arguments themselves will be presented.
PROOF OF PREEXISTENCE
Before presenting the interpretive evidence used in support of preexistence, one significant similarity between both groups must be addressed. It is quite clear that the Old Testament scriptures speak of messianic prophesies. These prophecies speak of one who will come with all the authority of God to restore mankind to a right relationship with Him. Walter Kaiser in The Messiah In The Old Testament states, “The first two prophecies in these five books of the law declared that the coming man of promise would be from the offspring of a woman (Gen. 3:15), but would also later on be none less than God come to dwell among the families of Shem (Gen. 9:27).” The Jewish community during the second temple period had deep expectations for the coming Messiah. However, the Jewish community today is included among those who oppose the Christian idea of the preexistence of Christ. The problem between these two groups then isn’t a matter of recognizing the Old Testament messianic prophecies. The problem is recognizing the Messiah who did come (Jesus Christ) as the one predicted by the Old Testament. Even if contemporary Jews should acknowledge that Jesus is an anointed man of God (the meaning of the Hebrew term ‘Messiah’), they do not thereby recognize him as divine, principally because this acknowledgement would violate the cardinal monotheistic tenet of Jewish faith. Using the same Old Testament scriptures, Christians almost unanimously claim that the divine, second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, can be found throughout the Old Testament. The similarity is striking: both religions consider the Old Testament scriptures to be the inspired word of God containing prophecies about a coming messiah. The difference is not an argument about the source texts. It is rather an argument about what the texts mean. Therefore, both interpretations of the scriptural evidence must be brought forth and examined. The first piece of evidence used by those in favor of the preexistence can be traced to the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible.
The book of Genesis is the beginning of the story between God and His children; even from the time of creation it is believed that Jesus Christ can be discovered in the text. The first passage that is used to support this belief is when God is found walking in the Garden with Adam. Genesis 3:8 (NIV) states:
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
Before God is discovered walking in the garden in the appearance of a man a pivotal event takes places that has major implications for humanity. The perfect relationship Adam and Eve had with God is now broken due to what is called “the fall of humanity”. Mentioning this broken relationship is important because now that God and humanity are no longer in right relationship the manner in which God interacts with His children changes. In this passage God is depicted as physically walking, suggesting God has a corporeal existence. These passages don’t explicitly indicate whether this was Jesus Christ walking in the garden or God the father, but this verse already begins to paint the picture of God in the form of a man. In fact, since both Judaism and Christianity acknowledge that God is an incorporeal being, it becomes very difficult to understand how this passage can be about God the Father. What we know about God throughout Scripture is that due to the fallen nature of man we are unable to see God in all his glory because it would kill us (Exodus 33:20). However, Adam and Eve experience God in the garden, suggesting that it is possible for fallen Man to be in the presence of some divine being who appears in human form. Christians conclude that this must be the pre-incarnate Jesus. Jesus Christ is thought of from New Testament revelation to be fully God yet still a man. If God the Father cannot reveal himself in all his Glory to fallen men, then logically the figure we associate as the God-man may very well be the person we find walking in the garden.
The next piece of scriptural evidence involves the life of Abraham who has many encounters with God in the form of a God-man like figure. Abraham is mentioned as having seen God and spoken with God. No direct reference is given to Jesus Christ as being the figure Abraham experiences but many aspects of Abraham’s story contribute to the evidence for preexistence. Genesis 18:1-2 (NIV) states:
“The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”
According to Victor Hamilton in The Book Of Genesis Chapters 18-50, “To his surprise Abraham sees three men in front of him. Yet, for reasons unclear to us, he addresses only one of them in the following verse. Indeed, one of the interesting features of this section is the shift back and forth from singular to plural…A.R. Johnson has advanced the idea that Genesis 18 provides another illustration of the oscillation between the one and the many in Israelites’ conception of God. Elohim is both one and more then one, and on this concept the NT doctrine of trinitarianism is built.” In Genesis chapter 19 detailed description is provided regarding these three figures who appear to Abraham. All three were in the form of men, one being Yehovah (God) in bodily form and the two angels. It is clear that in chapters 18 and 19 this encounter is considered to be an event that actually took place. God in the appearance of a man is interacting with Abraham.
The next passage used to support preexistence is Genesis 16:7, and 16:13 (NIV) which state:
“7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur…13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me,’”
Throughout Scripture there are many instances where angels appear to men as men, but in this instance this is not an angel like any other, but the angel of the Lord (angel of Yahweh). This angel speaks with the authority as if He is God. By speaking as God in first person, this being suggests that God exists in this instance in a corporeal form. According to Victor Hamilton, “It is clear from the above that the angel of Yahweh is a visible manifestation of Yahweh that is essentially indistinguishable from Yahweh himself. The angel is more a representation of God than a representative of God.” The angel of the Lord appears 58 times in the Old Testament. Though this angel of the Lord is considered to be a representation rather then representative, He is not simply just God the father. The angel of the Lord is a heavenly being given a particular task by Yahweh. What we take away from these versus is the example of a representation of God, in fully human form, that is going about accomplishing God’s will, yet has all the authority of God by speaking as if He is God. The language used in describing the angel of the Lord in this passage and the language the angel of the Lord actually uses contributes to the idea that this figure mentioned is none other then God who in bodily form is at work to accomplish His purposes; a situation strikingly similar to the Son of God found in the New Testament scriptures.
Of all the prophets throughout the Old Testament Moses is by far the most significant. Moses is so important because of the ways in which God uses him. The interactions God has with Moses are unlike any other. Mention will be made of Moses’ first encounter with God in Exodus, Exodus 3:2 (NIV) states:
“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of the fire from within the bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.”
It is significant to note that this manifestation of God in the burning bush is considered by supporters of preexistence to be the angel of the Lord. The Hebrew terms suggest that this is the same angel that appeared to Abraham in Genesis and the same angel who spoke with the authority of God. Several of these references to the angel of the Lord speak of the angel/God/Lord as if interchangeable, reinforcing the idea that the Lord Himself is the angel visible to those who encounter Him. According to Brevard Childs, “Who was this ‘angel’ who appeared in the fire in the lowly bush, who spoke for God in executing the redemption from Egypt? For most of the early Fathers the identity with the Son was completely obvious… Augustine was not adverse to the identification of the angel with Christ, but soon developed a more sophisticated Trinitarian interpretation, particularly under the pressure of the Arian controversy. Identifying Christ directly with the angel led to the danger of seeing him as a created being. Therefore, the angel was regarded as only representing the Son and speaking in his name.” Identifying the angel of the Lord in this passage with Jesus Christ is a complicated issue, but the church fathers nevertheless made this association. They believed that the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is the mediator of God the Father, which they also know Christ to be, thus they concluded that the angel of the Lord and Jesus Christ are the same. Nevertheless, we should note that throughout church history discussion over this passage has been subject to controversy, as we will find to be the case with all passages concerning the nature of the angel of the Lord.
Moses’ role with God’s plans does not end with the burning bush. Several other passages refer to God moving in ways to reveal His will and nature to Moses, passages including Exodus 24:9-11 and Exodus 33:11. If the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, then it can be assumed that the angel of the Lord was the one who split the red sea, brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, and met with the children at Mount Sinai. After the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai many events transpired that are difficult to ignore when considering the previous evidence displayed for preexistence. Exodus 24 and the previously mentioned Genesis 18 both establish the fact that God can appear in human form. The relationship God has with Moses provides further examples of this, and in Exodus 33:11 we learn how Moses spoke with God face-to-face. Moses pleads with the Lord to actually see Him; God then sets up the event where He reveals Himself to Moses in a way that keeps Moses from being harmed. Exodus 33:21-23 (NIV) states:
“Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
All the prophets and patriarchs were given two options when encountering the angel of the Lord. One choice was in a human form with the glory turned away, while the other option was the glorified angel who had to be covered with a cloud. In the case of Moses during his experience on Mount Sinai, Christian apologists have argued that God reveals Himself as a glorified man who Moses only catches a glimpse of. This is another example of where the language by those involved and the description of the events that transpire denote aspects of the future Jesus Christ. According to George Bush in Commentary on Exodus, “Yet let us repeat in reference to this whole gracious manifestation, that the glory beheld was unquestionably the glory of Christ. Nor are we prepared to deny that a resplendent human form, preintimative of the Divine Man, Christ Jesus, was vaguely presented to his view.” It is difficult not to see the similarities of the angel of the Lord with Jesus Christ, the bodily form, the glory and authority of God, and the mediator of God’s will, all of which are aspects applicable to both the angel of the Lord and of Jesus Christ.
It is important that the idea of the preexistence of Christ be demonstrated throughout the rest of the Old Testament. This paper has already made such a connection to passages including the Garden, Abraham, Hagar, and finally Moses. Included now is the connection to two new periods of reference, these include the books of Joshua and Judges. The angel of the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. In that stage the people of Israel came to know God by new names, new attributes, and new characteristics that would have strong influence on Israel’s future expectations of the prophesized messiah. One important characteristic that relates to preexistence is how Israel came to know God as a mighty commander in chief of the angelic armies. Joshua 5:13-15 (NIV) states:
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence and asked him, ‘what message does my lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
In this encounter Joshua experiences the angel of the Lord similar to those before him, the angel of the Lord is speaking with authority and with purpose. This figure who is depicted as a man can’t be God the Father because He is referred to as a man. He can’t be an ordinary angel because Joshua calls Him Lord and worships Him. This passage is directly connected to the burning bush experience of Moses (Exodus 3:5). In both situations the angel of the Lord refers to the place where they are standing as holy. It is undeniable that the angel of the Lord is stating He is the same figure who appeared to Moses in the bush. As the connection to Moses is made it appears that this angel of the Lord is intent on associating himself to past events, which is important for this discussion because this emphasizes the connection this figure has throughout the Old Testament. In this instance the angel of the Lord gives the audience a straight answer. What we find however is a key difference in this experience compared to past references of the angel of the Lord. This angel of the Lord Joshua meets is considered many things, including a man, an army commander, an angel, God, and Lord. Asher Intrater states in Who Ate Lunch With Abraham?, “The combination of all those qualities is a mathematical set that has no possible members in it—except one. This mixture of attributes is what the New Covenant attributes to Yeshua alone. The only logical conclusion is that this Commander whom Joshua met must by Yeshua.” It is clear that Intrater believes this figure to be Jesus Christ, and it is clear that this figure is connected to the same figure Abraham and Moses encounter. Yet, this figure is now thought of in a military sense. This element is developed further in Judges 2:1 (NIV) which states:
“The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said I will never break my covenant with you.”
The same angel of the Lord who is now known as a commander in chief of the angelic armies makes a statement that He is the one who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. This is a crucial piece of evidence. This is not a separate person, but the same person who is found in the book of Joshua, Exodus, and Genesis. When New Testament passages are included in the argument for preexistence, it is very difficult to come to any other conclusion than this Old Testament figure is Jesus Christ. John 8:56-58 (NIV) states,
“’Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ ‘You are no fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’
Even this brief review of some of the crucial passages seems to be enough evidence to cause any person to understand that the savior Jesus Christ, though He was never named, is indeed the angel of the Lord who appears throughout the Old Testament. With the revelation of the New Testament scriptures it seems easy to make this association, but oddly enough this connection isn’t easy to make for many and is still adamantly opposed by some. In order to understand why this is the case in spite of the apparent evidence, we must examine the opposing argument.
PROOF OF PREEXISTENCE?
This section will discuss the passages mentioned previously from the perspective that is not in favor for the preexistence of Christ. Following the explanation of the opposing perspective will be the focus on trying to understand why there can be two opposing views drawn from the same source texts. Unlike the Christian community the Tanakh (Old Testament) is the only scriptural material the Jewish community accepts. Because Orthodox Judaism does not accept the New Testament scriptures, it developed a different interpretation of Old Testament texts. Christians view the scriptures from the New Covenant looking backwards into biblical history; the Jewish community starts at Genesis and ends with Malachi, looking forward to an event yet to occur. This has ramifications on the way the Jewish community views concepts introduced in this paper such as “the angel of the Lord.” Why they don’t accept the New Testament passages will be addressed later on, but for now the Jewish interpretation of the scriptural evidence mentioned in Chapter 2 will be addressed.
The first verse mentioned in this paper was Genesis 3:8. For a Christian the occurrence of God in the form of a man immediately causes an association to the God-man in the New Testament, Jesus Christ. However, the theological discussion over the information we find describing the figure in the garden and throughout the Tanakh defines these occurrences of God-man as a theophany rather then immediately associating any description of God-man to Jesus Christ. According to M.F. Rooker in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, “A theophany may be defined simply as a visible manifestation of God, a self-disclosure of the deity. The word does not occur in the Old Testament or New Testament but is a theological word formed by the combination of two Greek words, theos (“god”) and phainein (“to appear”). Thus theophany refers to an appearance of God…As theophanies are normally understood to be temporary manifestations of God, many scholars maintain that they are restricted to the OT, since the NT understanding of the incarnation of Christ removes any need for further visible manifestation of God.” In other words, because of the revelation of the New Testament the incarnation has created a new understanding of how God operates, especially in terms of manifestations. According to Asher Intrater in Who Ate Lunch With Abraham?, “The ultimate stumbling block for a religious Jew to believe in Yeshua is the claim of Yeshua’s being divine, not of His being the Messiah.” Christians adopt doctrines such as the trinity, which claim Jesus as equal to the Father, but the Jewish community does not. For Jews, the Christian description of God being one in three while still maintaining a monotheistic nature can’t be accepted, so the theological framework of a theophany, a manifestation of God rather than a separate being (i.e., Jesus Christ) is used to explain circumstances such as the garden encounter. The concept of a theophany explains away the manifestations used by God in all examples. A man-like form is one of the means by which God reveals himself to humanity; God’s presence is made visible and recognizable. The notion that a supernatural being or god could reveal himself or herself to humanity was generally accepted not only in the ancient Near East but also in Hellenistic society. The angel of the Lord has been the primary focus of those in favor of preexistence, taking on a more important role in the manifestation hierarchy, but in many ways the Old Testament scriptures depict equality in all of God’s manifestations. For the Jewish community, this indicates that the angel of the Lord is just simply one of the ways God reveals himself and not something unique; certainly not a separate person. God could use fire, thunder, lighting, his Spirit or his angel to reveal his presence, but all are to be equally understood as genuine revelations of God. What is clear is this: Jewish interpretation of the text fits the concepts of the ancient Near East and maintains a strict monotheism. The postulation of a preexistent divine second being is not a necessary conclusion.
The next verses are Genesis 18:1-2. In this passage angelic figures appear to Abraham, and in our first analysis of this passage the focus was on the angel of the Lord. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis states, “This is the only example of this formula being used without some verbal declaration immediately following. Here, it seems to be a general statement followed by a detailed description of theophany or divine self-revelation, mediated in this instance through angelic messengers…There seems to be nothing superhuman about their appearance. Abraham perceives them to be human, as do people of Sodom (19:5). From the Jewish perspective these angelic figures are repeatedly designated ‘men,’ although they are also called ‘angels.’ Chapter 19:1 mentions ‘the two angels,’ which suggests that the third was manifestly different. Indeed, Abraham speaks to, and is in turn addressed by, one of them directly. Perhaps the other two are his attendants.” Sarna continues, “Their arrival as a group of three is without analogy in the Bible.” When compared to the Christian interpretation, which points to an early example of the trinity, we find the idea of a preexistent divine being completely absent from this new interpretation. Without the revelation of the New Testament, there is no basis for the connections made by the Christian interpretation. Instead of highlighting the angel of the Lord, which the Christian interpretation emphasizes, the JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis barely acknowledges this particular development. According to Sarna, this is not particularly special; it is just another means in which God reveals himself to humanity.
The next verses mentioned in Chapter 2 are Genesis 16:7 and 16:13. As described before this is the first appearance of the phrase “the angel of the Lord.” The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis says, “This is the first of several such instances of an announcement by a divine messenger predicting the birth and destiny of one who is given a special role in God’s scheme of history.” It is clear that reference is made to a future messiah, which the Jewish community had anticipated. What is especially noteworthy is that both interpretations see this passage as a key piece to the future promise of the messiah. The question then is, “If it was clear that a messiah would come, how did so many not find Jesus Christ to be the one that the prophecy foretold?” This question will be addressed in Chapter 4.
The next verse presented in Chapter 2 is Exodus 3:2. In this passage the interpretation of the JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus states, “The ‘angel’ has no role in the entire theophany; it is the fire that attracts Moses’ attention, and it is always God Himself who speaks. Most likely the angel is mentioned only to avoid what would be the gross anthropomorphism of localizing God in a bush.” This interpretation doesn’t make a connection of the future messiah to the angel of the Lord. The belief here is the angel of the Lord is separate from God, and the angel of the Lord is not actually involved in this manifestation. The focus is on the fire, one of many manifestations used by God. This Jewish commentary goes on to state that the angel of the Lord is mentioned only to avoid anthropomorphism. It appears as if the angel of the Lord isn’t necessarily important in this event. The fire is more important and considered equal to all other manifestation including the angel of the Lord.
Another passage in Exodus used as evidence for the preexistence of Christ is Exodus 33:21-23. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus states, “This daring anthropomorphism is conditioned by the contrasting repeated use of panim, ‘face, presence.’ Here the term means the traces of His presence, the afterglow of His supernatural effulgence. No human being can ever penetrate the ultimate mystery of God’s Being. Only a glimpse of the divine reality is possible, even for Moses.” This alternative interpretation once again focuses on terms and phrases differently than the Christian view. It completely dismisses what George Bush believes to be a primary example of the Old Testament connection to the divinity of Christ. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus doesn’t even reference the man-like nature of the passing figure who Moses encounters. The contrast between these interpretations is so vast that it begs the question whether these two commentators are referencing the same material.
By now it is clear that the interpretations from both sides are divided but this does not suggest that one is better then the other, or one is right and the other wrong. The same interpretive difference could be shown for the other passages used to support the Christian view of preexistence. The point of this chapter was to show the difference in thought between the two perspectives. The following two passages from Joshua and Judges that were not analyzed in Chapter 3 will be presented in the next chapter as they exhibit to the primary concern of this paper, namely, the a priori interpretive scheme or paradigm that directs thinking about the text.
PARADIGMS AND PREEXISTENCE
The Christian interpretation in favor of preexistence establishes a direct connection between Jesus Christ and passages in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, and Judges. Chapter 2 developed the major tenets of this position. Though Jesus Christ himself is never literally mentioned in the Old Testament, it is difficult to interpret these passages any other way after having accepted the revelation of the New Testament. However, all of this is equally opposed when looking at the perspective presented in Chapter 3 where it seems justifiable for those who take these passages within the context and culture of Judaism and make no connection to Jesus Christ. It is clear that both parties find evidence that a future messiah was expected. It seems then that the difference between both perspectives is a prior acceptance of the claims of Jesus Christ as the divine Messiah; this determines how the interpretation of the passages in the Old Testament will be understood. In other words, it is not the text that determines the doctrine but rather the doctrine that informs the text. The real argument about the preexistence of Christ depends on the paradigm used to understand the text, and that paradigm does not come from the text itself. The paradigm arises from some other consideration.
The paradigm causes the ability/inability to interpret the passages from a certain perspective. According to the Christian position, the Jewish community is affected because it is missing the complete picture; namely, the continuing revelation of God in the New Testament. The Christian paradigm is influenced by its prior commitment to the inspiration and authority of the New Testament so that the Christian reads this New Testament commitment back into the Old Testament texts. But Judaism does not recognize the New Testament material as sacred, for a number of reasons, not least of which is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, the Jewish interpretation of the same texts arrives at a different interpretation, not because it is flawed but because it does not read back into the Old Testament texts what is only fully understood from the New Testament. In terms of textual integrity, Jews could easily argue that the Christian idea is isogesis, not exegesis, because dealing only with the text does not require a Christological assumption.
If we do not recognize this fundamental paradigm difference, we might press the opponent to adopt a methodology that does not fit the paradigm. It is like expecting both parties to come to the same mathematical conclusion when one party approaches the problem with the principles of Euclidian geometry and the other approaches the problem from a Riemannian perspective. The evidence for preexistence is then theory-laden. In other words, the meaning of the text depends on the theory about the text. The predisposition to certain accepted beliefs causes the evidence to be viewed within certain parameters. Christians who have the revelation of the New Testament are working in a topography of curved surfaces while Jewish exegetes are working in a topography of flat surfaces. The Old Testament to Christians is viewed as the beginning half of a story between God and humanity, while Jews view it as the only story. There are no raw facts in the discussion of preexistence; the only facts are those determined by the predisposition set prior to ever conducting a survey of the information involved in this discussion.
Since the work of Thomas S. Kuhn, scientists have recognized the influence of paradigms in the supposedly neutral “objective” world. If this is now acknowledged in the hard sciences, how much more then does it affect what happens in religion? According to Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.” The scientific method was developed so that error could be reduced in determining the causal relationship between dependent and independent variables. The naïve belief of the scientific method is that by taking these precautions the hope of the researcher is to ultimately avoid any biased input into the data. However, this is rarely accomplished. According to Kuhn, “No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism. If that body of belief is not already implicit in the collection of facts—in which case more than ‘mere facts’ are at hand—it must be externally supplied, perhaps by a current metaphysic, by another science, or by personal and historical accident.” If this is the case with “objective material,” then how much more is this the case with theological material? The text is not neutral; meaning is read into the text, not from the text.
Consider the work of N.R. Hanson in Patterns of Discovery. Hanson studied how subjects view particular optical illusions which include the famous duck/rabbit illusion. In this illusion subjects have the ability to see either a duck or a rabbit yet they are viewing exactly the same image. The study focuses on what determines the ability to see either a duck or a rabbit. N.R. Hanson states, “Examining how observers see different things in x marks something important about their seeing the same thing when looking at x. If seeing different things involves having different knowledge and theories about x, then perhaps the sense in which they see the same thing involves their sharing knowledge and theories about x.” If this study shows anything, it is that paradigms do indeed have an influence on the ability to side with a particular interpretation of a particular issue. It is obvious that the adopted paradigm is different for both Jews and Christians. As mentioned previously Christians accept Jesus Christ, and adopt the New Testament as the word of God. The Jewish community accepts neither of these beliefs. This means that Judaism is not wrong for not recognizing Christ’s preexistence. It means that for Judaism, preexistence is not an option. No amount of textual exegesis will be convincing because the exegesis depends on paradigm assumptions that Judaism does not share. Furthermore, the same can be said of the Christian position. Christianity is not right in seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. It simply sees him there because of its paradigm commitment.
The Christian church from the very beginning had set itself on a path that would make it very difficult for Jews to shift paradigms. According to G.C. Berkouwer, “Under the influence of anti-Semitic propaganda many began to depreciate the significance and value of the Old Testament because they increasingly viewed it as representing a specifically Jewish religion. And, to be sure, anti-Semitism is not solely responsible for this far reaching devaluation of the Old Testament, for it has a long history which begins already with Marcion and continues through Harnack who declared with emphasis that the Old Testament is of no value to the Christian Church; but it cannot be denied that anti-Semitism played an important role in the characterization of the Old Testament as a purely Jewish book.” The negative views of the Old Testament, its customs, and its history created a gap that began to widen between Christianity and Judaism. Asher Intrater states, “For the religious leaders of the first century, deciding between Yeshua’s insanity or His divinity was not a very easy choice. We Jewish people should desire to follow in the footsteps of Abraham. We should believe in the same God he did.” Today the negativity towards the Old Testament may be decreased but the Jewish-Christian relationship has already suffered immense damage. Berkouwer states, “In this conflict the church believingly testifies to the progress of redemptive history and to the promise-fulfillment relationship between the Old Testament and the New, while, with equal emphasis, the synagogue declares the opposite.” This broken relationship has a long history, much like an individual’s personal history. This history influences the identity of those involved. So if the history of the Jewish community is filled with Christian anti-Semitism, it makes sense that there is a restraint by Jews to change to a Christian paradigm. On top of this mistreatment of the Jewish community itself is another element that contributes to Jewish resistance. According to Brevard Childs in The Book of Exodus, “It is difficult to translate Exodus 3.14 into western language because in the process we inevitably impose upon the Hebrew text categories of being and essence which were quite foreign to the Hebrew mind. The ancient Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament unconsciously but radically changed the meaning of the Hebrew text.” Not only did the church represent the Jewish community in a negative way but also over time the Jewish community witnessed the word of God as they knew it, transformed by foreign concepts which changed their understanding of the text. The Old Testament was stripped of its Hebraic culture right before their eyes to fit a perspective they didn’t understand and could not accept.
In Chapter 2 two passages that both Christians and Jews recognize as involving the angel of the Lord were examined. It is already established that the angel of the Lord is thought of in different ways depending on the paradigm one chooses. In these passages God is thought of as the commander and chief of the angelic armies. The military aid that God provides throughout the Old Testament becomes a characteristic that is expected to be a major piece of the purpose of the coming messiah. When Jesus Christ came however, he came to suffer for all of mankind, thus the expectations of many Jews were not met. These verses, used by Christians to show evidence of the preexistence of Christ, become the cause of many Jews to reject Jesus Christ. Asher Intrater states, “The root problem is not the interpretation of Messianic prophecies but the essence of who the Messiah is.”
Today, even with the availability of information, Jews still don’t accept Christianity’s beliefs as the truth and Jesus Christ as the one true God, not because the argument and information isn’t there, but because of Jewish history, a history that contains too much bad blood to give the arguments even the slightest chance. From the very beginning of Jesus Christ’s time on earth those who held a certain expectation that was not met were let down, causing them to ignore a truth that many were some how able to see. Those who rejected Christ were then pushed further away as time went on due to the mistreatment of those who remained strictly Jewish. It becomes clear how an individual who already had difficulty in believing Jesus Christ as the messiah, who still loved God the father, while also being mistreated by those who did believe in Christ, would ever come to terms with what Christianity claimed. This paradigm is so engrained in the Jewish community it is a long shot for a Christian to show those who are Jewish that the work of Jesus Christ is something different then their paradigm has told. This is why when we as Christians look to the New Testament we must focus on the example Christ left us, which in many ways differs from the methods Christians have taken throughout history to show this good news to those who are Jewish.
How to change a paradigm is a complicated issue. According to Thomas S. Kuhn, “When paradigms change, the world itself changes with them…It is rather as if the professional community has been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and joined by unfamiliar ones as well” A paradigm shift then is no simple matter. It is not a matter of simply having more information. Something else has to happen before we see the world differently. Jesus Christ impacted the lives of those who truly knew him for who he was to such an extreme that they continued to preach his claim to divinity until their dying breath. What we find in the example of the twelve are men who were stuck in the same paradigm that most Jews today hold; except for the subsequent mistreatment from the Church, yet they came to know the truth of Jesus Christ. How is it that Jesus made such a radical impact on their lives? What was it He did that we don’t seem to do enough of today to show the truth that He obviously displayed during His time with the disciples? Luke chapter 13-34 is the perfect example of how Jesus caused a paradigm shift that should be exemplified by Christians today. After His death and resurrection from the tomb, Jesus appears to two men walking along the road to Emmaus. These men describe to Jesus, whom they did not recognize at the time, the events that just transpired, stating that they had hoped He would be the one who would redeem Israel. This points out the paradigm beliefs that the Jewish community had expected of the messiah mentioned earlier. Jesus then states in verse 25-26 (NIV),
“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
Jesus then goes on to explain to the men all the things the prophets said concerning Himself. Jesus then joins them, walking with them and revealing His character in a humble manner. The two men suddenly recognized after spending time with Him who He was and the truth of what He had told them along the road to Emmaus. The paradigm shift did not occur on the basis of textual evidence. It occurred when they experienced the reality of his presence. The argument was already there but the experience of Jesus Christ was needed in order to recognize it for what it was. A theological argument on its own is not enough to change a paradigm; the individual must experience the truth. The individual with a paradigm that denies the work of Christ must experience the truth that Christ works through those who have received His grace, the same way Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples, the same way He revealed Himself to the two men on the road to Emmaus. Only after the experience can the paradigm shift; the argument means nothing without the experience.
The purpose of this paper wasn’t to claim whether the preexistence of Christ is true or false, but to show that the arguments for either position do not have the capability of achieving such a conclusion from the textual evidence alone. The evidence presented for both positions does not prove whether its perspective is right and the other is wrong because the evidence is already determined to support the particular paradigmatic understanding prior to the textual analysis. The claims of this paper are based on the functioning of paradigms and their application to the preexistence of Christ debate. By understanding the impact of paradigms in scriptural interpretation, we find that any expectation for one party to come to terms with the opposing party’s perspective on the evidence alone is doubtful, but when the evidence is built on top of an experience a shift in paradigms is very possible. According to Ludwig Wittgenstein in On Certainty, “Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to an end;– but the end is not certain propositions striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language-game.” If Christians would recognize this paradigm dependence, then the possibility of cross-paradigm communication may open. In the end, the enlightenment required to see the text in support of the idea of preexistence depends more on the movement of the Spirit and the experience of the presence of the Savior than it does not the verses of the Bible. Until Jews see the truth of their monotheism lived out in the lives of Christian believers, they have no reason to question their understanding of the biblical texts.
Does the Bible support the idea of the preexistence of Christ? Yes – and – No. Which paradigm do you have? And what reason do you have to shift?
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