Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Synoptic Gospels on Jesus’ Divine Preexistence –

A Reply to Bart Ehrman Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Muslim convert-turned apostate-turned Muslim convert again Paul Williams has reblogged Bart Ehrman’s post where he discusses why he has changed his mind concerning Jesus’ portrayal in the Synoptic Gospels, i.e., Mark, Matthew and Luke. Ehrman states that he now believes that the Synoptics do portray Jesus as God in some sense, even though he doesn’t think that they teach his eternal preexistence. He writes that,  

For Mark, Jesus was adopted to be God’s son at his baptism. Before that, he was a mere mortal. For Luke, Jesus was conceived by God and so was literally God’s son, from the point of his conception.  (In Luke Jesus did not exist *prior* to that conception to the virgin – his conception is when he came into existence). For John, Jesus was a pre-existent divine being – the Word of God who was both with God and was God at the beginning of all things – who became a human.  Here he is not born of a virgin and he is not adopted by God at the baptism (neither event is narrated in John – and could not be, given, John’s Christology). (Bart Ehrman’s unexpected change of view on Jesus as God in the Synoptics: Jesus as God in the Synoptics reblogged from Bart’s Blog)

We have decided to respond to these assertions in order to show that, contrary to Ehrman’s claims, the Synoptic Gospels do affirm Christ’s eternal prehuman existence as God, even though they make it equally clear that he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit.

Since Bart Ehrman uses the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Holy Bible throughout his book we have decided to go with this translation as well.

All four Gospels agree that John the Baptist was sent as the envoy or herald prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, with the Synoptics further identifying John as the messenger spoken of in Malachi 3:1.

Note, for instance, how Mark begins his Gospel:

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make HIS paths straight,”’ John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:1-11

Compare this with Luke’s Gospel:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make HIS paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’… As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. HIS winnowing fork is in HIS hand, to clear HIS threshing floor and to gather the wheat into HIS granary; but the chaff HE will burn with unquenchable fire.’” Luke 3:1-6, 15-17 – cf. Matthew 3:1-3, 11-15; John 1:14-15, 23, 26-36; 3:22-36

This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Luke 7:28 – cf. Matthew 11:10-11 

Now these citations are highly significant since the context of the OT passages, which the Synoptic Gospels quote in relation to John’s role as an envoy, do not speak of a messenger being sent to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Rather, they all refer to God sending a herald ahead of him to announce to the people that Yahweh God Almighty is coming to dwell in their midst!

Here is the prophecy from Isaiah:       

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’… Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘HERE IS YOUR GOD!’ See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11

Isaiah clearly says that it is Yahweh Almighty who is coming to rule and tend his flock. Now notice the words of Malachi:

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way BEFORE ME, and the Lord (ha Adon) whom you seek will suddenly come to HIS temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1

The prophet states that it is the Lord himself who is going to come to his temple. That this Lord is none other than Yahweh God himself can be easily seen from the fact that the words ha Adon are never used for anyone other than Yahweh:

“Therefore says the Sovereign (ha Adon), the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes!” Isaiah 1:24

“For now the Sovereign (ha Adon), the Lord of hosts, is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and staff—all support of bread, and all support of water—” Isaiah 3:1

And according to the inspired Scriptures the temple in Jerusalem was built for the glory and worship of Yahweh, not for anyone else:

“King David said to the whole assembly, ‘My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great; for the temple WILL NOT BE FOR MORTALS but for the Lord God.’” 1 Chronicles 29:1

“Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would reside in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to reside in forever.’” 2 Chronicles 6:1-2

“and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it;” Matthew 23:21

This leaves absolutely no doubt that the One whom Malachi said was going to come to his temple is none other than Yahweh God Almighty!

We come to the conclusion of this part of our discussion. Please proceed to Part 2.