Here I am going to respond to selections of Kel’s article. The selections I have chosen are the ones I regard as embodying Kel’s main arguments; I have left out what I regard as repetitious or off the point. If I have missed or misunderstood Kel’s arguments, anyone who reads this – including Kel – is welcome to bring that to my attention.
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Problems with Kel’s objections from an English language perspective
John 17:5 Jesus said, “Now, Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was.”
Kel denies that this means Jesus existed before the world was, saying
“The Scriptural facts show us that Jesus is not asking for his glory back nor is he indicating that he existed as a self-conscious person before creation.”
Kel uses various arguments to back this up. Let’s answer a few of his objections in the order he presents them. I am assuming that the reader has a copy of his original article so I will not quote it fully here.
1 – Trinitarian Eisegesis – (eisegesis means inserting a foreign meaning into a text) Kel says
“It must be recognized what Trinitarians are imagining into the text. They imagine Jesus is talking about a “time” before time began “when” he was with the Father and it was then when he shared this glory with the Father.”
It must be? Kel speaks as if there is something strange about the way Trinitarians interpret this verse. But is there? Consider this sentence: “Dad, I have finished college with an A average; now let me have the job you promised me before school started.” Is it really so hard to believe that these words refer to a “time” before the boy’s schooling started “when” his dad had promised him a job? That is what such a sentence would mean in normal language. It seems to me that the burden of proof is on anyone who would argue otherwise.
2 – “Before the world was” or “Before I came down from heaven”?
“If a pre-existent Jesus had given up his glory when he came down from heaven to be incarnated, and he is asking to have it returned to him, one would expect him to have said, “Now, Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before I came down from heaven. In Trinitarian doctrine, Jesus did not give up his glory at “the foundation of the world”; he gave up his glory when he became a human being. However, this problem is simply ignored by Trinitarian interpreters.
On the contrary, a period of time can be referred to by mentioning any part of it, in this case, the beginning of it (before the world was) and not the end of it (when he came down from heaven). Why did Jesus refer to the beginning of that time rather than the end of it? Perhaps it was because Jesus was affirming the very thing Kel denies, namely, that he existed with the Father before the world was.
3 – Jesus has given future disciples this same glory – Kel here asserts that
“At John 17:22, Jesus is praying for his future disciples. Many of these disciples do not yet exist. But Jesus said he has given (past tense) these future disciples this same glory. He does a similar thing when he says he had already sent his disciples into the world, “Just as You sent me into the world, I have also sent them into the world” in verse 18, when in fact this occurs after his resurrection, “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you” and he sends them by anointing them with the Holy Spirit.(20:21).
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word….The glory which You have given me I have given to them. John 17:22.
The Trinitarian interpretation is inconsistent with these statements. If one wants to interpret John 17:5 to mean Jesus existed with the Father before creation then one will also necessarily need to consistently interpret Jesus’ words in verse 22 as meaning his future disciples existed along with him when he was saying this prayer. However, Trinitarians simply ignore these inconsistencies.”
This is silly. Obviously you can bequest a gift to someone who does not yet exist, and if so the giver could say “I gave it to you before you were born.” But when recipient of the gift finally does come into existence, he could not truthfully say of himself that “I had the gift with you (that is, with the giver)” before the recipient was born. But in 17:5 Jesus said exactly that; that he was with the Father sharing glory with the Father before the world was – which certainly also means before he was born as a baby in Bethlehem.
Also, consider the following scenario: A billionaire is the father of a son to whom he gives a project: “Son, everything I have is yours but I want to see if you can build a business starting with only $10,000.” The son then departs to a nearby city where he chooses out several partners to be his team and gives each of them $1,000 for expenses out of the $10,000 he started with. The son could later say to his dad, “the money which you gave to me I have given to them,” but that would not mean that the partners shared in the billions the son had with his father before the project began.
Kel seems to be ignoring the fact that there are different kinds and degrees of glory. 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 says, “There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” – RSV The glory Jesus had with the Father before the world was could have been of a different kind than the glory that Jesus manifested when he walked the earth.
There are also different degrees of glory, even if the glory is of the same kind. There was one degree of God’s glory that would kill a man if he saw it (Exodus 33:18-20). There was another degree of glory that Jesus revealed when he was transfigured (Luke 9) which Peter, James, and John witnessed. It was brilliant, but they did not die from it. As John said in 1:14, “We have seen his [Jesus’] glory.” Logically, the glory that they saw in Jesus and yet lived could not have been exactly the same as the glory no man could see and live. It must have differed in either kind or degree.
4 – A Glory-less Divine Nature?
“In Trinitarian doctrine, Jesus does not give up his divine nature when he becomes a human being in the incarnation. But this means that Trinitarians are suggesting Jesus had a divine nature which was devoid of divine glory.”
This is absurd. Trinitarian doctrine holds that Jesus either veiled or did not make use of this glory when he came down to earth, not that he didn’t have it by nature. Even God the Father can veil his glory without losing it. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:3 informs us,
“When all the children of Israel SAW the fire come down and the glory of the Lord upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.’” – RSV
They saw this glory, but instead of dying, they worshiped. This proves that the glory must have been veiled. In fact, God can veil his glory so completely that it is invisible (Exodus 20:21). If the Father can veil his glory and the Son does whatever the Father does (John 5:19-20), why couldn’t Jesus veil his glory as well? Kel’s argument makes no sense.
5 – We have seen his Glory
“In John chapter 1, John explains how the Word became flesh which Trinitarians interpret as the incarnation of God the Son. Then he says, “we have seen his glory.” How could they see his divine glory if he relinquished this glory and needs to ask for it back at John 17:5.”
Here Kel refers to the transfiguration, and makes the same mistake I mentioned in argument 3, thinking that there is only one degree or kind of glory that Jesus has. Trinitarians ignore the “problem” because there is no problem. The glory that was given to Jesus when he walked the earth is either not the same degree of glory or not the same kind of glory that he was now asking the Father to glorify him with, as has been proven in the response to argument # 3.
Further, Jesus asked did not ask the Father to “restore to me the glory I had with thee before the world was made” but to “glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” The request is that the Father glorify him in his own presence; the request is not for the Father to restore to him glory that he no longer had.
6 – “Had It” does not amount to Self Conscious Pre-existence
“Carefully regard the following passages:
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.’ Ephesians 1:3-4.
God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the times of the ages, but now has been manifested by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:9-10
Paul speaks about having been chosen before the foundation of the world. He also speaks about grace having been given to us before the creation of the world. He had chosen us. It had been given to us. We had it. We had it but this does not mean we pre-existed as self-conscious persons at the foundation of the world. Somehow, Trinitarians can comprehend how this can be true but the same thought doesn’t occur to them concerning John 17:5. And this fact is also disregarded by Trinitarians.”
The key here are his words “It had been given to us. We had it.” This is not exactly true. 1 Peter 1:2 explains that we have indeed been chosen but we have been chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” His purpose and grace was given to us in Christ Jesus, not in us . . . for we did not yet exist. In the foreknowledge of God it was as good as done, but not yet in our knowledge or experience. Thus, we could not say to God “I had this grace with you before the times of the ages.” It is only God who can say to us that He gave us this grace before the world was.
Question: If Jesus had meant to say “Glorify me with the glory you planned for me before the world was,” why didn’t he just say it that way in the first place?
We already have examples of what a man might say of himself before he was created: “Your eyes did see my substance, being yet unformed; and in your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” – Psalm 139:16 King James 2000 Bible. This kind of speech is as far from what Jesus said in John 17:5 as the East is from the West.
7 – John is the author of John 17:5. Trinitarians interpret this glory as something Jesus “had” – past tense. He is also the person who said that Jesus is “the Lamb who had been slain from the foundation of the world. How could John say such a thing? How could he speak about the crucifixion in past tense saying the Lamb had been slain from the foundation of the world? Trinitarians intuitively know what John means when he speaks these words. God has been finished all His works from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3; cf. Isaiah 55:11) and He fixed the times and seasons by His own authority (Acts 1:7). John could speak of the crucifixion as a past even from the foundation of the world because God spoke it to be, He was finished His work and the cross event had been predestined by God to be manifested in the time and season He established. But for some reason, Trinitarians are not able to apply the same line of reasoning to John 17:5.
Several things must be mentioned. First, many biblical scholars hold that the foundation of the world mentioned in Revelation 13:8 is the same as the creation of the world described in Genesis 1.
Second, at least some Trinitarians do not regard the “mystical slaying of the Lamb from the foundation of the world” as C.S. Lewis puts it, as precisely the same event as the crucifixion. The idea here seems to be that something happened to the Lamb at the foundation of the world that is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly revelation of the Lamb who was crucified in 30 AD. The eventual crucifixion of the Lamb was inherent in God’s decision to create the world, and maybe it cost the Lamb something to go forward with the plan at the time of the creation.
Third, even if it is the crucifixion that is being described as taking place from the foundation of the world, it is in God’s foreknowledge and predestined plan that this is so, not in the experience of those who witnessed the crucifixion. As it says in 1 Peter 1:18-20, we were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” – NIV
Whatever the case, the disciples who witnessed the crucifixion would not be able to say “We were there at the foundation of the world when God planned the crucifixion.”
Problems with Kel’s objections from a New Testament Greek perspective
Toward the end of this article, Kel argues that the text of John 17:5 has been wrongly translated by Trinitarians in most of our Bibles. John 17:5 in the Greek is
καὶ νῦν δόξασόν με σύ Πάτερ παρὰ σεαυτῷ τῇ δόξῃ ᾗ εἶχον πρὸ τοῦ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι παρὰ σοί, which is translated word for word as and now glorify me you Father with yourself with the glory that I had before – the world existed with you.
I will not quote Kel’s entire argument concerning the Greek, as I think one can see the gist of it in the correction provided by my friend the seminary professor (which follows the final argument). Kel concludes his argument with these words:
“The facts show us that John’s words are being entirely misconstrued by Trinitarian interpreters. Jesus’ words, (lit.) “and now glorify me You Father alongside you to that glory I had before the the world to be alongside you” mean that Jesus is asking to be glorified to that glory he had alongside the Father in terms of the works he did before the world who hates Jesus and his disciples. These works manifested his glory and glorified the Father who was abiding in him doing the works and who glorified Jesus in this manner concerning these works. At John 17:5, Jesus wants to be glorified to that glory which he had alongside Father before the world who hated him when he did those works and which glory is “to be (einai) alongside You.”
It would seem that Kel is now willing to admit that Jesus being “alongside” or “with” the Father does indeed mean Jesus existed when he was with the Father, as long as he only existed with the Father during his ministry; but if Jesus was alongside or with the Father before the world was created, those very same words don’t mean that Jesus existed at that time.
I also asked the seminary professor about Kel’s argument that John 17:5 means that Jesus was with the Father “before” the world in the sense that Jesus was in front of the world during his ministry but not in the sense that he preceded the world in time. He offered the following:
“It should be noted that while the author repeatedly refers to particular interpretation of a passage as being “Trinitarian,” many biblical scholars who have no interest in these theological disputes interpret John 17:5 in a way that is consistent with those who do hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, it should also be pointed out that biblical scholars who are simply not concerned whether Jesus’ statement in John 17:5 is actually true, nevertheless acknowledge that according to the author John, Jesus is referring to his preincarnate glory, an interpretation derived through sound Greek exegesis and a grammatical-historical work, and not through any supposed commitment to the doctrine of the Trinity.
In regard to the author’s grasp of the Greek language, and Greek exegesis in particular, there are simply no warrant for his conclusions. Some basic points of Koine Greek grammar:
The preposition para:
While the Greek preposition, para, when joined with the Dative object (soi), might be translated as “alongside,” when para is joined with the dative, as it is here, it is used spatially, or in association with, and meant to specifically highlight “proximity” or “nearness.” It is far more common to translate para as “alongside” when this preposition is joined with the Accusative. Any first year Greek student would recognize this.
Of course the Greek word einai means “to be,” by itself, as this is the infinitival form, unless it is part of an articular infinitive, which occurs in this case, as the author observes. But the rules of Greek grammar require that when the preposition pro is joined with the genitive definite article (tou) followed by an infinitive (einai), it is an adverbial expression of time that should be rendered as “before.”
The author’s claim that einai must simply be “to be” and not “was,” simply ignores the grammatical context of the word, and the function of the articular infinitive. Moreover, he ignores the controlling verb in this passage, eixon, which is an Aorist first person singular of the verb “to have.” But, because it is an Aorist, it is intentionally referring to something that happened in the past, it must be rendered as “I had,” and not only something that occurred in the past, but more specifically the state of things in the past. It is the tense (Aorist) of this finite verb that determines how this phrase—“before the world” must be interpreted. This is simply how Koine Greek functions.
No scholar of Greek grammar would find the author’s reading of the Greek text fundamentally sound. One cannot simply take dictionary forms of words and plug their meanings into a sentence while ignoring the many nuances of verb cases, prepositions, and articular infinitives, etc.”