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A Trinitarian Argument for Jesus’ Personal Pre-Existence in John 1

I have to start this post with a technical caveat and somewhat of an apology. When Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals discuss the pre-existence of Jesus, the term “Jesus” is used in a rather loose sense. Technically speaking, neither side believes that Jesus himself pre-existed his incarnation, because “Jesus” refers to the one who is the Word incarnate—that is, to the single Person who has two natures. And that Word is either the pre-incarnate Son or the Father depending on your theology. Technically speaking, then, this discussion is about the pre-incarnate Word. Now for the apology: I’ve given this post the name it has for it to be searchable; people are more likely to search for something like “pre-existence of Jesus in John” than “Word” because the loose sense of “Jesus” is all too prevalent.

Now, I’d like to share a reconstruction of an argument that a Trinitarian might give to show that the Word personally pre-exists his incarnation in John 1. I say “John 1” and not “John 1:1-18” or even “John 1:1” because there are certain ideas used to support the Word’s personal pre-existence in John 1:1c (such as verse 30) that are outside of the prologue (1:1-18). That’s because we have to take into account the broader context of John 1:1c when we attempt to determine its meaning. Syntax can be one factor, but it isn’t the only one.  

It will be helpful to keep this argument in mind as I explore arguments for and against Jesus’ pre-existence in John 1 so that you can see how the particular point I am arguing for (or against) ties into this argument.

The Argument 

1. θεός (“God”) in John 1:1c is either a definite, qualitative, or indefinite noun.   
2. θεός is not a definite noun.   
3. θεός is not an indefinite noun.    
4. Therefore, θεός in John 1:1c is a qualitative noun.  Disjunctive Syllogism: 1-3 
5. λόγος is either a personal or impersonal thing.   
6. λόγος is not an impersonal thing.   
7. Therefore, the λόγος is a personal thing.  Disjunctive Syllogism: 5-6 

8. (4) and (7) are true.  

 

Conjunction: 4, 7 

 

9. If (4) and (7) are true, then the Q-P interpretation of John 1:1c is correct.   
10. If the Q-P interpretation of John 1:1c is correct, then the best explanation of it is that the λόγος is a divine Person distinct from the Father in the beginning.   
11. Therefore, if (4) and (7), then the best explanation of it is that the λόγος is a divine Person distinct from the Father in the beginning.  Hypothetical Syllogism: 8-9 
12. Therefore, the λόγος is a divine Person distinct from the Father in the beginning.  Modus Ponens: 9, 11 

Justification for the Premises 

Premise (1): This premise exhausts the possibilities for how to take θεός in John 1:1c. Take a look at this post for an explanation.  

Premise (2): I’ve given (I think) the most decisive reasons I can for thinking this premise is true. Refer to my discussion of the Definite-Personal (D-P) interpretation of John 1:1c. 

Premise (3): This premise is true given John’s usage of Colwell Constructions in his Gospel. I’ve said a little bit about this in this post and even more in the post I just linked to for premise (2).  

Premise (5): This is self-evident, as long as we understand that “impersonal” is the equivalent to the negation “not-a-person” (or “not-person” or “not-personal” for short). I give a tentative list of necessary conditions for personhood in this post.  

Premise (6): I will discuss arguments for this premise at length when I explore the Definite-Impersonal (D-I) and Qualitative-Impersonal (Q-I) interpretations of John 1:1c.  

Premise (9): This conditional statement is true if you grasp the four interpretations of John 1:1c and the fact that (4) and (7) together imply that the Qualitative-Personal (Q-P) interpretation of John 1:1c is correct.  

Premise (10): Justifying this premise means that the Trinitarian must show that the Q-P interpretation of John 1:1c is implausible given other competing theologies.

Where I Stand

I’ll put my cards on the table at this point: As I’ve already indicated, I think that premise (4) is true. What I haven’t fully settled yet is whether premise (6), and therefore premise (7), is true. So, as you might be able to tell, I’m going to argue in a later post that since premise (2) is most likely false, that we shouldn’t accept a Definite-Impersonal (D-I) interpretation of John 1:1c on that basis alone. But that means we still have to consider the Qualitative-Impersonal (Q-I) interpretation. And, for that matter, we have to make sure that a Q-P interpretation is somehow implausible on Oneness Pentecostal theology, making the Trinitarian understanding the best explanation of John 1:1c.  

Is the conclusion of this argument true? I don’t know yet. But at the very least, this argument will help us focus our discussion of John 1.

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