Born Before All Time: The Dispute over Christ’s Origin.

The Christianity of Jesus and of the Bible is Not So Complicated
August 10, 2017
From Logos to Trinity
September 5, 2017

Born Before All Time: The Dispute over Christ’s Origin.

The following quotes are taken from a book published in 1992 entitled, Born Before All Time: The Dispute over Christ’s Origin. The author of this exegetical work is the German Catholic scholar Karl-Josef Kuschel.

He examines all aspects of Christology—from historical, mythological, and exegetical perspectives. An emphasis is placed on the nature of pre-existence.
This book is published by The Crossroad Publishing Company out of New York, NY.

Commenting on Philippians 2:6-11 on page 250 he states, “…the Philippians hymn, present-day exegetes have drawn the radically opposite conclusion that the Philippians hymn does not speak of the pre-existence of Christ at all. Indeed, an increasing number of present-day New Testament scholars with good reason question the premises of exegesis hitherto and cannot see pre-existence, let alone Incarnation, in the Philippian hymn.

Commenting further on this specific passage on page 252 he quotes another well-known Catholic scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor as saying, “As the Righteous Man par excellence Christ was the perfect image (eikon) of God. He was totally what God intended man to be. His sinless condition gave him the right to be treated as if he were God, that is, to enjoy the incorruptibility in which Adam was created. This right, however, he did not use to his own advantage, but he gave himself over to the consequences of a mode of existence that was not his by accepting the condition of a slave which involved suffering and death.”

Continuing on page 254 still in context on the Philippian hymn he quotes from a modern Protestant exegete, Matthias Rissi in a 1987 article, as stating “The sources are neither wisdom reflections on the righteous sufferer nor mythological speculations about a pre-existent divine being, but the messialogy of the book of Isaiah [chapt. 53]. So vv. 6 and 7 would not be speaking of a pre-existent heavenly being or of Incarnation, but solely of the life of Christ on earth.”

Kuschel then comments himself on the same page following Rissi’s comment, by saying, “He is the man Jesus who was exalted because he humbled himself, and at the end will receive eschatological homage from all. This is clearly a Jewish-Christian interpretation of the career of Christ on the basis of a christological interpretation of the Old Testament.”

On still the same page Kuschel quotes from another Protestant exegete, a German named Klaus Berger. “The conclusion is that ‘from this sequence it follows that Phil. 2:6 is primarily concerned with making statements about high status and by no means necessarily concerned with pre-existence. I do not think that it can be proved that this is a statement about Incarnation.”

At the bottom of this same page [254] Kuschel then adds his personal take on the Philippian text 2:6-11, by stating, “The Jewish background is enough for understanding this hymn and indeed for providing continuity with Aramaic Jewish Christianity in the proclamation of Christ. So ‘humbling himself,’ ‘emptying himself,’ is not to be understood as the act of a mythological pre-existent heavenly being, but as a qualification of the man Jesus.”

On page 262 he concludes his remarks on the Philippians two passage by stating, “What does all this mean for the question of the pre-existence of Christ? To sum up, we can now say that if we take note of the linguistic subtleties, the dynamic of inner movement and the poetic form of the text, this hymn does not contain what numerous interpreters seek and find in it: an independent statement about pre-existence or even a Christology of pre-existence.”

He continues by saying, “In 1977 the Freiburg exegete Anton Vogtle also came to a similarly sober conclusion: ‘No pre-existence of Christ before the world with an independent significance can be recognized even in Phil. 2.”

Commenting on whether there is in Paul a notion of pre-existence of Christ in Galatians 4:4, on page 274 he quotes James Dunn as saying, “Dunn’s conclusion is: ‘Paul and his readers in writing and reading these words may well have thought only of the man Jesus whose ministry in Palestine was of divine commissioning and whose uniquely intimate relation with God was proved (and enhanced) by his resurrection, despite his rejection by the stewards of Israel’s heritage.”

On the next page [275] Kuschel asks if the phrase “God sent forth His Son,” “Does he send him from heaven? This is not mentioned even once, in contrast to what Wisdom 9:10 says about wisdom. There is no mention either of this son having previously been with God—as is the case with wisdom in Wisdom 9:9. On the contrary, the son who is sent was born under the law, i.e. at a moment when the Torah was already in force, and he was born from a woman (Gal. 4:4), and he is sent when the fullness of time comes. What Paul writes about the sending of the son can in no way be understood of a situation preceding the beginning of history, but rather of an event following Jesus’ birth and preceding his resurrection.”

He further states by saying on page 277 in reference to this phrase, “For the apostle, this statement evidently does not presuppose the belief that the one who was sent had a real prior existence with God, was a ‘divine being.” But Paul is quite firmly convinced that the significance of this concrete historical Jesus can never be understood as anything but that he is Son of God—from the beginning of his earthly activity.”

Kuschel commenting on whether Paul in Romans 9:5 declares Jesus as God (Yahweh), states on page 303, “The question whether Paul directly and explicitly described Jesus as “God” (theos) must in all probability be answered in the negative.”
Quoting Otto Kuss, Kuschel writes, “…for him (Paul), in contrast to us, “God” always sounds (to put it in contemporary language) like God the Father, in which case the statement “Christ is God” would be simply impossible.”

On the following page [304] Kuschel adds, “…the interpretation of Bas van Iersel may be correct here: ‘But of pre-existence and equality of being with God we cannot discover any trace in Paul’s letters.”

On page 306 Kuschel states, “Paul’s authentic Christology does not recognize any independent statements about a being of Jesus Christ before the world or before time (in direct statements either about ‘being with God’ before appearing on earth or about his own mediation at creation, or even identifying him with God).”

On page 307 he further states, “…for Paul, Christ is not a divine heavenly being in the Gnostic mythological sense; he is not a pre-existent divine being who left the heavenly world once again to ascend to God in heaven — as was assumed by Bultmann’s interpretation of Paul.”

Commenting on page 317 Kuschel explains that pre-existence should be understood not in the prior eternal personage of Jesus, but in the pre-existence of the “wisdom” of God. Notice: “As for Paul, so too for Matthew, Jesus is the wisdom of God as a human person and is not as pre-existent as hypostatized wisdom. He is—to put it briefly—‘wisdom become flesh,” which has to suffer the fate of persecution.”

Then at the bottom of the page he contends, “…it is Jesus’ being begotten by the Spirit of God in the womb which is the foundation for his divine Sonship in Matthew and Luke.”

Commenting further on Matthew on page 319 he says, “Nowhere does the evangelist attribute to Jesus a saying about heavenly origin or even his real pre-existence, nor does he allow any of the followers of Jesus make such a claim.”

Kuschel then on page 320 writes that in 1954, “…Hans Conzelmann had arrived at the view that in the title “Son of God” in Luke there was ‘no idea of a physical divine nature.’ That was already evident from the fact that ‘the idea of pre-existence is completely lacking.”

He continues, “…the Catholic exegetes Gerhard Schneider and Joseph Fitzmeyer agree in arriving at the conclusion that Luke in fact does not think ‘in terms of a pre-existence of Christ’ (G. Schneider). Fitzmeyer adds: ‘In Lukan theology there is no question of Jesus’ pre-existence or Incarnation.”

On the following page [321] he says agreeing with the astute Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown, that, “…both Matthew and Luke clearly wanted to stress—while at the same time repudiating both adoptianist ideas and ideas governed by a pre-existence Christology—that Jesus Christ did not just ‘become’ Son of God from a particular age, nor was he Son of God ‘from eternity;’ he was Son of God from birth.”

On page 323 Kuschel states that, “Hans Conzelmann has convincingly stated that Luke ‘remains with the Christology of the Synoptic tradition, which does not know any pre-existence.’”

On page 377 Kuschel comments on Raymond Brown, who believes…”that it must have been the pre-existence of Jesus and his heavenly origin which had been lacking in the Christology of the “Apostolic Christians,” and concludes from this: “Both Apostolic and Johannine Christians say that Jesus is God’s Son; yet Johannine Christians have come to understand that this means that he is ever at the Father’s side (1:18), not belonging to this world (17:14), but to a heavenly world above (3:13, 31). Once again Christology I attribute to the Apostolic Christians is not a pure hypothesis based on an interpretative reading of the Fourth Gospel. From the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we know of late-first-century Christians who acknowledged Jesus as Son of God through conception without a human father; but in whose high Christology there is no hint of pre-existence. They know a Jesus who is king, lord and Saviour from the moment of his birth at Bethlehem, but not a Jesus who says, “Before Abraham even came into existence, I AM.”

And lastly, commenting on John chapter one on the “logos,” on page 382 he states, “From this it may be concluded that he [Jesus] is the Logos in person, the wisdom of God in human form.”

On the next page he says, “…what Rudolf Bultmenn concluded may still be valid today: ‘Jesus is not presented in literal seriousness as a pre-existent divine being who came in human form to earth to reveal unprecedented secrets. Rather, the mythological terminology is intended to express the absolute and decisive significance of his word.”

Kuschel then adds, “So John is not concerned with the epiphany of a divine being, but with the incarnation of the Word of God himself; not with the miraculous formation of a divine being among us, but with the manifestation of God in an historical human being.”

On page 387 he states, “Jesus did not proclaim himself ‘God,” but rather was understood by the community after Easter, in the “spirit,” as the word of God in person.”
…Secondly, the disciples of Jesus did not claim that Jesus was God either; they, too, did not deify their hero.”