Monday, July 25, 2011

A case for Christ’s pre-human existence

In Matthew 22 Jesus said:
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them: 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him: “David’s.” 43 He said to them: “How is it, then, that David under inspiration calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘Jehovah said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet”’? 45 If, then, David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And nobody was able to say a word in reply to him, and from that day on, no one dared to question him any further.
(See also the parallels at Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44)
Jesus’ argument is either that he has a pre-human existence, or that the Christ does not come from David and he was exposing their error.

However, Matthew’s gospel stresses that Jesus is the son of David and therefore has the genealogical prerequisite to be the Christ! Matthew uses the phrase “son of David” nine times, more than the other gospels (Mark has it two times and Luke three times, John, zero). In fact, Matthew’s messianic genealogy with its formula of three fourteen generations only works if you count David twice![1]

Thus, it seems rather obvious that Matthew used Jesus’ argument to implicitly teach that Jesus had a pre-human existence, since he stressed more than the other gospels that the Christ comes from David.

(Introductory picture from the October 1, 2006 issue of The Watchtower, page 9.)

Additional explanation
When I wrote that Jesus’ argument is either that Christ has a pre-human existence or that the Christ does not come from David, I was writing from the standpoint of when the Psalm was originally composed, as in God speaking to Israel’s appointed angelic Lord (Exodus 23:21; Joshua 5:14; Daniel 10:21, 12:1) who was to be the Messiah. However, Jesus could have also had in mind his exaltation to become David’s future lord. If he meant that, then he was not referring to his pre-human existence. In fact, this is how both Peter and Paul understood it, that it was fulfilled after Jesus’ resurrection and exultation, at Acts 2:32-36 and Hebrews 10:12, 13.

It is also remarkable, and unfortunate, that the Pharisees did not question him further on this. For instance, they could have asked him if the voice in Psalm 110:1 “is an unidentified prophetic voice in the royal court” who is referencing God speaking to the king. (NET Bible footnote.) As it stands though, Jesus was arguing from the standpoint that David himself was speaking under divine inspiration, as in David speaking about his “lord,” the Messiah. (NET Bible footnote on Psalm 110:1.) Thus, “with David being the speaker, this indicates his respect for his descendant (referred to as my Lord).” (NET Bible footnote on Matthew 22:44.)

Interestingly, there is historical support for Jesus being a literal son of David from the historian Eusebius as recorded in his Historia Ecclesiae (Book III, ch. 19-20). There he made reference to how the descendants of Jesus’ half-brother Jude in Emperor Domitian’s time made it known that they were descendants of David.

Recently, with the publishing of “Gabriel’s Revelation” on the “Dead Sea Stone,” the case has been made that the historical Jesus believed that he was not the son of David of the tribe of Judah, but of Joseph of Egypt (an alternate Jewish messianic archetype), and not a descendant of Judah at all--thus Jesus was exposing the error that the Messiah was the son of David, using Psalm 110:1 as a proof-text. However, this case ignores the account of Eusebius above as well as Jesus being the “son” of Joseph husband of Mary--thus fulfilling any alternate Jewish messianic expectations from Joseph of Egypt. It also does not consider the Gospel accounts to be authentic.

Thus, in conclusion, Jesus believed that David was speaking in Psalm 110:1 about the Messiah-figure. This may have been in the past or future tense. Again, it’s a shame no one had the intellectual fortitude to question him further on this.

[1] This solution comes from Insight on the Scriptures under Genealogy of Jesus Christ, Problems in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus, where it states:
in counting the names we find that they total 41, rather than 42. One suggestion as to how they may be counted is as follows: By taking Abraham to David, 14 names, then using David as the starting name for the second 14, with Josiah as the last; finally, by heading the third series of 14 names with Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) and ending with Jesus. Notice that Matthew repeats the name David as the last of the first 14 names and as the first of the next 14 [Matthew 1:17].
While this is true, another possibility is to count Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) twice in verses 12 and 13. On this last solution, see: Table 1 Matthew’s Genealogy footnote 66 in The Genesis Genealogies: Are They Complete? by Dr. John Millam here:

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