Preexistence of the Son

In Matthew 2:15 the Evangelist quotes Hosea 11:1, “[and] Out of Egypt I called My son” in the context of Jesus’ return to the Holy Land after a spell in Egypt. I argued in my thesis that Hosea 11:1 was a referent to Israel (Exod 4:22) and that in the context of Matthew’s Gospel it serves to identify Jesus as the true Israel and Son of God, especially as he experiences exile, sojourn, and return from exile as a young child, and is tempted in the wilderness. I argued therefore that the key to understanding the Son of God christology in the first part of Matthew (including the Temptation account) is Matthew 2:15. Jesus is a son after the likeness of Israel (I think I said better there than I did in my thesis. Go figure).

I admittedly struggled a bit in researching the “Son of God” title in the Old Testament and Ancient Judaism, because I had a hard time finding any evidence that it was ever seen in terms of a pre-existent divine being. It referred to Israel (most commonly), a righteous Israelite, Judean kings (not so commonly) and sometimes angels. And it seemed to me, at least in the first part of the Gospel of Matthew, that it is used to emphasize Jesus’ typological relationship with Israel. It’s not that these things ever led me to doubt the divinity of the Son of God, or His pre-existence, or eternal relationship with the Father. Certainly those aspects of christology are evident in the New Testament, including the Synoptics. In the Matthean prologue, the name “Emmanuel” (God with us) identifies Jesus as God, who was with His people in the Old Testament and now with them in the little Child born in Bethlehem (see also Col. 2:9). But the meaning of that title “Son” in the context of Matthew’s Gospel has been somewhat elusive for me.

One aspect I did not develop as much as I would have liked or should have is the fact that Jesus is *the* Son whose eternal relationship with the Father was the prototype of Israel’s filial relationship with YHWH. This gets into the pre-existence of the Son, which is, of course, the main topic of Simon J. Gathercole’s latest book (which I just got in the mail today) The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Perhaps reading this book will help solidify some of the unanswered questions that arose from my thesis research. I’ve gotten through the Introduction and I’m into the first chapter where he deals with Pauline references to the pre-existence of the Son. It’s hard to concentrate with a 4 and 2-year-old jumping off the couch screaming though. Maybe I’ll get more read after hours!

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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2 Responses to Preexistence of the Son

  1. Rev. Benjamin Mayes says:

    It’s interesting to me that modern exegetes often have a hard time confessing the pre-existence of the Son. Even the ancient Arians confessed and held that. I’d be interested as to whether your new book takes pre-existence in a “best of creation/angel” way or in a “eternal, uncreated Son” way.

  2. Pastor Beisel says:

    The older critical schools of thought didn’t work with the same assumptions and presuppositions that we work with when we approach the Scriptures. There is a new brand of exegetes, however, who are challenging these older assertions. People like L. Hurtado and R. Bauckham are showing exegetically that pre-existence was not being developed in the NT writings, but was being confessed. That is one of the big differences between the older exegetical schools and the newer ones. These guys have shown that a fully developed Christology was already in place when the NT was written. This new book by S. Gathercole is in that same category. I’ll provide some examples as I read more. Gathercole’s point is going to be that if there is already a highly developed christology in the Pauline Epistles (which were some of the earliest extant NT writings) then there is no way that the Evangelists or their audiences could have been unaware of such things. It’s quite interesting.

    As I said in my post, I never struggled with the pre-existence of the Son, just what is meant by the “Son of God” title in the first part of Matthew. Jesus’ sonship there seems to be rooted in the OT relationship between YHWH and Israel, and it fits, since in the Temptation Jesus emerges as the true and faithful Israel (among other things).

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