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John 17:5: The Pre-existent Christ

 

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself [para seautō], with the glory which I had [eichon] with You [para soi] before the world was” (emphasis added).


 

 

One of the most attacked doctrines launched by “unitarian” groups (i.e., seeing God as one Person) such as Muslims, JWs (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and Oneness Pentecostals, is, of course, the full deity of Jesus Christ.[1] If Jesus Christ is really God in the flesh, then, the very core theology of these groups is utterly demolished.

 

There is quite a lot of scriptural evidence that clearly shows Jesus Christ as being fully God. One such strong and undeniable proof, however, is His preexistence. Demonstrating that the Person of the Son preexisted firmly establishes the eternality of Jesus Christ—especially at passages that present Him as the Creator.[2] There are many passages in both the OT and NT that affirm the Son’s preexistence (e.g., Dan. 7:9-14; Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 3:13; 8:57-58; 16:28; 17:5; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12; etc.).  

 

John 17:5 is a passage that clearly and exegetically affirms (a) the eternality, and hence, deity of the Son and (b) His personal distinction from God the Father, which affirms the Trinity and swiftly refutes the Christological assertions of these unitarian groups (esp. Oneness theology):   

 

Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, [para seautō] with the glory which I had [eichon] with You [para soi] before the world was.”

 

In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer to the Father, He requests or commands (as we will see)[3] the Father to glorify Himself together with the Father, with the glory that He had (or shared [eichon]) with (para) the Father before the world was. Hence, according to the Son’s own words, He pre-existed with the Father—“before the world was.” Again, this passage strongly refutes not only the claims of unitarian groups who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, but specifically the modalistic claims of Oneness Pentecostals who deny both the Son’s deity, preexistence, and unipersonality.[4] As we will see, the exegetical significance is undeniable.

 

“Glorify Me together with Yourself.” First, the glory mentioned here is a shared glory—Father and Son. It is the divine glory that Yahweh does “not share” with anyone else (cf. Isa. 48:11). Notice that the glorification applies to both the Father and the Son, the glory they shared before the creation. It is not glory apart from the Father that Jesus seeks, but rather glory alongside (para) the Father. The glory of which Jesus speaks is a “Me with You” glory. No creature can make this claim. In terms of the divine unshared glory that the Son possesses, Hebrews 1:3 corresponds in a remarkable way to John 17:5: “He [the Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His [the Father] nature.”

 

In Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah saw (eidon) the glory of Yahweh (lit., “the glory of Him”; cf. also v. 2). Amazingly, this glory that Isaiah “saw” was the glory of Jesus, according to the Apostle John: “These things Isaiah said because he saw the glory of Him [referring to Jesus, cf. v. 37] and he spoke of Him” (John 12:41). The same terms found in Isaiah 6 verses 1 and 2 in the Greek translation of the OT (i.e., LXX; horaō, “I saw” and ho doxa, “the glory”) are found in John 12:41 to reveal that the glory of Yahweh that Isaiah saw was the glory of Jesus Christ. As Calvin says: “For assuredly the God who appeared to Isaiah was the one true God, and yet John declares that he was Christ (Isa. vi; John xii. 41)” (Institutes, 1.13.23).  

 

And second, aside from this passage, which clearly displays the distinction and intimate relationship between the Father and Jesus, there is the issue of the aorist imperative form of doxazō (i.e., doxason, “glorify [Me]”). Although the imperative mood can denote a simple request, the most common usage of the imperative is for commands. Recognized Greek grammarian Daniel Wallace comments on the imperative verb: with the aorist [as in John 17:5], the force generally is to command the action as a whole. . . .[5] Since Jesus is presented in Scripture as ontologically (i.e., by nature) co-equal with the Father, His “commanding” the Father to glorify Him would not infringe on the doctrine of the Trinity—one divine Person commanding another divine Person of the same ontological class or category.

 

As stated, it is possible that the imperative here can be one of request, it is in the assumption of unipersonalism (i.e., believing that God is one Person), thus denying that the Son is a divine Person co-equal with Father, that we find a natural and automatic rejection of the imperative of command. To recall, the main reason why, for example, Muslims, JWs, and Oneness believers reject the deity of the Son, Jesus Christ, is due to their false notion that God exists as one Person (unipersonal). Hence, they would ask, “How can another person (Jesus) be God, if God is one Person—the Father?” So, due to this misunderstanding of what Trinitarianism actually teaches, they accuse Christians of believing in three separate Gods.   

 

 PARA ("WITH") + DATIVE 

John 17:5 is one of the strongest passages against these unitarian groups who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, because Jesus by His own admission claims that He shares divine glory with the Father—before time. Thus, Jesus here unambiguously affirms is co-equality with the Father and His pre-existence.  It is one of the strongest passages against Oneness theology, which claims that (a) God is unipersonal and (b) Jesus (the name of the unipersonal God) is the Father (cf. note 1 above)— rejecting any distinction between Jesus and the Father. Oneness theology asserts that Jesus as the Father took flesh and Jesus’ flesh (humanity) is called “Son.”

 

Therefore, in Oneness thinking, the “Son” (Jesus’ non-divine human nature) began in Bethlehem. Oneness advocates argue that this glory that the Son said He had "with" the Father was a mere plan or idea (not the Son in preexistence) of the Father before time. Conversely, it is the Son praying to the Father. It is the Son saying that He had glory with the Father. It is the Son saying that the glory He had with the Father was before time, which affirms both the Son’s deity and His preexistence.          

 In further refutation to Oneness theology, let us examine the passage further. Notice the emphasis on the Son’s juxtaposition with the Father: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, [para seautō] with the glory which I had with You [para soi] before the world was.” How can the Son say that He had glory “with” the Father before time if the Son was not a distinct Person from the Father and did not pre-exist as Oneness theology claims? Again, Oneness theology maintains that Jesus is both Father and Son—with no distinction of Persons.

 

What erases the Oneness notion is that, grammatically, when the preposition para (“with”) is followed by the dative case (as in this verse: para seautō, lit., “together with Yourself”; para soi, lit., “together with You”), especially in reference to persons, it indicates “near,” “beside,” or “in the presence of.”[6] A. T. Robertson brings to light the exegetical details of verse 5: “This is not just ideal pre-existence, but actual and conscious existence at the Father’s side . . . ‘before the world was.’”[7] Systematic theologian Robert Reymond remarks on the Son’s eternal pre-existence as taught in John 17:5:

 

So how do Oneness advocates answer this? Well, the Oneness position asserts that the preposition para ("with") means "with the mind/thought," etc. So they apply that meaning to John 17:5. So, the glory that the Son spoke about was a future glory of the "Son," which was merely "in the mind" of the Father (Jesus' divine nature). Thus, as they argue, the Son was with God in terms of being in the "mind" of the Father, or a future "plan" of the Father, but not as a distinct person as the text plainly indicates. Oneness advocates conclude, then, that Jesus was actually praying: "Father, glorify Me together with Yourself with the glory, which I had in Your mind as a future plan, before the world was.” Or, as one Oneness says, "God loved His plan before the beginning." However, a few things should be considered:

1) Although, para with the dative can carry a meaning of "in the mind" (Num. 31:49 LXX), there is no standard Lexicon that applies that meaning to John 17:5. In light of that, many Oneness teachers go so far as to abuse (that is, misquote) Greek lexicons in order to make the Oneness-unitarian position work. Again, no standard provides a metaphorical meaning as "in/with the mind" for para with the dative at John 17:5. In fact, Thayer says of para at John 17:5:"dwelling with God, John 8:38; i. q. [equivalent to] in heaven, John 17:5.”

2) Aside from John 17:5, every place in John's literature where John uses para with the dative (10 times--John 1:39; 4:40; 8:38; 14:17, 23, 25, 17:5 [twice]; 19:25; and Rev. 2:13), it carries a meaning of "with" in a most literal sense--thus, nowhere in John's literature does para denote “in one’s mind." Para is used with the dative at John 1:39; 8:38; 14:23: "Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him"; and 19:25: "Therefore, the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross [para tō staurō] of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."

Thus, para with the dative at John 17:5 likewise indicates clearly that the Son shared/had glory para, that is, "with" ("side by side," "in association with," "in relationship with") the Father before the world was. In the context of biblical monotheism, this can be consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity: God the Son praying to God the Father asking the Father to glorify Him with the un-shared Divine glory (cf. Isa. 42:8) that He possessed with the Father, before time (cf. John 1:1). The Gospel of John presents strongly and repeatedly that Jesus, the Son of God, claimed eternal pre-existence.  

As Reymond rightfully says of John 17:5:

“Glorify me, Father,” Jesus prayed, “with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was . . . (John 17:1, 5). . . . This claim in Jesus’ part to an eternal pre-existence with the Father is not an aberration, for he speaks elsewhere . . . of that same pre-existence.[8]

Reymond then provides lucid examples of other passages in John, which clearly speak of Jesus’ preexistence: John 3:13; 6:38, 46, 62; 8:23, 38, 42; 16:28.

In conclusion, John 17:5 presents a potent affirmation of the pre-existence of the Son (and thus His deity and distinction from the Father) as outlined in the following points:

 

  •  The Son, not the Father, is praying (“Now, Father”, glorify Me”)
     

  •  The Son commands the Father to glorify Him, signifying His coequality with the Father
     

  •  This divine glory is shared between the Father and the Son
     

  •  The Son declares that He possesses this divine glory alongside of/with (para) the Father, before time, and
     

  •  Para with the dative is used ten times in John's literature. In every case, para denotes a literal "alongside of/with," "in the presence of." And never once does para with the dative denote a "in the mind" kind of modalistic interpretation (unless one is going to assert John 17:5 is the exception, as Oneness advocates as well as other unitarian groups do).                

 

 

 


 


NOTES

 

[1] Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus pre-existed, but only as the Father, thus denying the Son’s pre-existence, deity, and unipersonality. In Oneness theology, “Son” represents merely the humanity of Jesus (not the deity), and “Father” (and “Holy Spirit”) represents the deity of Jesus.

[2] E.g., John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12).

[3] Below, we will discuss the significance of the aorist imperative tense (i.e., the mood of command)—doxason (“glorify [Me]”).  

[4]. See note 1 above.    

[5] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (GGBB), 485.   

[6] GGBB, 378; see also Walter Bauer, Fredrick Danker, William Arndt, and F. Gingrich’s, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG). 

[7] Word Pictures, 5:275-76.

[8] Robert Reymond, Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 230.