Yale: “The Synoptic Gospels do not portray Jesus as preexistent”

This will come as a shock to most people to learn that New Testament scholarship is broadly in agreement that the gospels of Matthew and Luke do not portray Jesus as preexistent and have no awareness of the notion of the Incarnation of God. In the light of Christian teaching about the origins of Jesus this is surprising as both gospels have extended birth narratives where such ideas would naturally be mentioned. Here is an extract from a recent academic discussion from Yale University in the USA.

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Page 209 from the Conclusion of King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literatureby Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins – both professors of biblical criticism and interpretation at Yale University.



Categories: Islam

5 replies

  1. I’m going to assume, for argument’s sake, that the Synoptics don’t affirm or allude to pre-existence at all.

    Would it follow that the authors didn’t believe in pre-existence? Surely not. Mark doesn’t mention the ascension, but no one infers from this that he didn’t believe it happened.

    In Galatians 4:4, Paul speaks of Christ’s birth: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”. Not a word about pre-existence, though this would have been a very natural place to mention it. But of course we know that Paul *did* believe in Christ’s pre-existence (cf. Phil. 2., 1 Cor 15:47).

    In light of this, I don’t think we can infer that the authors of the Synoptics disbelieved in pre-existence from the fact that they don’t mention it. A more plausible explanation is that it wasn’t very important to them. This fits nicely with the fact that Paul mentions it only very rarely. Overall, the NT authors seem much more interested in Christ’s *present* role as Lord of the world.

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    • I disagree. Matt and Luke portray Jesus as being *created* in Mary’s womb (the Greek is clear on this point). This is very different from an incarnational understanding involving Jesus pre-existence. Christians like to harmonise all the gospels, but this not not a presupposition I share. I prefer to let Luke be Luke and Matthew be Matthew etc.

      To suggest that maybe the incarnation would have been “unimportant” to Matt/Lk is beyond belief!

      For the Fourth Gospel it is of crucial significance that Jesus preexisted and became incarnate.

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      • “I disagree. Matt and Luke portray Jesus as being *created* in Mary’s womb (the Greek is clear on this point”

        Can’t really comment on that — will have to read up. Is this a point on which virtually all relevant scholars agree?

        “To suggest that maybe the incarnation would have been “unimportant” to Matt/Lk is beyond belief!”

        I don’t think it’s ‘beyond belief’, considering that it clearly wasn’t all that important to Paul, despite the fact that he believed it. The content of the Synoptics suggest to me that the authors were more interested in matters of immediate practical concern to their respective audiences.

        You’re right that it’s more important to John — probably because he is responding to docetists, who denied that Christ came ‘in the flesh’. There is evidence of this in the Johannine epistles.

        “both gospels have extended birth narratives where such ideas would naturally be mentioned.”

        cf. my point on Paul and Gal. 4:4

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    • //I don’t think we can infer that the authors of the Synoptics disbelieved in pre-existence from the fact that they don’t mention it. A more plausible explanation is that it wasn’t very important to them//
      This doesn’t make sense! It’s very weird kind of reasoning!

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