I present the following as a challenge to those who believe that Jesus literally pre-existed his conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary:

We may reason that either:

A) Jesus and the apostles did not teach that Jesus literally pre-existed his conception by the Spirit in Mary, and so, belief in literal pre-existence is to be rejected, or

B) Jesus and the apostles did teach that he literally pre-existed, and so the doctrine ought to be accepted.

If B is true, then either:

1) Belief in literal pre-existence is part of the gospel and necessary to be saved, or

2) belief in literal pre-existence is not part of the gospel, and is not required for salvation.

We may safely rule out option 1, because:

In the synoptics, and Paul and Peter’s evangelistic sermons in Acts, the gospel is generally presented fully enough that a person who believes all of what is presented would have sufficient faith to be saved. This is obvious from the very purpose of the synoptic gospels, and proved by the fact that many who heard the sermons of Paul and Peter in Acts were saved and received into the church as Christians. Yet, none of these presentations of the gospel ever include teaching that Jesus literally pre-existed. Thus, it is shown to be unnecessary for salvation, to believe in literal pre-existence, and that the doctrine, whether true or false, is not part of the gospel.

Therefore it is shown that if B is true, it must be under condition 2, that belief in literal pre-existence is not part of the gospel, and is not required for salvation.

Yet, this can be shown to be very unlikely, for if Jesus and the apostles taught this, as a doctrine unnecessary for salvation, they must either have taught it secretly to the mature, or openly to all.

If they taught it secretly to the mature, then the claim of the gnostics that the apostles handed down secret knowledge to a few will be affirmed; and all the same arguments used to disprove these ancient gnostic claims, will prove good against the doctrine of literal pre-existence. One of these arguments will suffice, that Jesus said to his apostles: “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” (Matt 10:27 NASB). The apostles, then, as faithful servants of Christ, did not retain secret knowledge for a few, but openly proclaimed the full truth as they had received it from Jesus. It is not possible, then, that they taught literal pre-existence, as a secret doctrine imparted only to the mature.

If then they taught that Jesus literally pre-existed as a doctrine not required for salvation, and as not being part of the gospel, this teaching must have been openly proclaimed to all. This will appear unlikely, however, for the following reasons:

Anything that Jesus and his apostles openly taught, would need to be accepted by someone, if they wished to be a faithful disciple of Jesus and his apostles. To reject something openly taught by Jesus and his apostles, would mark one as a poor disciple of them. And the weightier the teaching, the more so its acceptance would be important. We might expect that Jesus and the apostles were gracious to their disciples, and were willing to bear with those of weak faith, who did not or could not accept everything they taught. Yet, the weightier the matter, the more difficult this is to imagine. In the case of minor details, such grace may be reasonably expected- but in the case of a teaching about something central to Jesus’s identity, this begins to seem incredible. Yet, surely if Jesus had literally pre-existed as the second-greatest person in the universe, second only to the Father, by whom all things in the universe were created, this would be an enormous revelation about Jesus’s identity, and it is difficult to see how such a thing could be regarded as anything less than central to his identity. So then, how is it that the disciples of Jesus and the apostles could safely reject something entirely central to the identity of Jesus? How would rejecting such a central teaching about Jesus’s identity not mark one as believing in a false Jesus? It seems truly incredible, and highly unlikely, that such a teaching about Jesus would have been something which Jesus and his apostles regarded as peripheral to the gospel and unnecessary to salvation, if they indeed taught it.

To sum up then, we have noted that either A) Jesus and his apostles did not teach that Jesus literally pre-existed his conception by the Spirit in Mary, and so, belief in literal pre-existence is to be rejected, or else that B) Jesus and the apostles did teach that he literally pre-existed, and so the doctrine ought to be accepted. We further noted that if B is true, then either 1) Belief in literal pre-existence is part of the gospel and necessary to be saved, or 2) belief in literal pre-existence is not part of the gospel, and is not required for salvation. However, we have just seen that option 1 is impossible, and that option 2 is highly unlikely. That means that, at best, option B, that Jesus and the apostles did teach that he literally pre-existed, and so the doctrine ought to be accepted, is highly unlikely; which means that conversely, option A, that Jesus and his apostles did not teach that Jesus literally pre-existed his conception by the Spirit in Mary, and so, belief in literal pre-existence is to be rejected, is highly likely.

If Jesus and his apostles did teach that he literally pre-existed, they must have done so openly, and taught it as something that was not part of the gospel and as something not essential to Christianity. Yet, how can something that would be so central to the identity of the person Jesus Christ not be essential to Christianity? Indeed, such a doctrine would seem more central to the identity of Jesus than even his identity as Christ- how then could such a doctrine not be required of all Christians, if true? These are the questions the proponents of literal pre-existence are left to answer. The only other reasonable alternative, given the New Testament data, is that Jesus and his apostles did not teach that he literally pre-existed his conception by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary, and so, that the doctrine of literal pre-existence is to be rejected, as not having been revealed by God.

Finally, it is worth noting that while all this reasoning is good and useful, Biblical Unitarianism is not built so much on syllogism as on scripture. For a brief introduction into the exegetical case against literal pre-existence, see here.

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