Addenda to article: Biblical Verses Supposedly Supportive of Preexistence 

 

by Noel Rude

 

 

Ye have neither heard his Voice at any Time, nor seen his Shape

 

 

Jesus says (John 5:37), “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” Does this verse indicate that Jesus, in a preexistent state, had heard and seen the Father? 

 

Note that here Jesus does not say explicitly that he has actually heard God’s voice and seen God’s shape—he is saying, in essence, that neither have his adversaries.  What he is saying is that the Scriptures are the window into God’s mind and that those who had rejected him were rejecting the view from that window.  Thus the passage continues:

 

And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.  John 5:38-40

 

In context Jesus is saying that by and large those in his generation had neither heard God’s voice nor seen his form IN THE SCRIPTURES.[1]  Might not he be able to say the same thing to most of us in this generation?

 

To those of Jesus’ generation he said, “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.”  Adam and Eve, however, heard the voice of God (Gen 3:8), “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day ...”  And at God’s wedding supper his bride both heard his voice and saw his shape:

 

Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.  Exodus 24:9-11

 

Israel as a whole, however, did not see his shape (Deut 4:12): “And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.”  But the people did not want to hear that voice because they were afraid:

 

These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?  Deuteronomy 5:22-26

 

Now remember the context in John:

 

And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life:[2] and they are they which testify of me.  And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.  John 5:38-40

 

It was precisely because Israel didn’t want to hear the voice and see the fire that the promise of messiah was made—as in the scrolls of which he said, “and they are they which testify of me.”

 

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.  Deuteronomy 18:15-19

 

If Jesus’ generation did not hear his voice, his inner talmidim actually did hear it—at least in vision—and just as Moses had prophesied:

 

And after six days[3] Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.  Matthew 17:1-8

 

Thus it was prophesied in the Torah by Moses (Deut 18:15), “… unto him ye shall hearken;” and in the Gospels the voice of Hashem thus confirms that Jesus was that prophet (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35): “hear ye him.”  It is also interesting that in the Gospel account of this vision for the future, Moses is right there along with that “prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me”—as also is Elijah.  There is not just one messiah resurrected—there is a lawgiver, a prophet, and a king.

 

And so everywhere the voice of the LORD (קוֹל יהוה) is synonymous with the Torah given through Moses.  Let me suggest that the Jesus upholds Maimonides 9th principle of faith:

 

אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה

I believe in complete faith

שֶׁזֹּאת הַתּוֹרָה לֹא תְהֵא מֻחְלֶֽפֶת

that this Torah will not be changed

וְלֹא תְהֵא תוֹרָה אֲחֶֽרֶת מֵאֵת הַבּוֹרֵא

and there will not be another Torah from the Creator

יִתְבָּרַךְ שְׁמוֹ

blessed be his name.

 

 

But a Body hast Thou Prepared Me

When it says in Hebrews 10:5, “but a body hast thou prepared me”—might this mean preexistence—that a human body was prepared for a preexistent being?  The context is the Yom Kippur sacrifice (Heb 9:7), “But into the second went the high priest alone once every year …,” and the phrase occurs in a quote from the Psalms (Heb 10:4-7):

 

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith [Psalms 40:6-9],

 

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

 

 

Note that where the book of Hebrews has “but a body hast thou prepared for me” the Hebrew text has “mine ears hast thou opened” (Psalms 40):

 

ז  זֶבַח וּמִנְחָה לֹא־חָפַצְתָּ

6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;

אָזְנַיִם כָּרִיתָ לִּי

mine ears hast thou opened:

עוֹלָה וַחֲטָאָה לֹא שָׁאָלְתָּ׃

burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

ח  אָז אָמַרְתִּי

7 Then said I,

הִנֵּה־בָאתִי

Lo, I come:

בִּמְגִלַּת־סֵפֶר כָּתוּב עָלָי׃

in the volume of the book it is written of me,

ט  לַעֲשׂוֹת־רְצוֹנְךָ אֱלֹהַי חָפָצְתִּי

8 I delight to do thy will, O my God:

וְתוֹרָתְךָ בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי׃

yea, thy law is within my heart.

 

The reading found in Hebrews 10:5 (σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι ‘but a body hast thou prepared for me’) also occurs in the Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (S) and Alexandrinus (A) codices of the Septuagint. [4]  Rahlfs and Hanhart (2006), however, have ὠτία δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι which Pietersma and Wright (2007) translate ‘but ears you fashioned for me’:[5]

 

Rahlfs and Hanhart (2006)

Pietersma and Wright (2007)

7 θυσίαν καὶ προσφορὰν οὐκ ἠθέλησας

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not want,

ὠτία δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι.

but ears you fashioned for me.

ὁλοκαύτωμα καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας

Whole burnt offering and one for sin

οὐκ ᾔτησας.

you did not request.

8 τότε εἶπον ἰδοὺ ἥκω

7 Then I said, “Look, I have come;

ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου γέγραπται περὶ ἐμοῦ.

in a scroll of a book it is written of me.

9 τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημά σου ὁ θεός μου

8 To do your will, O my God,

ἐβουλήθην

I desired—

καὶ τὸν νόμον σου ἐν μέσῳ τῆς κοιλίας μου.

and your law, within my belly.”

 

Thus the Septuagint follows closely the Hebrew, and Hebrews 10 deviates as follows:[6]

 

5 θυσίαν καὶ προσφορὰν οὐκ ἠθέλησας,

5 Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not,

σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι·

but a body hast thou prepared me:

ὁλοκαυτώματα καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας

6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin

οὐκ εὐδόκησας.

thou hast had no pleasure.

τότε εἶπον ἰδοὺ ἥκω,

7 Then said I, Lo, I come

ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου γέγραπται περὶ ἐμοῦ,

(in the volume of the book it is written of me,)

τοῦ ποιῆσαι ὁ θεός τὸ θέλημά σου.

to do thy will, O God.

 

For many a modern reader such alteration of the text is inexcusable.  But what we sometimes forget is that the ancients not only cited prophecy and employed proof texts, perhaps more often they simply expressed what they wanted to say in the words of Scripture, and in doing so they were not claiming that the particular Scripture was prophetic of nor intended their particular application of it.  It was that they were so familiar with the Scriptures that they speak and write in its words.  Former generations of Americans would understand this, for they often employed the Scriptures in much the same way.  Consider this observation by Gelernter (2007:31).

 

You cannot understand the literature and experience of seventeenth-century American Puritans unless you know the Bible. There is a fascinating resemblance between Puritan writings and the Hebrew literary form called melitzah, in which the author makes his points by stringing together biblical and rabbinic passages.  The Puritans’ world, like traditional Jewish society, was permeated by and obsessed with the Bible. 

 

Let me quote from the Wikipedia article to shed a little light on the use of Psalms 40:6 in Hebrews 10:

 

What is so special about this particular literary device is that in melitzah the sentences compounded out of quotations mean what they say; but below and beyond the surface they reverberate with associations to the original texts, and this is what makes them psychologically so interesting and valuable. In the transposition of a quotation from the original (in this case canonical) text to a new one, the meaning of the original context may be retained, altered, or subverted. In any case the original context trails along as an invisible interlinear presence, and the readers, like the writer, must be aware of these associations if they are to savor the new text to the full.

 

A similar literary procedure called paranomasia that was employed by ancient Greco-Latin authors is invoked by one author to explain Hebrews 10 (Jobes 1992):

 

The author of Hebrews 10 was expressing the line of dynastic continuity between David and Jesus by putting David’s words in Christ’s mouth. But in so doing, the author also expressed the profound discontinuity by crafting four seemingly minor changes that made the quotation uniquely appropriate for Christ. The author of Hebrews eloquently uses rhetorical technique to persuade his audience that “in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son.”

 

Now by substituting σῶμα ‘body’ for ὠτία ‘ears’ in Heb 10:5, what did the author of the book of Hebrews intend?  Was he referring to incarnation or spirit possession? 

 

I can think of three possibilities.  Perhaps the author of the book of Hebrews was calling attention to the fact that Jesus was willing to sacrifice the body God had given him (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:24; Col 1:22), or perhaps he meant the body the messiah leaves behind (1Cor 10:16-17): “… The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”  As again he emphasizes (1Cor 12:27): “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”  Even if this alteration of Psalms 40 refers to messiah’s body that was sacrificed, this still does not prove preexistence, for both individually and collectively God has provided us a body to spend for his purpose.

 

What was unique about Jesus, however, was not that he was willing to sacrifice his body and die for his friends (John 15:13)—many a soldier has done just that.  What was unique about Jesus was his resurrection from the dead—not to renewed physical life—but as “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:9) by a resurrection from the dead (Luke 20:36; Rom 1:4; 1Cor 15:20; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5).  And so I should think it would make sense if the author of the book of Hebrews meant the resurrection, as Paul does in 1Cor 15:44: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”

 

And isn’t this even implied in Hebrews?  Notice verses 8-9: “Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God...”  If an animal sacrifice was NOT what God wanted, why would he want a human sacrifice?  And if, as God says (Ezek 33:11), “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked”, how would a substitutionary death satisfy him?

 

Rather Hebrews may be saying that what God wanted was a living messiah who would do his will and stand in the gap for God’s people (Ezekiel 22:30).

 

And thus Hebrews goes on to say (verse 10), “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  This may sound like a blood sacrifice, but just keep reading and it becomes clear that it is not Jesus’ death that matters most, rather it is his fulfillment of Psalms 110:1: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”  It is Jesus’ role as mediator, symbolized by the priest who pierced the veil into the Holy of Holies, just as Jesus pierced the veil of his flesh (verse 20) into the immortality of the resurrection.  The blood is merely symbolic of the fact that he had to die in order to take on the spiritual body whereby he could approach God (1Tim 6:16).

 

As Paul says (Col 2:9), “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”  The context is now, when Paul was writing, not “in the days of his flesh”:

 

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.  Hebrews 5:7-10

 

He had to be perfected first—only then he became the heavenly priest.

 

Notice the imagery.  Jesus is not so much the slain goat as he is the priest (Heb 4:14-15), “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  Thus just as Moses was an advocate for Israel (Exodus 32:9-14; 30-32), so is Jesus (1John 2:1), “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous ...”

 

Can one absolutely prove that the alteration of the Psalm to say, “but a body hast thou prepared me,” must mean only the “spiritual body” of the resurrection (1Cor 15:44)?  Probably not.  But then neither is it a proof text for preexistence.

 

 

[1] The traditional Protestant interpretation is not that John 5:37 supports preexistence. Adam Clarke, for example, has (http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=005):

Verse 37. The Father himself-hath borne witness
That is, by his prophets.

Ye have neither heard his voice
I make these words, with Bp. Pearce, a parenthesis: the sense is-“Not that my Father ever appeared visibly or spake audibly to any of you; but he did it by the mouths of his prophets.” Lately, however, he had added to their testimony his own voice from heaven, on the day of Christ’s baptism. See Matthew 3:17.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, also in the public domain and available in numerous sites (such as http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/JamiesonFaussetBrown/jfb.cgi?book=joh&chapter=005), says,

37. the Father himself . . . hath borne witness of me—not referring, probably, to the voice of His baptism, but (as seems from what follows) to the testimony of the Old Testament Scripture [CALVIN, LUCKE, MEYER, LUTHARDT, &c.].  neither heard his voice, &c.—never recognized Him in this character. The words are “designedly mysterious, like many others which our Lord uttered” [STIER].

 

[2] “… for in them ye think ye have eternal life …”  Where?  In the Covenant, as he said (Mat 19:17), “…but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

[3] The six days symbolize the six millennia from the creation of the first Adam to the installation of the second Adam on Adam’s throne.

[4] The Codex Sinaiticus can be accessed on line at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/.

[5] Older translations assume σῶμα ‘body’.  Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton (1851), for example, has, “but a body hast thou prepared me”.  The reason for preferring ὠτία ‘ears’ is probably as expressed by George H. Guthrie (in Beale and Carson 2007:977), “Although it is true that LXX B S A have soma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.”

[6] Hebrews 10 has σῶμα ‘body’ instead of ὠτία ‘ears’, ὁλοκαυτώματα ‘burnt offerings’ (plural) instead of ὁλοκαύτωμα ‘burnt offering’ (singular), εὐδόκησας ‘you were pleased’ instead of ᾔτησας ‘you demanded’, and θεός τὸ θέλημά σου ‘God thy will’ instead of τὸ θέλημά σου ὁ θεός μου ‘thy will my God’.