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2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV):

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

A related question When was Jesus rich? 2 Corinthian 8:9 on Hermeneutics.SE shows that the verse is interpreted by many as indicative of Jesus' preincarnate existence, because --the argument goes-- Jesus was never rich in his mortal life, so the only reasonable option left is that he had to be rich before his incarnation. Of course, deniers of Jesus' preincarnate existence do not share this view. Therefore, I'd be very interested to know their thoughts on this passage.

By the way, answerers to this question are welcome to post an answer to the question on the hermeneutics site too.

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  • I don't see how they can, so I look forward to the answer also! But pre-existence does not prove Jesus is God Himself. I see Colossians 1 teaching the Son was God's first creative work: for Christ must be first in all things. Then God created the world through Christ ( "dia", not "by" as KJV. May 30 at 14:59
  • @ChristianDoulos - I know. JWs and Mormons accept pre-existence but reject equality with the Father. Biblical Unitarians, on the other hand, reject pre-existence. May 30 at 15:01
  • @ChristianDoulos - you will probably find this question of interest: In Colossians 1:15, what does “firstborn of every creature” mean? May 30 at 15:20
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    See Matthew 26:53.
    – Lucian
    May 30 at 17:11
  • Spirit-Realm-Investigator good thread, firstborn can mean foremost in preeminence or in first in time, in Col 1 it means both I believe. There is no Scripture that days Christ is eternal, but he is the only one now who is immortal (Timothy 5:17), that is until he returns. May 30 at 20:26
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+50

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor 8:9

What is 'rich' meaning? Making this about material possessions presumes much and ignores context.

The Q approaches from an odd stance regarding Jesus supposed pre-existence - as what we do not know. The scriptures tell us nothing about a Jesus who existed before he was conceived/born (bar a few muddled proof-texts). There is no Son except in prophecy - pointing to a future saviour - Mary's birthing of Jesus, the logos became flesh.

So how was he rich?

Jesus, in order to be the Lamb of God, sent to take away sin, had to be without sin from birth - holy - the unblemished lamb chosen from the flock.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35

Jesus managed to maintain this sinless state to the bitter, yet triumphant, end on the cross. Not on his own of course. He was made like us in every way and needed support and all spiritual provision from his God and Father - just as we do. Mk 9:29, Heb 5:7, John 5:30

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect... Heb 2:17

In every respect except being a sinner. It is this reality from which his richness is derived. He was born in the image, the form of God, having God's status of being without corruption and the infection of sin. He could call on legions of angels, or many other marvelous benefits as the beloved son of the Father - He would supply all Jesus needed.

But Jesus had been sent - to choose another path - to do the will of God, even to an horrific death.

Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. John 4:34

There were many occasions where it is noted Jesus had to submit his will to God's will - 'thy will be done'

This is how he emptied himself - to put aside his privileges, his self-centered will which would have allowed pride to fester and end the mission of him being the Lamb for all creation.

His cast-aside riches became our riches - through his voluntarily giving them up. What are our riches? To live as God does, to know good and do it, to know evil and resist it - just as Jesus did his whole life.

...but emptied Himself, having taken the form of a servant, having been made in the likeness of men. Phil 2:7

(How some consider Jesus being somehow God and still made like us in every way is a mystery not inspired by the text)

As a superior sinless man with every imaginable benefit as God's son - rich in power and influence, he could not become the humble servant required for the sin sacrifice. Indeed, he was not ready to be the sacrifice until he had learned what it was to be obedient. This is not an arbitrary, 'ok, you understand what obedience means, you are ready', from the Father.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Heb 5:8

Jesus' poverty, humility, willingness to lay down his life, enabled him to be the perfect Lamb - gained by obedience learned from suffering.

Unless he fully trusted the Father's provisions of Spiritual guidance, wisdom, love etc, he would have faltered and failed. He could not trust in himself, his way or his will. Jesus' own power and influence would be the undoing of God's mission - to defeat evil by the power of love through this holy man, the last Adam. Jesus still had access to these 'riches', but he determined not to use them (tempted though he was) - not to put his will before God's and seek an apparent better way of doing his Father's work.

We see this, 'although he was a son' (Heb 5:8) - of God in the fullest sense - all God's fullness dwelt in him. Yet this privilege of son-ship was set aside - becoming poor and as a 'suffering' and humble servant to his Father and his brothers. Only now can he fulfill the mission of accomplishing his Father's purpose - not by his own merit or power or wisdom, but of God's in him.

This is grace!

For you know the grace our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, for the sake of you He became poor...

The grace of God lived out in God's logos, His will and plan of salvation - Jesus. We cannot define grace merely as 'unmerited pardon'. It is far grander than that. Jesus put aside his riches to enable a true servant to emerge. He was called to serve his God and all of us.

Indeed the 'he became poor' is a process reaching it's climax in the garden - 'not my will but yours'. The last heroic, courageous and humble act in service to the Father and us. (Luke 22:42)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matt 20:28

Paul begins the passage with,

that in much proof of tribulation, the abundance of their joy and of their deep poverty abounded into the riches of their generosity.

They too experienced this cycle of having much, but came to know the deepest loss can be turned to good...

that also you should abound in this grace.v7

Notice how Paul always starts his letter with, "by the grace of God", "the grace of the Lord Jesus". This is the key to unwrapping what Jesus has accomplished and how he did it. And how, being made one with him, we will do it too! The highs and lows, the emptying and the filling in God's tender loving care and wisdom.

We can only grasp the concept of, 'though he was rich' in the context of, 'you by his poverty might become rich'.

In achieving the task of being the perfect Lamb, we now can indeed be the brothers for eternity - becoming rich, as he was and now is again, seated with him (Eph 2:6) at God's right side, ruling over all things having inherited all things. Heb 1:2 And we also having inherited the same - his life, his glory, his possessions. These he was granted by God, and he shares them with us.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God. ...and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. Rom 8:14-17

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  • Bravo! This is a beautiful piece of writing. Jun 3 at 6:04
  • His riches were sinlessness and his poverty was becoming sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. Is this what you are getting at? Jun 3 at 12:23
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I decided to edit my response in such a way that the Bible speaks for itself.

How do deniers of Jesus' preincarnate existence interpret 2 Corinthians 8:9?

I figured it would be better to just ask the Bible:

THE HOLY BIBLE
―II Cor. 8:9―
9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
(Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.)
1. What did Paul call to the minds of the Christians? 
   Paul said, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

2. What grace did the Christians gain through Christ?
   Paul said, "that you through His poverty might become rich."

Did we gain merely worldly riches? Even for those brethren without any material wealth, what is counted as riches? Again, let's just ask the Bible:

THE HOLY BIBLE
―Prov. 13:7-8―
7There are those that make themselves rich, yet have nothing: there are those that make themselves poor, yet have great riches. 8The redemption of a man's life is his riches: but the poor does not hear rebuke.
(Stendhal, Russell [ed.] The Holy Scriptures: Jubilee Bible 2000. Colombia: Ransom Press Internacional, 2000.)
1. What is counted as riches?
   Solomon said, "The redemption of a man's life."

2. How did we gain these riches through Christ?
   Paul said, (earlier) "for your sakes He became poor." 

Did our Lord Jesus give up material riches to redeem us? This is what the Apostle Peter explains to us:

THE HOLY BIBLE
―I Pet. 1:18-19―
18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
(The Holy Bible: New International Version. Colorado Springs, Colorado: International Bible Society, 1984.)
1. Did our Lord Jesus give up material riches to redeem us?
   Peter said, "it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed."

2. What was used as payment instead?
   Peter said, "the precious blood of Christ."

Christ gave up His life so that we might be redeemed.


Argument #1

The passage in 2 Cor is exclusively speaking about material assistance, [...]

II Corinthians is not exclusively about material riches. In encouraging the Corinthians to give monetary offerings, Paul makes several analogies.

You'll notice that Paul calls the Corinthians rich in faith, speech, etc.

II Cor. 8:7
7You are so rich in all you have: in faith, speech, and knowledge, in your eagerness to help and in your love for us. And so we want you to be generous also in this service of love.
(Good News Bible: Today’s English Version. New York: United Bible Societies, 1992.)

You'll also notice that the Macedonians, while said to have become "rich" by Christ's poverty, are materially poor. This richness refers to the spiritual wealth of redemption, unless one argues that Christ did not become poor for the sake of the Macedonians, and thus, they are excluded.

II Cor. 8:1-2 & 9
1Our friends, we want you to know what God's grace has accomplished in the churches in Macedonia. 2They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor.
9You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty.
(Good News Bible: Today’s English Version. New York: United Bible Societies, 1992.)
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  • You should post this answer on the hermeneutics site too. I'd be very interested to see the peer review it gets. Jun 2 at 0:24
  • I would say this is quite inventive. Problem is that Proverbs doesn't say that a man's life is his riches, but that the redemption or payment for his life is his riches. There is is a one for one identification with payment for riches, but there is not a one for one identification of riches with one's life the way you have honey for wisdom. (Prov 24:13-16, 16:24)
    – Austin
    Jun 2 at 1:09
  • @Austin I was referring to redemption, that is correct. ie. the riches we received from Christ. The OP asked for an examination of the whole verse so I included it.
    – carsonfel
    Jun 2 at 10:31
  • So, would you say that "he was rich and became poor for us" is not an example of grace (as in Phil. 2:5-8) but, rather, a description? Jun 2 at 12:46
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    The passage in 2 Cor is exclusively speaking about material assistance, to then switch it to mean something else in v9 and switch back the remainder of the passage is forcing the text.
    – Autodidact
    Jun 3 at 12:47

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