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From what I understand, Biblical Unitarians believe that the pre-incarnational existence of Jesus (as trinitarians propose it) is actually a notional existence in the mind of God. In other words, the Logos was not a person but only the notion in God's mind (sure foreknowledge or idea) of a person.

An answer to this related question, "Do Biblical Unitarians teach a current, "notional", glory of Jesus?", indicates that Biblical Unitarians view Jesus, in John 17:5, as asking for the notional glory that he had with the Father prior to his birth to be made into a literal glory. In other words, although Jesus possessed only a notional glory prior to his birth (commensurate with his notional existence in the mind of the Father), Jesus now possesses actual glory (commensurate with his actual existence at the right hand of the Father).

However, in John 17:5, Jesus appears to define the glory that he had before, the glory he is asking to be glorified with again (or have actualized, as B.U. might say), as the glory of the Father's own self:

'And now, glorify me, Thou Father, with Thyself, with the glory that I had before the world was, with Thee; (YLT)

There are some translations which render this as "..Father, in Thy presence.." but this appears to be a departure from the text rather than a clarification:

Together with the second person personal pronoun σε (se), meaning you or thee, the reflexive pronoun σεαυτου (seautou), meaning of thyself, or yourself.

If Jesus had a notional existence accompanied by a notional glory, and if the notional glory he had was the glory of the Father's own self, wouldn't that mean that the Father's glory was notional?

How do Biblical Unitarians view the glory of the Father's own self that Jesus claims he was previously glorified with and that Jesus asked to be returned to him?

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    +1 Great question. Like with 2 Tim 1:9, I think this is going to come down to careful exegesis of John 17:5. Nov 16, 2021 at 17:59
  • 1
    See also Matthew 25:34.
    – user46876
    Nov 16, 2021 at 18:31
  • @Lucian +1 Ya, interesting passage. Nov 16, 2021 at 19:15

2 Answers 2

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How do Biblical Unitarians view the glory of the Father's own self that Jesus claims he was previously glorified with and that Jesus asked to be returned to him?

Extracted from the article on John 15:5

John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

If Jesus “remembered” being in glory with the Father before the world began, then he would have known he was God in every sense and not a true man at all. Jesus only ever says he is a man, the son of God, the image of God and having the form of God, but never does he say he IS God. If he was before “the world began”, these expressions become meaningless. Further, Jesus could not be tempted as we are, be made like us in every way, die, or learn and grow in wisdom if he were God all along.

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 sets a wonderful example for us as Christians. He poured out his heart to his Father, “the only true God” (John 17:3 just a couple verse earlier – context!) and prayed that the prophecies of the Old Testament about him would be fulfilled.

What is the immediate context of John 17:5?

  • v1 Jesus spoke these things; and raising his eyes to heaven, he said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your son, so that the son may glorify You,

  • v2 You gave him authority over all mankind

  • v3 this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent

  • v6 the men whom You gave me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to me. It would be reasonable to consider that whatever IS God’s or the Father’s would already belong to Jesus (aka God) and would need no one to, ‘give it to him’. Nor would Jesus (aka God) need words provided.

  • v6 for the words which You gave me I have given to them

  • v8 You have given me, because they are Yours

  • v9… so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

This follows the beginning of the passage as he prays to his God and Father – ‘the hour has come’. Everything Jesus did had some feature of completing an OT prophecy about the one to come – the descendant of Abraham and David who would become saviour for the world.

Greg Deuble (doobel) writes on TheBibleJesus.com

Regarding the Jewish understanding of foreknowledge, the article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is helpful: …the term foreknowledge is an expansion of the idea of God’s counsel or plan, regarding it as an intelligent prearrangement, the idea of foreknowledge being assimilated to that of foreordination. The same idea is found in [1 Pet. 1:20]. Here the apostle speaks of Christ as a lamb “foreordained” by God before the foundation of the world…It has the idea of a purpose which determines the course of the Divine procedure.

1 Pet. 1:20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake (NIV). (‘He was foreknown before the foundation’, most other versions)

The idea of Jesus somehow being Yahweh/Jehovah of the OT is dismissed with Peter’s understanding – Jesus is revealed in these last times and not part of OT times at all, being prophesied and foreknown by God to be sent when the time was right.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law

Heb 1:2 But in these last days He has spoken to us by His son, whom He appointed heir of all things

This evidence must be seriously considered before we conclude Jesus was actually living and conscious as God before his appearance on earth, otherwise we run the risk of imposing on the Bible our own traditional cultural reading, no matter how “orthodox” we may imagine it to be. That is the error of eisegesis, reading into the text, rather than exegesis, reading out of the text as the original readers thousands of years ago would have done.

What God purposes and decrees is considered so certain that it is spoken of as though it already exists. Indeed God is the One who “calls those things which are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). That is, what God promises already exists with Him “in Heaven”. When Jews spoke of something or someone pre-existing in heaven they understood it was “ideal” or “notional” in God’s foreknowledge, but not yet actual on earth. That is, it already existed in God’s mind and in God’s plan. There is a mountain of Jewish literature that confirms how pervasive “notional” pre-existence was in their world view. It would take a book to record how all-encompassing this thinking was in the Jewish mind. Please refer to the full article for the examples provided.

A classic example of this Jewish ideal pre-existence taken right out of this Second Temple rabbinic commentary and used as a Biblical example concerns the tabernacle that Moses built in the wilderness. Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle according to a “pattern” that God showed him on the mount (Num. 8: 4). The heavenly blueprint was to be followed. The priests and the tabernacle serve as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). Once again, the idea is that the literal on earth, pre-existed beforehand in Heaven in the mind and purposes of God.

Jesus was handed over to the authorities for crucifixion “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2: 23)…. That which materialised in history under Pontius Pilate had already happened in God’s plan before the world began!

From, If Jesus Pre-existed, He Wasn’t a Human

The trinitarian interpretation of John 17:5 fails to understand that both God, and God through His prophets, speak of predestined things (and people) as if they already exist. Note Jesus’s words in this same John 17 prayer just 15 verses later: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, … The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:20-22). Here Jesus said he already had been given the glory intended for him. But his glory had not literally been given since Jesus had not yet died, been raised and exalted to the right hand of Almighty God (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus used past tense language in his prayer because he knew that God had promised the glory. The granting of the glory is as “good as done” so Jesus could speak of it as if it he already possessed it. Nothing has changed between the start of John to John 17. Jesus is still waiting to receive the glory in the Father’s presence, even though he speaks as if it was already given.

…the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:39

Trinitarians create huge problems for their own theology by saying that Jesus is recalling his own literal pre-existence and glory in John 17:5. Let’s be clear: Jesus makes no claim to deity in John 17:5, let alone to be a part of a three-personed godhead. Neither did Jesus say he had glory with God from eternity past, only from before the world was, which is a strange way to describe a shared glory of two eternally existing godhead persons.

In trinitarian doctrine, “God the Son” did not give up his divine-nature when he took on human-nature at the incarnation, i.e, when he became “fully God and fully man”. The human-nature of Jesus did not have divine glory “before the world existed” so this must be the divine-nature of “God the Son” speaking in John 17:5. But can “God the Son” be fully God without His glory?

Did “God the Son” cease to be God by giving up his divine glory, or did he not cease to be God and keep his glory? If he kept his glory and continued to be God, why is he asking for his glory back? If he didn’t keep his glory and is asking for it back, he ceased to be God and gave up his divine-nature. The trinitarian interpretation of John 17:5 ends up being a tangled web of contradiction.

If trinitarians want to say that John 17:5 shows Jesus literally pre-existed, then they should be followers of AD 4th century Arius who believed that the Logos (Word), a lesser god or angel who pre-existed took on human nature. Anyone that had glory “with” God, then didn’t have glory “with” God, but then gets glory back again “with” God, is not God. Just like anyone who “goes to God” is not God. If Jesus pre-existed as God, he is not a human. He would be some other kind of creature, but not a human person. Trinitarian doctrine in the end leads to a denial of the humanity of Jesus.

Additional -

And now You, Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed. v5

As noted already, the glory Jesus was expecting would happen after his resurrection and ascension John 7:39. In this momentous occasion, God would also be glorified in His triumph over sin and death through Jesus. They would share in this glory together as they, together, conquered evil. God couldn't be the sacrifice and Jesus couldn't face evil on his own (Heb 5:7).

The idea of notional glory is not the main concept and never mentioned Biblically. But it can help to explain the 'now but not yet' aspect of all that God decrees. Jesus IS the logos made flesh. The logos was 'with God' in the beginning and Jesus is with God now (at His right side) as the fleshly logos who died and was raised to new spirit life and glorified as the first of many brothers Rom 8:29. According to Scripture, Jesus has no literal pre-existence, being born of Mary ~2000 years ago. Any other imagined construct is without clear Biblical mandate and relies on reading dogma into various solitary verses that then form contradictions with the rest of the NT.

As various verses explicitly express like Acts 2:22

Jesus of Nazareth was a man certified by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him...

Jesus is presented as a human only, God's only son (John 3:16), who never claimed to be God, let alone pre-exist his birth as some kind of dual-natured God/man.

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  • This skips right past the part of the question where "Glorify me with Thyself..." is truer to the text than "Glorify me in Thy presence..." which you have used. The first indicating a glory consisting of God's own self and the second allowing an assigned (lesser) glory of a divine notion. Otherwise it is a very thorough answer. +1 Jun 16, 2022 at 12:41
  • Thx, I chose not to get into that as it seems secondary to the main thrust. Requiring more of an hermeneutic response...
    – steveowen
    Jun 16, 2022 at 12:54
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There are many types of glory.

  1. YHWH has His own which He doesn't share(Isaiah 42:8).
  2. Jesus has his own as the only begotten(John 1:14).
  3. Jesus has shared glory with us(John 17:22).

Jesus has shared glory already with all the children, even those not yet born.

Its important to read Jesus' entire prayer he is having with the 1 True God, his Father. Jesus addresses this glory he had with the Father later on in the chapter within the same prayer.

John 17

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have GIVEN(past tense) them, that they may be one just as We are one:"

Jesus has already shared this glory with the children to come. How can he already share glory with those not yet born? The same way the Father did with him before he was born.

Prophetic Perfect

The prophetic perfect tense is a literary technique used in the Bible that describes future events that are so certain to happen that they are referred to in the past tense as if they had already happened. From Wikipedia

Prolepsis (n.)

1570s, "anticipation, the taking of something anticipated as already done or existing," Online Etymology Dictionary

Paul speaks to this as well.

2 Timothy 9

..who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

Preeminently, Jesus was in the plans of his Father; in His mind since before this age. The first mention of Jesus(a new seed) is at the fall, the exact beginning of the age. But the idea preceded even Adam's birth. Jesus is the second Adam. The concept of an Adam was the reason to create and thus existed before the age began.

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  • This answer also skips right past the part of the question where "Glorify me with Thyself..." is truer to the text than "Glorify me in Thy presence...". The Son of God has a present glory which he has been given as he prays to be returned to his former glory. The glory he has given to those who will believe can easily be his current glory as he prays rather than his previous glory which he is returning to. +1 Jul 21, 2023 at 12:36
  • Jesus is asking to be gloried by the Father's self. The Father bestows glory proceeding from Himself. Do you think his current glory is different than his previous glory? His current glory( the one he is asking for in chap 17) is seems to be the same glory he had with the Father. This is also the same glory He already gave to the children. But I see the ambiguity.... Which sense of the glory do the children have now? I believe its in the same sense that Jesus had this particular glory (v5). We will be glorified like our Master and brother in the resurrection at the end of the age. Jul 21, 2023 at 15:52
  • @MikeBorden Another way of interpreting "Thyself" is glorify me with your holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is Himself. Jul 22, 2023 at 16:17
  • There is the glory he had before the world was (which he prayed to be returned to) and the glory that he had while on earth (which he gave to the disciples and all who would believe through their word). The glory he had while living amongst them was full of grace and truth. This glory he has given to us. The glory he has returned to is the glory of the Father's own self. Jul 23, 2023 at 12:22
  • @MikeBorden Will all children of God be glorified with the Father's own self? >> christianity.stackexchange.com/q/96230/60347 Jul 23, 2023 at 14:34

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