The Biblical Unitarian (BU) perspective on the pre-incarnational existence of the Son of God, revealed in such verses as John 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

is that this pre-incarnational existence was a notional existence. A Biblical Unitarian website describes notional existence as opposed to literal existence as follows:

Notional pre-existence is the idea that something or someone may ‘exist’ in the mind of God before actualizing on earth in history at the appointed time. What God purposes and decrees is considered so certain that it is spoken of as though it already exists.

My question is regarding to what degree Biblical Unitarians carry "notionalism" throughout John's prologue. For instance, if we parenthetically add (notional) to John 1:1-2 it would look like this and, from what I understand, BU would agree:

In the beginning was the (Word/notionality), and the (Word/notionality) was with God, and the Word (notionally) was God. The same was (notionally) in the beginning with God.

Can verse 3 be rendered in similar fashion: Were all things only notionally created through him?

All things were (notionally) made by (the notional) him; and without (the notional) him was not any thing (notionally) made that was (notionally) made.

Can verse 4 be rendered in similar fashion: Was it only a notional life that was the notional light of men?

In (the notional) him was (notional) life; and the (notional) life was the (notional) light of men.

Can verse 6 be rendered in similar fashion: Did the notional light only notionally shine in the darkness?

And the (notional) light (notionally) shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

I don't know if I should ask whether the darkness and the non-comprehension are notional as well but the above questions are only intended as illustrative.

Ultimately, I am asking if Biblican Unitarians believe that the notional idea of Christ, the Son of God includes not just God's idea of an individual who is to come but also the creation, devastation, and reconciliation of everything through that individual.

In other words, Does everything God has ever thought have notional existence within Logos as long as it remains as His thought? For example, Did light exist notionally prior to God speaking? and, if so, did it exist notionally within Logos?

  • In the beginning was the Word (notionally... Where does this come from? It is Jesus' notional existence, not the logos. This is totally convoluted. We don't even need notional if we just read what the Gospels provide.
    – steveowen
    May 1, 2022 at 12:02
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    @MikeBorden I can't speak for the author of the article, I'm just giving it as an introduction to the idea of notional existence. BUs tend not to hold that Jesus or the Christ = the Logos at John 1. The Christ comes into being actually at the moment of Jesus' conception. May 2, 2022 at 4:05
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    @MikeBorden No, I think BUs would hold the Logos actually existed from the beginning. It is how God creates, basically. See Genesis. It is Jesus or the Christ who is spoken of as existing notionally or in God's plan before Jesus or the Christ is conceived. May 2, 2022 at 4:08
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    Then in God, everything has notional existence. But we cannot bundle the logos in that everything too. It was in the beginning. So why have you got, "In the beginning was the Word (notionally)"
    – steveowen
    May 2, 2022 at 12:43
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    I can understand the position for the first two verses (God had always known that Jesus would eventually exist, a well-defined idea not yet realized), but not for the following verses (someone that will some day exist has already performed physical and spiritual actions). May 2, 2022 at 13:24

1 Answer 1


There are 3 main Biblical Unitarian views of John's prologue (John 1:1-18).

  1. The first is that the logos = God's plan or thoughts, and the beginning is the old beginning (Genesis 1).

  2. The second is that the Logos = a personification of God's word, and the beginning is the old beginning (Genesis 1).

  3. The third is that the Logos = Jesus (similar to how Jesus is the Light, the Bread, the Gate, and so on throughout John - it is a title or identifier which refers to Jesus), and the beginning is the new beginning (Mark 1:1, 1 John 1:1).

In all these cases, Biblical Unitarians (BUs) do not hold that John 1:1-13 refers to notional pre-existence of the logos. In the first two, God's plan or word really did pre-exist Jesus. In the third one, the beginning is Jesus' ministry, and so doesn't pre-exist Jesus.

So, for BUs who hold to one of the first two, the logos ('Word') of John 1 is not identified with Jesus. Rather, the understanding of 'Logos' is along the lines of an idea, plan, or indeed speech (as in Genesis 1, where God speaks things into existence - it is God's creative power). So at John 1:14, "the Logos became flesh" is understood similar to "the plan took shape" or "the idea became the cup" or even "the score became music" or "the script became a play". That is, the logos leads to, informs, and is reflected in Jesus. In this sort of sense, the Logos became flesh.

On the first two views, then, Jesus (= the Christ) comes to exist at his conception, which is held to be John 1:14, and they would hold this is then describing in different language what is also described at Luke 1:35. The lead up to this is a bit complex interpretively, because of the vagueness of John's language, but throughout John 1 these BUs typically hold John is describing what actually happened (the logos actually was with God, things actually were made through the logos, John the Baptist actually arrives on the scene, and so on).

This talk by Dale Tuggy (a BU) is a good discussion of John 1 from this sort of BU perspective, including an historical survey of interpretations, including a useful handout for the talk.

On the third view, however, John 1:14's kai ho logos sarx egeneto refers not to Jesus' conception (which is never discussed in John's Gospel) but rather to the beginning of Jesus' ministry (and so dovetails with John 1's 'beginning', which on this view is also the beginning of Jesus' ministry).

Also see 1 John 4:2, "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [sarki]," similar to John 1:14 and to Weymouth's translation of John 1:14 ("And the Word came in the flesh"). See Jesus' own "for this reason I was born and came into the world" at John 18:37 - the coming appears to happen after his birth, not before it, and is consistent with the start of his ministry.

So naturally, Jesus begins his ministry and then 'tabernacled among us' (also in John 1:14, immediately after 'kai ho logos sarx egeneto') as an itinerant teacher (similar to how the Angel of the Lord tabernacles among the ancient Israelites as they wandered about).

  • I liked, ‘the score became the music’ The reality is that the logos made flesh, was not doing exactly as God intended when He uttered things into existence by His will since creation. Jesus has his own will which must be willingly submitted to God in total trust, faith and love
    – steveowen
    May 3, 2022 at 11:14
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    @MikeBorden Yes, positing notional existence for logos if logos just means one's own thoughts is strange. May 4, 2022 at 16:19
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    @MikeBorden Yes, for BUs, the primary debate is about what 'became' means here. Our understanding of that will be informed by our understanding of what 'logos' means here. So I think really it's a debate about what 'logos' means as used by John. If one assumes a Trinitarian understanding ('logos' = person of Trinity) you get a coherent reading (with lots of downstream theological problems). If one assumes a Unitarian understanding ('logos' = something like a creative power of God, God's reason exemplified in the world, and so on) you also get a coherent reading. So how decide between the 2? May 4, 2022 at 16:42
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    @MikeBorden Significantly revised this answer. Jul 14, 2022 at 19:54
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    @MikeBorden Sure, it's possible. But it seems quite jarring to go from that to John the Baptist in 1:6. Then skip back to the primordial past in 1:10. And why does the narrator say "He himself was not the Light" at 1:8 - was anyone thinking John the Baptist was the primordial light of Genesis? No, they were thinking he might be the Christ. I think we nowadays don't appreciate how much the early Christian community was excited about and focused on the new beginning - the restored 'cosmos' which starkly started with Jesus's ministry. Jul 18, 2022 at 13:37

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