Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Synoptic Gospels on Jesus’ Divine Preexistence –

A Reply to Bart Ehrman Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We resume from where we left off previously.

Just in case Williams accuses me of grossly misreading the Synoptic Gospels I have decided to cite a few of the biblical scholars who agree with this exegesis:

“Verses 1-6 contain amazing predictions of both Christ’s first and second advents and of the one who would prepare the way for his arrival. Only in Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; and Isaiah 40:3 does the Old Testament inform us that Messiah’s coming will be preceded by a forerunner. My messenger (Heb., mal’aki; Malachi, the meaning of the prophet’s name) would arrive to prepare the way before me–the LORD Almighty. Jesus himself quoted this verse and specifically identified John the Baptist as the messenger whose ministry prepared for his coming (Matt. 11:10). Mark (1:2) and Luke (1:76) also cited Malachi’s prophecy as foretelling John as Messiah’s forerunner. According to Wolf, ‘A messenger is normally a prophet, and none appeared from the time of Malachi until John arrived on the scene some 450 years later’ (Wolf, 98). Since the messenger prepared the way for the coming of the Lord Almighty = me = Jesus, JESUS THE MESSIAH IS HERE EQUATED WITH GOD.

Suddenly (unexpectedly), Jesus (the Lord) would appear at his temple. The Hebrew word ‘adon, Lord, with the definite article (the Lord) ALWAYS denotes God (e.g. Exod. 23:17; 34:23; Isa. 1:24; 3:1), and ‘his temple’ is, of course, God’s temple. Thus, we have two further attestations of Jesus’ deity in this verse. Jesus was taken to the Jerusalem temple when only eight days old (Luke 2:21-38), and he spent much time worshiping and teaching there during his ministry. Malachi’s revelation that the Lord would come to his temple would surely have frightened the priests who had committed flagrant acts of disrespect in the temple worship. The phrase are seeking probably harks back to the question ‘Where is the God of justice?’ (2:17). Messiah was the messenger of a new covenant (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 8:8-13; 12:24) and would establish a new, faithful priesthood.” (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Max Anders & Stephen Miller (general editors) [Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 2004], pp. 355-356; capital and underline emphasis ours)


“In Isaiah 40:3 the way of Yahweh is being ‘made straight’ (a metaphor using road building to refer to repentance); in Matthew 3:3 it is the way of Jesus. This sort of identification of Jesus with Yahweh is common in the NT (e. g. Exod 13:21 and 1 Cor 10:4; Isa 6:1 and John 12:41; Ps 68:18 and Eph 4:8; Ps 102:25-27 and Heb 1:10-12) and confirms the kingdom as being equally the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Jesus. While the deity of Christ is only implicit in such texts, it certainly goes beyond Jesus’ being merely a royal envoy. The Qumran covenanters cited the same passage to foster further study of the law in preparation for the eschaton (1QS 8:12ff.; 9:19; cf. Fitzmyer, Semitic Background, pp. 34-36); but Matthew identifies the Baptist as the voice and the eschatological age as already dawning in Jesus’ coming.” (Donald A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Frank E. Gaebelein (general editor) [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1984], Volume 8, p. 102; bold emphasis ours)


Prepare the way for the Lord. “Lord” refers here to the Savior of Luke 2:11 who is “Christ the Lord.” John’s preparation for the Lord can be seen in such passages as 7:29-30, 31-35; 20:1-8 and because several of Jesus’ disciples were originally John’s (cf. John 1:35ff.). (Robert H. Stein, Luke: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (New American Commentary) [B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN 1992], Volume 24, p. 129; underline emphasis ours)

Stein is absolutely correct in viewing the Lord spoken of in this prophecy as Jesus himself, since Luke-Acts both affirm that Christ is the Lord who has come to save and redeem the people of God:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior (Soter), who is the Messiah, the Lord (Kyrios).’” Luke 2:10-11

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord (tom Kyrion), ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord (Kyrie), I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation (soteria) has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” Luke 19:1-10

“There is salvation (he soteria) in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”” Acts 4:12

“Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior (Sotera), Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’ My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation (tes soterias) has been sent… Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:23-26, 38-39

Matthew says basically the same thing:

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, FOR he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23

Here we are told that the reason why the Holy Spirit conceived and virgin born Child shall be called Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua = Yehoshua = “Yahweh is salvation”) is because he is the One who shall save his people from their sins, a work which the OT ascribes only to Yahweh Almighty!

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered… O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” Psalm 130:3-4, 7-8

Contrast this, once again, with the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5 as cited by Luke:

“as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord (Kyriou), make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (soterion tou Theou).”’” Luke 3:4-6

With the foregoing in perspective, could the four Gospels have been any more clearer in depicting Jesus as Yahweh God Almighty who entered this world by becoming flesh for the purpose of revealing God’s glory and bringing salvation to all mankind?

Now here is a breakdown of the teaching of the Gospels so as to enable Williams to see the force and clarity of the argument:

A. The Synoptic Gospels agree that John the Baptist is the envoy and messenger prophesied by Isaiah and Malachi who was to go ahead of Yahweh God in order to prepare the people for his coming.

B. The Synoptic writers (and John’s Gospel) also concur that the Baptist was sent to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.

C. The Gospels are therefore identifying Jesus as the Lord God Almighty whom the prophets Isaiah and Malachi said was going to come to his temple and dwell with his people.

And just in case Williams tries to do everything in his power to deny that the Synoptic Gospels present the Baptist as a herald sent to announce the coming of the Lord Jesus note what the following passage from the book of Acts says:

“Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, IN JESUS.’” Acts 19:4

Yet this is where the problem begins for both Williams and his idol Ehrman. In order for the Gospel writers to proclaim that Jesus is Yahweh God Incarnate they must have believed that the Person of Christ has always existed since Yahweh is eternal by nature, and therefore has no beginning, just as the following verses affirm:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:1-2

“The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” Psalm 93:1-2

“Hear my prayer, O Lord let my cry come to you… Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end.” Psalm 102:1, 25-27 

“For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

Since the Synoptic Gospels all teach that Christ is Yahweh God in the flesh (even though he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit), these inspired writers must have believed in Jesus’ eternal prehuman existence.

Again, here is a breakdown which illustrates this point more clearly:

A. The Synoptic Gospels identify Jesus as Yahweh God in the flesh.

B. According to the inspired Scriptures Yahweh is eternal by nature, having no beginning and no end.

C. The Synoptic writers must have therefore believed in Christ’s eternal prehuman existence since they all affirm and testify that he is Yahweh Incarnate. 

Biblically and logically there is simply no way around this for either Williams or his idol.

One good thing we can say about Ehrman (which we can’t say about Williams) is that he has been open enough to change his mind concerning Jesus’ portrayal in the Synoptic Gospels by now admitting that they do depict him as God (a view which, by the way, proves that Muhammad was a false prophet). Hopefully he will continue on this path of correcting his errors and unwarranted assumptions by eventually coming around to accept and believe in the plain testimony of all four Gospels that Jesus Christ is the eternal preexistent Son of God who became a flesh and blood human being so as to die for the salvation of God’s people, and who then rose back to life to ascend into heaven where he now sits at the Father’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords:

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:29-36

“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared MORE THAN FIVE HUNDRED BROTHERS AND SISTERS AT ONE TIME, MOST OF WHOM ARE STILL ALIVE, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

“they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14 – cf. 1:5; 19:16

Lord Jesus willing, we shall have more responses to Ehrman’s book in the near future.


Related Articles