John 17:5 - Glory

Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:5 - NASB)

What Trinitarians Say

Many say this verse means that Jesus was literally with God before He created the world.

  • What We Say

    We are told in several verses that Jesus was not yet glorified until he went to the cross at Calvary (John 7:39b, John 12:23, Luke 24:26). So what was this glory he had with the Father at the beginning of time?

    Jesus was not saying that he was literally present at creation; the traditional Jewish understanding of pre-existence was that all things first "existed" within God's plan or foreknowledge (1 Pet 1:2, 1 Pet 1:20, Acts 2:23, Rom 8:29)

    This verse is simply showing us that God's original plan involved Jesus being glorified as the future messiah.  In Revelation 13:8 we read that Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Certainly Christ was not already crucified before creation, but his death was foreknown, as good as done, according to God's predetermined plan (Acts 2:23).  

    Peter is also helpful for understanding this verse.  He tells us that Christ was "foreknown," or "foreordained before the world began," in 1 Peter 1:20 (KJV).  So were all Christians (1 Pet 1:2).  Furthermore, while many argue that the glory Jesus was given was glory as God, only several verses later Jesus says: "The glory which You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one" (Jn 17:22).  The glory given to Jesus is the glory of sonship, not of the one God (Jn 1:14); this is the same glory of sonship awaiting the disciples (Jn 1:12).  Paul says that this "grace was given to us before the world began" (2 Tim 1:9).  Certainly Christians did not need to literally pre-existence to enjoy grace and glory before the foundation of the world, and neither did Jesus.

    The later Greek converts to Christianity had already held to a Platonic view of the literal pre-existence of souls in heaven.  They then interpreted passages like John 17:5, not according to the Jewish view of "notional" pre-existence, but according to their established Greek model.  Thus Jesus was made into a pre-existing divine being, instead of the Jewish Messiah existing in God's plan from all time.

  • Further Explanation

    The Old Testament teaches that a descendant of David will come onto the scene and be the Messiah.  The New Testament teaches that this involved a "genesis" or "begetting" of the Messiah (see Matt 1:20 and Luke 1:35).  It is clear that Christ was begotten (came forth) in Bethlehem in the womb of his Jewish mother.  In order to place Christ before his begetting you have to introduce illogical propositions such as "eternally begotten"; in other words, a "beginning-less beginning."  The Bible is quite emphatic that in God's plan, one of David's descendents would be the Messiah.  This is why Matthew begins his gospel with an explanation of Christ's origin: "This is the genealogy [Greek geneseĊs: genesis, origin, birth] of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham"; He is explaining how and when Jesus came to be.

    In Deut 18:18, God explained the origin of the future Messiah, an Israelite from among them: "I will raise up a prophet from among their [Jews] countrymen like you [Moses], and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him."  The Jews never would have imagined this person was already living as God himself in heaven.  God had told them to expect that a new human person would come on the scene and become their savior and mediator as Moses had.

    Isaiah even mentioned this future person would "have the fear of Yahweh" in Isaiah 11:2, which agrees with what Hebrews 5:7 says about Jesus: "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission [Greek eulabeias: piety, reverence, godly fear]."  Again, no Jew would have ever had any inclination that this coming Lord would be God himself, nor should they; God would never need to have the fear of Yahweh, and God had already told them that he was not a man (Num 23:19).

    Another point of interest regarding John 17:5 is the frequent mention in the Bible about saints enjoying rewards with God since the beginning of time.  Romans 8:29 says Christians were "foreknown." Ephesians 1:4 (KJV) says Christians were "chosen" before the foundation of the world.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 says Christians were chosen from the “beginning.” 2 Timothy 1:9 (NASB) says the grace of God was granted us "from all eternity."  Yet no Trinitarian says that Christians “pre-existed."  It is inconsistent for them to take the same language used for Christ and Christians and arrive at two different conclusions—that Christ literally “pre-existed,” but Christians were only “foreknown.”

    For these reasons we have to conclude that Jesus didn't mean that he literally existed with God when he created the world.  He was confidently declaring that he was the planned Messiah, and he was asking God to finally bring about his promised glory so the world would look to him and be saved (John 3:14-15).  Reading John 17:5 with the understanding of the Jewish concept of "pre-existence" as the foreknowledge of God, we have no need to turn Christ's begetting into a contradiction, or introduce Greek philosophical ideas into the text.