Interview: The Preexistence of Christ and Narrative Historical Theology

I recently did an interview with Sam Tideman for his Transfigured YouTube channel. It’s also available as a podcast.

Sam gave me a chance to present some of the ideas developed in my book on the question of whether Paul believed that Jesus had pre-existed his earthly life. But we also talked about the “narrative-historical” angle on the question and some of the wider implications for church and mission today. Thank you, Sam.

I’m not heading towards Unitarianism, but I can see that the book will appeal to Unitarians; and I do think that, one way or another, history is pushing us to rethink how we talk about the relation between Jesus and the Father. It’s a healthy and constructive debate to be having, especially if it helps us to focus less on the metaphysics, more on the long convulsive story of which we are part.

Juanita | Sun, 01/29/2023 - 21:24 | Permalink

Hi there Sam

We spoke briefly at the UCA Conference last year. I had missed your presentation and caught up with you later. I have read your paper this week and had a few thoughts to share. As I mentioned at the conference, the “worship of Jesus” can only be considered in light of the false doctrine of the trinity and, more importantly, that the confusion, plan and deception of true worship is diabolically fulfilled in the climax of 2 Thessalonians 2.  

 As you mentioned, what is at play here is a nearly consistent mistranslation of the Greek word proskuneo.   It is defined as an “action” of bowing or prostrating oneself; to give respect or honor. However, the usage of the word worship should neither be considered “flexible” or “elastic” nor, should it be justified by explaining that the word can be understood as having a form of “civil” application when used towards men.  

Ironic or serendipitously, I have now had the occasion, in only the last two weeks, to read three Unitarian papers on the subject of worship. None of them make any reference to the true Greek word for worship, “sebomai”.  Unlike the word proskuneo, which represents an action, sebomai is used to denote an “attitude”. With the exception in reference to the goddess Diana, it is only used in relation to God; only to deity. It is never used in relation to men and never used in relation to Jesus. Jesus is worthy to receive glory and honor and to have every knee bow at his name but to even hint of worship, I think not.

 In other words, we can bow (proskuneo, an “action”) in respect to God and men, but we can only give true worship (sebomai, an “attitude”) towards God alone. It is a deceitful and dangerous proposition to think that a man, or anything but God, could be truly worshiped.  That is the work of satan.

I am reminded of when Moses was ordered by God to make a fiery serpent on a pole and anyone who looked to it would live (Numbers 21:8). We are reminded that as Moses lifted up the serpent, we also should lift up the Son of man, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14). However, for a hundred, or so, years, the people carried around that snake on the pole and offered incense to it until Hezekiah broke it into pieces along with the other idols (2 Kings 18:4).

Could the worship of Jesus be considered an act of idolatry?  I think so.