by Matt Slick
Did Jesus always exist? As God, yes. As man, no.
It is correct to say that Jesus is both God and man (Col. 2:9), it is not correct to say that Jesus, as a man, always existed in eternity past. The man Jesus, with two distinct natures, became a reality at the incarnation approximately 2000 years ago. Nevertheless, the divine nature of Christ is eternal in the past. The human nature of Christ is not eternal in the past. Therefore, technically, to say that Jesus, as the incarnate God-man, always existed is not correct.
Now, because this is an important topic, I want to make sure that people understand me. Let me state that Jesus, who is presently both divine and human (Col. 2:9) has two distinct natures: God and man. The divine nature is eternal. The divine nature, eternal word who is the second person of the Trinity, became united with the human nature 2000 years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is the incarnation, and theologically it is called the hypostatic union. The incarnation occurred 2000 years ago.
So, to reiterate.
- The divine nature of Christ is eternal in the past.
- The human nature of Christ is not eternal in the past.
- The incarnation, the union of the divine nature and the human nature, occurred 2000 years ago.
- The person who possesses both the divine nature and the human nature is Jesus.
Fallacy of Composition and Category Mistake
People generally say that Jesus has always existed. I understand what they're trying to get at since they are focusing on his divine nature and are referring to his divine nature. However, technically, in reference to the person of Jesus, they are incorrect for the above reasons. Furthermore, there are two logical fallacies associated with saying that Jesus (as the God-man) is eternal. The first is the Fallacy of Composition. The second is a Category Mistake.
Fallacy of composition
The fallacy of Composition is an error which states that what is true of the part is true the whole. Let 's take a car, for example. This fallacy would say that because the engine is blue, therefore the whole car is blue. But, that is not necessarily true.
Here's another illustration. Let's say there's a package. This package is a box with a rock inside. The rock is thousands of years old. But, we would not therefore say that the whole package is thousands of years old because the rock inside of it is thousands of years old. Likewise, we would not say that Jesus, as a person who has an eternally old divine nature, must mean that Jesus as a man, also has an eternally old nature.
Therefore, to say that Jesus the God-man (in that dual nature condition) is eternal would not be technically correct.
A category mistake is aware the attributes of one thing or transferred to something else. In the case of the rock in a box illustration above, one of the attributes of the rock is that it is thousands of years old. But we do not transfer that attribute to the box. A rock is not a box. They are different things, different categories.
So, as this relates to the incarnation, we would not say that the eternal attribute of the divine nature becomes that of the human nature and thereby assert that the human nature is also eternal.
However, there is a doctrine in Christian theology called the communicatio idiomatum which states that the attributes of both natures are ascribed to the single person. In other words, Jesus is a single person with two natures. Each of the two natures has attributes. Jesus, as a person claimed the attributes of both divinity and humanity. For example, when speaking to the disciples the Great Commission, Jesus said, "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age," (Matt. 28:20). Clearly he was claiming the attribute of omnipresence by saying he would be with the disciples everywhere. On the other hand, when Jesus was on the cross he claimed the human attribute of thirst when he said, "I am thirsty," (John 19:28).
So, we could say that the person of Christ is eternal in the sense of the attribute of divinity being attributed to the person.
Jesus has two distinct natures: divine and human. The divine nature, the Word, is eternal because it is God (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9). But the human nature is not eternal; it has a beginning. After all, a human person cannot have existed forever in the past. Therefore, we would say that the person of Jesus, who has two distinct natures, became a reality 2000 years ago when he was conceived in the womb of Mary. We call this incarnation in theology the hypostatic union. But we also call him Jesus.