The Casting Down of the World (IV)
We now turn our attention to the only three passages which use the clause πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, “before the casting down of the world.” All three passages place the Son of God prior to whatever this clause actually meant. All three are significant in determining a correct theology concerning the Son of God, whether He was eternally co-existing with the Father (as in Trinitarianism), whether He did not even exist at all prior to the Virgin Birth (as in Unitarianism), or whether He was “begotten” out of God as “the Beginning” of creation week and existed with God from that point (as in Apostolic Monotheism, the view held by the earliest post-Apostolic Christians). There is always the danger of reading one’s theology into such Scriptures as the basis to reject the definition I have provided in this series of articles. Ultimately it comes down to whether one is to find absolute unity and consistency with the inherent meaning of the noun καταβολῆς and the technical term usage of the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου, recognizing truth by consistency and harmony thus informing one’s theology, vs. whether one is willing to settle for disjointed and multiple definitions of this term, creating difficult passages, in order to defend one’s presuppositions. I chose the former and hope the readers will see the logic and wisdom in this process.
I. John 17:24 (NKJ) “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
The LGV reads: “Father, I desire those whom You have given Me that where I am these also may be with Me, so that they may see My glory which You gave Me, because You loved Me before the overthrow of the world.” The difference between these two translations amounts to whether the time period refers to eternity past or to the brief period between two very important events, the begetting of the Son out of God as “the Beginning” (Prov. 8:22 LXX; Col. 1:18; Rev. 3:14) and the downfall of the creation. This verse is very problematic for Unitarianism because it indicates the Son’s preexistence. But it does not require the Trinitarian interpretation simply because the critical clause does not mean “before the foundation of the world” (as in eternity past) but “before the casting down of the world.” It refers to time, however brief, not to eternity.
It is also important to recognize that this verse is a further expansion on the beginning of this same prayer. “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (Jn. 17:5 NKJ). At first glance this verse seems to agree with the Trinitarian explanation, linking “before the world was” in v. 5 with “before the foundation of the world” in v. 24. But the reason for this is due to another mistake in translation in v. 5. The Greek words translated “before the world was” are πρὸ τοῦ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι. The underlined verb εἶναι is the infinitive form of the verb of being, which would properly be translated as “to be.” This implies an intended outcome, not what already exists. If Jesus meant “before the world was,” He would need to use the imperfect tense of this verb, ἦν, as in John 1:1. That is the form of the verb expected if Jesus meant “before the world was (or existed).” However, the use of the infinitive form literally meaning “to be” or “to become,” anticipating a state of being that was to occur or was about to occur at that previous time. For this reason the LGV renders John 17:5 as follows: “And now You, Father, glorify Me beside Yourself with the glory which I was having beside You before what the world [was] to be.” The word “what” comes from the fact that the definite article is repeated τοῦ τὸν, with τοῦ being in the genitive case which is required because it is the object of the preposition πρὸ, and the second use of the article τὸν being in the accusative case modifying the accusative case noun κόσμον (world). “The world” is in the accusative case because it is the direct object of the infinite verb, “to be.” Thus the correct translation is not “before the world was” (imperfect tense of the verb of being), but rather “before what the world was to be” (or to become). In other words, it refers to a state of being that was anticipated during the time period being referred to. Both of these verses refer to the same brief period of time. Consider both from the LGV read back to back: “5 And now You, Father, glorify Me beside Yourself with the glory which I was having beside You before what the world [was] to be. … 24 Father, I desire those whom You have given Me that where I am these also may be with Me, so that they may see My glory which You gave Me, because You loved Me before the overthrow of the world” (Jn. 17:5,24 LGV).
What the world was to become (when the Father formerly bestowed glory upon His only-begotten Son) is more narrowly defined by the clause “the overthrow of the world.” The world just after the creation was very good. But this cast-down and cursed “world” is what Jesus and John many times disparaged and is only temporary (ex. 1 Jn. 2:15-16). This present cast-down “world” will soon pass away (v. 17) when the physical creation is restored and made new again. The cast-down “world” was mentioned by Jesus in this prayer no less than 17 times in His prayer in verses (5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24, 25). So why would He mean something entirely different (the perfect creation) in verses 5 & 24?
II. Eph. 1:4-5 (NKJ) “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,”
This is another of Calvinism’s proof-texts. However, Calvinists insist that this choosing concerns which specific individuals would be “in Christ.” This would require God’s having knowledge of all individuals ever born before they exist, as well as picking specific individuals to be “in Christ” while rejecting other individuals. However, this interpretation requires reading into the passage what is not there. The correct interpretation of the statement, “He [God] chose us in Him [the Son],” means that He chose a collective body of the redeemed to be joined to His Son by predetermining the qualifications all individuals within this collective body must meet before God finalizes the union with His Son, “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” This passage describes God as Father choosing a bride for His Son which is the collective body of the redeemed, first to be covenanted in an engagement to His Son during this age, and then ultimately to be joined to His Son as “one flesh” in the resurrection. Note also that the outcome is the “adoption” of this bride by God to be part of His family. Paul also placed our “adoption” to God at the resurrection in Rom. 8:15,23. It is important also to note that it is expected that a Son would already exist before a father would predetermine the qualifications expected of a future bride for Him. “S]ince, before the casting down of the world He chose us in Him to be holy and without blemish before Him in love, having foreordained us to adoption by Jesus Anointed to Himself” (LGV). The first-person pronouns (us/we) refer to the collective body which has been foreordained to be joined to the Son. This choice of a bride who meets the specific qualification of holiness, was made by God for His Son just prior to the “casting down of the world,” in anticipation of that event. This verse does not support Calvinism because it only speaks of predetermining the qualifications of a collective whole, not to choosing specific individuals before they exist in reality. It does not support Trinitarianism’s co-eternal doctrine because this choosing and predetermining was not done in eternity past (before the foundation of the world), but rather “before the casting down of the world” when the curse was placed on mankind. Thus, the idea of the Son’s “begetting” out of God as “Wisdom” whom God made “the Beginning” and the “First-produced of all creation” and “the Beginning of the creation of God” is affirmed rather than contradicted by presupposing the Trinitarian doctrine of the Son being co-eternal with God. Finally, this passage does not support the Biblical Unitarian claim that both individual Christians and the Son Himself only existed in the mind and alleged “foreknowledge” of God and not in reality. That view presupposes the selection of individuals before they exist which is to accept Calvinism and destroy free-will. It also clashes with the basic assumptions of how a father might predetermine qualifications for a bride for his son. However, this passage fits seamlessly with Apostolic Monotheism and the concept of a collective election based on certain criterion rather than election of specific individuals.
III. 1 Peter 1:20 NASB “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.”
Many translations (including the NKJV) have “foreordained” instead of “foreknown” in this verse, but that is merely imposed upon some translations by Calvinistic bias. The Greek word literally means “known previously” (more on this later). This verse is a primary proof-text for Unitarians who deny that the Son for God existed from the beginning. The argument goes something like this: Since Christians are said to have been “foreknown” or “chosen” by God (v. 2), yet they did not actually preexist “before the foundation of the world,” then neither did Jesus preexist who Peter says was “foreknown” or “foreordained” before the foundation of the world.
Yet, this argument suffers from the fact that this verse is poorly translated on three different points which are as follows:
1. The Greek verb translated either “foreknown” or “foreordained” is προγινώσκω, a compound of “προ” (before) and γινώσκω (to know, have knowledge esp. an intimate relationship). Unfortunately, this term has been grossly polluted by Calvinistic bias so as to mean not merely having previous knowledge, but also to predetermine. This is because in Calvinistic thinking, if God knows things before they occur, then those things must occur otherwise God’s foreknowledge would be defective. Thus, for Calvinists, foreknowledge equals foreordaining (pre-determining). Yet, the basic premise, that this term means having knowledge of someone before they exist is completely false and not what Scripture teaches. The very first time this word appears in the New Testament proves that it means no such thing.
Acts 26:4-5 NKJV “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5 They knew me from the first [προγινώσκω], if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
It is quite clear that the Pharisees did not have “foreknowledge” of Paul before he existed. Rather, they knew him personally “from my youth,” before he became a Christian. In every place where this word appears in the New Testament it means the same thing, to know someone personally for some time in the past. Even when this term or the verb form is used of believers (such as Rom. 8:29, Rom. 11:2) has the same sense. It refers to Old Testament saints with whom God had a personal and intimate relationship in former times. It never refers to people who did not yet exist when God “knew” them. This alone disarms the Unitarian argument which attempts to apply the Calvinistic – corrupted interpretation of this term to the Son, as though He only existed in God’s thoughts rather than in reality. (If either Calvinists or Unitarians appeal to the noun form v. 2, that argument is also addressed in the following article):
2. The second mistranslation is the clause under consideration in this series of articles, which is wrongly translated “before foundation of the world” but should be translated “before the casting down of the world.”
3. The word μὲν (“indeed even”) in this verse is either omitted or moved by most English translations so that it does not do what it was intended! The Greek reads: προεγνωσμένου μὲν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (lit. “previously having been known, INDEED EVEN before the casting down of the world.” The word μὲν is an intensive particle meant to stress something to an extreme, beyond what would be understood without it. It follows the word that it was meant to press to this extreme, as a post-positive. Yet, the NASB and NIV omit it entirely (even though it is found in their underlying Greek text), and the NKJV and KJV move it earlier so that its post-positive force refers to the preceding verse instead of the word προεγνωσμένου (previously having been known). The reason it is left untranslated or moved to a different position is because the translators did not understand the text as Peter wrote it due to their presuppositions. However, when the verse is correctly translated, as in the LGV, it is apparent why Peter included the word μὲν exactly where he did.
1 Peter 1:20 LGV having been known previously, indeed even before the casting down of the world, yet made apparent in the last times for you.
The clause, “having been known previously,” indicates that the Son of God was known by people (not God) in the distant past, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.. However, the addition of the post-positive μὲν pushes “known previously” all the way back to, “indeed even before the casting down of the world.” Adam and Eve even knew the Son of God in time past. This is because He walked and talked with them in Eden. Without it, “known previously” would have been understood only as known before the present without being specific even as far back as the Garden of Eden. But its inclusion here implies something like the following: The Son of God has been known previously, before His being revealed in the last times for you, EVEN as far back as before the casting down of the world! Peter’s point was that the Son of God was known personally by Adam. That this is the correct meaning is also shown by the word φανερωθέντος translated “made apparent.” This term refers to something that had been hidden or concealed in the past but then fully known. In this same epistle Peter also used this term for Christ’s manifestation from heaven at His second coming, after having been concealed at the Father’s right hand throughout this age. It does not mean that one who did not literally exist came into existence. Rather, His existence and His role were shrouded in mystery but then revealed openly (1 Cor. 2:6-8; Col. 2:2).
Consequently, Peter’s point was not that Jesus existed only in the mind of God as an idea or plan prior to creation and did not become a reality until “the last times.” Rather, the one who has been known previously, indeed even the same one whom Adam knew intimately before he was exiled from Eden, this same one has been made manifest to all in these later times. Rather than this passage being a proof-text for Unitarianism it proves precisely the opposite when these corrections to the translation are made.
When the Greek noun καταβολῆ is consistently translated as “casting down” in the entire New Testament, several awkward and difficult passages suddenly become easy to understand and consistent. When this is not done, and the same word is rendered “conceive” in Heb. 11:11 and then “foundation” in the ten places where it appears in the clause “καταβολῆς κόσμου,” it introduces difficulties into the text that need not be there. While two of these can provide some cover for Trinitarianism’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, one provides Unitarianism with some support, and three provide cover for Calvinism, some of these doctrines conflict with each other. All of this confusion is wiped away with the simple and consistent definition: that καταβολῆ only means a “casting down,” modified only by what is said to have been “cast down.” Occam’s Razor requires that the simplest explanation which can account for all of the evidence is by far the preferred theory. Of course such will not be agreeable to most who have turned any of these doctrines into their sacred cows.