by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
So-called 'biblical unitarians' wax long and hard, arguing against the pre-human existence of the Son of God. For that reason, I am beginning a series wherein I will provide a consideration of a text and demonstrate the pre-existence of the Son to be a deeply biblical truth. Time permitting, I will provide an in-depth exegesis of a pericope, whereas other times my comments will be brief and to the point.
"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh." (Romans 8:3, ESV)
τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου, ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός, ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας κατέκρινεν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί. (Romans 8:3, NA28)
It is the first clause of the second sentence that is our focus here: "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin." The operative verb is πέμψας, which is defined as "to dispatch someone, whether human or transcendent being," and "to cause someone to depart for a similar purpose". It is this verb as it is followed by the prepositional phrase ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας that demands from the interpreter the acknowledgement of the Son's existence prior to his existence in the flesh. The notion of being sent in the likeness of something presupposes that the one being sent exists apart from that likeness prior to the act of sending. For example, if one is sent in the likeness of Ω, then it logically and necessarily follows that they existed in a state of ~Ω prior to the sending. The likeness of Ω is not the original estate of the individual, but rather ~Ω is. The Son was sent "in the likeness of sinful flesh." Subsequently, he existed in a state that was not "the likeness of sinful flesh" prior to the sending. In what form did he subsist? I an think only of one-- the μορφῇ θεοῦ.
If one insists, as do the 'biblical unitarians,' that the Son's existence is exclusively human, then both contradiction and redundancy are the result. Exactly what is the point of Paul telling his reader that the Son was "sent in the likeness of sinful flesh" if the only existence the Son has ever known is in the flesh? A similar objection can and should be raised regarding Galatians 4:4, which will be the subject of the next post in this series.
1. BDAG, 794.
2. Louw-Nida, 15.66.