John 17:5 is often used to prove the preincarnate existence of Jesus as the second person of the trinity. However, like all other scripture, the verse must be interpreted by the immediate context surrounding it.
17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,
2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
3 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
4 " I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
5 "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
6 " I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.
7 "Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You;
8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. NASU
It is wrongly taught that John 17:5 is describing Jesus’ place of honor as God “before” he came to this earth, (as God), and then became a man (NOTE: God cannot ever become a man; see Numbers 23:19). Such interpretation violates every single aspect of the text in John chapter 17. In verse one, Jesus prays TO the Father as God; this alone proves Jesus is not God.
Remember, what is in question here is the deity of Christ, and whether he existed in heaven before he came to earth. Because verse five is used as the proof text, the language used in this verse must coincide with the rest of the text.
For example, in John 17:5b, Jesus begins his prayer to God saying, “"Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You…” The “hour has come” is a very specific time frame, and refers to Jesus’ imminent death on the cross. Knowing his certain death and horrible suffering and his need for the God’s strength, Jesus prays that his Father’s name would somehow be glorified in the midst of the gruesome events that would soon follow this prayer.
John 17:5 is an extension of 17:1, with the exception that verse five makes this process even more urgent and immediate, by the words, “NOW, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself…” This explains the first half of John 17:5 by making Jesus a man whose entire life is now being summarized in one event, all to glorify his Father and God.
To understand exactly what the “glory” Jesus had WITH the Father refers to, first we must see Jesus AS HE IS in the context. This glory involves the SOURCE of Jesus’ authority and John 17:2 explains this authority in two parts:
17:2a “You gave Him authority over all flesh…” – This refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus; whenever God gave him the AUTHORITY to wield, Jesus was able to exhibit his Father’s supernatural power in things like miraculous healing, calming stormy seas, raising the dead, etc. This interpretation is affirmed by what Jesus said in verse 4, “I (Jesus) glorified You (Father God) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given me to do.” Jesus cannot be “God” if “God” is the One that gave him the ability to do his works.
17:2b “…that to all whom You (the Father God) have given him (Jesus the man), he may give eternal life.” - Jesus could not give his disciples and followers “eternal life” until after he was crucified, resurrected and ascended; hence the reason for his earnest prayer in chapter 17, (i.e. – that he would “glorify” God and thereby be able to in actuality provide eternal life to them). This interpretation is affirmed by what Jesus said in verse 3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
There is no shred of doubt whatsoever that Jesus is not God, and never was God, and that verse five cannot be interpreted to mean Jesus was experiencing glory with God the Father in a preincarnate existence “before the world” existed. Also, reading John 17:6-7 we see Jesus acknowledges to the Father that everything he had ever possessed was given to him by and came from God. This is more proof that Jesus never preexisted and disproves the notion he shared glory as the second person of the trinity with the other two persons of God, “before the world” existed.
We know what John 17:5 does NOT mean, so what does John 17:5 mean? The answer to this lies in the Greek text and another set of NT passages that explain the time when Jesus was experiencing “glory together with the Father.” First, the Greek text reveals that Bible translators have, as they often do, used their doctrinal prejudice to influence the translating. The Concordant Literal Translation more precisely represents the use of the verbs in John 17:5 (below).
· John 17:5 And now glorify Thou me, Father with Thyself, with the glory which I had before the world is with Thee. (Concordant Literal New Testament)
The Greek word for “world” is kósmon, from whence the English word cosmos is derived. It is never used in the writings of the Jews, of which the apostle John was one, to reflect the terra firma, but rather, the inhabitants of the Gentile world. What Jesus is asking his Father God for is to once again share with him the dignity, honor and magnificence of His kingly Presence that he shared “before” (meaning sometime previously in Jesus’ human life). By cross-referencing the same Greek word for “glory” I found this refers to the Lord’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. In other words, this phrase could be rendered, “with the glory which I held in possession as my own before the world is with Thee.”
Using the Concordant Literal New Testament to interpret John 17:5, the kósmos world (i.e. – inhabitants) would not share in the presence of God until AFTER Jesus died and rose from the dead, at which time he took a host of captive captive to himself, and at the ascension, led them into the Father’s glory. This is a possible interpretation, but I favor one that portrays Jesus in his future role as God’s appointed Magistrate (Ruler). Therefore, below you will find my own interpretation by comparing other NT passages that parallel John 17:5.
Below is the breakdown of the Greek to produce a more accurate version of John 17:5 as the Greek transliterated text - Kaí nún dóxasón me sú Páter pará seautoó teé dóxee heé eíchon pró toú tón kósmon eínai pará soí. The Appropriate Translation for John 17:5, reflecting the contrast between the glory Jesus shared in the transfiguration with the existence or condition of the world’s inhabitants reads as follows:
· John 17:5 And soon, at the fit time, glorify me with Thyself Father, in the power of Your presence, with the magnificence, kingly dignity and honor I held together with You in preeminence to this world existence.” (TAT)
The reason for the TAT rendering is because Jesus is not speaking favorably of the kósmos in the immediate context of John 17:5, as illustrated in John 17:6, speaking of his own disciples, Jesus said, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world (kósmou)…”
To view the passages that are parallel in meaning to John 17:5, below is the account in the gospels of the transfiguration and Peter’s epistle that also mentions the mount of transfiguration. The word for “glory” (NT: 1391, dóxan, dóxee) used in each passage is identical in meaning and grammatical use. Only three disciples actually were eyewitnesses to this event and saw firsthand the glory of the Father revealed in a vision together with Jesus.
The reason for three witnesses is due to the requirement of the law, that every word be confirmed in the presence of at least two and preferably three witnesses. Peter and John later wrote this eyewitness account into the inspired pages of New Testament scripture; the third witness James was martyred and therefore never wrote about the glory he witnessed at the transfiguration.
· Luke 9:28-36 The Transfiguration Some eight days after these sayings, He (Jesus) took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory dóxee, were speaking of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory dóxan and the two men standing with Him. 33 And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, " Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-- not realizing what he was saying. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, " This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen. NASU
After Jesus died and God the Father raised him from the dead, he met with Peter and John once again in the garden, where at first, none of them recognized him, thinking he was perhaps the gardener.
· Luke 24:25-27 And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory dóxan?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. NASU
Luke 24:26 is sufficient to explain the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17:5 and to understand the time frame when in reality he would again experience that glory he shared at the Mount of Transfiguration. The apostle John mentions the glory he witnessed on the Mount in the first chapter of his gospel (John 1:14).
· John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory dóxan, glory dóxan as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. NASU
Lastly, and this is not the only place the glory is mentioned, is Peter’s detailed description in which he relates his experience witnessing the glory that Jesus shared with the Father, described as preeminent to the world’s existence by far!
· 2 Peter 1:16-18 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory dóxan from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory dóxees, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. NASU
There is much more to this study of the glory of the Father and what Jesus inherited once he had ascended to the position of honor and dignity at the Father’s right hand, but this is sufficient to prove Jesus never pre-existed as deity before the creation of the universe.