That may sound like a strange question to ask, but such was the title of an article I recently read. 63% of church-going Christians said Yes, which means that 37% said No. When the survey included all American adults, only 41% believe Jesus existed before his birth in Bethlehem.
So, let’s get this straight. What I’m about to say may at first sound heretical, but be patient with me. No, Jesus, the human being who walked the earth, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead, did not exist prior to his being conceived in the womb of a young virgin girl named Mary.
Before you cast me aside as an apostate, listen closely. The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, has always existed. There are countless texts that affirm the eternal pre-existence of God the Son. One thinks immediately of two texts in John’s gospel, where Jesus himself said this:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:58).
“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
If that were not enough, Paul settles the question in Philippians 2:6-11 where he affirms that the Son existed “in the form of God” and by an act of humble self-sacrifice took to himself a human nature. There are other texts as well that make it clear that the second person of the Trinity is eternal. He has always existed, as have also the Father and Holy Spirit (see John 1:1).
So, why do I say that “Jesus” did not exist prior to his conception in the womb of Mary? I say it because “Jesus” is the name given to the incarnate God-man. When God the Son, the Word, “became flesh” (John 1:14), he was given the name Jesus. You will recall the words of the angel to Joseph:
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:20-21).
The Messiah, the Word made flesh, the incarnate Christ did not exist as “Jesus” until such time as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of Mary. The Son of God always existed. The second person of the triune Godhead always existed. But it wasn’t until he took to himself a human nature when conceived in Mary’s womb, and was subsequently born, that the Son of God could properly be referred to as Jesus.
It was certainly central to the redemptive plan of our Triune God in eternity past that God the Son would enter human history as the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. But that isn’t the same thing as saying that “Jesus” the God-man existed as the incarnate God-man prior to the miraculous conception in Mary’s womb.
I hope this brings some clarity to the question and helps in our use of language. Praise be to the Eternal Son of God who now and forevermore exists as the Incarnate God-man, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!