What Happened Before the Foundation of the World?

“Every word of the God-breathed character of Scripture is meaningless if Holy Scripture is not understood as the witness concerning Christ.”

~ G.C. Berkower

All Scripture finds its organic center and unity in Jesus.

For this reason, the biblical narrative has its beginning in the creation of the universe through Christ, its middle in the earthly life and ministry of Christ, and its end in the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

There’s an overarching unity to both Testaments. And Christ is the unifying agent.

Part of that statement is not entirely accurate. While Genesis begins the scriptural narrative at the point of creation, the Second Testament tells us that the narrative actually begins somewhere else.

The Jesus story doesn’t begin in Bethlehem, Nazareth, or even Israel. According to the Second Testament (that is, the New Testament), it begins long before them. It begins in the dateless past, before angels or atoms.

In chapter 1 of my new book with Leonard Sweet, Jesus: A Theography, we narrate the Jesus story as it happened before creation and get a breathtaking glimpse of the preincarnate Christ—the eternal Son, the preexistent Word, Jesus before time, Christ before creation.

The Second Testament contains numerous texts that give us insight into Christ before time. And the First Testament (that is, the Old Testament) supports those texts.

Considering Jesus before the world began is mind-boggling. We feel we are fumbling in the dark, groping for words to express the inexpressible.

It’s impossible to find adequate language for what happened before creation. Taken literally, before creation is unintelligible because there is no such thing as a “before” or an “after” until there is a creation. According to Einstein’s physics, time doesn’t exist without mass and matter.

Time, therefore, begins with creation.

So on a literal basis, phrases like time before time or before creation are nonsensical. They only make sense when we see them as intuitively graspable metaphors. When we talk about what God was doing before creation, it’s impossible to avoid language that sounds as though we are talking about a time before time.

Nonetheless, we will use these metaphors because Scripture uses them. The phrases “before the foundation of the world” and “before the world began” are used frequently in the Second Testament.

Both First and Second Testaments speak much about God’s eternality.

It has been said that a student once asked Martin Luther, “What was God doing before He created the world?” Luther responded, “He went into the woods and cut rods with which to punish good-for-nothing questioners!”

John Calvin reportedly responded to the same question: “God was not idle but was creating hell for curious questioners!”

While we respect Luther and Calvin, we don’t agree with those sentiments toward this question. What happened before God created the world is critical. And it is for that reason that the Scriptures are not silent on the matter.

As Paul put it: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

What God was doing before creation belongs to the unseen and eternal. And Paul exhorted the Corinthians to fix their eyes on those eternal intangibles.

In that connection, let’s explore what Jesus Christ was doing before the foundation of the world. You will be pleased to discover that it has a great deal of application for your life today . . .

This is an excerpt from, Jesus: A Theography, Chapter 1, which releases today – October 2, 2012. The endnotes, which are quite detailed, are not included in this excerpt. Jesus: A Theography tells the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation, beginning in eternity when “in the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1).




  1. says

    I am an attorney, computer scientist, and pastor. I graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School, and I am not catholc. I study with my wife, theology, some summers at Notre Dame, and my favorite writer is CS-Lewis, and thinker Einstein, and my late grandmother.All this being said, you can see that I am a mixture of diverse realities and paradigms. However this morning as I began to prepare for my online pastoral message, I give each week, I thought about all things prior to the foundation of the world. I have been teaching about this for two weeks,and have turned to give a course on it to my fellow believers and non. I am very grateful and excited about the book. I only regret that I cannot read it all this NOW. For example like in the matrix. A well, I will read it this day, for sure. If there is enough…TIME! THANK YOU.

  2. says

    Got the book and I really look forward to reading it. You have always done an outstanding job pointing us to Christ and I am sure this work will not disappoint. Your ministry is an aid to the body of Christ as is many others.

  3. Teague says

    I’m glad you guys write about Jesus before creation (Haven’t read the book yet. Waiting for the Kindle version). It’s an awesome yet understudied sphere of knowing Jesus. Everything now is rooted in Him, before anything was even created. Knowing God as He is, in & of Himself, gives us a needed “back-story,” needed roots, needed foundation for understanding life on earth & life as the church.

  4. William Huget says

    I would not be quick to assume tradition is truth. The Augustinian, Platonic view of eternity as timeless simultaneity (eternal now) is not biblical nor coherent. There are alternate views that we must consider. The Hebraic view is that eternity is endless time (duration, sequence, succession). Einstein was wrong to blur distinctions between past, present, future, or to assume that time is a dimension, space, created. The issue is more philosophical than physical. [links removed by blog manager – see rules http://frankviola.org/rules ]

    • says

      One can easily say in response that the view of Newton and Ocsar Cullmann (which you’re advocating) is unscriptural and incoherent. 😉 Nevertheless, let me repeat what I wrote in another comment: EVEN IF you hold to Cullmann’s view of time, no worries. The chapter deals with what the Scriptures say occurred “before the foundation of the world” and “before the world began,” what it tells us about Christ, and its effect on Christians today. This is something that gets very little airplay today, regardless of whether you agree with C.S. Lewis (as Len and I do) or with Cullmann.

      Even so, you’ll enjoy the notes on that front. Oh, and Einstein’s view that time is tied to matter has never been refuted. So saying he was “wrong” is an opinion. 😉 Remember, this is a theography of Jesus that begins in eternity (“past”) and stretches to His second coming. Chapter 1 is but one chapter in the mix. Finally, if you’ve ever read my books on ecclesiology, you know that I do not assume tradition to be truth. See http://www.paganchristianity.org

  5. Thomas Loy Bumgarner says

    Frank, God exists in eternity, outside linear, chronological time known as Kairos, where past, present, and future co-exist together, that is the creation, Jesus time on Earth, and the telos/End times are all occuring at the same time as though frozen yet moving. A different perspective but proably similar to what you have written. Proably you have answered why the angels were not considered to be family.

    • says

      Kairos is explained in the chapter. We take the view of C.S. Lewis, T. Austin-Sparks, Augustine, Aquinas, et. al rather than that of Newton and Cullmann. God is both outside of and in time. His “now” is our yesterday, today and tomorrow.

      We expound the meaning of Jesus being Alpha and Omega with respect to time. But more importantly, whatever one’s view of time is, the Scriptures gives us a lot of information on what the Eternal Son was doing “before the foundation of the world.” And that’s what we uncover Scripturally in the chapter. And this theme has rich practical application for us today.

  6. says

    We just got this in the mail yesterday. I can’t wait to dig into it. I’ve been hoping for a work like this for a long time, ever since I realized all scripture points to Christ and decided I wanted to know how. :)

  7. says

    Well, now I need to get some extra cash, because I MUST read this book. Thank you for always challenging the beliefs I have and making me dig deeper to understand why I believe, and what is Truth. You are a true blessing.

  8. Karen L. says


    A little over 2 weeks before this book came out (& I totally didn’t know you we’re writing this) I was receiving a deeper revelation on spending time with Lord. One of the thoughts that came to my heart about how I could personally spend time with Him was to get to know Him somehow. My “somehow” was going to the Gospels & create a timeline of Christ’s Life(I actually titled it “The Life of Christ from beginning to end”). The timeline started with His genealogy, His birth, Him growing up & preparing for His Ministry, His Baptism, etc & later on was going to go even more deeper(somehow) after getting to Him from just the Gospels …this was going to be the start of me getting to know Him personally like you would when you first start a relationship with someone, you want to get to know them and you do that by getting to know some of their past.

    And then, this came out!! So first off, thank you two for doing all of the other work for me LOL!! Cause doing the timeline in just the Gospels was sooo dern tedious for me lol(it was worth it though =D )…

    Secondly, thank you also for opening our eyes to getting to know the Person of Christ and His Life in such a more deeper way LITERALLY from beginning to end!!

    I ordered a copy as soon as it came out 😉

  9. Robyn G says

    Can’t wait to read the new book…and thank you for creating an atmosphere that welcomes questioning minds. Unlike Luther and Calvin…I believe GOD loves our questions…HE asks us to seek Him, to “try” Him, and though Jesus might have sometimes answered questioners with a question, or given an answer that challenged, I don’t recall Him dodging or skirting questions of seekers…though at times cleverly turned the tables on those who were not at all in sincere pursuit of TRUTH :)

  10. kenneth dawson says

    Yes Frank i got the book in the mail last week–i am enjoying reading it–your thinking reminds me of Fromke–he always insisted that our thinking needs to go back to before creation and not just start at creation

    • says

      Fromke was highly influenced by T. Austin-Sparks. I quote Sparks in that chapter, I believe, along with C.S. Lewis who explained this better than most. It’s all in the chapter.

  11. says

    While I appreciate Einstein and the credibility he brings to your point, I think it’s fair to say that the Bible nowhere says or affirms that time cannot exist without mass or matter. It is also fair to say that a great many thinking Christians (including Greg Boyd who has provided endorsement for your writings in the past) conceive of time as sequence not tied to mass or space. Does God have a before or after? When it was just the Father the Son and Holy Spirit before creation, was there ever a time that one of them said something to the other? Or communicated something? If so, how did they respond? What happened before that? after that? when did God have the idea for creating? What happened before that? after that? If sequence (time) existed with God before creation, then it seems to make God closer to us in a relational way…in my humble opinion…and it fills out a picture of the glory and preeminence of Christ.

    • says

      Ah Mr. Wesley. You are asking questions that are answered in detail in the endnotes. They include a discussion on the debate between Augustine and Newton, Oscar Cullmann and C.S. Lewis. The scholarship of William Lane Craig, Geisler, and others are cited on these issues. Given your interest, I suggest you get the book and go through the whole chapter. This is merely an introduction to it without the endnotes, the latter serving scholars, academicians, and curious people like yourself who Calvin and Luther referred to. Lol. 😉

      • says

        Wow! I’m honored that you would respond to my comment. I will certainly get the book and go through the endnotes. But I am far from an academic…just a humble mime artist from Tulsa, OK. I love your stuff. You’ve really messed me up (in a good way). I loved your interview with NT Wright…the dude is just too cool for his own theology. And, Pagan Christianity…paradigm shifting…Blessings.

  12. Greg says

    Mind = blown. Got the book in the mail. Time to crack it open. Thank you for writing this. It was just what I needed to read today. I can get so focused on temporal problems in the here and now and forget the bigger picture. I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  13. Sally Roach says

    Jesus: A Theography, arrived in my mailbox yesterday afternoon! My husband and I are excited to begin reading and learning.

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