Scriptures

Did We Exist Before We Were Born?

Introduction

The wonderful part about being a Christian is that we often learn new Bible theories from others around us, some are interesting, and others really take us by surprise.

I recently came across a group of people who claimed that everyone who has ever lived on planet Earth, actually existed and lived in spirit form in heaven with the Father, prior to them being born.

I have to say, this doctrine wasn’t only interesting but very surprising, considering what the Scriptures actually teach on this subject. A favourite go to passage for those who believe that we existed before we were born is found in Jeremiah.

‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ Jeremiah 1:5

God tells Jeremiah that He ‘knew’ him before he was formed in the womb. Does this mean that Jeremiah pre-existed in heaven?

Someone once said to me that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. So, when we come across a passage of Scripture which appears to contradict another teaching of the Bible, we must look elsewhere in the Scriptures in order to harmonise what’s being said.

Is the Bible teaching us that God ‘knew’ Jeremiah in some sort of premortal life prior to coming to earth or is it simply saying that because God had foreknowledge, He can know people prior to their existence?

The later interpretation fits the context as we read in Romans that because of God’s foreknowledge, He ‘calls into being things that were not,’ Romans 4:17.

Because God is omniscience, He knows everyone before their conception and birth. He knows those that are His and those that are not His, He isn’t bound by time. Before Jeremiah was born, He appointed Jeremiah to be His prophet and appointed him to be God’s messenger to the people. Jeremiah is told that God has had His eye on him for a long time, even before he was born, when he was just a thought in the mind of God.

The text is simply saying that Jeremiah’s ordination took place in the mind of God before Jeremiah was born. The apostle Paul had the same call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, Galatians 1:15-16.

Another go to passage for those who believe that we existed before we were born is found in the Psalms.

‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’ Psalm 51:5

Is the Bible teaching us that David ‘sinned’ in some sort of premortal life prior to coming to earth or is it simply saying that he recognises his sinfulness and has no excuse?

This is a Psalm written by David after his sinful behaviour with Bathsheba but notice it deals with the sin of an adult, and shows the repentance of an adult, Psalm 51:10-13.

If you take the time to read the whole Psalm, you’ll see that he isn’t saying he existed before he was born or that he was born a sinner, he’s saying that his mother, conceived him in sin, his mother was sinful, the K.J.V. makes this clearer.

He isn’t saying he existed before he was conceived, he’s saying he was born into a sinful world, sin was everywhere and all around him from birth. Even Jewish historians teach that David was saying that he was born in a sinful environment.

Two more go to passages for those who believe that we existed before we were born are found in Job.

‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.’ Job 38:4

‘While the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy?’ Job 38:7

Those who hold the view that we existed before we were born tell us that,

‘although the Lord didn’t tell Job where he was before the foundations of the earth were laid, the very question implies that Job was in existence somewhere. We can’t help but conclude that we were in existence with Job and Jeremiah and the Lord Jesus Christ before the earth was created.’

Context! Context! Context!

Any reasonable person who knows how to study the Bible will always tell us to keep in mind the context. In the context of this chapter, we read that God is asking him a number of rhetorical questions in which the answers were simply, ‘no!’ In other words, Job wasn’t in existence when these things took place. Read the following passages from this chapter in their context.

‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy? ‘Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb.’ Job 38:4-8

‘When I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? ‘Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?’ Job 38:11-13

When we keep the text in its context, we see that all the answers to all the questions God was asking Job was ‘no!’ Job didn’t know who did these acts of creation, nor did he himself command the morning to take hold of the ends of the earth because Job wasn’t even in existence at the creation of the angels or the earth!

Another go to passage for those who believe we existed in spirit form before we were born is found in Ecclesiastes.

‘And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’ Ecclesiastes 12:7

The people who believe that we existed before we were born love this verse because they say, if our spirits return to God, they must have been with God at some point before. Let’s look at the context of this verse.

‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’—before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

Notice that the references to man ‘going to his eternal home’ and his spirit returning ‘to God who gave it’ aren’t used to describe some kind of glorious return to heaven. They are part of a chain of references to death, mourning, terror, decay, breaking, shattering, dimming, and the like. These are deep, dark words about tragedy, loss, and death.

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher.’

This is all about despair, not happiness about our future in heaven, Solomon is using synonyms for death. The passage is speaking about the meaning of this earthly life and the question of how we should live it in light of our fragile mortality. To have our spirit return to God means to die.

Another go to passage for those who believe we existed in spirit form before we were born is found in John’s Gospel.

‘His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ John 9:2

Were the disciples of Jesus asking whether this blind man sinned in some type of spirit world? Or were they referring to the concept of blaming their parents for their own sin?

The Jews considered that any problem anyone had was a result of sin. A commonly held idea at the time was that physical impairments are the result of sin. If a child was born with a physical disability, the parents would normally be blamed, Ezekiel 18:20.

It was sometimes considered that the child sinned in the womb before birth and so carried the disability for life, but this argument is weak to say at least.

The entire idea of physical problems being the result of our sin before we are born is in no way supported by Christian literature. The Bible clearly teaches of a reckoning after life, not during. This would also have a problem when faced with the fact that all eventually die.

The reaction of Job’s ‘friends’ demonstrated the false thinking and many today think in the same way, perhaps subconsciously, when they say, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’

Sometimes people suffer the consequences of their parent’s sin e.g. children born with drug addiction or aids; they don’t inherit the sin but the consequences. It would appear as if no restitution can be made for sin, and as sin piles up on the shoulders of the old, the load becomes too great, sickness results and death ensues. Obviously, this is not the truth.

Jesus denies that the man’s blindness is due to sin and He doesn’t put the tradition to the test here but removes the idea that the blindness was a result of sin.

Jesus’ Existence Before He Was Born

‘And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ John 17:5

Now there’s no arguing with the text above that Jesus existed in heaven with the Father before He was born, Hebrews 7:3, but you won’t find anywhere in the Scriptures that teach that any other human being existed in heaven with the Father before they were born.

A little earlier in John’s Gospel we find Jesus arguing with the Pharisees in which He tells them something interesting, something which concerns our subject of existing in spirit form, in heaven, before we were born.

We Didn’t Exist Before We Were Born

‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.’ John 8:23

Notice that Jesus says, that we are ‘not’ from above, but He is from above. He makes a distinction between His preexistence ‘from above’, that is heaven, and their origin ‘from below’, that is this world.

The apostle Paul is in total agreement with Jesus, he clearly says that ‘the natural body comes first, then the spiritual’.

‘The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.’ 1 Corinthians 15:46-47

Notice also that Paul is in agreement with Christ, he supports the statement of Jesus being the only person from heaven when he says that the ‘first man’, Adam is of the earth, whereas the ‘second man’, Jesus, is the Lord from heaven.

Jesus also tells us that no man has ever seen God, nor heard His voice, nor seen His face like He has.

‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’ John 1:18

‘And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form.’ John 5:37

Think about Jesus’ words for a second, if we all existed in spirit form, in heaven with the Father before we were born, then Jesus wouldn’t be able to say what He just said in those two passages. Jesus wouldn’t be able to say that no one has seen the Father’s face or heard His voice, if we existed in spirit form before we were born. That just wouldn’t make any sense!

When Were We Given Our Spirit?

The apostle Paul gives us complete description of the nature of man in Thessalonians.

‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Here, the apostle clearly reveals that humans are triune beings, consisting of ‘spirit and soul and body’. And even though this is the only verse in the Bible in which the three-fold nature of man is mentioned, these three elements, body, soul and spirit, are referred to in different combinations in other places, in both the Old and the New Testaments, Ecclesiastes 12:7 / Matthew 10:28 / Hebrews 4:12 / Romans 8:16 / 1 Corinthians 5:4 / Hebrews 12:13.

‘The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ Genesis 2:7

We see here that God formed or fashioned or moulded, man’s body out of the ground, and we read, that God, ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man, became a living being’.

We need to remember is that we’re not to suppose that man was a ‘dead soul’, until God breathed into him ‘the breath of lives.’ The word ‘life’ is plural in the Hebrew text. In other words, there was nothing before; it was the entrance of ‘the breath of lives’ which actually constituted him ‘Man’.

Notice that the word ‘became’ is categorical. We should read the verse in this way; ‘God ‘breathed’ into his nostrils the breath of lives, and Man came into being, a living soul’. That phrase, ‘a living soul’, is adjectival and describes and defines man ‘after’ God breathed life into the form which He had shaped, Zechariah 12:1.

Our Soul Is Self-Conscious

The ‘soul’ is our unique self, it’s the part of our being which, because it’s rational and moral, determines the actions performed by our body, and which, therefore, renders us personally accountable for what we do.

And so, it is our ‘soul’ which will ultimately be either saved or lost, depending on our response to the offer of the salvation which was made first possible by the coming of the Christ into the world.

Our Body Is Earth-Conscious

So now let’s look at the body, as someone once said to me ‘The Body is of the earth and for the earth’. We might describe the body as ‘Earth-conscious’, since it is the physical tool or instrument, by means of which a person’s ‘soul’ or ‘self’ by its very nature is invisible is able to function in a physical world.

This is one reason why Jesus needed a physical body, John 1:1-2 / Philippians 2:6-8 / Hebrews 10:5.

Our Spirit Is God-Conscious

If we consider the body to be ‘Earth-conscious’, and the soul to be ‘Self-conscious’, we may think of the spirit as being ‘God-conscious’.

‘But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding’. Job 32:8

In other words, our spirit is part of our nature which enables us to reach out to and communicate with God. It’s the spiritual dimension in our character.

The spirit isn’t something we are, it’s something we need to retain in order to stay alive, because we have no power in ourselves to do that. We are utterly dependent on God every moment, every breath we take is literally a breath borrowed from Him. The breath of God is life and death, Psalm 146:3-4 / Psalm 104:27-30.

Conclusion

It’s always good to study with others who have different beliefs from our own, but we must do so carefully, otherwise we’ll end up being led astray, Ephesians 4:11-14.

The theory that we existed in spirit form, in heaven with the Father before we were born may well be interesting or even surprising to most of us, but it clearly doesn’t harmonise with the Scriptures as a whole.

‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one, we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!’ Galatians 1:8-9

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.’"

Acts 18:9

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