Is Human Pre-Existence Biblical?
Q. Do not John 8:23, Rom. 9:11, I Cor. 15:46, Ezek. 12:1 contradict
the New Covenant doctrine on human pre-existence?
Before we examine these scriptures let us not forget the scriptures that we have cited elsewhere which demonstrate a human pre-existence. In the final analysis we must harmonise all scriptures that relate to this topic. However, for the sake of argument, let us be neutral and look at the passages you cite for themselves, remembering as we do the context in which they were given.
John 8:23 “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world” (NIV). The interpretation you are making is that we are from “earth” by origin and Christ is from “Heaven”.
There are two things we must remember in considering this passage: (1) The people whom Jesus is addressing are “the Jews” (v.22) which, as the rest of the Gospel meakes clear, is not “every Jew” but (a) the ruling authorities of Pharisees, Saducees and Scribes (Torah-Teachers) who were blind to His mission, and (b) Those not of the ruling classes who persecuted Him.; (2) John’s Gospel is essentially a mystical Gospel written (many believe) to counter the occultism of Gnosticism by revealing the deeper esoteric mysteries of the Christian faith. It is highly symbolic in places and filled with multi-layered meanings.
One evangelical commentator, who provided the commentary for one of my New International Version Bibles, writes of this verse: “Things other than death divide people (cf. e.g. v.47; 3:31; 15:19; 1 Jn.3:10). of here denotes origin. Jesus was certainly in the world, but He was not of the world. They belonged to “this world” -- Satan’s domain (1 Jn.5:19)” (The NIV Study Bible, 1987).
It is well known that the Johannine use of the tern “world” refers not to the planet earth but to a spiritual condition. In other words, those who are “of the world” are not those who have a spiritual/physical origin here but those who belong to its fallen system of being. This passage is not talking to all human beings -- if it were, we would all be condemned. No, it is talking to those who reject Christ -- those who are not only in the world but also those (unlike Christians) who are of the world. There is nothing in this passage, therefore, that would contradict a doctrine of human pre-existence.
Romans 9:11 “Yet before the twins [Jacob and Esau] were born or had done anything good or bad -- in order that God’s purpose in election might stand...” (NIV).
I do not see what this passage has to do with either pre-existence or a lack of it though I understand why you have picked on it. That God’s choice of Jacob was based on sovereign freedom, not on the fulfilment of any prior conditions, is true. Divine election is a constant theme in Paul’s letters (Rom.8:29-33; 9:6-26; 11:5,7,28; 16:13; Col.3:12; 1 Thes.1:4; 2 Thes.2:13; Tit.1:1) -- according to the apostle God chose us while on the earth and “predestined” us “before the creation of the world” (Eph.1:4, NIV). There are only two ways to interpret this: (a) We existed merely in God’s “thoughts”, or (b) We were already created in some non-physical (spiritual) pre-existing form.
To maintain that we were predestined as “thoughts” or “intentions” in the mind of God raises some very interesting (and complicated) theological questions about free agency. It is our belief that maintaining this view leads ultimately to Calvinism which in an unbiblical theology. This is a very large topic and beyond the scope of this short essay. However, I think it is important to summarise some of the most important doctrines of Calvinism because they are ultimately tied up with the question of human origins.
Calvinism is a system of false doctrine that is taught in most evangelical denominations. There are 5 major points of Calvinism. These 5 points are known by the acronym: T.U.L.I.P. None of the 5 points are taught in the Bible.
Because this is a large subject we will treat it at another time in this magazine.
1. Total hereditary depravity: babies inherit the sin of Adam and are totally depraved and therefore unable to respond to the gospel message of Christ.
2. Unconditional election (or predestination): God had a master list of those who will be saved and those who will go to hell before creation in Gen 1:1. The list is unchangeable.
3. Limited atonement: Christ did not die for all men but only those on the "saved list"
4. Irresistible grace: God sends the Holy Spirit only to those on the saved list which removes their depraved nature inherited from Adam and creates within them a saving faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit thereafter guides them directly to understand and correctly interpret the Bible.
5. Perseverance of the saints: A child of God once saved, cannot be lost.
1 Corinthians 15:46 “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that, the spiritual” (NIV).
On the surface this looks like a devastating blow to the doctrine of human pre-existence. But if you look carefully you will again find that Paul is not talking about heavenly origins. He is looking no further back than the Garden of Eden. The context is the resurrection (vv.35-58). This is a discourse on the physical body:
This is a critical passage because it has been abused by occultists and Jehovah’s Witnesses to claim that Christ did not arise physically but “spiritually”, i.e. He never took physical flesh upon Himself again, but is eternally a spirit being. To adopt such a (false) interpretation is to undermine the whole atonement and, ultimately, the Christian faith. The context reveals plainly, however, that what is being discussed is not the spirit (of either Christ or human beings) but the condition of His (and our) resurrected bodies which become “of a spiritual nature”.
“’Spiritual body’ (v.44) does not mean a non-material body but, from the analogies, a physical one organised in a similar way to the present natural body, but radically different in that it will be imperishable, glorious and powerful, fit to live eternally with God. There is continuity, but also change” (NIV Study Bible, Op.cit., p.1723)
This passage cannot therefore be used as a prooftext against human pre-existence because it is not talking about our spirits at all, but our flesh, and how it will become transformed in the resurrection.
Ezekiel 12:1 “The word of Yahweh came to me” (NIV).
I think you must have accidentally picked the wrong reference here!
A final comment. Most evangelical Christians are afraid of the doctrine of human pre-existence because they are afraid to be identified with Mormonism which also teaches it. However, this is no excuse for rejecting the truth. Even the Mormons have some truth. Perhaps a more justified fear is the belief that human pre-existence implies that we are on the same level as Christ, since Mormons teach that Jesus was simply an “elder spiritual brother”. But this fear is unjustified. The fact that Jesus had a spiritual pre-existence does not imply that human beings are just a “little lower” than Christ because the New Testament confirms that Jesus Christ was God from the beginning (John 1:1). We must therefore conclude that when we were pre-existing spirits we lived in the same (though disembodied) relationship to Christ as the second member of the Godhead as we do here on earth. Those who believe that the doctrine of human pre-existence somehow robs Christ of his deity are therefore, I suspect, basing their erroneous conclusions on unwarranted fear rather than the biblical revelation.
The doctrine of human pre-existence explains many of the dimemmas of explaining why certains things are in this mortal sphere (not that this should be the soul ground for accepting it, of course). It explains more clearly the rôle of free will and precludes us from wandering into the dangerous and unbiblical waters of Calvinism.
Finally, we should not reject a doctrinal truth simply because a cult espouses it; many cults accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour but the Plan of Salvation they adhere to is not biblical: should we then reject Jesus Christ? Of course not.
- Register of Articles on Agency
- Free Agency, Actions, Trials & God’s Will (ZNCCW 22:44-50)
- Compulsion, Freedom and Conscience (NCW 36:33-39)
- A Question of Agency (Apostolic Interviews No.2)
- The Pre-Existence of Jeremiah (NCCW 7:49-55)
- No Pre-Existence for Job? (NCCW 17:49-50)
This page was created on 8 April 1998
Last updated on 8 April 1998
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