Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I recently spoke with a friend of mine and he was wondering if we are alive before conception. We know that there is life after death according to the Bible, but what does the Bible say about "life" before birth?

All I could dig up was this:

Jeremiah 1:4-5 (ESV)
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

And this:

Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV1984)
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
   were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

Any insight?

Edit: It is clear that we do not have physical being before birth but is there something in the Bible that might prove or disprove the existence of our souls before conception?

share|improve this question
3  
It would be good to specify the doctrinal position you are wanting an answer to use, since some traditions have views that differ greatly on this. The LDS specifically believes in preexistence of souls. –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 12:28
    
I am aware of the LDS teaching, but I am strictly curious about what the Bible says. I think that most of thr LDS doctrine comes from the book of mormon. –  Chris B Mar 23 '12 at 12:38
1  
Probably more of their teaching regarding this comes from the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrines and Covenants. The Book of Mormon, from what I've read, doesn't seem to really touch on this that much. Perhaps I've missed it in there, though. –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 12:43
1  
It is in the Book of Mormon. However I want to ask why no one is taking the Jeremiah scripture as doctrian its pretty obvious here that God knew Jeremiah before he was born and that he was ordained to be a prophet before his physical body was ever formed in the belly. So..... –  ryan Mar 23 '12 at 19:51
1  
Well, ryanOptini, God knows everything, so of course He would know Jeremiah...and you...and me... I don't think that necessarily answers the question of whether Jeremiah had a soul that existed before his conception. God has pre-ordained everything. Again, this is something that God in His almighty providence is capable of doing. It really doesn't require things to have pre-existed. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 4 '13 at 21:13
add comment

migrated from hermeneutics.stackexchange.com Mar 23 '12 at 12:19

This question came from our site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts.

8 Answers

While I think the verses you brought up are enough to make the point, here are some additional verses:

Job 31:15

Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

Isaiah 44:2

Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee

share|improve this answer
1  
Thanks for the additional verses. It is clear that we do not have physical being before birth but is there something in the Bible that might prove or disprove the existence of our souls before conception? –  Chris B Mar 22 '12 at 6:03
add comment

The Bible doesn't explicitly say whether or not we exist prior to conception. The Psalm 139 passage you referenced indicates that God knew us before we were born and saw our unformed body. However, this is not a definitive statement that we existed prior to birth. Contextually, it seems much more probably to be referring to the omniscience of God (from whom I cannot hide, and who is with me wherever I go...)

It could be instructive to ask what would need to be in the Scriptures to give sufficient evidence for the belief in pre-conception existence. If there were a verse that indicated God spoke to us or heard our prayers prior to conception or indicated we had made a decision prior to conception--those would be quite significant. No such verses exists, though.

In Psalm 51, David asserts that "I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me"--but not before is mother conceived him. This is quite a significant distinction.

Finally, if it were true that we existed prior to conception, we must wonder why nothing in the Bible explicitly or definitively states this. On the contrary, we are given reasons to disbelieve this doctrine, but not conclusive reasons to believe it. For a doctrine or idea that is characterized by such evidence it seems prudent to retain skepticism regarding it.

share|improve this answer
    
No such verses exist? Have a look at Matt's answer. Some of them are ambiguous, but others are pretty clear, particularly the first one, which posits not only the existence of premortal souls, but their ability to make moral choices. –  Mason Wheeler Mar 23 '12 at 13:16
2  
@MasonWheeler As stated, such verses are anything but definitive and speak more to God's omniscience that man's preexistence. The disciples believed improperly that the man could sin prior to being born--and Jesus corrected that. The Father loved the Son prior to the existence of the world because the Son of God is co-eternal with the Father (in many Christian faiths) as part of the Trinity. 1 Peter indicates Jesus was ordained before creation--again because Jesus is eternal. Eph. speaks of God's foreknowledge. Job and Rev. speak of angels--not people. Titus is God's promise. Jude=angels –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 13:23
1  
"why nothing in the Bible explicitly or definitively states this" -- the Bible doesn't explicitly or definitively state a lot of things. As is well-known, it even appears to some to contradict itself on central doctrinal issues about Christ and salvation. Either some liberties must be taken (and given, I might add) in its interpretation or further authoritative sources must be considered. –  Matt Mar 23 '12 at 14:43
    
@Matt Yes, some things are not explicit. However, the order of physical birth into an earthly family preceding birth into the family of God is not obscure at all. –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 14:45
2  
@Matt The new birth is unique to the New Testament. I don't immediately recall anywhere in which Israel is called God's family--only God's people. Gentiles who became Jews were typically circumcised rather than being baptized. –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 15:01
show 4 more comments

The soul of the body, or the spirit, did exist before conception, yes, but we did not have physical being then.

Jesus' disciples knew that the soul existed before physical conception. Evident here:

John 9:1-2

1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

How could the disciples thought he might have sinned or transgressed before birth, if he did not exist, or they did not think he existed before birth?

Often, references are made to events and relationships that existed before the foundation of the world:

John 17:24

24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

1 Peter 1:18-20

18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;

19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you ...

Paul also speaks repeatedly of a notion of foreordination, or being known and foreordained before the world ever was, for instance:

Ephesians 1:3-4

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

Job references an occasion where all the sons of God shouted for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid.

Job 37:4,7

4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding...

7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

John the Revelator, in the Book of Revelation, saw in vision a recount of a war in heaven before Adam and Eve were placed on the earth.

Revelation 12:7-9

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Titus 1:2

2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

Jude also references an organized spiritual state before this physical life.

Jude 1:6

6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

(According to some Christian churches, this is thus our second estate, having kept our first by not following Lucifer in the war in heaven before this life.)

Just note that I do not know of many Christian faiths that actually believe or can explain the doctrine of pre-mortal existence. It is largely unrevealed to us and the Bible alone is not definitive in the description of that state. It evidently did happen, however, and I have cited only a few passages here which support that. Edit: Let me re-emphasize the general vagueness of these passages; but I would rather be comprehensive than not.

share|improve this answer
5  
+1. Some of these are a bit of a stretch, but the John 9 passage is particularly convincing, especially if you include the next verse. Jesus never had any problems with correcting people's misconceptions, but he does not do that here, which validates the concept. –  Mason Wheeler Mar 23 '12 at 13:14
3  
I don't understand the passages that reference Jesus, whom most Christians believe is co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit as a member of the Trinity--John 17, 1 Peter 1. This only indicates that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is the eternal Son of God--not that mankind is. –  Narnian Mar 23 '12 at 13:27
1  
Romans 8:16-17 states that we are the children of God, and Acts restates it by saying we are His offspring and heirs, joint-heirs with Christ. If mortal conception were the origin of man, we would be the offspring of man only and not God, contradicting Paul's and Silas' teachings. Apparently by these verses, God has spirit children first who later come to earth by way of mortal conception. Thus, it seems reasonable that we lived with God and Jesus before this life. –  Matt Mar 23 '12 at 14:29
2  
This is absolutely not mainstream Christian belief. –  DJClayworth Mar 23 '12 at 17:47
2  
References to angels existing before we were born is not proof that we existed before we were born. –  DJClayworth Mar 23 '12 at 17:52
show 11 more comments

Just wanted to chime in with the obvious about this scripture.

Jeremiah 1:5 ) Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

That seems pretty clear to me. God knew Jeremiah before he was born. While you might say that this knowledge referes to the fact that God knows everything. There are actions involved not just knowledge. Jeremiah was sanctified and ordained and you could maybe stretch(and it would be a stretch) and say that you can sanctify knowledge but to ordain something that something has to exist. So Jeremiah existed before he was formed in the belly and while he existed he was ordained to be a prophet unto the nations.

share|improve this answer
    
I should have said that. –  Matt Mar 24 '12 at 1:30
    
@Matt haha, its ok. I was wondering why no one was like look... he answered his own question. –  ryan Mar 24 '12 at 1:53
add comment

I see this post is a bit old, but I came across it while preparing for a discussion on the pre-existence with the 12-18 year old young men in our LDS congregation. Since the very first reply above raises the LDS doctrine, I thought I would round out the post by noting a few points about that doctrine.

  1. We are all God's children, and he created us spiritually before we came to this earth.
  2. We lived in heaven with God our Father for quite some time, learning line upon line, precept upon precept.
  3. The Father presented His plan to send us to earth into mortality to provide us the experience necessary to continue to grow. The plan is known as the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness.
  4. This plan included the Atonement of Jesus Christ, without which, we would be unable to return to God's presence.
  5. One of the signature characteristics of the children of God is their Agency, or their freedom to choose, which was bestowed upon us by God at the time of our spiritual creation. God permitted us to choose whether we would follow Christ, the leader of His plan, or Satan, who had presented a competing, though ultimately nihilistic, plan. Every soul who enters mortality chose in the pre-existence to follow Christ and accept the Father's plan.
  6. A veil of forgetfulness was placed over our minds, to give emphasis to the faith that is necessary to grow according to the Father's plan for us. Yet the Father, whose entire purpose is to help us return to Him, gives us the Holy Spirit who whispers to us from time to time that we might, through trial and experience, through faith in Christ, return again, much improved, to our Father's presence.

This true doctrine gives depth and meaning to all of the Bible versus cited above.

To learn more:

To properly answer the question, I would like to add the following scripture, that I believe supports the idea of pre-existence:

John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the son of man which is in Heaven.

share|improve this answer
2  
Welcome to the site! This is an excellent first answer. The only edit I'd suggest us to take the "true" out of This true doctrine"... Not because I disagree or agree with the truthfulness, but because establishing Truth is outside the scope of this site. See the FAQ and then these posts, which clarify things a bit further. meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq –  David Stratton Feb 4 '13 at 12:55
2  
Welcome to the site. I disagree with David. This is a great answer to the question, "What do LDS believe about life before conception?" However, that is not the question. The question is, "What does the Bible say about life before conception?" You cite no references from the Bible at all, so your response does not answer the question at all. –  Narnian Feb 4 '13 at 13:06
    
I'm up-voting the answer and both comments. This answer is detailed and partially answers the question at hand, in a very specific way. But I also recommend adding some Biblical references to come slightly more on-topic with the question being asked. Welcome, by the way. –  Matt Feb 5 '13 at 0:56
add comment

In addition to the cryptic references that you mentioned in Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:15-16, there is a clear reference in the apocryphal book Book of Wisdom 8:19-20:

As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body (NRSVCE).

The author of this book was almost certainly heavily influenced by Middle-Platonism. Sometimes understanding the history of an idea sheds more light on it than trying to determine what biblical justification they used after the fact - especially since Plato predates the writings of the New Testament and potentially some apocryphal works such as the Book of Wisdom.

This is a doctrine taught by Plato long before Christianity existed called the "preexistence of souls." According to Josephus, the Essenes affirmed the preexistence of souls. Origen and a couple other early Church Fathers believed this and held the doctrine to be a necessary complement of the doctrine of the immortality of souls.

Implicit in this worldview is the Gnostic idea that spirit is superior to matter. Thus the soul preexisted and is only temporarily imprisoned in the body. In contrast, the Christian Church has always affirmed that we are not inherently eternal creatures, we only exist by the grace of God. To ascribe an eternal nature to humans (apart from God's grace) would be to confuse the creation with the Creator, and thus to deify man. This is why these notions were officially condemned as heretical Christian teachings at the Synod of Constantinople in 543. The consensus of the early church as evidenced by the Apostle's Creed is that the Christian hope is the resurrection of the body, not the inherent immortality of souls.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I don't want to seem as if I am addressing a different subject, but to clarify let me list a couple of verses. Heb 12:9 suggests we should be in subjection to the Father of our spirits (That is why we pray to the Father) Zech 1:12 says the Lord formeth the spirit of man within him. James 2:26 says the body without the spirit is dead. With that information let us look no further than Genesis to address the prior life of God's children. In Gen 1:26-27 God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...So God did...vs. 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them; male and female created He them.

This account of the creation is the account of a spiritual creation!! Otherwise why the explanation of creating male AND female. See Gen 2:1 which says The Heavens and the earth were finished, and all the HOST of them. Host refers to people (Isa.45:12).

Please read on because in Gen 2:6-7 There went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Now we can make use of the definitions we started with that explain God is the Father of our spirits; There is a spirit within man's physical body; and the body without the spirit is dead. Knowing this please follow Gen 2:7 where 1)God forms Adam's physical body from the dust of the ground 2)God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life OR SPIRIT (explanation to follow) 3)Only after both spirit and body are together does God proclaim man as a living soul. Explanation of 2) the breath of life or Hebrew Ruach can be and is translated in the Bible as breath, wind OR SPIRIT. The best translation for this is spirit. In John 3:6-8 Jesus refers to being born of the spirit. I won't include it here as I am getting too long but please read it.

I see no other explanation of the recounting of two different versions of the creation in Genesis than they are two different creations. Ephesians does say we were chosen before the foundation of the world or BEFORE THE WORLD WAS. Peter says God forknew us NOT as an idea but he KNEW us. The Bible is like a deep mine so if you do not find it's truths on the surface God wants us to keep digging or else it would suffice to just read it once and be done.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to the site! I don't disagree at all with what you're saying, but... (and I know this is going to not make sense at first) but this is more of a Truthy answer than what's generally looked for. (told you it wouldn't make sense.) When you get a chance, I recommend checking out the FAQ and then these posts, which clarify things a bit further. meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq –  David Stratton Feb 7 '13 at 1:29
1  
This is just one interpretation, that happens to differ significantly from faiths other than LDS. –  Narnian Feb 7 '13 at 14:34
add comment

God is timeless we are not ,this is referring to God being all knowing not limited by anything including time. We only know things of that have beginnings and endings (time limits) God is eternal and is not so limited. There are no verses that teach about recaination in the Bible. That is mans opinion only and cannot be found on true exegete of any of the above mention verses Sorry for typos as I am on a mobile

share|improve this answer
1  
Welcome to the site! I agree with what you say completely, and look forward to more good answers from you. If you get a chance, I'd recommend reading the FAQ and this post: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/692/… One thing we try to avoid are personal opinion answers, because we end up with a mess of subjective, conflicting answers. Perhaps you could improve this one by adding doctrinal, Scriptural, or other support to show what your answer is based on. –  David Stratton Feb 9 '13 at 15:32
add comment

protected by David Stratton Feb 9 '13 at 15:29

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.