What does the Bible say about the pre-existence of souls?
Question: "What does the Bible say about the pre-existence of souls?"
Answer: The Bible says nothing about the pre-existence of souls because this is a man-made idea with no basis in truth. The Bible makes it clear that every human being is a unique creation of God (Genesis 2:7; Zechariah 12:1; Jeremiah 1:5). Each unique human soul begins at conception (Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 44:24) and will continue forever because we are created as eternal beings (Genesis 9:6; Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 102:27; Matthew 25:46).
The concept of pre-existence cannot be followed to its logical conclusion. Pre-existence means one of three things: (1) the soul has always existed, (2) the soul was created at a previous time and waited, incorporeal, until it could inhabit a body on earth, or (3) the soul inhabited another body in the past and transmigrated to its current body. If (1) is true and souls have always existed, then human beings are also part of God, uncreated and self-determined. This concept is clearly contrary to the Bible’s claims that there is no other God but Yahweh (Genesis 5:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 4:12; Malachi 2:10; 1 Corinthians 8:5–6). If (2) is true and a soul waited in a heavenly nursery prior to earthly birth, then Genesis 2:7 is wrong: “The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The words “man became” indicate a definite beginning in which Adam’s soul and body came to life at the same time. If (3) is true, and a soul inhabited another body in a bygone era, then at what point was the soul created and for what purpose? The Bible is clear that each person will answer for his or her own life (Revelation 20:13; Romans 2:6; Jeremiah 32:19). When the previous body died, where did the soul go? Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” This applies to everyone.
The Bible refers to death as a time when a person was “gathered to his people” (Deuteronomy 32:50; Numbers 20:24). This indicates that, at death, a person’s soul leaves his body and joins those who have gone before him. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), the soul of Lazarus departed to the “bosom of Abraham” (verse 22). The soul of the rich man was in torment (verse 23). Neither of those souls re-inhabited another body, nor is there any indication that their souls had pre-existed. They each received the consequences of their life’s choices (verse 25). At the resurrection, we will be reunited with our original bodies in glorified form (1 Corinthians 15:42; Philippians 3:21). If pre-existence in another body were possible, which body would the soul inhabit?
Jesus is the only baby born into this world who existed before His birth (John 1:1; 17:5; Colossians 1:17). When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he declared, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’” (John 1:30). John was conceived six months before Jesus (Luke 1:26), yet he indicated that Jesus existed before he did. If John had pre-existed, he could not have made that claim. Jesus, as God, existed as one with the Father since the beginning. He told the Jewish authorities, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:57–58). His human birth was a unique event never replicated on any level. God did know our names before we were created, because He is omniscient and dwells outside of time (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8). But we are each individuals; we are unique souls placed in unique bodies, and we will all stand before God to give an account of the unique earthly lives we were given (Romans 14:10; Revelation 22:12).
Recommended Resource: Created in God's Image by Anthony Hoekema
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