An Examination of the Bible Teaching on Pre-Existence
Compared with the Teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses,
Seventh Day Adventists & the Worldwide Church of God
Three Theories Compared
Did we have an existence before we were conceived in the wombs of our
mothers? Most Christian churches and organisations affirm that Christ,
as the Eternal Word, had a pre-existence but would deny that man had any
such pre-earth life. Most would maintain that the spirit of man was
created at the same time as the physical body of man and that our
spirits are no older than our bodies.
A second group of people maintains that we have lived many times before
here on the earth and that we are progressively learning to become more
perfect through a series of reincarnations. This doctrine, however, is
not a Biblical one and must be rejected.
A third group of people maintains that whilst we have never been born
onto this earth more than once we did indeed have a spiritual existence
before we were conceived in our mother's wombs and that we, like Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ),
experience a physical incarnation from a previous life. This group
maintains that we were the same person in this pre-earth life as we are
today and that we will not be incarnated again. Like the first group,
though, they maintain that they will be resurrected on the earth again.
Jehovah's Witnesses, like most other Christian churches, maintain the
first position, though for different reasons. Whereas ordinary Christian
churches maintain no doctrine of pre-existence because they are not
convinced that the Bible teaches any such doctrine, the Jehovah's
Witnesses have an added reason for rejecting the doctrine of
pre-existence, viz. because they do not believe the spirit of man has
any independent, personal existence or consciousness. But what does the
Bible actually teach on this matter? It is here we must turn to the
Prophet Jeremiah who received an oracle from Yahweh telling him that he had
an independent, conscious existence before he was conceived by his
Jeremiah: His Pre-Existence
The authorised (King James) Version of the Bible reads:
Both the Hebrew and Greek Septuagint confirm the accuracy of this
translation. Moreover, every other English translation but one agrees
with this rendering. A sample is given below:
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 (Jer.1:5).
This passage has troubled Christian exegetes for centuries not because
the text is obscure but because it does not fit pre-conceived orthodox doctrine.
Like most apologists who want to fit a scripture into dogma, even
obscurer interpretations have been offered. The one generally adhered to
is that Jeremiah was known only in God's "mind" before he was conceived.
But to "know" somebody means to have a subject-object relationship,
which means that "somebody" has to have a concrete, independent
existence. If the traditionally accepted interpretation were right,
Jeremiah would not have used the word "know" (Heb. yada) but something
like chashab which means to "devise" or "conceive in the mind"
- Before I formed you in the womb I knew you... (RSV)
- Before I fashioned you in the womb I knew you...(Berkley)
- Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee...(Douay)
- Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...(Jerusalem)
- Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you...(Moffat)
- Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you for my own...(New English Bible)
- Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...(Smith & Goodspeed)
- I claimed thee for my own before I ever fashioned thee in thy mother's womb...(Knox)
- Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee...(J.N.Darby)
- Before I formed you in the womb I knew and approved of you (as my chosen instrument)...(Amplified Bible)
- Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee...(Newberry)
- Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...(New International Version)
- I knew you before you were formed in your mother's womb...(Living Bible)
A Jehovah's Witness Perversion
Whatever the traditional Christian exegesis of this passage, no-one has ever deliberately sought to obscure the text by rendering a translation
more in harmony with their interpretation...none, that is, except the
Jehovah's Witnesses whose New World Translation (NWT) has done just
Now to have changed the text to "WHILE I formed you..." would have been
too obvious a perversion of the original Hebrew which uses be-terem for
"before" and not od ("while" -- see, for example, Gen.29:9 & 2
Sam.3:35); thus an intermediary sense was chosen by the Watchtower
"translators" (none were actually Greek or Hebrew scholars), "before I
was forming you", though the sense is supposed to be "while I was
forming you", i.e. their 'Jehovah' only knew Jeremiah while he was being physically
(and spiritually) formed in the womb.
- Before I WAS FORMING you in the belly I knew you...(NWT)
But this is not the meaning of the original Hebrew which indicates
unequivocally that Yahweh knew Jeremiah personally as an independent being
before he was created in his mother's womb...before he was even
conceived. Thus Jeremiah must have had a spiritual existence before his
physical creation. He existed as a spirit being who then took up
residence in the embryo where his body grew before he "camest forth out
of the womb".
Now why has the Watchtower tried to change the meaning? Because to admit
that Jeremiah could have had a conscience existence in his spirit before
his physical conception and birth is to undermine a fundamental
Jehovah's Witness doctrine on the nature of the human spirit, which is that the dead have no
consciousness but are, as it were, only in the "mind of God" awaiting to
be "re-awakened" when the faithful come to life in the Thousand Year
Paradise on earth.
The Pre-Existence of Human Spirits
Fortunately there are other passages in the Bible which speak about
spiritual pre-existence. Yahweh is the "God (Elohim) of the spirits of every sort of
flesh" (Num.16:22, NWT) -- 'Jehovah' is the God (Elohim) of all spirits (Num.27:16,
NWT). When Elohim (God) created the earth, and before He peopled it with the
spirits of unborn men and women, these spirits (which included you and
I) "shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). If we did not have a conscious
spiritual existence before the world was created, how could we have
"shouted for joy"? When we die, our bodies (flesh/"dust") return to the
ground and these conscious spirits (your real "I") return to the Elohim (God) who
made us (Eccles.12:7). Note that Yahweh gives our physical bodies a spirit (ruach)
which has a form, i.e. a three-dimensional shape like our physical
bodies, for "Yahweh...formeth (gives shape/structure to) the spirit of
man within" (Zech.12:1, AV; see also NWT).
In John 9:2 we are told an interesting story about a man born blind.
Yah'shua's (Jesus') disciples asked: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so
that he was born blind?" (John 9:2, NWT) Now if the parents had sinned
then we have a good reason -- for it was Jewish belief that a parent's
sin could be visited upon their children. But what if it was the man who
had sinned? When would he have sinned in order to have been born blind?
Well, if he had sinned before he was born, it must have been in a
pre-existent spiritual world (for he could not have sinned in the womb,
could he?). It was also a Jewish belief that the spirit of man had
pre-existence (pre-mortal life) and that the circumstances in which a
man is born reflects his goodness or sinfulness in the life before.
These were two valid opinions which the talmidim (disciples) offered. But in this
particular case Yah'shua (Jesus) said that the man had been born blind so that His
divine power could be demonstrated to the people (John 9:4-5). Notice
that Yah'shua (Jesus) did not deny the two propositions the disciples made, but
rather said there was a third possibility -- the true reason -- for the
Paul says that we are Elohim's (God's) offspring (Acts 17:28, AV -- "progeny" in
the NWT) and makes his point by quoting a famous Greek poet. He is not
speaking of spiritual adoption -- those who become Elohim's (God's) sons and
daughters by emunah (faith, trusting) in His Son Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and by obedience to His mitzvot
(commandments) -- he is saying that everyone (pagans included) are Elohim's (God's)
offspring or progeny. Physically-speaking we are the offspring of our
earthly parents therefore Paul's reference can only be to our spirits.
He can only be talking of our spiritual, or pre-mortal, creation, or the
time when, as Jeremiah says, our spirits are "fashioned" .
In Romans 8:29 Paul says that Yahweh foreknew all Christians personally
before their conception and birth, whom he "foreordained to be patterned
after the image of His Son" . The New World Translation says: "(God the
Father)..chose us in union with him BEFORE THE FOUNDING OF THE WORLD..."
(Eph.1:4, NWT). In other words, before the world was physically created,
Elohim (God) chose us to be one with Him...living, conscious spirit beings, not
just a "thought" in His head.
The scriptures clearly teach that man had a spiritual existence before
this life, not as a 'spark of life' or a 'force' but as an independent,
thinking, self-aware intelligence capable of being acted upon and acting
in his own right -- individual enough for Yahweh to set some apart as
prophets and to chose them for special callings. They were even
conscious enough to shout for simcha (joy) as they watched Yahweh physically create
this world and saw its great beauty. They were individual and conscious
enough to be judged before being born in the flesh.
We know that Yah'shua (Jesus) had pre-existence (John 1:2,14; 8:58; 16:28; 17:5,24;
2 Tim.1:9; Tit.1:2). If Yah'shua (Jesus) is the "firstborn" (Col.1:15) of all
spirits (which is what the Watchtower teaches), who are the second-,
third-, fourth-....and billionth-born? Clearly, those "who shouted for
joy" when the earth was made -- US! For Yah'shua (Jesus) was not only the firstborn
in the flesh but also in the spirit. If there is a first-born in the
spirit, then there must be "other-borns" as well, otherwise the
scripture would read "ONLY-born", and not "first-born" .
The scriptures that do speak of human pre-earth life do so clearly, but
in addition to these, there are thousands of others that imply
This page was created on 23 February 1998
Last updated on 25 November 2013
Copyright © 1987-2013 NCCG - All Rights Reserved