Can you clarify what is in the Bible about the pre-existence?

“Can you clarify what is in the Bible about the pre-existence?” New Era, Feb. 1972, 35–36

“A friend of mine says that there is nothing in the Bible that gives conclusive evidence one way or the other about the pre-existence. Can you clarify this?”

Answer/Eldin Ricks

Let me tell you what the Bible says on the subject, and then you decide whether the evidence is conclusive.

1. Jesus had a premortal existence. The apostle John, who speaks of Christ as the Word made flesh (John 1:14), opens the book that bears his name by testifying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1.) In other words, in the beginning was Christ, and Christ was with God, and Christ himself also was a God. The important thing for our purpose at the moment, however, is simply that “in the beginning” was Christ.

The apostle Paul also says that in the days of Moses—more than twelve hundred years before Jesus was born—the children of Israel “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4.)

If any more Bible evidence should be needed to establish the premortal existence of the Savior, you may wish to note a statement that Jesus himself made the night before his crucifixion. With apparent longing for the glory of his previous existence, he prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.)

Thus we see that Jesus was in existence long before his advent into mortality. Let us now check to see whether the Bible teaches that people other than the Savior had a previous spirit life.

2. Jeremiah had a premortal existence. Through revelation the prophet Jeremiah learned something about the preexistence of his own soul. The Lord spoke to him and said, “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.)

Since, as this passage states, the Lord knew Jeremiah before he was born and sanctified Jeremiah before he was born and ordained Jeremiah before he was born, it must be clear that Jeremiah was in existence before his mortal birth.

3. Job had a premortal existence. On one occasion the Lord asked the prophet Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7.)

Now 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—and not only Job but “all the sons of God.” And when we recall that the Bible teaches that we are the sons of God (“the offspring of God” is the way the apostle Paul phrases it in Acts 17:29), 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.

4. Jesus made no attempt to correct his apostles when they expressed a belief in man’s premortal existence. This conclusion is based on an incident narrated in the ninth chapter of John. In reference to a blind man the apostles asked Jesus, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2.) Note that their question was not simply whether the man’s parents had sinned before he was born but whether the man himself had sinned before he was born. Their query plainly shows that they believed that the man had been both alive and capable of sinning before he was born.

Jesus explained (John 9:3) that neither the man nor his parents had sinned, but the striking fact is that he made no attempt to challenge or correct or alter their basic assumption that the man had had a premortal existence.

5. Certain passages of the Bible make sense only in the light of man’s premortal existence. We as Latter-day Saints understand that during the course of man’s premortal spirit career one third of God’s children rebelled and followed Satan. (See D&C 29:36–38; Moses 4:1–4; Abr. 3:22–28.) This understanding gives meaning to a number of biblical passages bearing on the expulsion from heaven of certain disobedient beings. Consider, for example, 2 Peter 2:4 [2 Pet. 2:4], Jude 1:6, and Revelation 12:7–9 [Rev. 12:7–9].

While the several passages mentioned in the foregoing explanation may or may not offer your friend “conclusive evidence” of the premortal existence of man, I am confident, if he is sincere in his search for divine truth, that they will offer him sufficient evidence to incite an earnest, prayerful inquiry into the doctrines and claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • Assistant Professor of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University