My question is, what do we mean when we say our soul is eternal. Does that mean it already Coexisted or coeternal with God before we were born? I’ve received this question while discussing with a pantheist. His claim was, we were all coeternal with god and then because of ignorance we were alienated from god. Does this concept of soul agree with our world view?
According to 1 Corinthians 15.44-47 we did not preexist spiritually or in a soul-state before natural birth.
“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam, became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, the second man is from heaven.”
We know God’s understanding is infinite (Psalm 147.5) and that He knows everything there is to know (Omniscient) about eternity past, present and eternity future. The book of Jeremiah tells us He knew the prophet, by the same name, and appointed him to His service before he was born. While God was fully aware of everything about Jeremiah, the Bible does not say that Jeremiah existed with God before his natural birth.
I really appreciate your great question. It has caused me to wonder as well and search out the Word for what is true.
I pray that God will open up more opportunities for you to dialogue and build a deeper relationship with your friend.
Grace and peace,
Thanks for this great question! It’s a very important question as the answer to it would change everything - our identity, our relationship with God, definition of sin and need for the gospel ultimately! I agree with @Marybeth that human souls are not pre-existent, and I gather it is the orthodox Christian view based on the Westminster Confession of faith ( Ch 2.1 God is eternal, Ch 4.2 Humans are not co-eternal but were created with an immortal soul). The only time in Christianity where the concept of pre-existence of souls was even brought up seems to be in the 2nd - 3rd century by the church father, Origen. It was however condemned as heresy in the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553. ( Check Wiki - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-existence) Since then there have been two views for the creation of souls namely - Traducianism, where both soul and body are generated by father and mother and Creationism, which holds that God directly creates a new individual soul for everyone born into this world. You can learn a little more about it in here.
Whatever the ontological connection of our souls with our parents, there is agreement in general that our souls were not pre-existent and co-eternal with God among Christians. Below is some biblical support-
1 Tim 6:16: Who (God) alone possesses immortality (Gk: athanasia translated literally means “deathlessness") and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen
John 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.
Col 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him.
John 8:48 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.
Zech 12:1 Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him
Unlike hindu teachings like the Bhagavad Gita which says, there are a fixed number of souls and man and God have always existed as co-eternal beings, that is absolutely not the case with Christianity. Based on the above verses, we can confidently say that God alone is immortal and human souls came into existence later. Any immortality (freedom from death) that humans have, is made possible only through the gospel.
2 Tim 1:10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
Marybeth has brought up another great verses for reflection along these lines. 1 Cor 15: 44-49, which depicts the means by which the human soul attains immortality (Gk:aptharsia - incorruptibility) by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. I think we should be careful not to confuse Paul’s use of ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ in this verse to mean ‘material’ and ‘immaterial’. Paul has already introduced and defined in 1 Cor 2:12-14, that the natural man is one who does not have the Spirit of God and the spiritual man as the one who has the Spirit of God. The natural man dies in Adam, but the spiritual man lives by the Holy Spirit in glory (Rom 5:17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ ). When it comes to those who are not born again by the Holy Spirit, there are two views on the destiny of the soul after creation– ‘eternal conscious torment’ where the soul is immortal and suffers judgement ( Matt 25:46) or ‘annihilationism’ where both the soul and body are destroyed after judgement. There have been many discussions on Connect on the different views of hell but that is not in the scope of this reply.
Got questions also has some useful information on this.
Some main points for consideration from got questions are –
- If it is true that 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. (One question to ask your friend, If he and God always existed, is God his Creator?)
- If it is true that 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 the soul was pre-existent, there wouldn’t be a need to breathe into Adam)
- If it is true that a soul inhabited another body in a bygone era, then at what point was the soul created and for what purpose? Bible is clear that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment (Heb 9:27).
I think one concept you could agree on with your friend is that we are ignorant without God. So how can we be sure of our way back to Him in our ignorance unless God reveals? We trust Jesus because not only did He say he has the authority to lay his life and take it back up again, but He proved Himself as the author of life in His resurrection.
Thanks for taking the time to read through the lengthy reply! Hope you find it helpful in your discussions. God bless!
Hi @Anuraag, I’m so glad you’re discussing these questions with people that have different beliefs than you do I don’t want to repeat the answers above but maybe I can give you a few questions to ask your friend to clarify his belief, after all, he is making a truth claim and bears a burden of proof.
I think there are two fairly simple questions that will help. 1) What do you mean by “because of ignorance we were alienated from God?” This might be something to press into because it sounds like he’s no longer ignorant and should be no longer alienated or perhaps he means something entirely different? In any case, it’s worth getting your friend to spell out exactly what he mean by that phrase. 2) How did you come to hold this belief? Here you’re asking for the reasons he believes what he does, and this will usually lead to more conversations - hopefully, they’ll steer back to Jesus to bring more clarity.
@boabbott, those are indeed some good questions on ignorance for discussion. The understanding of ignorance can be so different in other worldviews compared to Christianity. Eph 4:18 for example is about alienation from God because of man’s ignorance about God. However, in a pantheistic worldview, the ignorance is about man forgetting he is a part of God when on earth. The only thing we could start with agreeing on is the evidence of sin and need for morality. Different interpretation of similar terms is something important to be kept in mind when discussing with those with other worldviews. Great point!
Yes. What you have said regarding interpretation of similar terms. I guess in their worldview also there is concept of sin. Is there any difference in the concept of sin in pantheism and Christianity??
Hi @Anuraag, it depends on the type of pantheistic view. The idea of sin according to many pantheists is that man’s attachment to his natural identity prevents man from seeing that all men are really the same with god in them. Once people have a self-realization about the identity of self as a part of god, then it helps man give honor to one another. It’s also a common belief that focusing on what pleases our senses keeps man from that self-realization. But since everybody is considered to be at a different level of realization based on karma, I think it could result in the out working of a class based division. Most pantheists do believe in karma/works. I think what may be common with Christian view is that pride is the cause of sin. However, the cause of pride seems to be different. For us its rebellion of Adam against God causing his offspring to be born with a sinful nature enslaved to the spiritual forces that Adam gave us over to. But for many Hindus (dont know about all pantheists) , the contact of soul with matter leads to ignorance that self was a part of god. I am still uncertain of their belief of what actually caused the fall of the souls if they were part of god. Some say its pride, some say it’s that the credit of karma that gets used up after a time. I don’t know. If all souls were part of god, how can they have a separate mind to develop pride? How can there be love when everyone just merges with a unity?
Here’s another thread, where we discussed some aspects of origin of souls and sin on Connect and is below.