In a recent edition of the Telegraph, we mentioned a book entitled “Embraced by the Light” by Betty Eadie. Several of our readers have written in to say that on reading this book, issues were raised that were totally new to their thinking. This was also the case with ourselves, and in particular the section on the PRE-EXISTENCE OF THE SOUL. Believers have found it quite a “jolt” to their spirits when first presented with the possibility of being created in the beginning as “spirits”, and that in the process of time they came down to earth to be born as human babies.
As a result, a great deal of investigation has been carried out, and we should now like to bring the results of this research to our readers. In brief, we have been brought to the conclusion that God created us all in the beginning, and that through the centuries of time we have all had to come down into the “Shadow Lands” of human existence. However, because this subject is so new, and so little discussed amongst Christians, we realise that we may be creating as many problems as we are solving. Therefore, let these studies be taken as an assessment of our present state of understanding. For those who have pioneering minds, no doubt the Lord will bring to mind other related matters, and we should be most grateful for a liberal quantity of feed-back on this subject.
The subject matter will be presented as a series of articles, each one taking a topic and providing a brief, but in-depth exposition. We believe this will make it easier to read than sending out a lengthy booklet. After all, the world is already flooded with literature, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what to read and what to leave unread, of all the stuff that comes through our mail boxes.
PART 1. THE EARLY CHURCH AND THE JEWS
We were surprised to find in our various Bible Dictionaries considerable articles on Pre-existence. We had imagined such articles to be NON-EXISTENT!! But no, the Early Church had pre-existence as one of its major beliefs. However, it was not “across the board”, as the following synopsis will show.
Apparently THREE separate ideas were in vogue in the first three centuries AD.
1. Pre-existence was held by Origen and the Alexandrian school. They believed that all human souls were created at the beginning, before all worlds, as angelic spirits. When Satan fell, there was a dichotomy, one company holding to the Lord and the other to Satan. Hence there has been warfare in heaven. In the process of time all spirits have been required to be born on the earth, to go through a disciplinary process before being restored to a higher dimensional state. Origen wrote,
“Being of perfect goodness and power, He must always have had objects on which to exercise them: hence He has brought into existence a world of spiritual beings, or souls, co-eternal with Himself” (De princ.1,2,1O; 1,4,3; 2,9,1)
The early church held fast to this teaching until A.D. 543, when it was condemned by Justinian, and also by a Provincial Council of Constantinople in the same year.
2. Creationism was taught by the Eastern fathers, such as Jerome and HiIary. They believed each soul to be a new creation of God, created at the time of birth or conception. (There was an argument as to which!) By this theory,each spirit is pure at creation, and therefore evil is transmitted by body alone.
3. Traducianism was generally accepted in the West, and has become part of the teaching of the Catholic Church.Two prominent figures that appear in this connection are Gregory of Nyassa, and Tertullian. They contended that thefirst Adam bore within him the germ of all mankind. His soul was the fountain head of all human souls. All varieties of individual human nature were only different modifications of that one original spiritual substance. As the body is derived from the parents’ bodies, so the soul is derived from the parents’ souls, both being formed by natural generation. This they believed was more in line with the Pauline teaching in Romans 5:12 that
“As by one man sin entered the world,- -and by means of sin death – – and so death passed through to all men.”
In addition to these three classes, other ideas were canvassed by smaller minorities, and found their way into Christian thought from eastern philosophy. These may be identified as the
TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS, where a soul may later be required to enter another human form, or indeed ananimal.This has much in common with
REINCARNATION, often referred to by the Greek word PALINGENESIS. (But the N.T. uses the word PALINGENESIS to mean “being born again.” Hence there is some confusion here when reading ancient texts, and one must of necessity watch out for the inconsistencies.) Finally, there was
METEMPSYCHOSIS, the supposed migration of the soul at death into another body.
These departments of thought obviously overlap a great deal, and we believe that it has been sufficient just to name them, before disposing of them as utterly abhorrent to Christian theology.
Creationism requires a continual process on the part of the Creator, and as He cannot create that which is fallen or sinful, each created spirit must therefore be perfect at the time it is planted in the womb, whether at conception or at birth, or some time between.
[As an aside here – some American writers believe that God created Satan as a murderer and a liar from his very beginning, and Adam as having a subtle hidden weakness which had to be manifested by the work of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. This being the case, they would not be troubled by the thought of God creating humans as they are today. But we repudiate this dreadful theology in the strongest possible terms. We cannot accept that God can create ANYTHING which is not wholly good and free from any form of corruption. We believe the Bible declares that Satan and Adam fell by reason of their OWN POWER OF CHOICE. And this is surely born out by the curses placed upon ALL THREE OF THEM after the event in the Garden. When our young grandson heard us talk of this American theory about Satan, he said, “If God created Satan as a murderer, then He would be breaking one of His own ten commandments.” Full marks for a ten year old boy! My wife’s comment was, “If God created Satan to be a liar and a murderer, why was he cursed in the Garden for doing only that for which he had been created?” Here then are two most cogent reasons for condemning such awful theology. We have approached one of the exponents of this theory, asking him to re-assess his theology, but to no avail. He was completely impervious to any suggestions from us. We find it necessary to address this matter here, and will have occasion to refer to it again in later issues, because many are being sucked into the falsehood, although we find it absolutely incredible that any sincere Christian could entertain such blasphemous ideas about a Holy God.]
Returning then to the subject of Creationism (as mentioned above,) this leaves us with the assertion that sin is ONLY passed on via the body of man. This being so, there would be good grounds for saying that Jesus MUST have taken a sinful nature. This being an erroneous conclusion, we believe that Creationism is a faulty concept.
Traducianism claims that both body and soul are the products of the parents. This was an attempt to explain why sin passed through from Adam to the rest of mankind. However, it is common knowledge that children born to two human beings ONLY take certain characteristics from their parents. There is far more evidence that each soul is a distinct creation from God. Even in the case of identical twins or other multiple births, distinct character differences are apparent, though physical similarity may sometimes cause identification to be very difficult to determine. We have a family of four grown children, and apart from certain derived characteristics, we have clear evidence that each one has a distinct character, as distinct as the finger prints on their hands. Each is a distinct creation of God. Hence, we find the Traducian theory difficult to accept, even though we can understand the reasoning which brought it into being.
We are left with the concept of Pre-existence, whereby God created us all in the beginning, and formed the earth as the theatre for His re-creational work. As such we may all have been ANGELS in the first instance. But bear in mind that the word ANGEL, in both Hebrew and Greek means MESSENGER, or DEPUTY, and therefore only describes an OFFICErather than origin and nature. It would be more correct to use the expression SONS OF GOD rather than ANGELS forCREATED SPIRITS.
Obviously our readers will ask for substantial proof that this assertion is correct, or even CAN be correct, and in due course the Scriptural evidences will be brought forth, and it will be seen that they are far more numerous than has hitherto been realised.
But for the moment, our purpose is to take a look backwards at what early history tells us, and having investigated the grounds of the three views of the early church, we now ask what the Jews believed in earlier times. This is contained in their extra-biblical writings. The following entry was found in the “Jewish Encyclopaedia”. We quote from the article with only slight modification.
“PRE-EXISTENCE. The theory that certain objects, in particular human souls, exist before coming into being on earth, or even before the creation of the world. No such belief has been proved to exist in the Bible, but it is firmly established in Apocryphal literature and among the Essenes who held that souls before birth existed in “the finest ether.” It was held also by the Rabbis of the Talmud who believed that all souls pre-existed in an abode called GUPH, that the Torah, Messiah the King, the Throne of Glory, ideal Israel, Repentance, and Gehenna, existed before creation, (Midrash on Psalm 8:9) and that ten or more objects, including the staff of Aaron, and the Tablets of the Law, were pre-created at the very end of the days of Creation. Among philosophers, Philo and Ibn Gabirol accepted pre-existence. And it forms an essential belief of the Kabbalah.”
Whilst laying on one side this unacceptable “deification” of objects sacred to Jewish memory, we find in this brief statement an interesting concept, that in Jewry it was an accredited belief that human souls were pre-existent. Turning to the Talmud, the evidence is certainly there. We do not have a complete edition of these Jewish works, but are able to quote from a useful book entitled “Everyman’s Talmud” by A. Cohen. In the chapter on the Doctrine of Man, we find the following entry.
“All creatures which are formed from heaven, both their soul and their body are from heaven; and all creatures which are formed from earth, both their soul and body are from earth, with the exception of man, whose soul is from heaven and his body from earth. Therefore if a man obeys the Torah and does the will of his Father in heaven, behold he is like the creatures above; as it is written, ‘I said, ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.’ (Psalm.82:6) but if he obey not the Torah and perform not the will of his Father in heaven, he is like the creatures below, as it is said, nevertheless ye shall die like men.’ (v.7) [quoted from Sifre Deut. #3O6;132a]
And a paragraph from page 78 in the same book reads as follows.
The Talmud teaches the pre-existence of souls. “In the seventh heaven, ARABOTH, are stored the spirits and souls which have still to be created” [Chagigah 12b], i.e. the unborn souls which have yet to be united to bodies. There was a common belief that the Messianic era will not dawn until all these unborn souls have had their term of existence on earth. “The son of David [i.e. the Messiah] will not come until all the souls in the GUPH come to an end.” [eb.62aj The GUPH being the celestial store-house where these souls await their time to inhabit a human body.”
In the Talmud, as in the Midrash, the word GUPH is constantly found, as also another word, OTZAR. On turning these up in the Hebrew Lexicon we found that GUPH means “to be hollow”, or “to be hidden away in the midst of something.” It occurs in the O.T. only once, and that in Neh.7:3 “LET THEM SHUT the doors and bar them.” The word OTZAR is more commonly found in the O.T., being translated “Treasury“, and is used of a corn store, a food magazine, a treasury of valuable things, and so on. Hence the Jews used it to describe the “treasury of souls” in heavenly places, awaiting their dispatch to earth.
[One should not dismiss the Talmud off-hand. Evangelicals are normally taught that the Talmud is full of ridiculousRabbinical tales, having no substance in truth. But I have had to change my mind about this, from being brought up with the evangelical bias. After reading large chunks of the Talmud, I found that it was full of Rabbinical wisdom, a collection of the sayings of Jewish sages from many centuries, and although sometimes a strange idea is canvassed, quite the majority of the writings are sound and worthy to be read by us all. Therefore we learn that Jews entertained the idea of pre-existence, and this must be borne in mind when reading the Gospels.]
Reference was made in the Bible Dictionaries to the Essenes, and the information comes from Josephus, “Wars of the Jews” 2.viii.11.
For their [i.e. the Essenes] doctrine is this:- “That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most subtle ether, and are united to their bodies as in prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward.”
It should be added that Josephus treats such a theory with some contempt, saying that it derives from Greek philosophy.Or as Tertullian put it, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Praescr.7) But Clement of Alexandria who madeuse of Hellenistic philosophy in a critical manner, said, “Philosophy educated the Greek world as the law did the Hebrews to bring them to Christ.” (Stromata 1.28.3) Josephus is correct in asserting a parallelism between Platonic philosophy and the Essenes, but for our part we very much doubt that the Israelite-based Essenes would have taken their doctrines from the Greeks, whom they despised. However, we shall see later what Plato said in his writings.
If the Dead Sea Scrolls are indeed the writings of the Essenes (and there is at present some scholarly debate on this issue,) then we can quote from a couple of the hymns, as translated by Geza Vermes in his “Dead Sea Scrolls in English”.
“By Thy wisdom [all things exist from] eternity, and before creating them Thou knewest their works for ever and ever. – – Thou hast created all the spirits [and hast established a statute] and law for all their works. – – In the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny before ever they were. All things [exist] according to [Thy will] and without Thee nothing is done.” (Hymn 1)
“All these things [Thou didst establish in Thy wisdom. Thou didst appoint] all Thy works before ever creating them: and the host of Thy spirits and the Congregation [of Thy Holy Ones, the heavens and all] their hosts and the earth and all it brings forth. – – Thou hast established them from before eternity.” (Hymn 13)
Next we come to Philo of Alexandria, before mentioned. Philo was a Jew of the 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. He was known as “the Jewish Plato”, seeking to harmonise the doctrines of the Pentateuch with those of Plato, Aristotle, and others. Hence he was anathema to the more strict Jewish community, which would have despised any such attempt at harmonisation. But Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city whence came the Septuagint Greek version of the O.T., and where the Greek influence predominated. Philo believed in a
“realm of incorporeal souls, which may be arranged in two ranks; some have descended into mortal bodies and been released after a time; others have maintained their purity, and kept aloft close to the ether itself.” [Philo Judaeus, i,336]
Finally we refer to a section of the Jewish writing known as the ZOHAR, which dates from the 13th century, and although anonymous, is believed to be the work of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. It contains many commentaries on the Hebrew text of the O.T., and is a mine of information on ancient Jewish thought. In the section to be quoted, the question arises about the “Angel of Death.” Can the words “And behold, it was very good,” include the meaning of the angel of death? Rabbi Simeon gives the following explanation.
“And behold it was good,” refers to the Angel of Life; “very” to the Angel of Death, for he is of greater importance. And why? When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, all was prepared for the coming of man, who is the king of this world. Man was fashioned to walk in the straight way, as it is written, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” [EccI.7:29] He made man upright, but he gave himself over to corruption and was therefore driven out of the Garden of Eden. This Garden was planted by the Holy One, blessed be He, on the earth, and made an exact likeness of its prototype, the Paradise above, and all supernal forms were fashioned and shaped in it, and the cherubim were there – not those carved in gold or any material that could be fashioned by human hands, but of supernal light, fashioned and broidered through the agency of the Perfect Name of the Holy One.
“All the images and forms of all things in this world were there fashioned, all having the similitude of the things in this world. And this place is the abode of holy spirits, both of those that have come into this world, and also of those who have not yet come into this world. Those who are about to come are invested with garments and faces and bodies like those in this world, and they gaze upon the glory of their Lord until the time comes for them to appear in the world. When they leave the Garden for that purpose, these spirits put off their celestial bodies and garments and take on the bodies and garments of this world; they henceforth make their abode in this world in the garments and bodies fashioned from the seed of procreation.
“So when the time comes for the spirit to leave this world again, it cannot do so until the Angel of Death has taken off the garment of this body. When that has been done, he again puts on that other garment in the Garden of Eden of which he had had to divest himself when he entered this world. And the whole joy of the spirit is in that celestial body. In it he rests and moves, and contemplates continually the supernatural mysteries which, when he was in the earthly body, he could neither grasp nor understand. When the soul clothes herself with the garments of that world, what delights, what joys, she experiences! [N.B. the word “she” is used here, because the Hebrew word for soul, NEPHESH, is feminine.] And who caused the body to be inhabited by the spirit? Why, he who took off the garment of flesh, the Angel of Death!”
There is a great deal of value in this comment, even if it contemplates the lot of only one part of mankind, the righteous dead. Rabbi Simeon does not even touch on the fate of those who spurn the lovingkindness of God in this mortal existence. But that is no barrier to the argument. In fact the same thing happened to Betty Eadie in her journeys through Paradise. She was shown the glories of those who loved the Lord their God in this life, and the fate of the rest was withheld from her. InH.A.Baker’s superb little books, “Visions beyond the Veil,” and “Heaven and the Angels”, he brings out many similarities with Rabbi Simeon’s commentary. And all such were gleaned from those who had either died and been resuscitated, or (in the case of the Chinese children) those who had been granted special corporate visions of the Upper World.
Jesus said to His disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions [or, abodes]. I go to prepare a place for you.” It is highly necessary to investigate and find out all we can about the Upper World – after all, that is our destination! Isaiah [chapter 58] speaks about the acceptable fast, and those who satisfy these conditions, that they shall “build the old waste places, raise up the foundations of many generations, be restorers of the breach, and RESTORERS OF PATHS THAT LEAD TO HOME.”
[One word of caution here. We have recently had occasion to publish some of Jane Leade’s works, and then later to issue a word of warning about her. In one of her writings she speaks about the Ultimate Reconciliation of all beings (and we have no quarrel with that!) but she goes on to say that everyone will be restored to their original position. This includes Satan himself, who, she avers, will be restored to his original station. This view we strongly repudiate. It has become the teaching of a number of modern writers who’ve taken on board Jane Leade’s exposition, and now it is referred to as “The Law of Circularity.” But Scripture does not uphold such teaching. Jesus spoke about many of the first being last and the last first. If all should return to their first estate, for what purpose is this present life? Why should anyone strive for anything? Judas Iscariot fell, and “went to his own place,” whilst others will become “equal to angels.” ]