Hastings’ five-volume Bible Dictionary declares that the only reference in the whole Bible that even suggests the pre-existence of human souls is John 9:1-3. Therefore it is reasonable we should begin this series by taking a look at this reference.
John 9:1-3 “And as Jesus passed by He saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might be manifested in him.'”
It is easy to pass by these words, without realising their implication. But when you stop to think about it, the question posed by the disciples is distinctly troublesome. Let us pass over the possibility that the parents’ sin had been responsible for the blindness. That’s not the troublesome part. They said “Who sinned, this man, . .?” How can a man be responsible for his own blindness before he was born?
Based on traditional evangelical thought, we might have expected Jesus to answer them in this manner, “What folly is this? How can you ask such questions? Who taught you to utter such absurdities? No man is responsible for blindness on his own account. But in this case, neither were his parents responsible, but that the glory of God should be revealed.”
However, it is manifestly obvious that our Lord neither reprimanded them of folly, nor even questioned the propriety of their remark. Instead, He just said, “Neither this man . . .”
What can be learned from these brief fragments of conversation? Is it not manifest that our Lord, and His disciples, had been instructed about pre-existence? If a man had pre-existed in a spiritual body before being born on the earth, then it might well have produced the question they had asked. Perhaps in that pre-existent state this man might have sinned against the Lord, and his blindness at birth be the result of divine judgment? Or so they were thinking. But the Lord squashed this thought flat. In fact, it might be construed that He gave final judgment on all such thinking, whether it be this man, or anyone else born with physical deformity.
But the question still lingers. Even though the disciples had digested some erroneous ideas, probably from the Scribes and Pharisees, still the concept of pre-existence remains. The Lord never denied that. He merely corrected their assertion about pre-existent sin being the causative factor in the man’s blindness.
We shall leave it at that for now. In a later article we shall see that pre-existence was a doctrine well-established in the minds of Jewish doctors of the law. Hence the teaching had permeated the minds of the common people, even uneducated fishermen like the disciples. Otherwise they would not have posed their question.