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HISTORY of Christian Theology
Belief in the pre-mortal existence of Jesus has been a fundamental tenet of Christianity from its beginning. The belief in human pre-mortal spiritual existence was an early Christian doctrine that was subsequently held to be heretical in the Sixth Century.

The concept that each human soul existed in a pre-mortal existence was universally understood and believed by many, Christian and non-Christian alike, during the early Christian era. Plato taught that human beings consist of a physical body and a soul that is immortal, that our soul existed prior to birth, and death was the separation of the body and spirit, with good souls ultimately going back to heaven. The universality of this belief is evidenced by the story found in John 9:1-3 where Jesus’ disciples asked him if a man born blind had sinned prior to his birth. Jesus did not question or refute their belief in a pre-mortal existence but simply stated that the man was born blind so that the works of God could be shown through his miraculous healing. Paul was probably referring to this pre-mortal existence when he confirmed to philosophers in Athens that their poets were correct, “we are the offspring of God.” (Acts 17:29).

Origen (184-253 CE), one of the most renowned early Christian theologians, taught this doctrine regarding a spiritual pre-mortal existence and quoted Jeremiah 1:5 in support: “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.” He also quoted Romans 9:11-14, and argued that because God is just, the reason he loved Jacob and hated Esau before their birth had to be based on their actions in a pre-mortal realm.

The belief in a pre-mortal existence was embraced by the various Christian Gnostic sects that rivaled orthodox followers in number. Tertullian (155-240 CE), one of the most ardent opponents of Gnosticism, attacked this doctrine of human premortal existence, potentially because it was a fundamental Gnostic belief. He argued that both the human spirit and body are generated from their mortal parents, a concept he founded called traducianism. Jerome (347-420 CE) later argued that only the human body originates from its parents, and that one’s spirit is created directly by God who places it into a physical body at some point from conception through birth. This concept is called creationism, not to be confused with our current usage of this term referring to God’s influence in the creation of the universe. In 553 CE, the doctrine of human pre-mortal existence was rejected in the Second Council of Constantinople, but no decision was made regarding the competing theories of traducianism verses creationism. Today, Lutheran theologians are generally traducianists while other Christians tend to be creationists, except Mormons who believe in a pre-mortal spiritual existence.

The concept that God entered into a covenant with mankind in this pre-mortal realm is supported by Paul’s assertion that “God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began,” this hope of eternal life. (Titus 1:2). Paul directly implies that God extended this promise to humans before the earth was formed. Promises from the Judeo-Christian God are often expressed as part of a covenant between humans and deity, leading some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)to believe that the promise of eternal life is the reward to humans for faithfulness during mortality with a pre-mortal covenant.

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