Sometimes I get theological questions from New Lifers via email. Anytime I get a question from someone I figure there are at least another fifty people in the church with a similar question. Because of that, periodically I'll post the Q&A for general consumption. Here's one from the last few days:
I had a question for you, no rush. Since I am going to be a dad soon I got to wondering when our spirits are created. Is there a Bible based answer as to whether our spirits are created at conception or do we "exist" before that time?
And here's my answer:
You're asking a good question. I'm curious, what motivated the question?
Here's my meandering answer to your question...
Thanks to Plato's teaching on the preexistence of the soul, we have a confusion regarding when a soul begins to exist. Plato taught that souls exist in some sort of metaphysical warehouse and then is sent to be united with a body in order to be born and dwell on earth. So the idea of a "soul-mate" is to be reunited with a pre-existent soul friend while living in an earthly body. It is also where we get the term "platonic relationship"--a relationship that is only soul to soul and not physical/sexual. Plato worked hard to separate the physical from the spiritual. Philosophers call it dualism. Soul and body separate but coexisting together. This teaching and idea has created a lot of theological messes over the years.
In the Jewish mind, humans exist as a whole thing--the immaterial and the material part exist in an interwoven unity. The pain of death was that a person's soul/immaterial life became painfully separated from the material and that represented a distortion of God's design for humanity. So the hope of the Jewish person was not blissful freedom from the body in a soulish realm of afterlife. Instead, the Jewish hope was resurrection--the immaterial/soul being reunited properly with the body.
So in the Scriptural/Jewish way of understanding life and birth, the life of a person--body and soul--begins at conception. Both physical and spiritual are a unique creative act of God each time. Psalm 139 refers to this creative crafting of humanity when the psalmist says, "you have knit me together in my mother's womb... I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."
Going back further, Adam's creation described in Genesis 2 forms a powerful example. When God finishes shaping Adam's body it is clear that something is fundamentally missing. Then God breathes (that's a creative act) onto the dirt he's shaped and at that moment, Adam becomes a living being. There's no sense in the account that God is harvesting the breath of life from some pre-existent soul. Instead he is in that moment amazingly pouring out life in the unique shape of a particular person (body and soul) who we come to know then as Adam.
Now there is one very big exception to this pattern of human creation. It is Jesus. Jesus is without question pre-existent as a living Spirit but at the moment of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary for conception is forever fused as a human person with a body. This is very important because Jesus' preexistence is fundamental to His being God and not merely a finite person. Without pre-existence, Jesus cannot be God.
So the bottom-line is that God brings a man and a women powerfully into the creative process of the making of a human life. Each contributes something and in that moment of time when sperm and egg fuse, God joins the physical uniting with His breathing of life to bring about a person with soul and body. The way He accomplishes this is a profound mystery.
The dynamics and perplexity of this has challenged and intrigued theologians from the very beginning and because of that so, so much more could be and has been said. I am merely scratching the surface. But it is enough to begin with the knowledge that God creatively converges with human conception breathing life (soul) into every human body at the moment of their conception.
T, I'm excited for you as you become a father. Keep seeking understanding as a follower of Jesus so that your kids can follow the godly example of their godly father.
And with that, let me ask--what Scripture and explanation would you add to this answer?