Defining Jewish Preexistence – Jeremiah 1:5

Having already looked at some of the extra-biblical evidence for ‘preexistence’ (and having concluded this Jewish preexistence was maintained within the plans and purposes of God rather than literally existing) it is now prudent to look at some of the biblical passages where this theme occurs. To quickly recap our findings from the previous five installments of this study, we observed that within Jewish preexistence speculation:

-things such as the Patriarchs, the nation of Israel, the temple, and the name of the Messiah preceded the creation of the world within God’s contemplations

-the name of the Messiah could (therefore) be spoken from the beginning

-Moses was designed, devised, and prepared from the beginning for a specific purpose

-the most noteworthy things within Judaism (Torah, repentance, the temple, the name of the Messiah) could be spoken as having been created before the world was made

-Abraham and Isaac were similarly spoken of in preexisting terms

I suggest that the best way of accounting for all of this evidence is to conclude that everything of value exists with God in his mind, even from the beginning of creation. The manner of this ‘preexistence’, it seems, is notional rather than literal. With this in mind (no pun intended), let us look at the commissioning of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. The opening chapter of his book records a dialogue between the prophet and God, wherein the following words are spoken:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Again we are faced with the similar theme of God knowing (Heb: yada) an individual before they were born. The parallelism in this passage helpfully interprets the manner in which God ‘knew’ Jeremiah, for the prophet was consecrated for the specific purpose of being God’s mouthpiece unto the nations. This act of consecration (Heb: kadash) sets Jeremiah aside as a special figure, a prophetic figure. We have already noticed that such noteworthy figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and the [name of the] Messiah were described as, in some way, ‘preexisting’ for designated purposes. Jeremiah seems to be described in similar terms. Before he came into existence in the womb of his mother, Jeremiah was already set apart and appointed by God as a major prophetic figure.

jeremiah (1)This, I suggest, is another instance of notional preexistence, where a noteworthy figure resides within God’s plans and purposes prior to his birth. It would be an ill-conceived exegetical move to read this language literally as if the human being Jeremiah literally existed prior to his birth, something which commentators are reluctant to do. The consensus of Jeremiah commentators (Holladay, Craigie, Kelley, Drinkard, Bright, Thompson, Miller) regard Jer. 1:5 as an exposition of the prophet’s elect choosing by God before he was born in order to function as a prophet. This is ample evidence for Jewish preexistence within the pages of the Hebrew Bible, a preexistence which is within God’s plans and purposes.

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One thought on “Defining Jewish Preexistence – Jeremiah 1:5

  1. Hi Dustin,

    This Jeremiah 1:5 text is a good one showing again that the Israelites could speak of God having a purpose determined for certain individuals even before they were born.

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