Does John 9:1-3 Prove Human Pre-existence?

In John 9:1-3 the disciples passed by a man blind from birth and asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Some Mormons have used this to argue that the disciples assumed human pre-existence, and that Jesus was endorsing this assumption by not explicitly correcting it.

This is a bad interpretation for a few reasons.

1. The Gospel of John is clear and persistent in declaring the unique pre-existence of Jesus in contrast to the rest of humanity, who were “from below.” See the list of such passages at Theopedia (under “Johannine Passages”). This is the most important reason, so it’s crucial that you take a minute to read those passages (John 1:1-2, 15, 18; 3:13, 31; 5:36-38; 6:46, 62; 7:28-29; 8:23, 58; 17:24).

2. Sinning in the womb was regarded as possible by some Jews (see D.A. Carson excerpt below).

3. Even if the disciples had human pre-existence in mind (which seems unlikely), Jesus doesn’t go on confirm this assumption. Rather, he goes on to refute the notion that the man was born blind because of any personal sin. Just because Jesus refutes one assumption of the disciples doesn’t mean he is endorsing the remaining. This point alone does not refute human pre-existence, of course, but in light of #1 and #2, we have no compelling reason to read the story in John 9 in a way that contradicts John’s existenting theme of Jesus’ unique pre-existence.

This is a great example of the importance of letting the explicit govern the implicit, the obvious govern the less obvious, and the whole of a work inform the parts of a work.

361-362 of The Gospel According to John, by D.A. Carson:

> The disciples assume, like most Palestinian Jews of their day, that sin and suffering are intimately connected. In one sense, they are correct; they are simply working out the entailments of the fall (Gn. 3). If rabbis argued that there is no death without sin (B. Shabbath 55a; proved by referring to Ezk. 18:20) and no suffering without guilt (citing Ps. 89:32), Paul in the New Testament would certainly agree (Rom. 1-2; 3:10ff.). But once theologians move from generalizing statements about the origin of the human race’s maladies to tight connections between the sins and sufferings of an individual, they go beyond the biblical evidence (whether from the Old Testament or the New). That a specific illness or experience of suffering can be the direct consequence of a specific sin, few would deny (e.g. Miram’s revolt, Nu. 12; notes on Jn. 5:14; cf. 1 Cor. 11:30). That it is invariably so, numerous biblical texts flatly deny (e.g. Job; Gal 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:7).

> In this instance, the disciples presuppose the tighest possible connection. The specific individual is suffering from blindness; therefore some specific, individual sin must have been the antecedent cause. Because he was born blind, it must be that either he sinned in the womb (certainly regarded as possible by some Jews),[1] or his parent sinned in some way that implicated him (e.g. when a pregnant woman worships in a pagan temple her unborn fetus was regarded as participating in the pagan rite, Canticles Rabbah I, 6, [?] 3).

> [1] Thus in “Genesis Rabbah” 63:6 (a rabbinical commentary) on Gn. 25:22, various disputants discuss the ante-natal conduct of Esau and Jacob, and Ps. 58:3 is cited to prove that Esau displayed sinful inclinations from the womb.