Does God Know us Before We’re Born (Psalm 139:16)?

The Bible Verse of Pre-knowledge – Psalm 129:16

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 129:16

The proper interpretation of Psalm 139 is that God knows each individual all the way from the pre-embryonic stage through death. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16).

Interpreting Psalm 139:16

“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect.” The word substance (Hebrew, golem) is not the same as the word substance in verse 15. This is the only usage of the word in the Bible (although galam occurs in II Kings 2:8 and is translated wrapped together).

The word means anything that is rolled together as a ball, a wrapped and unformed mass, ‘the still unformed embyronic mass.’ Most scholars understand it to mean the fetus or the embryo in the womb.

The psalmist is saying that the omnipotence of God guided the very formation of life in the womb, that life being yet an unperfect or unformed embryonic mass, yet in continuance for in the course of time was being fashioned daily in fetal form.

When as yet there was none of them, God had written in His book all my members. In the mind of God, poetically referred to as the book of God, the blueprint for life is clearly charted, so that from the very moment of conception, God begins to fashion the members of the body, even before they are recognizable.

Given this truth, it is little wonder that those who have faithfully followed the Judeo-Christian faith have understood life to begin at the moment of conception, and not at birth.

They, too, have solidly stood in opposition to the taking of that human life by abortion (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. 1, page 1176).

Does Life Begin at Conception?

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

This passage gives account of the unique creation of Adam (Hebrew words for man–adam and ground–adamah are similar, see I Corinthians 15:47); but life came from the breath of God.

He breathed the breath of life into the lifeless body of the first man, the non-corporeal, non-material part of man.  Such breath could only come from God, the Giver of Life.  And man became a living soul.

A better translation would be “a living creature or person,” as the phrase is also used of animals (Genesis 1:21, 24)… “a living creature or person is distinguished from animals by being created in the image of God. (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume I, p. 16).

Various views have been advanced to explain the time and method of the giving of the soul to Adam’s posterity.

Two major views are those of creationism and traducianism.  The advocates of creationism believe that at or sometime after conception, perhaps at viability or at birth, God creates a soul and places it in the baby.

Traducianists, on the other hand, maintain that the soul is passed on to the offspring as physical life is propagated.  In other words, at conception man has created both physical life and eternal soul.

More likely, the creation of the soul is an amalgam of both views, God uniquely intervening with His creative act at the moment of conception to make the life spiritual rather than just physical. (Criswell Study Bible, page 7.)

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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