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Mormonism and the Pre-existence of Spirits


By John Finton





I. Statement of the Problem

        The origin of the soul (i.e., the metaphysical or immaterial aspect) of the descendants of Adam has three different explanations. Did the spiritual aspect of man pre-exists, or is transmitted from the parents to the child, or is it created within us at conception? The three views are expressed as follows:

        A. Pre-existence. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states:

The term ‘pre-existence,’ or more accurately, ‘premortal existence,’ refers to a period of individual conscious and accountable life before birth into mortality on this earth. It is Latter-day Saint doctrine that living things existed as individuals spirit beings and possessed varying decrees of intelligence in an active, conscious spirit state before mortal birth and that the spirit continues to live and function in the mortal body. The revelations teach that premortal spirit bodies have general resemblance to their physical counterparts (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Pre-Existence ).

        Their major Biblical support for this view includes Job 38:4-7; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 9:2; Hebrews 12:9. The preexistence of spirit beings has its roots in Greek philosophy as is seen from the following quote from the New Dictionary of Theology (653):

         Platonism inspired the belief that souls enjoyed some higher existence prior to their entry into individual human bodies. This view often coexisted with notions of a pre-cosmic fall and the transmigration of the souls. Among Gnostics and others, it presented the soul as an emanation from the divine substance itself. Although championed by Origen, it was widely condemned in the 5th and 6th centuries.

        B. Traducianism. This is the teaching that not only the body but also the soul is passed down by natural generation. Biblical support for this view is Genesis 5:1-3; 46:26; John 1:13, and Hebrews 7:9-10.

        C. Creationism. This view holds that each individual soul is created out of nothing (ex nihilo) by God and implanted at conception. Biblical support for this view is Ecclesiastes 12:7; Isaiah 57:16; Zechariah 12:1; and 1 Peter 4:19.

        D. Preferred view. The preferred view is creationism. Though traducianism presents some thought provoking arguments, mostly from a theological perspective, creationism seems to have the best exegetical support. However, the majority of what follows will be in answering the Mormon’s support for preexistence rather than answering traducianism. In doing this the exegetical data will also demonstrate creationism as the better view. What follows will demonstrate that Mormons constantly read meaning into Scripture (eisegesis), basing their interpretations on pre-understanding or preconceived ideas.

 

II. LDS Support for Pre-mortal Existence

        A. Job 38:4. Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou has understanding.

        In order for Mormons to get pre-existence from the Bible, they have to read it into the text. For example in the question asked of Job (38:4) “Where was thou when I laid the foundation of the earth? In the Mormon’s mind “Job had to be somewhere by the very nature of the question.

        The purpose of the question is to convince Job of His ignorance. “To understand the cause of things, man should have been present at their origin” (Jamison, Fausset and Brown, “Job,” Commentary on the Whole Bible, 340). Certainly God is not asking because He does not know. Neither is the nature of the question to the sense that Job was somewhere but somehow missed the creation of the earth? Where were you Job that you missed the creation of the earth? This is an unlikely understanding of the question, since it would be hard to explain how Job could be somewhere but miss the creation of the earth. The consensus among biblical scholars is that Job was nonexistence at creation. Commenting on Job 38:4-21 Kline states “This section opens and closes with references to Job’s nonexistence at creation (vv. 4, 21; cf. 12). Hence his ignorance of how the earth was founded” (“Job,” WBC, 487). Zuck says the same thing:

        “Job was immediately confronted with his insignificance, for he was not present when God created the earth. Since he did not observe what had taken place then, he could not understand it. How could he hope to advise God now?” (“Job,” BKC, 767).

         Smick is also in agreement:

        The irony in the Lord’s words “Surely you know” (v. 5; cf. v. 21) is sharp and  purposeful. Job had dared to criticize God’s management of the universe. Had he been present at the Creation (an obvious absurdity), he might have known something about God’s management of its vast expanses (vv. 4-6). But even the angels who were there could only shout for joy over the Creator’s deeds (v. 7) (“Job,” EBC, 1035).

        This last quote is significant in that it makes a distinction between angels (“the sons of God”) and Job. If Job was premortal, one would expect him to be among the angels who sang for joy at the creation. In Mormon doctrine angels and premortals are one and the same. Demons are premortals kicked out of heaven and have lost their chance to receive physical bodies.

        The Bible, however, teaches no such doctrine. Not only can it be demonstrated that there is no premortal life of mankind (as seen below), it can also be demonstrated that angels are created. Psalm 148:2-5 indicates that the angels as well as the heavens were created by the direct command of God. Both John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16-17 indicate that Jesus Christ who is Himself God was the cause of every created thing:

        For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or  powers—all things were created by him, and for him; And he is before all things,  and by him all things consist” (Col 1:16-17).

        There is a general consensus among biblical authorities that the terms “dominions and principalities” refer to angels (Rom 8:38; Eph 3:10; 6:12). Since angels are heavenly beings (as well as capable of being invisible to humans), they are included in all things that are in heaven. That the angels were present to sing with joy at the creation of the earth (Job 38:4-7) is a good indication they were created before God created the earth or very early on the first day of creation.

        B. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

The LDS reasoning for this verse is as follows: “It would not be possible to return to God after death unless we had live with Him before we were born.”

        To say that this verse teaches that the spirit lived with God before birth and then returns to Him after death, is to read into the text something that is not there. The verse only says that the spirit will return to God who gave it. The implication is that God is the giver of life. “The Old Testament consistently teaches that at death the life principle in humans and animals alike (3:19-21; Ps 104:29-30) returns to God, the Giver of life, and that we must one day give account to God (11:9)” (Wright, “Ecclesiastes,” EBC, 1194).

        This understanding of Ecclesiastes 12:7 is the consensus of Biblical scholars as can be seen by the following quotes:

        The process described here is the reversal of Genesis 2:7. . . . Humans returns to the dust (Gen 3:19) whence they came, while the life-breath given by God returns to its original possessor. This is a picture of dissolution, not immortality, as if there were a reditus animae ad Deum, “the return of the soul to God.” There is no question of the “soul” here, but of the life-breath, a totally different category of    thought (Murphy, “Ecclesiastes,” WBC, 120).

        The final description of death, by which Solomon sought to motivate people toward responsible living, was that of the reversal of Creation. The dust of the body returns to the ground it came from and the breath of life (spirit and “breath” are translations of the same Heb. word rûah) to God who gave it. This obviously alludes to the part of Creation account (Gen 2:7; man was made from the dust of the ground and was given breath). This makes it evident that Solomon    was not referring to the return of the individual human spirits to God for judgment. Similar description of death (as dissolution of the body and the withdrawal of the breath of God are referred to in Job 34:14-15 and Psalm 104:29-30 (Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKC, 1004).

        C. Jeremiah 1:5. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou came forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

         Because Scripture reveals God’s foreknowledge about certain individuals, Mormons jump to the false conclusion that God must have known them in a prior existence. This is the Mormon understanding of Jeremiah 1:5. “How else would He have known Jeremiah before he was born?” “God also sanctified Jeremiah before hand, which indicates an actual event with participants present.”

        The consensus among Biblical scholars is that this verse is not teaching the preexistence of man, but rather this is God’s all-knowing cognizance of Jeremiah and His sovereign plan for him before he was conceived. That this is the proper understanding of this verse is seen by the following:

        The context of this verse is God’s call of Jeremiah to be His prophet. There is nothing in the meaning of the word “knew” that requires the pre-existence of Jeremiah. If one believes that God is omniscient (that He knows the future as well as the past and present), then there is not a problem with God knowing Jeremiah before his birth (cf. Ps 139:16; Is 46:8-10). Unless Mormons limit what God can know of the future, there is no reason for not explaining this verse as an example of God’s knowledge of things before they happen. Evangelical Christians believe it is impossible to think higher thoughts of God than He truly is. Therefore, it is not the least bit out of place to say that God knew every detail about the person and character of Jeremiah before he came into existence. God also had predetermined that He was going to set apart Jeremiah as a prophet to Israel.

        Also the phrase “before thou came forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” only implies that Jeremiah was set apart before his birth, while he was still in the womb, not in a premortal existence. This is similar to the Apostle Paul’s calling (see Gal 1:15). MacArthur (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1659) commenting on this verse tells us: “Paul is not talking about being born, separated physically from his mother, but being separated or set apart to God for service from the time of his birth. The phrase refers to God’s election of Paul without regard for his personal merit or effort (cf. Is. 49:1; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-17; Rom 9:10-23).

         Ephesians 2:10 presents an example that applies to all true believers: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” MacArthur’s (Ibid, 1686) concise statement on this verse is to the point: “Good works cannot produce salvation but are subsequent and resultant God-empowered fruits and evidence of it (cf. John 15:8; Phil. 2:12, 13; 2 Tim. 3:17; Titus 2:14; James 2:16-26). Like his salvation, a believer’s sanctification and good works were ordained before time began (cf. Rom. 8:29, 30).”

        D. Hebrews 12:9. “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?”

        Both the LDS and some creationist use this verse as support for their views. According to Hughes (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 530-31) the verse has nothing to do with this issue.

        Some commentators have mistakenly sought support from the designation of God here as “the Father of spirits” for a particular metaphysical theory concerning the origin of the spirit or soul in man. . . . The description of God here as “the father of spirits” is evidently identical in meaning with the description of Him in Numbers 16:22 and 27:16 as “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” Keil and Delitzsch explain there that “the Creator and Preserver of all being, who has given and still gives life and breath to all flesh, is God of the spirits of all flesh.” Consistency with this interpretation, we might have expected Delitzsch to  understand “the Father of spirits” here to signify that God is the source of all life and perhaps more particularly, within the economy of redemption, the source of new life in Christ. The contrast then is a simple one, between our mortal earthly father and our spiritual or heavenly Father. Thus John Brown understands “the

        Father of spirits” to mean “our spiritual Father, as opposed to our natural fathers—he to whom we are indebted for spiritual and eternal life.” Moffat rightly says that the expression is quite intelligible as an expression of practical religion, and is only rendered ambiguous when we read into it later ideas about traducianism and creationism [or pre-existence], which were not in the writer’s mind.” As F. F. Bruce says, “to try to trace metaphysical implications in the phrase is unwarranted.”

        Not only is God the creator of the metaphysical aspect of man, He has a part in the creation of the physical aspect of man as well. Jeremiah 1:5 states “I formed you in the belly”; and Psalm 139:13-18 magnifies the power of God in the development of human life before birth. Calvin’s (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 318-19) comments on Hebrews 12:9 are helpful in this understanding.

        But it may be asked, is not God the Father also of our flesh? For it is not without reason that Job mentions the creation of men as one of the chief miracles of God. . . . To these things I reply, that God is the Father of the body as well as of the soul, and, properly speaking, he is indeed the only true Father; and that this name is  only as it were by way of concession applied to men, both in regard of the body and of the soul. As, however, in creating souls, he does use the instrumentality of men, and as he renews them in a wonderful manner by the power of his Spirit, he  is peculiarly called, by way of eminence, the Father of spirits.

        While Adam was an immediate creation of God, every other being on earth is an indirect or mediate creation of God.

II. Support for Creationism

        A. Zechariah 12:1.The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, says the Lord, which stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.”

        This verse makes it clear that our spirit is created within us. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (1:396) states the following concerning the word “forms”:

        When used of divine agency, the root refers most frequently to God’s creative activity. It describes the function of the divine Potter forming man and beasts from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7-8, 19). It occurs in association with bârâ “create” and ā?ś? “make” in passages that refer to the creation of the universe (Isa  45:18), the earth itself (Jer 33:2), and the natural phenomena (Amos 4:13; Ps 95:5). See also Ps 33:15; 74:17; 94:9; Jer 10:16; 51:19; Zech 12:1.

        B. Isaiah 57:16. “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.” נְשּÑָמוֹת (a plural only met with here) signifies, according to the fixed usage in the Old Testament (2:22: 42:5), the souls of men, the origin of which is described as a creation in the attributive clause (with an emphatic אֲנִי), just as in Jer. 38:16 (cf., Zech. 12:1), (F. Delitzsch, Isaiah, 550).

        C. Corinthians 15:45-47. “And so it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

        This is another passage that disproves the LDS doctrine of preexisting spirit life. Several observations can be made from this Scripture:

                 1. Paul begins with a quotation from Genesis 2:7, with the addition of the two words first and Adam. Adam is the first human who through God’s creative power became a living being (lit. a living soul). Adam is the head of the human race.

                 2. The last Adam is Jesus (cf. Rom 5:12-21).

                 3. Through Adam we have inherited our natural bodies. Because of our natural descent from Adam we are part of those who are earthy. Every person, starting with Adam has begun life in a natural, physical body.

                 4. Adam, the first man, from whom came the natural race, originated on the earth. In fact was created directly from the earth (Gen 2:7). In every way he was earthy. But Christ, identified as the second man existed eternally before He became a man. He lived on earth in a natural body, but He came from heaven. Adam is connected to the earth; Christ is connected to heaven. Stated another way:

        The first man is, of course, Adam. He is ek gçs, “of the earth” (ek indicates origin), and he is choikos, “made of dust” (Gn. 2:7). The second man is Christ, set over against Adam once more, this time not in terms of work accomplished or   natural constitution, but of origin. Though he appeared on earth, and lived and died and rose again on earth, he is not to be thought of as originating from the earth, as did Adam. He is from heaven (Morris, “1 Corinthians,” TNTC, 224-25).

        One wonders how we can be spirit brothers of Jesus but have our origins from two completely different realms of existence?

        At this stage in the discussion it needs to be pointed out that the LDS Jesus Christ is quite different than that of the historic Christian church. In Mormonism, Jesus is the first spirit born—the product of relations between god and one of his goddesses—who all used to be people from another world (see D&C 93:21). Jesus is also the literal spirit brother of Satan and of each of us. Jesus’ human existence is by means of a sexual union between Mary and the heavenly Father.

                 5. In Adam we are earthy; in Christ we have become heavenly. “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.

Conclusion

         There is no passage in either the Old or New Testament that clearly teaches that man preexisted as spirits before coming to inhabit physical bodies. The only way to posit such a view from Scripture is to read something into the text that is not there. It is typical for cults to build doctrines on obscure passages, take verses out of context and to mis-interpret the straightforward meaning of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). The reason that these verses cannot be teaching such a view is because the Bible tells us something quite different. According to Genesis 2:7, “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (i.e. the spirit); and man became a living soul.” This and other passages clearly teach that the immaterial aspect of man is a creation of God.

         The only answer that Mormons can give to the above evidence that the Bible does not teach pre-mortal existence, is that they do not build their doctrine on the Bible, but on their other writings. This is true, because if they build their theology on the Bible, they could not be Mormons any longer. The Bible teaches against pre-mortal life. The best the Mormons can do with the Bible is to use it to teach morality, since this does not contradict what they teach.

 

© John Finton, 2009