Hey guys—So, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that “All men and women lived with God as His spirit children before coming to the earth as mortal beings.” We call this pre-mortal period of existence, “pre-mortal existence.” If you remember from our plan of salvation episode we talked a little bit about this, and how we were all present as spirits for a great council with God in which he presented His plan for us to come to earth, obtain a physical, mortal body and experience a time of testing with the hope of ultimately returning to His presence.
We read in Revelation that a difference of opinions at this council caused a “war in heaven,” resulting in “the dragon” or Satan and his angels being “cast out into the earth”—But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Pretty much everybody except the Church of Jesus Christ and the occasional edgy Protestant congregation rejects the idea of a pre-mortal life. So let’s take a look at this teaching—why we believe it, and why the heck not many others do.
Two good people can read and interpret scripture two very different ways. Take Jeremiah for example: “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” We interpret that literally—that before Jeremiah was born, he existed. Others disagree with that analysis, and that’s OK.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 is another example: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” We read that and we think, “OK, you can’t return to somewhere unless you’ve been there already. So if the spirit returns to God after you die, it’s been with God before. ”
We also find references to pre-mortality in lots of unofficial or apocryphal writings as well. In the Odes of Solomon: “For I do not turn away my face from them that are mine; For I know them, and before they came into being I took knowledge of them, and on their faces I set my seal[.]”
In the Secrets of Enoch, “All souls are prepared to eternity, before the formation of the world.” In the Assumption of Moses: “[God] designed and devised me, and He prepared me before the foundation of the world, that I should be the mediator of His covenant.”
Even in post-biblical times, doctrines on pre-mortality persisted in the early Christian church. For example, the Christian teacher Clement of Alexandria wrote in Paedagogus, “God knew us before the foundation of the world, and chose us for our faithfulness even at that time…. Now we have become babes to fulfill the plan of God.”
In the Clementine Recognitions talking about the Creation, Clement wrote, “But after all these things He made man, on whose account He had prepared all things, whose internal species is older, and for whose sake all things that are were made.” And the translator leaves a note specifying what that “internal species” is: “That is, his soul, according to the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls.”
Clement’s pupil Origen, also known as the “Father of Christian Theology,” shared similar views, though he took it a step further and speculated on how pre-mortal behavior could affect mortal circumstances. In Contra Celsum he writes, “Is it not more in conformity with reason, that every soul … is introduced into a body, and introduced according to its deserts and former actions?”
The non-Latter-day Saint Christian historian William de Arteaga wrote: “This question [of pre-mortality] was hotly debated by Christians of late antiquity, and the faction of the Church which was bitterly opposed to preexistence gained the upper hand. By the sixth century belief in preexistence was declared heresy. All of this is quite astonishing in view of the clear and repeated biblical evidence for preexistence.”
That sixth-century event was the Second Council of Constantinople of 553 AD, where the anathematization of Origen and his teachings was ratified. That event probably contributed more to the decline of this doctrine than anything else.
But in addition to all of that stuff, Latter-day Saints believe in pre-mortality because that’s what we’re taught by our prophets and in our unique scriptures. For example, it’s a wonderful doctrinal contribution of the Book of Abraham:
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.”
So there’s a little summary on the doctrine of pre-mortality. If you want to dive deeper check out the links in the description and have a great day!
- Odes of Solomon quote via “The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden,” Ode #8, p. 125ish.
- Secrets of Enoch quote from the same book as above, ch. 23, verse 2, p. 89.
- A source for the “Assumption of Moses” quote: http://bit.ly/3aojgjh
- More on the Second Council of Constantinople: http://bit.ly/3cd2Zzy
- Paedegogus (Clement) quote source: http://bit.ly/2TNaghd
- Clementine Recognitions quote source: http://bit.ly/371yBVH
- Origen quote source: http://bit.ly/38btcvn
- William de Arteaga quote source: http://bit.ly/2Tzs8Md