“Ye Were Also In The Beginning With The Father”
By Kara Dawson
D&C 93 teaches in two separate verses that “ye were also in the beginning with the Father” (v.23) and “man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (v.29). Joseph Smith’s teachings during his lifetime demonstrated clearly that spirits were coeternal with God. In an 1839 sermon he taught as recorded by William Clayton, “The Spirit of Man is not a created being…It existed from Eternity and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal.” (1) In the King Follett sermon given in 1844, he noted, “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.” (2) “I must come to the resurrection of the dead, the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine, I know better. Hear it all ye ends of the world, for God has told me so.” (3)
Yet how do we reconcile these verses with modern-day accepted Church teachings that, “All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God” (4), and that, “those who abide in the covenant and are exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom will have spirit children in the eternities”(5). Whether spirits existed eternally or were born in some process beyond our comprehension is one of the areas in which we are waiting for further light and knowledge, and this is clearly not a topic that we need to understand for our salvation. Church members have a variety of opinions on the subject, informed by both canonized scripture, teachings of Church leaders and folk doctrine, and consensus cannot be reached given the current lack of clarity; yet, it’s an interesting subject to study and ponder. The purpose of this short article is not to lay out the arguments for each, but to summarise the main ideas in terms of questions and the sources of scholarship available for further study on the evolution of LDS thought on the subject.
The two basic possibilities are:
1. Spirits are uncreated and therefore co-eternal with God; the fatherhood of God is therefore by adoption.
LDS theologian Blake Ostler concluded based on extensive research that Joseph Smith’s teachings strongly affirmed the uncreated nature of spirits (6). Other scholars including Jonathan Stapley (7) and Samuel Brown (8) have come to the same conclusion. An alternative analysis by Brian Hales however, concluded that there was indirect evidence based on contemporary accounts and teachings that Joseph did teach spirit birth, but that for reasons unknown he restricted these teachings to only trusted close associates (9).
2. Spirits are born to Heavenly Parents in a “continuation of the seeds”, by some process analogous to the process of conception, gestation and birth of our mortal bodies.
From 1845, the year after the death of Joseph Smith, Church leaders and others began to discuss the concept that spirits had a beginning through spirit birth. Early Church leaders Orson and Parley Pratt both subscribed to and promoted this idea (10 for example). In the 20th century, Bruce R. McConkie believed that spirits were not individuated until after a spirit birth (11). Other influential Church leaders including James E. Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtsoe discussed ideas of pre-existing spirit matter, which may or may not be synonymous with intelligence, clothed upon with spirit bodies at a spirit birth (6, p72).
The idea has been taught by successive Presidents of the Church. For example, Joseph F. Smith unequivocally stated, “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body…” (12) The concept of exalted beings having a “continuation of seeds” in terms of literal spirit posterity is canonized in D&C 132, and spirit birth is widely accepted as doctrinal in the Church, however undeveloped our understanding of the details.
Despite uncertainty and apparently conflicting teachings of canonized scripture and modern prophets on the origin of spirit children, we do know some things for certain. Each soul is of great worth to God (D&C 18:10). All of God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass [our] immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39). Our ultimate destiny is to become perfected (Moroni 10:32-33). Armed with these certainties, we can be confident in the knowledge that we are “beloved spirit [children] of Heavenly Parents with a divine nature and eternal destiny”(13), and patiently anticipate the revealing of further truth.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
*Opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author, and do not represent official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the position of FAIR.
- Blake T. Ostler, “The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 68. http://mormonpolygamydocuments.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/JS0951.pdf
- Stapley, Jonathan. A Response to Hales on Spirit Birth. https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/12/11/a-response-to-hales-on-spirit-birth/
- Samuel Morris Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (New York: Oxford Press, 2011), pp. 250–51.
- Brian C. Hales. “A Continuation of the Seeds”: Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth. Journal of Mormon History Vol. 38, No. 4 (Fall 2012), pp. 105-130. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/iss4
- Orson Pratt, Prophetic Almanac for 1845, no. 1 (New York: The Prophet Office, 1844), 5–7 https://archive.org/details/PropheticAlmanac18441845
Kara Dawson is a born and bred New Zealander and a third- generation member of the Church. She and her husband Chris have three adult children. She is a trained veterinarian, and works in animal epidemiology and disease eradication. She currently serves as ward organist and counselor to the Relief Society president. She has a strong interest in Church history and doctrine, is passionate about pastoral apologetics, and is a volunteer with FAIR and an admin for the Uplift Community of Faith. In her spare time, she gardens, cycles, hikes and plays Irish music.