Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Discussion on Pre-Mortality

December 12, 2009
by Tim Barker

Pre-Mortality As Taught in the Bible.

“If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.”1

In its historical context, Anathema has generally been understood to mean that a person would be excommunicated from the Church and accursed. As of 553 AD, this doctrine was established to abolish the idea of pre-mortality within Christianity. The doctrine of pre-mortality in regards to “historical Christianity” has generally been characterized as an untrue Hellenistic ideal that entered the emerging church through many of the early converts. This view asserts that mankind did not exist prior to birth, and that any allusions to the concept within the canon of scripture should simply be interpreted as referring to God’s foreknowledge.

Recently, while searching for a lecture given by Hugh Nibley on the subject,2 I stumbled upon a video of a Christian explaining why we, as Mormons, misinterpret Jeremiah 1:5. His message essentially repeats the idea that it was simply God’s foreknowledge referred to in this verse. He also asserts that this is a “key” Biblical verse used by Mormons to substantiate the idea of pre-mortality. While he is correct that it is a key verse, we are at odds with his interpretation of the scripture. In response to this video, I posted some verses from Proverbs chapter eight that I believe are also “key” verses on the subject.

As a result of my post, another individual and I entered into a discussion on the points raised. What follows is a brief treatment on this doctrine based on that conversation. The discussion is somewhat tailored as the subject was frequently sidetracked, and had to be redirected to the original discussion points. He is identified as “Inquiry,” rather than by his online name to protect his anonymity.

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. (Jer 1:5)

Tim: The gentlemen in the video does correctly state that Jer 1:5 is a “key” verse from the Bible in relation to pre-mortal life. However, there are others, including Proverbs 8:22-31. See below.

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before the works of old. I was set up from everlasting from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him. Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

Inquiry: Do you know who or what was talking in Proverbs 8? Wisdom was speaking, a non-living personified wisdom.

Tim: Whether wisdom is talking, or the Lord it is clear that “wisdom” was before the foundations of the earth and so were the sons of men. Obviously, the Lord and the sons of men existed before this earth was created. The scripture is clear and the doctrine is clear.

Additionally, regardless whether this is simply a proverb, the doctrine is true. The Lord existed before the foundations of the earth, so did His wisdom, and as the scripture indicates, so did the sons of men.

Inquiry: I disagree with the part about men existing with God. John 3:13 says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” This was Jesus speaking to Nicodemus, a teacher of the law and he said the one who came, not the ones. As for Proverbs 8, I believe that is wisdom speaking the same way God said in Genesis 4:6-7 “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”"

I give you this verse to explain why I believe Wisdom is speaking even though I don’t believe wisdom is a person. If Wisdom is an actual being, then so is sin, because God said it ‘desires’. How can an inanimate object desire? And Jesus said no one has gone into heaven, ever, except the one who came from heaven, himself, but if man was there, he too would have been from Heaven.

Tim: Regarding your deferral to John 3:13, you are essentially implying that Jesus has more authority than wisdom, and thus John 3:13 takes precedence over any supposed contradiction between the two. However, if you believe the entire canon to be inspired (or the entire Bible to be “God’s Word”), then it comes down to simply favoring one scripture above another.

As far as my position regarding the issue, I don’t see the two scriptures at odds with each other at all. John 3:13 (KJV) reads:

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

You could also use vs. 31 and argue similarly; however, I disagree with your interpretation. The phrase “he that came down from heaven” is relevant to the context, i.e., it is simply another way of saying Christ came down from heaven. It isn’t to the exclusion of others existing in heaven. Would it make any sense to say “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but they that came down from heaven…”? If that were the case, it would also imply that “they” also ascended into heaven, which would then destroy the point of the scripture.

W. Hall Harris III (an Evangelical Christian), states that “the point is the heavenly origin of the Son of Man. And the descent, at least here, seems to refer to the incarnation of man.” (from Exegetical Commentary on John 3).

As far as nobody ascending into heaven but the Lord, this also does not imply pre-existence is untrue, because we believe the scripture as it reads – we haven’t ascended into heaven, we were already there when born as spirit children. There is no ascension involved.

In other words, this scripture certainly doesn’t exclude pre-mortality.

As far as your quotation of Genesis, I would argue that “sin is crouching at your door” refers to Satan, just as much as wisdom refers to the Lord. Obviously wisdom doesn’t “delight” in things, and sin doesn’t crouch. It is metaphorical for the Lord (delight) and Satan (sin).

Inquiry: I think you answered very well toward the questions that I had brought up. And you used good interpreting skills toward responding to the verses I used. I still have one more question about it though. Job 38:4 says, “‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.’”

If Job was with God in the beginning why would God ask, ‘Where were you?’

Tim: Excellent question. This is one scripture that can be argued from a few angles. For example, some do not believe that Job literally existed and that the book was a scriptural story or metaphor. If that is the case, than Job did not have a pre-moral existence or a mortal existence, so the question is moot. I personally do not hold this view. Some (or perhaps many) Christians believe this scripture indicates that there is no pre-mortal life. And some Christians believe that this is an indication of pre-mortality.

As for my perspective, I believe the scripture is incomplete without the surrounding scriptures, especially vs. 7. Job 38:4-7 (KJV)

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This last verse indicates that the sons of God were present when the foundations of the earth were laid. I’m well aware that those who oppose our view generally argue that the sons of God refer to angels (Job 2:1-3 seems to support this position).

Strong’s concordance indicates that the morning “stars” (transliterated “kowkab”) are “of Messiah, brothers, youth, numerous progeny, personification, God’s omniscience.” While the “sons” of God (transliterated “ben”) are “son, grandson, child, member of a group, son, male child, grandson, children (pl. male and female), youth, young men, young (of animals), sons (as characterisation, i.e. sons of injustice [for un-righteous men] or sons of God [for angels], people (of a nation) (pl), of lifeless things, i.e., sparks, stars, arrows (fig.), a member of a guild, order,class.”

Now the above information certainly indicates that the interpretation could be angels, but there are numerous definitions given, and most of them indicating children (literal). Both arguments have basis for their positions; however, it should be noted that the “[for angels]” is added not as a translation, but an explanation. Either way, it doesn’t bother me, since we believe that angels and men are the same species (both are children of God), but their status differs (i.e., an angel can be a pre-mortal spirit, or post-mortal being – generally resurrected).

Regarding your actual question – why did the Lord ask Job, if he was already there? The way I interpret your question is that you mean – why would the Lord ask Job, if Job already knew the answer, since Job was there? Please let me know if I’m reading into your question incorrectly.

I think we can both agree God wasn’t asking Job because God didn’t know the answer. I think that potentially there are two possible answers.

One – Job may not have known about pre-mortality prior to this discussion. We obviously don’t remember pre-mortal existence, and the Lord was simply proving a point. Throughout Job 38-42 the Lord is essentially asking Job if he knew all the things God knew, which of course he didn’t.

Two – the question was simply rhetorical. It was to impress upon Job’s mind how great God is in contrast with the nothingness of men.

Anyways, as far as my speculating as to why God asked Job, those are my best answers. I’m sure there are others answers I haven’t considered. It should be noted that there isn’t an authoritative interpretation of all scriptures in LDS theology, rather, there are authoritative doctrines. Certain scriptures are often cited to support doctrines.

Inquiry: I appreciate your answer, but i’m still a little confused. Genesis 6:4 says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” If we are all God’s children how can there be a difference? Why or how could the sons of God, whom you believe to be actually people, lay with daughters of men, if we are all God’s children? Why didn’t it say with the daughters of God?

You did give a good answer, however, if angels and humans are both children of God then I’m still confused.

Romans 8:12-17 “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

This scripture says, ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.’ What about those who are not led by the Spirit of God? How can they be sons, because then what Paul said is pointless. We’re given a Spirit of sonship, but if everyone is his son still, than that spirit is pointless to those of us who obey God.

Tim: As far as why the scripture didn’t say “daughters of God,” or why it didn’t say “sons of men”, I can only speculate. Perhaps it was because God created man (Adam), who was a son of God (see Luke 3:38), whereas, Eve was created from Adam. In other words, it may have simply been a literary device to impress something specifically upon the minds of readers. Perhaps another explanation makes sense – I’ll return to this momentarily.

As far as your second question, I believe the answer to be much easier. While we believe that we are all literal spirit children, this scripture refers to those who were born again. As Jesus said that man must be born of the water and of the spirit to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5), it only makes sense that Paul is talking to saints who were born again because he tells them they would be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17). It only makes sense that they were previously born of the water and the spirit, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to enter the kingdom of God where they would be glorified with Christ.

Additional insight is gained on the subject of being born again through the spirit from a chapter in the Book of Mormon –

Returning back to the first question – since we believe that the same gospel existed throughout the history of the earth, we also believe that prior to the coming of Christ, everybody had to also accept Christ as well (who had been prophesied of). Perhaps the sons of God refer to those who accepted the Gospel (were born again), whereas the daughters of men did not have the gospel, or would not accept it.

I don’t know exactly what Moses meant, but either of those two explanations seem likely to me.

Inquiry: God is not a human in the Christian mind. God is a Spirit (John 4:24) Jesus took on the likeness of man (Philippians 2:7) to me would imply that he was not like man to begin with.

Tim: Regarding the definition that God is a spirit (John 4:24), it should be noted that “is” was never in the scripture. It was inserted in translating the Septuagint, since the Septuagint only says “God Spirit” (transliterated “Theos pneuma”). Obviously it is not clear what is meant without a verb present, and the translators have inserted this verb into the scripture.

What is actually meant by the scripture, I’m not positive, but I don’t have a problem with the interpretation that God is a Spirit, for at least two reasons. First, the Holy Ghost is a Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Godhead (or “Trinity,” if you will). Second, if it refers specifically to God the Father, a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants states: “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy.” (D&C 93:33) We believe that God the Father perfectly embodies these attributes. In other words, the scripture by John is accurate, but not fully complete in describing God.

As far as Jesus taking on the likeness of man, you mention that it would imply that he was not like man “to begin with.” I would disagree with this statement based on Genesis 1:26-27:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.

I think it is a commonality amongst all Christians that “God” here refers to God the Father, and “us” refers to the Father and the Son. If you have a different understanding, or are aware of divergent views on this within Christianity, I would be interested to know.

While I doubt that I’ve convinced you to believe in a pre-mortal existence, I hope that you can now better understand the LDS position on the subject and better understand how those scriptures in the bible cited by Mormons do actually provide support for this position. Hopefully, our discussion on this issue has at least led you to reconsider, or re-evaluate your interpretation on these scriptures.

Inquiry: Your responses have been helpful yes, but effective, I’m not quite sure yet. In your answer to Proverbs 8:31 you missed a huge point. Who is speaking here, man or wisdom? Let’s say wisdom is speaking. If wisdom is speaking, which she is since verse 1 says, ‘does not wisdom call out?’ and verse 3 says, ’she cries aloud.’ Wisdom then continues to say that Wisdom was made before the beginning of the world. And then she says in verse 27-29:

I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

And then in verse 30-31 she says:

Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day,rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

She said this after she pointed out that she was there when he made the world. I feel that the Mormon theology has given a poor exegesis of this scripture to fit their own belief. In context and in the order she gave, it gives no proof that man was there before the world, because when she rejoiced was after the world had been made.

As for Pre-existence Zechariah 12:1 says:

This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel . The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him…

Who forms the spirit of the man within him. Not outside of him in heaven and then the spirit enters the man, but within him. How does that add up with your theology?

Tim: Back to Proverbs 8. Verses 22-31 are all given regarding BEFORE the foundations of the earth, and DURING the creation. It doesn’t just jump forward to after the fall of man when there were “sons of men.” Vs. 26 – “While as yet he had not made the earth,” and Vs. 27 – when he prepared the heavens…, vs. 29 “when he appointed the foundations of the earth” – this is the latest timeframe. At the point of creation, BEFORE man was created (see the chronology of events in Genesis), wisdom was daily his delight (vs 30), rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth with the sons of men (vs. 31). The Lord hadn’t created man according to Genesis at this point, yet wisdom was with the sons of men.

The scripture clearly indicates the sons of men existed before they were physically created on the earth. The entire scripture is about existing prior to the creation and during the creation. No where does it discuss events after the creation, or especially after the fall of man.

As far as missing a “huge” point as to who is talking, it is irrelevant. I am well aware that “wisdom” is talking, but we have already discussed this. Wisdom obviously doesn’t talk, it is metaphorical.

I have provided you with sound answers regarding pre-mortal existence, whether you agree or not, is a different issue. Our [exchanges provided evidence] that there is sound reasoning and logic behind the scriptures used to support Pre-mortal existence.

Zechariah 12:1 – He forms the spirit of man within him just like we form the bodies of man within us. The scripture is strongly in favor of the Mormon view. We weren’t created as one would use clay or play-doh; God is LITERALLY our Father, and we are His offspring.

Essentially, all that I am getting at is this, whether you agree with our views on pre-existence or not, the scriptures cited do provide support for the LDS position on this doctrine. While I have provided you with sufficient explanations regarding each of the scriptures that you have brought up, you have not acknowledged the possibility that your interpretation isn’t the only interpretation. You have stated that Mormons can’t provide you with adequate answers, yet you have not shown me any scriptures that contradict the position which I have put forth, in fact they all provide additional support.

Inquiry: About Proverbs 8 It says in verse 31 KJV “rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” Who was with the men? The delights. Other translations; NIV “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” NASB “Rejoicing in the world, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men.” Wisdom delighted in, not with them. My delights are with my best friends. Am I present with my best friends? No. That’s where I don’t see the connection you’re making.

If Zechariah 12:1 supports your doctrine of Preexistence, then explain to me how God makes the spirit of a man from within the man? He can’t make something that already exists.
Genesis 2:7 “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.”

Is it important to believe in Preexistence? Is that what saves us?

Tim: Proverbs 8. Your explanation is wrong. It isn’t “delights” that were with the sons of men, rather it was “my delights.” My = wisdom (metaphorical reference to the Lord). Further, your argument that you delight with your friends implies that you previously associated with them before you could delight with them. Likewise, the Lord and wisdom delighted with us, because we existed.

Zechariah 12. Perhaps I don’t understand your question because I thought the answer was pretty clear. The man produces the seed (within himself) and the woman conceives. “That which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual” (D&C 77:2). God created man’s spirit and God created man’s body. Genesis 2 simply describes man’s physical creation, and the combining of the spirit and body.

“Is it important to believe in Preexistence? Is that what saves us?”

Your questions here are a deflection of the issue. If it isn’t important, than why did you try to argue it in the first place? …Statements like this [bother me] because if the logic were carried through, you could then throw out 99% of the Bible except for a handful of scriptures.

Is it important? Yes. Will it save us? It will provide additional insight into why we need to be saved.

At this point, the discussion addressed other points that are irrelevant to this discussion. It is interesting that pre-mortality is such a significant breaking point between historical Christianity and “Mormonism” which aligns quite nicely with early Christianity. According to Hugh Nibley, “Brigham Young said that more Latter-day Saints apostatize because of the doctrine of preexistence than for any other reason—more than polygamy, more than the trials and hardships, more than the teaching of the Law of Consecration.”3 While it is hard to imagine that this doctrine has the impact ascribed to it, the significance of this doctrine can hardly be overstated. As Nibley also pointed out, “this was a teaching that had enormous impact. It makes all the difference on how we look at our situation on earth, doesn’t it?”4

While this brief conversation hardly does the subject justice, it will hopefully provide the reader with a few insights that have not been previously taken into consideration. A fuller treatment will be forthcoming…

1 From the Fifth Ecumenical Council, The Second Council of Constantinople, AD 553: The Anathemas Against Origen. (Aug 29, 2009)
2 Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price: Transcripts of Lectures presented to an Honors Pearl of Great Price class at Brigham Young University , Winter Semester, 1986. Lecture 4.
3 Ibid
4 Ibid

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