Ep92-Did Joseph Smith Teach Spirit Birth?-Intelligence, Spirit & Heavenly Mother

Did Joseph Smith teach spirit birth?

He says no:

He says yes (well, he really says 'maybe'):
Brian C. Hales*

The Idea of Pre-existence in the Development of Mormon Thought: (audio and a link to the paper): http://www.exploringmormonthought.com/2018/11/the-idea-of-pre-existence-in.html

Show Notes:

THE MORMON BELIEF that the individual spirit of man existed in the presence of God before the creation of the world is unique in modern Christianity. Mormons have rejected the Creator/creature dichotomy of Patristic theology and its logical correlaries, creatio ex nihilo and the idea of God as a single, infinite Absolute. Mormons consider man one of the given entities of the universe, the necessary, self-existing offspring of God and therefore of the same ultimate nature as God—uncreate and capable of eternal progression. Man, as necessary being, could not not exist; his primal self is not created and cannot be. Nevertheless, the history of the idea of pre-existence in Mormon thought is one of varying interpretation, of refinement and controversy. The controversy stems largely from the inherent tension in a finitistic theology from an earlier period of absolutist preconceptions. Nowhere is this tension more evident in Mormonism than in its doctrine of pre-existence.

Absolutist Preconceptions: 1830—1835.

Ideal vs real pre-existence

the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible completed in 1833 and a revelation received in May of 1833 (now known as D&C 93), indicate that Joseph understood a concept of "ideal pre-existence," that is, existence which is expressed in terms of God's foreknowledge (ontologically mind-dependent).8 The May 1833 revelation stated:

Ye were in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth, and truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come . . . . Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

Progressive Pluralism: 1835-1844.

 in the KFD Joseph Smith seems to indicate that the mind part is eternal not just the elements that make up a person:

"The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true..."

"Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet has a beginning? Because if a spirit has a beginning, it will have an end. That is good logic. I want to reason further on the spirit of man, for I am dwelling on the spirit and body of man--on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning. Suppose I cut it in two; as the Lord lives, because it has a beginning, it would have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation who say that man had a beginning prove that he must have an end. If that were so, the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. Moreover, all the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible to enlargement."

He makes no distinction between the mind of man and the spirit of man. He says directly that God doesn't have the power to create the spirit of man. The intelligence first then spirit formation/birth second is a later development that has no basis in Joseph Smith's recorded teachings.

The views:(schools of thought)

1) Spirits/intelligences are the same thing existed as independent beings eternally with no beginning. (From the existing evidence this was Joseph Smith's view)

2) Intelligence is a building block like an atom and can be organized into a being that gives rise to consciousness...possibly a literal spirit birth or a spirit organization is involved somehow..I believe this was the Pratt's view...Bruce R McConkie)

3) Like 2 we literally birthed in some way from a Heavenly Mother and were sired by Heavenly Father with some sort of spiritual sex cells....spirit matter (Brigham’s View, but some include this idea in the other views as well)

4) We were at least minds from all eternity, but were at some point organized further with a body of spirit that contains our 'mind/intelligence' (This was B.H. Roberts view that was developed to make sense of the clash between what Joseph Smith taught and what Brigham Young taught.)

and I am sure there are many other models, but those are the ones I am most aware of.

Quotes from JS on the eternal (no beginning and no end) nature of spirits/intelligences:

Willard Richards pocket companion 8 August 1839: “The Priesthood is an everlasting principle & Existed with God from Eternity & will to Eternity, without beginning of days or end of years. the Keys have to be brought from heaven whenever the Gospel is sent…. The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal. & earth, water &c-all these had their existence in an elementary State from Eternity.”

JS taught two truths here: (1) the spirit is not created; (2) whatever is eternal is not created. It seems clear that “eternal spirit” means an uncreated spirit that had no beginning-ever.

5 Feb. 1840 JS speech: I believe that God is eternal. That He had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or end. I believe that the soul is eternal; and had no beginning; it can have no end. Here he entered into some explanations, which were so brief that I could not perfectly comprehend him. But the idea seemed to be that the soul of man, the spirit, had existed from eternity in the bosom of Divinity; and so far as he was intelligible to me, must ultimately return from whence it came. He said very little of rewards and punishments; but one conclusion, from what he did say, was irresistible-he contended throughout, that everything which had a beginning must have an ending 2 ; and consequently if the punishment of man commenced in the next world, it must, according to his logic and belief have an end.”

Here JS repeated and emphasized several statements: (1) he uses spirit and soul interchangeably; (2) he again reaffirms that God is eternal and clearly states that means that God had no beginning; (3) in context it is clear that “God” means both the Father and the Son; (4) the spirit is “eternal” in the sense that it is uncreated and cannot have a beginning.

from a sermon Smith delivered to in Washington, D.C., on 6 February 1840, was published in an eastern newspaper. Note here that “soul” is synonymous with “spirit” and is without beginning: “I believe that God is eternal. That He had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or end. I believe that the soul is eternal; and had no beginning; it can have no end… . the soul of man, the spirit, had existed from eternity in the bosom of Divinity.”

Jan 5 1841:  “If the soul of man had a beginning it will surely have an end… . Spirits are eternal. At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed, and the plan of salvation made and we sanctioned it.

28 March 1841: “he says the spirit or the intelligence of men are self Existent principles before the foundation this Earth-& quotes the Lords question to Job where wast thou when I laid the foundation of the Earth” Evidence that Job was in Existing somewhere at that time 1 he says God is Good & all his acts is for the benefit of inferior intelligences-God saw that those intelligences had Not power to Defend themselves against those that had a tabernacle therefore the Lord Calls them together in Counsel & agrees to form them tabernacles so that he might Gender the Spirit & the tabernacle together so as to create sympathy for their fellowman.”

Here there are two significant points: (1) JS uses spirit and intelligence as synonyms; (2) they are self-existent

Apostle Willard Richards,  occurred during the years 1839-1841. Here the spirit is not created and the “Father” is referred to as “organizer”: “The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal… . The Father called all spirits before him at the creation of Man & organized them. He (Adam) is the head, was told to multiply

George Laub journal 6 April 1843: “How came Spirits? Why, they are and ware Self Existing as all eternity & our Spirits are as Eternal as the very God is himself & that we choose to come on this Earth to take unto ourselvs tabernakles by permition of our Father.”

27 August 1843: “Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.” Here it is clear that though divine, the HG will one day become enfleshed “in a course similar to the Son.”

I point this out to show that the statement made in the Sermon in the Grove is a pattern of how the Father was fully divine, became enfleshed just like the Son (or the Son just like him). It is the same with all divine beings.

7 April 1844 “KFD” Bullock/Clayton report: “… 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 … The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true, hence when I talk to these mourners; what have they lost, they are only separated from their bodies for a short season; their spirits existed coequal with God, and they now exist in a place where they converse together, the same as we do on the earth. It is [not] logic to say that a spirit is immortal, and yet have a beginning. Because if a spirit have a beginning it will have an end; [not] good logic… . I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning… . All the fools, learned and wise men, from the beginning of creation, who say that man had a beginning, proves that he must have an end and then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But, if I am right I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops, that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself: intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and, there is no creation about it… . God himself finds himself in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was greater, and because he saw proper to institute laws, whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself, that they might have one glory upon another, in all that knowledge, power, and glory, &c., in order to save the world of spirits.”

Once again JS clearly states that: (1) the spirit, soul or intelligence are the same thing; (2) the spirit is uncreated and is just as eternal as God; (3) previously JS stated that the purpose of the KFD sermon was to come to teach us to know “the only true God” who is the Father of Jesus, and this one true God is just as eternal as the uncreated spirit.

The Book of Abraham: “18 Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal. 19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.”

Once again: (1) there is a Most High God who is more intelligent than all other intelligences; (2) intelligences/spirits are eternal and uncreated.

So I conclude that spirits/intelligences are uncreated. If there is spirit birth, spirits are created. Thus, literal spirit birth cannot be what JS had in mind. There is no source whatsoever from JS’s lifetime asserting that JS ever taught about a mother in heaven or spirit birth. “Eternal increase” in JS’s vocabulary meant to progress in greater intelligence and glory forever. We can have eternal increase by forever progressing together with our families, so the notion of “eternal increase” doesn’t entail ovoviviparous birth of new spirits -and such new existence of spirits is contrary to JS’s teachings and to our scriptures.

So why do we teach spirit birth?:

Contemporaries taught it:
On 14 February 1842, Snow, at the time a missionary in England, wrote the following to an Elder Walker: “When I write to you I feel to let my imagination rove I do not know why may be because you are sometimes as foolish as myself wish to know and dwell upon big things of the kingdom.

“Then let us indulge our follies at this time and wander a moment into the field of imagination. Some thirteen thousand years ago in Heaven or in Paradise (say) we came into existence or in other words received a spiritual organization according to the laws that [p.120]govern spiritual births in eternity We were there and then (say) born in the express image and likeness of him by whom we received our spiritual birth possessing the same faculties & powers but in their infantile state yet susceptable of an elevation equal to that of those possessed by our Spiritual Father But in order to effect this we must needs be planted in a material tabernacle. Accordingly the great machine was set in motion whereby bodies for the immortal sons and daughters of God came into being … the sons of God or the spirits awaiting to be perfected shouted with joy in anticipation of one day being like their Father in all things both in relation to becoming the Father of Spirits and that of Glorified bodies.”

When Pratt wrote about this doctrine, he chose not to relegate it to the realm of speculative “imagination,” publishing it under the heading “The Mormon Creed” in his Prophetic Almanac for 1845. Pratt wrote the pamphlet while in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1844, just prior to Smith’s death.9Brigham Young endorsed Pratt’s work at the October 1844 General Conference.10 In it Pratt presents the following catechism: “What is man? The offspring of God. What is God? The father of man. Who is Jesus Christ? He is our brother… . How many states of existence has man? He has three. What is the first? It is spiritual. What is the second? It is temporal. What is the third? It is immortal and eternal. How did he begin to exist in the first? He was begotten and born of God. How did he begin to exist in the second? He was begotten and born of the flesh.”

Another factor in determining the origin of this teaching involves the doctrine of eternal marriage. There is no doubt that Smith taught that one of the purposes of polygamy was eternal procreation. In his autobiography Apostle Parley P. Pratt recalls spending several days with Smith in Philadelphia in 1840. Pratt says that he was taught for the first time “of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes” resulting in “an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore.”16 Three years later, on 16 May 1843, William Clayton recorded that Smith taught privately, “Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory.

Two months later Smith dictated Doctrine and Covenants [p.122]132 in which those married for eternity are promised “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods” (vv. 19-20). Here Smith implies that gods procreate but does not specify that their offspring are spirits. There is no known explanation from Smith on this subject. In a 16 July 1843 sermon he explained “that he could not reveal the fulness of these things until the Temple is completed,”18 which was not accomplished until after his death. However, the conclusion some of his contemporaries drew, and the one which has prevailed through Mormon history, is that children born after the resurrection to exalted couples will be spirit children for future worlds.


Roberts relied on the textually inferior 1855 amalgamation of the King Follett discourse. In the earlier 1844 version, “mind,” “intelligence,” “soul,” and “spirit” are used synonymously and are declared to be eternal, uncreated, and without beginning. But in the 1855 version, the mind or intelligence is only part of the spirit–the immortal part. This allows for the belief in a procreated spirit clothing the uncreated mind or intelligence. These later modifications were made eleven years after the discourse and are not supported by any of the four original reports.

Roberts thought Joseph Smith taught that the “intelligence of spirits” is uncreated, while the best evidence holds that Smith taught that the “intelligence or spirit” is uncreated. Others who believed like Roberts include John A. Widtsoe, James E. Talmage, and Joseph Fielding Smith.

Spirit bodies: what of the idea of creating things spiritually and then materially? Could this justify a spirit body then real body?


  1. My premortal Spirit conundrum starts that God did organize us but not create us ( because we know that matter is not created nor destroyed)

    ��However, It stands to reason if I am more intellegent now, and I can continue to become more so in the future, then this could mean in the past I was less and less intelligent.

    So when we were gathered it's very possible that we had not much, almost like a newborn baby, to go off of.

    And so I don't believe in "we always just were," and I don't believe in "spiritual birth."

    I'm right in the middle with intelligence being gathered, and instructed, taught into conscious self awareness.

    I hope to learn more in this life to see how far off the mark I am.
    THANKS for this write up. Great read.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts