Progression & Probations

Dedicated to CS

On a warm summer day in 1888, a 32-year-old Orson F. Whitney sat down in Heber, Utah, to enjoy the company of the then-Apostle, Lorenzo Snow. Snow had invited Whitney down to his home and was favorably impressed by the sharp young man. Whitney was a few years returned from a mission to Europe where he had served as the editor of the Millennial Star and was engaged to marry a second wife in a month’s time. Whitney wrote in his journal that Snow perceived in him “a revealing mind” and that he “was wonderfully gifted in the power to reach after and grasp the mysteries.”[1] In light of this spiritual trust, Snow told Whitney things that he considered sacred but which Whitney nevertheless recorded:

“During our talks he told me that his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith, was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the prophet, her husband. He said he saw nothing unreasonable in it, and could believe it, if it came to him from the Lord or His oracles.”[1b]

The above statement may come as a shock to modern LDS readers trained in a strictly orthodox interpretation of the Plan of Salvation. How could reincarnation play any viable role in God’s work and glory? To answer that, we must dissect the meaning of reincarnation, which, in its true construction, may take an unexpected form.

The Devil’s Decoy

In the late fall of 1835, a strange visitor blew in to Kirtland, Ohio. He introduced himself to Joseph Smith as “Joshua, the Jewish Minister.”[2] In reality he was Robert “Matthias” Mathews, an infamous self-proclaimed prophet who had only recently fled the area of Sing Sing, New York, where his former congregation, or “Mount Zion,” had been disbanded after rumors about their arranged marriage practices began to spread and charges of murder against Matthias were published.[3]

Joseph and others suspected that “Joshua” was in fact Matthias whom they had heard about in newspapers before his arrival. After Joseph pressed him on the matter, Matthias admitted that he was indeed the self-proclaimed prophet. Joseph subsequently invited him to preach a sermon, and the rest of the encounter went as follows according to Joseph:

“He [preached], sitting in his chair. He commenced by saying, ‘God said, let there by light, and there was light,’ which he dwelt upon throughout his discourse. He made some very excellent remarks, but his mind was evidently filled with darkness.
“I resumed conversation with Matthias, and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurrection. He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that this was the way or scheme of eternal life—this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.
“I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself….
“He tarried until Wednesday…when, after breakfast, I told him, that my God told me, that his god was the devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart. And so I, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer.”[4]

Not surprisingly, the above account has been widely used to establish Joseph Smith’s official position on reincarnation as being a false doctrine. But it should be noted that what Matthias suggests as his doctrine is itself a unique take on the traditional reincarnation.

Reincarnation is generally defined as the return of the spirit of a deceased individual to mortality through birth of a new body. Eastern religions have long believed in such cyclical incarnations, adding that the type of creature a spirit incarnates as is determined by the actions of their life—good persons eventually escaping the cycle to become immortal and bad persons going down the ladder of intelligence to become animals and insects. This, they teach, all occurs upon this world with constancy.

Though we are not blessed to know Joseph Smith’s thoughts on eastern teachings of reincarnation, we can note clear distinctions between what is traditionally concerned as reincarnation and the version that Joseph decried as ‘of the devil,’ which allows us to set down some clear anti-doctrinal principles:

  • Multiple ancestors do not live concurrently in a descendant’s body,
  • Spirits do not transmigrate from father to son, and
  • The resurrection is not had in the rebirth of a spirit.

Extending Joseph’s denials to definitions of reincarnation different than this would perhaps be an overapplication of his statements, especially in light of Orson F. Whitney’s account quoted above. That stated, there are comments from Joseph Smith recorded by those who knew and believed him that allow us to form a better picture of what Joseph may have actually believed regarding reincarnation in its true form. By analyzing these we can reconstruct a doctrinal outline that we can test against the scriptures and against principles of the Plan of Salvation that were clearly espoused by the prophet.

One Birth, One Death, One Resurrection

In defining what Joseph may have believed about reincarnation, it is pertinent to point out that at least one aspect of the traditional definition that may be safely rejected: the spirits of the dead do not return to mortality on the same earth where they lived once. The following comments, made toward the end of his ministry, make clear his views on the destiny and location of the departed dead:

“There are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelations of the Holy Ghost to me. I will criticize a little further. There has been much said about the word hell, and the sectarian world have preached much about it, describing it to be a burning lake of fire and brimstone. But what is hell? It is another modern term, and is taken from hades…. Hades, the Greek, or Sheol, the Hebrew—these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits. The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.”[5]

“At the resurrection your [righteous friends] will rise in perfect felicity and go to celestial glory, while many must wait myriads of years before they can receive the like blessings….
“Rejoice, O Israel! Your friends who have been murdered for the truth’s sake in the persecutions shall triumph gloriously in the celestial world, while their murderers shall welter for ages in torment, even until they shall have paid the uttermost farthing. 
“I say this for the benefit of strangers: I have a father, brothers, children, and friends who have gone to a world of spirits. They are only absent for a moment. They are in the spirit, and we shall soon meet again. The time will soon arrive when the trumpet shall sound.”[6]

It is obvious from the foregoing that Joseph did not calculate reincarnation to include any such notion as the return of a spirit to a physical body prior to the resurrections of the just and the unjust (see D&C 76:11 – 18). Furthermore, in keeping with the pattern established by Jesus in his bodily resurrection, the spirits of the dead will return to their own bodies out of the grave:

“I would esteem it one of the greatest blessings, if I am to be afflicted in this world, to have my lot cast where I can find brothers and friends all around me…. It is to have the privilege of having our dead buried on the land where God has appointed to gather His Saints together, and where there will be none but Saints, where they may have the privilege of laying their bodies where the Son of Man will make His appearance, and where they may hear the sound of the trump that shall call them forth to behold Him, that in the morn of the resurrection they may come forth in a body, and come up out of their graves and strike hands immediately in eternal glory and felicity, rather than be scattered thousands of miles apart. There is something good and sacred to me in this thing. The place where a man is buried is sacred to me. This subject is made mention of in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. Even to the aborigines of this land, the burying places of their fathers are more sacred than anything else….
“Would you think it strange if I relate what I have seen in vision in relation to this interesting theme? Those who have died in Jesus Christ may expect to enter into all that fruition of joy when they come forth, which they possessed or anticipated here. So plain was the vision, that I actually saw men, before they had ascended from the tomb, as though they were getting up slowly. They took each other by the hand and said to each other, ‘My father, my son, my mother, my daughter, my brother, my sister.’ And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.”[7]

With all of these statements solidly placing Joseph’s beliefs toward traditional reincarnation seemingly far out of reach, we must consider how else Joseph could possibly have believed in the term “to reincarnate.” If we take it literally and shed oriental precepts that Joseph may not have been much exposed to in life, we are left with the possibility that Joseph believed in a spirit incarnating in a body of flesh and blood multiple times (lit: “re-incarnate”) in multiple worlds. To more easily distinguish between this concept and that taught by the Orientals, let us summarize the differences as follows:

  • Oriental Reincarnation:
    • After death, the spirit returns to life through a mortal birth
    • There is only one earth with possibly infinite lifecycles per person
    • The goal is to escape the earth eventually
  • Subsequent Earth Reincarnation:
    • After death, the spirit returns to physical life through resurrection
    • There are multiple earths with one lifecycle per person
    • The goal is to inherit an earth eventually

In short, there is one birth, one death, and one resurrection per world.

The Nonexistent Preexistence

If we turn to the scriptures for a refutation of subsequent earth reincarnation through an appeal to the orthodox principles of the pre-mortal life, we will be disappointed in our efforts; the scriptures are perhaps far more silent on the topic of what occurred to us before this life than we may be apt to suppose. Though personal investigation is always encouraged, consider the following list as representative of the depths reachable through scripture alone:

“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?” (Heb. 12:9).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3 – 5).

“The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, [God] hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6).[8]

“The devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; and they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels” (D&C 29:36 – 37).

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29).

“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. And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
“And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him” (Abr. 3:22 – 28).

Again, the above verses are by no means exhaustive; however, they are typical of the themes and information imparted to us through all related passages. It is obvious that using them to try and deny subsequent earth reincarnation, or multiple past lives spanning multiple past worlds, is not possible given the paucity of information imparted. From the scriptures we essentially gather the following:

  • The beginning of man’s existence is not at birth;
  • God stands in a fatherly relation to mankind;
  • Man made choices before this life that precipitated certain effects into this world; and
  • The above included Adam, Jesus, the devil, the watchers,[8a] and, ultimately, each of us as we counseled with the gods.

If a group of primary children at any given LDS chapel were to be interviewed about what the pre-mortal life entailed, answers would be sure to include:

  • We were born as spirits in a beautiful place (a knowledgeable child may even venture a guess that is was Kolob),
  • We lived there for eons and eons only as spirits, and
  • God was different because he had a physical body.

The above responses would also include imagery (perhaps officially printed materials) depicting a cloudy and/or colorful paradise with people in white robes sitting or standing around smiling at one another. Whether the primary precepts recited above have any elements of truth to them or not is beyond the point of this demonstration; what ought to be noted is the non-scriptural nature of the imaginative inferences present in modern LDS teachings.

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Though man doubtless has spent immeasurable and innumerable spans of time in the presence of Gods and angels in more exalted spheres, it is not scripturally justified to say that premortal experiences were limited to such sheltered dreamscapes.

Grace for Grace

If Joseph Smith had subscribed to these inferences, doubtless the possibility of his belief in subsequent earth reincarnation could be safely ignored. But as it will be demonstrated, Joseph provided us with far richer context into his understanding of premortal events than is generally understood. Examples of the added truth and light he imparted, and with which we are generally unfamiliar in LDS orthodoxy, include statements such as the following, all of which were delivered after the marriage to his wife and reincarnation confidant, Eliza R. Snow, in June 1842:

The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal; and earth, water, etc., had their existence in an elementary state, from eternity. Our Savior speaks of children and says, ‘Their angels always stand before my Father.’ The Father called all spirits before Him at the creation of man, and organized them.”[9]

“The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal, with God himself…. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven.”[10]

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man…. He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.”[11]

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.”[12]

“To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, [is to do] the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same.”[13]

“The Scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself, even so hath the Son power—to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious—in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do we believe it? I you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The Scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it. Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great onefrom grace to gracefrom exaltation to exaltation….”[14]

“For we are to go from glory to glory and as one is raised to a higher, so the next under him may take his degree and so to take the exaltation through the regular channel. When we get to where Jesus is, he will be just as far ahead of us again in exaltation.”[15]

“[The dead] will rise & dwell with everlasting burnings to be an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ enjoying the same rise, exaltation and glory until you arrive at the station of a God. What did Jesus Christ do? The same thing as I see the Father do. See the father do what? Work out a kingdom, [and] when I do so too I will give [it] to the father, which will add to his glory. He will take a Higher exaltation and I will take his place, and [so I] am also exalted.”[16]

The above quotes appear at face value to deal primarily with the subject of post-mortal progression; however, if considered in light of possible subsequent earth reincarnation, the subject of going from glory to glory entails implications for pre-mortal progression by natural extension of the post-mortal principle. Zealous anti-reincarnationists sometimes deny any possible connection of this pattern to God’s children at large but reserve it only for God’s firstborn son, saying that it is only Christ who must work out a kingdom in fear and trembling among all the children of God. This cannot, however, be fully maintained in light of Doctrine and Covenants section 93, which says in part:

“And [John] bore record, saying: I saw [Christ’s] glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was…. And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; and he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; and thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
“I [Christ] give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.
“And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; and all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father” (D&C 93:7, 11 – 14, 19 – 23).

These verses make it clear that our full expression of worship includes our participation in Christ’s pattern of increasing from one capacity to another, just as Christ did when he came to earth already full of grace and truth (see v. 9), having gone from ‘grace to grace’ until that point. These verses state clearly that this process enables all of God’s children, ‘in due time,’ to do the same.

In the Mouths of Two or Three Witnesses

Some may argue that the phrasing of ‘grace to grace’ could mean something other than multiple probations, but Joseph Smith indicated to those around him that such was exactly what he had in mind. The early Mormon pioneer, Joseph Lee Robinson recalls Joseph’s words as he heard in Nauvoo:

“We…heard [Joseph Smith] say that God had revealed unto him that any man that ever committed adultery in either of his probations that that man could never be raised to the highest exaltation in the celestial glory and that he felt anxious with regard to himself that he inquired of the Lord that the Lord told him that he, Joseph, had never committed adultery. This saying of the prophet astonished me very much. It opened up to me a very wide field of reflection. The idea [was] that we had passed through probations prior to this and that we must have been married or given in marriage in those probations, or there would be no propriety in making such an assertion, and that there were several exaltations in the celestial kingdom of our God.”[17]

Joseph’s close and faithful friend, Heber C. Kimball—who was affectionately called by Brigham Young “my prophet”[18]—preserved Joseph’s private teachings and scriptural interpretations regarding subsequent earth reincarnation in his sermons for years after Joseph’s death:

“What I do not to-day, when the sun goes down, I lay down to sleep, which is typical of death; and in the morning I rise and commence my work where I left it yesterday. That course is typical of the probations we take. But suppose that I do not improve my time to-day, I wake up to-morrow and find myself in the rear; and then, if I do not improve upon that day, and again lay down to sleep, on awaking, I find myself still in the rear. This day’s work is typical of this probation, and the sleep of every night is typical of death, and rising in the morning is typical of the resurrection. They are days’ labors, and it is for us to be faithful to-day, to-morrow, and every day.”[19]

The last church President to have known Joseph Smith as a peer and student of his innermost teachings, Lorenzo Snow, lived into the 20th century and gave his last full address to the saints in April 1901. In it, he briefly made mention of the mystery of subsequent earth reincarnation in relation to details and revelatory assurances he had gained before death:

“We are immortal beings. That which dwells in this body of ours is immortal, and will always exist. Our individuality will always continue. Eternities may begin, eternities may end, and still we shall have our individuality. Our identity is insured. We will be ourselves, and nobody else. Whatever changes may arise, whatever worlds may be made or pass away, our identity will always remain the same; and we will continue on improving, advancing and increasing in wisdom, intelligence, power and dominion, worlds without end.”[20]

To Progress or Not To Progress

Mormon critics of reincarnation will consider Snow’s words to merely be a poetic and excessively embellished repackaging of the teaching expressed succinctly by Amulek in the Book of Mormon who said:

“Behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption” (Alma 11:45, emphasis added)

But were Amulek’s words merely his best-informed understanding as opposed to exact truth? It may seem odd to question “the most correct of any book on earth” (Book of Mormon Introduction) on the truthfulness of its phrasing, but it must be admitted that the correctness of the translation does not preclude the record from perfectly transmitting the imperfect understanding of its ancient writers (for instance, the seeming contradiction between Jacob 2 and D&C 132 may reflect just such an issue: to the Nephites plural marriage was an offense to God if they were to engage in its practice, but the greater truth revealed to Joseph Smith was that Abraham, Jacob, and others were in alignment with God’s fullest marital order [see my blogpost Plural Marriage & The Parable of the Talents]). God himself has revealed that he leverages particular wording in sacred writ for effect though not necessarily reflecting the whole picture accurately:

“Surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless. Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand. Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.” (D&C 19:4 – 12).

The explanation from the Lord dovetails with the doctrinal inferences needed to properly support the truth of subsequent earth reincarnation—namely, that many things we assume are eternal and unending actually may have an end. Joseph Smith effectively narrowed the number of ‘eternal and unending’ things in the universe down to one thing: the spirit or mind. Using his wedding ring as a visual demonstration he said:

“I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, 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 had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it[21]

By extension then, things that have beginnings may have endings. Therefore by applying this principle to resurrected bodies, contradictions between subsequent earth reincarnation and the eschatological doctrine of resurrection are easily resolved: inasmuch as a resurrected body has a beginning it may have an end (though not subject to death as we understand it). Operating on this doctrinal inference, Hyrum Smith taught that those who inherit Terrestrial bodies in the resurrection will not always remain so:

“Those of the Terrestrial Glory either advance to the Celestial or recede to the Telestial, [or] else the moon could not be a type [for] it ‘waxes & wanes.’[22]

This movement from one degree of glory to another may not seem worth noting here if it were not for Paul’s declaration that, for differing individual spiritual glory, people in the resurrection receive differing types of bodies—”that body that shall be” (1 Cor. 15:37, emphasis added). The Lord clarified to the prophet Joseph Smith that these immortal bodies (ibid., v. 53) are capacitated to enjoy the degree of glory that it is resurrected into and no more:

“The spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul. And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
“Therefore, [the earth] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; for after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; that bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.
“And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
“For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory….
“They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened. Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness. And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness. And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness” (D&C 88:15 – 24, 28 – 31, emphasis added).

This doctrine precludes the ability of a spirit within a resurrected terrestrial body from being able to abide the glory of the celestial kingdom, as Hyrum alluded they could someday do, without that spirit first obtaining a celestial body. This creates a logical gap like a missing puzzle piece whose exact fit is subsequent earth reincarnation:

  • An immortal body is only obtained through resurrection of a mortal body;
  • An immortal body is only able to endure a certain degree of glory; and yet
  • A spirit can progress from one kingdom to another.
  • A spirit must set aside its immortal body of a lesser degree of glory and pass through a mortality on a new world to obtain a resurrected body of a higher degree of glory.

Eternal Rounds

These principles are visually outlined in the hypocephalus reproduced as Facsimile 2 in the Book of Abraham. Briefly, let’s consider the following symbols and their interconnected relationship within the image:

Fig. 1

First, if the image is examined as a whole the following symbolism is observable:

  • The imagery is divided into two general sections: one is right-side up (highlighted in yellow in fig. 1, above), and one is upside-down (highlighted in blue in fig. 1, above):
    • The upper half (yellow) represents the immortal, heavenly realm, while the lower half (blue) represents the mortal, earthy realm;
    • The lower portion is upside down to symbolize how the earthy is a reflection of the heavenly (calling to mind the esoteric “as above so below” of Tabula Smaragdina fame).
  • A seated man appears twice in a mirrored position in the two sections (highlighted in teal/blue-green in fig. 1):
    • According to the footnotes provided from Joseph Smith, both of these figures represent “God sitting upon his throne” though the one in the upper section is “clothed with power and authority;” but
    • Joseph Smith makes connections here to the priesthood being revealed to Abraham by the Holy Ghost in the lower position, showing that the man there may also represent any sanctified recipient of the priesthood in the earthy realm.
Fig. 2

When the hypocephalus is turned upside-down so that the earthy realm can be inspected, the following symbolism is observable:

  • The seated man (highlighted in blue in fig. 2):
    • He is receiving priesthood keys through the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (in other hypocephali the messenger is often a two-legged snake with arms, another animal messenger in Egyptian iconography[23]).
    • Reuben Hedlock, the man who made the woodcut of Joseph Smith’s hypocephalus for reproduction in print, altered the position of the erect phallus on the seated man so that it appeared afterward to be an arm, discounting vital iconography relative to the purpose of the earthy realm. (Depictions from other hypocephali have been assembled at left to establish this point.)
  • To the man’s right is a woman (highlighted in pink in fig. 2):
    • She is the man’s priestess in the priesthood as indicated by her possessing the wadjet eye symbol of God’s name upon her veiled face (see Abr. 1:18);
    • The man rests a flail upon her shoulder, representative of his blood and reproductive power and authority being appointed through her.
  • The cow, Hathor (also highlighted in pink in fig. 2), stands next to the woman:
    • She represents the sun on a cosmological level, but
    • She also represents Eve and the uterus, or female reproductive organ, of the woman. This is the place where the seed of the man accrues the dust of the earth in the formative process of new physical bodies.
  • The four sons of Horus (highlighted in green in fig. 2):
    • They represent the four corners of the earth on a cosmological level, but
    • They also represent the four elements of creation, and in sum they represent the dust of the earth—the matter out of which the body of a new child will be formed within the womb of the impregnated woman (“For dust thou art” [Gen. 3:19]).
  • Lastly, to the right of the four sons of Horus is a depiction of a leaf, an herbivore, and a carnivore (also highlighted in green in fig. 2):
    • These items represent the cycle of life and matter, communicating the principle that matter cycles through multiple forms as it is acted upon by various intelligences;
    • This also shows that the dust of the earth with which the children of Adam are formed is impermanently possessed unless there is a resurrection.
Fig. 3

Returning to the overall picture, the relationship between the two sections—the heavenly and the earthy—is brought together in the following manner:

  • Inasmuch as it is the purpose of the Gods (see Abr. ch. 4) in forming an earth to provide immortal tabernacles, or bodies, for spirits increasing in light and truth (see Moses 1:39), the creative work of the heavenly cannot continue without the earthy:
    1. The Gods plan to produce immortal souls of varying degrees of glory, so an earth—mirrored or patterned after older earths—is formed for that end (council in heaven; the beginning of circle in yellow in fig. 3);
    2. Mortality is introduced on the formed earth through blood and the human race replicates itself upon immutable principles of generative reproduction with physical bodies, which bodies return to dust through death (earthy realm; the bottom, blue portion of the circle in fig. 3); and finally
    3. Through the priesthood, the dead are raised to immortality and their spirits are clothed upon with heavenly bodies in varying degrees of glory, which go on to participate in future heavenly councils where new probations are proffered (subsequent earth reincarnation; the end of the circle again in yellow in fig. 3).

In layman’s terms this represents a cyclical pattern whereby exalted beings come down as planters to sow seed that perchance it may “bring forth fruit” (Mark 4:20), which fruit is raised back into the heavenly storehouse as additional and greater exalted beings.

This Paul plainly taught in the New Testament when he said:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the [resurrected body]. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
“As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:40 – 44, 48 – 53; see also my blog post The Second Adam [is Probably Not Christ]).

These evidences aside, it would be well to ask: are there any recorded instances in the scriptures of a resurrected body losing its glorified status to go through the process of subsequent earth reincarnation? Yes, several times in fact. This surprising answer requires us first to turn the pages all the way back to the beginning of this earth.


In the final years of Joseph Smith’s ministry, he began to teach deeper and deeper mysteries to his friends as God revealed them to him. Prophetically, Joseph sensed that this unveiling of the heavens would turn friends into foes:

“Many men will say, ‘I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times.’ But the moment you teach them some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them they will be the first to stone you and put you to death. It was this same principle that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, and will cause the people to kill the prophets in this generation.”[24]

This prophecy found fulfillment beginning on Friday the 7th of June, 1844, when those who had once been privy to Joseph’s private councils sought to precipitate his downfall by exposing his deepest teachings in a local newspaper, a portion of which is reproduced as follows:

“Inasmuch as we have for years borne with the individual follies and iniquities of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and many other official characters in the Church of Jesus Christ, (conceiving it a duty incumbent upon us so to bear,) and having labored with them repeatedly with all Christian love, meekness and humility, yet to no effect, feel as if forbearance has ceased to be a virtue, and hope of reformation vain; and inasmuch as they have introduced false and damnable doctrines into the Church, such as a plurality of Gods above the God of this universe, and his liability to fall with all his creations; the plurality of wives, for time and eternity; the doctrine of unconditional sealing up to eternal life, against all crimes except that of shedding innocent blood, by a perversion of their priestly authority, and thereby forfeiting the holy priesthood, according to the word of Jesus; ‘If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered, and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,’ St. John, xv. 6. ‘Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God, he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, hath both the Father and the Son; if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, for he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds;’ we therefore are constrained to denounce them as apostates from the pure and holy doctrines of Jesus Christ.”

The line bolded above, stating Joseph that taught there were many gods and that the God of this world fell with his creations, is a direct reference to the Adam-God doctrine later published by Joseph’s successor (and faithful privy friend), Brigham Young. In 1852 he stated the following as he had received from Joseph Smith in Nauvoo:

“When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! about whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do…. When Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, their bodies became mortal from its effects, and therefore their offspring were mortal. When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family” [25]

Skeptics of Brigham’s views typically cry foul with the notion that a resurrected, celestial body could return to a state of mortality. Indeed equating God with the first man, who required blood in his veins to sire physical children (see 1 Cor. 15:40 – 44, 48 – 53), requires that immortal beings can lose their immortal status. The problem for the skeptics is that this is exactly what Joseph Smith taught. The following was recorded in the minutes of Joseph Smith’s secret Council of 50 in Nauvoo:

“The chairman [Joseph Smith] explained the meaning of the word ‘Ahman’ which signifies the first man or first God, and ‘Ahman Christ’ signifies the first man’s son.”[26]

At another time, Joseph referred to God the Father as the ‘first God’ or God the first, insinuating again that this being had a work to do upon the earth:

“[An] everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham’s record, are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator”[27]

The principles involved to equate the head God with ‘the first man’ are clearly codified in the hypocephalus, or the Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, as illustrated above: the heavenly man comes down and becomes ‘earthy’ to produce offspring (“Adam fell that men might be” [2 Ne. 2:25]). This is a prime, scriptural example of a resurrected being—or a being who passed through a mortal probation on a past world—returning to mortality to pass through another probation on another world. In other words, it is an example of subsequent earth reincarnation.

Body, Spirit, & Soul

God told Joseph Smith that one of the purposes of eternal marriage is for incarnating souls through the merger of spirit and body (see D&C 88:15):

“[Women] are given unto [a man] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified” (D&C 132:63, emphasis added).

The incarnation of a souls’ takes place in mortality when a spirit enters into a physical body prepared in the womb of a woman. Eventually that soul sheds its physical tabernacle in death, leaving it just a spirit; resurrection from the dead then, the Lord clarified, “is the redemption of the soul” (D&C 88:16, emphasis added). These principles enable gods, angels, and men to be described according to the following syllogistic statement:

Not all spirits are souls, but all souls (mortal or immortal) are spirits.

Hence the scriptures can state that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24); that “he is that Great Spirit” (Alma 22:10); and that even “man is spirit” (D&C 93:33). But this knowledge also reveals a mystery of the pre-earth council as described by Abraham:

Abr. 3:19, 21 – 24, 26Commentary
“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…. I dwell in the midst of them all…God the Father—an embodied, resurrected soul—identifies himself as the most intelligent ‘spirit’ relative to all those who inhabit this world. This is in keeping with the above syllogistic statement that allows a resurrected soul to be identified concurrently as a spirit.
I came down in the beginning in the midst of all….Next, God states that he had come ‘down’ in a time previous to the creation of this world, a phrase that is later connected with the organizing of worlds.
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.
In the next verse Abraham sees intelligences or spirits that had been ‘organized,’ a term that appears eight times and only in the following chapter with exclusive reference to physical creation. Moreover, this verse refers to them as ‘souls.’

The next line calls them spirits, but it will be remembered that God had just identified himself as a spirit as well despite possessing a body. Again, this is an accurate and acceptable designation for incarnated beings of any grade.
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell….A group of these ‘souls’ declares their intent to ‘go down’ and form an earth, which group is referred to in the next chapter as “the Gods” (Abr. 4:1; a literal take of the Hebrew אֱלֹהִים [Elohim, “Gods”]).
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.A reference to something called an ‘estate’ is made, later showing that the devil lost his ‘first estate’ and that those who would not do the same would apparently have an opportunity for a subsequent ‘estate.’

The above analysis shows that the most righteous portion of the group of souls ‘organized before the world was [created]’ are later referred to as ‘the Gods’ who ‘go down’ and participate in forming the current earth. Other revelation to Joseph Smith clearly revealed that ‘Gods’ can only be embodied, resurrected beings:

If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:19 – 20).

The Abraham text also implies that the devil was among this group as they remain the subject of the text up through the election of the savior and the contest of the candidates (see vv. 23 – 25, 27 – 28). This notion is supported by Joseph Smith’s teachings when he said:

“Satan, or Lucifer,…boasted of himself saying, ‘Send me I can save all.’ And [he] sinned against the Holy Ghost because he accused his brethren and was hurled from the council for striving to break the law immediately. There was a warfare with Satan and the gods and they hurled Satan out of his place and all them that would not keep the sayings of the council. But he himself being one of the councilors would not keep the first estate….”[28]

This language hearkens to the punishment described by Brigham Young that will be inflicted upon men who make an evil or poor use of their priesthood as exalted beings:

“Should [men] use their power in wickedness as a tyrant they soon will be called to render an account of their stewardship. If not found worthy they will be hurled down to perdition and their family and kingdom be given to another that is more worthy.”[29]

In accord with these things, language from the apocryphal “Discourse of the Abbaton, a sermon based on the text delivered by Timothy the Archbishop of Alexandria,” paints a surprisingly physical end to Satan’s pre-earth revolt, as Hugh Nibley summarized:

“God saw that Satan, because of his boundless ambition and total lack of humility, could no longer be trusted with celestial power and commanded the angels to remove him from his office. This ordinance they performed with great sorrow and reluctance: They ‘removed the writing of authority from his hand. They took from him his armor and all the insignia of priesthood and kingship.’ Then with a ceremonial knife, a sickle, they inflicted upon him certain ceremonial blows of death.”[30]

As Satan was once numbered among the Gods, the nature of an ‘estate’ may have subsequent earth reincarnation implications as well since the devil is stated to have lost his ‘first’ estate:

“And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him” (Abr. 3:27 – 28, emphasis added).

Though the term ‘first estate’ is normally interpreted as the unembodied phase of mankind before physical birth, this is not what the scriptures intend. The phrase first appears in the General Epistle of Jude in the New Testament:

“The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, [God] hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6, emphasis added).

The Greek original word used was ἀρχὴν (archēn), which Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines as “magistrate, power, principality, principle, rule.”[31] In fact, ἀρχὴν is translated in the eighth chapter of Romans as “principality” (v. 38). This knowledge allows the reader of Abraham to perceive that those spirits that had gained an estate had actually gained a principality or kingdom and hence were resurrected souls and, at most, ‘Gods’ who ‘inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths’ as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants.

“Another answered and said: Here am I, send me” (Abr. 3:27).

All of this is to show that the principle of losing one’s immortal body is demonstrated in at least two ways in the example of three beings: Adam and Eve, and Lucifer. In the case of the former couple, they lost their immortal bodies through the consumption of certain earthy fruit, reintroducing blood into their otherwise perfected veins;[8b] in the case of the latter individual, he lost his immortal body through a ceremonial ordinance after transgressing the laws of the heavenly council, having his principality or kingdom taken from him and given to another. For convenience I will refer to these two methods separately as “falling” and “suffering the second death.” But there is yet a third way to lose an immortal body yet to be unlocked from the scriptures, which I will call “condescension” for lack of a more accurate term (see 1 Ne. 11:16).

It will be recalled that Lucifer and Michael were not the only beings enumerated by Abraham as ‘souls’ assigned to this world. Abraham saw that there were many regarding whom God said ‘these I will make my rulers.’ In fact, Abraham was one of them himself (see Abr. 3:23). Thus Abraham too (along with untold numbers of other people born on this world) somehow shed his immortal body obtained in a resurrection before this world that his spirit might be recompressed and condescend into a new tabernacle of flesh and blood within a womb.

As with nearly all things in life pertaining to the fulness of the plan of salvation, Abraham and other noble and great spirits of history proffer examples that are themselves but shadows of the great exemplar and archetype of all things, even Jesus Christ. And when it comes to this type of immortal condescension and reincarnation into mortality, we may look to the savior for the prime representation.

a nail in a sure place

Toward the end of his ministry, Joseph taught many marvelous things about the savior Jesus Christ and the relationship of all other men to him. In the King Follet discourse, quoted extensively above, Joseph established that God the Father did the same works as Jesus on a previous world and that Jesus would go on to perform the same works as the Father in a future world (namely, create and people it as a new Adam). Clearly Jesus treads in the footsteps of his Father, but do other mortals tread in the footsteps of Jesus? To answer this question, God restored the temple ordinances as symbolic teachers. Brigham Young was recorded on at least two private occasions to have expounded on the nature of some of the symbols:

“The Keys or signs of the Priesthood are for the purpose of impressing on the mind the order of the creation. In the first place the name of the man is given, a new name, Adam, signifying the first man; or Eve, the first woman. Adam’s name was more ancient than he was; it was the name of a man long before him, who enjoyed the priesthood. The new name should be after some ancient man—thus with your ancient name, your modern name, and the name that was last given you, you enquire concerning thing[s] past, present, and future.”[32]
“Should I want to address the throne to enquire after ancient things which transpired on planets that rolled away before this planet came into existence, I should use my new name which is ancient and referred to ancient things; should I wish to enquire for present things I should use my own name which refers to present things; and should I want to enquire for future things I would use the third name which refers to the first token of the Melchizedek priesthood.”[33]

The point of the foregoing quotes is only relatable if one has been through the endowment for oneself. Assuming the reader is so endowed, then one need only recall the name of the first token of the Melchizedek Priesthood referenced by Brigham Young and consider the instruction that it pertains to one’s future (as opposed to one’s past or present, which are connected with the names of the first and second tokens of the Aaronic Priesthood).

Even without this esoteric knowledge, we still have two additional witnesses as “a nail in a sure place” (Isa. 22:23) to confirm the truth that all men on the path to Godhood must tread in the footsteps of the Redeemer, which post-resurrection condescension requires the doctrine of subsequent earth reincarnation to be possible. For the first witness, let us return to that summer day in Heber, Utah, where Lorenzo Snow and Orson F. Whitney were speaking of the mysteries.

On that same afternoon, Snow confided in the young Whitney additional detail about reincarnation after expressing his deep trust and friendship with him:

“He said he loved to talk with me, but that I must be careful to whom I talked for most men did not care anything for these principles…. And [he said] that as I grew and increased in the knowledge of God men would become jealous of me and seek to injure me. ‘But I will befriend you,’ he said, ‘and I want you to feel perfectly safe with me.’ He told me that he heard Joseph Smith tell a man once that he would become a God and reign in glory, but that before that he would have to be crucified just as Christ was.”[1c]

Here then is the lacuna regarding Joseph Smith’s belief in reincarnation. Snow received a revelatory couplet some 40-years earlier in 1840 that stated: As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become. Applying Joseph Smith’s understanding of subsequent earth reincarnation, a complimentary couplet could be thus written: As you now are, Christ once was; as Christ now is, you may become.

The astonishing nature of this teaching may cause the mind unaccustomed to revelation of the mysteries—and perhaps ill-equipped to recall the tokens of the temple—to call out for an additional witness if one could be found. Such a mind may desire for a more direct source to Joseph Smith instead of a third-hand account. For this we now turn to the second of the two witnesses mentioned.

Recently released records from the Joseph Smith Papers project undertaken by the Church Historian’s Press has unveiled the greatest evidence yet of Joseph’s belief in subsequent earth reincarnation. Wilford Woodruff’s “Book of Revelations” was kept in his family until the time of Joseph Fielding Smith’s tenure as church historian, at which time it entered his personal collection and then eventually passed to the First Presidency’s files. The book has been the primary source for many of Joseph Smith’s teachings, such as Willard Richards’ “Pocket Companion Written in England.”[34] An entry dated to January 30th, 1841, begins by stating that “Joseph the Seer taught the following principle” and continues in the first person as follows:

“The God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ was once the same as the Son [and the] Holy Ghost both, having redeemed a world [and so] became the eternal God of that world. He had a son, Jesus Christ, who redeemed this earth the same as his father had [redeemed] a [previous] world, which made them equal. And the Holy Ghost would do the same in his turnand so would all the Saints who inherited a Celestial Glory—so [that] there would be ‘Gods many and Lords many’ [1 Cor. 8:5]. There were many mansions, even twelve, from the abode of devils to the Celestial Glory.”[35]

If the saints are to reincarnate in a future world as a Testator and then as a Redeemer before becoming as the Father, then it stands to reason that Jesus Christ had himself been born, lived, died, and been resurrected all before coming to this world as the babe of Bethlehem. Thus there is a process whereby resurrected beings may “shed” their immortal bodies so that their spirits may condescend into mortality again. This “condescension” then becomes the third manner by which immortal bodies can be ended beside “falling” and “suffering the second death.”

Applying the Principle

With all the witnesses in place and principles analyzed, we can now apply the doctrine to unfold certain items of scripture:

When Christ was in mortality upon this world, he and his disciples came across a man born blind (see John 9:1). Seeing this, the apostles asked Christ a curious question: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). Without understanding that the spirit of the man had lived and sinned in a probation before this, the question of the man’s own sins being the cause of his blindness at birth is a nonsensical one. Yet Christ does not take the opportunity to correct the possibility as false, but rather acknowledges it in his response: “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (v. 3).

The implication of this circumstance is that certain conditions and maladies present among the children of men may have causes that extend before the foundations of this particular world. Origen, one of the earliest Christian theologians, postulated similarly that the varying conditions of men in this world are the result of a judgement for prior deeds:

“No shadow of injustice rests upon the divine government, than by holding that there were certain causes of prior existence, in consequence of which the souls, before their birth in the body, contracted a certain amount of guilt in their sensitive nature, or in their movements, on account of which they have been judged worthy by Divine Providence of being placed in this condition. For a soul is always in possession of free-will, as well when it is in the body as when it is without it and freedom of will is always directed either to good or evil.”[36]

Indeed, every scriptural peculiarity that is attributable to a belief in the pre-mortal existence of man is only enhanced by the knowledge that the eons of former existence entailed multiple probations of learning and testing, advancement and regression, gain and loss (though not all natures or circumstances reflect evil and cannot be fully known while we are commanded to preach repentance here to all men [see Luke 24:47 and also my blog post Protology: Sinai and the Pre-Earth Council]). By this, the words of Paul regarding the twins Esau and Jacob their mother find fuller expression:

Before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad [on this world], she received a message from God…. She was told, ‘Your older son will serve your younger son.’ In the words of the Scriptures, ‘I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.’
“Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not!…
“When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:11 – 14, 21 – 23, NLT, emphasis added).

The principle of subsequent earth reincarnation affects not only an understanding of the process of glorification for the exalted, but it also gives flesh and bones to the function of mercy in God’s plan of salvation. Extending Paul’s analogy of clay jars or vessels, Heber C. Kimball revealed that Jeremiah’s same imagery was meant to also convey this principle:

“When the Lord spoke to Jeremiah He told him to go down to the potter’s house, and there he would cause him to hear His words. When he went down to the potter’s house, ‘Behold, he wrought a work on the wheels’ (Jer. 18:3). The potter tried to bring a lump of clay in subjection, and he worked and tugged at it, but the clay was rebellious, and would not submit to the will of the potter, and marred in his hands. Then, of course, he had to cut it from the wheel and throw it into the mill to be ground over, in order that it might become passive; after which he takes it again and makes of it a vessel unto honor, out of the same lump that was dishonored, because it would not be subject to the potter, and was, therefore, cut from the wheel, and put through another grinding until it was passive. There may ten thousand millions of men go to hell, because they dishonor themselves and will not be subject, and after that they will be taken and made vessels unto honor, if they will become obedient, and God will make us, who are His servants, bring about His purposes. Can you find any fault with that?
“The Lord said to Jeremiah, ‘O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as the potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand’ (v. 6). They dishonored themselves and were rebellious, and I have cut them off and thrown them in the mill, and they shall grind until they are passive. And I have taken a gentler lump, to see if I cannot make a vessel unto honor. By and by that lump will dishonor itself, and be thrown back into the mill, and God will take Israel and make of them a vessel unto honor.”[37]

“Behold, he wrought a work on the wheels” (Jer. 18:3).

Rightly understood, the return of clay (the spirit) to a new vessel (the body) for those who failed the test of doing “all things” the Lord their God commanded them (Abr. 3:25) is a far more merciful path than the unending state of damnation that we may be accustomed to envisioning for the wicked.

The implications of this principle include the possibility that this world of mortals is shared by a vast mixture of spirits who are at many different levels or stages of exaltation or its inverse. In accordance with Abraham’s vision, certain spirits were estate-bearing souls—Gods—who were to play lead roles in the dispensing of the Gospel upon the earth. Others then were apparently not of that class, some perhaps having not progressed so far and/or others having perhaps entertained various sins in a previous probation (recalling the testimony of Joseph Lee Robinson above regarding adultery). The untold billions who fill these latter ranks and who will inherit telestial glory (see D&C 76:109) are not doomed to never attain the knowledge needed for exaltation if they miss it in this probation, for, as Joseph Smith said, “It will be a great while after you have passed through the veil…. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”[38]

This principle then sheds light on the otherwise darkened sayings our Lord Jesus Christ when he prayed to the Father for his disciples, saying:

“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word” (John 17:5 – 6).

It has been much speculated as to what was meant by Jesus’ saying that his disciples were once the Father’s but were now given to him. But this is all cleared up when it is considered that before becoming the Father, God was a savior of another probation wherein he saved and gave eternal life to the faithful on that world and that those same characters condescended to come down and follow Jesus Christ here. Indeed, the prophet Lehi saw a symbolic vision that communicated the premortal glory and intended condescension of the Lord and also his disciples:

“And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth” (1 Ne. 1:9 – 11).

These verses taken together support the notion that the twelve apostles had already been clothed upon with flesh on an older world and there called our Father in Heaven their Savior. Following this pattern, in the world to come they will call Jesus Christ their Father. This sheds light on another darkened saying of the Lord to the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon: “In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters” (Ether 3:14, emphasis added).

This emphasizes the importance of covenants in the plan of salvation. Joseph Smith taught that our spirits are as old as God’s and yet we call him Father. Why? Because of our covenant relationship to him. The preeminence of covenants in establishing relationships is reflected in the nature of the Holy Priesthood “after the Order of the Son of God” (or Melchizedek Priesthood; see D&C 107:3 – 4), which is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life; and all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3, JST).

In other words, when this world is over and every knee has bended to Christ and the righteous are apportioned their estates, we shall see that we are not fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, or children of men; we shall see that we are all merely siblings in varying degrees of exaltation.[39] In that unveiled host only those who have entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage will possess a bond with another spirit that cannot be dissolved (see D&C 132:7). As discussed above, these are the Gods who inherit one another “out of the world” (vv. 15, 19, 29):

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue…. strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me…. This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent”(D&C 132:20, 22, 24).

With all of these possibilities in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise then that what we find at the end of this world almost appears as a mirror image of that which occurred at its start:

Before the worldend of the world
An assemblage of souls (Abr. 3:22)An assemblage of resurrected and mortal beings (D&C 29:26)
God the Father reigns with a council (Abr. 3:24)The Son inherits the world and reigns with the saints (D&C 43:29)
The devil starts a war desiring glory (Rev. 12:7)The millennial peace ends in war (D&C 88:113)
The devil and his minions are cast off (Rev. 12:9)The wicked are cast off (D&C 88:114)
The righteous souls go down to a new world (Deut. 32:8)There is a new heaven and a new earth (D&C 29:23)


[1][1b][1c] “Orson F. Whitney diary, 1885 November 1 – 1887 December 26,” Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives, Orson F. Whitney Diaries, 1877-1931 COLL MSS 188 Box 1, Folder 8.
The entry is incorrectly inserted in the middle of the 1882 journal in the digitized collection but can be correctly placed in the June 1888 journal using the pre-printed dates in the pages (dates which Whitney crossed out and substituted with other dates, but they reveal the true location of the pages in the other journal). Accessed online 27 Jan 20222: (page 55 of 61).

[2] Glabraith, Richard. Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], p. 103.

[3] Wilhelm, Robert. “The Prophet Matthias,” Murder by Gaslight, 31 Jul 2010.
Accessed online 27 Jan 2021:

[4] STPJS, p. 105.

[5] Ibid., pp. 310 – 311, grammar modernized and emphasis added.

[6] Ibid., pp. 359 – 360, grammar modernized and emphasis added.
In this same funeral address, Joseph Smith stated that “those who have died in the faith are now in the celestial kingdom of God. And hence is the glory of the sun.” This apparently shows that the spirits of the righteous await resurrection to a degree of glory while residing in a state of equivalent glory in the spirit world. This adds some insight into the typical dichotomy taught regarding the spirit world of either paradise or prison. As it was the prevailing belief at the time that the dead went directly to either heaven or hell, Joseph said the following that seems to not only equivocate the spirit world with both heaven and hell in the commonly understood sense but to also clarify that heaven, or the place of the righteous departed spirits, has multiple degrees:
“What is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. You may as easily find a needle in a haymow. Here is a chance for battle, ye learned men. There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits….
“The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers. ‘But,’ says one, ‘I believe in one universal heaven and hell, where all [spirits] go, and are all alike, and equally miserable or equally happy.’ What! where all are huddled together—the honorable, virtuous, and murderers, and whoremongers, when it is written that they shall be judged according to the deeds done in the body? But St. Paul informs us of three glories and three heavens” (Ibid., pp. 309 – 311).
Incidentally, the Greek word used by Jesus as pointed out by Joseph Smith is παράδεισος (paradeisos, “a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting-ground, park”), which, strictly speaking, despite being a cognate for the English “paradise,” did not have the same meaning as the modern word. Vindicating the prophet’s remarks, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that παράδεισος was “that part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection” (Thayer, Joseph Henry, 1828-1901. Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson, 1996).

[7] STPJS, pp. 294 – 296.

[8][8a][8b] Early Mormon pioneer, George Laub, recorded that Joseph Smith explained that the watchers of Genesis too “fell” from immortality to mortality in mingling with women:
“Now the history of Josephus in speak[s] of angels [who] came down and took themselves wives of the daughters of men. See Geneses 6th chapter 1st through 2nd verses. These were resurrected bodies, [which] violated the Celestial laws” (Eugene England, editor, “George Laub Journal,” BYU Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, entry titled “Nauvoo, April 13th, 1843,” grammar and spelling modernized).

[9] STPJS, p. 158.

[10] Ibid., p. 353. Hence the scriptures say “God [too] is a spirit” (John 4:24).

[11] Ibid., pp. 345 – 346.

[12] Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 245; Sabbath address, Nauvoo, 27 August 1843. Reported by Franklin D. Richards.

[13] STPJS, p. 347.

[14] Ibid., pp. 346 – 347. The author is aware that the full quote contains a statement that may seem contradictory to the premise of this essay without the aid of additional revelation. As no more can be said on that topic at present, the phrase is omitted and the pursuit is left to the reader for personal discovery.

[15] Joseph Smith, “Sermon delivered at the funeral of King Follett held at the General Conference of the Church at Nauvoo, Ill. on Sunday Afternoon April 7, 1844.” Reported by George Laub.

[16] Joseph Smith, “Sermon delivered at the funeral of King Follett held at the General Conference of the Church at Nauvoo, Ill. on Sunday Afternoon April 7, 1844.” Reported in the Wilford Woodruff journal, grammar and spelling modernized.

[17] Joseph Lee Robinson. Captured by, Dr. Oliver Preston Robinson. The Journal of Joseph Lee Robinson: Mormon Pioneer, David and Joni Nielsen: Salt Lake City, 1981, p. 39, emphasis added.

[18] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, an Apostle; The Father and Founder of the British Mission, Kimball Family: Salt Lake City, 1888.

[19] Journal of Discourses [JOD] 4:329, spelling modernized and emphasis added.

[20] Lorenzo Snow, Conference Reports, p. 2, April, 1901, emphasis added.
The concept that a person’s identity would not be lost in the succeeding chapters of eternity was a central them of Egyptian rites, according to Hugh Nibley. In an article discussing the Pearl of Great Price (citation currently being sought), he says:
“Pythagoreans believed in reincarnation, metempsychosis, that you did exist before but it was in another shape or being, an animal or something.
“This is no satisfaction because if you change your identity completely, you are somebody else and you really haven’t continued to exist. I may have been a chair in the preexistence, but that doesn’t give me any satisfaction now. Or to think that I will be a cockroach hereafter gives me no great comfort either. That is not me continuing. They feel that very strongly. The Egyptians are particularly strong on this. That’s why this emphasis on the name. It was the name to help preserve his identity. It was himself and nobody else that continued. You had to have hereafter, but you had to preserve your identity as well.”

[21] STPJS, p. 354.

[22] August 1, 1843, transcribed by Franklin D. Richards; Words of the Prophet, pg. 24; CHO Ms/d/4409/Misc Minutes Collection, grammar and spelling modernized.

[23] Joseph Smith was said to point out to visitors who viewed the Kirtland papyri that the depiction of a two-legged snake was a representation of snakes before being cursed in the Garden of Eden, that “before the fall snakes always went about on legs, just like chickens. They were deprived of them, in punishment for their agency in the ruin of man” (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past From the Leaves of Old Journals, 3rd ed. [Boston, 1883], pp. 376-400). In Egyptian symbolism, an upright bipedal snake was a good sign whereas a leg-less horizontal snake was not. This may shed light into the symbolism employed by Moses when he raised the serpent on the staff as a representation of Christ (see John 3:14–15).

[24] STPJS, p. 309.

[25] JOD 1:50 – 51, emphasis added.

[26] Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846; Volume 1, 10 March 1844–1 March 1845,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 5 April 1844, pp. 83-84.
This concept was firmly grasped by Brigham Young, who said:
“Every world has had an Adam and an Eve, named so simply because the first man is always called Adam and the first woman, Eve. And the oldest son has always had the privilege of being ordained, appointed and called to be the heir of the family if he does not rebel against the Father, and he is the Savior of the family. Every world that has been created has been created upon the same principle. They may vary in their varieties, yet the eternity is one: it is one eternal round” (“For This Is Life Eternal: A Discourse by Brigham Young,” Salt Lake City, Utah, 8 Oct 1854, accessed online 27 Feb 2022:

[27] STPJS, p. 190.

[28] Joseph Smith as quoted in Autobiography of George Laub (1814-1880), pp. 9 – 10, grammar modernized.

[29] Brigham Young as reported by Wilford Woodruff, “Church Offices and Jealousy – Plural Marriage Rationale – Adoption A Necessary Practice Not Fully Understood – More Revealed When We can Build Another Temple” Wilford Woodruff Journal, February 16, 1847, Winter Quarters.

[30] Hugh Nibley, “A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 8,” Ensign, December 1976.
A quotation of the translation of the text reveals just how physical the ‘blows of death’ were:
“Father commanded them to bring a sharp reaping-knife, and to stab him therewith on this side and on that, right through his body to the vertebrae of his shoulders, and he was unable to hold himself up.” (E. A. Wallis Budge, “Discourse on Abbaton by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria,” Coptic Martyrdoms, etc., In the Dialect of Upper Egypt [Oxford University Press, London, 1914], p. 484).

[31] James Strong, “746. arché,” The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Red letter ed. Thomas Nelson, 2010.

[32] Heber C. Kimball Journal, 28 Dec. 1845, LDS archives, grammar and spelling modernized.

[33] Seventies Record, Book B, 28 Dec. 1845, LDS archives, grammar and spelling modernized.

[34] W. V. Smith, “January 30, 1841,” The Book of Abraham Project, footnote 1. Accessed online 26 Feb 2022:

[35] Joseph Smith as recorded by Wilford Woodruff “Sermon delivered at Smith Homestead on Sunday December 19, 1841,” Book of Revelations, January 30th entry, spelling and grammar modernized and emphasis added.

[36] Frederick Crombie, translator, The Sacred Writings of Origen, (Createspace, North Charleston) p. 146.

[37] JOD 3:162, emphasis added.

[38] STPJS, p. 348.
The words of Brigham Young pair perfectly with this thought:
“If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. How many of the Latter-day Saints will endure all these things, and be prepared to enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son? You can answer that question at your leisure. Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation” (JOD 1:149).

[39] Brigham Young said that beyond the veil we would see the truth of the limited and temporary application of blood relations: “The Lord should say, ‘Who have you brought with you?’ Your reply would be, ‘My wife and children.’ but in reality you have only with you your brothers and sisters” (“For This Is Life Eternal: A Discourse by Brigham Young,” Salt Lake City, Utah, 8 Oct 1854, accessed online 27 Feb 2022:
In the King Follet sermon, Joseph Smith indicated that even God the Father is, in the end, our peer or contemporary at least in terms of sheer existence (he is obviously far advanced in relation to us): “There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven” (STPJS, p. 353).
What does this mean for the concept of producing spirit children in eternity? As it turns out, the written record indicates that Joseph Smith may never have had such a notion in mind with the Plan of Salvation:
“There seems to be little evidence for the idea that Joseph taught some kind of literal viviparous birth process among the exalted. Such notions appear to be speculative extrapolations of later years. Indeed the King Follett sermon may suggest that Joseph had something rather different in mind. The obvious reason for a reluctance to publicly teach on these matters was the connection to the doctrine of plural marriage, especially in its Nauvoo practice.” (William V. Smith, “Sermons delivered at Nauvoo temple grounds Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon of July 16, 1843,” footnote 3, Book of Abraham Project, Accessed online, 1 Feb 2022:
This places the weight of covenant relationship assembly in the eternities upon mortal women who introduce souls into the world. Indeed this seems to be implied by the Lord in D&C 132(note that the woman’s role is termed “work”):
“[Women] are given unto [man] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified” (D&C 132:63, emphasis added).
Whereas the man works out his kingdom when he reaches the station of a savior “through fear and trembling” (STPJS, p. 347) and purchases the eternal life of his covenant posterity through the pouring out of all his blood when bearing their sins, the woman works out her kingdom through each child born to her in every probation and purchases the immortality of her covenant posterity through the loss of a portion of her blood when bearing their bodies.
Hence the Elohim (married souls) work together in what the Father calls “my work and my glory” (again there’s the word ‘work’) “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, emphasis added).

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