An interesting side discussion popped up in a recent post on the topic of spirit birth. In that thread I mentioned: “I think the evidence against some kind of literal spirit birth (especially a viviparous birth like our mortal birth) is much stronger than any evidence for it.” Since the answer to this question has major implications about the nature of the Father, Jesus Christ, and even us I think it is worth looking at. In this post I will discuss the evidence I am aware of against the idea of literal/viviparous spirit birth, the evidence in favor, and since today is Father’s Day I will also mention some of the implications of this question concerning the “fatherhood” of the members of the Godhead.
Against spirit birth
Perhaps the best authoritative argument against literal spirit birth is that Joseph Smith never taught it and indeed taught many things that are specifically contrary to the notion of a literal spirit birth. Blake made a tremendous comment yesterday that outlines many of these statements and also points out that Joseph spoke of intelligences and spirits as the same thing. The extensive quotes below can reportedly all be found in Ehat and Cook’s The Words of Joseph Smith:
My view that spirit birth is not literal is easy to lay out. JS repeatedly stated that spirit and intelligences are eternal, without creation and no beginning. Let’s look at a few:
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 is vastly 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.
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 several significant points: (1) JS uses spirit and intelligence as synonyms; (2) they are self-existent; (3) God genders the spirit (gender is not eternal because God “genders” the spirit).
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 report: “the soul the inner Spirit-of God man says created in the beginning the very idea lessens man in my idea-I don’t believe the doctrine hear it all ye Ends of the World for God has told me so I am going to tell of things more noble-we say that God himself is a selfexisting God, who told you so, how did it get it into your head who told you that man did not exist in like manner-how does it read in the Hebrews that God made man & put into it Adam’s Spirit & so became a living Spirit-the mind of man-the mind of man is as immortal as God himself.”
7 April 1844 Richards Diary: “The head one called the Gods together in grand council – to bring forth the world… In Greek, Hebrew. German. Latin. – In the beginning the head of the gods called a council of Gods-and concocted a scheme to create the world … Elements – nothing can destroy. no beginning no end. – The soul. God created in the beginning – he never the character of man. don’t believe it. – who told you God was self existent? correct enough. – in hebrew put into him his spirt – which was created before. Mind of man coequal with God himself … If man had a beginning he must have an end-might proclaim God never had powr to create the spirit of man. Inteligence exist upon a self existent principle no creation about it.”
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.
BTW for those interested, I believe that the before 8 August 1839 sermon by JS led to BY’s misunderstanding re: Adam God. JS said: “The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the first Presidency & held the Keys of it, from generation to Generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Gen. 1, 26:28,-he had dominion given him over every living Creature. He is Michael, the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures … 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. When they are revealed from Heaven it is by Adams Authority … Dan VII Speaks of the Ancient of days, he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael; he will call his children together, & hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. He, (Adam) is the Father of the human family & presides over the Spirits of all men, & all that have had the Keys must stand before him in this great Council. This may take place before some of us leave this stage of action. The Son of Man stands before him & there is given him glory & dominion.-Adam delivers up his Stewardship to Christ, that which was delivered to him as holding the Keys of the Universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family.”
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. I’m not just being a curmudgeon, I’ve thought about it a bit.
In addition to strong authoritative arguments like these that Blake quoted there are also difficult practical issues to deal with. Among these are the amount of time that would be required to birth billions of spirit babies. What kind of gestation period would we be talking about to bear, say, ten billion spirit children to populate a planet like earth? Well, about seven billion years if we are talking about one at a time and a nine month gestation period. Even if there were one spirit baby born per day it would take more than 27 million years to get there. I know some have speculated that there is plural marriage in the Celestial spheres but I don’t believe that for a second and frankly find the notion disrespectful to women. As Jacob hinted at in the Book of Mormon, plural marriage might have been expedient for practical earthly reasons in many instances but I do not believe it will be so among exalted persons.
Another problem is answering the question of how parents with resurrected physical bodies could literally bear children with only spirit bodies. Whatever ever happened to multiplying after ones own kind? And another piece of evidence against literal spirit birth is that we are also commanded to become the children of Christ on earth.
As I said, the evidence against literal spirit birth seems pretty convincing to me.
For spirit birth
The support for spirit birth is mostly found in 19th century Utah teachings of church leaders (starting with Brigham and going on from there.) While I am unaware of any specific revelations supporting the concept, preaching of the era was replete with the assumption of literal spirit birth. I think the logic went something like this: a) We are all children of God. b) Since God is an exalted man he must be sealed to an exalted woman. c) Since we are their children they must have borne our spirits in the same fashion our earthly parents bore us here on earth.
The scriptures are clear that that we are children of God in a very real sense. We Mormons really mean it when we sing “I Am a Child of God”. The natural inclination of many people is to assume that we cannot be God’s real child unless we experienced viviparous spirit birth as well.
Another piece of evidence I have seen cited in favor of literal spirit birth is D&C 131:
IN the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this border of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
Some have assumed that “having an increase” must mean bearing spirit children. Of course, while that is one possible reading, it certainly isn’t the only plausible meaning of that verse.
I have clearly not done justice to the pro spirit birth side of this question so those of you who believe in a literal spirit birth please chime in and describe the strong arguments I have missed here. Also, I am interested in hearing from those who believe that spirits are not the same as intelligences since I have difficulty seeing much evidence to defend that position either.
Some Father’s Day implications and sticky theological questions
If there is no such thing as spirit birth then some interesting questions arise. One is whether the (male) members of the Godhead can ever experience fatherhood in the way I experience it now. This question also applies to every male who has ever died without experiencing fatherhood in mortality. Is this current mortal life the only time in all of the eternities that we have to experience parenthood from conceptions through birth and on from there? Those who think eternal progression/retrogression consists of multiple mortal probations answer that with a resounding “no”. But those who believe each spirit gets one chance at a mortality in all of the eternities would seemingly have to say “yes”. If that is the case then what about Jesus Christ himself? The Christology implications are intriguing. If there is no spirit birth will he never be a parent in the way we can be? Does this sort of reasoning lead some people down DaVinci Code roads with Christ quietly married and even with children? Certainly adoption counts as real and full-fledged parenthood of course, and that applies here on earth; but if all spirits/intelligences are beginningless then wouldn’t “adopting” one another in some place other than a mortal probation be sort of like adopting someone your own age?
The definitive answers to these questions have not been revealed of course. But questions like these are part of the reason I am partial to the multiple probations model that Brigham and Heber C. and friends believed and taught (even though they clearly believed in viviparous spirit birth as well.) The good news is that one can have firm faith in Jesus Christ without finding or even caring about answers to such mysteries. But if you have thought about such questions I am interested in the conclusions that y’all have drawn on these things. In other words, sound off. What do you think?