Models of our Pre-Mortal Existence

March 23, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 2:54 am   Category: Eternal Progression,MMP

We Mormons are very proud of the fact that knowledge of a pre-mortal existence has been restored to us. The fourth missionary discussion where this doctrine is used to be taught was often the favorite discussion because the idea of a pre-mortal life resonates with so many people. But what do we really know about the details of our lives before we arrived here? Next to nothing. We have some vague scriptural references to councils and wars, but the details are anything but clear. As a result the models the saints have come up with can vary dramatically. I’ll mention a few I’ve heard here, and you can add more in the comments. Here goes:

A. The Basics (aka the “My Turn on Earth” model) – This one goes something like this: We (all humankind) were all living in heaven (whatever that means) with our literal spirit parents. (Some take that to mean that we were all born as spiritual babies to spirit mothers, but most never think about it). We were all like little children and we wanted to grow up to be like our Heavenly Parents. So we all got together in a grand family council and our Father proposed a plan to build an earth and send us all down so we could be tested. The idea was to veil our minds so we could show our true colors without remembering our Celestial home. The goal was to get back to that home, but more mature and like our Father. In order to overcome the problems inherent in mortality, though, we needed help. We needed a savior. Two volunteers stepped forward – our parents’ first-born spirit son (Jesus) and another brother of some rank (Lucifer). Lucifer proposed a plan that would compel all to obey and return to heaven and Jesus suggested following the Father’s plan which gave us free agency. A vote was taken and two thirds sided with Jesus and the Father while one third sided with Lucifer. As a result that one third was cast out of heaven and Lucifer became the Devil, Satan, with the one third his angels. So the earth was created and we are all taking our turn on earth to see how we’ll do.

(I won’t go into all the holes I see with this model now — I’ll let you take a whack at it first…)

The rest of the models I will mention assume all of the scriptural basics included above (war in heaven, Satan being cast down, etc.) though they might cast them in a different light.

B. The atemporal variation – One model I have heard is that we were not living in heaven “forever” — as in a long time — but rather in a state that is out of time or atemporal. The person who described this to me also believed that there is no such thing as spirit birth because Joseph made statements that can be interpreted as meaning our current spirits are as old as God’s – therefore heavenly parents could not have created us. (And let’s not get humg up that point — I’ll post on it soon.) Although we lived without time (whatever that means) there was apparently some sort of merit program (to account for Abraham’s statements about noble and great ones). At some point we decided to “go temporal” and try this world.

C. The trial-run model – I just heard a new one where we had lived forever with God in a heavenly state, but rather than going directly from there to this world we actually lived a life in a pre-mortal spirit world that was just like this physical one. I think this is riffing on the scripture in Moses that says all things here were created spiritually first. Apparently (and the details are a little fuzzy on this) we earned merit in that life and reap some of that here. So this model has us in heaven, then on a spirit-earth, then here in this physical earth.

D. The many-earths model – This one is best described in an opinion put forth by Heber C. Kimball:

We have come here to become inured to work-to build temples, and improve upon the elements that God has placed around us, that we may become more skillful tomorrow, through the experience of to-day. 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 labours, and it is for us to be faithful to-day, tomorrow, and every day. (Journal of Discourses 4:329)

The basic idea if I understand this model correctly is that the worlds without end described in Moses that have already passed were inhabited by us and we either progressed or regressed in those.

Now these models I have presented are anything but exhaustive. I’m sure many people mix and match the parts to come up with endless variations. All of these models (and the parts) have strengths and weaknesses and the church takes no official stand on any of these details. Obviously we are dealing with speculation here, but I think this is an important topic to explore because it gets to the very heart of both our eternal nature and the nature of God. Concerning the nature of God Joseph said:

My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being he is; (TPJS, 344)

I am interested to hear what you think of the basics I’ve presented here. What models or details have I missed? What is wrong with the models or parts presented here? What is right with them? What do you think?


  1. I think most Mormons subscribe to a) although it sounds very simplistic to me. I prefer e) we haven’t a clue. Your interpretation of HCK sounds like reincarnation. Am I understanding you correctly?

    Comment by Ronan — March 23, 2005 @ 6:26 am

  2. Well the Heber C. model sounds similar to reincarnation but is fundamentally different because we only live once per planet. Reincarnation means we live over and over again here on earth (as I understand it).

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 23, 2005 @ 8:46 am

  3. “The fourth missionary discussion where this doctrine is taught”

    WAS taught. The discussions now are completely different.

    Comment by Kim Siever — March 23, 2005 @ 8:58 am

  4. Oops, good point Kim. I’ll fix that.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 23, 2005 @ 9:00 am

  5. I think that we tend not use what we know about the post-mortal life to understand our pre-mortal life. e.g., the whole concept of the same sociality existing there as here and the concept that this Earth will be the celestial sphere for all the exalted of this planet (and their spirit progeny?).

    The HCK route, while intermittently popular among some groups, requires that we modify and step away from all that we know that Joseph Smith thought about the resurrection (e.g., never to be separated again).

    The atemporal scenario requires four dimensionalism or some more dramatic hitherto undescribed conception of existence, both of which I find hard to swallow.

    The spirit creation actually might have some interesting ramifications: was this spirit creation the garden of Eden? I must confess receiving most of my info through scholars and not having the exegetical training to analyze for myself, but it is my understanding that the most cogent analyses of the first chapter of the Bible and the whole spirit creation is a mind-dependent creation.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 23, 2005 @ 11:00 am

  6. I have personally found using a version which combines #4 and #3 to make the temple ceremony very meaning full. #1 is ok, and most popular, but we really shouldn’t commit to many details such as “spiritual appearance”, family organization or premortal acquaintance with our spouses (sorry). #2 is good except for the timelessness thing. It really helps resolve a lot of issues with essentialism in evolution.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — March 23, 2005 @ 11:16 am

  7. I’m down with Ronan’s e) we haven’t a clue.

    It’s funny, when I was reading your a), I couldn’t help but hear you say it in a very sarcastic way. Maybe because it’s so simplistic, but I’m just tellin’ ya what I heard!

    Comment by Rusty — March 23, 2005 @ 3:43 pm

  8. Ha! Well I must have been feeling a bit sarcastic as I wrote that one, Rusty. I do admit I think model A) is full of all sorts of logical holes and is largely incompatible with the whole of our scriptures and with the world we see around us.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 23, 2005 @ 4:10 pm

  9. Some of this stuff gives me a brainache.

    I was told in my PB that in the pre-existence I convinced many who were undecided to undertake mortality. I figure a lot of those people are my (completely crazy) relatives.

    I think rather than an E) I’d say I’m more likely to combine elements of most of the options, except for D), which doesn’t seem like it has any scriptural basis (and I don’t really see how the quote you used refers to different lives on different worlds). Mainly I just can’t stand the thought of having to do this over and over again. :)

    Comment by Susan Malmrose — March 23, 2005 @ 6:07 pm

  10. Geoff, thanks for pointing me here to the HCK quote. That was indeed the one I was remembering.

    The worlds-without-end idea is certainly interesting. I don’t know how much we can say about it unless the current leaders say more.

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) — March 30, 2005 @ 6:56 pm

  11. I rather like C, just because it puts us literally in the meridian of time, and implies some sort of divine chiasmus, i.e. we have existed forever, then we lived in a spirit earth, now we live on earth, we will live in the spirit world, and then we will continue to exist forever (although in various degrees).

    Comment by Hanna — March 31, 2005 @ 7:44 am

  12. Hanna,

    George will be happy to hear that because he was the one that authored that particular model (at least he’s the one that explained it to me.) We are having a discussion on the subject over at the My Turn on Earth thread. I might note, though, that in an eternal situation, wherever we live is at the apex of a chiasmus… I mean we will always have an eternal pre-now existence followed by an eternal post-now existence right?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 31, 2005 @ 1:46 pm

  13. […] ches of spirits but rather by us. I attribute it to Heber C. Kimball because of the quote I mentioned over in an earlier post about life and death being like being awake and sleeping. He says every day we […]

    Pingback by New Cool Thang » Who were the inhabitants of all those other worlds? — April 10, 2005 @ 12:30 am

  14. The concept of multiple mortalities is not necessarily contradictory to the scriptural teaching that the spirit and the body will never be separated again. Judging from divine patterns, I believe the mortal and spirit body are the same, but in different states. When the Gods condescend to a mortal state under the law of sacrifice, to show forth an example to their spirit children in mortality, they carry with them, all along, their eternal body, never separating from it. Each time they receive a new resurrection they are added upon, not with a new body (for the scripture doesn’t say that), but with added glory (see D&C 88:22-28).

    Comment by Charles Whicker — October 7, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  15. Why do we assume that if we go to “another life” we go as another person or thing? Can we not “go out” as the same being to be “added upon” as we did when we left our first estate;reincarnation then, is not an issue.I have, perhaps,been me through many worlds.I’m not sure if there is any regression, “what ever degree of intell.” idea.

    Comment by wanas — July 23, 2014 @ 7:39 pm