Spirit and mind

The King Follet sermon of Joseph Smith is his famous discourse on the destiny of the soul. It has been debated over and interpreted by generations of saints. Some have swept certain implications of his words aside, while others have amplified aspects of others. One of the most important contributions of this discourse to Mormon thought are Joseph’s teachings on the history of every human being.

Spirit birth, or the concept that God is the father of our spirits is a resolute principle in the modern church. My personal beliefs of what that means are highly influenced by this sermon preached by Joseph on the 7th of April, 1842.

Wilford Woodruff Diary
The soul the mind of man, whare did it come from? The learned says God made it in the beginning, but it is not so, I know better God has told me so. If you dont believe it, it wont make the truth without effect, God was a self exhisting being, man exhists upon the same principle. God made a tabernacle & put a spirit in it and it became a Human soul, man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself, you who mourn the loss of friends are ownly seperted for a moment, the spirit is seperated for a little time, they are now conversant with each other as we are on the earth. I am dwelling on the immutibility of the spirit of man, is it logic to say the spirit of man had a begining & yet had no end, it does not have a begining or end, my ring is like the Exhistanc of man it has no begining or end, if cut into their would be a begining & end, so with man if it had a begining it will have an end, if I am right I might say God never had power to create the spirit of man, God himself could not create himself. Intelligence is Eternal & it is self exhisting,

Some might say that Wilford recorded the discourse poorly. We have however a second witness who relates the sermon with surprising congruity:

Thomas Bullock Account
the soul the in[ne]r Spirit-all man says God created in the beging. the very idea lessens man in my idea-I don’t bel. the doct: 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 Heb. that God made man & put into it Adams Spirit & so became a living Spirit-the mind of man-the mind of man is as immortal as God himself-hence while I talk to these mourners-they are only separated from their bodies for a short period-their Spirits coexisted with God & now converse one another same as we do-does not this give your satisfactn. I want to reason more on the Spirit of Man for I am dwelling on the body of man on the subjt. of the dead-the SP of man I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the im[mor]t. Sp. bec. it has no beging. Suppose you cut it into but as the D[evil] lives there wod. be an end all the fools & wise men from the beging. of creation who say that man had begin-they must have an end & then the doc of annihilitn. wod. be true-but if I am right I mit. with boldness proclaim from the housetop that God never had power to create the Sp of Man at all-it is ne God himself cod. not create himself-intelligence is self existent it is a sp. from age to end & there is no creatn abt. It

This is Joseph at his boldest. “If you don’t believe it, it won’t make the truth without effect…God never had power to create the spirit of man.” Whoa…Whoa.

The pioneers, after Joseph’s death and in the relative prosperity of Deseret, worked through Joseph’s teaching. In many ways it was the wild west of doctrinal exposition. Spirit birth, as projected from the idea of Sealing was believed to be a mirror of this life. The two primary positions of record are those of Orson Pratt and Brigham Young who believed in a spirit element (or intelligence), but not in any eternal “mind.” The ultimate fate of their perspectives was that of the western boom town after the bust.

B. H. Roberts came along toward the dawn of the 20th century. He was a student of the King Follet discourse but was also a vangaurd of the post-Brigham doctrinal reconstruction. His synthesis: the three state existence. There is a mind, which is begotten as a spirit, which is then begotten in human form. This idea, while finding some support, never got traction in the Church hierarchy.

There are those today who reject that the spirit and mind of man is eternal. For this however, one does have to perform some significant and straining textual transformations if you are not willing forget the King Follet discourse all together.


  1. J, thank you for this. I have much more to think on now.

    In my very visual (but limited) mind, this makes me picture the Lord as a large flame, creating and filling us with flamelets from his own self… separate, made of the stuff of God, but now our own selves too. Just my own visual…

    Lots and lots to think about.

  2. That is wonderful imagery, Tracy. Existence in Mormonism is an interesting thing. We believe that spirits are made out of matter, but we believe that God has a physical body, beyond the material spirit.

    The idea that we are children of God is powerful and important. How the flame burns is deep stuff to be certain.

  3. I remember being taught this concept of the eternal nature of man by my parents, and read the King Follett Discourse as a high school seminary student. It has clarified much of Mormon doctrine in my mind, especially the logic of “As Man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”.

    If we are eternal in nature, then we become co-existent with God, otherwise, that eternal progression process breaks down. If God could not create himself, he could not create beings who could be like him.

    I continue to hear references to man’s eternal nature in sacrament meeting talks, but not as often as when I was nigrowing up in the 60’s. Scratch the surface, and I think it’s mostly there. I’ve used Truman Madsen’s work to help teach our kids as they have come up through their teenage years, especially an older book Eternal Man.

    The logic seems to appeal to them, and they accept the doctrine readily. I can’t speak for all of the rising generation, though, as I have learned from being a bishop, teaching youth classes, and serving in the YM program. They are notoriously reticent about asking a lot of detailed questions, and don’t seem to react much to my comments about this.

    I fear that amongst many church members, there is a growing “evangelical protestantism” taking hold, mostly in doctrines regarding things with a political aspect in our current culture. I think we need to be reminded that “ex nihilo” creation is not a church doctrine, that abortion, while carrying severe penalties, is not 100% banned in church policy, and that while our public understanding of grace has changed somewhat over the last fifty years, we are still heavily invested in faith AND works. As I explain to some of my non-mormon friends, we believe in their concept of accepting Jesus Christ as as savior to gain salvation, but that Eternal Life to us is much more than that.

  4. Alas, Kevinf, I am no big supporter of that couplet as it distorts the King Follet discourse and the Sermon in the Grove.

  5. On the light side, I always sort of thought of it in Pac-man terms. It’s like the little ghosts. They’re already ghosts, but if you eat them, there’s still the eyes left. They aren’t ghosts any more, they’re ex-ghosts, but they’re something. I figure we were something, then we become something more. Now we’re more than ghosts (spirits). I don’t think we know much about that process. I do think that we have to think that there was some way in which we were created by God, however, if we are to consider ourself his children. Certainly we could consider it a metaphor, but if there isn’t an actual relationship of parent to child, but rather a metaphorical one, from what is the metaphor drawn? Perhaps it could be drawn from earthly parentage, but that seems questionable as well, eternal things shadowing temporal things, rather than the other way around.
    This is all a logn way of saying I never really thought of things any way other than what you are saying B.H roberts posited. I think a lot of people believe this, though perhaps using different terms.

  6. J,

    it distorts the King Follet discourse and the Sermon in the Grove

    Where in the past did you open this can of worms? I know you have and that I didn’t agree with you, I just can’t remember where (other than your living room).

  7. Good times, Steve H. The three best places are here, here, and here.

    There are lot’s of parent child relationships in the scriptures that don’t require creation (see link in original post). Anyway, I concede that we are literal children of God. But, I think it is very difficult to maneuver around Joseph Smith’s words if you are looking for creation.

  8. This insight saved me from a crisis of faith in college, when I felt acutely what I perceived as the bankruptcy of even watered-down Calvinist election. What, in my mind, did it mean for God to create me ex nihilo and then judge me? What was there to judge or try if there was nothing about me he didn’t create? Feeling that God was responding to and loving my coeval (I’m comfortable with that emendation) spirit-kernel suddenly set me at peace, made me feel like something more than a genetically engineered rat in a cosmic laboratory. I’m well aware that it forces a theology radically different from mainline Protestantism, but for me at that juncture this doctrine was faith-saving.

    You know that Snow couplet is eerily reminiscent of a standard 19th century epitaph, an apostrophe from the dead to the living, along the lines of “as you are I once was, as I am you too shall be.”

  9. I think that the King Follet discourse is yet another of the many ways that Joseph Smith’s death was a loss. The sermon represents a doctrine/theology in its rough, emergent state, yet we lack the years of revision and occasional retraction that characterize the development of many of Joseph’s other signature doctrines (regarding, for example, the priesthood the Godhead, the church hierarchy, polygamy, and so forth). As a result, we’re left with a single sermon in which new ideas are expressed in sometimes elliptical and sometimes overly telegraphic forms. How would Joseph have explained these ideas in another 30 sermons and eventual written versions? Furthermore, how would the ideas have evolved as Joseph weighed them and carried out his typical process of, over several years, separating what he regarded as wheat from what he saw as chaff? We have no way of answering these questions.

    As such, I think we’re necessarily left with the King Follet discourse as a theological anomaly. We don’t know how seriously to take it, which parts are truth and which error, or — not to put too fine a point on it — just what any of it was intended to mean.

    I find the cosmologies that result from any of the major interpretations of this sermon to be extremely enigmatic, in any case. Whether there’s some kind of uncreated intelligence/mind that later becomes a spirit, or whether spirits themselves are eternal and uncreated, we’re left with a major confusion about where minds and/or spirits come from. Were they made at the “beginning of eternity”? If so, the maker of them — and of God — might seem to be worth finding out about. If not, then the religious answer to the origin and meaning of man collapses: there is no origin, and hence no reason for our existence (since reasons imply motives, and our existence is without motive because it is without author). This doesn’t, of course, mean that the interpretations in question are false — only that the theological consequences of adopting them might be severe in the extreme.

  10. JNS, you know we say that, and I certainly have argued it myself, but in terms of reality checking, the other model requires a meaningless God by the same logic. If some intentioned force is required behind the creation of an entity for the entity’s existence to have meaning, then how can you condition a meaning for God? The answer most give is “he just is, and his meaning is in his absolute perfection.” Well that, with some temporal shifting, seems to be the explanation for meaning of nascent divinities who are not created by their God ex nihilo. Seeing it written in your post just caused me to rethink my belief in that response to the uncreate humanity of KFD. I haven’t finalized this view, but I’m certainly drawn to it now. Why can’t our meaning be in our ultimate perfection and creativity (which actually appears to be JSJ’s argument all along)?

    And as far as KFD being skeletal, there’s reasonable evidence for most of his claims earlier in his corpus, and there is some evidence that he saw the KFD theology as the apex of his teaching in many respects. I’m not certain that the historical record allows the distance you’re suggesting.

  11. Sam, the historical record largely supports the claim that every major step in Joseph’s religious career was seen as the apex. How many times did Joseph claim that he’d set the church in order and finished the work he was given to do? More than twice… Claims of finality therefore can’t carry much weight in an argument, can they?

    Regarding your claim that human meaning can be found in a potential telos, rather than in creation, I find this point of view difficult to distinguish from Nietzche. Meaning in terms of what we choose to do and become, in terms of the art of our existence, is a standard nontheistic account of human meaning. In the view you suggest as well, God is no longer as central to our meaning as individuals as in standard theistic accounts.

    Furthermore, this teleological view of meaning is problematic in that many will not achieve the meaning in question — and basically none of us know who is who. So, rather than meaning, what we’re left with is the hope for meaning.

    A final point: I would be willing to argue that the meaning of God’s existence is at best a second-order problem, while the meaning of our own existence is a first-order one. If God’s existence lacks meaning, perhaps we ought to feel sorry for Him — but in a very real sense, that’s not our problem. However, if the standard Christian messages, including those vociferously promulgated by our own church, about human meaning in terms of the reason/motive for our being are jeopardized, that becomes something that would impinge quite directly on our senses of self.

  12. Philosophical ramifications aside, the KFD resonates quite will with Joseph’s temple theology that had been around for quite some time and both were clarified a bit at the Sermon in the Grove. In fact, I think, all things considered and stripped of anachronism, Joseph’s final months were strikingly coherent.

  13. Hey J.

    To conflate 2 recent BCC posts how doctrinal would you consider the KFD? When teaching in EQ or in YM I always use the KFD when appropriate but caution the class that the KFD can be considered somewhat controversial in LDS circles. You rarely see references to the KFD in teaching manuals. (even though the theology or ideas from the KFD will be commonly found)

    I would not expect to ever see a Correlated SS school lesson titled “Exploring the KFD”

    Let me know. I value your opinion on issues like this.

  14. I’m sure no authority; but according to my own statements, I think “doctrinal” is that which is currently taught or published by the church.

  15. J:

    I often do not know how far apart we are on this score….

    I do believe that there is something to us that is eternal, and I generally refer to this thing as our intelligence. This was never created nor made.

    I also believe that we are children of God, and as you are aware I take this quite literally. I generally refer to this as the spirit body which is combined with the intelligence in a way I do not pretend to understand.

    I then believe in mortality a mortal flesh and bone body is made which is temporarily combined with the intelligence/spirit body combo.

    To me this is the cleanest combination of the teachings of JS and BY.

    I do not know how far apart that makes us.

  16. Roberts was trying to reconcile Cartesian dualism with the King Follet Discourse. (It’s not exactly clear to me why since even then dualism was being replaced by materialism)

    At the same time I tend to see the KFD as being metaphysically vague. Yes one can point to some use of spirit and mind as synonymous. But I’m not sure that means they are fully synonymous in use or denotation.

    So one can reject Cartesianism, have a material spirit and (in some sense) an emergent mind and the problem disappears.

    The reason this is typically brought up, however, isn’t because of the metaphysical issues but the issue of what transformations the spirit underwent in pre-mortality. But it’s very hard for me to see how the KFD has much bearing on that.

  17. Can one of you boffins tell me from whence the idea arose that we are the literal spirit offspring of God? Can you pinpoint the moment?
    Great post, mate. I’m with you all the way.

  18. Second question:

    Wherever and whenever that idea arose, something else happened. The begetting of spirit children was seen as simply a spiritual form of human reproduction. When did that image (mocked by Godmakers) arise?

  19. J. Stapley #12, Joseph’s modalism of the Book of Mormon and early Kirtland period was also coherent across texts. Nonetheless, he still subsequently moved to quite thoroughly reformulate that doctrine. I agree that aspects of the KFD ideas are consistent with Joseph’s earlier teachings. However, what’s relevant in an evaluation of the KFD are the innovations — including the uncreated humans — not the continuities. Furthermore, while I think there’s little or nothing in temple theology that would contradict the sermon or your reading of it, there’s also little or nothing that would specifically support it.

    Joseph’s life shows evidence of a kind of theological cycle: he developed bold new insights, promoted them unambiguously for a little while, then began to clarify, problematize and revise them. With the new doctrines of 1844 or so, we’re unfortunately lacking that last phase. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the doctrine of the period has never been canonized?

  20. JNS: i agree JSJ was constantly claiming finality and is something of a doctrinal moving target. I see in KFD a fairly natural evolution from older teachings about immortality, corpses, human personality, eternal relationships. To the extent I see it consistent with much of his prior teachings, I think it’s reasonable to consider it more than tentative.

    Again, I’ve always thought the way you do until I saw your post, so I’m growing into this idea, but the current grounding of meaning is not actually moored to uncreate God and his creation, it appears to me to be primarily a relational statement. We have meaning because God is our parent and intends for us to develop into full-spirited children. We have meaning because God loves us and desire our happiness. The current Mormon statements of our meaning I think of do not invoke God’s role as ex nihilo creator. This is in no way threatened by Smith’s later theology. In fact the relational aspect is central.

    I think subjugating God’s meaning to the second plan is rather tenuous. You can’t derive your own meaning from a meaningless entity, unless that meaning is primarily relational, which you are excluding. If there’s a solution for God’s lack of meaningful grounding, then there’s a solution for ours.

    I agree that this view has the potential, if strictly teleological, to morph into philosophical existentialism as outlined by eg Sartres and Nietszche. Even in a teleological vision, it is supernatural and theistic (more so than religious existentialism), which I think warrants some consideration. However in a relational definition, this view is distinct from existentialism.

  21. Sam, the meaning you describe resembles the meaning of the authoritarian and abusive parent — the parent who doesn’t create the child, but simply imposes her own definition on the child as meaning. This is the parent who decides that, because she was a cheerleader, her child will also define herself as a cheerleader. If God simply steps in from the outside and defines Himself as the parent of uncreated beings, and then proceeds to impose His goals on them as their meaning, we’ve got a being acting in a way that tends to injure the individuality of all beings other than God, don’t we? I think the morality of a relational approach to human meaning is heavily conditioned by God’s having a fundamental formative, creative role in humanity.

  22. Ronan (17&18): I think they arose as the same thing and consequently at the same time. You have Pratt’s explicit accounts in the Seer (1853) and Brigham’s Adam God a little before that. I think they were both taking the concept of eternal marriage and the idea of Mother in Heaven (of which there is traction in the months after Joseph’s death) and running with it.

  23. JNS, I think your point is an invalid reductio ad absurdum. A creator could have the same abusive ends. Positing creation does not change in any significant way our assessment of God’s goals. Recognizing the logic of the universe for the sake of improved children seems to me a priori no less moral than defining the logic of the universe for the sake of created children.

  24. No, Sam, you missed my point entirely. Deciding the meaning of a created person is different from deciding the meaning of an uncreated person.

  25. JNS,

    I too have to wonder how we could derive meaning from an meaningless being (as I understand your claim, an uncreated being must be meaningless). Further, are you implying that Joseph might have just been wrong in rejecting creatio ex nihilo? If not, then in what sense do you imagine we might be created beings?

  26. Geoff, I think the “meaning from a meaningless being” argument really doesn’t carry any weight. Whether God finds inherent direction in His life or not really doesn’t have any logical connection with His ability and/or right to provide meaning for us. But more generally, I think it’s really unhelpful for us to add in an unrelated problem; a detailed theology of God’s experience isn’t obviously necessary to think about the theology of our own experience.

    We have texts from Joseph that tend quite strongly to imagine God as our creator. So if we want to make “Joseph might just have been wrong” arguments, the fact is that any position we adopt on this question probably makes Joseph wrong on some point. It just depends which Joseph we’re more comfortable making wrong: canonized Joseph, KFD Joseph, or whatever.

    But it’s also possible to imagine positions other than creatio ex nihilo and uncreated beings. Many Mormon thinkers have concluded that KFD Joseph was awkwardly describing one or another such position. I don’t have a brief for any of those positions, or for the creatio ex nihilo perspective. Instead, my point is simply that we ought to treat this text pretty tentatively. It’s a first draft, not a final one. And Joseph’s final drafts are often substantially modified from their initial form.

  27. JNS: Whether God finds inherent direction in His life or not really doesn’t have any logical connection with His ability and/or right to provide meaning for us.

    Hmmm… this sentence is chock full o’ theological assumptions that ought to be unpacked I think. Like for instance the assumption that God provides meaning for us. Plus you talk about God “finding meaning” in His life — do you think that meaning for uncreated beings can exist at all? If a beginningless God (I presume you mean God the individual father of Jesus here and not God the divine concert) could possibly “find it” then presumably so could a beginningless JNS of Geoff J too right?

    We have texts from Joseph that tend quite strongly to imagine God as our creator.

    Do you think we have any texts that imagine God as our creator ex nihilo? I can’t think of any. However I do know there is a school of thought in Mormonism that goes for the idea of spiritual atomism (proposed by Orson Pratt wherein our intelligence parts are eternal and “we” are simply emergent from those parts) so I think that God as our organizer-creator is certainly a concept that is in play based on the revelations and sermons we have from Joseph.

    And Joseph’s final drafts are often substantially modified from their initial form.

    I think you are right on this count. However I think calling the KFD (and thus implying the Sermon in the Grove too) rough first drafts is a bit extreme. Rough, yes. First drafts? I’m not so sure because I think Joseph had been sorting some of these ideas out in his head for quite some time before preaching on them in the last months of his life. The very existence of the supporting Sermon in the Grove from June of ’44 undermines the rough first draft argument to large degree I think.

  28. JNS, I’d be interested in a fuller treatment of the topic. Currently, I have trouble seeing the distinction in the moral terms you use. Certainly there is a difference between being creator and finisher of an intelligence, but I’m not convinced that this difference is relevant in terms of grounding meaning. I’m certainly open to persuasion, as your approach has piqued my interest.

  29. JNS,
    What basis is there for assuming that any being who does not create another being and who influences those beings is cruel? Certainly if I influence someone in such a way that they become more happy, we do not consider this a cruelty simply because I have stepped in and hindered whatever development they might have obtained without my intervention. All that needs to be in place for God’s treatment of us to be meaningful is:
    A. God knows what will bring us joy.
    B. God has the power to bring about the conditions that will bring us joy.
    C. God has no other purpose than to bring us joy. That is, he loves us.
    Scripture speaks to each of these quite plainly. Whether we were created, especially whether we were created in an absolute sense, has nothing to do with the question. Whether oor not we were created, we exist. We are conscious, and therefore the question is one of ethics. What you are saying is that there would be a different ethical relationship between God an a created being than there would be with an uncreated being, but I think that misses the point. If God, an uncreated being, has any meaning, it is in those whom he helps to find joy. And if we have any meaning, it is those we help to find joy. If we place meaning in the a priori existence of self, we are likely to be left without much to go on. If we place the meaning of our existence (and God’s) in the other, new possibilities open. I think that there is ample evidence in scripture to support the idea that this is where meaning is found.

  30. Ronan 17&18 and Stapely 22:

    Romans 8 and Helaman 12 to me go a long way toward this. The scriptures are full of the notion of the parent/child relationship as are the teachings of our modern day prophets and apostles. The main question is whether we take the words and ideas literally or not.

    I actually think it make as much sense to ask from whence did we loose the idea of the literal parent child relationship? Can you pinpoint that moment? Or better yet, provide the link to the post on the bloggernacle when this was discovered?

  31. The problem, Eric, is that in #15 you are basically saying, I am taking contradicting statements and then making up a solution. The reality is that you are still contradicting Joseph. Now, if you want to say he was mistaken, that is fine, then you still have to come up with some sort of support for not being created from nothing (because the tripartate existence is wholly unsupported).

    I think you are mistaken in #30 by asserting the primacy of your view, the result of which is completely anachronistic. There is no way that any of the Saints would believe in spirit-Birth like you do before the innovations in 1844. So Ronan’s question is quite valid, when did the ideas that you champion come into existence…and the answer is as stated in #22, as far as I can tell.

  32. Eric,
    You have to read Romans 8 through a Mormon lens to have it state that our spirits were “begotten” by God. Even our LDS chapter heading admit this: “those adopted as sons of God.” I’m not sure the Book of Mormon is as clear on this as you are suggesting either.

    None of which is to detract from the Fatherhood of God, I just think our model is a little less My Turn on Earth then we popularly imagine.

  33. I do not believe that I am contradicting Joseph in the least. The only thing I am having to do with Joseph’s teachings is to suggest that he may at times have used the terms ‘spirit’ and ‘intelligence’ interchangeably which I feel is reasonable with new concepts, new terms, and an unprepared audience. JFS in the notes in teachings is where I get that idea.

    To say the tripartate existance is unsupported is a bit much isn’t it? Is it not a natural result of some of the teachings of BY, JFS, JFSII, Roberts, Talmage, Widtsoe, BRM, and GBH? I certainly am not creative enough to come up with this on my own. It seems to me to be the dominant belief in the church. I think I am a Mormon minority here and nowhere else.

  34. I don’t particularly like having the ‘My Turn on Earth’ statement made in catagorizing my beliefs. To me it is a not-so-subtle way of saying that one’s beliefs are trite and juvenille.

    In my less evil moments I spin it to say something more like one’s beliefs are consistent with what is commonly taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    I can not think of a silly play to characterize your beliefs, and hope that I wouldn’t if I could. Because they are not silly.

  35. Eric, I think Ronan’s beliefs can be summed up by this musical.

  36. Blessed are the Cheesemakers, Matt.

    Eric, please don’t mis-categorise what I said. I believe in the Fatherhood of God; what I am less sure about is whether spiritual begetting is somehow akin to human reproduction.

  37. In other words, I accept “God is the Father of our spirits” as perfectly sensible and orthodox Mormonism. But once we get into the mechanics of it, I think Mormons project all kinds of stuff that is way off piste.

  38. MAY be way off.

  39. To say the tripartate existance is unsupported is a bit much isn’t it? Is it not a natural result of some of the teachings of BY, JFS, JFSII, Roberts, Talmage, Widtsoe, BRM, and GBH?

    I’d be interested in any teaching of these folks, which explicitly state the Mind is eternal, but that the spirit is not. Obviously some (e.g., Roberts, who invented it) did.

    I do not believe that I am contradicting Joseph in the least. The only thing I am having to do with Joseph’s teachings is to suggest that he may at times have used the terms ’spirit’ and ‘intelligence’ interchangeably which I feel is reasonable with new concepts, new terms, and an unprepared audience.

    Reread the entire source accounts of the discourse. We have Joseph boldly proclaiming that he is not a fallen prophet and that he will prove it. We have him stating repeatedly that the “Spirit & Mind” are eternal. He defies anyone to believe otherwise. You simply are contradicting Joseph.

  40. If any of those folks say that the spirit is a begotten child of God and that the intelligence is eternal would that do? Is that not what a quick view into the definitions of Mormon Doctrine say – just off the top. I also think that is what Widtsoe lays out in Rational Theology. In the long run I believe most of those listed ultimately taught this. Perhaps another post to gather quotes…

    I still do not think there is any contradiction, simply sorting out definitions of new terms and concepts.

    And as far as contradictions go, is not denying a spirit birth event a contradiction of prophets subsequent to Joseph? Would you say in some ways that BY and JFS, JFSII were contradicting Joseph as well?

  41. I think there is some variance on exactly what is meant by begotten. We’ve had this conversation before though…

  42. Did BY ever contradict Joseph Smith? ummm….YES.

    If any of those folks say that the spirit is a begotten child of God and that the intelligence is eternal would that do?

    Nope. You see, folks like Brigham, Orson and McConkie believed in spirit element/intelligence that was used to make spirits though in different ways). You need to show where the mind is eternal.

    Folks like Joseph Fielding McConkie in Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions pg. 93-94 basically support creation ex nihilo.

  43. Nelson (#19), might I quibble with the claim that the Book of Mormon teaches modalism? I discussed this in my review of Widmer’s book. I know others, such as Blake Ostler have contested this as well. So the idea that up to 1832 Joseph was a modalist, while a common assertion, seems difficult for me to accept. I obviously don’t think he had that sophisticated a view. But modalism simply demands more than what people have provided in Joseph’s thought.

    I do agree about your point in #26 about “first drafts.” Although my sense is that in the KFD and the related texts aren’t necessarily first drafts. i.e. that he’d already been discussing these issues among the council of the anointed and so forth. My personal, although difficult to support, view is that Orson Pratt and Brigham Young’s particular theological trajectories came from hearing Joseph or indirectly hearing about his teachings to the inner circle. The KFD and a few other sermons are notable because they were taught much more publicly.

    As to the point you make about uncreated versus ex nihlo positions, I think that a good point. Although I’d note that I think the “uncreated as a fully formed human” position is a tad problematic. Even among 19th century Mormons there were more idealistic (in the philosophical sense ala neoPlatonism, Emerson or Hegel) approaches where there were uncreated elements out of which spirits were organized. These elements were themselves spirits in a sense. Orson Pratt takes this in an odd fashion invoking both Scottish realism and (to my eyes) a heavy dose of Leibniz and mechanistic atomism. Young takes it in a more pragmatic and idealistic sense. Neither is probably right but demonstrates the range of possible thinking beyond the “fully formed spirit” or the tripartite Cartesian model of B. H. Roberts and a few of his contemporaries.

  44. J. I am interested to see why you feel JFM has his point of view. I am fairly certain he personally would not take this position…

  45. I should note that Blake’s second volume, The Problems of Theism deals with some of the issues of creation. While I ultimately disagree or am at least suspicious of some of Blake’s views, I think it does set up the discussion quite well. I’m doing a reading club on it right now. Last year Geoff did a series of posts on Blake’s book as well.

    Eric (#33), regarding the tripartite model (which I actually favor if one can strip it of the Cartesianism and some of the naive assumptions) I’m not sure pointing to figures who assume it demonstrates it. That is one has to ask why figures influenced by Roberts, Widstoe, and Pratt think the way they do. I definitely agree that a simplified (even more simplified than Robert’s) tripartite view is the dominate view though.

    I agree though with your addition in (#38). I think some move from “it’s not clear in Joseph’s thought” to “it isn’t there.” That’s just as illegitimate as those who point to Roberts or others and say it is there. At best we have an ambiguity.

    J Stapley (#44), could you quote the place where you feel Joseph Fielding McConkie teaches creation ex nihilo? I’d be very surprised to read such a thing.

  46. Clark, I’ve seen your comments, those of Blake, and those of various FARMS authors on modalism in the Book of Mormon. The reason this idea doesn’t go away is that many don’t find the counter-arguments overwhelmingly convincing. Most of the prooftexts against modalism in the Book of Mormon are pretty direct parallels to passages in the New Testament; whenever the Book of Mormon shows novel information about deity, that information supports a modalist perspective. As you surely realize, modalists in the 19th century had ready explanations about why anti-modalist prooftexts in the New Testament were not to be taken as problematic, so parallel texts in the Book of Mormon would also raise no issues.

    You discuss a couple of the important texts showing a modalist perspective in your review, but the 1830 Book of Mormon is just chock full of them. In addition to the Mosiah and 2 Nephi texts you discuss, for example, the 1830 1 Nephi Chapter III says: “behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!” and “the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world… he was lifted up upon the cross…” Another random example: the last chapter of Helaman describes Jesus as: “the Son of God, the Father of Heaven and of earth.” One passage in the supposedly anti-modalist 3 Nephi is especially clear in explaining a modalist conception of the godhead, in the 1830 Chapter I: “I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men, from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father, and of the Son: of the Father, because of me, and of the Son, because of my flesh.” Here, the interpretation that does least violence to the text is that the “Son” is God’s body and the “Father” is God’s spirit. Read in that light, most of the supposedly anti-modalist passages in the book become much more consistent with the book’s overall modalist perspective, as well.

    I think Widmer extends the modalist period too long; by 1832, a transition to the bitheism of the Lectures on Faith was clearly under way. Joseph’s subsequent revisions of the Book of Mormon show an attempt at removing modalism from the text (i.e., changing references to Jesus as “God” to “the Son of God”), but the attempt was abandoned partway through 1 Nephi. The principle of continuing revelation meets the principle of textual preservation?

  47. Oh, also: Clark, I agree with you that there are several positions available other than ex nihilo creation of humanity and uncreated humanity. Mormons typically reject the ex nihilo position. My argument is simply that the fully uncreated pole has severe difficulties — there are a range of other positions that I haven’t tried to discuss.

  48. So J, see if this is fair. Are you saying that:

    1 – Joseph taught the we are eternal. Mind, spirit, intelligence, whatever.

    2 – Then along comes Brigham who teaches spirit birth. To you a clear contradiction.

    3 – Then along comes BH Roberts and tries to invent a tripartate model, which some people (dopes like Eric) buy into, even though this hopelessly contradicts what Joseph taught.

    Fair so far?

    And then you doubt it can be shown by any ‘authoritative’ source (BH Roberts doesn’t count?) anyone teaching a combination of both positions.

    Am I even close?

  49. Eric, Joseph clearly taught that a person’s mind and spirit are eternal. Brigham (and others) come along and teach spirit birth. In a concession to Joseph’s earlier statements, they state that spirit element is only eternal, not the spirit or mind (Remember here that they didn’t have ready access to Joseph’s teachings). Roberts invents the tripartite existence, which was poo-pooed by folks like JFSII and McConkie. Look up “intelligenses” in MoDoc.

    You can cite BH Roberts as a source for the tripartite existence, it is just that well, in the face of everything else, it is fairly weak support.

  50. I am not sure I fully understand the difference between either situation 1 and 3 or situation 2 and 3. Worst of all, I am not sure which of the two I just said I do not understand. :)

    Anyway, what evidence have we for what Joseph Meant by Mind and Spirit?

    What Evidence do we have for what BY meant by Spirit Birth?

    Last, what evidence do we have that BH Roberts was disagreeing with either and not just offering exegesis on the same?

    Now I will go look up tripartate. :)

  51. in the face of everything else

    I’m not used to reading statements by you that assume your reading is the obvious one that requires the least justification. That is, the “everything else” that you cite is what we’re all trying to interpret. That is to say that it is just as plausible, I think, to see Joseph’s insistence on the eternal nature of the spirit and mind as being an argument against ex nihilo creation by arguing that God made us from something as it is to say that we were not created. He never argues, as I see it that we existed in the state in which we were before we came to earth for all eternity, only that we existed in some state. Heavens, what we call the different parts of ourselves is one of the least clear things in scripture. The whole spirit/soul thing isn’t as clearcut as the bible dictionary makes it out to be. And then mind–if the physical activity of our brain is also commonly referred to as the mind, then we have a hard time sorting out exactly what Joseph is referring to as mind. Certainly we aren’t talking just about a dulaism between mind and spirit; Jospeh’s doctrine was much too materialist for that. So if what we are talking about is the precise form of the change which happened when God created us, whether that was a change in substance (something physical added to us) or simply an opening of possibility (greater access to the capabilities of what we already were), and if we call whatever that change is a spirit birth, I don’t see the grand conflict of ideas here. What we have is a spirit creation–not ex-nihilo, but that’s hard to support given that we know that spirit is matter–and we’re calling that a birth. I think some of the scripture that many of us have a hard time getting past so as not to think that we were something different before we were what we were before coming to this earth are: Moses 6:36,which talks about “the spirits that God had created,” Ether 3:16, which talks about Crist creating man after the body of his spirit, &c. It sounds like God crated us. The idea that what we were before we were whatever we were just before we came here, I’ll call it spirit here, was intelligence, of course comes from D&C 93:29

    Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

    I’m not saying that the only interpretation of these verses is what you are calling “tripartate” existence here, but it does leave your assertion that “everything else” is in your favor in need of a little unpacking.

  52. RT and J. Nelson: It seems to me that you don’t understand the kind of distinctions being made in the BofM texts regarding what you call modalism. I don’t find just citing texts as RT does in #46 as persuasive. The Son is always subordinated to the Father in will and act — that is enough to show that modalism isn’t taught (indeed, in the very text you cite from 3 Ne. is evidence quite enough to show this fact of subordinationism). If you make the spirit/body dichotomy defintive for modalsim, then the Lectures on Faith are also supposedly modalistic — but they plainly are not. Indeed, it seems that there is more continuity between the BofM with the LonF than discontinuity.

    So I suggest that your facile “reconciliation” of supposedly difficult-to-modalize texts remains difficult to reconcile. Indeed, it is easier to interpret the so-called modalistic texts as instances of the Son being the exact bodily image of the Father as Ether 3 teaches.

    I agree with you that a first-read-through raises modalistic sounding passages. However, a closer look demonstrates distinctions between Father and the Son that are not consistent with modalism in my view.

    It is fairly clear to me that JS at least used spirit/intelligences as synomyms, that he regarded this spirits/intelligences as uncreated and eternal and that neither BY nor OP had a view of eternal intelligences that was congruent with JS’s teachings. BH Roberts’ view was an attempt to reconcile spirit birth with an eternal intelligence (not Cartesian souls). He did that by creating a scheme of an eternal intelligence that underwent a form of birth to receive a spirit body. The tension in his view is that the spirit is not eternal.

    However, given the rough and ready state of JS’s sermon and the roughest of transcriptions, it is not easy to make clear propositions from the KFD. At least, as far as I can see.

  53. I’m not used to reading statements by you that assume your reading is the obvious one that requires the least justification

    :) I am :)

    J, I did look up a few things this evening. I may post on it somtime when I have a chance to get things together. A lot of the ‘guys’ seem to come up short of allowing spirit element or pre-spirit birth beings a mind and will. Widtsoe tentatively and vaguely said what I am saying. BRM in MoDoc was close to my position I thought.

  54. Steve H., I am general agreement with your comment #51, in that the nature of God’s influence over our transformation from independent beings to beings in a relationship to him could could involve innumerable things. I also agree that Joseph did not likely conceive of a spirit-mind duality. You take issue with my “in the face of everything else.” I stand by it though.

    B. H. Roberts proposed the existence of things called “intelligencies” that were our core eternal beings. These “intellegencies” are born of God as spirits in their eternal progression. My statement is that this (or any other tripartite existence) is not supported by Joseph, his immediate successors or prominent authorities after Roberts. Indeed, “you can cite BH Roberts as a source for the tripartite existence, it is just that well, in the face of everything else, it is fairly weak support.”

    I would contrast Moses 6:36 which was part of the JST process of 1830 (the year the Church was organized) with Abraham 8:13 which describes the spirits beings are never created, which was given in 1842 (if I remember correctly).

    My comments vis a vis spirit creation ex nihilo were limited to that JFM citation I named.

  55. Did my second comment get caught in the spam filter?

    RT (#45) said, “Most of the prooftexts against modalism in the Book of Mormon are pretty direct parallels to passages in the New Testament; whenever the Book of Mormon shows novel information about deity, that information supports a modalist perspective”

    But that avoids the central issue. (Further, with respect to 3 Ne 11 I simply don’t think it correct — what parallel NT passages are you thinking of?) The point is that the BoM is too inconsistent to teach modalism. If the claim is Joseph plagerized and that when he wrote he wrote about modalism you still have a problem in that they don’t clearly teach modalism. Certainly they can easily be read modalistically. But they don’t contain enough metaphysical content to express modalism. At best they teach what Widmer called, “n early 19th-century layman’s interpretaion of Trinitarianism. … Perhaps this definition was no different than the rest of the laity’s, that sat in both Catholic and Protestant churches in the early 19th century.” (Widmer, 53) If this is so then one can’t call it modalism because it is simply too vague.

    The point is that simply calling Jesus father is too vague to be modalism. Modalism simply embraces much more. There are many theological perspectives that have no trouble calling Jesus the Father, including Trinitarianism. After all one need only look to John 10:30 for an example. Likewise one could argue that the scripture you quote in 1 Ne 3 ought be read relative to the KJV of Is 9:6. So you can’t apply double standards here. The fact is that in the KJV there are plenty of modalistic like scriptures. Yet there’s a double standard relative to Joseph’s texts even though at best they are as vague as the NT/OT and open to as many interpretations.

    To say this is apologetics seems odd. It’s really nothing like the position of say BoM geography. There Mormons are at best arguing that one can rationally believe but that the preponderance of the evidence would lead one to disbelief. In this case I strongly feel that the preponderance of the evidence leads at best to vagueness rather than any determinate theology of the nature of God.

  56. Blake (#52), BH Roberts’ view was an attempt to reconcile spirit birth with an eternal intelligence (not Cartesian souls).

    Actually Roberts explicitly ties it to Cartesian minds. I’ve discussed this before (albeit not for some time)

    Intelligence (mind), or intelligences (minds) . . . are conscious beings. Conscious of self and of the non-self; of the “me” and the “not me.” “Intelligence is that which sees itself (as), or is, at once, both subject and object.” It knows itself as thinking, that is, as a subject; thinking of itself, it knows itslef as an object of thought – of own thouhgt. . . . Fisk calls consciousness “the soul’s fundamental fact” and “the most fundamental of facts.” It may be defined as the power by which intelligence knows its own acts and states. It is an awreness of mind – it is mind in awareness. By reason of awareness – consciousness – an intelligence when dwelling in a body. . . (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 77)

    If you read the whole section the influence of Fisk’s Cartesianism is pretty apparent.

  57. Clark, sorry your comment did get caught, but it is now released (and I fixed the comment references). Regarding that JFM quote (note esp. the last paragraph):

    Did we have existence (entity and agency) before our birth as spirits?

    This is a question to which we simply don’t have an answer. It is one of those matters on which good people differ and perhaps with good reasons. The idea that the spirits had entity and agency before their spirit birth is not a doctrine of the Church and should not be taught as such.

    Two scriptural texts are generally used to justify this notion. They are the statement in Abraham relative to God’s organizing the intelligences (supposedly the primal element) from which he chose the noble and great ones (see Abr. 3:22) and the passage in D&C 93:30, which states that all truth is independent in the sphere in which God has placed it and that it can act for itself “as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” A careful reading of the Abraham texts makes it clear that no allusion is made to the primal element when the word “intelligence” is used; in Abr. 3:22-23 “intelligences,” “souls,” and “spirits” are used synonymously. The reference to their organization is not to their creation but to their foreordination. “The Father called all spirits before Him” before their birth into mortality, Joseph Smith explained, “and organized them”; he placed Adam at the head and gave him the keys of the priesthood (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 158).

    A careful reading of D&C 93:30 does not suggest the existence of life forms before God called them into existence. In fact, the thrust of the text is precisely the opposite. It tells us that all things exist precisely because God called them into existence. The existence of all things evidences the hand of a creator. “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it,” we are told in this passage. That is to say, when God ordains a law it stands independent. It does not need to be wound up every morning or restarted. It simply operates as it was ordained to operate. As it is with laws, so it is with eternal truths. They too stand independent. Compliance with them brings the same blessings in all ages. To disregard them brings the same consequences in all ages. Were this not the case—that is, if God did not have this power—there would be neither God nor existence, for his justice and mercy would then vary from age to age. (Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions, 93-94)

  58. Just a note that the post that got caught was #45. That also makes all the numbers since then off by one. So adjust yourselves accordingly.

  59. Regarding the younger McConkie. That is interesting (and, in my mind a bad reading of D&C 93). I’m frankly surprised he’d teach something like that. Although he is careful to say, “we don’t know.”

  60. Although he is careful to say, “we don’t know.”

    But then goes on to explain how God creates everything, including life, law and existence.

  61. One additional comment (sorry for all the posts). Two words can be semantically synonymous yet have different extensions. So mind, spirit and intelligence might well have been largely synonymous for Joseph yet each have subtly different senses. Put an other way, the use is vague enough for a tripartite doctrine to be read into the sermons easily albeit without it being something Joseph was conscious of.

    To show an example just pick out your thesaurus and you should be able to find many examples. Say escape and dodge. Or berth and bed. Beast and creature. One could multiply the examples.

  62. (#60), I took that to imply that JFM thought God created everything but that he didn’t know his reading was correct.

  63. J> Actually, I believe that the notion of mind-like-properties is inherent in Joseph’s view of intelligences: “The soul the mind of man, whare did it come from? … man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself … the spirit is seperated for a little time, they are now conversant with each other as we are on the earth” (KFD WWWD). “the mind of man—the mind of man is as immortal as God himself… intelligence is self existent it is a sp. from age to end & there is no creatn abt. It” (TB Acount) So I believe that the view that intelligences have properties of intelligent minds that can converse is just JS’s view. I agree with you that it is not the same view expressed in D”&C 93 where the Intelligence is an eternal attribute of truth that defines an idealistic view of eternal Human existence (not quite yet individuated).

    Clark: I don’t disagree that Fisk’s views influenced Roberts, or perhaps better yet that Roberts saw Fisk’s views as a good expression of his understanding of what an intelligence is. However, the discussion of Roberts focuses on the various scriptural passages about intelligence(s) and how to reconcile them. He has a lengthy discussion about spirit birth as well and it seem clear, to me at least, that the attempt to reconcile these views is driving his conclusions.

  64. Of curious note is the use of “intelligences” as a synonym for entity in descriptions of the Great Chain of Being (Addison in the widely republished Spectator particularly comments on intelligences having varied degrees of glory), a concept of which Smith and his followers were aware, even as it had waned substantially by the nineteenth century. It seems possible that this is a connotation of the term as used by Joseph Smith and would imply some sense of graded development (recognizing of course that the Chain was rooted in ex nihilo creation and Smith did not seem to believe much in that aspect).

    There is a strange dichotomy in Smith’s corpus between creation of physical worlds and creation of physical humans. Worlds are allowed to be simply “organized” out of pre-existing recycled component parts, but human bodies had to maintain their core components without recycling. I think this analogy probably lends some minor support to the supposition of uncreate intelligence.

    I was amazed at how Protestant that McConkie quote is. Shows how little I’ve been reading of that school, I guess.

  65. Blake, I find your claim that the Son is subordinated to the Father not to be obvious, nor your reading of the Ether text — which strikes me as also being most compatible with the modalist hypothesis. And I wish you’d avoid throwing around words like “facile,” since I’m not sure that insulting me really advances the argument.

    Clark, I didn’t say that Joseph plagiarized anything; that’s not my intention. Nor did I call anything “apologetics,” although I think you and I are both engaged in Mormon apologetics in this discussion. As I noted above, the book does far more than call Jesus the Father. It spells out the relation between the two: the Father is Jesus’s spirit and the Son is His body. That’s modalism, the whole and substance. The text is precise enough, because that’s all it takes to be a modalist.

  66. RT (#65), by plagiarism I wasn’t directly responding to you but to the broader potential argument. (i.e. how to reject texts as not representing Joseph’s thought) If we reject copying entirely and treat the Book of Mormon as legit then, of course, it becomes problematic as a guide to Joseph’s thought at all.

    As to your claim about modalism, that’s not modalism. Modalism is that the Father and the Son are different modes of God. What you outline is something else (which I doubt has a name) Of course one would have to unpack what you mean by spirit and body. As exegesis of Mosiah 15 one would have to be clearer.

    The text itself says that the flesh became subject to the spirit. (Which I believe was what Blake was getting at) But the text itself doesn’t say that the Father is the Spirit of God and Jesus the Flesh of God. It’s a tad more complex. To attribute this passage to spirit (i.e. soul) and flesh is difficult. I can understand why one would read it that way initially. But there are just too many problems in the text to take it as referring to two substances, one called Father and the other Son. And, as I said, that’s not modalism anyway.

  67. Oh, Sam, the use of intelligence for the Great Chain of Being was pretty common and not just in Addison. (Whose Spectator writings can be read here — note it’s a big file) Intelligence in this sense probably arises out of Plotinus’ and the beginnings of neoPlatonism. That use can be found in lots of neoPlatonists. (Although oddly I didn’t find that use in Emerson, even though he’s an obvious point of contact for Nauvoo theology)

    Interesting in Addison I found only one use of “intelligences” with plural. (In the Spectator anyway). I also don’t see intelligence used as synonymous with entity. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place?

  68. Oh, while I think the parallels can be deeply overplayed, the use of intelligence = spirit = soul in the hermetic literature is an obvious connection as well. (I don’t have access to any pre-20th century translations so I don’t know how they were translated) Interestingly many of the Hermetic texts, such as the Libellus, teaches a tripartite view. (Probably originating in Plotinus’ notion of intelligence, intellectual matter, and matter) There the mind takes a soul for a wrap and then the soul is wrapped in the body. The mind by itself couldn’t be in matter or vice versa. So there is a kind of spirit birth before a physical birth.

    I’m not saying this ought be considered relative to Nauvoo theology, but some of the parallels in Libellus X:16-18 are pretty amazing when considered with Nauvoo theology and especially the tripartite readings of the KFD and other texts. There are some differences of course. But the very idea of spirit as refined matter has an echo from these texts. (And of course indirectly via lots of other sources)

  69. Clark, I read the section in The Spectator 1 (July 7, 1711) 111 as indicating “intelligences” is a synonym for “rational creatures”, the entities higher up on the Chain. (Not identical to Smith’s use as a pre-creature state, but I think Smith was not actually splitting hairs as much as we would like.) The reason I choose Spectator is that it was in Joseph Smith’s local library, and there is a reference or two to early LDS actively reading Addison.

    Is there an easy web link for Libellus that doesn’t involve knowing Latin?

  70. Wow, JFM is somewhat shocking here. I wonder if Robert Millet, who I consider in the same group with JFM would concur? I wonder if JFM would still hold to that statement?

  71. Clark, one common variant of modalism holds that the Son is the physical mode (the body) while the Father is the spiritual mode (the soul) of Jesus Christ/God. That’s why the term is an apropos description of Book of Mormon theology. Other terms can of course be used; the word isn’t important, and you and Blake seem to accept important portions of the argument that the Book of Mormon theology of God is somewhat different from what one typically hears in Sunday School today. So it would seem that there are bounds to our disagreement.

    With regard to plagiarism/copying versus authenticity of the Book of Mormon text, I continue to insist that this is irrelevant. Nearly all of us agree that Joseph Smith has left important elements of his thought and times in the Book of Mormon text — but it also seems reasonable, in light of the correspondence between that text and his other contemporaneous statements about God, to assign the beliefs in the text to Joseph, even if he had no effect on the text. Is it at all surprising that a prophet would be influenced by the content of his revelation?

    The point with regard to the passages that parallel New Testament content in 3 Nephi isn’t that they were plagiarized. Rather, it’s that modalists already read those passages in the New Testament as consistent with modalism, so a modalist would not find them troubling in the Book of Mormon, either. It’s a hermeneutic issue; the texts only seem problematic for modalism from a non-modalist perspective. If we can sympathetically imagine ourselves into that alien doctrinal position, the anti-modalist prooftexts really don’t carry much weight — that’s the claim I’m making. I don’t want to go prooftext-by-prooftext right now in this thread, though, because it’s rather off topic.

  72. RT, I think both Blake and I think that Mosiah 15 fits much better into pre-Christian Jewish speculation of the little YHWH or Metatron rather than Christian modalism.

    The problem with Mosiah 15 as representing modes is that the discussion of the flesh subjecting itself to the spirit makes no sense if they are simply different modes.

    To merely say that modalism can be seen as spiritual mode and physical mode avoids the central question of the relationship which is where modalism is verified or falsified.

    As to your NT argument, modalists read all the New Testament as compatible with modalism. If this is the standard for verification we’ve set the bounds so low as to make it almost meaningless. That is the argument is extremely weak. At least to my eyes. We need something that can distinguish the Metatron view from the more metaphysical modalist view. None of those arguing for modalism have done this that I can see. At best they point to parallels with modalism ignoring that the parallels are vague enough so as to encapsulate many movements. So how do we distinguish between them? I think Blake, myself and others have demonstrated some textual elements that clearly do allow this. Further 3 Ne 11 simply isn’t paralleling close enough any NT passages that modalists use. The way 3 Ne 11 is presented (as even Widmer admits) simply isn’t modalistic.

  73. Sam, the Libellus is often titled Poimandres. Here’s an online version of section X. Note there are obvious differences since the focus is on death not birth. This was a highly influential text in the Renaissance and continued to be influential among many mystics or mystic like figures such as Boehme and I’d suspect the American transcendalists were familiar with it as well. I don’t know whether Joseph would have had direct access but I’d probably agree with Quinn that a lot of these sorts of ideas would have been in popular circulation at the time. Especially for those associated with masonry.

    Regarding Addison, while intelligences is used there clearly in reference to humans, I’m not sure it’s being used as akin to “entity.” The focus clearly is on reason. Man in mortality can’t fulfill his knowledge whereas a beast can. Thus to create such an intelligence that is aborted (i.e. the end of learning before it is complete) is bad. As such I actually think it does parallel Joseph’s use but this use seems to entail a connotation with intelligence or reason in the normal sense more than simply a one-to-one correspondence with being or spirit. That connotation of learning and thought is pretty significant.

    It’s that sense of connotation that’s sometimes missing in these discussions (IMO). That’s not to say that one can’t metaphorically use intelligence to refer to a person. Clearly one can. But one simply can’t neglect the connotative aspects of the difference between the terms.

  74. BTW RT, what main figures of the variant of modalism you espouse are you speaking of? Most of the main modalists I’m familiar of have three modes – creator, redemption, and revelation corresponding to Father, Son, and Spirit.

    Is this a modalism available for Joseph? Widmer doesn’t mention such.

  75. Clark, as I said, we’re way off topic for this thread, so I’m going to desist with two comments. First, I think you can’t read Mosiah 15 without reference to the explanation in the beginning of 3 Nephi that I quoted above. Your view is, to my eye, simply incompatible with that text in which Christ explicitly identifies the Father and the Son as His spirit and His body, respectively.

    Second, I don’t really know what modalists you’re referring to, but it seems to me that Sabellius is a good reference point. Generally, speaking, the modes that modalists distinguish are Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — which are different roles of one individual. That matches pretty exactly with the Book of Mormon tells us about Jesus.

  76. Rt, this thread is far enough down that I suspect folks won’t even read the comments. I might make an other post on modalism at my site when I have a chance.

    It seems to me that Sabellius doesn’t teach what you are saying is the modalism in Mosiah.

  77. RT: Rather than taking my characterization of your argument as “facile”, let me explain why it is way too easy. You cite a text and then say — “it can be interpreted in a modalistic fashion.” To me this is facile, too easy, twice over, First it consists of an argument of assertion — and nothing more. Second, the goal isn’t to see if some text will fit modalism but to give an example that requires modalism.

  78. I’m preparing a post on this, but to second Blake’s comment, I think the texts you say imply modalism can be read in terms of the gnostic theology of the possession of Jesus by a separate spirit. How do we distinguish between these two theological positions? That is how do we decide which fits the text better?

    Those appealing to modalism have never offered this. It often seems like they think modalism is possible, it fits the data, is convenient and thus the discussion need not go any further. Yet the problem of multiple models fitting the data (especially in the superficial manner typically taken) is something that can’t be neglected.

  79. RT: “Clark, one common variant of modalism holds that the Son is the physical mode (the body) while the Father is the spiritual mode (the soul) of Jesus Christ/God. That’s why the term is an apropos description of Book of Mormon theology.”

    Could you show me where this view represents modalism and for whom? It seems to me that Clark is quite correct that modalism means, and has always meant, that the Son and Father are just different modes of appearing of the one God. If the one God becomes embodied and remains the same person/being as the person who was previously spirit, then I can see the kind of identity statement necessary for modalism. However, the flesh becoming subject to the spirit where both Father and Son exist contemporaneously is rather clearly not modalism but subordinationism — which is about as far from modalism as one can get. It seems to me that the texts in question have the Son as an emobodied being subjecting his will to a contemporaneously existing Father who is defined by spiritual qualities rather than mortal qualities (e.g., in Mosiah 15 the flesh is simply the mortal existence in a body of the Son). I would like to see an expression where the Father as the spirit ceases to be spirit when the Son becomes embodied. Clearly the Son ceases to be be merely spirit when he becomes embodied, but every Christian view of incarnation except Docetism accepts that.Thus, an observation that Christ was a pre-existent spirit that became flesh hardly establishes modalism. It must be shown that the Father ceases to be spirit and becomes flesh. That is what is required for the modalistic reading. I don’t see any such texts — but perhaps you could enlighten me.

  80. jothegrill says:

    I exist, and since I can’t remember not existing, I assume that I have always existed. Not in my current form. I do remember being shorter, and less articulate. But believing that God has some close and special relationship with me, (as that of a parent,) makes me feel more secure in his care. I trust my earthly parents more than just about anyone on earth (except my spouse.) I cannot see how some immortal being would take as much interest in my life as it seems Heavenly Father has if they were not my parent in some way.

  81. Antonio Parr says:

    I, for one, am not a fan of the notion that God used to be an automechanic (or banker or lawyer or whatever) on some other planet. This notion has reduced God to a being hardly worthy of worship (which may explain why Mormons aren’t too keen on the idea of adoring God), and why our prayers and worship services are devoid of the language of praise.

    One could also argue that the King Follet discourse is almost atheistic, as it elevates the process of divine evolution over any personality or being, including our Father in Heaven. The “god” of King Follett is evolution, and not any being who has passed through this process (including our Father in Heaven). I find this notion contrary to everything that I have encountered in the Bible and Book of Mormon.

    I am grateful that the King Follet discourse has never been canonized, and am genuinely perplexed by the high esteem reserved for this funeral sermon.

  82. I disagree emphatically Antonio. The prime aspect of the KFD is agency. As I mentioned above, I think general perception of the famous couplet is a misunderstanding of Joseph’s teachings, but you have God choosing to help the lesser intelligences; you have folks that turn away and rebel.

    You seem to want a world of Divine Command Ethics, but I find such a God capricious and incoherent.

    Alos, in my experience, Mormons are more likely to “praise” and “worship” then they are given credit.

  83. Antonio Parr says:

    The our experience differs.

    In fact, LDS prayer has been all but codified to include: (1) Calling God “Heavenly Father”; (2) Thanking Him; (3) Submitting our requests; and (4) closing “in the name of Jesus Christ”. Words of adoration and reverence, i.e., “hallowed by Thy name” or “How great Thou Art”, etc., don’t appear in the LDS meetings that I attend.

    That doesn’t mean that my Brothers and Sisters don’t do a great job of worship by obedience. But praising God with our lips and praising him with our acts of obedience are not mutually exclusive.

    No problem, though, with your emphatic disagreement. Reasonable minds often differ.

  84. Antonio Parr says:

    Oops. Then our experience differs!

  85. Antonio Parr: Words of adoration and reverence, i.e., “hallowed by Thy name” or “How great Thou Art”, etc., don’t appear in the LDS meetings that I attend.

    Oh good grief. So you would be happy if Mormons threw in a rote “hallowed be thy name” in every prayer? Sound vacuous and pointless to me. In my opinion we do praise God when we offer sincere thanks for specific blessings in our lives. I can’t imagine God would prefer a always-repeated “How great Thou Art” over a real and honest conversation/dialogue with us.

  86. Antonio Parr says:

    How about instead of a rote “How Great Thou Art”, we try a heartfelt one with a sense of awe and wonder at the Master of the universe?

  87. Antonio Parr says:

    I really do think that our reduction of God to the status of an exalted man who is one of many, many exalted men has resulted in a people who lack the sense of wonder that, for example, Muslims display when they kneel before the Being Who they believe to be the one true God who is master of all creation.

    Not trying to be difficult here. I just have not witnessed much in the way of awe and wonder when Mormons talk about God. There are, of course, exceptions. But how many of you ever hear expressions such as those found in Alma 26 when Latter-Day Saints talk about God?

  88. Antonio Parr: I really do think that our reduction of God to the status of an exalted man who is one of many, many exalted men has resulted in a people who lack the sense of wonder

    Who is this “our” you are referring to here? Among Mormons there are numerous schools of thought on some of these theological questions. Some (like Blake Ostler) hold that the Father became a mortal once but has been the supreme God from all eternity. Most who lean toward the idea that our Father progressed to his Godhood usually also hold that there is a numberless regress of Fathers before our Father and it is not uncommon to think that our Father is One with his Fathers — thus the plural word Elohim represents both the person of our Father and the Divine Concert with whom hi is one. I bring this up simply to show that if a Latter Day Saint holds a conception of God that lacks a sense of wonder it is a personal problem not a problem forced by the institution. There are plenty of theological views in Mormonism that supply ample reason for awe (even if we reject the ex nihilo creator of the creeds).

    Also, it seems to me that too much awe becomes a major barrier to a personal relationship with God. I suspect we emphasize our parent-child relationship with God partially to reduce barriers to personal revelatory relationships.

  89. Antonio Parr says:

    Thus saith Ammon:

    “Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy , and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.”

    Alma 26:16

  90. As Orson Scott Card said in Saintspeak,

    “Mormon – People who believe that the only difference between them and God is a few years of training. ”


    As man is, God once was; As God is, man may become

    A doctrine which makes perfect sense when applied to me, but becomes downright unbelievable when applied to almost anyone else I can think of.”

  91. Brother Parr,

    The rhetoric of praise is there (“every knee shall bow,” “I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,” etc.), but the dour Mormon aesthetic sucks the life out of it.

    Unless, of course, we are singing “Praise to the Man”… :)

  92. Mark D. Butler says:

    Well said.

  93. Just a note to say that Joseph preached on the eternal nature of the spirit as early as 1839 (5 years before the KFD):

    The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal. (WoJS pg. 9)


  1. […] Smith, most frequently call the King Follet Discourse, many Latter-day saints believe that the mind of man is eternal and can never be created or destroyed. While he had preached this concept five years earlier, there […]

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