The Resurrection of Children

W.V. Smith of fame returns as it were from the dead as our guest, with a post entirely restored to its proper and perfect frame.

The question of how Joseph Smith’s theological pronouncements were received by the Saints is an interesting one to me. The answer is complex. But focusing on his funeral addresses, suggests a somewhat more tractable problem. I want to single out one idea here. None of the theological points are really new, but the conclusions are, I hope, backed up by textual rigor.

A doctrinal thread that runs through all Joseph’s funeral addresses is an obvious one: resurrection. Latter-day Saints of the day came from various Christian backgrounds, were familiar with the Bible, and in the case of a fair number of males, were full or part-time preachers. The idea of bodily resurrection was not controversial for most Protestants of the time. Joseph’s take on resurrection was in some ways, more nuanced.

This was undoubtedly true in part because of his visionary experience of the process which he mentions in his sermon for Lorenzo Barnes. In particular, Joseph took a position that resurrection of the human body involved it being restored in the form in which it was laid down.[1] But his revelatory insight did not apparently extend to complete understanding. Obvious questions come to mind: what of the elderly, the diseased, those deformed for various reasons. Those who had lost limbs, the cremated, lost a sea, etc., etc. The Book of Mormon takes a very brief shot at this with the words, “proper and perfect frame.” But the big question in Nauvoo particularly, was babies. Joseph held doggedly to a belief that resurrected children stayed children. At least he may have been dogged, sometimes. There are a number of reasons for this, perhaps the most obvious is resurrected bodies are somehow perfected, and cannot change.[2]

Babies were a problem in Nauvoo, because so many of them died. Nauvoo death rates for children might have been double that of other communities of its size and not built on a mosquito swamp. As Patty Sessions once remarked, it was hard to raise a child in Nauvoo.

There was a lack of satisfaction about this idea. “Mothers, you shall have your children [in the resurrection]” Joseph is reported to have said. But who wants to change diapers for eternity? Also, you need much larger hands than a baby’s to take piano lessons for 2 years and then whine enough so you can quit. I think I can say that most parents would not prefer their resurrected baby remain at that stature, forever. The memories are good enough. Isn’t Mormon afterlife supposed to involve “the same [pleasant] sociality” as we have here? The result was that people didn’t talk about this too much, but there was a faction that was loyal to no growth/change after resurrection.

Not for several decades after Joseph’s death did people begin to think about the question.[3] Finally, when Joseph’s scribes were dead or out of the picture, they got the blame for bad reporting. Joseph F. Smith was particularly unsatisfied with the idea of permanent babies. He found (very late) witnesses to testify that Joseph had said on one occasion or another that babies would grow to full stature in the resurrection. And while church president, the year he died, he more or less made it the official church position.

In Joseph F. Smith’s defense, during early Utah times, Brigham Young claimed he heard Joseph Smith preach it both ways. But Young was of the opinion that Joseph just didn’t know the answer. I think may be another of several examples of extrapolation of observation. Joseph saw stuff. And drew conclusions from what he saw. D&C 130 and 131 probably contain more examples of this.

Resurrected growing children might set up a paradigm that suggests that geezers that pass on, might have to go through a youthening process. I mean, who wants to stay permanently 96? But Geezer Resurrection probably deserves its own post. Joseph was probably not an “extreme resurrectionist.” That is that every particle that was in your body when you died, comes back. So perhaps the aging thing is not a problem.

Finally, what about all the babies that die and for one reason or another, don’t have parents who make it to celestial glory. Sisters, you may be in for more than you bargained for. Heaven is patriarchal. But since we’re going to be in “burnings,” you probably don’t really have to worry about diaper contents. It comes out as sterile, sweet smelling ash! Nah.
[1] I was going to put in something here, but I can’t remember what it was.

[2] An early Christian position, which is related to creation ex nihilo. In this view, getting pregnant is out.

[3] Ok, that’s not exactly true, but go with me here.


  1. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks for this nice summary. I have no evidence for my view but it seems absurd that babies will be such forever in the resurrection. I know that it has been contradicted by some but I recall Joseph F. Smith saying that there is a process of restoration after the resurrection by which a perfect body is attained over time but is not given instantly. I guess this makes more sense to me (eventhough there are problems with it).

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Joseph’s teachings about baby resurrection have always fascinated me. They’re not well known in the Church today. I see this as an interesting example where the mothers of Zion basically overrruled the Prophet.

    Lyndon Cook wrote a book entirely on this subject. It was listed in a Signature catalog, and I preordered a copy. But it never came; he decided not to publish it. I’m guessing he decided it was too hot a subject to handle. I seem to be the only one who remembers that that book was on the verge of publication; I once asked Tom Kimball if he knew anything about it, and he didn’t. I guess one would have to go to Lyndon himself (whom I don’t know) to get the straight skinny about why he pulled the book from publication.

  3. I heard some rumors about at book too, Kevin. It is a naturally sensitive subject. But I for one find it difficult to imagine that 1lb preemies who don’t survive would stay that way permanently in the resurrection. But then as Brigham said, perhaps heaven is a place of great variety.

  4. This is a fun one, or at least fun to think about. I once pulled some sources together on the topic (see here). I tend to agree with Kevin, that this is a pretty good example of the folk development of modern Mormon theology.

  5. Aaron R. says:

    Perhaps there is something I don’t understand about this Book situation. Why would be a hot/sensitive topic? The impression I get from WVS’ post is that there is not a great deal of information on this, further it is not exactly central to the restoration (in the same that P. authority might be). Am I missing something?

  6. 19th century Aaron. You had to be there. ;) So many babies were lost in Nauvoo and later on the way to, and then in the west, the idea of a do-over was a powerful notion. One of the first death notices in the Deseret News was of a 2-year-old who had wandered down by a new irrigation canal, fallen in, and drowned. With a diverging opinion base about the idea of babies in the resurrection (For example, Almon Babbitt and another man got in a fist-fight over it down at the hot-springs bath-house in Salt Lake, c1856) it was actually problem. Church leaders didn’t want to tackle it while still in a temporal stones-throw of Joseph.

    If Cook had dredged up everything there is to find about it, I expect that it might have placed the current status quo – well not in question, but it would be a bit like inserting a sliver under the fingernail for some people. Just my guess.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    It may not seem very central to the restoration today, but at the time it was an immense topic. I think perhaps we are more laid-back about the afterlife today, with “everything will work out fine” being our answer to most conundrums, be it infant resurrection, multiple spouses, incorrect transcription of names on temple records, etc. But you have to understand that this lackadaisical approach is definitely a 20th century phenomenon.

  8. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks to both of you for your insights on this issue. I guess the fight story is not a big deal to me, only because people still fight over the stupidest ideas at Church. I certainly get the fact that death-conquest (a la Douglas Davies) was a big deal for 19th Century Mormonism, but unless I have all my dates muddled Cook would have been writing this phantom-book in the 80’s (?) and therefore would have been secure in his (and other Mormons) relaxed approach to these after-life issues. I guess what I am kinda saying is that though this issue was big then (like polygamy) it is not so big now (unlike polygamy), therefore while I can see books on polygamy being a ‘big deal’ I am still unsure why this would be. I am sorry I am so slow, but thanks for trying to explain this to me.

  9. Steve, I argue that that relaxed approach is a direct consequence of the 1894 revelation on adoption and temple work.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    J., that’s really interesting — I had always tied it directly to making sense of the afterlife cosmos post-Manifesto.

  11. I wrote about this a while back on the subject of child gods:

    “Children dwell and exercise power, throne upon throne, dominion upon dominion, in the same form just as you laid them down. Eternity is full of thrones upon which dwell thousands of children, reigning on thrones of glory, with not one cubit added to their stature.”

    I take my quotation from Stan Larson’s amalgamation.

  12. Oh whoops. Threadjack-ish… sorry.

    Reigning on thrones a la creepy man-baby Jesus paintings of the Renaissance seems to imply child gods. But as it has been mentioned, there is a variety in the teachings of those first 50 years of the Church.

  13. MikeInWeHo says:

    So basically the afterlife possibilities are man-babies (like the eTrade ads), or a universe of perfected young adults (like Logan’s Run), or “It Will All Work Out” ?? I vote for Logan’s Run.

  14. I quite like those images of Jesus. Steve and I recently had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and noticed an image of Vietnamese Mary and Jesus on the wall. They help me appreciate our popularized viking Jesus.

  15. J.,

    I will point out that in the image I linked to, Jesus appears to be doing the E.T. finger (i.e. )

  16. Mike, I watched Logan’s Run the other day. It’s a toss-up whether the film has more awesome or more crazy.

    If we go with the Logan’s Run version, we have to consider the timing of the prime of life. Would that be the same for everyone? I imagine most people would say that it occurs between 20 and 30, but Sister Hinckley said it’s at 50 years old.

  17. MikeInWeHo says:

    Logan’s Run is fantastic. Classic campy 70s sci-fi. Farrah was in it, too! Get rid of the ritually-murdered-at-30 piece and it would be an eternity I’d consider enjoyable.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Geezer Resurrection ”

    Great name for a band. ~

  19. I wonder if fetuses that die in utero will be resurrected as fetuses?

  20. W. V. Smith says:

    Scott T. William Clayton says he asked Joseph this question and was told that no, they are resurrected as adults. No reason was offered in the account.

  21. Wouldn’t being resurrected as infants and remaining that way be something like Limbo?

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