A Response to Hales on “Spirit Birth”

I’ve known Brian Hales for a while now. He is a talented and dedicated researcher and author. We both work on history outside of our day jobs, and our interests overlap in a few areas. He is a good guy and I consider him a friend. At a recent conference where as a part of my presentation I had tangentially mentioned Joseph Smith’s documented teaching that God did not create human spirits, Brian and I chatted. He asked why I hadn’t responded to his JMH article arguing that JS actually did teach spirit creation AKA “spirit birth.” I generally don’t like to do this sort of public critique, but he asked and I do think I owe it to him. What follows is fairly long, and somewhat technical response.

The Situation
First, it is important to note that the idea that human spirits were never created or made—that they exist eternally—is a foundational idea to Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo era cosmology. The 1844 General Conference sermon known as the King Follett Discourse (KFD) is JS’s best documented sermon. In it, JS taught that “God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all” and that spirits can never be created or destroyed [n1]. This idea is attested in four separate audits—records of the sermon kept by different individuals. Perhaps more importantly, JS taught this concept in sermons, letters, and revelations from 1839 to 1844 and he was entirely consistent. For example, Willard Richards recorded an 1839 sermon where JS taught that “the Spirit of Man is not a created being,” and the next year one observer recorded Smith preach in 1840 that “Eternity means that which is without beginning or End,” and that “the Soul is Eternal. It had no beginning; it can have no End.” Later in the same sermon Smith reiterated “that the Soul of man—the Spirit, had Existed from Eternity” [n2]. In fact, the idea that human spirits are eternal and uncreated is perhaps the single best documented Nauvoo teaching of JS. This idea was fundamental to his logic when he taught about the life, death, and exaltation.

Despite their various differences, we also know that JS’s successors (primarily Orson Pratt, Parley Pratt, and Brigham Young) all clearly rejected this idea. Instead of teaching that God never had the power to create spirits, they taught what I call viviparous spirit birth. This is a zoological term describing, to use Orson Pratt’s explicit language, how spirits “were organized in the womb of the celestial female” [n3]. Brigham Young went so far as to claim that not only were spirits created through celestial procreation, but that the irreparable spirit would also be destroyed. For Young, identity was not eternal and did not exist before spirit creation.

Over the years, people have dealt with these groups of teachings in various ways, and Hales offered one way to reconcile them. Hales’ article is divided into sections on 1) JS’s teachings about uncreated spirits, 2) documents capturing the thought of JS and others that could potentially be construed to imply spirit birth, 3) an analysis of D&C 132, 4) documentation for church leader teaching in the post-Nauvoo era, and 5) an apology for the idea that JS did indeed believe in “spirit birth” and that he taught that spirits cannot be created or made as an intentional artifice to hide his true beliefs.

The Response
First, I know that Hales has spent a tremendous amount of time on polygamy, where JS’s statements are not exactly clear and forthcoming, but I am going to be blunt: I find the idea that JS was lying about the eternal nature of spirits to be not only unsupportable and irresponsible scholarship, but just plain ridiculous. I’m talking about this argument, not Hales as a scholar. You have to ignore not only the breadth of documentation for the teaching, which is vast, but you have to ignore how JS used the teaching—how it figured into his logic, and how he used it to solve problems. It is a conspiracy theory where the absence of evidence is taken as evidence. I know that this is a harsh critique, and it is somewhat uncomfortable saying such things to a friend in public. I’m certainly willing to entertain analyses and ideas that JS’s teachings are more complicated than they appear, but this requires some actual scholarly work. For the balance of this post, I’m going to approach the documents and potential evidences Hales raises that date from JS’s life (basically sections 2 and 3 from above), and critically analyze them to see how they may fit into JS’s Nauvoo cosmology.

1842 Lorenzo Snow Letter
The earliest document Hales points to is a typescript of a February 14, 1842 letter from Lorenzo Snow to “Elder Walker,” which discusses the hypothetical creation of spirits in terms of birth. First, I’m always skeptical of typescripts, but this one was prepared by Edith Romney, who is wonderful, and I checked against an image of the holograph and the typescript was fair [n4]. It should be noted first that Snow went from living in Missouri in the 1830s to a mission, and didn’t make it to Nauvoo until May 1840. He was soon ordained a high priest after his arrival, but he stayed less than a month before leaving for a mission in Britain. Snow wrote this letter while on that mission. He hadn’t seen JS for years, and was not in his inner circle. Now, like Willard Richards’ use of Wilford Woodroof’s revelation book, it is possible he had learned of JS’s Nauvoo teachings in England, but if he did, he would have learned teachings that were in general circulation (like the idea that spirits cannot be created).

Fortunately, Snow opens the letter by explaining the source of its contents: “When I write to you I feel to let my imagination rove I do not know why may be because you are sometimes as foolish as myself wish to know and dwell upon big things of the kingdom. Then let us indulge our follies at this time and wander a moment into the field of imagination.” Snow then goes on to describe “Some thirteen thousand years ago in Heaven or in Paradise (say) we came into existence or in other words received a spiritual organization according to the laws that govern spiritual births in eternity.” Snow continues on to write about the possible ultimate destiny of receiving a kingdom. He does not discuss a divine female or any mechanism for birth. The idea that God creates spirits was and is standard Christian belief (and a troll through google books shows that this creation was sometimes associated with birth-related language). Snow most certainly had learned about the idea of a premortal world, but the idea of uncreated spirits is nearly entirely a Nauvoo-era teaching, which he wasn’t present to hear. So it appears quite clear that Snow used his imagination in 1842 to narrate a premortal world where spirits “came into existence” by a process he called birth. Does this have anything to do with JS? Nope.

Children in the Resurrection
JS does have a lot to do with much of the subsequent materials in Hales’ article, though. Hales next points to several items from the summer of 1843, beginning with Clayton’s report of JS’s May 16, 1843 teachings. Fortunately, the JSPP have uploaded images of the original manuscript, and we no longer need to rely on a typescript of a typescript (of a typescript?). This is when JS “gave bro [Benjamin F.] Johnson & wife [Melissa Bloomfield LeBaron Johnson] some instructions on the priesthood.” That is, he taught them about the temple liturgy. After discussing how sealings bind people up into eternal life, he taught that:

except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy priesthood they will cease to increase when they die (i e) they will not have any children in the resurrection, but those who are married by the power & authority of the priesthood in this life & continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase & have children in the celestial glory

By this time, JS had taught publicly for four years that spirits are not created or made. During this time he produced a revelation that included the same idea. In that light, what could have JS meant about increase and children? JS frequently taught that if you were not sealed then you would be alone and single. Disconnection was hell, and connection was heaven. Sealing literally (not figuratively) constructed heaven. My sense is that JS is saying that if you don’t have sealings, you are not connected to your children in the celestial glory, and “increase” is the extension of that chain (see also the discussion of seeds below). Importantly, note that there is nothing in this discussion about spirits. Will someone that is not sealed, according to JS, “have any children in the resurrection”? Nope.

In fact a couple of months later, as Hales shows, JS approaches a similar topic again (Thanks JSPP). “He showed that a man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife in this world or he will have no claim on her in the next” (not dissimilar from having children above). Hales quoted from the F. D. Richards account, which notes again that “Those who keep no eternal Law in this life or make no eternal contract are single & alone in the eternal world (Luke 20–35) and are only made Angels to minister to those who shall be heirs of Salvation never becoming Sons of God having never kept the Law of God.” All right, so how does one become a son of god? By keeping the law of God. Note that the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants all teach explicitly that you become a son or daughter of God through Christ’s mediation. But Richards goes on to write something curious: “The earthly is the image of the Heavenly shows that is by the multiplication of Lives that the eternal worlds are created and occupied that which is born of the flesh is flesh that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” People have written that this last bit must be talking about spirit birth. I think these people generally have missed that JS is quoting Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ question about being born again (John 3:6): “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” To reiterate, according to this sermon, one becomes a Son of God by being born of the spirit—very traditionally Christian, in fact. But what about the penultimate sentence? It appears to say that the eternal worlds are populated by the multiplication of lives.

Lives and Seeds
One way to read this is to say that the eternal worlds are populated by people (populations that are sealed, really) who are born again. But it is worth taking a little tangent with that plural “lives.” In a sermon a month later, JS taught, according to Willard Richards, that the power of Melchizedek was to be a king and priest (temple alert), holding keys of power and blessing, and that he “stood as God to give laws to the people. administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam” (cf. the Clayton account). Moreover during this same summer, the blessings of “eternal lives” are promised to those that are sealed [n5]. Melchizedek administered “endless lives” to men and women. It doesn’t seem to me that “endless lives” in this context is the process of creating spirit babies.

JS had just enough Hebrew to be interesting. We see that in the KFD where he talks about “Elohim” being plural and how it should be rendered gods. A less well-known instance was at the same time he was delivering these sermons. On May 17, 1843, William Clayton (thanks again JSPP!) jotted some notes from a JS sermon: “The 7th verse of c 2 of Genesis ought to read God breathed into Adam the his spirit or breath of life. but when the word ‘ruach’ applies to Eve it should be translated lives.” I asked the team about this a while ago and Kevin Barney, our resident expert, noted that while it isn’t exactly clear what JS was doing, “The expression ‘breath of life’ here is nishmath chayyim. Note that ruach is not used here, but neshamah is something of a synonym to it.” Kevin went on to say “So ruach may be a misunderstanding on Clayton’s part; the point may have simply had to do with the frequent plural usage of chayyim. Or, the expression “breath of life” (ruach chayyim) appears in Genesis 6:17, so that may be the ruach he had in mind. Or, he may have noticed that chayyim appears as a plural in the Genesis 2:7 text for ‘breath of life,’ and so was suggesting that the singular chay in ‘mother of all living’ in Genesis 2:20 should have been a plural to match 2:7.” Kevin noted that Seixas wasn’t able to satisfy all of JS’s questions about plural nouns, so such explorations weren’t entirely crazy. “In any event, I’m confident that the mention of plural ‘lives’ has something to do with the common plural usage of chayyim” [n6].

This is all to say, when you see JS writing or saying “lives” in ways that seem idiosyncratic, like above when he talks about the “multiplication of lives,” “endless lives,” and “eternal lives,” he is most likely doing something funky with the Hebrew “chayyim.” That is, he is evoking a plural Hebrew noun. As we will see below, it appears as if JS is doing something similar with “seeds.” My sense is that this is another idiosyncratic interpretation of Hebrew. Seed in Hebrew is zera, and the difference between singular and plural is derived contextually. Kevin noted that “Paul tried to use this ambiguity in favor of Jesus. Gal. 3:16 reads ‘Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He sayeth not, and to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.’ Paul was trying to use this ambiguity to his advantage, but I think he was clearly wrong. In this case the singular form of the noun does not dictate its actual number.” JS could have been riffing off of Paul or the underlying ambiguity in a similar way to which he riffed of lives, and gods.

We must all acknowledge that JS’s precise meaning of “lives” and “seed” is not clear, so the best that we can do is make reasonable analyses. With regard to seed, I think it is worth looking at Hebrews 7, where we have the figures of Melchizedek, Abraham, and Abraham’s seed all in a document that JS used as a source material (note that the author argues that Jesus became a priest after the similitude of Melchisedec, not after the law, but “after the power of an endless life”). Abraham’s covenant was a magnificent progeny (seed) and Melchezedik was the archetypal high priest outside of that covenant. There, in vss. 9-10, the author of Hebrews is continuing with his argument about the existences of a high priesthood outside of the Hebrew temple high priesthood. Seed at this time (and up through the time of JS) was believed to be something planted by a man into the fertile womb of the women [n7]. This is different than the modern understanding of sexual reproduction. In these verses the author is making the argument that because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, so too did all of his seed(s) which were “in the loins of his father [Abraham].” Thus Levites had paid tithes to Melchizedek. So a continuation of seeds in this context is the continued propagation of seed through ones descendants. The alternative again, is to have that progeny limited, being without children, or being single and alone. There is nothing to suggest that Abraham’s covenant in the Hebrew Bible, or its refraction through JS’s revelation, involves spirit creation. And if Eve is, according to JS, the Mother of all lives, then “eternal lives” like “seeds” is perhaps a reification of the relationship to those lives eternally through sealing.

D&C 132 does indeed promise the blessings of seeds and lives to those who are sealed up. It is also true that Utah church leaders read these terms to indicate viviparous spirit birth. Young also taught that spirits could be destroyed. But it is also indisputable that for the entire Nauvoo era, Joseph Smith taught that human spirits were not, and could not be created. For five years, JS repeated over and over, how the eternal nature of spirits—neither able to be made or destroyed—was essential to his cosmos. Many people have tried to construct theologies to deal with this. BH Roberts tried to harmonize these two ideas to the exasperation of the First Presidency (though he sort of won after they all died). Other’s like Hales suggest that JS spent years creating an elaborate hoax to hide secret teachings. As church members there is no requirement to believe anything in particular in this matter. I hope it is clear, however, why I find Hales’ argument to be irreparably flawed. There is no evidence that JS ever taught that spirits are created. There is overwhelming documentation that he believed and taught that they never could be.

  1. Clayton report. See the original accounts at the JSPP website and WVS’s parallel comparison.
  2. Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839–A, as Reported by Willard Richards, JSPP D6, 543, and Discourse, February 5, 1840, JSPP D7, 178. See also, Account of Meeting and Discourse, 5 January 1841, as Reported by William Clayton, JSPP D7, 494-495; Discourse, circa 28 March 1841, as Reported by William P. McIntire, JSPP D8, 86-87; Book of Abraham Excerpt, 15 March, 1842, JSPP D9, 257 [Abraham 3:18]; April 11, 1844, JSPP C50, 94.
  3. Orson Pratt, The Seer (July 1853), 102 and 103. Parley P. Pratt described the anatomy of spirits and how they are “begotten by the heavenly Father, in His own likeness and image, and by the laws of procreation.” The Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 50. On Brigham Young see my forthcoming article on his “garden cosmology.”
  4. Lorenzo Snow, Letter to “Elder Walker,” February 14, 1843, Lorenzo Snow letterbook, circa 1839-1846, MS 224, CHL.
  5. See JS’s proxy sealing of Caroline Kingsbury to Joseph Kingsbury, and perhaps most importantly as a textual anchor, D&C 132.
  6. Kevin Barney, emails, April 18, 2011; December 9, 2019.
  7. See William V. Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Salt Lake, Kofford, 2018), 72-73.


  1. Michael Wilson Towns Sr. says:

    Fascinating. I had always understood that what Joseph Smith had been referring to was essentially “spirit element” — that this element was what could not be created or destroyed. In other words, the element or fundamental constituent that comprises a spirit being, not necessarily the spirit being itself.

  2. While visiting MHA this past year I attended a session with a presentation by. my friend Jonathan Stapley. Prior to sitting down, my wife Laura made me promise to not say anything in the Q&A. She knew that, while I believe Jonathan to be a fine scholar and good guy, I also believed his methodology to be somewhat flawed when analyzing Joseph Smith’s teachings about the origin of spirits. I tried to behave and acquiesced to my dear wife’s desires. I admit it was a little hard to hear Jonathan’s presentation when he would interpret Joseph Smith’s teachings and conclude by saying, “deadstop” implying end of discussion. It seemed Jonathan was saying that the only acceptable interpretation was the one he had shared.

    A few months later at another conference, I happened to chat with him during a break and I asked him to respond to my article on spirit birth published in the Journal of Mormon History because I believe he was ignoring pertinent evidences. He has responded and allowed me to view his blog prior to publication. I’m grateful to him for this, but my concerns persist.
    I believe that the documents currently available that deal with Joseph Smith’s teachings about the origin of spirits are incomplete and include ambiguities and even contradictions.
    Consequently, there may be more than one valid interpretation. Jonathan’s interpretation is a valid interpretation (even though I personally disagree with it). I believe that a steeled position that this historical data can only be interpreted one way is problematic.

    Among the contradictory evidences yet to be addressed by Jonathan is a June 23, 1843 prayer penned by Heber C. Kimball in his personal journal: “I Love my dear family, and may it increase more and more, that now [no] power can sepperate us from Each other, that we may dwell to gether through out all Eternity, and thare be in thrond [enthroned] on worlds, to propragate that thare may be no end to us or our Seeds.” (Stanley B. Kimball, ed., On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Signature Books/San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1987), 52.) Admittedly, Heber doesn’t attribute the idea of propagating his seed to JS, but the possibility probably should not be ignored in any comprehensive treatise of the subject.

    Among the ambiguities that might be addressed is the definition of “spirit.” I have a tabernacle made of eternal elements, but I was born of mortal parents. JS taught: “All spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7). Spirit matter could be eternal, but not exclude a spirit birth. While Jonathan may find this “argument to be irreparably flawed,” it is still a valid interpretation (in my view).

    I’m somewhat troubled with positions that describe leaders like Brigham Young directly disagreeing with Joseph Smith’s teachings. The possibility that JS was privately teaching details about spirit birth that were not expounded publicly should probably be considered. On October 23, 1843, Brigham Young recorded in his journal: “With Elder H. C. Kimball and George A. Smith, I visited the Prophet Joseph, who was glad to see us… He taught us many principles illustrating the doctrine of celestial marriage, concerning which God had given him a revelation.” (Eldon J.Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City: Smith Secretarial Service, 1969, 154.)

    Some of the problems with dogmatic interpretations of accounts in the historical record are illustrated by Jonathan’s appealing (three times in the draft I received) to his “sense” to interpret JS’s teachings or telling us JS is “doing something funky.” He also acknowledges that “JS’s precise meaning of ‘lives’ and ‘seed’ is not clear.” Okay, could there be more than one valid interpretation of the information we do have?

    We can stretch (as I believe Jonathan does) words like “seeds” or “children in the resurrection” to not mean any actual parent-children relationship, but instead to refer to eternal spirits who have been corralled into groups (called families) and affectionately labelled God’s sons and daughters. It is a valid explanation, but I don’t currently embrace it.

    It seems Jonathan’s interpretation is that JS did not teach (and apparently contradicted) principles found in the Proclamation on Family, which states: “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” In the last conference (October 2019) President Oaks stated: “Eternal life includes the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female—what modern revelation describes as the ‘continuation of the seeds forever and ever.’” Does President Oaks interpret D&C 132:19 differently than JS intended? Drawing a line between JS and current leaders seems extreme and unjustified based on the imperfect historical record.

    I do not hope to change Jonathan’s mind, but I would hope to introduce the possibility that due to limitations in documentation, critical analysis of the historical data often allows for more than one valid explanation. Defending the diversity of thought might be wise until we know things more perfectly.

    Happy Holidays,

    Brian Hales

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, Brian. It seems like your response can be summarized as follows:

    1) You think that “seeds” and “lives” means spirit creation because that is what church leaders taught after JS died.

    2) JS’s teachings about eternal spirits cannot therefore be something he actually believed.

    3) It is troubling to imagine that JS’s successors believed something that JS didn’t believe.

    This seems simply to be a reiteration of the argument in your article. I am fully cognizant that my attempts to approach Smith’s teachings about seeds and lives contextually is not definitive. I would hope to be challenged, and made to reconsider. But frankly, I don’t think I would be interested a dialogue that tries to superimpose subsequent teachings, whether BY’s or the FP and Q12 who issued the proclamation onto JS as the essential and prime hermeneutic. I do not think it is germane (see what I did there?). And you still haven’t dealt with JS’s actual teachings.

    As a side note, that entry in BY’s manuscript history is not in his contemporary diary, and is therefor either a Utah era creation, or taken from someone else’s contemporary document.

  4. AnonymousGideon says:

    In an era of deeply divisive positions on nearly everything under the sun (coupled with rhetoric to match), I find it refreshing to see opposing positions being so maturely expressed, in a way that does not make third parties cringe while reviewing each position. Thank you.

  5. Fascinating discussion.

    I’m not unsympathetic to Brian’s argument that JS’s private teachings on polygamy often differed from his public teachings, and that the issue of spirit birth is connected to polygamy, so we should be open to the possibility of him having taught it in secret without it being documented. But where this argument ultimately falls flat for me is that JS’s documented teaching of uncreated spirits was itself already a radical departure from traditional Christian orthodoxy. If the idea is that JS taught more challenging ideas re marriage and polygamy in private than he was willing to teach in public, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me that JS would publicly continue to teach something that was itself a challenge to orthodoxy in order to closely guard challenging teachings.

    I think something that sometimes gets lost in these discussions is the extent to which adoption can be metaphorically described as a type of “birth,” or “begetting,” but also literally creates a child-parent relationship–especially when we’re talking about Jesus’ teachings about being born of the spirit. So to recognize the possibility that in JS’s cosmology, God’s fatherhood comes from finding himself in the midst of co-eternal uncreated spirits that are lesser in intelligence than himself, and adopting or spiritually begetting them into a new life, does not mean that they are merely “affectionately labelled God’s sons and daughters,” it means that they are literally his sons and daughters in the same sense that the sealing liturgy in the temple, both historically and still today, expressly makes the claim that children thus sealed into the covenant are made to be just as if they had been born into it. You could also compare it to the JS teaching that receiving the Holy Ghost purged the old blood out of a person’s body and made them literally a son or daughter of Abraham without having been physically born of a descendant of Abraham.

    Frankly, I think these teachings may hold the beginnings of an answer to the question of what JS thought it meant to be a literal father of spiritually begotten children. In short, the cherished contemporary teaching of being a “literal” son or daughter of God can be consistent with a “vivparous” spirit birth, but does not necessarily require a “viviparous” spirit birth.

  6. Those are really excellent points. Thanks, Jared.

  7. To expand on Jared’s point, I would point out that most kinship terms in the Bible are not used to indicate biology (roughly analogous to spirit birth), but something else, often kinship-by-covenant. And this gets applied to God as well, i.e. by making a covenant with God, you enter into a relationship which is described in kinship terms, with all the reciprocal duties such a relationship entails. And this was the primary way Israel approached God.

    We see this in Mosiah 5:7-8. “because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.”

    If you find that interesting, I have several pages on it in my BYUS article, under the heading Redemption (which has kinship duties and relationships as its a central mechanism.)

    Thanks for the discussion

  8. Thanks, Jonathan. Obviously, we can conclude only one thing: we know almost nothing about the premortal or postmortal realms. Joseph Smith appears to have been trying to figure things out and create a cosmology that made sense to him. Like those who came after him, though, he did not fully succeed. If we try to cherry-pick various teachings to declare dogmatically what Joseph believed, we invariably fall short. And our current leaders are not inclined to dabble in speculative theology, so we will probably never have a clear, consistent cosmology in this life. So it goes.

  9. Sterling McMurrin in Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion starts from Joseph Smith’s eternal and uncreated spirits and builds a case for contingency, becoming, and being that are compelling, and have strengthened my faith and understanding. It also helped me to build a workable theodicy. If God is Eternal, and we can become like him, are we not already eternal beings? That’s an altogether simplistic view of what McMurrin discusses, but at least is a good starting point.

    It is confusing when we do see conflicting teachings by different Presidents of the church. And I do appreciate seeing two adults with widely diverging viewpoints have a civil discussion. Thanks to both of you, Stapley and Hales.

  10. Ben, thank you for linking to your article. It is really great, as is your larger point.

    Roger, I do resist a bit the idea that we can’t approach JS’s cosmology, though I agree that we will never nail it down perfectly.

    And thanks, Kevin.

  11. I expect one’s opinion on this matter will be influenced by whether he or she prefers the adoption model of eternal increase or a offspring based model.

    As I have read the scriptures, it has become blatantly apparent how clueless ancient prophets were with how reproduction works. The word “seed” is used to describe descendants because for 1000’s of year the belief was that male semen worked like plant seeds, and women’s wombs were merely the “soil” to plant the seeds. With our current understanding of how reproduction and genetics work, much of what ancient and early modern prophets have taught on the matter are nonsensical. As I see it, the adoption model is the only one that is compatible with reality.

  12. I think that Joseph Smith was struggling with things like concepts of eternal, infinite, etc. I don’t know when the concept of infinite would have made public consciousness, and it’s likely that it people struggled with the idea even more so than now. I remember reading in “The Rocks Don’t Lie” about how mind boggling it was for most people to think of numbers in greater than the tens of thousands. Like how in Lorenzo Snow’s letter, he mentioned 13,000 years ago. Why 13,000? Because that was infinitely long ago to him. By then geologist had well established that the earth was more than 6,000 years old, so what most people did was take the creation days in Genesis to mean 1,000 years and stretched the age of the earth from 6,000 years old to ~12,000 years old.
    So if Joseph Smith saw spirits which were 1,000,000,000,000 years old, he could come to the conclusion that they were always around. It’s a mind bending long time for someone who never thought about numbers greater than the thousands.
    So I’m willing to forgive some inconsistent statements from Joseph Smith as he was trying to wrap his mind around what he witnessed.

  13. “ it has become blatantly apparent how clueless ancient prophets were with how reproduction works.” Indeed. Human reproduction wasn’t really understood until 1875. See Skolnick, The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks’ Teeth to Frogs’ Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From

  14. jader3rd, my sense is that Snow was doing a calculation between 2 Peter 3:8 (creation) + D&C 77 = 13,000.

  15. I give arguments that more or less mirror those made by J. Stapley in this post in a podcast that predates this post: https://soundcloud.com/user-914466958/092-did-joseph-smith-teach-spirit-birth-intelligence-spirit-heavenly-mother

    Obviously I side with J. Stapley contra Hales on this issue.

  16. I should mention that th enext podcast re: Mother in Heaven is also very relevant to the issue.

  17. I believe that there is a half-way house, that actually fits with what I believe on this matter, and bridges both opinions.

    It is that Spirit element of us that is eternal (Intellgences) always existed. But, in order to progress it requires “clothing” in a Spirit body – in human form, like unto God. That using the powers of the Priesthood and Nurture God (Male and Female together) is able to make this “clothing” happen. I do not believe that this is a sexual intercourse, or that Spirit birth is from a Spirit Womb. However, the creation of a Spirit body to encase the eternal being is the result of whatever Godhood allows.

    Whether the Spirit body can be destroyed (die) to return the Inteligence to the “Outside” for a future go around I do not know. But it fits with BY’s idea of the Dissolution of the Sons of Perdition.

  18. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for linking to that, Blake. I am a little out of the podcast loop, so I’m glad to be made aware of that. You did some of the first and important work in this topic.

    Andrew, that is sort of B.H. Roberts minus the spirit birth. Things like that are fine and all. I’m not arguing that people should be constrained by JS’s or BY’s thought. But that is clearly not what either of them taught. I’m interested in now approaching these thinkers, not creating a satisfactory cosmology for the modern church.

  19. Eric Facer says:

    I concur with Jonathan’s analysis, though, on the substantive question—can spirits be created/destroyed or are they eternal?—I have no opinion simply because I don’t care. So much of what Joseph, Brigham, Orson, etc. taught on the subject was speculative, at best; and it simply won’t affect how I live my life.

    There is a saying in the advertising industry that half of all advertising is ineffectual—but nobody knows which half. The same can be said about half of all the teachings we have heard from the pulpit on numerous topics, including the Second Coming, the Millennium, plural marriage in the afterlife, and whether my pet dog will be resurrected (on that last one, I’m pretty much agnostic since he didn’t like me much).

  20. Andrew R. I think this approach is interesting, but it doesn’t seem to solve anything to me. It’s just adding another layer. What’s the difference between spirit and intelligence? Is intelligence spirit matter, just more refined? Is a soul a spirit and a body and an intelligence? If we have to receive two separate bodies, is it limited to two? Will we receive additional bodies in the future? Like salvation is a spirit body and a physical body and a body made of something even less refined in the future? Could an intelligence inhabit a physical body without a spirit body?

  21. I don’t believe in ghosts–not ghosts that are “born” (whatever that might mean) and not ghosts that are eternal (whatever that might mean). Which concept is richer, though? Which sheds more light on our lived experience? Which orients us more productively through life? What’s the cash value of the difference of opinion here?

  22. Brian says,
    “The possibility that JS was privately teaching details about spirit birth that were not expounded publicly should probably be considered.”

    Yes 100%. When Joseph talks of eternal element intelligence that’s not created, I can absolutely see it as the matter spirit is organized from. Certainly the way atoms, molecules, electrons, particles etc seem to have some kind of intelligence. It all gets pretty weird once you get into quantum mechanics, so I have no problem with Joseph using the word intelligence to describe the precursor to what spirits are made from. We are all eternal in that sense. And we yet are. What our bodies are composed of existed for eons, will continue in one form or another after our spirit departs and will be reorganized in the resurrection.

    I agree that it’s wrong to deny this as a possible valid interpretation. I think largely that denial is based on sociopolitical doctrines that some prefer.

  23. The problem with that interpretation, Len, is that JS doesn’t talk of “eternal element intelligence.” He speaks of “intelligences,” which he uses interchangeably with “spirits.”

  24. J. Stapley says:

    Lcn, you should go through all of the sources in notes 1 and 2, and reconsider your position. They are all available at the JSPP website.

  25. I am firmly in the “spirits are eternal” camp. I agree with Ostler and Stapley that this is the best interpretation of Joseph’s statements. It also supports rational views on free will, the value of human beings (there is a part of us which is co-eternal with God… Wow!) and helps to a certain degree with the problem of evil.

    Perhaps agency, the capacity for choice, is an intrinsic attribute of spirits, and those who progress to fully commune with God must exercise agency as well as value this attribute in others? It helps IMO with understanding “Agency” as an aspect of humanity that God nearly always refuses to violate.

  26. 100% agree with Stapley on this one. In my mind it all ties together with JS’s practice of polygamy, interpretation of sealing and ideas of priesthood also. It kind of makes room for the outliers who don’t fit perfectly into the nuclear family unit.

    On the flip side BY’s interpretation fits nicely with his practice of polygamy and teachings that followed. They are just two completely different ideas and I don’t understand the need to try and gel them together. As Brian correctly points out, it would appear that President Oaks aligns himself more with BY on this one. That line that Brian quoted jumped out to me when he first said it.

    I’ve read what BY had to say about the destruction of our spirits.


    This idea used to scare me, but now I kind of hope he is right. It is BY’s way of being a universalist. Everyone will eventually get exalted.

  27. I sometimes think it’s useful to consider lexical usage that may shed light on what Joseph meant by the words he chose. But in this case, it’s hard to know if this helps.
    Consider the following definitions from Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary:
    Soul: “the spiritual, rational and immortal substance in man, which distinguishes him from brutes … The immortality of the soul is a fundamental article of the christian system.” “An intelligent being.”
    Intelligence: “A spiritual being; as a created intelligence. It is believed that the universe is peopled with innumerable superior intelligences.”
    Spirit: “The soul of man, the intelligent, immaterial and immortal part of human beings.” “An immaterial intelligent substance.” “An immaterial intelligent being.”

  28. J. Stapley says:

    Zach that is some vintage work there. The article in working will have a much better critical apperatus for that material.

    Gary, I think that is, some measure, the point!

  29. Nicely done, J. Your response (8:26am) is important since it maps onto the King Follett sermon reception history rather well. When my book on KFS makes it out of the gate, I think it will add something over against the frequent “JS and BY and OP we’re merely speculating” mic drop stuff.

  30. Ben Britton says:

    I’d like to add that while JS did make have some shocking evolution, he typically built on what was already in his body of work rather than overturning it completely. As the OP points out, it seems highly unlikely that JS would publicly deny spiritual birth and privately develop it with an inner circle. It seem like the only teaching he really did that with was polygamy. Even there his public denials are dodgy.

  31. J.,

    How do you feel about the use of both “intelligences” and “spirits” in the book of Abraham? Are they interchangeable? Or is there a difference in meaning between the two?

    Also, I find it interesting that after the decision is made to construct an Earth it is *then* that the consequences of keeping (or not keeping) both the first and second estates are spoken of–both! Not just the second. This implies (to me) that both estates may be viewed as a transition into an embodiment of sorts–the first being of a fine material and the second coarse.

    That said, I don’t espouse a view that includes viviparous spiritual birth–not at this point, anyway. Even so, I do wonder at the possibility that Abraham may be talking about two different ontological states when he mentions “intelligences and “spirits.” And that it is us — modern readers of his text — who have blended the terms when, perhaps, that was never his intention.

    AKA Jack

  32. Nice work, all. I suspect that much of the murkiness comes with our trouble in translating the correspondence of divine and mortal parenthood into our post-correspondent age. People like to talk about how the modern age is disenchanted, but I wonder whether the core change is the loss of metaphysical correspondence except in goofy remnants like horoscopes. The point, though, and there’s good evidence that JS and other early LDS were deeply committed to correspondence (see my CoB essay or the adoption essays or parts of In Heaven), is that JS clearly taught that the divine parents were literally our parents. They did so within the context of a correspondent world. So how we post-correspondent folk translate that–does it mean there’s a spirit biology that includes coitus, gestation, and parturition (Hales’s understanding, which follows most of post-Smithian LDS up until the end of twentieth century) or does it mean that priesthood adoption is the mechanism by which literal parenthood is established? (an increasingly common view of the last quarter century that Stapley and I and others have advocated). My honest guess is that JS would not quite understand this debate because it is so alien to the correspondent worldview within which he operated. I suspect he’d be saying a lot of Yes, Yes, Certainly to both sides. I think he would have a slight preference for priesthood adoption but wouldn’t be offended by pre-mortal gestation.

    On the subtle point of eternity of element, I think Stapley is right that JS would have rejected the Lucretian/atomist argument that elements are eternal but humans aren’t. The plain sense of his preaching is that humans are eternal. But whether those eternal beings can undergo changes in status/maturity shepherded by parents and shaped by biology seems quite possible–indeed, I think he did believe that priesthood adoption transformed the recipient–just think about how he felt priesthood adoption functioned in mortal life.

    Good on you all for talking the topic through some additional paces respectfully.

  33. I haven’t timely kept up with the comments, but — what Jared said. In addition, to me, insisting on viviparous spirit birth entails rejecting the concept of adoption which seems also enshrined in Mormon cultural thought (which, taken as a whole, is not internally consistent anyway) and much less problematic.
    I will look forward to discovering what wvs means by “When my book on KFS makes it out of the gate, I think it will add something over against the frequent ‘JS and BY and OP we’re merely speculating’ mic drop stuff.”

  34. OK, Sam. I understand what you mean above by correspondence, but I’m a bit acronym impaired. What and where is your CoB essay?. I can find the Church Office Building and Sam Brown’s Cosmetology & Barber Institute and Missouri State College of Business’ emeritus professor Sam Brown, and I understand close-of-business, but have not yet found your CoB essay.

  35. Sorry to be pointlessly gnomic: early Mormon Chain of Belonging in Dialogue a few years back. (CoB is Chain of Being). By way of self promotion, I dig into correspondence more in the translation book that’s due out in June from OUP. Honestly, though, I’m more interested in the Cosmetology and Barber Institute.

  36. Thanks, Sam. I’ve read it, but my head didn’t go there from the acronym. I figured you’d like the Cosmetology and Barber Institute. Anyway, it amused me to connect it to you. I wonder if we can sensibly say that people can be “homonymous”. Cheers.

  37. They’re called homonyds, I think. (Dad joke)

  38. AKA Jack, in the BoA, you see the revelation describe spirits as intelligent and uncreated/eternal. Then a few verses later, it refers to the group of spirits as intelligences. I don’t see any distinction between the two in the text, especially in light of JS’s sermons.

    Sam, thanks for your thoughts and I’m really looking forward to the book. I agree in that I don’t find a large resonance between JS and any sort of stasis.

  39. I did not notice that disturbing quote from Elder Oaks during general conference. I’ve always been very upset by the idea of Mother in heaven(s) birthing spirits for eternity. I really hope that isn’t true. So much. I guess it doesn’t make sense to me that a resurrected Mother in heaven would birth spirit babies? And I just discounted this idea as crazy Brigham young talk. What woman wants to hear prophets and apostles explaining that their eternal destiny is pregnancy? I’m very unsettled by this idea. I didn’t have time to read all the comments but many seemed to be calm proponents of this idea of a Mother in heaven. Am I misunderstanding this? Does anybody else feel panicked and depressed by this idea?

  40. Emma, I don’t think I grasp why people who take Genesis 3:16 seriously about multiplying sorrow and about pain (never mind whatever multiplying conception means or the problems of “he shall rule over you”) would speculate that pregnancy and spirit childbirth (if they exist in a state of exaltation in the hereafter) would be like pregnancy and physical childbirth in this life. By “multiply” that verse clearly indicates a change to conditions of this life and the “in pain you will bring forth children” seems to be quite contrary to a plan of “happiness.” So why not imagine that exaltation entails a change back to bringing forth children (if you insist on viviparous spirit birth at all, rather than adoption) without greatly multiplied “sorrow and conception”? Of course, there are a lot of Mormon women, not just you, who feel panicked and depressed by the idea of eternal, repetitive pregnancy and childbirth. They are imagining it as pregnancy and childbirth occur and feel in this life. While I don’t know what else to imagine, there is in Genesis 3:16 a scriptural implication that, if it exists in the hereafter at all, it is different. If I speculate at all, I think I’ll go with some form of adoption and tentatively reject the whole notion.

  41. Bellamy Brown says:

    I recognize that these issues are not settled by popular vote but if one were held I would cast mine with J Stapley , Blake Ostler and Sam Brown. I find the language of the King Follett discourse compelling and am further convinced by the metaphysical consequences of the idea of the eternality of our spirits. That idea offers the best solution to the problem of evil, the reality of agency and the possibility of deification. Any attack on that idea is a serious attack on the other issues. Finally ,while i don’t mean to be snarky but it seems Brian has developed a methodology that consistently shows a propensity to subscribe to a gnostic approach to Joseph Smith’s teachings routinely preferring innuendo and conspiracy theories to taking the Prophet at his word.. Joseph denies he was a polygamist but Brian says his public statements are lies and he taught something else in private. Once again Brian suggests we ignore Josephs public statements as lies and concede instead that Joseph taught something much different in secret . That is a path that if followed surely leads to the conclusion that Joseph was little more than a psychopath.

  42. Ok, let me get this straight. President Oaks attempted (badly) to console a woman who was worried about her eternal place as the “2nd wife” with a trust in the Lord, it will all work out and then a few hours later said “Eternal life includes the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female—what modern revelation describes as the ‘continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”


    Let’s go with J on this one everybody. It’s much kinder theology.

  43. Kinder is exactly the right term, EmJen. Via JS himself.

  44. What about oviparous birth? Who says we have to be placental mammals in the resurrection?

    To me, vivparous spirit birth is an example of the fact that our theology was formed in a pre-scientific era. It was a bold idea, but I don’t think it has aged well. I’m not sure that we ultimately do our current doctrines any favors by trying to maintain the connection.

  45. Stuff like this makes us sound so, so very crazy.

  46. Ben Britton says:

    One overlooked interpretation of the phrase “continuation of seeds” can be inferred from JS’ Nauvoo teachings. It’s possible, even likely, that he believed that exalted beings would go on to experience something similar Adam and Eve. In this way celestial beings would have progeny in their exaltation without any literal spirit birth.

    The teachings that point in this general direction include JS 1841 teaching that “the God & father of our Lord Jesus Christ was once the same as the Son or Holy Ghost but having redeemed a world he had a son Jesus Christ who redeemed this earth the same as his father had a world which made them equal & the Holy Ghost would to the same when in his turn & so would all the Saints who inherited a Celestial glory so their would be Gods many & Lords many their were many mansions even 12 from the abode of Devils to the Celestial glory”

    In short, “all the saints who inherited a celestial kingdom” will “[redeem] a world” like the Father and the Son, Jesus. In other places, JS similarly taught that Father had once been as the son and also that the Holy Ghost would be the next to take on the role of the Son. In the quote above, JS mentions that the Father had not only done what the Son had, but he also had once been the same as the Holy Ghost. Now, all we have to do is take the leap that Michael, as part of the endowment’s godhead, is the equivalent to the Holy Ghost in JS’ Nauvoo theology, and we have a semi-coherent theology that explains the continuation of the seeds, gives definition to the phrase eternal lives, and even points to where BY’s Adam-God doctrine may have come from.

    To summarize, JS appears to have taught that the Father had once been as the Holy Ghost and then as the Son. He also taught that all celestial beings would do the same. If a Micheal-like role can be slotted into the Holy Ghost portion of that theology, and the endowment infers that, then we’ve got eternal progeny without literal spirit birth.

  47. My question is: does any of this really matter? Is this topic ever going to be preached over the pulpit in General Conference? Is this something that missionaries would ever be expected to teach prospective members? Is there going to be a dogmatic statement from the GAs such that the topic will ever be included in Sunday School manuals? I really doubt it,

    Once upon a time, I thought that stuff like this was important to know. But with President Hinkley’s denial of certain (what I thought were central) doctrines all those years ago, it just seems to me that anything that once was regarded as a uniquely LDS doctrine (except for temple sealing types of stuff) can just be looked at as speculation involving angels on the head of a pin. So I suppose it’s a fun thing to argue for those who consider doing so to be fun, but outside of that, I’m not sure anyone else really cares.

  48. Ben Britton, it really isn’t overlooked. You are going down the so-called “Adam-God” rabbit hole (I call it something else in my work because Adam-God is so sexist). JS was quite clear about Jesus doing what the Father did. He made no suggestion beyond that.

    And I think it is important to note a difficult reality here: we have what is largely a group of men debating whether church leaders taught something that when you do the math turns out to be eternal pregnancy and parturition. These are ideas that float around in the church to this day. I think the history of these ideas is important (hence the post). But outside that isolated historical work and when we get into the implication in lived religion, there is something unseemly about adjudicating the fate of an entire gender that isn’t well represented in the discussion. My personal thoughts are similar to EmJen’s above, and that is what I have generally heard, but I’m also aware of at least a few women in the church who look forward to eternal spirit birth. I don’t believe I have a good handle on what the distribution of these beliefs are in the church today. But I know that a lot of people, women in particular, care very deeply about what of these ideas get taught, and they do have important lived implications for church members.

  49. Ben Britton says:

    J. Stapley, You said, “He made no suggestion beyond that.” I don’t believe that’s fair. JS taught that the Holy Ghost would go on to do what the Son did.

    In August 1843, Franklin Richards recorded, “Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.”

    As quoted in my above comment, In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recorded that Joseph taught that “the God & father of our Lord Jesus Christ was once the same as the Son or Holy Ghost” and that “Holy Ghost would to the same when in his turn.”

    George Laub’s summary of the Sermon in the Grove similary states, “But the holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body. as the Savior did or as god did or the gods before them took bodies for the Saviour Says the work that my father did do i also & those are the works he took himself a body & then laid down his life that he might take it up again”

    Of course, no one else who recorded the Sermon in the Grove includes that detail, though the McIntire minute book does mention that Holy Ghost doesn’t have a body, similar to how Laub’s comment starts . Either way, there are three sources saying that the JS taught that Holy Ghost would next be like the Son.

    Also, I think the 1841 Woodruff entry I’ve quoted is worth considering when it says that “Jesus Christ who redeemed this earth the same as his father had a world which made them equal & the Holy Ghost would to the same when in his turn & so would all the Saints who inherited a Celestial glory.” I think that the most literal interpretation of this quote is that all inheritors of exaltation will trod the same road as the Holy Ghost, Son, and Father.

  50. Ben Britton, “all inheritors of exaltation will trod the same road as the Holy Ghost, Son, and Father.” So in your version of Mormonism, a sealed, married male-female couple that is resurrected with exalted bodies will then at some point become disembodied spirits in order to serve as holy ghosts to separate worlds (again in a probationary state), then become embodied again to serve as the son (daughter?) who act separately as unembodied creator/gods of a new worlds, become [re-]incarnate as the only-begotten of some father [or the only-conceived of some mother], teach, and die and re-resurrect, and then later become the father (mother?) of another fulfilling the son (daughter?) role on another world? When does this sealed couple get back together again? Why is accuracy of journal reporting to be presumed? Why is “the most literal interpretation” to be preferred? Just wondering.

  51. J. Stapley says:

    Ben Britton, I was referring to the topic of Adam and Eve. Regarding the Holy Ghost, the Wolford Woodruff revelation book is very important. You have to be careful with Laub, though. It appears that he had access to contemporaneous records, but the actual sermon reports appear to be Utah-era constructions.

  52. Ben Britton says:

    Wondering, first let me clarify, that this isn’t my version of Mormonism. It’s simply what I think is the most likely version of JS’ Nauvoo theology. It’s an educated historical reconstruction of a single era. That being said, I’ll answer your other questions. Yes, I think JS believed and taught that inheritors of the celestial kingdom would go from a resurrected state to a spirit state in order to serve as holy ghosts. I’m not sure what women’s role in that is. JS’ comments on these subjects tend to be male oriented. Correct again, after holy ghost phase, the man somehow becomes like Jesus on another world. I have no idea how the sealed couple would navigate this portion. The accuracy of journal reporting isn’t presumed, but when these ideas are found in multiple sources, that gives weight to it. I don’t know if “the most literal interpretation” is the preferred, but it does make it one of the obvious options, that’s all.

    There is quite a bit more background evidence to consider, when interpreting that quote, and if you’re curious to see it, I wrote something more thorough here: http://seersandstones.blogspot.com/2017/11/spirit-adoption-vs-spirit-birth-joseph.html

    J. Stapley, I’ve read that the Laub journal has questionable dating. In addressing Adam and Eve, and what Joseph taught. I do think we have to give some credence to BY who claimed multiple times that JS taught some version of Adam-God. While BY apparently did a lot of his theologizing, I don’t think it’s fair to call him a complete liar, especially considering, from what I understand, that he was specifically tasked with fleshing out the endowment.

  53. J. Stapley says:

    Benjamin, I have a piece on BY’s teachings that is forthcoming and which addresses your claims. I think you are clearly mistaken in localizing the beliefs in Nauvoo. But frankly, I’m not interested in debating that here and now. So let’s move along.

  54. Ben Britton says:

    J., I look forward to reading your article. Maybe we could continue the discussion at some future date.

  55. Antonio Parr says:

    I can understand the historical interest in this topic, just as I understand why historians might be interested in where George Washington slept on a given night. But when it comes to constructing a sustainable personal theology – one that will both carry us through the dark nights of the soul and inspire us to lend a hand to a stranger when she is falling – I can’t for the life of me understand how musings about spirit births and all of the convoluted speculation that flows from it will do anything other than distract from the simplicity of the Nazarene’s teachings. Outside of academia, our time would be far better spent contemplating the two great commands to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves. Here’s hoping that this topic never makes it to a Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society lesson.

  56. Antonio, I agree with you generally, but the spirit birth issue (eternal pregnancies and childbirth) is part and parcel of many Mormon women’s fear and distaste for what exaltation (and the threat of polygamy) are all about. I wonder how they can get past that fear without a kinder theology than BY’s view of “continuation of the seeds forever.” As J. noted “… these ideas get taught, and they do have important lived implications for church members.” The spirit birth stuff already crops up in General Conference (at least by implication) and in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society lessons, even if not in the current written manuals. When it does it may be helpful to counter with an adoption view, that might even be a part of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

  57. Antonia Parr says:

    Acknowledging the inevitability of mystery and being content in the face of that mystery is, in my mind, an essential form of worship. It acknowledges that there is a God whose glory exceeds all human efforts to describe Him. That is how Joseph Smith once characterized Him: “His brightness and glory defy all description.” And yet many Latter-Day Saints have the remarkable tendency of insisting that the indescribable God is, in fact, entirely describable, and then attempting to do so in great speculative detail that, in the end, reduces Him to our image.

    Unfortunately, a god who is reduced to our image is not a being particularly worthy of worship. In that sense, all of the speculative details about the nature of God and the details of the eternities that were especially prevalent during the early years of the Restoration, however well-intentioned, in hindsight come across as needless, often painful distractions from the task at hand, which is to love God, love each other and follow Jesus.

    Imagine the good – the peace – that would come if, for a season or two, we were to limit our ontological musings about God to John’s observation that “God is love.” Maybe after we perfect this understanding we can then turn to things like spirit babies and the like, although at that point I doubt that the topic will be of much interest.

  58. Thank you for this article. There seem to be many teachings attributed to Joseph by subsequent prophets that leave me questioning whether they understood what Joseph taught and this appears to be another. I like to pull out the “confirmation of the spirit card” which always leaves me doubting that Joseph would have taught the masses one thing and the elite something else.
    The polygamy example is the most obvious. Joseph’s first-hand statements all condemn polygamy, but from second-hand comments, the narrative has become that Joseph went behind Emma’s back to practice this principle (and have sex) with married women and young girls. I have more faith in Joseph and, more importantly, more faith in God than to believe we’ve correctly understood that teaching. His teaching that spirits could not be created seems to be another that has been changed from his original intent.

  59. J., I agree that the text (Abraham 3) may be read that way. But I’m not convinced (yet) that that’s the only way to interpret it.


  60. grateful to see this discussion here.
    I’ve missed it!

    It is interesting to see some evolution in thought since our last discourse.

    I am wondering if any more accounts or thought has been done on how William Clayton’s account of a time when the Godhead covenant was made which would have “started” the Godhead and thus constituted a point of demarcation for us to be adopted as children of the same.

    For reference:


  61. Thanks for stopping by Matt. Furniture some good times in this area.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen anything new. But the JSPP has a new critical transcript, so that is handy.

  62. I’m seeing quite few comments that want equate the analysis the OP has provided to buttress an argument that JS didn’t actually practice polygamy because there are contradictions in his public and private statements regarding polygamy. However, this is _not_ the case with the spirit birth. There are no private JS statements that contradict his public statements with respect to spirit birth, and there has not been a compelling argument made for why he would do that for spirit birth. For polygamy there are a variety of factors in play that provide a reasonable explanation for why he would do that.

  63. This is an interesting exchange with valid points on both sides. I would just add that the notion that JS never contradicted himself in the doctrines he taught isn’t supported by the historical record. So, I agree with the view that we should leave the door open to the possibility that his teachings on the origin of spirits may not have been entirely consistent. His successors clearly grappled with this inconsistency. While his post 1838 teachings clearly express the idea that spirits were uncreated (which, by the way, seems to contradict his earlier teachings on spiritual creation), he also taught that exalted couples “bear the souls of men” in the eternal world (D&C 132:63). Regarding the meaning of “souls” here, even though a decade earlier he defined the soul as consisting of both “the spirit and the body” (D&C 88:15), he habitually ignored this definition in subsequent teachings, using the term in the ordinary sense of the human spirit.

    An interesting and relevant reference not cited in the exchange above is a [sermon]( (https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=8b9e2e38-4b24-4b00-9409-29bb72471155&crate=0&index=50) delivered by Orson Pratt on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1847 in Winter Quarters. Pratt related that he once inquired of JS as to the nature of the offspring of celestial beings in the resurrection. “I put that question to him in relation to this subject and he advanced some new and glorious ideas….It was in regard to the offspring of the celestial male & female. It was a new thing to me. I saw by this principle that there would be a chance of enlarging their dominions in that world as well as this. I asked, will they be flesh and bones, or spirits? He told me their offspring would be pure spirit, without flesh and bones. The offspring in the celestial world of the male and female will be pure spirits, the same as our spirits were before we came into this world. You must recollect that blood forms the flesh & bones….[The offspring of resurrected beings] will be formed out of the very materials that circulate through the celestial male and female, and therefore must be Spirit.” If Pratt’s account is credible, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility that JS taught spirit birth (and not just in an adoptionary sense), however inconsistent it may be with his public declarations that human spirits are uncreated.

  64. J. Stapley or Brian Hales, has anyone considered some of BY’s Adam-God-Theory ideas in connection with some of these JS ideas about “eternal increase” or “children in the resurrection”? Is there some kind of possible reconciliation between all ideas?…

    Perhaps spirits are not created or birthed, as JS says, but exalted men and women will be given life after life (“endless lives”—kind of like in a video game) to come to an earth and live mortally, have physical children, get sealed to them, die, become exalted, go to another earth, repeat?

    In my mind, this works well with JS’s teaching that Christ came to this world to only do what He had seen His Father do—which, I assume, was to fill the Savior-God role and make us “sons and daughters of God”. Whereupon after this life, Christ becomes a Heavenly Father of exalted earthlings (us) AND adopted spirits/intelligences who will become the physical children of the exalted earthlings (Adams and Eves, or us)… Is this making any sense at all?

    In short: could Adam-God-theory have anything to do with this eternal spirit vs spirit birth confusion?

  65. J. Stapley says:

    C Harrell, thanks for the pointer. I’ll dig into it.

    ryanhinck. I’ve actually just finished a draft article on “Adam-God” and sticking point for what you describe is that the cosmology was based on and fundamentally and inextricably requires “spirit birth.”

%d bloggers like this: