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by Jay E. Jensen

The existence of both good and evil spirit beings is a prominent doctrine in LDS theology. Spirits are intelligent, self-existent, organized matter and are governed by eternal laws. Moreover, all living things had a pre-earthly spirit existence. LDS understanding on this subject is formulated by biblical and latter-day scripture and the teachings of latter-day prophets.

Latter-day revelation declares that "all spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure" than the physical materials of earth life (D&C 131:7-8). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained:

A very material difference [exists] between the body and the spirit; the body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state the spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it [TPJS, p. 207].

Although the Lord has revealed much in ancient and latter-day scripture about spirit matter and spirit beings, many unknowns remain, especially the full meaning of such terms as "intelligence," "light," and "truth," which are used in the revelations in association with the word "spirit." Spirit matter is identified with intelligence or the light of truth (D&C 93:29). Joseph Smith taught that elements were not created or made, but can be organized into a spirit being. This spirit, intelligence, or light has always existed, being coeternal with God. It can act and be acted upon; it can be organized, but it cannot be destroyed. Spirits exist upon a self-existent principle, and "all…spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement" (TPJS, pp. 351-54), meaning that they are capable of intellectual growth and maturation and that "there is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God" (TPJS, p. 191).

It is LDS doctrine that human spirits are the literal offspring of perfected, exalted parents, a Father and a Mother in Heaven (cf. Num. 16:22; Heb. 12:9). God instituted a Plan of Salvation whereby his spirit children could advance and become like him (see Council in Heaven). Paul said that the human family is God's offspring (Acts 17:29). All men and women lived as personal, individual spirit children with God in a premortal life before they were born into physical bodies. Likewise, one's personal, individual spirit existence extends beyond the death of the mortal body.

Jesus Christ was the firstborn of all God's spirit children and is thus the elder brother of the rest of mankind (see Jesus Christ: Firstborn in the Spirit). Because of the faith of the brother of Jared (c. 2200 B.C.), he was permitted to see the Lord's premortal spirit body. The Lord explained to him, "Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; …and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh" (Ether 3:15-16). Since spirits are the offspring of Heavenly Parents, they are in that image and likeness, both male and female (Gen. 1:26-27; Moses 3:4-7; Abr. 3:18-23).

Enoch was shown a vision of the spirits of all men and women who had lived or who would yet live on the earth and who were first created as spirits in heaven (Moses 6:28; 7:38-40, 57). Abraham also saw the premortal spirits of mankind and noted that they varied in intelligence and obedience (Abr. 3:18-19). Among these were many noble and great ones whom God said he would make rulers and leaders in his kingdom. Abraham was told that he was one of these and was chosen before he was born (Abr. 3:22-23). Many were foreordained to perform certain tasks when upon the earth (see Foreordination). In the premortal state, spirits received their first lessons in the gospel and the work of God that they would do on the earth (D&C 138:55-56; cf. Jer. 1:5; Eph. 1:3-4; Titus 1:2). Many of these spirit beings were called and prepared from the foundation of the world because of their faith and good works, to bear the priesthood and teach the gospel and the commandments of God in mortality (Alma 13:1-6).

Inherent in the makeup of their intelligent nature, spirits have agency and are able to make choices. The scriptures teach that spirits are capable of all the emotions, passions, and intellectual experiences exhibited by mortals, including love, anger, hate, envy, knowledge, obedience, rebellion, jealousy, repentance, loyalty, activity, thought, and comprehension. Using their agency, some of God's children rebelled in the premortal life, and war in heaven ensued. The rebellious spirits followed Lucifer and with him were cast down to the earth and became devils or evil spirits, never to receive physical bodies on earth (Moses 4:1-4; D&C 76:25-27; cf. Rev. 12:4, 7-9; D&C 29:36). Satan and his followers remain spirit beings made in the image of God but are still rebellious and evil. They are desirous of having a mortal body. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, "The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine's body to having none" (TPJS, p. 181; cf. pp. 297-98).

Latter-day revelation has not identified or clarified the nature of seraphim or cherubim mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 3:24; Isa. 6:2) and whether these are spirit beings or merely symbolic representations. Some spirits are messengers of the Lord and minister to mortals (Heb. 1:14; D&C 129), but spirit ministrants cannot perform all the functions of those angels who have resurrected bodies (TPJS, pp. 191, 325).

A spirit being who has never entered mortality is in an "unembodied" state. A spirit with a mortal body is in an "embodied" state and the body and spirit constitute the soul (D&C 88:15). Death is the separation of the mortal, physical body from the spirit (James 2:26), after which the spirit lives in a "disembodied" state in the postmortal spirit world, while the mortal, physical body, without life, decays in the grave. In the postmortal world, the spirit awaits being "reembodied" in the resurrection, which is the reuniting of the spirit and the body, never to be separated (Alma 11:44-45). Every person in the mortal world has come from the spirit world, and all will eventually die and then be resurrected.

Latter-day revelation teaches that God the Father and Jesus Christ are resurrected, exalted beings, meaning that they have glorified bodies of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). Man exists that he "might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25), and the revelations teach that a fulness of joy can be experienced only in the resurrected state—with the spirit and the body inseparably united (D&C 93:33-34). Therefore, existence as a spirit alone in either the premortal or postmortal spirit world has its limitations. Departed spirits who know the plan of God and the value of a physical body are anxious to be resurrected (D&C 45:17; 138:50). Because they rejected God's Plan of Salvation, Lucifer and his followers have been denied forever the privilege of having a physical body and thus are limited or curtailed in their progress. The Lord declared, "Where I am they cannot come, for they have no power" (D&C 29:29).

The spirit creation pertains not to the human family alone but to all living things. Latter-day scriptures teach that the human spirit is in the likeness of that which is physical, as was demonstrated in the case of the spirit of Jesus Christ, who appeared to the brother of Jared, noted above. Thus, "the spirit of man [is] in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created" (D&C 77:2; see also Animals). Moses wrote that every plant of the field, every herb, indeed every thing, was created "in heaven" before it was naturally upon the face of the earth (Moses 3:5-7).

(See First Estate; Hell; Spirit Body; Spirit Prison; Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page)


"The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve." AF, pp. 465-73. Salt Lake City, 1963.

Millet, Robert L., and Joseph F. McConkie. The Life Beyond. Salt Lake City, 1986.

"The Origin of Man," An official declaration in MFP 4:200-206.

Packer, Boyd K. "The Law and the Light." In The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through the Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, ed. M. Nyman and C. Tate, pp. 1-31. Provo, Utah, 1990.

Smith, Joseph. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 202-215. Salt Lake City, 1938.

Top, Brent, L. The Life Before. Salt Lake City, 1988.

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Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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