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Teachings About Premortality

by W. John Walsh

Intelligence and Spirit Birth
The Grand Council
War In Heaven
The Creation

Latter-day Saints believe “Man was also in the beginning with God.”[1]  Prior to their own individual births into mortality, all mankind lived as spirits in another state of existence which has been alternatively called premortality, the first estate[2], or preexistence.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:  “The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity.”[3]  Furthermore, not only mankind, but “all things, even the earth itself, had a spirit existence before the physical creation.”[4]


Intelligence and Spirit Birth


Mankind began existence as Intelligence, or “spirit element,”[5] which is co-eternal with God.  Intelligence is material in nature.[6]  Prior to the creation of the earth, our Intelligence was crafted into spirit bodies by our Heavenly Parents through a procreation and birth process.[7] While we know that we had full awareness and personality once we acquired our spirit bodies, we do not know how much consciousness or agency we had in our existence as intelligence.  When we are eventually born into mortality, our physical bodies are in the likeness of our spirit bodies.[8] 


As the “literal offspring”[9] of our Heavenly Parents, we worshipped and loved them and they in turn loved us as their sons and daughters.[10]  They taught us as much as we were able to comprehend as spirits.  Anderson noted:  “Spirits are capable of intellectual advancement, love, hate, happiness, sorrow, obedience, disobedience, memory, and other personal characteristics.”[11]  However, in our premortal state we were limited in our ability to achieve a fulness of happiness, such as enjoyed by our Heavenly Parents.  Furthermore, due to the limitations inherent in existence as spirit beings, we were “subject to oppression”[12] from the powers of darkness.  In order for us to overcome evil and enjoy eternal felicity, it was necessary for us to acquire a physical body which could later be resurrected into an immortal one.


The Grand Council


As the presiding priesthood authority in heaven, our Heavenly Father called a great meeting of his spirit children, which has alternatively been called the Council in Heaven or the Grand Council.[13]  In this meeting, our Heavenly Father explained that for his spirit children to truly become like their Heavenly Parents (See Godhood), then they must participate in a mortal, physical existence.  As their Heavenly Parents had previously been mortal, died, and been resurrected, their children must walk that same path if they were to truly become like them.  Our Heavenly Father then explained his plan for his children to undergo this necessary experience.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:


“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.”[14]


Lund explained:  The Creation, the Fall, mortality, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Final Judgment were contemplated and explained in the council.”[15]  His plan has been alternatively called the Plan of Salvation[16], the Plan of Happiness[17], and the Plan of Redemption[18]—because it is through this plan that mankind is redeemed from misery unto salvation and eternal happiness.


War In Heaven


As our Heavenly Father explained his plan, objections were made by some of his spirit children.  The main source of contention was the role and scope of the foreordained Savior and his mission.  In our Father’s plan, the Savior would only redeem the spirit children who met certain requirements.  One of the necessary parts of the mortal experience was a moral probation, or testing.  Those who successfully passed these tests would become exalted beings like their eternal parents.  Those who failed these tests would still be resurrected as immortal beings, but to a lesser degree of glory.  The Book of Abraham explains:


“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”[19]


It was understood that the testing would not be easy and most of the spirit children would fail the test and only a few would succeed in becoming like their Heavenly Parents.[20]  Undoubtedly, this high risk of failure intimidated some of the spirit children. 


Upon the Father’s invitation, the first born spirit son of God—the one who would become Jesus, the Father’s Only Begotten in the flesh—spoke out and asked for the role of Savior:


“And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me.”[21] 


Jesus said simply, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”[22]  He proposed accepting the terms of the Father’s plan, even though it meant that most of the spirit children would not succeed. 


However, another one of the spirit sons, Lucifer, asked that he be allowed to assume the role of Savior instead.  This spirit son proclaimed:


“Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”[23]


Lucifer said he would eliminate agency, or mankind’s ability to choose for themselves, and thus ensure that everyone would pass the probationary test.  In return for saving all mankind, he would assume Heavenly Father’s presiding role in the universe. 


At this point, a vote was held on who should be selected as Savior. The majority accepted Heavenly Father’s plan as stated and Jesus’ role as Redeemer.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:


“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ.”[24]


However, Lucifer and one third of the spirit children of God would not accept the outcome and rebelled, attempting to overthrow their Heavenly Father.  In response, they were cast out of heaven.  Lucifer, thereafter named Satan, and his followers became devils and still continue to tempt mankind to rebel against God:


“Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.”[25]




Once Satan and his followers were cast out, the council continued and other assignments besides the role of Savior were proffered and accepted. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: 


“At that council plans were perfected and an organization formed for the government of this earth during its mortal probation. Our Eternal Father, knowing the end from the beginning, chose from among the spirits those to be his rulers and prophets to assist in carrying through his eternal purposes on this earth in relation to the final destiny of men.”[26]


Like the Prophet Jeremiah in Ancient Israel,[27] the Prophet Joseph Smith believed he had received his prophetic calling at this time:  “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.  I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.”[28]


Foreordination does not mean predestination or fate, world views which the Church categorically rejects.  While our Heavenly Father arranges events so that we always have the opportunity to fulfill what is expected of his children in mortality, they still maintain their agency and can choose to leave those assignments unfulfilled or poorly done.   


The Creation


Once the plans were finalized and all necessary assignments made, the heavenly host—led by the premortal Jesus—created our world.[29]  The valiant spirit son known as the archangel Michael became Adam, the first man in mortality.  He was joined by a spirit daughter who became Eve.  It has been inferred that the personage who became Eve was very valiant among the daughters of God—second only to the daughter who would become Mary, the mother of Jesus.[30]  Adam and Eve were commanded to “multiply, and replenish the earth”[31] so that the other spirit children would also be able to experience mortality.  Since that time, the spirit children of God have waited for their opportunity to leave their own premortal states and enter mortality one by one.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About Premortal Existence home page)

[1] D&C 93:29.


[2] “The words ‘first estate’ in Jude 1:6 are the King James translation of the Greek arché. In other English versions the word is translated as ‘principality,’ ‘domain,’ ‘dominion,’ ‘appointed spheres,’ ‘responsibilities,’ and ‘original rank.’ In the context of Jude 1:6 each of these implies that certain intelligent beings existed in significant positions in the pre-earth life and fell from their favored status with God.” (“The First Estate,” Alexander L. Baugh, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.)


[3] Smith, Joseph, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 158. 


[4] “Premortal Life,” Gayle Oblad Brown, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.


[5] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 387.


[6] “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (D&C 131:7-8)


[7] “Through that birth process, self-existing intelligence was organized into individual spirit beings.” (Romney, M., Ensign, November 1978, p. 14.)


[8] “…the spirit of man 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)


[9] Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 4.


[10] “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents. And, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”  (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)


[11] “Spirit Body,” Wilson K. Andersen, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.


[12] Ehat & Cook, Words, McIntire Minute Book: 19 January 1841 (Tuesday), p. 62.


[13] “The terms ‘Council in Heaven’ and ‘Grand Council’ do not appear in the scriptures, but are used by the Prophet Joseph Smith in referring to these premortal activities, allusions to which are found in many scriptures (Job 38:4-7; Jer. 1:5; Rev. 12:3-7; Alma 13:3-9; D&C 29:36-38; 76:25-29; Moses 4:1-4; Abr. 3:23-28; cf. TPJS, pp. 348-49, 357, 365; T&S 4 [Feb. 1, 1843]:82).” (“Council in Heaven,” John L. Lund, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.)


[14] Smith, Joseph, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 354.


[15] “Council in Heaven,” John L. Lund, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.  Also, “There was a council held in heaven, when the Lord called before him his spirit children and presented to them a plan by which they should come down on this earth; partake of mortal life and physical bodies; pass through a probation of mortality, and then go on to a higher exaltation through the resurrection which should be brought about through the atonement of his Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ.” (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.58)


[16] For example, see Jarom 1:2; Alma 24:14; Moses 6:62.


[17] For example, see Alma 42:8; Alma 42:16.


[18] For example, see Jacob 6:8; Alma 12; Alma 17:16; Alma 18:39; Alma 22:13; Alma 29:2; Alma 34:16; Alma 34:31; Alma 39:18.


[19] Abraham 3:25-26


[20] “Most of the adult people who have lived lived from the day of Adam to the present time will go to the telestial kingdom [instead of the Celestial Kingdom with God].”  McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 778.


[21] Abraham 3:27


[22] Moses 4:2.


[23] Moses 4:1


[24] Smith, Joseph, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 357.


[25] Moses 4:3-4.  Also see Isaiah 14:12-15, Revelation 12:4-9, and Luke 10:17-18.


[26] Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, Vol.1, p. 184.


[27] See Jeremiah 1:5.


[28] Smith, Joseph, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 365.


[29] Ephesians 3:9


[30] “Mary and Eve were two of the greatest of all the spirit daughters of the Father.” (McConkie, B., “Premortal Life,” Burton, ed., We Believe)  “As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son.” (McConkie, B., Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.1, Salt Lake City, Utah:  Bookcraft, 1973, p. 85.)


[31] Genesis 1:28

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