Prior to mortal birth individuals existed as men and women in a spirit state
and thus coexisted with both the Father and the Son. That period of life is
also referred to as the first estate or pre-existence.
The Bible presents the concept that mankind had a preparation period prior
to mortal birth. The Lord said to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly
I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jer. 1:5), and the "Preacher"
asserted "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). In other
scriptures, such as Alma 13:3, it is written that priests were "called and prepared
from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account
of their exceeding faith and good works."
There is indeed indication that the intelligence dwelling in each person is
coeternal with God. It always existed and never was created or made (D&C 93:29).
In due time that intelligence was given a spirit body, becoming the spirit child
of God the Eternal Father and his beloved companion, the Mother in Heaven. This
spirit, inhabited by the eternal intelligence, took the form of its creators
and is in their image (Ballard, p. 140).
To the Prophet Joseph Smith it was revealed that we are all literal spirit
sons and daughters of heavenly parents. He received a revelation of information
once made known to Moses: "I [God] made the world, and men before they were
in the flesh" (Moses 6:51). This likewise reflects the implication in Numbers
16:22 that God is the Father of all, and hence he is "the God of the spirits
of all flesh."
Intelligences were organized before the world was, and among these were many
great and noble ones, such as Abraham and Moses. God stood in their midst, saw
that they were good, and chose them for responsibilities on earth and throughout
eternity (Abr. 3:2123). Jesus, the firstborn spirit, was preeminent among
them. "Jesus…existed with the Father prior to birth in the flesh; and…in the
pre-existent state He was chosen and ordained to be the one and only Savior
and Redeemer of the human race" (JC, p. 6).
Revelation indicates that all things, even the earth itself, had a spirit existence
before the physical creation. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, "Not only has
man a spirit, and is thereby a living soul, but likewise the beasts of the field,
the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea have spirits, and hence are living
souls…. The fish, the fowl, the beasts of the field lived before they were placed
naturally in this earth, and so did the plants that are upon the face of the
earth. The spirits that possess the bodies of the animals are in the similitude
of their bodies" (DS 1:6364). The biblical passage that says the
Lord God made "every plant of the field before it was in this earth, and every
herb of the field before it grew" (Gen. 2:5) is clarified in a parallel scripture
with the words: "For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken,
spiritually before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…and I, the
Lord God, had created all the children of men and not yet a man to till the
ground; for in heaven created I them" (Moses 3:5).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "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 [of the intelligences] could have a privilege to advance
like himself" (TPJS, p. 354). His plan included sending his sons and
daughters to earth (the second estate), to obtain a body of flesh and bones
and learn by experience through earthly vicissitudes, with no memory of the
first estate and with the agency to fail or succeed.
In a Council in Heaven to preview earth life, the Lord called before him his
spirit children and presented the Plan of Salvation by which they would come
to this earth, partake of mortal life with physical bodies, pass through a probation
in mortality, and progress to a higher exaltation. The matter was discussed
as to how, and upon what principle, the salvation, exaltation, and eternal glory
of God´s sons and daughters would be brought about (cf. DS 1:58). The
Firstborn of God volunteered to implement the Plan of Salvation (Abr. 3:27).
Lucifer, who was also a son of the Father, came forward with a counterproposal:
"Behold, send me, I will be thy Son, and I will redeem all mankind, that not
one soul shall be lost and surely I will do it; wherefore, give me thine honor"
(Moses 4:1). Already of exalted status, Lucifer sought to aggrandize himself
without regard to the rights and agency of others, seeking to destroy the agency
of man (JC, p. 78). The Father said, "I will send the first" (Abr.
This decision led the hosts of heaven to take sides, and a third part rose
in rebellion and, with Lucifer, were cast out of heaven. "They were denied the
privilege of being born into this world and receiving mortal bodies…. The Lord
cast them out into the earth, where they became the tempters of mankind" (DS
1:65; cf. Jude 1:6).
Elder James E. Talmage wrote, "The offer of the firstborn Son to establish
through His own ministry among men the gospel of salvation, and to sacrifice
himself, through labor, humiliation and suffering even unto death, was accepted
and made the foreordained plan of man´s redemption from death, of his eventual
salvation from the effects of sin, and of his possible exaltation through righteous
achievement" (JC, p. 18). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained, "God
gave his children their free agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual
spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting
the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins"
The Book of Mormon prophet Alma further explains the opportunities presented
to the spirit children of God in the premortal existence: "In the first place
being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good and exercising
exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling…on account of their
faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness
of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for
this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren. Or in fine, in
the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this
holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would
not harden their hearts, being in and through the Atonement of the Only Begotten
Son" (Alma 13:35; emphasis added). The "first place" here refers
to one´s first estate or premortal existence.
The doctrine of foreordination suggested in the above passage is understood
to mean that many may come to earth with preassigned callings and responsibilities.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "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" (TPJS, p. 365). Abraham was
shown the noble and great premortal spirits, and the Lord said to him, "Thou
art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abr. 3:2223).
The apocryphal book of Tobit also suggests the concept that in a premortal life
there were assignments that could affect mortality (6:17). However, even though
some may be foreordained to special missions on earth, Elder Joseph Fielding
Smith stated that "no person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform
a mission of evil" (DS 1:61). Foreordinations and appointments do not
proscribe one´s agency or free will.
The character of one´s life in the spirit world probably influences disposition
and desires in mortal life. From among those who were the noble and great ones
in that former world, the Lord selected those to be his prophets and rulers
on earth in the second estate, for he knew them before they were born, and he
knows who will be likely to serve him in mortality. Characteristics of the spirit,
which were developed during experiences of the former existence, may play an
important part in man´s progression through mortal life (cf. DS 1:60).
"Even before they [the prophets] were born, they, with many others, received
their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth
in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of souls
of men" (D&C 138:56).
This concept that God´s spirit children developed some characteristic capabilities,
but yet come to earth in forgetfulness, is similar to that expressed in Wordsworth´s
"Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood": "Our
birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: …Trailing clouds of glory do we come
from God, who is our home" (verses 58, 6465). Elder Orson Hyde, an apostle,
declared that lack of memory does not mean that mankind did not have a premortal
life. He explained that many people leave their homeland to live in another
country, yet after a number of years memory of that earlier country can be almost
obliterated as though it never existed. "We have forgotten!…But our forgetfulness
cannot alter the facts" (JD 7:315).
Thus, to Latter-day Saints premortal life is characterized by individuality,
agency, intelligence, and opportunity for eternal progression. It is a central
doctrine of the theology of the Church and provides understanding to the age-old
question "Whence cometh man?"