Friday, April 8, 2016

Mormonism and Pre-phyical Existence (Part One)

Mormonism and Pre-physical Existence – Part One
By Sean Killackey
February 3rd, 2016

“Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”” – Genesis 1:26

Mankind, according to Mormonism, “[p]rior to mortal birth . . . existed as men and women in a spirit state.” Before even that, we didn’t even possess any kind of body, but “the intelligence [that now is] dwelling in each person” existed coeternally with God. (Doctrines and Covenants 93:29) Then, once given a spirit body, we became the literal spirit children of Heavenly Father and Mother in Heaven. Further, “[f]rom among those who were noble and great ones in that former world, the Lord selected those to be prophets and rules on the earth.” This is the Mormon doctrine (as articulated in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and other Mormon sources) that we will refute today.
What is the basis for asserting that we existed prior to our physical existence? Mormons draw upon Jeremiah 1:5 and Isaiah 44:28-45:4, among others, to show that God knew us as persons from before we were physical and therefore assume that we were in existence before our physical birth. However, is it really necessary to assume that Jeremiah and Cyrus existed before their physical births just because God displays foreknowledge concerning such ones? No. Rather, it is clear that, just as God foreknew what these ones would do before they did it, he foreknew that they would come into existence before they existed.
In Cyrus’ case, it is evident that God is not talking about a then already in existence (non-physical) Cyrus just because he talks about him in the present tense in Isaiah 44:28, why?[1] For, while Jehovah calls Cyrus his shepherd, and logically you must exist in order to be or do anything, Cyrus was not actually Jehovah’s shepherd when those words were uttered, and therefore, all that the words indicate is that he had to eventually exist before he was to become Jehovah’s Shepherd. Thus, the use of present tense does not necessitate that Cyrus had a pre-physical existence.
Similarly, while Jehovah speaks in the present tense to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1,[2] this it does not imply that Cyrus was inexistence before his physical birth, for Jehovah, when referring to events that were yet to happen, speaks in past tense.[3] The purpose of using past tense is obviously to denote the certainty of the things foretold; the use of past tense is figurative.[4] “Says to,” therefore, does not necessitate that the recipient of those words be present when they were spoken any more than figuratively using past tense to describe events necessitates that those events had already happened. Thus, the case of Cyrus is poor justification for the doctrine of premortal life.
And, while Jeremiah 1:15 records Jehovah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, [a]nd before you were born I sanctified you.[5] I made you a prophet to the nations,” this furnishes no definite proof that Jeremiah had a premortal life. In what way did Jehovah know Jeremiah before his formation? Is it because Jeremiah is eternal, existing first as an eternal intelligence, then as a spirit man, then as a mortal? Or is because God has the ability to foreknow who will be and what will occur? The latter is much more reasonable given the rest of the scriptures (and their silence on the doctrine of premortal existence).
Mormon sources spell out the doctrine clearly, but at best, Mormons can only say that this doctrine is merely implied in the scriptures – a forlorn hope at best, as we have seen so far. Does example of Christ, whose pre-existence is clearly affirmed in the scriptures, might provide a refuge for this doctrine? No; appealing to his example it is rough going, since Christ indicates that his pre-physical existence was unique among men, which made him superior than them; other just didn’t have it.
Jesus, affirming his pre-physical existence, says, “You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.” (John 8:23) The question for Mormons is: if Christ, like us, pre-existed spiritually and then came down to the physical realm, why does Christ set us apart from himself? Didn’t we also come from the realms above? Maybe he is not referring to our origins when he says, “You are from the realms below.” Unlikely, for he is obviously referring to his own origin when he says, “I am from the realms above.” Unless he isn’t referring to his own origin, but is speaking figuratively, as if to say, “You are wicked; I am righteous?”  Not possible, for nowhere else does anyone use our place of origin to symbolize whether we are righteousness or wickedness.[6] Further, Jesus says elsewhere, “I have come down from heaven to do, not my own will, but the will of him who sent me,” thus showing that he uses “heaven” and “the realms above” interchangeably to show his literal place of origin. (John 6:38) This is backed up by Paul, who says, “[Christ] is from heaven,” and by the context of John 8:23, a discussion about who Jesus is and whether he is greater than Abraham and the prophet. (1 Corinthian 15:47) Jesus asserts that he has been in existence since before Abraham was. He says, “Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence I have been,” thus showing that he is greater than Abraham because of his pre-existence. – John 8:58
What if Jesus is referring only to Abraham’s physical birth? He might be referring to Abraham’s physical birth (though the words “birth” or “born” are not in the Greek text), yet even then, this would still imply that Abraham’s physical birth was the start of Abraham’s absolute existence, since, earlier on, he referred to his absolute origin.[7] If Jesus was simply contrasting his absolute existence with something less than Abraham’s absolute existence, it would not prove the point that he was greater than Abraham. After all, according to Mormonism, everyone’s absolute existence predates Abraham’s physical existence! (And, if we all were eternal intelligences, no one absolutely predates another.)
To conclude our discussion on the evidence from Jesus, we see that he refers to our place of origin (earth) literally in contrast to his own (superior) place of origin (heaven). He considers these to be absolute places of origin. Therefore, when he says that he existed before Abraham was, he means this absolutely; both facts are fatal blows to the doctrine of premortality.
Commenting on those who come from this world, Paul says, “What is physical is first, and afterward what is spiritual. The first man is from the dust,” and “we have borne the image of the one made of dust.” (1 Corinthians 15:46,49) This is important for it shows that the physical body is first. Therefore, Adam began as a physical being – otherwise Paul would say, “The spiritual body is first, then the physical, then the exalted.” If he wished to do more than “imply” the doctrine of premortality, he had an excellent chance to do so.
Some might object to my assertion that this passage precludes us from having had premortal spiritual bodies, since Christ was once a man and was not physical fist, but spiritual. However, Christ is unique among mankind in this regard (as shown above) and his example should not be used to imply that we might also have been spiritual first even though Paul says otherwise.
Paul shows that Christ is the heavenly one, yet Adam, whose image were bear, the fleshly one! Yet, Mormonism implies that both were spiritual beings; if so, why is one called “heavenly” and the other, “fleshly?” Because, as opposed to the first man, Christ, the second man, originated from heaven;[8] Adam, whom we are like, originated from the dust of the earth.[9]1 Corinthians 15:47
In this essay, we’ve established that the Mormon interpretation of certain proof texts is problematic compared to a more straightforward reading of the text, which denotes nothing more than foreknowledge of things and people yet to be. Further, we have established from the evidence of Jesus and Paul that we are not pre-existent in some premortal spiritual state, but have our origin in this realm, and thus have not always existed. In the next essay, we will examine other proof texts of this Mormon doctrine to see if perhaps those can save it. They will not be able to; the implications of this for Mormons are profound. Their view of purpose, salvation and so forth are destroyed. If it is wrong, though, it is good to discard such beliefs.

[1] “The One saying of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd.’”

[2]“This is what Jehovah says to his anointed one, to Cyrus”

[3] “Whose right hand I have taken hold of . . .”

Some may try to object to my evaluation that the taking hold of Cyrus’ hand was a future event in Isaiah’s day. Assuming that Cyrus was pre-existent, they argue that Jehovah took hold of Cyrus’ hand in that pre-existent state. When Cyrus became Jehovah’s shepherd, Jehovah took hold of his right hand; each expression refers to the same thing, the anointing of Cyrus to accomplish God’s purpose. Therefore, we must see if it is possible for Cyrus to have been anointed before his physical existence. It is not possible.

Let us take the similar example of Jesus, who is the Messiah. If we look, we see many references to him as Christ before he was conceived, or before he was born, yet it is evident that he was not made Christ until he was about thirty years old, when he, the came forth to be baptized and was anointed with the holy spirit, as precisely foretold by Daniel. If we say that Jesus was already the Christ before he was thirty, then the Christ came before the end of the sixty nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy, and therefore, Jesus can’t be the Christ. Such references to him as such before this time are spoken to denote the certainty his appointment, he was as good the Christ.

Connecting this back to Cyrus, we see that, just as in Jesus’ case, Cyrus was called “shepherd” and “anointed one” prophetically, on account of what he would be.4 He did not begin to fulfill Jehovah’s purpose until he began to subdue nations, therefore, even while alive as a man, he was not always Jehovah’s anointed one, yet Jehovah spoke with the certainty that it would happen (and it did).

If this is not satisfactory, consider Isaiah 45:5, which says, “I [Jehovah] am calling you by your name. I am giving you a name of honor, although you did not know me.” If we assume that the calling of Cyrus as Jehovah’s anointed one occurred in Cyrus’ premortal life, then we would be hard pressed to explain the fact that Jehovah says Cyrus does not know him. But, if we assume that it was in his physical existence that he received his calling, we would not be hard pressed to explain this verse, for Cyrus, before he started subdued kings before him, did not know of God. However, afterward, as is evidenced by his decree in Ezra 1:2-4, knew of Jehovah after assuming his role as Jehovah’s anointed one and shepherd.

If the choosing of Cyrus did not occur in the premortal state, the Mormon teaching respecting premortality is wrong, for they clearly say that “From among those who were noble and great ones in that former world [the premortal state], the Lord selected those to be prophets and rules on the earth.” Unless they argue Cyrus was chosen in his premortal state and yet somehow did not know God – I don’t see how that is possible.

[4] Other examples of this exist in Scripture, such as Jude 14,15. In Enoch’s day, Jehovah had not yet executed judgement against the wicked, yet Enoch speaks of him as having already come.

[5] Or, “set you apart,” that is, for his prophetic commission.

[6] Jesus does use “father” (God or Satan) figuratively, as symbols of whether we are righteous or wicked, as does John. If we are righteous we are from God and he is out Father, but if we are wicked, Satan is our father. His use of “realms below” and “realms above” is not like that in this context.

[7] Jesus’ human nature came into being in the physical realm (“the realms bellow”) and it was not in existence until two thousand years after Abraham’s humanly existence, yet Jesus the person and his absolute existence predates Abraham’s physical birth. Therefore, it must be to his absolute existence that Jesus refers to when he says, “I have been in existence,” which would mean that he refers to Abraham’s existence.

[8] Additionally, while called “man” in this passage, it is clear that Jesus is not literally a man anymore, for he is now “a life-giving spirit.” He is experimentally (according to experience) a man, but not ontologically (according to nature) a man.

[9] Note that Jesus, when he was a man, was also “made of dust,” yet he is not said to be of the dust, but from heaven. Therefore, we see that Paul is talking about absolute origins, meaning that Adam’s absolute origin is earthly.

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