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Preexistence: Did We Live in Heaven before We Were Born?

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Preexistence: Did We Live in Heaven before We Were Born?

Robert M. Bowman Jr.


Our Heavenly Family…. All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God. ‘Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporary [physical] body.’ …We know, for example, that we were sons and daughters of heavenly parents—males and females” (Gospel Principles, 9, 10).

A. Do We Have a Heavenly Mother?

One of the most interesting and unusual teachings of the LDS Church is that all human beings, as Gospel Principles puts it, are “literally the sons and daughters” of “heavenly parents.” If Heavenly Father is the literal father of our spirits—procreating us as spirit beings like an earthly father procreates his children—it would follow logically that we also have a “heavenly mother.” This Mother in heaven, of course, would be God’s wife. Belief in a heavenly mother, while not emphasized, is part of LDS doctrine, as the reference to “heavenly parents” in Gospel Principles illustrates. A statement by the First Presidency in 1909 entitled “The Origin of Man” affirmed this belief as official LDS doctrine: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”

"Not only do the LDS scriptures never mention a heavenly mother, but they also say some things that point to the conclusion that we do not have literal heavenly parents. "

Oddly, though, neither the Bible nor the other scriptures of the LDS Church ever mentions a heavenly mother. The term “heavenly parents” also never appears in any of the scriptures. This complete absence of any reference to a heavenly or divine Mother contrasts with the hundreds of references to God the Father in the Bible (especially the New Testament) as well as in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants.

Not only do the LDS scriptures never mention a heavenly mother, but they also say some things that point to the conclusion that we do not have literal heavenly parents. For example, the Book of Mormon refers ten times to Adam and Eve as “our first parents” (1 Nephi 5:11; 2 Nephi 2:15; 9:9; Mosiah 16:3; Alma 12:21, 26; 42:2, 7; Helaman 6:26; Ether 8:25). Since it never qualifies this description in any way (for example, by calling them “our first parents on earth”), the natural way to take these words is that Adam and Eve were literally our very first parents.

What makes the lack of any reference to a heavenly mother in Scripture so puzzling is that this would seem to be a very important thing to know. Imagine you were separated from your parents at birth and then when you were an adult you met some people who knew them. Would it not be odd if they talked repeatedly about your father but never even mentioned your mother?

The reason for this puzzling state of affairs is that LDS belief in a heavenly mother comes not from divine revelation but from later LDS leaders reasoning that she must exist. The LDS hymn “O My Father” makes this very point:

“In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.”

Likewise, Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledges that the scriptures never mention a heavenly mother but argues that “common sense” tells us she must exist:

In answer to your question about a mother in heaven, let us use reason…. The fact that there is no reference to a mother in heaven either in the Bible, Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants, is not sufficient proof that no such thing as a mother did exist there. If we had a Father, which we did, for all of these records speak of him, then does not good common sense tell us that we must have had a mother there also?” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions [1960], 3:142).

This answer does not explain why the scriptures never even once mention a mother in heaven. The appeal to reason shows that the idea of a heavenly mother is simply assumed to be true on the assumption that God is our father in the literal sense that he procreated us as his literal offspring. Does the Bible teach this idea?

B. Were Human Beings God’s Spirit Offspring in Heaven?

The Bible never explicitly says that human beings lived as spirits in heaven before their physical lives on earth. What the Bible does say supports the traditional Christian view that our existence begins here on earth. Consider the description of how God made the first man, Adam: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Notice that Genesis does not say that God placed an already existing individual spirit being into the physical body, but that he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” This statement at least seems to be saying that this is how Adam came into being.

The earlier passage about God creating human beings “in his image” (Genesis 1:26-27) raises an interesting problem for the idea that people existed in heaven as God’s literal offspring. Remember that the LDS Church’s teaching is that God the Father has a physical body of flesh and bones. If being “in God’s image” meant that we have a human body much like his (although his is better), one would think we would get that body when he and the heavenly mother procreated us as their literal offspring. That is, if God is a physical being and produces literal offspring, one would expect that offspring to be physical beings. Yet the LDS view is that our heavenly parents produced us as their offspring in heaven as spirits and then God made physical bodies for Adam and Eve. Do earthly parents have to construct bodies for their offspring? No, because earthly parents with physical bodies produce offspring that also have physical bodies. So then, why did God need to make physical bodies for his literal offspring?

The New Testament explicitly denies that all human beings are God’s children. Jesus taught that those who rejected him were not God’s children, and even said that the devil was their father (John 8:42-44). The apostle John explained that “the children of God” were those who were “born of God” through their faith in Christ and had turned away from a life of sin, while “the children of the devil” were those committed to a life of sin (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-10; 5:1-2). The apostle Paul makes the same point when he says that we who believe in Christ and have the Spirit dwelling in us receive “adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26-4:7). Thus, people are not by nature God’s children. Rather, we are all God’s creatures, and we can become God’s sons and daughters through adoption and the spiritual rebirth that comes through faith in Christ.

According to the Bible, only one human being existed in heaven before his physical life on earth: Jesus Christ. John the Baptist contrasted himself with Jesus in this regard when he said, “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:31). “He that cometh from above,” who “cometh from heaven,” is Jesus Christ; John the Baptist, like the rest of us, “is of the earth.” Unlike the rest of us, Jesus “had come forth from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). Jesus told his disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28). When he said this, he was clearly saying something about himself that was not true about everyone else.

 C. What about These Verses?

There are a few verses in the Bible sometimes thought to imply that human beings existed as spirits in heaven. We will look briefly at three of these verses.

God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Since God knows everything and everyone from an eternal perspective, though, this verse does not prove that Jeremiah existed before his mother’s womb. That is because this verse does not say that Jeremiah knew God or had done anything before his earthly conception and birth. Rather, it tells us something about what God knew and did before our birth, not something about anything we knew or did. Other verses sometimes cited to prove our preexistence fall into this same category: they tell us about what God did for us before creation (for example, Ephesians 1:4).

Hebrews 12:9 refers to God as “the Father of the spirits,” but says nothing about when these “spirits” started to exist. Traditionally, Christians believe that a human being has both a spirit (on the “inside”) and a physical body (on the “outside”). By “the spirits” Hebrews may be referring to the departed spirits of the righteous who are with God now awaiting the resurrection (see Hebrews 12:23). We know that “Father of the spirits” does not mean that God literally procreated our spirits, because immediately before this verse it says, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons. But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8). Just as John and Paul both taught, in Hebrews being God’s “sons” is a special privilege given to those who follow Jesus (see also Hebrews 2:10-14).

Finally, Paul told the Athenian philosophers:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:28-29).

In this speech in Athens, Paul quoted a line from a pagan poet (“For we are also his offspring”) to support his point that human beings were created to have an especially close relationship to God. It would be a mistake to take these words literally. In the same speech, Paul makes clear that God is a transcendent Being who “does not dwell in temples made with hands” (verse 24). He also states in this speech that God “made” us (verse 26), which is different from saying that God procreated us as his literal offspring.

The doctrine that we preexisted as spirits in heaven and that God sent us here to further our spiritual development is not taught in the Bible.

 D.God Does Have a Plan for Us

Although human beings do not come from heaven, we are very special to God and at the center of God’s plan for his creation. Alone among all the living creatures in the physical world, human beings were created “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:26-27). What this means is that God created human beings to act as his visible representatives on earth, ruling over the other living things on his behalf (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:3-8). God has given us a tremendously responsible and privileged position in his creation. He has endowed human beings with a combination of physical, emotional, and mental faculties that make them uniquely suited to be earthly reflections of his wisdom and goodness. He has given human beings a capacity for an eternal perspective that transcends the merely biological aspects of our existence. And although we are not and never will be gods (Is. 43:10), God has a plan to adopt us as his children through his one and only Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-30).

For Further Reflection
  • If a heavenly mother exists, why do the Scriptures never mention her?
  • Does the Bible teach that we are the literal offspring of heavenly parents?
  • How could spirits in heaven prepare themselves for their service on earth if during their earthly lives they remember nothing about their life in heaven?
  • Are the gifts and talents that we have from God any less valuable if he gave them to us in this mortal life rather than in a heavenly preexistence?
  • Does the fact that we originate as physical beings on earth mean that God loves us any less?