Question: Does what Joseph Smith taught about the creation of spirits contradict the scriptures?

Table of Contents

Question: Does what Joseph Smith taught about the creation of spirits contradict the scriptures?

It should be noted specifically that Joseph addresses the word “create” as meaning “to organize” and not to “create out of nothing"

Joseph Smith taught that spirits were not created, and that spirits did not have a beginning because they will not have an end. In scripture, however, there are many verses which stated that God created spirits.

  • Did what Joseph taught about the creation of spirits contradict the scriptures?

It should be noted specifically that Joseph addresses the word “create” as meaning “to organize” and not to “create out of nothing.” Therefore, God can still at some point “organize” whatever composes spirits just as He organized the “chaotic matter” into the world and all that we see. As long as one properly understands that "to create" is “to organize” rather than “to create out of nothing,” there is no problem or conflict between God creating spirits and creating the world. In both instances He used some preexistent material from which He organized both.

The statement upon which this teaching is based is actually an excerpt from Joseph Smith's April 7, 1844 talk known as the "King Follett Discourse"

In the 2008-9 lesson manual Teaching of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, we find the following in Chapter 17 - The Great Plan of Salvation:

In April 1844, the Prophet taught: “I have another subject to dwell upon, which is calculated to exalt man. … It is associated with the subject of the resurrection of the dead,—namely, the soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don’t believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. …"

“I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits. … " [1]

The present text of quotes from the "King Follet discourse" as recorded in the lesson manual is from the Grimshaw Amalgamation

The present text of quotes from the "King Follet discourse" as recorded in the lesson manual is from the Grimshaw Amalgamation, which was the work of Jonathan Grimshaw in 1855. Grimshaw was a clerk in the Church Historian's Office assigned to prepare Joseph Smith’s sermons for inclusion in what would eventually become the 7-volume History of the Church.

Grimshaw relied upon the accounts of the four men who made record of the prophet’s words on that day

Since there was no stenographic report of the sermon and no prepared text from which to reconstruct the sermon, Grimshaw relied upon the accounts of the four men who made record of the prophet’s words on that day. Three of these men, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards and William Clayton, were assigned to do so and the fourth, Wilford Woodruff, made a record for inclusion in his journal.

Thomas Bullock amalgamated together his account and that of William Clayton in 1844, which was then printed in the LDS periodical Times and Seasons. Grimshaw took this amalgamation and amalgamated it with the accounts of Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff in an attempt to provide the most complete account possible. This version of the sermon has been reprinted more than any other and has been published in the Ensign, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is also the source of the quotations noted above from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.

Does the teaching contradict scripture?

The following quote appeared in the April and May 1971 Ensign on pages 13-17 of each. Within the sermon, Joseph is reported as having said:

“I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.”

The question is: Are there indications within the scriptures regarding creation contradict such a statement? It should be noted that the scriptures themselves clearly state that,

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (DC 93:29) It would appear that whatever this “intelligence” is, it cannot be “created or made.” Precisely what this “intelligence” is and whether it is an individuated spirit being or merely the chaotic precursor to an organized individuated spirit has been the subject of a much of discussion in LDS thought. Suffice to say that we existed as this “intelligence” previous to whatever action the Father took that resulted in our becoming His spirit children. This is the manner in which the matter has been understood and expounded upon within Church publications.

Does the fact that we existed as “intelligence” previous to our organization into spirits preclude “creation”? Not necessarily. It would all depend upon how one views the process of “creation.” Did God create the world from nothing as most of our Christian brothers from other faiths infer? Joseph did not think so. In the same sermon he stated:

“You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.”

Therefore, it is not merely “intelligence” which cannot be “created or made” but “chaotic matter” or “element.” Something existed, some form of primordial “matter” or “element” which “had an existence from the time He [God] had” just as “The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself.”


Notes

  1. Citation from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith: History of the Church, 6:310–12; capitalization modernized; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton; see also appendix, page 562, item 3.