, or pre-mortal existence
refers to the belief that each individual human soul
existed before conception
, and at conception (or later, depending on when it is believed that the soul enters the body) one of these pre-existent souls enters, or is placed by God
, in the body
This belief is held to a varying degree in Abrahamic
and other religions. Alternative positions are traducianism
, which both hold that the individual human soul does not come into existence until conception.
The boundaries of the beforelife are debatable, since there is controversy over when a human life formally begins.
Pre-existence in Christianity
In Christianity, pre-existence is a minority position contrasted with the more widely held concepts of traducianism and creationism.
The earliest surviving Christian writings on the preexistence were from Origen. Origen believed that the soul was assigned a body as a penalty for its sin of looking downward toward the corrupt earth. He also taught that Jesus Christ was actually born of the Father before the world began or before any other creatures existed.
"Jesus Christ Himself, who came, was born of the Father before all creatures; and after He had ministered to the Father in the creation of all things, for through Him all things were made" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:0:4 [A.D. 225]).
The doctrine also derives in part from a repudiation of Greek thought by Tertullian, who argued that for each immaterial soul a material body was created.
Pre-mortal existence in Mormonism (Latter-day Saints)
The concept of pre-mortal existence (sometimes referred to as pre-existence) is an early and fundamental doctrine of Mormonism
. In 1833, early in the Latter Day Saint movement
, its founder Joseph Smith, Jr.
taught that just as Jesus
was coeternal with God the Father
, "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." This manner of reference, however, is a little misleading, seeing as Latter-day Saints believe there was a spiritual creation quite some time before the physical creation (intelligences always existed, as stated, but spirits and intelligences are not precisely the same thing); the difference between intelligences and spirits largely seems to be an arguable moot point, so far, until further revelation is given (but, suffice it to say, there are spiritual bodies as well as physical bodies, according to LDS doctrine).
In 1844, Smith taught:
- "[T]he 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.... We say that God himself is a self-existent being.... Man does exist upon the same principles.... [The Bible] does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says 'God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam's spirit, and so became a living body.' The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself.... Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not 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." (King Follett Discourse)
After Smith's death, the doctrine of pre-mortal existence was elaborated by some other Latter Day Saint leaders, primarily within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its breakoffs. Although the "mind" and "intelligence" of humanity were still considered to be co-eternal with God, and not created, Brigham Young introduced the idea that the "spirit", which he distinguished from the "mind" or "intelligence", was indeed created and not co-eternal with God. Young postulated that we each had a pre-spirit "intelligence" that later became part of a spirit "body", which then eventually entered a physical body and was born on earth. In 1857, Young stated that every person was "a son or a daughter of [the Father]. In the spirit world their spirits were first begotten and brought forth, and they lived there with their parents for ages before they came here." 4 J.D. 218.
Among Latter-day Saints the idea of "spirit birth" was described in its modern doctrinal form in 1909, when the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement:
- Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God. All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity." MFP 4:203.
This description is widely-accepted by modern Latter-day Saints
as fundamental to the Plan of Salvation
. However, among other Latter Day Saint
denominations, there are differences of opinion as to the nature of the pre-mortal existence.
The mainstream LDS Church teaches during the pre-mortal existence, there was a learning process which eventually led to the next necessary step in the pre-mortal spirits' opportunity to progress. This next step included the need to gain a physical body that could experience pain, sorrow and joy and "walk by faith." According to this belief, these purposes were explained and discussed in "councils in heaven," followed by the War in Heaven where Satan rebelled against the plan of Heavenly Father.
Pre-existence in Judaism
While the idea of an immortal soul was not originally part of Jewish theology, it became so after Jewish contact with Persian and Greek thought.
In rabbinical literature, the souls of all humanity are described as being created during the six days of creation (Book of Genesis). When each person is born, a preexisting soul is placed within the body. (See Tan., Pekude, 3).
Pre-existence in Sufi Islam
In Sufism, the human soul is thought not only to survive physical death, but to have existed eternally prior to birth. The soul’s visit on the earth is viewed as only one stage in a long progression through various worlds and states of existence, such as that of a Master, an angel, a jinn, a human, etc. Eventually, Sufis believe that they will return to their home beyond the stars, from whence they came.
Sufis believe that in this life, they are subjected to a state of forgetfulness as to prior existence, but that it is possible to retrieve memories of the pre-existence through mystical experience, in effect, awakening from a sleep.
Pre-existence in Greek thought
Plato believed in the pre-existence of the soul, which tied in with his innatism. He thought that we are born with knowledge from a previous life that is subdued at birth and must be relearned. He saw all attainment of knowledge not as acquiring new information, but as remembering previously known information. Before we were born, we existed in a perfect world where we knew everything. This theory is similar to reincarnation, though there are differences - for example, Plato only believes in one earthly life.