Our Mormon friends teach the doctrine of eternal progression. Among other things, it means that all people were born into the spirit world – through sexual relations between God and one of his wives – prior to taking on earthly bodies.
As Mormon.org puts it: “Your life didn’t begin at birth and it won’t end at death. Before you came to earth, your spirit lived with Heavenly Father who created you. You knew Him, and He knew and loved you. It was a happy time during which you were taught God’s plan of happiness and the path to true joy. But just as most of us leave our home and parents when we grow up, God knew you needed to do the same. He knew you couldn’t progress unless you left for a while. So he allowed you to come to earth to experience the joy – as well as pain – of a physical body.”
While this is a troubling doctrine that departs from orthodox Christianity, it is even more disturbing to learn that Mormons claim the Bible supports this belief.
Before I formed you …
Specifically, Mormons cite two passages of scripture.
The first is Jeremiah 1:5, where the Lord declares, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Mormons believe this verse supports the doctrine of pre-mortal existence since God says He “knew” Jeremiah prior to the prophet’s conception.
But as Ron Rhodes points out in The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Mormon, “This verse does not imply Jeremiah’s preexistence; rather, it affirms Jeremiah’s preordination to a special ministry.”
Taken in context, the verse speaks of God’s omniscience and sovereignty. Because neither space nor time can bind God, He sees the future with the same clarity He views the past. The Lord knew His plans for Jeremiah and set him apart as a prophet before knitting Jeremiah in his mother’s womb.
It’s also good to keep in mind Genesis 2:7, which says “the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.” Adam became a living being at creation, not in pre-mortal existence.
The glory I had with you …
The second passage Mormons quote is John 17:5 – “Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed.”
Mormons say this verse proves spirit existence prior to mortal existence. They further believe everyone – not just Jesus – preexisted as spirit offspring of the Father. In this respect, Jesus is our “elder brother.”
The Bible, however, teaches that God alone is eternal. Jesus’ prayer to the Father is grounded both in His deity and eternality. Jesus set aside His heavenly position – but not His deity – to come to earth to die on the cross, after which He returned to heaven and sat at the Father’s right hand. His prayer in John 17 anticipates the ascension.
John the Baptist said that even though Jesus was born six months after him, the Son of God preceded John (John 1:30). Isaiah 9:6 refers to the coming Messiah as the Eternal Father. And Jesus affirms to a Jewish audience, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
Jesus is both divine and eternal, and humans are neither. We are everlasting, not eternal; that is, we came into existence at conception, and our lives continue into eternity future either in heaven or in hell.
The danger of the doctrine of preexistence is three-fold. First, it is not taught in scripture. Second, it equates all humans with Jesus, who is eternal and divine, while we are not. And third, it introduces the possibility that mere humans may become gods.
The Bible, in contrast, teaches that Jesus is the uncreated, eternal Son of God, the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe. Human beings are not eternal; we are everlasting creatures made in the image of God and invited to join Him in an unbreakable relationship.
The clearer we are with our Mormon friends about this doctrine, the more we can help them see their need to acknowledge their mortality, sinfulness, and need of a Savior.
This column first appeared April 8, 2014, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.