The Doctrine of Eternal Lives

At the close of our High Priest’s group meeting today, I was surprised by a question from a good brother sitting next to me. “Why do you study so much?” I wondered why he asked that until I realized what I had done during the lesson. I had placed the piano bench in front of me, spread out my scriptures and was marking a copy of the General Conference talk we were studying.

So I took a minute to answer his question which turned to why I blog. I explained that my mother was a convert and a professional teacher when I was growing up. She ingrained in me a desire to continually study and learn. She had an insatiable appetite to know the history of our church. Our home library was filled with books about Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor and other early leaders.

As a family (or at least with my mother and sister) we attended Education Week and Know Your Religion lectures. Our gospel discussion before my mission was all about doctrine, especially the doctrines of salvation, the temple and the eternities. Mother loved nothing better than to teach what she had learned as a convert. She often taught the Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class.

Understanding Doctrine

I told my friend that I studied every possible moment I’m not working or attending to family duties because I want to thoroughly know and understand the doctrines of our church. I don’t want to be like so many I have read about online who say they have been shocked and dismayed when they learned something distressing about our history that they hadn’t heard in church.

I gave him an example. I said, “Do you know there are people in our church who believe in reincarnation? How do you feel about that?” He said, “I know we’ll be resurrected, but I don’t believe that’s the same as reincarnation.” I said, “You’re absolutely right. But there are people using quotes from early church leaders to suggest they believed and taught this as doctrine.”

He said he couldn’t understand how members of the church could believe such a thing. He was a convert and explained that he would think and pray about what he was learning before accepting it. Sometimes well-meaning people would try to tell him that Mormons believed this or that. “But I knew by the spirit that they were wrong, no matter how convincing their arguments.”

Strait and Narrow Path

We concluded our discussion of how we can know truth for ourselves. His unsolicited comment that he “knew by the spirit” was gratifying to hear. We use that phrase often in our church but I remain convinced that there are many who do not appreciate or know how it works. D&C 8:2 holds the key to understanding how we can “know by the spirit” in both our heart and our mind.

Those who approach the world primarily with an intellectual focus often disdain the emotional or sentimental aspects of knowing truth. They remain convinced that there is no place for sentiment in our church service, that the telling of faith-promoting stories is out of place or being moved to tears is not appropriate when considering the doctrines of salvation. I believe they are mistaken.

Those who pass through life responding mainly to how they feel about something but avoid any study of doctrine or history are missing out on the second half of the formula for understanding truth. We know something is true by the spirit when we are edified – when we both feel that it is right and we understand why it is right. It’s a fine line that includes both feeling and knowing.

A Book of Quotes

I recently came across a book that purports to contain Mormon doctrine being offered for sale on Amazon and a few other places. Now I have dozens of books in my library that claim to be full of Mormon doctrine but in reality are riddled with half-truths, innuendos and lies. The difficulty of these kinds of books is that they contain so much truth that the lies are difficult to see clearly.

Such is the case of the book entitled, “Teachings of the Doctrines of Eternal Lives.” Somebody who wished to remain anonymous has gone to a lot of trouble to collect hundreds of quotes from the early leaders of the church and arrange them in an order that seems to lend support for each succeeding section. I applaud the efforts but what is being implied is based on a false doctrine.

No, the idea of Eternal Lives itself is not a false doctrine but it’s not what the book is attempting to prove or justify by all the supporting quotes. Almost all the quotes themselves are wonderful. It’s a delight to see them all in one place. Any serious student of the gospel will be familiar with most of them or should be. If you’re not careful you can skip right over the few that are wrong.

Doctrine of Eternal Lives

The doctrine of Eternal Lives as I understand it is the idea that once exalted we will be able to have eternal increase. In other words, we can become Gods ourselves, parents of spirit children. I don’t pretend to fully understand it because I obviously haven’t experienced it but it is a core component of Mormonism. We can become like God. That’s the whole purpose of life to me.

This should be basic knowledge to every member of the church but if you want to understand this better, I’m actually going to recommend that you buy the book. I have read it online at Scribd and will be picking up a copy at the Confetti Book Store in Spanish Fork next week on my way to a family reunion in Ogden. Like I said, it is a worthwhile compilation of quotes.

You can look up some of the basics in the scriptures and in the words of the prophets using phrases like “continuation of the seeds, eternal increase, exaltation, celestial marriage, calling and election, Church of the Firstborn, Fulness of the Father, Godhood, joint heirs with Christ,” and of course, “eternal lives.” This really is a basic doctrine taught in our standard curriculum.

The Principle of Reincarnation

Even though the compiler adds very little commentary, there is some sprinkled throughout the book along with questions following specific quotes. He also bolds key phrases that he wants you to notice and ponder. As I read the book I kept feeling that there was something wrong with where the compiler was trying to lead me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this quote:

“…his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband.” This is from the journal of Orson F Whitney, recounting a conversation with Lorenzo Snow. So we have a third person account of what Joseph is supposed to have said (p. 73). Compare that to this exchange:

A Doctrine of the Devil

“I resumed conversation with Matthias, and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurrection. He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that this was the way or scheme of eternal life—this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.

“I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself; and he said also that he possessed the soul of Christ. He tarried until Wednesday, 11th, when, after breakfast, I told him, that my God told me, that his god was the devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart. And so I, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer.”

The above quote from the prophet Joseph is found in the History of the Church, volume 2, page 307. Transmigration of the soul is the same as a belief in reincarnation. Joseph nailed it when he said that his guest was possessed of an evil and lying spirit. Unfortunately, that same spirit seems to be the source of what our anonymous quote compiler is trying to persuade us to believe.

A Dangerous and Damning Belief

Why is a belief in reincarnation so dangerous? To believe in reincarnation is to take away the focus and incentive we should have to make every moment of this life count in preparation for our continued schooling in the life to come. If one believes they will be given another chance then there is no real desire to do one’s best. Why knock yourself out if you can do it over again?

We are born once, we die once (Heb 9:27) and we are resurrected once to die no more (Alma 11:45 & 12:18). That’s the doctrine of the church as taught by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith in scripture that we as a church have accepted as binding. Anything other than that is dangerous and damning because it prevents us from progressing in this life as we should.

In the words of Bruce R McConkie, reincarnation “is a false doctrine originating with the devil. It runs counter to the whole system and plan of salvation whereunder spirits are born in pre-existence, are permitted to pass through a mortal probation, and then in due course become immortal, incorruptible, and eternal in nature.” As a church, we do not believe in reincarnation.

Baby Resurrection

Now, maybe I’m wrong that the compiler is trying to lead us to accept reincarnation. Perhaps he wants us to consider some of the other quotes about the resurrection suggesting that the way we are resurrected is to be born of a woman once again, only this time through an immortal or glorified mother. I confess I never heard of “baby resurrection” until I read it in this book.

This idea is not as damning as reincarnation as long as you assert that the baby being born is an immortal being and NOT about to go once again through a mortal probation. As I wrote when I explained my understanding of the doctrine of eternal lives, I know I don’t fully understand the doctrine of the resurrection because I have not experienced it and don’t have the keys to do so.

I have considered the idea Brigham taught when he said Adam came into this world the same way you or I came into it – born of a woman. That woman was his Heavenly Mother. Thus he was born an immortal being. That makes perfect sense to me. Yes, I know it’s out there and considered by some to be a part of the Adam God theory, but I like to think about these things.

Gospel Study

Anyway, I’m going to buy the book and read it again. It’s really more of a reference work since there is so little of the author’s own words included. There are some questionable books about our religion that I won’t add to my library, but this is one that will find a home right next to “The Mysteries of Godliness” by David John Buerger and all of my D. Michael Quinn books.

I hope you don’t feel threatened by reading stuff from people who were once members of our faith but who are no longer formally associated with us, either by choice or by disciplinary action. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with reading well-researched material and drawing your own conclusions. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of discerning truth from error.

I think the Lord is serious about us learning truth and expects us to put D&C 8:2 to the test in all that we study. Our time is limited in this life so we should focus our doctrinal study efforts on those things that will prepare us to receive the Lord, preferably in this life (D&C 93:1) so that we may depart mortality with a perfect hope, knowing our standing before the Lord. That is my goal.

27 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Eternal Lives”

  1. I recently noticed that book on Amazon as well. I was intrigued by it, but based on your review I’ll probably leave it alone for now. I’m not against reading challenging texts, I just have other books that are demanding my attention at the moment. In any event, I appreciate your insight on this one as I do have my eyes on it.

  2. I bought the book when I noticed it on a shelf near the LDS bookstore across the street from the Columbia South Carolina temple. Unfortunately, since I have about 20 other books demanding my attention, I haven’t been able to delve into it yet.

    I will say this: I totally agree with the sentiments you expressed in your blog posting. I also have many of Quinn’s books. I have found them fascinating reading. His biography of J. Reuben Clark is masterful.

  3. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for adding your comment to my initial review of “Teachings of the Doctrine of Eternal Lives.” I’m looking forward to picking the book up at Confetti Books on Friday. I hope they have it in stock. I’m sure I’ll spend many more delightful hours reviewing the quotes compiled there. This essay was written after a brief 2-3 hour late-night read on the Scribd page.

    You said: “To say that this book is about reincarnation is like saying that Joseph Smith used a Crystal Ball to translate the Book of Mormon.” I’m not sure I would characterize the book as being about reincarnation. I’m just saying that running across that quote in the book caused me to stop and wonder why it was included. That particular quote has been a problem in that it gives ammunition for those who like to mock our doctrines and make us look foolish. I believe there was another reincarnation quote as well.

    Ah yes, here it is on page 73, quoting D. Michael Quinn – “By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph Smith had also reversed his prior rejection of the Cabala’s doctrine of transmigration of the souls.” And a little later, “Prescindia Huntington Buell (later Kimball) also affirmed her belief in ‘plural probations’ referring to a statement ‘in confirmation’ by her polyandrous husband Joseph Smith. (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View pg. 302)

    I disagree with Michael Quinn’s assessment that Joseph “reversed his prior rejection” of the false doctrine of reincarnation. Why does Michael Quinn place greater credence on the quotes of two women saying they heard it from Joseph instead of the very clear statement in the History of the Church that Joseph declared reincarnation to be a doctrine of the devil? I enjoy reading Michael Quinn but don’t think his conclusion is justified based on these two statements. I also think it muddies the waters of this otherwise wonderful collection.

    1. Reincarnation is a doctrine of the devil. The doctrine of Eternal Lives may appear similar to reincarnation but one is the truth and the other is Satans forgery – made to keep us away from the truth – either to get us to believe in reincarnation, or to leave such a bad taste in our mouths that we reject the true Doctrine of Eternal Lives.

      The King Follet Discourse brought me to this doctrine, it taught me things that raised questions that could only be answered by The Doctrine of Eternal Lives. It also answered many, many questions that have puzzled me most of my life. Actually it has replaced them all with a whole new set.

      1. I have to agree with you Doug. It answers many questions, only to replace them with that many more! My understanding of “The Doctrine of Eternal Lives” is that it is NOT reincarnation. Reincarnation is Satan’s conterfiet.
        I believe there is something to the doctrine of eternal lives. There has to be. For example how is it possible for Jesus Christ to have been a God, who created us and our world, before he came down to this earth and lived in mortality here? And then there is Alma 13. What is being talked about there?

  4. For me, further study, pondering and prayer is answering a lot of those questions – even ones that I never had hope in getting answered.

  5. I too have read this book. I struggled with the ideas that were being presented. The ideas were outside my paradigm, against my traditions, but one idea kept coming back to me: The great condescension of God.

    Here are some of the questions I pondered.

    1. How could Jesus be a God without the test of mortality?
    2. How can Jesus be creating earths unless He is a God?
    3. How can someone be a God unless they are married? We were created after the image of God, male and female. Wouldn’t this be proof that Jesus had already obtained His exaltation with a Celestial body?
    4. Why would it be a big deal for Jesus to take on a tabernacle of clay, don’t we all take on a tabernacle of clay?
    5. If Jesus was a spirit, He would have to come to earth to get a body. How could that be referred to as a “great condescension?”
    6. How could we have faith and confidence that Jesus could atone for our sins and overcome all things if He had never had a mortal experience before?
    7. How can Jesus coming to earth be called a “condescension” unless He laid aside a resurrected body?
    8. Can an exalted being lay aside his robe (resurrected body) and condescend?

    I received an answer to these questions. The answer opened my mind to many other scriptures.

    Here’s something else to consider. Don’t we believe in a preexistence? Don’t we believe in an afterlife? If we believe our spirits can exist in three different realms why is it so hard to think that we will experience other realms?

    Doesn’t Joseph Smith’s statement “from exaltation to exaltation” make more sense if there are more experiences?

    1. Although the compilation of the quote is not 100% correct, when Joseph said “from exaltation to exaltation” he put that as happening before we “attain the resurrection of the dead” or like apostol Paul said, the resurrection of Jesus, a more excellent way, which is different than other definitions of resurrection that are given in the scriptures, many of them meaning resurrecting into a new mortal probation…So in order to obtain the resurrection of Christ, we need to go from exaltation to exaltation…it’s not as simple as Sunday School teaches…hehe. Well said Adam!

  6. I have to agree with the last writer (adam). I started to receive revelation about these things about 7 years ago, things that were startling to me and caused me to really struggle in the Spirit. I wanted to understand all of it but I was stuck in the paradigm of my “orthodox mormon” upbringing. As I let go of my closed mind and allowed the Spirit to teach me instead of trying to school the Spirit I was given great and amazing understanding. All of the questions that Adam asks were answered in the scriptures and through the Spirit.

    Another question that came up for me was: Why is the law of Polygamy an eternal law? What does it point to and why do we have it? When I started to understand that it points to Christ and is a type of Him then I began to understand the law of eternal lives. This law is one that is taken from a higher plane to a lower one, not the other way around. We think it is something we will take with us into eternity. That is not true. It comes with us into mortalitiy. If we look at the lives of the three fathers; Abraham, Isaiac and Jacob then we will begin to understand the beautiful law of Polygamy and how it is a type of the marriage of the Lamb and fits with the law of Eternal Lives. It is most beautiful and brings peace and joy. It is delicious!

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  9. Chris Skillings

    I think you believe in the gospel of eternal lives but you just don’t know it yet. You believe in at least 9 separate lives that we know of (as Intelligences, pre mortality, mortality, spirit prison/paradise, telestial, terrestrial, and three levels of celestial) and there could easily be more since we are often told that there’s a lot we don’t know yet. Each of these lives represent an opportunity for learning, refinement, growth and sanctification. A gospel plan of salvation that assumes less than 1/10th% of God’s children “make it” and His failure rate in His “work and glory” is well over 99% does not make sense to me. My belief is in a loving father who wants his children to succeed rather than a vengeful tyrant who sets us all up to fail. A series of lives in which we all gradually learn to become more like him ( just like what you currently believe, but without the man-made hard stop after this round of “mortality” that results in exaltation or some form of damnation) is the only thing that makes sense while aligning with my own concept of God. Plus, Joseph Smith taught it, as did Brigham Young and the Old Testament parable of the Potter’s Wheel all serve to further endorse these concepts as true doctrine. The obvious problems with eternal lives is that is eliminates some level of urgency and the concept of time as a constraint on our salvation. I think we can all agree that the very idea of “eternity” eliminates the mortal concept of “time”. Urgency is generally dismissed by the doctrine of the “first being last and the last being first”. I will continue to live my life as I did before I became aware of the D of EL, but I do so with fewer questions and concerns about apparent incongruities in the way our church teaches the plan of salvation, and with a greater appreciation for the goodness of the savior.

  10. All glory and exaltations can only come through sacrifice. It is an eternal law. This lends itself to many doctrines that are not understood by the feeble mortal mind. Possiblities are endless and following Christ explicitly will only open the mind to such possiblities

  11. It has been nearly a year since my last post on this subject. I took up the task of trying to understand what happens between death and birth. I tried to have a discussion with some friends, who believe this doctrine, about death to birth.To this day, I still do not understand why I was treated the way I was by such “open minded seekers of the truth”. But I decided to search for my answers only within the cannonized scriptures of the Church.
    Well I did find answers to my question, What happens between Death and Birth within The Standard Works. Which also means that this doctrine of Eternal Lives is also found within accepted scripture. It is all there. And along with it comes a far more complete understanding of Faith, The Priesthood, The Sealing Power, The Atonement, the true Nature of God – or in other words How Things Work. I would love to share this with all, but my previously mentioned experience cautions me. But I will tell you that a good place to start is D&C 76 with some help from sections 43, 93, and 129. But I will tell you that if it were obvious, we would all already know it.

    1. Thanks Doug. My mind is not yet made up on this one. I have read a lot of convincing arguments for both sides. I am glad to know that there are people like you who take it seriously – meaning that you take seriously the desire to know and understand the truth of things. I have also experienced close-minded people when it comes to new things, or to things for which they are not prepared.

      I have also experienced the opposite attitude – condescending – as in, “you’re obviously not ready for this so I’ll not waste my time in helping you understand.” Thanks for sharing the sections of the D&C and how it helps you understand some of our basic doctrines such as faith, priesthood, sealing, the atonement, the true nature of God and the like. Someday I’m sure I’ll get it when the Lord feels I’m ready. Obviously I have to do my part and study it out. God bless.

  12. Just because you do not understand what was right before your eyes doesnt make it a false doctrine. Reincarnation is a false doctrine, but it is what satan does, corrupt the truth. Multiple Mortal Probations was a teaching at the time of Christ and is a truth, whether you have the ability to accept it or not. Christ did nothing yet he saw the father do. So we know The father was also a savior. 1 Corinthians 15: 45-47 explains the last Adam before our Adam was the lord. So, if Jesus was the last Adam, and then Christ, I have proven 2 mortal probations. Abraham was told he lived in a valley prior to the flood. Seeing he lived long after the flood, how was this accomplished. I could point out a hundred instances in B of M, D and C, Pearl of Great Price, and the Author of Multiple Probations, Isaiah. Want a good book, Isaiah Decoded by Avraham Gilihadi. I should not have to convince anyone, when your ready for the truth, it will be made known. How did Christ walk in every mans shoes? How did he overcome all things? How did he get so far ahead of us? Why are we all at different levels of progression yet only a few of us will enter the Celestial Kingdom? Just because a few of us are older and wiser the younger and less intellegent have no room for growth? Read Avrahams book, Hugh Nibley was a close friend, and the two of them did the footnotes in the Old Testament for the church. Unlearn what you think you know, or stay at a comfortable understanding and reach no further. But I remind you, the glory of god is intellegence. Until you learn his secrets, his mysteries, you will not progress into his kingdom. Or, wait until the second coming, when this will all be reveiled. Joseph and Brigham did know and confide in others this doctrine.. Some people believe the father son and HG are one person, some that faith is all thats needed, not works.. Their are answers to the scriptures you quoted, and they do not contridict MMP, Multiple Mortal Probations. If the prophet came out, and told the members the things he knew, half the members would call it false doctrine and leave the church.

    1. Darrin,
      One cannot be a Father without first being a Son.
      Our Adam is God the Father. Through God, we received both our Spirit body and our Mortal body.
      Through sin and death we loose them both.
      The Father of the next generation of time is Christ.
      Christ will redeem us and give us a new spirit body.
      Christ will then take one of his wife’s down to a new world to provide mortal bodies for all whom he redeemed.
      First as a Son, the Atonement.
      Then as a Father, redemption and Sire a generation.

      38 Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God. (D&C 93:38)

      14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. (Book of Mormon, Ether, Chapter 3)

  13. I have become disturbed with many of these LDS blogs these days. If you only read the quotes in the book you see very plainly how simaler reincarnation is to eternal lives. Just like every other doctrine reincarnation has only had things removed. Its like the bible and todays endowment. It is Lucifers counterfeit until you restore the rest.

  14. I had a dream of another lifetime. I automatically rejected it as false doctrine. But then as I studied the scriptures, the idea kept coming back to me. Reasons for multiple mortal experiences kept coming to my mind. I began to record them. I realized I was at a crossroad. I began to study the idea specifically. When I felt I had a grasp of both sides of the issue, I found myself ready to pray about it. I asked the Lord to fill me with a stupor of thought if the idea of multiple mortal experiences were false. Before I could finish asking for guidance, I felt a burst of joy in my heart, and a flood of knowledge in my mind verifying answers to questions that I had previously considered. I was completely surprised by the answer I received. I could not reject this Doctrine as completely false. The next day, I became aware of this book “The Doctrine of Eternal Lives”. It holds some amazing insights.

  15. Eternal Progression and Eternal Degression is what this book is all about. Why was Abraham and many others in pre-earth life above all of us? including many GA’s today? How did Peter, James, and John shake Adams hand in the Garden? Where did they get their bodies? Remember that the God Hood is Progressionary and like Joseph Taught in the King Follet Serman, If you want to become like God you must do what he has done. Christ did that also!. All spirits progress or degress through Eternal Lives of some kind. All living life has a spirit. God organized no spirit from intelligences that could not be come like unto himself! Think about that. This knowledge comes through intense study and prayer and is “Further light and Knowledge” thanks Jeff for your book.

  16. You’re all going about it the hard way. Doctrine and Covenants 132: 24 and 55. The truth is right there. It just may not be comfortable for you yet. But . . . Doctrine and Covenants 42: section description for verses 53-60 “the church is governed by the scriptures”. So . . . since the scriptures are the Word of God . . . and the church is The Lord’s church . . . then it logically follows that God governs the whole universe by the same principles as contained in the Holy Scriptures. Alma 13:20

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