Literal Spirit Birth (2010 SMPT Paper)

There have been a few posts recently regarding spirit birth, so I thought it may be time I posted my SMPT paper on the subject.  Enjoy.

Introduction

The idea of mankind being the children of God is not a new one. Yet, many seem take this idea metaphorically. One of the unique aspects of Mormonism is found in how literally many members take the parent/child relationship between God and man.

This general idea does not come out of thin air. Several scriptures speak of God as being the Father of mankind. Paul speaks of being in subjection to the Father of spirits, and draws a parallel between the fathers of the flesh and the Father of spirits.[1] Christ taught us to pray to our Father, and included us in a brotherhood relationship with his description of ascending to ‘My God and your God, my Father and your Father’. [2]

The teachings of the church stress a literal parent/child relationship as well. The ‘Proclamation on the Family’ describes mankind as being the begotten sons and daughters of heavenly parents. The book ‘True to the Faith’ states that we are begotten spirit children of Heavenly Father. [3] The key term in these statements, as it relates to spirit birth, is the term ‘begotten’. These sources are modern sources, and so the current definition of ‘begotten’ should suffice. Dictionaries define ‘begotten’ as to father or to sire. One need only take this term as it is currently defined, and take the statement literally, and one arrives at the idea of literal spirit birth. The Proclamation even goes so far as to state that gender is an essential part of our eternal identity and purpose. It is hard to think of gender in any way other than how it relates to procreative reproduction. How else shall we take purposeful eternal gender?

The purpose of this paper is not to provide detailed research about the historical development of the idea of spirit birth in the Mormon church. Nor is it the purpose to provide a thorough scriptural exegesis of this topic (although either topic would make for a fascinating read). The purpose here is to examine the philosophical advantages of, and arguments against, a literal belief in spirit birth, and I hope to persuade the reader that spirit birth is a powerful and sound (although speculative) idea within Mormonism.

Spirit Birth Defined

It may be helpful to propose a definition of spirit birth before I proceed. The definition I would propose is that the premortal spirit bodies of all mankind are the literal (non-metaphorical) procreated offspring of God.

Philosophical Advantages

The idea of literal spirit birth, and particularly the details associated with it, are somewhat speculative. Because of this it is reasonable to ask what the philosophical advantages of such a belief are. I would consider that philosophical advantages of religious ideas would include:

  • How does the idea promote a love of God, and a love of mankind?
  • How does the idea motivate moral and ethical behavior (i.e. keeping the commandments)?
  • How does the idea agree with scripture, the teachings of modern prophets, and the doctrines of the church?
  • How does the idea fit in with our understanding of the Plan of Salvation?

I will start with what I see as some of the advantages.

1 – A sense of God’s love for mankind. It would be difficult for me to conceive of any other idea that would promote a greater sense of God’s love than the parent/child relationship that one gets with spirit birth. Truman Madsen offers that all of us crave an infinite, certain, ultimate, rich, abiding, undergirding, trustworthy love. What greater sense of God’s love could there be than that of one who believes in Divine parenthood? [4]

2 – Promoting man’s love for God. A belief in spirit birth can help us cultivate a deep love for our Heavenly Father. With this idea, God is not some distant, different ‘other’. Instead, he is a loving Father who may exhibit all of the positive aspects associated with ideal fatherhood.

3 – Motivating man’s love for man. A doctrine of spirit birth suggests that all mankind are literal spirit brothers and sisters. This is true regardless of race, nationality, social status, etc. Again, it is difficult to conceive of an alternative view that would motivate such a kinship and love so directly and so well.

4 – Promoting moral and ethical behavior. Kant suggested that promoting moral behavior is what good theology is all about. [5] Most of us can strongly relate to the feeling of wanting to please our parents – or at least not disappoint them. These feelings can powerfully promote the desire of pleasing our Heavenly Father by keeping His commandments. The feeling will be intensified by a literal belief in being a child of God. ‘Be ye therefor perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect’. [6] This instruction seems more meaningful and possible when combined with literal spirit birth. Thus we can do what we ought to do.

5 – Exaltation and eternal families. There are beautiful beliefs that many Mormons have regarding the nature and meaning of exaltation and eternal families. The continuation of earthly family relationships, particularly the marriage relationship, throughout the eternities has more meaning and purpose when one considers the idea of spirit birth. Much of what members of the church believe and hope for in the Celestial Kingdom assumes the idea of spirit birth.

6 – A Mother in Heaven. The idea of spirit birth opens up an eternal role for a Mother in Heaven. The idea of a Mother in Heaven is not new to Mormonism as evidenced by the lyrics to the beloved hymn “O My Father”. [7]

7 – Spirit bodies in human form. There is some evidence to suggest that premortal spirit bodies are in human form. The vision of Christ that was experienced by the brother of Jared, [8] the experience of Nephi receiving the interpretive vision of the tree of life, [9] and the teaching of Joseph Smith that the Holy Ghost is a personage, [10] all provide evidence of this human form of spirit bodies. Spirit bodies being the offspring of glorified, resurrected beings – also of human form, provide some basis for the notion that spirit bodies are of human form.

8 – Spirit bodies being born rather than created. This gives Mormonism some possible advantages regarding the problem of evil, since God would not be totally responsible for the will of His spirit offspring.

9 – Mankind as children of God. This provides a differentiation between mankind and animals, where mankind are begotten spirit children of God and animals are not.

10 – A sense of identity. This idea provides a sense of who we are in relationship to God, and give us sense of what our origins and destiny are.

Arguments Against Spirit Birth

A literal belief in spirit birth does not solve every problem, nor answer every question. I will therefore attempt to provide some of the arguments against such a belief. I will also attempt a very brief explanation addressing some of these arguments.

1 – Joseph Smith taught that spirits are eternal, and that there is no ‘creation’ about them. [11] This teaching might appear to some to be a clear contradiction with a belief in spirit birth, which can be seen as a creative point in time where a spirit would have a beginning.

The standard explanation seems to be that of B. H. Roberts expressed in his essay ‘Immortality of Man’. [12] The explanation is that Joseph Smith used the terms like ‘spirit’, ‘mind’, ‘soul’, and ‘intelligence’ interchangeably, and that he did not do this because the terms are synonyms, but because there is a lack of precise definitions for these terms. There continues to be a lack of precise definitions for these terms which continues to be a problem. Many philosophical arguments happen because of a lack of agreement on definitions and terms, and this is no exception.

Spirit birth, however, is consistent with the idea that something about us, whether it is ‘mind’, ‘soul’, or ‘intelligence’ existed prior to spirit birth. Thus God could provide a spirit body for an eternal intelligence in a similar way that mortal parents provide a flesh and bone body for the spirit. This is not the only possibility, but it provides a possible agreement with theis teaching of uncreated intelligences, and the idea of spirit birth. It also avoids the theological problems of creatio ex nihilo, particularly the problem of evil, pushed one step back.

2 – Why would resurrected beings, with bodies of flesh and bones, give birth to spirit bodies?

This is a difficult question, which may cause us to question the very nature of the resurrection. The only explanation I provide here, is that if spirit bodies are the result of some reproductive process, then maybe that spirit bodies are doing the reproducing. Or perhaps something about the nature of the resurrection allows for this to happen.

3 – Is there not something irreverent about considering the idea of Heavenly Parents having sexual intercourse, or about a Heavenly Mother giving viviparous spirit birth to spirit body offspring?

This is an understandable objection. Many of us do not even like thinking about this regarding our earthly parents – even though we know this is the case. Yet, central to all of Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ was a literal, begotten son of God. If we can believe that God the Father, somehow transmitted his attributes to Christ, through a pregnancy and birth by Mary, can we not conceive of Him also transmitting his divine attributes through a spirit birth? If we accept God the Father, as the literal father of the mortal Christ, why cannot we accept a literal parent/child relationship between God and spirit children – regardless of what the details of this process may be?

4 – Giving spirit birth to countless spirit offspring would take a lot of time.

We are eternal beings, we have all the time we need. It would make no difference if giving spirit birth took 9 months, 9 seconds, or 9 years. The eternal amount of time available for having spirit children will always be greater than the amount of time taken to have spirit children.

5 – If we are eternal, why did it take so much time for us to progress to our current state?

This objection is common to any theology that includes an eternal past, and is not specific to spirit birth. I do not attempt to give an explanation here.

6 – The scriptures teach that we become the children of Christ through living his gospel. [13] If we can use the same language to describe this relationship between mankind and Christ, could we not assume the same type of relationship between mankind and God the Father?

Of course we could, and many do. And without the revealed details regarding spirit birth, some might prefer just such a metaphorical parent/child relationship. We do, however, lose many of the philosophical advantages of literal spirit birth with this idea.

7 – Does a belief in spirit birth reduce the eternal role of a Heavenly Mother to an eternity of pregnancy and spirit birth?

Again, an eternal future and past provides ample time for doing other things. It is unnecessary to assume that a Heavenly Mother would be forced into having spirit children against Her will. It may also be that the process of giving mortal birth is much worse (greatly multiplied in sorrow), than the process of giving spirit birth. It is also unnecessary to assume that this will be all that a Heavenly Mother would be doing with her eternal amount of time. Her role as a heavenly parent will certainly include much more than simply having offspring.

Conclusion

The idea of spirit birth has a rich tradition in Mormon history, and some scriptural evidence as well. And given statements in the ‘Proclamation on the Family’ and ‘True to the Faith’, seems to be the current teachings of the church. Some might dismiss the idea of literal spirit birth as something of an inferior idea, and an unnecessary cultural over-belief within Mormonism. For the reasons I have presented here, I believe that literal spirit birth is a powerful philosophical idea with many advantages, in addition to the scriptural and historical evidences for such a belief. While the details regarding the process of spirit birth are speculative, we should not simply dismiss this powerful idea without carefully considering what is lost within Mormonism as a result.

Footnotes

[1] Heb. 12:9

[2] John 20:17

[3] “True to the Faith”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2004, p.74

[4] Truman Madsen, “Eternal Man”, Deseret Book Company 1966, chapter 3

[5] Will Durant, “Story of Philosophy”, Pocket Books, September 2006, p.363

[6] Matt. 5:48

[7] “Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”, Corporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985, #292

[8] Ether 3:15-16

[9] 1 Nephi 11:11

[10] D&C 130:22

[11] King Follet Discourse, Joseph Fielding Smith, “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 342

[12] B. H. Roberts, “Immortality of Man”, Improvement Era, April 1907

[13] Mosiah 5:17

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27 Responses to “Literal Spirit Birth (2010 SMPT Paper)”


  1. 1 Matt W. July 26, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I can’t wait to read this. Setting my phasers on stun! (wicked grin)

  2. 3 Jack July 27, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Can we think of spirit birth as a “macro” birth of sorts? Kinda like how we view Christ’s relationship with the church? The church as one body — on a macro level — becomes the entity with whom he joins himself in marriage.

    Adam is “many.” Does that title have any bearing on our identity as pre-mortal beings?

  3. 4 Eric Nielson July 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Jack:

    We can think about spirit birth anyway we want. You seem to be thinking more about our relationship to Christ as ‘father’ which in my opinion is clearly a metaphorical adoption. This paper is more about our relationship to Heavenly Father which I consider to be one of literal spirit offspring.

    I tend to view it as a micro relationship rather than macro, but that may be just me.

  4. 5 Matt W. July 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Eric: Well written, well presented, and well done. I wish I had been there to boo and throw tomatoes! (only joking). Even If I personally prefer thinking of it in terms primarily as adoptive, you do well here. Good job!

  5. 6 Eric Nielson July 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Thanks Matt. Are you an SMPT member? If so you can listen to the question/answer session. I thought that went well also.

  6. 7 Jamie Turner August 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Eric!
    Interesting subject! I always thought we “became” spiritually begotten through the process of baptism – ie –

    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 5:7)
    7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

    perhaps I am reading too much into this, but 5:7 does use the word “become” rather than “we were” … the difference between “spiritual children” and
    spiritually begotten” children is baptismal covenants… seems like the difference between “intelligence” and “spiritual child” could also involve some sort of covenant – first estate type baptismal agreement?

    Why do they call Jesus the “only” begotten? If Jesus is the “only” one who was begotten, doesn’t that mean that the rest of us have some different type of relationship?

    What about Adam? How was Adam created?

    then there are all those scriptures about how we are “adopted” –

    Romans 8:15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

    (Bible Dictionary | A Adoption:Entry)
    Adoption. There are two types of adoption spoken of in the scriptures. A person who is of non-Israelite lineage becomes a member of the house of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ when it is accompanied by baptism in water and the reception of the Holy Ghost. In addition, all candidates for the fulness of salvation are accounted as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ, being his children by obedience to the gospel (Mosiah 5:7–8). Although the word adoption is not actually used by John the Baptist, he taught the concept as recorded in Matt. 3:9 and Luke 3:8 (compare JST). See also Rom. 8:15–17; Gal. 4:5–7; Eph. 1:5; Abr. 2:10.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Here are some speculations from your sister-in-law – scroll down to the polygamy question, and my ideas about what handmaids are all about… (it took them awhile, but Mormon.org finally published it – I was kind of testing them to see if they would publish it or not ;)

    http://mormon.org/me/1CJQ/Jamie

    In short, I think Abraham/Isaac are in similitude of Heavenly Father / Jesus – which means Sarah would be in similitude of our Heavenly Mother… at the last minute Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac, and at the last minute Sarah (who was barren) did not have to rely on a handmaid… but for our heavenly Parents, the atonement was real, and Jesus was born to the virgin handmaid Mary… My speculations are that we are all born to handmaids here on Earth, but become children of God through Baptism – Eve in her perfect form did not beget children … That God only has one begotten child, and this child was born to a handmaid, seems to indicate the possibility that our perfect Heavenly Mother does not beget children either…(through choice I think, not through physical imperfection) … that the ability to bear children was a result of the fall – at least we only know of the “painful” cursed way of doing it here… if you look at all the barren women in the scriptures (there are quite a lot of them, has to symbolize something right?) then think of baptism – and think about why infant baptism is looked down upon – the point of God wanting children who are old enough / experienced enough to make an informed choice… perhaps why only fallen beings can bring children into the world? to do so is sort of a transgression – goes against the agency of the child – we say we chose to come here, but how can you make an informed choice on something you have never really experienced? the first birth seems to go against agency – at least partially – impossible to make an educated choice on something you do not fully understand… hence handmaids being needed to “raise up seed”?

    Gal 4 talks about Abraham / Sarah etc. etc.
    Galatians 4:27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

    just can’t help but think this is symbolic… but that might just be me (a female) trying to rationalize/justify the need for polygamy (something I find hard to swallow)

    sorry for the long rant! feel free to delete my comment – I enjoyed reading your article – very complete, except I would talk about “adoption” /baptismal birth in there too! I see do see baptism as being a “literal” birth – a physical ordinance – that forms “real” connections.

    I just googled SMPT – cool little group! You should tell all those scholars to post a bio with: http://mormonscholarstestify.org/

    hope you don’t mind me peeking in at your blog every once in awhile!

  7. 8 Jamie Turner August 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    sorry – one more comment, and then I will be done – I promise!!! metaphorically children or literally children…

    here’s a question… when you get married, do you consider this relationship to be a purely “metaphorical” relationship or do you see it as a “literal” bond? … I see it as a literal bond – a bond that is created and maintained through covenants – covenants which are not metaphorical, but involve physical/spiritual/emotional actions etc. etc.

    are the baptismal covenants any less literal? would you say that the bonds created through baptism are only “metaphorical” because they do not involve someone actually becoming pregnant?

    as a female, I have been pregnant – in doing so I have not created eternal children for myself – my current children will one day not be my children anymore, but will instead be my sisters and brother – and this relationship will only hold if I keep the covenants which are required to be sealed with my family… any way I look at it, it seems to come down to the covenants…

    just as marriage bonds created through making and keeping covenants are not “metaphorical” … I don’t think the parent/child bonds formed through baptism are “metaphorical” either…

    I think we can be “literally” married, and be “literal children” through making and keeping covenants – that we don’t need to rely on the fallen/cursed way of creating children perhaps :).

    (Pearl of Great Price | Moses 4:22 – 23)
    22 Unto the woman, I, the Lord God, said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
    23 And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.

    (Old Testament | Genesis 3:16)
    16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
    (Old Testament:Genesis 3:16)

    16 a TG Marriage, Motherhood
    ** b HEB increase thy discomfort and thy size (i.e., in the condition and process of pregnancy) **
    c TG Suffering
    d 2 Ne. 2:23; Moses 4:22; TG Children
    e TG Marriage, Husbands; TG Marriage, Wives

    the curse is going to be lifted… right?

    sorry again for the long rant! male vs. female … you guys think about finally being free of sweat on your brow, and us women think about … possible different arrangements too I suppose :)

  8. 9 Eric Nielson August 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Thanks for your comments Jaime. Feel free to stop by any time. I have a few hundred posts here, so knock yourself out.

    In your long-winded comments :), it seems that you are making two primary points, one of adoption, and one of relationships.

    I think it is important that the only thing I am addressing here is the nature of the spirit body of man, and what its origin may be. Thus we can make all the covenants we want, and thus make progess and become the ‘children’ of Christ as you point out. But this does not speak to the origin of our spirit bodies. So we may speak of adoption to Christ as another topic, but that is different from speaking of the nature and origin of spirit bodies.

    Same with relationships, sure these relationships are real and literal, but they do not answer the question of where spirit bodies come from. So in this context, literal would refer to something like actual offspring, independent of the quality of the relationship. One may have literal, actual offspring yet not have a positive relationship with them. Or, one may not be a biological parent, yet have a beautiful relationship with them. They are two separate things.

  9. 10 Jamie Turner August 3, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the reply Eric! (and sorry for the long rant LOL) From your “Philosophical Advantages” section it just seemed a little like you felt the strong connection with God stemmed from a “literal physical” connection, that somehow if the connection was not initiated through birth it was somehow less meaningful … thinking about it, our second birth does solidify our relationship with God, that this is a physical ordinance and not just “saying the words” – the physical nature of the baptismal ordinance does somehow add more meaning to it, I’m not sure quite why that is, but it is true.

    I enjoy reading, and will read through your stuff, you have a good mind. Thanks for sharing!

  10. 11 Jamie Turner August 3, 2011 at 9:03 am

    PS… you could also add the point about how we are in the image of God :)

  11. 12 Gene Parrish December 23, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Eric:

    I just finished watching the BYU production of “Silent Night.” I enjoyed it. There were a few liberties taken but only one that seemed signficant and it is doctrinal deviation rather than historical in nature. There was a reference in the film to “a return to our Father in Heaven.” When I left the LDS faith and converted to biblical Christianity I had to “relearn” my bible scriptures as I had misconceptions of what the bible taught. It is a jounrney that I am still on.

    I found the doctrine of the pre-existance of spirits not to be a Christian teaching but one of Greek and Islamic origin introduced into the LDS faith by it’s founder Joseph Smith.

    After watching the film I wanted to revisit the teaching of the pre-existance to see if I could find biblical support for the pre-existance of our spirits and that is when I came across your blog. In reading your blog I found you had a few misconceptions of what Christians believe.

    As you point out in your blog there are a lot of warm and fuzzy thoughts (Philosophical Advantages) that accompany such a belief. However such a belief is so contrary to the biblical teachings I find one needs to be careful.

    In your attempt to find support for this teaching you state: “Yet, central to all of Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ was a literal, begotten son of God. If we can believe that God the Father, somehow transmitted his attributes to Christ, through a pregnancy and birth by Mary, can we not conceive of Him also transmitting his divine attributes through a spirit birth? If we accept God the Father, as the literal father of the mortal Christ, why cannot we accept a literal parent/child relationship between God and spirit children – regardless of what the details of this process may be?”

    “The belief that Jesus Christ was a literal, begotten son of God” is not central to the Christian faith. The assumptions that follow are also false, but let us stay focused on the term “only begotten.” You seem to believe this refers to the earthly birth of Christ, which it does not.

    Central to all Christianity is the Nicene Creed. Church leaders gathered to put forth a statement as to wherther or not Christ was “created” or “co-eternal.” The apostles taught Christ was eternal and this is core to our belief.

    “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”

    By proceeding from [God] he became his first-begotten Son, because he was begotten before all things. He also became his only-begotten because he alone was begotten of God, in a way unique to himself, from the womb of his own heart. 

This sort of teaching about the Trinity is common throughout the writings of the Pre-Nicene Church. It is what is affirmed by the Nicene Creed when it says, “begotten, not made.”



    As you can see, the Son was begotten before the Creation itself and is not a “created” God or one that became God through an eternal progression.

  12. 13 Eric Nielson December 24, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Mormons would believe that we are all begotten before the creation. Which is the real point. So for us only begotten would only refer to the mortal birth of Jesus.

    Heb, 12:9, Romans 8:16, Acts 17:29 are some key biblical verses we would use to support this belief. It may be of interest that there is more evidence for this teaching in Mormonism in the New Testament than in either the Book of Mormon or the D&C.

    • 14 Gene Parrish December 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

      And you are correct – as adopted into the family of God – he treats us as a son even though we are not naturally so endowed. Think it through – you may have the makings of a Christian.

  13. 15 Eric Nielson December 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    This is one of many places where we will likely disagree. Mormons like me believe that we are so endowed. If you thought it through, you might still be a part of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    • 16 Gene Parrish December 25, 2012 at 1:29 am

      Yes, it is just one of the many places where Mormons have a different belief than that taught in the Christian faith. If you can see that there is a difference and it is not central to the Christian faith that Jesus Christ was a literal, begotten son of God then the dialogue with you has been worthwhile.

  14. 17 Eric Nielson December 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    There are certainly clear differences between Mormonism and ‘mainstream’ Christianity. That is central to Mormonisms claims of an apostasy and the need for a restoration in the first place. I am skeptical of your claim that Christ being a literal, begotten Son of God is not central to Christianity. Who is He if not the Son of God? Is he Joseph’s son? Who was responsible for Jesus’ conception and birth? (on today of all days!)

    • 18 Gene Parrish December 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      Merry Christmas!

      Today is the day we celebrate the virgin birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

      I happen to know that the LDS faithful sing of and celebrate the virgin birth and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. You (meaning the LDS evangelist) want the world to see you celebrating the Virgin Birth – but in this discussion you are for some reason trying to prove it was not a virgin birth. Does that not seem strange? Be that as it is, I will continue to reason by scripture that Mary was a virgin at the time of the birth of our Savior.

      Central to our Christian belief is that Jesus is the Son of God. Isaiah prophecies he will be born of a virgin. These beliefs are based on scripture. Nowhere in the scriptures will you find a reference God the Father being the “literal, begotten Son of God.” In fact you find conclusive revelation to the contrary.

      From Scripture I find the answer to your questions. He is the Son of God. No he is not Joseph’s son. Luke tells us the angel Gabriel tells Mary “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

      In Matthew 1:20 we read,”But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a adream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”

      The miracle of the virgin birth is that there is no “seed.” Mary is with birth without the need of a “literal” or physical relationship.

      Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

      As to being the “only begotten of the Father” we find that Christ has a unique relationship with the Father as God. This cannot refer to a creation or spiritual birth as Christ always has been, he is eternal. He was not created, nor is there a Mother in Heaven from which he was born. He clearly states he is the Alpha and the Omega.

      John 1:1-3 ” In the bbeginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was eGod.

      2 The same was in the abeginning with God.

      3 All things were amade by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

      Here is some helpful insight to “only begotten.”

      http://www.gotquestions.org/only-begotten-son.html

      The phrase “only begotten Son” occurs in John 3:16, which reads in the King James Version as, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The phrase “only begotten” translates the Greek word monogenes. This word is variously translated into English as “only,” “one and only,” and “only begotten.”

      It’s this last phrase (“only begotten” used in the KJV, NASB and the NKJV) that causes problems. False teachers have latched onto this phrase to try to prove their false teaching that Jesus Christ isn’t God; i.e., that Jesus isn’t equal in essence to God as the Second Person of the Trinity. They see the word “begotten” and say that Jesus is a created being because only someone who had a beginning in time can be “begotten.” What this fails to note is that “begotten” is an English translation of a Greek word. As such, we have to look at the original meaning of the Greek word, not transfer English meanings into the text.

      So what does monogenes mean? According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD, 3rd Edition), monogenes has two primary definitions. The first definition is “pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship.” This is the meaning attached to its use in Hebrews 11:17 when the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son.” Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of the covenant.

      The second definition is “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” This is the meaning that is implied in John 3:16. In fact, John is the only New Testament writer who uses this word in reference to Jesus (see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus was the Son of God (John 20:31), and he uses this word to highlight Jesus as uniquely God’s Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to believers who are God’s sons and daughters through faith.

      These are our Christian beliefs. They are different from the beliefs of our Islamic friends and that of the Jehovah Witness faith and that of our Mormon neighbors.

      You for some reason want to take refuge in our Christian name but at the same time do not share our beliefs. You call our beliefs an abomination but want to take on our name all the same. I find this strange and curious.

      Why not take pride in your beliefs and defend them as unique to your faith? Why celebrate the Virgin Birth and then teach the opposite?

  15. 19 Eric Nielson December 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    It is very uncommon for Mormons to speak of a virgin birth. Give a search for it at lds.org or mormon.org and you will find very little on it. It is much more common for us to speak of Jesus as being the Son of God. What made Jesus special was not so much Mary, but His Father. And of course we will interpret all scripture as such. If you are interested in following common scriptural references we would use there is a long list here. Sure, the ‘how’ of the conception is a mystery, but for us the father of Jesus was Heavenly Father. References to Jesus referring to God as His father are of course very numerous – we simply take this literally. Although the how is a mystery. So no, it does not seem strange that we do not try to prove a mysterious virgin birth. We teach Jesus as the Son of God. Not strange in the least.

    You do not have a monopoly on the Christian name. We believe Christ is the Son of God, we believe He is divine, we believe He is the Savior – and the only Savior, we believe the Bible to be the word of God. Yet for some reason people like you want to claim that we are not Christians at all because we do not buy into your interpretations of things like the ‘Trinity’ – they are three but they are one but the three are inn the one and the one are three – or a ‘virgin birth’ – she was a virgin but He was the Son of God, but he was not the Son because she was a virgin – and seem to bask in the majestic meaninglessness of it all. It is great because it is impossible to understand!

    We do take pride in our beliefs, and we are well aware of their uniqueness. The word Christian certainly does not refer to only one denomination, or only to your set of beliefs. Again, we celebrate Christ as the Son of God, not your interpretations as to how that was accomplished.

    • 20 Gene Parrish December 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      As you have stated Mormons have a unique set of beliefs. What distinguishes the Mormon faith is its deviation from traditional Christian beliefs. I am not saying you (Mormons) do not believe in Christ or that you (Mormons) do not believe he is the Son of God. What I am saying is that LDS beliefs in God and his Son differ greatly from that found in traditional or biblical Christianity. But we have digressed from the purpose of my original communication. You have stated that “central to all of Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ was a literal, begotten son of God.”

      I am simply trying to say that your claim this unique doctrine is central to all of Christianity is not correct.

      Can you provide the name of a Christian denomination that teaches God the Father had a physical relationship with Mary?

      Second question. Do you believe in the virgin birth of the Savior?

  16. 21 Eric Nielson December 25, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    You are making a big assumption in the method of conception. I am not sure there is any religion that officially believes what you are implying.

    As far as the second question, it depends on the definition of virgin birth. I do not believe that any mortal man was the father of Jesus.

    • 22 Gene Parrish December 26, 2012 at 12:47 am

      Actually it is not an assumption. Mormons are the only ones that believe Jesus Christ is a literal, begotten Son of God.

      Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie, in perhaps the most explicit denial of the virgin birth, wrote,

      “Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 547)

      “One of the unique doctrines professed by Latter-day Saints includes the view that God is a literal father. The official declaration on the matter produced by the First Presidency states:

      God the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title “Elohim,” is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of the spirits of the human race. Elohim is the Father in every sense in which Jesus Christ is so designated, and distinctively He is the Father of spirits. … Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior.”

      This is a uniquely Mormon position. It was my understanding as a member of the LDS faith and what was taught when I served my mission. I don’t believe the LDS Church has changed its position.

      My intention is not to attack your LDS beliefs – you are very free to believe as you would like – I am simply clarifying what Christians believe. Your belief that Christ is a literal son of God in the same sense that men are literally sons of other men and that “only begotten” refers to the birth of Christ on earth is not central to all Christianity and is a uniquely Mormon believe. As you can now see the virgin birth and the “only begotten Son” have different meanings in Christianity than it has in Mormonism.

      What is even more on point is that since Christ never had a spirit birth (he is eternal as God) he shares in the image and attributes of God the Father as co-eternal and “substance of substance.”

      Your understanding of the Trinity seems a bit naive. Three in one and one in three is not a very good explanation of the trinity or of the Godhead. Joseph Smith was clearly a believer in the Trinity at the time he wrote the Book of Mormon and is very plain in his teaching the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One God.

      Mosiah 15:1-4 1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that aGod himself shall bcome down among the children of men, and shall credeem his people.

      2 And because he adwelleth in bflesh he shall be called the cSon of God, and having subjected the flesh to the dwill of the eFather, being the Father and the Son—

      3 The Father, abecause he was bconceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—

      4 And they are aone God, yea, the very bEternal cFather of heaven and of earth.

      Doctrine and Covenants 20:28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

      Alma 11:44 Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

      Testimony of the Three Witnesses: And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

      This is much easier to comprehend than the “as man is God once was, and as God is Man may become.” If our earthly estate is required to become a God when did Christ become a God and how was he able to skip this step step?

      Do you believe he was God when he created the earth as it says in John 1:1-3 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was eGod.

      2 The same was in the beginning with God.

      3 All things were amade by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

      (By the way, all of the scripture references are taken from lds.org)

      Perhaps you now have a better understanding of what traditional Christians believe and can pass it along to your readers..

  17. 23 Eric Nielson December 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

    There are church leaders who have speculated on the how of Christ’s conception, this does not make it an official doctrine.

    I am still skeptical of your claims. Did Christ have a father at all? Did Christ’s mortal body inherit anything whatsoever from God?

    As far as Godhead goes, central to Mormonism is the first vision, where Joseph clearly reports two beings. Also that God the Father and the Son both have bodies of flesh and bone. So any reference to oneness scriptural or otherwise is referring to their unitedness not some metaphysically mysterious morphing substance.

    The variations of what passes for mainstream Christianity are so vast that it is impossible to keep up with. References to God as Father and to Jesus as Son are so numerous that I do not apologize for saying it is central to Christianity. If you want to force your spin on that it is fine with me.

    My paper was reviewed by many professors of Philosophy (particularly the Philosophy of Religion). It was also presented at their (SMPT) annual meetings in 2010. No one batted an eye at this section or topic. It is baffling that someone could claim that Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and have someone claim to be a Christian say ‘no we do not’. For this reason I simply do not take you very seriously.

  18. 24 Eric Nielson December 26, 2012 at 10:12 am

    So this morning I pulled out a comparative Christian Religions chart, and I believe that most Methodists and Presbyterians would have not problems with my statement. Catholics and Baptists likely would. I cannot keep up with everyone and make everybody happy. I suppose I should have been less specific in my description. But it can get to the point where we can no longer write anything if we worry about fitting everyone’s specific beliefs in.

    If some of my fellow Christians want to say that Christ is not the Son of God then fine. This is why I grow tired of discussing any of this with people like you.

  19. 25 Roger Terry March 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    A couple of comments:

    First, you got the wording in the family proclamation wrong. It says nothing about “begotten.” The exact wording is: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” This statement carefully avoids references to the physical procreation process. Which leaves the door open to other methods of becoming sons and daughters, such as adoption, which makes good sense if we accept Joseph’s statement that we are as eternal as God is.

    Second, the sheer arithmetic of the spirit birth theory leaves me grasping at straws. The best estimate I can come up with of earth’s total population to date (ignoring any possible pre-Adamite humans) is around 68 billion. Considering our belief that earth is only one of God’s innumerable worlds, the resulting number of spiritually conceived and birthed children suggests either polygamy on a galactic scale or some physical process that is radically different from what we understand as birth. Which means we may not really understand what “spirit birth” even is.

    I get the idea from listening to some Mormons talk about the premortal existence that they think we were all raised in a nice little heavenly home by eternal Parents, sort of like our family situations here on earth. All 68 billion of us? And that, of course, is just for this world. Surely God is preparing spirits for other worlds too.

    Third, why does being literally begotten children mean we would be loved more than if we became God’s children in some other way? It could be argued, for instance, that parents who adopt a needy child exhibit far greater love than parents who bring a child into the world through their sexual relations. What if God simply came to us and said, “Because I love you and want you to progress, I will volunteer to become your Father”? If we do believe that we have always existed, what this suggests is that at some point, as Joseph Smith put it, God “came down” among us and became our Father. In several places, including D&C 93, we read of “the beginning.” But if we are eternal, we had no beginning. What, then, is this “beginning”? Perhaps the beginning of our relationship with God?

  20. 26 Eric Nielson March 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    First, nice catch on the proclamation wording. the begotten statement comes from the official doctrinal reference ‘True to the Faith’. The statement in the proclamation is quite bold, explicitly using the phrase heavenly parents. It also speaks of purposeful eternal gender. Adoption does not make for literal offspring or parents, not does it speak to purposeful gender. We can be eternal in the sense of the ‘intelligence’ and still be in keeping with everything Joseph taught.

    When it comes to the math, there is no logical problem whatsoever. An eternal past for God means there will always be more time available than time taken for some type of spirit birth process. You are grasping at straws. Your take on Mormon pre-existence is just about right in my book. Same sociality as modern day revelation puts it.

    I have difficulty figuring why anyone would prefer to be adopted by God, than to be his literal offspring. It is like being a prince and an heir to the thrown of a perfect King, and secretly wishing we were adopted instead.

    I suppose you could be right in your theories here, and you are not alone in them. But I find them at odds to the teachings of the church, and inferior to boot.

    But in a way you make me feel good. All of you concerns were explicity addressed in my paper, and again in this response. I did flub up the reference, but the exact reference is in True to the Faith. And I feel solid about you other comments. Thanks for stopping by.


  1. 1 New Gospel Topic at LDS.org – Becoming Like God | Small and Simple Trackback on February 26, 2014 at 8:32 am

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