Alma 13 and the “Premortal Existence”

According to the LDS Plan of Salvation, Jesus and Satan presented competing plans to Heavenly Father during the Divine Council. You and I were in attendance, as were all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children. Jesus volunteered to be our redeemer and we all accepted, presumably by raising the right arm to the square. Satan was not pleased. He wanted the glory, whereas Jesus gave all the glory to God. Because of His rebellious, Satan was cast out of heaven along with 1/3 of God’s spirit children. You and I, on the other hand, we chose Team Jesus. We’re the good guys, the special ones—Saturday’s Warriors—reserved for the “last days.” The fact we were born when we were is evidence of that.

Joseph Fielding Smith sums up our premortal existence,

“In the pre-existence we dwelt in the presence of God our Father. When the time arrived for us to be advanced in the scale of our existence and pass through this mundane probation, councils were held and the spirit children were instructed in matters pertaining to conditions in mortal life, and the reason for such an existence. In the former life we were spirits. In order that we should advance and eventually gain the goal of perfection, it was made known that we would receive tabernacles of flesh and bones and have to pass through mortality where we would be tried and proved to see if we, by trial, would prepare ourselves for exaltation. We were made to realize, in the presence of our glorious Father, who had a tangible body of flesh and bones which shone like the sun, that we were, as spirits, far inferior in our station to him.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:57).

This was the plan, but what was it like? An article titled “What We Know About Premortal life” by Norman Gardiner adds,

In premortal life, we obtained gospel knowledge, testimony, and faith in the Savior and His Atonement. These things became an important protection and strength in the war in heaven. Those who followed God overcame Satan and his angels ‘by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony’ (Revelation 12:11). When we learn the gospel and gain a testimony here on earth, we are essentially relearning what we once knew and felt in our premortal life.”

If President Smith and Brother Gardiner are correct, I have a question: If I already obtained gospel knowledge, a testimony and faith in the Savior, why do I have to do it again? President Smith writes that it was mortality was to be a trial on the path to exaltation (a word or concept not found in the Book of Mormon, by the way). But I don’t understand the purpose of being mind-wiped if already chose Jesus and developed faith in Him and the Atonement.  Why couldn’t I just get a body without the mind wipe? What is the purpose of relearning what I already knew? I already choose the winning team, right?

Some of us were exceptionally righteous and magnificent, the “great and noble ones” mentioned in Abraham 3. As Dallin H. Oaks explained,

All of the myriads of mortals who have been born on this earth chose the Father’s plan and fought for it. Many of us also made covenants with the Father concerning what we would do in mortality. In ways that have not been revealed, our actions in the spirit world influence us in mortality. (Ensign, Nov. 1993, 72)

This leads me to another question: if all of mortals who have been born on this earth fought for Jesus’ plan, then there is necessarily a finite number of spirits. About 380,000 children are born each day. That’s over a million people every three days. What happens when the last spirit comes to earth? Do we all become automatically sterile/infertile? Does procreation immediately cease? How does this work?

As a thought exercise, let’s crunch some numbers. Experts estimate 100 billion people have lived on earth since humankind began. If this is accurate, based on current 2022 population numbers there were, at a minimum, 150 billion spirit beings or “intelligences” in attendance at the Divine Council meeting. 150 billion. If 1/3 of the spirits rejected Jesus and remain incorporeal, right now there are, at a minimum, 50 billion of Satan’s followers. There are currently eight billion people on planet earth, which means you are outnumbered by evil spirits by a little more than 6-1.

It gets worse, however. By 2050, Earth’s population will be just shy of 10 billion. For every two of us, there’s one of them, so two billion more of us means another 666,666,666 added to Satan’s legions. (I didn’t make that number up.) Chew on that one for a while.

At any rate, one of the Church’s most important prooftexts for our premortal existence is Alma 13:3-5. If you search “premortal life” on LDS.org, you will routinely find passages that cite Alma 13:3-5. But is that really what Alma 13 tells us? Before we consult official and unofficial statements, empty your mind of any preconceived notions and let’s look at the text of Alma 13:3-6 (I’m adding an extra verse for context) and see what Alma says,

“And this is the manner after which [high priests] were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge [omniscience] of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place [from the outset/foundation of the world] being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith [we can’t develop faith in the presence of God], are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. And thus, they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren. Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest…”

What was prepared from the foundation of the earth? Specific individuals or the calling and office of High Priest? Twice Alma tells us the holy calling was prepared from the foundation of the world.  Do you find the words “before the foundation of the world” or “premortal existence” in this passage? Do you see where Alma tells us specific high priests were preordained or foreordained in premortality to receive the Melchizedek priesthood in mortality? I don’t.

Alma 13, unfortunately, is probably the most misunderstood chapter in the Book of Mormon.  This is unfortunate because it’s also one of the most important.  How did we get here? To be fair, it Alam 13 is confusing. But it’s not necessarily all our fault. Alma is extremely long-winded. He takes forever to get to the point. But that’s only half the problem. If you’re one of the two regular readers of this blog, you know that I’m keenly interested how cultural beliefs and attitudes influence how we interpret scripture. Cultural interpretations, however, aren’t always correct.  In a short lecture titled “The Bible Doesn’t Say What You Think,” Joel Bader makes the excellent case that the Bible (or scripture in general) usually ends up being a reflection of our beliefs and our beliefs are informed by culture and tradition, or even other scripture. What we have is a very real crisis of inattention. We don’t really pay attention to what we read. As Bart Ehrman said of the Gospels, “You’ve got to read these things carefully. You can’t just breeze over them. You have to read them word for word and think about what you’re reading.” In the case of Alma 13, we are reading Abraham 3’s description of the Divine Council into it and making the assumption that LDS High Priests were pre— or foreordained in the premortal world. To the LDS mind this makes perfect sense because the Melchizedek Priesthood—Christ’s authority delegated to man—is the power in which all authority, administration and ordinances are vested.  Abraham 3 and Alma 13, however, are disconnected because Alma 13 doesn’t speak of a premortal world.

Having established that Alma never refers to a “premortal existence,” let’s look at how the Church and various writers have interpreted Alma 13. Since most of these are found in official LDS manuals and publications, it is official doctrine.

LDS INTERPRETATION

In the official LDS Book of Mormon Study Guide, we find the following for Alma 13-16,

“You used your agency in the pre-earth life to make righteous choices and to prepare for mortality (see Alma 13:3–5). As a result of your premortal righteousness, further blessings and opportunities have been prepared for you in mortality—upon condition of your continued faithfulness.”

If this is true, only a few million (a significant portion of whom are necessarily LDS) of the 100 billion people who have ever lived were righteous in premortality.  The commentary for Alma 13:4 in the same study guide,

How were those in the premortal world able to “reject the Spirit of God”? (Alma 13:4). President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) confirmed the eternal principle of agency as he answered this question:

“God gave his children their free agency even in the [premortal] spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord.”

The 2017 Seminary Student manual,

Speaking about priesthood holders and their premortal foreordination, Alma taught that “in the first place [they were] left to choose good or evil” (Alma 13:3).

The Book of Mormon Study Guide for Home-School Students entry for chapter about Alma 13,

“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination…Foreordination does not guarantee that individuals will receive certain callings or responsibilities. Such opportunities come in this life as a result of the righteous exercise of agency, just as foreordination came as a result of righteousness in the premortal existence” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 69).

“Alma 13 contains a profound discussion about the Melchizedek Priesthood. It teaches that men who receive this priesthood were foreordained to receive it (see verse 3).”

Gayle Brown writes in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism‘s entry for “Premortal Life,”

“In other scriptures, such as Alma 13:3, it is written that priests were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works.”

LeGrand Baker and Steven Ricks write,

“In Alma’s discussion, the phrase “in the first place” is used twice. Alma’s care with words posits what the phrase means: “in the first place.” Thus, the phrase introduces us to a description of the integrity of the members of the Council in Heaven in their very beginning, as intelligences, and tells why and how they qualified to be among the ear liest spirit children born to our Heavenly Parents.”

Are they saying that we were amorphous or formless “intelligences” who were then “born” as “spirit children?” I think that’s what they are saying.  What’s the difference between an intelligence and a spirit?

Tad Callister said,

“…the Book of Mormon refers to a premortal existence in Alma 13 (see Alma 13:1–11) and to a postmortal spirit world in Alma 40 (see Alma 40:11–14)

Andrew Skinner wrote,

“The prophet Alma may have alluded to the operation of the Atonement in premortality when he taught the doctrine of the premortal foreordination of all those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood in mortality.”

I’m sure there are many more examples, but you get the idea. Joseph Smith also believed in foreordination. According to LDS sources he said,

“Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.” (May 14, 1844)

DENVER SNUFFER’S EXEGESIS OF ALMA 13

Denver Snuffer takes Alma 13 to even more illogical extremes. According to him, high priests were not called in a premortal existence, but in another cycle of creation, or a different mortal probation. As one prominent member of the Restoration Movement once tried to explain to me, prophets like Nephi and Mormon couldn’t have developed faith in the presence of God, and I would agree. For this person, as with Brother Snuffer, the only way Nephi and Mormon could have developed faith prior to mortality, was in another cycle of creation. I don’t know what else to call this other than Multiple Mortal Probations (MMP), something the Book of Mormon very plainly and clearly teaches against.  But this interpretation is necessary if we read premortality into Alma 13.

As we read through a portion of Snuffer’s 2014 lecture, Christ: The Prototype of the Saved Man, watch very carefully how he inserts his own belief of eternal progression and cyclical creation into Alma 13, specifically adding “before” when that word is not found, nor is the concept ever alluded to,

“These are those few who became qualified ‘before the foundation of the world.’ They qualified because of what they did before coming into this life. But they certainly did not and could not have qualified unless they had been ‘proven’ by what they experienced and how they responded. They are sent to teach in a manner that will make others look forward to Christ coming. Whether before His birth in Bethlehem or before His final triumphant return, they teach in a manner that will cause others to look forward to God’s Son for redemption.

They were called before the foundation of this world, just like His Son was called before the foundation of the world, to point to ‘his Son’ who likewise came into the world. This qualification process was before the world where we presently live. This has been done so you can understand and have faith in the Son. ‘Being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,” (When he actually quotes Alma 13, he doesn’t add ‘before.’) Why does God have foreknowledge of these things? Why does God know that, if He gives His trust to such persons, they will be true to it? Why does God know these are the very people who will not break His trust in them? Why does God have such foreknowledge? His foreknowledge is not based upon conjecture but proof. It is not based upon merely hope, it is based upon God’s knowledge of them. He will never ask softly to do what He knows will require iron to endure. Therefore, He chooses a suitable instrument based upon His foreknowledge that has been “prepared from the foundation of the world.”

“And what does God foreknow about them? He knows this: ‘On account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place.’ That is, He knows they exercised exceeding faith and based on that performed good works before the foundation of this world. This was in the first place. This was long ago on some other rung of the ladder of progression. It was long ago, a great while in the past, when they were previously ‘proven.’

“…But now we find ourselves here, in this cycle of creation, and once again the game’s afoot…You have the opportunity at this moment, in this dark place where we presently reside, to be identified by your good works, to become proven to God. Then, for the next cycle of creation, His foreknowledge of you will include the record of your exceeding faith and good works from here. Do not think this is a peculiar doctrine. This is part of the Gospel and set out in the scriptures. Creation is cyclical.”

It is a peculiar doctrine, and this doctrine categorically is not set out in the scriptures. It violates the very basic Book of Mormon teaching that this life is the time prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32); upon death “all men” (including women, of course) enter a state of rest or darkness (Alma 40:11-12); where they wait for the day of their resurrection (Alma 40:14), which resurrection is the reunion of body and spirit, never to be divided again (Alma 11:45). We are not involved in cycles of creation or multiple mortal probations. This is an ant-Christ, anti-Atonement, anti-Book of Mormon teachings. Snuffer later says in the same talk,

And the Lord has explained to me, using the scriptures, the things I now declare to you. I’m not here on my own errand…And I know what I’m talking about. I don’t care about your theories to the contrary, because He who is “more intelligent than them all” has declared to me the truth of these things.”

His words, not mine. He claims He has spent more time with Jesus Christ than Joseph Smith did.  And lest anyone think he’s equivocated from this doctrine, he reiterated it in a later podcast, again inserting “before” into Alma 13,

“And I want to move to Alma 13. Because in Alma 13 we run up against some of the other suggestions in the scriptures about what it takes to move from grace to grace. Beginning in chapter 13 of Alma, verse one: “I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his Holy Order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people. And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption. And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world…” (vs. 1-3).

Did you get that? We’re talking about priests. His Son, His Son His Son. So, you can understand who His Son is, there are going to be some people who qualified—before the foundation of the world—that will be qualified to come and teach about some things. And they’re going to be called before the foundation of the world, like His Son was called before the foundation of the world, to be pointing to His Son who will come into the world, And this qualification occurs before the world is. But it is done so you can understand and have faith in His Son.”

I’ll say it again, Alma 13 does not say “before the foundation of the world,” nor is it implied. If you are associated with the Remnant Movement, you might want to think about where Denver Snuffer is getting his information from and where he is taking you. He declares Jesus taught him this doctrine, but I can assure you without any hesitation he didn’t. This doctrine simply is not found in Alma 13. This is one of many demonstrably false doctrines Snuffer teaches.

SIMPLIFYING THE TEXT

What does Alma 13 actually teach? Let’s simplify it a bit because it’s actually pretty clear and easy to understand when we let Alma speak for himself and not try to read Abraham 3 into it.  Try this on and see if you like it:

God, being omniscient (foreknowledge), knew He would need human intermediaries to relay His commandments to mankind. Therefore, He established the office of High Priest (v. 5) from the foundation of the world, not before. Contrary to the LDS view that certain individuals were foreordained based on their righteousness in a premortal realm, Alma tells us the exact opposite: that all men (and presumably women) came into mortality on equal spiritual footing and have the same spiritual opportunity. Those who exercised faith (which cannot be done in the presence of God), repented, and performed mighty works in mortality were washed clean by the blood of Christ (sanctification) and entered into the Lord’s rest (not physically, but spiritually). I believe this is the “preparatory redemption,” or “preparatory to redemption.” (The final redemption being restored to God after the resurrection. I’m not 100% sure, though. “Preparatory redemption” is such a troublesome phrase.) They were then ordained (appointed) by God to relay His commandments to mankind so they, too, might enter into God’s rest. Those who willfully rejected God’s commandments could’ve enjoyed the same privileges, but their hard hearts prevented it. Melchizedek was one of these men who repented in mortality,

“Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore, he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father. (v. 17-18)

Alma was certainly one of those priests (Alma 4:20, 6:8).  We know Alma repented of his iniquity and established the first church after the Nephite transgression.  We read that Nephi was also one of these priests. Nephi ordained Jacob to the same Holy Order. (2 Nephi 6:2) Alma the Younger, his sons and the sons were also called to this Order (Alma 43:1-2).  Surely there were others. This is very different from the patrilineal priesthood of Joseph Smith that we find in D&C 84.  As Moroni explained,

“Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.” (Ether 12:10)

The irony, of course, is that Alma ends his explanation of the Holy Order of God with the following warning,

“Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.” (Alma 13:20)

His words, not mine.  We’d be wise to take him seriously.

2 thoughts on “Alma 13 and the “Premortal Existence”

Add yours

  1. Excellent treatise on the pre-existance. So many lapses in logic.

    An example. You’ve studied, practiced and advanced through mathematics and are now prepared to take the final in advanced calculus. The professor tells you and the rest of the students just before the test begins that your minds will now be wiped of all of the mathematics learned to this point. The students with their mathematical education freshly wiped from their minds begin the test. Clearly a pointless exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point and analogy. The more I thought about it the less sense it made. I think you’ll appreciate the War in Heaven post when I get to it. We’ve gotten it completely and totally wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

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