The Folly of Multiple Mortal Probations

For the uninitiated, Multiple Mortal Probation (MMP) is similar to the concept of reincarnation. It suggests that we find ourselves in endless cycles of creation, living and dying over and over, learning and progressing, ascending the ladder step-by-step until we eventually “get it right.”  By “get it right,” I presume we become “sanctified” and qualify to become true sons and daughters of God, or we become Gods ourselves.  It depends on who you ask.

If it sounds crazy, it is.

I don’t know the true origins of MMP.  Like so much of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, it’s probably a combination of things Joseph Smith said, which, like a game of telephone, became distorted or corrupted over time. Some suggest it began in the early days of the church, ascribing it to Joseph Smith three or four times removed.  One quote regularly put forth by proponents comes from Heber C. Kimball,

“Joseph always told us that we would have to pass by the sentinels that are placed between us and our Father and God. Then, of course, we are conducted along from this probation to other probations, or from this dispensation to another, by those who conducted those dispensations.” — p. 62 (JD 6:63).

I don’t know whether or not Joseph Smith said this. It’s secondhand and Heber C. Kimball had a very loose allegiance to the truth. (Remember when he said Jesus appeared in the Kirtland Temple wearing the LDS garment?)  Also, not long after Joseph’s death, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball performed a Second Anointing on each other, anointing themselves “priests and kings to the Most High God,” sealing each other up to eternal life and granting each other sealing power.  I don’t have any faith in Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball for a lot of reasons, but this a big one.  And even if Joseph did say it, so what? Something is neither true nor false simply because Joseph Smith said it, believed it or didn’t believe it.  Joseph Smith had a lot of ideas and opinions and not all of them were God’s Pure Truth.  As I say measure the doctrine, not the man. Also, as a side note, my maternal fifth great-grandfather, Alpheus Gifford, baptized Heber C. Kimball. I apologize on behalf of the family.

Orson F. Whitney wrote in his journal,

“8 Jun 1899. During our talks he (Lorenzo Snow) told me that 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. He said he saw nothing unreasonable in it, if it came to him from Lord or his oracle.”

Orson wrote that Lorenzo said that Eliza said that Joseph said.  This is a fourth-hand quote.  It does not constitute credible history.  It is, at best, hearsay. And it once again highlights the peril of believing in the man rather than the doctrine.

Melvin J. Ballard, Russel M. Ballard’s grandfather, taught,

“A man who goes to meeting and says long prayers and yet returns home to lose his temper and abuse his wife and berate his loved ones will never get into the kingdom of God until he learns to control his unruly temper. The very best of us will need a probationary state to finish the work of preparation to go into the presence of the Father. If we do not do it here, just as sure as we live, we will have to do it hereafter, and many of us may lose the chance and opportunity of doing it hereafter.”

This idea violates both the words of Nephi and Jesus that we cannot repent after death.  If you needed any additional evidence the LDS church very quickly abandoned the Book of Mormon after its publication, you needn’t look too far.  Also, Melvin J. Ballard was an ardent racist.

The idea of MMP, much like Adam-God, Blood Atonement and other such wicked beliefs, eventually fell out of favor and was rightfully resigned to the doctrinal dustbin of history.  I’m not aware of any modern-day, mainstream LDS doctrines coming out SLC that promote MMP.   In fact, the Church rightfully teaches that we do have this one mortal probation.  “This life” means “this life.” Unsurprisingly, we do find MMP alie and well in Fringe Mormonism, like the Denver Snuffer’s Remnant Movement; James Harmston’s True and Living Church; John Pratt’s website (the same John Pratt, RIP, who became con-man Mauricio Berger’s counselor in Brazil.  Pratt also believed that Berger was Joseph Smith reincarnated. So, there’s that); and random websites run by people who gravitate to esoteric and gnostic Mormonism.

THE BOOK OF MORMON PERSPECTIVE

According to the Book of Mormon, matters of life, death and resurrection are much less complicated than endless lives and cycles of creation.  Below you’ll find the Cliff Notes version of the Plan of Redemption; followed by the all the supporting evidence, primarily from Alma the Younger; a review of the Greek concept of apocatastasis; and we’ll end with a review of the Atonement, something Latter-Day Saints seem to profoundly misunderstand.

THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION

  1. You are born.
  2. This life is your time to prepare to meet God
    • If you never received God’s commandments through no fault of your own, you are redeemed temporally and spiritually.  Pass Go, collect Eternal Life.  Yes, it’s that simple.
    • If you received God’s commandments, you are accountable to follow them.
    • If you willfully reject God’s commandments, you are consigned to eternal separation from God.
  3. You die.
  4. You go to spirit paradise/rest or darkness, depending on #2.
  5. You remain in this state of paradise or darkness until the day of your resurrection.
  6. You are resurrected.
  7. Your body and same spirit from this life reunite, never to be divided again.
  8. You are judged by your works.
  9. If you were righteous, you dwell with God in endless happiness.

SUPPORTING SCRIPTURE

“For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Mosiah 3)

“And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death. Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation…” (Mosiah 16)

“Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt… Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus, the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.”  (Alma 11)

“And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. (Alma 12)

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (Alma 34) (This passage was changed by Denver Snuffer to suggest the “same spirit” is an outside force or influence, something you “hearken to,” rather than your spirit, as the text clearly states.  He had to change it to conform with his belief in MMP and “Cycles of Creation”)

“Now there must needs be a space betwixt the time of death and the time of the resurrection… Therefore, there is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this space of time, what becometh of the souls of men is the thing which I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do know. And when the time cometh when all shall rise, then shall they know that God knoweth all the times which are appointed unto man. Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.  And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.  Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection…Now, we do not suppose that this first resurrection, which is spoken of in this manner, can be the resurrection of the souls and their consignation to happiness or misery. Ye cannot suppose that this is what it meaneth. Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but it meaneth the reuniting of the soul with the body, of those from the days of Adam down to the resurrection of Christ…this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.  Yea, this bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets. The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.  And now, my son, this is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets…”  (Alma 40)

“I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself. And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.  And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortalitycorruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other.  (Alma 41)

“Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit—And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God…Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness. Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state. (Alma 42)

“Now, they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all—they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal worldunprepared to meet their God.” (Alma 48)

There is no scriptural support for the idea of multiple mortal probation or cycles of creation in the Book of Mormon.  It plainly states there is but one mortality.  If we have received God’s commandments, and we have, we need to make the most of it.

APOCATASTASIS

In Alma 40, Alma the Younger refers to the resurrection—the reunion of body and spirit—as “the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.”  Students of the Bible will recognize the phrase from Pentecost as recorded in Acts 3:

“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (v. 19-21, KJV)

Most modern translation, however, use “restoration of all things.”  Recall that the New Testament was written in Greek, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean in the first century AD.  The Gospel of “Luke” (we don’t actually know who wrote it) was written to a Greek reader name Theophilus.  The author was most certainly Greek, highly educated, and used Greek expressions rather than Hebrew. The apostles and Gospel writers also used the Greek Version of the Hebrew Bible called The Septuagint, or LXX.  According to legend, 70 (or 72) Hebew Elders (hence XXL) produced independent, identical translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek at the request of Ptolemy II.  Remember this because it will come into play later.

Anyway, if we consult the original Greek for “the restoration of all things,” we find the word apocatastasis.  Two days ago, I was not familiar with this word or its meaning. I happened across it quite by accident, but I’m really glad I did because I love where it led me.  I was watching one of my favorite documentaries, “Symbols of Alien Sky” for the umpteenth time and the narrator mentioned the Greek concept of ekpyrosis in relation to celestial catastrophes.  Just by looking at the word we see it has something to do with fire, but being the word nerd that I am, I decided to get my typing fingers out and go for a ride.

Ekpyrosis, I learned is,

“a Stoic belief in the periodic destruction of the cosmos by a great conflagration every Great Year. The cosmos is then recreated (palingenesis) only to be destroyed again at the end of the new cycle. This form of catastrophe is the opposite of kataklysmos (κατακλυσμός, “inundation”), the destruction of the earth by water. The destruction of the universe was in the form of fire.”

Yes, it sounds a lot like cycles of creation.  Not all Stoics, however, accepted the theory.  The opposite of ekpyrosis is apocatastasisAnother Stoic idea, apocatastasis is,

“The return (apokatastasis) of the planets and stars to their proper celestial signs, namely their original positions, would spark a conflagration of the universe (ekpyrosis). The original position was believed to consist of an alignment of celestial bodies with Cancer. Thereafter, from fire, rebirth would commence, and this cycle of alternate destruction and recreation was correlated with a divine Logos. Antapocatastasis is a counter-recurrence when the stars and planets align with Capricorn, which would mark destruction by a universal flood.”

We also find apocatastasis in the LXX version Malachi 4:5-6,

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall [apocatastasis] the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

The Hebrew, translated as “turn the hearts” in the KJV, is more a sense of “return” or “restore” the hearts of disobedient Israel to the Patriarchs, their righteous forefathers. (It’s got nothing to do with the baptism for the dead, incidentally.) The translators decided to use apocatastasis to convey the idea derelict Israel returning to the righteousness of their fathers.  The restoration of Israel is the major theme of the Book of Mormon, especially when Jesus recited Isaiah 54 at Bountiful.  Most of Nephi’s and Jacob’s writing is about the scattering and gathering of Israel, the calling of Israel as God’s servant, and the redemption of Israel in the latter-days. Apocatastasis. Everything restored to its proper order and form, never to be divided again.  I really, really love this.

THE ATONEMENT

I think the root of the belief in MMP comes from a fundamental misunderstanding the Atonement.  One of the reasons people tend to believe in MMP, based on my own experience, is the belief that salvation requires knowledge or experience. I have often heard people wonder how they can reasonably expect to learn or experience everything in one mortal probation.  The obvious answer, of course, is that you can’t.  But this may go back to Joseph Smith who allegedly said,

A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.”

Also, in Seventh Lecture on Faith we read,

“And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that [Jesus] is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him.”

We’ll set aside the absurdity that the Infinite and Eternal God is a “saved being” and instead focus on Rigdon’s (yes, Rigdon wrote Lecture 7) definition of salvation. What strikes me most is that according to Rigdon, you don’t need Jesus and His mercy and Atonement, you need to be Jesus.  You can only be saved if you are exactly like Jesus and nothing less.   In essence, you save yourself.  I fully reject this.  Since Jesus is God and framer of the universe, no one can ever be exactly like HimNo one can atone for his or her own sins.  Further, as Ammon explained to King Lamoni’s father, “since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance.” (Alma 22:14) We simply cannot earn or merit our salvation in this life or any other.

The Book of Mormon gives us more simplistic view of salvation.  Salvation is not dependent upon experience or knowledge, but The Atonement and faith. Let’s look at a few examples:

“But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 4:12)

“And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” (Alma 34:15)

“And now it came to pass that Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophesy a great many more things which cannot be written.  And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.  (Helman 14:1-2)

“…and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ. And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. (Moroni 7:25-26)

You could live 1,000 times over 1,000 cycles of creation and you could never acquire enough knowledge or experience to qualify for salvation.  There is only one way.  King Benjamin eloquently stated,

“I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the worldAnd this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you. (Mosiah 4:6-8)

I truly don’t believe that we, as Latter-Day Saints, understand the grandness and magnitude of the Atonement.  Our practice of proxy baptism is proof of that.  Because of the Atonement, no one is left behind.  No one is punished or denied due to the circumstances of their birth.  Those born in the Siberia in the 1300s or deep in the jungles of pre-Columbus South America who never knew of Jesus are automatically covered by the Atonement.  Pass Go, collect Eternal Life.  Those who died young or who suffered from neurological disease or malady are automatically covered by the Atonement.  God knew that life would be fraught with peril and accidents and things beyond our control, so he swung the scales in favor of mercy because we can’t do it ourselves.  This is the beauty of it: every contingency is covered.  It is Majestic, All-encompassing and Merciful.  It truly is Infinite and Eternal. No number of lifetimes, no amount of knowledge and no amount experience will ever be enough to earn it or prepare you for it.  It is faith, repentance and the Atonement. He has already paid the price. God Himself redeemed His people. Today is the day of your salvation. Look to Him and live forever.

2 thoughts on “The Folly of Multiple Mortal Probations

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  1. Another excellent article. Question. From my studies I doubt the existence of a literal Adam. The existence of Adam and his fall is essential to the BOM. What are your thoughts?

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    1. Thanks. I’m inclined to agree. I’m sure you’re aware “adam” is the Hebrew word for “man.” I think we talk about “Adam” we’re talking about mankind in general, rather than a specific individual. And if there was an individual, it was the partriarch of the Hebrew people rather than all mankind. I suspect there were a number of “adams” throughout the world at the beginning. The Garden of Eden allegory is just that. One of the better quotes on the matter that I’ve heard comes from the eminent archeologist William Dever. He said, paraphrasing, that we want to the make the Bible history. But history is a modern discipline. The Hebrew Bible is didactic–it’s meant to teach. I do believe Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were real people. I believe there was an Exodus, but on a much, much smaller scale. The people who wrote their stories lived many, many centuries later, so those stories are blend not only of different writers, but of oral traditions passed down through the centuries. I look at the early books of the Bible, particularly the Torah, as acts of communication that do have truths in them, for sure.

      Curiously, when Nephi has his vision, the angel tells him that the “Bible” is useful to the Gentiles because it contains the covenants God made with the House of Israel, not because it’s an accurate history of the creation of the world. The Brass Plates and sealed portion is where the good stuff is.

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