It’s been a while since I read Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Volume 3 by Brian Hales. I read volume 3 first because (1) it was the shortest (a mere 281 pages compared to the other volumes), and (2) Brian Hales recommended we read it first since it was the first time anyone had tried to tackle the theological reasons behind polygamy. I intended to write my review sooner, but knew it would take some time, and put it off for far too long. As I reviewed my notes, I realized that I could probably do a post on the topic of spirit babies. Mormons have long believed that if we are sealed in the temple and live worthily, we are able to have unnumbered offspring forever. This has led many to believe that some women will be eternally pregnant, and also why more women are needed for eternal gestation. Some women have remarked that they don’t want to be pregnant forever.
It turns out that might be a folk doctrine that Brian Hales attacks in this book.
Now there is a good reason to believe in spirit birth. Hales remarks on page 113
Joseph Smith taught of another benefit granted to exalted men and women: “a continuation of the seeds” (D&C 132:19). Unfortunately, nowhere in the revelation are these benefits specifically explained. The most popular interpretation among Latter-day Saints today states that “the phrases ‘an increase’ and ‘a continuation of the seeds forever and ever’ mean that those who abide in the covenant are exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom will have spirit children in the eternities.”32 In other words: “You are a literal child of God, spiritually begotten in the premortal life.”33
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
Another contrasting view to this interpretation is based upon a strict reading of Joseph Smith’s teachings that, “the Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal.”34 And, “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.”35 The Book of Abraham seems to agree: “If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal” (Abr. 3:18).36
This interpretation, however, dismissed any form of eternal progression that involves an eternally extending genealogy through generations of spiritual procreation by exalted couples (a process sometimes referred to as “spirit birth”).37 Instead, it promotes an endless population of uncreated spirits who are not literally the offspring of God but are mentored by Him to pregress to divinity as His “children.” In this view, the order of heaven is not strictly familial. Instead, priesthood sealings of mortal parents and children (on an earth such as this one) form a chain that, as they are exalted, established their divine positions in the celestial kingdom. Jonathan Stapley embraces this view, affirming that the “vivaparous spirit birth is a wildly popular folk belief.”38 In other words, a “continuation of seeds,’ I think Joseph Smith is talking about retaining kinship, as opposed to being separate and single.”39 In other words, a “continuation of seeds” is the ability for mortal parents to continue to relate to and preside over their earthly children in eternity. Those who are unworthy live isngly without any family structure in the next life.
Similarly, in his impressive volume, In Heaven as It is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death, Samuel Brown dismissed the possibility that “a continuation of seeds” represents the birth of spirit offspring by exalted couples: If Christ had pre-existence, so did humans. Through Christ, humans experience a birth that obliterated all births–they had no beginning.”
Hales continues along this line, and asks “Spirit Birth and D&C 132?” on page 120.
Another verse refers to God’s promise that Abraham would have “innumerable” seed: “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins–from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph–which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the starts, or if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them” (D&C 132:30).
A question arises whether Abraham’s “seed” could become “innumerable” without spirit birth. The verse states that his seed are to be “of the fruit of his loins.” “Loins” refers to “the lateral portions of the lumbar region”64 but has been used euphemistically for reproductive anatomy that is covered with a “loincloth.” For example, Genesis 35:11 reads: “God said unto him [Jacob], I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of they loins.” Lehi referred to his son Joseph saying, “thou are the fruit of my loins” (2 Ne. 3:4). Accordingly, the “fruit” of a person’s “loins” would seem to be literal offspring.
Joseph Smith also taught that through adoption ordinances on this earth, those not of Abraham’s literal seed can become his offspring.65 So could the number of Abraham’s “seed” through biological and adopted progeny on earth fulfill the prophecy to become “innumerable?”
Have you ever heard that spirit birth was a folk doctrine? Women, does that make you happy or sad you wan’t have to be eternally pregnant?