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Gospel Topics

The Doctrine of Multiple Mortalities or Plural Probations or
One Eternal Round

Early Christians & LDS

Among early Christians and LDS the doctrine of multiple mortal probations was taught. In other words we might live on this earth multiple times before we are finally resurrected

Early Christians:

Origen (183-253 A.D.)

"The soul has neither beginning nor end [They] come into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of their previous lives" (Origen, de Principiis)

Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds, and that those who have used their bodies in doing the utmost possible good should have a right to bodies endowed with qualities superior to the bodies of others? ... The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place; accordingly, it at one time puts off one body, which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second." (Contra Celsus, Book I., chap. XXXII)

This doctrine from Origen was allowed to continue in the Christian church until it was repudiated at the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553.

According to Jerome (340-420 AD):

"The transmigrations (reincarnation) of souls was taught for a long time among the early Christians as an esoteric and traditional doctrine which was to be divulged to only a small number of the elect." (Jerome, Letter to Demetrias)

St. Gregory (257-337 AD) wrote:
"It is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and that if it does not take place during its life on Earth, it must be accomplished in future lives." (Trinick 1950: 38)

Early LDS

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).

"What I do not today, when the sun goes down, I lay down to sleep, which is typical of death; and in the morning I rise and commence my work where I left it yesterday. That course is typical of the probations we take." -- p. 62 (JD 4:329).

"If you do not cultivate yourselves, and cultivate your spirits in this state of existence, it is just as true as there is a God that liveth, you will have to go into another state of existence, and bring your spirits into subjection there. Now you may reflect upon it, you will never obtain your resurrected bodies, until you bring your spirits into subjection.... I ask then, if it is your spirits that must be brought into subjection? It is; and if you do not do that in these bodies, you will have to go into another estate to do it. You have got to train yourselves according to the law of God, or you will never obtain your resurrected bodies. Mark it!" -- p. 62 (JD 1:355).

Orson F. Whitney

"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." Diary of Orson F. Whitney, quoted on p. 78.

William W. Phelps

“David must have had his eye upon the same thing when he said in the 71st Psalm, 'thou shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depth of the earth'.... The secret of this matter is, that God in his infinite wisdom, prepared the children of promise, the heirs of the celestial kingdom, to live twice in the flesh on the earth, once in a state of probation; and once in a state of approbation" -- Evening and Morning Star (July 1832) p. 84.


D&C 88:32
And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place [the telestial kingdom where they now live], to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

There are also several scriptures from the New Testament and show a belief that people then alive had a previous life.

Matthew 16:13-14
When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Matthew 11:11-15
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

This is also alluded to in a section of the New Testament in which the disciples ask Jesus why a man was born blind.
 
John 9:2
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

Without a previous life, how could the blind man commit a sin responsible for his handicap, as the man was blind from birth? Jesus didn’t dispute the reasoning of the disciples, though he stated that the blindness was due to other factors.

Joseph Smith
It has been reported that Joseph Smith said that reincarnation was a false doctrine. Let's look at what Joseph is actually recorded as saying.

 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Two (1834-37) p.104 see also Documentary History of the Church 2:304-307I told Joshua I did not understand his remarks on the resurrection, and wished him to explain. . . .He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that    this was the way or scheme of eternal life this transmigration of soul or spirit    [i.e. reincarnation] from father to son.I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself; and he said also that he possessed the soul of Christ.

Notice that Joseph doesn't say that reincarnation is false, what he says is that the teachings and doctrines that Joshua were teaching were from the devil. They included the ideas that he was a literal descendant of Matthias and that eternal life was a transmigration of soul from father to son and that he possessed the soul of Christ. Joseph can declare these all false without saying anything about the doctrine of reincarnation or more precisely a doctrine of multiple mortalities.

We have other statements by those close to the prophet Joseph Smith and leaders of the church.

Joseph Lee Robinson

We also heard him (Joseph) say that God had revealed unto him that any man who ever committed adultery in either of his probations that that man could never be raised to the highest exaltation in the celestial glory and that he (Joseph) felt anxious with regard to himself and he inquired of the Lord and the Lord told him that he, Joseph, had never committed adultery (D&C 132:41). This saying of the Prophet astonished me very much. It opened up to me a very wide field of reflection. The idea that we had passed through probations prior to this and that we must have been married and given in marriage in those probations or there would be no propriety in making such an assertion and that there were several exaltations in the servants to the Gods. Be this as it may, this is what he said. (Journal of Joseph Lee Robinson, p. 12)

Lorenzo Snow

"We are immortal beings. That which dwells in this body of ours is immortal, and will always exist. Our individuality will always continue. Eternities may begin, eternities may end, and still we shall have our individuality. Our identity is insured. We will be ourselves, and nobody else. Whatever changes may arise, whatever worlds may be made or pass away, our identity will always remain the same; and we will continue on improving, advancing and increasing in wisdom, intelligence, power and dominion, worlds without end."-Lorenzo Snow, Conference Reports, p. 2, April, 1901

Joseph F. Smith

"So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can be come parents of spirit offspring. Only such exalted souls have reached maturity in the appointed course of eternal life; and the spirits born to them in the eternal worlds will pass in due sequence through the several stages or estates by which the glorified parents have attained exaltation." -Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 19:942, June 30, 1916

Rebuttal [and response]:

Spencer J. Palmer comments:

In Latter-day Saint doctrine, mankind is on the road to immortality and eternal life. One moves from one type of existence to another along the way. But this teaching is distinguishable from reincarnation [we are not talking about reincarnation that we can come back as an insect or animal, we are talking about multiple mortal probations that are all human.] on several counts:

1.            In Latter-day Saint belief, there is only one physical death for any one person (Heb. 9:27). [Yes it does say that, but it is mainly talking about the fact that the atonement only needs to happen once. If wouldn't even need to be mentioned if we only ever lived once.] Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, taught that man can die only once (Alma 11:45). [However that isn't what it says. It says that after we are resurrected, “they can die no more”.]  Reincarnation posits many deaths, but in Latter-day Saint thought, the resurrection (incarnation) follows death (cf.    D&C 29:24-25). [Which doesn't say anything about how many times we can die. “all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new”]

2.            In LDS theology, the physical body is sacred, and its elements are imperishable. The body is prerequisite to becoming like God. In reincarnation, the present physical body is of little or no consequence. [The physical body is only sacred because it houses the spirit and the Spirit of God.]

3.            In LDS theology, mortality is a time to be tested and proved "to see if [people] will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abr. 3:25). In reincarnation, there are many future lives, so there is no urgent need to repent now. [Nonsense. If you don't learn what you need in this mortal probation, you will not progress in the next probation.] Reincarnation contradicts Amulek's admonition that "this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God" (Alma 34:32). [No contradiction at all. Every probation is the time for us to prepare and each probation should see us progress closer to God.] The Prophet Joseph Smith said that transmigration of souls (spirits) was not a correct principle (TPJS, pp. 104-105). [That is not what Joseph said as is discussed above].

4.            In LDS theology, there is one single, unique historical act of redemption made by Jesus Christ. Through it, Christ becomes the only name under heaven "whereby man can be saved" (D&C 18:23). Reincarnation denies the absolute centrality of Christ's Atonement by affirming the theoretical existence of an abundance of equally miraculous deities, who appear in a variety of forms, born again and again. [Multple Mortalities has no impact on how important Christ is. There is no requirement to bring in other miraculous dieties.]

This topic has been covered in much greater depth by John Pratt