Proverbs 8 and the Mormon doctrine of pre-existence

Don and Rayola Larson are Latter-day Saints who have served in various leadership roles in the Mormon Church. They have been teachers at two Church-owned and operated schools, and completed two proselyting missions. Of their mission to England, they write,

“We began holding classes and taught groups of people…It soon became apparent that some of the members had no foundation in the basic teachings of the gospel. They had retained very little from the discussions that were taught when they joined the church, so we decided to write a study guide on the Plan of Salvation.” (Plan of Salvation, 2004, vii)

The first chapter of this self-published book explains the Mormon doctrine of the pre-existence in simple and easy language, covering the high points of the teaching that all human beings existed in a spiritual state with Heavenly Father before coming to earth and becoming mortal. Apart from the absence of any mention of Heavenly Mother, and the odd statement that “our Father, with his superior technology, probably showed each of us an earth similar to the one where we would all go,” the Larson’s study guide pretty much presents what would be expected. But it got more interesting for me when I got to the proof texts they provide.

Under the heading “Spirit Children” the Larsons include Proverbs 8:22-31:

“The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, …rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” (The Plan of Salvation, 8, ellipsis in the original.)

That sure sounds like the Mormon doctrine of pre-existence — until you read the passage in its context. The subject of Proverbs 8 is wisdom. In fact,

“The main subject of Proverbs chapters 1–9 is wisdom, which is an abstract quality or character trait rather than a person, but wisdom is treated as a woman from the first chapter right through chapter 9. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman of dazzling attractiveness and virtue, who teaches in the marketplace of the town (1:20), who is romantically embraced (4:8–9), who can be addressed as ‘my sister’ (7:4), who utters a long speech commending herself to the public (chap. 8), and who builds a house and invites people to an alluring banquet (9:1–6).” (Leland Ryken, “Who Is Wisdom in Proverbs 8?”)

Proverbs 8 begins, “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” (v. 1) “…at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: ‘To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man’” (vv. 3-4). “Hear, for I will speak noble things…” (v. 6). “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion” (v. 12). Throughout Proverbs 8 it is wisdom personified who speaks, not Heavenly Father’s spirit children. It is wisdom who was from the beginning, wisdom who was present when the heavens were prepared, wisdom who was God’s daily delight. If the Larsons intended to say this passage of scripture supports the idea that spirit children were “brought forth” before the hills were formed, they have severely misused it. But perhaps this was not their intent.

The LDS edition of the Bible explains that Proverbs 8 says “the Lord and the sons of men possessed wisdom in the premortal life.” Therefore, perhaps the Larsons meant to focus on the words at the end of the quoted passage: “my delights were with the sons of men” (v. 31). One could reason, if this was before “ever the earth was,” and there were “sons of men” with whom wisdom delighted, the sons of men must also have existed “when there were no depths.” Voila! Spirit children.

But this doesn’t work for the Mormon position, either. In Proverbs 8 wisdom begins with God before creation, and continues with Him as He forms the earth, establishes the clouds, sets the boundaries of the sea…through creation to the point where wisdom rejoices in God’s inhabited world because, as God declared, “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Proverbs 8 does not support the Mormon doctrine of pre-existence. As is so often the case with Mormon proof texts, they have been dangerously twisted to mean something God never intended (2 Peter 3:16).

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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169 Responses to Proverbs 8 and the Mormon doctrine of pre-existence

  1. Brian says:

    Dear Helen,

    Here is a Scripture that looks at the condition of human beings:

    “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

    From this Scripture, it looks to me like no one can be said to be “without sin.” Does this group people by age, or make distinctions? It looks like a blanket indictment.

  2. 4fivesolas says:

    Helen,

    So you reject the study that was done that shows babies as young as 5 months knowing the difference between good and evil? They’re wrong and you’re right.
    Can children be taught evil? Is this your question? Yes they can.

  3. Ralph says:

    4fivesolas,

    Psychology is not my forte, but at the end of the article you cited is this quote from another psychologist –

    Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University, said babies started to learn the difference between good and bad from birth.

    ‘Everything hinges on who decides what is normal,’ she said. ‘By saying pushing the ball up the hill is helpful, the researchers are making a moral judgement. The babies might just prefer to see things go up rather than down.

    ‘In the other test, perhaps the bear closes the box to prevent the dog from getting in there because there is something dangerous inside. It is like a mother keeping children out of an area where there is something harmful.’

    So there is much more to it than what the researcher doing the experiments is saying. Because 6 month old children (yes it was done with 6 months and older, not 5 months as you said) cannot tell us exactly what they are thinking we cannot assume they are thinking the same way we are.

  4. 4fivesolas says:

    Ralph,

    I based the 5 months on the following from the article:

    “‘In both studies, five-month-old babies preferred the good guy – the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back – to the bad guy,’ said Professor Bloom.
    When the same tests were repeated with 21-month-old babies, they were given a chance to dish out treats to the toys – or take treats away.
    Most toddlers punished the ‘naughty rabbit’ by taking away treats. One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment.
    Although the studies appear to show that morality is hard-wired into babies brains, some psychologists urged caution.”

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1275574/Babies-know-difference-good-evil-months-study-reveals.html#ixzz1XsS3XPh1

    I thought the whole idea of an age of accountability was that that children younger than 8 could not know the difference between good and evil. If you teach a child, they can recognize when they to wrong, as well as when others do wrong. (Although as the article noted, it does appear some morality is hard wired, although being secular psychologists they may not know what to do with this) So…. if children are taught God’s Law, and they recognize their sin, are they still not to be held accountable? If they recognize their sin, are they not sinning. If infants understand that what they are doing is wrong, are they not sinning? The fall of man was a big deal – especially since it was not just Adam and Eve that fell, but All of us. Scripture is clear on this – like it or not. It may be more pleasant to think of infants as a tabula rasa of perfection, rather than being born with a sin nature and in need of a Savior – but it doesn’t fit with Scripture.

  5. 4fivesolas says:

    One last note – my wife and I have make sure to teach our kids (who are grade school age) God’s law, our sinful state, and our only hope in the cross of Christ – His blood shed for the remission of our sins. They hear it from us, they hear it at Church as God’s Word is properly proclaimed. Our children know who their Savior is and they understand the gospel. I would not hold on to some false hope that your young children are perfect and without sin, and in no need of God’s mercy given to us freely in Christ. I make sure to separate God’s law from the mercy given in Jesus – Jesus is not another law-giver like Moses; rather, He came to deliver us from our sins by grace through faith. They know their sin and their Savior and His forgiveness, and have for some time now.

  6. Ralph says:

    Sorry 4fivesolas,

    I missed that comment about the 5 month olds. In the rest of the article they were discussing the use of 6 month olds and older. That was the only statement that said anything about 5 month olds. Even the title of the article states 6 months. So sorry, but I missed that one.

    We LDS teach that we have been given from birth a conscience (sometimes referred to in our manuals as “the light of Christ”, I believe) which allows us to feel/know the difference between good and bad. But as we grow, if we don’t learn to use it properly or we ‘turn it off’ by ignoring it then we lose it – as the saying goes the person’s conscience is seared.

    But it still does not mean that children understand this, they are still in need of teaching and encouragement to learn how to use it properly and what it really means. That is why we teach that through the Atonement children under the age of 8 are not tempted and Satan has no power over them. Therefore they can and do make mistakes and do the wrong things, but it is not a sin as they are counted innocent until the age of accountability. Anything they do that can be classed as a sin is automatically covered by the Atonement and they do not need to repent as we adults do.

  7. 4fivesolas says:

    Death came as the result of the fall. Sin causes death. If, as Mormons believe, infants are without a sin nature how is it that sadly, sometimes they die? Contrary to what Mormons believe, unfortunately infants have inherited sin and death from Adam and Eve.

  8. 4fivesolas says:

    Ralph,
    No problem, you just did not notice that part – but you are right, it is odd that it says 6 months almost everywhere except in that section.
    I know children younger than eight are tempted. I’ve lived with 2 small boys and seen it.

  9. helenlouissmith says:

    Totally amazed at the lack of scriptural understanding and twisting of verses in a nice try to convince our guest and visitors that babies are born sinners, egads what else do apostate christians teach that is not Gods Word.

    Rick B. amazing your take on “Psa 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

    The opening verses of this psalm give us the key to the nature of David’s remark.

    Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
    Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
    Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:1-5.)

    David is clearly talking about himself and this is not universal for all. David violated a moral law and is
    asking for forgiveness, how could his parents be guilty of sin if the were legally married? or that he partook
    of it at birth?

  10. Mike R says:

    Clyde6070 said, ” In trying to keep u with this blogs reasoning it only seems to
    raise doubts about pre-existence and any ideas of understanding it.”

    Clyde, that’s because the Bible does’nt each this doctrine of Mormonism. You’re
    attempting to squeeze this doctrine out of a few isolated verses and that is hardly
    the way to establish a foundational doctrine . This elaborate doctrine came from
    the minds of Mormon prophets and apostles , not Biblical ones . Can you see this
    difference ?

  11. 4fivesolas says:

    Helen,
    David is crying out for the mercy of God. He recognizes his sinful condition, he has sinned, and not only that he has been a sinner from birth. Simple clear reading of the verse.
    I suppose we should take it on your authority that this verse means that David was NOT shapen in inquity and NOT in sin did my mother conceive me. Chalk it up to another place those horrible monks subtracted from Scripture. Either that or your wrong.

  12. Rick B says:

    Helen,
    Not only are you wrong on your idea of that verse, but you also ignore the Bible saying By one man sin entered the world, and as a result we all die. Then you still cannot answer, if we are born perfect then, when and how do we go from being perfect to being sinners?

  13. helenlouissmith says:

    Like I said, David is stating his own unworthiness.

    Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

    Does he blame Adam, does he blame his mother, does he say it was because of others that he sinned, nope, my read is David is owning up to his own personal sins and making a offering of repentance.

  14. Kate says:

    “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
    This part is not owning up to his personal sin, he is saying that he knows he was shapen in iniquity and in sin his mother conceived him. This part says to me that he was aware of the Fall of Adam and that sin enters us all before birth.

  15. Rick B says:

    Helen, How exactly is it that you are so sure that we are wrong on these verses, and you are so sure that we are not born sinners, yet are born sinless? Yet you can come here and tell us we dont know what were talking about with these verses, and can tell us you in fact know what they really mean?
    Yet you cannot, absolutely cannot answer the question of, how do we go from being born perfect, then all of a sudden we are sinners? Or when exactly this happens? Or why Jesus could live a perfect life but we cannot?

    I know, You cannot find these questions answered on the fair boards, or by your leaders, and your simply not smart enough to make up something. You also wont pray for an answer because you know your god wont answer you on this issue. Man, how can you live with yourself and follow this religion when you cannot get answers? yet risk eternal damnation over a group that could care less about you?

  16. helenlouissmith says:

    Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in Me, that it hath no power over them. (Moroni) 8:8; cf. D & C 29:46-47)

    In other words, little children cannot be held for original guilt, Christ having atoned for Adam’s transgression. (See Moses 6:54, quoted above.) But when children become accountable for their sins, being free agents with power to act for themselves (2 Nephi 2:16; cf. Moses 6:56), the effects of the fall begin to assert themselves upon the “man of the earth, earthy” (I Cor. 15:47), and “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.” (Moses 6:55) The Doctrine and Covenants states what happens to the “natural man” in this way:
    And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers. (93: 39)

    Interesting that I did not need to go too FAIR or any of the leaders, bingo it’s in the BOM, BOA. and some in the Bible.

  17. Rick B says:

    Why is it Helen if the BoM claims this, then why did not Paul teach it? Why did we need to wait over two thousand years for that? Then you cannot tell me How is it we go from Being sinless to all of a sudden being sinners, the effect simply comes upon us, yet it did not happen to Jesus. He was perfect all His life, why is He the only one? If He could do it why cannot others?

  18. 4fivesolas says:

    It’s plain to everyone – Helen cannot accept the last line of the passage she herself quoted:
    “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

    She ‘interprets’ this verse by essentially REVERSING the meaning:
    Helen said “David is clearly talking about himself and this is not universal for all. David violated a moral law and is asking for forgiveness, how could his parents be guilty of sin if the were legally married? or that he partook of it at birth?”

    David says he was born in sin. Helen says that David wasn’t. Who is telling the truth? I must stand with Scripture.

  19. helenlouissmith says:

    === MODERATED ===

    The moderator issued a level 1 yellow card on this comment.

    === MODERATED ===

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