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)