Note: This article originally ran February 8, 2020.
“Thus are the five stages of man: Intelligence, Spirit, Flesh, Soul, and Resurrected Being; the final being all stages in one, a Morning Star—forever complete.” –Melchizedek 4:9
The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship has no official position on gilgul (גלגול, Hebrew for “rolling”), past lives, reincarnation, or multiple mortal probations (or MMP). There are a number of views on these within the Latter Day Saint movement, from their necessity to reach the highest degrees of Heaven, to outright disdain. Here we will introduce you to some of these concepts as they relate to both the Latter Day Saint movement and Kabbalah. Please note that this is just an introduction. More study on these topics is encouraged.
Malachi, Elijah, and Joseph Smith
While reincarnation is not a common Christian teaching, there are those that believe certain passages hint to this concept. The most notable will likely also be controversial, as it evolves Elijah and John the Baptist.
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith YHVH of hosts… Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” -Malachi 3:1, 4:5
And some would state that this was literally fulfilled in the New Testament:
“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John… And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for YHVH.” -Luke 1:13, 17
Some also say that Jesus implied that John the Baptist was Elijah in Matthew 11:13-14, 17:12-13, and Mark 9:13. If true, this would imply a few things in regards to the restoration. First, that it was Elijah that gave Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery the Levitical Priesthood. Second, it would also imply that if Elijah did in fact come to Joseph and Oliver (again) in the Kirtland temple, then he came in the form of Elijah rather than John the Baptist. This leads to a number of questions that are beyond this simple introduction.
Who then is Joseph Smith Jr.?
The other thing of note will be that many Latter Day Saints of a variety of denominations teach or believe that Malachi 3:1 refers to Joseph Smith Jr., not John the Baptist.
“[The angel Moroni] first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi, and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy…” -Avahr 8:38
If this is the case, then it would make sense in this understanding that Joseph Smith Jr. was a reincarnation of Elijah and John the Baptist. If so, then this implies that know one else could have brought in the restoration. It would also mean or imply that some of the keys to the priesthood were given to Joseph, in some way that we do not understand, by himself.
Ideas of Reincarnation in the New Testament
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” -John 9:1-2
What then of the blind man Jesus cured? It does seem most likely that these disciples believed this man had reincarnated and were referring to a past life. We know this man was not cured for a sin, but had the privilege of being born blind to be cured by Jesus. That was his calling, to be healed.
“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” -John 9:3
But Jesus does not rebuke the ideas they referred to. We in the Fellowship reject the idea that men and women may be cursed for their parent’s sins. Likewise, I see no evidence that if we are reincarnated that our passed lives would bless or curse our new ones. Seeing that we have no memory of past lives, generally speaking, our new ones would merely be to teach us that which we didn’t learn in a previous life, not as a punishment.
There are other scriptures in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that some believe refer to reincarnation. For the sake of time, these are all we shall cover in this article. We once again encourage you to seek out other sources for more information.
Reincarnation in Kabbalah
By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph Smith had also reversed his prior rejection of the Cabala’s doctrine of “transmigration of the souls.” Two of the women Smith secretly married as plural wives in the 1840s said that he privately affirmed reincarnation. Apostle Lorenzo Snow said 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.” Prescendia Huntington Buell (later Kimball) also affirmed her belief in “plural probations,” referring to a statement “in confirmation” by her polyandrous husband Joseph Smiths. In the 1840s their polygamous relationship to the Mormon prophet was as secret as his conversion to reincarnation. -Michael Quin, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View
The Hebrew term mentioned above, “transmigration of the souls,” gilgul, or gilgulim (plural), in Hebrew, is a term used to refer to what we would call reincarnation. It is also known as gilgul neshamot or Gilgulei Ha Neshamo, the cycles of our souls. In Kabbalah there are five stages or levels to the soul:
- Nefesh (נפש): the base, or “worldly” part linked to instincts and bodily cravings provided at birth, tied to Assiyah, the world of Creation
- Ruach (רוח): the spirit, our pre-mortal being that contains our moral virtues, the ability to know good from evil having the light of Christ, tied to Yetzirah, the world of formation
- Neshamah (נשמה): the breath of life given us by God when we are born again, allowing us to enjoy and benefit from the next life (afterlife), tied to Beriah, the world of creation
- Chayah (חָיָה): the soul transcending the body, tied to Atzilut, the world of emanation
- Yechidah (יְחִידָה): in this life, having the calling and election made sure; eventually the resurrection of spirit, body, and soul, tied to En Sof, the Infinite
In Mormon Kabbalah, it is said that the soul does not exist until we are born again. Thus our spirits would be reincarnated over and over as nefesh until we are born again. Then, if reincarnation is to be believed, we would continue to be born over and over as we rise in each level. This point of view would help us understand many of the things Jesus and his disciples say in the New Testament that seem to imply their belief in reincarnation.
Yet there is a second way to look at this. It may very well be that the Kabbalists are referring to our desires being born over and over until they are cleansed and purified. In the Zohar there are stories of people that were wicked dying and becoming righteous as they are born again into the world. For example, the Zohar tells us that the soul of Cain is reborn as Jethro and Able as Moses. And, by their friendship, Cain is able to repent of his sins against Able. If the Torah and the scriptures are the story of us, then this would be our wicked desires being reborn in righteousness, not necessarily reincarnation.
Again, this is a topic that will need further exploration.
Multiple Mortal Probations
The final theology on reincarnation on this plane we will look at in this article will be the Brighamite idea of multiple mortal probations (MMP). It should be made clear that the denomination Brigham Young founded in 1851, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has rejected these teachings. However, other denominations have kept, and some have even expanded on, these ideas.
“President Young said There never was any world created & Peopled Nor ever would be but what would be redeemed by the shedding of the blood of the Savior of the world. If we are Ever Exalted and Crowned in the presence of God we shall become Saviors of a world which we shall create & people. I know why the Blood of Jesus was shed. I know why the blood of Joseph, & Hiram & others was shed and the blood of theirs will be shed. It is all to answer a purpose and has its Effect. Adam made this world and Suffered himself to take a body and subject himself to sin that Redemption & Exaltation might come to a man. Without descending below all things we Cannot ascend above all things. There never will be any Change in the gospel of Salvation, It is an Eternal gospel and the same in all worlds and always will be to the Endless age of eternity. There will never was a period but what worlds existed & never will be, they all have the same Gospel & Law of salvation.” -Wilford Woodruff, Waiting For the World’s End, The Dairies of Wilford Woodruff, pg.290
This is a new take on the idea of reincarnation. By this we see that resurrected beings might leave their bodies behind to be reborn as mortals. This idea is one that would likely be rejected by the majority of Christians, including Latter Day Saints and Mormons.
Is it true? We have no revelations at this time to support the idea. While the scriptures do tell us that “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” this may refer to our desires as we are all Adam and Eve (1 Corinthians 15:22). As we grow in Grace we are made pure until our desires match that of Jesus Christ. This refers to the Adam and Eve within us, and the Jesus in us (our desires). It does not readily imply that we will be Adam or Eve and Jesus Christ upon our own worlds. Further light and knowledge is needed.
More quotes from Brighamite sources on this topic may be found here.
In many Latter Day Saint denominations there is an idea of a premortal world. Being born here, coming from that world, would be an incarnation, a reincarnation. When we die here we are “born” to a new world, another incarnation. Then the resurrection would be another incarnation. This idea is yet another way to view reincarnation, as we would then truly have “rolling souls” of gilgul neshamot.
It should be noted that there are some that claim those that sinned there, in the premortal world(s) suffer hear. Most notably is the false idea that those born with black skin or from African descent were somehow less righteous in the premortal world. “There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there (Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, vol. 1, Bookcraft, 1954, p. 61). However, there is simply nothing to back up such statements beyond human bias and racism. The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship rejects these false man made theologies.
Another Thing to Consider
Cases can and have been made for and against all of these and many other theologies over many lifetimes and multiple generations. There are no hard facts here, merely opinions. Perhaps some are reincarnated, and some are not. Perhaps everyone, or no one, is. I know a number of people that can testify of their memories of past lives. The only past life I am personally aware of for myself is the premortal world. But I cannot speak for everyone, or anyone but myself.
This being a nondenominational movement we respect all thoughts on this topic that are respectfully offered. Irregardless of the reality or falsehood of these ideas, the scriptures are clear on one thing: now is the time of our probation.
“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.” -Alma 19:228 RAV, 34:32 OPV
We cannot look to future lives to save us, but accept and follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, here and now. If our souls do in fact travel from one body to the next in this plane, then let us work now to end the cycle, for as we know these are the Last Days.