John A. Tvedtnes
In 1842, Joseph Smith declared, “the body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state that spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it” (History of the Church 4:575). A year later, he said, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8). An earlier revelation declared that “whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84:45).
These concepts are paralleled by a very early Christian text, Clementine Homilies 17:16, in which the apostle Peter says, “For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.”[i]
There is an amazing parallel to the wording of D&C 131:7-8 that was not published in English until after Joseph Smith’s time. It comes from the second-century AD Christian theologian Origen, who wrote that our bodies are “now indeed carnal, but by and by more refined and pure, which are termed spiritual” (De Principiis 2.3.2).[ii] He also wrote that the spirits of those who are resurrected “are just to be considered as inhabiting more refined and purer bodies, which possess the property of being no longer overcome by death” (De Principiis 2.3.3).[iii]
A similar concept is found in the Apocryphal 2 Baruch 51:8, where we read that those who are worthy to live in the presence of God “shall see that world which is now invisible to them, and they will see a time which is now hidden to them.”[iv]
According to Conflict of Adam and Eve I, 4:8, after the fall “Adam said to Eve, ‘Look at thine eyes, and at mine, which afore beheld angels in heaven, praising . . . But now we do not see as we did: our eyes have become of flesh; they cannot see in like manner as they saw before.”[v] Adam subsequently prayed, saying, “‘[O] God, when we dwelt in the garden, and our hearts were lifted up, we saw the angels that sang praises in heaven, but now we do not see as we were used to do . . .’ Then God the Lord said to Adam, ‘When thou wast under subjection [to Me], thou hadst a bright nature within thee, and for that reason couldst thou see things afar off. But after thy transgression thy bright nature was withdrawn from thee; and it was not left to thee to see things afar off, but only near at hand; after the ability of the flesh; for it is brutish” (Conflict of Adam and Eve I, 8:1-2).[vi]
About AD 200, Tertullian wrote his treatise On the Soul, in which he devoted four chapters (5-8) to argue that the spirit or soul has substance.[vii] He wrote, “Therefore, whatever amount of punishment or refreshment the soul tastes in Hades, in its prison or lodging, in the fire or in Abraham’s bosom, it gives proof thereby of its own corporeality. For an incorporeal thing suffers nothing, not having that which makes it capable of suffering; else, if it has such capacity, it must be a bodily substance. For in as far as every corporeal thing is capable of suffering, in so far is that which is capable of suffering also corporeal” (On the Soul 7).[viii]
[i] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 8:322-3. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria similarly noted that one who sees God is blinded by the brilliant rays (De Fuga et Inventione 165). He drew upon Exodus 33:23 to demonstrate that man cannot see God (De Mutatione Nominum 9). Another Jewish text, the third/fourth-century Greater Hekhalot indicates that eyes of flesh and blood cannot see God and that a man who looks upon God is blinded and consumed by fire.
[ii] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:271. Origen alludes to 1 Corinthians 15:44-46.
[iii] Ibid., 4:272.
[iv] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:638.
[v] S. C. Malan The Book of Adam and Eve, also called The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882), 6.
[vi] Ibid., 10.
[vii] Latter-day Saints would not agree with everything Tertullian wrote about the soul. For example, he believed that the soul (spirit) came into existence only at the time of one’s mortal birth.
[viii] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 3:187.