The Spirit and the Body

The Spirit and the Body

John A. Tvedtnes

 The Book of Mormon teaches a number of things about the spirit and body of human beings that are not known from elsewhere in the scriptures. These ideas are, however, known from Judaism, and are reflected in various ancient and medieval texts. Here, we shall examine some of these concepts as described in the Nephite record and in the Hebrew text known as the Zohar, a compilation of ancient traditions passed on by early rabbis and written down in the 13th century AD, probably in Spain.

 The Body is in the Form of the Spirit

 In Ether 3:6, we read that the brother of Jared “saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood.” Seeing his faith, the premortal Christ showed himself to the prophet and told him that “all men were created in the beginning after mine own image” (Ether 3:15), a fact confirmed in Moses 2:27, where the Father declares, “God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.”

 The brother of Jared thought he had seen a flesh-and-blood being, but the Lord told me that, though he would “take upon me flesh and blood” (Ether 3:8-9), “this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:16). To this, Moroni added “that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites” (Ether 3:17).[1] From this, we learn that the spirit and the body have the same form (cf. D&C 77:2). According to the pseudepigraphic Testament of Naphtali 2:2, the Lord forms the body in correspondence to the spirit, i.e., in the same form.

 According to the Talmud (TB Avodah Zarah 5a), God showed Adam all future generations of his descendants. Zohar 90b-91a refers to this story (among others) as evidence that the souls have the same form as the bodies they occupy in this world and that Adam actually saw the souls in their preexistent form.[2] The passage informs us that God “fashions the forms of the offspring before they are born . . . from the day on which the world was created all the souls which were destined to come to life among mankind were existing before God in that very form which they were destined to assume on earth (in the same way that the righteous after death are clothed in a form similar to that which they wore in this world).”[3] The same idea is found in Zohar Exodus 13b: “As the body is formed in this world from the combination of the four elements, so is the spirit formed in the Garden from the combination of the four winds that are in the Garden, and the spirit is enveloped there in the impress of the body’s shape.”[4] The text also explains:

 The spirit which enters the children of men, and which emanates from the Female (Malkuth) makes an impression after the fashion of a seal. That is to say, the form of the human body in this world is projected outwards, and takes the impress of the spirit from within. So when the spirit separates itself from the body it returns to the earthly Garden in the actual form and pattern of the body that was its garment during its sojourn in this world and upon which it acted like a seal. Hence it says, “Set me as a seal” [Song Of Solomon 8:6]: as the seal presses from within and the mark of it appears outwards, so the spirit acts upon the body. But when it separates itself from the body and returns to the terrestrial Paradise, the aether there causes this impress in turn to project itself outwards, so that the spirit receives an outward shape in the likeness of the body in this world. (Zohar Exodus 11a)[5]

The same idea is found in Zohar Genesis 233b: “All the souls which came into existence when the world was created stand before God before coming down in that same form in which they afterwards appear in the world, since that bodily appearance of man which he had in this world is also found above. When this soul is about to descend into the world, it stands before God in the form which it is to assume in the world, and God adjures it to keep the precepts of the law and not to transgress them. Hence it says [Psalm 139:16]: ‘Thine eyes saw mine imperfect form’ before it appeared in the world, ‘and in thy book they were all written,’ that is to say, all the souls in their forms are recorded in the book.”[6] Zohar Exodus 96b details the process of the spirit being formed and sent to the earth:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create the world, it pleased Him to form all the souls which were destined to be allotted to the children of men, and each was shaped before him in the very outline of the body she was afterwards to inhabit. He examined each one, and saw that some of them would corrupt their ways in the world. When the time of each was arrived, the Holy One summoned it, saying: “Go, descend into such and such a place, into such and such a body.”  But ofttimes it chanced that the soul would reply, “Lord of the world, I am satisfied to be here in this world, and desire not to leave it for some other place where I shall be enslaved and become soiled.” Then would the Holy One respond: “From the very day of thy creation thou hast had no other destiny than to go into that world.” At this the soul, seeing that it must obey, would descend against its will and enter into this world.[7]

Similar detail is found in Zohar Exodus 161b:

When the Holy One resolved to create man, there appeared before His Mind potential man, in form and condition as he was to be in this world; and not he alone, but all human beings, before they enter this world, stand before Him in the same way, in that treasure-house of souls where, dressed in a semblance of their earthly forms, they await their entry into this world. When their time has arrived to descend to this world, the Holy One calls upon a certain emissary appointed over all the souls to go down and says to him: “Go, bring hither to Me such and such a spirit,” and on the instant that soul appears, clad in the form of this world, and is led forward by the angel that the Holy King may look upon it. Then does the Holy One warn that soul, when it shall have reached the earthly regions, to remember the Torah [law], and devote itself thereto, so that it may know Him and the mystery of Faith; for better were it for a man that he should never be born than not to know Him. Therefore is it presented before the Holy King, that afterwards it may know Him in this world, and be devoted to the Holy one in the mystery of the Faith.[8]

Similarly, in Zohar Leviticus 42a, we read “that when a man goes to unite with his wife in sanctity, his holy thought awakens a spirit compounded of male and female, and God signals to a messenger who is in charge of the conception of human beings and entrusts to him that spirit and informs him where to deposit it, and also lays various injunctions on the spirit itself. Then the spirit goes down to earth along with a certain form which bore its image above, and in that form it is created and goes about in this world; and so long as that form is with a man, he retains his form in this world.”[9]

The Post-Mortal Spirit World

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma spoke of “the state of the soul between death and the resurrection,” noting that, “as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.” At that time, they receive a preliminary judgment of their works while in mortality and “the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace,” while “the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil . . . shall be cast out into outer darkness,” where “they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (Alma 40:11-14). A similar idea is found in Zohar Genesis 130b:

Observe that the day on which a man is to about to depart from this world is a day of reckoning when the body and the soul in combination have to give an account of their works. The soul afterwards leave him, and the body returns to the earth, both thus returning to their original source, where they willl remain until the time when the Holy One will bring the dead to life again. Then God will cause the identical body and the identical soul to return to the world in their former state.[10]

The Zohar also teaches something that we read in published reports of near-death experiences, “that at the hour of a man’s departure from the world, his father and his relatives gather round him, and he sees them and recognizes them, and likewise all with whom he associated in this world, and they accompany his soul to the place where it is to abide” (Zohar Genesis 218a).[11] The fact that the spirits of the dead recognize each other again suggests that they bear the same image that characterized them in mortality. The pseudepigraphic History of the Rechabites 15:10 says that the soul leaving the body at death has the same likeness as the body itself.

The Resurrection

Amulek, Alma’s missionary companion, taught that, at the resurrection, “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time . . . Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil” (Alma 11:43-44).

Zohar Genesis 131a similarly explains that “At the time when the Holy One will bring the dead back to life, all the souls mustered before Him will bear each a form identical with the one it bore in this world.  The Holy One will bring them down, and will call them by their names . . . Every soul will then enter into its own place, and the dead will be fully resurrected.”[12]


From the examples given here, it is clear that the Book of Mormon—and especially Alma—finds agreement with the Zohar and a few other early Jewish texts regarding the nature of man’s spirit in regard to the body. A vast array of scriptural passages and ancient Jewish and Christian texts agree that our spirits existed with God prior to our mortal birth, but the concepts discussed here are unique to just a few early texts.

[1] See also 1 Nephi 11:11: “I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.”

[2] Zohar Genesis 91b adds: “When God showed Adam all future generations, he saw them all in the Garden of Eden in the form which they were destined to assume in this world.”  Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar (New York: The Rebecca Bennet Publications, 1958), 1:300.

[3] Ibid., 1:298.  The text also notes that “when Moses said ‘with him that standeth here this day with us, etc.’ (Deut. 29:14), we understand him to indicate that all [Israelites] who were yet to be born were there” (ibid.).

[4] Ibid., 3:41.

[5] Ibid., 3:33.

[6] Ibid., 2:345.

[7] Ibid., 3:291.

[8] Ibid., 4:57-58.

[9] Ibid., 5:5. Zohar Leviticus 104a-b says, “In the Book of King Solomon it is written that at the hour of wedded union on earth, God sends a certain form with the figure of a human being which hovers over the union, and if a man’s eye were capable of such a thing it would see such a form over his head. The child is created in that form, and before that form stands over a man’s head the child is not created, that form being prepared for it before it issues into the world. In that form it grows up, and in that form it goes about . . . This form is from on high. When the spirits go forth from their places, each one stands before the Holy King with its adornments, with the countenance which it is to wear in this world” (ibid., 5:137).

[10] Ibid., 2:20-21.

[11] Ibid., 2:307.

[12] Ibid., 2:23.