The Mormons hold to a doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul. That is, that the soul of each human being existed first in the spiritual realm. In their own words, "Before we were born on the earth, we lived in the presence of our
Heavenly Father as His spirit children. In this premortal existence, we
attended a council with Heavenly Father’s other spirit children." They claim that this doctrine is taught in Ecclesiastes 12:7: "[After death] the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." That is, Mormons claim, if it is returning to God, then it must have been with Him before it was incarnated in a body. Note that this isn't a form of reincarnation, since the Mormons do not claim that the soul existed in another body before its present incarnation.
However, as is their wont, the Mormons are being very selective in their use of Bible proofs. Another thing that God says on this matter can be found in Zechariah 12:1: "Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him..." Here, the prophet clearly described the contemporaneous creation of, and incarnation of, a man's soul. So, when a Mormon asks where the soul was before its current incarnation, the answer is that it wasn't anywhere, any more than the body was somewhere before its conception.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is describing a circumstance analogous to ordering a pizza. When you order the pizza, it doesn't yet exist. Rather, it is prepared and then given to you. If you then return the pizza, let's say for being burnt, you do indeed give it back, because it existed before you returned it, not because it existed before you ordered it. In the same way, God creates the soul within the new body, apparently at conception (see Psalm 51:5), and it then returns to its Maker upon death. There is no time of spiritual existence prior to incarnation.
In the New American Bible - Revised Edition (hereafter, "NABRE"), the primary translation used among English-speaking American Catholics, Isaiah 8:19-20 reads this way: "When they say to you, 'Inquire of ghosts and soothsayers who chirp and mutter; should not a people inquire of their gods, consulting the dead on behalf of the living, for instruction and testimony?' Surely, those who speak like this this are the ones for whom there is no dawn." Notice the phrase that I have placed in italics. The translators of this version place it in the assertions of those who seek advice from mediums.
In contrast, the ESV reads, "When they say to you, 'Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who
chirp and mutter,' should not a people inquire of their God? Should they
inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." Here, the translators place the clause in the portion in which God rebukes this paganistic syncretism. It is placed the same way in the New King James Version and the Modern English Version, which follow a different manuscript tradition. It was even placed this way in the Douay-Rheims Version, a much-earlier Catholic bible, in even stranger phrasing: "To the law rather, and to the testimony."
Why would the NABRE disconnect the phrase from what follows, to place it with what preceded? Ah, the essence of the issue!
One of the five solas of the Reformation was "sola scriptura," or "scripture alone," the belief that the Bible alone is infallible, and is therefore the ultimate standard for judging any question of spiritual controversy. Protestants believe that God has placed all truth necessary to salvation and godly living in the Bible, so that any man or woman can read it for himself, without the need of a priest or pope to give him "the rest of the story." This doctrine freed the conscience of Christians from the bondage that they had known to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Thus, that hierarchy, the force behind the translation of the NABRE, had a vested interest in hiding the truth revealed in these verses, the truth of sola scriptura!
Catholic apologists love to challenge Protestants with the question, "But where does the Bible teach sola scriptura?" And, since most Protestants don't know their bibles, especially the Old Testament, they often do not know these verses. And the Catholic hierarchy works hard that their own people do not know them, either.
We are taught to pray by claiming the promises of God - and I consider that a good thing. In fact, I believe that is what is meant by John, when he tells us to pray according to God's will (I John 5:14). One of the things that amazes me about this is that Jesus followed the same principle.
In two places in Isaiah, the Father promises a people, a posterity, to the pre-incarnate Son. In Isaiah 42:6, He says, "I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people,a light for the nations." The promise is even grander in Isaiah 49:6: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." The first could refer just to the Jews, but the second expands the promise to the Gentiles, as well, to give a fuller glory to the Son.
The Son responds in Isaiah 8:18, "Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and
portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion." And again in Psalm 22:22: "I will tell of your name to my brothers." As the Father glorifies the Son with a posterity, so does the Son glorify the Father to that posterity. These last two verses are explicitly applied to the Son in Hebrews 2:12-13.
In the New Testament, we see Jesus claiming these promises of the Father in the Gospel of John. He refers to "those You have given me" in John 10:29: "My Father has given them to Me" [i. e., His "sheep"]. He makes similar remarks several times in John 17:4, 6, 9, 11-12, and 24.
These verses describe what I have called the Intra-Trinitarian covenant. It is also called the covenant of redemption. There is more to that covenant than I describe here; I am merely describing one aspect of it. It is the basis of our salvation. The Father elected a church from all eternity, and gave it to the Son for redemption. I don't describe it here, but the Holy Spirit is also involved, undertaking to apply the redemption to the elect. This covenant, however, as much as we benefit from it, is not about us. it is about the glory that each Person of the Trinity gives to the others. I compare it to life insurance. Since it only pays upon the death of the party insured, he receives no benefit from it; rather, the benefits go to the beneficiaries, who are third parties to the contract. In the same way, the elect are the beneficiaries of the intra-Trinitarian covenant: we were not consulted, nor is it for our glory, but from it we receive redemption from our sins. This covenant goes against two false doctrines. The first is that the love of God and the atonement of the cross are intended for everybody, but not necessarily effectual to anyone. The second is far more heinous, i. e., the doctrine of the Oneness pentecostals, who deny the Trinity, deny the person of the Father and the Holy Spirit. All three Persons of the Trinity are, and have always been, involved in our salvation. Without the Trinity, therefore, there can be no one saved. This doctrine is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith (VIII:1): "It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord
Jesus, His only-begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and men, the
prophet, priest, and king; the head and Savior of the Church, the heir or
all things, and judge of the world; unto whom He did, from all eternity,
give a people to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called,
justified, sanctified, and glorified."
Have you ever noticed the consistent response that a person gets if he tries to point out the theological errors of someone else, especially a TV preacher? He is "judgmental," "unloving." The vocabulary is
Often, the only effort at a biblical criticism is to exclaim, "Judge not, lest ye be judged!" And that is, indeed, biblical, from Matthew 7:1. However, it is not completely biblical. What does the next verse say? "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." By what standard will you be judged? By the standard of the Word of God, of course. Thus, Matthew is making the same point that John does in John 7:24: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." That is, judge according to the word of God, not according to one's personal preferences. In both cases, the authors are quoting Jesus. Thus, in context, Jesus in Matthew is not making an absolute statement against exercising judgment. Otherwise we would have Him contradicting Himself. Later in life, John explained these words of Jesus in his second epistle. He uses the buzzword of the nonjudgmental crowd (that is, nonjudgmental among themselves; they have plenty of judgment for anyone who dares to disagree with them), "love," four times in just the first six verses (out of the mere thirteen in the whole epistle). And I am sure that the love crowd would love to stop at that point. However, John gives a definition of love, one that they will not like (verse six): "this is love, that we walk according to his commandments." "Love," in John's usage, has content. Another word that John uses a lot in this epistle, five times, is "truth." Not just "a truth," but "the truth," truth that "we know," is "in us," and "abides with us forever." John expresses his joy that the recipients of this epistle are "walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father" (verse 4). In contrast, he warns against "deceivers" (verse 7), who do "not abide in the teaching of Christ" (verse 9), and who we are "not receive him into your house or give him any greeting" (verse 10).
Thus, contrary to the judgment of the love crowd, we are not commanded to love everybody (that is, equally and openly), but rather those who are faithful to the truth, i. e., biblical truth. This is the same attitude that David expresses in Psalm 139:21-22: "Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies." The "man after God's own heart" (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22) hated those who hate the truth. And we are, too, regardless of the shrieks of rage from the unloving love hypocrites.
There are various forms of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. The Churches of Christ, the United Pentecostal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Mormons, all teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation, or even is itself saving. I intend here to address just one verse that they use, so my comments here are in no way intended as a complete discussion of the topic.
In I Peter 3:21, the Apostle wrote, "Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of
dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." You will often see the sectarians I list above quoting the first clause of that verse: "Baptism now saves you." By itself, it would appear to be a slamdunk case, proving that the sacrament, in and of itself, is salvific. However, even with the slightest care in reading Peter, he says nothing of the sort. In hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation), this is described as "putting the sign for the thing signified." In this case, the sign of baptism is mentioned in lieu of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Beyond general hermeneutical principles, how can we know this? In two ways. First, even if the verse stopped with that clause, we would know that a literal reading would conflict with everything else that the Bible says about justification. Not just certain proof texts, but the whole message of the Bible, in the other sixty-five books, and the rest of I Peter (e. g., I Peter 2:24). But, in particular, look at the rest of the verse: "not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Peter goes on to refer to what is represented by the baptism, the application of the atonement we have in Christ through faith. Thus, it is only through the misrepresentation of what the verse actually says, one of the hallmarks of a cult, that they can twist the words of Peter to support their error of doctrine.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at email@example.com.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43