[Supplement to Gospel Doctrine New Testament lesson 1]

The first chapter of the gospel of John describes the role played by the premortal Christ in the creation of the earth and in the plan of redemption. The Book of Mormon repeatedly informs us that the atonement of Christ was “prepared from the foundation of the world.” [1] When the premortal Lord appeared to the brother of Jared, he declared, “Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ” (Ether 3:14).

The idea that Christ “was prepared from before the foundation of the world” is also found in Moses 5:57 (see also 7:47) and in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8).

Jewish tradition holds that the “light of the Messiah” existed prior to the creation (Zohar Leviticus 34b), that his name was known before the creation of the earth (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 1:4), and that the Spirit that hovered over the waters at the time of creation (Genesis 1:2) was “the spirit of the Messiah” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 2:4).

Moses 2:26-27 indicates that the words “let us make” in Genesis 1:26, as well as those spoken in Genesis 3:22 and Moses 4:28, represent the Father speaking to “mine Only Begotten,” who assisted in the creation of the world: [2] Many early Church Fathers took Genesis 1:26 to be the Father speaking to the Son, [3] while others took it as evidence for the three divine persons in the Godhead. [4]

From the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that the premortal Christ accepted the Father’s plan that he come to earth to save mankind (Moses 4:1-3; Abraham 3:22-28). The willingness of the premortal Christ to become mankind’s Savior is reflected in a fourth-century Christian document, the Discourse on Abbaton, folios 11b-12a, which has the resurrected Christ describing the creation of Adam to his disciples:

He [God]… made Adam according to Our image and likeness, and he left him lying for forty days and forty nights without putting breath into him. And He heaved sighs over him, saying, “If I put breath into this [man], he must suffer many pains.”

And I said unto My Father, “Put breath into him; I will be an advocate for him.”

And My Father said unto Me, “If I put breath into him, My beloved Son, Thou wilt be obliged to go down into the world, and to suffer many pains for him before Thou shalt have redeemed him, and made him to come back to his primal state.”

And I said unto My Father, “Put breath into him; I will be his advocate, and I will go down into the world, and will fulfil Thy command.” [5]

The account may be quite old, for it is also known from a Jewish text, Pesikta Rabbati 161a-b, where we read that when God “created the Messiah,” he “began to tell him the conditions [of his future mission],” telling him that that “their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke… and they will choke your spirit with the yoke, and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this?”

The Messiah, like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, [6] was concerned and asked, “Will that suffering last many years?” God replied that he had decreed this on him, “But if your soul is troubled, [7] I shall banish them as from this moment.”

The Messiah responded, “Master of the Worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish; and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who have died from the days of Adam the first man until now. And not only they, but even the stillborn should be saved in my days; and not only the stillborn, but even those to whose creation You gave thought but who were not created. This is what I want, this is what I accept!” [8]

Another Jewish text, the Zohar, may also reflect the discussion that took place in the premortal council, though instead of the Messiah, it speaks of “the Torah” or law of Moses (often personified in Kabbalistic texts in situations where the Christian parallels have Christ). The passage cites Rabbi Judah:

“We have learnt,” he said, “that when God was about to create man, He consulted the Torah and she warned Him that he would sin before Him and provoke Him. Therefore, before creating the world God created Repentance, saying to her: ‘I am about to create man, on condition that when they return to thee from their sins thou shalt be prepared to forgive their sins and make atonement for them” (Zohar Leviticus 69b). [9]

ZoharGenesis 134b says that “when God was about to create man the Torah [law] remonstrated, saying: ‘Should man be created and then sin and be brought to trial before Thee, the work of Thy hand will be in vain, for he will not be able to endure Thy judgement.’ Whereto God replied: ‘I had already fashioned repentance before creating the world.’” [10]

A similar concept was expressed by the apostle Paul when he wrote of “eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2). Since eternal life is God’s gift to us through Christ (Romans 6:23; D&C 14:7), it follows that we, as premortal spirits, must have been the recipients of that promise in the premortal council described in the books of Abraham (3:22-28) and Moses (4:1-2; cf. D&C 76:25-28).

Knowing that God prepared a way for our salvation even before sending us to the earth gives us an eternal perspective of life. Just as death is not the end of our existence, so, too, our birth was merely a transition from a premortal world to the mortal sphere on which we now live. It is comforting to know that our Heavenly Father planned everything in the beginning, assisted by his Son, Jesus Christ, and that they will see us through into eternity if we will but follow the divine plan and our Savior’s example.

For additional material relating to this lesson, see:

For an introduction to the books of the New Testament and in-depth discussions of each verse in the New Testament, see Kevin L. Barney (ed.), John H. Jenkins, and John A. Tvedtnes, “Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints,” go to: http://feastupontheword.org/Site:NTFootnotes

 


[1] Mosiah 4:6-7; 15:19; 18:13; Alma 12:25, 30; 18:39; 22:13; 42:26; Ether 4:15; see also D&C 29:46; 121:26-32; 128:5, 22; 130:20; 132:5, 11, 28-29, 63. For a discussion of this concept, see John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “From the Foundation of the World,” FARMS Update 144, Insights 21/3 (March 2001), posted at http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=insights&id=184.

[2] For Christ’s role in the creation, see John 1:3; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1-2; Moses 1:33; 2:1; D&C 76:23.

[3] Epistle of Barnabas 5:5, 6:12; Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1.12; Origen, Against Celsus 2.9; 5.37 and Commentary on John, 1.22; Tertullian, Against Praxeas 12.; Ephraem of Syria, Hymns of Faith 6:13 and Commentary on Genesis 1:28; Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 1.2.4-5; St. Basil, Hexaemeron 9.6; St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 7 and Sermons on Genesis 2; Theophilus to Autolycus 2:10, 18; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 62, 129; Irenaeus, Against the Heresies 4, preface.4; 5.15.4; Novatian, Treatise on the Trinity 17, 26; Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 5.1; 8.2; Basil, Hexaemeron 3.2; Archbishop Timothy of Alexandria, Discourse on Abbatonfolios 9b, 11b; Bakhayla Mika’el, Book of the Mysteries of the Heavens and the Earth. For a study of the patristic and Gnostic literature, see Robert McLachlan Wilson, “The Early History of the Exegesis of Gen. 1.26,” in Kurt Aland and F. L. Cross, eds., Studia Patristica 1(Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957): 420-437.

[4] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 12; Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 13.22, On the Trinity 1.71 [4], 7.6 [12], 12.6 [6-7]; Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man 6.3; Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit 2.9 [100] and 3.11 [85]; Ethiopic Cave of Treasures, folio 4b, column 2.

[5] Ernest A. Wallis Budge, Coptic Martyrdoms (London: British Museum, 1914), 482.  Also in Budge, Egyptian Tales and Romances (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1935), 198.

[6] In Gethsemane, “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:38-39).

[7] Cf. Jesus’ words in John 12:27, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.”

[8] Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousands Years (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988), 112.

[9] Harry Sperling et al., The Zohar (New York: The Rebecca Bennett Publications Inc., 1958), 5:66.

[10] Ibid., 2:36.