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10 December 2015

When Does the Soul Enter the Body?

A couple of years ago, when we lived in New York, I had to fill in for the 8-year-old's primary class at the last minute. We played the usual scripture hangman for about 15 minutes, until we'd hit that proverbial wall of boredom. Sensing the need for movement, I took the kids to the gymnasium for a game of follow-the-leader. Every time we switched leaders, the new "it" person got to ask me any (church related) question they wanted.

The kids were pumped (and so was I), they were only eight after all... how intense could the questions be?

Answer: VERY.

Among questions about whether God had a wife, what happens after we die, and why we do we have to get baptised anyway, there was one question that really caught me off guard. She asked, "So, when does a baby's spirit go into the mommy's tummy?"

I was pretty shocked. Particularly because I realised that, although I THOUGHT I had an answer, I had no way of backing it up.

This question has stuck with me for several years now and has become especially poignant in light of our struggle with fertility.


My perspective on this comes from a predominantly Mormon theology, and really rests upon the idea that before we were born, we still existed as intelligences, or spirits [1]. Although mainstream Christianity rejects the idea of a pre-mortal existence (mostly because in the very early Christian church, the concept was thought to be both too pagan and too Jewish [2]), the Bible is plump with references to our antemortal life. [3]

Still, even with the knowledge that our spirits existed BEFORE we came to earth. When exactly that happened is a highly debated issue. There are mainly three schools of thought on this issue:

1) The spirit enters the body at conception.

2) The spirit enters the body at birth.

3) The womb is a transitional space where the spiritual presence is known as "a quickening."

I've done a lot of pondering and praying and I actually think it may be a combination of #2 and #3.


The apostles and prophets do not necessarily all agree on this. Some are for option #1, some for #2 and some for #3. However, the majority seem to support the following:

- President Brigham Young said he believed that “when the mother feels life come to her infant it is the spirit entering the body.” [4]

- From “The Origin of Man” message issued by the First Presidency in 1909: “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” [5]

- In 1975 James E. Faust stated, “Some say, as did the Supreme Court of the United States, that it is only theory that human life begins at conception. This is contrary to insurmountable medical evidence…Because she feels it, every mother knows there is sacred life in the body of her unborn babe. There is also life in the spirit, and some time before birth the body and spirit are united. When they do come together, we have a human soul.” [6]

Now, as I mentioned, not all prophets and apostles agree on this.


The most well known example of a fetus discussed in the scriptures is when the virgin Mary meets her kinswoman Elisabeth. When they meet, Elisabeth exclaims that she feels John leap for joy and is filled with the Holy Ghost, a testament of Jesus. [7]

This would seem to support #1 and #3. Both John and Jesus are present and somewhat conscious in their mother's wombs BEFORE they are born.

Interestingly though, if we look to the Book of Mormon, Jesus (whose spirit was definitely present inside Mary early-ish in her pregnancy), suddenly appears to Nephi the day before He is born. If His spirit was locked into His body from conception, that would not be possible. Therefore, it seems more likely that womb is a transitional space, where the spirit is not necessarily permanent until birth. Perhaps it takes nine months for the spirit to get used to existence within a body. [8]


It helps us understand the sacred nature of the calling of motherhood and the significance of the female body, as it is one of the only places that the veil is most thin on the earth.

Also, if we look at the way Christ describes baptism as being "born again" [9] we learn that our first birth, should in someway, be in similitude of that ordinance. In utero, a baby is held in ambiotic fluid. This water is the transitional space from one world to the next. In baptism it is the same-- as we are fully submersed in the water we are in a transitional space from our early life to our new life, in God.


With all this said, I believe that miscarried babies will get another chance-- their soul will have the opportunity to try again and be born in a new body. This is supported by the Church's stance to NOT seal miscarried or stillborn babies to their parents. [10] If the child is born alive, these ordinances can be performed.


I think the next natural place to carry this is to abortion. If a baby is going to have the opportunity to be born in a different body anyway, why is abortion bad? Isn't it actually more merciful to have that baby born into a family that can take care of it?

My simplest answer is an emphatic NO. Abortion may not technically be murder, but it is the next closest thing. [11] You are ripping the opportunity of a body away from a spirit (which is needed for it's eternal progression). In a more trivialized way, it would be like getting a full-ride tuition scholarship, having it in your bank account, and then you parents removing it and spending it simply because you going to school would be an inconvenience. It is not ok. 

Spencer Kimball taught: “Abortion must be considered one of the most revolting and sinful practices in this day…” [12]

Still, this perspective is the only way I can account for the churches position that abortion is acceptable in the case of rape, incest or where the mother's life is put in danger. Still, the church asks for prayerful consideration before any abortions are performed.


This is a subject I am still developing my understanding on and would love to hear your thoughts. When do you think spiritual life begins?


[1] A great article on the topic from the New Era.

[2] The decision was made in 553 AD at the Second Council of Constantinople that the doctrine pre-existence was heretical. This was mainly due to writings by several early church fathers (notably Origen) that believed classic Greek philosophy of Plato and Euclid were not inconsistent with Christianity. For those in charge, Greek philosophy = paganism, regardless of the doctrine's merit or scriptural validity.

[3] There are many scriptures within the Mormon canon that describe the pre-existence. However, my favourites from the Old and New Testament are:

[4] (Journal of Discourses,17:143.)

[5] (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970, 4:205.)

[6]  (Ensign 5:27-29, May 1975)

[10] Quoting from "I Have a Question" September 1987:

"Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, quoting President Brigham Young, wrote that “‘[Stillborn children] are all right,’ … and nothing in the way of sealings or ordinances need be done for them.” (Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955, 2:281.)

The question of whether stillborn children will be resurrected and belong to their parents in the hereafter is really the crux of the matter. This question is, as yet, impossible to answer with certainty. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that “there is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:280.) He said nothing about miscarried children."

[11] In the Stake Presidents and Bishops Handbook 1 (2010), it says on page 57 that “abortion is not defined as murder.”

[12] (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.189)

Special thanks to the Herveys, Palmers, Scotts, Youngs, and Zimmermans for allowing me to be apart of archiving your beautiful families.

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