From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
In November 1909, President Joseph F. Smith and his Counselors in the First Presidency, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund, issued a statement titled “The Origin of Man” to answer inquiries arising “from time to time respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … in relation to the origin of man. It is believed that a statement of the position held by the Church upon this important subject will be timely and productive of good.” The statement includes these words:
“‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’ [Genesis 1:27.] In these plain and pointed words the inspired author of the book of Genesis made known to the world the truth concerning the origin of the human family.”1 This chapter contains excerpts from “The Origin of Man.”
President Smith frequently affirmed the literal reality of the fatherhood of God: “As I know, and as I have reason to know, that I am here and that I live, so I believe and I have reason to know that God, my Father, lives.”2
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
We are the spirit children of our Heavenly Father.
We want to know where we came from, and where we are going. Where did we come from? From God. Our spirits existed before they came to this world. They were in the councils of the heavens before the foundations of the earth were laid. We were there. We sang together with the heavenly hosts for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid, and when the plan of our existence upon this earth and redemption were mapped out. We were there; we were interested, and we took a part in this great preparation. We were unquestionably present in those councils … when Satan offered himself as a savior of the world if he could but receive the honor and glory of the Father for doing it. But Jesus said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” Wherefore, because Satan rebelled against God, and sought to destroy the agency of man, the Father rejected him and he was cast out, but Jesus was accepted. We were, no doubt, there, and took part in all those scenes, we were vitally concerned in the carrying out of these great plans and purposes, we understood them, and it was for our sakes they were decreed, and are to be consummated. These spirits have been coming to this earth to take upon them tabernacles, that they might become like unto Jesus Christ, being “formed in his likeness and image,” from the morn of creation until now, and will continue until the winding up scene, until the spirits who were destined to come to this world shall have come and accomplished their mission in the flesh.3
We behold … man, the crowning work of God, on this earth, the masterpiece, if you please, whom inspiration teaches us, is the offspring of that eternal being who is the Creator of all things, he being the most perfect in his organization, possessing greater attributes, powers of reason, and intelligence than all other beings, constituting him the “lord of creation,” and the nearest in resemblance to the Creator. We look at these things and we cannot but come to the conclusion that this is not the work of chance, but the result of matured omniscient designs and purposes, that man is the son of God, possessing the attributes and image of his Father, and in the beginning much of this intelligence, insomuch that he was the companion and associate of God and dwelt with him, and knew no sin. The Lord gave him the earth as a possession and an inheritance, and laws for his government, that he might fill the measure of his creation and have joy therein.4
The written standards of scripture show that all people who come to this earth and are born in mortality, had a pre-existent, spiritual personality, as the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father. … Jesus Christ was the first-born. A spirit born of God is an immortal being. When the body dies, the spirit does not die. In the resurrected state the body will be immortal as well as the spirit.5
We are created in the image of God.
What was the form of man, in the spirit and in the body, as originally created? In a general way the answer is given in [these] words. … “God created man in his own image.” It is more explicitly rendered in the Book of Mormon thus: “All men were created in the beginning after mine own image” (Ether 3:15). It is the Father who is speaking. If, therefore, we can ascertain the form of the “Father of spirits,” “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” we shall be able to discover the form of the original man.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “the express image” of His Father’s person (Hebrews 1:3). He walked the earth as a human being, as a perfect man, and said, in answer to a question put to Him: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This alone ought to solve the problem to the satisfaction of every thoughtful, reverent mind. The conclusion is irresistible, that if the Son of God be the express image (that is, likeness) of His Father’s person, then His Father is in the form of man; for that was the form of the Son of God, not only during His mortal life, but before His mortal birth, and after His resurrection. It was in this form that the Father and the Son, as two personages, appeared to Joseph Smith, when, as a boy of fourteen years, he received his first vision.
Then if God made man—the first man—in His own image and likeness, he must have made him like unto Christ, and consequently like unto men of Christ’s time and of the present day. That man was made in the image of Christ, is positively stated in the Book of Moses: “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. … And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him, male and female created I them” [Moses 2:26–27].
The Father of Jesus is our Father also. Jesus Himself taught this truth, when He instructed His disciples how to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven,” etc. Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God. …
“God created man in His own image.” This is just as true of the spirit as it is of the body, which is only the clothing of the spirit, its complement; the two together constituting the soul [see D&C 88:15]. The spirit of man is in the form of man, and the spirits of all creatures are in the likeness of their bodies. This was plainly taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants, 77:2). …
When the divine Being whose spirit-body the brother of Jared beheld [see Ether 3:6–16], took upon Him flesh and blood, He appeared as a man, having “body, parts and passions,” like other men, though vastly superior to all others, because He was God, even the Son of God, the Word made flesh: in Him “dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” [Colossians 2:9.] And why should He not appear as a man? That was the form of His spirit, and it must needs have an appropriate covering, a suitable tabernacle. He came into the world as He had promised to come (III Nephi 1:13), taking an infant tabernacle, and developing it gradually to the fulness of His spirit stature. He came as man had been coming for ages, and as man has continued to come ever since. Jesus, however, as shown, was the only begotten of God in the flesh.
Adam, our great progenitor, “the first man,” was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and like Christ he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a “living soul.” The doctrine of the pre-existence,—revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh, and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.
It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or 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. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.6
We become like God our Father through obedience to the principles of the gospel.
God originated and designed all things, and all are his children. We are born into the world as his offspring; endowed with the same attributes. The children of men have sprung from the Almighty, whether the world is willing to acknowledge it or not. He is the Father of our spirits. He is the originator of our earthly tabernacles. We live and move and have our being in God our heavenly Father. And having sprung from him with our talents, our ability, our wisdom, we should at least be willing to acknowledge his hand in all the prosperity that may attend us in life, and give to him the honor and glory of all we accomplish in the flesh. …
… [Man] is made in the image of God himself, so that he can reason, reflect, pray, exercise faith; he can use his energies for the accomplishment of the desires of his heart, and inasmuch as he puts forth his efforts in the proper direction, then he is entitled to an increased portion of the Spirit of the Almighty to inspire him to increased intelligence, to increased prosperity and happiness in the world; but in proportion as he prostitutes his energies for evil, the inspiration of the Almighty is withdrawn from him, until he becomes so dark and so benighted, that so far as his knowledge of God is concerned, he is quite as ignorant as a dumb brute.
… We must become like [God]; peradventure to sit upon thrones, to have dominion, power, and eternal increase. God designed this in the beginning. … This is the object of our existence in the world; and we can only attain to these things through obedience to certain principles, through walking in certain channels, through obtaining certain information, certain intelligence from God, without which no man can accomplish his work or fulfill the mission he has come upon the earth to fulfill. These principles are the principles of the gospel of eternal truth, the principles of faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, the principle of obedience to God the eternal Father; for obedience is one of the first principles or laws of heaven.7
Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.8
Suggestions for Study
How does it make you feel to know that you are literally the offspring of God? How does this understanding influence your everyday choices and actions?
Where did we first hear the plan of our Heavenly Father for our eternal progression? For what purposes did we come to earth?
What attributes do we possess as children of God? What are the consequences of misusing our God-given attributes and abilities?
What scriptural testimonies do we have that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have bodies in the form of men? How are these testimonies of value to you?
How does the doctrine of the premortal existence pour “a wonderful flood of light” on questions about our origin?
How does revealed truth about the origin of mankind differ from the theories of men on this subject?
Why is it important to give our Father in Heaven “the honor and glory of all we accomplish in the flesh”?
What principles must we obey in order to become like our Heavenly Father?
“The Origin of Man, by the First Presidency of the Church,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1909, 3.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 93–94.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 18 Feb. 1873, 2.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:264.
“The Origin of Man, by the First Presidency of the Church,” 77–80.
Gospel Doctrine, 62–64.
“The Origin of Man, by the First Presidency of the Church,” 81.