Chapter 41: Elected before the Foundations of the World

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 330–37

Map Chp. 41

A Letter of Paul to the Church at Rome

Written from Corinth (?) During Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, ca. Winter, A.D. 57–58 (Romans 9–16)


How the Law of Election Operates


How Faith and Salvation Come


Israel Is Chosen According to the Election of Grace

10:19–21; 11:1–10

Gentile Converts Are Adopted into Israel


The Fulness of the Gentiles to Precede the Conversion of the Jews


Be A Living Sacrifice Through Obedience to God


Talents Are Given Saints for Service


Resist Evil with Charity


Submission to Church Authorities


“Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law”


Righteousness Leads to Salvation


What are Matters of True Religion?


True Saints Fellowship Each Other


Gospel Gifts Poured Out upon Gentiles


Paul Salutes the Saints


Interpretive Commentary

(41-1) Romans 9:11. How Does the Law of Election Operate?

“Paul here tells how the election of grace fits in to the gospel scheme. His Roman readers knew what he was talking about because they already understood the doctrine of election. Since the sectarian world has little or no comprehension of pre-existence and eternal progression, upon which doctrines the principles of election are based, it is no wonder that these and other teachings of Paul are so completely misconstrued by them.

“This doctrine of the election of grace is as follows: ‘As part of the new song the saints will sing when they “see eye to eye” and the millennial era has been ushered in will be these words, “The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel, According to the election of grace, Which was brought to pass by the faith And covenant of their fathers.” (D. & C. 84:98–102; Rom. 11:1–5.) This election of grace is a very fundamental, logical, and important part of God’s dealings with men through the ages. To bring to pass the salvation of the greatest possible number of his spirit children the Lord, in general, sends the most righteous and worthy saints to earth through the lineage of Abraham and Jacob. This course is a manifestation of his grace or in other words his love, mercy, and condescension toward his children.

“‘This election to a chosen lineage is based on pre-existent worthiness and is made “according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Pet. 1:2.) Those so grouped together during their mortal probation have more abundant opportunities to make and keep the covenants of salvation, a right which they earned by pre-existent devotion to the cause of righteousness. As part of this election, Abraham and others of the noble and great spirits were chosen before they were born for the particular missions assigned them in this life.’ (Abra. 3:22–24; Rom. 9.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:273–74.)

(41-2) Romans 9:13. Did the Lord Hate Esau?

While it is likely that the names Esau and Jacob stood for the nations that had sprung from these two brothers, namely, Edom and Israel, it still seems strange that God should choose one to hate and one to love. But while the Greek word used here does mean “hate” in the same sense that we use it, Paul is quoting a phrase from Malachi 1:3. In Hebrew the verb translated to hate carried many shades of meaning, including “rejection,” “strong displeasure,” or, very commonly, “loving less than.” The important point in Paul’s discussion is that this acceptance of Jacob and rejection of Esau was on the basis of personal righteousness, not on some arbitrary judgment.

“God chose Jacob over Esau while the two were yet in Rebecca’s womb and before either, as far as the works of this life are concerned, had earned any preferential status. Why? It is a pure matter of pre-existence. Jacob was coming into the world with greater spiritual capacity than Esau; he was foreordained to a special work; he was elected to serve in a chosen capacity.

“Then through the lineage of Jacob, God sent those valiant spirits, those noble and great ones, who in his infinite wisdom and foreknowledge he knew would be inclined to serve him. Through Esau came those spirits of lesser valiance and devotion. Hence, in the very nature of things, many of Jacob’s seed were righteous in this life, and many of Esau’s were wicked, causing Malachi to say in the Lord’s name, some fifteen hundred years later, that God loved the house of Jacob and hated the house of Esau. (Mal. 1:2–3.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:277.)

(41-3) Romans 10:9, 10. Can One Achieve Salvation Simply by Confessing with the Mouth?

These two verses of scripture have been quoted very often by those who believe that salvation comes by grace alone and is not dependent in any way upon man’s good works. Some groups even go so far as to say that if a man should confess Jesus before he is killed in an accident he will be saved in the kingdom of God, even if he had lived a wicked life prior to that time. Not only does this idea go contrary to the vast weight of Paul’s own teachings (some within the Roman epistle itself—for example, 2:5–13; 6:13, 16; all of chapters 12–14), but it is also a gross misinterpretation of what Paul is really saying.

The passage in question comes in the section where Paul is talking about Israel’s rejection of the gospel. He begins by pointing out that while the Jews are zealous for God (that is, eagerly trying to be obedient to his commandments), they have missed a vital point of the gospel by trying to rely on their own righteousness alone. Paul then quotes rather freely from the Old Testament to show that no man could accomplish what Christ did in coming down from heaven and in coming out of the great pit of death, no matter how hard they tried. What men must do in order to qualify for Christ’s blessings is to confess their Lord openly before the world. This they can do only with a heart that “believeth unto righteousness” (vs. 10).

The heart (in Greek kardia) was seen as the seat of man’s inner self. “Believing with the heart” implies much more than intellectual assent. It implies commitment, behavioral evidence of that commitment, and an inner change. Obviously, if one truly believes things, he will live accordingly. Confession with the mouth is not sufficient.

(41-4) Romans 10:14, 15. Acceptance of Christ Requires Acceptance of His Prophets

“Now it is not possible, in my judgment, for people in the world to accept Christ and come to salvation, unless at one and the same time they accept the prophets whom Christ has sent and receive the administration of holy ordinances under their hands.

“Christ and his prophets are one. We could not believe in Christ if there were not prophets to declare Christ and his saving truths unto us. The Apostle Paul reasoned on this subject, and he said: ‘… how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

“‘And how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Romans 10:14–15.)

“Except for Christ, there would be no salvation. Except for the prophets of God, sent in the various ages of the earth’s history, the testimony of Christ would not be borne, the message of salvation would not be taught, and there would be no legal administrators who could perform the ordinances of salvation for men, that is, perform them so they will be binding on earth and sealed eternally in the heavens.

“So it is that the Lord has sent prophets. No one would suppose that he could believe in Christ and reject Peter, James, and John. The Lord and his prophets go hand in hand. Christ said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman’; then he said to his Apostles, ‘Ye are the branches.’ (John 15:1, 5.) The branches and the vine are connected. He taught also that if the branches were torn away from him, they would wither and die and be cast into the fire. If people in the world would pick the fruit of eternal life off the branches, they have to accept the prophets, for the branches are the prophets.” (Bruce R. McConkie in CR, Oct. 1951, p. 147.)

(41-5) Romans 10:17. How Does Faith Come?

“Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and revelation.” (Smith, Teachings, p. 148.)

(41-6) Romans 11:2. What Is the Meaning of the Word Wot?

Wot is the present tense of the now obsolete English word wit, which means to know. Wist is its past tense. Paul is asking, “Know you not?”

(41-7) Romans 11:13. “I Magnify Mine Office”

“Sometimes we hear brethren refer to ‘magnifying the priesthood.’ While many of us are guilty of making this erroneous statement, it isn’t the priesthood we magnify; it is one’s office and calling in the priesthood. It cannot be enlarged upon because there is no authority or power greater in the universe.

“To magnify is to intensify, to increase in significance, to enlarge upon, and to cause to be held in greater esteem or respect.

“President Joseph F. Smith said, ‘There is no office growing out of this Priesthood that is or can be greater than the Priesthood itself. It is from the priesthood that the office derives its authority and power. No office adds to the power of the Priesthood. But all offices in the church derive their power, their virtue, their authority, from the Priesthood.’ (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1939], p. 148.)

“The apostle Paul stated, ‘Inasmuch as I am the apostle of the gentiles, I magnify mine office.’ (Romans 11:13.) And Jacob teaching the people of Nephi states, ‘I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, …

“‘Ye yourselves know that I have hitherto been diligent in the office of my calling; but I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been.’ (Jacob 2:2, 3.)

“There can be no office or calling that is higher than the priesthood. President John Taylor noted, ‘Honor proceeds from works, not from office, … but by a person magnifying his office and calling.’ (John Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, comp. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1944], p. 133.)” (Delbert L. Stapley in CR, Aug. 1972, p. 64.)

(41-8) Romans 11:17–24. The Grafting In of the Wild Olive Branches

Some Bible scholars have been quick to point out that Paul made an evident blunder here when he drew upon a symbol from the olive culture to make his point. While the grafting of branches from one olive tree to another so as to change the nature of the tree was a common practice, it was always done in the reverse order that Paul mentions; that is, a good branch from a tame olive tree could be grafted into a wild olive and make the wild olive tame. But if the process is reversed, so are the results. The tree is pulled in the direction of the grafted branches, not vice versa, as in Paul’s little allegory. Therefore, these scholars conclude that Paul was ignorant of olive culture and made a rather obvious error in his symbol.

But it is difficult to believe that a man as educated and well traveled as Paul would not know the basic facts of olive grafting, which were fairly commonly known in his time. The better explanation is that in the very paradox of the symbol he teaches profound and important doctrines. For one thing, the conversion of the gentiles (changing wild olives into tame) was contrary to the expectations of Israel and thus was not what one would expect to happen naturally. Secondly, Paul’s symbol makes it clear that the source of nourishment is still the covenant that God made with Abraham (the roots of the tree). The power flows from the Abrahamic covenant and not from the gentiles. To reverse that symbolism would be contrary to the truth. The gentiles were not the root of the tree; they are only branches. The third point in Paul’s defense is that he himself clearly indicates that he knew what he was saying was contrary to nature. The implication, therefore, is that he chose the paradoxical symbolism purposefully in order to teach the gentiles their true relationship to the covenant people. Paul may have been relying upon the writings of an ancient prophet, Zenos, who spoke in a similar vein. (See Jacob 5, 6 in the Book of Mormon.)

(41-9) Romans 11:25. What Is Meant by the Fulness of the Gentiles?

“For the nearly two thousand years between Abraham and Christ, the statutes and judgments of God were reserved almost exclusively for the seed of Abraham and for the house of Israel. During the mortal ministry of our Lord, the message was limited to Israel, to the Jews, and it was not then offered to the Gentiles. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter opened the door to the preaching of the gospel of the Gentiles, and Paul became their chief apostolic advocate and teacher. Thus there was a period or time for the Gentiles to take precedence. The times of the Gentiles is the period during which the gospel goes to them on a preferential basis, and this will continue until they have had a full opportunity to accept the truth, or in other words until the fulness of the Gentiles. Then the message will go again to the Jews, meaning to the Jews as a nation and as a people.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:290. See also D&C 45:19, 25, 28–30.)

(41-10) Romans 12:1. What Does It Mean to Be a Living Sacrifice?

“Paul is here alluding to the fact that the old sacrifices, those unto death, are abolished, that they have been replaced with a new order, sacrifices unto life. As with almost all doctrines, this is taught in the Book of Mormon with greater plainness and perfection than in the Bible. To the Nephites, after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus said: ‘Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.’ (3 Ne. 9:19–20.) Thus to present one’s body as a living sacrifice is to come forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit through obedience.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:292.)

(41-11) Romans 13:1–7. Who Are the “Powers That Be”?

Joseph Smith added some significant phrases to these verses that make it clear that Paul was not speaking of governmental authorities, as is commonly supposed, but of those who are the ruling authorities in the church. Compare your King James Version with the following rendition by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power in the church but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.

“But first, render to all their dues, according to custom, tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, that your consecrations may be done in fear of him to whom fear belongs, and in honor of him to whom honor belongs.” (Romans 13:1, 7, Inspired Version.)

“To gain salvation the saints must be subject to God’s ministers. The doctrines and ordinances of the gospel cannot be separated from those appointed to teach Christ’s gospel and perform his ordinances. Those who accept the gospel do so by submitting to the will and dictation of Christ. They come to the legal administrators who teach the doctrines of Christ and who perform the ordinances of salvation in his name and by his authority.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:296.)

(41-12) Romans 14:23. “Whatsoever Is Not of Faith Is Sin”

“This law applies to the saints, to those who have the light, who know that salvation is in Christ, to those who are under covenant to keep the commandments. It is not applicable to the world in general, for sin is not imputed where there is no law. Thus the saints are guilty of sin when they fall short of those high standards they are obligated to attain.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:302.)

(41-13) Romans 15:24, 28. Did Paul Ever Get to Spain?

The record of Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment, and the official account of Paul’s known life is closed. From that point on, the scholars are uncertain, but there is strong evidence that Paul was eventually acquitted and freed, during which time he would naturally have continued his missionary labors. Since he had expressed intent to go to Spain, many have assumed he succeeded in doing so before he was arrested again and put to death under a wave of Christian persecution. Clement of Rome (about A.D. 100) states that Paul had “gone to the extremity of the West,” which would seem to imply Spain. Others of the early Christian fathers also reported that he labored in Spain. Thus, Paul’s intentions to go to Spain may have been eventually realized.

Points to Ponder

You Are Favored Because of Your Conduct in Premortal Life

You belong to the family of Israel. By inheritance or adoption you may lay claim to every blessing reserved for Israel. Not all the reasons for your blessings are because of your conduct in this world; some go back into the beginning with God. Review the following scriptures and carefully study the dialogue between David and John.

Romans 9:11, 12

Did God bestow the same favors on Jacob and Esau? Was mortal performance the basis for God’s favoring Jacob over Esau—had there been opportunity for either child to do either good or evil at the time of the indication of favor?

Romans 9:14

Does the fact that God favored Jacob over Esau even at the time of birth mean that God arbitrarily selects those upon whom his favors will be bestowed without reference to their worthiness or obedience?

Romans 9:18–20

When we look at God’s dealings with men from a purely mortal perspective, it is difficult to see why he gives to one blessings that he may withhold from another. The questions in verse 19 are the questions asked by those who have no understanding of a premortal life. Is it appropriate to challenge God, or to suggest that he is not fair in placing us in the stations we occupy in this world? If two souls are born into this world in seemingly unequal circumstances, and God is just, what had to occur to justify God’s placing them in unequal circumstances?


If some of the circumstances in which I find myself are based upon my conduct before, where did I begin? When did I start?


Well, first of all, there is an eternity of spirit matter. “Our spirit matter was eternal and co-existent with God, but it was organized into spirit bodies by our Heavenly Father.” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 5.) “All men were first born in pre-existence as the literal spirit offspring of God our Heavenly Father. This birth constituted the beginning of the human ego as a conscious identity. By the ordained procreative process our exalted and immortal Father begat his spirit progeny in pre-existence.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 84.) “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” (The First Presidency [Joseph Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund], “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, p. 78.)


If I was born in the premortal world, what experiences did I go through there that provided God with a basis to favor or restrict me in this world?


We lived there in the home of our Father in heaven.

“He is a resurrected and holy and perfected man, and we are his offspring. We are his spirit children. He lives in the family unit. We are members of his family. We lived in this premortal life with him for an infinite period of time. We were on probation; we were being schooled and tested and examined; we were given the laws and the circumstances so that we could progress and advance. …

“This system was given to us, and for an infinite period of time, we advanced and progressed and did things that enabled us to go along the course leading to exaltation and dominion and godhood. …

“In this prior life, this premortal existence, this pre-existence, we developed various capacities and talents. Some developed them in one field and some in another. The most important of all fields was the field of spirituality, the ability, the talent, the capacity to recognize truth.” (Bruce R. McConkie, as cited in When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren, A Study Guide for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums of the Church, 1974–75, pp. 8–9.)

“Our spirit bodies went through a long period of growth and development and training and, having passed the test successfully, were finally admitted to this earth and to mortality.” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 5.)

“Preexistence is not some remote and mysterious place. All of us are but a few years removed from the Eternal Presence, from him whose children we are and in whose house we dwelt. …

“… We know we had friends and associates there. We know we were schooled and trained and taught in the most perfect educational system ever devised, and that by obedience to his eternal laws we developed infinite varieties and degrees of talents. …

“… When we come into mortality, we bring the talents, capacities, and abilities acquired by obedience to law in our prior existence.” (Bruce R. McConkie in CR, Apr. 1974, pp. 101–3.)


I am to understand, then, that I was born as the spirit son of God in heaven, that I lived there with my Father and mother in heaven and with my spirit brothers and sisters, and that I had opportunities to learn, to be tested, and to develop talents and abilities?


That is right. Some accounts that we have of the premortal life teach that we “were on the same standing” (Alma 13:5), and that we were “innocent” in the beginning (D&C 93:38). We were given laws and agency, and commandments to have faith and repent from the wrongs that we could do there. “… Man could and did in many instances, sin before he was born. …” (Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 44.)

“God gave his children their agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. … some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. …

“The spirits of men … had an equal start, and we know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful, for they were free to act for themselves, to think for themselves, to receive the truth or rebel against it.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:58–59.)

Many responded to the spirit of God there. They were favored and foreordained to receive privileges.

“… And it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish; therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.” (Alma 13:10, 11; compare McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 477.)

“Now this is the doctrine of foreordination; this is the doctrine of election. This is the reason why the Lord has a chosen and favored and peculiar people on earth; and this is why he said: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’” (Bruce R. McConkie in CR, Apr. 1974, p. 103.)


But what of those in premortality who rejected the Spirit of God and did not exercise exceeding great faith and repentance and righteousness before God? (See Alma 13:4, 10.)


They were not able to enjoy the great privileges that others were foreordained to receive. (See Alma 13:4.) They “did not show the loyalty to their Redeemer that they should.” (Smith, Way to Perfection, p. 43.)


But weren’t they allowed to come into the world innocent, too?


Yes. They were innocent at the time of their mortal birth. (See D&C 93:38.) Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said this:

“Their sin was not one that merited the extreme punishment which was inflicted on the devil and his angels. They were not denied the privilege of receiving the second estate, but were permitted to come to the earth-life with some restrictions placed upon them. … Yet, like all other spirits who come into this world, they come innocent before God so far as mortal existence is concerned, and here, under certain restrictions, they may work out their second estate.” (Way to Perfection, pp. 43, 44. Emphasis added.)

Hence, some in this world receive great privileges and opportunities to receive the gospel because they chose to do good in preexistence. Others are limited here because they were not as “noble and great” there. (See Abraham 3:22.)


And how does the concept of Israel enter into this?


The family of Jacob is somehow involved in preexistence.

“Israel is an eternal people. Members of that chosen race first gained their inheritance with the faithful in the premortal life. Israel was a distinct people in pre-existence. Many of the valiant and noble spirits in that first estate were chosen, elected, and foreordained to be born into the family of Jacob, so as to be natural heirs of all of the blessings of the gospel. It was to their pre-existent status that Moses alluded when, in speaking to mortal Israel, he said: ‘Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.’ (Deut. 32:7–9.) Those of mortal Israel who walk uprightly in this second estate shall have eternal inheritance with Israel in the world to come.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:284.)


So the fact that I am here now and receiving the blessings and opportunities that I now receive means that I have already passed the test, under different circumstances and conditions?


Yes. And if you succeed here in this second estate, you shall not only be entitled to advantages in the world to come (D&C 130:19), but you “shall have glory added upon [your head] forever and ever.” (Abraham 3:26.)

You Must Be Faithful Here to Retain Your Birthright and Merit the Blessings You Were Elected to Receive

Does birthright by itself secure your eternal destiny?

Will Israel be saved just because they are of Israel?

Read Romans 10:11–13.

Of course, the gentiles in Paul’s day had not had the same opportunities to receive the gospel as had members of the house of Israel. But did members of the house of Israel receive the rewards of the gospel just because they had the advantage of hearing about the gospel before the gentiles?

“The house of Israel was a distinct people in pre-existence; that is, by obedience and devotion, certain of the spirit children of the Father earned the right to be born in the lineage of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and of being natural heirs to the blessings of the gospel. But some of them, after such a favored birth, after being numbered with the chosen seed, turn from the course of righteousness and become children of the flesh; that is, they walk after the manner of the world, rejecting the spiritual blessings held in store for Israel. They are disinherited; they shall not continue as children in the family of the prophets when the chosen race continues as a distinct people in the eternal worlds. Thus they are descendants of the prophets in this life but shall not inherit with the sons of God in the life to come.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:276–77.)

“… there are many among us who because of their faithfulness in the spirit world were ‘called’ to do a great work here, but like reckless spendthrifts they are exercising their free agency in riotous living and are losing their birthright and the blessings that were theirs had they proved faithful to their calling.” (Lee, Youth and the Church, p. 172.)

Now what of you? For all that has been said of Israel applies to you. You were vitally interested and personally involved there.

What shall you do, and what shall you be, here? You came from God, and you have been given great privileges and blessings here because of your faithfulness. But you will go back one day, and you will answer for all these blessings, for as Paul wrote, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12.)