Old Testament 02 – “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”

foreordinationThe doctrine of foreordination is what I call a fuzzy or messy doctrine, mostly because we don’t know much about it or how it works. Be that as it may, it is important that we understand that much of what we experience in mortality is governed by this doctrine, so we need to learn all about it we can.

Almost everything in the scriptures refer only to the foreordination of prophets. That is fine and dandy, but this lesson isn’t about the calling of prophets in the premortal realm, but our own callings and assignments. This is where it becomes fuzzy. So let’s define foreordination then look at what we have in the scriptures about the prophets. After that we will review what we know about the common man and this important doctrine.

Understanding foreordination

No other Christian denomination believes in foreordination. That is because no Christian denominations believe we existed before birth. Since we do believe we existed before birth, this opens the way for growth and development for literally eons of time before coming to earth.

All things are governed by the priesthood of God. When we had grown and were prepared for the next step in our maturing process, it makes sense that the priesthood would be involved in what happened next. It was time to leave home and prove ourselves in another estate than that in which we were currently living. Our time in our first estate was drawing to a close and it was time to prepare for our second estate, the precursor to becoming like God, our Father, complete with resurrected bodies, glory, and everything.

As the Lord looked about at His children, he needed to choose those who would be most faithful to help Him carry out the work of salvation for the rest of the family. These noble and great ones were those who had excelled through the ages at exercising faith and in seeking out spiritual things. These were the most righteous and advanced of His children.

It is important to understand that every spirit started out equal before God when He took us from the realm of intelligences and clothed us with a spirit body. What we did once we had a spirit body is what differentiates us from one another. No two spirits have the same identical intellectual or spiritual capacity. For every two spirits standing side by side, one of them will always be greater than the other.

In Abraham 3 the Lord is telling Abraham about the stars and how the larger stars near His home govern the lesser stars. Everything has a place and everything in its place, so to speak. The same is true with His spirit children. The Savior is more intelligent than all of God’s children, and no two spirits are equal in abilities. Here is Abraham 3:19.

19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.

Each of us had agency to choose how we would use the opportunities to advance in spiritual things when we lived with God and Christ in the premortal world. And just like in mortality, some were more interested in acquiring spiritual power than were others. This is where the differences in our make up made themselves visible. Some excelled at spiritual things, while others were lack luster about such matters, and some had a rebellious streak that eventually got them cast out of heaven to become the angels of Satan. In other words, people were no different there than they are here.

Those who excelled at spiritual things became what the Lord calls his noble and great ones. These are they who became his rulers, the prophets and apostles, the leaders of God’s kingdom on earth. Here is Abraham 3:22-23.

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

Ordination is needed

Since all governance of the universe is done through the priesthood power, when God chose people to perform certain priesthood tasks while on earth, it would have been done with a priesthood ordination. Since these ordinations took place before coming to earth, we call them foreordination, that is, ordinations that took place before coming here.

We have record of a number of great prophets being named as having been foreordained to their position before the world was created. (In the New Testament they use the word Predestined, but Joseph Smith corrected that to foreordained, since predestination is a false doctrine.) Adam, Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, Christ, and Joseph Smith are all named specifically in the scriptures as having been foreordained to their work in mortality. There are many others mentioned by Joseph F. Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 138 as well.

Duties plus timing

Foreordination includes the Lord’s timing as well. It would not have worked very well if all those the Lord wanted to be prophets had all come to earth at the same time. He needs leaders in every dispensation of time. So foreordination includes not only specific responsibilities to be carried out during mortality, but a designated time in which that person would come to earth to carry out their specific purposes.

We see evidences of this process all the time in the scriptures, though the word foreordination is rarely used. Think about those prophets who have just received a vision, and in the process of recording their vision they tell us that they cannot tell us the rest of the vision because that responsibility has been given to another prophet that hasn’t even been born yet. When Nephi records his vision of the end of the world he tells us that the responsibility for giving this part of his vision to the world rests upon one of the Savior’s apostles (John the Beloved who wrote the book of Revelation).

Here is 1 Nephi 14:18-26. Note that Nephi and many others (verse 26) have had the same vision, yet they are not allowed to show a certain portion of the vision to the inhabitants of the world, because the Apostle of the Lamb (John the Beloved) has been ordained of God to have this responsibility. This was part of John’s foreordination. He wouldn’t be born for another 600 years, yet he has already been ordained to do this work.

18 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

19 And I looked and beheld a man, and he was dressed in a white robe.

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been.

22 And he shall also write concerning the end of the world.

23 Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew; and at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, or, at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.

24 And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.

25 But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

26 And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.

So foreordination includes not only responsibilities, but God’s timing that determines when and where people will be born so they are in the right place at the right time. This is an important principle of foreordination, because it effects all of us.

Foreordination and the house of Israel

President Joseph Fielding Smith says this about the house of Israel in the Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, page 59.

The Lord declared through Moses the following:

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: … 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.” (Deut. 32:7-8)

A similar passage to this occurs in Acts where Paul declares to the Athenians that the Lord “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” (Acts 17:26)

These passages clearly indicate that the numbers of the children of Israel were known and the bounds of their habitation fixed, in the days of old when the Lord divided to the nations their inheritance. We conclude, therefore, that there must have been a division of the spirits of men in the spiritual world, and those who were appointed to be the children of Israel were separated and prepared for a special inheritance.

Some difficult doctrine

It is hard for us to comprehend that our Father in Heaven can know the end from the beginning, yet not interfere with our personal moral agency to choose right and wrong. He knows how we will choose, and what we will choose, yet we are still free to do the choosing when the choice is placed before us. He has just seen it take place eons before it happens.

This is why Jesus can state over and over again that God has given Him an inheritance of righteous people that are His to live with for eternity. Here are three occasions where the Savior talks about those whom God has given Him to whom He will be able to give eternal life. These include people who haven’t been born yet, as well as people who have long since died.

John 6:38-40

38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

3 Nephi 19:29

29 Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world, because of their faith, that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them.

Doctrine and Covenants 50:41-42

41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.

Who are these people?

The people Christ is referring to are those of the house of Israel who remain faithful to the end. These are the covenant makers and covenant keepers. How do I know this? I know this because who can be saved in the kingdom of God (celestial kingdom) except those who have made and kept covenants with God?

Every child of God will be given the opportunity to learn about God’s plan for their salvation. That was promised to us in premortal life. Yet even many of those born into covenant Israel turn their backs on those covenants they have had offered to them and live in spiritual Babylon, thus losing their blessings. This was the whole cause of the scattering of Israel more than two thousand years ago. They turned their backs on their covenants and embraced Babylon.

Having been extra faithful in the premortal world may have qualified them to be born in the house or family of Israel, having all the blessings and covenants that can take them back to God even while in mortality, but that doesn’t mean we all live up to our potential. Some of us, though foreordained to have great opportunities for advancement in this life, forfeit those opportunities because of the choices we make to be disobedient to the Spirit and the covenants available to us.

Here is a quote from the Topics available on lds.org.

The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. As people prove themselves worthy, they will be given opportunities to fulfill the assignments they then received.


Important principles

Here are the important principles of foreordination:

  1.  Those who were more faithful in the premortal world were given special assignments to accomplish in mortality. We learn what these are by studying our patriarchal blessings, by following the Spirit, and by living covenant-keeping righteous lives. Only as we live up to our potential will we have the opportunities to fulfill our foreordained missions. The Lord cannot give us the responsibilities of the righteous unless we are living righteously.
  2. We must recognize that all relationships and placements in mortality were decided and assigned by our Father in Heaven. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said the following in “A New Witness for the Articles of Faith”, page 512: “All men are the spirit children of the Eternal Father; all dwelt in his presence, awaiting the day of their mortal probation; all have come or will come to earth at an appointed time, in a specified place, to live among a designated people. In all of this there is no chance. A divine providence rules over the nations and governs in the affairs of men. Birth and death and mortal kinship are the Lord’s doings. He alone determines where and when and among what people his spirit children shall undergo their mortal probation.”
  3. Our Father in Heaven really is in control of our mortal experience. Through His wisdom and love for us He has placed us in whatever circumstances will lead to our greatest chance for ultimate blessings. That is something we have to take on faith, especially when we think of those who are born into some pretty drastic and miserable circumstances. Ultimately, we have to have faith that God’s love is not partial, nor is it unjust. All of His children will be rewarded according to His infinite love for that child, and each person will be given every opportunity to receive all the blessings available to any of God’s children.
  4. We are each responsible for searching for and living up to our potential in mortality. If we are born into or are adopted into the family of Israel, and have all the blessings of temple covenants then we have a much greater responsibility to spread and assist the Lord in reaching out to the rest of our brothers and sisters in mortality. We will be held responsible for the work, or the lack there of, that we perform for the salvation of others. The responsibility for offering salvation to all the family of God rests with the saints of God. We will have to answer for how well we fulfill this responsibility.

Final Thoughts

Joseph Smith said this: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand council of heaven before this world was.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Page 365)

All of us have been given the responsibility to minister to each other. Men and women alike in the gospel of Christ are bound by covenant to share Christ’s love and ministrations for the salvation of our loved ones and neighbors. Foreordination increases the seriousness with which we should take the injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves.

As those blessed with the gospel covenants in this life, we are duty bound to spread the joy available through covenants to those around us. This is our foreordination, this is our right, and this should be our joy.

About the Author:

Kelly is retired and living in Rexburg, Idaho, USA. He currently writes for gospelstudy.us. You can find articles by Kelly on ldsblogs.com, ldsliving.com, and moronichannel.org as well. He has also published multiple works, including Premortal Promises, and Contributions to the Kingdom, both available on Amazon.com.


  1. Jeff Martella December 10, 2017 at 4:51 am - Reply

    Hi Brother Kelly,

    I have to keep this short because I’m up at 4:30am on a Sunday morning with my church meetings beginning at 7:30am. THANK YOU for this breakdown of the lesson, but more importantly, your thoughts regarding Foreordination!

    It has been at the center of many a discussion regarding our plan as it relates to individuality within one’s mindset and how they or we view our purpose on earth.

    Worthy or Unworthy to accept our choices in life, especially as they are presented from a Spiritual sense. To me personally, I’ve NEVER struggled with this concept, but I know many people who have and I have NOT caught the bug of disbelief or doubt that seems to be running rampant through the blessed halls of our church Buildings as well as within the sacred home where love should abide and NOT arguments regarding who or what you’re supposed to be in life.

    There are way tooooo many people taking your very words out of context and using them in conjunction with there Patriarchal Blessing to add or deny their very purpose and existence here on earth.

    Oh well, I’ve got to STOP and go to bed, so I’ll pray for reflection and calm so I can sleep with a clear mind!

    Again, Thank so very much for your words ….. Brojefff

    • Kelly Merrill December 11, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Jeff. I read and reread this lesson, trying to make sense of it. Finally, I decided that I was going to have to look at other resources to see what the Lord’s servants have said about this doctrine. It was only after I had read a lot of talks that made spotty references to parts of the doctrine of foreordination that the overall concept of how it worked started to jell in my head. Even after I published the article I have continued to find more references to foreordination that I could have used in the original article. Clearly this is a big doctrine with a great influence on our lives, but we are left to live it by faith, believing that our Father has our best interests in mind, and that we will have our own potential revealed to us as we keep the commandments and try to improve ourselves in mortality.

  2. Jaynie Gaither Holley December 11, 2017 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    It is my understanding that all people who are baptized members of the church in mortality were foreordained to be members of the church. I will not share the exact wording of my patriarchal blessing as it is sacred to me, but it goes along with all that you have stated in this article, Kelly. Some members do not live up to what is in their blessings, but blessings are for this life and the next, and most of those those who are lost from the church for a season in this life, will one day return either in this life or the next. The Lord feels after them and those who are actively engaged in the church as well. Your article is especially enlightening to me at this time. The atonement of Jesus Christ provides much more hope than most of us realize. Of course, that does not justify one’s leaving the church on purpose with the idea that he can do anything he feels like as if he believes that God will justify a little sin. Leaving the church and committing sin that takes one astray has its consequences. The road back is sometimes very difficult, long, and hard. The Lord forgives the sinner every time he repents, but the sinner still has to suffer the consequences for his sins. The Lord can and does heal the repentant sinner in his journey back, but the consequences often remain for a lifetime, thus preventing full activity in the church, even though the sinner is very repentant and sorrowful. There is a time for each person to return to activity. There is a time for every purpose under heaven.

    • Kelly Merrill December 12, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

      Well said, Jaynie. Thanks.

  3. Janet M Huff January 14, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Brother Merrill, I don’t have the words that are in my soul as I study/ponder through your helps. May I thank you for sharing your obvious deep insights with others. I feel like I’m growing leaps and bounds under your tutelage. Have shared your site, hoping others will also benefit.
    Just spent more than 3 years going through a personal deep study of the Old Testament. Now have the gift of your commentary to go through the Old Testament again as we study it in Sunday School.

    • Kelly Merrill January 15, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Thank you Janet. I find that I study best when I feel I have to write something of worth for others. It pushes me to think in broader ways. I pray for your continued learning in the gospel of peace.

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