|We know next to nothing about what the Lord means by “intelligence” … so why know anything about it at all?
One of the most intriguing and enigmatic doctrines of the Restoration is the doctrine of intelligence. Sometimes the scriptures use “intelligence” in the everyday sense: information or “smarts.” But sometimes the Lord uses the term to refer to an eternal “material” or “substance” that we don’t know much about. It’s used in that sense six times for sure (D&C 93:29–30, 36; Abr. 3:21–22) and possibly another four times (D&C 88:40; 130:18–19; the context makes it hard to say for certain).
So what is meaning of “intelligence” when the scriptures use it in this unique way? Elder Robert L. Simpson explained the concept this way:
Before drawing the breath of life on this earth, we were all spiritual beings living in the realm of God, the Eternal Father. Scripture reveals that even before our spiritual birth, each of us had individual identification as an intelligence. Before all else could take place, there had to be that beginning spark of light.1
In other words, “intelligence” is what comes before we were born as spirits.
What We Don’t Know
Many assumptions are made about the nature of that pre-existent intelligence, but in reality, very little has been revealed. We don’t even know whether it’s a count noun (“many intelligences,” like “many apples”) or a mass noun (“much intelligence,” like “much clay”).2 There are several ways of interpreting what it is like:
Intelligence, however defined, is not created or made (D&C 93:29); it is coeternal with God (TPJS, pp. 353–54). Some LDS leaders have interpreted this to mean that intelligent beings—called intelligences—existed before and after they were given spirit bodies in the premortal existence. Others have interpreted it to mean that intelligent beings were organized as spirits out of eternal intelligent matter, that they did not exist as individuals before they were organized as spirit beings in the premortal existence (Abr. 3:22; JD 7:57; 2:124). The Church has taken no official position on this issue.3
Joseph F. Smith pretty much consigned interpretations of the doctrine of intelligence to the “Interesting But Not Revealed” category when he said,
There has been some speculation and articles have been written attempting to explain just what these ‘intelligences’ are, or this ‘intelligence’ is, but it is futile for us to speculate upon it. We do know that intelligence was not created or made and cannot be because the Lord has said it. There are some truths it is well to leave until the Lord sees fit to reveal the fulness.4
Then What’s the Point in Knowing at All?
In this short series of articles, my goal is not to describe the various ways Church leaders have interpreted the scanty passages on intelligence.5 I have only one question: If he wasn’t going to tell us anything about it, why did the Lord bother to reveal the doctrine of intelligence?
There are a lot of vital doctrines the Lord usually focuses on: priesthood, repentance, the second coming. Usually it seems like he chooses such doctrines because they are vital to our salvation or help us in the process of repenting and becoming like him. On the other end, there are a lot of things he has chosen to not reveal: the full process involved in creation, the timing of the second coming, the history of the lost tribes. Usually it seems like he withholds such doctrines because we’re not ready to understand them, or because we don’t need to know them. Revealed truth doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Lord always has a purpose for every bit of information he reveals, and it usually involves some kind of moral obligation on our part. He doesn’t reveal things on a whim, just to satisfy our curiosity.
So why bother telling us there is a mysterious something called intelligence and then not tell us anything more about it? It would be like saying, “In the heavens there are snufflemuggins. I will tell you that they’re purple, but beyond that, I will say no more.” Considering the Lord’s characteristic revelatory parsimony, it seems unusual that he would reveal something “just because.” There may really be snufflemuggins in heaven, and they may really be purple, but why would he go through all the trouble of making sure we knew that … and nothing more. What is the hidden purpose behind the Lord’s choice to reveal the doctrine of intelligence?
I finally found an answer in D&C 93:29–31, and I will explain it in another post.
1. Robert L. Simpson, “Pollution of the Mind,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 112. Notice that Elder Simpson says “identification,” not “identity.” We can’t even say for sure that intelligence has identity before spirit birth.
2. Some careful readers may notice that in choosing the title of this article, I opted for the count noun version “intelligences” instead of the mass noun “intelligence.” I did not do this to favor one view over the other; I did it to help people more quickly understand the topic of this post. If I had used “intelligence,” a person scanning past the title might think the article was about IQ or psychology.
3. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 1, “Intelligence.”
4. Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:401; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), p. 13. Notice that in President Smith’s usage of the terms, he confirms that we don’t even know whether to treat it as a count noun or a mass noun.
5. For a great discussion on the various interpretations of this doctrine, see Brent L. Top, The Life Before, ch. 3: “Intelligence or Intelligences?”