It has been noted that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (CoJC) should focus their testimonies on core doctrines. [1] These include such fundamentals as the atonement of Jesus Christ, the Godhead, the Plan of Salvation, and the restoration of priesthood keys. Among these fundamental doctrines, one doctrine is woefully overlooked: embodiment. Embodiment is one of the two great doctrines restored by the First Vision. When Joseph Smith entered the Sacred Grove in 1820, he learned two great truths contrary to Trinitarian Christianity. First, he learned that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father are separate beings. Hence, we do not believe in the Trinity but in the Godhead. Second, and perhaps more fundamental because it enables the first, Joseph Smith learned that members of the Godhead have physical bodies. God the Father and Jesus Christ cannot be the same being because they are literally different embodied individuals.

Moreover, we do not believe in a God “without body, parts, or passions.” We believe in a passionate God. As a result of the First Vision and subsequent revelations, the CoJC is committed to the notion that God the Father is an embodied, glorified being and that Jesus Christ likewise inhabits a glorified, resurrected body. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, each of us will likewise be resurrected or re-embodied. This is a stunning departure from Trinitarian Christianity. Yet we too often overlook embodiment as a core doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ that helps answer some of the most pressing religious questions: Who is God? What is the purpose of life? Why is Jesus Christ necessary? Is my body a “wretched prison?” If we fail to fully embrace the doctrine of embodiment, overlook it in our religious practice, and ignore its implications for pressing social questions today, then we squander one of the great doctrines of the restoration.

Doctrinal Roots

The embodiment of God is a key difference between CoJC beliefs and Trinitarian Christianity. As David Paulsen has convincingly argued, the doctrine of divine embodiment was clearly articulated from the very beginning of the Restoration. [2] Clearly this doctrine was integral to the restoration of other doctrines. Why was it such a radical proposition? Embodiment cuts to the core of the question of who is God, and the reticence to embody God is found early in both Christianity and Greek philosophy. Early Christian philosophers feared that embodying God risks undermining His glory. Joseph Smith taught a radically different idea of glory: “That which is without body, parts, and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones… All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not (TPJS 181).” God’s embodiment is the source of His power and glory. This includes His ability to feel passionately.

As the Givens have noted, we believe in a God who weeps, who feels, who rejoices in an embodied state. [3] “And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept… and Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity (Moses 7:28–29).” Ours is a passionate, weeping God, and this is directly and literally related to His embodied state. This is a God that deserves both love and worship because He feels and knows our lived reality.

Moreover, since God is embodied, we are literally created in His image. “Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit… (Ether 3:15–16)” Embodiment is central to the purpose of life. According to Joseph Smith, God is embodied, and this is the source of Their power. Our Heavenly Parents sought for us to become like Them, and so they sent us to this mortal realm to gain a mortal body. This would be a period of testing, wherein we would be tempted and learn how to live righteously in an embodied state. “We came to this Earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom.”

Embodiment thus changes how we view our own bodies. Our bodies are no longer Plato’s “wretched prisons” but prized gifts. Receiving a body is literally the key point! Indeed, our embodiment is essential to our eternal happiness. “The great principle of happiness consists in having a body... Spirit and element, inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy (D&C 93:33). We learn in Mark 5 that it is more preferable for the spirits who followed Satan to enter into the bodies of pigs than to be disembodied. This story demonstrates just how great a price that Satan and one third of the hosts of heaven paid for their rebellion. They were cast out of the presence of God and permanently disembodied. They have no chance of progression. Attaching themselves to the bodies of swine—regardless of the counterfeit nature of that embodied experience—is better than their disembodiment.

Furthermore, embodiment radically alters our view of women. When Eve made the decision to partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she made the choice to embody us. “...Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil… (Moses 5:11).” Without this one choice, the entire Plan of Salvation would have been frustrated. Eve took mankind through the veil. We likewise become embodied when we pass through the premortal veil and enter this mortal life via our mothers. [4] Women have historically been denigrated for their connection to the body. Women literally impose Plato’s wretched prisons upon us through childbirth. Women are also the tempters who tug men toward their carnal, physical natures. In short, women are inseparably connected to the body, and this has been the cause for much of women’s mistreatment. In comparison, the Restored Gospel redeems all women by redeeming Eve and by sanctifying the part that mothers play in embodiment.

Every human who has ever walked this earth has done so because he or she was embodied by a woman. And every human will likewise become disembodied when their physical bodies die. Whereas we are living souls when our spirits and our bodies unite upon crossing the premortal veil, we become once again disembodied spirits upon death. Similarly, though our mothers (and our fathers) are given charge over the proper nurture of our spirits, we will all sin, fall short, be wounded beyond earthly repair. In our sinful and disembodied states, we are both physically and spiritually separated from God. Our mothers’ work ultimately fails. The plan is frustrated.

Returning to Eve’s declaration in Moses 5:11, we find the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Adam also teaches us the plan: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God (Moses 5:10).” The Fall did not just bring temporary joy during this mortal, embodied experience. God promised a Savior, or the “joy of our redemption, and the eternal life…” God promised a path to resurrection and permanent return to the presence of our Heavenly Parents. That path is Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to complete and perfect the work of our mothers.

Jesus Christ was born of a woman. He gained a mortal body, subject to pain and temptation. He lived a sinless life and went about doing good. He suffered all our pains in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then He subjected himself to death on Golgotha. This was the ultimate embodied experience: “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink… (D&C 19:18).” He willingly gave up his body and then three days later took it up again. He re-embodied himself. By doing so, He secured the success of our mothers who become partners with him in the work of salvation. All who are born will die, but all will be re-embodied again by Jesus Christ. All who are wounded in their spirits, sin, or fall short are given the gift of perfect nurture through the grace—or divine help—of Jesus Christ. Embodiment is essential to our understanding of the centrality of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. All fails without Him.

Evidences in Practice

The importance of embodiment in the gospel of Jesus Christ is stunningly evident in our religious practices. I will focus on seven such pieces of evidence. The first is the sacrament. The wonderful Valerie Hudson recently reminded me that we are asked to remember the body of Jesus Christ during the sacrament. The bread is eaten in remembrance of the body of Jesus Christ, and the water symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ. We are not asked to remember our favorite teaching of Jesus Christ during the Sacrament but his literal body and blood. When we remember the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we remember the promise of our own salvation. Because Jesus Christ was embodied, we too will be re-embodied or resurrected. Because Jesus Christ bled from every pore, our living souls can be healed and our sins forgiven. Though we do not believe that the bread and water literally become the body and blood of the Savior, we remember the literal, physical, embodied reality of the Savior.

Starting with birth and then baptism, we progress through a series of physical ordinances. Our bodies are literally submerged in water. The Initiatory focuses on the blessing of our resurrected bodies in great detail. We learn the Plan of Salvation in a physical way during the Endowment. Most telling of all, proxy ordinances are all done physically, one by one. Every individual must be baptized literally either for themselves or by proxy. The key is that it must be performed physically (and thus by an embodied individual) and under proper priesthood authority. It would be much easier to drop a stack of names into the baptismal font. But we painstakingly baptize each and every deceased individual by an embodied proxy. This process is even more time consuming in the Endowment. Clearly we are not simply engaging in a time-intensive metaphorical exercise. Jesus Christ did not metaphorically perform the Atonement—the ultimate act of proxy—to save us all. He literally bled from every pore and died on the cross. We likewise literally perform each ordinance either for ourselves or for our ancestors who are currently disembodied.

The initiatory is particularly interesting from the perspective of embodiment because it is hyper-focused on the body. The individual is figuratively cleaned and anointed in their body. Then various parts of the body are blessed for specific ends. Then the body is clothed in the Garments of the Holy Priesthood. All of this is done in preparation to receive the Endowment, which again must be done by a living soul, or an embodied individual.

Embodiment is also essential to our understanding of the law of chastity. Sexual relations are confined to marriage between a man and woman for two essential purposes. First, embodiment is sacred. Every civilization that has ever existed has had rules and norms for how individuals leave this mortal life. Murder is our worst crime. Is it any surprise, then, that the process by which individuals enter this life is regulated and guarded as well? Embodiment is the gift and purpose of this life. The creative powers at play in sex should never be taken lightly because they are inextricably tied to embodiment. Second, we believe that a spirit and a body together make a living soul. Sex is thus the coming together of two living souls. To touch another person is to literally touch their soul. Thus, no matter how hard we might try, we cannot strip sex of significance. Moreover, from this perspective, consent is a necessary but insufficient condition for sexual engagement. Something more is necessary, including mutual obligations and fulfilled preconditions.

Veils are another evidence for the importance we place on embodiment in our religious practice. Valerie Hudson Cassler writes at length about the importance of veils to our understanding of embodiment and the Plan of Salvation in her SquareTwo article “The Two Trees.” [5] Cassler teaches that there are two veils over Earth. The first separates the premortal existence from the mortal existence, and it is guarded over by women. Every human being must literally pass through this veil during birth. This process of crossing the first veil is evident in the temple video played during the Endowment and in the naval mark of the garment (and the actual navel mark on the body). The second veil is literally represented in the temple and separates mortal life from the presence of God. This veil is presided over by men who bear the Holy Priesthood of God. Every individual must pass through this veil in the next life in order to enter into the presence of God.

Our theology of embodiment also impacts our understanding of marriage and sex differences. Because God is embodied, we believe that He is sexed. That is, Heavenly Father is literally male. In Moses 2:27, we learn that “And I, God, created man in mine own image ... male and female created I them.” If God is literally male, and all humans are created in the image of God, then there must be a God the Mother. Indeed, this is the crux of the logic used in the references under the Church’s official essay on Heavenly Mother. [6] Male and female, sealed together by the power of God, are qualified for exaltation, or living as God lives. God, then, must be understood as the Divine Male and Divine Female united as Heavenly Parents. Similarly, male and female together are necessary for creation. Surely the pattern on Earth matches the pattern in heaven. Marriage is an essential ordinance because we are all sexed individuals, created after the image of a Divine Male and Female, who are nevertheless radically insufficient on our own. [7]

Finally, the Word of Wisdom is an excellent evidence for our theology of embodiment. The Word of Wisdom teaches us an important truth. What we do to our bodies, we do to our spirits. To take care of the body is a spiritual task as much as scripture reading. No wonder, then, that the Word of Wisdom is included in the temple recommend interview. The body is not just a temporary vehicle but part of our living soul. Learning to live well in our bodies is a lifelong task with eternal implications.

Concluding Thoughts and Implications

The CoJC doctrine of embodiment is perhaps our most overlooked doctrine, though it is abundantly influential in our religious practices and the overall solar system of our theology. Our unique understanding of embodiment also carries with it interesting implications for various policy positions. For example, poverty is extraordinarily serious from the perspective of our doctrine of embodiment. To deny the body is to deny the spirit. An individual who is kept in the physically degrading status of extreme poverty will be spiritually impacted as well. This is not to say that such an individual cannot rise above the degradation of their situation through the grace of Jesus Christ. It does mean, however, that we have a spiritual obligation to combat poverty, for poverty has spiritual implications. This directly relates to our view of healthcare. The work of medical professionals is as much spiritual as that of preachers, for what you do to the body you do to the spirit. The implications for war and foreign policy are also intriguing. To do violence to the body is to do violence to the living soul. Likewise, pornography and prostitution are far more serious trespasses against the dignity of the individual when we understand the doctrine of embodiment. Clearly, we have much to explore regarding the doctrine of embodiment and its various possible policy implications.

The doctrine of embodiment is one of the most important correctives that the Restored Gospel has to offer the world. Among all its possible applications and contributions, the most significant is the way that it clarifies and re-centers the divine mission of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is why the restoration of Christ’s gospel and church began with Joseph Smith seeing the literal bodies of God the Father and Jesus Christ. To think of the body is to think of Jesus Christ.


[1] David A. Bednar on Instagram 6/23/23. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Paulsen, David L. 1995-96. The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment. BYU Studies Quarterly 35:4.
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[3] Givens, Teryl and Fiona. 2012. “The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.” [Back to manuscript].

[4] Cassler, V.H. 2016. The Two Trees: An LDS Revisiting of the Garden of Eden. Square Two 9:no. 1 (Spring).
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[5] Ibid. [Back to manuscript].

[6] Johnston, Savannah. 2020. Heavenly Mother, Are You Really There. Square Two 13: no. 2 (Summer).
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[7] Anonymous. 2022. A Same-Sex Attracted Individual In Defense of Marriage and Sexual Difference. Square Two 15: no. 2 (Summer)
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Full Citation for this Article: Johnston, Savannah Eccles (2023) "Embodiment As a Core Doctrine," SquareTwo, Vol. 16 No. 2 (Summer 2023),, accessed <give access date>.

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