Spiritual Death Quiz

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Compare your understanding of spiritual death with other readers.

Following is a series of quotes that represent various authors’ attempts to explain or describe the doctrine of spiritual death (I mostly gleaned them from Google searches on the internet). I invite readers to rate each explanation’s accuracy and depth.

There is a bit of subjectivity to this, so I don’t expect everyone’s ratings to exactly match mine. I’ve tried here to provide enough of the text surrounding each quote to allow you to rate them accurately, but I’ve also included links so you can read the quote in context. As mentioned previously, the purpose of this is not to criticize people’s valiant efforts to explain the gospel; it is to improve our ability to do so. I invite readers to discuss their results and their reasoning in the comments section at the end. To jog your memory about what to look for, here is that chart showing key elements of the two spiritual deaths:

Spiritual death explanation chart


1. Source: Bruce R. McConkie, “The Three Pillars of Eternity,” BYU devotional, 17 Feb. 1981, speeches.byu.edu.

The fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world, and the atonement of Christ ransomed men from these two deaths. …
Spiritual death. This is death as pertaining to the things of the Spirit. It is death as pertaining to things of righteousness. It is to be cast out of the presence of the Lord. It is a way of life which is in opposition to that of the Father of us all. Because of the atonement, because the Lord Jesus bore our sins on conditions of repentance, we have power to gain eternal life, which is spiritual life, which is a life of righteousness, which is life in the presence of our God.
Rating: Accurate but Simplified

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2. Source: Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3 (1995), Lesson 7: “The Atonement Brings Victory over Death and Hell.”

Spiritual death (sometimes called hell) … is a separation or banishment from the presence of God. … We can all return to Heavenly Father’s presence, overcoming spiritual death. As all were cut off from the presence of God by Adam’s fall, all who repent of their sins will be restored to the presence of God through Christ’s atonement.
Rating: Inaccurate or Unclear

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3. Source: Robert J. Matthews, “Fall of Adam,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 485.

The Fall brought two kinds of death upon Adam, Eve, and their posterity: the separation of the spirit and the physical body, which the scriptures call the “temporal death”; and being shut out of God’s presence, which is called spiritual death. Jesus Christ redeems all mankind unconditionally from the two deaths brought by the Fall of Adam, raises all mankind from the grave, and restores them to God’s presence for a judgment.
Rating: Accurate but Simplified

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4. Source: Mack C. Sterling, “The Way of Life and the Way of Death in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1997) v6 n2, pp. 152–204.

Spiritual death … consists of two components: physical separation from the presence of God caused by the fall of Adam and spiritual alienation from God caused by our individual sins. … Our spiritual alienation is overcome by becoming spiritually begotten of God and thereafter growing up in the spirit. Spiritual alienation diminishes proportionately as spiritual life matures in us. Physical separation from the presence of God, although transiently overcome at the judgment for all men, is overcome in a more meaningful and lasting way by those who persist in the way of life.
Rating: Accurate and Thorough

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5. Source: Sue Bergin, “Life and Death, Spiritual,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 832–33.

The scriptures speak of two spiritual deaths. The first has already come upon all humans as a result of the Fall, separating “all mankind … from the presence of the Lord.” … Spiritual death [means] that one is in “a state of spiritual alienation from God,” a death “as to things pertaining unto righteousness.” Because little children are not capable of sinning, the first spiritual death does not begin for an individual on the earth until the age of accountability. … Christ’s Atonement … overcomes the first spiritual death by making it possible for all men and women to come into God’s presence to be judged.
Rating: Inccurate or Unclear

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6. Source: Gale, “The Plan of Salvation 2: The Purpose of Life on Earth,” MormonBeliefs.org, accessed 25 Feb. 2011.

Once banished from the garden, Adam and Eve became subject to two kinds of death—physical death, and spiritual death. … Spiritual death is the separation from God, who walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. All of us are subject to these two deaths. … Christ’s atonement covered both forms of death, both physical and spiritual. … Spiritual death is banished, if we only avail ourselves of the Lord’s grace through the atonement of Christ.
Rating: Inaccurate or Unclear

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7. Source: Richard M. Romney, “Spiritual Death,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The first type of spiritual death is the actual separation from God that automatically comes upon all born into mortality as a consequence of the Fall of Adam. All mortals will be redeemed from this death, as well as from physical death, through Christ’s Atonement and resurrection, to be brought back into God’s presence to stand before him.

The second spiritual death … is the result of a lifetime of choices. … All people on earth over the age of accountability are to a certain extent spiritually dead, depending on their present state of repentance and their degree of sensitivity … to the Holy Ghost. … The only permanent spiritual death is that which individuals bring upon themselves by refusing to repent of their sins, having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it.
Rating: Accurate and Thorough

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8. Source: Rachel Bruner, “How the Atonement of Christ Saves Us: Salvation from Physical and Spiritual Death through the Atonement,” About.com, accessed 25 Feb. 2011.

Sin … separates us from God—this is spiritual death. To be saved from spiritual death, called eternal life, can only be achieved through the Atonement of Christ and is conditional upon our obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. To receive eternal life we must: exercise faith in Christ, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end (continue to obey God’s commandments).
Rating: Accurate but Simplified

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9. Source: Dallin H. Oaks, “The Light and Life of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 63.

By yielding to temptation, Adam and Eve were “cut off from the presence of the Lord.” In the scriptures this separation is called spiritual death.

The atonement of our Savior overcame this spiritual death. The scriptures say, … “Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” As a result of this atonement, “men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

Our Savior has redeemed us from the sin of Adam, but what about the effects of our own sins? Since “all have sinned,” we are all spiritually dead.

Again, our only hope for life is our Savior, who … “offereth himself a sacrifice for sin.” In order to lay claim upon our Savior’s life-giving triumph over the spiritual death we suffer because of our own sins, we must follow the conditions he has prescribed. As he has told us in modern revelation, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” … In the words of our Savior, … “Whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved.”
Rating: Accurate and Thorough

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10. Source:Atonement of Jesus Christ,” WhyMormonism.org, accessed 8 Mar. 2011.

Adam’s Fall cut off mankind from the presence of God. To bring mankind back into the presence of God required a Savior. Because fallen mankind was bound to sin and be unable to bring themselves back into God’s presence on their own, someone perfect would have to do what they could not do. …

Both physical and spiritual death (being cut off from God’s presence) came into the world as a result of the Fall of Adam. As our Savior, Jesus Christ saved our bodies from physical death and showed us the way to save our souls from spiritual death. Because Christ was resurrected, resurrection is a gift given to all mankind, whether good or evil. The Atonement of Christ saves us from spiritual death. Jesus Christ suffered for our sins to give us the power to repent from them and return to live with God.
Rating: Inaccurate or Unclear

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11. Source:Jesus Christ,” MormonYouth.org, accessed 8 Mar. 2011.

Through his atonement, Christ saved us from both physical and spiritual death. Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, each of us is mortal (physical death) and each of us is separated from God (spiritual death). Everyone, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, will be resurrected and brought back before God for judgment, thus overcoming both physical and spiritual death. Whether we are worthy to remain in God’s presence and return to live with Him will depend upon the choices we made while in this life and how effectively we used the power of the atonement in our lives.
Rating: Accurate but Simplified

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  1. There are so many degrees of accuracy and thoroughness that it was fairly difficult to rate several of the above quotes.

    If a quote showed an understanding of the idea of there being two spiritual deaths, I gave it a “Thorough” unless it muddled the two ideas together. I was fairly generous, giving #3 and #11 a “Thorough” since they showed this understanding even though they didn’t specifically call the separation that results from our own sins/choices as a spiritual death.

    If I had to do it all over again I’d demote Elder McConkie’s quote (#1) from a “Simplified” (which was giving him the benefit of the doubt) to an “Unclear.” His first sentence set up some uncertainty as to which spiritual death he was referring. I then checked out “Spiritual Death” in his book, Mormon Doctrine. His second section titled “Spiritually Dead Mortals” was even worse than the quote you have. I give his Mormon Doctrine explanation a resounding “Unclear.”

    I also checked out the Bible Dictionary entry for “Death.” It was actually quite good, and gets a solid “Thorough” from me. It ranks about as good as the best ones you’ve included above.

  2. I agree that #3 and #11 might count as thorough. Both of them describe several elements of the temporal separation, then add in the last sentence, “And there’s this problem of sin, which is resolved by repentance.” I rated them as simplified, though, because they didn’t actually specify that that second, related problem (sin) is also a type of spiritual death.

    I’ll definitely have to go look up “Spiritual Death” in Mormon Doctrine. I hadn’t looked at the Bible Dictionary one until you mentioned it; you’re right—it’s pretty good.

  3. I was surprised by how different the answers were on some of the questions (#10 for instance). I agree with Nathan—I think #3 and #11 are simplified. Great post.

  4. I was surprised at first, too. I suspect the reason is that several people took the quiz without having read the detailed explanation in the article “Temporal Separation versus Spiritual Separation.” And I think I can guess why they would do that: this is (or ought to be) a basic doctrine. I think many of us, myself included, tend to think, “A simple quiz on a doctrine so basic as spiritual death? Piece of cake. No need to read a lengthy article beforehand. After all, I am an RM, a seasoned member of over n years.” And so I think several people took it without knowing that it would require them to make fine distinctions that we don’t often articulate in Church publications.

    By the way, you can see my answers right after each quote if you highlight the white space that follow it. Sneaky, eh? 🙂

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