Bible Dictionary: War in Heaven

by: Guy Templeton

February 20, 2014

According to the LDS Bible Dictionary

“The term arises out of Rev. 12:7 and refers to the conflict that took place in the premortal existence among the spirit children of God….Although one-third of the spirits became devils, the remaining two-thirds were not all equally valiant, there being every degree of devotion to Christ and the Father among them.  The most diligent were chosen to be rulers in the kingdom (Abr. 3:22-23).  The nature of the conflict, however, is such that there could be no neutrals, then or now (Matt. 12:30; 1 Ne. 14:10; Alma 5:38-40).”

One of the rationales for the priesthood/temple ban was that black people weren’t valiant in the premortal life.  This entry notes that some were more valiant, but also notes that there were no neutrals.  Does this entry provide justification, or a refutation for the ban?


24 Responses to Bible Dictionary: War in Heaven

  1. Brad on February 20, 2014 at 5:52 AM

    Isn’t most of the bible dictionary just McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”-lite? I’d say the whole thing is in need of a significant overhaul.

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  2. Earl Parsons on February 20, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    This entry perpetuates the idea of different degrees of valiance in the war in heaven. I think this idea was a key justification of the priesthood/temple ban and is still used today to justify privilege. Just a few weeks ago in my Sunday School the teacher used the “Three Act Play” paradigm to explain that since we were members of the church and Americans we obviously were more valiant in the pre-existence.

    Unfortunately I don’t think the scriptures justify this paradigm. Abraham 3 says that, “God saw these souls that they were good,” but it doesn’t say what made them good. We Mormons like to think they were good because they worked hard and made good choices, but the scripture doesn’t say that. In Genesis God says everything created is good. Is the moon good because it was super obedient, or because God made it that way? I think we can ask the same thing about the noble and great ones. The other 3 scriptures in this entry have nothing to do with premortal life.

    I’m a middle class white male hetero American, which grants me a lot of privileges. It’s harder to have compassion and easier to have contempt for people who don’t have those privileges if I feel that I earned my blessings in this life by being more righteous in the pre-existence. I think if we get away from this paradigm we’ll be more compassionate to others.

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  3. Nate on February 20, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    When one reads through the scriptural justifications for these doctrines, one can see that they are not very well supported by the cannon. Where does it say there were no neutrals? Where does it say there were varying degrees of devotion? Where does it specifically talk about a war in heaven within which we were all involved?

    In future editions, it would helpful if modern prophets were cited to provide additional support, where scriptural evidence is insufficient. It would also help destinguish between core LDS doctrine and LDS theological interpretations which were fleshed out by BRM and others.

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  4. Last Lemming on February 20, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    As written, the passage provides no justification for the priesthood ban. It merely states that some were more valiant than others. Whether or not the cited scripture (Abraham 3:22-23) relates directly to the war on heaven, the basic principle is blindingly obvious–in any given conflict, some combatants perform more valiantly than others. However, neither the Bible dictionary passage nor the cited scripture give us any clue as to where a particular person (excepting Jesus) or group of persons ranks on the valiance scale. We just always seem to impute that valiance to ourselves or our favored group.

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  5. Last Lemming on February 20, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Whoops. Excepting Jesus and Abraham.

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  6. Howard on February 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    The war in heaven is myth to explain humankind’s internal struggle with good and evil.

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  7. mh on February 20, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Nate, some people believe the bible dictionary is scripture. Wasnt it John Taylor who said blacks were the opposition of all things and representatives of Satan? At least the neutrals is an improvement on Taylor. I’ve heard Mormon folklore that blacks were fence sitters (isn’t that a neutral?) Brad, I agree that the bible dictionary needs a big update.

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  8. Ken on February 20, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Howard @8,

    I’m sorry you feel this way.

    To me, the concept of the pre-mortal life, and the corresponding eternal progression and war for souls, is one of the refreshing concepts of the LDS faith. It provides great insight on why we come to this earth at different levels of intelligence (light and truth) and progression. We are not clearly not equal. Two people with the same parents can be at different levels and have completely different pre-dispositions.

    It is sad that some tie this concept to a race or sect; or, try and explain it away with genetics.

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  9. New Iconoclast on February 20, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    I would say that if we didn’t all “know” that BRM had a hand in writing the Bible Dictionary, as Brad alludes to in #1, the entry would be neutral on the PH ban. Certainly it provides no justification for it, as there is nothing in Scripture which ties the less valiant to birth with dark skin or African heritage and the entry cites no such source. So, color me “neutral to opposed.” A beautiful and uplifting doctrine, supporting our pre-mortal existence, the importance of agency, and our eternal progression – that of the conflict in heaven (Joseph called it “contention” in the King Follett Discourse) – is unfairly suffering from its unwarranted connection to racism. Too bad.

    Interestingly, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on the War in Heaven cites Vol. 3 of McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, but doesn’t mention race at all. I’ve never read that, but I suspect McConkie might mention race once or twice.

    I’d think, as Ken implies in #8, that any attempt to connect human race and genetics to our premortal valiance or lack thereof is pure speculation on the connector’s part and/or Wasatch Front Folklore. I’d have had some trouble sitting still for Earl’s (#2) Sunday School teacher preaching Manifest Destiny as Mormon Doctrine, and agree with Earl’s conclusion that the Scriptures don’t warrant such a belief.

    I’m not so sure I agree with the rest of Earl’s statement, at least not completely. I think it’s quite possible that God thought those spirits were good, at least in part, because they were obedient. I simply don’t think that has anything to do with their race in mortality.

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  10. Howard on February 20, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    I’m glad that doctrine brings you peace. I’m not opposed to it but dualist philosophy is simple beginning doctrine, allegory to explain our internal complexity. MH did an interesting post; Does God Forgive Evil? about Jeffrey Dahmer. Is Dahmer Satan? I doubt it. Is Dahmer evil? Well that depends on your definition of evil. If you watch the video I posted on that thread you will see that there are other more logical explanations and to the extent you accept them it redefines evil to something other than being one of Satan’s minions.

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  11. Douglas on February 20, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    “Valiancy” in the pre-mortal “Heavenly War” as a determinator of placement on this rock AND justification for the PH ban on Negroes (until 1978).

    1) We can’t say what determines assignment of spirits into this life. Who is to say that some Chinese guy, serving in the Emperor’s legions in the 4th century being led by Hua Mulan (and therefore completely unawares of the Gospel as we know it), was any less valiant in his pre-mortal existence than we are? Sometimes I think we have presumptions of grandeur of our spiritual past and its implications for our eternal prospects. Or as the Savior declared to the Pharisees, Heavenly Father could make “Children of Abraham” out of the stones lying about them (Matt 3:9).

    2) The idea that those born as blacks “deserved it” out of some presumed lack of valiancy in their premortal existence has been all but repudiated as nonsense. It was useless and frankly, racist and condesceding, and if it was subtly intended to discourage conversion of Negroes into the Church prior to 1979, unfortunately it likely succeeded. As leaders that have broached the subject since have since, we simply don’t have an explanation, and likely one will never be forthcoming. If you believe the PH to not be anything of the Lord, it’s a moot subject anyway. If you do, then accept that “His ways aren’t your ways” and move on, and be glad that for 35 years we haven’t had to deal further with this doctrinal albatross.

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  12. Jon on February 20, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Maybe they weren’t as valiant. But there valiant enough. They are here with physical bodies.

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  13. Ken on February 20, 2014 at 4:32 PM


    Cutting people up and putting them in your freezer is evil, no matter how you slice it!

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  14. Howard on February 20, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Cute pun! Of course it’s off the charts of normal behavior but what causes it? Doing the bidding of Jesus’ brother or something else? Did you watch the video?

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  15. sethsweblog on February 20, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    In the hands of someone skilled with words, it can provide whichever side you want. Personally, I don’t think it should be used for this argument at all.

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  16. Ken on February 20, 2014 at 6:05 PM


    I actually listened to it…in phoenix on a delayed flight home. I think it supports what I was saying. The speaker mentioned some membersof his own family were killers and others were conscientious objectors.

    A relevant question is do thier brains become distorted due to thier behavior, or do they come that way? My understanding is bad behavior distorts the brain

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  17. The Other Clark on February 20, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    I thin the scriptural exegesis begins with Abraham being identified as one of the “noble and great ones” before he was born. If he was noble and great, that implies that others were less noble and less great. Some–including apostles–have carried this lie of thinking to regretable conclusions. That said, I think the concept of varying degrees of greatness in the pre-mortal world is scriptural. THere are too many passage about Jesus and Lucifer’s stature there, foreordination of everyone from Alma to Joseph Smith to Jeremiah to deny the entire concept.

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  18. Howard on February 20, 2014 at 7:28 PM

    No question brains and bodies are connected but that would set the record for high speed evolution wouldn’t it Ken?

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  19. Hedgehog on February 21, 2014 at 1:14 AM

    Ken, there are many things that affect our brain function, and the level of intelligence we are able to display here on earth.
    I did well at school, have a PhD and worked reading complex patent documents complete with, in some cases, very complex diagrams. Yet following the birth of my first child I was seriously anaemic for some months. I could not think clearly. and I could not understand even the most basic diagrammatic instructions for straight forward baby equipment. It was an eye opener. I don’t believe that what we see of each other here and now, on this earth, necessarily reflects the way we were before, or the way we’ll be after. The mortal body is a wholly imperfect interface.

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  20. Ken on February 21, 2014 at 6:16 AM


    First off, Intelligence is light and truth. It has little to do with how much knowledge we gain, it is tied in whole to how we live our life and how we apply knowledge. Wisdom (another word for intelligence) comes from righteous application of correct principles.

    Howard, you are not considering the impact of a spirit child of God on a body. When Michael entered a humaniod form he became Adam. This immediately transformed him into an enlightened being instead of an instinctual animal.

    The spirit can enlighten the mind, but it can also transform the body into a “dark and loathsome” state. This scriptual reference denotes a dullness to the body and brain NOT a change in pigmentation as some erroneously conclude. How many times have you heard someone that witnessed brutal crime say they could see evil/darkness in the person committing the crime.

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  21. Roger on February 21, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    There really have been some pernicious conclusions drawn by some based on the extrapolations made from these scriptures. They are right up there with the “believing blood” notions advanced by lineage-obsessed Mormons. Some of us should remember the promise that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.

    If birth circumstances truly reflect first estate nobility, the protagonist of the Gospel story would not have been born in a cave to a Galilean couple of very modest means and attainments.

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  22. New Iconoclast on February 21, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    Expanding on what Roger said in #20, wouldn’t you almost argue that those born into particularly difficult circumstances (racial minorities, disfiguring disabilities, extreme poverty, you name it) would be more likely to be the “noble and great ones? First, they’d need the greater challenge to have more opportunity to grow, and second, they’d be better able to handle it and still “emerge victorious.”

    Take that, “believing blood” racists.

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  23. Ken on February 21, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    New Icon,

    You hit it right on the head. This is consistent with what several Apostles have said on the issue, Chief among them is Elder Maxwell. He said some are challenged with wealth and others with poverty; some with good looks and others without…and so forth (paraphrasing). His point is we all have our challenges and they all come in different forms.

    I maintain that excessive wealth would be as difficult as excessive poverty. Life might be easier, but what would it do to your soul if you choose not to look after the poor and needy.

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  24. Howard on February 21, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Well I guess that explains it Ken. We might as well shut down all the violence studies.

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