Plan of salvation/Three degrees of glory

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The Mormon concept of three degrees of glory

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Question: What is the Mormon concept of Hell?

Critics of Mormonism make some or all of the following attacks on Latter-day Saint doctrine regarding "hell"

  1. Members of the Church don't seem to have any clear understanding of the doctrine of Hell since they can be found using it in multiple senses.
  2. Members of the Church don't believe in Hell.
  3. Members of the Church believe, contrary to the Bible, that Hell is not eternal.
  4. Members of the Church believe, contrary to the Bible, that Hell is not burning.
  5. Members of the Church believe, contrary to the Bible, that the punishments of Hell are temporary.
  6. Members of the Church believe, contrary to the Bible, that good but unbelieving people can escape Hell (i.e., they won't end up in Outer Darkness or even in the Telestial Kingdom but will live with Jesus in glory).
  7. Members of the Church believe, contrary to the Bible, that man's eternal destiny involves more than two alternatives (Heaven and Hell).

Criticism #1: Different meanings for "hell"?

Latter-day Saint doctrine and scripture does use the term "hell" in a few different senses. This does not mean, however, that members are unclear about their doctrine, or that the particular use of the term "hell" cannot be determined by context.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes, in part:

Latter-day scriptures describe at least three senses of hell:

  1. that condition of misery which may attend a person in mortality due to disobedience to divine law;
  2. the miserable, but temporary, state of disobedient spirits in the spirit world awaiting the resurrection;
  3. the permanent habitation of the sons of perdition, who suffer the second spiritual death and remain in hell even after the resurrection.

Persons experiencing the first type of hell can be rescued from suffering through repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Savior suffered so that he could deliver everyone from hell (Alma 7:11-13; Alma 33:23). Those who do not repent, however, may experience the pains of hell in this life as well as in the next (D&C 76:104; 1 Nephi 16:2; Alma 40:14). The Prophet Joseph Smith described the true nature of hell: "A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone".[1] Thus, hell is both a place, a part of the world of spirits where suffering and sorrow occur, and a state of mind associated with remorseful realization of one's own sins (Mosiah 2:38; Alma 36:12-16).

A second type, a temporary hell of the postmortal spirit world, is also spoken of as a spirit prison. Here, in preparation for the Resurrection, unrepentant spirits are cleansed through suffering that would have been obviated by the Atonement of Christ had they repented during mortality (D&C 19:15-20; Alma 40:13-14). At the last resurrection this hell will give up its captive spirits. Many of these spirits will enter into the Telestial Kingdom in their resurrected state (2 Nephi 9:10-12; DC 76:84-89,106; Revelation 20:13). References to an everlasting hell for these spirits are interpreted in light of the Doctrine and Covenants, which defines Endless and Eternal as referring not to the length of punishment, but rather referring to God's punishment because he is "endless" and "eternal" (D&C 19:4-13). Individual spirits will be cleansed, will cease to experience the fiery torment of mind, and will be resurrected with their physical bodies.

The Savior's reference to the "gates of hell" (Hades, or the spirit world; Matthew 16:18) indicates, among other things, that God's priesthood power will penetrate hell and redeem the repentant spirits there. Many have been, and many more will yet be, delivered from hell through hearing, repenting, and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world after the death of the body. LDS doctrine emphasizes that after his mortal death Jesus Christ went to the spirit world and organized the teaching of the gospel there (D&C 138:; cf. Luke 23:43; 1 Peter 3:18-20). The Athanasian Creed and some forms of the "Apostles"' Creed state that Christ "descended into hell." LDS teaching is that Jesus entered the spirit world to extend his redemptive mission to those in hell, upon conditions of their repentance....

A third meaning of "hell" (second spiritual death) refers to the realm of the devil and his angels, including those known as sons of perdition (2 Peter 2:4; D&C 29:38; D&C 88:113; Revelation 20:14). It is a place for those who cannot be cleansed by the Atonement because they committed the unforgivable and unpardonable sin (1 Nephi 15:35; D&C 76:30-49). Only this hell continues to operate after the Resurrection and Judgment.[2]

Criticism #2: Don't believe in hell?

This claim is false. LDS scripture repeatedly refers to hell, as does the Bible, and as demonstrated above, the LDS have a clear use of hell in their theology.

Criticism #3: hell is not eternal?

Some critics claim that the LDS doctrine of hell violates the Book of Mormon and the Bible, because the Church does not teach a hell of endless duration. For example, Jerald and Sandra Tanner wrote:

All others, who are not classed as sons of perdition, will be "redeemed in the due time of the Lord"; that is, they will all be saved. The MEANEST SINNER will find some place in the heavenly realm...

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, THERE IS NO HELL. ALL will find a measure of salvation, ... The gospel of Jesus Christ has NO HELL in the old proverbial sense. (Joseph Smith--Seeker After Truth, Salt Lake City, 1951, pp. 177-178).

The Apostle John A. Widtsoe seemed to be teaching the very thing that the Book of Mormon condemned![3]

This quotation, however, does not fairly represent either Elder Widtsoe's views or the LDS doctrine he is explaining.

Note how Elder Widtsoe is trying to explain the differences between the sectarian vision of hell and the LDS one. He nowhere claims that sinners get a 'free ride' into heaven, and even opines that LDS understanding of punishment may be worse, in some ways. Note too the author's tendency to distort and obscure meaning through ALL CAPS and emphasis.

  • The quotes in context:

To illustrate the definite break with the Christianity of the day, [consider a doctrine] foreign to the truth of the gospel but taught almost vehemently over centuries by the priests of an apostate Christianity...that sinners will be sent to hell, there to remain in torture throughout eternity....In Joseph's day preachers still taught the proverbial hell of everlasting torture. In the text books of his day, in many nations, were pictures of devils with pitchforks pushing sinners into the flames of hells, there to suffer the agony of being burned, but never consumed. With one hand the preacher offered a fragment of God's love, and with the other, the torment of an unutterable never-ending hell provided by an angry, unforgiving God. Under such a cruel doctrine men would be frightened, so it was hoped, into a righteous manner of living. How men could devise so horrible a future for any one of God's children is a striking evidence of the apostasy from the simple loving gospel of Jesus Christ...the breaking of any law brings punishment which however may be paid for through repentance. If repentance does not follow sin, full punishment inevitably follows......In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is no hell. All will find a measure of salvation; all must pay for any infringement of the law; but the payment will be as the Lord may decide. There is graded salvation. This may be a more terrible punishment: to feel that because of sin a man is here, when by a correct life, he might be higher. The gospel of Jesus Christ has no hell in the old proverbial sense.[4]

Criticism #4: hell is not burning?

LDS scripture says of those in hell that "their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone" (2 Nephi 9:16, italics added). Thus, LDS scripture sees the burning of hell as metaphorical. This does not, however, mean that LDS doctrine devalues or downplays the suffering of hell. The resurrected Christ told Joseph Smith that:

15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

18 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—

19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit. (D&C 19:15-20)

Criticism #5: punishments are temporary?

See #3, above.

Criticism #6: good but unbelieving people can escape hell?

LDS doctrine anticipates that not all people will have a full and complete chance to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ before their death. Thus, in LDS doctrine those who have not yet accepted Christ may do so after death, but before the resurrection.

Criticism #7: humanity's eternal destiny involves more than "just" heaven or hell?

It is true that the Church believes that there is more to the final judgment than just a heaven/hell split. This difference derives in part from changes made to Christian doctrine in the first centuries after the death of the apostles.

For a discussion on changes from the early Christian conception of sin, death, hell, and salvation, see:

  • Barry R. Bickmore, "Salvation History and Requirements," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).

Christian view of Hell

Critics manage to mangle the Christian view of Hell as badly as they do with the correct, authentic and original Christian view of Heaven.

They don't start off well, confusing both the New Testament concepts of Hell in the sense of "hades" or "sheol" (spirit prison) and "gehenna" (everlasting burning)-terms with completely different meanings-and using the terms interchangeably, blissfully ignorant of the distinctions LDS (and the Bible, and most other Christians) make between the two. While it is probably true that, as they say, "...many [Latter-day Saints] find the [Biblicist] view of hell (eternal punishment with no second chances) to be both unfair and offensive," what offends us even more is that such an oversimplification is not Christian doctrine. Oddly enough, they are not even representing normative Protestant doctrine when they fail to make a difference between hades/sheol and gehenna.

As Innes explains,

"Hell" in the AV normally renders one of the three words, Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna. the word [that] is used in the Old Testament for the place of the dead. In general, we may say that it is the state of death pictured in visible terms....In the later Jewish literature we meet with the idea of divisions within Sheol for the wicked and the righteous, in which each experiences a foretaste of his final destiny (Enoch xxii. 1-14). This idea appears to underlie the imagery of the parable of Dives and Lazarus in the New Testament.[5]:518

"Hades" is the Greek term used to translate the Hebrew word "sheol" in the New Testament. Innes again:

In the LXX [6] it almost always renders sheol, and in the New Testament the Pesh.[7] renders it by shyul. It is used in connection with the death of Christ in Acts ii. 27, 31, which quotes Ps. xvi. 10. In Mt. xvi. 18 Christ says that the gates of Hades (cf. Is. xxxviii. 10; Pss. ix. 13, cvii. 18) shall not prevail against His Church. As the gates of a city are essential to its power, the meaning here is probably the power of death.[5]:518

With respect to Gehenna, Innes goes on to explain,

In later Jewish writings Gehenna came to have the sense of the place of punishment for sinners (Assumption of Moses x.10; 2 Esdras vii.36) The rabbinic literature contains various opinions as to who would suffer eternal punishment. The ideas were widespread that the sufferings of some would be terminated by annihilation, or that the fires of Gehenna were in some cases purgatorial. But those who held these doctrines also taught the reality of eternal punishment for certain classes of sinners...The teaching of the New Testament endorses this belief.[5]:518

In the New Testament, the Hebrew word is usually transliterated as ge'enna, but on occasion the general (i.e., non-Judaeo-Christian) Greek word Tartarus is also used. "Gehenna" comes from the imagery of a continuously smoldering garbage pit in the Valley of Hinnom in New Testament Jerusalem. Tartarus is a classical Greek word for the son of the god Chaos but came to mean that part of the afterworld where the wicked suffered for their sins. So we have two pairs of Greek/Hebrew words used in the New Testament: Sheol/Hades for the afterworld in general, and Gehenna/Tartarus for the place of eternal punishment. But as noted, Tartarus is a rarely used word in the New Testament (originally written, of course, in Greek).

Given such a fundamental and critical failure to distinguish between very clearly different concepts in the New Testament, precious little of the authors' commentary on the Gospel's beliefs regarding Outer Darkness, Perdition, Spirit Prison and the Telestial Kingdom makes any sense whatsoever and the critic of their work wonders where to even begin to approach it. A basic primer in Christianity (let alone its restored form) is needed by the authors.

Question: What did the Jews and early Christians really believe with regard to a three-part heaven?

Note: The following text is based upon an essay written by Marc A. Schindler


Let's take a look at what Jews and early Christians really believed. Before we start, let's point out that simply mining the Church Fathers and pseudepigrapha for references that defend one's point of view is akin to proof-texting and in and of itself, doesn't prove anything. However, even finding one reference in the patristic and pseudepigraphal writings is sufficient to destroy an "argument from absence". That is, if critics say, in effect, "Jews and early Christians never believed x" and we succeed in finding even one solitary reference to x then we have proven their assertion wrong. Proving that it was a common or even normative (authoritative or orthodox) belief is something else altogether, but fortunately many critics' style of criticism tends to lean towards the absolute: things are either all or nothing. And this kind of position is easy to demolish.

Having said that, it so happens that there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sources contemporary with or within a few centuries of Paul, sources that showed consistently what ancient Christians and Jews believed in-enough, as it happens, to establish not just an objection to an argument from absence, but an actual consensus. And that consensus is exactly the opposite of what some claim. The following sections examine only a sample of quotes both from modern commentaries and ancient sources to show that the normative belief of early post-Apostolic Christianity and contemporary Judaism was in a multi-tiered Heaven in the LDS sense of different mansions corresponding with the achievement of different levels of earthly valour.

Modern Christian Scholarly Commentary: The Anchor Bible

Orr and Walther have this commentary on the term "third heaven":

The third heaven. The original text (=a) of T Levi [Testament of Levi] 2:7-10; 3:1-4 seems to have conceived of the heavenly spheres as three in number, in the third of which Levi found himself standing in the presence of the Lord and his glory. Later, however, this material was re-worked to refer to a set of four additional heavens, conforming the narrative to the common Jewish and Christian tradition about seven heavens, as in Apoc Mos [Apocalypse of Moses] 35:2; 2 Enoch 3-20; b. Hag [Babylonian Talmud tractate of Hagiga]; Ascension of Isaiah; Apoc Paul [Apocalypse of Paul] 29, etc...The otherworldly journey is a common feature in ancient apocalyptic literature.[8]

Modern Christian Commentary: Daniélou (Roman Catholic)

The LDS commentator Seiach[9] quotes,

Jean Daniélou [a Roman Catholic theologian and cardinal] has recently shown that contemporary Jews had further developed this three-step attainment of God's glory into a system of three heavens: the heaven of God, the heaven of stars, and the heaven of meteors.....[10]

That this three-tiered heavenly world was also recognized by the original Christians is evidenced by the Savior's mysterious saying that the 'seed of the Kingdom' (i.e. the saved) would bring forth fruit 'some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold' (Matt 13:8,23). That this was also an esoteric doctrine, is suggested by the fact that it was introduced by the usual covert signal: 'Who hath ears, let him hear' (Matt 13:9). As might be expected, 'orthodoxy' soon forgot it, either expanding the three heavens to seven (see below), or reducing them to a single place reserved for 'all' who are 'saved by grace,' without further effort on their part.

Nevertheless, for several centuries, the original Church continued to speak of a graduated system of heavens and rewards, just as the Saviour had taught (Matthew 16:27). The very early Church Father, Papias, for example, understood that the Saviour's three degrees of 'fruitfulness' (Matthew 13:8, Matthew 13:23) corresponded to the Pauline three 'heavens' or 'glories' (1 Corinthians 15:41). According to him (as recorded in the first century account of Polycarp),[11] the 'Elders' agreed that 'Those who are deemed worthy of an abode in Heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the City.[12] For everywhere the Saviour will be seen, according as they shall be worthy who see him. But that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundredfold, and that of those who produce sixtyfold, and that of those who produce thirtyfold; for the first will be taken up into Heaven; the second class will dwell in Paradise, and the last will inhabit the City; and that on this account the Lord said, 'In my house are many mansions,' for all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling place, even as his word says, that a share is given to all by the Father, according as each is or shall be worthy (Relics of the Elders, 5).

By the 'Elders' Papias meant the Primitive Community, including the Apostles, whose oral traditions he had diligently preserved as he himself heard them. 'If anyone chanced to be a fellow of the Elders,' he wrote, 'I would enquire as to their discourse, what Andrew, or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James or what John or what Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples...For I did not think that things out of books could profit me so much as the utterances of a voice which liveth and abideth.'[13]

Modern Christian Commentary: Disley (Mainstream Protestant)

Protestant theologian Emma Disley cites many of the early Reformers and their first followers as teaching the concept of differing degrees of glory. She points out at the outset that "the writings of the Father were weightily disposed towards the concept of degrees of reward and punishment" and refers to Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, and Pope Gregory the Great. She concludes her article:

"For the majority of Protestant writers who addressed the issue, belief in degrees of reward in heaven thus did not conflict with the Protestant insight of justification freely attained through the merits of Christ, since rewards resulted naturally or automatically from good works, which were part of the elect's sanctification."[14]

Modern Christian Commentary: Daley (Catholic)

Brian E. Daley, a Jesuit scholar, cites the following Church Fathers as teaching varying degrees of glory: Irenaeus, Cyprian, Ambrose, and some lesser-known fathers: Macarius, Quodvultdeus (died 453) Bishop of Carthage, and friend of Augustine; Severus, Bishop of Antioch (died 538); and Caesarius, Bishop of Arles.[15]

Modern Christian Commentary: Ryk (Eastern Orthodox)

Twenty-five years ago Marta Ryk wrote an article on deification in Eastern orthodoxy in which she pointed out that there are "diverse degrees of deification."[16]

Modern Jewish Commentary: Dr. Eliezer Lorne Segal (Scholarly Orthodox)

Further evidence of Jewish traditions of a hierarchy of heavens (as opposed to some proto-astronomical interpretation) can be found in an interesting Website, "The Seventh Heaven," by Dr. Eliezer Lorne Segal, who teaches a number of senior-level courses in Judaism in the Religious Studies Department of the University of Calgary (including RS 365 - Medieval Judaism; RS 463 - Jewish Mysticism; RS 465 - Topics in Rabbinic Judaism, RS 201 - World Religions: Western; RS 361 - Second Temple Judaism; RS 363 - Judaism in the Modern World; and RS 367 - Judaism of the Talmud and Midrash [commentaries by Rabbis on the Talmud]).

In his article "The Seventh Heaven"[17] he takes issue with the answer given to a phone-in listener on the local CBC[18] Radio One morning program feature called "Good Question." This particular question, about where the term "seventh heaven" comes from, elicited the response that the term comes from "the popular Muslim conception of paradise, which is divided into several celestial levels, awarded according to the degree of righteousness achieved during one's mortal lifetime." Now that, in and of itself, is interesting, but Prof. Segal says it actually predates the rise of Islam by "many centuries" and has "deep roots in Jewish tradition."

Segal says that the Talmudic rabbis were presumably influenced by the fact that the Hebrew word for "heavens" or "sky" appears only in a plural form, shamayim, implying a multiplicity of heavens. The number seven has special significance in Biblical writings, and Jewish sages, Segal reports, "had no trouble finding distinct functions for each of the seven levels." While several had purely "astronomical" functions, the others had distinctly religious functions: "According to their imagery these heavens are actually palaces-'heikhalot'-and the task of the mystic is to ascend as high as he can until he reaches the highest level, where he will be vouchsafed a peek at the throne of God." Thus we have a direct connection with the Enochian tradition of a mystical ascent through the spiritual realms to the Throne of God, and also to the terminology "palaces" or, as the KJV puts it, "mansions."

Modern Jewish Commentary: Tracey Richards (Popular Orthodox)

The Talmud states that all Israel has a share in the Olam Ha-Ba.[19] However, not all "shares" are equal. A particularly righteous person will have a greater share in the Olam Ha-Ba than the average person. In addition, a person can lose his share through wicked actions. There are many statements in the Talmud that a particular mitzvah will guarantee a person a place in the Olam Ha-Ba, or that a particular sin will lose a person's share in the Olam Ha-Ba, but these are generally regarded as hyperbole, excessive expressions of approval or disapproval.

Some people look at these teachings and deduce that Jews try to "earn our way into Heaven" by performing the mitzvoth [the covenant to obey the commandments]. This is a gross mischaracterization of our religion. It is important to remember that unlike some religions, Judaism is not focused on the question of how to get into heaven. Judaism is focused on life and how to live it. Non-Jews frequently ask me, "do you really think you're going to go to Hell if you don't do such-and-such?" It always catches me a bit off balance, because the question of where I am going after death simply doesn't enter into the equation when I think about the mitzvot. We perform the mitzvot because it is our privilege and our sacred obligation to do so. We perform them out of a sense of love and duty, not out of a desire to get something in return. In fact, one of the first bits of ethical advice in Pirkei Avot (a book of the Mishnah [part of the Talmud]) is: "Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven [meaning G-d, not the afterlife] be upon you."

Nevertheless, we definitely believe that your place in the Olam Ha-Ba is determined by a merit system based on your actions, not by who you are or what religion you profess. In addition, we definitely believe that humanity is capable of being considered righteous in G-d's[20] eyes, or at least good enough to merit paradise after a suitable period of purification.[21]

Modern Judaism: Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi (Conservative Mystical)

When a soul is ready to enter Gan Eden (Paradise, literally the Garden of Eden), it must first be immersed in the River of Light, created from the perspiration that flows from the heavenly hosts as they fervently sing glory to the Highest. This immersion is to empty the soul of any lingering earth images so that it may, without further illusion, see heaven for what it really is.

First the soul enters the lower Gan Eden, which is a paradise of emotional bliss. While on earth most persons are unable to experience more than one dominant emotion at a time. However, the bliss of the souls in the lower Gan Eden is likened to a majestic chord of benign emotions, which the soul feels towards God and towards other souls. In the Hasidic view, heaven is organized into societies. Those souls who share mutual interests are drawn together so they can serve His Blessed Name according to their own specialty and individuality. Each heavenly society is taught by its own rabbi and led to further celestial attainments. Thus, the lower Gan Eden is the heaven of emotional fervor.

Before a soul is raised from the lower to the higher Gan Eden, it must again immerse itself in the River of Light so that it will forget and forsake the furor of the emotions. for the even greater delights of knowing God through understanding. The serving of God with insight through the study of Torah is itself a reward. The societies of the upper Gan Eden are organized into yeshivot (schools! in which a blissful understanding of the divine mind is attained. Each midnight, the Holy One, blessed be He. Himself appears and enters Gan Eden to delight in the sharing of His blessed wisdom with the righteous who have gained the upper Gan Eden."[22]

Jewish Commentary: Lurian Kabbalism (Mediaeval Mysticism)

Karen Armstrong refers to the Lurian Kabbalah tradition of the 16th century mystic Saint Teresa of Avila:

Like John of the Cross, Teresa was a modernizer and a mystic of genius, yet had she remained within Judaism[23] she would not have had the opportunity to develop this gift, since only men were allowed to practice the kabbalah. Yet, interestingly, her spirituality remained Jewish. In The Interior Castle, she charts the soul's journey through seven celestial halls until it reaches God, a scheme which bears a marked resemblance to the Throne Mysticism that flourished in the Jewish world from the first to the twelfth centuries CE. Teresa was a devout and loyal Catholic, but she still prayed like a Jew and taught her nuns to do the same.[24]

This tradition of a hierarchy of celestial "halls" (or mansions?) goes back even further.

Ante-Nicene[25] Church Fathers: Irenaeus

Irenaeus directly contradicts the critics' theory of "earth/astronomical" heavens and then refers explicitly to the thirty/sixty/hundredfold imagery in terms of a hierarchy of Heaven:

If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day "in the lower parts of the earth;" then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father; [if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that "the lower parts" refer to this world of ours, but that their tuner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord "went away in the midst of the shadow of death," where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God.[26]

He goes on to say about the degrees of glory:

[They {the presbyters} say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch on which the guests shall recline, having been invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved.[27][citation needed]

Ante-Nicene Church Fathers: Clement of Alexandria

Chapter XIII.-Degrees of Glory in Heaven Corresponding with the Dignities of the Church Below.

For these taken up in the clouds, the apostle writes, will first minister [as deacons], then be classed in the presbyterate, by promotion in glory (for glory differs from glory) till they grow into "a perfect man."[28]

One of the chapters of the Stromata is even entitled "Degrees of Glory in Heaven." In this chapter, he writes,

Chapter XIV.-Degrees of Glory in Heaven.

Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed. To the point Solomon says, "For there shall be given to him the choice grace of faith, and a more pleasant lot in the temple of the Lord." For the comparative shows that there are lower parts in the temple of God, which is the whole Church. And the superlative remains to be conceived, where the Lord is. These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel-the thirty, the sixty, the hundred.[29]

Ante-Nicene Church Fathers: Origen

And some men are connected with the Father, being part of Him, and next to these, those whom our argument now brings into clearer light, those who have come to the Saviour and take their stand entirely in Him. And third are those of whom we spoke before, who reckon the sun and the moon and the stars to be gods, and take their stand by them. And in the fourth and last place those who submit to soulless and dead idols.[30]

Compare this with modern LDS scripture: "These are they who receive of His glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father." (D&C 76:76-77)

Pseudepigrapha: 2 Enoch

Enoch is a book that was held in high regard in the early Church, being quoted by Jude, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and many Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. We don't know which, if any, of the three major textual traditions we have today is the one that Jude, for instance, would have known (Ethiopic, Slavonic and Hebrew, referred to respectively as 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch and 3 Enoch), but regardless, this pseudepigraphal work is a genuinely ancient tradition. In 2 Enoch, a first century AD work that would have been unknown to Joseph Smith, in Chapters 6 through 20, Enoch is taken on a tour of the heavens.

The First Heaven was called the "stellar order" (in LDS terminology, the "Telestial Kingdom"). In Chapter 7 he travels to the Second Heaven, where he gazes down upon those who "turned away from the Lord, who did not obey the Lord's commandments, but of their own will plotted together and turned away with their prince and with those who are under restraint in the fifth heaven." In Chapter 8 he goes to the Third Heaven where he gazed down upon Paradise, where the tree of life is located. Although the imagery is confusing, there appears to be a "northern" portion that is a frightful and dark place (is this paradise and the spirit prison?). In Chapter 11 he goes to the Fourth Heaven where the moon and the sun have their orbits, and which is filled with wondrous beasts. The emphasis isn't so much on the astronomical bodies as upon the order and the timing of the universe in which we reside. Now, this does appear to be an astronomy and horological treatise of some strange, mystical kind, but it all relates to the Earth. (Could this be a reference, then, to the Terrestrial Kingdom?)

In Chapter 18 we accompany Enoch to the Fifth Heaven, which is filled with a strange contingent of "soldiers" and princes known as the Grigori. The sense is one of disappointment, of a potential not quite achieved somehow-not much detail is given (could this be the lowest level of the Celestial Kingdom?) The next chapter brings us to the Sixth Heaven where the leaders of the angels and of celestial speech and life preside. The keys of life are in their hands (the ministering angels of the second level of the Celestial Kingdom?).

Finally, in Chapter 20 we read Enoch's vision of the Seventh and highest Heaven. Here is the throne of God Himself, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim. Enoch's Virgilian guides desert him-they may not enter, and Enoch is left by himself, terrified at the sight. He is comforted by the archangel Gabriel who tells him to present himself to the Lord.

2 Enoch exists in two recensions (families of manuscripts), the "A" or shorter recension and the "J" or longer recension. In a brief flurry of verses in Chapter 20, after mention of the Seventh Heaven, some astrological references are given and given the names of the Eighth through the Tenth Heavens are given to these, but this exists only in the "J" recension. At present it's hotly debated as to which recension is older, but it has been argued that "J" is a later expansion of "A", which might account for the brief and post-first-century AD additions of the Eighth through Tenth heavens. The point isn't to speculate as to how 2 Enoch can be made to fit into the Restored Gospel as a textual defense-that would be the Biblicist approach. Rather it is to show that there is ample precedent for LDS beliefs in the ancient world, documented in texts that would have been unavailable to Joseph Smith, and thereby refuting the claim that the Restored Gospel can't be the original Christianity. If we can show plausible precedent, then we do not have to prove authenticity, but we do disprove our critics' claims of impossibility. Possibility is not proof of existence, but it is disproof of non-existence.[31]

Pseudepigrapha: Testament of Levi

Listen, therefore, concerning the heavens which have been shown to you. The lowest is dark for this reason: It sees all the injustices of humankind and contains fire, snow, and ice, ready for the day determined by God's righteous judgment. In it are all the spirits of those dispatched to achieve the punishment of mankind. In the second are the armies arrayed for the day of judgment to work vengeance on the spirits of error and of Beliar. Above them are the Holy Ones. In the uppermost heaven of all dwells the Great Glory in the Holy of Holies superior to all holiness. There with him are the archangels, who serve and offer propitiatory sacrifices to the Lord in behalf of all the sins of ignorance of the righteous ones.. They present to the Lord a pleasing odour, a rational and bloodless oblation. In the heaven below them are the messengers who carry the responses to the angels of the Lord's presence.[32]

New Testament Pseudepigrapha: The Apocalypse of Paul

The Apocalypse of Paul, a Coptic work found in the Nag Hammadi Library,[33]</ref> is typical of Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic writings that feature a tour of the heavens. The earliest versions seem to have only three; later texts, under Gnostic influence, elaborated this to seven and even ten. Here is MacRae and Murdock's introduction:

The first of the series of four apocalypses in Codex V, the Apocalypse of Paul, describes the ascent of Paul through the heavens. Though other ancient works of the same or similar name are known, the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul seems quite unique in its focus upon Paul's ascent through the fourth to the tenth heavens [as opposed to just three heavens -- MS]. The precise circumstances surrounding the composition of the document remain uncertain. Yet the polemic against the apocalyptic "old man" in the seventh heaven may indicate that the document comes from a Gnostic group with an anti-Jewish tendency. Furthermore, the portrait of Paul as one exalted above his fellow apostles resembles the portrayal of Paul in the Gnosticism, and especially the Valentinianism, of the second century C.E.

The Apocalypse of Paul opens with an epiphany scene: a little child, probably the risen Christ, encounters Paul on the mountain, provides a revelation, and guides Paul to the Jerusalem above. Clearly this scene with the heavenly child provides an interpretation of Galatians 1:11-17 and 2;1-2. Of course, the basis for the entire ascent narrative is to be found in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. As Paul ascends through the heavens, he witnesses, in the fourth and fifth heavens, a scene of the judgment and punishment of souls, a scene which is reminiscent of similar pictures in Jewish apocalyptic literature but which also illustrates popular syncretism. Paul's heavenly journey seems to rely upon Jewish apocalyptic tradition, but the Gnostic character of the present ascent narrative is obvious. Finally Paul reaches the tenth heaven where, tranformed, he greets his fellow spirits.[34]

Pseudepigrapha: Vision of Ezra

It seems that, in general, one reason Biblicists have such trouble accepting the clear references to different rewards after this life is that they are hampered by post-Biblical notions which came into vogue during the Reformation; especially the idea of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia). Latter-day Saints accept that salvation in the sense of all of us receiving some level of glory (with the exception of a presumably small number of "Sons of Perdition" who actively fight the atonement-whatever that may mean), but because Biblicists have lost the doctrine of exaltation and theosis/deification, they assume these doctrines of levels of glory are wrong. And in any case, they reject the notion of works as being a prerequisite for which level of glory one is to receive-they have lost the original doctrine, especially under the influence of fifteenth- through eighteenth-century Protestant Reformers.

But we know that not everything that Jesus taught is contained in the New Testament-it explicitly says this in two places, one of which in particular has some interesting significance in light of documents that have come to light since Joseph Smith's day.

The first passage is at the end of the Gospel of John: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." (John 21:25)

That should be clear enough to Biblicism, but the second, even more significant verse is also towards the end of John: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:30-31) In other words, John (and presumably his fellow-evangelists) wrote their books to give the basic knowledge proselytes (investigators and new members) would need to know in order to come to a belief in Christ, and excluded that which might distract from a proselyte's education. But there was more to Christian doctrine, "signs" not to be revealed publicly.

Was this something unique to John, or is it found elsewhere in early Christian thought?

We've already discussed the common theme of touring up through the heavens until one finally reaches the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom, a theme that runs through the ancient non-canonical works called the Pseudepigrapha, and Church Fathers. Latter-day Saints perform a dramatic (liturgical, or participatory and symbolic) form of this every time they go through the endowment ceremony, so temple worship fits well into ancient tradition. This isn't the place to go into the details of temple worship, but the point is that not all doctrine is to be found in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. The canonical books of the New Testament (the books which ended up becoming part of the modern-day New Testament) suffer from two limitations: a) they happen to be what survived; we know that many other writings did not survive; and b) they were directed by and large to new members and proselytes, so they deliberately avoided deeper doctrines.

Now the concept of the necessity of works is a clear theme in the New Testament, despite the best efforts of Biblicists to ignore or rationalize it, but it so happens that some of the esoteric doctrine that seems to have been revealed in these visionary tours of the heavens was the doctrine of exaltation, wherein more than mere belief is required-the building up of the Kingdom of God (works) is also a requirement over and above universal grace in order to gain a higher degree of glory.

For instance, the second- or third-century pseudepigraphal work, "Vision of Ezra," which was traditionally considered an Old Testament pseudepigraphum, but which scholars now believe is actually of Christian provenance, has the Lord saying the following to Ezra when Ezra is finally admitted into His presence:

And after he saw this, he was lifted up into heaven, and he came to a multitude of angels, and they said to him, 'pray to the Lord for the sinners.' And they put him down within the sight of the Lord. And he said, 'Lord, have mercy on the sinners!' And the Lord said, 'Ezra, let them receive according to their works.' And Ezra said, 'Lord, you have shown more clemency to the animals, which eat the grass and have not returned you praise, than to us; they die and have no sin; however, you torture us, living and dead.' And the Lord said, 'In my image I have formed man and I have commanded that they may not sin and they sinned; therefore they are in torment. And the elect are those who go into eternal rest on account of confession, penitence, and largesse in almsgiving.' And Ezra said, 'Lord, what do the just do in order that they may not enter in judgment?' And the Lord said to him, '(Just as) the servant who performed well for his master will receive liberty, so too (will) the just in the kingdom of heaven.' Amen.[35]

Question: With respect the the three degrees of glory, what does the word "telestial" mean?

Telestial is a neologism (a "new word") that was coined as part of the revelation of D&C 76

What does the word "telestial" mean, as used in Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon's vision (see DC 76:) of the post-mortal worlds?

Telestial is a neologism (a "new word") that was coined as part of the revelation of D&C 76. English allows and even encourages creation of neologisms richly all the time (see for instance Shakespeare). That's just the way the language works, and is one of the reasons English has become a lingua franca in our modern world.

Celestial and terrestrial are both derived from Latin. The word caelum means "sky, heaven"; turned into an adjective, that form becomes caelestis "heavenly"; and apparently that ending was extended with another Latin adjectival ending, -(i)alis, to get the form caelestialus. The Latin ending -us was dropped when the word was anglicized (and the ae diphthong was reduced), giving us "celestial."

Terrestrial underwent a similar evolution. Terra means "earth"; terrestris is the adjectival form, "of or relating to the earth"; and terrestrialus would be an extended adjectival form, with the -us ending being dropped in English, for terrestrial.

Telestial appears to have been formed by analogy to celestial. Working backwards, the hypothetical forms would be telestialus, then telestis. The -stial is thus an adjectival formation. The question then becomes what the root tele signifies.

There is of course no answer book we can open to find out for sure what was intended.

  1. One option is that that the root was taken from Greek. One possibility would be telos, which means "end, purpose"; the cognate verb telein means "to bring to an end; to complete." [36]
  2. Another possibility is that the root comes from the Greek adverb tele, which means "far away, distant." This root is commonly seen in English formations, such as telephone, telescope and television. As an adverb, normally it is a combining form with other words, but it may convey the basic idea of something far away or distant (from God?), or it may have been coined backwards from English telescope, reflecting the basic idea that the stars (which are used as a symbol for telestial beings--see DC 76:) are far away (i.e., much further than the sun or moon).
  3. A third possibility suggests that it may be helpful to think about what we ought to expect based on the progression of terms from celestial to terrestrial to telestial. The analogy used in the revelation talks about sun, moon and stars, so certainly any connection we can find to the stars would be worth considering. But the terms themselves reflect a different progression: caelum is heaven/sky, terra is earth, so to me the natural progression would be something designating a nether or underworld, something like Sheol or Hades. We see this progression in Phillippians 2:10 which talks about things “in heaven” (GR epouranios), things “on earth” (GR epigeios), and things “under the earth” (GR katachthonos). The latter term is formed from the preposition kata (in this usage, “under”) and chthon (“earth”) and is the Greek equivalent of such words as subterranean, infernus. When used in the plural, that Greek term refers to those who dwell there, the departed souls who dwell in the world below, the netherworld.

    With that background, this option suggests that perhaps the root to telestial is the Latin tellus, which means “earth, ground” and from there “land, district, country, region, territory.” (In Hebrew literature, words for the “earth” often do double duty and also can represent the netherworld.) If that were the case, the word was imperfectly formed, dropping an l from the root of the word. It might be odd to have two kingdom names both grounded in terms for “earth,” but recall that this earth is considered to be in a telestial state, its terrestrial state being a higher existence from which it fell. [37]

All we have at this point is guesswork to go by, but it is an interesting linguistic question.

Question: Do the Latter-day Saint "Three Degrees of Glory" have a basis in the Bible?

It is clear that Joseph Smith went far beyond the information found in the Bible concerning the degrees of glory in the resurrection

It is claimed that the doctrine of three heavens has no basis in the Bible.

It is clear that Joseph Smith went far beyond the information found in the Bible concerning the degrees of glory in the resurrection. However, it is equally clear that many of those extra details he included are corroborated by the testimony of the early Christian writers—and this to such an extent that it is hard to explain the phenomenon as mere coincidence.[38]

The Bible makes clear that all mankind will be "judged. . . according to their works." (Revelation 20:12) And if so, won't everyone's rewards be different one from another? Jesus insisted that in His "Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2), and Paul wrote that in the judgment a person's works might be added to his reward or burned up, but either way he might still be saved: "If any man's work abide which he hath built [upon the foundation of Jesus Christ], he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:14-15) Paul also indicated that he had seen a vision of "the third heaven." (2 Corinthians 12:2) Therefore, one might logically conclude from these passages that recipients of salvation will be allotted varying rewards within at least three different "heavens" or "degrees of glory." However, it must be admitted that this fact is not really made explicit in the Bible, so it is understandable that the Christian world has for many centuries been content with the doctrine of one heaven and one hell.

The Mormon doctrine of degrees of glory

While pondering the significance of certain of the aforementioned passages in the Bible, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were given a most striking vision of the fate of mankind after the general resurrection and judgment, which included a description of the three principal kingdoms of glory. (D&C 76) They found that the first kingdom, called the Celestial, will be inhabited by those who have overcome by faith in Jesus Christ (D&C 76:50-70, 92-96), including children who have died and those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, but were not given the chance until they reached the spirit world. (D&C 137:1-10) The second kingdom, called the Terrestrial, will be inhabited by good people who were just and kind, but were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus. Those who rejected the gospel in this life, but afterwards received it will be given a reward in this kingdom, as well. (D&C 76:71-80,91,97)[39] The third, or Telestial, kingdom will be given to the generally wicked masses of the earth who spent their entire residence in the Spirit World in Hell, and so were not worthy of any higher glory. (D&C 76:81-90,98-112)

Another distinction between these kingdoms is that those who receive Celestial glory will reside in the presence of the Father Himself, while those in the Terrestrial kingdom will receive the presence of the Son, and those in the Telestial will have the Holy Ghost to minister to them. (D&C 76:62,77,86)

Sun, Moon, and Stars as Types of the Degrees of Glory

What marvelous light this vision has thrown upon obscure Bible passages! For example, what good does it do to know that there are three heavens if one does not know anything about them? Another example of a passage illuminated by this revelation is Paul's description of the glory of the resurrected body:

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:40-42)

In the vision of the kingdoms of glory, the Lord revealed that this passage is not just a comparison of earthly bodies with heavenly, but also a reference to the fact that there are three different major levels of glory to which a body can be resurrected:

And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one. And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one. And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differeth from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world. (D&C 76:96-98)

Origen, in the early third century, revealed that the early Church interpreted this passage in essentially the same way:

Our understanding of the passage indeed is, that the Apostle, wishing to describe the great difference among those who rise again in glory, i.e., of the saints, borrowed a comparison from the heavenly bodies, saying, "One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars."[40]

He further explained that the highest of the three degrees is associated with the Father, and the second degree with the Son:

And some men are connected with the Father, being part of Him, and next to these, those whom our argument now brings into clearer light, those who have come to the Saviour and take their stand entirely in Him. And third are those of whom we spoke before, who reckon the sun and the moon and the stars to be gods, and take their stand by them. And in the fourth and last place those who submit to soulless and dead idols.[41]

We shall see that Origen's doctrine of a fourth degree for the very wicked is fairly consistent with LDS belief, as well.

John Chrysostom was another witness to the fact that the early Church considered this passage to be a reference to degrees of reward in the afterlife:

And having said this, he ascends again to the heaven, saying, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon." For as in the earthly bodies there is a difference, so also in the heavenly; and that difference no ordinary one, but reaching even to the uttermost: there being not only a difference between sun and moon, and stars, but also between stars and stars. For what though they be all in the heaven? yet some have a larger, others a less share of glory. What do we learn from hence? That although they be all in God's kingdom, all shall not enjoy the same reward; and though all sinners be in hell, all shall not endure the same punishment.[42]

More Ancient Witnesses to the Three Degrees of Glory

This doctrine goes back much further than Origen and Chrysostom, however. Irenaeus preserved the same tradition which had supposedly come from the elders who knew the Apostles. Many think he received it from Papias:

And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch on which the guests shall recline, having been invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the Apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature; also that they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father, and that in due time the Son will yield up His work to the Father, even as it is said by the Apostle, "For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."[43]

Clement of Alexandria also expressed belief in the three degrees, and echoed the Lord's revelation to Joseph Smith that those in the highest degree "are gods, even the sons of God." (D&C 76:58)

Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed . . . . These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel--the thirty, the sixty, the hundred. And the perfect inheritance belongs to those who attain to "a perfect man," according to the image of the Lord . . . . To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught.[44]

Clement also preached that the three gradations of glory are procured by virtue of three types of actions:

[Clement of Alexandria] reckons three kinds of actions, the first of which is . . . right or perfect action, which is characteristic of the perfect man and Gnostic alone, and raises him to the height of glory. The second is the class of . . . medium, or intermediate actions, which are done by less perfect believers, and procure a lower grade of glory. In the third place he reckons sinful actions, which are done by those who fall away from salvation.[45]

Other Systems of Multiple Heavens

Actually, there were several schemes for the structure of the heavens, with different numbers of heavens which varied also in their contents.[46] But even where three degrees were not specifically mentioned, it was maintained that various gradations of the elect exist. For example, Similitude 8 in the Pastor of Hermas discusses various types of elect. The editors of one collection of early Christian documents preface the chapter with this summary: "That there are many kinds of elect, and of repenting sinners: and how all of them shall receive a reward proportionable to the measure of their repentance and good works."[47]

Jesus, in the Epistle of the Apostles, made a distinction between the "elect" and "most elect."[48] And consistent with this, the Jewish Christian Clementine Recognitions reduced the number of heavens to two.[49]

One of the most popular schemes was that of seven heavens. Daniélou asserts that the idea of seven heavens was first introduced by certain Jewish Christian groups and "derives from oriental, Irano-Babylonian influences," while the older Jewish apocalyptic tradition and many other early Christian groups held to the three heavens scheme.[50] However, it appears that the seven heavens may originally have been consistent with the three heavens doctrine. For example, we have seen that Irenaeus preserved Papias's doctrine of three heavens, but in another passage he asserted that "the earth is encompassed by seven heavens, in which dwell Powers and Angels and Archangels, giving homage to the Almighty God who created all things . . . ."[51] As Daniélou points out, since the seven heavens were the dwelling places of angels, they probably were thought to have been gradations within the second of the three principal heavens.[52]

Outer Darkness

As we noted in the discussion of the nature of the spirit world, both the Latter-day Saints and the early Christians have taught that the "hell" associated with the spirit world will have an end. It should be noted here, however, that there will be an everlasting hell after the resurrection, and the promise of eternal punishment is very real for those who in this life and the next not only reject Christ and His Kingdom, but who consciously fight against it once they have received a witness of its truth. The Lord revealed to the Prophet that those who deny the Holy Ghost, and thus committing the unpardonable sin, will be given a kingdom of totally without glory called "outer darkness":

Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power--They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come--Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. (D&C 76:31-35)

Similarly, both the gnostic Christian Gospel of Philip and the Pastor of Hermas describe the denizens of "outer darkness" as those who have made a conscious and specific choice to rebel against God:

An Apostolic man in a vision saw some people shut up in a house of fire and bound with fiery chains, lying in flaming ointment . . . . And he said to them, "[Why are they not able] to be saved? [They answered], "They did not desire it. They received [this place as] punishment, what is called 'the [outer] darkness,' because he is [thrown] out (into it)."[53]

From the first mountain, which was black, they that believed are the following: apostates and blasphemers against the Lord, and betrayers of the servants of God. To these repentance is not open; but death lies before them, and on this account also are they black, for their race is a lawless one.[54]

Origen taught that the wicked in outer darkness would be devoid of intelligence, and possessed of bodies stripped of all glory.

But the outer darkness, in my judgment, is to be understood not so much of some dark atmosphere without any light, as of those persons who, being plunged in the darkness of profound ignorance, have been placed beyond the reach of any light of the understanding . . . . The wicked also, who in this life have loved the darkness of error and the night of ignorance, may be clothed with dark and black bodies after the resurrection . . . .[55]

Finally, the Lord told Joseph Smith that He never fully reveals to men the punishments of outer darkness, but only brief visions thereof. Consider the wording of this revelation as compared to that used by Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew:

And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof; Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again; Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation. (D&C 76:45-48)

And the earth was rolled up like a volume of a book and the deep [hell] was revealed unto them. And when the Apostles saw it, they fell on their faces upon the earth. But Jesus raised them up, saying: Said I not unto you, "It is not good for you to see the deep." And again he beckoned unto the angels, and the deep was covered up.[56]

The Loss of the Doctrine of Degrees of Glory

We have seen that the doctrine of degrees of glory was soon confused so that a number of schemes, notably that of seven heavens, were adopted, but it was always clear to everyone that there were different degrees of glory in the heavens. So how was this enlightening doctrine lost? Its fate is not completely clear, but the example of Jovinian, a monk from Milan who preached around the turn of the fifth century, may be instructive. Clark describes Jovinian's teaching, and Jerome's reaction to it: "Jovinian's view, that there are only two categories, the saved and the damned, is assessed by Jerome as more akin to the philosophy of the Old Stoics than that of Christians."[57] Therefore, once again an older Christian doctrine was replaced by the speculations of a Greek philosophical school.

List of Scholars that Support that Paul Believed in Multiple Heavens

Latter-day Saints have most often appealed to 2 Corinthians 12:2 in order to support the idea of multiple heavens in ancient Christian thought. Below we list a collection of twenty different non-Latter-day Saint, academic sources that support this interpretation. This demonstrates that belief in multiple heavens, and more particularly three heavens with the third being the highest, is firmly rooted in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.[58]

  • William Baird:This means that for Paul the third heaven and paradise are the same place, or that paradise is located in the third heaven. Here Paul’s perception of the celestial order is in harmony with the cosmology of 2 Enoch (8:1-8) and the Apocalypse of Moses (40:2). For Paul, the third heaven may be the highest, though the tendency in later apocalyptic literature is to add heavens. In paradise, Paul should have viewed the final abode of the souls of the righteous (2 Esdr 8:51-52, Luke 23:43); and in the highest heaven, he should have seen cosmic paraphernalia, angelic beings, and the radiant throne of God (2 Enoch 20:1-4; T. Levi 3:1-8; 3 Apoc. Bar. 11:1-9).”[59]
  • Hans Bietenhard and Colin Brown: “Ancient cosmology pictured three, five, seven, ten and various numbers of heavens, though three was a commonly accepted number (SB III 531 ff.). Paul’s use of either this term or that of paradise gives no clear indication of his cosmological views. He may be doing no more than using a commonly accepted image to suggest what by his own account is ineffable (cf. v. 4), though possibly the number three may imply perfection (—> Number, art. treis). Sl. Enoch 8 placed the third heaven in paradise, and Apc. Mos. 37: 5 pictures God commanding Michael to lift Adam up into paradise, the third heaven, and leave him there until the day of judgment.”[60]
  • Adela Collins:By the Second Temple period…it was common to conceive of heaven as having multiple levels or layers. The Pseudepigrapha in particular contains many references to multiple heavens, seven being the most common notion (2 Enoch, Ascension of Isaiah). In the NT, Paul says that he knows someone (though many scholars suspect he is speaking of himself) who was 'caught up to the third heaven' (2 Cor. 12:2).”[61]
  • James H. Charlesworth: "According to 2 Corinthians, Paul describes 'revelations of the Lord' that he has experienced. Note his description and caution:
'I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know. God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.' (2 Cor. 12:2-4; RSV)
Paul is certain that he was taken up into the third heaven, saw paradise, and heard things that can never be revealed. These three concepts are developed within the Jewish apocalypses and apocalyptic writings. Ascension dominates in many apocalypses. Two Jewish apocalyptic compositions place paradise in the third heaven; the most important one is 2 Enoch. And within the apocalypses, there are revealed insights that can be communicated only to the elect ones, if at all. Paul could have known the traditions that were later incorporated into 2 Enoch:
'And the men took me from there. They brought me up to the third heaven. And they placed me in the midst of Paradise. And that place has an appearance of pleasantness that has never been seen. Every tree was in full flower. Every fruit was ripe, every food was in yield profusely; ever fragrance was pleasant. And the four rivers were flowing past with gentle movement, with every kind of garden producing every kind of good food. And the tree of life is in that place, under which the LORD takes a rest when the LORD takes a walk in Paradise. And that tree is indescribable for pleasantness of fragrance.'” (2 En. 8:1-3; recension A58)[62]
  • Raymond F. Collins: “Paul describes the experience as rapture. He was caught up to the third heaven. Apart from 1 Thess. 4:17, Paul uses the verb 'snatched up' only in verses 2 and 4. The passive voice indicates that Paul’s being caught up into heaven was a divine action. The apostle shares with many of his contemporaries the idea that there were several levels of heaven. He says that he was caught up to the third heaven. Most likely that third heaven is in paradise. In 2 Enoch, the longer version of which begins, 'The story of Enoch, how the Lord took him to heaven,' Enoch says, 'And the men took me from there, and they brought me up to the third heaven, and they placed me in the midst of Paradise' (2 En. [A] 8.1). The Apocalypse of Moses says that God instructed the archangel Michael to take Adam 'up into Paradise, to the third heaven' (L.A.E. 37.5).
Seemingly overwhelmed by his experience, Paul immediately repeats himself. And I know such a person—whether in body or outside the body I do not know, God knows—that he was snatched up to paradise (12:3–4a). Some older commentators, among whom Alfred Plummer (1915, 344) should be named, take the apparent repetition as describing a sequential action on the part of God. Paul would have experienced rapture to the third heaven and then rapture from the third heaven to paradise. In light of the cited parallels in Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Semitic literary device of synonymous parallelism in which a separate phrase repeats and slightly moves the thought of the first sentence forward, it is best to take verses 2 and 3a as synonymous. 'Paradise' is a synonym for the third heaven, which is in paradise.[63]
  • James D.G. Dunn: “The picture, then, seems to be very clear. Paul shared a common belief that there were several heavens; he had even experienced a heavenly journey to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). More to the point he shared what was presumable also a common belief that the lower heavens were populated by various hostile powers or that the hostile heavenly powers mounted a kind of roadblock to prevent access to the higher heavens (paradise being in the third heaven — 2 Cor. 12.3). If this meant that they also hindered or could even prevent access to God (cf. Rom. 8.38-39), that would be serious indeed.”[64]
  • Neal Elliot: “Alan F. Segal understood Paul’s visionary experience of Christ in the context of the apocalyptic-mystical tradition in early Judaism. Indeed, Segal demonstrated in Paul the Convert that Paul was our earliest and best (because first-person) witness to that tradition. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul described an unnamed man’s visionary journey into 'the third heaven,' a passage that is generally recognized to be an oblique reference to his own ecstatic experience. Segal argued that this experience was probably not an isolated event. Rather, here 'Paul reveals modestly that he has had several ecstatic meetings with Christ over the previous fourteen years.' Participants in Jewish mysticism, 'and perhaps apocalypticism as well, sought out visions and developed special practices to achieve them. Thus, we can assume that Paul had a number of ecstatic experiences in his life, [and] that his conversion may have been one such experience.' Hardly 'incompatible' with Judaism in Paul’s day, as language of a 'rupture' or 'irruption' implies, such an experience 'parallels ecstatic ascents to the divine throne in other apocalyptic and merkabah mystical traditions.' While those parallel sources are later than Paul, the close similarity of themes and terminology convinced Segal that Paul was indeed an early participant in a wider stream of mystical-ecstatic experience that included those later sources as well. Indeed, 'Paul alone demonstrates that such traditions existed as early as the first century.'”[65]
  • Matthew Emerson: “The second reference to paradise in the New Testament comes in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, when Paul describes his out-of-body experience. Here, he refers to the place of the righteous dead, where Christ now dwells bodily, as both paradise and 'the third heaven' (2 Cor 12:2). The spatial description of paradise shifts from the underworld to the third heaven, not because it has been physically moved (it is a spiritual, not physical, realm) but because its spiritual reality has changed. While it is not yet the paradise of the new heavens and new earth, the restored Eden, the ultimate paradise, it is nevertheless the place where Christ dwells bodily… Thus the descent once again confirms this three-tiered thinking of the biblical writers and their sociocultural context, but it also inaugurates a shift in cosmography. Paradise, because of the descent and the coming resurrection and ascension, experiences a shift in its reality. It is no longer full of the righteous dead waiting for the Messiah but is now a place where the resurrected and ascended Messiah dwells with his people.”[66]
  • Thomas Francis Glasson: “Some of the noncanonical writings give detailed descriptions of multiple heavens, up to seven more more [,] Paul was not necessarily thinking of these when he wrote of his mystical transport into the third Heaven (2 Cor. 12.2); an alternate explanation is that the expression indicates a high degree of spiritual exaltation.“[67]
  • John P. Harrigan: “The Bible clearly portrays a plurality of heavens. Though the exact number of heavens is not stated explicitly in the Scriptures, Jewish tradition varies from three to ten. As color classifications of a rainbow vary, so also might the delineation of the heavenly realms. A threefold arrangement of lower, middle, and upper heavens preserves plurality while allowing for the possibility of further dissection.
Within this plural framework, the heavens are also described in the Scriptures as continuous, meaning there are no hard delineations between them. They are the abode of birds (Gen. 1:20; 2:19; Dan. 2:38); of clouds, rain, and thunder (Gen. 8:2; Job 38:29; Isa. 55:10); of sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 1:14–18; Deut. 4:19; Ps. 8:3); of idols, spirits, and powers (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 24:21); and of God himself (Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; Ps. 2:4). All of these things function together in the heavens, and there are no clear lines of distinction between them. There are delineations between different areas of the heavens, as Paul distinguishes the 'third heaven' (2 Cor. 12:2), but there is not a substantial change of existence between these regions…So Paul references the heavenly paradise: 'I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven...I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter' (2 Cor. 12:2–4).
Paul’s third-heaven experience was not unfamiliar in his day, and by no means would anyone have questioned the reality of a paradise in the height of the heavens. It was common knowledge, since deities were understood to dwell in 'garden-temples.' Most of the ancient world believed the gods dwelled in some sort of idyllic paradise above.”[68]
  • Matthew Goff: "Second Corinthians resonates powerfully with Enochic ascent traditions in other ways. Paul was taken up to paradise and the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). In 2 Enoch paradise, the ultimate abode of the righteous, designed after the garden of Eden, is likewise in the third heaven. In 3 Enoch, the visionary who journeys to heaven is not Enoch, but Rabbi Ishmael. He speaks with Enoch/Metatron in heaven. He reveals divine knowledge to the rabbi. Ishmael’s goal is 'to behold the vision of the chariot' (3 En. 1:1). 3 Enoch is an important example of merkabah mysticism, a late antique phenomenon in the context of which rabbis devised various ecstatic techniques one could use to obtain a vision of the 'chariot,' a reference to God seated upon his heavenly throne. Paul may have used some of these practices to attain the vision mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12 . . . Paul’s assertion about his vision can also be helpfully interpreted in relation to ancient Jewish accounts of heavenly ascents (2 Cor. 12:6). One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled the Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q491c), contains an account of someone claiming to have had some sort of experience in heaven that transformed him. He asserts that he is now among the angels. He boasts about his transformed status. He asks 'Who is comparable to me in my glory?' (line 8) Moreover, the speaker claims that because of this experience, he is able to endure sorrow and suffering as no one else can (line 9)."[69]
  • C.J. Hemer: "3.2 Cor. 12:2 speaks of 'the third heaven'. Some have seen allusion here to a Jewish conception of seven heavens (Test. Lev. 2, 3; Sl. Enoch 3-21). This explanation is questionable: Paul would seem to imply that he was carried to the highest heaven, not to a lower place in a hierarchy of heavens. Nor is it clear that the largely Gentile Corinthians would have understood this kind of Jewish speculation. 'Paradise', however, mentioned in 2 Cor. 12:4, was linked with the 'third heaven' of the series (~Heaven; ~ Paradise)."[70]
  • Craig S. Keener: “Because the Persian loanword 'paradise' meant 'garden,' it applied well to the garden in Eden (Gen 2:8–3:24 LXX; Josephus Ant. 1.37). Jewish people spoke of paradise as in heaven (T. Ab. 20:14 A; 3 Bar. 4:6) and expected a new paradise or Eden in the future (4 Ezra 7:36; 8:52; 2 Bar. 51:11). Jewish texts placed paradise, the new Eden, on earth in the coming age, but in heaven at the present. Jewish texts ranged from 3 to 365 in the number of heavens they imagined; the most common numbers were three (T. Levi 2–3) and seven. Texts often placed paradise in one of these (in the third in 2 En. 8:1; Apoc. Mos. 37:5; 40:1); the lowest of 'heavens' was the lower atmosphere. Paul presumably envisions paradise as in the third of three heavens.
Visions of paradise appear commonly in apocalyptic texts (L.A.E. 25:3). Later rabbis often retold the story of the four rabbis who achieved a vision of paradise, in which only Akiba escaped unharmed (t. Hag. 2:3–4; b. Hag. 14b–15b).”[71]
  • Steven Mason and Tom Robinson: "12. 2 the third heaven: In ancient cosmologies the earth was seen as more or less flat, with ascending levels of heaven above. Paul apparently shares this view; see 1 Thess. 4:13–18."[72]
  • Frank J. Matera: "The mention of the 'third heaven' indicates that Paul like many of his contemporaries, thought of heaven as comprising multiple levels. But how many? Expressions such as 'heaven and the heaven of heavens' (Deut 10:14) and 'heaven and the highest heaven' (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chr 2:6; 6:18) imply that there are at least two levels of heaven, a notion also found in 1 En. 71:5. Certain intertestamental writings, however, reckon with even more levels. The Testament of Levi (chap. 3), for example, refers to three heavens: the first contains the spirits that will carry out God’s judgement; the second holds the armies of God that are prepared for the day of judgment; and in the third the great glory of God dwells in the Holy of Holies. In Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (7-11), however, Isaiah journeys through seven heavens, and when he arrives at the seventh, he sees a wonderful light, innumerable angels, and all the righteous. Finally, the J Recension of 2 Enoch speaks of ten heavens, identifying the tenth as the place where Enoch views the face of the Lord that is not to be talked about since it was so marvelous (chap. 22). Since Paul is intent upon showing the surpassing character of his own ecstatic experience, and since he appears to identify the third heaven with paradise, he likely thinks of the third heaven as the highest heaven, the place where God dwells. Unlike the writers of the intertestamental books, however, he steadfastly refuses to describe the different levels of heaven or his journeys through them."[73]
  • C.R.A. Morray Jones: “The relationship between the 'third heaven' of 2 Cor 12:2 and the 'paradise' of 2 Cor 12:4 requires consideration. Are verses 2 and 3-4 to be understood sequentially or in parallel? If a seven-heaven cosmology is assumed, either interpretation is theoretically possible, but it seems most unlikely that Paul would have based his claim to apostolic authority on an ascent merely to the third of seven heavens, which would hardly qualify as an 'exceptional' revelation (2 Cor 12:7a). Moreover, our analysis of the Jewish mystical tradition has shown that pardes was a term for the celestial Holy of Holies in the uppermost heaven. The seven-heaven model must, then, imply a 'two-stage' ascent, first to the third heaven and subsequently to paradise in the seventh. There is, however, no parallel for this in apocalyptic or Jewish mystical literature. Normally, the ascent through all six lower levels to the seventh is described (or at least mentioned) unless (as at Rev 4:1-2, for example) the visionary proceeds directly to the highest heaven without mention of intervening levels. Nowhere, to my knowledge, does the elevator stop, so to speak, on only one intermediate floor. Since there is evidence for an alternative, and probably earlier, three-heaven cosmology, it seems most natural to assume that this is the model employed by Paul.“[74]
  • Mitchell G. Reddish: “Postexilic Jewish literature manifests an intense curiosity about the contents of heaven. Various writings describe heavenly visions or journeys of revered individuals such as Enoch, Abraham, and Baruch (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch). The topography of heaven, the inhabitants of heaven, the places of judgment, as well as other heavenly secrets are revealed to these persons. Many of these writings describe heaven as containing various levels, referred to as different heavens. The most popular number‎ of‎ heavens‎ was‎ seven.‎ (Compare‎ Paul‘s‎ statement‎ in‎ 2 Cor 12:2 concerning the third heaven.) The various heavens contain not only the throne room of God, paradise (the intermediate reward for the righteous), and the eternal abode of the righteous, but in many cases one or more of the heavens also contain the places of punishment for the wicked.”[75]
  • James D. Tabor: “In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul mentions an ecstatic experience that he had 'fourteen years ago' in which he was taken up into the heavenly realms, and even entered paradise, seeing and hearing things that were so extraordinary he was not permitted to reveal them… The idea of ascending to the third, or highest, level of heaven and gazing upon the glory of God was viewed within the mystical Jewish circles of Paul’s day as the highest and most extraordinary experience a human could have. Moses alone had been allowed to ascend Mount Sinai and communicate directly with God and Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a fiery heavenly chariot (Exodus 24:15–18; 2 Kings 2:11–12). In the two centuries before Paul’s time, texts like the Similitudes of Enoch, 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, and the Ascension of Isaiah, in which Enoch and Isaiah ascend to the highest heaven, gaze upon God’s throne, and experience a transformed glorification, were widely circulated.”[76]
  • James Buchanan Wallace:The third heaven: As Bousset recognized, the three heaven cosmology most likely predated the more elaborate schemas of the heavens. Even 1 Enoch, which has but a single heaven, divides this heaven into three sections. The earliest stratum of T. Levi contains a three heaven cosmology. Although evidence exists for the seven heaven cosmology before 70 C.E., only after 70 does this cosmology became dominant, and even then, it is not the only possibility. Ultimately, internal evidence must provide the final decision, but the evidence favors three.
Paradise: In most cases, Paradise serves as the final abode of the righteous, where they will enjoy the immediate presence of God. In some cases it is on earth, though it appears several times to be a place in the third heaven. Internal evidence will support the tentative conclusion that Paul, too, either equates the third heaven with Paradise or considers Paradise to be a locale within the third heaven.”[77]
  • N.T. Wright: “What about the praxis we vaguely call ‘mysticism’? Paul – we assume he is talking autobiographically, albeit obliquely – had on some occasion found himself being taken, as we now say, ‘into a different space’; each generation, no doubt, develops metaphors for saying something for which we otherwise have no speech, waiting for the time when we shall be tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Just as the Corinthians dragged out of him practical life-experiences of which otherwise we would know nothing (those other shipwrecks, for instance; what happened to Sanders’s pack-animals in those circumstances, and to the tools of Paul’s trade?), so they finally compel him to reveal one secret at least of what we call his own private ‘spiritual experience’: caught up into the third heaven (the only time he speaks of multiple heavens), hearing unrepeatable words and seeing indescribable sights.”[78]

Question: Do Mormons believe that there is there progression between the three degrees of glory?

There is no official pronouncement on this question. Some leaders of the Church have, however, expressed deep skepticism about this idea

Elder Bruce. R. McConkie made it one of his "Seven Deadly Heresies," concluding:

They neither progress from one kingdom to another, nor does a lower kingdom ever get where a higher kingdom once was. Whatever eternal progression there is, it is within a sphere. (Full text here).

A major scriptural argument against this idea comes from the Doctrine and Covenants, speaking of the telestial kingdom:

But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore;...And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end. (D&C 76:109–112).

This seems to suggest that for telestial residents, at least, there can be no advancement to terrestrial or celestial.

There is a further reference to the eternal state of those who do not reach a full celestial glory:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. (D&C 132:16–17).

This scripture again seems to state that there can be no further progression for those who have not accepted all the necessary ordinances and covenants.

A final scripture that might be cited is Alma 34:33 where it states:

And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. (Alma 34:33)

Quotes from other Church leaders on the subject of progression between kingdoms

1952: Joseph L Anderson, Secretary of the First Presidency

The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.

Sincerely your brother, Joseph L Anderson, Secretary of the First Presidency” </ref>Joseph L. Anderson, Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965.</ref>

1995: Boyd K. Packer:

Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, “Listen to this!” “Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.” “There is never a time,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin. [79]

1855: Brigham Young

None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?]. [80]

1910: Joseph F. Smith:

Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for. [81]

1960: J. Reuben Clark

I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come. [82]

1899: James E. Talmage:

It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase. [83]

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[84]

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[85]

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[86]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[87]

Question: Did Joseph Smith derive the idea of "three degrees of glory" from Emanuel Swedenborg's book, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell?

Question: Do Mormons believe that everyone else will be "damned"?

Mormons believe that almost all people will receive a greater salvation than they anticipate

Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be "the only true Church," does this mean that the LDS believe that everyone else will be damned? And, since the Church teaches that the dead will have the opportunity to hear the gospel preached to them, doesn't this imply that the witness given to those "after death" will be so compelling that virtually everyone will become "a Mormon"?

Almost all people will receive a greater salvation than they anticipate. The coming of the Lord, or the preaching to departed spirits after death, will not compel belief.

These teachings highlight the necessity of good-will and tolerance among peoples and religions—if the Lord in his glory will allow each religion and group to live peaceably, should we not do the same now?

Leaders of the Church have long taught that a kingdom of glory and salvation is granted to almost everyone

Leaders of the Church have long taught that a kingdom of glory and salvation is granted to almost everyone, save perhaps those who fully follow Satan as "sons of perdition."[88]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

For Latter-day Saints, being “saved” can also mean being saved or delivered from the second death (meaning the final spiritual death) by assurance of a kingdom of glory in the world to come (see [1 Corinthians 15:40-42). Just as the Resurrection is universal, we affirm that every person who ever lived upon the face of the earth—except for a very few—is assured of salvation in this sense...The prophet Brigham Young taught that doctrine when he declared that “every person who does not sin away the day of grace, and become an angel to the Devil, will be brought forth to inherit a kingdom of glory”.[89] This meaning of saved ennobles the whole human race through the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In this sense of the word, all should answer: “Yes, I have been saved. Glory to God for the gospel and gift and grace of His Son!”[90]

President Brigham Young

Brigham Young taught much about the continuation of a variety of belief systems and religious practices in the hereafter:

15 August 1852

With your mind's eye look at the millions of them in all nations who are doing according to the best knowledge they possess. What! the Roman Catholics? Yes, and then every one of her daughters down to the latest Protestant Church that has been organized. They are all doing just as well as they can, and living according to the best light they have—a great many of them, though not all. What shall we do with them? They pass from the world, their spirits go into the spiritual world, and their bodies go back to their mother earth, and there sleep, while their spirits are before the Lord.

Are they happy? Every son and daughter of Adam who live according to the best light and knowledge they have, when the go into the spiritual world, are happy in proportion to their faithfulness. For instance, take a view of some of our late reformers; take the best specimen of reformers that we have, who are all the time full of glory and happiness and full of praise to the Lord—who meet together oft and sing and pray and preach and shout and give thanks to the Lord Almighty; and in a great many instances and in a great degree they enjoy much of a good spirit, which is the Spirit of the Lord, or the Light of Christ, which lighteth the world.

Now, this may be singular to some. What! they enjoy the Spirit of the Lord? Yes, every man and woman, according to their faith and the knowledge they have in their possession. They enjoy the goodness of their Father in heaven. Do they receive the Spirit of the Lord? They do, and enjoy the light of it, and walk in it, and rejoice in it.

What will be their state hereafter? Every faithful Methodist that has lived up to and faithfully fulfilled the requirements of his religion, according to the best light he had, doing good to all and evil to none, injuring no person upon the earth, honouring his God as far he knew, will have as great a heaven as he ever anticipated in the flesh, and far greater. Every Presbyterian, and every Quaker, and every Baptist, and every Roman Catholic member,—every reformer, of whatever class or grade, that lives according to the best light they have, and never have had an opportunity of receiving a greater light than the one in their possession, will have and enjoy all they live for.

I am telling you the truth as it is, and you may write it down if you please, and call it revelation if you will. But it has been revealed before I revealed it here to-day. This is the situation of Christendom after death.

You may go among the Pagans, or among all the nations there are, and they have their religion, their sacraments, and ceremonies, which are as sacred to them as ours are to us: they are just as precious and dear to them, though we call them heathen. They are idolatrous worshippers; yet their religion is as sacred to them as ours is to us. If they live according to the best light they have in their religion, God is God over all and the Father of us all; we are all the workmanship of his hands; and if they are ignorant, filled with superstition, and have the traditions of the fathers interwoven like a mantle around and over them, that they cannot see any light, so will they be judged; and if they have lived according to what they did possess, so they will receive hereafter.[91]

15 August 1852

How many glories and kingdoms will there be in eternity? You will see the same variety in eternity as you see in the world. For instance, you see here one class of men who have lived according to the best light they had: you may go among the heathen, or among the Christians, it is no matter; I will call them all Christians, or all heathens, if it will accommodate any body's feelings, for they don't come much short of all being heathen. We will take the best men we can find among them,—when they pass through the veil they are in happiness, they are in glory, they go among the disembodied spirits; but they do not go where there are resurrected bodies, for they cannot live there: a Prophet or an Apostle cannot live there. They also go into the spiritual world to live with spirits. Do they commune with the Father and Son? The Father communes with them as he pleases, through the means of angels, or otherwise the Son and the Holy Ghost. This is the situation of the Prophet, the Apostle, and all Saints before they receive their resurrected bodies; but they are looking forward to the time when they shall receive their bodies from the dust; and those that have been faithful, probably, will now soon get their resurrected bodies. Abraham has had his body long ago, and dwells with the Father and the Son, among all the Prophets and faithful Saints who received their resurrected bodies immediately after the resurrection of the Saviour. They were then prepared to enter into the Father's rest and be crowned with glory and eternal lives; but they were not prepared before.

No spirit of Saint or sinner, of the Prophet or him that kills the Prophet, is prepared for their final state: all pass through the veil from this state and go into the world of spirits; and there they dwell, waiting for their final destiny. It no doubt appears a singular idea to you that both Saint and sinner go to the same place and dwell together in the same world. You can see the same variety in this world. You see the Latter-day Saints, who have come into these valleys,—they are by themselves as a community, yet they are in the same world with other communities. But I do not feel as though I am dwelling where there are six or eight kinds of religion or more, and, after all, no religion at all; I am not dwelling where there is cursing, and swearing, and horse-racing, and gambling, and everything else that is calculated to disturb a peaceable community. Though I am in the same world where all this exists, I am not dwelling where it is, nor am I disturbed by it; but I am peaceable and serving the Lord.

You can see the variety here. The Presbyterians can go away by themselves and build cities and towns, and try to prohibit all other persons who are not Presbyterians from dwelling with them: the Methodists can do the same; the Baptists can do the same. We have the privilege of organizing society in the world as we please, in one sense. This is what Mr. Owen calls Socialism. He says mankind are controlled by circumstances, and others say that mankind govern and control circumstances. Both are true. We govern and control circumstances; but when we come into circumstances which the Lord controls, we are then controlled by circumstances. I and my brethren can go and settle down in a certain part; and if you choose, we can go into merchandising or stock-raising; and if we choose, we can live without a family, like a Shaker. In this way we can control circumstances in a great degree, while there are circumstances over which we have no control. All this exhibits precisely the situation of the people hereafter: they control circumstances to a great degree, and sometimes circumstances control them. When they are in the world of spirits, there is the Prophet and the Patriarch; all righteous men are there, and all wicked men also are there.[92]

7 October 1857

Many have thought that all will believe in the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ when the kingdom of God is fully established; but they will not; and if those characters were in heaven, they might believe, but would not obey the revelations of Jesus Christ. There are multitudes in this Church who have not yet learned these truths; and there are multitudes in the world who would not know Jesus, were he to pass before their eyes, and would not understand what he meant, if he were to speak to them. Such will be the case in the millennium.[93]

22 May 1859

When all nations are so subdued to Jesus that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess, there will still be millions on the earth who will not believe in him; but they will be obliged to acknowledge his kingly government. You may call that government ecclesiastical, or by whatever term you please; yet there is no true government on earth but the government of God, or the holy Priesthood. Shall I tell you what that is? In short, it is a perfect system of government—a kingdom of Gods and angels and all beings who will submit themselves to that government.[94]

23 December 1866

If the Latter-day Saints think, when the kingdom of God is established on the earth, that all the inhabitants of the earth will join the church called Latter-day Saints, they are egregiously mistaken. I presume there will be as many sects and parties then as now. Still, when the kingdom of God triumphs, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, to the glory of the Father. Even the Jews will do it then; but will the Jews and Gentiles be obliged to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? No; not by any means. Jesus said to his disciples, "in my Father's house are many mansions; were it not so I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also," &c. There are mansions in sufficient numbers to suit the different classes of mankind, and a variety will always exist to all eternity, requiring a classification and an arrangement into societies and communities in the many mansions which are in the Lord's house, and this will be so for ever and ever. Then do not imagine that if the kingdom of God is established over the whole earth, that all the people will become Latter-day Saints. They will cease their persecutions against the Church of Jesus Christ, and they will be willing to acknowledge that the Lord is God, and that Jesus is the Savior of the world.[95]


  1. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 357. off-site
  2. M. Catherine Thomas, "Hell," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:585–586.
  3. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?, 5th edition, (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), 198.
  4. John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1951), 173-178. GL direct link
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 D.K. Innes, "Hell," The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1962)
  6. LXX is the commonly used abbreviation for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament written in Alexandria, Egypt, several centuries before Christ. It's the tradition of the Old Testament Christ and the Apostles (as well as the Jews of the day) used; at the end of the first century A.D. Jewish scholars rejected the LXX tradition and developed a new one, one that took over half a millennium to compile-this new one is known as the MT, or Masoretic Text, and is the one most modern Christian Old Testaments, including that in the King James Version, are based on.
  7. Pesh. is, like LXX, an abbreviation for a version of the ancient Bible. In this case it stands for "Peshitta," the Old Syriac version still used today by Lebanese Marionite Christians and Palestinian Christians.
  8. Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians. Anchor Bible, Vol. 32A, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), 525.
  9. Eugene Seiach, Ancient Texts and Mormonism: Discovering the Roots of the Eternal Gospel in Ancient Israel and the Primitive Church, Second Edition (Salt Lake City: Eugene Seiach, 1995), 572.
  10. Jean Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964), 174, quoted in Seiach, Ancient Texts and Mormonism, 571.
  11. In Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Vol. 3:4. [citation needed]
  12. Ante-Nicene Fathers, I:154, fn.
  13. Quoted by Eusebius, "Preface to Papias," Historia Ecclesia, III.39:3-4. See also "Fragments of Papias" V at
  14. Emma Disley, "Degrees of Glory: Protestant Doctrine and the Concept of Rewards Hereafter," Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1991), 77-105. I am thankful to Ted Jones for this citation.
  15. Brian E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church. A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). I am thankful to Ted Jones for this citation.
  16. Marta Ryk, "The Holy Spirit's Role in the Deification of Man According to Contemporary Orthodox Theology," Diakonia 10 (Fordham University, 1975), 122. I am thankful to Ted Jones for this citation.
  17. [citation needed]
  18. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; somewhat similar to National Public Radio in the United States. See also
  19. Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH): literally "the world to come." 1) The messianic age; 2) the spiritual world that souls go to after death.
  20. "G-d" [sic]; many observant Jews try to avoid spelling "God" out in full in English just as they substitute the word "Adonai" ("Lord") for the "Tetragrammaton" (YHWH, "Yahweh," or "Jehovah.")
  21. Tracey Richards, "Judaism 101," an Orthodox Jewish FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Website: See specifically:
  22. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is Professor Emeritus, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA; 1987 through the present; see
  23. Teresa was a 'conversa' or forced convert to Christianity from Judaism.
  24. Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine, 2000), 14.
  25. Ante-Nicene refers to Church Fathers who lived and wrote before the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
  26. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Vol. 31:2; see also, (emphasis added). [citation needed]
  27. Ibid., Vol. 36:2; [citation needed] see also
  28. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies): XIII.13; see also
  29. [citation needed]
  30. Origen, Commentary on John, II.3; see also
  31. For the complete text of 2 Enoch, see "2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch," The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 1, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday; 1983), 102-213.
  32. Testament of Levi 3:1-8, in H.C. Kee, "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs," The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 1, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983), 788-789.
  33. The Nag Hammadi library was found by an Egyptian farmer in Upper Egypt in December, 1945. It contains the library of an early Christian (Gnostic) monastery.
  34. George W. MacRae and William R. Murdock, "The Apocalypse of Paul (V,2)," The Nag Hammadi Library in English, directed by James M. Robinson (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 239. For an online text, see also [citation needed]
  35. J.R. Mueller and G.A. Robins, "Vision of Ezra," The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983), 590.
  36. See related discussion of the Greek in Russell M. Nelson, "Perfection Pending," Ensign (November 1995), 86. off-site
  37. See Kevin Barney, "The Etymology of “Telestial”," bycommonconsent blog (27 January 2010). off-site
  38. This response is originally from Barry R. Bickmore, "Salvation History and Requirements," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999). It may have been added to or modified since, by nature of a wiki project.
  39. Note also that the paradise of Adam and Eve was in a Terrestrial state, and translated beings dwell in this sphere awaiting the resurrection, as well. See Chapter Note 2.
  40. Origen, De Principiis 2:10:2, in ANF 4:294.
  41. Origen, Commentary on John 2:3, in ANF 10:324-325.
  42. John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:4, in NPNF Series 1, 12:251.
  43. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:36:1-2, in ANF 1:567, brackets in original.
  44. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6:14, in ANF 2:506.
  45. ANF 2:506.
  46. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 179.
  47. The Lost Books of the Bible (New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1979), 240.
  48. Epistula Apostolorum, in NTA 1:210.
  49. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 174; However, it is clear from the passages which mention two heavens in the Recognitions that the two heavens spoken of are the visible heaven, which men can see, and the invisible, where the angels, etc., dwell. See Clementine Recognitions 9:3, in ANF 8:183; Clementine Recognitions 3:27, in ANF 8:121; Clementine Recognitions 2:68, in ANF 8:116. There is no mention of any division in the invisible heaven, but the following passage may be an oblique reference to the three degrees: "Be this therefore the first step to you of three; which step brings forth thirty commands, and the second sixty, and the third a hundred, as we shall expound more fully to you at another time." Peter, in Clementine Recognitions 4:36, in ANF 8:143. The footnote to this passage makes clear that whatever it referred to was most likely part of the esoteric tradition.
  50. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 174.
  51. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 9, in ACW 16:53.
  52. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 176.
  53. The Gospel of Philip, in , James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 140, brackets in original.
  54. The Pastor of Hermas, Sim. 9:19, in ANF 2:50.
  55. Origen, De Principiis 2:10:8, in ANF 4:296.
  56. The Gospel of Bartholomew, in ANT, 173.
  57. Clark, The Origenist Controversy, 131.
  58. FairMormon thanks Jaxon Washburn for his compilation of these sources.
  59. William Baird, “Visions, Revelation, and Ministry: Reflections on 2 Cor 12:1-5 and Gal 1:11-17,” Journal of Biblical Literature 104, No. 4 (December 1985): 655.
  60. Hans Bietenhard and C. Brown, “Paradise,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Collin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 1:763.
  61. Adela Yarboro Collins, “Heaven,” The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, rev. and ed. Mark Allan Powell, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011)
  62. James H. Charlesworth, “Paul, the Jewish Apocalypses, and Apocalyptic Eschatology,” Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle Paul as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini and Carlos A. Segovia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 96.
  63. Raymond F. Collins, Second Corinthians (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 237–238.
  64. James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 108.
  65. Neal Elliot, “The Question of Politics: Paul as a Diaspora Jew,” Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, ed. Mark D. Nanos and Mangus Zeiterholm (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015), 218–219. Citing Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 36.
  66. Matthew Y. Emerson, He Descended to the Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 169–170.
  67. Thomas Francis Glasson, “Heaven,” Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 271.
  68. John P. Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ Crucified: A Theology of Suffering Before Glory (N.P.: Paroikos Publishing, 2019), 74; 83.
  69. Matthew Goff, “Heavenly Mysteries and Otherwordly Journeys Interpreting 1 and 2 Corinthians in Relation to Jewish Apocalypticism,” Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle Paul as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini and Carlos A. Segovia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 142–143.
  70. C.J. Hemer, “τρίτος,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology ed. Collin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 1:688.
  71. Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians: New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 239.
  72. Steve Mason and Tom Robinson, Early Christian Reader: Christian Texts from the First and Second Centuries in Contemporary English Translations Including the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 104.
  73. Frank J. Matera, II Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 280.
  74. C.R.A. Morray-Jones, “Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12: 1 12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul’s Apostolate—Part 2: Paul’s Heavenly Ascent and its Significance,” The Harvard Theological Review 86, No. 3 (July 1993): 277–278.
  75. Michael G. Reddish, “Heaven,” Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).
  76. James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 190–191.
  77. James Buchanan Wallace, Snatched into Paradise (2 Cor. 12:1-10): Paul’s Heavenly Journey in the Context of Early Christian Experience (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 164–165.
  78. N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), e-book location 1,023–1,024.
  79. Boyd K. Packer, "The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign 25 (November 1995): 18.
  80. Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855.
  81. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14 (November 1910): 87
  82. J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960: 3
  83. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition]: 420-421.
  84. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  85. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445.
  86. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," (4 May 2007)
  87. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  88. See D&C 76:28-38
  89. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 288)
  90. Dallin H. Oaks, "Have You Been Saved?," Ensign (May 1998), 55, (italics in original).
  91. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 6:292-293.
  92. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 6:293-295.
  93. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 5:330-330.
  94. Brigham Young, "Necessity Of Trials — Glory Of The Saints' Religion — Government Of God, etc.," (22 May 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:142-?.
  95. Brigham Young, "Union—Persecution—The Nature of the Kingdom of God—Trading With Enemies—The Jews—On the Murder of Dr. Robinson," (23 December 1866) Journal of Discourses 11:275.