I recently read the blog of a group that believes in the Book of Mormon, but disbelieves in almost all of the Doctrine and Covenants. When analyzing the Book of Mormon, this group sets aside the precepts of men and focuses on what is actually written and takes it at face value. Consequently, the blog demonstrates how teachings of the Book of Mormon differ significantly from the teachings of the modern LDS church. Yet when it comes to the Doctrine and Covenants, they don’t apply the same standard. I noticed a tendency to not always read what is written but sometimes repeat the modern LDS church’s interpretations of the Doctrine and Covenants. They correctly condemn those false teachings but then, incorrectly, condemn the Doctrine and Covenants without actually scrutinizing what is written. (Their disbelief in the Doctrine and Covenants has more basis than just this one element I will discuss, and my goal isn’t to try to prove them wrong, so we’ll leave the rest alone for now. This was just what sparked the idea for this topic).
One particular criticism was leveled against D&C 76. This group discredited the correlated story that at judgement day everyone will be assigned to one of three kingdoms of glory: celestial, terrestrial, or telestial and that once placed in that kingdom, you will remain there forever. Had this group read D&C 76 with the same intellectual rigor they use with the Book of Mormon, they would have realized that D&C 76 doesn’t teach these things. But are we much better? Do we likewise ascribe to Section 76 false doctrines that it never teaches? Let’s take a look at what is really written.
Joseph and Sydney were working on the “translation” of the Bible, or JST. They came to John 5:29 and were given a different translation:
|D&C 76:17||John 5:29|
|17 and shall come forth;
they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just;
and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.
|And shall come forth;
they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life;
and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Verse 19 tells us this caused them to marvel. There doesn’t appear to be much difference between the two versions, as you can see above. But when you analyze it, there is more than meets the eye. In the KJV, there are two resurrections and they differ in the nature of the resurrection itself. One is a resurrection of life, the other a resurrection of damnation. Yet in the JST, the emphasis is on who receives the resurrection: the just and the unjust. From this snippet, one could conclude either that there are two completely different resurrections, or that there is one resurrection that happens at different times for different people, or there are two different resurrections that happen at different times. But there isn’t enough information so far to make a determination.
The JST changes also create links to several other Bible verses which reinforce the changes:
Acts 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
Luke 14:14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
The JST version also provides a link to the Book of Mormon.
Alma 12:8 …What does this mean which Amulek hath spoken concerning the resurrection of the dead, that all shall rise from the dead, both the just and the unjust, and are brought to stand before God to be judged according to their works?
Perhaps that’s why versus 18-19 indicate that Joseph and Sydney marveled and pondered this change…it opened a Pandora’s box of possibilities but in and of itself didn’t give any definite answers. Then they received the vision to explain it.
Vision of the Father and the Son
While we won’t dive into this here, I find it interesting that the first part of the vision is a theophany where Joseph and Sydney see the Son on the right hand of the Father and received of his fullness and see the angels worshiping God. This is the same pattern that Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Stephen (Acts 7:55-56), Lehi (1 Nephi 1:8), Alma (Alma 36:22), and others experienced. This vision is consistent with other visions in scripture.
Sons of Perdition
It’s important to note that the sons of perdition do not comprise the resurrection of the unjust. As the scriptures teach, they don’t receive a resurrection.
38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.
39 For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead,
49 And we heard the voice, saying: Write the vision, for lo, this is the end of the vision of the sufferings of the ungodly.
This is not the resurrection of the unjust, it is the sufferings of the ungodly!
The Resurrection of the Just
Immediately after talking about those who will receive no resurrection, the vision explains those who will receive the resurrection of the just.
50 And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—
It then goes on in verses 51-69 to list the characteristics of the people who will come forth in the resurrection of the just: believed in Christ, baptized, received the Holy Spirit, membership in the church of the Firstborn, just men made perfect through Jesus, etc. Then in verse 70 we are told:
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
Notice nowhere in this section are the words “celestial kingdom” (other than in Bruce McConkie’s section header!). Verses 50-70 talk about bodies being celestial and their corresponding glory, and the things the people have done to qualify for this celestial body and glory. But these verses do not directly mention the celestial kingdom. This is a description of a people, not a place.
The Resurrection of the Unjust
Interestingly, D&C 76 declares that there is a resurrection of the unjust, but it doesn’t clearly define how it relates to celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. We have to use some logic to deduce that the resurrection of the just is only for the celestial people, and the resurrection of the unjust is for the terrestrial and telestial people.
D&C 76:65, in the middle of describing celestial people, states:
65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
Verse 71 begins the brief description of the terrestrial category.
71 And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.
We know from verses 54 and 67 that membership in the church of the Firstborn is a requirement for the resurrection of the just, and verse 71 tells us that these terrestrial people are not part of the church of the Firstborn. Verse 69 states that celestial candidates are just.
69 These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
What does “just” mean?
The scriptures tell us that God is just. (Alma 29:4, Alma 42:15, Mormon 9:4). His judgements and dealings are just. (Mosiah 16:1, Alma 50:19, Omni 1:22). Webster’s 1828 dictionary tells us that just means:
- Regular; orderly; due; suitable.
- Exactly proportioned; proper.
- Full; complete to the common standard.
- Full; true; a sense allied to the preceding, or the same.
- In a moral sense, upright; honest; having principles of rectitude; or conforming exactly to the laws, and to principles of rectitude in social conduct; equitable in the distribution of justice; as a just judge.
- In an evangelical sense, righteous; religious; influenced by a regard to the laws of God; or living in exact conformity to the divine will.
It’s pretty easy to see that God can meet all of Webster’s criteria. But what about mortal men? The scriptures testify that there are just men and describes some of their characteristics:
6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
26 And it shall be made known unto just and holy men, by the mouth of angels, at the time of his coming, that the words of our fathers may be fulfilled, according to that which they have spoken concerning him, which was according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.
Alma 63:2 – talks about Shiblon being a just man, like his brother Helaman.
2 And he was a just man, and he did walk uprightly before God; and he did observe to do good continually, to keep the commandments of the Lord his God; and also did his brother.
Enos 1:1 – talks about Jacob being a just man
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
Mosiah 29:13 tells us that king Benjamin was a just man.
13 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.
Mosiah 19 – Limhi, the son of king Noah, was himself a just man.
17 And now Limhi was desirous that his father should not be destroyed; nevertheless, Limhi was not ignorant of the iniquities of his father, he himself being a just man.
3 Nephi 8 – Nephi at the time of Christ was a just man
1 And now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record—for he truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus; and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity—
Mosiah 2:4 – Alma appointed just men to teach the people
4 And also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, and had appointed just men to be their teachers, and also a just man to be their king, who had established peace in the land of Zarahemla, and who had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.
Alma 31 indicates that the word of God teaches us how to be just people.
5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
In order to be a just person, you need to obey the commandments (and then teach others to do likewise). The terrestrial category consist of those “without law”, those who “received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh” because they were “blinded by the craftiness of men”, and those “who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus.” None of these people qualify to be just because they did not obey the commandments, therefore the terrestrial appears to be the beginning of the resurrection of the unjust.
Take a look at verse 71 again. Notice that they saw “the terrestrial world”. Not the terrestrial kingdom. The same thing happens when describing the telestial category. Verse 109 says they saw the inhabitants of “the telestial world”. Neither terrestrial kingdom, nor telestial kingdom, nor celestial kingdom appear in Section 76. The only kingdom referenced in D&C 76 is the kingdom of God (verses 7, 28, 79, 107, and 114).
Let’s summarize. D&C 76 talks about a celestial category of people, but not a celestial kingdom. And it talks about a terrestrial and telestial world and the people that live in them. But no discussion of kingdoms, no discussion of these being assigned at judgement day, and no discussion about this being the state of the soul forever. Quite a bit different from what we’ve been taught that it says!
In the next posts, we will focus on each category and analyze what the scriptures really say about them. But I’ll warn you now, if you think the scriptures support the diagram below, you’re in for a rude awakening!