Ask a Mormon, “who goes to outer darkness?”, and you’ll most likely be told “the Sons of Perdition.” These Sons of Perdition had received the fullness of the Father and then rebelled against it. At the final judgement, they will be deemed too wicked to receive a kingdom of glory and will be banished to outer darkness with Satan where they will remain forever.
For years that’s what I believed, because that’s what I had been told my entire life. But one day I did something radical – I decided to actually read what the scriptures say about outer darkness. The scriptures tell a different story about outer darkness and who goes there.
(In the quoted scriptures, I will highlight some key words in red. I’ll eventually discuss them, but in the meantime just make note of them while I talk about other things)
Alma teaches what happens after death for both the righteous and the wicked.
12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
There’s our first problem. Alma teaches that there are only two groups, the righteous who go to paradise and the wicked who go into outer darkness. Alma teaches that the wicked are sent to outer darkness BEFORE their resurrection – they don’t stay there forever! He even goes on to clarify that while there are several usages of the term resurrection, when he says they remain there until their resurrection he’s specifically referring to the resurrection when body and spirit are reunited and we are judged.
21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.
Alma seems to think that outer darkness is where the wicked are sent to await the final judgement, also known as spirit prison. His description of outer darkness is not where a handful of really, really bad people are sent for eternity after they have been judged.
In Doctrine and Covenants 133, the Lord talks about the Second Coming. Near the end, he begins talking about the fate of the wicked who are alive at the time of the Second Coming.
63 And upon them that hearken not to the voice of the Lord shall be fulfilled that which was written by the prophet Moses, that they should be cut off from among the people.
64 And also that which was written by the prophet Malachi: For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
65 Wherefore, this shall be the answer of the Lord unto them:
66 In that day when I came unto mine own, no man among you received me, and you were driven out.
67 When I called again there was none of you to answer; yet my arm was not shortened at all that I could not redeem, neither my power to deliver.
68 Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea. I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink, and die for thirst.
69 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering.
70 And this shall ye have of my hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.
71 Behold, and lo, there are none to deliver you; for ye obeyed not my voice when I called to you out of the heavens; ye believed not my servants, and when they were sent unto you ye received them not.
72 Wherefore, they sealed up the testimony and bound up the law, and ye were delivered over unto darkness.
73 These shall go away into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
According to D&C 133, those that go away into outer darkness are the ones that did not listen to God or his servants. They will be cut off from the righteous and delivered over unto darkness. This happens at the coming of the Lord, the day that shall burn as an oven. While not stated specifically, it would appear that this is the beginning of the Millennium when Satan and his followers are bound for a thousand years. There is no talk of resurrection and judgement before they are sent to outer darkness.
In D&C 101, the Lord tells the church to plead with government leaders for protection from their enemies. If the leaders don’t act, the leaders will suffer for their choices.
89 And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation;
90 And in his hot displeasure, and in his fierce anger, in his time, will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers;
91 Even in outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
If only Sons of Perdition, who have had the fullness of the Father and then rejected it, go to Outer Darkness, the leaders of the US government in the 1830s definitely don’t qualify as Sons of Perdition. Yet the Lord says those government officials will go to outer darkness. So we’ve got a problem. Both Alma and the Lord are describing a different outer darkness than what we’ve been taught. They’re not the only ones.
In Matthew 8, when the Centurion has faith for his servant to be healed remotely merely by Christ’s word, he compares the faith of that Gentile to the house of Israel and says:
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Surely anyone who lacked adequate faith to have a miracle doesn’t qualify as a Son of Perdition. If so, then I’m doomed.
When Christ tells the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22, the guest who is not wearing the wedding clothes is discovered.
13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In Matthew 25, Christ tells the story of the unprofitable servant. Whereas the first two servants provide an increase and receive a reward, this third servant, who didn’t squander the Lord’s money but merely didn’t do anything with it, is cast into outer darkness.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Three different times during Christ’s mortal ministry he talked about who would be sent to outer darkness. His descriptions of these people don’t match the scriptural definitions of the Sons of Perdition. Let’s take a look at what the scriptures say about these Sons of Perdition.
31 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—
32 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;
33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—
35 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.
36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—
37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;
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, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.
According the D&C 76, the Sons of Perdition are those who have received the Holy Spirit, or known God’s power, and then denied it. So far our traditions are still safe. Notice how the Lord describes where they are sent: the lake of fire and brimstone. This place is not characterized by weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Specifically, D&C 76 does not say that Sons of Perdition go to outer darkness. The words “outer darkness” are not found in D&C 76.
Also notice the timing of the resurrection. They go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, and they are not redeemed of the Lord. Verse 39 is really interesting. All the rest (everyone who isn’t a Son of Perdition) shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead. These Sons of Perdition are not brought forth…they remain where they are and they appear to not receive resurrection.
D&C 88 doesn’t specifically mention Sons of Perdition, but does talk about a sub-telestial category of people.
29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
This sub-telestial category of people RETURN to their own place. It doesn’t say what this place is, but they’ve been there before because they return to it. To really drive home the point, the Lord says they RETURN AGAIN.
Now let’s take a look at those word links: weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
2 I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—
3 Retaining all power, even to the destroying of Satan and his works at the end of the world, and the last great day of judgment, which I shall pass upon the inhabitants thereof, judging every man according to his works and the deeds which he hath done.
4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.
5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.
Those on the left hand refer to a binary judgement Christ performs at his return: the righteous on his right hand and the wicked on the left hand. In this “judgement” there are no degrees of glory or different kingdoms, just good and bad. The bad, those on the left hand, receive weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, which the scriptures uniquely identify with outer darkness.
Abinadi teaches about those who will weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth…and they aren’t the Sons of Perdition.
1 And now, it came to pass that after Abinadi had spoken these words he stretched forth his hand and said: The time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just.
2 And then shall the wicked be cast out, and they shall have cause to howl, and weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth; and this because they would not hearken unto the voice of the Lord; therefore the Lord redeemeth them not.
3 For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.
4 Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.
Abinidi is basically saying that all mankind have qualified for outer darkness (where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth) and it is only those who have been redeemed of the Lord who avoid it. That’s consistent with what Jesus taught in Matthew, and what the Lord says in D&C.
This binary imagery of those on the right hand being saved or invited inside and the wicked being cast into outer darkness where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth is common in the scriptures.
24 ¶ Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
These people are seeking to enter in but aren’t able. These aren’t the Hitlers of the world. These people appear to be doing good works externally, but Christ says the are workers of iniquity.
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here we have people who didn’t do what they were supposed to, but don’t appear to have done anything close to what Cain did. They are nevertheless sent to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (outer darkness). We’re back to the binary judgement that Alma and Abinadi taught.
We can see this consistent use of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth to describe where hypocrites go.
8 And that I may visit them in the day of visitation, when I shall unveil the face of my covering, to appoint the portion of the oppressor among hypocrites, where there is gnashing of teeth, if they reject my servants and my testimony which I have revealed unto them.
In Matthew 24, these are servants who stop looking for the return of their master and their sentence is to be with the hypocrites. D&C 101 (referenced above) says that hypocrites get sent to outer darkness. Isn’t it great how all these scriptures support each other? We have word links in the New Testament that support word links in the Book of Mormon that support work links in the Doctrine and Covenants.
If hypocrites go to outer darkness, there will be a lot of people there. Think of how many people Jesus labeled as hypocrites during his mortal ministry. Or how about this:
28 And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
That’s a sobering thought. We are all closer to being sent to outer darkness than we care to admit.